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Now’s the Time for Future Planning

March 30, 2020

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Should You Get Rid Of Your Credit Cards?

March 25, 2020

Should You Get Rid Of Your Credit Cards?

There’s no doubt that credit card debt is a huge financial burden for many Americans.

On average, each household that has revolving credit card debt owes $7,104 (1). It might be tempting to see those numbers and decide to throw out your credit cards entirely. After all, why hang on to a source of temptation when you could make do with cash or a debit card? However, keeping a credit card around has some serious benefits that you should consider before you decide to free yourself from plastic’s grasp.

You might have bigger debts to deal with
On average, credit card debt is low compared to auto loans ($27,934), student loans ($46,679), and mortgages ($192,618) (2). Simply put, you might be dealing with debts that cost you a lot more than your credit card. That leaves you with a few options. You can either start with paying down your biggest debts (a debt avalanche) or get the smaller ones out of the way and move up (a debt snowball). That means you’ll either tackle credit card debt first or wait while you deal with a mortgage payment or student loans. Figure out where to start and see where your credit card fits in!

Ditching credit cards can lower your credit score
Credit utilization and availability play a big role in determining your credit score (3). The less credit you use and the more you have available, the better your score will likely be. Closing down a credit card account may drastically lower the amount of credit you have available, which then could reduce your score. Even freezing your card in a block of ice can have negative effects; credit card companies will sometimes lower your available credit or just close the account if they see inactivity for too long (4). This may not be the end of the world if you have another line of credit (like a mortgage) but it’s typically better for your credit score to keep a credit card around and only use it for smaller purchases.

It’s often wiser to limit credit card usage than to ditch them entirely. Figure out which debts are costing you the most, and focus your efforts on paying them down before you cut up your cards. While you’re at it, try limiting your credit card usage to a few small monthly purchases to protect your credit score and free up some extra funds to work on your other debts.

Need help coming up with a strategy? Give me a call and we can get started on your journey toward financial freedom!

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(1) Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019

(2) Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019

(3) Latoya Irby, “Understanding Credit Utilization: How Your Usage Affects Your Credit Score,” The Balance, February 20, 2020

(4) Lance Cothern, “Will My Credit Score Go Down If A Credit Card Company Closes My Account For Non-Use?” March 2, 2020


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Four Ways to Get Out of Debt

Four Ways to Get Out of Debt

Dealing with debt can be scary.

Paying off your mortgage, car, and student loans can sometimes seem so impossible that you might not even look at the total you owe. You just keep making payments because that’s all you might think you can do. However, there is a way out! Here are 4 tips to help:

Make a Budget
Many people have a complex budget that tracks every penny that comes in and goes out. They may even make charts or graphs that show the ratio of coffee made at home to coffee purchased at a coffee shop. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated, especially if you’re new at this “budget thing”. Start by splitting all of your spending into two categories: necessary and optional. Rent, the electric bill, and food are all examples of necessary spending, while something like a vacation or buying a third pair of black boots (even if they’re on sale) might be optional. Figure out ways that you can cut back on your optional spending, and devote the leftover money to paying down your debt. It might mean staying in on the weekends or not buying that flashy new electronic gadget you’ve been eyeing. But reducing how much you owe will be better long-term.

Negotiate a Settlement
Creditors often negotiate with customers. After all, it stands to reason that they’d rather get a partial payment than nothing at all! But be warned; settling an account can potentially damage your credit score. Negotiating with creditors is often a last resort, not an initial strategy.

Debt Consolidation
Interest-bearing debt obligations may be negotiable. Contact a consolidation specialist for refinancing installment agreements. This debt management solution helps reduce the risk of multiple accounts becoming overdue. When fully paid, a clean credit record with an extra loan in excellent standing may be the reward if all payments are made on time.

Get a side gig
You might be in a position to work evenings or weekends to make extra cash to put towards your debt. There are a myriad of options—rideshare driving, food delivery, pet sitting, you name it! Or you might have a hobby that you could turn into a part-time business.

If you feel overwhelmed by debt, then let’s talk. We can discuss strategies that will help move you from feeling helpless to having financial control.

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The Challenge Of Losing Your Income

March 16, 2020

The Challenge Of Losing Your Income

You’ve already got a lot to deal with. Why buy life insurance at all?

It all comes down to protection. The idea of protecting things like your car or house are pretty common. Even if car insurance weren’t mandatory in most states or provinces, buying it would probably be a good idea. You’d want to make sure you could cover any damages from an accident – especially if you’re at fault. And protecting your investment in your home from the unexpected like an earthquake, fire, flood, theft, etc. is a bit of a no-brainer.

One of the most important things to protect before all others? Your ability to earn an income. Your income enables you to not only buy your car and your house but also the insurance to protect those things. If you were to lose your income, then those things could also be lost if you can’t afford them any longer.

