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January 20, 2021

What All Early Retirees Have in Common

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3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

January 18, 2021

3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

Is your credit score costing you money?

A recent survey found that increasing a credit score from “Fair” to “Very Good” could save borrowers an average of $56,400 across five common loan types like credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages.¹ That’s roughly $316 in extra monthly cash flow!

If your credit score is anything but “Very Good,” keep reading. You’ll discover some simple strategies that may seriously help improve your credit score and increase your cash flow.

Pay your bills at the strategic time.
Credit utilization makes up a big portion of your credit score, sometimes up to 30%.¹ The closer your balance is to your credit limit, the higher your credit utilization. The lower your utilization, the less you’re using your available credit. Creditors view a lower utilization as an indicator that you’re responsible with managing your credit.

Here’s a simple way to lower your credit utilization–ask your creditors for when your balance is shared with credit reporting agencies. Then, automate your bill payments to just before that day. When credit reporting agencies review your balances, they’ll see lower numbers because you just paid them down. That can result in a lower credit utilization and a higher credit score!

Automate debt and bill payments.
Late payments for your credit card bill, phone bill, and utilities can negatively affect your credit score. If you have a habit of paying your bills late, consider automating as many of your payments as possible. It’s a convenient and simple way to make your finances more manageable and help increase your credit score in a single swoop!

Leave old credit accounts open.
So long as they don’t require a monthly fee, leave old and unused credit accounts open. Any open line of credit, even if it’s unused, increases the amount of available credit you have at your disposal. And not using that credit lowers your overall credit utilization, which can help increase your credit score.

Closing unused credit accounts does the opposite. It lowers your available credit and spikes your credit utilization, especially if you have large balances in other accounts. So if you have credit cards you don’t use anymore, leave those accounts open and hide the cards in a place where they won’t tempt you to start spending!

The best part about these strategies? You can act on them all today. Ask your creditors when your balance is shared with credit reporting agencies, then automate your deposits to go through right before that day.

When you’re done automating your payments, put your unused credit cards into a plastic bag and put them deep into your freezer. In just a few hours, you’ll have set yourself up to increase your credit score and save money!

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A New Year's Resolution You Can Subscribe To

A New Year's Resolution You Can Subscribe To

“Are you sure you want to cancel?” Click yes.

“Are you sure you’re sure?” Click Yes.

“Like, 100% sure?” Click YES.

“For a free month of service, can you define ‘sure’ for me?” …

When you cancel a subscription to a service, the number of times you have to assure the company that you’re really, actually, truly canceling your service might be directly related to a rise in your blood pressure – or to rage-quitting the cancellation process and telling yourself you’ll come back to it later… Will you really come back to it before they charge you for another month?

Here’s a suggestion for a New Years Resolution: Get off of as many automatic renewal plans as you can. At the beginning of a new year, pushing through that annoying cancellation process has the potential to yield some pretty incredible results for your financial strategy.

Why? Because making the decision to take your cash flow back from a piece of plastic can open up more avenues in your financial strategy. When a credit card is involved, all it takes is a quick swipe here or an online purchase or two there before you find yourself in serious debt. Being conscious of the money you bring in and where it’s going can make it easier to save and spend more wisely.

Set yourself up for success in the New Year. Which services show up once a month and raise that number on your credit card bill? Haven’t read a single issue of that magazine since June? What about that meditation app that you keep meaning to use but don’t make the time to? Nix all of those empty charges that are not helping you reach your financial goals.

There are some subscriptions worth keeping, though, like your subscription to a service that provides anti-virus software to your computer. Even in this case, it might be worth it to check around and see if you can get comparable coverage for a more competitive price.

And beware the non-refunders. If you’re subscribed to a service that won’t give you a refund for the remainder of the subscription period, one option is waiting until a day or two before the next auto-payment. But this can be a little risky, especially if you forget to go back and cancel the service before it renews. If you do choose to wring out all the benefits of the non-refunded service, set a calendar reminder or two (maybe three, just to be safe!) on your phone to be sure you go back and cancel before you’re in the hole for another month.

Some companies may try to lure you back in with the promise of a free month or discounted pricing if you don’t cancel right away. Don’t buy into it unless you immediately reset that calendar alarm on your phone. If you can do without the service, push through the temptation and just say no. The benefits of canceling the charge that will continue to come up month after month if you forget to return and cancel outweigh one free month of use.

