Tag: Wealthy Habits

 

Over 60% of Americans Don’t Know What They Need to Retire

A recent study found that 61% of Americans don’t know how much money they need to retire. This concerning statistic highlights a major problem with retirement savings in the United States. A huge number of Americans have little to no retirement savings despite advice to stash away cash for a comfortable future. Let’s look at some important retirement savings rules to make sure you are not part of this scary statistic.

Americans don’t know how much money they need for retirement

A new study from Bankrate found that six in ten Americans do not know how much money they need to retire. With a large wave of Baby Boomers reaching their golden years and preparing to leave the workforce, millions of Americans may be in for a big surprise when the regular paychecks stop flowing in.

While Social Security or an increasingly rare pension plan can offer a safety net to aging Americans, most of us need much more than we will get from the government to maintain the same standard of living in retirement.

The study went beyond asking what people need to retire. Older Americans fared slightly better than Millennials in the survey and fewer than 2 in 5 non-retirees indicated that they feel their retirement savings are not on track.

Using the 15% rule to save for retirement

To avoid a ramen diet in retirement, you should follow best practices for retirement savings today. That may include contributing the maximum allowed amount to an IRA or Roth IRA in addition to participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k).

One quick and easy option to meet your retirement needs is to save at minimum 10% to 15% of your gross income (that’s your income before taxes and deductions). This is easy to do automatically in most employer retirement plans.

To reach the maximum $5,500 per year in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or Roth IRA, you should save $211 per pay period if paid every other week to reach the target savings rate at the end of each calendar year.

If you make $50,000 per year, that means you should save $7,500 per year, or $625 per month, at the very least to maintain the same quality of life in retirement. But remember that this is just a minimum. You can save far more for retirement if you choose!

Calculate your actual retirement needs

While saving 15% or more for retirement is a good estimate on how much to save, you should do better and estimate your actual financial need in retirement. This is a tricky thing to calculate with a ton of accuracy, as you have to estimate your retirement date, how long you will live, and how much you need per month to get your total number.

Lucky for you, a Ph.D. is not necessary to calculate your retirement need. There are a handful of useful tools that make it easy and quick to estimate your financial requirements for retirement.

This in-depth calculator from AARP gives you detailed results on your retirement readiness. The Kiplinger calculator gives you a quicker result in estimating your retirement needs, but with a little less detail.

You control your retirement destiny

If you are behind on saving for retirement, there is no one to blame but yourself. But don’t dwell on the past and savings that have yet to take place. Instead, focus on the future and boosting your retirement savings starting today. That is the only way you will get on track to reach your retirement goals.

It may seem like a long way off, but your retirement is just around the corner in the scheme of things. Take the steps you need now so you don’t end up in a difficult situation in retirement. Many older Americans find themselves stuck working in retirement or skimping at home to make ends meet. Even if you can’t start by saving a full 15% of your income, you can start with something. Some retirement savings apps let you start with as little as $1 or $5!

Start saving and get yourself on track for your dream retirement. Your future self will thank you.


This article originally appeared on Due.com.

 

How to Avoid Regrets About How You Spend Your Money

How you spend your money is a loaded subject. Nearly half of Americans deem finances a hard subject to address with others. They rate it more difficult to navigate than politics or religion. Sixty-eight percentwould rather disclose their weight than talk about finances. More than 40 percent don’t even broach the subject with the person they marry before entering into holy matrimony. Even to yourself, how y0u spend your money is a topic you most likely avoid thinking about.

However, treating money as a taboo subject hurts people. Families tend to feel chronically anxious due to a lack of clear conversations about money. Many times, with little discussion about goals and expectations, people end up following some financial gurus’ guidelines to the letter. This can actually be damaging to their personal finances. Plus, it can make them feel like “financial sinners” for making different choices. That”s why it’s time to think differently about how you spend your money.

Rules About How You Spend Your Money Can Lead to Regret

James Lenhoff, CFP, the president of Wealthquest and the author of “Living a Rich Life,” has seen dozens of clients who’ve accumulated a lot of money in their later years — and a lot of regrets. “Many of them get to a stage where they realize they didn’t create many memories with their money,” Lenhoff says. “They’re watching their kids have families and regretting all the things they didn’t do — they’re seeing the breaks or weaknesses in the logic.”

These clients often see their own kids are reluctant to take vacation time or splurge on a family excursion, yet many of these behaviors have been “inherited.” However, it’s hard to lay all the blame at their feet in a society that champions short-term “good” feelings over long-term satisfaction. “Society reinforces this mistake of thinking that status symbols and things are worth more, encouraging us to buy the bigger house, the newer car. The messaging is all geared toward making us feel better about ourselves,” Lenhoff explains. “In the end, we all want experiences, but society has confused us into thinking products areexperiences.”

In order to combat that messaging, most personal finance books give us rules to follow that keep us from splurging. But, it’s a Catch-22 because the money “rules” teaches us to grit our teeth and “do the right thing.” This is always assumed to mean saving more. “There’s an assumption among some financial experts that we need to treat people like children, give them harsh black-and-white boundaries,” Lenhoff says. “Like kids, they develop a sense of shame for disappointing Mom and Dad. The behavior is so deeply ingrained that even when they have saved enough, they are paralyzed by the ‘rules,’ and they can’t let go and use some of their money to enjoy themselves.”

