2020 witnessed home prices soar by 15% to average more than $320,000–a prohibitive price for many seeking to buy their first house.¹
But even if you aren’t ready to buy a house today, there are steps you can take now that may better position you to become a homeowner in the future!
Build your emergency fund
An emergency fund is a critical line of financial defense that can help lay the foundation for buying a house. That’s because an emergency fund provides a cash cushion while you prepare to purchase your home and then begin paying off your mortgage. The unexpected expenses of homeownership can be far less detrimental to your long-term goals when you have a dedicated fund specifically designed to cover emergencies!
Increase your credit score
An excellent credit score is imperative for first time home buyers for two reasons…
First, actions that increase your credit score–debt management and paying your bills on time–can help create a solid financial foundation as you shoulder the responsibility of servicing a mortgage.
Second, lenders typically offer more favorable loan terms to people with high credit scores. That can result in more cash flow over the life of your mortgage. A recent survey discovered that mortgage holders with very good credit scores save more than $40,000 over the lifetime of their loan!²
Take steps to boost your credit score before you start house hunting. Automate your bill payments so they’re always on time, and begin reducing the balances on your credit cards, student loans, and auto loans!
Start saving for your down payment ASAP
Aim to have a down payment of at least 20% of your future home’s value saved before the home buying process begins.
Why? Because paying more up front and borrowing less to buy your home reduces the interest you’ll owe over the long-term. A substantial down payment might also lower the price of closing costs and negate your need to buy private mortgage insurance. Usually, the higher your down payment, the better!
The time to lay the groundwork for buying your first house is now. Build an emergency fund, increase your credit score, and save enough for a significant down payment. Then, search for a house that meets your needs and won’t break the bank!
¹ “U.S. home prices hit a record high in 2020. Is home buying still affordable?,” Peter Miller, The Mortgage Reports, Oct 13, 2020, https://themortgagereports.com/70539/record-high-prices-record-low-mortgage-rates-during-covid#:~:text=Home%20values%20and%20sales%20prices,on%20record%2C%E2%80%9D%20says%20Redfin.
² “Raising a ‘Fair’ Credit Score to ‘Very Good’ Could Save Over $56,000,” Kali McFadden, LendingTree, Jan 7, 2020, https://www.lendingtree.com/personal/study-raising-credit-score-saves-money/
It might feel like every salesperson is pulling the wool over your eyes to take as much money from you as possible while delivering the least value.
Not to worry! Here are a few car buying insights that can help you get a ride that meets your transportation needs without sacrificing your financial stability.
Buy a used car
Chances are, you’ll buy your first car with limited financial resources. You most likely just need a vehicle that reliably gets you around town without breaking the bank.
In terms of price, used cars beat new cars almost every time. And reliability is decreasingly an issue–used cars sometimes travel 100,000 before they need a major repair.¹
As a rule of thumb, look for used cars that are three years old or more. They often can have the same features as newer models, still have many miles left before they break down, and can cost a fraction of a brand new car.
Ask for a car’s VIN before you buy it
If you decide to buy used, ask for the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of each car you consider. A VIN gives you access to the full history of your car, including…
Once you have the VIN, check it out on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. They have digital resources that allow you to search VINs and discover the history of the vehicles you’re considering.
Say no to bad deals
Don’t sweat it if you find a not-so-great car at a good price. It’s perfectly fine to walk away and keep searching. 40 million used cars were sold in 2019.² You’ll find the car you want at a price you love soon enough!
Above all, do your research. Buying a first car is a serious financial commitment. The last thing you want to do is drive off with a car that costs too much or will need constant repairs and maintenance. Check out sites like Kelley Bluebook and Consumer Reports to find information on car prices and reliability. Then, start asking around. You might be surprised by how many people in your circles are trying to unload a reliable used car!
¹ “How Many Miles is Too Many on a Used Car?,” Autolist, June 27, 2017, https://www.autolist.com/guides/how-many-miles-is-too-many-used-car
² “New and used light vehicle sales in the United States from 2010 to 2019,” I. Wagner, Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/183713/value-of-us-passenger-cas-sales-and-leases-since-1990/#:~:text=U.S.%20new%20and%20used%20car%20sales%202010%2D2019&text=Sales%20of%20used%20light%20vehicles,and%20automobiles%20were%20sold%20here.
It represents the time and effort you spend working to master a particular field and may span multiple individual jobs.
But, as with any journey, you’ll face hazards and setbacks along the way. Here are two potentially harmful mindsets that can become roadblocks to your professional success,
Careers are important. Excellence is important. They provide metrics to evaluate your success. But neither defines your worth as a person. It doesn’t make you a failure if a career doesn’t work out like you had imagined it would. Likewise, scoring a huge sale or landing a promotion doesn’t increase your fundamental value.
Finding your meaning and purpose gives you the resilience to withstand temporary setbacks and keep pushing forward.
Perfectionism is linked with numerous mental health issues.¹ It’s no wonder why. Demanding perfection from yourself and others is a surefire way to be consistently disappointed. And when you don’t meet your own self-imposed standards, it can feel absolutely devastating and paralyzing.
Instead of pushing yourself to the breaking point and berating yourself over failures, take a moment to own up to your mistakes and then forgive yourself. Don’t let life’s hiccups define you and your life. In fact, they can be vital opportunities to learn and expand your perspective. But that wisdom is only accessible once you release the drive to be perfect.
The key to navigating a career is perspective. Perspective allows you to see what matters and what’s insignificant. Examine your motives. Why are you pursuing your career? Is it because you’re passionate about it? Because it provides for your family? Because it can make you lots of money? Once you set your eye on your higher goals and calling, it becomes much easier to avoid toxic mindsets that may threaten your career and success.
