Today we’ll be fleshing out some concepts you might encounter as you look at your options for protecting your family. Let’s start with the different kinds of life insurance.
Different types of life insurance
Life insurance will almost always have a few basic parts—the death benefit (the amount paid to your loved ones upon your passing), the policy itself (the actual insurance contract), and the premium (how much you pay for the life insurance policy).
There’s a wide range of life insurance policies, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
- Term Life Insurance is the most straightforward form. It lasts for a set amount of time (the term), during which you pay a premium. You and your beneficiaries won’t receive any benefits if you don’t pass away during the term. This type of policy typically doesn’t feature other benefits on its own (you may be able to add other benefits with what is called a rider). - Whole Life Insurance is exactly what it sounds like. It never expires and is guaranteed to pay a benefit whenever you pass away. But it often comes with other benefits. For instance, it can include a saving component called a cash value. It usually builds with interest and you can take money from it any time. - Indexed Universal Life Insurance is similar to whole life insurance, but the cash value is tied to the market. The market is up? Your cash value goes up. The market goes down? Your cash value is actually shielded from loss.
Each of these types of life insurance have different strengths and weaknesses. A term policy might be right for you while a whole life policy might be better for your neighbor. Talk with a financial professional to see which one fits your needs and budget!
The right amount of life insurance
But can you have too little life insurance? How about too much? The answer to both of those questions is yes. In general, the purpose of life insurance is to replace your income in case of your passing for your loved ones and family. That should be your guidestone when deciding how substantial a policy to purchase. Typically, you’re looking at about 10 times your annual income. That’s enough to replace your yearly earnings, pay-off potential debts, and guard against inflation. That means someone earning $35,000 would want to shop around for about $350,000 worth of coverage.
Employer life insurance
This means that most employer-provided life insurance isn’t enough to fully protect you and your family. There’s no doubt that a free policy from your workplace is great. But they typically only cover about a year of wages. That’s not nearly what you need to provide peace of mind to your beneficiaries! Don’t necessarily refuse your employer-provided life insurance, but make sure that it supplements a more substantial policy.
Still have questions? Reach out to a licensed financial professional and ask for guidance! And stay tuned for next week’s article where we’ll debunk some common life insurance myths!
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before enacting a life insurance policy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional to discuss your options.
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.
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?
Many came of age during the Great Recession, only to confront a pandemic-fueled economic downturn just a decade later. Here’s a quick look at the financial health of Millennials.
Few Millennials are financially healthy
A 2019 survey found that only 24% of Millennials are financially healthy. That means less than a quarter are “spending, saving, borrowing, and planning in a way that will allow them to be resilient and pursue opportunities over time.”(1) 54% are financially coping. They’re not sinking, but not necessarily thriving either. The final 22% of this generation are financially vulnerable. Bear in mind, these findings are from before the COVID-19 shutdowns which have left millions unemployed.
Employer practices and financial health
There are several contributing factors to the financial instability of Millennials. For instance, they typically hold fewer assets than the previous generation (Gen-X) but have roughly the same amount of debt.(2)
The evidence seems to suggest that employer practices like setting stable hours and offering benefits have tremendous impacts on financial health. Millennials with consistent schedules were 2.2 times more likely to be financially healthy.(3) Stable monthly income, employer-provided insurance, and paid sick leave also correlate to high financial health.
Millennials are skeptical of financial services
There’s a strong perception among Millennials that financial services should help them improve their financial lives.(3) And there’s an extent to which the industry is rising to meet those needs. Millennials are all over online and mobile banking; 65% to 72% have used those services in the last 12 months, respectively.(4)
But overwhelmingly, Millennials don’t feel like their financial institutions stand up for them. Only 14% agreed with the statement that “[My primary financial institution] helps me improve my financial health.”(5) That means that, even though they prioritize businesses that fight for them, Millennials feel abandoned by the financial industry.
So where does this leave this generation? It means that Millennials, by-and-large, feel financially unstable, neglected by their employers, and ignored by financial institutions. Who knows how COVID-19 has escalated those sentiments? The question is; who will meet the needs of Millennials?
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!
Maybe your numbers never add up or too many expenses are coming “out of the blue”. You might also feel a sense of dread every time you make a purchase. No matter what you do, this whole budgeting thing doesn’t seem to be working.
Hang in there! Here are a few budgeting potholes that might be slowing down your financial goals and how to avoid them!
