It makes up nearly a quarter of the global economy and has a GDP of roughly $21.44 trillion.¹ But that statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. The truth is that only a few Americans have truly mastered how money works and the rest are lagging behind. Despite having the largest economy, the U.S. ranks 13th in GDP per capita.²
And it all begins with the state of financial literacy.
Knowing how money works has never been more important. But it’s becoming an increasingly rare skill among Americans. Here’s a quick look at the significance of financial literacy in the modern world and how ignorance is hampering our ability to build wealth.
The importance of financial literacy is increasing.
Americans are faced with a complex world. We have access to unlimited information on everything under the sun, endless opinions on every issue, and infinite options for entertainment. Money is no exception. The two tried and true safety nets of the past—social security and pension plans—can fall short, so we need to figure out how to provide for our own futures. The options for how to save and grow our money are myriad. Now it’s on us to figure out how to build wealth, save for retirement, and leave money behind for our kids.
Understanding how money works isn’t just helpful for achieving those goals. It’s absolutely mandatory. Saving, budgeting, and the power of compound interest are just a few of the concepts that you’ll need to master before you can start building your financial future.
Financial literacy is decreasing.
Americans are less able to plan and provide for their futures than ever. Financial literacy slid from 42% to 34% between 2009 and 2018.³ And that number is significantly lower for Millennials than for the rest of the population, with only 17% able to answer 4 out of 5 basic questions about finances.⁴ That ignorance shows in our decision making and our inability to build wealth. A stunning 33% of Americans have nothing set aside for retirement.⁵ 44% don’t have enough saved to cover a $1,000 emergency.⁶ We’re surrounded by money and opportunity but don’t have the knowledge to convert them into personal wealth.
There are several reasons why financial literacy could be decreasing. Financial education is not widely taught in public schools, with less than half of states requiring a personal finance course for a highschool diploma.⁷ Perhaps we’ve just been slow to keep up with the rapid changes in the global economy. Or maybe some people benefit from having a large chunk of the population stay in financial ignorance. The lack of financial literacy is most likely a combination of all these reasons! The real question is, do you know how money works? And if not, where will you learn?
¹ Caleb Silver, “The Top 20 Economies in the World,” Investopdia, Updated Mar. 18, 2020,https://www.investopedia.com/insights/worlds-top-economies/
² “GDP per Capita,” Worldometers,https://www.worldometers.info/gdp/gdp-per-capita/
³ Andrew Keshner, “Financial literacy skills have taken a nose dive since the Great Recession,” MarketWatch, June 27, 2019,https://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-financial-literacy-skills-have-plummeted-since-the-great-recession-2019-06-26
⁴ Keshner, “Financial literacy skills have taken a nose dive,” MarketWatch.
⁵ Dani Pascarella, “4 Stats That Reveal How Badly America Is Failing At Financial Literacy,” Forbes, Apr. 3, 2018,https://www.forbes.com/sites/danipascarella/2018/04/03/4-stats-that-reveal-how-badly-america-is-failing-at-financial-literacy/#69cecb072bb7
⁶ Pascarella, “4 Stats That Reveal How Badly America Is Failing At Financial Literacy,” Forbes.
⁷ Ann Carrns, “More States Require Students to Learn About Money Matters,” The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2020,https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/07/your-money/states-financial-education.html
But few have been caught in the crossfire of change quite like Generation X. Sandwiched between two larger generations, the folks born between 1965 and 1976 have seen an iron curtain fall, two major wars, a digital revolution, a global financial crisis, and now a world-shattering pandemic. Bridging the gap between so many stages of history has fashioned their perspective and financial health. Here’s a guide to understanding Generation X!
Generation X holds surprisingly little wealth. They account for only 16% of the nation’s wealth, while Baby Boomers hold 56%.(1) Debt is also rampant among Gen-Xers, with an average outstanding debt of $136,869.(2) That’s higher than any other generation—and has only increased over the past few years.(3) None of this seems to slow down their non-essential spending, which is also greater than their parents and children.(4) And they’re more reluctant than other generations to seek help from a financial advisor.(5)
Attitudes and anxieties
These pressures have shaped the attitudes and outlooks of Gen-Xers. They’re about as stressed as Millennials when it comes to debt, with a focus on credit cards instead of student loans.(6) But there’s more to it than just stress. Generation X is incredibly hard on itself. 41% would rate their financial health as not very good to not good at all. 43% think their finances are much worse off than their peers’, and half think they earn less.
