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August 7, 2020

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Business Ideas for Students

August 3, 2020

Business Ideas for Students

Starting a business is never easy.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 65% of businesses fail within 10 years.(1) Only 25% make it past 15 years.(2) Those odds aren’t great. It would take a full time effort and a huge arsenal of resources to even consider starting a business, right?

But you might be surprised how easy it is to get started, even if you have a full time commitment like school. Here are a few ideas to get you situated on the path towards entrepreneurship!

Writing
The written word gives us the power to communicate our ideas, learn from others, and persuade. No wonder the demand for high quality writing is so consistent! And if you’re a student with a gift for prose, you might be sitting on a cash cow. Businesses all across the country need good writers, and they’re willing to pay for your services. There’s a good chance that you already have the tools you need (i.e., a laptop and writing software). Find a site for freelance work and start writing!

Tutoring
Do you have a special grasp of a particular subject? Is that subject taught at your university? You might want to consider tutoring if you answered yes to both of those questions. University is hard! Students need all the help they can get and they might be willing to pay you for your insights and expertise. Make sure you actually know your stuff, do some research on teaching techniques, and make a paper ad you can post on campus. The level of interest may surprise you!

Exercising
Maybe you’re the person who prefers sound nutrition and pumping iron to reading and studying. Have no fear, my creatine and protein shake pounding friend; there are plenty of opportunities for you to leverage your fitness know-how to make money. That’s right; you could try being a personal trainer! Get some videos of your lifting exploits out on social media, ask your more puny friends if they’re trying to get yoked, and get the word out there.

Marketing
You’re surrounded by marketable brands. It might seem counterintuitive, but technically speaking, anyone with a social media presence has the power to become an influencer. And that’s where you come in! Do you have a knack for social media? Do you seem to intuitively know what kind of content will get followers and likes? Then your skills are in huge demand. Companies, small businesses, and even your classmates might be willing to shell out big dollars for your help creating content. Assemble a collage of your most popular posts, come up with some strategy ideas, and start giving your peers advice.

Starting a business takes some work. But if you use skills you’ve already mastered and make sure you keep your commitment levels reasonable, you might find it’s not as difficult as you think. Do some brainstorming, identify your strengths, come up with a plan, and spread the word!

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The Gambler’s Fallacy

July 13, 2020

The Gambler’s Fallacy

Humans are amazing.

We’ve sent people to the moon, we’ve constructed gravity-defying skyscrapers, and developed incredible medicines and machinery to make our lives better.

But there is something we’re generally not great at—understanding probability.

It’s a mental blind spot that many of us seem to have. Sure, we can learn math formulas that help us make predictions in the abstract, but most of us will fall prey to a common misjudgment called the Gambler’s Fallacy. Here’s how it works!

Consider a coin toss
You and some friends are incredibly bored one day and start tossing a coin to pass the time. Somehow you flip 5 heads in a row, so maybe you can make a little cash off this run! You wager $10 that the next coin toss will be tails. Afterall, isn’t there a huge chance that the next toss won’t be heads?

Wrong!

You flip the coin, slap it on your wrist, and see heads for the 6th time. Congratulations, you’ve fallen prey to the Gambler’s Fallacy. You assumed that because an event frequently happened in the past, it was less likely to occur going forward.

But the past doesn’t always predict the future
We love noticing patterns and seeing trends. They are mental shortcuts to understanding the world, and they help us predict future events so we can come up with a game plan. It seems intuitive that 5 coin flips for heads somehow means that getting tails is right around the corner! We expect a 50/50 overall outcome, so the coin must have exhausted its ability to land with heads up for a bit, right?

But that’s not how pure randomness works. Each coin flip is its own separate event. The past few tosses have nothing to do with how the next one will turn out. It’s always 50/50, no matter what has happened in the past!

The cost of the Gambler’s Fallacy The Gambler’s Fallacy might not seem like a big deal. But if you’re not careful, your assumptions about the future could lead to big mistakes in the present. The Gambler’s Fallacy is sometimes called the Monte Carlo Fallacy because of an incident at the Monte Carlo Casino in 1913. A ball fell on the black several times on a roulette table. Gamblers noticed the string of black and decided to start betting on red. Surely the streak couldn’t last much longer! But the run of black continued for 26 rounds. Millions of dollars were lost because people fell into the classic trap of the Gambler’s Fallacy.

