So You Want to Buy Life Insurance for Your Parents...

September 28, 2020

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Luis Puente

Luis Puente

Financial Education

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September 23, 2020

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Life insurance is important… or so you’ve been told.

But do you really need it? And how can you know? Let’s take a look at who does and doesn’t need the family and legacy protecting power of life insurance and some specific examples of both.

Protecting your dependants
Is there anyone in your life who would suffer financially if your income were to vanish? If so, then you have dependents. And anyone with financial dependents should buy life insurance. Those are the people you’re aiming to protect with a life insurance policy.

On the other hand, if you live alone, aren’t helping anyone pay bills, and no one relies on you financially to pursue their dreams, then you still might need coverage. Let’s look at some specific examples below.

Young singles
Let’s say you’ve just graduated from college, you’ve started your first job, and you’re living in a new city. Your parents don’t need you to help support them, and you’re on your own financially. Should you get life insurance? If you have serious amounts of student or credit card debt that would get moved to your parents in the event of your passing, then it’s a consideration. You also might think about if you have saved enough in emergency funds to cover potential funeral expenses. Now would also potentially be a better time to buy a policy early while rates are low, especially if you’re considering starting a family in the near future.

Married without children
What if your family is just you and your spouse? Do either of you need life insurance? Remember, your goal is to protect the people who depend on your income. You and your spouse have built a life together that’s probably supported by both of your incomes. A life insurance policy could protect your loved one’s lifestyle if something were to happen to you. It would also help them meet lingering financial obligations like car payments, credit card debt, and a mortgage, even if they still have their income.

Single or married parents
Anyone with children must consider life insurance. No one relies on your income quite like your kids. It’s what clothes them and feeds them. Later on, it can empower them to pursue their educational dreams. Life insurance can help give you peace of mind that all of those needs will be protected. Even a stay-at-home parent should consider a policy. They often provide for needs like childcare and education that would be costly to replace. Life insurance is an essential line of defense for your family’s dreams and lifestyle.

Business owners
No one wants to think about what would happen to their business without them. But entrepreneurs and small business owners can use life insurance to protect their hard work. A policy can help protect your family if you took out loans to start your business and are still paying down debt. More importantly, it can help offset the losses if your family can’t operate the business without you and has to sell in poor market conditions.

Not everyone needs life insurance right now. But it’s a vital line of defense for the people you care about most and should be on everyone’s radar. The need might not be as urgent for a young, debt-free single person, but it’s still worth it to start making plans to protect your future family. Contact a financial professional today to begin the process of preparing!

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August 10, 2020

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

If you’re getting into the home buying game, chances are you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.

Purchasing a home for the first time is exciting but it can also be very stressful! Anyone who’s been through that process could probably share a story about a surprise hidden expense that came along with their dream home.

Read on to help prepare yourself for some common costs that can pop up unexpectedly when you’re purchasing a home.

Emergency fund
Before we get into the hidden costs of homeownership, let’s talk a little about how to help handle them if and when they do arise. If you’re getting ready to buy a home but don’t have an emergency fund, you may want to strongly consider holding off that purchase, if at all possible, until you do have an emergency fund established. It’s recommended to put aside at least $1,000, but preferably you should save 3-6 months of your expenses, including mortgage payments. An emergency fund is the most fundamental personal finance tool you can have in your toolkit. It’s like the toolbox itself that holds all your other financial tools together. So, before you start home shopping, build your emergency fund.

Homeowners associations
If your dream house happens to be in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), be prepared to pony up HOA fees each month (some HOA’s may charge these fees every quarter, or even annually). HOA fees may cover costs to maintain neighborhood common areas, such as pools or parks. They may also cover maintenance to your front lawn, and/or snow removal from driveways, etc. Typically, a homeowners association will have a board that enforces any agreed-upon property standards, such as having you remove ivy from your home exterior, or making sure your sidewalk is pressure washed regularly.

If you purchase a home with an HOA, be prepared for the added cost in fees as well as adhering to the rules. You may incur a fine for such things as your grass not being mowed properly, or parking your boat or camper in your yard.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
PMI comes into play if you can’t make at least a 20% down payment on your new home. If that’s the case, your mortgage lender charges PMI which would kick in to protect them if you default on the loan. It can cost 0.3 to 1.5% of your mortgage. However, once you have 20% equity in the home, you don’t have to pay it anymore. (Note: You may have to proactively call your mortgage company and tell them to remove it.)