Forces That Impact How You Spend Your Money

These two forces are always fighting within us. That means many people end up being filled with money-driven regret for one of two reasons. First, they spent their money on products, which didn’t fulfill them. Second, they hoarded their money, waiting for the right time to spend it.

However, they could never relax enough to do so when it was time. The good news is that those outcomes aren’t inevitable. There are steps you can take to avoid financial regret.

As Lenhoff says, “Nobody lived beyond their means because they couldn’t do math; they were emotionally motivated to do something.” He recommends that younger savers and spenders approach their relationship to money in a way that may be antithetical to the “rules.”

Find out where you stand

Because of the taboos surrounding money discussions, most people don’t actually know where they fall on the financial spectrum. Are they in a healthy position or not? Many couples, Lenhoff explains, contain a “Go” and a “Whoa”: The “Whoa” is the self-controlled saver, while the “Go” is the free-spirited spender. “Go” assumes they’re fine, but “Whoa” assumes they’re not. The problem is that neither one really knows who is right.

To overcome this, you must have a clear-headed conversation to lay out what you have and where you’re going. What does it take to make your life work right now? And, what are your non-negotiable goals for your family? A financial planner can help you outline how far ahead or behind you are on hitting those targets. Then, once you’re confident that you’re saving what you need to save each month to fund your goals, you can spend the rest as you like.

Don’t be fooled by others’ exteriors

In a world where we’re constantly cajoled to keep up with the Joneses, people often look around and feel their neighbors, friends, and family members are doing better.

But, the secrecy surrounding money — and the prevalence of living on credit cards — has erroneously led us to assume others are killing it. In reality, they could simply be swimming in debt. Don’t make decisions on how you spend your money based on how well you believe others are doing.

Use your net worth as your golden rule

Many people are overly focused on their income as a measure of progress. However, your income doesn’t matter if you aren’t using it to grow your net worth. If your net worth didn’t go up last year, that’s a problem no matter how much income you had. Your net worth changes only through saving or paying down debt.

You should be doing both. Don’t focus so much on paying down low-cost debt that you miss opportunities to save for future goals. Make sure you’re using your income to grow your assets over time. A growing net worth is the clearest indication of financial health.

Avoid budgets

Budgets are very restrictive, and they start from made-up numbers. Lenhoff says, “Most people approach budgets with ‘What can I squeeze myself into?’ They should start with ‘What’s my current reality?’” Just because you could eat freeze-dried Ramen for six months doesn’t mean it’s likely you will.

And, a shoestring budget that’s a far cry from your usual existence will feel overly prohibitive. Also, it’s impossible to stick to. Instead, create a spending plan that focuses on how you’ll spend your money rather than on how you’ll avoid spending your money. Acknowledge that you will be spending money so you can plan to spend it wisely.

Think not just about how the money will serve you in the future

There’s truth in the saying, “You can’t take it with you.” Therefore, you need to celebrate milestones along the route to your biggest goals. Enjoying the money you’ve earned while meeting your financial obligations and saving for your long-term goals shouldn’t be considered taboo but smart. It’s giving you pleasure now and later. This is what money that exceeds your necessities is intended to do.

While money may often be treated like a dirty secret, it doesn’t have to be a source of pain and regret. By shifting your mindset about how you spend your money now, you can ensure you use it in a way that brings you peace today and security tomorrow.


This article originally appeared on Due.com.

 

Behavioral Hacks and the Gig Economy: 4 Tactics for Financial Wellness

When it comes to finances, freelancers and other gig economy workers have it tough. Not only do we struggle with unpredictable cash flow, but we also have to deal with our own benefits and insurance.

Yet, while it may be stressful at times, there are things you can do to modify your money habits and boost your financial wellness.

Behavioral science, or the study of why humans and animals do what they do, can help us better understand our behaviors and how they play into our money matters. Take a look at Common Cents. A financial research lab at Duke University, Common Cents conducts in-depth studies to help low- and moderate-income households in the U.S. achieve financial wellness. From their research, they’ve garnered some insights into behavioral science and financial health. For instance, you can use a money-saving app to meet your financial goals.

Here are 4 other ways you can change your behaviors to help you slay your money woes.

1. Label Your Savings Accounts

This may seem like a minor thing, but behavioral research reveals that simply labeling a savings account increased total deposits in Ghana by 31.2 percent – after only nine months.

Why not try this? Just coming up with simple labels for your savings accounts can help boost your savings. For example, I have labels for my specific accounts for self-employed taxes and emergency savings. I also have a gift fund, “fun” fund, art fund (to buy and make art stuff), retirement fund, and more recently, a house fund. This helps me stay motivated.

Here’s another tip: you can have fun with your labels to remind you of saving for things that matter to you. When I was younger, I used silly labels for my savings accounts, like ‘Buddha Statue Fund” and “Guinea Pig Fun House” fund. That bit of silliness made saving money more enjoyable.