So pour yourself a cup of chamomile tea and diffuse some lavender essential oil to help you relax. The process of canceling all of those subscriptions could push anyone’s buttons, but just settle into a rhythm of assuring the company a few times that you want out, and you’ll be fine – and potentially better off financially because of it. Even though it may not feel like much to turn off a couple of subscriptions to save $20 a month, it can really add up. At the end of a year, you’d have $240 dollars that you wouldn’t have if you’d left those auto-renewals in place. That’s $240 dollars that could fit elsewhere in your financial strategy.

With a little work and subscribing to a new idea or two instead, 2018 has the potential to be the year you take back control of your finances.

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Good Financial Decisions You Can Make Today

December 14, 2020

Good Financial Decisions You Can Make Today

Are you afraid to fix your finances?

It’s understandable if you are! Confronting a bad spending habit or debt problem can feel overwhelming and uncomfortable.

But leaving financial issues unresolved is never a good idea. Little annoyances become serious threats if you don’t take initiative to nip them in the bud!

Fortunately, there are dozens of simple financial decisions that you can make today. Here are some of the most important ones!

Save anything you can, no matter how small
If you stash away a single dollar, you’re already ahead of the game. Half of all Americans had zero dollars (you read that correctly) saved before the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.¹

Anything that you’ve put away where you can’t spend it is a good thing, even if it’s a dollar. Putting money away regularly is even better. You might literally have only $1 to start. That’s fine! It’s the thought (i.e., habit) that counts, and you’ll already be closer to financial stability than many people in the country.

Don’t gamble
Americans might not be great at saving, but we sure do love playing the lottery! We spend, on average, $1,000 per year on precious tickets and scratch-offs.² Yikes! You’ll probably get struck by lightning or crushed by falling airplane debris before you win a powerball.³

If you don’t play the lottery now, don’t start. If you do play (which should fall in your budget under “fun fund”), write out how much you’ve spent on tickets vs. how much you’ve won. That’s a ratio to always keep in mind!

Eat at home
Regularly eating out can devour your income. We spend about $232 monthly at our favorite restaurants, or about $2,784 annually.⁴ There’s nothing wrong with occasionally enjoying a meal out at your favorite spot. But it becomes a problem when you’re eating out multiple times a week and using fast food as a substitute for cooking for yourself while your budget goals suffer.

So instead of hitting up a drive-thru tonight, go to your local grocery store and buy some fresh ingredients. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Ground beef and pasta or chicken curry with rice are both great (and tasty) ways to start. Check out some online recipes and try some new dishes!

Just trying these three simple things can put you ahead of the curve. They might seem small, but you’ll take a huge step forward to financial independence. Choose one of these actions and try it out today!

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¹ “Here’s how many Americans have nothing at all in savings,” Ester Bloom, CNBC Make It, Jun 19 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/19/heres-how-many-americans-have-nothing-at-all-in-savings.html

² “Americans spend over $1,000 a year on lotto tickets,” Megan Leonhardt, CNBC Make It, Dec 12 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/12/americans-spend-over-1000-dollars-a-year-on-lotto-tickets.html

³ “The Lottery: Is It Ever Worth Playing?,” Investopedia, Jan 27, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/managing-wealth/worth-playing-lottery/

⁴ “Don’t Eat Out as Often,” Trent Hamm, The Simple Dollar, April 13, 2020, https://www.thesimpledollar.com/save-money/dont-eat-out-as-often/#:~:text=What%20kind%20of%20money%20are,Again%2C%20that's%20reasonable.

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

November 30, 2020

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

On paper, paying off debt seems simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

In fact, it can get downright discouraging if you don’t see any progress on your balances, especially if you feel like your finances are already stretched.

Fortunately, there are ways to take your debt escape plan to the next level. Here are a few insightful tips for anyone who feels like their wheels are spinning.

You must create a plan
Planning is one of the most important steps towards eliminating debt. Studies show that creating detailed plans increases our follow-through.¹ It also frees up our mental resources to focus on other pressing issues.²

Those are essential components of overcoming debt. A plan helps you stick to your guns when you’re tempted to make an impulse buy on your credit card or consider taking that last-minute weekend trip. And tackling problems that have nothing to do with debt can be a breath of fresh air for your mental health.