Getting laid off or fired could be a cause of lost income. In that case, you still have the ability to work, which means finding a new job is possible. But in the event of a disability, critical illness, or premature death of a breadwinner? Those situations are a bit tougher to bounce back from – especially that last one.

Before becoming financially independent, a financial situation may typically be less secure, meaning you might have more financial responsibility than wealth. For example, if you don’t have a lump sum of cash to buy a house, you’d need to finance the purchase over a longer period of time via a mortgage. This creates a responsibility to continue making the mortgage payments in full and on time. Losing your income would be devastating since it could affect your payments – and when mortgage payments can’t be made, you might lose your home.

What all of this means: Your ability to earn an income should also be protected. Getting the right type and the right amount of insurance can seem complicated, especially if you’re considering all the different kinds you may need. That’s where speaking with a financial professional might come in handy. If you’re looking to protect the most important aspect of your financial situation (namely, your ability to earn income) and you’d like to see your options, let’s talk. It would be my pleasure to help you get a better understanding of your options.

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Any guarantees associated with a life insurance policy are subject to the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

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The Birds Have Flown the Coop!

February 24, 2020

The Birds Have Flown the Coop!

The kids (finally) moved out!

Now you can plan those vacations for just the two of you, delve into new hobbies you’ve always wanted to explore… and decide whether or not you should keep your life insurance as empty nesters.

The answer is YES!

Why? Even though you and your spouse are empty nesters now, life insurance still has real benefits for both of you. One of the biggest benefits is your life insurance policy’s death benefit. Should either you or your spouse pass away, the death benefit can pay for final expenses and replace the loss of income, both of which can keep you or your spouse on track for retirement in the case of an unexpected tragedy.

What’s another reason to keep your life insurance policy? The cash value of your policy. Now that the kids have moved out and are financially stable on their own, the cash value of your life insurance policy can be used for retirement or an emergency fund. If your retirement savings took a hit while you helped your children finance their college educations, your life insurance policy might have you covered.Utilizing the cash value has multiple factors you should be aware of before making any decision.*

Contact me today, and together we’ll check up on your policy to make sure you have coverage where you want it - and review all the benefits that you can use as empty nesters.

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*Loans and withdrawals will reduce the policy value and death benefit dollar for dollar. Withdrawals are subject to partial surrender charges if they occur during a surrender charge period. Loans are made at interest. Loans may also result in the need to add additional premium into the policy to avoid a lapse of the policy. In the event that the policy lapses, all policy surrenders and loans are considered distributions and, to the extent that the distributions exceed the premiums paid (cost basis), they are subject to taxation as ordinary income. Lastly, all references to loans assume that the contract remains in force, qualifies as life insurance and is not a modified endowment contract (MEC). Loans from a MEC will generally be taxable and, if taken prior to age 59 1/2, may be subject to a 10% tax penalty.

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Part 2: Tools for Dealing with Student Debt

January 22, 2020

Part 2: Tools for Dealing with Student Debt

In Part 1: The Reality of Student Loans, we saw that student debt can be a significant problem that affects many Americans.

But what about you? Is there anything you can do if you owe thousands to the government in loans? Better yet, how can you start preparing for your family’s financial future now to make sure you can afford college for your children? Here are a few tips to get you started in the right direction!

Is college worth the debt?
Unpleasant as they may be, student loans may be worth it for you in the long run. Someone with a bachelor’s degree makes on average $1 million more throughout their career than someone without.[i] The key is recognizing that not all degrees are created equal and weighing out the cost and benefits of pursuing specific degrees. Studying art for four years when there might be a scarcity of jobs in your field might make it harder to pay off loans than going into medicine or engineering. It’s also worth considering that getting a degree in something like English or History doesn’t mean you have to start a career in those fields, depending on your interests and how you network and build your resume.

Look into different payment plans and loan forgiveness options
But say you’re a recent graduate who’s looking for work and doesn’t have a steady income. What options do you have? A good first step is looking into different payment plans that are based around your income instead of a fixed monthly sum until you get solid cash flow. The government also offers some loan forgiveness for teachers working in underprivileged areas or for disabilities, so be sure to investigate those options.[ii]

Start budgeting habits
The most important tool for handling student debt is budgeting and spending money wisely. Take some time each week to see where your money is actually going and cut out what you don’t need. Dedicate as much as you can to paying off those loans without sacrificing your retirement or rainy-day funds. This might require making some short term sacrifices, but remember that the long term financial benefits can be huge!

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[i]https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/18/36-percent-of-college-grads-with-student-loans-say-debt-wasnt-worth-it.htm

[ii] https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation

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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

January 13, 2020

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

Some people love to live a life of thrift.

It’s a challenge they tackle with gusto. Shaving down expenses with couponing, hunting the best deals with an app on their phones, or simply finding creative ways to reuse a cardboard box, gives them a thrill. For others, budgeting conjures up images of living in tents, foraging for nuts and berries in the woods, and sewing together everyone’s old t-shirts to make a blanket for grandma.

