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September 16, 2020

A Life Insurance Deep Dive

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First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How much are you saving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

January 27, 2020

7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tips on Managing Money for Couples

December 30, 2019

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

November 18, 2019

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

Some people love to live a life of thrift. For others, budgeting conjures images of excessive frugality, living in tents, eating nuts and berries.

To each their own! But budgeting doesn’t have to be a “Survivor”-level competition. There might be some sacrifice and compromise involved when you first implement a budget (depending on your current financial situation), but rest assured that there’s a happy middle to most things, a way that won’t make you hate the process.

Simplifying the budgeting process will 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 a 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 gives you a starting point. Maybe you’ll discover that you spent $100 on on-demand movies. One-click expenses like that definitely add up – and apps can help you see your money slipping away in vivid color (sometimes even with colorful pie charts).

Some apps give you the ability to set a budget for certain categories of spending (like those 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 with a digital spin.

Plan For Unexpected Expenses.

Even with modern versions of budgeting, one of the biggest risks to budgeting is the same as it was in the days of fiddly envelopes: unexpected expenses. Sometimes an unexpected event like car trouble, home repair, or medical emergency costs more than we expected. A lot more.

A good cushion to 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 your while if the tire blows out, the roof starts leaking, or you throw your back out trying to fix either of those things against 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’ll find that you miss the mark most months. Some months you’ll spend more. Some months you’ll spend less. That’s normal. Over time, you’ll have an average number for each expense category or expense item that will make it clear where you can do better – but also where you may have been more frugal than needed.

With these suggestions in mind, go ahead! 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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Are You Sitting Down?

Are You Sitting Down?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Black Hole of Checking (Part 3)

October 7, 2019

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)

Previously on “The Black Hole of Checking”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You’ll Still Need This After Retirement

August 14, 2019

You’ll Still Need This After Retirement

Ask anyone who’s had a flat tire, a leaky roof, or an unexpected medical bill – having enough money tucked away in an emergency fund can prevent a lot of headaches.

It may seem obvious to you to create a cushion for unexpected expenses while you’re saving up for retirement, especially if you have kids that need to get to their soccer games on time, a new-to-you home that’s really a fixer-upper, or an injury that catches you off guard. But an emergency fund is still important to keep after you retire!

Does your current retirement plan include an emergency fund for unexpected expenses like car trouble, home or appliance repair, or illness?Only 41% of Americans surveyed said they could turn to their savings to cover the cost of the unexpected. That means nearly 60% of Americans may need to turn to other methods of coverage like taking loans from family or friends or accruing credit card debt.

After you retire and no longer have a steady stream of income, covering unexpected expenses in full (without interest or potentially burdening loved ones) can become more difficult. And when you’re older, it might be more challenging to deal with some of the minor problems yourself if you’re trying to save some money! You’re probably going to need to keep the phone number for a good handyman, handy.

Don’t let an unexpected expense after retirement cut into your savings. A solid financial strategy has the potential to make a huge difference for you – both now and during your retirement.

Contact me today, and together we can put together a strategy that’s tailored to you and your needs.

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Emergency Fund 101: Protecting and Growing Your Fund

Emergency Fund 101: Protecting and Growing Your Fund

Nearly 60% of Americans report that they don’t have savings to turn to in the event of an emergency.

A measly 41% of Americans surveyed said they had savings to cover the cost of the unexpected. Being blindsided with an emergency could leave anyone who’s unprepared in the awkward and difficult position of asking family or friends for a loan or building up lots of credit card debt. A less stressful and debt-accruing answer to preparing yourself and your loved ones for a financial emergency like an unexpected hospital visit, house and car repairs, or even a sudden loss of employment is an Emergency Fund.

As you begin to save money to build your Emergency Fund, use these 5 tips to protect and grow your “I did not see that coming” stash:

1. Separate your Emergency Fund from your primary spending account. How often does the amount of money in your primary spending account change? Regular daily use, direct deposit, automatic withdrawals, spontaneous splurges – All of this in a single account can make it hard to track the actual amount of emergency spending money you have available. Start a separate account for your Emergency Fund to avoid any questions about whether or not you can afford that new water heater.

