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September 28, 2020

So You Want to Buy Life Insurance for Your Parents...

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Does healthy living have to cost more?

September 21, 2020

Does healthy living have to cost more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Life Insurance Deep Dive

September 16, 2020

A Life Insurance Deep Dive

We’ve explored the basics of life insurance, how it works, and what it’s for.

Today we’ll be fleshing out some concepts you might encounter as you look at your options for protecting your family. Let’s start with the different kinds of life insurance.

Different types of life insurance
Life insurance will almost always have a few basic parts—the death benefit (the amount paid to your loved ones upon your passing), the policy itself (the actual insurance contract), and the premium (how much you pay for the life insurance policy).

There’s a wide range of life insurance policies, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Term life insurance is the most straightforward form. It lasts for a set amount of time (the term), during which you pay a premium. You and your beneficiaries won’t receive any benefits if you don’t pass away during the term. This type of policy typically doesn’t feature other benefits on its own (you may be able to add other benefits with what is called a rider).
  • Whole life insurance is exactly what it sounds like. It never expires and is guaranteed to pay a benefit whenever you pass away. But it often comes with other benefits. For instance, it can include a saving component called a cash value. It usually builds with interest and you can take money from it any time.
  • Indexed Universal Life Insurance is similar to whole life insurance, but the cash value is tied to the market. The market is up? Your cash value goes up. The market goes down? Your cash value is actually shielded from loss.

Each of these types of life insurance have different strengths and weaknesses. A term policy might be right for you while a whole life policy might be better for your neighbor. Talk with a financial professional to see which one fits your needs and budget!

The right amount of life insurance
But can you have too little life insurance? How about too much? The answer to both of those questions is yes. In general, the purpose of life insurance is to replace your income in case of your passing for your loved ones and family. That should be your guidestone when deciding how substantial a policy to purchase. Typically, you’re looking at about 10 times your annual income. That’s enough to replace your yearly earnings, pay-off potential debts, and guard against inflation. That means someone earning $35,000 would want to shop around for about $350,000 worth of coverage.

Employer life insurance
This means that most employer-provided life insurance isn’t enough to fully protect you and your family. There’s no doubt that a free policy from your workplace is great. But they typically only cover about a year of wages. That’s not nearly what you need to provide peace of mind to your beneficiaries! Don’t necessarily refuse your employer-provided life insurance, but make sure that it supplements a more substantial policy.

Still have questions? Reach out to a licensed financial professional and ask for guidance! And stay tuned for next week’s article where we’ll debunk some common life insurance myths!

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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 enacting a life insurance policy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional to discuss your options.

How to Avoid Financial Infidelity

How to Avoid Financial Infidelity

If you or your partner have ever spent (a lot of) money without telling the other, you’re not alone.

This has become such a widespread problem for couples that there’s even a term for it: Financial Infidelity.

Calling it infidelity might seem a bit dramatic, but it makes sense when you consider that finances are the leading cause of relationship stress. Each couple has their own definition of “a lot of money,” but as you can imagine, or may have even experienced yourself, making assumptions or hiding purchases from your partner can be damaging to both your finances AND your relationship.

Here’s a strategy to help avoid financial infidelity, and hopefully lessen some stress in your household:

Set up “Fun Funds” accounts.

A “Fun Fund” is a personal bank account for each partner which is separate from your main savings or checking account (which may be shared).

Here’s how it works: Each time you pay your bills or review your whole budget together, set aside an equal amount of any leftover money for each partner. That goes in your Fun Fund.

The agreement is that the money in this account can be spent on anything without having to consult your significant other. For instance, you may immediately take some of your Fun Funds and buy that low-budget, made-for-tv movie that you love but your partner hates. And they can’t be upset that you spent the money! It was yours to spend! (They might be a little upset when you suggest watching that movie they hate on a quiet night at home, but you’re on your own for that one!)

Your partner on the other hand may wait and save up the money in their Fun Fund to buy $1,000 worth of those “Add water and watch them grow to 400x their size!” dinosaurs. You may see it as a total waste, but it was their money to spend! Plus, this isn’t $1,000 taken away from paying your bills, buying food, or putting your kids through school. (And it’ll give them something to do while you’re watching your movie.)

It might be a little easier to set up Fun Funds for the both of you when you have a strategy for financial independence. Contact me today, and we can work together to get you and your loved one closer to those beloved B movies and magic growing dinosaurs.