You have to stop borrowing
Seems obvious, right? But it might be easier said than done. Credit cards can seem like a convenient way to cover emergency expenses if you’re strapped for cash. Plus, spending money can feel therapeutic. Kicking the habit of borrowing to buy can be hard!

That’s why it’s so important to fortify your financial house with an emergency fund before you start eliminating debt. Save up enough money to cover 3 months of expenses. Then quit borrowing cold turkey. You should always have enough cash in reserve to cover car repairs and doctor visits without using your credit card.

Your lifestyle has to change
But, as mentioned before, debt can embed itself into lifestyles. You can’t get rid of debt without cutting back on spending, and you can’t cut back on spending without transforming your lifestyle.

When you’re making your escape plan, identify your highest spending categories. How important are they to your quality of life? Some of them might be essential. But you may realize that others exist just out of habit. Be willing to sacrifice some of your favorite activities, at least until you’re debt free.

You can still do the things you want
This does NOT mean that you have to be miserable. You can still enjoy a vacation, buy an awesome gadget, or treat your partner to a romantic dinner. You just have to prepare for those events differently.

Create a “fun fund” that you contribute money to every month. Budget a specific amount to put in it and dedicate it to a specific item. This allows you to have some fun every now and then without derailing your journey to financial freedom.

Debt doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These insights can help you stay the course as you eliminate debt from your financial house and start pursuing your dreams. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about debt-destroying strategies!

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¹ “Making the Best Laid Plans Better: How Plan-Making Prompts Increase Follow-Through,” Todd Rogers, Katherine L. Milkman, Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton, Behavioral Science and Policy, 2016, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/todd_rogers/files/making_0.pdf

² “The Power of a Plan,” Timothy A Pychyl Ph.D., Psychology Today, Nov 17, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/201111/the-power-plan

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

November 23, 2020

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

Most of us understand the meanings of “dollar” and “cost”, and we know what averages are…

But when you put those three words together – dollar cost averaging – the meaning may not be quite as clear.

Dollar cost averaging refers to the concept of investing on a fixed schedule and with a fixed amount of money. For example, after a careful budget review, you might determine you can afford $200 per month to invest. With dollar cost averaging, you would invest that $200 without regard to what the market is doing, without regard to price, and without regard to news that might impact the market temporarily. You become the investment equivalent of the tortoise from the fable of the tortoise and the hare. You just keep going steadily.

When the market goes up, you buy. When the market goes down, you can buy more.

The gist of dollar cost averaging is that you don’t need to be a stock-picking prodigy to potentially succeed at investing. Over time, as your investment grows, the goal is to profit from all the shares you purchased, both low and high, because your average cost for shares would be below the market price.

Hypothetically, let’s say you invest your first $200 in an index fund that’s trading at $10 per share. You can buy 20 shares. But the next month, the market drops because of some news that said the sky was falling somewhere else in the world. The price of your shares goes down to $9.

You might be thinking that doesn’t seem so great. But pause for a moment. You’re not selling yet because you’re employing dollar cost averaging. Now, with the next month’s $200, you can buy 22 shares. That’s 2 extra shares compared to your earlier buy. Now your average cost for all 42 shares is approximately $9.52. If your index fund reaches $10 again, you’ll be profitable on all those shares. If it reaches $12, or $15, or $20, now we’re talking. To sum up, if your average cost goes up, it means your investment is doing well. If the price dips, you can buy more shares.

Using dollar cost averaging means that you don’t have to know everything (no one does) and that you don’t know for certain what the market will do in the next day, week, or month (no one does). But over the long term, we have faith that the market will go up. Because dollar cost averaging removes the guesswork involved with deciding when to buy, you’re always putting money to work, money that may provide a solid return in time.

You may use dollar cost averaging with funds, ETFs, or individual stocks, but diversified investments are potentially best. An individual stock may go down to zero, while the broad stock market may continue to climb over time.

Dollar cost averaging is an important concept to understand. It may save you time and it may prevent costly investment mistakes. You don’t have to try to be an expert. Once you understand the basics of dollar cost averaging, you may start to feel like an investment genius!

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Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. 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. Examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Money

October 7, 2020

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Money

Family finances isn’t always a fun topic.

