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3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

October 7, 2019

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Bill Wenik

Bill Wenik

Financial Professional

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3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

October 7, 2019
3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence
October 7, 2019

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

Get up a few minutes early to brew your own coffee, or sleep a little later and then whip through a drive-thru for your morning pick-me-up?

When that caffeine hits your bloodstream, how you got the coffee may not matter too much. But the next time you go through a drive thru for that cup o’ joe, picture your financial strategy shouting and waving its metaphorical arms to get your attention.

Why? Each and every time you indulge in a “luxury” that has a less expensive alternative, you’re potentially delaying your financial independence. Delay it too long and you might find yourself working when you should be enjoying a comfortable retirement. Sound dramatic? Alarmist? Apocalyptic? But that’s how it happens – one $5 peppermint mocha at a time. This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy an indulgence every once in a while. You gotta “treat yourself” sometimes, right? Just be sure that you’re sticking with your overall, long-term strategy. Your future self will thank you!

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 brewing 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… (This is a judgment-free zone here – do what you need to do to get up on time in the morning.)

Get started: A quick Google search will yield numerous lists of copycat specialty drinks that you can make at home.

2. Workout at home. A couple of questions to ask yourself:

1) Will an expensive gym membership fit into your monthly budget? 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’re a certified gym rat who faithfully wrings every dollar out of your gym membership each month. Then ask yourself if you really need all the bells and whistles that an expensive gym might offer. Elliptical, dumbbells, and machines with clearly printed how-tos? Yes, of course. But a hot tub, sauna, and an out-of-pocket juice bar? Maybe not. If you can get in a solid workout without a few of those pricey extras, your body and your wallet will thank you.

Get started: Instead of a using a treadmill inside the gym, take a walk or jog around your local park each day – it’s free! If you prefer to work out at a gym, look into month-to-month membership options 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 than ever before, but let’s be honest. Who has time to watch 80 hours of the greatest moments in sports every week? Asking yourself if you could cut the cable and wait a little longer for your favorite shows to become available on a streaming service might not be a bad idea. Plus, who doesn’t love using a 3-day weekend to binge-watch an entire series every now and then? 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 they may add an extra installation fee), and you can forget about knowing when the cable guy is actually going to show up.

Get started: Plenty of streaming services offer free trial periods. Go ahead and give them a try, but be careful: You may have to enter your credit card number to access the free trial. Don’t forget to cancel before your trial is over, or you will be charged.

Taking time to address the luxuries you can 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 – it all adds up.

In what areas do you think you can start indulging less?

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Now’s the Time for Future Planning

September 30, 2019
Now’s the Time for Future Planning
September 30, 2019

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 your friends and neighbors for a little spending money was vastly different from your grown up reality – writing checks for all those bills, paying your taxes, and buying all the things that children seem to need these days, all while trying to save as much as you can for your retirement. When you were a kid, 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. More opportunities. More responsibilities. More choices. As the years go by, finances get more complicated. So knowing where your money is going and whether or not it’s working for you when it gets there is something you need to determine sooner rather than later – even before your source of income switches from mowing lawns and babysitting to your first internship at that marketing firm downtown.

A great way to get a better idea of where your money is going and what it’s doing when it gets there? A financial plan.

A sound strategy for your money is essential, starting as soon as possible is better than waiting, 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 your future self is going to drift your way from Easter Island. But sitting down with me is a great place to start. Contact me any time.

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Putting a Wrap On the Sandwich Generation

September 23, 2019
Putting a Wrap On the Sandwich Generation
September 23, 2019

Ever heard of the “Sandwich Generation”?

Unfortunately, it’s not a group of financially secure, middle-aged foodies whose most important mission is hanging out in the kitchens of their paid-off homes, brainstorming ideas about how to make the perfect sandwich. The Sandwich Generation refers to adults who find themselves in the position of financially supporting their grown children and their own parents, all while trying to save for their futures. They’re “sandwiched” between caring for both the older generation and the younger generation.

Can you relate to this? Do you feel like a PB&J that was forgotten at the bottom of a 2nd grader’s backpack?

If you feel like a sandwich, here are 3 tips to help put a wrap on that:

1. Have a plan. In an airplane, the flight attendants instruct us to put on our own oxygen mask before helping someone else put on theirs – this means before anyone, even your children or your elderly parents. Put your own mask on first. This practice is designed to help keep you and everyone else safe. Imagine if half the plane passed out from lack of oxygen because everyone neglected themselves while trying to help other people. When it comes to potentially having to support your kids and your parents, a tailored financial strategy that includes life insurance and contributing to a retirement fund will help you get your own affairs in order first, so that you can help care for your loved ones next.

2. Increase your income. For that sandwich, does it feel like there’s never enough mayonnaise? You’re always trying to scrape that last little bit from the jar. Increasing your income would help stock your pantry (figuratively, and also literally) with an extra jar or two. Options for a 2nd career are everywhere, and many entrepreneurial opportunities let you set your own hours and pace. Working part-time as your own boss while helping to get out of the proverbial panini press? Go for it!

3. Start dreaming again. You may have been in survival mode for so long that you’ve forgotten you once had dreams. What would you love to do for yourself or your family when you have the time and money? Take that vacation to Europe? Build that addition on to the house? Own that luxury car you’ve always wanted? Maybe you’d like to have enough leftover to help others pursue their goals.

It’s never too late to get the ball rolling on any of these steps. When you’re ready, feel free to give me a call. We can work together to quickly prioritize how you can start feeling less like baloney and more like a Monte Cristo.

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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

September 16, 2019
How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To
September 16, 2019

Some people love to live a life of thrift.

It’s a challenge they tackle with gusto. Shaving down expenses with couponing, hunting the best deals with an app on their phones, or simply finding creative ways to reuse a cardboard box, gives them a thrill. For others, budgeting conjures up images of living in tents, foraging for nuts and berries in the woods, and sewing together everyone’s old t-shirts to make a blanket for grandma.