Maintenance costs
If you’ve been living the maintenance-free life in an apartment or rental home, the cost of maintaining a house that you own may come as a shock. Even new homes require maintenance – lawn care, pressure washing, clearing rain gutters, painting, etc. There’s always going to be something to upgrade or repair on a home, and many first-time home buyers aren’t prepared for the expense.

A good rule of thumb is to budget about 10 percent of the value of your home for maintenance per year. So, if you buy a $250,000 home, you should prepare for $2,500 a year in maintenance costs.

Home insurance
Be prepared for some sticker shock when purchasing your homeowners’ insurance. Homeowners insurance is typically significantly more expensive than purchasing a renter’s policy. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, be prepared to pay top rates for homeowners’ insurance. If you live near a body of water, you may also need flood insurance.

Life insurance
Many first-time homebuyers may not give life insurance a thought, but it’s an important factor that can help protect your investment. You probably need life insurance if anyone is depending on your income. Especially if your income helps pay your mortgage every month, you should strongly consider a life insurance policy in case something were to happen to you. This will help ensure that your spouse or significant other can continue to live in your home.

Homebuying is exciting and part of the American dream. But don’t neglect to come back to reality – at least when making financial decisions – so you can budget properly and anticipate any hidden costs. This will help ensure that your first-time home buying experience is a happy one.

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August 5, 2020

Savings accounts vs. CDs – which is better?

Savings accounts vs. CDs – which is better?

Interest rates are on the rise, which might not be great news if you carry revolving debt.

But savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs) might start looking more attractive as places to put your money. Currently, both savings accounts and CDs might be good options, so which is better? In large part, whether a savings account or a CD is the better tool for saving depends on your savings goal.

Access to funds Savings accounts offer more flexibility than CDs if you need to withdraw your money. However, be aware that many banks charge a fee if your balance falls below a certain threshold. Some banks don’t have a minimum balance requirement, and some credit unions have minimum balance requirements as low as a penny. It could be worth it to shop around if you think you might need to draw down the account at any moment.

CDs, on the other hand, have a maturity date. If you need access to your funds before the maturity date, which might range from six months to up to five years depending on which CD you choose, expect to sacrifice some interest or pay a penalty. Accessing funds held in a standard CD before its maturity date is called “breaking the CD”.

“Liquid CDs” allow you to withdraw without penalty, but typically pay a lower interest rate than standard CDs.

Interest rates CDs are historically known for paying higher interest rates than savings accounts, but this isn’t always the case. Interest rates for both types of accounts are still hovering near their lows. Depending on your situation, it might be better to choose an account type based on convenience. If interest rates continue upward, CDs may become more attractive.

In a higher interest rate environment, CDs might be a great tool for saving if you know when you’ll need the money. Let’s say you have a bill for college that will be due in thirteen months. If you won’t need the money for anything else in the meantime, a twelve-month CD might be a fit because the CD will mature before the bill is due, so the money can be withdrawn without penalty.

If your goal is to establish an emergency fund, however, a CD might not be the best option because you don’t know when you’re going to need the money. If an emergency comes your way, you won’t want to pay a penalty to access your savings. Keep an eye on current rates, and if CD interest rates start to increase, then you might consider them for longer-term savings if you won’t need the funds until a fixed date in the future. For emergency savings, consider a savings account that keeps your money separate from your checking account but still provides easy access if you need it.

Depending on your situation, a CD or a savings account may be the better fit. Shop around for the best rates you can find, and make sure you understand any penalties or fees you might incur for withdrawing funds.

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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. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

June 15, 2020

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Credit card statements and auto loan statements are often among the bigger bills the mail carrier brings.

Wouldn’t it be great to just pay them off and then use those monthly payments for something else, like building your savings and giving yourself a bit of breathing room for a treat now and then?

Paying extra money on your credit card bills and your car loan at the same time may not be an option, so which is better to pay off first?

In most cases, paying down credit cards might be a better strategy. But the reasons for paying off your credit cards first are numerous. Let’s look at why that usually may make more sense.