¹ “The Dangers of Perfectionism,” Andrea Brandt, Psychology Today, Apr 01, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201904/the-dangers-perfectionism
Whether you’re a highschool student working a cash register or a fresh-out-of-college graduate who just landed a cubicle, a first job often comes with a steep learning curve. But don’t let that weigh you down! This is your once in a lifetime opportunity to start your financial journey strong and develop skills that will last you throughout your career.
Here are two simple steps you can take to make the most of your first job.
A first paycheck is a magical thing. It makes you feel like the hard work has finally paid off and you’re a real adult. You might just become unstoppable now that you’ve got a regular income!
But that empowerment will be fleeting if you spend everything you earn.
It’s absolutely critical that you begin saving money the moment your first paycheck arrives. This practice will go far in establishing healthy money habits that can last a lifetime. Plus, the sooner you start saving, the more time your money has to grow via compound interest. What seems like a pittance today can grow into the foundation of your future wealth if you steward it properly!
Evaluate your performance.
There’s much that you can learn about yourself by studying your job performance. You’ll get an idea of strengths that you can leverage and weaknesses that you need to work on.
But most importantly, you might discover moments when you’re “in the zone”. You’ll know what that means when you feel it. Time slows down (or speeds up), you’re totally focused on the task at hand, and you’re having fun.
That feeling is like a compass. It helps point you in the direction of what you’re supposed to do with your life. Do you get in the zone when you’re working on a certain task? With a group of people? Helping others succeed? Pay close attention to when you’re feeling energized at work and delivering quality results… and when you’re not!
Above all, keep an open mind. Your first job might introduce a passion you’ll pursue for the rest of your life… or it might not. And that’s okay! Whatever it is and wherever it leads, be sure to save as much as you can and to pay attention to what you like. You’ll be better positioned both financially and personally to pursue your dreams when the time comes to make your next move!
You’ve probably daydreamed about what you want to do when you no longer have to withstand the 9-to-5 routine. But do you know when you want retirement to become a reality?
The average retirement age for people in the US is about 63. However, there’s a large group of people who continue to work past 65.¹ Two motivations that could be contributing to this situation are:
It’s apparent that the first option might be preferable to the latter – even if you love what you do.
Here’s why: having the choice is better than having no choice at all.
Imagine that as you approach the time when you want to retire that you love your job and experience a lot of satisfaction in what you do. But there’s no option for you to stop even if you wanted to because of bills or obligations to yourself or your family.
As you approach retirement age – whatever that may be – there could be other things in your life that matter to you that come into conflict with the job you love. Some of these “other things” may include (but aren’t limited to) spending time with family, volunteering at an organization you’re passionate about, traveling the world, etc. Except for a lucky few, most can’t both traveling around the world AND work the job they love. That’s when having the resources to choose comes in handy.
It’s important to have a strategy to reach your retirement goals, whether it’s retiring at age 65 or earlier. Having a plan in place doesn’t mean you absolutely have to retire. But at least you’ll have the flexibility to do so!
¹ “Average Retirement Age In The United States,” Dana Anspach, The Balance, Jul 31, 2020, http://bit.ly/2nW9AWJ.
Before they might know what a 401(k) or mortgage even are, their financial future is already starting to take shape. It’s never too early to teach your kids the wisdom of budgeting, limiting their spending, and paying themselves first. So the sooner you can instill those lessons, the deeper they’ll sink in!
Fortunately, teaching your kids about saving is quite simple. Here are two common-sense strategies that can help you instill financial wisdom in your children from the moment they can tell a dollar from a dime!
Give your child an allowance
The easiest way for your child to learn how money works is actually for them to have money. If it’s within your budget, set up a system for your child to earn an allowance. The more closely it relates to their work, the better. Set up a list of family chores that are mandatory, and then come up with some jobs and projects around the house that pay different amounts.
What does this have to do with saving? The simple fact is that spending money you receive as a gift can feel totally different than spending money that you earn. Teaching your children the connection between work and money instills a sense of the value of their time and that spending isn’t something to be taken lightly!
Teach your child how to budget
Budgeting is one of the most essential life skills your child will ever learn. And there’s no better time for them to start learning the difference between saving and spending than now! The same study that revealed children solidify their spending habits at age 7 also suggested they can grasp basic financial concepts by age 3!
So when your kid earns that first 5 dollar bill for working in the yard, help them figure out what to do with it! Encourage them to set aside a portion of what they earn in a place where it will grow via compound interest. Explain that the longer their money compounds, the more potential it has to grow! If they’re natural spenders, help them determine how long it will take them to save up enough to buy the new toy or game they want and that it’s worth the wait.
Start saving for yourself
Remember this–the most important lessons you teach your children are unconscious. Your kids are smart. They watch everything you do. Relentlessly enforce spending limits on your kids but splurge on a vacation or new car? They’ll notice. That’s why one of the most critical means of teaching your kids how to save is to establish a savings strategy yourself. When you make and review your monthly budget, invite the kids to join! When they ask why you haven’t gone on vacation abroad for a while, calmly inform them that it’s not in the family budget right now. Model wise financial decision making, and your children will be far more receptive to learning how money works for themselves!
The time to start teaching your kids how to save is today. Whether they’re 2, 8, or 18, offer them opportunities to work so they can earn some money and give them the knowledge and resources they need to use it wisely. And the sooner your kids discover concepts like the power of compound interest and the time value of money, the more potential they have to transform what they earn into a foundation for future wealth.