To each their own! But budgeting doesn’t have to be faced like a wilderness survival reality TV competition. Sure, there might be some sacrifice and compromise involved when you first implement your budget (giving up that daily $6 latte might feel like roughing it at first), but rest assured there’s a happy middle to most things, and a way that won’t make you hate adhering to your financial goals.

Simplifying the budgeting process can 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 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 can give you important clues about your spending behavior. Maybe you’ll discover that you spent $100 last week for on-demand movies. $5 here and $10 there can add up quickly. Smartphone apps can help you see (in vivid color) how your money could be evaporating in ways you might not feel on a day-to-day basis.

Some apps give you the ability to set a budget for certain categories of spending (like 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, but with a digital spin.

Plan for unexpected expenses. Even with modern versions of budgeting, one of the biggest risks for losing your momentum is the same as it was in the days of the envelope system: unexpected expenses. Sometimes an unexpected event – like car trouble, an urgent home repair, or medical emergency – can cost more than we expected. A lot more.

A good strategy to help 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 it if the tire blows out, the roof starts leaking, or you throw your back out trying to fix either of those things against your 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 may find that you miss the mark on occasion. Some months you’ll spend more. Some months you’ll spend less. That’s normal. Over time, you’ll have an average for each expense category or expense item that will reveal where you can do better – but also where you may have been more frugal than needed.

With these suggestions in mind, there is no time like the present to get started! 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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Is a personal loan a good idea?

September 9, 2019
Is a personal loan a good idea?
September 9, 2019

Life is full of surprises – many of which cost money.

If you’ve just used up your emergency fund to cover your last catastrophe, then what if a new surprise arrives before you’ve replenished your savings?

Using a credit card can be an expensive option, so you might be leery of adding debt with a high interest rate. However, you can’t let the ship sink either. What can you do?

A personal loan is an alternative in a cash-crunch crisis, but you’ll need to know a bit about how it works before signing on the bottom line.

A personal loan is an unsecured loan. The loan rate and approval are based on your credit history and the amount borrowed. Much like a credit card account, you don’t have to put up a car or house as collateral on the loan. But one area where a personal loan differs from a credit card is that it’s not a revolving line of credit. Your loan is funded in a lump sum and once you pay down the balance you won’t be able to access more credit from that loan. Your loan will be closed once you’ve paid off the balance.

The payment terms for a personal loan can be a short duration. Typically, loan terms range between 2-7 years.[i] If the loan amount is relatively large, this can mean large payments as well, without the flexibility you have with a credit card in regard to choosing your monthly payment amount.

An advantage over using a personal loan instead of a credit card is that interest rates for personal loans can be lower than you might find with credit cards. But many personal loans are plagued by fees, which can range from application fees to closing fees. These can add a significant cost to the loan even if the interest rate looks attractive. It’s important to shop around to compare the full cost of the loan if you choose to use a personal loan to navigate a cash crunch. You also might find that some fees (but not all) can be negotiated. (Hint: This may be true with certain credit cards as well.)

Before you borrow, make sure you understand the interest rate for the loan. Personal loans can be fixed rate or the rate might be variable. In that case, low rates can turn into high rates if interest rates continue to rise.

It’s also important to know the difference between a personal loan and a payday loan. Consider yourself warned – payday loans are a different type of loan, and may be an extremely expensive way to borrow. The Federal Trade Commission recommends you explore alternatives.[ii]

So if you need a personal loan to cover an emergency, your bank or credit union might be a good place to start your search.

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[i] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/personal-loan-calculator/
[ii] https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0097-payday-loans

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How to save for a big purchase

September 3, 2019
How to save for a big purchase
September 3, 2019

It’s no secret that life is full of surprises. Surprises that can cost money.

Sometimes, a lot of money. They have the potential to throw a monkey wrench into your savings strategy, especially if you have to resort to using credit to get through an emergency. In many households, a budget covers everyday spending, including clothes, eating out, groceries, utilities, electronics, online games, and a myriad of odds and ends we need.

Sometimes, though, there may be something on the horizon that you want to purchase (like that all-inclusive trip to Cancun for your second honeymoon), or something you may need to purchase (like that 10-years-overdue bathroom remodel).

How do you get there if you have a budget for the everyday things you need, you’re setting aside money in your emergency fund, and you’re saving for retirement?

Make a goal
The way to get there is to make a plan. Let’s say you’ve got a teenager who’s going to be driving soon. Maybe you’d like to purchase a new (to him) car for his 16th birthday. You’ve done the math and decided you can put $3,000 towards the best vehicle you can find for the price (at least it will get him to his job and around town, right?). You have 1 year to save but the planning starts now.

There are 52 weeks in a year, which makes the math simple. As an estimate, you’ll need to put aside about $60 per week. (The actual number is $57.69 – $3,000 divided by 52). If you get paid weekly, put this amount aside before you buy that $6 latte or spend the $10 for extra lives in that new phone game. The last thing you want to do is create debt with small things piling up, while you’re trying to save for something bigger.

Make your savings goal realistic
You might surprise yourself by how much you can save when you have a goal in mind. Saving isn’t a magic trick, however, it’s based on discipline and math. There may be goals that seem out of reach – at least in the short-term – so you may have to adjust your goal. Let’s say you decide you want to spend a little more on the car, maybe $4,000, since your son has been working hard and making good grades. You’ve crunched the numbers but all you can really spare is the original $60 per week. You’d need to find only another $17 per week to make the more expensive car happen. If you don’t want to add to your debt, you might need to put that purchase off unless you can find a way to raise more money, like having a garage sale or picking up some overtime hours.

Hide the money from yourself
It might sound silly but it works. Money “saved” in your regular savings or checking account may be in harm’s way. Unless you’re extremely careful, it’s almost guaranteed to disappear – but not like what happens in a magic show, where the magician can always bring the volunteer back. Instead, find a safe place for your savings – a place where it can’t be spent “accidentally”, whether it’s a cookie jar or a special savings account you open specifically to fund your goal.

Pay yourself first
When you get paid, fund your savings account set up for your goal purchase first. After you’ve put this money aside, go ahead and pay some bills and buy yourself that latte if you really want to, although you may have to get by with a small rather than an extra large.

