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3 Simple Steps to Prepare for Retirement

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How You Can Make Money By Thrifting

How You Can Make Money By Thrifting

Thrifting doesn’t just save you money—it can make you money, too.

Here’s how that works. Items are typically cheaper in thrift stores and flea markets than they are online. That means there’s potential to make a handsome profit if you buy something at a thrift store and then sell it on a digital marketplace.

Let’s look at an example…

You notice an item at your local thrift store that you’re certain sells online for about $60. You check the price tag—it’s only $5. You buy it and make a listing on your favorite digital marketplace. It sells! Let’s say shipping costs and selling fees are also $5 each. Your net profit is $45. You’ve made back triple the cost of your initial investment and business expenses.

It’s a simple, elegant, and fun business model that can potentially generate extra cash flow.

If you decide to start a thrifting business, consider these tips to maximize your profits!

Start at home. Before you send something to a landfill or thrift store, search for it on an online marketplace. You might be surprised how much of your “trash” is actually treasure! Make no mistake—some items aren’t worth your time salvaging and selling. But if you have clothes, toys, and books that are in good condition, consider listing them online and see what happens!

Scout out the right locations. Whenever possible, shop at thrift stores in wealthier neighborhoods. They’ll typically have higher-end products that fetch better prices. Also, consider using an app like Nextdoor to monitor local garage and estate sales—those are where you’ll find the real treasures at potentially deep discounts.

Prioritize the right items. Not all resale items are created equal. Books, textbooks, picture frames, and designer clothes tend to have strong returns. But always check the price of an item on eBay or another online marketplace before you buy it.

Buff up what you buy. Before you buy anything from a second-hand vendor, check it for damage or blemishes, but don’t be put off by surface-level issues. You might be surprised at how many items are simple to repair, fix, or clean. Putting in a little elbow grease may substantially boost the selling price.

Remember to have fun while you’re thrifting. The beauty of the reselling business is that it allows you to make money and enjoy a hobby at the same time. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t walk out with an incredible find. Embrace the process, see what’s out there, and make some extra cash while you’re at it!


Is There a Better Way to Find Happiness?

Is There a Better Way to Find Happiness?

The results are in—experiences bring greater satisfaction than possessions.

A recent set of studies demonstrated that enjoying experiences created more anticipation, in-the-moment excitement, and longer-term satisfaction than purchasing items.¹ The results held true regardless of how much money was spent.

Why? Because an experience creates memories that last a lifetime. Possessions, however, can quickly become boring.

What does that mean for your budget?

Try shifting your discretionary spending from items to experiences for a month. Instead of spending your weekend at the mall, take your family on a day trip. Cut back on visiting designer stores and opt to walk through the park with a friend. Spend your time online planning exciting vacations instead of scrolling through store websites.

Then, take stock of how you feel. Has your quality of life–and cash flow–improved? Let me know how this simple shift makes a difference for your family and your budget!

¹ “Spending on experiences rather than things is associated with greater immediate happiness, study finds,” Susan Perry, MinnPost, Mar 12, 2020, https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2020/03/spending-on-experiences-rather-than-things-is-associated-with-greater-immediate-happiness-study-finds/#:~:text=coverage%3B%20learn%20why.-,Spending%20on%20experiences%20rather%20than%20things%20is,greater%20immediate%20happiness%2C%20study%20finds&text=Plenty%20of%20recent%20research%20has,such%20as%20clothing%20and%20gadgets


Are Subscriptions Reducing Your Cash Flow?

Are Subscriptions Reducing Your Cash Flow?

Most Americans don’t know the cost of their subscriptions. Are you one of them?

A recent survey revealed that 83% of respondents underestimated their subscription spending by a wide margin.¹ On average, they thought subscriptions only cost them $80 per month. In reality, it was over $230.

That was back in 2018. Since the COVID-19 Pandemic started in 2020, that number has dramatically increased. A 2020 survey discovered that, on average, consumers added $192 in new subscriptions after lock downs started.²

The takeaway? Subscriptions might be consuming more of your cash flow than you realize.

Scroll through the apps on your phone. Are there streaming, dating, or wellness subscriptions that you pay for but never use? Unsubscribe and uninstall them!