Budgets are supposed to help you use your money wisely. They should be a positive part of your life—they’re not supposed to make you feel like you’re constantly failing. But sometimes our passion to save money and get our financial house in order gets the better of us, and we set up budgets that are too restrictive. While coming from good intentions, an overly thrifty budget can actually make it harder to achieve your goals. An impossible to follow plan can make you feel discouraged and resentful. You might even decide that it’s not worth the hassle! Try starting with a more reasonable strategy and then build from there!
Sometimes our budgets are just too complicated to actually be useful. Not everyone loves working with numbers, and sometimes fiddling with spreadsheets can get so overwhelming that we just want to quit. Plus, there’s plenty of room for human error! A good option is to investigate free budgeting sites or apps. All you do is punch in the correct numbers and the magic of technology will do the rest!
One time budget
Life is constantly changing. Your simple, streamlined budget might be perfect for the life of a young single professional, but will it still hold up in five years? Where will the portion of your paycheck that works down your student loans go once you’re debt free? And when will you start saving for a house?
Take some time every few months to review your budget and see what’s changed. Evaluate what you’ve accomplished and areas that need improvement. Ask yourself what your next milestones should be and if those line up with your long-term goals!
Budgeting takes work. But it shouldn’t be a burden. Cut yourself some slack, prune your process, and stay consistent. You might be surprised by the difference filling in budgeting potholes can make in your financial life!
Even though it’s not always obvious, we carry lots of assumptions and attitudes about money that might not be grounded in reality. How we perceive wealth and finances can impact how we make decisions, prioritize, and handle the money that we have. Here are a few common money mindsets that might be holding you back from reaching your full potential!
I need tons of money to start saving
It’s simple, right? The rich are swimming in cash, so they’re able to save. They get to build businesses and live out their dreams. The rest of us have to live paycheck to paycheck, shelling out our hard earned money on rent, groceries, and other essentials.
That couldn’t be further from the truth! Sure, you might not be able to save half your income. But you might be surprised by how much you can actually stash away if you put your mind to it. And however much you can save right now, little as it might be, is much better than putting away nothing at all!
I need to save every penny possible
On the other side of the coin (get it?) is the notion that you have to save every last penny and dime that comes your way. There are definitely people in difficult financial situations who go to incredible lengths to make ends meet. Just ask someone who survived the Great Depression! But most of us don’t need to haggle down the price of an apple or forage around for firewood. And sometimes, the corners we cut to save a buck can come back to bite us. Set spending rules and boundaries for yourself, but make sure you’re not just eating ramen noodles and ketchup soup!
I don’t need to budget
There are definitely times when you might not feel like you need to be proactive with your finances. You don’t feel like you’re spending too much, debt collectors aren’t pounding down your door, and everything seems comfortable. Budgeting is for folks with a spending problem, right?
The fact of the matter is that everyone should have a budget. It might not feel important now, but a budget is your most powerful tool for understanding where your money goes, areas where you can cut back, and how much you can put away for the future. It gives you the knowledge you need to take control of your finances!
Breaking mediocre money mindsets can be difficult. But it’s an important step on your journey towards financial independence. Once you understand money and how it works, you’re on the path to take control of your future and make your dreams a reality.
At the least, a low score can saddle you with high interest rates, or at the worst, prevent you from getting important loans.(1) It can even be a roadblock to renting a house or getting a job!(2)
But what exactly is a credit score? And how is it different from a credit report? It turns out the two have a close relationship. Let’s explore what they are and how they relate to each other.
Your credit report is simply a record of your credit history. Let’s break that down.
Many of us carry some form of debt. It might be a mortgage, student loans, or credit card debt (or all three!). Some people are really disciplined about paying down debt. Others fall on hard times or use debt to fuel frivolous spending and then aren’t able to return the borrowed money. As a result, lenders typically want to know how reliable, or credit worthy, someone is before giving out a loan.
But predicting if someone will be able to pay off a loan is tricky business. Lenders can’t look into the future, so they have to look at a potential borrower’s past regarding debt. They’re interested in late payments, defaulted loans, bankruptcies, and more, to determine if they can trust someone to pay them back. All of this information is compiled into a document that we know as a credit report.
All of the information from someone’s credit report gets plugged into an algorithm. It’s goal? Rate how likely they are to pay back their creditors. The number that the algorithm spits out after crunching the numbers on the credit report is the credit score. Lenders can check your score to get an idea of whether (or not) you’ll be able to pay them back.
Think of a credit report like a test and the credit score as your grade. The test contains the actual details of how you’ve performed. It’s the record of right and wrong answers that you’ve written down. The grade is just a shorthand way to evaluate your performance.