To each their own! But budgeting doesn’t have to be faced like a wilderness survival reality TV competition. Sure, there might be some sacrifice and compromise involved when you first implement your budget (giving up that daily $6 latte might feel like roughing it at first), but rest assured there’s a happy middle to most things, and a way that won’t make you hate adhering to your financial goals.

Simplifying the budgeting process can help ease the transition. Check out the following suggestions to make living on a budget something you can stick to – instead of making a shelter out of sticks.

Use that smartphone. Your parents may have used a system of labeled envelopes to budget for various upcoming expenses. Debit cards have largely replaced cash these days, and all those labeled envelopes were fiddly anyway. Your best budgeting tool is probably in your pocket, your purse, or wherever your smartphone is at the moment.

Budgeting apps can connect to your bank account and keep track of incoming and outgoing cash flow, making it simple to categorize current expenses and create a solid budget. A quick analysis of the data and charts from the app can give you important clues about your spending behavior. Maybe you’ll discover that you spent $100 last week for on-demand movies. $5 here and $10 there can add up quickly. Smartphone apps can help you see (in vivid color) how your money could be evaporating in ways you might not feel on a day-to-day basis.

Some apps give you the ability to set a budget for certain categories of spending (like on-demand movies), and you can keep track of how you’re doing in relation to your defined budget. Some apps even provide alerts to help keep you aware of your spending. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, there are even apps that mimic the envelope systems of old, but with a digital spin.

Plan for unexpected expenses. Even with modern versions of budgeting, one of the biggest risks for losing your momentum is the same as it was in the days of the envelope system: unexpected expenses. Sometimes an unexpected event – like car trouble, an urgent home repair, or medical emergency – can cost more than we expected. A lot more.

A good strategy to help protect your budget from an unexpected expense is an Emergency Fund. It may take a while to build your Emergency Fund, but it will be worth it if the tire blows out, the roof starts leaking, or you throw your back out trying to fix either of those things against your doctor’s orders.

The size of your Emergency Fund will depend on your unique situation, but a goal of at least $1,000 to 3 months of your income is recommended. Three months of income may sound like a lot, but if you experience a sudden loss of income, you’d have at least three full months of breathing room to get back on track.

Go with the flow. As you work with your new budget, you may find that you miss the mark on occasion. Some months you’ll spend more. Some months you’ll spend less. That’s normal. Over time, you’ll have an average for each expense category or expense item that will reveal where you can do better – but also where you may have been more frugal than needed.

With these suggestions in mind, there is no time like the present to get started! Make that new budget, then buy yourself an ice cream or turn on the air conditioning. Once you know where you stand, where you need to tighten up on spending, and where you can let loose a little, budgeting might not seem like a punishment. In fact, you might find that it’s a useful, much-needed strategy that you CAN stick to – all part of the greater journey to your financial independence.

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Money Saving Tips for the Holiday Season

December 23, 2019

Money Saving Tips for the Holiday Season

The holidays shouldn’t be a time for worrying about your finances.

But the cost of travel, food, and gifts can add up quickly, making it hard to focus on the things that matter most. Here are some tips to help protect your pocketbook this holiday season so you can focus on sharing old traditions and making new memories with friends and family.

Play secret Santa
Secret Santa is an easy way to divvy up gift buying duties, especially if you have a large family or friend group. Have everyone participating put their names in a hat. Everyone then draws a random name out of the hat and must buy a gift for the person they’ve selected. It’s a simple and fun way to limit how many people you need to buy gifts for and control how much you spend on presents. Optional Secret Santa: Only do the gift swap with the kids and skip the adults this year.

Buy gifts with cash when you can
Watch out for credit card debt this holiday season. Purchasing presents with credit can be tempting (especially during the Black Friday frenzy), but how much you’re going to owe can quickly add up. Set a budget for yourself and then take that much cash out of the bank. Once it dries up, stop buying gifts! Your future self will be glad come January when you don’t have a whopping credit card bill to pay off.

Take advantage of sales and coupons early
Start collecting wishlists a few months before the holidays begin. If Aunt Margaret mentions a new cookware set she has her eye on in August, take note! Shopping early is an easy way of increasing your chances of finding sales and deals before the hardcore holiday shopping ensues. For online shopping, investigate couponing apps and add-ons. They can automatically add discounts to purchases, potentially saving you big money over a few gifts!

The holidays are about remembering what really matters, not worrying about money. The goal of these tips isn’t just to save you some cash, but to help you celebrate the things and people you love, free of financial distractions. Happy Holidays!

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Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping your wedding costs under control

December 16, 2019

Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping your wedding costs under control

The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is over $33,000.[i]

That’s an expensive day by any standard!

