3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

August 19, 2019

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Luis Puente

Luis Puente

Financial Education

2711 LBJ Freeway Suite 300

Farmers Branch, TX 75234

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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 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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July 22, 2019

The Advantages of Paying with Cash

The Advantages of Paying with Cash

We’re using debit cards to pay for expenses more often now, a trend that seems unlikely to reverse soon.

Debit cards are convenient. Just swipe and go. Even more so for their mobile phone equivalents: Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay. We like fast, we like easy, and we like a good sale. But are we actually spending more by not using cash like we did in the good old days?

Studies say yes. We spend more when using plastic – and that’s true of both credit card spending and debit card spending. Money is more easily spent with cards because you don’t “feel” it immediately. An extra $2 here, another $10 there… It adds up.

The phenomenon of reduced spending when paying with cash is a psychological “pain of payment.” Opening up your wallet at the register for a $20.00 purchase but only seeing a $10 bill in there – ouch! Maybe you’ll put back a couple of those $5 DVDs you just had to have 5 minutes ago.

When using plastic, the reality of the expense doesn’t sink in until the statement arrives. And even then it may not carry the same weight. After all, you only need to make the minimum payment, right? With cash, we’re more cautious – and that’s not a bad thing.

Try an experiment for a week: pay only with cash. When you pay with cash, the expense feels real – even when it might be relatively small. Hopefully, you’ll get a sense that you’re parting with something of value in exchange for something else. You might start to ask yourself things like “Do I need this new comforter set that’s on sale – a really good sale – or, do I just want this new comforter set because it’s really cute (and it’s on sale)?” You might find yourself paying more attention to how much things cost when making purchases, and weighing that against your budget.

If you find that you have money left over at the end of the week (and you probably will because who likes to see nothing when they open their wallet), put the cash aside in an envelope and give it a label. You can call it anything you want, like “Movie Night,” for example.

As the weeks go on, you’re likely to amass a respectable amount of cash in your “rewards” fund. You might even be dreaming about what to do with that money now. You can buy something special. You can save it. The choice is yours. Well done on saving your hard-earned cash.

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July 8, 2019

How to Avoid Financial Infidelity

How to Avoid Financial Infidelity

If you or your partner have ever spent (a lot of) money without telling the other, you’re not alone.

This has become such a widespread problem for couples that there’s even a term for it: Financial Infidelity.

Calling it infidelity might seem a bit dramatic, but it makes sense when you consider that finances are the leading cause of relationship stress. Each couple has their own definition of “a lot of money,” but as you can imagine, or may have even experienced yourself, making assumptions or hiding purchases from your partner can be damaging to both your finances AND your relationship.

Here’s a strategy to help avoid financial infidelity, and hopefully lessen some stress in your household:

Set up “Fun Funds” accounts.

A “Fun Fund” is a personal bank account for each partner which is separate from your main savings or checking account (which may be shared).

Here’s how it works: Each time you pay your bills or review your whole budget together, set aside an equal amount of any leftover money for each partner. That goes in your Fun Fund.

The agreement is that the money in this account can be spent on anything without having to consult your significant other. For instance, you may immediately take some of your Fun Funds and buy that low-budget, made-for-tv movie that you love but your partner hates. And they can’t be upset that you spent the money! It was yours to spend! (They might be a little upset when you suggest watching that movie they hate on a quiet night at home, but you’re on your own for that one!)

Your partner on the other hand may wait and save up the money in their Fun Fund to buy $1,000 worth of those “Add water and watch them grow to 400x their size!” dinosaurs. You may see it as a total waste, but it was their money to spend! Plus, this isn’t $1,000 taken away from paying your bills, buying food, or putting your kids through school. (And it’ll give them something to do while you’re watching your movie.)

It might be a little easier to set up Fun Funds for the both of you when you have a strategy for financial independence. Contact me today, and we can work together to get you and your loved one closer to those beloved B movies and magic growing dinosaurs.

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May 15, 2019

3 Advantages to Being the Early Bird

3 Advantages to Being the Early Bird

Extra-large-blonde-roast-with-a-double-shot-of-espresso, anyone?

As the old saying goes, “The early bird catches the worm.” But not everyone is an early riser, and getting up earlier than usual can throw off a night owl’s whole day.