But getting in the habit of discussing money early on in your relationship may help pave the way for a smoother future. Whether or not you see eye to eye, learning each other’s spending habits and budgeting styles can help avoid any financial obstacles in the future. Below are some tips on getting started!

Talk about money regularly
One of the best ways to approach a conversation about money is to decide in advance when you’re going to have it, rather than springing it on your spouse out of the blue. Family budgeting means making the time to talk upfront and staying transparent about it on a consistent basis. If you and your spouse choose to set a monthly or annual budget, commit to sitting down and reviewing family expenses at the end of each month to see what worked and what didn’t.

Start a budget
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you don’t have a family budget and don’t know where to start. However, with the development of mobile applications and online banking, you can now more easily track your spending habits to find ways to cut unnecessary expenses. For example, if you see that you’re going out to dinner most nights, you can try replacing one or two of those evenings out with a home cooked meal. Small changes to your routine can make saving easier than you might have thought!

Remember your budgeting goals
Budgeting comes down to a simple question—how will these money decisions affect the happiness of my family? For example, you might need to ask yourself if taking an awesome vacation to your favorite theme park will give your family more happiness than fixing your minivan from 2005. Can’t do both? You aren’t necessarily forgoing the vacation to fix your car; instead, you might need to invest in your car now rather than potentially letting a problem worsen. You might then decide to rework your budget to set aside more money every month to take the trip next year.

The key is that talking to your spouse about money may actually become more about talking to them about your goals and family. When you put it that way, it may be a much more productive and rewarding conversation!

Even if you haven’t discussed these things before you walked down the aisle, it’s never too late to sit down with your spouse. This topic will continue over time, so talking about your financials with your partner as you approach new milestones and experience different life events as a family can help you financially prepare for the future.

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What Are The Odds?

What Are The Odds?

Your brain is more powerful than any computer on the planet.

It can store roughly 2.5 million gigabytes of information.¹ Yahoo’s colossal data warehouse can only store 2 million gigabytes.² And your brain does it with the same energy it would take to light a light bulb, not a huge power grid!³ But all that computing firepower still doesn’t help the brain understand one simple concept: probability. Which is unfortunate, because misunderstanding the odds of something happening can seriously impair your decision making, especially when it comes to money and finances. Let’s take a look at the problem of comprehending probability, how it impacts your money, and a simple strategy to counteract it.

We don’t understand probability
It’s a scientific fact that humans struggle to properly understand probabilities. A 2018 meta-analysis from the University of Rensburg found that presenting people with probabilities often results in potentially huge errors of judgment.4 For instance, a woman was wrongfully charged with the murder of her sons because a medical professional testified to the low probability of their dying naturally.

Part of the problem is presentation. The meta-analysis showed that presenting tasks as natural frequencies (i.e., 1 out of 10) instead of percentages (10% chance of something happening) actually increased peoples’ performance in understanding the probability they were presented with. Even then, the leap was only from 4% to 24%. You still have merely a 1 in 4 chance of effectively grasping a probability! So while presentation helps, it doesn’t address the deep-seated mental block people have regarding understanding odds. Humans just seem to overcomplicate, misinterpret, and misconstrue probability.

Probability and Money
But does that really matter if you’re not buying lottery tickets or spending weekends at the races? You might be surprised by how often our inability to understand chance impacts our money decisions. There are countless examples. You want to start saving and investing your money. You’ve figured out that buying when the market is low is the best way to maximize your dollar. You hold back, waiting to time the market for that dip that’s certainly right around the corner. Perhaps you decide to start a business right when the economy is cooking. The DOW’s been climbing for the last three years, so there’s no reason for it to stop now, right? Or maybe you’ve held off on buying life insurance because the odds of your suddenly passing away are one in a million. Those are all instances of risky behaviors that stem from an innate human inability to grasp probabilities.

How a professional can help
But there’s a surprising solution to the probability problem: education. Ask a mathematician to gamble on a coin toss. They’ll choose either heads (or tails) every time. Why? Because they know how probability works and don’t let a few flips throw them off. It’s a 50/50 chance every time the coin is tossed, so why try to game the system? Your personal finances are no different. You need someone on your side who knows the math, knows the economy, and can guide you through a run of bad luck without losing their head. You need a financial professional. They can help you grasp some basics and the strategies that can help protect you from the seeming randomness of finances. Stop rolling the dice. Reach out to a professional today!

