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January 20, 2021

What All Early Retirees Have in Common

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What All Early Retirees Have in Common

January 20, 2021

What All Early Retirees Have in Common

Early retirees track both their net worth and annual spending… and you should too!

Why? Because those two pieces of information are critical to evaluating your current financial situation and understanding what separates you from your financial goals.

Retiring early takes meticulous preparation, a willingness to sacrifice temporary comfort, and consistency. Every financial decision must effectively move you closer to your goal or you run the risk of failure.

Ignorance about your net worth hampers your ability to make certain financial decisions wisely. It may cause you to save less, if you assume your net worth is closer to your retirement goal than it actually is. When the time comes to retire, you’ll be in for a shock!

Failing to monitor your expenses can lead to a similar outcome. What if you never identify the expenses that eat up the majority of your cash flow? You might swear off lattes or designer clothes, but you might miss bigger saving opportunities. There’s a reason that so many early retirees cut back on housing, transportation, and food–they’re the biggest drains on cash flow!¹

Here’s the takeaway—imitate early retirees and regularly evaluate your net worth and spending, regardless of when you plan to retire.

Knowing what you’re worth and what’s eating up your cash flow empowers you to make effective decisions that bring you closer to your lifestyle goals.

What’s your financial status? How close are you to achieving your goals? And what’s standing in your way?

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How To Save Money On Transportation

December 7, 2020

How To Save Money On Transportation

Americans drain a huge portion of their income on transportation.

It eats up roughly 16% of our income every month, the majority of which is spent on car purchases ($331 per month), then gas and oil ($176 per month), and then insurance ($81 per month).¹

But what if you made that money work for you?

Here are some simple ways to spend less on getting around, so you can save more for your future!

Drive the speed limit
Speeding is never a good strategy. Zipping around town with your pedal to the floor is dangerous for you and others and realistically doesn’t save you much time.¹ Even worse, speeding can cost you money in the long term.

Obviously, speeding tickets are expensive. They cost about $150 on average.² They also have a nasty habit of increasing insurance premiums by up to 25%.³ But that’s not all. Rapidly accelerating and suddenly stopping reduces the efficiency of your engine and can cost you at the pump as well. Stick to the posted speed limit, accelerate gradually, and drive safely!

DIY the basics
There are plenty of car maintenance basics you can handle from the comfort of your own garage. For instance, a new air filter can boost your gas mileage by up to 10%.⁴ They’re also cheap and usually easy to change out once they get dirty. Even something as simple as inflating your tires can boost your car’s performance.⁵ Remember to do your research and consult your car’s owner manual.

Take the bus
If public transportation is available, use it! Research says trading your car for a bus or train can save you over $10,000 annually.⁶ The cost of tickets and metro passes pales in comparison to car insurance premiums, car maintenance, loans, and gas.

Buy Used
Don’t have access to public transportation? Stick with used cars and drive them as long as you can.

New cars almost always lose value. By the end of their first year, a new ride will shed 20% to 30% of its value. Over 5 years it loses 60% of its value.⁴ Unless you’re restoring a vintage masterpiece or have cash to blow, you’re much better driving an older model of the same car for a fraction of the price.

Remember, how you get around is a practical problem. It doesn’t need to be fancy or flashy when you’re starting your journey towards financial freedom. Utilize local transportation options, buy a clunker that you maintain yourself, and drive the speed limit. Your wallet will thank you in the long term!

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What To Cut In Your Budget

August 19, 2020

What To Cut In Your Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All About Food Deserts

June 29, 2020

All About Food Deserts

You’re hungry.

You just got home from work, you haven’t had anything since lunch, and you need a bite to eat ASAP. What do you do? Most of us just pop over to the local grocery store, pick up some ingredients, and prepare a meal. But that’s actually not possible for many Americans who live in areas without access to fresh groceries. It’s a phenomenon known as “food deserts”, and it affects millions of people throughout the country.

What’s a food desert?
Defining food deserts can be tricky. Roughly speaking, a food desert is an area where residents have limited access to healthy food options. But limited access doesn’t always look the same. The United States Department of Agriculture looks at things like distance from grocery stores, income, and access to vehicles when delineating a food desert.(1) Consider a few examples…

Let’s say you live in a densely populated, low income, urban area. You and your neighbors mostly take public transportation to work, and there aren’t many cars to go around. While there might be plenty of gas stations and corner stores nearby, the closest supermarket or grocery store is around a mile away. Technically speaking, you live in a food desert. You don’t have easy access to healthy food options.

