Beware These Budgeting PotholesFull Article
So you’ve made the commitment and started your budget, but after a while something seems off.
Maybe your numbers never add up or too many expenses are coming “out of the blue”. You might also feel a sense of dread every time you make a purchase. No matter what you do, this whole budgeting thing doesn’t seem to be working.
Hang in there! Here are a few budgeting potholes that might be slowing down your financial goals and how to avoid them!
Budgets are supposed to help you use your money wisely. They should be a positive part of your life—they’re not supposed to make you feel like you’re constantly failing. But sometimes our passion to save money and get our financial house in order gets the better of us, and we set up budgets that are too restrictive. While coming from good intentions, an overly thrifty budget can actually make it harder to achieve your goals. An impossible to follow plan can make you feel discouraged and resentful. You might even decide that it’s not worth the hassle! Try starting with a more reasonable strategy and then build from there!
Sometimes our budgets are just too complicated to actually be useful. Not everyone loves working with numbers, and sometimes fiddling with spreadsheets can get so overwhelming that we just want to quit. Plus, there’s plenty of room for human error! A good option is to investigate free budgeting sites or apps. All you do is punch in the correct numbers and the magic of technology will do the rest!
One time budget
Life is constantly changing. Your simple, streamlined budget might be perfect for the life of a young single professional, but will it still hold up in five years? Where will the portion of your paycheck that works down your student loans go once you’re debt free? And when will you start saving for a house?
Take some time every few months to review your budget and see what’s changed. Evaluate what you’ve accomplished and areas that need improvement. Ask yourself what your next milestones should be and if those line up with your long-term goals!
Budgeting takes work. But it shouldn’t be a burden. Cut yourself some slack, prune your process, and stay consistent. You might be surprised by the difference filling in budgeting potholes can make in your financial life!
Here’s every millennial’s dream—you wake up one day to find all your student loan debt completely forgiven.
And recently, that dream became a reality for dozens of former students when the U.S. government gave $17 billion of debt relief to 725,000 borrowers.¹ Not bad!
Still, that hardly puts a dent in the $1.6 trillion in student loan debt collectively owed by $43 million Americans.²
So, what are the chances that your loans will be forgiven, and how do you know if you qualify?
Here are three ways to qualify for student loan forgiveness…
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Work for a qualifying non-profit or public organization? Then you qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
Under this program, your remaining loan balance will be forgiven after you make 10 years’ worth of payments.³
And fortunately, it just got far easier to qualify—before recent reforms, the denial rates for the PSLF program was up to 99%.⁴
So if you’re a public servant, head over to the Federal Student Aid website and head over to Manage Loans.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Similarly to the PSLF program, the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program is available for educators. If you’ve taught in a classroom for 5 years and meet the basic qualifications, you could be eligible for up to $17,500 of debt forgiveness.⁵
Be warned—there are some highly specific qualifications. From the Federal Aid website:
“You must not have had an outstanding balance on Direct Loans or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans as of Oct. 1, 1998, or on the date that you obtained a Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan after Oct. 1, 1998.”⁶
Sound complicated? That’s because it is. As with most financial moves, meet with a debt professional or financial planner to see if you qualify.
Total and Permanent Disability Discharge
If you’re totally and permanently disabled, you may be eligible for a complete discharge of your student loan debt.
You’ll need to submit proof of your disability to your loan servicer. The proof can come in many forms, such as a doctor’s letter, a Social Security Administration notice, or documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair.
As with everything involving bureaucracy and disability, you can quickly find yourself mired in red tape and conflicting phone numbers. That’s why it’s always wise to seek out professional help if you think you might qualify.
The sad truth is that few actually qualify for these programs. If you work in the private sector, are healthy, and face significant debt, you’ll need to find alternative strategies for moving from debt to wealth.
Still, it’s good to know that there are options out there for those who qualify. So if you think you might be eligible for one of these programs, don’t hesitate to explore your options.
¹ “Here’s who has qualified for student loan forgiveness under Biden,” Erika Giovanetti, Fox Business, Apr 26, https://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/student-loan-forgiveness-programs-biden-administration
² “Student Loan Debt Statistics: 2022,” Anna Helhoski, Ryan Lane, Nerdwallet, May 19, 2022 https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/student-loan-debt
³ “Want Student Loan Forgiveness? To Qualify, Borrowers May Need To Do This First,” Adam S. Minsky, Forbes, May 16, 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamminsky/2022/05/16/want-student-loan-forgiveness-to-qualify-borrowers-may-need-to-do-this-first/?sh=6aa44a617cdb
⁴ “Want Student Loan Forgiveness?” Minsky, Forbes, 2022
⁵ “Teacher Loan Forgiveness,” Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/teacher
⁶ “Teacher Loan Forgiveness,” Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/teacher
Inflation. Tumbling market values. Supply chain catastrophe. Wars and rumors of war. Pandemics.
They’ve all been plastered on headlines and social media feeds for the last two years. And there’s no sign of it stopping.
Worst of all, as individuals and as businesses, we can’t control the economy.
But what we can control is how we respond to it.