But there are a couple of things that, if started early in life (and with copious amounts of caffeine, if you’re starting early in the day, too), could benefit you greatly later in life. For example, learning a second language.

The optimal age range for learning a second language is still up for debate among experts, but the consensus seems to be “the younger you start, the better.” It’s a good idea to start early – giving your brain an ample amount of time to develop the many agreed upon benefits of being bilingual that don’t show up until later in life:

  • Postponed onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s (by 4.5 years)
  • Much more efficient brain activity – more like a young adult’s brain
  • Greater cognitive reserve and ability to cope with disease

Imagine combining that increased brain power with a comfortable retirement – an important goal to start working towards early in life!

Here are 3 big advantages to starting your retirement savings early:

1. Less to put away each month.
Let’s say you’re 40 years old with little to no savings for retirement, but you’d like to have $1,000,000 when you retire at age 65. Twenty-five years may seem like plenty of time to achieve this goal, so how much would you need to put away each month to make that happen?

If you were stuffing money into your mattress (i.e., saving with no interest rate or rate of return), you would need to cram at least $3,333.33 in between the layers of memory foam every month. How about if you waited until you were 50 to start? Then you’d need to tuck no less than $5,555.55 around the coils. Every. Single. Month.

A savings plan that aggressive is simply not feasible for a majority of North Americans. Nearly half of Canadians are just getting by, living paycheck-to-paycheck. So it makes sense that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the less you’ll need to put away each month. And the less you need to put away each month, the less stress will be put on your monthly budget – and the higher your potential to have a well-funded retirement when the time comes.

But what if you could start saving earlier and apply an interest rate? This is where the second advantage comes in…

2. Power of compounding.
The earlier you start saving for retirement, the longer amount of time your money has to grow and build on itself. A useful shortcut to figuring out how long it would take your money to double is the Rule of 72.

Never heard of it? Here’s how it works: Take the number 72 and divide it by your annual interest rate. The answer is approximately how many years it will take for money in an account to double.

For example, applying the Rule of 72 to $10,000 in an account at a 4% interest rate would look like this:

72 ÷ 4 = 18

That means it would take approximately 18 years for $10,000 to grow to $20,000 ($20,258 to be exact).

Using this formula reveals that the higher the interest rate, the less time it’s going to take your money to double, so be on the lookout for the highest interest rate you can find!

Getting a higher interest rate and combining it with the third advantage below? You’d be on a roll…

3. Lower life insurance premiums.
A well-tailored life insurance policy may help protect retirement savings. This is particularly important if you’re outlived by your spouse as he or she approaches their retirement years.

End-of-life costs can deal a serious blow to retirement savings. If you don’t have a strategy in place to help cover funeral expenses and the loss of income, the money your spouse might need may have to come out of your retirement savings.

One reason many people don’t consider life insurance as a method of protecting their retirement is that they think a policy would cost too much.

How much do you think a $250,000 term life insurance policy would cost for a healthy 30-year-old?

Less than $14 per month. That’s a cost that would easily fit into most budgets!

You may still need a little caffeine for the extra kick to get an early start on powering up your brain (or your retirement savings), but sacrificing a few brand-name cups of coffee per month could finance a well-tailored life insurance policy that has the potential to protect your retirement savings.

Contact me today, and together we can work on your financial strategy for retirement, including what kind of life insurance policy would best fit you and your needs. As for your journey to the brain-boosting benefits of being bilingual – just like with retirement, it’s never too late to start. And I’ll be here to cheer you on every step of the way!

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May 13, 2019

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 $16,000. 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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May 8, 2019

What is your #1 financial asset?

What is your #1 financial asset?

What is your #1 financial asset? It’s not your house, your retirement fund, or your rare baseball card collection gathering dust.

Your most valuable financial asset is YOU!
Today – Labor Day, the unofficial last day of summer – let’s look at ways you can develop your skills and outlook in the workforce as we move from summertime vacation mode into finishing 2018 strong.

