It represents a transition from student to adult for millions of people. But leaving university and joining the workforce can be intimidating. Looking for a job, paying bills, commuting, and living independently are often uncharted territory for recent grads.
Here are a few tips for fresh graduates trying to get on their feet financially.
Figure out what you want
It’s one thing to leave college with an idea of what career you want to pursue. It’s something else entirely to ask yourself what kind of life you want. It’s one of those big issues that can be difficult even to wrap your head around!
However, it’s something that’s important to grapple with. It will help you answer questions like “What kind of lifestyle do I want to live” and “how much will it cost to do the things I want?” You might even find that you don’t really need some of the things that you thought were necessities, and that happiness comes from places you might not have expected.
Come up with a budget
Let’s say you’ve got a ballpark idea of your financial and lifestyle goals. It’s time to come up with a strategy. There are plenty of resources on starting a budget on this blog and the internet on the whole, but the barebones of budgeting are pretty simple. First, figure out how much you make, how much you have to spend, how much you actually spend, then subtract your total spending from how much you make. Get a positive number? Awesome! Use that leftover cash to start saving for retirement (it’s never too early!) or build up an emergency fund. Negative number? Look for places in your unnecessary spending to cut back and maybe consider a side hustle to make more money.
Looking at your spending habits can be difficult. But owning up to mistakes you might be making and coming up with a solid strategy can be far easier than the agony that spending blindly may bring. That’s why starting a budget is a post-graduation must!
Meet with a financial professional
Find a qualified and licensed financial professional and schedule an appointment. Don’t let the idea of meeting with a professional intimidate you. Afterall, you trust your health, car, and legal representation to properly trained experts. Why wouldn’t you do the same with your financial future?
Being scared of starting a new chapter of life is natural. There are a lot of new experiences and unknowns to deal with that come along with leaving the familiarity of college. But the best way to overcome fear is to face it head on. These tips are a great way to start taking control of your future!
Unexpected expenses, market fluctuations, or a sudden job loss could leave you financially vulnerable. Here are some tips to help you get ready for your bank account’s rainy days!
Know the difference between a rainy day fund and an emergency fund … but have both!
People often use the terms interchangeably, but there are some big differences between a rainy day fund and an emergency fund. A rainy day fund is typically designed to cover a relatively small unexpected cost, like a car repair or minor medical bills. Emergency funds are supposed to help cover expenses that might accumulate during a long period of unemployment or if you experience serious health complications. Both funds are important for preparing for your financial future—it’s never too early to start building them.
Tackle your debt now
Just because you can manage your debt now doesn’t mean you’ll be able to in the future. Prioritizing debt reduction, especially if you have student loans or credit card debit, can go a long way toward helping you prepare for an unexpected financial emergency. It never hurts to come up with a budget that includes paying down debt and to set a date for when you want to be debt-free!
Learn skills to bolster your employability
One of the worst things that can blindside you is unemployment. That’s why taking steps now to help with a potential future job search can be so important. Look into free online educational resources and classes, and investigate certifications. Those can go a long way towards diversifying your skillset (and can look great on a resume).
None of these tips will do you much good unless you get the ball rolling on them now. The best time to prepare for an emergency is before the shock and stress set in!
Having your emergency fund at the ready would be ideal to cover your conundrum, but what if your emergency fund has been depleted, or you can’t or don’t want to use a credit card or line of credit to get through a crisis?
There are other options out there – a cash advance or a payday loan.
But beware – these options pose some serious caveats. Both carry high interest rates and both are aimed at those who are in desperate need of money on short notice. So before you commit to one of these options, let’s pause and take a close look at why you might be tempted to use them, and how they compare to other credit products, like credit cards or traditional loans.
The Cash Advance
If you already have a credit card, you may have noticed the cash advance rate associated with that card. Many credit cards offer a cash advance option – you would go to an ATM and retrieve cash, and the amount would be added to your credit card’s balance. However, there is usually no grace period for cash advances.[i] Interest would begin to accrue immediately.
Furthermore, the interest rate on a cash advance may often be higher than the interest rate on credit purchases made with the same card. For example, if you buy a $25 dinner on credit, you may pay 15% interest on that purchase (if you don’t pay it off before the grace period has expired). On the other hand, if you take a cash advance of $25 with the same card, you may pay 25% interest, and that interest will start right away, not after a 21-day grace period. Check your own credit card terms so you’re aware of the actual interest you would be charged in each situation.