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 1.9 kids – assuming your family has an average number of children as a result of your newly wedded bliss.[ii]

If you’re having cold feet about shelling out that much cash for one day’s festivities – or even worse, if you fear you might have to go into debt to pay for it – here are a few ideas on how you can make your wedding day a special day to remember, and still save some money for other things (like that 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 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 need to have your wedding in the backyard while the neighbor’s dog howls during your vows – although you certainly can. It just means fewer people to provide food and drink 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 fancy food. Consider trading the seven-course gourmet dinner with full service for a selection of simpler, buffet-style dishes catered by your favorite restaurant.

Incorporate More Wallet-Friendly Wedding Ideas
A combination of small adjustments 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[iii], and June and September are both peak wedding season months.[iv] 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 location. 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 may provide beautiful gowns for a fraction of the price of a new gown.

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, consider some of the tips above to keep things classy, cool – and within your budget.

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[i] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/couples-spend-an-average-of-33391-on-weddings-incorporating-cultural-religious-and-personalized-elements-according-to-the-knot-2017-real-weddings-study-300598597.html
[ii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/718084/average-number-of-own-children-per-family/
[iii] https://www.theknot.com/content/less-expensive-days-for-weddings
[iv] https://www.marthastewartweddings.com/631490/most-affordable-months-to-get-married

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The dangers of payday loans and cash advances

December 9, 2019

The dangers of payday loans and cash advances

In an emergency you might need some extra cash fast.

Having your emergency fund at the ready would be ideal to cover your conundrum, but what if your emergency fund has been depleted, or you can’t or don’t want to use a credit card or line of credit to get through a crisis?

There are other options out there – a cash advance or a payday loan.

But beware – these options pose some serious caveats. Both carry high interest rates and both are aimed at those who are in desperate need of money on short notice. So before you commit to one of these options, let’s pause and take a close look at why you might be tempted to use them, and how they compare to other credit products, like credit cards or traditional loans.

The Cash Advance
If you already have a credit card, you may have noticed the cash advance rate associated with that card. Many credit cards offer a cash advance option – you would go to an ATM and retrieve cash, and the amount would be added to your credit card’s balance. However, there is usually no grace period for cash advances.[i] Interest would begin to accrue immediately.

Furthermore, the interest rate on a cash advance may often be higher than the interest rate on credit purchases made with the same card. For example, if you buy a $25 dinner on credit, you may pay 15% interest on that purchase (if you don’t pay it off before the grace period has expired). On the other hand, if you take a cash advance of $25 with the same card, you may pay 25% interest, and that interest will start right away, not after a 21-day grace period. Check your own credit card terms so you’re aware of the actual interest you would be charged in each situation.

The Payday Loan
Many people who don’t have a credit history (or who have a poor credit rating) may find it difficult to obtain funds on credit, so they may turn to payday lenders. They usually only have to meet a few certain minimum requirements, like being of legal age, showing proof of employment, etc.[ii] Unfortunately, the annualized interest rates on payday loans are notoriously high, commonly reaching hundreds of percentage points.[iii]

A single loan at 10% over two weeks may seem minimal. For example, you might take a $300 loan and have to pay back $330 at your next paycheck. Cheap, right? Definitely not! If you annualize that rate, which is helpful to compare rates on different products, you get 250% interest. The same $300 charged to a 20% APR credit card would cost you $2.30 in interest over that same two week period (and that assumes you have no grace period).

Why People Use Payday Loans
Using a cash advance in place of purchasing on credit can be hard to justify in a world where almost every merchant accepts credit cards. However, if a particular merchant only accepts cash, you may be forced to take out a cash advance. Of course, if you can pay off the advance within a day or two and there is a fee for using a credit card (but not cash), you might actually save a little bit by paying in cash with funds from a cash advance.

Taking a payday loan, while extremely expensive, has an obvious reason: the applicant cannot obtain loans in any other way and has an immediate need for funds. The unfortunate reality is that being “credit invisible” can be extremely expensive, and those who are invisible or at risk of becoming invisible should start cautiously building their credit profiles, either with traditional credit cards or a secured card[iv], if your circumstances call for it. (As always, be aware of fees and interest rates charged with the card you choose.) Even more important is to start building an emergency fund. Then, if an emergency does arise, payday loans can be avoided.

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[i] https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/111414/how-does-interest-work-cash-advance-my-credit-card.asp
[ii] https://www.speedycash.com/faqs/payday-loans/
[iii] https://www.incharge.org/debt-relief/how-payday-loans-work/
[iv] https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/what-is-a-secured-credit-card/

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Is a personal loan a good idea?

September 3, 2019

Is a personal loan a good idea?

Life is full of surprises – many of which cost money.

If you’ve just used up your emergency fund to cover your last catastrophe, then what if a new surprise arrives before you’ve replenished your savings?

Using a credit card can be an expensive option, so you might be leery of adding debt with a high interest rate. However, you can’t let the ship sink either. What can you do?