But there are examples from the other side of the spectrum. Let’s say you live in a low income rural area. You own a vehicle out of necessity, but your closest neighbors are a mile away and the closest real grocery store is over ten miles away. Once again, you would technically live in a food desert. The settings and details are totally different, but getting healthy food is still a massive hassle.

Why do food deserts matter?
Remember that a food desert is all about access to healthy food. There might be plenty of fast food and processed food to be found in urban and rural food deserts. But living on junk food carries a steep price tag. The upfront cost of constantly eating out can add up quickly. That’s already less than ideal for a family in a low-income neighborhood. But consuming junk food may also increase your risk for obesity and other health problems. That could eventually translate into increased healthcare expenses. It’s a double whammy of problems; you pay more for bad food that will cost you more later down the road!

How many people live in food deserts?
According to a 2009 report by the USDA, there were roughly 23.5 million people who lived in food deserts.(2) About half of those people were impoverished.(3) Americans drive on average over 6 miles to go grocery shopping.(4) In the Lower Mississippi Delta, locals sometimes drive over 30 miles just to find a supermarket!(5)

We’re still trying to figure out solutions for food deserts. Some communities have formed local gardens that grow fresh produce. Grocery trucks have started to pop up throughout the country, bringing healthy options into neighborhoods. Only time will tell for the long-term effectiveness of these solutions!

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A Brief Guide To Tariffs

April 27, 2020

A Brief Guide To Tariffs

Tariffs have become a hot button issue over the past few years.

But what exactly are they? And what kind of impact do they have on the economy? Here’s a brief guide to all things tariff!

Quick definition and brief history
A tariff is a tax on imports and exports between states. Let’s say you make pottery and sell it on the internet. You start getting lots of orders from Belgium, so you need to ship bowls and vases across the pond. You have to bump up prices a bit to cover the transportation costs, but your products do well.

But then Belgium decides to impose a tariff on imported pottery. Suddenly, you have to pay a 10% tax to get anything into the country. So what can you do? Increasing your prices to cover the tax will probably make your pottery too expensive and it won’t sell. As long as that tariff is in place, it might make more sense to sell locally or find another country without the tariff.

Who do tariffs benefit?
Why would a country want to impose a tariff? It doesn’t necessarily make the government more money. People can find other markets where they don’t have to pay an entrance fee. And besides, untaxed or free trade normally produces more jobs in poorer countries and gets cheap products into richer ones.

Unfortunately, not everyone wins in free trade. What if your pottery was so amazing and so much cheaper than local pottery that you started putting Belgian potters out of business? Sure, you would probably create tons of jobs in your own country and Belgium would be flooded with superior plates and mugs, but thousands of Belgians would be out of work. And they wouldn’t be happy and they might take out that anger at the ballot box. A tariff on imported pottery would be a way for Belgium to protect a section of their economy (and voters) from financial ruin.

Imposing tariffs, like any economic policy, are a mixed bag. They’ve been out of style for a long time, but globalization and changes in the world economy have made them more appealing to workers competing with (and potentially losing to) cheap foreign labor. Only time will tell if their comeback is for good or just a flash in the pan!

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Cities vs. Suburbs

March 2, 2020

Cities vs. Suburbs

Deciding where to live is hard.

It’s a big decision that’s impacted by the financial situation you’re in and your personal preferences. That’s why it’s important to know what to expect from the options you’re weighing. Here’s a quick guide to the pros and cons of living in a city or a suburb!

Cities: Pros and Cons
There’s a reason people flock to cities. First and foremost, jobs tend to be easier to find in the city than anywhere else. That means there’s a high incentive to move into town close to where you work. But that’s not the only reason to go urban. Cities are often more walkable than suburbs or the country and often feature extensive public transit. All the culture, nights out, museums, and coffee shops that your city has to offer are all easily accessible either on foot or with a quick subway ride.

But there’s a price to pay for the convenience of city living. Urban housing is typically higher than other areas, and normal things like a date night dinner will probably be pricier than elsewhere. Crime is also higher in the city than the suburbs or the country, so situational awareness is a key skill to develop if you’re living in-town (1).