Saving up instead of piling on more credit card debt may be a much less costly way (by avoiding credit card interest) to enjoy the things you want, even if it means you’ll have to wait a bit.

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Turn your hobby into a side gig

August 26, 2019
Turn your hobby into a side gig
August 26, 2019

Do you have a hobby that you really love? Could you use a little extra cash?

What if you could get paid for doing something that you already enjoy doing? We’re all good at something. Many people have turned their hobbies into a side business as a way to earn extra money. For nearly everyone, there’s a topic they know well or a skill they have that many other people don’t have. That niche can spell opportunity – and a chance to turn something you enjoy doing anyway into a money-maker.

Depending on the type of hobby you want to monetize, your startup expenses may be quite low. For writing, coding, or graphic design, you might only need a laptop or tablet – something you may already have. If your hobby is fixing up old cars, however, you might need a place to do the work – possibly adding to the expense. For that scenario, you could check out the possibility of putting in a couple of Saturdays per month at a local shop to help save on rent and insurance costs.

With a little ingenuity, you might be able to earn $10 to $40 (or maybe more) per hour doing work you enjoy. Artists can earn extra money by selling arts and crafts items through virtual stores on specialized websites. Freelance writers, coders, designers, and even teachers can find work as well on similar type websites that bring clients and service providers together. If you have a knack for knowing what’s valuable, you may be able to turn garage sale and estate sale buys into a rewarding online business on any popular consumer-to-consumer and/or business-to-consumer sales website. (Hint: If this is something you’d like to try, start out small. Concentrate on one type of item that might be near and dear to you, like brass musical instruments, or antique mason jars.)

The old saying that asserts “knowledge is power” applies here as well. Let’s say your childhood fascination with dinosaurs never quite went extinct. Maybe there’s a successful educational blog or a YouTube channel in your future. Technology has given us the power to reach a larger audience than ever before and to bring our knowledge to anyone who wants to learn more. Sharing what you know can be monetized in many ways and – if you love doing it – you might not feel like you’re working at all!

Do your research and understand any legal or insurance requirements that may apply to the area you want to get into, but don’t let a little legwork bar the way to your next great endeavor – even if it just starts as a side gig.

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The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt

August 19, 2019
The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt
August 19, 2019

It might sound like a bad monster movie title, but the return of consumer debt is a growing concern.

A recent New York Times article details the rise of consumer debt, which has reached a new peak and now exceeds the record-breaking $12.68 trillion of consumer debt we had collectively back in 2008. In 2017, after a sharp decline followed by a rise as consumer sentiment improved, we reached a new peak of $12.73 trillion.[i]

A trillion is a big number. Numbers measured in trillions (that’s 1,000 billion, or 1,000,000 million – yes, that’s correct!) can seem abstract and difficult to relate to in our own individual situations.

While big numbers can be hard to grasp, dates are easy. 2008 is when the economy crashed, due in part to an unmanageable amount of debt.

Good debt and bad debt
Mortgage debt still makes up the majority of consumer debt, currently 68% of the total.[ii] But student loans are a category on the rise, currently more than doubling their percentage of total consumer debt when compared to 2008 figures.[iii] Coupled with a healthier economy, these new levels of consumer debt may not be a strong concern yet, but the impact of debt on individual households is often more palpable than the big-picture view of economists. Debt has a way of creeping up on families.

It’s common to hear references to “good debt”, usually when discussing real estate loans. In most cases, mortgage interest is tax deductible, helping to reduce the effective interest rate. However, if a household has too much debt, none of it feels like good debt. In fact, some people pass on home ownership altogether, investing their surplus income and living in more affordable rented apartments – instead of taking on the fluctuating cost of a house and its seemingly never-ending mortgage payments.

Credit card debt
Assuming that a mortgage and an auto loan are necessary evils for your household to work, and that student loans may pay dividends in the form of higher earning power, credit card debt deserves some closer scrutiny. The average American household owes over $15,000 in credit card debt,[iv] more than a quarter of the median household income. The average interest rate for credit cards varies depending on the type of card (rewards cards can be higher). But overall, American households are paying an average of 14.87% APR for the privilege of borrowing money to spend.[v]

That level of debt requires a sizeable payment each month. Guess what the monthly credit card interest for credit card debt of $15,000 at an interest rate of 15% would be? $187.50! (That number will go down as the balance decreases.) If your monthly payment is on the lower end, your debt won’t go down very quickly though. In fact, at $200 per month paid towards credit cards, the average household would be paying off that credit card debt for nearly 19 years, with a total interest cost of almost $30,000 – all from a $15,000 starting balance! (Hint: You can find financial calculators online to help you figure out how much it really costs to borrow money.)

You may not be trillions in debt (even though it might feel like it), but the first step to getting your debt under control is often to understand what its long-term effects might be on your family’s financial health. Formulating a strategy to tackle debt and sticking to it is the key to defeating your personal debt monsters.

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[i], [ii] & [iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/business/dealbook/household-debt-united-states.html
[iv] & [v] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/

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Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

August 12, 2019
Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?
August 12, 2019

American combined consumer debt now exceeds $13 trillion.¹ That’s a stack of dollar bills nearly 900,000 miles high.²

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Credit cards: $931 billion
  • Auto loans: $1.22 trillion
  • Student loans: $1.38 trillion
  • Mortgages: $8.88 trillion
  • Any type of debt: $13.15 trillion

Nearly every type of debt can interfere with your financial goals, making you feel like a hamster on a wheel – constantly running but never actually getting anywhere. If you’ve been trying to dig yourself out of a debt hole, it’s time to take a break and look at the bigger picture.

Did you know there are often advantages to paying off certain types of debt before other types? What the simple list above doesn’t include is the average interest rates or any tax benefits to a given type of debt, which can change your priorities. Let’s check them out!

Credit Cards
Credit card interest rates now average over 17%, and interest rates are on the rise.³ For most households, credit card debt is the place to start – stop spending on credit and start making extra payments whenever possible. Think of it as an investment in your future!