2. Know your number. You may hear a lot about making sure that you’re saving for retirement and never missing a life insurance premium. Solid advice. And don’t pause either of those important pieces of your financial plan to build your Emergency Fund. Instead, tack building your Emergency Fund onto your plan. The same way you know what amount you need to retire and what amount you need to pay each month for your life insurance policy, know how much you need to set aside for you and your loved ones to have a comfortable Emergency Fund. A goal of at least $1,000 to 3 months of your income or more is recommended. At least 3 months of income may sound high, but if you experience a sudden loss of income, you’d have at least 3 full months of breathing room to get back on track.

3. Avoid bank fees. These are Emergency Fund Public Enemy No. 1. Putting extra money aside can be challenging enough, but having that money whittled away by bank fees is even worse. Avoid feeling like you’re paying twice for an emergency (once for the emergency itself and second for the fees) by using an account that doesn’t charge you any fees and preferably doesn’t have a minimum account balance requirement. You can find out what you’re in for on your bank’s website or talking to an employee.

4. Do Not Touch (but leave yourself the option). Once you begin setting aside money in your Emergency Fund, the number one rule is: Do Not Touch… Unless it’s an emergency. Best case scenario, that money is just going to be sitting, unused, for a long time. However, just because it’s an “out of sight, out of mind” situation, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t some important details that need to be present for your Emergency Fund account:

  • Funds must be easily liquidated.
  • Amount of funds should be stable.

You definitely don’t want funds to be locked up and worth less than what you thought when you need them. If you revisited an untouched Emergency Fund after 20 years that didn’t have these 2 qualities, you may not be able to get all of the money you need out at once and inflation could leave you wanting. Although these qualities might prevent any significant gain to your fund, you still have the opportunity to make the best of it.

5. Get started immediately. There’s no better way to grow your Emergency Fund than to get started!

So avoid that dreaded phone call to your parents or your children. Don’t apply for another credit card (or two). Start growing and protecting your own Emergency Fund, and give yourself the potential to be prepared for the unexpected.

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When should you see a financial professional?

April 10, 2019

When should you see a financial professional?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emergency Fund Basics

March 27, 2019

Emergency Fund Basics

Unexpected expenses are a part of life.

They can crop up at any time and often occur when you least expect them. An emergency expense is usually not a welcome one – it can include anything from car repairs to veterinary care to that field trip fee your 12 year old informed you about the day of. So, what’s the best way to deal with those financial curve balls that life inevitably throws at you? Enter one of the most important personal financial tools you can have – an emergency fund.

What is an emergency fund?
An emergency fund is essential, but it’s also simple. It’s merely a stash of cash reserved solely for a financial emergency. It’s best to keep it in a place where you can access it easily, such as a savings account or a money market fund. (It also might not hurt to keep some actual cash on hand in a safe place in your house.) When disaster strikes – e.g., your water heater dies right before your in-laws arrive for a long weekend – you can pull funds from your emergency stash to make the repairs and then feel free to enjoy a pleasant time with your family.

Some experts recommend building an emergency fund equal to about 6-12 months of your monthly expenses. Don’t let that scare you. This may seem like an enormous amount if you’ve never committed to establishing an emergency fund before. But having any amount of money in an emergency fund is a valuable financial resource which may make the difference between getting past an unexpected bump in the road, and having long term financial hindrances hanging over you, such as credit card debt.

Start where you are
It’s okay to start small when building your emergency fund. Set manageable savings goals. Aim to save $100 by the end of the month, for example. Or shoot for $1,000 if that’s doable for you. Once you get that first big chunk put away, you might be amazed at how good it feels and how much momentum you have to keep going.

Take advantage of automatic savings tools
When starting your emergency fund, it’s a good idea to set up a regular savings strategy. Take a cold, hard look at your budget. Be as objective as possible. This is a new day! Now isn’t the time to beat yourself up over bad money habits you might have had in the past, or how you rationalized about purchases you thought you needed. After going through your budget, decide how much you can realistically put away each month and take that money directly off the top of your income. This is called “paying yourself first”, and it’s a solid habit to form that can serve you the rest of your life.

Once you know the amount you can save each month, see if you can set up an automatic direct deposit for it. (Oftentimes your paycheck can be set to go into two different accounts.) This way the money can be directly deposited into a savings account each time you get paid, and you might not even miss it. But you’ll probably be glad it’s there when you need it!