2. Match Payment Dates with Paychecks

Research suggests that most people pay their bills when the paychecks roll in. Then, they spend the rest of their money right up until the next payday. Yet, this isn’t so easy when you’re a gig economy worker. Why? If you’re in this boat, you likely get paid different amounts at different times from various clients. (Cue #facepalm.)

To help you pay your rent and bills on time, try assigning paychecks to specific bills. For instance, you can earmark money from your biggest retainer client toward your rent, student debt and credit card bill. The smaller amounts that you receive at random times? This can go toward your savings and discretionary spending. Or, if you’re a Chime Member and enrolled in direct deposit, you can get paid up to two days early. Score!

If you’re a part-time gigger, use the money from your main 9-to-5 job toward rent and bills. And try putting the essentials on autopay. The Common Cents report found that millennials were about 10 percent more satisfied with recurring transactions than non-recurring ones.

3. Add Friction in the Right Places

From a consumer psychology standpoint, friction is anything that makes it harder for someone to spend money. That’s why retailers do all they can to make shopping – both in stores and online – as painless and quick as possible. To get you to spend more, retailers remove these points of friction. For instance, a point of friction while shopping in a store is having trouble locating an item. After scouring the aisles, you may get frustrated and leave without buying anything. So, retailers do all they can to make it easy for you to locate things and drop them in your shopping cart.

To make it hard for you to spend those hard-earned dollars, try adding in your own friction. Want to keep a healthy reserve for your emergency fund? Sock it away in a separate account. Out of sight, out of mind. And, if you’re wary about spending too much on happy hour and meals out, try setting aside a certain amount each week toward discretionary spending. Then, spend only this amount on your dining out.

4. Automate, Automate, Automate

While you should squirrel away some of your income, doing so can be mentally taxing. Add to that deciding how much to save and this can induce anxiety. Once you finally settle upon the amount to save, you’ll then have to figure out how to transfer money between accounts. We’ve all been there.

Auto-save to the rescue.

Automating your savings is one of the most painless ways to save money. Why? Well, for starters, the weight of decision-making doesn’t fall in your hands. And, because it’s all done automatically, you’re much more likely to actually save.

According to the 2017 Common Cents Lab Annual Report, automatic savings aren’t mentally accounted for as earnings. “Automatic withdrawal for savings has such a powerful effect that people can forget that the money was even earned. As a result, they don’t mentally account for this money as part of their paycheck,” stated the report. Plus, when the “opt-in” is the default, versus the “opt-out”, people tend to save more.

The bottom line: if you can automate your savings, you should do it. Even if you don’t have a lot of extra cash on hand, start with just a few bucks each week. Chances are that you won’t even miss it. I remember starting out by saving $20 every week. That’s five coffees or two lunches during the week. While I didn’t miss spending that dough on everyday expenditures, after a year I was $1,040 richer. That’s a thousand bucks I could use toward a fun vacay, getting a tech upgrade, or holiday spending.

Small Changes Lead to Big Wins

Indeed, insights from the eye-opening field of behavioral economics can help you boost your financial health. And, if you’re a freelancer working in the gig economy, you can start improving your own financial habits by adopting the 4 steps here. Before long, you’ll be hitting your money goals and bulking up your savings account!

 

Money Stress Is an American Problem; Here’s How to Fix That

Americans are stressed out about money.

The statistics about Americans and money aren’t great in most cases; in 2015, 76% of CFP’s said that their clients number one financial stressors was healthcare costs. A 2016 survey of Baby Boomers revealed that 60% fear running out of money in retirement. And 30% of adults in the US feel stressed about money constantly.

Money is supposed to be a tool. But when you don’t understand it, or earn enough of it, it gets to feeling stressful really quickly.

If you’re feeling stressed out about money, here are a few ways to calm down and sort the situation out.

Take a Deep Breath

When you’re beginning to feel that money stress get out of control, take a deep breath. Stress is physically unhealthy for us and it keeps us from being really productive. Before you can do anything else, you need to take care of yourself.

Figure Out Your Numbers

Numbers always tell the truth. Sometimes it might be difficult to hear that truth, but it’s always the first step.

You can start by listing out all your monthly expenses and categorizing them into needs and wants. This helps you see where you can cut back, if you can cut back at all. Second, do the same thing with your debts; list them out so that you know what you owe and where to send it.

Knowing your numbers gives you the power to change them. Whatever your next move is, reduce your money stress with figuring out the numbers.

Learn About Money

Learning and reading about money is a great way to demystify it. If something feels foreign to you it’s probably going to stress you out more than the thing that feels familiar. Money stress will go away over time as you learn more about money.

You can read blogs and books about money. Start listening to money podcasts. You can talk to friends and family about how they manage their money. There are a lot of options to learn about money once you start looking. Here’s a list of three books about money to kickstart your journey.

Start Small

Taking one step today and one step tomorrow is the way to go. Don’t try and climb your money mountain all at once. Small things become big things, and time can be your friend.

For example, something you’ll hear a lot in the personal finance world is that you need to have an emergency fund with 6 months living expenses saved in it. That can take months, if not years to save! But starting off my saving $50 a month is great- it lays the groundwork for your emergency fund and introduces the habit of saving.


This article originally appeared on Due.com.