In times of economic volatility, the key is to stay focused on your long-term goals, and make sure your actions align with them.
Here are a few tips on how to navigate economic volatility…
1. Check your emotions. Fear is the natural response to economic volatility. What will happen to your job? What will happen to your business? What will happen to your retirement savings?
Know this—one of the worst mistakes you can make is acting on those fears. Volatility creates opportunity. Don’t lose out on potential because of headlines you read. Instead, assess your situation, what you stand to lose, and opportunities you might have.
2. Stay focused on your goals. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day noise of the news. But if you want to help your sanity—and make sound financial decisions—it’s important to keep things in perspective.
How far are you from retirement? What kind of lifestyle do you want in retirement? What’s your strategy for protecting against long-term losses?
If your goals are in line with your current reality, take a deep breath and ride out the storm. If not, it’s time to reevaluate where things stand and make adjustments as necessary.
3. Review your budget and financial plan. Once you’ve gotten past the initial emotional reaction, it’s time to take a clear-eyed look at your budget and finances.
There are two critical components to examine here—your emergency fund and your debt.
If you have an adequate emergency fund in place, keep it intact. Resist the temptation to tap into your savings to cover short-term losses. You’ll need your emergency fund for more volatile times ahead.
As for debt, make sure you’re not overextending yourself with credit cards and loans that only make sense when the economy is booming. If you lose your job in a downturn, the last thing you want is a bunch of high-interest debt to worry about.
4. Meet with your financial professional. It’s simple—a financial professional can stop rash financial decision making in its tracks.
That’s because volatile times can bring out the emotions. And when emotions are involved, it’s tough to make sound decisions.
A financial professional can help you see the big picture, keep things in perspective, and develop a plan that will help you stay on track—no matter what the economy throws your way.
While economic volatility can be frightening and chaotic, it’s important to stay focused on your long-term goals. Having the right mindset and guidance can help you navigate a crisis with confidence.
Your credit score is a big deal.
A low score can saddle you with anything from high interest rates, difficulty scoring important loans, or poor employability!¹
But what exactly is a credit score? And how is it different from a credit report? It turns out the two have a close relationship. Let’s explore what they are and how they relate to each other.
Your credit report is simply a record of your credit history. Let’s break that down.
Many of us carry some form of debt. It might be a mortgage, student loans, or credit card debt (or all three!). Some people are really disciplined about paying down debt. Others fall on hard times or use debt to fuel frivolous spending and then aren’t able to return the borrowed money. As a result, lenders typically want to know how reliable, or credit worthy, someone is before giving out a loan.
But predicting if someone will be able to pay off a loan is tricky business. Lenders can’t look into the future, so they have to look at a potential borrower’s past regarding debt. They’re interested in late payments, defaulted loans, bankruptcies, and more, to determine if they can trust someone to pay them back. All of this information is compiled into a document that we know as a credit report.
All of the information from someone’s credit report gets plugged into an algorithm. It’s goal? Rate how likely they are to pay back their creditors. The number that the algorithm spits out after crunching the numbers on the credit report is the credit score. Lenders can check your score to get an idea of whether (or not) you’ll be able to pay them back.
Think of a credit report like a test and the credit score as your grade. The test contains the actual details of how you’ve performed. It’s the record of right and wrong answers that you’ve written down. The grade is just a shorthand way to evaluate your performance.
So are credit reports and credit scores the same thing? No. Are they closely related? Yes! A bulletproof credit report will lead to a higher credit score, while a report plagued by late payments will torpedo your final grade. And that number can make all the difference in your financial well-being!
¹ “The Side Effects of Bad Credit,” Daniel Kurt, Investopedia, Jun 11, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/the-side-effects-of-bad-credit-4769783
Your mind is incredible. But it’s not perfect. It makes mistakes. And those mistakes can wreak havoc on your finances.
This isn’t to talk bad about your brain—it’s like a supercomputer that’s constantly trying to make sense of the world and keep you safe. The trouble is, sometimes it does this by coming up with shortcuts, or rules of thumb, that lead to errors.
These mistakes are sometimes called mind traps. They derail your train of thought and lead you astray. And they can have a big impact on your money.
Here are some of the most common money mind traps, and how you can avoid them!
1. All or nothing thinking.
This is a classic example of the great being an enemy of the good. Unless you can go all out on saving and building wealth, you’ll do nothing. Go big or go home, right?
It’s an obviously flawed line of thinking. Saving a little is always better than saving nothing. But it’s still very, very powerful. Why? It might be because of anxious or perfectionist tendencies. Anything short of perfection seems like failure. And that sense of failure is so uncomfortable that it seems safer to not even start.
But here’s the truth—you’ll never go big unless you start small. Waiting for the stars to align, or even to get all your ducks in a row, will result in permanent inaction.
The solution? Start small. Save $20 per month. Read one blog article about money. Follow just one money influencer. You might be surprised by the difference that even just a little move can make!
2. Magical thinking.
For example: “I’ll start saving when I get a raise.” Spoiler—you won’t.
Why? Because you didn’t start saving after your last raise. What would make this new one any different?
This is magical thinking. This time will be different, even if you do nothing different. It’s the hope that circumstances will change on their own, and with them, your behavior.