“The 5 Most Important Money Lessons To Teach Your Kids,” Laura Shin, Forbes, Oct 15, 2013, https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2013/10/15/the-5-most-important-money-lessons-to-teach-your-kids/?sh=2c01a4956826
There’s something liberating about closing one chapter of your life and beginning a new one. You realize that this year doesn’t have to be like last year, and that there are countless possibilities for growth.
Now is the perfect time to write a new financial chapter of your life.
In the mindset of new beginnings, the first thing is to forgive yourself for the mistakes of the past and start fresh. Now is your chance to set yourself up for financial success this year and potentially for years to come. Here are three simple steps you can take starting January 1st that might make this new chapter of your life the best one yet!
Automate wise money decisions ASAP
What if there were a way to go to the gym once that somehow made you steadily stronger throughout the year? One workout would be all you need to achieve your lifting goals!
That’s exactly what automating savings and bill payments does for your finances.
All you have to do is determine how much you want to save and where, set up automatic deposits, and watch your savings grow. It’s like making a year’s worth of wise financial decisions in one fell swoop!
Give your debt the cold shoulder
Debt doesn’t have to dictate your story in the new year. You can reclaim your cash flow from monthly payments and devote it to building wealth. Resolve to reduce how much you owe over the next 12 months, and then implement one of these two powerful debt strategies…
Arrange your debts on a sheet of paper, starting with the highest interest rate and working down. Direct as much financial firepower as you can at that first debt. Once you’ve cleared it, use the extra resources you’ve freed up to crush the next one even faster. This strategy is called the Debt Avalanche.
Arrange your debts on a sheet paper, starting with the smallest debt and working up to the largest. Eliminate the smallest debt first and then work up to the largest debt. This is called the Debt Snowball. It can be a slower strategy over the long-haul, but it can sometimes provide more motivation to keep going because you’re knocking out smaller goals faster.
Start a side hustle
You might not have thought much about this before, but you may have what it takes to create a successful side hustle. Just take a moment and think about your hobbies and skills. Love playing guitar? Start teaching lessons, or see if you can start gigging at weddings or events. Are you an embroidery master? Start selling your creations online. Your potential to transform your existing talents into income streams is only limited by your imagination!
Start this new year strong. Automate a year’s worth of wise financial decisions ASAP, and then evaluate what your next steps should be. You may even want to meet with a qualified and licensed financial professional to help you uncover strategies and techniques that can further reduce your debt and increase your cash flow. Whatever you choose, you’ll have set yourself up for a year full of potential for financial success!
For example, how much would you spend on a meal at a restaurant before it moves into lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous territory? $100? $50? $20? To some, enjoying a daily made-to-order burrito might be par for the course, but to others, spending $10 every day on a tortilla, a scoop of chicken, and a dollop of guacamole might seem extravagant. Chances are, there may be some areas where you’re more in line with the average person and some areas where you’re atypical – but don’t let that worry you!
In case you were wondering, the top 3 things that Americans spend their money on in a year are housing ($20,091), transportation ($9,761), and food ($7,923).¹
Those top 3 expenses might very well be about the same as your top 3, but everything else after that is a mixed bag. Your lifestyle and the unique things that make you, well you, greatly influence where you spend your money and how you should budget.
For example, let’s say the average expenditure on a pet is $600 annually, but that may lump in hamsters, guinea pigs, all the way to Siberian Huskies. As you can imagine, each could come with a very different yearly cost associated with keeping that type of pet healthy. So although the average might be $600, your actual cost could be well above $3,000 for the husky! That definitely wouldn’t be seen as ‘normal’ by any means. And that’s okay!
What are we getting at here? It’s perfectly fine to be ‘abnormal’ in some areas of your spending. You don’t need to make your budget look exactly like other people’s budgets. What matters to them might not be the same as what matters to you.
So go ahead and buy that organic, gluten-free, grass-fed kibble for Fido – he deserves it (if he didn’t pee on the carpet while you were away, that is)! If Fido’s happiness makes you happy, then more power to you. Just make sure that at the end of the day, Fido’s food bill won’t bust your budget.
¹ “American Spending Habits in 2020,” Lexington Law, Jan 6, 2020, https://www.lexingtonlaw.com/blog/credit-cards/american-spending-habits.html
Auto leasing has been popular for several decades, but many people still aren’t sure about the sensibility of leasing vs. buying a car, how the math works, and which is really the better value.
Should you lease a car?
In many cases, you can lease a car for less than the monthly payment for financing the exact same car. This is because with leasing, you never build any equity in the vehicle. Essentially, you are renting the vehicle for a predetermined number of miles per year with a promise that you’ll take good care of it and won’t let your kids spill ice cream on the seats. (After all, it’s not really your car.)
At the end of the lease – most often 2 or 3 years – you’ll have the option to buy the car. At this point, in many cases you would be able to find a comparable car for a few thousand less than the residual value on the car you leased. After the lease has expired, most people choose to lease another newer car, rather than buy the car they leased.
If you don’t drive many miles, there may be some advantages to leasing over buying, particularly if you prefer to drive something newer or if you need a late-model car for business reasons. As a bonus, for short-term or standard leases, the car is usually under warranty for the duration of the lease and maintenance costs are typically only for minor service items.
Should you buy a car?
If you’re like most people, when you buy a car, you’ll probably need to finance it rather than plunk down a lump sum in cash. Rates are relatively low, but you can still expect to pay a few thousand dollars in interest costs over the course of the loan. Longer loans have higher rates and more expensive vehicles can make the interest costs add up quickly. Still, at the end of the loan, you own the car.