Suburbs: Pros and Cons
The suburbs are designed to give you access to the benefits of the city while offsetting some of the costs. For starters, your dollar will probably go farther for housing in the suburbs than it will in the city. Suburbs tend to be safer and offer more space, making it appealing to people looking to start a family or couples with kids. Plus, if you’re lucky, you could be a similar distance from the countryside as the city, so you’re flexible between choosing a night in the city or a hike in the woods!

However, it isn’t all sunshine and roses for suburbanites. Housing might be cheaper per square foot, but houses also tend to be larger. That means you can actually end up paying more for housing in the suburbs even though you’re technically getting a better deal square footage-wise. The other big downside is that transportation in the suburbs can be brutal. The cost of driving a car in traffic every day can be high, so much so that suburban transportation can be almost as expensive as urban housing (2). That’s not even factoring in the stress of dealing with traffic.

Deciding where to live comes down to what you prioritize and your stage of life. Are you a young professional with a new job downtown? It might make more sense to move closer to work and be near where everything is happening. The same might also hold for a recently retired couple looking for easy access to quality medical care and date spots. A young family looking for a safer space to raise kids, however, could potentially want to look further out for housing. Just take a few of the factors we discussed in this blog to heart before you make the big decision!

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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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The Pros and Cons of Budget Cars

January 6, 2020

The Pros and Cons of Budget Cars

Buying a car can be pricey.

The average used car costs about $20,000, while the average for a new one is around $37,000. When it comes to transportation (or anything else for that matter), it only makes sense that you’d want to save as much money as possible. But are there times when buying a used or budget car is a better investment than buying a new one? Here are some questions to ask yourself before you make that purchase.

How much mileage can you get out of this car?
One of the big things to consider when researching a budget car is how many miles of prior travel you’re paying for. Buying a cheap (although unreliable) car that breaks down on the regular due to wear and tear may give you fewer miles for your money than paying more for a car that might last 10 years. If you’re committed to buying used, you’ll probably want a mechanic to inspect the car for issues that might affect your car’s lifespan.

How much will maintenance and repairs cost you?
You might be one of the few who know someone with the auto know-how to keep an ancient car running for years. However, the average person will need to have car problems repaired at a professional shop, which can become expensive if it constantly needs work. This can be especially costly if you sink thousands into maintenance only for your vehicle to die for good earlier than expected. It’s worth considering that buying new might save you a huge hassle and potentially give you more miles for your money.

How does the interest rate compare for a new car vs. used?
The uncertainty involved with buying a used or budget car can increase the cost of financing. Lenders will often charge you higher interest for purchasing a used car than they would a new one. Having a high credit score will improve your rates, but that extra cost can still add up over time.

What you’re trying to avoid is buying a used piece of junk that requires constant maintenance at a shop, has a higher interest rate, and gives out too soon. There are definitely used and budget cars out there that have great value. Just be sure to do your research before you make such a significant investment!

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Are You Going for ‘Normal’ Spending?

August 19, 2019

Are You Going for ‘Normal’ Spending?

When planning your budget, what’s your definition of ‘normal’ spending?

For example, how much would you spend on a meal at a restaurant before it moves into lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous territory? $100? $50? $20? To some, enjoying a daily made-to-order burrito might be par for the course, but to others, spending $10 every day on a tortilla, a scoop of chicken, and a dollop of guacamole might seem extravagant. Chances are, there may be some areas where you’re more in line with the average person and some areas where you’re atypical – but don’t let that worry you. Read on…

In case you were wondering, the top 3 things that Americans spend their money on in a year are housing ($18,186), transportation ($9,049), and food ($7,203). Those top 3 expenses might very well be about the same as your top 3, but everything else after that is a mixed bag. Your lifestyle and the unique things that make you, well – you – greatly influence where you spend your money and how you should budget.

For example, let’s say the average expenditure on a pet is $600 annually, but that may lump in hamsters, guinea pigs, all the way to Siberian Huskies. As you can imagine, each could come with a very different yearly cost associated with keeping that type of pet healthy. So although the average might be $600, your actual cost could be well above $3,000 for the husky! That definitely wouldn’t be seen as ‘normal’ by any means. However, that’s okay!

What are we getting at here? It’s perfectly fine to be ‘abnormal’ in some areas of your spending. You don’t need to make your budget look exactly like other people’s budgets. What matters to them might not be the same as what matters to you.