So are credit reports and credit scores the same thing? No. Are they closely related? Yes! A bulletproof credit report will lead to a higher credit score, while a report plagued by late payments will torpedo your final grade. And that number can make all the difference in your financial well-being!
1) Latoya Irby, “The Side Effects of Bad Credit,” The Balance, April 5, 2020.
2) Latoya Irby, “The Side Effects of Bad Credit,” The Balance, April 5, 2020.
In fact, most people throughout history have had zero outside financial protection in case of an untimely death. So why did life insurance appear? Let’s start by defining what it is.
What is life insurance?
Life insurance is essentially an agreement where people pay a company a premium on a policy that will provide a financial benefit in the case of an untimely death (or if other circumstances occur that are defined in the policy). Let’s say you have a spouse and a few kids. You know that if something were to happen to you it would leave them in a serious financial bind; being down an income could mean moving to a worse neighborhood, serious lifestyle changes, debt, and so on. An appropriate life insurance benefit Life insurance is worth considering if anyone in your life depends on you financially.
Roman soldiers: pioneers of life insurance
So where did the idea of life insurance come from? The first known example of life insurance was in a powerful organization with a high turnover rate: the Roman Army. Burials were culturally significant to Romans but expensive, which was bad news for poor soldiers constantly waging wars across ancient Europe. In response, they started burial clubs. Members of these clubs would cover funeral costs for their fallen comrades. It wasn’t much compared to the complexity of modern life insurance, but it at least provided a basic honor to soldiers and their families in the case of a tragic death.
Coffee Houses and Churches Not much is known about insurance in general after the fall of the Roman Empire. However, another high-risk field sparked its rebirth during Europe’s colonial era in the late 1680s. Merchants, sea captains, and sailors all worked high risk jobs; pirates, storms, and disease were serious threats to shipments and crews. What we think of as insurance was born to protect the pockets of investors in the case of a maritime catastrophe.
The first life insurance company opened in London just a few years later in 1706. The Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office was founded by William Talbot and required members to pay an annual fee. In 1759, American Presbyterian ministers created an organization to protect families of deceased pastors, with the Episcopalians following suit a few years later.
Something like modern life insurance was beginning to appear. But the next two centuries saw massive economic and social changes that permanently affected the insurance industry. We’ll explore those in part II!
But sometimes it might seem more convenient (or economical) to rent rather than buy. Here are two things to consider if you’re looking to buy a house instead of renting.
How long will you live in the house?
When you own a home, the hope is generally that it will increase in value and that you would be able to sell it for more than you bought it. The best way to do that is to plan to stay in your house for the long haul. So if you’re looking to remain in an area for a while and put down roots, buying a house is a strong consideration.
But let’s face it, not everyone is in that position. Maybe you’re young and hopping from opportunity to opportunity. Perhaps your job requires you to travel frequently or change locations. You might just prefer discovering new, exciting places and not being tied down. Unless you plan on renting out your property, it may not make sense for you to buy. Renting might give you more flexibility to move about as you please!
Can you afford to buy a house?
So you want to settle down in a city or a certain neighborhood for the foreseeable future. Does that automatically mean you should buy a house?
Well, maybe not.
You simply may not be able to afford a house right now. Do you have significant debt in student loans or a car? Have you been able to save up enough for closing costs and a down payment? Mortgages might be cheaper than rent at certain times, but that might flip-flop before too long. Are you ready to maintain your house or pay for unexpected damages? These are all questions to ask before you decide to become a homeowner.
Still weighing your homeownership options? Let’s talk. We can review your situation and see if now is your time to buy!
It’s in style; and it makes sense—and cents? Gigs are now just a click or tap away on most of our devices, and a little extra money never hurts! Here are a few things to consider when starting up a side hustle.
What are your side hustle goals? We typically think of a side hustle as being an easy way to score a little extra cash. But they can sometimes be gateways into bigger things. Do you have skills that you’d like to develop into a full time career? A passion that you can turn into a business? Or do you just need some serious additional income to pay down debt? These considerations can help you determine how much time and money you invest into your gig and what gigs to pursue.
What are your marketable skills? Some gigs don’t require many skills beyond a serviceable car and a driver’s license. But others can be great outlets for your hobbies and skills. Love writing? Start freelancing on your weekends. Got massive gains from hours at the gym and love the outdoors? Start doing moving jobs in your spare time. You might be surprised by the demand for your passions!