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¹ “What is the Memory Capacity of a Human Brain?,” Clinical Neurology Specialists, https://www.cnsnevada.com/what-is-the-memory-capacity-of-a-human-brain/

² “What is the Memory Capacity of a Human Brain?,” Clinical Neurology Specialists, https://www.cnsnevada.com/what-is-the-memory-capacity-of-a-human-brain/

³ “Computation Power: Human Brain vs Supercomputer,” Foglets, 10 Apr, 2019 https://foglets.com/supercomputer-vs-human-brain/#:~:text=The%20amount%20of%20energy%20required,charge%20a%20dim%20light%20bulb.

⁴ “Why don’t we understand statistics? Fixed mindsets may be to blame,” ScienceDaily, Oct 12, 2018, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181012082713.htm

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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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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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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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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Now’s the Time for Future Planning

February 10, 2020

Now’s the Time for Future Planning

What happened to the days of the $10 lawn mowing job or the $7-an-hour babysitting gig every Saturday night?

Not a penny withheld. No taxes to file. No stress about saving a million dollars for retirement. As a kid, doing household chores or helping out friends and neighbors for a little spending money is extremely different from the adult reality of giving money to both the state and federal government and/or retiring. Years ago, did those concepts feel so far away that they might as well have been camped out on Easter Island?

What happened to the carefree attitude surrounding our finances? It’s simple: we got older. As the years go by, finances can get more complicated. Knowing where your money is going and whether or not it’s working for you when it gets there is a question that’s better asked sooner rather than later.

When author of Financially Fearless Alexa von Tobel was asked what she wishes she’d known about money in her 20s, her answer was pretty interesting:

Not having a financial plan is a plan — just a really bad one! Given what I see as a general lack of personal-finance education, it can be all too easy to wing it with your money… I was lucky enough to learn this lesson while still in my 20s, so I had time to put a financial plan into place for myself.

A strategy for your money is essential, starting early is better, and talking to a financial professional is a solid way to get going. No message in a bottle sent from a more-prepared version of yourself is going to drift your way from Easter Island, chock-full of all the answers about your money. But sitting down with me is a great place to start. Contact me anytime.

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Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Going to college can be a great way to invest in your future and get the training and education you need to thrive in the modern job market.

But we’ve all heard the horror stories of students saddled with thousands in loans that they struggle to pay back, sometimes for years. Student loan debt is often the most pressing financial issue for college students and recent grads.

So how do you take advantage of the benefits of a college education without burdening your future with years of debt? Here are some tips to help you avoid high student loan payments and pay your student debt off more quickly after graduation.

Work through school
The days of working a minimum wage job to put yourself through school seem to be over. However, working enough to cover at least some of your books and living expenses may make a huge dent in the amount of money you’ll have to borrow to graduate.

Work-study programs on campus are often good options, as they are willing to work around your class schedules. Off-campus part-time jobs can be a good option as well, and may offer better pay.

Live as cheaply as possible
Everyone knows the cliché of the broke college student existing on nothing but ramen noodles. While not many people would recommend trying to live on nutritionless soup every day, you should be able to find ways to cut your cost of living to reduce the amount of money you need to borrow to sustain your lifestyle.

Try living off campus with family or roommates and packing sandwiches instead of paying expensive meal tickets and dorm fees. Bike, walk, or take public transportation to avoid parking. Take advantage of free on-campus healthcare, counseling, free food events, free entertainment, and more so you can spend as little as possible on living campus life.

It’s okay to go out and have fun sometimes, but don’t borrow from your future in order to live beyond your means now.

Try to avoid unsubsidized loans
Subsidized loans are offered by the Department of Education at lower interest than many private bank loans, and they do not begin accruing interest until after you graduate. Take advantage of these loans first and try to avoid the unsubsidized private loans which begin accruing interest immediately and often have a higher rate. (1)

Be mindful of your future payments
It can be tempting to expect that you’ll have a great job earning plenty of money and time to pay back the student loans you’ve accumulated. But each time you take out a loan, you make your future payments higher and your payback time longer. Be sure to look at the numbers of how much your payment will be every time you up your loan amounts. Can you realistically envision yourself being able to pay that amount every month in just a few years? If not, it may be time to rethink the student loans you’re racking up, and possibly even reconsider your degree or career plan.