Gen-X’s outlook on retirement doesn’t line up with previous generations. They’re not particularly prepared; pre-pandemic, they had saved about $35,000 for retirement. Many plan on cutting costs in order to save, but they’re estimated to be the first generation that’s less prepared for retirement than their parents.(7) No wonder most plan on working through their golden years!(8)
The Sandwich Effect
There are several reasons for the dire straits of many Gen-Xers. They endured the financial crisis of 2008, and before that the dot com bubble of 2000, and now they find themselves in the midst of a pandemic-fueled recession. But that’s not all. They’re currently a bridge generation. They have retiring parents to care for (Baby Boomers) and young adult children they’ve had to support (Millennials). Every generation has to contend with this sandwiching effect at some point, but it’s proven particularly difficult for the Gen-Xers.
There’s no doubt that Generation X faces particularly serious challenges. The real question is what’s next for the bridge generation? Where will they find the financial tools to achieve peace of mind for retirement?
So why does it feel like you have so little control? How many people feel financially helpless? Like there is barely enough to make ends meet and never enough to prepare for the future?
78% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic hit.(1) That means most of us weren’t in control of our finances. We were just riding the coattails of a fabulous economy.
So what does it take to achieve financial control?
Here are some basic ways to grab the reins of your personal finances!
You should know how much you make. But do you know how much you spend and on what? Discovering that your bank account is empty at the end of each month is one thing. But figuring out where your money is going—that’s something else entirely. This knowledge is what will help equip you to create a strategy and take control of your life.
Start by figuring out how much you spend in total and subtracting that number from how much you make. Then, break down your spending into categories like rent, gas, eating out, entertainment, streaming services, and anything else that takes a chunk out of your normal expenses. It might feel like homework, but hang in there.
Goals are the key to creating an effective financial strategy. You have to know what you’re building towards if you want to develop the best steps and strategies. It’s okay to think simple. Maybe you’re just trying to get out of debt. Perhaps you’re trying to save enough to start a business or buy a home. Or you might be a bit more ambitious and have an eye on a dream retirement that you want to start preparing for now.
Figure out what it is you want and how much it will cost. From there you can use your budget to start cutting back in categories where you spend too much. You might discover that you need to increase your income to accomplish your goals. Map out a few steps that will move you closer to making your dream a reality.
Once you’ve built a strategy based on your goals and budget-fueled insights, the only thing left is to follow through and take action. This isn’t a grandiose, one-time maneuver. This is about little decisions day in and day out that will help make your dreams a reality. That means making small moves like meal prepping at home instead of eating out, or avoiding clothing boutiques in favor of thrift shop finds. Those little acts of discipline are the building blocks of success. You might fall off the wagon every now and again, but that’s okay! Pick yourself up and keep pushing forward.
It’s important to have each of these three components operating together at once. Knowing your financial situation and not doing anything about it may not do anything but cause anxiety. Cutting your spending without an overall vision can lead to pointless frugality and meaningless deprivation. And a goal without insight or action? That’s called a fantasy. Let’s talk about how we can implement all three of these elements into a financial strategy today!
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!
It’s not just a budget. In fact, a solid financial strategy is not entirely based on numbers at all. Rather, it’s a roadmap for your family’s financial future. It’s a journey on which you’ll need to consider daily needs as well as big-picture items. Having a strategy makes it possible to set aside money now for future goals, and help ensure your family is both comfortable in the present and prepared in the future.
Financial Strategy, Big Picture
A good financial strategy covers pretty much everything related to your family’s finances. In addition to a snapshot of your current income, assets, and debt, a strategy should include your savings and goals, a time frame for paying down debt, retirement savings targets, ways to cover taxes and insurance, and in all likelihood some form of end-of-life preparations. How much of your strategy is devoted to each will depend on your age, marital or family status, whether you own your home, and other factors.