The Payday Loan
Many people who don’t have a credit history (or who have a poor credit rating) may find it difficult to obtain funds on credit, so they may turn to payday lenders. They usually only have to meet a few certain minimum requirements, like being of legal age, showing proof of employment, etc.[ii] Unfortunately, the annualized interest rates on payday loans are notoriously high, commonly reaching hundreds of percentage points.[iii]
A single loan at 10% over two weeks may seem minimal. For example, you might take a $300 loan and have to pay back $330 at your next paycheck. Cheap, right? Definitely not! If you annualize that rate, which is helpful to compare rates on different products, you get 250% interest. The same $300 charged to a 20% APR credit card would cost you $2.30 in interest over that same two week period (and that assumes you have no grace period).
Why People Use Payday Loans
Using a cash advance in place of purchasing on credit can be hard to justify in a world where almost every merchant accepts credit cards. However, if a particular merchant only accepts cash, you may be forced to take out a cash advance. Of course, if you can pay off the advance within a day or two and there is a fee for using a credit card (but not cash), you might actually save a little bit by paying in cash with funds from a cash advance.
Taking a payday loan, while extremely expensive, has an obvious reason: the applicant cannot obtain loans in any other way and has an immediate need for funds. The unfortunate reality is that being “credit invisible” can be extremely expensive, and those who are invisible or at risk of becoming invisible should start cautiously building their credit profiles, either with traditional credit cards or a secured card[iv], if your circumstances call for it. (As always, be aware of fees and interest rates charged with the card you choose.) Even more important is to start building an emergency fund. Then, if an emergency does arise, payday loans can be avoided.
Now you can plan those vacations for just the two of you, delve into new hobbies you’ve always wanted to explore… and decide whether or not you should keep your life insurance as empty nesters.
The answer is YES!
Why? Even though you and your spouse are empty nesters now, life insurance still has real benefits for both of you. One of the biggest benefits is your life insurance policy’s death benefit. Should either you or your spouse pass away, the death benefit can pay for final expenses and replace the loss of income, both of which can keep you or your spouse on track for retirement in the case of an unexpected tragedy.
What’s another reason to keep your life insurance policy? The cash value of your policy. Now that the kids have moved out and are financially stable on their own, the cash value of your life insurance policy can be used for retirement or an emergency fund. If your retirement savings took a hit while you helped your children finance their college educations, your life insurance policy might have you covered.Utilizing the cash value has multiple factors you should be aware of before making any decision.*
Contact me today, and together we’ll check up on your policy to make sure you have coverage where you want it - and review all the benefits that you can use as empty nesters.
*Loans and withdrawals will reduce the policy value and death benefit dollar for dollar. 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 premium 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 59 1/2, may be subject to a 10% tax penalty.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s the breakdown:
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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:
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.
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!
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.
Every dollar bill is at the mercy of the elements. Think of an unforeseen medical emergency as a pop-up windstorm that whips a few thousand dollars out of the truck bed. And that time your refrigerator gave out on you? That’s swerving to avoid a landslide as it tumbles down the mountain. There goes another $1,000.
Emergencies like a case of appendicitis or suddenly needing a place to store your groceries usually arrive unannounced and can’t always be avoided. But there are a few scenarios you can bypass, especially when you know they’re coming.
These scenarios are the potholes on the road to financial independence. When you’re driving along and see a particularly nasty pothole through your windshield, it just makes sense to avoid it.
Here are some common potholes to avoid on your financial journey.
Excessive or Frivolous Spending
A job loss or a sudden, large expense can change your cash flow quickly, making you wish you still had some of the money you spent on… well, what did you spend it on, anyway? That’s exactly the trouble. We often spend on small indulgences without calculating how much those indulgences cost when they’re added up. Unless it’s an emergency, big expenses can be easier to control. It’s the small expenses that can cost the most.
Somewhere along the line, businesses started charging monthly subscriptions or membership fees for their products or service. These can be useful. You might not want to shell out $2,000 all at once for home gym equipment, but spending $40/month at your local gym fits in your budget. However, unused subscriptions and memberships create their own credit potholes. If money is tight or you’re prioritizing your spending, take a look at your subscriptions and memberships. Cancel the ones that you’re not using or enjoying.
