Five Keys to Financial Freedom: Key 3

Week 3 – Rightsize Your Life.

It’s week three of our financial independence month and this week’s key is lifestyle. You can read week one, and week two to get caught up.  Time to tackle rightsizing your life and living within your means. Living within your means does not equate to living like a pauper. It’s not about that. It’s about matching your monthly cash flow to your basic needs and to your goals. Obviously, food, clothing, and shelter are your top priorities otherwise you will not be able to earn a living. There also has to be some room in your cash flow for the non-necessities, those discretionary items that make life fun and worth living. 

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Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, housing consumes a tremendous amount of our incomes. The mild weather, lots of high-paying jobs, culture, and the natural beauty of the area seem to be a draw that keeps people coming here to strike it rich. Housing is usually the costliest item. So, how do you rightsize your life?

No matter where you live, start with the big-ticket items; housing and transportation. Do you really need the size of home you are renting or buying? Yes, extra space is nice for guests and it always feels good to live in the best part of town, with a nice home and all the toys. But this is where you need to be brutally honest with yourself and ask, are you living above your means? It doesn’t mean that you need to sell everything and move, but you should make some adjustments.

- Start with immediate home and family. Tell adult children living at home they must start paying a portion of the utilities and even rent.

- Have more space than you need? Time to consider monetizing that space. Nothing wrong with considering a roommate as an adult or even renting out part of your home. It’s a means to an end and does not have to be permanent.

- Consider a smaller, more affordable home or apartment.

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- Transportation: compare the cost of a year’s rideshare expense versus owning your own car. If you still need to own, consider buying a car that is 12 – 24 months old. New cars depreciate immediately so you can save yourself a lot of cash by researching a recently owned model that may still be under warranty. Look for low mileage, good resale value, and a model that has been dealer serviced and never wrecked or had a major repair.

- Survey all paid services: entertainment, meal prep/delivery, media, club memberships, etc.  Cut those expenses and redirect that money to yourself! Chances are you are paying monthly for things you rarely, if ever, use. 

- Get an app to help you track spending. If you find that you are eating out five nights per week and hitting the local café three times per day, you’ve just identified a spending problem and a savings opportunity.

Sell your stuff! Seriously, take a look around and see what items you no longer need. Sell off your old sports equipment, antiques you no longer like, collectibles that are not gaining value, tools, books, art, anything you can live without and that you were never really attached to can go! It’s a good way to raise some quick cash for your emergency fund.

Again, you don’t have to be a pauper but really think about how much you are spending on things you don’t need. Think about the items and services you actually need and that bring you joy. Match your cash flow to these items and let the rest go. You’ll be glad you did.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you decide how to rightsize your life. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday  #rightsize #Hireaplanner #bonus #income #cash #CFPPro #housing #FiveKeysToFinancialFreedom #FinancialIndependence

Five Keys to Financial Freedom: Key 2

Week 2 –  Pay Your Debts Correctly and Pay Yourself!

This second week of July kicks-off with week two and our second key to our financial independence quest. If you missed week one, read that here. Now that you’ve decided you want this, and you seriously want this, it’s time for rubber to meet the road. This week, learn how to correctly pay your debts and get started paying yourself first!

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Many people out there make a classic mistake: paying their debts wrong. What I mean is that they are “hamster wheeling” – paying about the same amount every month and never making any real progress in debt reduction. Usually, people do this by slightly topping up what is paid on every debt. For example, they will round up all their minimum payments a few extra dollars or just to make the payment even across all of their accounts (i.e., $43 becomes $45, or they pay $100 on a $90 payment). This is a waste of time and money. You have two choices that will yield much better results: snowball or avalanche.

If time is most important to you, i.e., how soon you can pay off a debt, use the snowball method. This is where you pay off the smallest balances owed first. Thereby knocking out low-balance accounts over shorter time frames and you get a sense of progress.

Mathematically, the avalanche method saves you the most cash over time. Using avalanche, you pay the debt with the highest interest rate first. So, if the amount of money saved and the amount of money you actually pay back over time is most important, use the avalanche method.

For either method, stop topping up all of your minimum payments. Take the total amount of additional money over and above your minimums that you have been paying on each account and add it to either the smallest balance account (snowball), or to the highest interest rate account (avalanche), in addition to that account’s minimum payment.  Be sure that you do not miss a payment or not pay the minimum due on each account. When one account is paid off, take that account’s minimum payment, the total amount of additional money from all the top up payments, and add it to the next target debt.

