Lori Friedman

Lori Friedman

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World Financial Group

How to Build Credit When You’re Young

June 10, 2019

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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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Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sources: Huckabee, Tyler. “Why Do People In Relationships Fight About Money So Much?” Relevant*, 1.3.2018, https://bit.ly/2xiflG9.

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Money Woes Hurt More than Your Bank Account

Money Woes Hurt More than Your Bank Account

How do you handle job stress?

Sticking to a solid workflow? Meditation? A stress ball in each hand?

Whichever way you choose to lessen the stress (that 80% of American workers experience), there’s another stress-relieving tactic that could make a huge difference:

Relieving financial stress.

Studies have found that money woes can cost workers over 2 weeks in productivity a year! And this time can be lost even when you’re still showing up for work.

This phenomenon is called ‘presenteeism’: you’re physically present at a job, but you’re working while ill or mentally disengaged from tasks. Presenteeism can be caused by stress, worry, or other issues – which, as you can imagine, may deal a significant blow to work productivity.

So what’s the good news?

If you’re constantly worried and stressed about financing unexpected life events, saving for retirement, or funding a college education for yourself or a loved one, there’s a life insurance policy that can help you – wherever you are on your financial journey.

A life insurance policy that’s tailored for you can provide coverage for those unknowns that keep you stressed and unproductive. Most people don’t plan to fail. They simply fail to plan. Think of a well-thought out insurance strategy as a stress ball for your bank account!

Contact me today, and together we’ll work on an insurance strategy that fits you and your dreams – and can help you get back to work with significantly less financial stress.

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Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

These days, most families are two-income households.

That describes 61.9% of U.S. families as of 2017¹ and 69% of Canadian families as of 2015.² If that describes your family (and the odds are good), do you have a strategy in place to cover your financial obligations with just one income if you or your spouse were to unexpectedly pass away?

Wow. That’s a real conversation-opener, isn’t it? It’s not easy to think about what might happen if one income suddenly disappeared. (It might seem like more fun to have a root canal than to think about that.) But having the right coverage “just in case” is worth considering. It’ll give you some reassurance and let you get back to the fun stuff… like not thinking about having a root canal.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Term insurance and how it may help with your family’s financial obligations, read on…

Some Basics about Term Insurance
Many of life’s financial commitments have a set end date. Mortgages are 15 to 30 years. Kids grow up and (eventually) start providing for themselves. Term life insurance may be a great option since you can choose a coverage length that lines up with the length of your ongoing financial commitments. Ideally, the term of the policy will end around the same time those large financial obligations are paid off. Term policies also may be a good choice because in many cases, they may be the most economical solution for getting the protection a family needs.

As great as term policies can be, here are a couple of things to keep in mind: a term policy won’t help cover financial commitments if you or your spouse simply lose your job. And term policies have a set (level) premium during the length of the initial period. Generally, term policies can be continued after the term expires, but at a much higher rate.

The following are some situations where a Term policy may help.

Pay Final Expenses
Funeral and burial costs can be upwards of $10,000.³ However, many families might not have that amount handy in available cash. Covering basic final expenses can be a real burden, especially if the death of a spouse comes out of the blue. If one income is suddenly gone, it could mean the surviving spouse would need to use credit or liquidate assets to cover final expenses. As you would probably agree, neither of these are attractive options. A term life insurance policy can cover final expenses, leaving one less worry for your family.

Pay Off Debt
The average households in the U.S. and Canada are carrying nearly $140,000⁴ and an average of $22,081⁵ in debt, respectively. For households with a large mortgage balance, the debt figures could be much higher. Couple that with a median household income of under $60,000 in the U.S.⁶ and just over $70,000 in Canada,⁷ and it’s clear that many families would be in trouble if one income is lost.

Term life insurance can be closely matched to the length of your mortgage, which helps to ensure that your family won’t lose their home at an already difficult time.

But what about car payments, credit card balances, and other debt? These other debt obligations that your family is currently meeting with either one or two incomes can be put to bed with a well-planned term life policy.

Income Protection
Even if you’ve planned for final expenses and purchased enough life insurance coverage to pay off your household debt, life can present many other costs of just… living. If you pass unexpectedly, the bills will keep rolling in for anyone you leave behind – especially if you have young children. Those day-to-day living costs and unexpected expenses can seem to multiply in ways that defy mathematical concepts. (You know – like that school field trip to the aquarium that no one mentioned until the night before.) The death benefit of a term life insurance policy may help, for a time, fill in the income gap created by the unfortunate passing of a breadwinner.

But Wait, There’s More… There are term life insurance policies available that can provide other benefits as well, including living benefits that may help keep medical expenses from wreaking havoc on your family’s financial plan if you become critically ill. One note about the living benefits policies, though: If the critical and chronic illness features are used, the face value of the policy is reduced. It’s important to consider whether a reduction in the death benefit would be a good alternative to using savings planned for other purposes.

In some cases, policies with built-in living benefits may cost more than a standard term policy but may still cost less than permanent insurance policies! And because a term policy is in force only during the years when your family needs the most protection, premiums can be lower than for other types of life insurance.

Term life insurance can provide income protection to help keep your family’s financial situation solid, and help things stay as “normal” as they can be after a loss.