Auto Loans
Interest rates for auto loans are usually much lower than credit card debt, often under 5% on newer loans. Interest rates aren’t the only consideration for auto loans though. New cars depreciate nearly 20% in the first year. In years 2 and 3, you can expect the value to drop another 15% each year. The moral of the story is that cars are a terrible investment but offer great utility. There’s also no tax benefit for auto loan interest. Eliminating debt as fast as possible on a rapidly depreciating asset is a sound decision.

Student Loans
Like auto loans, student loans are usually in the range of 5% to 10% interest. While interest rates are similar to car loans, student loan interest is often tax deductible, which can lower your effective rate. Auto loans can usually be paid off faster than student loan debt, allowing more cash flow to apply to student debt, emergency funds, or other needs.

Mortgage Debt
In many cases, mortgage debt is the last type of debt to pay down. Mortgage rates are usually lower than the interest rates for credit card debt, auto loans, or student loans, and the interest is usually tax deductible. If mortgage debt keeps you awake at night, paying off other types of debt first will give you greater cash flow each month so you can begin paying down your mortgage.

When you’ve paid off your other debt and are ready to start tackling your mortgage, try paying bi-monthly (every two weeks). This simple strategy has the effect of adding one extra mortgage payment each year, reducing a 30-year loan term by several years. Because the payments are spread out instead of making one (large) 13th payment, it’s likely you won’t even notice the extra expense.

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Sources: ¹ El Issa, Erin. “2017 American Household Credit Card Debt Study.” NerdWallet, 2018, https://nerd.me/2ht7SZg. ² “Grasping Large Numbers.” The Endowment for Human Development, 2018, https://bit.ly/1o7Yasq. ³ “Current Credit Card Interest Rates.” Bankrate, 7.11.2018, https://bit.ly/2zGcwzM.

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Avoid these unhealthy financial habits

August 5, 2019
Avoid these unhealthy financial habits
August 5, 2019

As well-intentioned as we might be, we sometimes get in our own way when it comes to improving our financial health.

Much like physical health, financial health can be affected by binging, carelessness, or simply not knowing what can cause harm. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – as with physical health, it’s possible to reverse the downward trend if you can break your harmful habits.

Not budgeting
A household without a budget is like a ship without a rudder, drifting aimlessly and – sooner or later – it might sink or run aground in shallow waters. Small expenses and indulgences can add up to big money over the course of a month or a year. In nearly every household, it might be possible to find some extra money just by cutting back on non-essential spending. A budget is your way of telling yourself that you may be able to have nice things if you’re disciplined about your finances.

Frequent use of credit cards
Credit cards always seem to get picked on when discussing personal finances, and often, they deserve the flack they get. Not having a budget can be a common reason for using credit, contributing to an average credit card debt of over $9,000 for balance-carrying households.[i] At an average interest rate of over 15%, credit card debt is usually the highest interest expense in a household, several times higher than auto loans, home loans, and student loans.[ii] The good news is that with a little discipline, you can start to pay down your credit card debt and help reduce your interest expense.

Mum’s the word
No matter how much income you have, money can be a stressful topic in families. This can lead to one of two potentially harmful habits.

First, talking about the family finances is often simply avoided. Conversations about kids and work and what movie you want to watch happen, but conversations about money can get swept under the rug. Are you a “saver” and your partner a “spender”? Is it the opposite? Maybe you’re both spenders or both savers. Talking (and listening) about yourself and your significant other’s tendencies can be insightful and help avoid conflicts about your finances. If you’re like most households, having an occasional chat about the budget may help keep your family on track with your goals – or help you identify new goals – or maybe set some goals if you don’t have any. Second, financial matters can be confusing – which may cause stress – especially once you get past the basics. This may tempt you to ignore the subject or to think “I’ll get around to it one day”. But getting a budget and a financial strategy in place sooner rather than later may actually help you reduce stress. Think of it as “That’s one thing off my mind now!”

Taking the time to understand your money situation and getting a budget in place is the first step to put your financial house in order. As you learn more and apply changes – even small ones – you might see your efforts start to make a difference!

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[i] https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-credit-card-debt
[ii] https://www.fool.com/taxes/2018/04/22/how-much-does-the-average-american-pay-in-taxes.aspx

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Opportunity cost and your career

July 31, 2019
Opportunity cost and your career
July 31, 2019

“Opportunity cost” refers to what you can potentially lose by choosing one option over another – even when you aren’t thinking about it.

Nearly every choice you make precludes something else that might have been.

Opportunity cost exists in everything from relationships to finances to career choices, but here we’ll focus on that last one. Over a lifetime, the cost of career decisions can be massive.

The math
For opportunity costs that can be measured, usually in dollars, there’s even a math equation.

What I sacrifice / What I gain = Opportunity cost[i]

Let’s say you have two career choices. One is to work as a mechanic at $50 per hour and the other is to work as a karate instructor at $20 per hour.

Opportunity A / Opportunity B = Opportunity cost

Here it is with numbers: $50 / $20 = $2.50

To translate that, for every $1 you earn as a karate instructor, you could have earned $2.50 as a mechanic. The ratio remains the same whether it’s for one hour worked or 1,000 hours worked because it’s based on earnings per hour.

Adding a time element
We can only work a certain number of hours in a week and we can only work for a certain number of years in a lifetime. Adding time into the discussion doesn’t change the math relationship between the opportunities but it does recognize real-world constraints. Sometimes these limits are by choice. You could be both a full-time mechanic and a full-time karate instructor, but most people don’t want to work 80 hours per week. Something has to give, and that’s where considering opportunity cost comes in.

If you only want to work 40 hours in a week, you’ll have to choose one career over the other or split your time between the two. But even in splitting your time, there is an opportunity cost. Think about it like this: Every hour spent in a lower paying job costs money if you had an opportunity to earn more doing something else.

The bigger picture
In our example using the mechanic vs. the karate instructor, the difference in annual income is over $60,000 per year ($104,000 minus $41,600). Over a 40-year working career, the difference in earnings is nearly $2.5 million, and it all happened one hour at a time.