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Good Debt?

August 24, 2020

Good Debt?

Debt is often seen as something you don’t want.

Monthly payments can be a huge drain on your bank account and can seriously lower your saving and investing power. That’s why eliminating debt is often an early step in most financial strategies.

But does good debt exist?

Are there situations where it’s acceptable or even wise to borrow money? Let’s explore what makes debt “good” or “bad” and some examples of both!

What makes debt good?
Not many would argue that living within your means isn’t good. But there are opportunities that you might not be able to afford with your basic income. It turns out that it sometimes takes money to make money! Taking out a loan to pursue those opportunities might be considered good debt. Sure, you might be in the hole for a little while, but you’re hoping you’ll increase your income and net worth further down the line.

Good debt
Most of us simply can’t afford a house or college education with money from our checking account, so we have to borrow those funds. But we’re expecting that those investments will pay off. Higher education paid for with student loans will hopefully equip you to land a better paying job that will help you pay down your debt and make you more money long-term. A wise real estate investment might be pricey, but you hope that your property will increase in value and you can make a profit when you sell. Taking out a loan to launch your entrepreneurial dreams is considered an example of good debt. Starting a business, while risky and expensive, can increase your value over the long-term. You’re taking the calculated risk that your long-haul earnings will heavily outweigh your short-term debts.

Bad debt
It’s important to remember that bad debt still exists. Most of what we buy loses value very quickly. Try reselling lunch meat a few days after you buy it to see what I mean! Cars depreciate by about 60% in the first 5 years of ownership.(1) And while it might be worth going into some debt to get a reliable vehicle, you shouldn’t typically treat a car purchase as an investment.

It’s also worth considering that even what appears to be good debt might come back to bite you. Neighborhoods and real estate markets change, and a once solid property might end up losing value over the long haul. And while a better education is usually a good thing, going into huge amounts of debt at a private school to study a non-lucrative field might not pay off.

Debt should never be taken lightly. Whether it’s a credit card, a personal loan, or a mortgage, make sure you do your homework to figure out the best move for you. Some of those decisions might be easy (not buying a high-end sports car) but others might take some serious consideration and research (starting a business). Figure out the costs and the earning potential and then make your decision!

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What To Cut In Your Budget

August 19, 2020

What To Cut In Your Budget

Intro
Budgeting is empowering. It gives you information so you can make those decisions that will impact your future. But budgeting can often feel discouraging. It might even make us miserable! Especially if we look at our budget and decide to slash all the little things that make us happy. How many times have we been lectured about the amount of money wasted at coffee shops?

It turns out that’s not where most of your money is going. Here are some suggestions for where you should really focus when you’re slashing your budget.

Focus big first
We spend roughly $1,100 per year on coffee.(1) That’s about $3 per day. But that’s nothing compared to how much we spend on big ticket items. Housing alone costs $19,884 per year, and transportation an additional $9,576.(2) They’re by far the biggest drain on our income. So the question is, are you paying more than you should for housing and transportation?

Are you renting a large apartment in a ritzy part of town without roommates? Are you driving a stunning new sports car? Those might have more to do with your financial woes than your latte habit. Consider how you can reduce your rent, refinance your mortgage, or consider trading in your sports car for a more modest ride before you totally remove life’s simple pleasures.

Food
We spend about $7,729 on food every year.(3) Broken down monthly, that’s about $372 on food at home and $228 on eating out.(4) Around $133 of that ends up getting thrown in the trash due to spoilage or just not wanting to deal with leftovers. That’s a lot of money going to restaurant owners and landfills!

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a nice meal out on the town every now and then. But, while you’re budgeting, come up with a strategy for eating at home more often. You’ll be surprised by how much that alone can save you in the long run! And if you end up with leftovers, there are plenty of ways to use those up so they won’t go to waste.

Replace cable
Americans still spend a staggering amount on cable television. The average bill is more than $200 per month!(5) That’s about as much as we spend eating out every month for access to shows and programming we could probably find online for less or even free. Cut the cord, sign up for a streaming service, and save bigtime!

The key takeaway is to try cutting back on the big items first before you take aim at your little daily joys. Use whatever you’re able to cut to reduce your debt or start saving for your retirement. You might be able to put away a bit of that extra cash towards your next down payment for a house or that fancy new car!