You might be savvy at home improvement, you might be a whiz with your finances, or you might have the eye to spot a hidden treasure at a yard sale, but how do you increase your value as a laborer in the workforce? One of the top traits of successful people is that they come up with a plan and they execute. Waiting for things to happen or taking the crumbs life tosses their way isn’t on their to-do list. Whether you’re dreaming of a secure future for yourself and your family, or if you want to build a career that enables you to help others down the road (or both!), the path to your goal and how fast you get there is up to you.

Increase your value as an employee
Working for someone else doesn’t have to feel like a prison sentence. In a recent study, nearly 60% of entrepreneurs worked full time as an employee for someone else while planning and building their own business on the side. Being employed is a chance to learn alongside experienced mentors, and prime time to experiment with how you can best add value. In many cases, successful entrepreneurs spent their time in the workforce amassing a wealth of information on how businesses are run, making mental notes on what doesn’t work, and practicing what can be done better.

View your time as an employee as an opportunity to hone your problem solving skills. It’s a mindset – one that can make you a more valuable employee and prepare you for great things later. Being seen as a problem solver can grant you more opportunity for promotions, pay increases, greater responsibility, and perhaps most importantly, open up more chances for life-enriching experiences.

Build your financial strategy
While you’re working to increase your value as a laborer, you’ll benefit from steady footing before taking your next big step. This is where building a solid financial strategy comes into play. Nearly everyone has the potential to be financially secure. Where most find trouble is often due to not having a plan or not sticking to the plan. A few simple principles can guide your finances, setting you up for a future where you have freedom to choose the life you envision.

  • Pay yourself first. Starting early and continuing as your earnings grow, begin the habit of paying yourself first. Simply, this means putting away some money every month or every paycheck that can help you reach your financial goals over time. Ideally, this money will be invested where it can grow. The goal is to get the money out of harm’s way, where you would have to think twice before dipping into your savings before you spend.
  • Develop a budget and consider expenses carefully. Think about expenditures before opening your wallet and swiping that credit card. Avoid debt wherever possible. Most people are able to have more money left over at the end of the month than they might realize. Don’t be afraid to tell yourself “no” so you can reach a bigger goal.
  • Plan for loved ones with life insurance. Here is where the value you provide your family through your hard work comes into sharp focus. Life insurance is essentially income replacement, should the worst happen. Meet with your financial professional and put a tailored-to-you life insurance policy in place that assures your family or dependents are taken care of.

Put your skills to work as a leader
Once you’ve established a level of financial security, now is the time to think about giving back by providing opportunities and helping others to realize their goals. There’s an old saying: “You’ll never get rich working for someone else.” While that’s not always true, trying to realize your long-term financial goals in an entry-level position might be an uphill climb. Moving up into a leadership position can teach you new skills and can increase your earning power. The average salary for managers approaches six figures!

You might even be ready to branch out on your own, investing the knowledge and leadership skills you’ve gained over the years in your own venture. Consider becoming an entrepreneur with your own financial services business – this can allow you to help others while building on your continuing success as a financial professional.

Whether you choose to strike out on your own, start a new part-time business, or grow within the organization or industry you’re in now, there are key traits that will help you succeed. Having a future-driven, forward-thinking mindset will guide your decisions. Your sense of commitment and the leadership skills you’ve honed on your journey will define your career – and perhaps even your legacy – as others learn from your example and use the same principles to guide their own success.

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April 17, 2019

Handling your car loan like a boss

Handling your car loan like a boss

Cars may be necessary to get around, but they can be expensive.

At some point, many of us will need to finance a car. Coming up with enough cash to buy a car outright – even a used car – can be difficult. Enter the auto loan.

Financing a car isn’t all bad, especially if you follow a few best practices that can help keep your car loan in good shape. Avoiding the dreaded upside down car loan – owing more on your car than it’s worth – is the name of the game when it comes to a good automobile loan.

Why do car loans go upside down?
Being upside down on your car loan is surprisingly common. It happens to many of us, and the root cause is depreciation. Depreciation is the decline in value of a good or product over time. Many physical goods depreciate – furniture, electronics, clothing, and cars.

There is a saying that a car begins depreciating as soon as you drive it off the lot. Unlike a good such as fine art or precious stones that you would expect to appreciate over time, a car usually will lose its value over time.