 

The 21 Best Financial Habits to Develop at Every Age

Your financial health and potential for building wealth are dependent on your habits. Short of winning the lottery or receiving a massive inheritance, the best financial habits involve those little decisions you make every day and every week.

Developing these habits all at once is problematic. First, there is a steep learning curve. Second, not all strategies are equally effective at every age. The best approach is to gradually master your financial habits as you grow older. There are good money habits to build at every stage of your life.

In General: The Earlier, the Better

For the most part, the earlier you learn these financial habits, the better. If you’re able to develop habits ahead of your age, you’ll stand to benefit. There are three reasons for this:

  • Habit acquisition. It’s easier to learn new things and build good habits when you’re young. If you establish good money practices early enough, it will be nearly impossible to break those habits.
  • Mistake adjustment. If you employ a habit but make a mistake in its execution, it can destabilize your financial track. Making that mistake early gives you ample time to recover from that mistake and learn from it. That way, you never repeat it again.
  • There’s also the power of compound interest to consider. Investing money early allows compound interest to grow that money exponentially over decades. It also prevents compound interest from working against you. A good example is in the case of debt.

In Your Teens

Your teenage years won’t come with much responsibility or many opportunities to make a significant income. Accordingly, there aren’t many financial habits you’ll need to focus on. These three are a good start:

  1. Saving money. Saving money is one of the best habits to learn early. In your teens, you’ll be tempted to spend every cent of your incoming paychecks. However, learning to squirrel away at least a portion of your earnings will always be beneficial.
  2. Tracking your spending. This is also the best time to start habitually tracking your spending. Instead of buying what you feel like, when you feel like it, write down how much you spend in each of several categories. Then, compare expenditures with income. This will provide you with the budgeting skills necessary to last a lifetime.
  3. Opening and using. You probably don’t “need” a credit card in your teens. However, it’s useful to have as an emergency option. Plus, it’s ideal for starting to build credit, which you’ll need in the future. Consider opening a savings, checking, and credit card account in your name. Then, focus on managing them responsibly.

In Your 20s

In your 20s, you’ll be out of school and ready to start your career so you need these financial habits:

  1. Checking your credit score. Checking your credit score is free.  Therefore, it’s good to get in the habit of checking it regularly. Knowing your credit score is valuable for making big-ticket financial decisions. It can direct you to weaknesses in your credit report to work on improving them.
  2. Contributing to a 401(k) or similar program. If your company offers a 401(k) or a similar investment program with a company match, take advantage of it. Company matches are essentially free money.
  3. Mastering your student loans. The average college student graduates with $30,000 in debt. If you don’t start addressing it now, the power of compound interest will make that debt even harder to manage. You don’t have to pay your debt down right away. However, you should have a solid long-term plan in place.
  4. Minimizing your credit card balances. Have one or two credit cards you regularly use. But, it’s important to get in the habit of keeping those balances low. If you accumulate too much debt, it could take over your life.
  5. Living below your means. This is the best way to generate more savings over the long term. Since you’ll be spending far less than you make, you’ll naturally end up with more money to save or invest every month. Opt for less expensive housing and save money on fees and subscriptions.
  6. Setting short-term and long-term goals. Get in the habit of setting and following both short-term goals (like saving up for a home down payment) and long-term goals (like investing $5,000 a year). With good goal planning and execution, all your other financial efforts will become easier.

In Your 30s

Once you’re in your 30s, you’ll have established career momentum to do these:

  1. Establishing a comprehensive emergency fund. You should have an emergency fund in your 20s.  However, by your 30s, that fund should be comprehensive. That means big enough to cover several months of expenses in case you lose your job or face some other catastrophe.
  2. Setting a course for retirement. This is when you’ll need to start thinking about your retirement goals. When do you want to retire? What accounts will you rely on to do it?
  3. Taking advantage of your credit. You’ve built and checked on your credit for the past decade or two. Now’s the time to start taking advantage of it. Buy a house you can afford or open new lines of credit to finance your business idea.
  4. Learning the value of insurance. Understand the value of insurance and take advantage of it for your financial interests. For example, you’ll want a good policy to cover your health, home, car, and other important assets. Plus, you may want to choose a different deductible or coverage policy that best suits your needs.
  5. Renting or buying (as appropriate). Know the advantages of renting versus buying in your area. There may not be a need to rush into buying a home or you may miss out on significant equity by renting. Every location is different.
  6. Navigating marriage and children. Consider the financial implications of marriage (if you’re planning to get married) and the expenses associated with raising children. Planning a family responsibly can mean the difference between affording a comfortable lifestyle and succumbing to debt.
  7. Planning for your children’s futures. If you’re planning to send your kids to college, start thinking about college savings(or a similar savings strategy for your children). For example, you may choose to open a 529 college savings plan and contribute regularly to it.
  8. Investing as a monthly expense. Think about investments and retirement savings as a monthly expense. These become necessary, regular expenditures for the sake of your future. Don’t let your other living or entertainment expenses distract you.

