Getting a Degree of Financial Security

June 14, 2021

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Luis Puente

Luis Puente

Financial Education

2711 LBJ Freeway
Suite 300
Farmers Branch, TX 75234

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April 12, 2021

Home Buying for Couples: A Starter Guide

Home Buying for Couples: A Starter Guide

Buying your first home is an exciting, yet daunting process.

You and your significant other already have a lot on your plate in planning this huge purchase—from deciding how much house you need to fitting it all into a budget. Read on for some tips that will help ease the process of buying a house as well as help you save money in the long run!

Evaluate your financial situation before you start house hunting. It’s important to know what kind of mortgage payment is feasible for the income in a household. You’ll also have to contend with hidden housing costs like property taxes, renovations, and repairs. Calculate your total income, and then subtract your current expenses. That’s how much you have at your disposal to handle the costs of homeownership.

Improve your credit score. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, your credit score is important—it can profoundly affect your ability to get approved for loans and mortgages! The higher that number goes up, the easier it may become to get approval from lenders. You can help yourself out by paying off any outstanding debt balances such as student loan payments, medical bills, and credit card debt before going house hunting.

Start saving for a downpayment. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to put down at least 20% of the home’s purchase price. This can take years, especially if your budget is tight! However, it’s well worth it—you may avoid the hassle of paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can substantially add to your monthly housing payments. A sizeable downpayment can also lower your interest rate and reduce the size of your loan.¹

Decide how much house you need. This is a tough question to answer, but it’s crucial that both partners are united on this front. Otherwise, one partner might feel like a house doesn’t meet their needs. Sit down with your partner and discuss what exactly you desire out of your home. How many bedrooms will you need? Do you want a big yard or a small one? How close to work do you want to live? Hammer out the important details of what you want in a home before the shopping begins!

Decide on your budget. Knowing how much you can afford before shopping for a home will help narrow down the options. Typically, housing costs should account for no more than 30% of your budget. That includes your mortgage payment, repairs, HOA fees, and renovations. Spending more than 30% can endanger your financial wellness if your income ever decreases.

Buying a home can be an exciting time for couples. But it’s important to take the necessary steps before you start house hunting. Remember, you want your new home to be a source of joy, not financial stress! Do your homework, talk with your partner, and start saving!

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“Do you need to put 20 percent down on a house?,” Michele Lerner, HSH, Sep 2, 2018, https://www.hsh.com/first-time-homebuyer/down-payment-size.html

March 24, 2021

Tips For Saving Money At The Grocery Store

Tips For Saving Money At The Grocery Store

Every penny counts, especially when you’re trying to balance your monthly budget.

But unless you plan ahead and only buy things you need, it’s easy to overspend at the grocery store. If you keep these tips in mind when you’re shopping, you can save money without sacrificing quality.

Bring a list of what you need to buy. Why? Because a list keeps you on task. You’ll be far less likely to wander the store, spying things you don’t need and snapping them up, if you go with a clear plan of what you need to buy. Make a list, check it twice, and shop with a purpose!

Buy in bulk when it makes sense for your family size and lifestyle. If you have a big family, buying in bulk can save you big money, especially if items are on sale! But don’t just buy anything that seems like a good deal—only buy what your family will consume, and be sure to store it properly. That means non-perishable food items, hygiene and cleaning products, and home supplies.

Compare the unit price. A low sticker price doesn’t always indicate it’s the best buy. Always check the unit price to maximize your savings. The cheaper it is per ounce, pound, or unit, the better bargain it probably will be!

Use coupons and sales flyers when available. It’s simple—just download your favorite store’s app and look for the savings or coupon page. All you have to do is tap the items that you want to save on. Then, just scan your phone when you check out and watch the savings!

Rack up loyalty points when possible. Afterall, why shouldn’t you be rewarded for your usual shopping? Just scan your card every time you shop, and eventually you can earn free or discounted items. However, be careful that you don’t increase your spending to maximize your rewards!

Why not try one of these tips for just a month and see how much you save? It’s a worthwhile experiment that may result in a substantial boost in your cash flow. Let me know how it goes!

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March 10, 2021

How to Reduce Debt

How to Reduce Debt

Paying off debt can be a great feeling.

The burden is lifted and you have more control over your financial situation. If you’re like many, however, paying down debt hasn’t been an easy task due to high interest rates and the sheer size of what you owe. Many people find themselves in situations where they feel helpless. But following some tips from this article can show you a path towards financial health!