For example, say you buy a new car for $25,000. After three months your car depreciates by $3,000, so it’s now worth $22,000. If your down payment was less than $3,000 or you didn’t use a down payment at all, you are now upside down – owing more money on your car than it’s actually worth.

Some cars, however, hold their value better than others. Luxury cars have a slower depreciation rate than an inexpensive compact car. The popularity of a vehicle can also affect depreciation rates.

What happens when you’re upside down on a car loan?
Being upside down on your car loan may actually not mean much unless you’re involved in a loss and your car gets totaled. Assuming you have proper auto insurance, your policy should pay out the actual cash value of your totaled vehicle, which may not be enough to pay off the remaining balance of your auto loan. Then you’re stuck paying the balance on a loan for a car that you don’t have anymore. That is why it’s essential to avoid being upside down in your car loan.

Strategies to keep your car loan healthy
Keeping your car loan right side up starts with putting a healthy down payment on your car. Typically, a 20 percent down payment may give you enough equity right off the bat to keep your car loan from going upside down when the vehicle begins depreciating. So, if you’re purchasing a $25,000 car, aim to put at least $6,000 down.

Another way to avoid being upside down on your car loan is to select the shortest repayment term possible. If you can afford it, consider a 36-month repayment plan. Your monthly payments may be a bit higher, but the chances of your loan going upside down may be less.

Choose carefully
Keeping your car loan from going upside down is important. Make sure you have a healthy down payment, shop for vehicles within your budget, and stick to the shortest repayment term you can afford. Simple strategies can help make sure your car loan stays in the black.

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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 licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

April 8, 2019

Quick ways to cut your monthly expenses

Quick ways to cut your monthly expenses

Looking to save a little money?

Maybe you’re coming up just a tad short every month and need to cut back a little bit. If you’re scratching your head wondering where those cuts are going to come from, no worries! Reducing monthly expenses may not be as hard as you think.

Complete an insurance review
Often, there could be an opportunity to save some money on your insurance without even switching companies. It might be worth taking the time to review your insurance policies carefully to make sure you’re getting all the discounts you’re eligible for. There may be auto insurance discounts available for safety features on your car such as airbags and antilock brake systems. You may also get a multi-policy discount if you have more than one policy with the same company.

If you aren’t sure what to look for, contact your insurance professional and ask for an insurance review with an eye toward savings. They may be able to offer some advice on changes that can lower your monthly premium.

Shop around on your utilities
Some consumers may have a choice when it comes to utility providers. If this is you, make sure you shop around to get the best rate on your household utilities. Research prices for electricity, water, gas, or oil. If your area has only one provider, don’t worry, you may still save money on utilities by lowering your consumption. Turn off the lights and be conservative with your water usage and you might see some savings on your monthly utility bills.

Cell phone service
Your cell phone bill may be a great place to save on your monthly expenses. It seems like every cell phone provider is itching to make you a better deal. Often, just calling your current provider and asking for a better rate may help. Also, study your data and phone usage and make sure you’re only paying for what you use. Maybe you don’t really use a lot of data and can lower your data plan. A smaller data plan can often save you money on your monthly bill.

Interest on credit cards
Interest is like throwing money away. Paying interest does nothing for you. Still, we’ve probably all carried a little debt at one time or another. If you do have credit card debt you’re trying to pay off, you may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate. You can also apply for a no interest card and complete a balance transfer (if any associated fees make sense).

The other benefit of low or no interest on your debt is that more of your payment applies to the principal balance so you’ll potentially get rid of that debt faster.

Subscription services
These days there’s a subscription box service for just about everything – clothing, skin care products, wine, and even dinner. It can be easy to get caught up in these services because the surprise of something new arriving once a month is alluring and introductory offers may be hard to resist. But if you’re trying to save on your monthly expenses, give your subscription services a once over and make sure you’re really using what you’re buying. You may want to cut one or two of them loose to help save on your monthly expenses.

It is possible to cut back on your monthly budget without (too) much sacrifice. With a little effort and know-how, you can help lower your expenses and save a little cash.