It’s easy to trust your gut. Sometimes certain decisions just feel right! But traps like the Gambler’s Fallacy can crop up when we’re trying to plan our futures. How many people make wild emotional calls when they see the market going up or down? How many people assume they’ll never need financial protection because everything is fine right now? It’s always worth seeking professional guidance when you’re making an important call. They can help cut through the confusion and help you avoid pitfalls and mental blindspots!

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Should You Only Use Cash?

July 6, 2020

Should You Only Use Cash?

Bills and coins are outdated.

Who actually forks over cash when they’re out and about anymore? Paper money and copper coins are a relic of the past that are useless in a world of credit cards and tap-to-pay…

Except when they’re not.

Using cards and digital payment systems actually comes with some pretty serious drawbacks. Here’s a case for considering going cash only, at least for a little while!

The card convenience (and curse)
Plastic cards can make spending (a little too) easy. See an awesome pair of shoes in the store? No problem! Just swipe at the counter and you’re good to go. Online shopping is even more frictionless. Everything from new clothes to lawn chairs is a few clicks away from delivery right to your front door.

And that’s the problem.

You might not notice the effect of swiping your card until it’s too late. Those shoes were a breeze to buy until you check your bank account and see you’re in the red, or you get your credit card bill. It’s easy to find yourself in a hopeless cycle of overspending when buying things just feels so easy.

The pain of spending cash
Handing over cash can be a different phenomenon. Paying with actual dollars and cents helps you connect your hard-earned money with what you’re buying. It makes you more likely to question if you really need those shoes or clothes or lawn chairs. Studies show that people who pay with cash spend less, buy healthier foods, and have better relationships with their purchases than those who use credit cards.(1) That’s why going with cash only might be a winning strategy if you find yourself constantly in credit card debt or just buying too much unnecessary stuff every month.

Security
To be fair, cash does have some safety concerns. It can be much more useful to a criminal than a credit card. You can’t call your bank to lock down that $20 bill someone picked out of your pocket on the subway! That being said, cards expose you to the threat of identity theft. A criminal could potentially have access to all of your money. There are potential dangers either way, and it really comes down to what you feel comfortable with.

In the end, going cash only is a personal decision. Maybe you rock at only buying what you need and you can dodge the dangers of overspending with your cards. But if you feel like your budget isn’t working like it should, or you have difficulty resisting busting out the plastic when you’re shopping, you may want to consider a cash solution. Try it for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference!

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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 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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A Quick Guide To Influencers

March 30, 2020

A Quick Guide To Influencers

We all know the word influencer.

It probably conjures images of attractive young people setting weird trends on the internet that, let’s face it, don’t make a lot of sense. But the world of influencers, especially in social media, is more than fun and games. Huge amounts of money can be involved and fortunes get made almost overnight. This is a quick guide to the wild world of internet influencers.

What’s an influencer?
An influencer is technically anyone with the power to affect purchasing decisions. It’s a really broad net that includes old-school movie stars and musicians. But lately it’s used in a more specific way to refer to social media stars.

Social media is relatively new. Platforms started off with content from normal viewers. For instance, the first YouTube video is from 2005, only 19 seconds long, and is about elephants at a zoo (1). Some content hit it big back then and went viral, but there still wasn’t a way of using those 15 minutes of online fame to start a real career.

That started to change. People started following specific content makers, and certain personalities built huge followings. Some YouTube channels started getting more weekly views than television shows!

With those huge followings came the potential to advertise. Soon, social media icons started getting paid to promote products. Brands could get attention from a huge audience in key demographics just from an Instagram post or shoutout during a YouTube video.

Why they matter so much
But there’s more to social media marketing than audience size. What makes social media influencers so powerful is that they feel like someone you know. They give their followers a window into their thoughts, routines, and lives. A suggestion from them feels like advice from a friend.

This isn’t to say that social media influencers accurately present their lives to the world. Plenty of publicity stunts and carefully manicured public images exist online. What matters is that the interactions between influencer and follower feel personal and genuine. And there’s potentially a gold mine to be found in that appearance of authenticity if companies look to you for a recommendation.

Audience size is less important than you might think
Interestingly, this means that having a small audience doesn’t necessarily hamper an influencer’s impact. Having a social media personality who focuses on a highly specific field promoting your product to a few hundred followers can make a big difference. It’s more likely for those potential customers to feel like they’ve had a personal recommendation than they would after viewing a TV ad or even an online ad, thus increasing brand loyalty.