The solution is to be proactive. If you want to save more money, you have to take action. That might mean setting up a budget, or automated transfers into savings. It might mean looking for ways to make more money. But whatever it is, do it now. If the present you won’t do it, neither will the future you.
3. Catastrophizing & personalizing.
Have you ever opened your bank account and thought “This is the end of the world?” It’s happened to everyone at least once. Suddenly, you realize you’re far closer to zero than you realized. Worst of al, you’re not sure why.
To be clear, that’s NOT the end of the world. There could be plenty of good reasons for why you’ve spent more this month, and there are plenty of ways to get your financial house back in order.
But that’s not how it feels. It feels like defcon 3. Surely this means that you’ll default on the mortgage, lose the car, and ruin your future.
And that catastrophizing almost always leads to personalization. You start blaming yourself. How could you let this happen again? What’s wrong with you? Those negative voices are off to races, and it can feel impossible to get them back. And it’s all because you’re looking at your bank balance.
The solution is to step back, take a breath, and remember that this is just a number. It does not define you. Sure, you need to take responsibility for your actions. But follow your train of thought. Where are you making mental leaps? What are you assuming? If you can catch yourself in the moment, it’s a lot easier to calm those anxious thoughts before they get out of control.
In conclusion, mind traps are dangerous because they’re so believable. They seem like rational thoughts, but they’re really just mental shortcuts that often lead to costly errors.
The good news is, once you’re aware of them, you can start to catch yourself in the act. And with practice, it gets easier and easier. So next time you find yourself thinking you have to go big or go home, or that your finances will magically fix themselves, or that you’re a failure, take a moment. Write down your thoughts. And then ask yourself—is this really true? Or is it just a mind trap?
Money is symbolic.
Sure, it’s a store of value and a medium of exchange. But above all, it’s a symbol. It’s how people evaluate if they’re succeeding or failing.
What is a symbol? It’s a visible representation of something that’s invisible.
Think about it—can you see success? Not really. It’s an abstract idea.
But what do you see when you imagine a successful person? Cars, houses, clothes, and zeros in a bank account.
Those are the symbols of success. And make no mistake—money is the central symbol of success.
How do you feel when your bank looks full? Awesome! You get a quick rush, and your step’s just a touch lighter.
But what about when you’re in debt or when you can’t make ends meet? Not so great. You feel stressed and anxious, like you’re not good enough.
That’s because money is a visible representation of your success or failure. It’s a way to keep score.
You see that loaded bank account, and you think “Everything looks good! I’ve really got my act together.”
You see an empty bank account, and you think “What have I been doing? I’ve really messed up my finances.”
Here’s the sticking point—the symbolic nature of money is great for motivation. It’s terrible for guiding decisions.
Why? Because it can easily lead you to making moves that give you the appearance of wealth without being wealthy. You start buying things far beyond your budget to symbolize wealth you don’t actually have. It’s the fast-track to living paycheck-to-paycheck.
But as motivation? That’s where its power lies. Think about that bump you get when you see your net worth climb. Use that feeling as fuel to keep pushing when you hit roadblocks and obstacles.
So what does money mean to you? Is it a scorecard? A way to motivate yourself? Or something else entirely?
How you answer that question will determine whether money is a powerful tool or a dangerous weapon in your life.
What gets you more motivated—the reward or the process?
That’s the question that divides intrinsic motivation from extrinsic motivation. And learning the difference could salvage your career from disaster.
Why? Because different motivation types are useful in different circumstances.
Intrinsic motivation is process focused. It comes from the sense of satisfaction from a job well done. It’s why you keep coming back to hobbies you love, or why you’re compelled to work on that project even when it’s not required. You do it for the love of the game.
Extrinsic motivation is reward focused. It comes from the anticipation or acquisition of something tangible, like a trophy, a raise, praise, or a bonus. It’s the reason you put up with a high paying job you hate, or why you grind out those extra reps at the gym. You do it for the payoff.
Intrinsic motivation is internal, while extrinsic motivation is external.
Here’s the strategic difference—intrinsic motivation is powerful long-term, extrinsic motivation is powerful short-term.
Think about it. How long can you really tolerate that awful job? Eventually, it’ll wear you down, no matter the pay. It will tax your mental health, your relationships, and your quality of life. Trying to leverage reward motivation over the long-term is a recipe for burnout.
That being said, it’s excellent if you need a burst of energy. “Just a few more months, and then I’ll be debt free. I can make it.” Extrinsic motivation is often what we rely on to push through short-term challenges.
By contrast, intrinsic motivation can provide powerful groundwork for planning long-term goals. What are the hobbies and activities you find inherently rewarding? Are they career oriented? Family focused? That’s where you should focus your long-term energy.
We’re using debit cards to pay for expenses more often now, a trend that seems unlikely to reverse soon.¹
Debit cards are convenient. Just swipe and go. Even more so for their mobile phone equivalents: Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay. 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?
Studies say yes.
We spend more when using plastic – and that’s true of both credit card spending and debit card spending.² Money is more easily spent with cards because you don’t “feel” it immediately. An extra $2 here, another $10 there… It adds up.