Older cars usually have higher maintenance costs, but it may be less expensive to keep a car with under 150,000 miles and pay for any repairs, rather than make payments on a new car. Cars are also running reliably much longer now. The average age of cars and light trucks on the roads currently is up to 12 years, which means if you had a 5-year loan, you could be driving for 7 years (or more) without having to make a car payment.[i]
So a big part of the savings in buying a car vs. leasing can occur if you keep the car for several years after it’s paid off. Cars depreciate most rapidly during the first 5 years of ownership, meaning you could take a big hit on the trade-in value during that time. Keeping the car for a bit longer puts you into a period where the car is depreciating less rapidly and you can benefit financially from not having a car payment. But if you think you might be tempted to trade the car in after 5 years (and you typically drive under 15,000 miles per year), you may want to take a closer look at leasing.
Keeping your car for 10 years
How would you like to “make” an extra $28,000 over the next 10 years? That’s enough to buy another car! All things being equal (you make the same modest down payment on a leased car as a financed car), and assuming an average auto loan rate for a $30,000 vehicle, you can save nearly $28,000 in a decade by buying and keeping your car for 10 years instead of leasing a car every 3 years. And that savings applies to each car you own.[ii] (This calculation also assumes maintenance costs.)
Your savings will vary based on the type of car and its price of course, but buying a car and keeping it for a while after it’s paid off can “yield” handsome dividends.
Getting behind the wheel
It’s really up to your personal preference whether you buy or lease. If you like to rotate your vehicles so you can enjoy a new car every few years and not have to worry so much about maintenance, then leasing may be a better option. However, if you like the idea of not having to make a car payment for a good portion of the life of your car, then buying may be the right choice.
Either way, before you take the keys and drive off the lot, make sure to ask your dealer any questions you have, so you can fully understand all the terms and any underlying costs for your situation.
[i] “Vehicles on the road keep getting older, and COVID could push the age higher,” Eric D. Lawrence, Detriot Free Press, Jul 28, 2020, https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2020/07/28/covid-average-vehicle-age-12-years/5519557002/ [ii] “Buy Vs. Lease Calculator,” Lauren Barret, Money Under 30, Nov 8, 2020 https://www.moneyunder30.com/buy-vs-lease-calculator*
After all, it’s hard to find a family that doesn’t have debt hanging over them. In this day of easy credit and deferred interest, it’s not hard to accumulate sizable financial obligations.
It is possible, however, to become debt free. One method, the so-called “snowball” method, can be an effective way to get on top of those seemingly never-ending payments.
When you think about tackling your debt, it might make sense to pay off the obligation you have at the highest interest rate first, when you look at it mathematically. But sometimes the highest interest rate debt may also be the largest amount you have to deal with, which might create frustration if the balance is going down too slowly.
The debt snowball method can seem counterintuitive because it doesn’t always follow the math, since in most cases, the math favors paying down the debt with the highest interest rate first. The snowball method instead focuses on building momentum – the idea that small successes can lead to larger successes. Paying off the smallest balance first can build momentum to plow through the next largest balance, then the next one and so forth – like a snowball gaining size and speed as it rolls down a hill.
To restate, once you’ve paid off the smallest balance, more cash is available to put toward the next smallest amount. After the second smallest amount is paid off, the cash you freed up by paying off the first two debts can now be applied to the third largest balance.
The snowball method of debt repayment is intended to help simplify the process of becoming debt free. Because you’re starting with smaller balances and working your way up, your mortgage (if you have one) would be one of the last balances to tackle. Some financial experts might recommend leaving the mortgage out of your snowball payments altogether, but that’s up to you and how ambitious you are!
Ready to start?
First, remind yourself it may take some time to get your debt to zero, but hang in there. If you stick to your strategy, you can make great strides toward financial freedom!
Second, make a list of your debts and sort them by size from lowest to highest. Then, pay the minimum on all the balances except the smallest one, and put as much as you can towards that one. Let’s say the payment you’re making on the smallest balance is $20. Once that balance is paid off, add that $20 to whatever you were paying toward the next smallest balance. Let’s say that balance has a minimum payment of $30. That means you can now put $50 a month toward it to knock it out faster.
When the second balance is paid off, you’ll have an extra $50 a month you can put towards the third highest balance.
See the snowball? Keep going! Over time, you should have enough momentum and freed up cash available to really make a dent in your debt.
But not all goals are created equal. Planning to win the lottery is a foolish objective that won’t help you fulfill your dreams. Spending hours clipping coupons worth a few dollars is probably a waste of time.
Fortunately, establishing proper goals is actually incredibly straightforward. You want to pursue objectives that are SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Formulating these types of goals can radically focus your energy and increase your ability to get things done. Let’s start with the first criteria!
The more specific your goal, the more clearly you’ll understand exactly what you need to do to achieve it. It’s the difference between a vague daydream and a solid plan.
When writing out your financial goals, be crystal clear on exactly what you want to accomplish and why. Outline the steps and people needed to bring about your vision. Something like “I want to make more money” becomes “I want to earn a raise at work by taking on more responsibility.”
How will you know if you’ve accomplished, exceeded, or failed your goal? Including a clear metric gives you insight into how close or far you are from completing your objective.
Decide on a clear numeric goal you can shoot for. Take a vague notion like “I want to save more money” and transform it into “I want to save 15% of my income this year for retirement.” You’ll have a clearer idea of what steps you need to take to meet that benchmark and feel a deep sense of reward once you hit the target.