Most people love the smell of a new car, particularly if it’s a car they own. Ownership is strange in regard to cars, however. In most cases, the bank holds the title until the car is paid off. In the interim, the car has depreciated by 25% in the first year and by nearly 50% after 3 years.*
What often happens is that we trade the car after a few years in exchange for something that has that new car smell – and we’ve never seen the title for the first car. We never owned it outright. In this chain of transactions, each car has taxes and registration fees, interest is paid on a depreciating asset, and car dealers are making money on both sides of the trade when we bring in our old car to exchange for a new one.
Unless you have a business reason to have the latest model, it’s less expensive to stop trading cars. Think of your no-longer-new car as a great deal on a used car – and once it’s paid off, there’s more money to put each month towards your retirement.
To sum up, you may already have the best shocks on your financial vehicle (i.e., a well-tailored financial strategy), but slamming into unnecessary potholes could damage what you’ve already built. Don’t damage your potential to go further for longer – avoid those common financial potholes.
Lewerer, Greg. “Car Depreciation: How Much Have You Lost?” Trusted Choice, https://bit.ly/1LtV7aP.
In fact, money matters are the leading cause of arguments in modern relationships.* The age-old adage that love trumps wealth may be true, but if money is tight or if a couple isn’t meeting their financial goals, there could be some unpleasant conversations (er, arguments) on the bumpy road to bliss with your partner or spouse.
These tips may help make the road to happiness a little easier.
1. Set a goal for debt-free living.
Certain types of debt can be difficult to avoid, such as mortgages or car payments, but other types of debt, like credit cards in particular, can grow like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill. Credit card debt often comes about because of overspending or because insufficient savings forced the use of credit for an unexpected situation. Either way, you’ll have to get to the root of the cause or the snowball might get bigger. Starting an emergency fund or reigning in unnecessary spending – or both – can help get credit card balances under control so you can get them paid off.
2. Talk about money matters.
Having a conversation with your partner about money is probably not at the top of your list of fun-things-I-look-forward-to. This might cause many couples to put it off until the “right time”. If something is less than ideal in the way your finances are structured, not talking about it won’t make the problem go away. Instead, frustrations over money can fester, possibly turning a small issue into a larger problem. Discussing your thoughts and concerns about money with your partner regularly (and respectfully) is key to reaching an understanding of each other’s goals and priorities, and then melding them together for your goals as a couple.
3. Consider separate accounts with one joint account.
As a couple, most of your financial obligations will be faced together, including housing costs, monthly utilities and food expenses, and often auto expenses. In most households, these items ideally should be paid out of a joint account. But let’s face it, it’s no fun to have to ask permission or worry about what your partner thinks every time you buy a specialty coffee or want that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. In addition to your main joint account, having separate accounts for each of you may help you maintain some independence and autonomy in regard to personal spending.
With these tips in mind, here’s to a little less stress so you can put your attention on other “couplehood” concerns… Like where you two are heading for dinner tonight – the usual hangout (which is always good), or that brand new place that just opened downtown? (Hint: This is a little bit of a trick question. The answer is – whichever place fits into the budget that you two have already decided on, together!)
Huckabee, Tyler. “Why Do People In Relationships Fight About Money So Much?” Relevant, 1.3.2018, https://bit.ly/2xiflG9.
But it may also be a constant source of worry, particularly if you still have a hefty mortgage payment each month. For some, having a mortgage is simply a part of life. But for others, it can be an encumbrance, especially once you realize that your interest expense might cost as much as the home itself over the course of a 30-year loan.
Whether your goal is becoming mortgage-free or you just don’t want to pay interest to your lender for any longer than necessary, there are some effective ways you can pay off your mortgage faster.
Make bi-weekly payments instead of monthly payments
Many of us get paid weekly or bi-weekly (meaning every two weeks). A standard mortgage has twelve monthly payments. While we tend to think of a month as having four weeks, there are actually around 4.25 weeks in a month. This seemingly small discrepancy in time can work to your advantage, if you switch to making bi-weekly mortgage payments instead of monthly mortgage payments. At the end of the year, you’ll find that you’ve made thirteen mortgage payments instead of just twelve.
Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, switching to bi-weekly mortgage payments may shave some time off the length of your mortgage, depending on your mortgage balance and interest rate. You may potentially save thousands of dollars in interest expense as well.[i]
Make an extra payment each year
Some lenders may charge extra fees for customized payment plans or may not provide an easy way to make biweekly payments. In this case, you can simply make one extra payment each year by putting aside money in a dedicated account. If your mortgage payment is $2,000, you could fund your account with $40 per week, or $80 every two weeks, to save for an extra payment each year. If you use this method, your savings won’t be as dramatic as the savings you might see by making bi-weekly payments because the extra payments don’t reach your mortgage balance as frequently. If you have any spare cash, you might consider raising the amount that you save each week.
Round up your payments
Mortgage payments are almost never round numbers. Yours might look like $2,147.63, for example. Consider rounding up your payment to $2,175, $2,200, or even $2.500. Choose an amount that won’t break the bank but can put a dent in the balance over time. Depending on how much you round up your payment, this method may shave some time off your mortgage and potentially save you money in interest expense.
The key is consistency. Making one extra mortgage payment and then never making any extra payments again won’t make much difference, but sending a little extra with every payment may help make you mortgage-free a little faster.
Pro tip: Before you make any drastic moves to pay off your mortgage, first be sure that your emergency fund is well established, that your high-interest credit cards are paid off, and that you’re contributing enough toward your retirement accounts. The average rate of return on some types of accounts may be higher than the savings you might realize on mortgage interest. It’s possible that any extra money is more wisely put away elsewhere.
Without an emergency fund, you can imagine that an unexpected expense could send your budget into a tailspin.
With credit card debt at an all-time high and no meaningful savings for many Americans, it’s important to learn how to start and grow your emergency savings.[ii] You CAN do this!
1. Where to keep your emergency fund
Keeping money in the cookie jar might not be the best plan. Mattresses don’t really work so well either. But you also don’t want your emergency fund “co-mingled” with the money in your normal checking or savings account. The goal is to keep your emergency fund separate, clearly defined, and easily accessible. Setting up a designated, high-yield savings account is a good option that can provide quick access to your money while keeping it separate from your main bank accounts.[iii]
2. Set a monthly goal for savings
Set a monthly goal for your emergency fund savings, but also make sure you keep your savings goal realistic. If you choose an overly ambitious goal, you may be less likely to reach that goal consistently, which might make the process of building your emergency fund a frustrating experience. (Your emergency fund is supposed to help reduce stress, not increase it!) It’s okay to start by putting aside a small amount until you have a better understanding of how much you can really “afford” to save each month. Also, once you have your high-yield savings account set up, you can automatically transfer funds to your savings account every time you get paid. One less thing to worry about!
3. Spare change can add up quickly
The convenience of debit and credit cards means that we use less cash these days – but if and when you do pay with cash, take the change and put it aside. When you have enough change to be meaningful, maybe $20 to $30, deposit that into your emergency fund. If most of your transactions are digital, mobile apps like Qapital let you set rules to automate your savings.[iv]
4. Get to know your budget
Making and keeping a budget may not always be the most enjoyable pastime. But once you get it set up and stick to it for a few months, you’ll get some insight into where your money is going, and how better to keep a handle on it! Hopefully that will motivate you to keep going, and keep working towards your larger goals. When you first get started, dig out your bank statements and write down recurring expenses, or types of expenses that occur frequently. Odds are pretty good that you’ll find some expenses that aren’t strictly necessary. Look for ways to moderate your spending on frills without taking all the fun out of life. By moderating your expenses and eliminating the truly wasteful indulgences, you’ll probably find money to spare each month and you’ll be well on your way to building your emergency fund.
Even if you abide in a smaller house than you might have envisioned as a kid, it could still provide wonderful memories while offering a haven for your family.
Home ownership can be a desirable goal, but it may become a burden, however, if the home makes you “house poor”. Imagine if every spare penny had to go toward your mortgage or upkeep of your home with nothing left over. That’s the definition of things owning you instead of you owning things. Thankfully, there’s a different way.
If you’re in the market for a new home, there are four areas to consider before you start your serious search.
You might discover there are lots of ways you could buy a house with almost no money down. However, resist the temptation of low-down-payment loans. In what could be a still-volatile housing market, you would not want to run the risk of finding yourself in a negative equity position, which means you would owe more than your house is worth. You also may pay more for Private Mortgage Insurance, which is required for home loans with less than 20% down. Before you make your move, try to save up for the 20% down payment as well as any additional amounts to help cover closing costs. You’ll also want to have an emergency fund stashed away before you buy.