Financial Preparation, Financial Independence
How do these items factor into your daily budget? Well, having a financial strategy doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to an oppressive budget. In fact, it may actually provide you with more “freedom” to spend. If you’re allocating the right amount of money each month toward both regular and retirement savings, and staying aware of how much you have to spend in any given time frame, you may find you have less daily stress over your dollars and feel better about buying the things you need (and some of the things you want).
Remember Your Goals
It can also be helpful to keep the purpose of your hard-earned money in mind. For example, a basic financial strategy may include the amount of savings you need each month to retire at a certain age, but with your family’s lifestyle and circumstances in mind. It might be a little easier to skip dinner out and cook at home instead when you know the reward may eventually be a dinner out in Paris!
Always Meet with a Financial Professional
There are many schools of thought as to the best ways to save and invest. Some financial professionals may recommend paying off all debt (except your home mortgage) before saving anything. Others recommend that clients pay off debt while simultaneously saving for retirement, devoting a certain percentage of income to each until the debt is gone and retirement savings can be increased. If you’re just getting started, meet with a qualified and licensed financial professional who can help you figure out which option is for you.
Different spending habits and conflicting money management values are sometimes sources of tension between partners. Finances are the number one cause of arguments within relationships. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons for divorce.
With bills to pay, emergency expenses, and a child’s college tuition and retirement on the horizon, many couples find their finances are stretched as they seek solutions to cover the cost of everyday life. The following 5 tips may help you and your spouse gain control of your finances.
1. Set Goals
The goal-setting phase allows a couple to talk openly about their financial history, current obligations, and future objectives. Gauging your spouse’s retirement preferences can often be a challenging obstacle before establishing a financial strategy.
2. Identify Risky Spending
Overspending and making frivolous purchases may damage your financial future. Discussing mistakes respectfully on both sides of the relationship can help prevent poor decisions in the future. If an expense proves to be a blunder, own up to the fact and move on.
Review the household “record of accounts” (that is, your budget) and your current financial landscape before adjusting your strategy. This may help protect your family from further problems that might delay the timeframe you want to retire.
3. Pay off Bills
Be fair. If—or when—your spouse admits to overspending, try not to blow up. We live in a consumerist society designed to push our buttons and trick us into spending. Even worse, it’s a pattern that can be difficult to break because it’s a very socially acceptable addiction.
Instead of exploding, ask them open-ended questions about their spending habits. The key here is working towards a compromise in a way that doesn’t villainize your partner but also protects your financial future together.
4. Periodic Review
Due to the dynamics of financial decision-making between spouses, it’s clear that periodic review has a benefit. Changes in income, lifestyle, and family or business obligations can alter a couple’s financial goals for retirement. Try to meet at least once a month (maybe over a cup of coffee) to review your finances and update your budget.
5. Don’t forget to have some fun!
The goal of getting in control of your finances is not to make life miserable. Sure, you might need to cut back on frivolous spending in the present to have more in the future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life. Set aside a little each month for a movie night or dinner with friends. You actually might discover that things like budgeting free up cash!
Building a financially sound relationship takes time. It takes a willingness to listen, to compromise, to take responsibility, and to prepare. Sometimes it might take some experience as well. Contact a qualified and licensed financial professional to help you and your loved one come up with a strategy to build your future together.
But that doesn’t stop “budget” from being an intimidating word to many people. Some folks may think it means scrimping on everything and never going out for a night on the town. It doesn’t! Budgeting simply means that you know where your money is going and you have a way to track it.
The aim with budgeting is to be aware of your spending, plan for your expenses1, and make sure you have enough saved to pursue your goals.
Without a budget, it can be easy for expenses to climb beyond your ability to pay for them. You break out the plastic and before you know it you’ve spent fifty bucks on drinks and appetizers with the gang after work. These habits might leave you with a lot of accumulated debt. Plus, without a budget, you may not be saving for a rainy day, vacation, or your retirement. A budget allows you to enact a strategy to help pursue your goals. But what if you’ve never had a budget? Where should you start? Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to get your budgeting habit off the ground!