The phenomenon of reduced spending when paying with cash is a psychological “pain of payment.” Opening up your wallet at the register for a $20.00 purchase but only seeing a $10 bill in there – ouch! Maybe you’ll put back a couple of those $5 DVDs you just had to have 5 minutes ago.
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.
¹ Steele, Jason. “Debit card statistics.” creditcards.com, June 25, 2021 https://bit.ly/2JB9cGE.
² “Does Using a Credit Card Make You Spend More Money?.” Kiviat, Barbara. Nerdwallet, Jul 27, 2020, https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/credit-cards/credit-cards-make-you-spend-more
Credit cards aren’t free money — that should go without saying, but millions of Americans don’t seem to have received that memo.
Americans now owe a record $820 billion in credit card debt.¹ If you’re not careful, credit card debt could hurt your credit score, wipe out your savings, and completely alter your personal financial landscape.
Before you apply for that next piece of plastic, here’s what you need to watch out for.
Low interest rates. Credit card companies spend a lot of money on marketing to try to get you hooked on an offer. Often you hear or read that a company will tout an offer with a low or zero percent APR (Annual Percentage Rate). This is called a “teaser rate.”
Sounds amazing, right? But here’s the problem: This is a feature that may only last for 6–12 months. Ask yourself if the real interest rate will be worth it. Credit card companies make a profit via credit card interest. If they were to offer zero percent interest indefinitely, then they wouldn’t make any money.
Make sure you read the fine print to determine whether the card’s interest rate will be affordable after the teaser rate period expires.
Fixed vs. variable interest rates. Credit cards operate on either a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate. A fixed interest rate will generally stay the same from month to month. A variable interest rate, by contrast, is tied to an index (fancy word for interest rate) that moves with the economy. Normally the interest rate is set to be a few percentage points higher than the index.
The big difference here is that while a fixed rate may change, the credit card company is required to inform its customers when this happens. While a variable APR may start out with a lower interest rate, it’s not uncommon for these rates to fluctuate.
Low interest rates are usually reserved for individuals who have great credit with a long credit history. So, if you’ve never owned a credit card (or you are recovering from a negative credit history) this could be a red flag.
Of course, you could avoid these pitfalls altogether if you pay off your credit card balance before the statement date. Whatever the interest rate, be sure you’re applying for a credit card that’s affordable for you to pay off if you miss the payoff due date.
High credit limits. While large lines of credit are usually reserved for those with a good credit history, a new cardholder might still receive an offer for up to a $10,000 credit limit.
If this happens to you, beware. While it may seem like the offer conveys a great deal of trust in your ability to pay your bill, be honest with yourself. You may not be able to recover from the staggering size of your credit card debt if you can’t pay off your balance each month.
If you already have a card with a limit that feels too high, it may be in your interest to request that the company lower your card’s limit.
Late fees. So you’re late paying your credit card bill. Late payments not only have the potential to hurt your credit score, but some credit cards may also assess a penalty APR if you haven’t paid your bill on time.
Penalty APRs are incredibly high, usually topping out at 29.99%.² The solution here is simple: pay your bill on time or you might find self paying ridiculous interest rates!
Balance transfer fees. It’s not uncommon for a cardholder to transfer one card’s balance to another card, otherwise known as a balance transfer. This can be an effective way to pay off your debt while sidestepping interest, but only if you do so before the card’s effective rate kicks in. And, even if a card offers zero interest on balance transfers, you still may have to pay a fee for doing so.
Whatever type of credit card you choose, the only person responsible for its pros and cons is you. But if you’re thrifty and pay attention to the bottom line, you can help make that credit card work for your credit score and not against it.
¹ “Key Figures Behind America’s Consumer Debt,” Bill Fay, Debt.org, May 13, 2021, https://www.debt.org/faqs/americans-in-debt/
² “What is a penalty APR and why should you care?” Lance Cothern, CPA, Credit Karma, Apr 6, 2021, https://www.creditkarma.com/credit-cards/i/penalty-apr-late-payment
How do you handle job stress?
Sticking to a solid workflow? Meditation? A stress ball in each hand?
Whichever way you choose to lessen the stress that 80% of American workers experience, there’s another stress-relieving tactic that could make a huge difference:¹
Relieving financial stress.
Studies have found that money woes can cost workers over 2 weeks in productivity a year!² And this time can be lost even when you’re still showing up for work.
In short, you’re physically present at a job, but you’re working while ill or mentally disengaged from tasks. It can be caused by stress, worry, or other issues – which, as you can imagine, may deal a significant blow to work productivity.
So what’s the good news?
If you’re constantly worried and stressed about financing unexpected life events, saving for retirement, or funding a college education for yourself or a loved one, there are financial strategies that can help you – wherever you are on your financial journey.
Most people don’t plan to fail. They simply fail to plan. Think of a well-thought out financial strategy as a stress ball for your bank account!
Contact me today, and together we’ll work on an financial strategy that fits you and your dreams – and can help you get back to work with significantly less financial stress.
¹ “Workplace Stress,” American Institute of Stress, https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress.