  • Credit cards have high interest rates. When you look at the balances for your auto loan vs. your credit card, the larger amount may often be the auto loan. Big balances can be unnerving, so your inclination may be to pay that down first. However, auto loans usually have a relatively low interest rate, so if you have an extra $100 or $200 per month to put toward debt, credit cards make a better choice. The average credit card interest rate is about 15%, whereas the average auto loan rate is usually under 7%, if you have good credit.[i]

  • Credit cards charge compound interest. Most auto loans are simple-interest loans, which means you only pay interest on the principal. Credit cards, however, charge compound interest, which means any interest that accrues on your account can generate interest of its own. Yikes!

  • You’ll lower your credit utilization. Part of your credit score is based on your credit utilization, which specifically refers to how much of your revolving credit you use. As you pay down your balance, you’ll not only pay less in interest, you may also give your credit score a boost by reducing your credit utilization.

The numbers don’t lie
Let’s say you have a 5-year auto loan for $30,000 at 7% interest. You also have an extra $100 per month you’d like to use to pay down debt. By adding that 100 bucks to your car payments, over the course of the loan you can cut your loan length by 10 months and save $972.32.[ii] Impressive.

Let’s look at a credit card balance. Maybe the credit card interest rate is higher than the car loan, but hopefully the balance is lower. Let’s assume a balance of only $10,000 and an interest rate of 15%. With your minimum payment, you’d probably pay about $225 monthly. Putting the extra $100 per month toward the credit card balance and paying $325 shortens the payment length for the card balance by 26 months and saves $1,986 in interest expense.[iii] Wow!

The math tells the truth. In the above hypothetical scenarios, even though the balance on the credit card is one-third that of the total owed for the car, you would save more money by paying off the credit card balance first.

Financial strategy isn’t just about paying down debt though. As you go, be sure you’re saving as well. You’ll need an emergency fund and you’ll need to invest for your retirement. Let’s talk. I have some ideas that can help you build toward your goals for your future.

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May 25, 2020

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.

May 6, 2020

How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How much are you saving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 27, 2020

7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 18, 2019

The Breakdown: Term vs. Perm

The Breakdown: Term vs. Perm

Navigating the world of life insurance can be a daunting task.

Even more daunting can be figuring out what policy is best for you. Let’s break down the differences between a couple of the more common life insurance policies, so you can focus on an even more daunting task – what your family’s going to have for dinner tonight!

Term Life Insurance
A Term life insurance policy covers an individual for a specific period of time – the most common term lengths being 10, 20, or 30 years. The main advantage of this type of policy is that it generally can cost the consumer less than a permanent insurance plan, because it might be shorter than a permanent policy.

The goal of a term policy is to pay the lowest premiums possible, because by the time the term expires, your family will no longer need the insurance. The primary thing to keep in mind is to choose a term length that covers the years you plan to work prior to retirement. This way, your family members (or beneficiaries) would be taken care of financially if something were to happen to you.

Permanent Life Insurance
Contrary to term life insurance, permanent life insurance provides lifelong coverage, as long as you pay your premiums. This insurance policy – which also can be known as “universal” or “whole” – provides coverage for ongoing needs such as caring for family members, a spouse that needs coverage after retirement, or paying off any debts of the deceased.

Another great benefit a perm policy offers is cash accumulation. As premiums are paid over time, the money is allocated to an investment account from which the individual can borrow or withdraw the funds for emergencies, illness, retirement, or other unexpected needs. Because this policy provides lifelong coverage and access to cash in emergencies, most permanent policies are more expensive than term policies.

How Much Does the Average Consumer Need?
Unless you have millions of dollars in assets and make over $250,000 a year, most of your insurance coverage needs may be met through a simple term policy. However, if you have a child that needs ongoing care due to illness or disability, if you need coverage for your retirement, or if you anticipate needing to cover emergency expenses, it may be in your best interest to purchase a permanent life insurance policy.

No matter where you are in life, you should consider purchasing some life insurance coverage. Many employers will actually offer this policy as part of their benefits package. If you are lucky enough to work for an employer who does this, take advantage of it, but be sure to examine the policy closely to make sure you’re getting the right amount of coverage. If you don’t work for a company that offers life insurance, don’t worry, you still may be able to get great coverage at a relatively inexpensive rate. Just make sure to do your research, consider your options, and make an informed decision for you and your family.

Now, what’s it going to be? Order a pizza or make breakfast for dinner? Choices, choices…

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December 11, 2019

Party of Two?