Keep it reasonable Burnout is no joke. Some people thrive on 80 hour work weeks between jobs and side hustles, but don’t feel pressured to bite off more than you can chew. Consider how much you’re willing to commit to your gigs and don’t exceed that limit.
One great thing about side hustles is their flexibility. You choose your level of commitment, you find the work, and your success can depend on how much you put in. Consider your goals and inventory your skills to get there—and start hustling!
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.
Americans now owe a record $1.04 trillion in credit card debt.¹ If you’re not careful, credit card debt could hurt your credit score, wipe out your savings, and completely alter your personal financial landscape.
So: debt, debit, both, or neither? Before you apply for that next piece of plastic, here’s what you need to watch out for.
Low interest rates
Credit card companies spend a lot of money on marketing to try to get you hooked on an offer. Often you hear or read that a company will tout an offer with a low or zero percent APR (Annual Percentage Rate). This is called a “teaser rate.”
Sounds amazing, right? But here’s the problem: This is a feature that may only last for 6–12 months. Ask yourself if the real interest rate will be worth it. Credit card companies make a profit via credit card interest. If they were to offer zero percent interest indefinitely, then they wouldn’t make any money.
Make sure you read the fine print to determine whether the card’s interest rate will be affordable after the teaser rate period expires.
Fixed vs. variable interest rates
Credit cards will operate on either a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate.² A fixed interest rate will generally stay the same from month to month. A variable interest rate, by contrast, is tied to an index (fancy word for interest rate) that moves with the economy. Normally the interest rate is set to be a few percentage points higher than the index.
The big difference here is that while a fixed rate may change, the credit card company is required to inform its customers when this happens. While a variable APR may start out with a lower interest rate, it’s not uncommon for these rates to fluctuate. What’s more, the credit card company isn’t required to tell you about a variable rate change at all!³
Low interest rates are usually reserved for individuals who have great credit with a long credit history. So, if you’ve never owned a credit card (or you are recovering from a negative credit history) this could be a red flag.
Of course, you could avoid these pitfalls altogether if you pay off your credit card balance before the statement date. Whatever the interest rate, be sure you’re applying for a credit card that’s affordable for you to pay off if you miss the payoff due date.
High credit limits
While large lines of credit are usually reserved for those with a good credit history, a new cardholder might still receive an offer for up to a $10,000 credit limit.
If this happens to you, beware. While it may seem like the offer conveys a great deal of trust in your ability to pay your bill, be honest with yourself. You may not be able to recover from the staggering size of your credit card debt if you can’t pay off your balance each month.
If you already have a card with a limit that feels too high, it may be in your interest to request that the company lower your card’s limit.
So you’re late paying your credit card bill. Late payments not only have the potential to hurt your credit score, but some credit cards may also assess a penalty APR if you haven’t paid your bill on time.
Penalty APRs are incredibly high, usually topping out at 29.99%.⁴ The solution here is simple: pay your bill on time or you might find self paying ridiculous interest rates!
Balance transfer fees
It’s not uncommon for a cardholder to transfer one card’s balance to another card, otherwise known as a balance transfer. This can be an effective way to pay off your debt while sidestepping interest, but only if you do so before the card’s effective rate kicks in. And, even if a card offers zero interest on balance transfers, you still may have to pay a fee for doing so.
Whatever type of credit card you choose, the only person responsible for its pros and cons is you. But if you’re thrifty and pay attention to the bottom line, you can help make that credit card work for your credit score and not against it.
¹ Samuel Stebbins “Where credit card debt is the worst in the US: States with the highest average balances,” USA Today (March 7 2019, updated April 26, 2019)
² Latoya Irby, “Credit Card Interest Rates: Fixed vs. Variable Rates,” The Balance (May 20, 2019)
³ Latoya Irby, “Credit Card Interest Rates: Fixed vs. Variable Rates,” The Balance (May 20, 2019)
⁴ Latoya Irby, “Credit Card Default And Penalty Rates Explained,” (August 12, 2019)
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).
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!
It helps protect your family during the grieving process, gives them time to figure out their next steps, and can provide income to cover normal bills, your mortgage, and other unforeseen expenses.
Here are some guidelines to help you figure out how much is enough to help keep your family’s future safe.
Who needs life insurance?
A good rule of thumb is that you should get life insurance if you have financial dependents. That can range from children to spouses to retired parents. It’s worth remembering that you might provide financial support to loved ones in unexpected ways. A stay-at-home parent, for instance, may cover childcare or education costs. Be sure to take careful consideration when deciding who should get coverage!
What does life insurance cover?
