When Is It Ok To Use A Credit Card?

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Odetta King
Odetta King Financial Professional

Brooklyn, New York

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When Is It Ok To Use A Credit Card?

Some could say “never!” but there might be situations in which using a credit card may be the option you want to go with.

Many families use credit with good intentions – and then life happens – surprise expenses or a change in income leave them struggling to get ahead of growing debt. To be fair, there may be times to use credit and times to avoid using credit.

Purchasing big-ticket items
A big-screen TV or a laptop purchased with a credit card may have additional warranty protection through your credit card company. Features and promotions vary by card, however, so be sure to know the details before you buy. If your credit card offers reward points or airline miles, big-ticket items may be a faster way to earn points than making small purchases over time. Just be sure to have a plan to pay off the balance.

Travel and car rental
For many families, these two items go hand in hand. Credit cards sometimes offer additional insurance protection for your luggage or for the trip itself. Your credit card company may offer some additional protection for car rentals. You might score some extra airline miles or reward points in this category as well because the numbers can add up quickly.

Online shopping
Credit card and debit card numbers are being stolen all the time. Online merchants can have a breach and not even be aware that your credit card info is out in the wild. The advantage of using a credit card as opposed to a debit card is time. You’ll have more time to dispute charges that aren’t yours. If your debit card gets into the wrong hands, someone might be quickly spending your mortgage money, food and gas money, or college tuition for your kids. Credit cards may be a better choice to use online because the effects of fraud don’t have an immediate impact on your bank balance.

Legitimate emergencies
Life happens and sometimes we don’t have enough readily available cash to pay for emergencies. Life’s emergencies can range from broken appliances to broken cars to broken bones and in these cases, you may not have any other viable options for payment.

Using credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you plan carefully, you may reap several types of benefits from using credit cards and still avoid paying interest. You’ll have to pay off the balance right away to avoid finance charges, though. So, always think twice before you charge once.

Some credit cards offer consumer benefits, like extended warranties, extra insurance, or even rewards. There are some situations in which using a credit card may come in handy.

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WFG261519-07.20

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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130965 WFG-09.19

When Should You Start Preparing For Retirement?

Depending on where you are in life’s journey, retirement may seem like a distant mirage, or it may be closing in faster than expected.

You might think that deciding when to start preparing for retirement requires complicated algorithms. Yes, there may be some math involved – but the simple answer is – if you haven’t started preparing yet, the time to start is right now!

The 80% rule
Many financial professionals recommend saving enough to provide 80% of your pre-retirement income in your retirement years so you can maintain your standard of living. Following this rule isn’t an exact science though, because expense structures for each household can differ greatly. It is, however, a good place to start. How do we get to 80%? Living expenses typically decrease in retirement because costly commutes, investing in business clothing, and eating lunch out 5 days a week are reduced or eliminated. The other big expense that often changes is housing. At retirement, it’s common to trade in your 3, 4, or 5-bedroom home for something smaller, easier, and less expensive to maintain.

Preparing for retirement when you’re young
When you’re younger, preparing for retirement may be a fairly simple process. The main considerations are life insurance and savings. This can’t be overstated: Now is the time to buy life insurance. If you’re young and healthy, rates are much more likely to be low. This also can’t be overstated: Now is also the time to start saving. Every penny you put away now can get you closer to your goal. As anyone who’s older can tell you, life is full of surprises that end up costing money, and these instances have the potential to interfere with your savings strategy.

Longevity considerations
Life expectancy rates are essentially averages, with low and high numbers in the mix. If you’re fortunate enough to beat the average life expectancy, your retirement savings may become slim pickings in your later years, a time when you might not be able to generate supplementary income.

Manage your expenses
Whether you’re young or getting on in years, the time to start saving is now. But if you’re nearing retirement age, it’s also time to take an honest look at your expenses. Part of the trick to stretching retirement savings is to eliminate unnecessary costs. If you’re considering moving to a smaller home to cut costs – and you’re feeling adventurous – you might want to consider moving to a different state with a lower tax rate to enjoy your golden years. If you’re younger, it’s still a great time to assess your budget and eliminate any and all unnecessary spending that you can.

For younger people, time is your ally when it comes to saving for retirement, but waiting to start saving might leave you with less than you’d hoped for later in life. If you’re closer to retirement age, there’s still time to build your nest egg and examine your projected expenses. Talk to your financial professional today about options that may be available for you!

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WSB260061-07.20

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

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 below 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
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, investment accounts, or other needs.

Mortgage Debt
In most 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 mortgage interest may be tax deductible if structured properly. 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.

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WFG260052-07.20

The Advantages Of Paying With Cash

Debit cards are convenient.

Just swipe and go. Even more so for their mobile phone equivalents. We like fast, we like easy, and we like a good sale. But are we actually spending more by not using cash like we did in the good old days?

When using plastic, the reality of the expense doesn’t sink in until the statement arrives. And even then it may not carry the same weight. After all, you only need to make the minimum payment, right? With cash, we’re more cautious – and that’s not a bad thing.