If you need a visual on how this works, how much you can save, or how long it will take to pay off your debts, become a client. I can show you how to structure your debts to save the most time or the most money depending upon what’s most important to you.

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Finally, you need to take to heart that YOU are your most important creditor. Always pay yourself first! This can be challenging in the beginning, but you have to learn to do this and actually do it. If you are really tight on money, start with a small amount. Even if that amount is $5 per week. The key is that you pay yourself first and as your debt picture improves you will naturally increase what you pay yourself. The point is that you do it, do it regularly, and make it the first thing you do when you earn money. Pay yourself first!  Always!

Not sure how to start or what to do first. Call me. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you with a savings goal, debt reduction, setting a timeline and evaluating resources. #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #savings #savemore #payyourselffirst #FiveKeysToFinancialFreedom #FinancialIndependence

Five Keys to Financial Freedom: Key 1

Week 1 – Decide to be financially independent.

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Welcome to July! This month we celebrate our Independence Day as a nation. Every July 4th. we gather to celebrate our country’s independence, spend time with family and friends, eat some really good food and take time to acknowledge our freedom and independence. It’s time for you to do the same with your financial life. It’s time to add financial freedom to your adulting skills. You can do it. It won’t be easy and there is no quick fix but you can do it. This is a great time to get started, so no more excuses. Your future financial independence day celebration starts now.

Every Tuesday in July get a key to your financial independence. This week, we start with what may be the toughest of all – making the key decision to be financially independent. It’s not that your goal is to amass a fortune, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Rather, your goal of financial independence is to decide to be financially independent, stop living paycheck-to-paycheck and get out of debt, rightsize your lifestyle, and finally to start amassing wealth for your future.

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It may sound odd, but this is the hardest step to being financially independent. It’s also your new goal – no, it’s your new mantra! Speak it aloud, write it down, post it to the fridge, your laptop, in your car, in your electronic day timer or wherever and however you need to be reminded. Do it! Identify where you are in your own financial life. Do a serious assessment of what you owe, what you own, and what cash flow you have every month. Find statements for your credit cards, mortgage, consumer charge accounts, any money owed and learn the balance, the interest rate, the minimum payment and plot this out. Do not ‘guesstimate’, know thy self. Use Word or Excel if you have to but learn where you are financially. Be sure to list income, savings balances, and equity in your home; you’re building your own personal balance sheet.  You can also start for free using my planning software.

In each week’s key to financial freedom, you’ll notice there will be intermediate goals or steps to work on. You have your marching orders for week one, so spend a few days and get yourself organized and get real about what you own and what you owe. This will be an eye-opener in many ways. Just deciding to be financially independent and taking assessment of your current economic situation is a huge step forward.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you plan for financial independence and be on top of your goals.  Contact me and let’s get started on a cash flow plan! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #tax #cashflow #stressfree #newplan #savings #FiveKeysToFinancialFreedom #FinancialIndependence

529 Plan Awareness Low in the United States

I’ve covered saving in 529 plans in previous blog posts. What recently caught me by surprise were the results of a survey by the firm Edward Jones. For disclosure, I have no association, or affiliation with, Edward Jones, but I do thank them for bringing this to our attention.

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For starters, the main point of the survey revealed that only 29% of Americans know what a 529 plan is, and what it’s used for. Let’s help with that point by defining a 529 plan. Basically, a 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan used to pay qualified education expenses such as tuition, required books, and other qualified education expenses. The 529 plan technically speaking, is a “qualified tuition plan” and is designed to encourage saving to pay for qualified education expenses.

Historically, the plans were only available for higher education. With changes to the TCJA 2017, the funds in a 529 plan can now be used for K through 12 qualified education expenses (up to $10,000), including at private schools. The key point of a 529 plan is that you can contribute funds and your earnings grow tax-free over time. Some states even offer a state benefit for your contributions. Currently, California does not offer a tax benefit for contributions. As long as withdrawals are used to pay qualified education expenses, there are no taxes. However, if withdrawals are not used for qualified education expenses, state and federal income tax applies, along with a 10% penalty, to the earnings portion.  