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Dig yourself out of debt

August 17, 2020

Dig yourself out of debt

I hate to break it to you, but no matter what generation you are – Baby Boomer, Generation X, or Millennial – you’re probably in debt.

If you’re not – good on you! Keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you are in debt, you’re not alone. A study[i] by the financial organization, Comet, found:

  • 80.9 percent of Baby Boomers are in debt
  • 79.9 percent of Generation X is in debt
  • 81.5 percent of Millennials are in debt

There are some folks whose goal is to eliminate all debt – and if that’s yours, great! But one thing to keep in mind while you’re working towards that finish line is that not all debt is created equal. Carrying a mortgage, for example, may be considered a “healthy” debt. Student loan debt may feel like an encumbrance, but hopefully, your education has given you more earning power in the workforce. A car loan may even be considered a healthy debt. So, there are some types of debt that may offer you advantages.

Any credit card debt you have, however, should be dealt with asap. Credit card debt can cost money every month in the form of interest, and it gives you nothing in return – no equity, no education, no increase in earning potential. It’s like throwing money down the drain.

So, let’s get to work and look at some of the best tips for paying down credit card debt.

1. Get to know your debt
Make a commitment to be honest with yourself. If you’re in denial, it’s going to be hard to make positive changes. So take a good, hard look at your debt. Examine your credit card statements and note balances, interest rates, minimum monthly payment amounts, and due dates. Once you have this information down in black and white you can start to create a repayment strategy.

2. Get motivated
Taking on your debt isn’t easy. Most of us would rather not confront it. We may make half-hearted attempts to pay it off but never truly get anywhere. Need a little motivation? Getting rid of your credit card debt may make you happier. The Comet study asked respondents to rate their happiness on a scale of one to seven.[ii] It turns out that those who selected the lowest rating also carried the highest amounts of credit card debt. Want to be happier? It seems like paying off your credit card debt may help!

3. Develop your strategy
There are many strategies for paying off your credit card debt. Once you understand all your debt and have found your motivation, it’s time to pick a strategy. There are two main strategies for debt repayment. One focuses on knocking out the highest interest debt first, and the other method begins with tackling the smallest principal balances first. Here’s how they work:

  • Start with the highest interest rate: One of the items you should have noted when you did your debt overview is the interest rate for each account. With this method, you’ll throw the largest payment you can at your highest interest rate debt every month, while paying the minimum payments on your other debts. Utilizing this method may help you pay less interest over time.

  • Start with the smallest balance: As opposed to comparing interest rates, this method requires you to look at your balances. With this strategy, you’ll begin paying the smallest balance off first. Continue to make the minimum payments on your other accounts and put as much money as you can towards the smallest balance. Once you have that one paid off, combine the amount you were paying on that balance with the minimum you were paying on your next smallest balance, and so on. This strategy can help keep you motivated and encouraged since you should start to see some results right away.

Either strategy can work well. Pick the one that seems best for you, execute, and most importantly – don’t give up!

4. Live by a budget
As you begin chipping away at your credit card debt, it’s important to watch your spending. If you continue to charge purchases, you won’t see the progress you’re making, so watch your spending closely. If you don’t have a budget already, now would be a good time to create one.

5. Think extra payments
Once you are committed to paying off your debt and have developed your strategy, keep it top of mind. Make it your number one financial priority. So when you come across “found” money – like work bonuses or gifts – see it as an opportunity to make an extra credit card payment. The more of those little extra payments you make, the better. Make them while the cash is in hand, so you aren’t tempted to spend it on something else.

6. Celebrate your victories
Living on a budget and paying off debt can feel tedious. Paying off debt takes time. Don’t forget to take pride in what you’re trying to accomplish. Celebrate your milestones. Do something special when you get that first small balance paid off, but try to make the occasion free or at least cheap! The point is to reward yourself for your hard financial work. (Hint: Try putting up a chart or calendar in your kitchen and marking off your progress as you go!)

Reward yourself with a debt-free life Getting out of debt is a great reward in and of itself. It takes discipline, persistence, and patience, but it can be done. Come to terms with your debt, formulate a strategy, and stick to it. Your financial future will thank you!

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What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

August 12, 2020

What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

A 2017 survey found that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.(1)

“Paycheck to paycheck” is an expression we’ve all heard, but what does it really mean? Have we taken the time to understand its implications for our daily lives and futures? Here’s a crash course in what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.