If you and your family regularly use a streaming service, consider cancelling your cable subscription. They’re expensive, and your streaming services probably carry your favorite shows as it is.

It’s also worth investigating the value of any subscription boxes you receive. Is a monthly shipment of makeup or comic books significantly improving your life? Or do most of the items go unused? If the latter is true, consider cancelling your subscription.

Once you’ve cleared out unnecessary subscriptions, you might be surprised by how much cash flow you’ve freed up for reducing debt or building wealth.

¹ “You probably spend more on subscriptions than you realize,” Angela Moscaritolo, Mashable, Feb 20, 2019, https://mashable.com/article/you-probably-spend-more-on-subscriptions-that-you-realize/

² “Americans More Than Tripled Subscription Service Spending Amid Social Distancing,” David Dykes, Greenville Business Magazine, May 14, 2020, http://www.greenvillebusinessmag.com/2020/05/14/308970/americans-more-than-tripled-subscription-service-spending-amid-social-distancing


Passive Income: How It Works

Passive Income: How It Works

What if there were a way to increase your cash flow without starting a second job, changing careers, or getting a raise?

If you’re like many, that sounds exactly like what you and your family need! Who wouldn’t want some extra money coming in? It might seem like pie in the sky, but it’s not a fantasy.

Earning a passive income is more achievable than you might realize. Read on to discover how passive incomes work, what makes them so advantageous, and common ways to create them.

In general, a passive income is cash flow that requires little to no regular effort to create and maintain.

That’s not to say that they don’t require work. But the labor involved in opening a passive income stream is normally upfront—you spend time and/or money in the beginning to set up the income stream, then sit back and reap the rewards as time goes on.

It’s an advantageous model because it can potentially free up your time—which is the most valuable resource you have.

But be warned—not all opportunities to create passive income are created equal. Here are a few proven strategies for you to consider!

Create digital products. EBooks, online courses, stock photos, and stock music are all passive income generators. They require initial time investments to create and publish, but then earn you money as users buy them over time.

Rent out property. Renting is a classic source of passive income. It requires money upfront to buy the property—and maybe time and more money for renovations. But once rent starts coming in, they’re income sources that don’t require your daily attention. (Note: Becoming a landlord may have other costs involved, like repairs or replacing old equipment or appliances.)

Build a team of sales professionals. This is the hidden gem of passive income. There’s a starting commitment of time to learn about your market and how to close sales. Then you’ll need to create a team of salespeople. Every time they make a sale, you earn a portion of the profit. Once you’ve mastered the basics, the sky’s the limit for how much passive income you can potentially earn!

If having a passive income stirs your interest, let me know. We can review your financial position, skills, and the opportunities available and see which one might work best for you!


First Steps Towards Your First Home

First Steps Towards Your First Home

If you’ve checked home prices recently, you know that this is a rough time to be a first time house hunter!

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/


Set Yourself Up For (Financial) Success In The New Year

Set Yourself Up For (Financial) Success In The New Year

A new year is a massive opportunity.

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.

-Or-

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!


Common Financial Potholes

Common Financial Potholes

The journey to financial independence can feel a bit like driving around with your entire retirement fund stashed in the open-air bed of a pickup truck.

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.

Recurring Payments
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.

New Cars
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


One Simple Rule For House Hunters

One Simple Rule For House Hunters

The real estate market has witnessed a wild year.

Nationwide shutdowns and social distancing orders bottomed out home buying in the spring, only for demand to skyrocket over the late summer and fall.¹ All the ups and downs and uncertainty about the future have made it hard to tell if now is the time to buy or if it’s better to wait things out!

Fortunately, there’s a simple principle that can bring some clarity to your house hunting process. The 30/30/3 Rule can help you determine the right amount of house for you, whatever your stage of life! It’s composed of three mini-rules that we’ll explore one at time.

Rule 1: Don’t spend more than 30% of your gross income on mortgage payments
In other words, don’t sign away too big of a portion of your income in mortgage payments. This rule makes sure you have a healthy chunk of your cash flow available for other essential spending and building wealth. There’s definitely wiggle room to pay more as income increases, but 30% of your gross income is still a good target!