Influencers have become a key building block in any modern marketing strategy. They’re a perfect combination of accessibility and credibility that can hold the attention of a key demographic or get your name on the radar for millions of followers.

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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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Saving For Retirement: Where Do I Start?

January 29, 2020

Saving For Retirement: Where Do I Start?

We all know we should be saving for the future.

But depending on your stage in life, it might feel like retirement is either too far away or it’s too late in the game to make much of a difference. Regardless of your income—or which season of life you’re in—you can (and should) start saving for retirement. Here’s how to get started:

Make savings automatic
Have your employer deposit a set dollar amount or percentage from each paycheck to a savings account or your 401(k). It’s an effortless way to start loading your savings account while also reducing temptations to overspend.

Pay yourself first
Your attitude towards saving makes a big difference. It shouldn’t be something that is optional after all of your other spending. If you view saving the way you would a bill and pay it to yourself first, you will be far more likely to save.

Investigate IRA options
An IRA is a retirement account that invests your money in stocks and bonds. Many people opt for either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, though there are other types to choose from. The big difference between the traditional and the Roth is how and when their tax exemptions kick in. Contributions to the traditional are tax deductible until they are withdrawn. A Roth, on the other hand, gets taxed on contributions but withdrawals are tax deductible and get to grow tax free. The maximum amount you can contribute to an IRA is $6,000 – $7,000 per year (depending on your age), so you’ll need to consult your budget to see how much you can put away.

Establish your permanent lifestyle
It’s easy to be tempted to try to one-up our friends’ and neighbors’ lifestyles. But continually increasing your cost of living can set your retirement up for failure. Establish a basic amount of what it takes for you to live a comfortable lifestyle, and stick to that mode of living. Doing so can help you save money right now and also give you an idea of how much you’ll need to save for retirement.

Meet with a financial professional
Investing can be intimidating, especially when it’s your future on the line. Be sure to meet with a licensed professional before you make any big saving decisions. Getting an extra pair of qualified eyes on your goals and strategies is always a good move and can help bring you peace of mind about your retirement strategy!

Whether you’re just entering the workforce or retirement is right around the corner, there are many ways to contribute to your future. By adjusting your lifestyle, investing carefully, and making it a priority to prepare for the future, you can nurture your peace of mind and look forward to seeing how your financial strategy unfolds in your golden years.

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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. Any 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.

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

January 22, 2020

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

Americans owe a whopping amount of debt.

Total consumer debt, for example, tops $4 trillion (1), and the average household owes $6,829 on credit cards alone. (2)

Debt can cause a serious drain on your financial life, not to mention increase your stress levels. You may be parting with a big slice of your income just to service the debt—money that could be put to better use to fund things like a home, your own business, or a healthy retirement account.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get out of debt. Here are 3 of them…

Create a budget
Before you can start digging yourself out of debt, you need to know how you stand with your income versus your outgo every month. Otherwise, you may be sliding deeper into debt as each week passes.

The solution? Create a budget.

First, start tracking your expenses—there are apps you can get on your phone, or even just a notebook and pencil will do. Divide your expenses into categories. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Food, utilities, rent, entertainment, misc. Add them together every week and then every month.

Then, review your spending and compare it with your income. Spending more than you make? That has to be reversed before you’ll ever be able to get out of debt. Make a plan to either reduce your expenses or find a way to raise your income.

If debt payments are driving your expenses above your income, call your lender to see if you can get a plan with lower monthly payments.

Seek out lower interest rates
If you’re paying a high interest rate on credit card debt, a good portion of your monthly payment may be going towards interest alone. That means you may not be reducing the principal—the amount you originally borrowed—as much as you could with a lower interest rate. The lower your interest rate, the more your monthly payments can lower your debt—and eventually help you get out of it.

Find out the annual percentage rate (APR) on your current credit card debt by looking at the monthly statements. Then shop around to find any lower interest rates that might be out there. The next step would be to transfer your credit card debt to that new account with the lower rate. The caveat, however, is if any fees you may be charged now or after an introductory period would nullify the savings in interest. Always make sure you understand the terms on a new card before you transfer a balance.