Trying to attain an ill-defined, pie-in-the-sky goal will only lead to crazy behavior, incredible discouragement, or both. If you’re aiming for something huge (which is admirable), break it down into mini goals and focus on one at a time. Achieving a goal like “I want to start a multi-million dollar business” takes careful planning, a lot of research, and loads of help, but there are many, many people in the world who have done just that. How do you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time!)
Are your goals appropriate? That seems like an obvious question, but it’s a critical one to ask when establishing objectives. For instance, saving up $1,000 so you can buy your new niece a Swarovski crystal, gold-plated baby rattle (yes, that’s a real thing) might be really memorable, but do you have an emergency fund in place? Make sure you’re meeting those practical, basic financial goals before you start aiming for the non-essential ones.
Knowing that the clock is ticking is one of the most powerful motivators on the planet. You’ll want to establish a realistic time-frame, but deciding that you want to buy a house in two years or be debt free in six months can increase your intensity, narrow your focus, and inspire you to start working on your goals as soon as possible!
Do your financial goals meet these criteria? If not, don’t sweat it! Spend 15 minutes reviewing your objectives and work in specific details or break down some of your more ambitious targets. Remember, I’m here to help if you hit a financial goal roadblock and need some professional insight and clarity!
Setting goals has the power to change your life. Research has shown that people who write down their goals are 33% more successful in accomplishing them than those who don’t.¹ That data seems to verify what we instinctively know. Is there anything worse than working on a project that has no clear objective or outcome defined?
But here’s the million dollar question: Have you written down your financial goals?
It’s one of those simple things that we tell ourselves we’re going to do or that we’ll get around to later, but we tend to leave undone. And that results in our earning, saving, and spending money aimlessly, without purpose. No wonder the majority of 40-somethings and almost a third of people in their 60s are woefully short of having enough for their retirements!²
In case you still need convincing, here are three reasons why you should write down your financial goals the second you’re done reading this article!
Financial goals bring clarity
Imagine trying to build a house without a blueprint. Where would you start? Would you know what supplies you’d need? What color paint you’d want? Would you end up with a basement? Who knows?
Your finances are the same way. Until you have a clear financial goal for your lifestyle and retirement, you’ll never truly know what to do with your money and how it can help you. Once you’re locked in on a vision of your future, you can start exploring the actions necessary to make your dreams become realities.
Financial goals create intensity
Discovering the steps you need to take to achieve your goals cuts away distractions. You’re no longer as susceptible to distractions and temptations because you’re laser-focused on creating an outcome. You can focus all of your mental and financial energy on bringing your vision to life. Clarity leads to focus. Focus creates intensity. Intensity accomplishes goals.
Financial goals are rewarding
There are few better feelings than the one that comes after a day of hard, productive work. That’s because your brain knows that you accomplished what you set out to do.
Your finances are no different.
Setting goals for your money gives you the opportunity to feel that deep sense of reward and accomplishment. It provides your life with a source of gratification that isn’t shallow and instantaneous.
So what are you waiting for? Grab a piece of paper or pull up your note taking app and write down a few financial goals! Be realistic and hyper specific. Let’s talk about what comes to your mind and what it would take to bring that vision of your life into reality!
¹ “Goal-Setting Is Linked to Higher Achievement,” Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D., Psychology Today, Mar 14, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-moment-youth/201803/goal-setting-is-linked-higher-achievement
² “Here’s how much Americans have saved for retirement at different ages,” Kathleen Elkins, CNBC Make It, Jan 23, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/23/heres-how-much-americans-have-saved-for-retirement-at-different-ages.html
It turns out that all of the above can be damaging to your health. The first two may come as no surprise, but it turns out people who experience “negative wealth shock” are 50% more likely to die in the following 20 years than their neighbors.¹ That’s an insane uptick! So why are the numbers so high?
Let’s start by defining negative wealth shock.
It can happen when someone loses 75% or more of their wealth. Imagine if you woke up one day and discovered that your $100,000 nest egg had dropped to $25,000. That’s the level of loss needed to be considered negative wealth shock.
Obviously, a loss of that magnitude would be emotionally devastating.
But why does it seem to have such an impact on mortality?
Part of it might have to do with losing access to medical services. People with less money can’t visit the doctor as often and sometimes can’t afford the treatment they need.
It’s also worth considering that dangerous health conditions sometimes result in negative wealth shock.² Perhaps the statistic says more about the seriousness of staying healthy than it does staying rich!
However, there’s also a strong likelihood that losing the vast majority of one’s wealth causes dangerous levels of stress. For example, The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 actually increased the risk for heart attacks and depression.³
Unfortunately, negative wealth shock is astoundingly common.
A survey discovered that a quarter of participants had experienced it.⁴ Americans aren’t just losing vast amounts of money. They’re experiencing devastating emotional, mental, and ultimately physical damage that could cost them their lives.
So how can you prevent a traumatic negative wealth shock?
First, determine how volatile your net worth is. Is all your wealth concentrated in one investment? What would happen if that investment crashed?
Second, discover how sturdy your protection is. How would you pay the bills if you were out of work or unable to work? Do you have the savings and insurance to protect you and your family?
Third, assess how stable your income is. Would your paycheck vanish if you couldn’t work or if your employer went belly up? Or do you have a team and system in place that could keep you financially afloat?
How did you answer these questions? Let’s talk if you feel that you’re vulnerable to a negative wealth shock. We can brainstorm strategies to insulate your wealth against the worst and protect it for your future.