Don’t touch your emergency fund for anything other than emergencies
This is rule #1. The commitment to use your emergency fund for emergencies only is key to making this powerful financial tool work. If you’re dipping into this fund every time you come across a great seasonal sale or a popular new mail-order subscription box, the funds for emergencies might be gone when a true emergency comes up.

So keep in mind: A girls’ three day weekend, buying new designer boots – no matter how big the mark-down is – and enjoying the occasional spa day are probably NOT really emergencies (although these things may be important). Set up a separate “treat yourself fund” for them. Reserve your emergency fund for those persnickety car breakdowns, unexpected medical bills, or urgent home repairs.

The underpinning of financial security
An emergency fund is about staying prepared financially and having the resources to handle life if (and when) things go sideways. If you don’t have an emergency fund, begin building one today. Start small, save consistently, and you’ll be better prepared to catch those life-sized curve balls.

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Back to the basics

Back to the basics

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

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

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

Let’s start with frugality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do you use the 20/4/10 rule?

February 18, 2019

Do you use the 20/4/10 rule?

If you’re in the market for a new car, you may already be aware that the average cost of a new car is about $35,000.

This pricetag has been increasing steadily in recent decades.[i] As a result, there are some “new” loan options that allow you to spread out your payments for up to 7 years.

Having a longer time to pay back your auto loan may seem like a great idea – stretching out the loan period may lower the payments month-to-month, and help squeeze a new car purchase into your family budget without too much financial juggling.

Reality check
One thing to keep in mind is that cars depreciate faster than you might imagine. Within the first 30 days, your new car’s value will have dropped by 10%. A year later, the car will have lost 20% of its value. Fast forward to 5 years after your purchase and your car is now worth less than 40% of its initial cost.[ii]

If you go with a longer loan term, it will take that much more time to build equity in the vehicle. A forced sale due to an emergency or an accident that totals your vehicle may mean you’ll still owe money on a car you no longer have. (This is what’s meant by being “upside down” in a loan: you owe more than the item is worth.)

If you’re not sure what to do, consider the 20/4/10 rule.

1. Try to put down 20% or more. Whether using cash or a trade-in that has equity, put down at least 20% of the new vehicle’s purchase price. This builds instant equity and may help you stay ahead of depreciation. Also add the cost for tax and tags to your down payment. You won’t want to pay interest on these expenses.

2. Take a loan of no longer than 4 years. Longer term loans may lower the monthly payments, but feeling like you need a loan term of more than 4 years may be a red flag that you’re buying more car than you can comfortably afford. With a shorter term loan, you may get a better interest rate and pay less interest overall because of the shorter term. This may make quite a difference in savings for you.

3. Commit no more than 10% of your gross annual income to primary car expenses. Your primary expenses would include the car payment (principal and interest), as well as your insurance payment. Other expenses, like fuel and maintenance, aren’t considered in this figure. The 10% part of the 20/4/10 rule may be the most difficult part to follow for many households considering purchasing a new car. Feeling pinched if you go with a new car could suggest that a reliable used car may be a better financial fit.

Cars are often symbolic of freedom, so it’s no wonder that we sometimes get emotional about car-buying decisions. It’s often best – as with any major purchase – to take a step back and look at the numbers and how they would affect your overall financial strategy, budget, emergency fund, etc. The money you save if you need to go with a used car could be used to build your savings or treat your family to something special now and then – and you’ll enjoy the real freedom of not being a slave to your monthly auto payment.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

[i] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/average-new-car-prices-jump-2-percent-for-march-2018-on-suv-sales-strength-according-to-kelley-blue-book-300623110.html
[ii] https://www.carfax.com/blog/car-depreciation

When is it OK to use a credit card?

February 4, 2019

When is it OK to use a credit card?

Even though your budget might be 100% on point, your retirement accounts well-funded, and you’ve got something stashed away for the kids’ college tuition, sometimes an emergency rears its ugly head.

And despite your best efforts, your only option to cover it might be to use a credit card.

Let’s face it. Once in a blue moon there may not be enough emergency fund to go around. Sometimes the water heater needs replacing right before the in-laws arrive for Thanksgiving. Doesn’t this kind of thing seem to always happen the same week your child falls off the swingset and needs an ER visit?