Life balance
Your career choice shouldn’t just be about money – you should do something you enjoy and that gives you satisfaction. There may be several other considerations as well – like opportunity to travel, the kind of people you work with, and the greater contribution you can make to the world. However, if there are two choices that meet all your criteria but one pays a bit more, just do the math!

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[i] https://blog.udemy.com/opportunity-cost-formula/

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Why You Should Pay Off High-Interest Debt First

Why You Should Pay Off High-Interest Debt First

The average U.S. household owes over $5,500 in credit card debt.¹

Often, we may not even realize how much that borrowed money is costing us. High interest debt (like credit cards) can slowly suck the life out of your budget.

The average APR for credit cards is over 16% in the U.S.² Think about that for a second. If someone offered you a guaranteed investment that paid 16%, you’d probably walk over hot coals to sign the paperwork.

So here’s a mind-bender: Paying down that high interest debt isn’t the same as making a 16% return on an investment – it’s better.

Here’s why: A return on a standard investment is taxable, trimming as much as a third so the government can do whatever it is that governments do with the money. Paying down debt that has a 16% interest rate is like making a 20% return – or even higher – because the interest saved is after-tax money.

Like any investment, paying off high interest debt will take time to produce a meaningful return. Your “earnings” will seem low at first. They’ll seem low because they are low. Hang in there. Over time, as the balances go down and more cash is available every month, the benefit will become more apparent.

High Interest vs. Low Balance
We all want to pay off debt, even if we aren’t always vigilant about it. Debt irks us. We know someone is in our pockets. It’s tempting to pay off the small balances first because it’ll be faster to knock them out.

Granted, paying off small balances feels good – especially when it comes to making the last payment. However, the math favors going after the big fish first, the hungry plastic shark that is eating through your wallet, bank account, retirement savings, vacation plans, and everything else.³ In time, paying off high interest debt first will free up the money to pay off the small balances, too.

Summing It Up
High interest debt, usually credit cards, can cost you hundreds of dollars per year in interest – and that’s assuming you don’t buy anything else while you pay it off. Paying off your high interest debt first has the potential to save all of that money you’d end up paying in interest. And imagine how much better it might feel to pay off other debts or bolster your financial strategy with the money you save!

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Sources: ¹ Frankel, Matthew. “Here’s the average American’s credit card debt — and how to get yours under control.” USA TODAY, 1.25.2017, https://usat.ly/2LkHX4n. ² Dilworth, Kelly. “Rate survey: Average card APR remains at 16.15 percent.” creditcards.com, 11.21.2017, https://bit.ly/2kbCRv3. ³ Berger, Bob. “Debt Snowball Versus Debt Avalanche: What The Academic Research Shows.” Forbes, 7.20.2017, https://bit.ly/2x9Q1lN.

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Is a balance transfer worth it?

July 22, 2019
Is a balance transfer worth it?
July 22, 2019

If you have established credit, you’ve probably received some offers in the mail for a balance transfer with “rates as low as 0%”.

But don’t get too excited yet. That 0% rate won’t last. You’re also likely to find there’s a one-time balance transfer fee of 3% to 5% of the transferred amount.[i] We all know the fine print matters – a lot – but let’s look at some other considerations.

What is a balance transfer?
To attract new customers, credit card companies often send offers inviting credit card holders to transfer a balance to their company. These offers may have teaser or introductory rates, which can help reduce overall interest costs.

Teaser rate vs. the real interest rate
After the teaser rate expires, the real interest rate is going to apply. The first thing to check is if it’s higher or lower than your current interest rate. If it’s higher, you probably don’t need to read the rest of the offer and you can toss it in the shredder. But if you think you can pay the balance off before the introductory rate expires, taking the offer might make sense. However, if your balance is small, a focused approach to paying off your existing card without transferring the balance might serve you better than opening a new credit account. If – after the introductory rate expires – the interest rate is lower than what you’re paying now, it’s worth reading the offer further.

The balance transfer fee
Many balance transfers have a one-time balance transfer fee of up to 5% of the transferred amount. That can add up quickly. On a transfer of $10,000, the transfer fee could be $300 to $500, which may be enough to make you think twice. However, the offer still might have value if what you’re paying in interest currently works out to be more.

Monthly payments
The real savings with balance transfer offers becomes evident if you transfer to a lower rate card but maintain the same payment amount (or even better, a higher amount). If you were paying the minimum or just over the minimum on the old card and continue to pay just the minimum with the new card, the balance might still linger for a long time. However, if you were paying $200 per month on the old card and you continue with a $200 per month payment on the new card at a lower interest rate, the balance will go down faster, which could save you money in interest.

For example, if you transfer a $10,000 balance from a 15% card to a new card with a 0% APR for 12 months and a 12% APR thereafter, while keeping the same monthly payment of $200, you would save nearly $3,800 in interest charges. Even if the new card has a 3% balance transfer fee, the savings would still be $3,500.[ii] Not too bad. If you’re considering a balance transfer offer, use an online calculator to make the math easier. Also, be aware that you might be able to negotiate the offer, perhaps earning a lower balance transfer fee (or no fee at all) or a lower interest rate. It costs nothing to ask!

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[i] https://creditcards.usnews.com/articles/when-are-balance-transfer-fees-worth-it
[ii] https://www.creditcards.com/calculators/balance-transfer/

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Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

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

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

According to a recent poll, the average allowance for kids age 4 to 14 is just under $9 per week, about $450 per year.¹ By age 14, the average allowance is over $12 per week. Some studies indicate that, in most cases, very little of a child’s allowance is saved. As parents, we may not have needed a study to figure that one out – but if your child is consistently out of money by Wednesday, how do you help them learn the lesson of saving so they don’t always end up “broke” (and potentially asking you for more money at the end of the week)?

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

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

Money habits are formed as early as age 7.² If an allowance can teach kids about saving, compound interest, loan interest, and budgeting – with a little help from technology – perhaps the future holds a digital world where the two sides of the allowance debate can finally agree. As to whether your kids’ allowance should be paid upon completion of chores or not… Well, that’s up to you and how long your Saturday to-do list is!