In Your 40s

In your 40s, you’ll have mastered the vast majority of important financial habits, but there are still a few to learn:

  1. Rebalancing your portfolio. Now, you should be in the habit of routinely rebalancing your portfolio. This includes adjusting your assets to favor the current market conditions or to help gradually reduce risk as you prepare for retirement. Slowly move toward a bond-heavy distribution of assets in your investment portfolio.
  2. Prepping for divorce. No matter how happy you are currently, there’s a significant possibility that your marriage will end in divorce. This event can be financially devastating to one or both parties. It’s imperative that you plan how to handle those expenses.
  3. Intelligently managing your assets. If you’ve had good financial habits for the past few decades, you should have significant assets to manage. These include properties, vehicles, and other investments. Make sure you’re managing them intelligently and improving their resale costs. Also, cite them properly on your taxes and sell them when appropriate.
  4. Splurging when appropriate. Retirement isn’t everything. By now, you should know the difference between a healthy splurge and reckless spending. However, don’t be afraid to pamper yourself every once in a while. Start doing more things that make you happy.

Beyond Your 40s

At this point in your life, your efforts should focus on maintaining the status quo and learning from your past mistakes. Additionally, it’s about concentrating your savings and investments on retirement prep. By the time you hit 50, all these financial habits should have prepared you for a stable future. There should be enough resources and experiences to help you achieve long-term goals.

Don’t regret your financial decisions. Take the time to learn and master these money habits as early as possible. And, be grateful for the discipline you exercised.


This article originally appeared on Due.com.

 

How to Prioritize Your Financial Obligations and Goals

Creating financial goals can be an exciting and exhilarating experience. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of a wealthy retirement full of travel and spa days, or a brand new home with a huge down payment?

Yet, before you get caught up dreaming about financial freedom, it’s time to come back down to earth. Alas, visualizing your goals and making your dreams happen are two different things. In order to reach your money milestones, you’ll first need to create a plan – and this should encompass both your financial obligations and saving up for the fun stuff.

To help you prioritize your goals and obligations, we’ve put together a list of 7 steps to maximize your financial potential. Take a look:

1. Get a head start on your emergency fund

Paying down debt and investing for the future won’t do you much good if your furnace goes kaput and you don’t have the funds to fix it.

An emergency fund, however, can help protect you from unexpected setbacks. To get started, start saving money with the goal of earmarking at least $1,000 into a designated fund for emergencies. While you may want to come back to this account later and add more money, your first $1,000 will surely help you if you need cash for a small home repair or other minor emergency.

2. Get your 401(k) match

Nearly two-thirds of 401(k) participants qualify for an employer match, according to a study by Vanguard. If you belong to this group, you should take advantage of this ASAP as an employer match means free money to you. Cha-ching!

For example, let’s say you earn $60,000 a year and your employer matches up to three percent of your salary in 401(k) contributions. So, if you contribute $150 per month, your employer will contribute another $150. That’s an immediate return of 100% on the money you invest, making the decision a no-brainer.

3. Get the right insurance

Small financial emergencies can set you back, but big ones can seriously cripple you.

If you have kids or other people who depend on you, life insurance offers essential protection. Even if you don’t have any dependents, you may still want to consider an affordable term life insurance policy. Term life insurance provides a death benefit to your loved ones if you pass away during a specific period. You can typically choose a term of five, 10, 15, 20, 30 or 40 years. In most cases, your premium stays the same throughout the term. Term insurance is worth having because it’s relatively inexpensive and protects your loved ones from suffering financial problems should you pass away during the term of your policy.

Talking about insurance, you may also want to consider disability insurance, especially considering you’re more likely to become disabled than die prematurely. Although your employer may offer this type of insurance coverage, you can also look into your own policies for both short-term and long-term disability insurance. This is wise way to ensure that you and your loved ones can still receive an income while you’re recovering from an accident or debilitating illness.

4. Pay off high-interest debt

Now that you’ve managed some of your biggest risks and taken advantage of your 401(k) match, you’ll want to tackle your toxic debt.

Specifically, if you have credit card debt or any other debt with an interest rate of eight percent or higher, it’s a good idea to pay it off as quickly as you can. We choose the eight percent figure because that’s higher than the typical seven percent annual return you can expect by investing that money instead.

Once you eliminate your credit card debt, you can take the amount you were putting toward your monthly payment and invest it into your savings or retirement account.

5. Return to your retirement and emergency fund

Now, it’s time to go back and start building your future.

For your emergency fund, you’ll want to add to that initial $1,000 by saving enough to cover three to six months’ worth of basic monthly expenses. This way you’ll sufficient cash on hand to pay for a bigger emergency.

For your retirement savings, aim to save at least 10% of your gross income. Note that your employer match is included in this goal, so if your workplace is contributing three percent, you should shoot for seven percent from your own income. In addition to your 401(k), you may want to open an individual retirement account (IRA), which can give you a little more control over your investments.

Remember: the amount you set aside each month for these two goals is up to you, but try to be as aggressive as possible without sacrificing your other financial goals.

6. Eliminate other debts

While you’re working toward building your retirement account and emergency fund, you should also begin paying down your other debts such as student loans, auto loans, and your mortgage.

Again, there’s no rule of thumb here for how much you should put toward this goal. So, it’s important to decide for yourself whether being debt-free is more essential than saving for retirement or contributing to your rainy-day fund.