What is the best way to handle using your credit card for an emergency? Here are a few tips that may help you get out of a jam if you choose to use your credit card.

Take out a loan
If you’re planning on putting an emergency expense on a credit card, make sure it’s truly a last resort. If possible, try to find other ways to cover the expense first. Can you ask a friend or family member for a loan? You may consider other loan options such as a personal bank loan or a home equity loan. These options do carry interest, but the rate may be lower than the one for your credit card.

Use a low interest card
Find and keep the lowest interest rate card you can. Many credit cards may come with an introductory zero percent interest rate for a specified period. But pay attention to the interest rate that applies after the initial period. This is what you’ll be obligated to pay after the introductory period expires.

Keep a healthy credit score
If you have good to excellent credit, you may be able to secure a zero percent interest card to use specifically for the emergency. The idea is that you would plan to pay off the balance during the introductory period.

If your credit score isn’t high, work on it. Make your payments on time and strive to keep a low credit card balance.

Build your emergency fund
At one time or another, many of us have been caught off guard with an emergency. A well-stocked emergency fund is the first line of defense when those unplanned expenses come up.

Aim for an emergency fund equivalent of 6 to 12 months’ worth of expenses. If that seems overwhelming, focus on smaller goals such as saving $500 and then try hitting $1,000. With time and diligence, your emergency fund will grow, and you may not have to worry so much about needing to put emergency expenses on a credit card.

Getting through a pinch with a credit card
If you are in a pinch and absolutely must put emergency expenses on a credit card, shoot for the lowest interest rate and pay it off as quickly as you can. Meanwhile, continue to build your emergency fund so you can be prepared in the future.

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Preparing to buy your first home

January 23, 2019

Preparing to buy your first home

Home buying can be both very exciting and very stressful.

Picking out your dream home is thrilling, but credit scores, applications, and mortgage underwriting requirements? Well, not so much. Don’t let yourself be deterred. Here are a few moves to make before you amp up your home buying search that will help increase the fun and decrease the stress.

Know what you can afford
One of the first steps to home buying is knowing how much you can afford. Some experts advise that a monthly mortgage payment should be no more than 30% of your monthly take-home pay. Some say no more than 25%. If you stretch past that you could become “mortgage poor”. Consider this carefully. You might not want to be in your dream house and struggling to pay the utility bills, grocery bills, etc., or find yourself in a financial jam if an emergency comes up.

Get your finances ready for home buying
If you’re scouring listings, hunting for your dream home, but you’re not sure what your credit score is – stop. There are few things more disappointing than finally finding your dream home and then not having the financial chops to purchase it. You’ll need to get your finances in order and then start shopping. Focus on these areas:

Credit score: Your credit score is something you should know regardless of whether you’re home shopping. Usually, to get the best mortgage rates, you’ll want a score in the good to excellent range. If you’re not quite there, don’t despair. If you make payments toward your other obligations on time and pay off any debt you’re carrying, your credit score should respond accordingly.

Down payment: A conventional mortgage usually requires a 20 percent down payment. That may seem like a lot of money to come up with, but in turn, you may get the best interest rates, which can save you a significant amount over the life of the mortgage. Also, anything less than 20 percent down and you may have to purchase Private Mortgage Insurance – it’s a type of insurance that protects the lender if you default. Try to avoid it if you can.

Get pre-qualified before you shop for a home
Once you have your credit score and down payment in order, it’s time to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. A prequalification presents you as a serious buyer when you make offers on houses. Mortgage pre-approval doesn’t cost you anything, and it doesn’t make you obligated to any one house or mortgage. It’s just a piece of paper that says a bank trusts you to pay back the loan.

If you go shopping without a pre-approval, expect to get overlooked if there are other bidders. A seller will likely go with the buyer who has been pre-approved for a mortgage.

Prepare your paperwork
Getting approved for a mortgage is going to require you to do a little legwork. The bank will want to see documentation to substantiate your income and lifestyle expenses. Be prepared to cough up income tax documents such as W-2’s, paystubs, and bank statements. The sooner you get the paperwork together, the easier it will be to complete the mortgage application.