Start by making a budget. Write down your income on a piece of paper or spreadsheet. Then, calculate how much you spend, on average, every month. If you can, categorize all of your expenses in order of amount spent. Be sure to also rank your debts from highest to lowest interest rate!

Then, subtract your expenses from your income. The result is how much cash flow you have available to attack your debt.

But before you start chipping away at what you owe, devote your cash flow to building an emergency fund. Why? Because it will provide a cash reserve to pay for unexpected expenses that you might otherwise cover with more debt!

Then, focus all your financial resources on your highest interest loan. Make minimum payments on all your debts until that top priority debt is eliminated. Next, move on to the next debt. Rinse and repeat until you’re debt free.

Track your spending and cut back where possible. When you budget, you might find that you have almost no cash flow. If that’s the case, you’ll need to reduce your spending. Start by cutting back on categories like clothes shopping and dining out.

Above all, be consistent! Reducing debt is no easy task but it’s doable. Cutting back on your spending and consistently budgeting may not be easy in the short-term, but the sense of relief that comes with being debt free is well worth the effort.

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January 27, 2021

A Penny for Your Thoughts?

A Penny for Your Thoughts?

Would you rather have a million dollars cash – or – a penny that doubles every day for 31 days?

If you’re eyeing that million dollar suitcase of cash, you’re not alone. Many go ahead and just take the million. Shoot, people don’t even stoop to pick up pennies in parking lots any more, right?

Well, hold on there, Daddy Warbucks. Before you flick that little copperhead in your change jar and run off on your shopping spree, check this out! The total of a penny doubling every day for 31 days equals (drumroll please) over $10.7 million!

Seem impossible? Here’s the play-by-play – or, rather, day-by-day:

Penny doubling corrected (resized 55%)

$10,737.418.22! Are you regretting not choosing the penny?

By day 31, one cent has become over ten times the value of the million dollar cash lump sum. That’s the power of exponential growth – the pure power of compounding.

So how can you apply the power of compounding in your personal financial strategy? It’s unlikely you’ll find someone willing to double your money (in fact, be wary of anyone claiming they can). But you can find effective strategies that leverage compounding through interest rates.

Contact me, and let’s talk about how to put the power of compounding to work for you.

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December 16, 2020

Save Money This Holiday Season

Save Money This Holiday Season

Have you ever looked at your wish list and thought you heard a muffled scream coming from your wallet?

Inevitably, someone you love will wish for a $1,000 t-shirt or a chocolate fountain. And because you love them, you might go with it. But when December 26th rolls around and the ripped up wrapping paper settles, your wallet might feel a little battered and bruised!

The holidays don’t have to derail your financial future. Here are some straightforward tips that will help keep you on track during your annual shopping spree.

Establish a holiday budget <br> Entering a department store without a cap on how much you’re willing to spend is like walking into a bakery when you’re on a diet. Could you resist picking up a dozen donuts “for the family” or a couple of fresh baked loaves of bread “to make sandwiches later”?

A gift list and realistic budget can cut through the feverish fog of free-for-all shopping and impulse buys. They help you focus as you navigate aisle upon aisle of half-off sales and shiny things you don’t really need but feel like you do.

A budget can also help curtail extravagant gift requests. Telling someone that you want to buy them a gift that’s under $50 can hedge against extravagant designer clothes or the latest technological gadget.

Use cash! <br> Part of the power of cash is that it works in tandem with your budget. Walking into a store with no cards and just $50 limits your spending and forces you to buy only what you intended.

Cash also reduces your reliance on credit. Unleashing your cards to cover Christmas shopping is an easy way to enter the New Year with extra debt. Plus, the interest payments can add up and make your holiday shopping even more expensive in the long run. Stick with cash and save yourself the headache!

Play Secret Santa <br> Secret Santa has long been a staple of huge families that don’t have the time or money to get gifts for two parents, nine siblings, the in-laws, and all the cousins, nieces, and nephews. Everyone still gets a gift or two, but it helps the whole family out on their holiday budgets. Here’s how it works!

Have everyone write their names on scraps of paper. Include some highly specific gift ideas with the names. Then, put all the paper into a hat and shake it up. Have the secret Santas choose names from the hat one at a time. You get to buy gifts for ONLY the person you select!

