Should You Only Use Cash?

July 6, 2020

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Luis Puente

Luis Puente

Financial Education

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Farmers Branch, TX 75234

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June 10, 2020

The Food Waste Epidemic... And What You Can Do About It

The Food Waste Epidemic... And What You Can Do About It

Food waste is a big problem.

Don’t believe me? Just check out these food waste facts:

- The average family throws away around $1,500 of food every year.(1)

- One recent study found that we toss around a third of all consumable food, with wealthy nations being the biggest culprits.(2)

- Cutting back our food waste just 15% would free up enough food to feed 25 million Americans.(3)

Those are incredible numbers. And they touch everything from the poor in other parts of the world to your own wallet! But what can you do? How can you not only combat a global problem but also look out for your own financial needs? Here are a few practical ways to reduce food waste and save some money while you’re at it!

Shop with a plan
The first step to not wasting food is only buying food you plan on eating. That means deciding ahead of time what you want to eat, making a list, and only buying those items at the store. Sure, it’s thrilling to walk down the produce aisle just waiting for an exotic veggie to catch your eye or buying extra meat just in case you want pork chops instead of chicken thighs. But you’ll quickly find that shopping without a strategy can lead to overbuying. This raises the potential that food won’t get prepared and will get thrown out. Always start with a list and shop from there.

Online shopping may help you stay on track with your list—and save you a ton of time! It’s fairly simple these days to log in to your favorite grocery store app, check items off, then click Delivery or Pick-up. (Keep in mind the store may charge a small fee for these services, but if it means not throwing out yet another unopened box of spinach, it might be worth it!)

Store wisely
Even the best planner will overbuy at some point. Maybe there’s a great sale on your kids’ favorite snack crackers, or you want to pick up a couple extra bottles of wine since they’re BOGO. You might stock up on Monday and then remember you have dinner plans with the in-laws on Friday. Don’t panic! Keeping your food from going bad is actually pretty simple. For many perishable items, just take a deep breath, open your freezer, and put your food inside. Close the freezer door. Your food should be safe from going bad until your schedule clears up. Just remember to dethaw your food before you try cooking it!

If you find you’re stocking up often on dry goods, you might want to invest in some quality containers (plastic, glass or metal) to help keep your food fresher, longer.

Reuse (safely)
But what happens if you prepare a ton of food for a meal only to discover that your stomach is smaller than you anticipated? Open up the trash can and dump all of that delicious, edible food?

Never!

The classic leftovers loophole is to put your food in proper containers and leave them in the fridge until you can get back to them in the next day or two. You can also freeze leftovers if you need. But why stop there? Those leftovers are just begging to be transformed into something fresh and delicious! Why not stir fry them with some rice or cook them into a casserole? Get creative and make something new and amazing!

Reducing food waste takes a little work and planning. But with the right attitude, it can be a fun way of contributing to your community, helping the planet, and avoiding a hunger strike by your bank account!

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June 1, 2020

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

Americans owe over $900 billion in credit card debt, and credit card interest rates are on the rise again – now over 15%.

If you’re on a mission to reduce or eliminate your credit card debt, you may decide to just close all your credit cards. However, some of the consequences may not be what you’d expect.

Lingering Effects: The Good and the Bad
Many of us have heard that credit card information stays on your credit report for 7 years. That’s true for negative information, including events as large as a foreclosure. Positive events, however, stay for 10 years. In either case, canceling your credit card now will reduce the credit you have available, but the history – good or bad – will remain on your credit report for years to come.

Times when cancelling a card may be your best bet:

  • A card charges an annual fee. If you’re being charged an annual fee for the privilege of having a credit card, it may be better to cancel the card, particularly if you don’t use the card often or have other options available.
  • Uncontrolled spending. If “retail therapy” is impeding your financial future by creating an ever-growing mountain of debt, it may be best to eliminate the temptation of buying with credit by cutting up those cards.

When You Might Want to Hang Onto a Credit Card:
You may not have known that one aspect your credit score is the age of your accounts. Canceling a much older account in favor of a newer account can leave a dent in your credit score. And canceling the card won’t erase any negative history, so it may be best to hang on to the older credit account as long as there are no costs to the card. Also, the effects of canceling an older account may be larger when you’re younger than if you have a long credit history.

Credit Utilization Affects Your Credit Score
Lenders and credit bureaus also look at credit utilization, which refers to how much of your available credit you’re using. Lower percentages help your credit score, but high utilization can work against you.