Go to trade school, earn an apprenticeship, or work in your chosen field before you commit to a college degree in that field
It’s not a popular topic with many high school guidance counselors, but learning a trade and finding a well-paying job without a degree is not only possible but a great option. Try finding an internship or trade school where you could get training for much less money than a university.

Consider community colleges and state schools
It’s a common misconception that private, ivy league, “big name” colleges are far superior to state schools and automatically the better option. However, state schools can often have great programs for far less money. Also, if you choose a local school, you can live close to your family support system while working through college. It’s possible to have a very successful career with a college degree from a state school, and be more financially stable in your future than someone struggling to pay off loans from an expensive private college.

Likewise, an associate’s degree from a community college can save money toward your bachelor’s degree, allowing you to pay far less than you would even to a state school. Just make sure your degree and credits will transfer to the university of your choice.

Find a graduate program that pays YOU
If you choose to pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree, try to find a program with a teaching assistant position, fellowship, or some other option for getting reduced tuition or getting paid to get the work experience you need.

Resist the urge to move up in lifestyle when you graduate
When you scrimp your way through school, it’s tempting when you get your first degree-related job to celebrate by loosening the reins on your frugal ways and start living it up as a young professional.

It’s great to reward yourself, and you need to adapt to your new financial situation (you may need a new wardrobe or a better car), but resist going too crazy with all the “extra” money a new job in your field can make you feel like you have. You should still live on a budget and manage your money carefully to pay off your student loans as soon as possible so you’re better prepared to move into the next phase of life unencumbered by a mountain of debt. Make paying back debt a priority, and pay extra when you’re able.

Education can be expensive and in some cases impossible to get without loans. But with frugality and an eye toward the future, you’ll be better prepared to get the education you need to succeed in life without being encumbered by debt for years. The high cost of education combined with the high cost of living can make a college education more of a financial burden for today’s students than ever before. By thinking outside the box and carefully prioritizing your educational goals—balanced with your finances—you can pursue your dream degree and have a better chance at a stable financial future.

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Why Financial Literacy is Important

Why Financial Literacy is Important

There’s a good chance that you’re facing a financial obstacle right now.

Maybe you’re trying to pay down some credit card debt, facing a meager retirement fund, or just struggling day-to-day to make ends meet.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in those situations, so much so that you might think learning a little more about how to manage your money wouldn’t make much difference right now.

But adopting a few key financial tips is often the best and simplest step towards taking control of your paycheck and finding some peace of mind. Here are some reasons why financial literacy is an essential skill for everyone to master, and a few tips to help you get started!

It helps you overcome fear
Let’s face it; money can seem scary. Mounting loans, debt, interest, investing—it can all be confusing and overwhelming. It may feel easier to ignore your finances and live paycheck to paycheck, never owning up to not-so-great decisions. But financial literacy gets right to the root of that fear by making things clear and simple. It empowers you to identify your mistakes and shows options to fix them.

Facing a problem is much easier once you understand it and know how to beat it. That’s why learning about money is so important if you want to start healing your financial woes.

It lets you take control of your finances
Financial literacy does more than just help you address problems or overcome obstacles. It gives you the power to stop being a victim and take control. You can start investing in your future with confidence instead of reacting to emergencies or going into deeper debt. That means building wealth and living life on your terms instead of someone else’s. In other words…

It helps you realize your dreams
Managing money isn’t about immediately seeing a bigger number in your bank account. It’s about having the resources and freedom to do the things you care about. Maybe that means taking your significant other on a dream vacation, giving more to a cause you care about, or providing your kids with a debt-free education.

Where to start
Acknowledging that you need to learn more can be the hardest step. That’s why meeting with a financial advisor is something you may consider. Calculate how much you spend versus how much you make and write down some financial goals. Then find a time to discuss your next steps. You may also want to sign up for a personal finance class that will cover things like budgeting and saving.

Financial literacy is one of the most important skills you can develop. Improving your financial education takes some time but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Give me a call. I’d love to sit down and help you learn more about ways you can take control of your future!