Living paycheck to paycheck technically means that all of your “income” goes towards your “outgo” each month and you’re not saving anything. You get paid, spend everything, and have to rely on that next check to make ends meet. And millions of Americans seem okay with this lifestyle of razor thin margins. They’re certainly comfortable with sharing it on their social media!

But the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle means more than just spending all you earn. It means you’re constantly on the verge of a financial catastrophe. What happens if you’re spending your whole paycheck each and every month and you lose your job? Suddenly, you’re facing your normal expenditures but the cash isn’t coming in. Or what if you face an emergency car repair? Where will you find the money to cover that unexpected expense? Living paycheck to paycheck means you’re standing right on the knife’s edge of money mayhem!

Thoughtless spending doesn’t just leave you exposed to a present-day disaster. It also means you aren’t preparing for your future. By definition, a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle excludes saving. You can’t stash money away for a house or your retirement if you let every penny fly out the window. Most Americans are poorly situated for the future; 70% have less than $1,000 in savings, and 45% have saved exactly $0.00.(2) That’s not enough to cover a new transmission, much less the retirement lifestyle most of us envision!

But there are alternatives to the paycheck to paycheck trap. You can take steps to move away from financial insecurity towards financial freedom. Let’s talk about what that would look like for you!

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How much will this cost me?

How much will this cost me?

If you’re dipping your toe in the pool of life insurance for the first time, you’re bound to have a lot of questions.

At the top of your list is probably how much setting up a policy is going to cost you.

There are several things that can determine how much you’ll pay for life insurance, including the type of policy you select. But before we dive in and look at cost, let’s check out the types of life insurance available.

Major types of life insurance
Life insurance is customizable and can suit many different needs, but for the most part, life insurance comes in three main varieties.

Term life insurance: A term life policy is active for a preselected length of time. It could be 15, 20, or 30 years. If something happens to you during that term, your beneficiary will receive the death benefit of the policy.

Permanent life insurance: Permanent life insurance is a policy that stays active as long as you’re alive. When you pass away, the policy pays out to your named beneficiary. The value of the policy increases over time, and you can borrow against this “cash value” in some circumstances.

Universal life insurance: Universal life insurance works like a permanent life policy in that it pays out to your beneficiary, but it also accrues interest over the policy term (which may be affected by market performance).

How your cost is calculated
The insurance company estimates the cost of a life insurance policy based on your risk factors. Risk factor data is gathered and evaluated based on the information in your application. Then the insurance company uses historical data, trends, and actuarial processes to come up with a premium for you.

The cost of some life insurance policies can change over time, while others remain the same.

What risk factors does the company use?
When the insurance company is calculating your rate, they look at several factors, including:

Your demographics: Your demographics include your age, weight, gender, and health. The company will also want to know if you smoke, and other health-related issues you may have.

The amount of the death benefit: The death benefit is the amount the policy will pay to your beneficiaries when you pass away. The larger the death benefit you select, the more expensive the policy.

Your lifestyle: Lifestyle habits and hobbies can affect the cost of your policy. The insurance company will want to know if you ride a motorcycle regularly, or how often you drink alcohol, for example.

Your risk and life insurance cost
The risk of when your death will occur ultimately determines your life insurance costs. That’s why the younger you are the less the policy should cost. If you wait to purchase your life insurance policy when you’re older, the policy will most likely cost more.

But there are things you can do that may help lessen the cost of the policy. Anything that will increase your health status may help with your life insurance costs. Quitting smoking and starting a regular exercise program can promote your health and in turn this may also have a positive effect on your health insurance premium.

A life insurance agent can help
If you’re looking for a life insurance policy and wondering about the cost, a qualified life insurance agent can be a great help. A life insurance agent has access to many different insurance companies and can work to get you matched with the right policy at the right price for you.

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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.

Read this before you walk down the aisle

June 24, 2020

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Don’t let financial trouble ruin your future wedded bliss.

Most newlyweds have a lot to get used to. You may be living together for the first time, spending a lot of time with your new in-laws, and dealing with dual finances. Financial troubles can plague even the most compatible pairs, so read on for some tips on how to get your newlywed finances off to the best possible start.

Talk it out If you haven’t done this already, the time is ripe for a heart to heart talk about what your financial picture is going to look like. This is the time to lay it all out. Not only should you and your fiancé discuss your upcoming combined financial situation, but it can be beneficial to take a deep dive into your past too. Our financial histories and backgrounds can influence current spending and saving habits. Take some time to get to know one another’s history and perspective when it comes to how they think about money, debt, budgeting, etc.