For example, if you have $20,000 in credit available and $10,000 in credit card balances, your credit utilization is 50 percent. If you close a credit card that has a credit limit of $5,000, your available credit drops to $15,000, but your credit utilization jumps to 67 percent (if the credit card balances remain unchanged). If you’re carrying high balances, going on a credit card cancelling rampage can have negative effects because your credit utilization can skyrocket.

To sum it all up, if unnecessary spending is out of control or there is a cost to having a particular credit card, it may be best to cancel the card. In other cases, however, it’s often better to just use credit cards occasionally, or if you have an emergency.

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May 27, 2020

How Do Youtubers Make Money?

How Do Youtubers Make Money?

People make tons of money on YouTube.

And a lot of it doesn’t seem to make any sense. The highest paid YouTuber is Ryan Kaji, an eight-year-old child who opens toys and plays with them on camera. He made $26 million from June 1, 2018 to June 1, 2019 (1). The list of highest earning YouTubers includes another child, multiple gamers, and a group of guys who do tricks.

So how do people make money opening toys, playing video games, or doing makeup tutorials? What value are these people bringing to their millions of viewers?

The power of the parasocial
It’s important to understand why people watch YouTube. Part of it is for the occasional funny video. Those are great, but they’re difficult to monetize. What’s become more common is for someone to start a channel dedicated to creating a certain kind of content. It can be anything from music reviews to makeup tutorials to skit comedy. Viewers stumble onto the channel and enjoy what they see, but soon something special starts to happen; they form a type of relationship with the content creator.

This is a well-observed phenomenon called a parasocial interaction. People start to feel like they know someone without ever actually meeting them in real life. You’re not just watching someone play video games or watching the news or listening to a music review. You’re spending time with someone you relate to and think of as a friend, sort of. And that results in racking up consistent viewing hours.

Ads
Roughly 1 billion hours of YouTube videos get watched every single day (2). It’s really the perfect platform for almost anyone trying to advertise their business. Content creators can become YouTube partners once they have a certain number of subscribers and watched hours. This allows them to put ads in their videos with Google Adsense, provided they follow certain guidelines.

On paper, ads don’t pay much; Forbes estimated in 2018 that top YouTube talent could make about $5 per 1,000 views from ads (3). That’s why the key is to create lots of bankable content. Uploading 5 days a week with an average of 100,000 views per video 52 weeks per year could hypothetically earn you $130,000 annually. But there’s more ways to monetize YouTube than ads.

Sponsorships
There are plenty of businesses looking for more personal ways of marketing their products. (Remember that YouTubers can have parasocial relationships with their audiences.) A recommendation from your favorite channel feels like a recommendation from a trusted friend. And brands are willing to pay big dollars to cash in on that opportunity. Compensation for a sponsored video varies on the size of a YouTuber’s audience, but on average it’s around $2,000 per 100,000 subscribers. This is where the numbers start to skyrocket. A single sponsored video per week with 100,000 views can now potentially net you $130,000 annually. At that point, you’re poised to grow your audience and further increase your cash flow.

Realistically, YouTubers make money the same way entertainers have for years. They draw attention to ads and are mouthpieces for brands. The differences are that the barriers to entry are incredibly low and scope of the audience essentially limitless. There’s no doubt that YouTube has revolutionized who gets to shape modern media.

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May 20, 2020

New Money

New Money

Last time we looked at old money.

We saw that it’s built on a very specific set of values and exists in very specific places. But what about so-called new money?

The new money story
New money is characterized by a story. It begins at nothing, or next to nothing, and builds a fortune through hard work, grit, and determination. These rags-to-riches tales have been around for a while, but they’ve gripped the American imagination, especially since the last half of the 19th century. Andrew Carnegie and Steve Jobs are the classic examples of new money narratives, both men coming from immigrant families and amassing huge fortunes for themselves to change the world.

New money values
Building a fortune from scratch relies on a different mindset than managing a pre-existing legacy. Risk taking and innovation are often encouraged and even flaunted by the new money class. It’s a forward-thinking, even progressive, attitude that’s always looking for the next way to make another dollar.

The openness of new money
Progressivism and hustle are the hallmarks of new money. That’s resulted in new money existing in a unique world. New money tends to be found in the hotspots of entertainment or technology. That means movie studios attracting actors look for a break or technical schools swarming with students trying to build a digital future. The new money ethos has also resulted in very specific spending patterns that are more public. Highly visible charities, brash social media presences, and expensive toys and gadgets are all part of the package. But so is an interest in looking like an everyman. Fashion choices tend to be simple, most classically t-shirts or turtlenecks. It’s a far cry from the aloof elegance of old money!