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Sources: ¹ Nova, Annie. “Here’s how much the typical kid gets in allowance each year.” CNBC, 1.4.2018, https://cnb.cx/2E6hBic. ² Kobliner, Beth. “Money habits are set by age 7. Teach your kids the value of a dollar now.” PBS, 4.5.2018, https://to.pbs.org/2GBrjuI.

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Term or Perm? Life Insurance: A Quick Review

July 15, 2019
Term or Perm? Life Insurance: A Quick Review
July 15, 2019

Navigating the world of life insurance can be a daunting task.

Even more daunting can be figuring out what policy is best for you. Let’s break down the differences between a couple of the more common life insurance policies, so you can focus on an even more daunting task – what your family’s going to have for dinner tonight!

Term Life Insurance
A Term life insurance policy covers an individual for a specific period of time – the most common term lengths being 10, 20, or 30 years. The main advantage of this type of policy is that it generally can cost the consumer less than a permanent insurance policy, because it might be shorter than a permanent policy.

There’s a small downside to term policies, and it’s found right in the name: term policy. This kind of life insurance policy does have an expiration date. While you may have the option to convert to a whole or permanent life insurance policy through a conversion rider or you may choose to extend your policy, you may find yourself needing to go through the underwriting process again. Life insurance premiums tend to rise the older you get, so the term policy premium you paid when you first got your policy at, say, 30 years old has the potential to be very different from the ones you’d pay at 50 or 60 years old.

The goal of a term policy is to pay the lowest premiums possible, because by the time the term expires, your family will no longer need the insurance. The primary thing to keep in mind is to choose a term length that covers the years you plan to work prior to retirement. This way, your family members (or beneficiaries) would be taken care of financially if something were to happen to you.

If this doesn’t sound like the right kind of policy for you, there’s another option…

Permanent Life Insurance
Contrary to term life insurance, permanent life insurance provides lifelong coverage, as long as you pay your premiums. And contrary to term life insurance, permanent life insurance can be more complex because of its many parts and therefore harder to understand and know what choices are right for you. This insurance policy – which also can be known as “universal” or “whole” – provides coverage for ongoing needs such as caring for family members, a spouse that needs coverage after retirement, or paying off any debts of the deceased.

Another great benefit a perm policy offers is cash accumulation. As premiums are paid over time, the money is allocated to an investment account from which the individual can borrow or withdraw the funds for emergencies, illness, retirement, or other unexpected needs. Because this policy provides lifelong coverage and access to cash in emergencies, most permanent policies are more expensive than term policies.

There are some key things to keep in mind if you’re considering a Cash Value Life Insurance Policy: It is important to remember that loans and withdrawals will reduce the policy value and death benefit dollar for dollar. Additionally, withdrawals are subject to partial surrender charges if they occur during a surrender charge period. Loans are made at interest. Loans may also result in the need to add additional premiums into the policy to avoid a lapse of the policy. In the event that the policy lapses, all policy surrenders and loans are considered distributions and, to the extent that the distributions exceed the premiums paid (cost basis), they are subject to taxation as ordinary income. Lastly, all references to loans assume that the contract remains in force, qualifies as life insurance and is not a modified endowment contract (MEC). Loans from a MEC will generally be taxable and, if taken prior to age 59½, may be subject to a 10% tax penalty.

And don’t worry too much about the hard to understand parts. A financial professional can give you an idea of what a well-tailored permanent life insurance policy may look like for you and your unique situation.

How Much Does the Average Consumer Need?
Unless you have millions of dollars in assets and make over $250,000 a year, most of your insurance coverage needs may be met through a simple term policy. However, if you have a child that needs ongoing care due to illness or disability, if you need coverage for your retirement, or if you anticipate needing to cover emergency expenses, it may be in your best interest to purchase a permanent life insurance policy.

No matter where you are in life, you should consider purchasing some life insurance coverage. Many employers will actually offer this policy as part of their benefits package. If you are lucky enough to work for an employer who does this, take advantage of it, but be sure to examine the policy closely to make sure you’re getting the right amount of coverage. If you don’t work for a company that offers life insurance, don’t worry, you still may be able to get great coverage at a relatively inexpensive rate. Just make sure to do your research, consider your options, and make an informed decision for you and your family.

Now, what’s it going to be? Order a pizza or make breakfast for dinner? Choices, choices…

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Does your budget have more holes than Swiss cheese?

July 10, 2019
Does your budget have more holes than Swiss cheese?
July 10, 2019

Given enough time, even the best planned budgets can start to feel like they’ve sprung a leak somewhere.

Sometimes you’ll notice right away (getting halfway through the month and realizing it’s going to be peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every day). Other times it can take a while for imperfections to show (you thought you were going to have more in the vacation fund by now).

When you first start building your budget, a good place to begin is to list all the big expenses – the ones that are impossible to miss. Then it’s time to turn to the little ones that can escape notice – these are the ones that might keep your budget math from working out the way you planned.

Dig out your bank statements. Try to go back at least 6 months, if not a year. Some regular expenses may not occur monthly and can be a surprise if you only used a month or two of bank statements to track spending and build your initial budget. Many times, automatic payments or fees may be charged quarterly or even annually.

Read on for some common expenses that might sneak up on you:

Subscriptions and online services – Many of us have subscriptions for software packages or online services. Remember that deal they offered if you paid for a whole year at once? At renewal time, they may charge you for another year unless you cancel.

Memberships – Gym memberships or dues for clubs may be quarterly or annual charges as well, so they might be missed when building your budget.

Protection plans – From credit monitoring to termite protection plans, there are lots of chances to miss an annual or quarterly expense in this category.

Automatic contributions – Many charities now offer automatic contributions. These can be easy to miss when budgeting.

Things you forgot to cancel – Free trials (that require your payment info) won’t be free forever. It’s easy to miss these as well.

Bank fees – Budgeting mishaps can lead to bank fees if your balance dips. Yet another potential surprise.