7. Work on other investment goals

When you’re making good headway on your other savings goals, it’s time to look toward the future.

For example, if you have children or plan to have kids, you may want to think about saving up for their higher educational needs. A 529 College Savings Plan is a good option to do that. It allows you to invest your contributions and withdraw them tax-free for qualified education expenses. And, depending on where you live, you might get some extra tax deductions and credits for contributing to a 529 plan. We recommend talking to a fee-only financial advisor to help steer you in the right direction here.

Also, now is the time to consider other savings and investing goals, like taking a nice vacation with the family, upgrading your house or car, or starting your own business.

Pour a foundation first, then build upon it

Every financial plan is different, but building a financial house without a foundation will surely crumble at the first gust of wind. These seven steps, however, will help you create a solid plan for your short and long-term money goals. Are you ready to get started today?

 

Why Career Planning is Important and How to Do It

Millennials are more than three times as likely to switch jobs than older generations, according to a recent poll by Gallup. But with all the job hopping going on, it can be difficult to craft a long-term career strategy.

A solid career plan is important in that it can provide a roadmap for your future. This, in turn, helps you make informed choices about your current job situation as well as future career moves. A broader career plan is also important when it comes to helping you stay inspired.

Interested in creating your own career plan? Here are three reasons why you may want to do this right now.

1.  You’ll leverage your strengths

People who tap into their strengths at work are six times more likely to be engaged, according to Gallup. So, if you want to enjoy your career and collaborate more with your co-workers, it’s key that you understand what your strengths are. Once you know this, you can leverage those strengths.

If you’re now thinking that this flies in the face of the common advice that you should work on improving weaknesses, well, that’s important as well. Yet, when it comes to enhancing your career, focusing on your weaknesses shouldn’t be your main strategy, according to BiggerPockets.com.

2. You’ll take steps in the right direction

No one is going to develop your career for you, and a successful career doesn’t happen by chance. In order to succeed, you’ll need to know where you want to go. This way you can work on developing skills to help you achieve your milestones.

For example, if you’re a customer service agent but want to become the CEO of the company, you need to know what steps it takes to get there. For example, it can start with becoming a supervisor then working your way up to a team manager. From there, you may want to develop additional skills so that you can jump from middle management to the executive team, and so on.

When you have a career plan in place, you will be more apt to take steps in the right direction. With this mindset, you’ll also be less likely to blame external forces when things don’t pan out as you planned. Instead, you can take a step back, make a course correction and get back on track!

3. You’ll develop more confidence

If you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up lost or in the wrong place. In addition, if you don’t have a clear goal in mind, it’s harder to gain the self-confidence needed to take advantage of opportunities when they appear.

For example, if you want to become a team manager but you have no plan to achieve this goal, you may not be prepared to compete with others for the job. This, in turn, can be disheartening. Bottom line: you need a plan to both give you a direction and a sense of purpose in your daily work life. This makes it easier to be intentional about your work. For example, if your goal is to replace your manager when she gets a promotion, you may choose to ask her to mentor you. This then becomes part of your career plan.

Three tips for creating your best career plan

Now that you understand why it’s a good idea to have a career plan, let’s discuss how to go about putting it into place. Take a look at these three steps and you’ll be on your way.

1. Think big

Don’t sell yourself short with your career plan. If you don’t currently have the skills necessary to land your dream job, that shouldn’t stop you from aiming for this goal. Plus, by looking at your written out plan, you may gain more motivation.

Also, don’t restrict your career plan to your current job or path. If your dream job entails doing something that isn’t related to your current career at all, spell out the steps that it would take to make the switch.

2. Define your strengths and what you enjoy

Building wealth is a main motivator when it comes to career planning. With that said, money shouldn’t be your main objective. Why? Focusing on money alone can lead to an unhappy job experience and early burnout.

Instead, focus on what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at. If you’re having a hard time pinpointing your talents and what you love about your job, don’t be afraid to ask family members, friends, or even a trusted co-worker. They may have some insight based on past conversations.

This exercise may shed some light on talents you weren’t aware you had. Better yet, you may discover that there aspects of your current job that you want to carry over to your next position – regardless of whether it leads to a windfall of money in the form of a higher salary.

3. Be adaptable

There’s no guarantee that your career will turn out exactly as you planned. Another thing to note: as you take steps toward your dream job, you may notice your preferences have changed over time. So, don’t be afraid to adjust your career plan. Doing this doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on your dreams. It simply means that you’re recalibrating.

When I first graduated from college, my goal was to start at the bottom of a large corporation and work my way to the top. But when I couldn’t find a job for six months, I had to come up with a different plan. Instead, I got an entry-level job at a bank and started blogging about personal finance in my spare time. While I didn’t make much money from the blog itself, it launched me in a different direction. My writing career was born.

As you go through your own planning process, you can determine what to tweak and what to keep status quo. An added perk: if you remain adaptable, you may be surprised at the doors that open for you. Perhaps you’ll even find yourself in a brand new career. When and if this happens, you may want to go back to your original career plan and add in new goals.

The bottom line

Career planning is important because it can help you leverage your strengths and build confidence. More importantly, it encourages you to take ownership of your career. The guidelines here are just that: guidelines. You can use these tips and tools to help you create the best navigation system for you. Are you ready to map out your career path and enjoy the journey?