Rule 2: Have 30% of the home’s value saved in cash before you buy
Banking up a solid stash of cash before you purchase can protect you from several threats. Using about 20% of that cash as a down payment can get you lower mortgage rates and dodge private mortgage insurance.² Also, keeping a 10% buffer provides you with a useful line of defense against unexpected repairs and appliance replacements. Just remember to keep your housing fund away from risk. Think of it as an emergency fund for your house rather than a savings vehicle!

Rule 3: Avoid houses over 3X your gross annual income
This one is simple: Don’t buy a house you can’t afford! Do you make $50,000 per year? Shoot for a maximum $150,000 price tag. This is a simple way of narrowing your house hunting and managing your overall debt.

Why The Rule Works
Let’s say you’re earning the average American income of $56,516 per year, or $4,710 per month.³ You read the headlines about the housing market and decide to snatch up a home. An opportunity presents itself; there’s a gorgeous home in a good neighborhood that’s selling for $169,548 (3X your annual income) with a 3.1% interest rate (the national average). With monthly payments of $724 per month, you’ll only be handing over 15% of your income to the bank. Almost $4,000 dollars of cash flow would be at your disposal!

What if you had the same income level but were looking at a house worth $339,096 (6X your annual income) with a 6.2% interest rate (double the national average). You’ll be forking over nearly half your income for your house. That’s a huge amount of firepower that could be used to build wealth or start a business!

The 30/30/3 Rule is an easy way to simplify your search and protect your income from costly mortgage payments. Don’t forget to review your home buying plan with a financial professional who can help put this helpful principle into practice!

¹ “‘The housing market is on a sugar high’: Home sales are soaring, but is it a good time to buy? Here’s what the experts say,” Jacob Passy, MarketWatch, Aug 24, 2020, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-housing-market-is-on-a-sugar-high-home-sales-are-soaring-but-is-it-a-good-time-to-buy-heres-what-the-experts-say-2020-08-21

² “Should You Go Beyond a 20% Down Payment?,” Crissinda Ponder, LendingTree, Aug 30, 2019, https://www.lendingtree.com/home/mortgage/large-down-payment/#:~:text=Compensates%20for%20a%20lower%20credit,risk%20for%20your%20mortgage%20lender.

³ “Here’s how much the average American earns at every age,” Emmie Martin, CNBC Make It Aug 24 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/24/how-much-americans-earn-at-every-age.html#:~:text=Here's%20how%20much%20the%20average%20American%20earns%20at%20every%20age,-Published%20Thu%2C%20Aug&text=The%20median%20household%20income%20in,men%20and%2040%20for%20women.

⁴ “Current mortgage rates – mortgage interest rates today,” Jeff Ostrowski, Bankrate, Oct 7, 2020, https://www.bankrate.com/mortgages/current-interest-rates/


Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

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

Here’s the breakdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


The Birds Have Flown the Coop!

The Birds Have Flown the Coop!

The kids (finally) moved out!

Now you can plan those vacations for just the two of you, delve into new hobbies you’ve always wanted to explore… and decide whether or not you should keep your life insurance as empty nesters.

The answer is YES!

Why? Even though you and your spouse are empty nesters now, life insurance still has real benefits for both of you. One of the biggest benefits is your life insurance policy’s death benefit. Should either you or your spouse pass away, the death benefit can pay for final expenses and replace the loss of income, both of which can keep you or your spouse on track for retirement in the case of an unexpected tragedy.

What’s another reason to keep your life insurance policy? The cash value of your policy. Now that the kids have moved out and are financially stable on their own, the cash value of your life insurance policy can be used for retirement or an emergency fund. If your retirement savings took a hit while you helped your children finance their college educations, your life insurance policy might have you covered.Utilizing the cash value has multiple factors you should be aware of before making any decision.*

Contact me today, and together we’ll check up on your policy to make sure you have coverage where you want it - and review all the benefits that you can use as empty nesters.


*Loans and withdrawals will reduce the policy value and death benefit dollar for dollar. Withdrawals are subject to partial surrender charges if they occur during a surrender charge period. Loans are made at interest. Loans may also result in the need to add additional premium into the policy to avoid a lapse of the policy. In the event that the policy lapses, all policy surrenders and loans are considered distributions and, to the extent that the distributions exceed the premiums paid (cost basis), they are subject to taxation as ordinary income. Lastly, all references to loans assume that the contract remains in force, qualifies as life insurance and is not a modified endowment contract (MEC). Loans from a MEC will generally be taxable and, if taken prior to age 59 1/2, may be subject to a 10% tax penalty.