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3 Ways to Save Money (No Formulas Needed)

January 13, 2020

3 Ways to Save Money (No Formulas Needed)

When you’re ready to take control of your finances, it can seem overwhelming to get your savings plan going.

Every finance expert has a different theory on the best way to save – complete with diagrams, schedules, and algebraic formulas. Ugh. But saving money isn’t complicated. Here’s a secret: the best way to save money is not to spend it. It’s that simple.

Turn Off the TV
The act of turning off your TV to save money on electricity may not make much difference. Running a modern TV for as long as 12 hours per day probably costs about $8 per month. The real expense associated with your television comes from the advertisements. Look around your home and in your driveway and you’ll probably see some of the fallout associated with watching television. Advertisers have convinced us that we need the latest and greatest gizmos, gadgets, cars, homes, and that we need to try the latest entree at our favorite chain restaurant before the deal goes away forever! Skipping the TV for some time spent with family or enjoying a good book may not only cost you less money in the long run, it’s priceless.

The 30-Day Rule
Here’s how it goes. If you want something, and that something isn’t an emergency, make a note of it and then wait 30 days before revisiting the idea of purchasing that item. Your smartphone is perfect for this because it’ll probably be in your hand when you first find the item you want to buy. Use a note keeping app or a reminder app to document the date and details about the item. After 30 days, the desire to purchase that item may have passed, or you may have concluded that you didn’t really need it in the first place. If you still want the item after 30 days – and it fits into your budget – go for it!

The 10-Second Rule
The 30-day rule is useful in a lot of cases, but it may not work so well for some types of household spending, like grocery shopping. 30 days is too long to wait if you’re out of coffee or cat litter. Even so, the grocery store is a hotbed for impulse buying – sales, specials, and check-out aisle temptations may be too much to resist. Instead of dropping items into your cart on a whim, wait 10 seconds and then ask yourself for one good reason why you need to purchase this particular item right now. Chances are pretty good – that there isn’t a good reason. Ding! You just saved money. That was easy. (Hint: Always make a list before you head to the store.)

Now that you’ve gotten rid of the idea that trigonometry + calculus + geometry = financial independence, which money-saving tip will you put into practice first? (Quick note: The 30 Day Rule does not apply here – no need to wait to get started!)

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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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5 Ways People with Disabilities Can Be Financially Prepared for Care Costs

5 Ways People with Disabilities Can Be Financially Prepared for Care Costs

Access to affordable, complete care can be a challenge for many adults.

If you are someone who is living with a disability, you need to know that you will have access to the care you need now and in the future.You also need to know that you and your family will be able to afford these options. So, how can you do both and give yourself some peace of mind? You can get started by completing these crucial health care and financial planning steps.

Verify Your Medicare Eligibility If you’re approaching your 65th birthday, you should begin researching your Medicare options right now. This way, you can better understand the various Medicare parts and the coverage offered by each and make an informed decision during the next enrollment period. Even if you are not an older adult, you should still research your Medicare eligibility since your disability may still qualify you for coverage before the age of 65. You should also research whether a Medicare Advantage plan is the right choice for you. Aetna and other insurers offer MA plans which can provide additional benefits for dental, vision, hearing, and prescription drugs.

Check for Medicaid Coverages Depending on your income, you may also want to look into your Medicaid eligibility. This program differs from Medicare in that there are no age requirements. Those who are enrolled in Medicaid-sponsored insurance can take advantage of free healthcare services or may only need to pay small premiums each month to have access to care. You do need to meet certain financial requirements to be eligible for Medicaid, however, so this may not be an option for everyone. If it is, though, it can be a major boost to limited incomes.

Research Other Health Options For those living with disabilities who are not Medicare or Medicaid eligible, finding the right health insurance coverage is important for financial security. If you work, you should check with your employer about insurance offerings, since these plans tend to be more affordable. You can also research plans and enroll using the Health Insurance Marketplace but be sure to do so during annual enrollment periods, which tend to run from November to early December. Otherwise, you will need to wait another year to get coverage.

Plan for Long-Term Care Needs One aspect of care that many people forget to plan for is long-term care. This is an important need to consider, especially since the need for long-term care is so prevalent in later life. To make sure you can afford the care you need in the future, you should research insurance options and think about other ways you can plan to cover long-term care expenses, such as putting additional funds into savings or leveraging your home’s value to pay for care. By thinking about your long-term care needs now, you can also research the cost of different types of long-term care, such as assisted living communities and skilled nursing homes.