Automatic deposits – Saving for your future is a great move. Just be sure to know how much is going to be withdrawn and when, so your budget doesn’t feel the pinch.

Oftentimes, when people first make the commitment to create a budget and stick to it, it can be discouraging if it doesn’t seem to be working as expected right away. Try to keep in mind that your budget is a work in progress that will evolve over time. It probably won’t be perfect from the get-go.

If you hit a speedbump, take a little time to evaluate where the numbers aren’t quite adding up, and then make adjustments as necessary. You can do this!

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What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

In many households, nearly every penny is already accounted for even before it’s earned.

The typical household budget that covers the cost of raising a family, making loan payments, and saving for retirement usually doesn’t leave much room for extra spending on daydream items. However, occasionally families may come into an inheritance, you might receive a big bonus at work, or benefit from some other sort of windfall.

If you ever inherit a chunk of money (or large asset) or receive a large payout, it may be tempting to splurge on that red convertible you’ve been drooling over or book that dream trip to Hawaii you’ve always wanted to take. Unfortunately for many, though, newly-found money has the potential to disappear quickly with nothing to show for it, if you don’t have a strategy in place to handle it.

If you do receive some sort of large bonus – congratulations! But take a deep breath and consider these situations first – before you call your travel agent.

Taxes or Other Expenses
If you get a large sum of money unexpectedly, the first thing you might want to do is pull out your bucket list and see what you can check off first. But before you start spending, the reality is you’ll need to put aside some money for taxes. You may want to check with an expert – an accountant or financial advisor may have some ideas on how to reduce your liability as well.

If you suddenly own a new house or car as part of an inheritance, one thing that you may not have considered is how much it will cost to hang on to them. If you want to keep them, you’ll need to cover maintenance, insurance, and you may even need to fulfill loan payments if they aren’t paid off yet.

Pay Down Debt
If you have any debt, you’d have a hard time finding a better place to put your money once you’ve set aside some for taxes or other expenses that might be involved. It may be helpful to target debt in this order:

  1. Credit card debt: These are often the highest interest rate debt and usually don’t have any tax benefit. Pay these off first.
  2. Personal loans: Pay these off next. You and your friend/family member will be glad you knocked these out!
  3. Auto loans: Interest rates on auto loans are lower than credit cards, but cars depreciate rapidly – very rapidly. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to pay interest on a rapidly depreciating asset. Pay off the car as quickly as possible.
  4. College loans: College loans often have tax-deductible interest but there is no physical asset you can convert to cash – there’s just the loan.
  5. Home loans: Most home loans are also tax-deductible. Since your home value is likely appreciating over time, you may be better off putting your money elsewhere rather than paying off the home loan early.

Fund Your Emergency Account
Before you buy that red convertible, put aside some money for a rainy day. This could be liquid funds – like a separate savings account.

Save for Retirement
Once the taxes are covered, you’ve paid down your debt, and funded your emergency account, now is the time to put some money away towards retirement. Work with your financial professional to help create the best strategy for you and your family.

Fund That College Fund
If you have kids and haven’t had a chance to save all you’d like towards their education, setting aside some money for this comes next. Again, your financial professional can recommend the best strategy for this scenario.

Treat Yourself
NOW you’re ready to go bury your toes in the sand and enjoy some new experiences! Maybe you and the family have always wanted to visit a themed resort park or vacation on a tropical island. If you’ve taken care of business responsibly with the items above and still have some cash left over – go ahead! Treat yourself!

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World Financial Group, Inc., its affiliated companies and its independent associates do not offer tax and legal advice. Please consult with your personal tax and/or legal professional for further guidance.

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The Closest Without Going Over Wins

July 1, 2019
The Closest Without Going Over Wins
July 1, 2019

“How many jellybeans are in the jar?” This is one of life’s serious questions.

You know how it works. If your guess is the closest without going over, you win the prize. And whether it’s a cash pot, a season pass for your hometown’s team – or even just the jellybeans themselves, it’s a situation with a lot at stake. You’ve been presented with a ripe opportunity to prove your keen intellect, not to mention maybe winning some free candy!

You may start pulling out your old high school algebra equations. You may laboriously count the visible jellybeans so you can extrapolate the total. You may even pick the jar up and hold it to the light – shaking it and assessing any gaps in area coverage.

Take your time. It’s a big decision.

Unfortunately for many people, it seems not as much thought goes into estimating how much a life insurance policy may cost. Can you guess how much a policy might cost?

LIMRA’s 2017 Insurance Barometer study shed a little light on just how off these guesses can be: When those surveyed were asked how much they thought a healthy 30-year-old would pay for a $250,000 policy, their median guess was $500 – more than 3 times the actual cost!*

That stat is pretty revealing: odds are that the number you have in mind is a lot higher than what you might actually end up paying for your policy. As a result, it may feel like you’re saving money right now by not having life insurance. But in the case of a sudden illness, the passing of a breadwinner, or an unexpected loss of income, not having (what is potentially affordable) protection for your loved ones feels as silly as writing down a guess of 1,000,000 jellybeans next to the mathematician’s answer of 1,086.

The bottom line: Have you overestimated how much a well-tailored life insurance policy could cost you? Not sure? Reconsider your guesstimate with a financial professional who knows the in’s and out’s of your needs and what coverage may be available that fits your budget. (It’s like knowing how many jellybeans are in the jar before you have to guess!)

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Source: “2017 Insurance Barometer Study Reveals That Consumers Want Transparent Life Insurance Buying Options.” Life Happens, https://lifehap.pn/2tMcxwy.

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Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is over $33,000.¹ That’s an expensive day by any standard.

By comparison, that amount might be enough for a down payment on a first home or for a well-equipped, late-model minivan to shuttle around your 1.6 to 2 kids – assuming your family has an average number of children as a result of your newly wedded bliss.²

Having cold feet about shelling out that much cash for one day’s festivities? Or even worse, going into debt to pay for it? Here are a few ideas on how you can make your wedding day a special day to remember while still saving some of that money for other things (like a minivan).