² “The Real Costs of Employee Financial Stress—and How Employers Can Help,” Greystone Consulting, https://graystone.morganstanley.com/the-parks-group/articles/graystone/thought-leadership/financially-stressed-employees
Setting financial goals is like hanging a map on your wall to inspire and motivate you to accomplish your travel bucket list.
Your map might have your future adventures outlined with tacks and twine. It may be patched with pictures snipped from travel magazines. You would know every twist and turn by heart. But to get where you want to go, you still have to make a few real-life moves toward your destination.
Here are 5 tips for making money goals that may help you get closer to your financial goals:
1. Figure out what’s motivating your financial decisions. Deciding on your “why” is a great way to start moving in the right direction. Goals like saving for an early retirement, paying off your house or car, or even taking a second honeymoon in Hawaii may leap to mind. Take some time to evaluate your priorities and how they relate to each other. This may help you focus on your financial destination.
2. Control Your Money. This doesn’t mean you need to get an MBA in finance. Controlling your money may be as simple as dividing your money into designated accounts, and organizing the documents and details related to your money. Account statements, insurance policies, tax returns, wills – important papers like these need to be as well-managed as your incoming paycheck. A large part of working towards your financial destination is knowing where to find a document when you need it.
3. Track Your Money. After your money comes in, where does it go out? Track your spending habits for a month and the answer may surprise you. There are a plethora of apps to link to your bank account to see where things are actually going. Some questions to ask yourself: Are you a stress buyer, usually good with your money until it’s the only thing within your control? Or do you spend, spend, spend as soon as your paycheck hits, then transform into the most frugal individual on the planet… until the next direct deposit? Monitor your spending for a few weeks, and you may find a pattern that will be good to keep in mind (or avoid) as you trek toward your financial destination.
4. Keep an Eye on Your Credit. Building a strong credit report may assist in reaching some of your future financial goals. You can help build your good credit rating by making loan payments on time and reducing debt. If you neglect either of those, you could be denied mortgages or loans, endure higher interest rates, and potentially difficulty getting approved for things like cell phone contracts or rental agreements which all hold you back from your financial destination. There are multiple programs that can let you know where you stand and help to keep track of your credit score.
5. Know Your Number. This is the ultimate financial destination – the amount of money you are trying to save. Retiring at age 65 is a great goal. But without an actual number to work towards, you might hit 65 and find you need to stay in the workforce to cover bills, mortgage payments, or provide help supporting your family. Paying off your car or your student loans has to happen, but if you’d like to do it on time – or maybe even pay them off sooner – you need to know a specific amount to set aside each month. And that second honeymoon to Hawaii? Even this one needs a number attached to it!
What plans do you already have for your journey to your financial destination? Do you know how much you can set aside for retirement and still have something left over for that Hawaii trip? And do you have any ideas about how to raise that credit score? Looking at where you are and figuring out what you need to do to get where you want to go can be easier with help. Plus, what’s a road trip without a buddy? Call me anytime!
… All right, all right you can pick the travel tunes first.
Numbers never lie, and when it comes to statistics on financial literacy, the results are staggering.
In 2020, financial illiteracy cost Americans $415 billion.¹ That’s $1,634 per adult. What difference would $1,600 make for your financial situation?
But what is financial literacy? How do you know if you’re financially literate? It’s much more than simply knowing the contents of your bank account, setting a budget, and checking in a couple times a month. Here’s a simple definition: “Financial literacy is the ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting, and investing.”²
Making responsible financial decisions based on knowledge and research are the foundation of understanding your finances and how to manage them. When it comes to financial literacy, you can’t afford not to be knowledgeable.
So whether you’re a master of your money or your money masters you, anyone can benefit from becoming more financially literate. Here are a few ways you can do just that.
Consider How You Think About Money. Everyone has ideas about financial management. Though we may not realize it, we often learn and absorb financial habits and mentalities about money before we’re even aware of what money is. Our ideas about money are shaped by how we grow up, where we grow up, and how our parents or guardians manage their finances. Regardless of whether you grew up rich, poor, or somewhere in between, checking in with yourself about how you think about money is the first step to becoming financially literate.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Am I saving anything for the future?
- Is all debt bad?
- Do I use credit cards to pay for most, if not all, of my purchases?
Monitor Your Spending Habits. This part of the process can be painful if you’re not used to tracking where your money goes. There can be a certain level of shame associated with spending habits, especially if you’ve collected some debt. But it’s important to understand that money is an intensely personal subject, and that if you’re working to improve your financial literacy, there is no reason to feel ashamed!
Taking a long, hard look at your spending habits is a vital step toward controlling your finances. Becoming aware of how you spend, how much you spend, and what you spend your money on will help you understand your weaknesses, your strengths, and what you need to change. Categorizing your budget into things you need, things you want, and things you have to save up for is a great place to start.