Another option is to apply to a lender for a personal loan to consolidate your high interest rate debt. Personal loans can have interest rates significantly below those on credit cards. Again, make sure you understand any fees, penalties, and terms before you sign up.

Increase your monthly debt payments
Now that you’ve got your spending under control, it’s time to see if you can raise your debt payments every month. There are two primary methods to do this.

First, review your expenses to see if you can cut back in some categories. Can you spend a little time each week clipping coupons to reduce your grocery bill? Can you make coffee at home rather than purchasing it at the coffee shop every day? These changes can add up! Review entertainment costs, too. Can you cut out one or more streaming or cable services? It might be a good idea to find introductory offers that can reduce your monthly payments. Check into introductory cell phone offers, too, but always read the fine print so you don’t have any surprise fees or costs down the road.

Second, make a plan to increase your income. Can you ask for a raise at work, make a case for a promotion, or find a higher paying job? If that’s not in the cards, consider working a side gig. A few extra hours a week may increase your monthly income significantly—and help get you out of debt a little faster.

Are you struggling with debt? Get in touch with me and we can work on a strategy for a debt-free future.

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Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt in 2020?

Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt in 2020?

Americans owe more than $800 Billion in credit card debt.

You read that right: more than $800 billion.

It seems like more and more people are going to end up being owned by a tiny piece of plastic rather than the other way around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before you plan a night out:

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

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

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

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Improve Your Love Life... With a Financial Strategy?

Improve Your Love Life... With a Financial Strategy?

You may not know this, but a financial advisor is also a relationship expert.

It’s true!

Here’s the proof: Ally Bank’s Love & Money study discovered that 84% of Americans think a romantic relationship is not only stronger but also more satisfying when it’s financially stable. What does it mean to be financially stable?

Here’s a simple 5-point checklist to let you know if you’re on the right track:

  1. You aren’t worried about your financial situation.
  2. You know how to budget and are debt-free.
  3. You pay bills on time – better yet, you pay bills ahead of time.
  4. You have adequate insurance coverage in case of trouble.
  5. You’re saving enough for retirement.

If you didn’t answer ‘yes’ to all of these, don’t worry! Chances are this checklist won’t come up on the first date. But when you have the “money talk” with someone you’ve been seeing for a while, wouldn’t it be great to know that you bring your own financial stability to the relationship? It’s clearly a bonus (remember that stat up there?).

Everyone could use a little help on their way to financial stability and independence. Contact me today, and together we can work on a strategy that could strengthen your peace of mind – and perhaps your love life!

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Getting Your Reindeer In a Row

Getting Your Reindeer In a Row

Dasher. Dancer. Prancer. Vixen.

Comet. Cupid. Donner. Blitzen. (And Rudolph.)

The reindeer that pull Santa’s magical sleigh – and a holiday staple roll-call that’s clean, clear, and instantly recognizable. But what if things got so hectic at the North Pole that when it was time to hitch up the reindeer on Christmas Eve, they were all out of order?

Prancer. Cupid. Dasher. Comet. Dancer. Vixen. Blitzen. Donner.

Did you notice that Rudolph was missing the second time around? (He got left at the North Pole due to plain, old forgetfulness and overlooking.)

Since so much can change from one “Happy Holidays!” to the next, your reindeer may not even be in a row at this point. They could be frolicking unattended in a field somewhere! And who knows where your Rudolph is.

We can remedy that. An annual review of your financial strategy is key to keeping you on track to your unique goals. So much can change over the course of a year, and your strategy could need some reorganizing.

1. Are you on track to meet your savings goals? A well-prepared retirement is a worthy goal. Let’s make sure nothing drove you too far off of your goal this year, and if it did, let’s explore what can be done to get you back on track.

2. Do you have the potential for new savings? Did your health improve this year? Did that black mark on your driving record time out? Changes like these have the potential to adjust your life insurance rate, but we’d need to dig in and find out what kinds of savings might be in store for you.

3. Have your coverage needs increased? Marriage, having kids, or buying a home are all instances in which your life insurance coverage needs would increase. Have any of these happened to you over the last year, and have you added the new family members as beneficiaries?

If you haven’t had a chance to review your strategy this year, we can fit one in before Santa shimmies down the chimney. Together we can get you situated for a well-ordered, reindeer-in-a-row attitude for the New Year!

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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

November 18, 2019

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

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

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

Simplifying the budgeting process will help ease the transition. Check out the following suggestions to make living on a budget something you can stick to – instead of making a shelter out of sticks.