 

How to Budget for Spontaneity

Budgeting is one of the best ways to save money, and it’s so simple — create categories, set aside a certain amount of money for each category, and then only spend what has been designated for that account.

But what do you do when your best friend asks if you’re free for dinner, and you open your budgeting app and realize that your “dining” budget only has a few dollars left in it? You don’t want to cancel plans with your best friend, so you make the decision to transfer money for dinner from your savings account. Just like that, you’ve blown your budget.

There will always be last minute dinners with friends, drinks with colleagues, or unexpected celebrations. Unfortunately, spontaneity can often derail your budget. Luckily, there’s a simple fix: preparing for spontaneity.

It might sound counterintuitive, but here’s how it works.

Cash-back websites

Did you know you can earn money from shopping online? It’s true. Websites like Ebates and Topcashback will give you cash back on your online purchases when you shop from their website.

Here’s how it works. The websites earn money through affiliate links from the stores that customers use to shop. To encourage customers to use the link, the cash-back websites share a percentage of their profits with the customer (that’s you!).

The best way to earn cash back is to pick one cash-back website, install the cash-back button (a reminder to use the website that appears at check-out), and always use it when you shop.

Cash-back credit card rewards

If you’ve never used cash-back credit cards, you’re missing out. The premise is simple: use your credit card to earn points that you can redeem for cash or other perks.

Most credit card rewards range from 1% to 2% of your purchase, and some cards offer rotating categories. But there is a catch. In order to take advantage of the rewards, it’s important to pay your card on time and in full every month. If you don’t, you’ll end up paying more in fees and interest than you could earn in cash-back rewards.

Cold, hard cash

Budgeting for spontaneity doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it could be as simple as going to the ATM and getting out cash at the beginning of the month.

This money is designated as your “fun” money: It can only be used for an unexpected movie date with friends, celebratory beers, or Sunday brunch. It’s spontaneity with a limit, because when the cash is gone, so is that month’s fun budget.

Give yourself a tip

You tip for a good haircut and a cocktail from the bar, so why not tip yourself? That’s the premise of the app TipYourself. Every time you accomplish a task or goal, you can use the app to send yourself a tip. The goal can be as simple as drinking eight glasses of water per day or as complex as repainting your bedroom wall, and tips can be as small as $1.

The secret to using an app like TipYourself? Setting aside your “tips” for fun. Here’s how it works: set your goals, accomplish them and enjoy a spontaneous adventure with someone you love (and yes, that includes yourself).


This article originally appeared on Policygenius.
Image: Youngoldman

 

5 Ways to Teach Your Kids Good Money Manners

As a parent, you’re responsible for teaching your children many important life-long lessons.

One of the most valuable lessons is this: how to use money responsibly. But, before you dive in, consider first that money is a taboo topic for many families. In fact, discussing money is often awkward.

At the same time, it’s imperative to put your apprehension aside and talk about money with your kids. Why? The sooner your kids understand the inner workings of your family’s finances, the sooner they’ll appreciate the value of money. In turn, you will be teaching them that’s it ok to talk about their own finances – and ask for help – as they grow up.

To help you successfully discuss money with your kids, take a page from our book with the following 5 suggestions:

Teach them about debt

Despite its ubiquitous place in modern American society, debt has an extremely negative connotation. People who carry debt are sometimes viewed as irresponsible with their money, even if they manage their debt payments comfortably.

To explain the role of debt in your overall financial picture, start by explaining some of the debts you’ve had or still have. For example, you can talk about the fact that you owe money on the car you drive to take your kids to school. Or, you can explain that your home is still technically owned by a bank.

As your kids approach the tween years, you can also talk to them about other forms of consumer debt, like credit cards and high-interest personal loans. Once they understand that using a plastic card is not akin to free money, they’ll have a better idea of why it’s important to spend responsibly. They’ll also understand that, if used right, debt can help improve your financial footing.

To put these principles into practice, consider lending your kids money to pay for something they want instead of simply buying it for them. When I was 14, for example, my dad loaned me $750 to help me buy a computer. It was my responsibility to pay him back, interest-free. I learned quickly that this debt meant I was beholden to someone else.

Be wise about giving allowances

Giving your kids allowances can help them learn the importance of work and the value of money. On the flipside, allowances can also cause problems down the road – especially if your kids grow up to expect free money.

Instead, help your kids understand why they are receiving an allowance in the amount you deem fair. Then, consider giving them household tasks to earn their allowance money. Lastly, talk to them about jobs you’ve held and how much you were paid. This way, your kids will appreciate the value of working hard to earn money.

And, here’s another pro tip: encourage your kids to save some of their allowance money. Not only does this teach them to use money prudently, but it can also prevent them from attempting to make frequent withdrawals from the Bank of Mom and Dad.

Include them in budget discussions

Your kids may not be pleased with all of your financial decisions. When I was in middle school, my dad hyped up a mysterious family vacation for months before it happened. We all thought it would be a blast to go to Disneyland or spend a week at the beach.