Track your expenses every day
Start by tracking your expenses. Write down everything you buy, including memberships, online streaming services, and subscriptions. It’s not complicated to do with popular mobile and web applications. You can also buy a small notebook to keep track of each purchase. Even if it’s a small pack of gum from the gas station or a quick coffee at the corner shop, jot it down. Keep track of the big stuff too, like your rent and bill payments.
Add up expenses every week and develop categories
Once you’ve collected enough data, it’s time to figure out where exactly your paycheck is going. Start with adding up your expenses every week. How much are you spending? What are you spending money on? As you add your spending up, start developing categories. The goal is to organize all your expenses so you can see what you’re spending money on. For example, if you eat out a few times per week, group those expenses under a category called “Eating Out”. Get as general or as specific as you wish. Maybe throwing all your food purchases into one bucket is all you need, or you may want to break it down by location - grocery store, big box store, restaurants, etc.
Create a monthly list of expenses
Once you’ve recorded your expenses for a full month, it’s time to create a monthly list. Now you might also have more clarity on how you want to set up your categories. Next, total each category for the month.
Adjust your spending as necessary
Compare your total expenses with your income. There are two possible outcomes. You may be spending within your income or spending outside your income. If you’re spending within your income, create a category for savings if you don’t have one. It’s a good idea to create a separate savings category for large future purchases too, like a home or a vacation. If you find you’re spending too much, you may need to cut back spending in some categories. The beauty of a budget is that once you see how much you’re spending, and on what, you’ll be able to strategize where you need to cut back.
Once you develop the habit of budgeting, it should become part of your routine. You can look forward to working on your savings and developing a retirement strategy, but don’t forget to budget in a little fun too!
¹Jeremy Vohwinkle, “Make a Personal Budget in 6 Steps: A Step-by-Step Guide to Make a Budget,” The Balance (March 6, 2020).
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.
“Who thinks this jar is full?” she asked. Almost half of her students raised their hands. Next, she began to pour sand from the bucket into the jar full of large rocks emptying the entire bucket into the jar.
“Who thinks this jar is full now?” she asked again. Almost all of her students now had their hands up. To her student’s surprise, she emptied the glass of water into the seemingly full jar of rocks and sand.
“What do you think I’m trying to show you?” She inquired.
One eager student answered: “That things may appear full, but there is always room left to put more stuff in.”
The teacher smiled and shook her head.
“Good try, but the point of this illustration is that if I didn’t put in the large rocks first, I would not be able to fit them in afterwards.”
This concept can be applied to the idea of a constant struggle between priorities that are urgent versus those that are important. When you have limited resources, priorities must be in place since there isn’t enough to go around. Take your money, for example. Unless you have an unlimited amount of funds (we’re still trying to find that source), you can’t have an unlimited amount of important financial goals.
Back to the teacher’s illustration. Let’s say the big rocks are your important goals. Things like buying a home, helping your children pay for college, retirement at 60, etc. They’re all important –but not urgent. These things may happen 10, 20, or 30 years from now.
Urgent things are the sand and water. A monthly payment like your mortgage payment or your monthly utility and internet bills. The urgent things must be paid and paid on time. If you don’t pay your mortgage on time… Well, you might end up retiring homeless.
Even though these monthly obligations might be in mind more often than your retirement or your toddler’s freshman year in college, if all you focus on are urgent things, then the important goals fall by the wayside. And in some cases, they stay there long after they can realistically be rescued. Saving up for a down payment for a home, funding a college education, or having enough to retire on is nearly impossible to come up with overnight (still looking for that source of unlimited funds!). In most cases, it takes time and discipline to save up and plan well to achieve these important goals.
What are the big rocks in your life? If you’ve never considered them, spend some time thinking about it. When you have a few in mind, place them in the priority queue of your life. Otherwise, if those important goals are ignored for too long, they might become one of the urgent goals - and perhaps ultimately unrealized if they weren’t put in your plan early on.
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.
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.
This is a holiday roll-call that’s instantly recognizable: the reindeer that pull Santa’s magical sleigh. But what if things got so hectic at the North Pole (not a stretch when you’re in charge of delivering presents to every child on Earth), that when it was time to hitch up the reindeer on Christmas Eve, they were all out of order?
Prancer. Cupid. Dasher. Comet. Dancer. Vixen. Blitzen. Donner.