Try an experiment for a week: pay only with cash. When you pay with cash, the expense feels real – even when it might be relatively small. Hopefully, you’ll get a sense that you’re parting with something of value in exchange for something else. You might start to ask yourself things like “Do I need this new comforter set that’s on sale – a really good sale – or, do I just want this new comforter set because it’s really cute (and it’s on sale)?” You might find yourself paying more attention to how much things cost when making purchases, and weighing that against your budget.

If you find that you have money left over at the end of the week (and you probably will because who likes to see nothing when they open their wallet), put the cash aside in an envelope and give it a label. You can call it anything you want, like “Movie Night,” for example.

As the weeks go on, you’re likely to amass a respectable amount of cash in your “rewards” fund. You might even be dreaming about what to do with that money now. You can buy something special. You can save it. The choice is yours. Well done on saving your hard-earned cash.

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WFG259665-06.20

5 Things You Can Do With A Bonus

It’s your lucky day and you’re flush with cash.

Maybe you just got a bonus at work, or a tax refund, or won that scratch-off lottery ticket.

Hold up. Don’t spend it all just yet. There are some great ways you can put that windfall to work for you before it disappears during a spontaneous shopping spree.

1. Pay off those credit cards
This may not seem like quite as much fun as the Paris vacation you were daydreaming about – but paying down debt is like finding money every single month. Every $100 you pay in interest equals about $130 you’d have to earn when you consider taxes. Paying down debt is the fastest way to give yourself a monthly raise if you come into some unexpected cash.

2. Save it
Experts recommend that you have enough savings to cover at least 3 to 6 months of expenses. This is the perfect opportunity to break away from the statistics and get prepared. Consider a high-yield checking account that allows easy access to your savings.

3. Put it in the college fund
If you have kids, this is a great time to contribute to the college fund or to start one if you haven’t already. Tuition can range from around $10,000 for in-state public schools to nearly $35,000 for private schools (1). And that’s not counting books and boarding! It’s never too early to give your kids a head start!

4. Invest in yourself
This might be the perfect chance to finish off those last few credits for a degree or to earn that certification you’ve been wanting but couldn’t justify spending money to complete. If you choose carefully, the right degree or certification can open doors in your career, potentially enhancing your earning power and helping you break out of the holding pattern.

5. Take a vacation
Maybe it’s a trip to Paris or maybe it’s someplace else you’ve always wanted to go. If all the above are in good shape, go ahead and treat yourself. You deserve it!

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(1) Justin Song, “Average Cost of college in America”, ValuePenguin, 2020


WFG258641-06.20

4 Easy Tips To Build Your Emergency Fund

Nearly one quarter of Americans and almost half of Canadians have no emergency savings, according to a recent report. (1&2)

Without an emergency fund, you can imagine that an unexpected expense could send your budget into a tailspin. That’s why building an emergency fund is so important. You CAN do this!

4 tips to building your emergency fund

Where to keep your emergency fund
Keeping money in the cookie jar might not be the best plan. Mattresses don’t really work so well either. But you also don’t want your emergency fund “co-mingled” with the money in your normal checking or savings account. The goal is to keep your emergency fund separate, clearly defined, and easily accessible. Setting up a designated, high-yield savings account is a good option that can provide quick access to your money while keeping it separate from your main bank accounts.

Set a monthly goal for savings
Set a monthly goal for your emergency fund savings, but also make sure you keep your savings goal realistic. If you choose an overly ambitious goal, you may be less likely to reach that goal consistently, which might make the process of building your emergency fund a frustrating experience. (Your emergency fund is supposed to help reduce stress, not increase it!) It’s okay to start by putting aside a small amount until you have a better understanding of how much you can really “afford” to save each month. Also, once you have your high-yield savings account set up, you can automatically transfer funds to your savings account every time you get paid. One less thing to worry about!

Spare change can add up quickly
The convenience of debit and credit cards means that we use less cash these days – but if and when you do pay with cash, take the change and put it aside. When you have enough change to be meaningful, maybe $20 to $30, deposit that into your emergency fund. Look into ways of automating your savings to make putting away money seamless and hassle free!

Get to know your budget
Making and keeping a budget may not always be the most enjoyable pastime. But once you get it set up and stick to it for a few months, you’ll get some insight into where your money is going, and how better to keep a handle on it! Hopefully that will motivate you to keep going, and keep working towards your larger goals. When you first get started, dig out your bank statements and write down recurring expenses, or types of expenses that occur frequently. Odds are pretty good that you’ll find some expenses that aren’t strictly necessary. Look for ways to moderate your spending on frills without taking all the fun out of life. By moderating your expenses and eliminating the truly wasteful indulgences, you’ll probably find money to spare each month and you’ll be well on your way to building your emergency fund.

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(1) Maurie Backman, “Nearly 50% of Americans Don’t Have Enough Emergency Savings to Get Through the COVID-19 Crisis”, the Motley Fool, March 27, 2020.