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Other key findings from the survey revealed that awareness of 529 plans was higher among the Gen-X demographic followed by those in the Millennial demographic. Not surprisingly, there was a huge disparity between those who earn $100,000 or more and those households who earned less than $35,000 per year. Fifty-two percent of those in the higher earning household knew the 529 plan compared to about 17% of those in households earning less than $35,000 per year.

Whether you should save in a 529 plan depends on your individual situation. Factors to consider are your current earnings situation, retirement savings, timeline, tax status, and whether your child may inherit money for school or even need money for school. The 529 plan works best if your funds have ample time to grow. That said, depending on your state’s tax benefit, it may make sense to contribute and pay for qualified education expenses for K through 12 as well.

To find out what’s best for you, talk with your financial planner. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you sort out your education needs and if needed, help you establish a 529 plan.  Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #stressfree #savings #taxchanges #2017TCJA #529plan #college #highereducation

Stay Focused on the Steak; Not the Sizzle!

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Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the old marketing adage taught to salespeople: sell the sizzle, not the steak.  That’s great if you’re the salesperson, but not so great if you’re the customer. Why? It basically means the salesperson is selling you on the benefits, not the features. This may cause you to overspend on an item. I’m here to tell you that as a customer, you should stay focused on the steak.

Generally, we already love the perceived benefits of what we are buying. It’s one way we justify shelling out our cash to make a purchase. However, there are few key things to consider when shopping and you encounter this situation.

Don’t overbuy. Many times, people get talked into buying more than they had intended. You did your research (online most likely) and you know what you actually need. Stand strong and don’t be coerced into overbuying more than you need. Maybe you saw an awesome grill online and you know it will fit perfectly into your budget and your backyard space. Once you arrive at the store however, the salesperson talks you into the newer, bigger, splashier model with SmartPhone technology, infrared grilling, mood lighting, rugged off-road wheels, and Internet capability! Wow!! Are you really going to use all of that stuff? Most likely not. Stick with the original features you were interested in and save yourself some money.

Beware of add-ons such as insurance, an extended warranty, annual maintenance service, etc.  You may already have insurance on the item through your homeowner’s policy so why pay more? The basic warranty may be more than you’ll need, and the annual service will most likely lead to a future upsell. In the words of an infamous former First Lady, ‘just say, no’ to these add-ons.  

 Photo by  Raymond Perez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Raymond Perez on Unsplash

But wait, there’s more! How many times have you heard that phrase on late night television? This invariably means you are going to walk out with twice as much “stuff” as you had intended to buy. Be wary of these special two-for-one offers unless you really need twice the items or you can gift one of the items. Why the caution? Because this sales pitch usually includes an additional charge for the second item! It’s not quite as much as the original item, but you are going to pay more.

Unless you like overspending and being sold more product than you need, try to be aware of this sales technique and stay focused on your original purchase. In the long run, you’ll still be able to buy what you want and stay on budget. And finally, don’t berate the salesperson for using this technique. After all, they are only doing their job, and doing it well.

Let’s shop! As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you assess a major purchase such as a car, home, boat, or RV. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #Hireaplanner #income #cash #CFPPro #shop #shopping #online #steak #sales #budget

Financial Planning Tips for Dad this Father’s Day

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We posted tips for Mother’s Day, now here we are at the week leading up to Father’s Day. We often see articles that included tips learned from dad, but what about financial planning tips for dad?  

 My stepdad looking smart in his fireman's uniform. 

My stepdad looking smart in his fireman's uniform. 

Just as with mom, you should discuss topics with your father such as retirement savings, Social Security plans, insurance needs, retirement activity goals, and even estate planning and end of life decisions. This is especially true if your father happens to live on his own at this stage of life. You don’t need to personally understand all of these areas yourself but have a frank conversation to get a better understanding of where your father stands financially and what he is planning for his golden years. We often assume that dad being dad, has all the answers and that’s not a good assumption.  It’s better to be upfront and clear and discuss these issues.

 My father and stepsister celebrating her birthday.

My father and stepsister celebrating her birthday.

An important documents binder is also a good gift for dad. It can come in handy in emergencies. Let your dad customize this binder and have him put all of his important documents inside such as his Will, insurance contracts, Durable Power of Attorney, Social Security statement, titles to vehicles, mortgage, and even a farewell letter to family and friends. It’s his binder so let him personalize it all he wants, but make sure it contains all of his vital documents. You can read more about what to put into his binder at my blog post Do You Have a Special Emergency Binder.