¹ ⁻ ⁴ “Financial Ruin Can Be Hazardous To Your Health,” Rob Stein, NPR, April 3, 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/04/03/598881797/financial-ruin-can-be-hazardous-to-your-health
“No” is a common answer to that question, often with serious consequences. One study found that financial disagreements were the leading predictor of divorce.¹
And they seem hard to fix. A research paper published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine website proposes that “compared to non-money issues, marital conflicts about money were more pervasive, problematic, and recurrent, and remained unresolved, despite including more attempts at problem solving.”²
Fortunately, creating financial unity with your partner is possible. Here are some ideas to bridge the gap with your partner and start working with your money as a team.
Know thyself (and thy partner)
What would you do if you stumbled upon $1 million? Your answer will help you discover your financial values. For instance, if you would use your new-found cash to create your dream business, you might be a natural investor.
But here are two bigger questions: Do you know your partner’s financial values? And how do they align with yours?
The only way to answer those questions is to start conversations with your partner about money. Ask them how finances were handled in their home growing up and what they want money to do for them. Then, look for a middle ground and develop a set of goals you can work towards together.
Discover how money works together
Those first awkward conversations might reveal an uncomfortable truth— if either one of you has any clue what you’re doing with your finances! Ignorance about how money works is the farthest thing from bliss in a relationship. Without knowledge, it’s impossible to set realistic goals and achieve them. You’ll both find yourselves wasting money on what makes you happy in the moment and delaying achieving your goals.
But when you discover how money works as a couple, two magical things happen.
First, you get a sense of what you can accomplish as a team. Suddenly, there’s a vision for your future together that you can work towards.
Second, you notice that you’re communicating more. You swap knowledge, insight, hopes and dreams with each other. You talk about your ideal life together and how to achieve it. That alone is a game-changer for any relationship!
Meet with a professional
It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of working on your relationship and your finances with professionals. Communicating your feelings and having productive conversations isn’t always easy! A professional counselor can give you and your partner the emotional tools you need to transform constant conflict into cooperative problem solving.
Once you have communication squared away, meet with a licensed and certified financial professional. They’ll provide guidance and insights that can help you make decisions with your money. You might be surprised by the level of peace that appears in your relationship once the stress of your finances is alleviated!
While these steps appear easy on paper, in practice they might push you outside your comfort zone. That’s a good thing! Working together as a couple to create financial unity has the potential to grow you as a person and deepen your relationship with your partner. Start having conversations about your financial values and see where your path leads you!
¹ “This common behavior is the No. 1 predictor of whether you’ll get divorced,” Catey Hill, MarketWatch Jan 10, 2018, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-common-behavior-is-the-no-1-predictor-of-whether-youll-get-divorced-2018-01-10#:~:text=Smart%20money%20says%20this%20argument%20could%20lead%20to%20divorce.&text=%E2%80%9CFinancial%20disagreements%20did%20predict%20divorce,together%2C%E2%80%9D%20the%20authors%20concluded
² “For Richer, for Poorer: Money as a Topic of Marital Conflict in the Home,” Lauren M. Papp, E. Mark Cummings, and Marcie C. Goeke-Morey, NCBI, Dec 6, 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230928/
Will your plans be durable enough to withstand your working years and sustain you through your retirement? The answers to the following questions can help give you clarity on if your retirement strategy has what it takes!
How’s it constructed?
Not all savings vehicles are created equal. For instance, stashing all your cash in a mattress until retirement is a great way to torpedo the value of your savings. Why? Because inflation will slowly but surely reduce the value of each dollar you earn today. The same goes for low-interest saving options like CDs, bonds, and checking accounts. Even a 401(k) might not be enough!
Realistically, you want to put your money in a place where it can leverage compound interest. That means the cash you save generates interest, and all the interest you earn also generates interest. Interest earning interest on interest eventually unleashes a huge tidal wave of wealth creation that can help carry you through your final years.
What percent of your income will you live on?
Nobody wants to take a pay cut when they retire. But that’s exactly what people relying on Social Security will do; it’s only designed to replace 40% of your annual income!¹ Instead, it’s better to live off of 80% of your salary.²
So what does that number look like now? Assuming you live 30 years after retiring, how much would you need to save before you hit that goal? If you make $60,000, 80% of your income is $48,000. You would need $1,440,000 saved to maintain your lifestyle for three decades.
Once you have that number estimated, determine how much you’ll need to save starting today. You can use a nifty compound interest calculator like this one to get an idea of how much that will be!
Is it tax efficient?
There are few surprises nastier than saving for decades only to have the government bite a huge chunk out of your nest egg at the finish line. We won’t dive into the details of taxes now, but you need to decide when you’ll pay Uncle Sam his share. You can either:
Pay now. CDs and Roth IRAs are options where you pay your taxes, then save the money. You end up only paying the tax rate of today.
Pay later. You don’t pay any taxes now, but you cough up a percentage of whatever you earn in the long haul at a future rate. This is how a 401(k) works.
Pay never. No, you don’t have to hire a Swiss lawyer and hide your money on an island to do this. Ask a licensed and qualified professional about legal ways to achieve tax free growth.
Whatever option you choose, make sure you understand its implications for how much you’ll have when you need it.
It’s always best to review your strategy with a licensed and qualified professional. They’ll have insights and knowledge to help you achieve the retirement of your dreams.
¹ “How Much Can I Receive From My Social Security Retirement Benefit?,” Investopedia, Oct 30, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/102814/what-maximum-i-can-receive-my-social-security-retirement-benefit.asp#:~:text=The%20maximum%20monthly%20Social%20Security%20benefit%20that%20an%20individual%20can,the%20maximum%20amount%20is%20%242%2C324
² “How Much Money Do You Need to Retire?,” John Waggoner, AARP, Sep 17, 2020, https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2020/how-much-money-do-you-need-to-retire/?cmp=RDRCT-3c5a7391-20200917
Millions of Baby Boomers were preparing for retirement and to pass their wealth to a new generation right as the virus and its fallout blindsided the world. Here are two ways that COVID-19 has transformed the largest wealth transfer in history and how this impacts you and your family.