A personal loan is an alternative in a cash-crunch crisis, but you’ll need to know a bit about how it works before signing on the bottom line.

A personal loan is an unsecured loan. The loan rate and approval are based on your credit history and the amount borrowed. Much like a credit card account, you don’t have to put up a car or house as collateral on the loan. But one area where a personal loan differs from a credit card is that it’s not a revolving line of credit. Your loan is funded in a lump sum and once you pay down the balance you won’t be able to access more credit from that loan. Your loan will be closed once you’ve paid off the balance.

The payment terms for a personal loan can be a short duration. Typically, loan terms range between 2-7 years.[i] If the loan amount is relatively large, this can mean large payments as well, without the flexibility you have with a credit card in regard to choosing your monthly payment amount.

An advantage over using a personal loan instead of a credit card is that interest rates for personal loans can be lower than you might find with credit cards. But many personal loans are plagued by fees, which can range from application fees to closing fees. These can add a significant cost to the loan even if the interest rate looks attractive. It’s important to shop around to compare the full cost of the loan if you choose to use a personal loan to navigate a cash crunch. You also might find that some fees (but not all) can be negotiated. (Hint: This may be true with certain credit cards as well.)

Before you borrow, make sure you understand the interest rate for the loan. Personal loans can be fixed rate or the rate might be variable. In that case, low rates can turn into high rates if interest rates continue to rise.

It’s also important to know the difference between a personal loan and a payday loan. Consider yourself warned – payday loans are a different type of loan, and may be an extremely expensive way to borrow. The Federal Trade Commission recommends you explore alternatives.[ii]

So if you need a personal loan to cover an emergency, your bank or credit union might be a good place to start your search.

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[i] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/personal-loan-calculator/
[ii] https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0097-payday-loans

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4 easy tips to build your emergency fund

July 24, 2019

4 easy tips to build your emergency fund

Nearly one quarter of Americans have no emergency savings, according to a recent report.[i]

Without an emergency fund, you can imagine that an unexpected expense could send your budget into a tailspin.

With credit card debt at an all-time high and no meaningful savings for many Americans, it’s important to learn how to start and grow your emergency savings.[ii] You CAN do this!

4 tips to building your emergency fund

  1. Where to keep your emergency fund
    Keeping money in the cookie jar might not be the best plan. Mattresses don’t really work so well either. But you also don’t want your emergency fund “co-mingled” with the money in your normal checking or savings account. The goal is to keep your emergency fund separate, clearly defined, and easily accessible. Setting up a designated, high-yield savings account is a good option that can provide quick access to your money while keeping it separate from your main bank accounts.[iii]

  2. Set a monthly goal for savings
    Set a monthly goal for your emergency fund savings, but also make sure you keep your savings goal realistic. If you choose an overly ambitious goal, you may be less likely to reach that goal consistently, which might make the process of building your emergency fund a frustrating experience. (Your emergency fund is supposed to help reduce stress, not increase it!) It’s okay to start by putting aside a small amount until you have a better understanding of how much you can really “afford” to save each month. Also, once you have your high-yield savings account set up, you can automatically transfer funds to your savings account every time you get paid. One less thing to worry about!

  3. Spare change can add up quickly
    The convenience of debit and credit cards means that we use less cash these days – but if and when you do pay with cash, take the change and put it aside. When you have enough change to be meaningful, maybe $20 to $30, deposit that into your emergency fund. If most of your transactions are digital, mobile apps like Qapital let you set rules to automate your savings.[iv]

  4. Get to know your budget
    Making and keeping a budget may not always be the most enjoyable pastime. But once you get it set up and stick to it for a few months, you’ll get some insight into where your money is going, and how better to keep a handle on it! Hopefully that will motivate you to keep going, and keep working towards your larger goals. When you first get started, dig out your bank statements and write down recurring expenses, or types of expenses that occur frequently. Odds are pretty good that you’ll find some expenses that aren’t strictly necessary. Look for ways to moderate your spending on frills without taking all the fun out of life. By moderating your expenses and eliminating the truly wasteful indulgences, you’ll probably find money to spare each month and you’ll be well on your way to building your emergency fund.

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[i] https://money.cnn.com/2018/06/20/pf/no-emergency-savings/index.html
[ii] https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-card-debt-hits-an-all-time-high-how-much-do-you-owe/
[iii] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/life-build-emergency-fund/
[iv] https://www.qapital.com/

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How inflation can affect your savings

July 22, 2019

How inflation can affect your savings

Even before we leave childhood behind, we become aware of a decrease in buying power. It seems like that candy bar in the check-out lane has doubled in price without doubling in size.