Blurry borders between old and new
The lines between old and new money get complicated in how life plays out. Plenty of tech fortunes have been squandered over the last 30 years, while others have quietly decided to manage their wealth in obscurity. Plus, there’s no shortage of American aristocracy looking to flex on social media!

The biggest key is that old money and new money are built on values and mindsets. You can manage wealth earned from a mobile game like an oil tycoon from a long lost era and secure a legacy for your kids. Or you can forsake your family’s business of 200 years and forge your own path with hard work and grit. It’s up to you how you manage your specific circumstance!

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April 20, 2020

Your Life Insurance Rate & You: Poor Health Habits

Your Life Insurance Rate & You: Poor Health Habits

What are you digging so deep in your pocket for? If you’re looking for a lighter, you might need to dig for some extra change, too…

… You’ll need help to meet your higher life insurance rate if you’re planning on lighting up a cigarette.

Health details and everyday habits that may seem small or insignificant can have a massive effect on your life insurance rate. You may have heard something about the underwriting process. The purpose of the underwriting process is to determine how risky a person will be to insure. And the riskier someone is to insure, the higher their rate is likely to be. That risk is calculated by how soon an insurer estimates an applicant will need the full payout of their life insurance policy.

Some factors that influence risk (like age and gender) are out of your control. But did you know that your habits can also send your life insurance rate up?

Here are 3 poor health habits that an underwriter will definitely uncover and will definitely affect your life insurance rate:

1. Smoking
If you smoke cigarettes, expect a higher life insurance rate. Period. Even products like nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges can earn a life insurance applicant “smoker” status (depending on the provider). At this point, are there really any lingering questions about how cigarettes affect your overall health and projected longevity? Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals and at least 70 known carcinogens.

A bit of good news? The longer it’s been since you quit smoking, the better things might look for you from an underwriting standpoint. For instance, some underwriters are only required to look back into your history as far as 12 months, so if you have quit cigarettes for a year, you may end up with a better classification – and a better classification potentially means a better life insurance rate.

2. Being Too Overweight
An underwriter will also assess your height-to-weight ratio. Your unique ratio will classify you according to a certain rate. Being overweight or obese increases health risks like stroke, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure, among others. So the more overweight you are, the riskier you are to insure. And what does that mean? You guessed it: your chances of a higher rate are significantly increased.

3. Drinking A LOT of Alcohol
Did reading about this poor health habit throw you off? After all, a few drinks isn’t that bad, right? Well, “a few drinks,” no, but drinking in excess can start to have adverse effects on your overall health. Excessive or “binge” drinking would be 5+ alcoholic drinks for men and 4+ alcoholic drinks for women at the same occasion or within a couple of hours of each other on at least 1 day in the past month. Chronic excessive drinking brings these common health risks: liver disease, pancreatitis, cancer, brain damage, and more.

How will an underwriter know if you’re drinking to excess? They’ll give you a questionnaire, you’ll be subject to a medical exam, and they’ll see your driving record. So If there is any evidence of drinking excessively and getting behind the wheel of a car, consider your life insurance rates raised.

Kicking these 3 habits can have great effect on your personal health and on your life insurance rate! With a little effort, time, and preparation, you can put yourself in a better position for a potentially more affordable rate. But don’t wait to get started! Remember: when you apply for life insurance, you may not get full credit for changes to these 3 poor health habits made in the 12 months prior to your application..

Every insurer’s rates are going to be a little bit different, and that’s why you have an advantage by working with me. We’ll shop around for the policy and rate that’s tailored to your unique needs.

So if you’ve been waiting for a sign to stop smoking, quit eating too much junk food, or cut back on drinking, consider this it!

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April 6, 2020

The Gig Economy

The Gig Economy

The gig economy is huge.

Almost 36% of workers were involved in the gig economy in 2019, and it seems like that number could grow in the future (1). But what exactly is the gig economy? What even is a gig? And how is it different from what’s existed in the past? Those are the big questions we’ll answer in this blog!

A gig vs. a job
Let’s start with the basics. We’ve gotten used to thinking of a job as being something that’s permanent. Older generations might have worked a factory for their whole lives, climbed their way up a promotion ladder, and then retired with company provided benefits. A gig, in comparison, is a job with a certain end date. That might be until a project gets completed, a website gets launched, or until your band wraps up a set at the local bar. It’s temporary by definition. Gigs are still jobs. You provide a service and money changes hands. But they’re very different from what we’ve come to expect jobs should look like.