Newlyweds need a budget Everyone needs a budget, but a budget can be particularly helpful for newlyweds. A reasonable, working household budget can go a long way in helping ease financial stress and overcoming challenges. Money differences can be a big cause of marital strife, but a solid, mutually-agreed-upon budget can help avoid potential arguments. A budget will help you manage student loans or new household expenses that must be dealt with. Come up with a budget together and make sure it’s something you both can stick with.

Create financial goals Financial goal setting can actually be fun. True, some goals may not seem all that exciting – like paying off credit cards or student loans. But formulating financial goals is important.

Financial goal setting should start with a conversation with your new fiancé. This is the time to think about your future as a married couple and work out a financial strategy to help make your financial dreams a reality. For example, if you want to buy a house, you’ll need to prepare for that. A good start is to minimize debt and start saving for a down payment.

Maybe you two want to start a business. In that case, your financial goals may include raising capital, establishing business credit, or qualifying for a small business loan.

Face your debt head on
It’s not unusual for individuals to start married life facing new debt that came along with their partner – possibly student loans or personal credit card debt. You may also have combined debt if you’re planning on financing your wedding. Maybe you’re going to take your dream honeymoon and put it on a credit card.

Create a strategy to pay off your debt and stick to it. There are two common ways to tackle it – begin with the highest interest rate debt, or begin with the smallest balance. There are many good strategies – the key is to develop one and put it into action.

Invest for the future Part of your financial strategy should include preparing for retirement, even though it might seem light years away now. Make sure you work a retirement strategy into your other financial goals. Take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement accounts and earmark savings for retirement.

Purchase life insurance Life insurance is essential to help ensure your new spouse will be taken care of should you die prematurely. Even though many married couples today are dual earners, there is still a need for life insurance. Ask yourself if your new spouse could afford to pay their living expenses if something happened to you. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy to help cover things like funeral costs, medical expenses, or replacement income for your spouse.

Newlywed finances can be fun Newlywed life is fun and exciting, and finances can be too. Talk deeply and often about finances with your fiancé. Share your dreams and goals so you can create financial habits together that will help you realize them. Here’s to you and many years of wedded bliss!

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3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

June 17, 2020

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

On Monday mornings, we’re all faced with a difficult choice.

Get up a few minutes early to brew our own coffee? Or sleep a little later and whip through a coffee chain drive-thru, hair askew and a drool trail still drying against our cheek?

When that caffeine hits our bloodstream, how we got the coffee doesn’t seem to matter too much. But each time you pull through a drive thru for that cup o’ joe, just picture your financial strategy shouting and waving its metaphorical arms to get your attention.

Why? Each time you indulge in a luxury that has a less expensive substitute, you’re potentially delaying your financial independence. It’s strange how that can happen one $5 peppermint mocha at a time, but that’s how it happens – incrementally and without too much warning. Then comes the credit card bill… This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy yourself every once in a while. Just be sure that you’re sticking with your strategy and saving wherever possible. You’ll thank yourself later.

Here are 3 ways to shift from indulgence to independence:

1. Make coffee at home. Reducing your expenses can start as simply as making your morning coffee at home. And you might not even have to get up earlier to do it. Why not invest in a coffee pot with a delay brew function? It’ll start brewing at the time you preset, and what’s a better alarm clock than the scent of freshly-brewed coffee wafting from the kitchen? Or from your bedside table… (No judgement here – Do what you need to do to get up in the morning.)

Get started:Here’s a huge list of copycat Starbucks drinks that you can make at home.

2. Workout at home. A couple of questions to get this one going:

1) Is an expensive gym membership really worth it? 2) How often have you gone to the gym in the last few months?

If your answers are somewhere between “No” and “…I’d rather not say,” then maybe it’s time to ditch the membership in favor of working out at home. Or perhaps you are a certified Gym Rat who faithfully wrings every dollar out of their gym membership each month. Ask yourself if you really need all the bells and whistles that an expensive gym offers. Elliptical, dumbbells, and machines with clearly printed how-tos? Yes, please. But a hot tub, sauna, and an out-of-pocket juice bar? Maybe not. If you can continue to workout without a few of those pricey luxuries, your body and your wallet will thank you.