What’s great about Secret Santa is that the mystery of the game offsets the expectation of getting tons of presents. It’s a fun way to save some extra cash!

So let chance decide who’s been naughty and nice, make a budget and list and check them twice, remember that some cash will suffice, and do some holiday shopping that won’t make you think twice (about derailing your financial dreams)!

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September 21, 2020

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Does healthy living have to cost more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 9, 2020

Life Insurance Myths

Life Insurance Myths

We love facts.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of the modern age, but many of us desire an accurate worldview that’s based on evidence and data. Who wants to live with their head in the clouds, believing myths or superstitions?

Unfortunately, there are those of us who have fallen prey to certain life insurance urban legends. Here are some common myths that many people believe and some cold, hard facts to debunk them!

Myth: Life insurance is less important than my other financial obligations <br> Here’s how the story goes. You have a spouse you love, a house you’re proud of, a reliable car, and kids you care for. All of that takes money; date nights, mortgages, and tuition aren’t cheap! It can be hard to swallow taking on another financial obligation like life insurance on top of the bills you’re already paying.

But life insurance isn’t simply another burden for you to carry. It’s an essential line of protection that empowers you to provide for your family regardless of what happens. The payout can act as a form of income replacement that can help your loved ones maintain their lifestyle, pay their bills, and pursue their dreams when they need financial help the most. Life insurance isn’t less important than your other financial responsibilities. It’s an essential tool that helps the people in your life meet their financial obligations if something were to happen to you!

Myth: Life insurance is unaffordable <br> This is an incredibly common myth, especially among Millennials; 44% overestimated the cost of life insurance by five times!(1) 65% of people who don’t have life insurance say they can’t afford it.(2) But life insurance is far more affordable than you might think. A healthy, non-smoking 25 year old could only pay $25 per month for a policy.(3) That’s about what a subscription to three popular streaming services would cost!(4) Do some online shopping and be amazed by how affordable life insurance really is!

Myth: My employer-provided insurance is enough <br> Just under half the workforce has life insurance from their employer.(5) That’s great! The more life insurance you have available to you the better. But it simply might not be enough to fully protect your family. Professionals typically advise that you purchase about 10 times your annual income in life insurance coverage. Most employer-provided life insurance gives only one to three years of protection.(6) That’s not to say you should refuse a policy through work. But you might need to get some extra protection!

Contact a financial advisor if you still have doubts or concerns. They’re full-time myth busters who will help you navigate the sometimes confusing world of financially protecting your family!

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(1) Nupur Gambhir, “9 common life insurance myths debunked,” Policygenius, March 13, 2020 https://www.policygenius.com/life-insurance/common-life-insurance-myths-debunked/

(2) “Is Life Insurance Tomorrow’s Problem? Findings from the 2020 Insurance Barometer Study,” LIMRA, June 16, 2020 https://www.limra.com/en/newsroom/industry-trends/2020/is-life-insurance-tomorrows-problem-findings-from-the-2020-insurance-barometer-study/

(3) Sterling Price, “Average Cost of Life Insurance (2020): Rates by Age, Term and Policy Size,” ValuePenguin, Aug. 10, 2020, valuepenguin.com/average-cost-life-insurance

(4) Joe Supan, “Americans already subscribe to three streaming services on average. Is there room for more?,” Allconnect, Jun 20, 2020, https://www.allconnect.com/blog/average-american-spend-on-streaming#:~:text=One%20poll%20from%20The%20Hollywood,at%20just%20over%20%2414%2Fmo.

(5) Marvin H. Feldman, “4 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Your Life Insurance at Work,” Life Happens, Sept. 22, 2017 https://lifehappens.org/blog/4-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-your-life-insurance-at-work/#:~:text=Press-,4%20Things%20You%20Probably%20Don’t%20Know,Your%20Life%20Insurance%20at%20Work&text=For%20the%20first%20time%20ever,to%20a%20new%20LIMRA%20study.

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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July 22, 2020

What Are We Spending Money On?

What Are We Spending Money On?

We spend a lot of money.

All things told, we spend about $101 per day, whether we feel it directly or not.(1) That comes out to roughly $36,764 per year. Over half of all Americans spend more than what they earn.(2) The bulk of that goes to important categories like shelter and utilities.(3) But it doesn’t take much digging to find some less important spending patterns. Here’s a quick look at what we’re spending (i.e., wasting) our money on!