Commit to a Lifestyle of Learning. Becoming financially literate doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t feel overwhelmed if you’re just starting to make some changes. There isn’t one book, one website, or one seminar you can attend that will give you all the keys to financial literacy. Instead, think of it as a lifestyle change. Similar to transforming unhealthy eating habits into healthy ones, becoming financially literate happens over time. As you learn more, tweak parts of your financial routine that aren’t working for you, and gain more experience managing your money, you’ll improve your financial literacy. Commit to learning how to handle your finances, and continuously look for ways you can educate yourself and grow. It’s a lifelong process!
¹ “Survey Results: Deficits in Financial Literacy Cost Americans $415 Billion in 2020,” PR Newswire, Jan 7, 2021, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/survey-results-deficits-in-financial-literacy-cost-americans-415-billion-in-2020-301201971.html
² “Financial Literacy,” Jason Fernando, Investopedia, Sep 10, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/financial-literacy.asp
Most people think that buying a home in a neighborhood with an HOA is the only way to access certain amenities and services.
But everyone’s heard their share of HOA horror stories. Nitpicking neighbors, outrageous fees, and dysfunctional meetings are just a few of the woes that an HOA can bring your way.
So, should you join an HOA, or stay away? Here are a few factors to consider if you’re currently on the market for a new home and not sure if an HOA is a green or red flag.
When it comes to HOAs, there are pros and cons to both being in one and not being in one. Here are some of the pros of being in an HOA…
You have access to amenities that you may not have otherwise. This can include things like a pool, a clubhouse, or even just a nicer street.
Rules and regulations of the HOA can help keep your neighborhood looking nice and boost the value of your home—single family homes under HOAs sell for 4% more than the market average.¹
HOAs can often enforce rules more effectively than individual homeowners. That can be helpful if you have a problem with neighbors who are damaging property values.
HOAs can have substantial value. One survey found that for every dollar of fees, an HOA brought $1.19 of benefit.²
But HOAs aren’t all flowers and sunshine. Here are some of the cons of being in an HOA…
HOA fees can be expensive. Yearly fees range from $1,000 to $10,000, which can put certain homes out of your price range.
HOAs can nitpick trivial things, like the color of your house or the kind of plants you put in your yard. There are few things worse than having someone else tell you how to decorate the home you’re making mortgage payments for.
HOAs can be toxic. Like all organizations, HOAs are subject to corruption. Board members can be aggressive and narrow minded, chairman can become tyrants, and neighbors can be selfish. And rest assured, there’s almost nothing worse than getting stuck with a toxic HOA.
HOAs can be useless. There’s nothing worse than an organization that demands money and then doesn’t do anything. In some cases, HOAs fail to enforce rules or regulations, making them little more than a money-sucking black hole.
The key takeaway is that a healthy HOA can be a benefit, while a toxic HOA is a massive liability.
How can you tell the difference between the two? First, check out the quality of the other homes. Are they well maintained? Or falling apart.
Second, review the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&R). These are the rules and regulations you’ll have to follow if you move into the neighborhood. If you see anything outrageous or suspicious, ask about them.
Finally, talk to your potential neighbors. Are they happy with the HOA? If not, why? Their answers may be trivial—or they may reveal significant red flags.
In conclusion, HOAs can be a great way to maintain property values and improve your quality of life. But they can also be expensive, time consuming, and even toxic. So do your homework before you buy a home in an HOA neighborhood, or you may regret it later.
“HOA Pros and Cons for Homebuyers: Rules, Fees, and Perfect Lawns,” Valerie Kalfrin, HomeLight, Dec 23, 2019, https://www.homelight.com/blog/buyer-hoa-pros-and-cons/
Americans owe over $399 billion in credit card debt¹, and credit card interest rates are on the rise – now over 16.17%.²
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 into 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.
¹ “2020 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Erin El Issa, Nerdwallet, Jan 12, 2021 https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/
² “Average credit card interest rates,” Kelly Dilworth, creditcards.com, Jul 7, 2021, https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/rate-report/
The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for Americans without emergency funds.
It proved that every family needs a financial safety to cover months of unemployment, illness, or lockdowns. Without it, there’s danger of turning to debt to make ends meet!
If you’re new to saving, you’ve come to the right place! Here are four tips for building your emergency fund
1. Know 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.
2. 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!
3. 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. If most of your transactions are digital, use mobile apps to set rules to automate your savings.
4. 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.
So you’re ready to start budgeting. Congratulations! It’s a big step towards building wealth.
If you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading to discover all the steps you need to build a budget.
Know Your Balance Sheet.
Companies maintain and review their “balance sheets” regularly. Balance sheets show assets, liabilities, and equity. Business owners probably wouldn’t be able run their companies successfully for very long without knowing this information and tracking it over time.
You also have a balance sheet, whether you realize it or not. Assets are the things you have, like a car, house, or cash. Liabilities are your debts, like auto loans or outstanding bills you need to pay. Equity is how much of your assets are technically really yours. For example, if you live in a $100,000 house but carry $35,000 on the mortgage, your equity is 65% of the house, or $65,000. 65% of the house is yours and 35% is still owned by the bank.
Pro tip: Why is this important to know? If you’re making a decision to move to a new house, you need to know how much money will be left over from the sale for the new place. Make sure to speak with a representative of your mortgage company and your realtor to get an idea of how much you might have to put towards the new house from the sale of the old one.