Life insurance can be used to cover a variety of unexpected expenses. Funeral costs or debts can potentially be financial and emotional strains, as can the loss of a steady income and employer-provided benefits. Think of life insurance as a buffer in these situations. It can give you a line of defense from financial concerns while you process your loss and plan for the future.
How much life insurance do you need?
Everyone’s situation is different, so consider who would be financially impacted in your absence and what their needs would be.
If you’re single with no children, you may only need enough insurance to cover funeral costs and pay off any debts.
If you’re married with children, consider how long it might take your spouse to get back on their feet and be able to support your family, how much childcare and living expenses might be, and how much your children would need to attend college and start a life of their own. A rule of thumb is to purchase 10 times as much life insurance as income you would make in a year. For instance, you would probably buy a $500,000 life insurance policy if you make $50,000 a year. (Note: Be sure to talk with a qualified and licensed life insurance professional before you make any decisions.)
An older person with no kids at home may want to leave behind an inheritance for their children and grandchildren, or ensure that their spouse is cared for in their golden years.
A business owner will need a solid strategy for what would happen to the business in the event of their death, as well as enough life insurance to help ensure that employees are paid and the business can either be transferred or closed with costs covered.
Life insurance may not be anyone’s favorite topic, but it can be a lifeline to your family in the event that you are taken from them too soon. With a well thought out life insurance policy for you and your situation, you can rest knowing that your family’s future has been prepared for.
On average, each household that has revolving credit card debt owes $7,104 (1). It might be tempting to see those numbers and decide to throw out your credit cards entirely. After all, why hang on to a source of temptation when you could make do with cash or a debit card? However, keeping a credit card around has some serious benefits that you should consider before you decide to free yourself from plastic’s grasp.
You might have bigger debts to deal with
On average, credit card debt is low compared to auto loans ($27,934), student loans ($46,679), and mortgages ($192,618) (2). Simply put, you might be dealing with debts that cost you a lot more than your credit card. That leaves you with a few options. You can either start with paying down your biggest debts (a debt avalanche) or get the smaller ones out of the way and move up (a debt snowball). That means you’ll either tackle credit card debt first or wait while you deal with a mortgage payment or student loans. Figure out where to start and see where your credit card fits in!
Ditching credit cards can lower your credit score
Credit utilization and availability play a big role in determining your credit score (3). The less credit you use and the more you have available, the better your score will likely be. Closing down a credit card account may drastically lower the amount of credit you have available, which then could reduce your score. Even freezing your card in a block of ice can have negative effects; credit card companies will sometimes lower your available credit or just close the account if they see inactivity for too long (4). This may not be the end of the world if you have another line of credit (like a mortgage) but it’s typically better for your credit score to keep a credit card around and only use it for smaller purchases.
It’s often wiser to limit credit card usage than to ditch them entirely. Figure out which debts are costing you the most, and focus your efforts on paying them down before you cut up your cards. While you’re at it, try limiting your credit card usage to a few small monthly purchases to protect your credit score and free up some extra funds to work on your other debts.
Need help coming up with a strategy? Give me a call and we can get started on your journey toward financial freedom!
(1) Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019
(2) Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019
(3) Latoya Irby, “Understanding Credit Utilization: How Your Usage Affects Your Credit Score,” The Balance, February 20, 2020
(4) Lance Cothern, “Will My Credit Score Go Down If A Credit Card Company Closes My Account For Non-Use?” March 2, 2020
The good news is, you don’t need a perfect relationship or perfect finances to have productive conversations with your partner about money, so here are some tips for handling those tricky conversations like a pro!
Respect should be the basis for any conversation with your significant other, but especially when dealing with potentially touchy issues like money. Be mindful to keep your tone neutral and try not to heap blame on your partner for any issues. Remember that you’re here to solve problems together.
It’s perfectly normal if one person in a couple handles the finances more than the other. Just be sure to take responsibility for the decisions that you make and remember that it affects both people. You might want to establish a monthly money meeting to make sure you’re both on the same page and in the loop. Hint: Make it fun! Maybe order in, or enjoy a steak dinner while you chat.
Take a team approach
Instead of saying to your partner, “you need to do this or that,” try to frame things in a way that lets your partner know you see yourself on the same team as they are. Saying “we need to take a look at our combined spending habits” will probably be better received than “you need to stop spending so much money.”
It can be tempting to feel defeated and hopeless that things will never get better if you’re trying to move a mountain. But this kind of thinking can be contagious and negativity may further poison your finances and your relationship. Try to focus on what you can both do to make things better and what small steps to take to get where you want to be, rather than focusing on past mistakes and problems.