Food <br> How can you waste money on food? It’s essential to survival and health!

But it turns out that throwing away cash on food is really easy. Americans spend an average of $209 per month on just eating at restaurants, which comes to a total of $2,508 yearly. Add in the cost of drinks and you’re at $4,776!(4) But that’s just eating when you’re out. Another huge issue is chronically overbuying food to consume at home. We throw out around $1,600 of food per family every year.(5)

That brings us to a grand total of $6,376 dollars spent each year on restaurants, drinks, and wasted food. And that’s not including categories like takeout!

Shopping <br> We’re notorious shoppers. We spend around $108 on approximately five impulse purchases per month. Online shopping is a substantial category as well, with our digital purchases costing us around $84 monthly. Interestingly, we spend nearly $94 per month on subscription boxes. That adds up to $3,432 on non-essential shopping annually.

Personal care <br> Everyone wants to look, smell, and feel attractive. And it turns out that most people are willing to pay a king’s ransom on their appearance. Personal grooming comes out to $94.25 monthly. Gym memberships (which often go unused) cost the average American $72.53 per month. All told, we spend around $2,000 annually on looking good.

Cable and streaming <br> Another big category of spending is entertainment and apps. The biggest culprit here is—surprisingly—cable. On average, we shell out $90 per month for unlimited access to reality shows and documentaries, many of which are now available online. Throw in spending on movie streaming ($23.09), music streaming ($22.41), and other paid apps ($23.24), and our overall spending on digital entertainment is around $1,904.88 per year!

Tallying these four categories, we see that Americans are spending about $13,712.88 annually on non-essential items. That’s a staggering amount of money! It’s enough for a full year of college, including tuition and books.(6)

Non-essential spending does have its place—it can actually be very important to your quality of life and overall well being. But you might be surprised by how much of your financial power is getting wasted on things that are truly unnecessary or have cheaper alternatives.

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July 6, 2020

Should You Only Use Cash?

Should You Only Use Cash?

Bills and coins are outdated.

Who actually forks over cash when they’re out and about anymore? Paper money and copper coins are a relic of the past that are useless in a world of credit cards and tap-to-pay…

Except when they’re not.

Using cards and digital payment systems actually comes with some pretty serious drawbacks. Here’s a case for considering going cash only, at least for a little while!

The card convenience (and curse) <br> Plastic cards can make spending (a little too) easy. See an awesome pair of shoes in the store? No problem! Just swipe at the counter and you’re good to go. Online shopping is even more frictionless. Everything from new clothes to lawn chairs is a few clicks away from delivery right to your front door.

And that’s the problem.

You might not notice the effect of swiping your card until it’s too late. Those shoes were a breeze to buy until you check your bank account and see you’re in the red, or you get your credit card bill. It’s easy to find yourself in a hopeless cycle of overspending when buying things just feels so easy.

The pain of spending cash <br> Handing over cash can be a different phenomenon. Paying with actual dollars and cents helps you connect your hard-earned money with what you’re buying. It makes you more likely to question if you really need those shoes or clothes or lawn chairs. Studies show that people who pay with cash spend less, buy healthier foods, and have better relationships with their purchases than those who use credit cards.(1) That’s why going with cash only might be a winning strategy if you find yourself constantly in credit card debt or just buying too much unnecessary stuff every month.

Security <br> To be fair, cash does have some safety concerns. It can be much more useful to a criminal than a credit card. You can’t call your bank to lock down that $20 bill someone picked out of your pocket on the subway! That being said, cards expose you to the threat of identity theft. A criminal could potentially have access to all of your money. There are potential dangers either way, and it really comes down to what you feel comfortable with.

In the end, going cash only is a personal decision. Maybe you rock at only buying what you need and you can dodge the dangers of overspending with your cards. But if you feel like your budget isn’t working like it should, or you have difficulty resisting busting out the plastic when you’re shopping, you may want to consider a cash solution. Try it for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference!

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June 29, 2020

All About Food Deserts

All About Food Deserts

You’re hungry.

You just got home from work, you haven’t had anything since lunch, and you need a bite to eat ASAP. What do you do? Most of us just pop over to the local grocery store, pick up some ingredients, and prepare a meal. But that’s actually not possible for many Americans who live in areas without access to fresh groceries. It’s a phenomenon known as “food deserts”, and it affects millions of people throughout the country.