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March 27, 2019

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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March 13, 2019

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 11, 2019

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Does healthy living have to cost more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[i] https://www.organics.org/get-your-neighborhood-growing-how-to-start-a-communal-community-garden/
[ii] https://dengarden.com/gardening/edible-plants-you-can-grow-in-your-apartment

March 6, 2019

Back to the basics

Back to the basics

It seems many of us can over-complicate how to achieve good financial health and can make the entire subject much harder than it needs to be.

Despite what you might read in books, hear on television, or see on blogs and websites, good financial health can be simple and sustainable.

Some of the following basic principles may require a paradigm shift depending on how you’ve thought about finances and money in the past, or if you have current not-so-great habits you want to change. Hang in there!

Let’s start with frugality.

Retail therapy may not always be good therapy
One of the biggest financial pitfalls we may get into is believing that money will make us happy. To some degree, this may be true. Stress over finances can rob us of peace of mind, and not having enough money to make ends meet is a challenging – sometimes even difficult – way to live. Still, thinking that more money will alleviate the stress and bring us more happiness is a common enough trap, but it doesn’t seem to usually pan out that way.

Get yourself out of the trap by reminding yourself that if you don’t have a money problem, then don’t use money to solve it. The next time you’re tempted to do some indiscriminate “retail” therapy, think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Do you truly need three new shopping bags of clothes and accessories or are you trying to fill some other void? Give yourself some space to slow down and think it over.

Build a love for do-it-yourself projects
Any time you can do something yourself instead of paying someone to do it for you should be a win. A foundation of frugality is to keep as much of your income in your pocket as possible. Learning to perform certain tasks yourself instead of paying someone to do them for you may save more money.

Do-it-yourself tasks can include changing the oil in your car, mowing your grass, even doing your taxes. The next time you’re about to shell out $50 (or more) to trim the lawn, consider doing it yourself and saving the money.

Curb your impulse buying habit
An impulse buying habit can rob us of good financial health. The problem is that impulse purchases seem to be mostly extraneous, and they can add up over time because we probably don’t give them much thought. A foundational principle is to try to refrain from any impulse buying. Get in the habit of putting a little pause between yourself and the item. Ask yourself if this is something you actually need or just want. Another great strategy to combat impulse buying is to practice the routine of making a shopping list and sticking to it.

It may take some time and effort to retrain yourself not to impulse buy, but as a frugal foundational principle, it’s worth it.

Build your financial health with simple principles
Achieving an excellent financial life doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Mastering a few foundational principles will help ensure your financial health is built on a good, solid foundation. Remember that money isn’t always the solution, aim to keep as much of your income as possible and stay away from impulse buying. Simple habits will get you on the road to financial health.

A fresh perspective, a little commitment, and some discipline can go a long way toward building a solid financial foundation.

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March 4, 2019

Tackling long term financial goals

Tackling long term financial goals

Many of us have probably had some trouble meeting a long-term goal from time to time.

Health, career, and personal enrichment goals are often abandoned or relegated to some other time after the initial excitement wears away. So how can you keep yourself committed to important long term goals – especially financial ones? Let’s look at a few strategies to help you stay committed and hang in there for the long haul.

Start small when building the big financial picture
Most financial goals require sustained commitment over time. Whether you’re working on paying off credit card debt, knocking out your student loans, or saving for retirement, financial heavyweight goals can make even the most determined among us feel like Sisyphus – doomed for eternity to push a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down.

The good news is that there is a strategy to put down the rock and reach those big financial goals. To achieve a big financial goal, it must be broken down into small pieces. For example, let’s say you want to get your student loan debt paid off once and for all, but when you look at the balance you think, “This is never going to happen. Where do I even start?” Cue despair.

But let’s say you took a different approach and focused on what you can do – something small. You’ve scoured your budget and decided you can cut back on some incidentals. This gives you an extra $75 a month to add to your regular student loan payment. So now each month you can make a principal-only payment of $75. This feels great. You’re starting to get somewhere. You took the huge financial objective – paying off your student loan – and broke it down into a manageable, sustainable goal – making an extra payment every month. That’s what it takes.

Use the power of automation
It seems there has been a lot of talk lately in pop psychology circles about the force of habit. The theory is if you create a practice of something, you are more likely to do it consistently.

The power of habit can work wonders for financial health, and with most financial goals, we can use automation tools to help build our habits. For example, let’s say you want to save for retirement – a great financial goal – but it may seem abstract, far away, and overwhelming.