Shop for the best mortgage
Mortgage rates differ slightly depending on the lender, so shop for the lowest possible rate you can get. You may wish to use a mortgage broker to help. Also, get familiar with mortgage terms. The most common household mortgages are a 30-year term with a fixed rate, but there are 15-year terms, and mortgages with variable interest rates too.

Do your pre-home-buying homework
With a little legwork early on, home buying can be fun and exciting. Get your finances in order and educate yourself about mortgage options and you’ll be decorating your dream home in no time.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

January 2, 2019

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Savings accounts vs. CDs – which is better?

December 12, 2018

Savings accounts vs. CDs – which is better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

5 facets of your personal financial platform

November 28, 2018

5 facets of your personal financial platform

When it comes to your personal financial platform, the best time in your life to start building it is now – no matter what age you are.

But if you’re still in your first quarter of life, don’t let anyone say about you that “youth is wasted on the young”. During these years you’ve got two big advantages: One, you can create habits that can stay with you for the rest of your life, and two, time is on your side.

Read on for some easy tips to start building a personal financial platform that can serve you now – and well into your future.

Let’s start with a budget
Don’t let this intimidate you. A budget is simply a tool to help you manage your income and expenses. It can be as simple or as complex as you like. The purpose of a budget is to plan and track how you save and spend your money. If at the end of the month you’re not quite sure where all the money went, a budget is for you.

A budget is an invaluable tool, especially if you’re just beginning to build your financial platform. Once you’ve established your income and outgo, you’re ready to move on to other building blocks.

Emergency savings
An emergency savings account is non-negotiable. Yes, you may be able to get by without a budget (not recommended), but an emergency savings fund is a must-have. Emergencies have a way of occurring when you least expect them, and if you aren’t prepared, they may derail your otherwise solid financial platform. For example, let’s say your car breaks down. (Happens to everybody at some point, right?) You don’t have an emergency fund, so you put the repairs on a credit card. Now you’re potentially carrying credit card debt that’s costing you money in interest fees every month. Your $700 car repair could cost hundreds more by the time you get it paid off.

Preparing for retirement
If you’re just beginning your career and figuring out what you want to do with your life, you probably don’t want to think about retirement. You might think, “I’ve got plenty of time to think about that. What’s the rush?” That’s true, you do have “plenty” of time, but the earlier you get started, the better off you’re going to be. At the very least, take advantage of your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. Then commit to chatting with a financial professional as soon as you can to get your retirement strategy in place.

Life insurance
Life insurance is one of the most important personal financial tools available. Like retirement savings, you may think life insurance isn’t something you should be bothered with while you’re young, especially if you don’t yet have a spouse or children. But it’s precisely because you are young and healthy that you should consider including life insurance in your personal financial toolkit.

Life insurance for a young person can be relatively inexpensive. As time goes on, starting up a new policy may cost you more. There are good uses for life insurance for everyone – the benefits can pay off your mortgage or protect your family if something were to happen to you. In certain cases, you can even use it as a source of retirement income. Putting a life insurance policy into place now may save you a lot in the long run.

Self-discipline
Practicing financial self-discipline is truly the foundation on which your financial platform is built. Many people run into financial trouble because they spend more than they earn, and don’t save for the future. If you can learn to live below your means and save something for a rainy day, you’re more likely to have a healthy personal financial life.

Keep these quick tips in mind to help you grow your financial self-discipline:

  1. Learn to distinguish between a want and a need: Before you make an atypical purchase, get in the habit of asking yourself if it’s truly a need, or just a “want”. Do you actually need a new pair of boots, or do you just want them since they’re 50% off? Be honest and you’ll thank yourself later!
  2. Practice the 30-day rule on big purchases: If you’re thinking about making a large purchase, practice the 30-day rule. Wait for 30 days to see if getting that item makes sense within your budget and savings strategy. This is a useful tip that will help keep you from big spending on impulse buys.
  3. Don’t carry a balance: If you use credit cards for regular purchases, don’t let yourself carry a balance from month to month. Get in the habit of paying off your credit card in full each month. (If you’re having trouble with this, try to stop using credit cards for purchases and use cash.)

Building a personal financial platform may take some time, but the benefits can last a lifetime. Put the work in to getting your building blocks in place now, and your future self will thank you!

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