Use That Smartphone.

Your parents may have a used a system of labeled envelopes to budget for various upcoming expenses. Debit cards have largely replaced cash these days, and all those labeled envelopes were fiddly anyway. Your best budgeting tool is probably in your pocket, your purse, or wherever your smartphone is at the moment.

Budgeting apps can connect to your bank account and keep track of incoming and outgoing cash flow, making it simple to categorize current expenses and create a solid budget. A quick analysis of the data and charts from the app gives you a starting point. Maybe you’ll discover that you spent $100 on on-demand movies. One-click expenses like that definitely add up – and apps can help you see your money slipping away in vivid color (sometimes even with colorful pie charts).

Some apps give you the ability to set a budget for certain categories of spending (like those on-demand movies), and you can keep track of how you’re doing in relation to your defined budget. Some apps even provide alerts to help keep you aware of your spending. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, there are even apps that mimic the envelope systems of old with a digital spin.

Plan For Unexpected Expenses.

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

A good cushion to protect your budget from an unexpected expense is an Emergency Fund. It may take a while to build your Emergency Fund, but it will be worth your while if the tire blows out, the roof starts leaking, or you throw your back out trying to fix either of those things against doctor’s orders.

The size of your Emergency Fund will depend on your unique situation, but a goal of at least $1,000 to 3 months of your income is recommended. Three months of income may sound like a lot, but if you experience a sudden loss of income, you’d have at least three full months of breathing room to get back on track.

Go With The Flow.

As you work with your new budget, you’ll find that you miss the mark most months. Some months you’ll spend more. Some months you’ll spend less. That’s normal. Over time, you’ll have an average number for each expense category or expense item that will make it clear where you can do better – but also where you may have been more frugal than needed.

With these suggestions in mind, go ahead! Make that new budget, then buy yourself an ice cream or turn on the air conditioning. Once you know where you stand, where you need to tighten up on spending, and where you can let loose a little, budgeting might not seem like a punishment. In fact, you might find that it’s a useful, much-needed strategy that you can stick to – all part of the greater journey to your financial independence.

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3 Easy Ways To Save For Retirement (Without Investing)

November 6, 2019

3 Easy Ways To Save For Retirement (Without Investing)

Our retirement years will be here sooner than we think.

Ideally, you’ve been putting away money in your IRA, 401k, or other savings accounts. But are you overlooking ways to save money now so you can free up more for your financial strategy or help build your cash stash for a rainy day?

1. Pay Yourself First.
If you’re making contributions to your 401k plan at work, you’re already paying yourself first. But you can also apply the same principle to saving. (If you open a separate account just for this, it’s easier to do.) If you prefer, you can accomplish the same thing on paper by keeping a ledger. Just be aware that paper makes it easier to cheat (yourself). With a separate account, you can schedule an automatic transfer to make the process painless and fuhgettaboutit.

Here’s how it works. Whenever you get paid, transfer a fixed dollar amount into your special account – before you do anything else. If you don’t pay yourself first, you might guess what will happen. (Be honest.) If you’re like most people, you’ll probably spend it, and if you’re like most people, you might not really know where it went. It’s just gone, like magic.

Paying yourself first helps to avoid the “disappearing money” trick. Hang in there! After a while, as the money starts adding up, you’ll impress yourself with your savings prowess.

2. Got A Bonus From Work? Great! Keep it.
What do you think most people are tempted to do if they get a bonus or a raise? What are YOU most tempted to do if you get a bonus or a raise? Probably spend it. Why? It’s easy to think of 100 things you could use that extra cash for right now. Home repairs or upgrades, a night out on the town, that new handbag you’ve been coveting for months… Maybe your bonus is enough for you to consider trading in your car for a nicer one, or getting that new addition to your house.

Receiving an unexpected windfall is fun. It’s exciting! But here is where some caution is wise. Pause for a moment. If you had everything you needed on Friday and then get a raise on Monday, you’ll still have everything you need, right? Nothing has changed but the calendar. If you hadn’t gotten that bonus, would your life and your current financial strategy still be the same as it was last week? Consider putting (most of) that extra money away for later, and using some of it for fun!

3. Pay Down That Debt.
By now you’ve probably heard a financial guru or two talking about “good” debt and “bad” debt. Debt IS debt, but some types of debt really are worse than others.