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Sources: ¹ United States Department of Labor. “Employment Characteristics of Families Summary.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.19.2018, https://bit.ly/2kSHDvm. ² “Dual-income families with kids have doubled in Canada over past 40 years, StatsCan says.” CBC News, 5.30.2016, https://bit.ly/1OYwORd. ³ “Funeral Costs: How Much Does an Average Funeral Cost?” Parting, 9.14.2017, https://bit.ly/2isoHUC. ⁴ Sun, Leo. “A Foolish Take: Here’s how much debt the average U.S. household owes.” USA Today, 11.18.2017, https://usat.ly/2hJ7lah. ⁵ Evans, Pete. “Canadians’ average debt load now up to $22,081, 3.6% rise since last year.” CBC News, 12.7.2016, https://bit.ly/2gaxIUn. ⁶ Loudenback, Tanza. “Middle-class Americans made more money last year than ever before.” Business Insider, 9.12.2017, https://read.bi/2f3ey3F. ⁷ “Household income in Canada: Key results from the 2016 Census.” Statistics Canada, 9.13.2017, https://bit.ly/2rBX3JE.

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Is Survivorship Life Insurance Right For You?

May 1, 2019

Is Survivorship Life Insurance Right For You?

A survivorship life insurance policy is a type of joint insurance policy (a policy built for two).

You may not have thought much about that type of insurance before, or even knew it existed. But joint policies, especially survivorship policies, are important to consider because they can provide for heirs, settle estates, and pay for final expenses after both spouses have passed.

Most joint life insurance policies are what’s known as “first to die” policies. As the unambiguous nickname suggests, a first to die policy is designed to provide for the remaining spouse after the first passes.

A joint life insurance policy is a time-tested way of providing for a remaining spouse. But without careful planning, a typical joint life policy might leave a burden for surviving children or other family members.

A survivorship life insurance policy works differently than a first to die policy. Also called a “last to die” policy, a survivorship policy provides a death benefit only when both insured spouses have passed. A survivorship policy doesn’t pay a death benefit to either spouse but rather to a separate named beneficiary.

You’ll find survivorship life insurance referred to as:

  • Joint Survivor Life Insurance
  • Second-to-Die Life Insurance
  • Variable Survivorship Insurance

Survivorship life insurance policies are sometimes referred to by different names, but the structure is the same in that the policy only pays a benefit after both people insured by the policy have died.

Reasons to Buy Survivorship Life Insurance
We all have our reasons for buying a life insurance policy, and often have someone in mind who we want to protect and provide for. Those reasons often dictate the best type of policy – or the best combination of policies – that can meet our goals.

A survivorship policy is well-suited to any of the following considerations, perhaps in combination with other policies:

  • Final expenses
  • Estate taxes
  • Lingering medical expenses
  • Payment of debt
  • Transfer of wealth

It’s also most common for a survivorship life insurance policy to be a permanent life insurance policy. This is because the reasons for using a survivorship policy, including transfer of wealth, are usually better served by a permanent life policy than by a term insurance policy. (A term life insurance policy is only in force for a limited time and doesn’t build any cash value.)

Benefits of Survivorship Life Insurance

  • A survivorship life policy can be an effective way to transfer wealth as part of a financial strategy.
  • Life insurance can be difficult to purchase for individuals with certain health conditions. Because a survivorship life insurance policy is underwriting coverage based on two individuals, it may be possible to purchase coverage for someone who couldn’t easily be insured otherwise.
  • As a permanent life insurance policy, a survivorship life policy builds cash value that can be accessed if needed in certain situations.
  • Costs can be lower for a survivorship life policy than insuring two spouses individually.

The good news is that life insurance rates are more affordable now than in the past. That’s great! But keep in mind, your life insurance policy – of any type – will probably cost less now than if you wait for another birthday to pass for either spouse insured by the policy.

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World Financial Group, Inc., its affiliated companies and its independent associates do not offer tax and legal advice. Please consult with your personal tax and/or legal professional for further guidance.

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Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt?

April 10, 2019

Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt?

Both Americans and Canadians each owe more than $1 trillion in credit card debt.

You read that right: more than $1 trillion.

That number is up 6.2% in Canada from 1 year ago. At this rate, it seems like more and more people are going to end up being owned by a tiny piece of plastic rather than the other way around.

How much have you or a loved one contributed to that number? Whether it’s $10 or $10,000, there are a couple simple tricks to get and keep yourself out of credit card debt.

The first step is to be aware of how and when you’re using your credit card. It’s so easy – especially on a night out when you’re trying to unwind – to mindlessly hand over your card to pay the bill. And for most people, paying with credit has become their preferred, if not exclusive, payment option. Dinner, drinks, Ubers, a concert, a movie, a sporting event – it’s going to add up.

And when that credit card bill comes, you could end up feeling more wound up than you did before you tried to unwind.

Paying attention to when, what for, and how often you hand over your credit card is crucial to getting out from under credit card debt.

Here are 2 tips to keep yourself on track on a night out.