Break Everything Down
To become efficient at managing your cash flow, start by breaking your spending down into categories. The level of granularity and detail you want to track is up to you. (Note: If you’re just starting out budgeting, don’t get too caught up in the details. For example, for the “Food” category of your budget, you might want to only concern yourself with your total expense for food, not how much you’re spending on macaroni and cheese vs. spaghetti.)
If you typically spend $400 a month on food, that’s important to know. As you get more comfortable with budgeting and watching your dollars, it’s even better to know that half of that $400 is being spent at coffee shops and restaurants. This information may help you eliminate unnecessary expenditures in the next step.
What you spend your money on is ultimately your decision, but lacking knowledge about where it’s spent may lead to murky expectations. Sure, it’s just $10 at the sandwich shop today, but if you spend that 5 days a week on the regular, that expenditure may fade into background noise. You might not realize all those hoagies are the equivalent of your health insurance premium. Try this: Instead of spending $10 on your regular meal, ask yourself if you can find an acceptable alternative for less by switching restaurants.
Once you have a good idea of what you’re spending each month, you’ll need to know exactly how much you make (after taxes) to set realistic goals. This would be your net income, not gross income, since you will pay taxes.
Set Realistic Goals and Readjust.
Now that you know what your balance sheet looks like and what your cash flow situation is, you can set realistic goals with your budget. Rank your expenses in order of necessity. At the top of the list would be essential expenses – like rent, utilities, food, and transit. You might not have much control over the rent or your car payment right now, but consider preparing food at home to help save money.
Look for ways you can cut back on utilities, like turning the temperature down a few degrees in the winter or up a few degrees in the summer.
After the essentials would come items like clothes, office supplies, gifts, entertainment, vacation, etc. Rank these in order of importance to you. Consider shopping for clothes at a consignment shop, or checking out a dollar store for bargains on school or office supplies.
Ideally, at the end of the month you should be coming out with money leftover that can be put into an emergency fund. Keep filling your emergency fund until it can cover 3 to 6 months of income.
If you find your budget is too restrictive in one area, you can allocate more to it. (But you’ll need to reduce the money flowing into other areas in the process to keep your bottom line the same.) Ranking expenses will help you determine where you can siphon off money.
Commit To It.
Now that you have a realistic budget that contains your essentials, your non-essentials, and your savings goals, stick to it! Building a budget is a process. It may take some time to get the hang of it, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.
Electric cars are becoming more and more popular, as people look for ways to save money on fuel costs.
But is it really worth the investment? This article looks at the cost of electric cars and whether they’re a good purchase in the long run.
The main way that an electric car can save you money is with its lower fuel costs, especially when gas prices are high. One study found that an EC is 60% cheaper to fuel compared to cars with combustible engines.¹
That’s not all—because they have fewer parts, they can require up to 31% less maintenance. No more oil changes!
Finally, some states incentivize purchasing electric cars with tax credits. These credits can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, making the switch to electric even more enticing. Incentives vary from state to state, so do your research before making your final decision!
But there are serious drawbacks to consider. Many places have yet to build the infrastructure for electric cars. They may not be feasible if you live beyond the cities and suburbs.
You should also consider the sticker price of an electric car, which is often higher than gas vehicles. The cost of the car can be offset over time with the lower fuel and maintenance costs, but it’s important to do your research to make sure that the numbers add up.
Plus, the consensus seems to be that electric car prices will only drop in the future. Perhaps you should be an electric car at some point, just not now.
It is important to do your research and know the different benefits of an electric car before you make a purchase. An EC may save you money in fuel costs but they are often more expensive than traditional cars, so it can be hard to justify that investment. It’s worth doing your homework to determine if buying an EC will actually help you save money over the long term.
¹ “Here’s whether it’s actually cheaper to switch to an electric vehicle or not—and how the costs break down,” Mike Winters, CNBC, Dec 29 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/29/electric-vehicles-are-becoming-more-affordable-amid-spiking-gas-prices.html
We all know that work can be stressful. But did you know that it can actually kill you?
Workplace stress has been linked to a wide range of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.¹ And worst of all, it can even lead to death—an article from 2012 reported that women in high-stress jobs were 40% more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.²
That’s right—those long hours at the office, those tight deadlines and “crunch seasons,” those berating sessions from your boss, they’re all adding up. And they may have lethal consequences.
So what can you do about it? Here are some tips:
1. Talk to your boss.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your workload, discuss it with your boss and see if there’s anything that can be done to lighten the load.
It’s no small task. For many, their boss is the source of the stress! That’s why it’s critical to prepare beforehand. Write down how you’re feeling and how work stress is damaging your life. Come up with a few ways your boss can help relieve the stress.
Often, these conversations go better than expected. Boss’s realize that pushing employees to the brink is a foolish strategy.
But know this—there’s a real chance they won’t get it. Worse still, they may blame someone else, or even you, for the problem. In that case, it’s time to consider a new opportunity.
2. Take breaks.
When you’re feeling stressed, take a few minutes to yourself to relax and rejuvenate. Go for a walk—it’s the go-to strategy for great writers and artists. Download a meditation app and take a 10-minute breathing session.