Unlike the value of stocks, real estate, or similar assets, candy doesn’t appreciate in value. What has happened is that your money has depreciated in value. Inflation has a sneaky way of eating away our money over time, forcing us to either find a way to earn more – or to get by with less. Even for the youngest of Generation Z, now in their early teens, consumer prices have increased about 30% since they were born.[i]

In 2018, the average new car costs $35,285 – up $703 since the previous year, or about 2%.[ii] While a $703 increase in a single year might seem high, the inflation rate (as a percentage) is lower than for many other items. And some other items may not have gone up as much as you would expect. For example, in 1913, a gallon of milk cost about 36 cents. One hundred years later in 2013, the average cost was about $3.53.[iii] But if milk had followed the average rate of inflation, the price for a gallon would be nearly $10.00 by now. Supply, demand, and more efficient production and distribution all contribute to a lower price than expected with the milk example. The U.S. government uses what is called a Consumer Price Index (CPI) to measure inflation, which unfortunately does not include food and fuel – both essentials and daily expenses for households – making the true rate of inflation more difficult to determine.

Inflation is due to several reasons, all with complex relationships to each other. At the heart of the matter is money supply. If there is more money in circulation, prices go up. Under the current monetary system, which utilizes a Central Bank to govern monetary policy, inflation rates have been as low as about 1.3% annually in 1964 to 13.5% in 1980.[iv] That means something that cost $10 in 1979 cost $11.35 just a year later. That may not seem like a big increase on $10, but if you’re like most people, your pay probably doesn’t go up 13.5% in a year for doing the same work!

How does inflation affect my savings strategy? It’s a good idea to always keep the current rate of inflation in the back of your mind. As of August, 2018, it was about 2.7%.[v] Interest rates paid by banks and CDs are usually lower than the inflation rate, which might mean you’ll lose money if you leave most of it in these types of accounts. Saving, of course, is essential – but try to find accounts for your cash that work a bit harder to outrun inflation.

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1) https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm
2) https://mediaroom.kbb.com/average-new-car-prices-jump-2-percent-march-2018-suv-sales-strength-according-to-kelley-blue-book
3) https://inflationdata.com/articles/2013/03/21/food-price-inflation-1913/
4 & 5) https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/inflation/historical-inflation-rates/

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What to do first when you receive an inheritance

July 10, 2019

What to do first when you receive an inheritance

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

The typical household budget that covers the cost of raising a family, making loan payments, and saving for retirement usually doesn’t leave much room for spending on daydream items. However, if you’re fortunate, you might be the recipient of some unexpected cash – your family might come into an inheritance, you could receive a bonus at work, or you might benefit from some other sort of windfall.

If you ever inherit a chunk of money or receive a large payout, it may be tempting to splurge on that red convertible you’ve been drooling over or book that dream trip to Hawaii. Unfortunately for many though, newly-found money has the potential to disappear with nothing to show for it, if there is no strategy in place ahead of time to handle it wisely.

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

Taxes or Other Expenses
If a large sum of money comes your way unexpectedly, your knee-jerk reaction might be to pull out your bucket list and see what you’d like to check off first. But before you start making plans, the reality is you’ll need to put aside some money for taxes. You may want to check with an expert – an accountant or tax advisor may have some ideas on how to reduce your liability.

If you suddenly become the owner of a new house or car as part of an inheritance, one thing to consider is how much it might cost to hang on to it. If you want to keep that house or car (or any other asset that’s worth a lot of money), make sure you can cover maintenance, insurance, and any loan payments if that item isn’t paid off yet.

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

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

Fund Your Emergency Account
Before you buy that red convertible, make sure you’ve set aside some money for a rainy day. Saving at least 3-6 months of expenses is a good goal. This could be liquid funds – like a separate savings account.

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

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

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

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Why You Should Pay Off High-Interest Debt First

Why You Should Pay Off High-Interest Debt First

The average U.S. household owes over $5,500 in credit card debt.¹

Often, we may not even realize how much that borrowed money is costing us. High interest debt (like credit cards) can slowly suck the life out of your budget.

The average APR for credit cards is over 16% in the U.S.² Think about that for a second. If someone offered you a guaranteed investment that paid 16-19%, you’d probably walk over hot coals to sign the paperwork.

So here’s a mind-bender: Paying down that high interest debt isn’t the same as making a 16-19% return on an investment – it’s better.

Here’s why: A return on a standard investment is taxable, trimming as much as a third so the government can do whatever it is that governments do with the money. Paying down debt that has a 16% interest rate is like making a 20% return – or even higher – because the interest saved is after-tax money.

Like any investment, paying off high interest debt will take time to produce a meaningful return. Your “earnings” will seem low at first. They’ll seem low because they are low. Hang in there. Over time, as the balances go down and more cash is available every month, the benefit will become more apparent.

High Interest vs. Low Balance
We all want to pay off debt, even if we aren’t always vigilant about it. Debt irks us. We know someone is in our pockets. It’s tempting to pay off the small balances first because it’ll be faster to knock them out.