The transfer has accelerated
COVID-19 seems to be more dangerous for people over the age of 65. Of the 231,197 mortalities recorded by the CDC, 183,324 have been 65+.¹ That’s nearly 80%!
Those numbers represent a staggering amount of tragedy on a personal level. But they also mean that the wealth transfer that’s been predicted for years is off to an early start. Money, resources, and assets that were supposed to last the 20 to 30 years of retirement for Baby Boomers are now being passed on to Gen-Xers and Millennials.
The transfer has been complicated
The simple fact of the matter is that 44% of Baby Boomers don’t have estate plans.² That means a potentially vast amount of wealth has wound up in the hands of grieving family members who have to make tough choices about how it’s distributed. There was never any doubt that the Great Wealth Transfer might get complicated. But the large number of transfers occurring earlier than expected and at the same time will mean that more families will need guidance and wisdom as they navigate these challenging times.
The transfer has been reduced
Perhaps the largest impact of COVID-19 will be a serious decrease in the size of the Great Wealth Transfer. Experts have estimated that around $68 trillion dollars would be transferred from retiring Baby Boomers to their children.³ But 2020 has been a year of economic upheaval. Shutdowns have transformed our economy and caused high unemployment among older workers. It’s not just employees: nearly 100,000 businesses have shuttered due to the lockdowns. That represents years of hard work suddenly evaporating.
People impacted by these events and who are also approaching retirement age have two choices. They can either work into their late 60s, 70s, and maybe 80s to generate a livable income, or settle for less from their retirement years. It seems reasonable to believe that: Fewer family businesses will pass down to younger generations The businesses will be worth less than anticipated Children of employees will have to financially support their aging parents Early retirees will have less to leave future generations
The future of the transfer
We still don’t fully understand the extent to which COVID-19 has impacted the Great Wealth Transfer. Only time will tell! But it’s clear that there’s a massive need to guide families through the challenges of estate planning in the midst of current events. There will also be a huge demand for opportunities and business models that allow Baby Boomers approaching retirement to build wealth and leave financial legacies. Let me know if either of those are of interest to you. We can discuss ways for you to start helping your family protect their financial future.
¹ “Weekly Updates by Select Demographic and Geographic Characteristics,” CDC, accessed Nov 25, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm
² “Baby Boomers Aren’t Creating Estate Plans — What That Means for You,” Robert Kulas, Kulas Law Group, Apr 30, 2020, https://www.kulaslaw.com/baby-boomers-arent-creating-estate-plans-what-that-means-for-you/
³ “Here’s how to prepare your heirs for the $68 trillion ‘great wealth transfer,’” David Robinson, Feb 25, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/22/how-to-prepare-your-heirs-for-the-68-trillion-great-wealth-transfer.html
⁴ “COVID-19 and retirement: Impact and policy responses,” Martin Neil Baily, Benjamin H. Harris, and Siddhi Doshi, Brookings, Jul 28, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/research/covid-19-and-retirement-impact-and-policy-responses/
⁵ “Yelp: Local Economic Impact Report,” Carl Bialik and Daniel Gole, Yelp, Sep 2020, https://www.yelpeconomicaverage.com/business-closures-update-sep-2020.html
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 20% in the first year and by nearly 60% after 5 years.¹
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.
¹ “How car depreciation affects your vehicle’s value,” Dana Dratch, Credit Karama, https://www.creditkarma.com/auto/i/how-car-depreciation-affects-value
It can be enlightening to see how rates are applied. Hopefully, it motivates you to pay off those cards as quickly as possible!
What is APR?
At the core of understanding how finance charges are calculated is the APR, short for Annual Percentage Rate. Most credit cards now use a variable rate, which means the interest rate can adjust with the prime rate, which is the lowest interest rate available (for any entity that is not a bank) to borrow money. Banks use the prime rate for their best customers to provide funds for mortgages, loans, and credit cards.¹ Credit card companies charge a higher rate than prime, but their rate often moves in tandem with the prime rate. As of the second quarter of 2020, the average credit card interest rate on existing accounts was 14.58%.²
While the Annual Percentage Rate is a yearly rate, as its name suggests, the interest on credit card balances is calculated monthly based on an average daily balance. You may also have multiple APRs on the same account, with a separate APR for balance transfers, cash advances, and late balances.
Periodic Interest Rate
The APR is used to calculate the Periodic Interest Rate, which is a daily rate. 15% divided by 365 days in a year = 0.00041095 (the periodic rate), for example.
Average Daily Balance
If you use your credit card regularly, the balance will change with each purchase. So if credit card companies charged interest based on the balance on a given date, it would be easy to minimize the interest charges by timing your payment. This isn’t the case, however—unless you pay in full—because the interest will be based on the average daily balance for the entire billing cycle.
Let’s look at some round numbers and a 30-day billing cycle as an example.
Day 1: Balance $1,000 Day 10: Purchase $500, Balance $1,500 Day 20: Purchase $200, Balance $1,700 Day 28: Payment $700, Balance $1,000
To calculate the average daily balance, you would need to determine how many days you had at each balance.
$1,000 x 9 days $1,500 x 10 days $1,700 x 8 days $1,000 x 3 days
Some of the multiplied numbers below might look alarming, but after we divide by the number of days in the billing cycle (30), we’ll have the average daily balance. ($9,000 + $15,000 + $13,600 + $3,000)/30 = $1,353.33 (the average daily balance)
Here’s an eye-opener: If the $1,000 ending balance isn’t paid in full, interest is charged on the $1353.33, not $1,000.