Don’t ignore the negative
It’s important to stay positive, but it’s also important to face and conquer the specific problems. It gives you and your partner focused issues to work on and will help you make a game plan. Speaking of which…
Set common goals, and work toward them together
Whether it’s saving for a big vacation, your child’s college fund, getting out of debt, or making a big purchase like a car, money management and budgeting may be easier if you are both working toward a common purpose with a shared reward. Figure out your shared goals and then make a plan to accomplish them!
Accept that your partner may have a different background and approach to money
We all have our strengths, weaknesses, and different perspectives. Just because yours differs from your partner’s doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. Chances are you make allowances and balance each other out in other areas of your relationship, and you can do the same with money if you try to see things from your partner’s point of view.
Discussing and managing your finances together can be a great opportunity for growth in a relationship. Go into it with a positive attitude, respect for your partner, and a sense of your common values and priorities. Having an open, honest, and trust-based approach to money in a relationship may be challenging, but it is definitely worth it.
Paying off your mortgage, car, and student loans can sometimes seem so impossible that you might not even look at the total you owe. You just keep making payments because that’s all you might think you can do. However, there is a way out! Here are 4 tips to help:
Make a Budget
Many people have a complex budget that tracks every penny that comes in and goes out. They may even make charts or graphs that show the ratio of coffee made at home to coffee purchased at a coffee shop. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated, especially if you’re new at this “budget thing”. Start by splitting all of your spending into two categories: necessary and optional. Rent, the electric bill, and food are all examples of necessary spending, while something like a vacation or buying a third pair of black boots (even if they’re on sale) might be optional. Figure out ways that you can cut back on your optional spending, and devote the leftover money to paying down your debt. It might mean staying in on the weekends or not buying that flashy new electronic gadget you’ve been eyeing. But reducing how much you owe will be better long-term.
Negotiate a Settlement
Creditors often negotiate with customers. After all, it stands to reason that they’d rather get a partial payment than nothing at all! But be warned; settling an account can potentially damage your credit score. Negotiating with creditors is often a last resort, not an initial strategy.
Interest-bearing debt obligations may be negotiable. Contact a consolidation specialist for refinancing installment agreements. This debt management solution helps reduce the risk of multiple accounts becoming overdue. When fully paid, a clean credit record with an extra loan in excellent standing may be the reward if all payments are made on time.
Get a side gig
You might be in a position to work evenings or weekends to make extra cash to put towards your debt. There are a myriad of options—rideshare driving, food delivery, pet sitting, you name it! Or you might have a hobby that you could turn into a part-time business.
If you feel overwhelmed by debt, then let’s talk. We can discuss strategies that will help move you from feeling helpless to having financial control.
Your credit report may affect anything from how much you pay for a cell phone plan, to whether you would qualify for the mortgage you might want.
Getting and maintaining a good credit score can be advantageous. But how do you achieve a good credit report? What if you’re starting from scratch? The dilemma is like the chicken and the egg question. How can you build a positive credit report if no one will extend you credit?
Read on for some useful tips to help you get started.
Use a cosigner to take out a loan
One way to help build good credit is by taking out a loan with a cosigner. A cosigner would be responsible for the repayment of the loan if the borrower defaults. Many banks may be willing to give loans to people with no credit if someone with good credit acts as a cosigner on the loan to help ensure the money will be paid back.
Build credit as an authorized user
If you don’t want or need to take out a loan with a cosigner, you may want to consider building credit as an authorized user of someone else’s credit card – like a parent, close friend, or relative you trust. The credit card holder would add you as an authorized user of the card. Over time if the credit account remains in good standing, you would begin building credit.
Apply for a store credit card to build your credit
Another way to start building your credit record is to secure a store credit card. Store credit cards may be easier to qualify for than major credit cards because they usually have lower credit limits and higher interest rates. A store credit card may help you build good credit if you make the payments on time every month. Also be sure to pay the card balance off each month to avoid paying interest.
Keep student loans in good standing
If there is an upside to student loan debt, it’s that having a student loan can help build credit and may be easy to qualify for. Just keep in mind, as with any loan, to make payments on time.
Good credit takes time
Building a good credit report takes time, but we all must start somewhere. Your credit score can affect many aspects of your financial health, so it’s worth it to build and maintain a good credit report. Start small and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Most importantly, as you begin building credit, protect it by avoiding credit card debt and making your payments on time.