1. Consider your budget. You might cringe at the word “budget”, but it’s not an enemy who never wants you to have any fun. Considering your budget doesn’t mean you can never enjoy a night out with friends or coworkers. It simply means that an evening of great food, fun activities, and making memories must be considered in the context of your long-term goals. Start thinking of your budget as a tough-loving friend who’ll be there for you for the long haul.

Before you plan a night out:

  • Know exactly how much you can spend before you leave the house or your office, and keep track of your spending as your evening progresses.
  • Try using an app on your phone or even write your expenses on a napkin or the back of your hand – whatever it takes to keep your spending in check.
  • Once you have reached your limit for the evening – stop.

2. Cash, not plastic (wherever possible). Once you know what your budget for a night out is, get it in cash or use a debit card. When you pay your bill with cash, it’s a concrete transaction. You’re directly involved in the physical exchange of your money for goods and services. In the case that an establishment or service will only take credit, just keep track of it (app, napkin, back of your hand, etc.), and leave the cash equivalent in your wallet.

You can still enjoy a night on the town, get out from under credit card debt, and be better prepared for the future with a carefully planned financial strategy. Contact me today, and together we’ll assess where you are on your financial journey and what steps you can take to get where you want to go – hopefully by happy hour!

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Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

April 1, 2019

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

Nearly every type of debt can interfere with your financial goals, making you feel like a hamster on a wheel – constantly running but never actually getting anywhere.

If you’ve been trying to dig yourself out of a debt hole, it’s time to take a break and look at the bigger picture.

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

Credit Cards
Credit card interest rates now average nearly 17% in the US¹ and around 19% in Canada.² For most households, credit card debt is the place to start – stop spending on credit and start making extra payments whenever possible. Think of it as an investment in your future!

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

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

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

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

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Source: ¹ Dilworth, Kelly. “Rate survey: Average card rate climbs to all-time high of 16.92 percent.” creditcards.com, 7.5.2018, https://bit.ly/2Hpxf9T. ² Murphy, Paul. “How Does Credit Card Interest Work in Canada?” 4 Pillars, https://bit.ly/2fL2y13.

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The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt

March 18, 2019

The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt

It might sound like a bad monster movie title, but the return of consumer debt is a growing concern.

A recent New York Times article details the rise of consumer debt, which has reached a new peak and now exceeds the record-breaking $12.68 trillion of consumer debt we had collectively back in 2008. In 2017, after a sharp decline followed by a rise as consumer sentiment improved, we reached a new peak of $12.73 trillion.[i]

A trillion is a big number. Numbers measured in trillions (that’s 1,000 billion, or 1,000,000 million – yes, that’s correct!) can seem abstract and difficult to relate to in our own individual situations.

While big numbers can be hard to grasp, dates are easy. 2008 is when the economy crashed, due in part to an unmanageable amount of debt.

Good debt and bad debt
Mortgage debt still makes up the majority of consumer debt, currently 68% of the total.[ii] But student loans are a category on the rise, currently more than doubling their percentage of total consumer debt when compared to 2008 figures.[iii] Coupled with a healthier economy, these new levels of consumer debt may not be a strong concern yet, but the impact of debt on individual households is often more palpable than the big-picture view of economists. Debt has a way of creeping up on families.

It’s common to hear references to “good debt”, usually when discussing real estate loans. In most cases, mortgage interest is tax deductible, helping to reduce the effective interest rate. However, if a household has too much debt, none of it feels like good debt. In fact, some people pass on home ownership altogether, investing their surplus income and living in more affordable rented apartments – instead of taking on the fluctuating cost of a house and its seemingly never-ending mortgage payments.

Credit card debt
Assuming that a mortgage and an auto loan are necessary evils for your household to work, and that student loans may pay dividends in the form of higher earning power, credit card debt deserves some closer scrutiny. The average American household owes over $15,000 in credit card debt,[iv] more than a quarter of the median household income. The average interest rate for credit cards varies depending on the type of card (rewards cards can be higher). But overall, American households are paying an average of 14.87% APR for the privilege of borrowing money to spend.[v]

That level of debt requires a sizeable payment each month. Guess what the monthly credit card interest for credit card debt of $15,000 at an interest rate of 15% would be? $187.50! (That number will go down as the balance decreases.) If your monthly payment is on the lower end, your debt won’t go down very quickly though. In fact, at $200 per month paid towards credit cards, the average household would be paying off that credit card debt for nearly 19 years, with a total interest cost of almost $30,000 – all from a $15,000 starting balance! (Hint: You can find financial calculators online to help you figure out how much it really costs to borrow money.)

You may not be trillions in debt (even though it might feel like it), but the first step to getting your debt under control is often to understand what its long-term effects might be on your family’s financial health. Formulating a strategy to tackle debt and sticking to it is the key to defeating your personal debt monsters.

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[i], [ii] & [iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/business/dealbook/household-debt-united-states.html
[iv] & [v] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/

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4 fundamental home buying guidelines

March 6, 2019

4 fundamental home buying guidelines

Over the course of a 30-year mortgage term, a humble home may save you thousands of dollars as opposed to a more opulent one.

Even if you abide in a smaller house than you might have envisioned as a kid, it could still provide wonderful memories while offering a haven for your family.