Party of Two?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 25, 2019

What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 20, 2019

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

American combined consumer debt now exceeds $13 trillion. That’s a stack of dollar bills nearly 900,000 miles high.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Credit cards: $931 billion
  • Auto loans: $1.22 trillion
  • Student loans: $1.38 trillion
  • Mortgages: $8.88 trillion
  • Any type of debt: $13.15 trillion

Nearly every type of debt can interfere with your financial goals, making you feel like a hamster on a wheel – constantly running but never actually getting anywhere. If you’ve been trying to dig yourself out of a debt hole, it’s time to take a break and look at the bigger picture.

Did you know there are often advantages to paying off certain types of debt before other types? What the simple list above doesn’t include is the average interest rates or any tax benefits to a given type of debt, which can change your priorities. Let’s check them out!

Credit Cards
Credit card interest rates now average over 15%, and interest rates are on the rise. For most households, credit card debt is the place to start – stop spending on credit and start making extra payments whenever possible. Think of it as an investment in your future, one that pays a 15% guaranteed return – the equivalent of a 20% return in the stock market or other taxable investment.

Auto Loans
Interest rates for auto loans are usually much lower than credit card debt, often under 5% on newer loans. Interest rates aren’t the only consideration for auto loans though. New cars depreciate nearly 20% in the first year. In years 2 and 3, you can expect the value to drop another 15% each year. The moral of the story is that cars are a terrible investment but offer great utility. There’s also no tax benefit for auto loan interest. Eliminating debt as fast as possible on a rapidly depreciating asset is a sound decision.

Student Loans
Like auto loans, student loans are usually in the range of 5% to 10% interest. While interest rates are similar to car loans, student loan interest is often tax deductible, which can lower your effective rate. Auto loans can usually be paid off faster than student loan debt, allowing more cash flow to apply to student debt, emergency funds, or other needs.

Mortgage Debt
In most cases, mortgage debt is the last type of debt to pay down. Mortgage rates are usually lower than the interest rates for credit card debt, auto loans, or student loans, and the interest is usually tax deductible. If mortgage debt keeps you awake at night, paying off other types of debt first will give you greater cash flow each month so you can begin paying down your mortgage.

When you’ve paid off your other debt and are ready to start tackling your mortgage, try paying bi-monthly (every two weeks). This simple strategy has the effect of adding one extra mortgage payment each year, reducing a 30-year loan term by several years. Because the payments are spread out instead of making one (large) 13th payment, it’s likely you won’t even notice the extra expense.

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November 6, 2019

Common Financial Potholes

Common Financial Potholes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 16, 2019

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 9, 2019

Are You Sitting Down?

Are You Sitting Down?

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

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

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

National Savings Rate
The savings rate is calculated as the ratio of personal savings to disposable personal income. In March 2018, the U.S. personal savings rate was about 3%. So – is that high? Is it low? Get this: The personal savings rate has fallen nearly 50% in the past two years. Tracking the monthly savings rate back to 1959 shows that we’re not as good at saving as we used to be. In the past, the long-term average personal savings rate was over 8%, with some periods of time when it was over 15%. Kind of shames our current 3% savings rate, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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August 14, 2019

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 3)

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 3)

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

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

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

1. Does your personal bank have any kind of fee attached to the minimum amount of money in your checking account? Staying on course to your financial goals can be tough enough, but when you’re hit with a surprise fee from your bank, can that feel like losing vital g-force in the right direction? Americans paid an average of $53 per person in 2015. And these charges can be avoided largely by knowing what your chosen bank requires of you – along with very careful attention to what’s in your account. Use the tips below with your bank’s unique rules to avoid those course-altering fees via your checking account:

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

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

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

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August 12, 2019

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)

Previously on “The Black Hole of Checking”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 10, 2019

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?Only 41% of Americans surveyed said they could turn to their savings to cover the cost of the unexpected. That means nearly 60% 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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June 26, 2019

A Lotto Bad Ideas

A Lotto Bad Ideas

A full third of Americans believe that winning the lottery is the only way they can retire.

What? Playing a game of chance is the only way they can retire? Do you ever wonder if winning a game – where your odds are 1 in 175,000,000 – is the only way you’ll get to make Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops your everyday uniform?

Do you feel like you might be gambling with your retirement?

If you do, that’s not a good sign. But believing you may need to win the lottery to retire is somewhat understandable when the financial struggle facing a majority of North Americans is considered: 78% of American full-time workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and 71% of all American workers are currently in debt.