Get started: Take a 30-minute walk around your local park each day and reap the positive results – it’s completely free! And if you’d prefer to workout at a gym, look into month-to-month memberships instead of paying a hefty price for a year-long membership up front.

3. Ditch cable and use a video streaming service instead. Cable may give you access to more channels and more shows, but if any of your favorite shows end up gathering digital dust in your DVR most of the time, waiting a little longer for them to be available on a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu might not be a bad idea. (Plus, who doesn’t love using a 3-day weekend to binge-watch an entire season of a show?) There’s also the bonus of how easy it is to cancel/reactivate a streaming service. With cable, you may be locked into a multi-year contract, installation can be a hassle, and you can forget about knowing when the cable guy is actually going to show up. The affordability and ease of use of a video streaming service makes it a more attractive option for your journey to financial independence.

Get started: Check out PCMag’s “Best Video Streaming Services of 2018” for a comparison of several options. Keep in mind that plenty of streaming services offer free trial periods. Go ahead and give any of them a try, but be careful: You may have to enter your credit card number to access the free trial; do not forget to cancel before your trial is over, or you will be charged.

Taking the time to address what kinds of luxuries can you live without (or enjoy less often) has the potential to make a huge impact on your journey to financial independence. Cutting back here and investing in yourself there – who knows where you’ll be this time next year.

Where are you going to start indulging less?

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

June 10, 2020

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

Food waste is a big problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never!

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

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

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How Much Is Enough To Retire?

June 3, 2020

How Much Is Enough To Retire?

How much money do you need to retire? That’s a tough question to answer specifically.

People have different expectations of their golden years that range from simple and cheap to extravagant and expensive. But there are a few simple guidelines you can follow that might help point you in the right direction.

Standard of living
How do you envision your retirement? Surrounded by family and friends in the suburbs? Kicking back on white sands? Fishing outside your tiny mountain lodge? Each of these visions come with different price tags and will require different types of planning. Dreams of a simple and stripped back retirement will cost you less than touring Europe or enjoying exotic cocktails on the beach. Figure out the standard of living you want in retirement, estimate how much it will cost and for how long, and then make a plan.

How much should you have saved?

So you’ve figured out how much you want to spend annually during your retirement. How much does that mean you need to save? Let’s say you’ve done your homework and your standard of living will run you about $40,000 a year throughout your retirement. The general rule of thumb is that you want to be able to withdraw roughly 4% of your savings each year throughout retirement without running out of money. To find that number, just take your desired annual spending and divide it by .04 to get your savings target. That means you would need to save around one million dollars to sustain your lifestyle.

How much should you save per month?

Financial advisors typically suggest you put 15% of your income towards retirement. Just remember that there’s always some wriggle room depending on your situation! You might be well ahead of schedule already, due to your budgeting and thriftiness. Maybe you’re just now starting to save and you need to put away a little extra. It’s always best to consult with a professional before making a big saving or investing decision!

The sooner you start planning and setting goals, the better. Start thinking about what you want out of your golden years, crunch the numbers, and meet with a professional!

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Questions To Ask When Buying In Bulk

May 13, 2020

Questions To Ask When Buying In Bulk

Buying in bulk is a no-brainer, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Keys to Paying Your Bills On Time

The Keys to Paying Your Bills On Time

Not paying your bills on time can have significant impacts on financial health including accumulating late fees, penalties, and a negative hit on credit scores.

But maybe you – or a friend – learned about those consequences the hard way. Most late bill payers fall into 1 of 3 camps: they forget to pay on time, they don’t have enough income, or they have enough income but spend it on other things.

In case you – or your friend – are stuck in 1 of these camps, consider the following tips to help pay the bills on time.

I forget to pay my bills on time.
If this is you, you’re actually in a more advantageous position. There are many easy fixes that can help get you back on track.

  1. Use a calendar. This is a tried and true, but often underutilized, method to track your bill due dates. When you get a notice for a bill – either by email, text, or snail mail – jot the due date on your calendar. You can also set a reminder if you use an electronic calendar.
  2. Fiddle with your due dates. Many companies offer flexible due dates. Experiment with what due dates work for you. Some people like to pay their bills all together at the beginning of the month. You may find that you like to pay some bills in the beginning and some in the middle of the month. It’s up to you!
  3. Take advantage of grace period/late fee waivers. If you do forget about a bill and have to make a late payment, give the company a call and ask them to waive the late fee. Late fees can add up, ranging from $10-50 depending on the account. It’s worth a try!