Credit cards and any high-interest loans are the first priority when retiring debt – so that you can retire too, someday. Do you really know how much you’re paying in interest each month? Go ahead and look. I’ll wait… Once you know this number, you can’t “unknow” it. But take heart! Use this as a powerful incentive to pay those balances off as fast as you can.

The cost of credit isn’t just the interest. That part is spelled out in black and white on your credit card statement (which you just looked at, right)? The other costs of credit are less obvious. Did you know your credit score affects your insurance rates? Keeping those cards maxed out can cost more than just the interest charges.

Every month you chip away at the balances, you’ll owe less and pay less in interest. (You’ll feel better, too.) And you know what to do with the leftover money since you knocked out that debt. Hint: Save it.

But keep this in mind – life is about balance. It’s okay to treat yourself once in awhile. Just make sure to pay yourself first now, so you can treat yourself later in retirement.

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Headed in the Right Direction: Managing Debt for Millennials

Headed in the Right Direction: Managing Debt for Millennials

Three simple words can strike fear into the heart of any Millennial:

Student.

Loan.

Debt.

The anxiety is not surprising: In 2015, 7 out of 10 college graduates had $30,100 in student debt.

$30 grand? For that you could travel the world. Put a down payment on a house. Buy a car. Even start a new business! But instead of having the freedom to pursue the American Dream in the palm of their hands, there’s a $30,000 ball and chain around Millennials’ feet.

That many young people owing that much money before they even enter the workforce? It’s unbelievable!

Now just imagine adding car payments, house payments, health insurance premiums, and more on top of that student debt. No wonder 57% of Millennials report that paying for essentials alone is a “somewhat-to-very-significant” source of stress!

Now is the time to get ahead of your debt. Not later. You can manage that debt and get out from under it!

So how do you do that? Sometimes improving your current situation involves more than making smarter choices with the money you earn now. Getting out of that debt ditch means finding a way to make more.

There are 2 things you can monetize right now:

  • Your education
  • Your experience

Both have their own challenges. You may not have spent much time in a particular field yet, so not a lot of experience. And what if you’re working a job that has nothing to do with your major? There goes education.

Two speed bumps. One right after the other. But you can still gain momentum in the direction you want your life to go!

How? A solid financial strategy. A goal you can see. A destination for financial independence.

Debts can become overwhelming – remember that stat up there? But with a strategy in mind for the quick and consistent repaying of your loans, so much of that stress and burden could be lifted.

Contact me today. A quick phone call is all we need to help get you rolling in the direction YOU want to go.

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Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

October 23, 2019

Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

These days, most families are two-income households.

That describes 61.9% of U.S. families as of 2017. If that describes your family (and the odds are good), do you have a strategy in place to cover your financial obligations with just one income if you or your spouse were to unexpectedly pass away?

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

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

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

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

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

Pay Final Expenses
Funeral and burial costs can be upwards of $10,000. However, many families might not have that amount handy in available cash. Covering basic final expenses can be a real burden, especially if the death of a spouse comes out of the blue. If one income is suddenly gone, it could mean the surviving spouse would need to use credit or liquidate assets to cover final expenses. As you would probably agree, neither of these are attractive options. A term life insurance policy can cover final expenses, leaving one less worry for your family.

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

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

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

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

But Wait, There’s More
A well-planned term life insurance policy can provide other benefits as well, including living benefits that can help prevent medical expenses from wreaking havoc on your family’s financial plan if you become critically ill. One note about the living benefits policies, though: If the critical and chronic illness features are used, the face value of the policy is reduced. But which might be more prepared to take a financial hit: the face value of the life insurance policy that just helped you cover your medical expenses… or your child’s college fund?

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

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

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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 Black Hole of Checking (Part 1)

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 1)

What’s the difference between a black hole and a checking account?

One is a massive void with a force so strong that anything that enters it is stretched and stretched, then disappears with a finality that not even NASA scientists fully understand.

… And the other is a black hole.

Joking aside, did you know that a black hole and your checking account actually have a lot in common? Spaghettification is the technical term for what would happen to an object in space if it happens to find itself too close to a black hole. The intense gravity would stretch the object into a thin noodle, past the point of no return.