Digital gigs
Gigs have always existed. Old-school mercenaries would sign up to fight until specific contracts expired, jumping from warlord to warlord. But the nature of gigs has changed. When someone talks about a side hustle these days they’re probably describing some kind of pay-by-the-job work they’re doing via an app or the internet. That could be driving for a ride share like Uber, doing design contracts on Upwork, or even finding one-and-done moving jobs on Craigslist!

Technology and shifting mindsets
So why now? Why has employment changed so drastically and so quickly? Part of the answer is the massive shift in technology the last decade has seen. A side gig is now just a tap away on your phone. Someone could be freelancing for three different projects during the day and ridesharing at night—all managed on their personal device. Technology has exploded in this way because it’s what a lot of people want. Independence, flexibility, and control have become increasingly important, outweighing traditional values like stability.

It’s hard to tell where the gig economy will take us. It might be a passing phase that fades away, or it might be the norm for years to come. But there’s no doubt that new mindsets and rapidly evolving technology will continue to affect how we relate to employment for years to come.

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March 23, 2020

Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Let’s face it—we’ve all botched a New Year’s fitness resolution.

Sure, we started the year with great intentions and a few gym visits, but it didn’t take long for our resolve to waver and we never returned. However, many of us have kept that membership around. After all, we paid so much to sign up that we might as well hold on to it just in case our motivation comes back, right?

Wrong.

It turns out that gym membership might have been a bad value right from the start. But how can you tell? Here’s a few things to consider if you’re thinking about finally moving on from your overly ambitious New Year’s resolution.

How gym memberships work
Gym memberships seem pretty simple on the surface; you pay once a month for access to gym equipment during operating hours. But annual fees and initiation fees can add up pretty quickly, meaning that you can potentially sink hundreds of dollars into a gym. National gym chains may range in price from $164 to $1,334 per year, but the national average comes out to $696 annually. Plus, some gyms make you sign a contract locking you into a year-long membership. You have to pay for the membership regardless if you work out!

The big question: Are you paying for something you won’t use?
Gym memberships are more cost effective the more you take advantage of them. Going to the gym seven times a week at an average priced gym? Let’s do the math. You’ll pay $1.90 per visit. Go four times per week? $3.36 (1).

But let’s say you visit the gym about four times per month for an hour-long sweat session. You’ll wind up spending $14.50 per hour! To put that in perspective, we spend an average of $0.28 on Netflix per hour. Sitting around watching TV is far more cost effective than working out.

Alternatives to gym memberships
So what can you do if you want to get fit but don’t want the potential financial black hole of a gym membership? It’s often cheaper in the long run to build your own gym at home rather than getting a membership. You also might want to see if your apartment or office has a serviceable gym. If all else fails, you can always do body weight exercises. You might be surprised by how grueling and intense push-ups and squats can be!

The bottom line is that the keys to making your gym membership worth it are motivation and discipline. The cost of buying a membership isn’t enough incentive (2). You have to find a deeper drive to get you in the gym week in and week out. Check out the costs of your local gym, weigh the alternatives, and ask yourself why you want to start working out before you sign that contract!

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March 4, 2020

A Brief History of Credit Cards

A Brief History of Credit Cards

We’re all familiar with credit cards.

You probably have a few in your wallet! But did you know that they’re actually fairly modern inventions with an interesting, and surprisingly controversial, backstory. This is a brief history of credit cards!

Credit before cards
The concept of credit is actually thousands of years old. It dates back to the time of the first recorded laws, if not further. But the practice of credit fell on hard times following the fall of the Roman Empire; the Church opposed lending someone money and then adding on interest when they pay it back. But the Renaissance, coupled with the discovery of a huge resource filled continent, saw a revolution in Western banking and investing. Businesses started collaborating to find out which borrowers were reliable and which ones couldn’t pay their debts.

The birth of charge cards
It wasn’t uncommon for businesses to loan money to customers. General Motors, for instance, started offering credit in 1919 to car buyers who couldn’t pay up front with cash (1). Merchants with more regular customers, like department stores, started handing out credit tokens that would allow purchases to be made on credit.

But things changed in 1949 when New York businessman Frank McNamara realized he didn’t have his wallet at a restaurant when it came time to pay the check. Luckily his wife was there to rescue him. He and his business partner, Ralph Schneider, then came up with the idea of a card that would allow users to dine around New York on credit. It wasn’t a full-blown credit card; it had to be paid off in full at the end of each month, making it a “charge” card. But it was a hit. By 1951, the Diners Club Card was being used by 10,000 people (2)!