Instead of quitting before you even begin, or succumbing to confusion about how to start, harness the power of automation. Start with your 401(k) plan – an automated savings tool by nature. Money comes out of your paycheck directly into the account. But did you know you can set your plan to increase every year by a certain percentage? So if this year you’re putting in three percent, next year you might try five percent, and so on. In this way, you’re steadily increasing your retirement savings every year – automatically without even having to think about it.

Find support when working on financial goals
Long term goals are more comfortable to meet with the proper support – it’s also a lot more fun. Help yourself get to your goals by making sure you have friends and allies to help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to talk about your financial goals and challenges.

Finding support for financial goals has never been easier – there are social media groups as well as many other blogs and websites devoted to personal financial health. Join in and begin sharing. Another benefit of having a support network is that it seems like when we announce our goals to the world (or even just our corner of it), we’re more likely to stick to them.

Reaching large financial goals
Big, dreamy financial goals are great – we should have those – but to help make them attainable, we must recast them into smaller manageable actions. Focus on small goals, find support, and harness the power of habit and automation.

Remember, it’s a marathon – you finish the race by running one mile at a time.

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February 18, 2019

Do you use the 20/4/10 rule?

Do you use the 20/4/10 rule?

If you’re in the market for a new car, you may already be aware that the average cost of a new car is about $35,000.

This pricetag has been increasing steadily in recent decades.[i] As a result, there are some “new” loan options that allow you to spread out your payments for up to 7 years.

Having a longer time to pay back your auto loan may seem like a great idea – stretching out the loan period may lower the payments month-to-month, and help squeeze a new car purchase into your family budget without too much financial juggling.

Reality check
One thing to keep in mind is that cars depreciate faster than you might imagine. Within the first 30 days, your new car’s value will have dropped by 10%. A year later, the car will have lost 20% of its value. Fast forward to 5 years after your purchase and your car is now worth less than 40% of its initial cost.[ii]

If you go with a longer loan term, it will take that much more time to build equity in the vehicle. A forced sale due to an emergency or an accident that totals your vehicle may mean you’ll still owe money on a car you no longer have. (This is what’s meant by being “upside down” in a loan: you owe more than the item is worth.)

If you’re not sure what to do, consider the 20/4/10 rule.

1. Try to put down 20% or more. Whether using cash or a trade-in that has equity, put down at least 20% of the new vehicle’s purchase price. This builds instant equity and may help you stay ahead of depreciation. Also add the cost for tax and tags to your down payment. You won’t want to pay interest on these expenses.

2. Take a loan of no longer than 4 years. Longer term loans may lower the monthly payments, but feeling like you need a loan term of more than 4 years may be a red flag that you’re buying more car than you can comfortably afford. With a shorter term loan, you may get a better interest rate and pay less interest overall because of the shorter term. This may make quite a difference in savings for you.

3. Commit no more than 10% of your gross annual income to primary car expenses. Your primary expenses would include the car payment (principal and interest), as well as your insurance payment. Other expenses, like fuel and maintenance, aren’t considered in this figure. The 10% part of the 20/4/10 rule may be the most difficult part to follow for many households considering purchasing a new car. Feeling pinched if you go with a new car could suggest that a reliable used car may be a better financial fit.

Cars are often symbolic of freedom, so it’s no wonder that we sometimes get emotional about car-buying decisions. It’s often best – as with any major purchase – to take a step back and look at the numbers and how they would affect your overall financial strategy, budget, emergency fund, etc. The money you save if you need to go with a used car could be used to build your savings or treat your family to something special now and then – and you’ll enjoy the real freedom of not being a slave to your monthly auto payment.

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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, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

[i] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/average-new-car-prices-jump-2-percent-for-march-2018-on-suv-sales-strength-according-to-kelley-blue-book-300623110.html
[ii] https://www.carfax.com/blog/car-depreciation

February 4, 2019

When is it OK to use a credit card?

When is it OK to use a credit card?

Even though your budget might be 100% on point, your retirement accounts well-funded, and you’ve got something stashed away for the kids’ college tuition, sometimes an emergency rears its ugly head.

And despite your best efforts, your only option to cover it might be to use a credit card.