I don’t have the money to pay all my bills.
If your income doesn’t cover your outgo no matter how diligently you pinch those pennies, it won’t matter what type of bill payment method you use, you’re going to have trouble. If you’re in this situation, there are 2 solutions: increase your earnings or decrease your expenses.

  1. Find a side gig. Take a temporary part-time job to make some extra income. Delivering pizza in the evenings or on weekends might be worth doing for a few months to make some extra dough.
  2. Shop around. Shop around for savings. Prices vary on almost everything. Take a little extra time to make sure you’re getting the rock-bottom best prices on your insurance, cable, phone plans, groceries, utilities, etc.

I overspend and don’t have enough left to pay my bills.
Managing income and expenses takes some practice and persistence, but it is doable! If you find yourself consistently overspending without enough left over to cover your bills, try the following:

  1. Create a budget. Get familiar with your income and expenses. This is the only way to know how much disposable income you’re going to end up with every month. You can track your budget daily on an app like PocketGuard, Wallet, or Home Budget.
  2. Stash the money for bills in a separate account. Put your bill money in a separate checking or savings account. This will keep it quarantined from your spending money and help make sure it’s there when the bills come due.

Good Financial Habits
If you feel bill-paying-challenged, or you have a friend who is, try some of the above tips. Taking care of your obligations when you need to can relieve stress, build good credit, and reinforce healthy spending habits for life!

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Are Hybrids Cost Effective?

April 15, 2020

Are Hybrids Cost Effective?

Do hybrids save you money? It’s an age-old question that’s generated substantial controversy.

Fortunately, the years have produced a lot of research on the issue. The results are clear; hybrids almost never break even with their gas-powered equivalents.

Upfront Cost
Hybrids almost always start off at a savings disadvantage when compared to gas cars. They can cost you on average thousands of dollars more upfront than a gas-powered car. For instance, a hybrid Toyota Corolla costs about $23,100,¹ while a gas version costs about $19,600.² So hybrids start you off quite a chunk of money in the hole. How can they make up for the initial disadvantage?

Gas mileage
Hybrids, unfortunately, don’t really pay for themselves at the pump, at least not quickly. Most hybrids will take years to pay for themselves, with some taking over a decade.³ You might want to do your research to compare hybrid and gas-powered models of the same car and see when the hybrids will recoup their higher costs!

Repairs, warranty, and incentives
Hybrids and gas powered vehicles are pretty similar in terms of reliability, but with one exception. Hybrid car batteries are incredibly durable and can sometimes last for the lifespan of the car. They’re pricey if they do fail (up to a few grand) but that’s often covered by warranties. Unfortunately, that’s really their only advantage. In absence of government incentives, hybrids are overall comparable maintenance-wise to gas cars.

Conclusion
That’s not to say that there aren’t reasons for driving a hybrid. Hybrids are awesome if you hate the experience of refueling a car. They’re also great if you’re environmentally conscious and don’t want to shell out for an electric car. Just know that you won’t start saving money until a few years have gone by!

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Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?

Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?

Cutting down on energy bills can be brutal.

Leaving the heat off during a Montana winter? Terrible. Not touching the AC during a Georgia summer? Forget about it. What if there were a way to fully power your house and not pay monthly bills? What if the sun could power your house for free? Sounds too good to be true right?

And it is. But there’s a case to be made that provided you have the cash for them upfront, solar panels can be cost effective over the long haul. Here’s a breakdown on how.

How much do you spend on power?
The first consideration is how much you spend annually on power. The cost of electricity and usage vary from state to state, but they average out to about $0.13/kWh (1). The average household uses about 867kWh per month, so the average annual cost for power comes out to be around $1,352 (2). Over a 25 year period that adds up to roughly $33,800.

What’s the total cost of installation?
Power is expensive. But so are solar panels. The average cost for a solar panel system is between $15,000 and $25,000 (3). And let’s assume hiring a contractor for installation would run you about $6,300 (though self-installation is possible). Your total costs could be between $21,300 and $31,300 dollars. Part replacement is also worth keeping in mind. Panels are typically warranted for 25 years, but individual parts might have shorter warranty periods (4).

Tax Incentives
One of the big perks of going solar is tax incentives. Right now, the federal government allows citizens to claim 26% of the cost for solar panels installed by Dec. 31, 2020. That gets reduced in 2020 to 22% and vanishes entirely on Dec. 31, 2021 (5). That could make a big difference in your total long-run savings.