The key is consistency. Taking routine breaks at the same time every day not only gives you something to look forward to, it also normalizes taking a break in the eyes of your boss.
Again, if your boss gives you grief for taking care of yourself, it’s time to consider moving to a new job.
3. Get organized.
Make a list of your tasks and priorities, and try to tackle them one at a time. Break large projects into small components you can knock out piece by piece.
Why? Because feeling overwhelmed is a huge part of being stressed. You know the feeling—you see a reminder that you need to finish a large project and your heart sinks. Suddenly, all you can think about is how much you have to do in such little time. Often, it feels easier to shut those feelings down and procrastinate, which only makes the problem worse.
When you have a plan of action, it’s much easier to stay calm and focused. You know exactly what needs to be done and when, so you can put your mind at ease and get to work. And knocking out small pieces of the project motivates you to keep pushing forward.
4. Stay healthy.
Exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, and get enough sleep.
It’s tough to stay healthy when you’re feeling stressed, but it’s important. Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. Eating nutritious foods keeps your energy levels up and your mind clear. And getting enough sleep helps you stay alert and focused during the day.
If you can’t seem to make time for your health, try this: schedule your workouts into your calendar, just like you would any other meeting. And set a bedtime alarm to remind you when it’s time to turn in for the night.
5. Seek help if needed.
If you’re struggling with stress and it’s impacting your health, work, or personal life, it may be time to seek professional help.
There are many great therapists who specialize in stress and anxiety. They can help you develop healthy coping strategies, establish boundaries, and manage your stress in a more productive way.
In the end, workplace stress is a real threat to your health—and even your life. But by taking some proactive steps, you can protect yourself from its harmful effects. So don’t wait—start making some changes today.
¹ “Workplace Stress: A Silent Killer of Employee Health and Productivity,” Corporate Wellness Magazine, https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/workplace-stress-silent-killer-employee-health-productivity
² “Work stress increases heart attack risk by 23%,” Christian Nordqvist, Medical News Today, Sep 14, 2012, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/250289#1
Debt is an unfortunate reality for most people in America.
The average household owes $6,006 in credit card debt alone and the total amount of outstanding consumer debt in the US totals over $15.24 trillion.¹ It’s linked to fatigue, anxiety, and depression.² It’s a burden, both emotionally and financially.
So it’s completely understandable that people want to get rid of their debt, no matter the cost.
But the story doesn’t end when you pay off your last credit card. In fact, it’s only the beginning.
Sure, it feels great to be debt-free. You no longer have to worry about making minimum payments or being late on a payment. You can finally start saving for your future and taking care of yourself. But being debt-free doesn’t mean you’re “free.” It means you’re ready to start building wealth, and chasing true financial independence.
When you’re debt-free, it feels like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. You can finally breathe easy and start planning for your future. But what people don’t realize is that being debt-free is only the beginning.
For example, when you first beat debt, are you instantly prepared to cover emergencies? Most likely not. The bulk of your financial power has most likely gone towards eliminating debt, not creating an emergency fund. And that means you’re still vulnerable to more debt in the future—without cash to cover expenses, you’ll need credit.
The same is likely true for retirement. Simply eliminating debt doesn’t mean you’ll retire wealthy. It certainly positions you to retire wealthy. But you must start saving, leveraging the power of compound interest, and more to make your dreams a reality.
But now that you’ve conquered debt, that’s exactly what you can do! You now have the cash flow needed to start saving for your future. You can finally take control of your money and make it work for you, instead of the other way around.
So don’t think of being debt-free as the finish line. It’s not. It’s simply the starting point on your journey to financial independence. From here, the sky’s the limit.
¹ “2021 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Erin El Issa, Nerdwallet, Jan 11, 2022, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/
² “Data Shows Strong Link Between Financial Wellness and Mental Health,” Enrich, Mar 24, 2021, https://www.enrich.org/blog/data-shows-strong-link-between-financial-wellness-and-mental-health
“For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” — Matthew 25:29, RSV.
Put another way—the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.
This is the Matthew Effect, named for the biblical passage above. It’s a phenomenon that’s been proven time and time again. Simply put, advantages beget more advantages, and disadvantages beget more disadvantages.
Here’s an example…
Two kids play pickup basketball with some friends. Neither has played before. Athletically, they’re similar with a key difference—one can jump just slightly higher than the other.
So what happens? The better jumper gets slightly more points than the other kid. Not a big deal, right?
Wrong. He gets the ball more than his friend. That means he gets more time dribbling, shooting, and jumping. At first, it’s not much. But over the next few weeks, he’s significantly more confident than his buddy. And it all started with a slight advantage.
The takeaway? Advantages are force multipliers. They snowball.
That can seem discouraging. After all, it looks like other people have far more advantages than we do.
But above all, it should be encouraging. You have advantages. They may be small. You may not even recognize them. But they’re there. You just need to start using them.
It also means that the opportunities you pursue will dictate your outcomes. Make no mistake—following a system, model, and path that gives you the advantage will transform your future.
So what are you waiting for? Start chasing advantages!