Again, you don’t have to understand all of these areas but you do need to understand your dad’s goals and plans. Discussing these points should be done open and honestly. Topics that you and your dad do not understand should be noted and both of you should make a plan to get answers and follow through. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you with the unfamiliar areas, set a timeline and put that plan into action to help dad get ready for retirement and beyond.

 #talktometuesday #CFPPro #Hireaplanner #retirement #socialsecurity #goals #savings #cash #fathersday #dad #binder #emergencybinder #father #dad

Three Key Things to Consider When Selecting a Bank

I was struggling with a topic for this week’s blog and then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. A friend had asked, what’s the best online bank? For me, that’s a loaded question. Like when you are at a wine tasting and someone comes to the pouring table and asks, which one is the best? or, which one do you like? My personal choice is irrelevant. The bank I use or the type of wine I like is not important if it doesn’t work for you personally.

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It turns out, banking is a little like wine and the answer to all of these questions is the same – it depends. It depends on the level of service you are looking for, what type of service you need and whether your bank needs to be a local brick-and-mortar institution or if you can utilize the services of an online bank.

Your primary focus in picking a bank is security of funds. Whether you go online, or brick-and-mortar, be absolutely sure to select a bank that is FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) insured or has NCUA (National Credit Union Association) for credit unions. Fair disclosure, I happen to be a huge fan of my online bank and my local credit union. I use them for different services.

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Next, consider level of service. Do you need to see a teller in person on a regular basis? Are you always in need of counter services? If so, an online bank is likely not going to meet your needs. Check out the local credit unions and local banks available to you. Visit the lobby, talk to customer service and just get a feel for how the staff reacts to you seeking information about opening an account. Conversely, if you are only looking for a free account to make an occasional mobile deposit with your Smartphone, an online bank may be perfect. If selecting an online bank, make sure your funds (and transactions) are secure. The key point is to match your service needs with the institution that offers the best overall solutions for you.

Fees! I have to mention fees. Whatever you decide, make sure you pay attention to and understand all of the service fees that are tied to your account. Focus on whether the account is truly free, or only free if a certain number of transactions per month are performed or a minimum balance is maintained.  Look for other fees such as ATM fees. Make sure you are not paying more than absolutely necessary. For example, you wouldn’t want to open a deluxe, top-tier service account with high monthly fees if all you are looking for is basic savings account.

When it comes to selecting a bank, focus on security of funds, services, and fees to narrow your choice. And when it comes to wine, pick the one you like!  

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you narrow your choices and find a bank that fits. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #Hireaplanner #income #cash #CFPPro #bank #online #creditunion

How You Can Save Money on Travel

 Randy and I visiting Sedona with our friend Sandi. 

Randy and I visiting Sedona with our friend Sandi. 

The summer travel season is just kicking off and it can be a challenge to control your urge to splurge on a fabulous vacation. Memorial Day officially launches the summer travel season. June is rapidly approaching and is a very busy month with festivals, concerts, special events, weddings and many people taking time off while the kids are out of school.  A good summer vacation doesn’t have to break the bank and bust your budget.  Consider the following tips to save money.

Airfare is usually a major component of the summer travel budget. The airlines are masters at raising ticket prices close to departure dates so consider booking your ticket well in advance to take advantage of lower prices. Be sure to ask for senior discounts or auto club membership discounts. Also, consider not checking bags! I know, I am going to hear it on this one. Most carriers allow one roller bag and one carryon bag. If your children are ticketed passengers, that applies to them as well. You can save money on baggage fees and time by not going to baggage claim. Another option, consider using a combination of miles and money if you are a frequent flyer to reduce the ticket cost.

 Cactus in bloom at Church on the Rock, Sedona, AZ.

Cactus in bloom at Church on the Rock, Sedona, AZ.

You may not need a pricey hotel. We frequently use a private home rental agency to rent a large condo that sleeps eleven people in Mammoth Lakes, CA. By sharing our rental with other friends, we cut the cost per night per couple to much less than the local hotel rates per night. You don’t have to pack the rental with the maximum it will sleep, just find out how many other friends you need to share the cost and make it more affordable than the hotel rate. As a bonus, you’ll be more comfortable, can cook your own meals, and won’t have to deal with hotel room rates, resort charges, parking fees, etc., and everyone can come and go as they please.  Another great feature is that many private condo or home rentals also have Jacuzzis or pools!