Total Savings
So let’s assume you spend $20,000 on a solar panel system and pay $6,300 on installation and claim the 26% tax incentive. That brings your total to $19,462. That’s $14,338 less than you would have originally spent on power!

There are several factors to consider before you go out and install solar panels. Remember that all these numbers will vary depending on your state and region. Daily hours of sunshine will affect your panels’ efficiency. Do research on costs in your area and consult with professionals before you make any big decisions!

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Can You Buy Happiness?

Can You Buy Happiness?

Let’s face it: There’s a relationship between money and happiness.

Anyone who’s looked at their savings account during a market correction or has lived paycheck to paycheck knows that not having enough money can be incredibly stressful. But there’s also a fair chance that you know of someone who’s wealthy (i.e., seems to have plenty of money) but is often miserable. So what exactly is the relationship between money and happiness? Let’s start by looking a little closer at happiness.

Happiness is really complicated
There is no single key to happiness. Close relationships, exercise, and stress management all may play a role in increasing emotional well-being. Little things like journaling, going on a walk, and listening to upbeat music can also help lift your mood. But none of those factors alone makes you happy—most of them actually turn out to be interrelated. It’s hard to maintain strong personal relationships if you take out your work stress on your friends! Assuming that money alone will outweigh a bad relationship, high stress, and an unhealthy lifestyle is a skewed mindset.

Money contributes to happiness
That being said, money can certainly contribute to happiness. For one, It’s a metric we use to figure out how much we’ve accomplished in our lives. It helps to boost confidence in our achievements if we’ve been handsomely rewarded. But more importantly, the absence of money can be a huge cause of dismay. It’s easy to see why; constantly wondering if you can pay your bills, fending off debt collectors, and worrying about retirement can take a serious emotional toll. In fact, having more money essentially only supports greater emotional well-being until you reach an income of about $75,000 (1). People felt better about how much they had accomplished past that point, but their day-to-day emotional lives pretty much stayed the same.

What’s the takeaway?
In short, you can’t technically buy happiness. However, taking control of your financial life definitely has emotional benefits. You may increase your feeling of wellbeing if your income gets boosted to a point, but it’s not a silver bullet that will solve all of your problems. Instead, try to think of your finances as one of the many factors in your life that has to be balanced with things like friendship, adventure, and generosity.

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What's a Recession?

February 12, 2020

What's a Recession?

Most of us would probably be apprehensive about another recession.

The Great Recession caused financial devastation for millions of people across the globe. But what exactly is a recession? How do we know if we’re in one? How could it affect you and your family? Here’s a quick rundown.

So what exactly is a recession?
The quick answer is that a recession is a negative GDP growth rate for two back-to-back quarters or longer (1). But reality can be a bit more complicated than that. There’s actually an organization that decides when the country is in a recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is composed of commissioners who dig through monthly data and officially declare when a downturn begins.

There’s also a difference between a recession and a depression. A recession typically lasts between 6 to 16 months (the Great Recession was an exception and pushed 18 months). The Great Depression, by contrast, lasted a solid decade and witnessed unemployment rates above 25% (2). Fortunately, depressions are rare: there’s only been one since 1854, while there have been 33 recessions during the same time (3).

What happens during a recession
The NBER monitors five recession indicators. The first and most important is inflation-adjusted GDP. A consistent quarterly decline in GDP growth is a good sign that a recession has started or is on the horizon. Then this gets supplemented by other numbers. A falling monthly GDP, declining real income, increasing unemployment, weak manufacturing and retail sales all point to a recession.

How could a recession affect you?
The bottom line is that a weak economy affects everyone. Business slows down and layoffs can occur. People who keep their jobs may get spooked by seeing coworkers and friends lose their jobs, and then they may start cutting back on spending. This can start a vicious cycle which can lead to lower profits for businesses and possibly more layoffs. The government may increase spending and lower interest rates in order to help stop the cycle and stabilize the economy.

In the short term, that means it might be harder to find a job if you’re unemployed or just out of school and that your cost of living skyrockets. But it can also affect your major investments; the value of your home or your retirement savings could all face major setbacks.

Recessions can be distressing. They’re hard to see coming and they can potentially impact your financial future. That’s why it’s so important to start preparing for any downturns today. Schedule a call with a financial professional to discuss strategies to help protect your future!

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