(2) Steve Randall, “Almost half of Canadians have no emergency fund”, Which Mortgage, January 9, 2019.


WSB258602-06.20

How To Save For A Big Purchase

It’s no secret that life is full of surprises. Surprises that can cost money.

Sometimes, a lot of money. They have the potential to throw a monkey wrench into your savings strategy, especially if you have to resort to using credit to get through an emergency. In many households, a budget covers everyday spending, including clothes, eating out, groceries, utilities, electronics, online games, and a myriad of odds and ends we need.

Sometimes, though, there may be something on the horizon that you want to purchase (like that all-inclusive trip to Cancun for your second honeymoon), or something you may need to purchase (like that 10-years-overdue bathroom remodel).

How do you get there if you have a budget for the everyday things you need, you’re setting aside money in your emergency fund, and you’re saving for retirement?

Make a goal
The way to get there is to make a plan. Let’s say you’ve got a teenager who’s going to be driving soon. Maybe you’d like to purchase a new (to him) car for his 16th birthday. You’ve done the math and decided you can put $3,000 towards the best vehicle you can find for the price (at least it will get him to his job and around town, right?). You have 1 year to save but the planning starts now.

There are 52 weeks in a year, which makes the math simple. As an estimate, you’ll need to put aside about $60 per week. (The actual number is $57.69 – $3,000 divided by 52). If you get paid weekly, put this amount aside before you buy that $6 latte or spend the $10 for extra lives in that new phone game. The last thing you want to do is create debt with small things piling up, while you’re trying to save for something bigger.

Make your savings goal realistic
You might surprise yourself by how much you can save when you have a goal in mind. Saving isn’t a magic trick, however, it’s based on discipline and math. There may be goals that seem out of reach – at least in the short-term – so you may have to adjust your goal. Let’s say you decide you want to spend a little more on the car, maybe $4,000, since your son has been working hard and making good grades. You’ve crunched the numbers but all you can really spare is the original $60 per week. You’d need to find only another $17 per week to make the more expensive car happen. If you don’t want to add to your debt, you might need to put that purchase off unless you can find a way to raise more money, like having a garage sale or picking up some overtime hours.

Hide the money from yourself
It might sound silly but it works. Money “saved” in your regular savings or checking account may be in harm’s way. Unless you’re extremely careful, it’s almost guaranteed to disappear – but not like what happens in a magic show, where the magician can always bring the volunteer back. Instead, find a safe place for your savings – a place where it can’t be spent “accidentally”, whether it’s a cookie jar or a special savings account you open specifically to fund your goal.

Pay yourself first When you get paid, fund your savings account set up for your goal purchase first. After you’ve put this money aside, go ahead and pay some bills and buy yourself that latte if you really want to, although you may have to get by with a small rather than an extra large.

Saving up instead of piling on more credit card debt may be a much less costly way (by avoiding credit card interest) to enjoy the things you want, even if it means you’ll have to wait a bit.

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WFG258466-06.20

Boost Your Daily Routine with These 3 Financial Habits

It’s late Friday afternoon. Your to-do list is a crumpled, coffee-stained memory in the bottom of your wastebasket. Another great week in the books!

But as you head out for a night on the town with friends or maybe cuddle up next to your kids to watch their favorite movie, did you ever consider how you spent your after-work time during the week?

Whether you’re routine-driven, a free spirit, or somewhere in between, setting aside a few minutes every day to spend on your finances has the potential to make a huge difference in the long run. By adding these 3 financial habits to your daily routine, you have the potential to give yourself a little more power over your finances.

1. Check your inbox (or mailbox). Whether you pay your bills via credit card, automatic withdrawal, or a hand-written check that you mail in to the company, a daily look-see will help you stay on top of any alerts you get. Spend a few minutes every day glancing over incoming bills, payment receipts, and new online transactions. Being aware of the exodus (or pending exodus) of your money can help fend off late fees, overdrawing your accounts, or maxing out your credit card.

2. Review your spending. Every evening, take quick stock of any spending you did that day – whether in brick-and-mortar stores or online. This exercise can be eye-opening. For instance, are you in the habit of grabbing a piping hot cup of coffee from the drive-thru on your morning commute? Depending on your coffee preference, that can cost up to $5 a day! Maybe 5 bucks isn’t a huge deal, but consider this:

  • $5 for coffee x 5 days a week = $25
  • $25 a week x 4 weeks/month = $100
  • That’s $100 per month spent on coffee!

Just staying aware of those little daily expenditures may make a huge difference in your financial health; when you know how much you’re paying over time for something you could prepare at home (for far less money), you may decide to scale back on the barista-brewed coffee so you can help boost your financial future – and keep yourself on the path to financial independence.

3. Learn a little more. Knowing how money works is a vital part of achieving and maintaining financial independence. Taking a few moments every day to educate yourself a little more about money can make a huge difference in the long run. It can keep you aware of best practices for money management and all the ways your money can work for you. Try a blog post, YouTube video, or a best-seller on finances to keep yourself informed and up to date.