“Giving sugar to diabetics”
Big banks were quick to realize that they could make a pretty penny if they started offering easily accessible credit to the masses. In 1958, Bank of America released its own credit cards. Debt from one month was carried over to the next month, meaning consumers could carry revolving credit card debt for as long as they pleased. Magnetic strips—invented in the early 60s—were added to the plastic cards and used to store transaction information at special payment terminals.

But banks had a problem; they had to make sure that the cards were actually accepted by stores. Otherwise, why bother using your brand new credit card? But stores would only accept the cards if enough people actually had them. A mass mailing campaign began, with banks sending out millions of cards to families across the nation. It worked, and soon credit cards became increasingly normalized.

Not everyone was pleased. There were huge issues with cards being stolen out of mailboxes and used to rack up debt. Furthermore, some were uncomfortable with popular access to massive amounts of credit. The President’s assistant at the time described it as “giving sugar to diabetics (3).” Regulations were introduced throughout the 70s to reduce some of the excesses of credit card distribution and protect consumers.

Conclusion
But despite the backlash, credit cards had arrived on the scene for good. Banks united to strengthen their network in 1970, forming the group that would eventually become Visa. Interbank Card Association (i.e., MasterCard) formed in 1966 and then introduced a vast computer network in 1973, connecting consumers with merchants in unprecedented ways.

Today, credit cards are everywhere. In 2017, 40.8 billion credit transactions were made, totalling 3.6 trillion dollars (4). The technology of consumer credit has continued to evolve too. The magnetic strips of the 60s and 70s have given way to chips, and now cards are slowly being replaced by phones and digital watches. What started as a way of paying for dinner if you forgot your wallet has become an international and digital phenomenon that’s changed the lives of millions of consumers.

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February 19, 2020

A Brief History of Stock Exchanges

A Brief History of Stock Exchanges

Stock markets didn’t exist four hundred years ago.

Wealth was highly concentrated in the hands of monarchs, lords, and elite merchants, and trade was risky at best. Raising money for an expedition (or war) meant either asking for a loan, collecting taxes, or both.

A Whole New World
But something changed for Europeans in the 1400s. The Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople (now Istanbul) and effectively cut off trade routes that had always brought in goods and big profits from China. Things that were previously thought impossible suddenly sounded like worthwhile possibilities. One thing led to another and before long a fellow named Christopher Columbus had introduced Europeans to a massive continent rich in resources. Major powers like Spain, Portugal, France, and England started to seriously invest in getting as much out of this “New World” as they could!

Disease, Famine, and Risk Reduction
“What does any of this have to do with trading stocks?” you might ask. Well, imagine that you’re living in 16th century Europe and you decide you’ve had it with all this groveling and servitude and poverty and want to make some cash. The New World is your best option to make it big; land is easy to come by and there are plenty of new resources like tobacco to grow and sell. There’s just one problem: it’s insanely risky. Between disease, famine, and bad weather, there’s a good chance you’ll either die or lose everything in the attempt. So what can you do?

Traders realized that they could reduce how much they risked on an expedition if they got multiple people to chip in. Everybody would get a portion of the profits if everything went well, and if not, any losses would get spread out. It didn’t take long for people to figure out that selling small portions or “shares” of trading voyages was a great way to raise cash that didn’t require levying taxes or stumbling on massive gold deposits.

The First Coporation
At first, shares were only good for a single voyage. But the Dutch East India Company changed all of that in 1602. The Dutch government decided they wanted to dominate trade with Asia, and they looked to the public for funding. Shares were priced so that most merchants could buy in, and the promise of government backing and continuing profits convinced hundreds to purchase the stock. It worked. The Dutch East India company became one of the first truly transnational corporations in history and essentially became its own state, flooding the Dutch people with valuable resources and prosperity.

Everyone took note of the Dutch model and decided to imitate it. Publicly traded companies started to pop up across Europe, with stock exchanges becoming a place where anyone with the means could buy and sell shares of different corporations. It was a huge step away from the older model of raising capital and created a new kind of institution, one that continues to dominate the world of business to this day.

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February 10, 2020

Is Your Employer-Provided Life Insurance Enough?

Is Your Employer-Provided Life Insurance Enough?

Just because your company provides you with free life insurance coverage doesn’t mean you’re fully protected.

While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have, it may not be enough to provide for your family in the event of a tragedy.

For the first time ever, more Americans have employer-provided life insurance (108 million) than have individual life insurance coverage (102 million), according to a new LIMRA study. This is important especially during Life Insurance Awareness month to make sure you’re aware that typically life insurance through your job is not portable. Which means you can’t take it with you. Everyone should make sure they have individually owned insurance to protect their family just in case they switch jobs or lose their job or potentially start your own company.