If you don’t need a “big” house, consider buying a smaller home. Everything in smaller homes may be less expensive to replace or maintain because there’s simply less square footage involved. (The purchase price could be lower as well.)
Keep your budget under 25%
The loan officer for your mortgage might say “yes” to an amount that would cause your monthly payments to be more than 25% of your take-home pay, but that doesn’t mean those payments will fit your budget. Leaving yourself some extra margin may help you navigate life’s surprises and may give you the freedom to save more, provide more for your kids’ college, or even plan that trip you’ve always wanted to take. Bear in mind that mortgage payments may include other fees, which may increase your final monthly payment amount significantly. A 30-year mortgage may provide flexibility
When you’re focused on how much you’re borrowing, a 15-year mortgage that pays down the debt faster may be tempting. Consider a 30-year loan, though. The potential flexibility of not being obligated to a possible higher monthly payment with a 15-year loan may come in handy when those unexpected emergencies happen.
All in all, it’s worth considering your long-term outlook before you even begin your new home search.
Many families use credit with good intentions – and then life happens – surprise expenses or a change in income leave them struggling to get ahead of growing debt. To be fair, there may be times to use credit and times to avoid using credit.
Purchasing big-ticket items
A big-screen TV or a laptop purchased with a credit card may have additional warranty protection through your credit card company. Features and promotions vary by card, however, so be sure to know the details before you buy. If your credit card offers reward points or airline miles, big-ticket items may be a faster way to earn points than making small purchases over time. Just be sure to have a plan to pay off the balance.
Travel and car rental
For many families, these two items go hand in hand. Credit cards sometimes offer additional insurance protection for your luggage or for the trip itself. Your credit card company may offer some additional protection for car rentals. You might score some extra airline miles or reward points in this category as well because the numbers can add up quickly.
Credit card and debit card numbers are being stolen all the time. Online merchants can have a breach and not even be aware that your credit card info is out in the wild. The advantage of using a credit card as opposed to a debit card is time. You’ll have more time to dispute charges that aren’t yours. If your debit card gets into the wrong hands, someone might be quickly spending your mortgage money, food and gas money, or college tuition for your kids. Credit cards may be a better choice to use online because the effects of fraud don’t have an immediate impact on your bank balance.
Life happens and sometimes we don’t have enough readily available cash to pay for emergencies. Life’s emergencies can range from broken appliances to broken cars to broken bones and in these cases, you may not have any other viable options for payment.
Using credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you plan carefully, you may reap several types of benefits from using credit cards and still avoid paying interest. You’ll have to pay off the balance right away to avoid finance charges, though. So, always think twice before you charge once.
Some credit cards offer consumer benefits, like extended warranties, extra insurance, or even rewards. There are some situations in which using a credit card may come in handy.
Here are some ideas for financial changes you can put in place today that can help get you closer to your saving and retirement goals.
1) Start a budget
There are few things that can paint your future financial picture as clearly as starting a household budget. In the process, you’ll track your spending – both in the past and in the future – and you’ll identify wasteful expenses as well as establish your priorities.
2) Start couponing
Once upon a time, clipping coupons could be quite a chore. Now, mobile apps make finding coupons for popular stores effortless, and there are online websites that provide promotional codes for all sorts of brands. If someone gave you money for buying something you were going to buy anyway, you’d take it, right?
3) Target home energy costs
Is your thermostat programmable? You can adjust your home temperature while you’re at work. Do you need to fix the insulation in the attic or that gap under the front door? Get to it as soon as you can! The longer you let those things go equates to money you might be saving on your energy costs.
4) Buy “pre-owned” items
When we think “pre-owned” we tend to think of cars. But the truth is that almost all consumer items depreciate. How much might you save by buying a refurbished phone instead of a new phone? Used laptops may cost a fraction of what you’d pay for a brand new computer. When it’s time to replace household items, consider buying used.
5) Use the 30 Day Rule to keep impulse spending in check
If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, just wait. It won’t really burn you. By waiting 30 days before making a purchase, you’ll have time to decide if you really need the item or if it was just an impulse buy.
6) Use a shopping list
Want a way to stay focused when shopping and avoid wasteful spending? It might seem obvious, but get in the habit of using a shopping list. Before you head to the store, take a few minutes and write out a list (on paper or your phone), and include only the items you need. Stick to the list!
7) Quit smoking
Smoking seems to be less common these days, but for many households it’s still a costly expense that literally goes up in smoke. Think about how much you could put towards your retirement instead if you kicked the habit. (As a bonus, your health will probably improve.)