As you start putting these simple financial habits in place, contact me any time! Together we can assess how these small changes could help strengthen your financial strategy and get you closer to financial independence.

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WFG132466-1019

Should You Give Your Child An Allowance?

Should parents give their children an allowance?

It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Teaching your kids how to handle money is important. But how you go about giving them cash can set precedents that last a lifetime. Here are a few different takes on giving your kids money.

Not giving your kids money
There’s a lot to not love about this system at a glance, especially if you’re the kid. It seems like a way to simultaneously prevent your children from having fun and learn nothing about handling money. But it has some silver linings. Not paying your kids to do chores can be a way to teach them about the value of work without tying it to a monetary reward. That’s an important life lesson that can be applied to volunteer work and responsibilities with their future family. You also may be on a tight budget and handing out an allowance is just not part of your financial strategy right now.

Giving your kids an allowance (no work required)
This is a system where you give your kids a set amount of money each week or month. This is a straightforward way to get your kids some cash that they can spend, save, and use to learn about money.

But just giving your kids an allowance without requiring something in return, like doing chores, has some potential drawbacks. Most people will eventually have to get a job so they can earn money. Giving cash to your kids without tying it in some way to work may create a sense of entitlement that simply isn’t realistic.

Paying your kids commission
In this system, you pay your kids as they complete tasks. You would set up a job posting with different payments for different chores. Pay your kids when they’ve completed the work. If they get the job done quickly with a good attitude and some extra flourish? Give them a raise! It’s a great way of rewarding excellence and teaching children the monetary value of their time and hard work.

But this system also has flaws. Some of the most rewarding work we do can be for family or friends, or to serve our communities—with no reward other than appreciation and pride in a job well done. Giving the impression that one should only put in hard work or help out with the family for cash isn’t something every parent is comfortable with.

Fortunately, there are many ways to combine each of these systems. You could have non-paying chores that are duties simply because the kids are members of the family and then extra paid jobs. Or maybe offer a base allowance to teach your kids about saving, giving, and spending, and then paid chores added on. These systems can evolve over time as your kids grow. Let the needs of your family and what you want to instill in your children guide you.

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WSB257276-05.20

Healthy Financial Habits

Consistency is essential for anything, and the key to consistency is habit.

Habits are behaviors that we do so frequently that they feel second nature. So your friend who’s woken up at 5:00 AM to work out for so long that it seems normal to him? He’s unlocked the power of habit to wake up, get out of bed, and make it happen.

Healthy money habits are the same way; they open up a whole new world of financial fitness! Here are a few great habits you can start today.

Begin with a Budget
Developing a budgeting habit is foundational. Consistently seeing where your money is going gives you the power to see what needs to change. Notice in your budget that fast food is hogging your paycheck? Budgeting allows you to see how it’s holding you back and figure out a solution to the problem. The knowledge a budget gives you is the key to help you make wise money decisions.

Pay Yourself First
Once you’re budgeting regularly, you can start seeing who ends up with your money at the end of the day. Is it you? Or someone else? One of the best habits you can establish is making sure you pay yourself by saving. Instead of spending first and setting aside what’s left over, put part of your money into a savings account as soon as you get your paycheck. It’s a simple shift in mindset that can make a big difference!

Automate Everything
And what easier way to pay yourself first than by automatically depositing cash in your savings account? Making as much of your saving automatic helps make saving something that you don’t even think about. It can be much easier to have healthy financial habits if everything happens seamlessly and with as little effort as possible on your part.

Healthy financial habits may not seem big. But sometimes those little victories can make a big difference over the span of several years. Why not try working a few of these habits into your routine and see if they make a difference?

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WFG256622-05.20

So You’ve Graduated...Now What?

Graduating from college is a big deal.

It represents a transition from student to adult for millions of people. But leaving university and joining the workforce can be intimidating. Looking for a job, paying bills, commuting, and living independently are often uncharted territory for recent grads.

Here are a few tips for fresh graduates trying to get on their feet financially.

Figure out what you want
It’s one thing to leave college with an idea of what career you want to pursue. It’s something else entirely to ask yourself what kind of life you want. It’s one of those big issues that can be difficult even to wrap your head around!

However, it’s something that’s important to grapple with. It will help you answer questions like “What kind of lifestyle do I want to live” and “how much will it cost to do the things I want?” You might even find that you don’t really need some of the things that you thought were necessities, and that happiness comes from places you might not have expected.

Come up with a budget
Let’s say you’ve got a ballpark idea of your financial and lifestyle goals. It’s time to come up with a strategy. There are plenty of resources on starting a budget on this blog and the internet on the whole, but the barebones of budgeting are pretty simple. First, figure out how much you make, how much you have to spend, how much you actually spend, then subtract your total spending from how much you make. Get a positive number? Awesome! Use that leftover cash to start saving for retirement (it’s never too early!) or build up an emergency fund. Negative number? Look for places in your unnecessary spending to cut back and maybe consider a side hustle to make more money.