How employer-provided life insurance works.
A life insurance policy from your employer is typically a group plan that’s offered to you and your co-workers. Your policy is held by the company, and they’ll often pay most if not all the premium costs. The amount of insurance you’ll receive varies, but it’s normally one to two times your annual salary.

Problems with employer-provided life insurance.
A $50,000 payout, for example, may seem like a lot. But you may notice a problem when you stop thinking in terms of numbers on paper and look at how long the insurance money would last. You go from $50,000 per year to just $50,000, period! A life insurance benefit is essentially buying your family time to grieve and plan for their future in your absence. That might mean looking for new jobs, adjusting to a single-income lifestyle, taking out student loans, and so on.

If your employer-provided policy just matches your annual salary, your loved ones would only be covered for a single year as they go through the process of readjustment (assuming their spending habits don’t change and they don’t encounter any emergencies). In fact, 5 to 10 times your annual income is considered a reasonable amount of insurance for just this reason; it gives your loved ones plenty of time to figure things out.

Another problem with an employer-provided life insurance policy is that it depends on your employment status. If you leave that job (voluntarily or involuntarily), what might happen to your family if they are left unprotected? While employer-provided life insurance is definitely a perk, it often might not be enough.

Alternatives to employer-provided life insurance.
That’s why considering an individual plan is so important. It may not be provided by your employer, but you’ll get what you pay for – a safety net for the ones you love and the time they’ll need to recover… regardless of where you’re working.

Have questions? Feel free to contact me! I would love to help you prepare your insurance strategy and help protect your family’s future.

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February 5, 2020

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Going to college can be a great way to invest in your future and get the training and education you need to thrive in the modern job market.

But we’ve all heard the horror stories of students saddled with thousands in loans that they struggle to pay back, sometimes for years. Student loan debt is often the most pressing financial issue for college students and recent grads.

So how do you take advantage of the benefits of a college education without burdening your future with years of debt? Here are some tips to help you avoid high student loan payments and pay your student debt off more quickly after graduation.

Work through school
The days of working a minimum wage job to put yourself through school seem to be over. However, working enough to cover at least some of your books and living expenses may make a huge dent in the amount of money you’ll have to borrow to graduate.

Work-study programs on campus are often good options, as they are willing to work around your class schedules. Off-campus part-time jobs can be a good option as well, and may offer better pay.

Live as cheaply as possible
Everyone knows the cliché of the broke college student existing on nothing but ramen noodles. While not many people would recommend trying to live on nutritionless soup every day, you should be able to find ways to cut your cost of living to reduce the amount of money you need to borrow to sustain your lifestyle.

Try living off campus with family or roommates and packing sandwiches instead of paying expensive meal tickets and dorm fees. Bike, walk, or take public transportation to avoid parking. Take advantage of free on-campus healthcare, counseling, free food events, free entertainment, and more so you can spend as little as possible on living campus life.

It’s okay to go out and have fun sometimes, but don’t borrow from your future in order to live beyond your means now.

Try to avoid unsubsidized loans
Subsidized loans are offered by the Department of Education at lower interest than many private bank loans, and they do not begin accruing interest until after you graduate. Take advantage of these loans first and try to avoid the unsubsidized private loans which begin accruing interest immediately and often have a higher rate. (1)

Be mindful of your future payments
It can be tempting to expect that you’ll have a great job earning plenty of money and time to pay back the student loans you’ve accumulated. But each time you take out a loan, you make your future payments higher and your payback time longer. Be sure to look at the numbers of how much your payment will be every time you up your loan amounts. Can you realistically envision yourself being able to pay that amount every month in just a few years? If not, it may be time to rethink the student loans you’re racking up, and possibly even reconsider your degree or career plan.

Go to trade school, earn an apprenticeship, or work in your chosen field before you commit to a college degree in that field
It’s not a popular topic with many high school guidance counselors, but learning a trade and finding a well-paying job without a degree is not only possible but a great option. Try finding an internship or trade school where you could get training for much less money than a university.

Consider community colleges and state schools
It’s a common misconception that private, ivy league, “big name” colleges are far superior to state schools and automatically the better option. However, state schools can often have great programs for far less money. Also, if you choose a local school, you can live close to your family support system while working through college. It’s possible to have a very successful career with a college degree from a state school, and be more financially stable in your future than someone struggling to pay off loans from an expensive private college.