8) Stop using credit cards
Credit cards are the most expensive type of debt in many households. If you make a plan to pay off credit card debt and to save credit for (real) emergencies, you’ll probably wish you had given up your credit card habit sooner.
9) Cancel unused memberships and subscriptions
Memberships and subscriptions have a way of becoming forgotten – that is, until they automatically renew. Ouch. Keep the ones you want or need, cancel the others.
10) Cut the cord
Cable TV has become a norm but is your family really using it? Try to find less expensive ways to watch shows or movies online. Major broadcast networks can be picked up for free with an HD antenna.
Bonus ideas: Get a strategy in place to start building an emergency fund. Check your insurance policies to make sure you have the coverage you need. Research some ways in your community to have free (or nearly free) fun with your family.
It might take a little extra effort, but putting any of these ideas in place this year will help you and your family save more of your hard earned money and help get you closer to your retirement goals.
On one hand you may have some debt you’d like to knock out, or you might feel like you should divert the money into your emergency savings or retirement fund.
They’re both solid choices, but which is better? That depends largely on your interest rates.
High Interest Rate
Take a look at your debt and see what your highest interest rate(s) are. If you’re leaning towards saving the bonus you’ve received, keep in mind that high borrowing costs may rapidly erode any savings benefits, and it might even negate those benefits entirely if you’re forced to dip into your savings in the future to pay off high interest. The higher the interest rate, the more important it is to pay off that debt earlier – otherwise you’re simply throwing money at the creditor.
Low Interest Rate
On the other hand, sometimes interest rates are low enough to warrant building up an emergency savings fund instead of paying down existing debt. An example is if you have a long-term, fixed-rate loan, such as a mortgage. The idea is that money borrowed for emergencies, rather than non-emergencies, will be expensive, because emergency borrowing may have no collateral and probably very high interest rates (like payday loans or credit cards). So it might be better to divert your new-found funds to a savings account, even if you aren’t reducing your interest burden, because the alternative during an emergency might mean paying 20%+ rather than 0% on your own money (or 3-5% if you consider the interest you pay on the current loan).
Raw Dollar Amounts
Relatively large loans might have low interest rates, but the actual total interest amount you’ll pay over time might be quite a sum. In that case, it might be better to gradually divert some of your bonus money to an emergency account while simultaneously starting to pay down debt to reduce your interest. A good rule of thumb is that if debt repayments comprise a big percentage of your income, pay down the debt, even if the interest rate is low.
The Best for You
While it’s always important to reduce debt as fast as possible to help achieve financial independence, it’s also important to have some money set aside for use in emergencies.
If you do receive an unexpected windfall, it will be worth it to take a little time to think about a strategy for how it can best be used for the maximum long term benefit for you and your family.
Why is that? You might suspect it’s because we set unrealistic goals or lack the proper motivation.
If you’ve got some financial resolutions you want to stick to, the key is to set realistic goals and have the proper discipline to hang in there, especially when the going gets tough.
Consider the following tips. Everyone can improve their finances and – as a bonus – you won’t end up with a basement full of barely-used exercise equipment that’s standing in for clothes drying racks.
Put away your credit cards
Do you have a fireproof box at home? (You probably should to store your extra-important documents, like the title to your car or your will.) This might be the perfect place for your credit cards. Many families struggle with credit card debt and in many cases, they aren’t even sure where the money actually went.
Credit can be a crutch that only ends up helping us postpone healthy financial habits. The frequent result is years of accumulating interest payments and growing balances that may prevent you from maximizing your savings. (Debt also may lead to household friction.) Lock the credit cards in the strongbox and make a pact with the rest of your household to use a credit card just for when you have a real emergency – and this would only occur if you’ve depleted your normal emergency fund.
Get your own life insurance policy
It’s great to see families insured by at least an employer-sponsored policy, but how insured are they really? Employer plans usually don’t follow you to the next job, and the benefit for your family is typically limited to a fixed amount, such as $50,000, or in some cases up to one to two times your salary.[i] That’s probably not enough coverage for your family – and it might disappear at any time if you were to change jobs. Get a quote for your own life insurance policy that better meets your needs and that you can control.