Looking at your spending habits can be difficult. But owning up to mistakes you might be making and coming up with a solid strategy can be far easier than the agony that spending blindly may bring. That’s why starting a budget is a post-graduation must!

Meet with a financial professional
Find a qualified and licensed financial professional and schedule an appointment. Don’t let the idea of meeting with a professional intimidate you. Afterall, you trust your health, car, and legal representation to properly trained experts. Why wouldn’t you do the same with your financial future?

Being scared of starting a new chapter of life is natural. There are a lot of new experiences and unknowns to deal with that come along with leaving the familiarity of college. But the best way to overcome fear is to face it head on. These tips are a great way to start taking control of your future!

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WSB255927-04.20

How to Budget for Beginners

Everybody needs a budget.

But that doesn’t stop “budget” from being an intimidating word to many people. Some folks may think it means scrimping on everything and never going out for a night on the town. It doesn’t! Budgeting simply means that you know where your money is going and you have a way to track it.

The aim with budgeting is to be aware of your spending, plan for your expenses1, and make sure you have enough saved to pursue your goals.

Without a budget, it can be easy for expenses to climb beyond your ability to pay for them. You break out the plastic and before you know it you’ve spent fifty bucks on drinks and appetizers with the gang after work. These habits might leave you with a lot of accumulated debt. Plus, without a budget, you may not be saving for a rainy day, vacation, or your retirement. A budget allows you to enact a strategy to help pursue your goals. But what if you’ve never had a budget? Where should you start? Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to get your budgeting habit off the ground!

Track your expenses every day
Start by tracking your expenses. Write down everything you buy, including memberships, online streaming services, and subscriptions. It’s not complicated to do with popular mobile and web applications. You can also buy a small notebook to keep track of each purchase. Even if it’s a small pack of gum from the gas station or a quick coffee at the corner shop, jot it down. Keep track of the big stuff too, like your rent and bill payments.

Add up expenses every week and develop categories
Once you’ve collected enough data, it’s time to figure out where exactly your paycheck is going. Start with adding up your expenses every week. How much are you spending? What are you spending money on? As you add your spending up, start developing categories. The goal is to organize all your expenses so you can see what you’re spending money on. For example, if you eat out a few times per week, group those expenses under a category called “Eating Out”. Get as general or as specific as you wish. Maybe throwing all your food purchases into one bucket is all you need, or you may want to break it down by location - grocery store, big box store, restaurants, etc.

Create a monthly list of expenses
Once you’ve recorded your expenses for a full month, it’s time to create a monthly list. Now you might also have more clarity on how you want to set up your categories. Next, total each category for the month.

Adjust your spending as necessary
Compare your total expenses with your income. There are two possible outcomes. You may be spending within your income or spending outside your income. If you’re spending within your income, create a category for savings if you don’t have one. It’s a good idea to create a separate savings category for large future purchases too, like a home or a vacation. If you find you’re spending too much, you may need to cut back spending in some categories. The beauty of a budget is that once you see how much you’re spending, and on what, you’ll be able to strategize where you need to cut back.

Keep going
Once you develop the habit of budgeting, it should become part of your routine. You can look forward to working on your savings and developing a retirement strategy, but don’t forget to budget in a little fun too!

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¹Jeremy Vohwinkle, “Make a Personal Budget in 6 Steps: A Step-by-Step Guide to Make a Budget,” The Balance (March 6, 2020).

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Now’s the Time for Future Planning

What happened to the days of the $10 lawn mowing job or the $7-an-hour babysitting gig every Saturday night?

Not a penny withheld. No taxes to file. No stress about saving a “million dollars” for retirement. As a kid, doing household chores or helping out your friends and neighbors for a little spending money was vastly different from your grown up reality – writing checks for all those bills, paying your taxes, and buying all the things that children seem to need these days, all while trying to save as much as you can for your retirement. When you were a kid, did those concepts feel so far away that they might as well have been camped out on Easter Island?

What happened to the carefree attitude surrounding our finances? It’s simple: we got older. More opportunities. More responsibilities. More choices. As the years go by, finances get more complicated. So knowing where your money is going and whether or not it’s working for you when it gets there is something you need to determine sooner rather than later – even before your source of income switches from mowing lawns and babysitting to your first internship at that marketing firm downtown.

A great way to get a better idea of where your money is going and what it’s doing when it gets there? A financial strategy.

A sound strategy for your money is essential, starting as soon as possible is better than waiting, and talking to a financial professional is a solid way to get going. No message in a bottle sent from a more-prepared version of your future self is going to drift your way from Easter Island. But sitting down with me is a great place to start. Contact me any time.

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7 Tips for Talking to Your Partner About Money

Dealing with finances is a big part of any committed relationship and one that can affect many aspects of your life together.