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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

Some people love to live a life of thrift.

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

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

Simplifying the budgeting process can help ease the transition. Check out the following suggestions to make living on a budget something you can stick to – instead of making a shelter out of sticks.

Use that smartphone. Your parents may have used a system of labeled envelopes to budget for various upcoming expenses. Debit cards have largely replaced cash these days, and all those labeled envelopes were fiddly anyway. Your best budgeting tool is probably in your pocket, your purse, or wherever your smartphone is at the moment.

Budgeting apps can connect to your bank account and keep track of incoming and outgoing cash flow, making it simple to categorize current expenses and create a solid budget. A quick analysis of the data and charts from the app can give you important clues about your spending behavior. Maybe you’ll discover that you spent $100 last week for on-demand movies. $5 here and $10 there can add up quickly. Smartphone apps can help you see (in vivid color) how your money could be evaporating in ways you might not feel on a day-to-day basis.

Some apps give you the ability to set a budget for certain categories of spending (like on-demand movies), and you can keep track of how you’re doing in relation to your defined budget. Some apps even provide alerts to help keep you aware of your spending. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, there are even apps that mimic the envelope systems of old, but with a digital spin.

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

A good strategy to help protect your budget from an unexpected expense is an Emergency Fund. It may take a while to build your Emergency Fund, but it will be worth it if the tire blows out, the roof starts leaking, or you throw your back out trying to fix either of those things against your doctor’s orders.

The size of your Emergency Fund will depend on your unique situation, but a goal of at least $1,000 to 3 months of your income is recommended. Three months of income may sound like a lot, but if you experience a sudden loss of income, you’d have at least three full months of breathing room to get back on track.

Go with the flow. As you work with your new budget, you may find that you miss the mark on occasion. Some months you’ll spend more. Some months you’ll spend less. That’s normal. Over time, you’ll have an average for each expense category or expense item that will reveal where you can do better – but also where you may have been more frugal than needed.

With these suggestions in mind, there is no time like the present to get started! Make that new budget, then buy yourself an ice cream or turn on the air conditioning. Once you know where you stand, where you need to tighten up on spending, and where you can let loose a little, budgeting might not seem like a punishment. In fact, you might find that it’s a useful, much-needed strategy that you CAN stick to – all part of the greater journey to your financial independence.


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Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Building your budget

Building your budget

The number of Americans who have developed and apply a budget is alarmingly low.

One poll puts the number at 32%.[i] That equates to tens of millions of Americans who don’t have a budget. Yikes!

You don’t have to be a statistic. Here are some quick tips to get you started on your own budget so you can help safeguard your financial future.

Know Your Balance Sheet
Companies maintain and review their “balance sheets” regularly. Balance sheets show assets, liabilities, and equity. Business owners probably wouldn’t be able run their companies successfully for very long without knowing this information and tracking it over time.

You also have a balance sheet, whether you realize it or not. Assets are the things you have, like a car, house, or cash. Liabilities are your debts, like auto loans or outstanding bills you need to pay. Equity is how much of your assets are technically really yours. For example, if you live in a $100,000 house but carry $35,000 on the mortgage, your equity is 65% of the house, or $65,000. 65% of the house is yours and 35% is still owned by the bank.

Pro tip: Why is this important to know? If you’re making a decision to move to a new house, you need to know how much money will be left over from the sale for the new place. Make sure to speak with a representative of your mortgage company and your realtor to get an idea of how much you might have to put towards the new house from the sale of the old one.

Break Everything Down
To become efficient at managing your cash flow, start by breaking your spending down into categories. The level of granularity and detail you want to track is up to you. (Note: If you’re just starting out budgeting, don’t get too caught up in the details. For example, for the “Food” category of your budget, you might want to only concern yourself with your total expense for food, not how much you’re spending on macaroni and cheese vs. spaghetti.)

If you typically spend $400 a month on food, that’s important to know. As you get more comfortable with budgeting and watching your dollars, it’s even better to know that half of that $400 is being spent at coffee shops and restaurants. This information may help you eliminate unnecessary expenditures in the next step.