What’s a food desert? <br> Defining food deserts can be tricky. Roughly speaking, a food desert is an area where residents have limited access to healthy food options. But limited access doesn’t always look the same. The United States Department of Agriculture looks at things like distance from grocery stores, income, and access to vehicles when delineating a food desert.(1) Consider a few examples…

Let’s say you live in a densely populated, low income, urban area. You and your neighbors mostly take public transportation to work, and there aren’t many cars to go around. While there might be plenty of gas stations and corner stores nearby, the closest supermarket or grocery store is around a mile away. Technically speaking, you live in a food desert. You don’t have easy access to healthy food options.

But there are examples from the other side of the spectrum. Let’s say you live in a low income rural area. You own a vehicle out of necessity, but your closest neighbors are a mile away and the closest real grocery store is over ten miles away. Once again, you would technically live in a food desert. The settings and details are totally different, but getting healthy food is still a massive hassle.

Why do food deserts matter? <br> Remember that a food desert is all about access to healthy food. There might be plenty of fast food and processed food to be found in urban and rural food deserts. But living on junk food carries a steep price tag. The upfront cost of constantly eating out can add up quickly. That’s already less than ideal for a family in a low-income neighborhood. But consuming junk food may also increase your risk for obesity and other health problems. That could eventually translate into increased healthcare expenses. It’s a double whammy of problems; you pay more for bad food that will cost you more later down the road!

How many people live in food deserts? <br> According to a 2009 report by the USDA, there were roughly 23.5 million people who lived in food deserts.(2) About half of those people were impoverished.(3) Americans drive on average over 6 miles to go grocery shopping.(4) In the Lower Mississippi Delta, locals sometimes drive over 30 miles just to find a supermarket!(5)

We’re still trying to figure out solutions for food deserts. Some communities have formed local gardens that grow fresh produce. Grocery trucks have started to pop up throughout the country, bringing healthy options into neighborhoods. Only time will tell for the long-term effectiveness of these solutions!

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June 22, 2020

A quick reference guide to car insurance

A quick reference guide to car insurance

Been shopping around for auto insurance but you’re befuddled by all the options?

Auto insurance is a common type of insurance we purchase, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be confusing. Buying the right policy for your needs begins with understanding typical coverages.

Read on for a quick reference guide to auto insurance coverage.

Liability coverage is the basis
One of the most important types of insurance is liability protection. Liability insurance is what steps in to help protect you when you are at fault in an accident. Most auto insurance policies contain two types of liability insurance.

Bodily injury liability: Bodily injury liability coverage helps protect you if you injure someone in an accident. The coverage will contribute towards the injured person’s medical bills.

Property damage liability: Property damage liability works just like bodily injury, only it helps pay to repair the property you’re responsible for damaging. For example, the coverage helps pay to fix someone’s car if you rear end them or to replace a guardrail if you slide off an icy road.

First party physical damage coverage
So now you may be thinking, “That’s great, but what if my car gets damaged?” Good point. You may purchase coverage on your auto policy to help protect your car if it’s damaged. This would usually be referred to as physical damage coverage. There are two main types:

Comprehensive: Comprehensive should help cover your vehicle if it’s damaged in anything other than a collision accident. For example, if a tree limb falls on it, it has damage from a hail storm, is flooded, or stolen, you would make a comprehensive claim.

Collision: Collision coverage repairs your car if it’s in a collision accident. Also, you may use your collision coverage no matter who’s at fault for the crash. Physical damage coverages may come with a deductible. That’s the part you’re responsible for paying if you need the coverage, so choose carefully. Deductibles may range from $50 to $2,500.

Medical payments coverage
Medical payments coverage helps pay for you and your passengers’ medical bills if you’re injured in an accident. Typically, the coverage can be used regardless of fault. It’s usually primary to your health insurance, so it would pay out first in that case.

Other options
While those are the most significant and common auto insurance coverages, many companies offer add-on coverages that may be of some benefit. Two are:

Roadside assistance: Roadside assistance can be purchased from some insurers and will help pay for towing or emergency services such as a tire change or jump start. Each insurance company has different limits on coverage, so make sure you know what they are and what would be covered.

Rental reimbursement: Rental reimbursement coverage would help pay for a rental car for you up to a certain length of time and dollar limit. The coverage would kick in if your vehicle is in the shop due to a covered loss.