Consider camping! If you’re the outdoorsy adventurous type, book a campsite well in advance. Camping is still very economical when compared to hotels, private residence rentals and even hostels in many cases.

Take vacations during the “shoulder season”. The shoulder season is that time of year between major seasons when many rentals, hotels, and campsites have lower prices due to lack of demand. You may find that you like shoulder season better than the prime travel season.

Avoid the most popular holiday weekends like 4th of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Pick weekends that are lower in popularity and enjoy more space to yourself. Nowadays, you can use Google to look up and research a destination or property and generally Google will tell you the peak times.

 Sedona, AZ May 2018.

Sedona, AZ May 2018.

Set a budget and research destination activity costs and meal price averages. By knowing these costs in advance, you can set a target fund goal for your vacation. In many cases, if you reserve activities in advance and stick to your schedule you can save on the activity price.

Get creative! Rethink your travel dates, share accommodations with friends, and reconsider your approach to vacation. Many of these tips can save you money and if you combine the tips you can save a lot of cash and maybe some of your sanity.

As an independent CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I can help you make financial decisions and budget for your summer getaway. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #summervacation #vacation #CFPPro #savemoney

Do You Have One of These Four Basic Equity Awards from Your Employer?

Many of us are familiar with retirement plans like 401(k) or 403(b). Some of us even have a TSP (Thrift Savings Plan). However, when employers share a bigger slice of the pie and reward employees with equity, it can get a little more confusing.

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Many companies, especially technology companies, give employees a chance to share in the growth and prosperity of the company. Companies do this by offering employees a variety of equity awards. These awards come in various types and have multiple acronyms. The awards also have very different rules when it comes to taxation and how the award can affect your bottom line. Let’s look at the very basics of just four of the most common awards.

ESPP – The Employee Stock Purchase Plan offers employees a chance to defer salary and then purchase company stock at a discounted price. An ESPP can either be a tax-qualified plan or a nonqualified plan. The employee contributes to the plan via payroll deductions for a defined period. At the end of the period, the accumulated payroll deductions are used to purchase shares of company stock at a discount. Every plan is different, but generally the discount can be up to 15%.  One added advantage if the plan is tax-qualified is called a “look back” feature. This means the plan may look back and select the lower share price either on the offering date or the purchase date thus giving the employee an even better benefit. Rules vary for each ESPP and taxation can be tricky whether you ultimately sell your shares in a qualifying disposition, or a disqualifying disposition.

Options – A Stock Option at its core is an agreement between two parties that gives the buyer (optionee) the right, but not the obligation, to buy stock at an agreed upon price within a specific time. Option agreements come in many forms but two common types are ISOs (Incentive Stock Options) and NSOs (Nonqualified Stock Options). One advantage to an ISO is that when exercised you can avoid ordinary income tax and may ultimately pay only capital gains tax. However, ISOs come with a host of requirements to be qualified and are not always the best choice for the optionee as they can generate Alternative Minimum Tax. An advantage to NSOs is that the company granting the option has greater flexibility in who they may select as an optionee, including granting to outside directors and contractors.  Options have their own lingo, unique rules and complex timing and taxation issues which go far beyond this basic explanation.

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The next two award types are frequently confused by recipients; some even use the acronyms interchangeably. They are NOT the same and careful attention should be paid to the type of award you may have received.

RS – Restricted Stock is a grant of stock to executives that is nontransferable and becomes available to the executive pursuant to a graded vesting schedule. It is generally subject to insider trading regulations under SEC Rule 144. Although it can be risky, recipients of RS awards may be able to make a Section 83b election thus reporting the compensation value of the stock when received versus when it vests. This can result in substantial tax savings if the shares appreciate in value. If the shares do not increase in value, or worse, the grantee forfeits the shares, you’ve accelerated the tax payment without receiving a benefit.

RSU – Restricted Stock Units are conceptually similar to Restricted Stock. However, they are granted to employees and the employees must meet a set of underlying criteria outlined in the plan document to receive their actual shares. That is, the RSUs are granted as an unsecured promise until the employee meets the criteria according to the vesting schedule. Another key difference is that RSU recipients cannot make a Section 83b election (there is no actual stock issued at grant).