We’ll also assume an interest rate of 15%, which gives a periodic (daily) rate of 0.00041095.
$1,353.33 x (0.00041095 x 30) = $16.68 finance charge
$16.68 may not sound like a lot of money, but this example is a small fraction of the average household credit card debt, which is $8,645 for households that carry balances as of 2019.³ At 15% interest, average households with balances are paying $1,297 per year in interest. Wow! What could you do with that $1,297 that could have been saved?
That was a lot of math, but it’s important to know why you’re paying what you might be paying in interest charges. Hopefully this knowledge will help you minimize future interest buildup!
Did you know? When you make a payment, the payment is applied to interest first, with any remainder applied to the balance. This is why it can take so long to pay down a credit card, particularly a high-interest credit card. In effect, you can end up paying for the same purchase several times over due to how little is applied to the balance if you are just making minimum payments.
¹ “Prime Rate,” James Chen, Investopedia, Jun 30, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/primerate.asp
² “What Is the Average Credit Card Interest Rate?,” Adam McCann, WalletHub, Oct 12, 2020, https://wallethub.com/edu/average-credit-card-interest-rate/50841/
³ “Credit Card Debt Study,” Alina Comoreanu, WalletHub, Sep 9, 2020, https://wallethub.com/edu/cc/credit-card-debt-study/24400
For instance, you can increase the shelf life of cottage cheese if you store it upside down.¹ That’s a great hack if you like saving money every few weeks or eating cottage cheese. But today we’re looking at high return tricks that will impact your wallet every time you check out. Let’s start simple!
DO NOT BUY BOTTLED WATER
Maybe you just get your water out of the tap, but if you’re in the habit of purchasing fancy bottled water, STOP. If you must indulge in decedent H2O, do the cost-effective thing and buy a reusable bottle with a filter. Use the $100 that most Americans spend on water annually for savings or donating to cause you care about.² At the very least, use it to buy something that doesn’t have a free alternative!
Wait until evening to hit up your farmers market
Local vendors usually don’t want to lug their unsold goods back home with them. That’s why they’ll often start discounting their produce as the day drags on. Hit them right at the end of the day to get the best deals. And don’t be afraid to ask them for items that aren’t visually perfect but are still usable.
Always. Make. A. List.
Stores are designed as mazes. You’re meant to wander around and notice as many products as possible. Afterall, you might just see something you “need” but didn’t plan on getting!
That’s why you must bring a list with you when you go shopping. You’re far less likely to explore your options and stay on track if you have a few written objectives.
While you’re at it, try to stick to the perimeter of the store. That’s where the essential items you’ll need are often stocked!
Saving money on food is a long game. If you’re preparing your own meals instead of going out, you’re already well ahead of the curve. Try out these tips to take your frugality game to the next level!
¹ “How to Store Dairy Products to Keep Them Good As Long As Possible,” Margaret Eby, Food and Wine, Apr 3, 2020, https://www.foodandwine.com/how/how-to-store-dairy-products
² “The Money Spent Can Be Used Better Elsewhere,” The Water Project, https://thewaterproject.org/bottled-water/bottled_water_resources
Americans spend about 34% of their income on servicing their mortgages, car loans, and, of course, credit cards.¹
Assuming a household income of $68,703, that translates to roughly $23,359 going down the drain each and every year.²
Obviously, converting that money from debt maintenance to wealth building would be a dream come true for most Americans. But there’s more at stake here than retirement strategies.
The true cost of debt is your peace of mind.
Take the example from above. A third of your income is going towards debt and the rest is split up between everyday living and transportation expenses. You feel you can make ends meet as long as the money keeps coming in.
But what happens if a recession causes massive layoffs? Or if a pandemic shuts down the economy for months?
The sad fact is that the hamster wheel of debt prevents a huge chunk of Americans from saving enough to cover even a brief window of unemployment, let alone a shutdown!
That lack of financial security can have serious repercussions, including bankruptcy. And feeling like you’re always one unexpected emergency away from a financial crisis can result in a myriad of mental health issues. Numerous studies have shown that high levels of debt increase anxiety, depression, anger, and even divorce.³
Conquering debt isn’t about changing numbers on a page. It’s about reclaiming your peace. It’s about securing financial stability for you and your family. Your income is a powerful tool if you can protect it from lenders.
If you’re stressed about debt and seeking some relief, let me know. We can review your situation together and come up with a game plan that will recover the financial security that’s rightfully yours.
¹ “Study: Americans Spend One-Third of Their Income on Debt,” Maurie Backman, The Ascent, Mar 6, 2020, https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/credit-cards/articles/study-americans-spend-one-third-of-their-income-on-debt/#:~:text=And%20recent%20data%20from%20Northwestern,feel%20guilty%20about%20their%20predicament
² “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2019,” Jessica Semega, Melissa Kollar, Emily A. Shrider, and John Creamer, United States Census Bureau, Sept 15, 2020, https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-270.html#:~:text=Median%20household%20income%20was%20%2468%2C703,and%20Table%20A%2D1)
³ “The Emotional Effects of Debt,” Kristen Kuchar, The Simple Dollar, Oct 28, 2019, https://www.thesimpledollar.com/credit/manage-debt/the-emotional-effects-of-debt/#:~:text=In%20that%20study%2C%20Gathergood%20found,including%20depression%20and%20severe%20anxiety.&text=The%20study%20also%20reported%20that,stress%20also%20report%20severe%20anxiety.