When you’re in a financial hole, saving for your future may feel like a gamble in the present. But believing that “it’s impossible to save for retirement” is just one of many bad money ideas floating around. Following are a few other common ones. Do any of these feel true to you?

Bad Idea #1: I shouldn’t save for retirement until I’m debt free.
False! Even as you’re working to get out from under debt, it’s important to continue saving for your retirement. Time is going to be one of the most important factors when it comes to your money and your retirement, which leads right into the next Bad Idea…

Bad Idea #2: It’s fine to wait until you’re older to save.
The truth is, the earlier you start saving, the better. Even 10 years can make a huge difference. In this hypothetical scenario, let’s see what happens with two 55-year-old friends, Baxter and Will.

  • Baxter started saving when he was 25. Over the next 10 years, Baxter put away $3,000 a year for a total of $30,000 in an account with an 8% rate of return. He stopped contributing but let it keep growing for the next 20 years.
  • Will started saving 10 years later at age 35. Will also put away $3,000 a year into an account with an 8% rate of return, but he contributed for 20 years (for a total of $60,000).

Even though Will put away twice as much as Baxter, he wasn’t able to enjoy the same account growth:

  • Baxter would achieve account growth to $218,769.
  • Will’s account growth would only be to $148,269 at the same rate of return.

Is that a little mind-bending? Do we need to check our math? (We always do.) Here’s why Baxter ended up with more in the long run: Even though he set aside less than Will did, Baxter’s money had more time to compound than Will’s, which, as you can see, really added up over the additional time. So what did Will get out of this? Unfortunately, he discovered the high cost of waiting.

Keep in mind: All figures are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect an actual investment in any product. Additionally, they do not reflect the performance risks, taxes, expenses, or charges associated with any actual investment, which would lower performance. This illustration is not an indication or guarantee of future performance. Contributions are made at the end of the period. Total accumulation figures are rounded to the nearest dollar.

Bad Idea #3: I don’t need life insurance.
Negative! Financing a well-tailored life insurance policy is an important part of your financial strategy. Insurance benefits can cover final expenses and loss of income for your loved ones.

Bad Idea #4: I don’t need an emergency fund.
Yes, you do! An emergency fund is necessary now and after you retire. Unexpected costs have the potential to cut into retirement funds and derail savings strategies in a big way, and after you’ve given your last two-weeks-notice ever, the cost of new tires or patching a hole in the roof might become harder to cover without a little financial cushion.

Are you taking a gamble on your retirement with any of these bad ideas?

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April 10, 2019

When should you see a financial professional?

When should you see a financial professional?

Just about anyone may benefit from seeing a financial professional, but how do you know when it’s time to get some professional guidance?

Many people work through much of their financial life without needing to talk to a financial professional, but then something may change. Maybe you are approaching retirement and want to make sure you have your bases covered. Perhaps you just received an inheritance and aren’t quite sure what to do with it, or maybe you received a big promotion with a substantial raise and want a little help with your existing financial strategy.

Whatever the case may be, here are a few signposts that indicate it may be time to see a financial professional.

You are unsure about your financial future
If when thinking about your financial future, and you keep coming up with a blank slate, a financial professional may help you formulate a solid savings strategy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by differing financial responsibilities, a conversation with a financial professional may help you sort it all out and develop a roadmap. If you’re juggling a lot of financial balls, such as student loan debt, retirement savings, credit card debt, building an emergency fund, trying to buy a house, etc., you may benefit from some professional financial input.

You have inherited a large sum of money
Coming in to an inheritance is a key signal to seek out a financial professional. A financial professional may be able to help you determine the options you have to manage the money that you may not be aware of. The important thing with an inheritance is to take your time when making decisions and consider any long term implications for your family.

You want a professional opinion
Say you like managing your own money, and you’ve been doing a pretty good job of it. You read the financial news and keep up with the latest from Wall Street. You may feel you’re doing just fine without the help of a financial professional, and that’s great. But, getting a second opinion on your finances from a qualified financial professional may go a long way.

Sometimes with our finances we may have a blind spot – a risk we may not see, or an opportunity to do something better that we haven’t noticed. A financial professional may help you find those opportunities and help eliminate those risks. Even if your finance game is on a roll, a little professional guidance may help make it even better.

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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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