State requirements
Each state has different minimum auto insurance requirements for drivers. These are usually referred to as state minimums. While state minimum limits would get you on the road legally, they typically don’t offer the best option for coverage. Speak to a qualified insurance professional about getting the best auto coverage for your needs in your state.

Auto insurance needs differ among drivers
Everyone has different auto insurance needs. There are many factors to consider including how much you drive, the types of vehicles you own, and what kind of assets you need to protect.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain insurance products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before enacting a policy, seek the advice of a qualified insurance agent.

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 <br> 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 <br> 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) <br> 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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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 13, 2020

Questions To Ask When Buying In Bulk

Questions To Ask When Buying In Bulk

Buying in bulk is a no-brainer, right?

It seems cheaper and you can (hopefully) get all your shopping done for the family in one trip. What’s not to love?

But there are certain things to consider when shopping wholesale. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before buying in bulk

Can you afford the upfront cost? <br> Overall, buying in bulk at a big box store can be cheaper than normal shopping at your local supermarket. But it may not feel that way at the register. The upfront cost can be higher than you’re used to, so just make sure that you’ve budgeted that in. Remember, this is a long-term game where the savings can show up further down the line.

Will this product expire? <br> As a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid perishable items when buying in bulk. Let’s say you go to the wholesaler and notice that you can get a bargain on chicken. Sounds awesome! Should you buy 45 pounds of chicken and slam it in your fridge? Probably not. You’ll have about a week to get through that amount of poultry. Whatever is leftover will have to go into the freezer (more on that later).

But that still means that non-perishable paper items and personal care essentials are fair game. Buying razors in bulk? Go for it. Party cups? Fire away. Canned foods, beans, rice, and spices are also excellent to buy in bulk. But there’s another factor to consider…

Do you have enough space? <br> Getting a good deal is amazing. But stuffing your house to the brim isn’t. Make sure you have enough storage space before you decide to buy something in bulk. That deal on toothpaste might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but will you have enough room to store it? You might be able to get away with buying perishable items and jamming them in a freezer, but how much freezer space do you have? Will you need to purchase an additional freezer? Just because you can afford a deal doesn’t mean you can afford to store it.

Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money. Just make sure you prepare and do your research before you start purchasing huge quantities of items!

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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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October 30, 2019

Handling Debt Efficiently – Until It’s Gone

Handling Debt Efficiently – Until It’s Gone

It’s no secret that making purchases on credit cards will result in paying more for those items over time if you’re paying interest charges from month-to-month.

Despite this well-known fact, credit card debt is at an all-time high, rising another 3% this past year. The average American now owes over $6,300 in credit card debt. For households, the number is much higher, at nearly $16,000 per household. Add in an average mortgage of over $200,000, plus nearly $25,000 of non-mortgage debt (car loans, college loans, or other loans) and the molehill really is starting to look like a mountain.

The good news? You have the potential to handle your debt efficiently and deal with a molehill-sized molehill instead of a mountain-sized one.

Focus on the easiest target first.
Some types of debt don’t have an easy solution. While it’s possible to sell your home and find more affordable housing, actually following through with this might not be a great option. Selling your home is a huge decision and one that comes with expenses associated with the sale – it’s possible to lose money. Unless you find yourself with a job loss or similar long-term setback, often the best solution to paying down debt is to go after higher interest debt first. Then examine ways to cut your housing costs last.

Freeze your spending (literally, if it helps).
Due to its higher interest rate, credit card debt is usually the first thing to tackle when you decide to start eliminating debt. Let’s be honest, most of us might not even know where that money goes, but our credit card statement is a monthly reminder that it went somewhere. If credit card balances are a problem in your household, the first step is to cut back on your purchases made with credit, or stop paying with credit altogether. Some people cut up their cards to enforce discipline. Ever heard the recommendation to freeze your cards in a block of ice as a visual reminder of your commitment to quit credit? Another thing to do is to remove your card information from online shopping sites to help ensure you don’t make mindless purchases.

Set payment goals.
Paying the minimum amount on your credit card keeps the credit card company happy for 2 reasons. First, they’re happy that you made a payment on time. Second, they’re happy if you’re only paying the minimum because you might never pay off the balance, so they can keep collecting interest indefinitely. Reducing or stopping your spending with credit was the first step. The second step is to pay more than the minimum so that those balances start going down. Examine your budget to see where there’s room to reduce spending further, which will allow you to make higher payments on your credit cards and other types of debt. In most households, an honest look at the bank statement will reveal at least a few ways you might free up some money each month.