The good news is, you don’t need a perfect relationship or perfect finances to have productive conversations with your partner about money, so here are some tips for handling those tricky conversations like a pro!

Be respectful
Respect should be the basis for any conversation with your significant other, but especially when dealing with potentially touchy issues like money. Be mindful to keep your tone neutral and try not to heap blame on your partner for any issues. Remember that you’re here to solve problems together.

Take responsibility
It’s perfectly normal if one person in a couple handles the finances more than the other. Just be sure to take responsibility for the decisions that you make and remember that it affects both people. You might want to establish a monthly money meeting to make sure you’re both on the same page and in the loop. Hint: Make it fun! Maybe order in, or enjoy a steak dinner while you chat.

Take a team approach
Instead of saying to your partner, “you need to do this or that,” try to frame things in a way that lets your partner know you see yourself on the same team as they are. Saying “we need to take a look at our combined spending habits” will probably be better received than “you need to stop spending so much money.”

Be positive
It can be tempting to feel defeated and hopeless that things will never get better if you’re trying to move a mountain. But this kind of thinking can be contagious and negativity may further poison your finances and your relationship. Try to focus on what you can both do to make things better and what small steps to take to get where you want to be, rather than focusing on past mistakes and problems.

Don’t ignore the negative
It’s important to stay positive, but it’s also important to face and conquer the specific problems. It gives you and your partner focused issues to work on and will help you make a game plan. Speaking of which…

Set common goals, and work toward them together
Whether it’s saving for a big vacation, your child’s college fund, getting out of debt, or making a big purchase like a car, money management and budgeting may be easier if you are both working toward a common purpose with a shared reward. Figure out your shared goals and then make a plan to accomplish them!

Accept that your partner may have a different background and approach to money
We all have our strengths, weaknesses, and different perspectives. Just because yours differs from your partner’s doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. Chances are you make allowances and balance each other out in other areas of your relationship, and you can do the same with money if you try to see things from your partner’s point of view.

Discussing and managing your finances together can be a great opportunity for growth in a relationship. Go into it with a positive attitude, respect for your partner, and a sense of your common values and priorities. Having an open, honest, and trust-based approach to money in a relationship may be challenging, but it is definitely worth it.

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4 Ways to Get Out of Debt

Dealing with debt can be scary.

Paying off your mortgage, car, and student loans can sometimes seem so impossible that you might not even look at the total you owe. You just keep making payments because that’s all you might think you can do. However, there is a way out! Here are 4 tips to help:

Make a Budget
Many people have a complex budget that tracks every penny that comes in and goes out. They may even make charts or graphs that show the ratio of coffee made at home to coffee purchased at a coffee shop. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated, especially if you’re new at this “budget thing”. Start by splitting all of your spending into two categories: necessary and optional. Rent, the electric bill, and food are all examples of necessary spending, while something like a vacation or buying a third pair of black boots (even if they’re on sale) might be optional. Figure out ways that you can cut back on your optional spending, and devote the leftover money to paying down your debt. It might mean staying in on the weekends or not buying that flashy new electronic gadget you’ve been eyeing. But reducing how much you owe will be better long-term.

Negotiate a Settlement
Creditors often negotiate with customers. After all, it stands to reason that they’d rather get a partial payment than nothing at all! But be warned; settling an account can potentially damage your credit score. Negotiating with creditors is often a last resort, not an initial strategy.

Debt Consolidation
Interest-bearing debt obligations may be negotiable. Contact a consolidation specialist for refinancing installment agreements. This debt management solution helps reduce the risk of multiple accounts becoming overdue. When fully paid, a clean credit record with an extra loan in excellent standing may be the reward if all payments are made on time.

Get a side gig
You might be in a position to work evenings or weekends to make extra cash to put towards your debt. There are a myriad of options—rideshare driving, food delivery, pet sitting, you name it! Or you might have a hobby that you could turn into a part-time business.

If you feel overwhelmed by debt, then let’s talk. We can discuss strategies that will help move you from feeling helpless to having financial control.

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Can You Afford to be Generous this Holiday Season?

The holidays tend to be a time when we want to reach out and help those who are less fortunate than we are.

But sometimes it can feel like you simply don’t have enough resources (whether it be time or money) to contribute to causes you care about, especially with the usual yuletide expenses—and stress—of travel and buying gifts for friends and family.

Here are a few holiday generosity tips to help get you in the spirit of the season without sacrificing your peace of mind (or your pocketbook)!

Start a Budget
Creating and sticking to a budget is a great way to kickstart your giving. There are a couple of factors that might play into this, but it seems likely that having command of your spending will allow you to see how much you can realistically set aside for a worthy cause. You might find that you can accumulate enough throughout the year for a big holiday donation. Also, be open to the possibility of automated donations—it might be easier to regularly contribute a few dollars a week than to save up for a large lump sum contribution.