Granted, paying off small balances feels good – especially when it comes to making the last payment. However, the math favors going after the big fish first, the hungry plastic shark that is eating through your wallet, bank account, retirement savings, vacation plans, and everything else.³ In time, paying off high interest debt first will free up the money to pay off the small balances, too.

Summing It Up
High interest debt, usually credit cards, can cost you hundreds of dollars per year in interest – and that’s assuming you don’t buy anything else while you pay it off. Paying off your high interest debt first has the potential to save all of that money you’d end up paying in interest. And imagine how much better it might feel to pay off other debts or bolster your financial strategy with the money you save!

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¹ Frankel, Matthew. “Here’s the average American’s credit card debt — and how to get yours under control.” USA TODAY, https://usat.ly/2LkHX4n. ² Dilworth, Kelly. “Rate survey: Average card APR remains at record high of 16.73 percent.” creditcards.com, https://bit.ly/2Hpxf9T. ³ Berger, Bob. “Debt Snowball Versus Debt Avalanche: What The Academic Research Shows.” Forbes, https://bit.ly/2x9Q1lN.

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5 Things You Can Do With A Bonus

June 26, 2019

5 Things You Can Do With A Bonus

It’s your lucky day and you’re flush with cash. Maybe you just got a bonus at work, or a tax refund, or won that scratch-off lottery ticket.

Hold up. Don’t spend it all just yet. There are some great ways you can put that windfall to work for you before it disappears during a spontaneous shopping spree.

1. Pay off those credit cards. This may not seem like quite as much fun as the Paris vacation you were daydreaming about – but paying down debt is like finding money every single month. Every $100 you pay in interest equals about $130 you’d have to earn when you consider taxes. Paying down debt is the fastest way to give yourself a monthly raise if you come into some unexpected cash.

2. Save it. Experts recommend that you have enough savings to cover at least 3 to 6 months of expenses. In reality, nearly half of all households won’t make it more than a week without borrowing or selling something. 1 This is the perfect opportunity to break away from the statistics and get prepared. Consider a high-yield checking account that allows easy access to your savings.

3. Put it in the college fund. If you have kids, this is a great time to contribute to the college fund or to start one if you haven’t already. Depending on whether your kids attend an in-state or out-of-state school, tuition can easily range from $10,000 per year to over $30,000 per year for a 4-year school. Books and boarding are extra on top of that. It’s never too early to give your kids a head start!

4. Invest in yourself. This might be the perfect chance to finish off those last few credits for a degree or to earn that certification you’ve been wanting but couldn’t justify spending money to complete. If you choose carefully, the right degree or certification can open doors in your career, potentially enhancing your earning power and helping you break out of the holding pattern.

5. Take a vacation. Maybe it’s a trip to Paris or maybe it’s someplace else you’ve always wanted to go. If all the above are in good shape, go ahead and treat yourself. You deserve it!

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Source:

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markavallone/2018/08/12/5-things-to-do-with-your-raise-or-bonus/#29b8643b1d95

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Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

So you’re finally on board with this whole budget thing.

You’ve set up your plan. Now you’ve got a budget complete with average historical spending by category. You’ve discussed it with family members, roommates, and anyone else to whom the budget applies. You’ve checked off all the boxes. Yet somehow – at the end of the month, the math isn’t working out. The budget is busted.

What went wrong? Life is full of mysteries, like who left an empty box of cereal in the cupboard? Where are my glasses? Why won’t the baby go to sleep? And, where did all my money disappear to?

For a budget to work well, you’ll need to track it regularly and often. Many times, the reason you made a budget in the first place is that there’s very little room for error with saving and spending your money. A budget’s got to be loved and nurtured, kind of like a garden. Sometimes you have to get out there and pull some weeds or dig up a few rocks to keep it thriving.

Making Your Budget
To make your budget (if you haven’t already), there are several methods you can use. Good old pencil and paper never goes out of style. And it might help you see where you stand a little faster than potentially losing your initial momentum by learning a new “app”. Specialized software or online budgeting tools can be great – but they can also be fiddly if you’re not used to them. Rather than trying to figure out complicated menus and search for hidden buttons from the get-go, you might want to try it on paper first to work through your budget and establish a limit for each category of spending. Writing out your expenditures by hand has the added benefit of helping you face reality. It hurts a little more than automated solutions if you have to write the numbers down in black and white. If you’re good with spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets can also be used to quickly build a budget without a frustrating learning curve.

Tracking Your Budget
Technology can be friend or foe in the home budget process. Even though you may have started out on paper, when it comes to tracking your spending for the long haul and in real time, technology is definitely a friend.

Mobile apps come in two forms: free and not free. We’ll focus on free apps for now because it’s consistent with the goal of keeping your spending under control.