Hmmm, someone’s missing…. what happened to Rudolph? (Looks like he got left behind at the North Pole. In all the hubbub one of Santa’s elves forgot to review the pre-flight checklist.)
Since so much can change during the year from one crazy “Happy Holidays!” to the next, your ducks – or reindeer, that is – may not even be in a row at this point. They could be frolicking unattended in a field somewhere! And who knows where your Rudolph even is.
We can help with that. An annual review of your financial strategy is key to keeping you on track for your unique goals. Lots of things can change over the course of a year, and your strategy could need some reorganizing. I mean, did you hear about everything that changed for Prancer? (What do you call a baby reindeer, anyway?)
Here are some important questions to consider at least once each year (or even more often):
1. Are you on track to meet your savings goals? A well-prepared retirement is a worthy goal. Let’s make sure nothing drove you too far off track this year, and if it did, let’s explore what can be done to get you back on the right path.
2. Do you have the potential for new savings? Did your health improve this year? Did that black mark on your driving record expire? Changes like these have the potential to positively impact your life insurance rate, but we’d need to dig in and find out what kinds of savings might be in store for you.
3. Have your coverage needs increased? Marriage, having a child, or buying a home are all instances in which your life insurance coverage probably should be increased. Have any of these occurred for you over the last year? Have you added the new family member as a beneficiary?
If you haven’t had a chance to review your strategy this year, we can fit one in before Santa shimmies down the chimney. Which of your reindeer do you need to wrangle back into the ranks before the New Year gets going?
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
Bills, bills, mortgage payment, another bill, maybe some coupons for things you never buy, and of course, more bills. There seems to be an endless stream of envelopes from companies all demanding payment for their products and services. It feels like you have a choice of what you want to do with your money ONLY after all the bills have been paid – if there’s anything left over, that is.
More times than not it might seem like there’s more ‘month’ than ‘dollar.’ Not to rub salt in the wound, but may I ask how much you’re saving each month? $100? $50? Nothing? You may have made a plan and come up with a rock-solid budget in the past, but let’s get real. One month’s expenditures can be very different than another’s. Birthdays, holidays, last-minute things the kids need for school, a spontaneous weekend getaway, replacing that 12-year-old dishwasher that doesn’t sound exactly right, etc., can make saving a fixed amount each month a challenge. Some months you may actually be able to save something, and some months you can’t. The result is that setting funds aside each month becomes an uncertainty.
Although this situation might appear at first benign (i.e., it’s just the way things are), the impact of this uncertainty can have far-reaching negative consequences.
Here’s why: If you don’t know how much you can save each month, then you don’t know how much you can save each year. If you don’t know how much you can save each year, then you don’t know how much you’ll have put away 2, 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Will you have enough saved for retirement?
If you have a goal in mind like buying a home in 10 years or retiring at 65, then you also need a realistic plan that will help you get there. Truth is, most of us don’t have a wealthy relative who might unexpectedly leave us an inheritance we never knew existed!
The good news is that the average American could potentially save over $500 per month! That’s great, and you might want to do that… but how* do you do that?
The secret is to “pay yourself first.” The first “bill” you pay each month is to yourself. Shifting your focus each month to a “pay yourself first” mentality is subtle, but it can potentially be life changing. Let’s say for example you make $3,000 per month after taxes. You would put aside $300 (10%) right off the bat, leaving you $2,700 for the rest of your bills. This tactic makes saving $300 per month a certainty. The answer to how much you would be saving each month would always be: “At least $300.” If you stash this in an interest-bearing account, imagine how high this can grow over time if you continue to contribute that $300.
That’s exciting! But at this point you might be thinking, “I can’t afford to save 10% of my income every month because the leftovers aren’t enough for me to live my lifestyle”. If that’s the case, rather than reducing the amount you save, it might be worthwhile to consider if it’s the lifestyle you can’t afford.
Ultimately, paying yourself first means you’re making your future financial goals a priority, and that’s a bill worth paying.
Martin, Emmie. “Here’s how much money the average middle-aged American could save each month.” CNBC*, 11.8.2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/08/how-much-money-the-average-middle-aged-american-could-save-each-month.html.
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.