So go ahead and buy that organic, gluten-free, grass-fed kibble for Fido – he deserves it (if he didn’t pee on the carpet while you were away, that is)! If Fido’s happiness makes you happy, then all the power to you. Just make sure that at the end of the day, Fido’s food bill won’t bust your budget.

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Quick Guide: Life Insurance for Stay-at-Home Parents

Quick Guide: Life Insurance for Stay-at-Home Parents

Life insurance is vitally important for any young family just starting out.

Milestones like buying a home, having a baby, and saving for the future can bring brand new challenges. A solid life insurance strategy can help with accommodating the needs of a growing family in a new phase of life.   A life insurance policy’s benefits can

  • Replace income
  • Pay off debt
  • Cover funeral costs
  • Finance long-term care
  • And even more, depending on the type of policy you have.

And replacing family income doesn’t only mean covering the lost income of one earning parent.

Replacing the loss of income provided by a stay-at-home parent is just as important.   According to Salary.com, if a stay-at-home mom were to be compensated monetarily for performing her duties as a mother, she should receive $143,102 annually. That number factors in important services like childcare, keeping up the household, and providing transportation. Sudden loss of those services can be devastating to the way a family functions as well as expensive to replace.   Stay-at-home parents need life insurance coverage, too.   Contact me today to learn more about getting the life insurance coverage you need for your family and building a financial plan that will provide for your loved ones in case a traumatic life event occurs.

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Your health and your finances

February 20, 2019

Your health and your finances

Staying healthy has obvious physical benefits, like the chance for a longer and higher quality of life.

There is also the increased opportunity to partake in physical activities like team sports, or hiking and skydiving.

But there are also potential financial benefits to staying healthy. These may manifest in lower insurance premiums, lower medical care costs, and other less obvious ways.

The Immediate Benefits
Some benefits may be immediately observable, like a potential drop in insurance premiums for those who quit smoking or who allow an insurance company to track their daily exercise goals and accomplishments.[i] Of course, a healthier body may translate to fewer doctor visits and medication expenses, which may mean lower costs for anyone with high deductibles and copays.

For family members, a longer, healthier, higher quality life may also mean fewer expenses in your twilight years, when senior citizens may continue to live in their own homes without assistance. Of course, genetics play a role in the development and progress of health, but many leading causes of death may be entirely or partially preventable.[ii] Actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle may lead to lower risk of disease and debilitation.

Health and life insurance companies want to attract these kinds of clients (who are long-lived, make fewer claims, and pay premiums for a greater amount of time), so these companies may offer benefits in return. Family members and friends may potentially have less to pay for end-of-life care and even benefit from being able to spend more time with loved ones. This may produce positive financial results, like fewer sick days from stress-related illness and better mental health.

The Less Obvious Benefits
Lower insurance premiums, lower medical costs, and more time to live in a meaningful way are obvious potential benefits of good health. But many latent financial benefits are also derived from maintaining good health. One example is being able to perform certain daily activities that may save you money.

Those with health problems often simply cannot perform tasks that may be taken for granted by healthy individuals, like packing and moving house, walking to the grocery store 15 minutes away, or living in a more affordable walk up building on a non-ground floor. Those who are unhealthy may need to hire people to help them move, to shop for them, or be required to pay a premium for access to a building with an elevator (or potentially even more costly, have a chair lift installed in their home).

A possible benefit of healthier eating is an appreciation for more subtle tastes that are not overpowered by sugar and salt. Those who regularly eat low salt or low sugar foods may create a positive feedback cycle wherein they remain healthy because they start to truly enjoy healthier food. This can lead to a wider range of options of enjoyable food and may help lower food costs.[iii]

Saving on transportation costs can be a benefit of health as well if you’re able to bike or walk to work. Living too far from your place of employment may make this impossible, but for those who live nearby, commuting by bicycle or walking on days with suitable weather may cut down costs on transportation while simultaneously providing the benefit of exercise.

One of the less evident but easily identifiable benefits of maintaining good health may be stronger cognitive abilities and better mood balancing. Eating healthy[iv] may contribute to brain health, while regular exercise[v] may help stimulate improved memory function and thinking skills. Better health may lead to more opportunities. Improved mood may also help navigate society more adeptly, possibly leading to even further opportunity, both economically and in personal fulfillment.

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