But, when the day arrived, my dad pulled into our driveway in an RV and told us we were going on a road trip through Wyoming and South Dakota. We all felt let down, and some of us, regrettably, complained about how lame the trip was going to be. Fortunately, we did end up having a great time.

Perhaps if we grumbled less and had been part of the planning process, we would not have had such high expectations. Clearly, my parents couldn’t afford the exotic or theme park-centric trips we all wanted.

Keep in mind, however, that involving your kids in the vacation planning experience doesn’t mean you have to show them your monthly budget. But, if you’re taking a vacation or considering a large purchase for the family, perhaps you can sit down all together and talk about how you plan to budget and save up for the purchase or trip.

Explain why

Kids typically ask the question “Why?” when they don’t get exactly what they want. In fact, you may hear them repeat this one word question over and over again in the same conversation. Responding with something like “Because I said so,” or “We can’t afford it” may shut down the conversation, but it isn’t the best way to address the issue.

Instead, try explaining the real reason why you’re not going to buy something they want. This can also be a good time to teach your children about budgeting and saving money.

Avoid net worth comparisons

It’s hard for kids to avoid comparing their house to their classmate’s. Likewise, older kids get caught up in comparing clothes or even cars.

But, you can help your kids avoid the comparison trap by steering clear of this yourself. If your kids catch you trying to keep up with the Joneses, they may start to equate financial success with social status.

Instead, teach your children why it’s important not to play this game. The earlier they understand that a person’s value extends far beyond their net worth, the more self-assured they will be later on in life.

 

I Tracked My Spending for a Week. Here’s What Happened

I’m not great at tracking my spending. As someone who rebels against rules and hates feeling confined by regulations, being told to track my spending felt unpleasant. It seemed like yet another task to add to my to-do list: Brush my teeth, work out, drink water, sleep enough, look at my phone less and track my money.

But I kept hearing about the magic of tracking. There were so many stories of people saving money and finding spending leaks that I decided to try. I wanted to know if it could help my finances.

Over the course of one week, I tracked everything from the coffee I drank to the books I ordered on Amazon. I’m surprised by what I learned.

Groceries don’t always save money

In one week, I spent $120 on groceries. Considering I rarely eat out, that might not sound too bad. After all, cooking at home is supposed to save money. But the truth about my grocery bill is that it was the result of impulse purchases and haphazard planning. As I passed the produce section in Costco, I grabbed a bag of fresh snap peas on a whim and scooped up a package of pomegranate seeds seconds later. On my way to the checkout line, I stopped for a 24-pack of protein bars “just in case” and got a bag of tortilla chips for good measure. The problem? None of these items were on my list, and at a place like Costco, each additional item can add $10 to $15 to your total.

The fix: As I reviewed my grocery spending for the week, it became clear I viewed my grocery list as a set of guidelines. After seeing the numbers on paper and facing the reality of my impulse grabs, I’ve begun to think of my grocery list as a set of rules. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t enter my cart. It’s as simple (and difficult) as that.

Hanging with friends adds up

Over the course of one week, I went for lunch with former colleagues, grabbed coffee with three different friends, bought frozen yogurt with my wife and ate sushi with my sister. The total? $35. It might not seem like a lot, but for one week, it’s a big chunk of change. Grabbing coffee always seemed like an inexpensive way to see my friends and catch up, but after realizing I spent $10 on coffee in one week, it became clear I underestimated the financial impact. Over the course of one month, I’m on track to spend $40 on coffee. That’s nearly half the price of the massage, which is a luxury I’ve told myself I can’t afford. Looking at the numbers in black and white, it’s clear I could afford a massage every other month if I simply stopped spending money on coffee.

The fix: Never hanging out with friends isn’t an option. Neither is cutting out lunch dates with friends and family. But $35 per week on coffee and lunch doesn’t align with my priorities. I knew something needed to change. Instead of using the coffee shop as the default place to meet, I’ve gotten creative. This past week, I had my sister over for homemade banana bread and invited a friend on a walk to catch up. The cost? Less than $2. They may seem like small changes, but it wasn’t until I actually looked at the numbers that I realized these “small” expenses equaled $140 per month.

Online shopping is convenient. Too convenient

Overall, I’m happy with my shopping budget and the $38 I spent on “extra” items during the week. I bought replacement fairy lights for the living room for $10 and two books from Amazon from $28. All my purchases were intentional and mindful. The lights are replacing an item that broke. The books are ones I’ve already borrowed from the library and know I want to own so I can read them again and again. But as I looked over my purchases, I realized how easy it is to shop online without paying attention.

The fix: I’m normally pretty good at controlling my urge to shop, but there are times I find myself scrolling through the Amazon app or browsing ASOS with no intent to buy. To avoid the temptation, I’ve deleted the apps from my phone and no longer store credit card information on my laptop. One-click shopping makes spending a little too convenient. Creating barriers is an easy way to make it less enticing.

For the first day or two, it was annoying to track my spending. But once I got into the habit, it became second nature to make a note of my spending. Even though I don’t plan to track my spending all the time, I do plan to use it as a financial tune-up every few months. It’s easy for spending to become mindless. Tracking is a simple way to ensure the reality of your finances falls in line with your goals and ideals.


This article originally appeared on Policygenius.
Image: PeopleImages

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