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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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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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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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Emergency Fund Basics

March 27, 2019

Emergency Fund Basics

Unexpected expenses are a part of life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boost Your Daily Routine with These 3 Financial Habits

March 19, 2018

Boost Your Daily Routine with These 3 Financial Habits

It’s late Friday afternoon. Your to-do list is a crumpled, coffee-stained memory in the bottom of your wastebasket. Another great week in the books!

As you head out for a night on the town with friends or cuddle up next to your kids to watch their favorite movie, do you ever consider how you spent your after-work time during the week?

Whether you’re routine-driven, a free spirit, or somewhere in between, setting aside a few minutes every day to spend on your finances has the potential to make a huge difference in the long run. By adding these 3 financial habits to your daily routine, you have the potential to give yourself a little more power over your finances.

1. Check your inbox (or mailbox). Whether you pay your bills via credit card, automatic withdrawal, or a hand-written check that you mail in to the company, a daily look-see will help you stay on top of any alerts you get. Spend a few minutes every day glancing over incoming bills, payment receipts, and new online transactions. Being aware of the exodus (or pending exodus) of your money can help fend off late fees, overdrawing your accounts, or maxing out your credit card.

2. Review your spending. Every evening, take quick stock of any spending you did that day – whether in brick-and-mortar stores or online. This exercise can be eye-opening. For instance, are you in the habit of grabbing a piping hot cup of coffee from the drive-thru on your morning commute? Depending on your coffee preference, that can cost up to $5 a day! Maybe 5 bucks isn’t a huge deal, but consider this:

  • $5 for coffee x 5 days a week = $25
  • $25 a week x 4 weeks/month = $100
  • That’s $100 per month spent on coffee!

Just staying aware of those little daily expenditures may make a huge difference in your financial health; when you know how much you’re paying over time for something you could prepare at home (for far less money), you may decide to scale back on the barista-brewed coffee so you can help boost your financial future – and keep yourself on the path to financial independence.

3. Learn a little more. Knowing how money works is a vital part of achieving and maintaining financial independence. Taking a few moments every day to educate yourself a little more about money can make a huge difference in the long run. It can keep you aware of best practices for money management and all the ways your money can work for you. Try a blog post, YouTube video, or a best-seller on finances to keep yourself informed and up to date.

As you start putting these simple financial habits in place, contact me any time! Together we can assess how these small changes could help strengthen your financial strategy and get you closer to financial independence.

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