Home ownership can be a desirable goal, but it may become a burden, however, if the home makes you “house poor”. Imagine if every spare penny had to go toward your mortgage or upkeep of your home with nothing left over. That’s the definition of things owning you instead of you owning things. Thankfully, there’s a different way.

If you’re in the market for a new home, there are four areas to consider before you start your serious search.

Save first
You might discover there are lots of ways you could buy a house with almost no money down. However, resist the temptation of low-down-payment loans. In what could be a still-volatile housing market, you would not want to run the risk of finding yourself in a negative equity position, which means you would owe more than your house is worth. You also may pay more for Private Mortgage Insurance, which is required for home loans with less than 20% down. Before you make your move, try to save up for the 20% down payment as well as any additional amounts to help cover closing costs. You’ll also want to have an emergency fund stashed away before you buy.

Think smaller
If you don’t need a “big” house, consider buying a smaller home. Everything in smaller homes may be less expensive to replace or maintain because there’s simply less square footage involved. (The purchase price could be lower as well.)

Keep your budget under 25%
The loan officer for your mortgage might say “yes” to an amount that would cause your monthly payments to be more than 25% of your take-home pay, but that doesn’t mean those payments will fit your budget. Leaving yourself some extra margin may help you navigate life’s surprises and may give you the freedom to save more, provide more for your kids’ college, or even plan that trip you’ve always wanted to take. Bear in mind that mortgage payments may include other fees, which may increase your final monthly payment amount significantly. A 30-year mortgage may provide flexibility

When you’re focused on how much you’re borrowing, a 15-year mortgage that pays down the debt faster may be tempting. Consider a 30-year loan, though. The potential flexibility of not being obligated to a possible higher monthly payment with a 15-year loan may come in handy when those unexpected emergencies happen.

All in all, it’s worth considering your long-term outlook before you even begin your new home search.

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When is it ok to use a credit card?

When is it ok to use a credit card?

Some could say “never!” but there might be situations in which using a credit card may be the option you want to go with.

Many families use credit with good intentions – and then life happens – surprise expenses or a change in income leave them struggling to get ahead of growing debt. To be fair, there may be times to use credit and times to avoid using credit.

Purchasing big-ticket items
A big-screen TV or a laptop purchased with a credit card may have additional warranty protection through your credit card company. Features and promotions vary by card, however, so be sure to know the details before you buy. If your credit card offers reward points or airline miles, big-ticket items may be a faster way to earn points than making small purchases over time. Just be sure to have a plan to pay off the balance.

Travel and car rental
For many families, these two items go hand in hand. Credit cards sometimes offer additional insurance protection for your luggage or for the trip itself. Your credit card company may offer some additional protection for car rentals. You might score some extra airline miles or reward points in this category as well because the numbers can add up quickly.

Online shopping
Credit card and debit card numbers are being stolen all the time. Online merchants can have a breach and not even be aware that your credit card info is out in the wild. The advantage of using a credit card as opposed to a debit card is time. You’ll have more time to dispute charges that aren’t yours. If your debit card gets into the wrong hands, someone might be quickly spending your mortgage money, food and gas money, or college tuition for your kids. Credit cards may be a better choice to use online because the effects of fraud don’t have an immediate impact on your bank balance.

Legitimate emergencies
Life happens and sometimes we don’t have enough readily available cash to pay for emergencies. Life’s emergencies can range from broken appliances to broken cars to broken bones and in these cases, you may not have any other viable options for payment.

Using credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you plan carefully, you may reap several types of benefits from using credit cards and still avoid paying interest. You’ll have to pay off the balance right away to avoid finance charges, though. So, always think twice before you charge once.

Some credit cards offer consumer benefits, like extended warranties, extra insurance, or even rewards. There are some situations in which using a credit card may come in handy.

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The starter kit for building good credit

February 27, 2019

The starter kit for building good credit

Having a good credit score is one of the most important tools you can have in your financial toolbox.

Your credit report may affect anything from how much you pay for a cell phone plan, to whether you would qualify for the mortgage you might want.

Getting and maintaining a good credit score can be advantageous. But how do you achieve a good credit report? What if you’re starting from scratch? The dilemma is like the chicken and the egg question. How can you build a positive credit report if no one will extend you credit?

Read on for some useful tips to help you get started.

Use a cosigner to take out a loan
One way to help build good credit is by taking out a loan with a cosigner. A cosigner would be responsible for the repayment of the loan if the borrower defaults. Many banks may be willing to give loans to people with no credit if someone with good credit acts as a cosigner on the loan to help ensure the money will be paid back.

Build credit as an authorized user
If you don’t want or need to take out a loan with a cosigner, you may want to consider building credit as an authorized user of someone else’s credit card – like a parent, close friend, or relative you trust. The credit card holder would add you as an authorized user of the card. Over time if the credit account remains in good standing, you would begin building credit.

Apply for a store credit card to build your credit
Another way to start building your credit record is to secure a store credit card. Store credit cards may be easier to qualify for than major credit cards because they usually have lower credit limits and higher interest rates. A store credit card may help you build good credit if you make the payments on time every month. Also be sure to pay the card balance off each month to avoid paying interest.

Keep student loans in good standing
If there is an upside to student loan debt, it’s that having a student loan can help build credit and may be easy to qualify for. Just keep in mind, as with any loan, to make payments on time.