Invite Close Friends and Family
Many soon-to-be newlyweds dream of a massive wedding with hundreds of people in attendance to honor their big day. But at some point during any large wedding, the bride or the groom – or maybe both – look around the well-dressed guests and ask themselves, “Who are all of these people, anyway?”

You can cut the cost of your wedding dramatically by simply trimming the guest list to a more manageable size. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to invite that kid who used to live next door to our family when I was 6 years old?” Small weddings are a growing trend, with many couples choosing to limit the guest list to just close friends and immediate family. That doesn’t mean you have to have your wedding in the backyard while the neighbor’s dog barks during your vows – although you certainly can. It just means fewer people to provide refreshments for and perhaps a less palatial venue to rent.

Budget According to Priorities
Your wedding is special and you want everything to be perfect. You’ve dreamed of this day your entire life, right? However, by prioritizing your wish list, there’s a better chance to get exactly what you want for certain parts of your wedding, by choosing less expensive – but still acceptable – options for the things that may not matter to you so much. If it’s all about the reception party atmosphere for you, try putting more of your budget toward entertainment and decorations and less toward the food. Maybe you don’t really need a seven-course gourmet dinner with full service when a selection of simpler, buffet-style dishes provided by your favorite restaurant will do.

Incorporate More Wallet-Friendly Wedding Ideas
A combination of small changes in your plan can add up to big savings, allowing you to have a memorable wedding day and still have enough money left over to enjoy your newfound bliss.

  • Consider a different day of the week. If you’re planning on getting married on a Saturday in June or September, be prepared to pay more for a venue than you would any other day of the week or time of the year.³ Saturday is the most expensive day to get married, and June and September are both peak wedding season months. So if you can have your wedding on, say, a Friday in April or November, this has the potential to trim the cost of the venue.
  • Rent a vacation house – or even get married on a boat. The smaller space will prevent the guest list from growing out of control and the experience might be more memorable than at a larger, more typical venue. Of course, both options necessitate holding the reception at the same location, saving money once more.
  • Watch the booze costs. There’s no need to have a full bar with every conceivable drink concoction and bow-tied bartenders that can perform tricks with the shakers. Odds are good that your guests will be just as happy with a smaller-yet-thoughtfully-chosen selection of beer and wine to choose from.
  • Be thrifty. If you really want to trim costs, you can get creative about certain traditional “must-haves,” ranging from skipping the flowers (chances are that nobody will even miss them) to purchasing a gently-used gown. Yes, people actually do this. Online outlets like OnceWed.com provide beautiful gowns for a fraction of the price of a new gown that you’ll likely never use again.

There’s a happy medium between a royal wedding and drive-thru nuptials in Vegas. If you’re looking for a memorable day that won’t break the bank, try out some of the tips above to keep things classy, cool – and within your budget.

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Sources: ¹ Seaver, Maggie. “The National Average Cost of a Wedding Is $33,391.” the knot, 2018, https://bit.ly/2FycQmH. ² Russell, Andrew. “Here’s why Canadians are having fewer children.” Global News, 5.7.2017, https://bit.ly/2C1fPii. ³ Mackey, Jaimie. “What Are the Most Affordable Months to Book a Wedding Venue?.” Brides, 9.10.2017, https://bit.ly/2ry6wSt.

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Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

So you’re finally on board with this whole budget thing.

You’ve set up your plan. Now you’ve got a budget complete with average historical spending by category. You’ve discussed it with family members, roommates, and anyone else to whom the budget applies. You’ve checked off all the boxes. Yet somehow – at the end of the month, the math isn’t working out. The budget is busted.

What went wrong? Life is full of mysteries, like who left an empty box of cereal in the cupboard? Where are my glasses? Why won’t the baby go to sleep? And, where did all my money disappear to?

For a budget to work well, you’ll need to track it regularly and often. Many times, the reason you made a budget in the first place is that there’s very little room for error with saving and spending your money. A budget’s got to be loved and nurtured, kind of like a garden. Sometimes you have to get out there and pull some weeds or dig up a few rocks to keep it thriving.

Making Your Budget
To make your budget (if you haven’t already), there are several methods you can use. Good old pencil and paper never goes out of style. And it might help you see where you stand a little faster than potentially losing your initial momentum by learning a new “app”. Specialized software or online budgeting tools can be great – but they can also be fiddly if you’re not used to them. Rather than trying to figure out complicated menus and search for hidden buttons from the get-go, you might want to try it on paper first to work through your budget and establish a limit for each category of spending. Writing out your expenditures by hand has the added benefit of helping you face reality. It hurts a little more than automated solutions if you have to write the numbers down in black and white. If you’re good with spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets can also be used to quickly build a budget without a frustrating learning curve.

Tracking Your Budget
Technology can be friend or foe in the home budget process. Even though you may have started out on paper, when it comes to tracking your spending for the long haul and in real time, technology is definitely a friend.

Mobile apps come in two forms: free and not free. We’ll focus on free apps for now because it’s consistent with the goal of keeping your spending under control.

Mint.com is owned by Intuit, famous for Quicken and Quickbooks software, and makes budget tracking very simple. Mint links to your bank account and other accounts you’d like to track, so you can see a complete view of your finances at a glance either on your mobile device or on your computer. Budgets are set automatically for each category but can be changed easily. Spending and income are also automatically tracked and categorized so you can view your progress – including budget amounts remaining for the month. Cash purchases can be added from the home screen.

Another good option is Clarity Money, which tracks spending by category but also provides an easy way to cancel subscriptions and access your free VantageScore Credit Score (by Experian). Clarity Money was featured by Google Play as a “Best of 2017” and is also available for iOS.¹

Paper or spreadsheet methods help to make the budgeting process more tangible. Automated tracking makes it easy to monitor your progress against your budget – and to maybe think twice about spending on impulse.

The important thing is to think of your budget like a garden – once you have it planned and laid out, it’s going to take regular maintenance to ensure it stays beautiful.

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Source: ¹ “Best Daily Helper.” Google Play, https://play.google.com/store/apps/topic?id=campaign_editorial_apps_productivity_bestof2017&hl=en.

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