What you spend your money on is ultimately your decision, but lacking knowledge about where it’s spent may lead to murky expectations. Sure, it’s just $10 at the sandwich shop today, but if you spend that 5 days a week on the regular, that expenditure may fade into background noise. You might not realize all those hoagies are the equivalent of your health insurance premium. Try this: Instead of spending $10 on your regular meal, ask yourself if you can find an acceptable alternative for less by switching restaurants.

Once you have a good idea of what you’re spending each month, you’ll need to know exactly how much you make (after taxes) to set realistic goals. This would be your net income, not gross income, since you will pay taxes.

Set Realistic Goals and Readjust
Now that you know what your balance sheet looks like and what your cash flow situation is, you can set realistic goals with your budget. Rank your expenses in order of necessity. At the top of the list would be essential expenses – like rent, utilities, food, and transit. You might not have much control over the rent or your car payment right now, but consider preparing food at home to help save money.

Look for ways you can cut back on utilities, like turning the temperature down a few degrees in the winter or up a few degrees in the summer. You may be able to save on electricity if you run appliances at night or in the morning, rather than later in the afternoon when usage tends to be the highest.[ii]

After the essentials would come items like clothes, office supplies, gifts, entertainment, vacation, etc. Rank these in order of importance to you. Consider shopping for clothes at a consignment shop, or checking out a dollar store for bargains on school or office supplies.

Ideally, at the end of the month you should be coming out with money leftover that can be put into an emergency fund (your goal here is at least $1,000), and then you can start adding money to your savings.

If you find your budget is too restrictive in one area, you can allocate more to it. (But you’ll need to reduce the money flowing in to other areas in the process to keep your bottom line the same.) Ranking expenses will help you determine where you can siphon off money.

Commit To It
Now that you have a realistic budget that contains your essentials, your non-essentials, and your savings goals, stick to it! Building a budget is a process. It may take some time to get the hang of it, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.


[i] https://www.debt.com/edu/personal-finance-statistics/
[ii] https://news.energysage.com/whats-the-cheapest-time-of-day-to-use-electricity-with-time-of-use-rates/

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Are you sure about this?

Are you sure about this?

Nearly every working adult dreams of a comfortable retirement, to finally be free to enjoy life.

If you’re approaching retirement age, it’s important to check on your numbers to be sure you’ve considered all the factors. If you’re younger, it might be difficult to know exactly how much to save. Think of it this way: strive to put away as much as you can.

What age do you want to retire?
Social Security can play a big role in retirement income, and the difference on a monthly basis between taking a benefit at age 62, 65, or waiting until age 70 to begin drawing benefits can be substantial.[i] If you choose to wait until 70 to take benefits, the total amount paid is comparable for all three options. However, from a cash-flow perspective, the bump in pay could be valuable when the monthly bills arrive in the mail.

How long will your money will last?
One rule of thumb for knowing how much to take out of your retirement account each year is the “4% rule”.[ii] As its name suggests, you would withdraw 4% of your retirement savings each year. If you have a larger amount saved, your “income” from your retirement savings will be higher. The 4% rule is designed to prepare for 30 years of income after retirement. Of course, if your expenses are higher than your income, the money has to come from somewhere, potentially drawing your savings down faster – and that’s where many people get into trouble. Save as much as you can now.

Are you prepared for your health care needs?
The cost of health care for a couple retiring at age 65 varies, with estimates ranging between $197,000 and $265,000.[iii] This is the expense that often catches retirees by surprise. It’s relatively easy to budget for housing, food, utilities, and other essentials but medical care costs can vary widely and your actual expenses can be much higher or lower than average estimates.

By building a strategy for income from multiple sources, you’ll be much better prepared for retirement. Taking the time to prepare now is essential. Once you leave the workforce there might be less room for mistakes and fewer ways to earn additional income. When it’s time to retire, you’ll find that there’s no such thing as too much when it comes to retirement savings.


[i] https://www.fool.com/retirement/2018/01/27/whats-the-maximum-social-security-at-age-62-65-or.aspx
[ii] http://www.fourpercentrule.com/
[iii] https://vanguardblog.com/2018/09/19/whos-afraid-of-the-big-bad-health-care-number/

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