Good credit takes time
Building a good credit report takes time, but we all must start somewhere. Your credit score can affect many aspects of your financial health, so it’s worth it to build and maintain a good credit report. Start small and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Most importantly, as you begin building credit, protect it by avoiding credit card debt and making your payments on time.

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Top 10 ways to save more this year

February 25, 2019

Top 10 ways to save more this year

If you’re still writing “2018” on your checks, then it’s not too late to commit to a few New Year’s resolutions for 2019!

Here are some ideas for financial changes you can put in place today that can help get you closer to your saving and retirement goals.

1) Start a budget
There are few things that can paint your future financial picture as clearly as starting a household budget. In the process, you’ll track your spending – both in the past and in the future – and you’ll identify wasteful expenses as well as establish your priorities.

2) Start couponing
Once upon a time, clipping coupons could be quite a chore. Now, mobile apps make finding coupons for popular stores effortless, and there are online websites that provide promotional codes for all sorts of brands. If someone gave you money for buying something you were going to buy anyway, you’d take it, right?

3) Target home energy costs
Is your thermostat programmable? You can adjust your home temperature while you’re at work. Do you need to fix the insulation in the attic or that gap under the front door? Get to it as soon as you can! The longer you let those things go equates to money you might be saving on your energy costs.

4) Buy “pre-owned” items
When we think “pre-owned” we tend to think of cars. But the truth is that almost all consumer items depreciate. How much might you save by buying a refurbished phone instead of a new phone? Used laptops may cost a fraction of what you’d pay for a brand new computer. When it’s time to replace household items, consider buying used.

5) Use the 30 Day Rule to keep impulse spending in check
If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, just wait. It won’t really burn you. By waiting 30 days before making a purchase, you’ll have time to decide if you really need the item or if it was just an impulse buy.

6) Use a shopping list
Want a way to stay focused when shopping and avoid wasteful spending? It might seem obvious, but get in the habit of using a shopping list. Before you head to the store, take a few minutes and write out a list (on paper or your phone), and include only the items you need. Stick to the list!

7) Quit smoking
Smoking seems to be less common these days, but for many households it’s still a costly expense that literally goes up in smoke. Think about how much you could put towards your retirement instead if you kicked the habit. (As a bonus, your health will probably improve.)

8) Stop using credit cards
Credit cards are the most expensive type of debt in many households. If you make a plan to pay off credit card debt and to save credit for (real) emergencies, you’ll probably wish you had given up your credit card habit sooner.

9) Cancel unused memberships and subscriptions
Memberships and subscriptions have a way of becoming forgotten – that is, until they automatically renew. Ouch. Keep the ones you want or need, cancel the others.

10) Cut the cord
Cable TV has become a norm but is your family really using it? Try to find less expensive ways to watch shows or movies online. Major broadcast networks can be picked up for free with an HD antenna.

Bonus ideas: Get a strategy in place to start building an emergency fund. Check your insurance policies to make sure you have the coverage you need. Research some ways in your community to have free (or nearly free) fun with your family.

It might take a little extra effort, but putting any of these ideas in place this year will help you and your family save more of your hard earned money and help get you closer to your retirement goals.

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How to live without credit cards

February 18, 2019

How to live without credit cards

Our parents, uncles, aunts, and maybe even our grandparents tried to warn us about credit cards.

In some cases, the warnings might have been heeded but in other cases, we may have learned the cost of credit the hard way.

Using credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may be a costly thing – and sometimes even a risky thing. The interest from credit card balances can be like a ball and chain that might never seem to go away. And your financial strategy for the future may seem like a distant horizon that’s always out of reach.

It is possible to live without credit cards if you choose to do so, but it can take discipline if you’ve developed the credit habit.

It’s budgeting time
Here’s some tough love. If you don’t have one already, you should hunker down and create a budget. In the beginning it doesn’t have to be complicated. First just try to determine how much you’re spending on food, utilities, transportation, and other essentials. Next, consider what you’re spending on the non-essentials – be honest with yourself!

In making a budget, you should become acutely aware of your spending habits and you’ll give yourself a chance to think about what your priorities really are. Is it really more important to spend $5-6 per day on coffee at the corner shop, or would you rather put that money towards some new clothes?

Try to set up a budget that has as strict allowances as you can handle for non-essential purchases until you can get your existing balances under control. Always keep in mind that an item you bought with credit “because it was on sale” might not end up being such a great deal if you have to pay interest on it for months (or even years).

Hide the plastic
Part of the reason we use credit cards is because they are right there in our wallets or automatically stored on our favorite shopping websites, making them easy to use. (That’s the point, right?) Fortunately, this is also easy to help fix. Put your credit cards away in a safe place at home and save them for a real emergency. Don’t save them on websites you use.

Don’t worry about actually canceling them or cutting them up. Unless there’s an annual fee for owning the card, canceling the card might not help you financially or help boost your credit score.[i]

Pay down your credit card debt
When you’re working on your budget, decide how much extra money you can afford to pay toward your credit card balances. If you just pay the minimum payment, even small balances may not get paid off for years. Try to prioritize extra payments to help the balances go down and eventually get paid off.