Have a sale. To get a jump-start if money is still tight, you might want to turn some unused household items into cash. Having a community yard sale or selling your items online through eBay or Offerup can turn your dust collectors into cash that you can then use toward reducing your balances.

Transfer balances prudently.
Consider balance transfers for small balances with high interest rates that you think you’ll be able to pay off quickly. Transferring that balance to a lower interest or no interest card can save on interest costs, freeing up more money to pay down the balances. The interest rates on balance transfers don’t stay low forever, however – typically for a year or less – so it’s important to make sure you can pay transferred balances off quickly. Also, check if there’s a balance transfer fee. Depending on the fee, moving those funds might not make sense.

Don’t punish yourself.
Getting serious about paying down debt may seem to require draconian measures. But there likely isn’t a need to just stay home eating tuna fish sandwiches with all the lights turned off. Often, all that’s required is an adjustment of old spending habits. If your drive home takes you past a mall where it would be too tempting to “just pick a little something up”, take a different route home. But it’s important to have a small treat occasionally as well. If you’re making progress on your debt, you deserve to reward yourself sometimes. All within your budget, of course!

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March 6, 2019

Back to the basics

Back to the basics

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

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

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

Let’s start with frugality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 31, 2018

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 15, 2018

The More You Know! Building a Financial Vocabulary

The More You Know! Building a Financial Vocabulary

Part of gaining financial literacy is becoming familiar with the lingo.

Like all subjects, finance has its own terms, acronyms, abbreviations, and slang.

If you’re just beginning to dip your toe into the pool of personal financial planning, here’s a handy guide to some terms that are likely to come up when learning about finance and investments.

ROI: ROI stands for Return on Investment. It’s an acronym usually used when referring to the performance of a stock. ROI can also refer to the performance of other investments, including real estate and currencies. In short, the term describes how much bang you get for your investment buck.

Compound Interest: Compound interest refers to the instance of interest collecting on interest. The best way to understand compound interest is with an example. Let’s say you invest $1,000 in a high interest bearing account. Over the course of one year, your savings collects $100.00 in interest. The next year you’ll earn interest on $1,100.00, and so forth.

Money Market Account: You may hear about money market accounts if you’re shopping for a savings account. A money market account is like a savings account, but it may earn higher interest rates – making it a better choice for some.

There are money market accounts that come with checks or a debit card, so your funds are easily accessible. If you’re planning on opening a money market account to hold your savings or emergency fund, pay attention to any minimum balance requirements and fees.

Liquidity: Liquidity refers to how easy it is for an asset to convert to cash. You can think of it as an investment’s ability to “liquidate” into cash. For example, real estate investments may offer great returns over time, but they aren’t considered liquid assets because they are not easily turned into cash.

A stock or bond, on the other hand, has high liquidity because you can sell a stock and have access to its cash value quickly.

Roth IRA: A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account. IRA stands for “Individual Retirement Account”. A Roth IRA allows you to make contributions or deposits to fund your retirement. The contributions are made with taxed income, but when you take deposits from the account in retirement, the income is not taxed.

A few characteristics of a Roth IRA:

  • Your contribution is always accessible, tax and penalty-free at any time
  • It can help keep you in a lower taxable income bracket during retirement
  • You can contribute to a Roth IRA at any time if you have a job

Bear Market: A Bear Market is a term used to refer to the stock market while there are certain characteristics present. Those characteristics include falling stock prices and low investor confidence.

The term is said to originate from the way a bear attacks – swiping its arm downward on its prey. The downward motion illustrates falling stock prices as investors lose confidence, become pessimistic about the market, and they may begin to sell their stocks to try to prevent further losses.

Bull Market: A Bull Market is a period in which stock prices are increasing and investor confidence is high. A Bull Market mostly refers to stocks, but it can also be used to describe real estate, currencies, and other types of markets.

This term may come from the action of how a bull attacks, by swiping its horns upward.

Finance lingo is for everyone
No matter where you are on the personal finance spectrum – just beginning to create a budget with your first job or preparing to retire – there are special terms to describe financial phenomena, tools, and features. Learning some of the lingo is a great first step toward taking charge of your financial life!

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