Likewise, an associate’s degree from a community college can save money toward your bachelor’s degree, allowing you to pay far less than you would even to a state school. Just make sure your degree and credits will transfer to the university of your choice.

Find a graduate program that pays YOU
If you choose to pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree, try to find a program with a teaching assistant position, fellowship, or some other option for getting reduced tuition or getting paid to get the work experience you need.

Resist the urge to move up in lifestyle when you graduate
When you scrimp your way through school, it’s tempting when you get your first degree-related job to celebrate by loosening the reins on your frugal ways and start living it up as a young professional.

It’s great to reward yourself, and you need to adapt to your new financial situation (you may need a new wardrobe or a better car), but resist going too crazy with all the “extra” money a new job in your field can make you feel like you have. You should still live on a budget and manage your money carefully to pay off your student loans as soon as possible so you’re better prepared to move into the next phase of life unencumbered by a mountain of debt. Make paying back debt a priority, and pay extra when you’re able.

Education can be expensive and in some cases impossible to get without loans. But with frugality and an eye toward the future, you’ll be better prepared to get the education you need to succeed in life without being encumbered by debt for years. The high cost of education combined with the high cost of living can make a college education more of a financial burden for today’s students than ever before. By thinking outside the box and carefully prioritizing your educational goals—balanced with your finances—you can pursue your dream degree and have a better chance at a stable financial future.

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January 13, 2020

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Money

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Money

Family finances isn’t always a fun topic.

But getting in the habit of discussing money early on in your relationship may help pave the way for a smoother future. Whether or not you see eye to eye, learning each other’s spending habits and budgeting styles can help avoid any financial obstacles in the future. Below are some tips on getting started!

Talk about money regularly
One of the best ways to approach a conversation about money is to decide in advance when you’re going to have it, rather than springing it on your spouse out of the blue. Family budgeting means making the time to talk upfront and staying transparent about it on a consistent basis. If you and your spouse choose to set a monthly or annual budget, commit to sitting down and reviewing family expenses at the end of each month to see what worked and what didn’t.

Start a budget
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you don’t have a family budget and don’t know where to start. However, with the development of mobile applications and online banking, you can now more easily track your spending habits to find ways to cut unnecessary expenses. For example, if you see that you’re going out to dinner most nights, you can try replacing one or two of those evenings out with a home cooked meal. Small changes to your routine can make saving easier than you might have thought!

Remember your budgeting goals
Budgeting comes down to a simple question—how will these money decisions affect the happiness of my family? For example, you might need to ask yourself if taking an awesome vacation to your favorite theme park will give your family more happiness than fixing your minivan from 2005. Can’t do both? You aren’t necessarily forgoing the vacation to fix your car; instead, you might need to invest in your car now rather than potentially letting a problem worsen. You might then decide to rework your budget to set aside more money every month to take the trip next year.

The key is that talking to your spouse about money may actually become more about talking to them about your goals and family. When you put it that way, it may be a much more productive and rewarding conversation!

Even if you haven’t discussed these things before you walked down the aisle, it’s never too late to sit down with your spouse. This topic will continue over time, so talking about your financials with your partner as you approach new milestones and experience different life events as a family can help you financially prepare for the future.

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December 30, 2019

The Pros and Cons of Budget Cars

The Pros and Cons of Budget Cars

Buying a car can be pricey.

The average used car costs about $20,000, while the average for a new one is around $37,000. When it comes to transportation (or anything else for that matter), it only makes sense that you’d want to save as much money as possible. But are there times when buying a used or budget car is a better investment than buying a new one? Here are some questions to ask yourself before you make that purchase.

How much mileage can you get out of this car?
One of the big things to consider when researching a budget car is how many miles of prior travel you’re paying for. Buying a cheap (although unreliable) car that breaks down on the regular due to wear and tear may give you fewer miles for your money than paying more for a car that might last 10 years. If you’re committed to buying used, you’ll probably want a mechanic to inspect the car for issues that might affect your car’s lifespan.

How much will maintenance and repairs cost you?
You might be one of the few who know someone with the auto know-how to keep an ancient car running for years. However, the average person will need to have car problems repaired at a professional shop, which can become expensive if it constantly needs work. This can be especially costly if you sink thousands into maintenance only for your vehicle to die for good earlier than expected. It’s worth considering that buying new might save you a huge hassle and potentially give you more miles for your money.

How does the interest rate compare for a new car vs. used?
The uncertainty involved with buying a used or budget car can increase the cost of financing. Lenders will often charge you higher interest for purchasing a used car than they would a new one. Having a high credit score will improve your rates, but that extra cost can still add up over time.