If you don’t have a solid financial strategy, the money in your checking account may be stretched past the point of no return, too. Why? If your money is sitting in “The Black Hole of Checking” for years on end, you may find that as you get closer to retirement, each dollar is spread thinner and thinner (until it disappears).

Where are you storing your retirement fund? If you’re keeping it in your checking account, instead of growing your money, you might just be stretching it impossibly, uncomfortably thin.

Say you already have $10,000 saved for your retirement. A checking account comes with a 0% interest rate. That means a $0 rate of return. Even if you managed to not touch that money for 10 years, you’d still only have your starting amount of $10,000. With inflation, you’d really have less value at the end of the 10 years than you had to start with.

But if you took that $10,000 and put it into an account with a 3% compounding interest rate, after 10 years, your money will have grown to $13,439. And that’s without adding another penny! Can you imagine what kind of growth is possible if you start saving now and contribute regularly to an account with a compounding interest rate?

This is the power of compounding interest – interest paid on interest plus the initial amount. (This is also a huge reason why getting as high of an interest rate as you can is important!)

So what are you waiting for? If all of your money is disappearing into that Black Hole of Checking, maybe this is the exploding star “sign” you’ve been looking for! Don’t “spaghettify” your money. Do the opposite and give it the chance to grow with the power of compound interest.

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Who Can Be My Life Insurance Beneficiary?

September 25, 2019

Who Can Be My Life Insurance Beneficiary?

Do you have a recipient in mind for the proceeds of your life insurance policy?

Many people have someone in mind before they purchase their policy. This person or entity can be named as your beneficiary. Naming your life insurance beneficiary helps to ensure that the party you choose gets the proceeds of your life insurance policy, even if your will leaves your estate to someone else. If you’ve decided that you want to provide for a special person or organization through your life insurance policy, it’s important that the beneficiary section will do what you expect.

Here are some simple tips that can help point you in the right direction:

Choosing Your Life Insurance Beneficiary
Who you name as your beneficiary is a deeply personal decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Here are some areas to consider:

  • Family: Spouses, children, siblings, and parents are all very common choices as life insurance beneficiaries. However, children under the age of 18 are a special case. Life insurance companies won’t pay a death benefit to a minor, so you may want to set up a trust or choose a responsible adult whom you trust with the welfare of your child.
  • Legal guardian: If your life insurance policy does name a minor as your beneficiary, your insurer may require that you designate a legal guardian.
  • Estate: Your estate can also be the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. The proceeds of your life insurance policy would be paid to the executor of your estate. Choosing your estate as a beneficiary also requires that you’ve drafted a last will and testament and that you haven’t named a specific person as a beneficiary on your policy. There may also be tax ramifications and other considerations that can affect this choice, so talk this one over with an expert first.
  • Trusts: You can name a trust as your life insurance beneficiary. However, the trust must exist before the policy goes into force.
  • Charity: Charities can absolutely be named as life insurance beneficiaries.
  • Business / Key Person Life Insurance: In business partnerships, other partners can be a named beneficiary. Businesses also sometimes insure the life of a key employee with the business as the beneficiary.
  • Friends, etc: You can also name a friend as a beneficiary – assuming your friend isn’t a minor.

Note: Contrary to popular belief, you can’t name a pet as your beneficiary — but you can name someone you’d trust to care for your pet. (Sorry, Fluffy.)

Multiple Beneficiaries and Contingent Beneficiaries
You can name multiple beneficiaries for your life insurance policy, but when doing this, it’s better to use percentages rather than fixed dollar amounts. For permanent life insurance policies, like whole life insurance and universal life insurance, the death benefit payout amount can change over time, making percentages a better strategy for multiple beneficiaries.

You can also name contingent beneficiaries. Think of a contingent beneficiary as a back-up beneficiary. In the event that your primary beneficiary passes before you do (or at the same time), the proceeds of your policy would then go to the contingent beneficiary.

Final Thoughts
Avoid using general designations, such as “spouse” or “children” as your beneficiary. Spouses can change, as divorce statistics remind us, and you never know which long-lost “children” might appear if there’s a chance of a payday from your life insurance policy. In the very best case, general designations will cause delays in payment to your intended beneficiaries.

Choosing a life insurance beneficiary isn’t necessarily complicated, but there’s some room for error in certain situations. While the decision is always yours to make, it’s best to discuss your options with your financial professional to help make sure the settlement goes smoothly and your wishes are honored.

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3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

September 3, 2019

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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