Save for things you want to purchase
Make some room in your budget for some of the purchases you used to make with a credit card. If an item you’re eyeing costs $100, ask yourself if you can save $50 per month and purchase it in two months rather than immediately. Also, consider using the 30-day rule. If you see something you want – or even something you think you’ll need – wait 30 days. If the 30 days go by and you still need or want it, make sure it makes sense within your budget.

Save one card for occasional use
Having a solid credit history is important, so once your credit balances are under control, you may want to use one card in a disciplined way within your budget. In this case, you would just use the card for routine expenses that you are able to pay off in full at the end of the month.

Living without credit cards completely, or at least for the most part, is possible. Sticking to a budget, paying down debt, and having a solid savings strategy for the future will help make your discipline worth it!

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[i] https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/improve-your-credit-score

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Save the money or pay off the debt?

February 13, 2019

Save the money or pay off the debt?

If you come into some extra money – a year-end bonus at work, an inheritance from your aunt, or you finally sold your rare coin collection for a tidy sum – you might not be quite sure what to do with the extra cash.

On one hand you may have some debt you’d like to knock out, or you might feel like you should divert the money into your emergency savings or retirement fund.

They’re both solid choices, but which is better? That depends largely on your interest rates.

High Interest Rate
Take a look at your debt and see what your highest interest rate(s) are. If you’re leaning towards saving the bonus you’ve received, keep in mind that high borrowing costs may rapidly erode any savings benefits, and it might even negate those benefits entirely if you’re forced to dip into your savings in the future to pay off high interest. The higher the interest rate, the more important it is to pay off that debt earlier – otherwise you’re simply throwing money at the creditor.

Low Interest Rate
On the other hand, sometimes interest rates are low enough to warrant building up an emergency savings fund instead of paying down existing debt. An example is if you have a long-term, fixed-rate loan, such as a mortgage. The idea is that money borrowed for emergencies, rather than non-emergencies, will be expensive, because emergency borrowing may have no collateral and probably very high interest rates (like payday loans or credit cards). So it might be better to divert your new-found funds to a savings account, even if you aren’t reducing your interest burden, because the alternative during an emergency might mean paying 20%+ rather than 0% on your own money (or 3-5% if you consider the interest you pay on the current loan).

Raw Dollar Amounts
Relatively large loans might have low interest rates, but the actual total interest amount you’ll pay over time might be quite a sum. In that case, it might be better to gradually divert some of your bonus money to an emergency account while simultaneously starting to pay down debt to reduce your interest. A good rule of thumb is that if debt repayments comprise a big percentage of your income, pay down the debt, even if the interest rate is low.

The Best for You
While it’s always important to reduce debt as fast as possible to help achieve financial independence, it’s also important to have some money set aside for use in emergencies.

If you do receive an unexpected windfall, it will be worth it to take a little time to think about a strategy for how it can best be used for the maximum long term benefit for you and your family.

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New Year, New (Financial) You!

January 23, 2019

New Year, New (Financial) You!

The new year is best known for resolutions. The trouble is that many new year’s resolutions don’t survive past the first month or so.

Why is that? You might suspect it’s because we set unrealistic goals or lack the proper motivation.

If you’ve got some financial resolutions you want to stick to, the key is to set realistic goals and have the proper discipline to hang in there, especially when the going gets tough.

Consider the following tips. Everyone can improve their finances and – as a bonus – you won’t end up with a basement full of barely-used exercise equipment that’s standing in for clothes drying racks.

Put away your credit cards
Do you have a fireproof box at home? (You probably should to store your extra-important documents, like the title to your car or your will.) This might be the perfect place for your credit cards. Many families struggle with credit card debt and in many cases, they aren’t even sure where the money actually went.

Credit can be a crutch that only ends up helping us postpone healthy financial habits. The frequent result is years of accumulating interest payments and growing balances that may prevent you from maximizing your savings. (Debt also may lead to household friction.) Lock the credit cards in the strongbox and make a pact with the rest of your household to use a credit card just for when you have a real emergency – and this would only occur if you’ve depleted your normal emergency fund.

Get your own life insurance policy
It’s great to see families insured by at least an employer-sponsored policy, but how insured are they really? Employer plans usually don’t follow you to the next job, and the benefit for your family is typically limited to a fixed amount, such as $50,000, or in some cases up to one to two times your salary.[i] That’s probably not enough coverage for your family – and it might disappear at any time if you were to change jobs. Get a quote for your own life insurance policy that better meets your needs and that you can control.

Make a budget
Many of us think we know where our money goes, but making a budget will illuminate your spending in vivid, full-color detail. You might startle your family with loud exclamations as you realize how much you actually spend on gourmet coffee stops, eating out, clothes, golf accessories, etc. It can add up quickly. A budget may not only help you cut spending, but it may also help you build your emergency savings (yes, this should be a budget item) and start piling away more money for retirement (another necessary budget item).

Know your number
Nope, not the winning lottery number. In this case, your number is the one that can help you reach a financial goal. Saving for retirement without knowing how much you’ll need or how much you can put away each month is like running a race blindfolded. You need to see the course and the finish line ahead. That’s your number. Whether saving, paying down debt, or accomplishing any other financial goal, you need to identify the number that will define your short-term targets and help you reach your ultimate destination.