Let’s face it. Once in a blue moon there may not be enough emergency fund to go around. Sometimes the water heater needs replacing right before the in-laws arrive for Thanksgiving. Doesn’t this kind of thing seem to always happen the same week your child falls off the swingset and needs an ER visit?

What is the best way to handle using your credit card for an emergency? Here are a few tips that may help you get out of a jam if you choose to use your credit card.

Take out a loan
If you’re planning on putting an emergency expense on a credit card, make sure it’s truly a last resort. If possible, try to find other ways to cover the expense first. Can you ask a friend or family member for a loan? You may consider other loan options such as a personal bank loan or a home equity loan. These options do carry interest, but the rate may be lower than the one for your credit card.

Use a low interest card
Find and keep the lowest interest rate card you can. Many credit cards may come with an introductory zero percent interest rate for a specified period. But pay attention to the interest rate that applies after the initial period. This is what you’ll be obligated to pay after the introductory period expires.

Keep a healthy credit score
If you have good to excellent credit, you may be able to secure a zero percent interest card to use specifically for the emergency. The idea is that you would plan to pay off the balance during the introductory period.

If your credit score isn’t high, work on it. Make your payments on time and strive to keep a low credit card balance.

Build your emergency fund
At one time or another, many of us have been caught off guard with an emergency. A well-stocked emergency fund is the first line of defense when those unplanned expenses come up.

Aim for an emergency fund equivalent of 6 to 12 months’ worth of expenses. If that seems overwhelming, focus on smaller goals such as saving $500 and then try hitting $1,000. With time and diligence, your emergency fund will grow, and you may not have to worry so much about needing to put emergency expenses on a credit card.

Getting through a pinch with a credit card
If you are in a pinch and absolutely must put emergency expenses on a credit card, shoot for the lowest interest rate and pay it off as quickly as you can. Meanwhile, continue to build your emergency fund so you can be prepared in the future.

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January 28, 2019

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

100 million Americans live in homes they or their families rent.

Which means about 250 million live in homes that are owned by themselves or their families.[i]

What about you? Are you a renter or an owner? If you’re thinking about making a change, take a look at these important factors when deciding to rent or own.

The Case for Ownership
One very oft-cited benefit of owning over renting is building up equity. When one rents, the entire rent payment goes to the landlord, and the tenant does not own any part of the dwelling at all. With a mortgage, on the other hand, the payer receives some percentage of ownership after every payment (assuming the payment is going towards the principal rather than interest alone), eventually leading to full ownership of the property.

For those with enough capital to outright purchase a property, ownership is almost certainly the best decision financially: no money is paid to a landlord for a service that is consumed but non-saleable in the future. Even for those without sufficient capital, mortgages tend to offer low interest rates (compared to other loan products), and the buyer can usually justify the mortgage interest in return for eventual full ownership. Even if the owner decides to move before the mortgage is completely paid off, the equity that was built thus far can be recouped and used later.

Other reasons to own may include more privacy and greater ability to customize the property. There is also the feeling of stability that you won’t have to renew a contract or potentially pay higher rent during the next cycle when your lease renews.

One of the biggest drawbacks of ownership is the potential that the property value may decline, particularly when still under mortgage. If the value of the property goes down – possibly due to a natural disaster or a lot of foreclosures in your neighborhood [ii] – the equity that was built by the owner may decline, not the amount owed on the loan. Thus a substantial decrease in prices as happened in the late 2000s, could cause an owner to be in the same position financially as a renter – that is, with no equity to speak of.

The Case for Rentership
For those who cannot meet ownership’s capital requirements, renting is not a choice – it’s a necessity. However, even those who would qualify for a mortgage may be better off renting, especially if they insist on flexibility. Selling a property is an involved, complex financial transaction that may take many months to complete. If you’re renting and you need to move, finding a subletter (if allowed) is a possibility, and even when not, a standard rental agreement usually only lasts one year, after which the renter may decline to renew. Thus flexibility is one of the most important factors for those who wish to rent.