Mint.com is owned by Intuit, famous for Quicken and Quickbooks software, and makes budget tracking very simple. Mint links to your bank account and other accounts you’d like to track, so you can see a complete view of your finances at a glance either on your mobile device or on your computer. Budgets are set automatically for each category but can be changed easily. Spending and income are also automatically tracked and categorized so you can view your progress – including budget amounts remaining for the month. Cash purchases can be added from the home screen.

Another good option is Clarity Money, which tracks spending by category but also provides an easy way to cancel subscriptions and access your free VantageScore Credit Score (by Experian). Clarity Money was featured by Google Play as a “Best of 2017” and is also available for iOS.¹

Paper or spreadsheet methods help to make the budgeting process more tangible. Automated tracking makes it easy to monitor your progress against your budget – and to maybe think twice about spending on impulse.

The important thing is to think of your budget like a garden – once you have it planned and laid out, it’s going to take regular maintenance to ensure it stays beautiful.

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Source: ¹ “Best Daily Helper.” Google Play, https://play.google.com/store/apps/topic?id=campaign_editorial_apps_productivity_bestof2017&hl=en.

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Common Financial Potholes

June 17, 2019

Common Financial Potholes

A medical emergency. Your refrigerator giving out. Car trouble.

These scenarios are some common 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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Source: Lewerer, Greg. “Car Depreciation: How Much Have You Lost?” Trusted Choice*, https://bit.ly/1LtV7aP.

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The Advantages of Paying with Cash

The Advantages of Paying with Cash

We’re using debit cards to pay for expenses more often now, a trend that seems unlikely to reverse soon.¹

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sources: ¹ Steele, Jason. “Debit card statistics.” creditcards.com, https://bit.ly/2JB9cGE. ² Kiviat, Barbara. “Going Shopping? How You Pay Can Affect How Much You Spend.” Consumer Reports, https://bit.ly/2sNQiG7.

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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, the average American now owes over $6,000 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 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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Sources: El Issa, Erin. “2017 American Household Credit Card Debt Study.” NerdWallet*, 2017, https://nerd.me/2ht7SZg.

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Creating Healthy Financial Habits

Creating Healthy Financial Habits

When it comes to building wealth and managing finances well enough to live comfortably, it’s up to your participation in a long-term financial strategy, which – more often than not – depends on creating healthy financial habits NOW.

Check out these ideas on how you can do it!

Automate it
Fortunately for us, we live in the electronic age, which can make streamlining financial goals a lot easier than in decades past. Whether building savings, investing for the future, paying down debt, or any other goals, take advantage of the apps and information available online. Savings can be put on autopilot, taking a fixed amount from your bank account each month or each pay period. The same can be done for IRAs or other investment accounts. Many mobile apps offer to automatically round up purchases and invest the spare change. (Hint: Compare your options and any associated fees for each app.)

Be mindful of small purchases
It can be much easier to be aware of making a large purchase (physically large, financially large, or both). Take a physically large purchase, for instance: it’s difficult to go into a store and come out with a washing machine and not have any memory of it. And for large financial purchases like a laptop or television, some thought usually goes into it – up to and including how it’s going to get paid for. But small, everyday purchases can add up right under your nose. Ever gone into a big box store to grab a couple of items then left having spent over $100 on those items… plus some throw pillows and a couple of lamps you just had to snag? What about that pricey cup of artisan coffee? Odds are pretty good that the coffee shop has some delicious pastries, too, which may fuel that “And your total is…” fire. $100 here, $8.50 there, another $1.75 shelled out for a bottle of water – the small expenses can add up quickly and dip right into the money that could go toward your financial strategy.

Paying with plastic has a tendency to make the tiny expenses forgettable… until you get that credit card bill. One easy way to cut down on the mindless purchases is to pay in cash or with a debit card. The total owed automatically leaves your wallet or you account, perhaps making the dwindling amount you have to set aside for your financial future a little more tangible.

Do what wealthy people do
CNBC uncovered several habits and traits that are common among wealthy individuals. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all hard work. They found that wealthy people tend to read – a lot – and continue learning through reading.¹ Your schedule may not allow for as much reading time as the average billionaire – maybe just 30 minutes a day is a good short-term goal – but getting in more reading can help you improve in any area of life!

Another thing wealthy people do? Wake up early. This may help you find that extra 30 minutes for reading. You’ll get more done in general if you get up a little earlier. A 5-year study of self-made millionaires revealed that nearly 50% of this industrious group woke up at least 3 hours before their work day started.²

Making these healthy financial habits a part of your regular routine might take some time and effort, but hang in there. Often, success is about the mindset we choose to have. If you stay the course and learn from those who’ve been where you are, you can experience the difference that good habits can make as you keep moving toward financial independence!

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¹ Paine, James. “5 Billionaires Who Credit Their Success to Reading.” Inc., https://bit.ly/2LvAM94. ² Elkins, Kathleen. “A man who spent 5 years studying millionaires found one of their most important wealth-building habits starts first thing in the morning.” Business Insider, https://read.bi/2aXjejh.

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