What you’re trying to avoid is buying a used piece of junk that requires constant maintenance at a shop, has a higher interest rate, and gives out too soon. There are definitely used and budget cars out there that have great value. Just be sure to do your research before you make such a significant investment!

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December 25, 2019

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

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

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

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

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

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

$127.69 x 3 = $383.07

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

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December 23, 2019

Setting Up Your Reindeers For Success

Setting Up Your Reindeers For Success

Dasher. Dancer. Prancer. Vixen. Comet. Cupid. Donner. Blitzen. (And Rudolph too, of course.)

This is a holiday roll-call that’s instantly recognizable: the reindeer that pull Santa’s magical sleigh. But what if things got so hectic at the North Pole (not a stretch when you’re in charge of delivering presents to every child on Earth), that when it was time to hitch up the reindeer on Christmas Eve, they were all out of order?

Prancer. Cupid. Dasher. Comet. Dancer. Vixen. Blitzen. Donner.

Hmmm, someone’s missing…. what happened to Rudolph? (Looks like he got left behind at the North Pole. In all the hubbub one of Santa’s elves forgot to review the pre-flight checklist.)

Since so much can change during the year from one crazy “Happy Holidays!” to the next, your ducks – or reindeer, that is – may not even be in a row at this point. They could be frolicking unattended in a field somewhere! And who knows where your Rudolph even is.

We can help with that. An annual review of your financial strategy is key to keeping you on track for your unique goals. Lots of things can change over the course of a year, and your strategy could need some reorganizing. I mean, did you hear about everything that changed for Prancer? (What do you call a baby reindeer, anyway?)

Here are some important questions to consider at least once each year (or even more often):

1. Are you on track to meet your savings goals? A well-prepared retirement is a worthy goal. Let’s make sure nothing drove you too far off track this year, and if it did, let’s explore what can be done to get you back on the right path.

2. Do you have the potential for new savings? Did your health improve this year? Did that black mark on your driving record expire? Changes like these have the potential to positively impact your life insurance rate, but we’d need to dig in and find out what kinds of savings might be in store for you.

3. Have your coverage needs increased? Marriage, having a child, or buying a home are all instances in which your life insurance coverage probably should be increased. Have any of these occurred for you over the last year? Have you added the new family member as a beneficiary?

If you haven’t had a chance to review your strategy this year, we can fit one in before Santa shimmies down the chimney. Which of your reindeer do you need to wrangle back into the ranks before the New Year gets going?

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December 2, 2019

Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 27, 2019

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 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 13, 2019

You Can’t Take It With You

You Can’t Take It With You

A LinkedIn study found that Millennials are likely to change jobs 4 times in their first 10 years out of college. That equates to landing a new job roughly every 2.5 years by age 32!

So if you’re feeling the itch to leave your current job and head out for a new adventure in the workforce, the experience you’ve gained along the way will go with you. You may have made some great business connections too, and gotten some fabulous on-the-job-training. All of these things will “travel well” to a new job.

But there’s one thing you can’t take with you: An employer-supplied life insurance policy. While the price is right at “free” for many of these policies, there are several drawbacks that may deter you from relying on them solely for coverage.

1. An employer-provided policy turns in its two weeks notice when you do. Since your employer owns the policy – not you – your coverage will end when you leave that job. And unless you’re walking right into another employment opportunity where you’re offered the same type and amount of coverage, you might experience gaps or a total loss of coverage in an area where you had it before. When you’re not depending on an employer to provide your only life insurance coverage, you can change jobs as often as you please without the worry of the rug being pulled out from under you.

2. The employer policy is touted as ‘one size fits most.’ But it’s not likely that a group policy offered through an employer will be tailored to you and your unique needs. There may be no room for you to chime in and request certain features or a rider you’re interested in. However, when you build your own policy around your individual needs, you can get the right coverage that suits who you are and where you’d like to go on your financial journey.

3. An employer policy may not offer enough to cover your family. What amount of coverage is your employer offering? When you’re first starting out in your career, a $50,000 or even a $25,000 employer-provided policy might sound like a lot. But how far would that benefit really go to protect your family, cover funeral costs, or help with daily expenses if something were to happen to you?

Whether or not your 5-year plan includes 5 different jobs (or 5 entirely unrelated career paths), with a well-tailored policy that you own independent of your employment situation – you have the potential for a little more freedom and security in your financial strategy. And you won’t be starting from square one just because you’re starting a new opportunity.

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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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