If you need help with your goals or aren’t sure how to find the number you need to know to prepare for your future, reach out. I have some ideas we can discuss.

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[i] https://www.policygenius.com/life-insurance/group-life-insurance/

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The top 8 reasons to consider life insurance

January 7, 2019

The top 8 reasons to consider life insurance

Life will often seem to present signals about financial moves to make.

Starting your first job babysitting or mowing lawns? Probably a good idea to begin saving some of those earnings. Need to pay for college? You’ll want to apply for scholarships. Have a friend who’s asking you to invest in his latest business scheme? Maybe you’ll pass.

As for life insurance, there are certain events that herald when it’s an appropriate time to think about purchasing a policy.

Following are a few of those key times…

Tying the knot or taking the plunge
Whatever you call it, if you’re getting ready to walk down the aisle, now is a good time to think about life insurance. A life insurance policy will protect your spouse by replacing your income if something were to happen to you. Many couples rely on two incomes to sustain their lifestyle. It’s important to make sure your spouse can continue to pay the bills, make a mortgage payment, and provide for any children you might have, etc.

Buying a home
If you’re in the market for a home, life insurance should also be a consideration. There are particular types of life insurance policies that will pay off the remaining mortgage if something happens to you. This type of life insurance can help provide a safety net for you and your spouse if you are planning on taking on a mortgage.

Someone becomes dependent on you financially
Another life event that signals a need for life insurance is if someone were to become dependent upon you financially. We might think our only dependents would be our children, but there are other situations to consider. Do you have a relative that depends on you for support? It could be a sibling, parent, elderly aunt. It’s prudent to help protect them with a life insurance policy.

You’ve got a business partner
Life insurance can be invaluable if you’re starting a business and have a business partner. A life insurance policy on your partner or the key leaders in your company can help protect the business if something happens to one of the main players. While the payout on a life insurance policy won’t replace the individual, it can help see the company through financial repercussions from the loss.

You have debt that you don’t want to leave behind
If you’re like most Americans – you probably have some debt. There are two problems with carrying debt. One, it costs you money and isn’t good for your financial health. Second, it can be a problem for your loved ones if you pass away unexpectedly. A life insurance policy is helpful to those who are left behind and are taking on the responsibility of your debt and estate.

You have become aware of “the someday”
Sooner or later we all have to consider our last stage of life. A life insurance policy can help you plan for those last days. A life insurance policy can help cover funeral costs and medical bills or other debts you may have at the end of your life. The payout can also help your beneficiary with any final expenses while settling your estate.

You fell in love with a cause
If you are attached to a certain charity or cause, consider a life insurance policy that can offer a payout as a charitable gift when you pass away. If you are unattached or don’t have any children, naming a charity as your life insurance beneficiary is a great way to leave a legacy.

You just got your first “grown-up” job
Cutting your teeth on your first “grown-up” job is a great time to consider your life insurance options. If you have an employer, they may offer you a small life insurance policy as a perk. But you likely will need more coverage than that. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy now. The younger you are, the less you may pay for it.

Life gives us clues about financial moves
If we know what to look for, life seems to give us clues about when to make certain financial moves. If you’re going through any of these times of life, it’s time to consider purchasing a life insurance policy.

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Budgeting 101: Where should I start?

January 2, 2019

Budgeting 101: Where should I start?

It’s the new year so there are bound to be some new resolutions you want to stick to.

If one of them is improving your budgeting skills – or maybe just creating a budget in the first place – read on for some guidelines that may help reduce some of your expenses (including what you might call the essentials).

Start with debt and interest rates
If you have any loans in your name, rest assured there will be interest associated with those loans, unless you’ve got a really nice aunt who loaned you some money interest-free. From the borrower’s perspective, interest is simply the expense of receiving money from a creditor which you’re required to pay back over time. No one wants to pay higher interest than necessary.

In contrast to other expenses, like rent, food, or entertainment, interest itself produces absolutely no value for the borrower. The borrowed money may produce value, but the interest itself does not. For that reason, you’re going to want to pay as little interest on your loans as possible.

One strategy is to transfer credit card balances to lower APR credit cards – just beware of transfer fees. Read the fine print to make sure the new card actually carries a lower interest rate, as sometimes the rate after the introductory period may go up. If you can refinance any of your loans, like student, auto, or home, consider it. For example, there’s no reason to pay 5% if you can pay 4%. (Again, make sure you understand the terms and any fees involved.)

Slim down the essentials
This is the time when all items in your budget are going to come under consideration. Everything is on the table. For transportation, any reduction in cost you can make is going to depend on your location. If you live in a high-density urban area and you normally drive yourself or use public transit to get to work or other destinations, ask yourself if you can walk or cycle instead. These options often provide health benefits as well.

The key? Look at the essential sections of your budget and mentally run through how you obtain those essentials, like driving to the nearest grocery store or who your landlord is. Then brainstorm alternatives for paying for these items or services – anything is fair game! (For example, would your landlord reduce your rent if you help out with yard maintenance?) Finally, do a little research and analysis to see if those alternatives are cheaper (and feasible).