Make a budget
Many of us think we know where our money goes, but making a budget will illuminate your spending in vivid, full-color detail. You might startle your family with loud exclamations as you realize how much you actually spend on gourmet coffee stops, eating out, clothes, golf accessories, etc. It can add up quickly. A budget may not only help you cut spending, but it may also help you build your emergency savings (yes, this should be a budget item) and start piling away more money for retirement (another necessary budget item).
Know your number
Nope, not the winning lottery number. In this case, your number is the one that can help you reach a financial goal. Saving for retirement without knowing how much you’ll need or how much you can put away each month is like running a race blindfolded. You need to see the course and the finish line ahead. That’s your number. Whether saving, paying down debt, or accomplishing any other financial goal, you need to identify the number that will define your short-term targets and help you reach your ultimate destination.
If you need help with your goals or aren’t sure how to find the number you need to know to prepare for your future, reach out. I have some ideas we can discuss.
One poll puts the number at 32%.[i] That equates to tens of millions of Americans who don’t have a budget. Yikes!
You don’t have to be a statistic. Here are some quick tips to get you started on your own budget so you can help safeguard your financial future.
Know Your Balance Sheet
Companies maintain and review their “balance sheets” regularly. Balance sheets show assets, liabilities, and equity. Business owners probably wouldn’t be able run their companies successfully for very long without knowing this information and tracking it over time.
You also have a balance sheet, whether you realize it or not. Assets are the things you have, like a car, house, or cash. Liabilities are your debts, like auto loans or outstanding bills you need to pay. Equity is how much of your assets are technically really yours. For example, if you live in a $100,000 house but carry $35,000 on the mortgage, your equity is 65% of the house, or $65,000. 65% of the house is yours and 35% is still owned by the bank.
Pro tip: Why is this important to know? If you’re making a decision to move to a new house, you need to know how much money will be left over from the sale for the new place. Make sure to speak with a representative of your mortgage company and your realtor to get an idea of how much you might have to put towards the new house from the sale of the old one.
Break Everything Down
To become efficient at managing your cash flow, start by breaking your spending down into categories. The level of granularity and detail you want to track is up to you. (Note: If you’re just starting out budgeting, don’t get too caught up in the details. For example, for the “Food” category of your budget, you might want to only concern yourself with your total expense for food, not how much you’re spending on macaroni and cheese vs. spaghetti.)
If you typically spend $400 a month on food, that’s important to know. As you get more comfortable with budgeting and watching your dollars, it’s even better to know that half of that $400 is being spent at coffee shops and restaurants. This information may help you eliminate unnecessary expenditures in the next step.
What you spend your money on is ultimately your decision, but lacking knowledge about where it’s spent may lead to murky expectations. Sure, it’s just $10 at the sandwich shop today, but if you spend that 5 days a week on the regular, that expenditure may fade into background noise. You might not realize all those hoagies are the equivalent of your health insurance premium. Try this: Instead of spending $10 on your regular meal, ask yourself if you can find an acceptable alternative for less by switching restaurants.
Once you have a good idea of what you’re spending each month, you’ll need to know exactly how much you make (after taxes) to set realistic goals. This would be your net income, not gross income, since you will pay taxes.
Set Realistic Goals and Readjust
Now that you know what your balance sheet looks like and what your cash flow situation is, you can set realistic goals with your budget. Rank your expenses in order of necessity. At the top of the list would be essential expenses – like rent, utilities, food, and transit. You might not have much control over the rent or your car payment right now, but consider preparing food at home to help save money.
Look for ways you can cut back on utilities, like turning the temperature down a few degrees in the winter or up a few degrees in the summer. You may be able to save on electricity if you run appliances at night or in the morning, rather than later in the afternoon when usage tends to be the highest.[ii]
After the essentials would come items like clothes, office supplies, gifts, entertainment, vacation, etc. Rank these in order of importance to you. Consider shopping for clothes at a consignment shop, or checking out a dollar store for bargains on school or office supplies.
Ideally, at the end of the month you should be coming out with money leftover that can be put into an emergency fund (your goal here is at least $1,000), and then you can start adding money to your savings.
If you find your budget is too restrictive in one area, you can allocate more to it. (But you’ll need to reduce the money flowing in to other areas in the process to keep your bottom line the same.) Ranking expenses will help you determine where you can siphon off money.
Commit To It
Now that you have a realistic budget that contains your essentials, your non-essentials, and your savings goals, stick to it! Building a budget is a process. It may take some time to get the hang of it, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.