And while there is usually much less customization allowable at rental properties, there may be significant benefits included in rent with utilities paid, maintenance performed, and communal facilities like gyms, pools, or laundry facilities available. For owners, maintenance, utilities, and tax bills are solely the responsibility of the owner, whereas for renters, these may be paid in part or in full by the landlord. Regarding the investment side, renters do not own the property, so they do not have to worry about losing equity if the property market decreases in value.

Some drawbacks of renting may be less privacy, not being able to build equity, and the uncertainty of future rental prices or even availability. Of course, if the rent increases too much, the renter has the flexibility to leave the property at the next cycle.

So whether you’re thinking of renting or buying, before you sign on the dotted line, examine your short and long term goals, the risks you’re willing to take, and your budget.

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[i] https://www.citylab.com/life/2018/08/who-rents-their-home-heres-what-the-data-says/566933/
[ii] https://www.thebalancesmb.com/causes-of-property-value-decrease-2124863

January 7, 2019

More financial tips for the new year

More financial tips for the new year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 7, 2019

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Read this before you walk down the aisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 31, 2018

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

If you’re starting the new year resolving to save a little more money than last year – great idea!

A healthy savings habit is foundational to good financial health. But maybe you’re looking at your budget (you have a budget, right?) and wondering how you’re going to come up with that extra money to put away.

Maybe your budget is already pretty tight with very little wiggle room. Don’t despair! Read on for ten ways even the most financially strict households can save a little more this year.

Automatic savings from your paycheck
One of the easiest ways to stash some extra cash is to have it directly deposited into a separate savings account. Update your direct deposit to include a percentage or a dollar amount from your paycheck that will go directly into a savings account every time you get paid.

Cashback offers
If you use credit cards for household expenditures such as groceries or gas, find a card that gives you money back on the purchases you make. When it comes time to redeem the rewards, opt to deposit the extra cash right into your savings account.

Cut the grocery bill
Food for your household can often be one of the biggest monthly expenses. You can help cut your food costs by meal planning, buying what’s on sale, using coupons strategically, and shopping at farmers markets. Try to steer clear from pre-made foods and convenience frozen items. The least expensive way to buy food is often to purchase whole food items in bulk.

Make sure that if and when you fall under budget for groceries, you’re saving that leftover money. If this becomes a trend, try cutting your grocery budget by the average amount you’re falling under each month and officially allocating the surplus to your savings.

Shop the sales
Using coupons or buying items that are only on sale is a great way to save extra money. The challenge here is to avoid buying something just because it’s been marked down. Simply put, if you do need a new item, like a pair of glasses, try not to pay full price. It’s worth it to shop around for the best deal.

Eat at home
Whether you’re single or have a family, cooking and eating at home is probably going to be better for your wallet. No one could deny that eating out can be expensive, and the cost can quickly add up. Prep meals ahead of time and pack your lunches and snacks.

Make sense of your cents
What do you do with your pocket change? Most of us find a little of it everywhere – in our car, on the dresser, in the washing machine, and at the bottom of our purses. Pocket change is money, and it adds up. Treat your pocket change with the same attention you give to paper money.

Start by keeping it in one place, like a change jar or dish. Then, periodically deposit it into your bank account.

Take advantage of free entertainment
Learn where to look, and you’ll find free entertainment abounds. Instead of paying to see a local band, look for a free show. Craving a little café culture? Save the cost of a designer coffee and bring your homebrew to the city park.

Create an emergency fund
Creating an emergency fund doesn’t sound like a money-saving strategy, but it is. Why? Because when an emergency comes up, you’ll have money at hand to deal with it. An emergency fund keeps you from putting surprise expenses on a credit card and potentially incurring interest.

Stash the windfalls
Found money can boost your savings this year. Found money may include bonuses, gifts or inheritance. Any income that is not accounted for in your regular budget is found money. Stash found money and your savings account will grow. If you can’t bear not to treat yourself to something, go for it but commit to saving half.

Curb impulse buys
Impulse purchases may wreck even the most conscientious savings plan. If you want to save successfully, you’ve got to curb your impulse buys. Try using the 24-hour rule. For any non-essential purchase, wait 24 hours. This will give the impulse a chance to fade, and you might realize you don’t really need or want the item.

Reward yourself
Saving money isn’t easy, but with the right strategy, you can make your savings goals a reality. Good luck and here’s to a prosperous year!

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