Get Creative
There are plenty of nonfinancial ways to be generous during the holidays. Look into volunteering opportunities with local charities or nonprofits that might need labor. You might be surprised by the diversity of positions that they need filled. Setting aside a Saturday morning to work at a soup kitchen with your family can go a long way towards spreading some holiday cheer and helping those in need.

Give but Verify
Don’t donate your time, resources, or energy to organizations that misuse contributions. Do your research—a quick online search may suffice. Nonprofits are required to publish how much they spend on advertising and overhead, so make sure you take a few minutes to verify that your generosity won’t get wasted.

Even if your time and money are tight this year, hopefully these tips will provide some practical insights into how you can support the causes and things you care about—without busting your budget.

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The effects of closing a credit card

Americans owe over $900 billion in credit card debt[i], and credit card interest rates are on the rise – now over 15 percent.[ii]

So if you’re on a mission to reduce or eliminate your credit card debt (go you!), you may be thinking you should close out your credit cards. However, you need to know that doing that may have several effects, some of which may not be what you’d expect.

There are times when canceling a card may be the best answer:

  1. A card charges an annual fee
    If you’re being charged an annual fee for the privilege of having a certain credit card, it may be better to cancel the card, particularly if you don’t use it often or have other options available.

  2. You can’t control your spending
    If “retail therapy” is impacting your financial future by creating an ever-growing mountain of debt, it may be best to eliminate the temptation of buying on credit.

Then there are times when closing a credit card may not make much difference, or could even hurt your score:

  1. Lingering effects: The good and the bad
    Many of us have heard that credit card information stays on your report for 7 years. That’s true for negative information, including events as large as a foreclosure. Positive events, however, stay on your report for 10 years. In either case, canceling your credit card now will reduce the credit you have available, but the history – good or bad – will remain on your credit report for up to a decade.

  2. The benefits of old credit
    Did you know that one aspect factored in to your credit score is the age of your accounts? Canceling a much older account in favor of a newer account can actually leave a dent in your score, and we know that canceling the card won’t erase any negative history less than 7 years old. So it may be best to keep the older credit account open as long as there are no costs to the card. Another point to consider is that the effects of canceling an older account may be magnified when you’re younger and haven’t yet established a long enough credit history.

Credit utilization affects your credit score
Lenders and credit bureaus not only look at your repayment history, they also look at your credit utilization, which refers to how much of your available credit you’re using. Lower usage can help your credit score while high utilization can work against you.

For example, if you have $20,000 in credit available and $10,000 in credit card balances, your credit utilization is 50 percent. If you close a credit card that has a credit limit of $5,000, your available credit drops to $15,000 but your credit utilization jumps to 67 percent if the credit card balances remain unchanged. Going on a credit card canceling rampage may actually have negative effects because your credit utilization can skyrocket.

If unnecessary spending is out of control or if there is a cost to having a particular credit card, it may be best to cancel the card. In other cases, however, it’s often better to use credit cards occasionally, and make sure to pay them off as quickly as possible.

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Emergency Fund 101: Protecting and Growing Your Fund

Nearly 60% of Americans report that they don’t have savings to turn to in the event of an emergency.*

If something unexpected were to happen, do you have enough savings to get you and your family through it and back to solid ground again?

If you’re not sure you have enough set aside, being blindsided with an emergency might leave you in the awkward position of asking family or friends for a loan to tide you over. Or would you need to rack up credit card debt to get through a crisis? Dealing with a financial emergency can be stressful enough – like an unexpected hospital visit, car repairs, or even a sudden loss of employment. But having an established Emergency Fund in place before something happens can help you focus on what you need to do to get on the other side of it.

As you begin to save money to build your Emergency Fund, use these 5 rules to grow and protect your “I did not see THAT coming” stash:

1. Separate your Emergency Fund from your primary spending account. How often does the amount of money in your primary spending account fluctuate? Trips to the grocery store, direct deposit, automatic withdrawals, spontaneous splurges – the ebb and flow in your main household account can make it hard to keep track of the actual emergency money you have available. Open a separate account for your Emergency Fund so you can avoid any doubt about whether or not you can replace the water heater that decided to break right before your in-laws are scheduled to arrive.

2. Do NOT touch this account. Even though this is listed here as Rule #2, it’s really Rule #1. Once you begin setting aside money in your Emergency Fund, “fugettaboutit”… unless there actually is an emergency! Best case scenario, that money is going to sit and wait for a long time until it’s needed. However, just because it’s an “out of sight, out of mind” situation, doesn’t mean that there aren’t some important features that need to be considered for your Emergency Fund account:

  • You must be able to liquidate these funds easily (i.e., not incur penalties if you make too many withdrawals)
  • Funds should be stable (not subject to market shifts)

You definitely don’t want this money to be locked up and/or potentially lose value over time. Although these two qualities might prevent any significant gain to your account, that’s not the goal with these funds. Pressure’s off!