Eliminate non-essentials
The next step is to look at each non-essential and determine its utility to you. If you barely think about the actual purchase, you might have simply developed the routine of purchasing that item or service (think: “monthly movie subscription service you never use anymore”). In that case, the hardest part might be combing through your credit card statement and nixing the services you never use. Another example of routine, autopilot spending might be the soda you buy with your lunch. Do you really need it? Maybe not. Switching to tea or coffee that you can brew at home may be cheaper. And water is (usually) free.

Repeat this process with every non-essential. Are you really using your 10GB/mo mobile internet plan? If not, look for a lower, more cost-effective GB plan. The key here is to try to distinguish between convenience and necessity.

Don’t discount the discount
There are discounts everywhere, from loyalty programs to manufacturers’ coupons to seasonal specials. If there is an essential that burns your budget, it may be worth checking to see if you’re eligible for a government program.[i]

Some credit cards offer rewards programs, but be very careful to pay off the full amount each month to avoid accruing interest, otherwise your rewards could be negated.

Keep the big picture in mind
Sometimes it can be hard to justify the time and effort that might be involved to save $2 per day. It’s just two dollars, right? But look at the accumulated savings. Saving $2 per day for a year translates to over $700, or about $60 per month. If you choose to brew that tea instead of buying the soda, maybe you can afford the 10GB plan instead of the 1GB plan.

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[i] https://www.usa.gov/benefits

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Building your budget

December 24, 2018

Building your budget

The number of Americans who have developed and apply a budget is alarmingly low.

One poll puts the number at 32%.[i] That equates to tens of millions of Americans who don’t have a budget. Yikes!

You don’t have to be a statistic. Here are some quick tips to get you started on your own budget so you can help safeguard your financial future.

Know Your Balance Sheet
Companies maintain and review their “balance sheets” regularly. Balance sheets show assets, liabilities, and equity. Business owners probably wouldn’t be able run their companies successfully for very long without knowing this information and tracking it over time.

You also have a balance sheet, whether you realize it or not. Assets are the things you have, like a car, house, or cash. Liabilities are your debts, like auto loans or outstanding bills you need to pay. Equity is how much of your assets are technically really yours. For example, if you live in a $100,000 house but carry $35,000 on the mortgage, your equity is 65% of the house, or $65,000. 65% of the house is yours and 35% is still owned by the bank.

Pro tip: Why is this important to know? If you’re making a decision to move to a new house, you need to know how much money will be left over from the sale for the new place. Make sure to speak with a representative of your mortgage company and your realtor to get an idea of how much you might have to put towards the new house from the sale of the old one.

Break Everything Down
To become efficient at managing your cash flow, start by breaking your spending down into categories. The level of granularity and detail you want to track is up to you. (Note: If you’re just starting out budgeting, don’t get too caught up in the details. For example, for the “Food” category of your budget, you might want to only concern yourself with your total expense for food, not how much you’re spending on macaroni and cheese vs. spaghetti.)

If you typically spend $400 a month on food, that’s important to know. As you get more comfortable with budgeting and watching your dollars, it’s even better to know that half of that $400 is being spent at coffee shops and restaurants. This information may help you eliminate unnecessary expenditures in the next step.

What you spend your money on is ultimately your decision, but lacking knowledge about where it’s spent may lead to murky expectations. Sure, it’s just $10 at the sandwich shop today, but if you spend that 5 days a week on the regular, that expenditure may fade into background noise. You might not realize all those hoagies are the equivalent of your health insurance premium. Try this: Instead of spending $10 on your regular meal, ask yourself if you can find an acceptable alternative for less by switching restaurants.

Once you have a good idea of what you’re spending each month, you’ll need to know exactly how much you make (after taxes) to set realistic goals. This would be your net income, not gross income, since you will pay taxes.

Set Realistic Goals and Readjust
Now that you know what your balance sheet looks like and what your cash flow situation is, you can set realistic goals with your budget. Rank your expenses in order of necessity. At the top of the list would be essential expenses – like rent, utilities, food, and transit. You might not have much control over the rent or your car payment right now, but consider preparing food at home to help save money.

Look for ways you can cut back on utilities, like turning the temperature down a few degrees in the winter or up a few degrees in the summer. You may be able to save on electricity if you run appliances at night or in the morning, rather than later in the afternoon when usage tends to be the highest.[ii]

After the essentials would come items like clothes, office supplies, gifts, entertainment, vacation, etc. Rank these in order of importance to you. Consider shopping for clothes at a consignment shop, or checking out a dollar store for bargains on school or office supplies.

Ideally, at the end of the month you should be coming out with money leftover that can be put into an emergency fund (your goal here is at least $1,000), and then you can start adding money to your savings.

If you find your budget is too restrictive in one area, you can allocate more to it. (But you’ll need to reduce the money flowing in to other areas in the process to keep your bottom line the same.) Ranking expenses will help you determine where you can siphon off money.

Commit To It
Now that you have a realistic budget that contains your essentials, your non-essentials, and your savings goals, stick to it! Building a budget is a process. It may take some time to get the hang of it, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.

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[i] https://www.debt.com/edu/personal-finance-statistics/
[ii] https://news.energysage.com/whats-the-cheapest-time-of-day-to-use-electricity-with-time-of-use-rates/

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