Consider End-of-Life Expenses Last but certainly not least, you have to think about how your family’s financial needs will be met when you are no longer around. Because thinking about death can be unsettling, many people forget to plan for final expenses. That often leaves loved ones struggling to cover funeral costs and pay any outstanding debts — and all in their time of grief. You can save your family this heartache by planning ahead for expenses after death. At the very least, you should have enough life insurance to pay off major debts and help with burial costs. To provide even more financial peace of mind, you should also look for additional insurance options, like burial plans.

Planning for your future health care costs isn’t just about preserving your access to care. It’s also about preserving your family’s access to the financial resources they need to survive and thrive, even if you can no longer provide those resources. By taking the time and effort to map out your finances in relation to your care needs, you are taking the initiative to fully protect the health and well-being of the people you love, as well as your future self.

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Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Perusing the search engine results for “allowance for kids” reveals something telling: The top results can’t seem to agree with each other.

Some finance articles quote experts or outspoken parents hailing an allowance, stating it teaches kids financial responsibility. Others argue that simply awarding an allowance (whether in exchange for doing chores around the house or not) instills nothing in children about managing money. They say that having an honest conversation about money and finances with your kids is a better solution.

According to a recent poll, the average allowance for kids age 4 to 14 is just under $9 per week, about $450 per year. By age 14, the average allowance is over $12 per week. Some studies indicate that, in most cases, very little of a child’s allowance is saved. As parents, we may not have needed a study to figure that one out – but if your child is consistently out of money by Wednesday, how do you help them learn the lesson of saving so they don’t always end up “broke” (and potentially asking you for more money at the end of the week)?

There’s an app for that.
Part of the modern challenge in teaching kids about money is that cash isn’t king anymore. Today, we use credit and debit cards for the majority of our spending – and there is an ever-increasing movement toward online shopping and making payments with your phone using apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay.

This is great for the way we live our modern, fast-paced lives, but what if technology could help us teach more complex financial concepts than a simple allowance can – concepts like how compound interest on savings works or what interest costs for debt look like? As it happens, a new breed of personal finance apps for families promises this kind of functionality.

FamZoo is popular, offering prepaid cards with a matching family finance app for iOS and Android. Prepaid cards are a dime a dozen but FamZoo’s card and app do much more than just limit spending to the prepaid amount. Kids can earn interest on their savings (funded by parents), set budgets according to categories, monitor their account activity with useful charts, and even borrow money – complete with an interest charge. Sounds a bit like the real world, doesn’t it? FamZoo can be as simple or as feature-packed as you’d like, making it a good match for kids of any age.

Money habits are formed as early as age 7. If an allowance can teach kids about saving, compound interest, loan interest, and budgeting – with a little help from technology – perhaps the future holds a digital world where the two sides of the allowance debate can finally agree. As to whether your kids’ allowance should be paid upon completion of chores or not… Well, that’s up to you and how long your Saturday to-do list is!

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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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The Cost of Goodbye

September 11, 2019

The Cost of Goodbye

The emotional cost of losing a loved one can’t be quantified, and knowing how to say goodbye can’t be taught so much as learned. It can be a long and difficult road for many.

Offsetting the financial aspect of that struggle can be done. Not through gimmicks or escapism, but through a real, tangible solution: Final expense plans.

A traditional funeral can cost up to $10,000. If that number seems a bit outrageous, look at how quickly some of the basic items and services can add up:

  • Cost of the grave site: $1,000
  • Cost to dig the grave: $600
  • Cost of a casket: $2,300
  • Cost of a grave liner/outer burial container: $1,000
  • Cost of a headstone: $1,500

That’s already $6,400… and says nothing of payment of mortician’s services, use of the funeral home, the fee for the funeral director, the cost of flowers, and more details that one never thinks about until they’re in a position where they need to think about it. These costs will vary by geographic location, but one thing you can count on is that the emotional cost you or your loved ones experience later could be compounded with financial cost that could be avoided with a bit of careful preparation now.

In the face of losing someone you love, finances might be the last thing on your mind. With a solid final expense plan, you can keep it that way.

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