3) Know your number. You may hear a lot about making sure you’re saving enough for retirement and that you should never miss a life insurance premium. Solid advice. But don’t pause either of these important pieces of your financial plan to build your Emergency Fund. Instead, tack building your Emergency Fund onto your existing plan. The same way you know what amount you need to save each month for your retirement and the premium you need to pay for your life insurance policy, know how much you need to set aside regularly so you can build a comfortable Emergency Fund. A goal of at least $1,000 to three months of your income or more is recommended. Three months worth of your salary may sound high, but if you were to lose your job, you’d have at least three full months of breathing room to get back on track.

4) Avoid bank fees. These are Emergency Fund Public Enemy No. 1. Putting extra money aside can be challenging – maybe you’ve finally come to terms with giving up the daily latte from your local coffee shop. But if that precious money you’re sacrificing to save is being whittled away by bank fees – that’s downright tragic! Avoid feeling like you’re paying twice for an emergency (once for the emergency itself and second for the fees) by using an account that doesn’t charge fees and preferably doesn’t have a minimum account balance requirement or has a low one that’s easy to maintain. You should be able to find out what you’re in for on your bank’s website or by talking to an employee.

5) Get started immediately. There’s no better way to grow your Emergency Fund than to get started!

There’s always going to be something. That’s just life. You can avoid that dreaded phone call to your parents (or your children). There’s no need to apply for another credit card (or two). Start growing and protecting your own Emergency Fund today, and give yourself the gift of being prepared for the unexpected.

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Source:
Cornfield, Jill. “Bankrate survey: Just 4 in 10 Americans have savings they’d rely on in an emergency.” Bankrate*, 1.12.2017, https://www.bankrate.com/finance/consumer-index/money-pulse-0117.aspx.

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Handling Debt Efficiently – Until It’s Gone

It’s no secret that making purchases on credit cards will result in paying more for those items over time if you’re paying interest charges from month-to-month.

Despite this well-known fact, the average American now owes over $6,000 in credit card debt.* For households, the number is much higher, at nearly $16,000 per household. Add in an average mortgage of over $200,000, plus nearly $25,000 of non-mortgage debt (car loans, college loans, or other loans) and the molehill really is starting to look like a mountain.

The good news? You have the potential to handle your debt efficiently and deal with a molehill-sized molehill instead of a mountain-sized one.

Focus on the easiest target first.
Some types of debt don’t have an easy solution. While it’s possible to sell your home and find more affordable housing, actually following through with this might not be a great option. Selling your home is a huge decision and one that comes with expenses associated with the sale – it’s possible to lose money. Unless you find yourself with a job loss or similar long-term setback, often the best solution to paying down debt is to go after higher interest debt first. Then examine ways to cut your housing costs last.

Freeze your spending (literally, if it helps).
Due to its higher interest rate, credit card debt is usually the first thing to tackle when you decide to start eliminating debt. Let’s be honest, most of us might not even know where that money goes, but our credit card statement is a monthly reminder that it went somewhere. If credit card balances are a problem in your household, the first step is to cut back on your purchases made with credit, or stop paying with credit altogether. Some people cut up their cards to enforce discipline. Ever heard the recommendation to freeze your cards in a block of ice as a visual reminder of your commitment to quit credit? Another thing to do is to remove your card information from online shopping sites to help ensure you don’t make mindless purchases.

Set payment goals.
Paying the minimum amount on your credit card keeps the credit card company happy for 2 reasons. First, they’re happy that you made a payment on time. Second, they’re happy if you’re only paying the minimum because you might never pay off the balance, so they can keep collecting interest indefinitely. Reducing or stopping your spending with credit was the first step. The second step is to pay more than the minimum so that those balances start going down. Examine your budget to see where there’s room to reduce spending further, which will allow you to make higher payments on your credit cards and other types of debt. In most households, an honest look at the bank statement will reveal at least a few ways you might free up some money each month.

Have a sale. To get a jump-start if money is still tight, you might want to turn some unused household items into cash. Having a community yard sale or selling your items online can turn your dust collectors into cash that you can then use toward reducing your balances.

Transfer balances prudently.
Consider balance transfers for small balances with high interest rates that you think you’ll be able to pay off quickly. Transferring that balance to a lower interest or no interest card can save on interest costs, freeing up more money to pay down the balances. The interest rates on balance transfers don’t stay low forever, however – typically for a year or less – so it’s important to make sure you can pay transferred balances off quickly. Also, check if there’s a balance transfer fee. Depending on the fee, moving those funds might not make sense.

Don’t punish yourself.
Getting serious about paying down debt may seem to require draconian measures. But there likely isn’t a need to just stay home eating tuna fish sandwiches with all the lights turned off. Often, all that’s required is an adjustment of old spending habits. If your drive home takes you past a mall where it would be too tempting to “just pick a little something up”, take a different route home. But it’s important to have a small treat occasionally as well. If you’re making progress on your debt, you deserve to reward yourself sometimes. All within your budget, of course!

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Sources:
El Issa, Erin. “2017 American Household Credit Card Debt Study.” NerdWallet*, 2017, https://nerd.me/2ht7SZg.

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