There are many types of equity awards that companies make available to employees, consultants and directors. Each plan or award type may have different variations. Each award type has its own set of rules to be either qualified or nonqualified and will have various complex tax regimes. If you have been granted an equity award, hold on to your plan documents and read the details very carefully.

Next, call me to strategize! As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you with a strategy to address taxation and what to do with the subsequent cash. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #savings #equity #espp #sop #rs #rsu #CFPPro 

Four Tips to Move from Financial Insecurity to Security

Lots of folks complain that they simply cannot save money or that they are trapped in the paycheck-to-paycheck crisis of having nothing at the end of the month. This financial insecurity is very real and it can be an extremely difficult cycle to break. Here are four tips to help those of you experiencing financial insecurity remove barriers and start moving into a more financially stable position and become your own money hero!

The first barrier is deciding to save money. This is a real challenge and a big deal. Take to heart that changing your financial situation and moving from scarcity to having some cash in reserve is truly a big deal. It’s your money, and the challenge of saving some of it is very real. Accept that fact. It may take you a few weeks or months to truly grasp that making the change is a real challenge and a big deal, so acknowledge that fact. It's worth deciding to save and will help to lessen the feeling of financial insecurity.

 No better feeling than cash in hand at the end of the month.

No better feeling than cash in hand at the end of the month.

Next, you are going to need some tools. Identify what works for you whether it is an app for your Smartphone to track spending, a spreadsheet, or old-fashioned envelopes that you put money in and lock in a cabinet. You should also consider other tools such as employer provided savings vehicles, like a 401(k), or even a separate savings account not tied to your checking into which your payroll department can deposit a set sum of money for you each pay period.

Third, find your motivation. Pick something that excites you to get started on your path to savings. It doesn’t have to be a large expense, but something you would otherwise not be able to pay for with cash during a normal pay cycle. Target this item as your first goal; make sure it is real, and obtainable. Once you achieve this goal, reflect on your success and celebrate! Then set a new goal to achieve and keep going!

Fourth, it’s time to talk turkey. You need to have a heart-to-heart with yourself and start evaluating your spending choices. Where are you throwing away money each month? That’s where the tools come in from step two above. Use a spending app to track your purchases for three months and analyze the data.  Review all of your monthly spending and determine what is discretionary (you can really live without) and what is non-discretionary (such as rent, insurance, utilities, food, etc.) and start trimming some fat. If you don’t need a full gym membership consider buying a package with a set number of visits or joining a group that exercises together in your local park. Look at your dining out and bar tab; if you are going out four nights a week, cut back to three at first and then two. Entertainment is another big area. Review your cable, movie, periodicals, and Internet subscriptions and see if you have any services that duplicate or can be cut to basic. Stop retail therapy! It’s only adding to your financial insecurity and most items bought are unnecessary or have a very short useful life. In fact, clean your house and consider having a garage sale to jumpstart your savings.

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Make the mindshift to be a saver and not a spender. It is difficult to do, but it can be done. If you need to, find a friend and make a pact and turn saving into a fun competition. You can do this if you’re single or even as a couple. The support can be invaluable.

Consider hiring a pro! If you need guidance, hire a CFP® professional like me to guide you. We get professional help in most areas of our life so why not hire a professional to help with your finances! Just as we hire doctors, dentists, auto mechanics, and real estate agents, we should seek out professional help for our financial lives. Finally, don’t forget to celebrate your victories along the way. As an independent CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I can help you. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #goals #newyou #future #CFPPro #financialinsecurity #financialsecurity #savings #mindshift #401k #cash

Fee-only vs. Fee-based Advisers: Is There a Difference?

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I was a recent guest on a local podcast and was asked if there is a difference between fee-based and commission-based advisers. Cue my entrance to talk about focusing on the term fee-only when it comes to hiring an adviser in comparison to those terms. This is a topic that is dear to me because there are a ton of financial services professionals and we all fill various rolls and needs for clients. While some argue that there are conflicts in every arrangement, clients really need to understand what they are paying for and how they are paying their adviser.

So, is there a difference? You bet there is; and it could cost you! The financial services industry seems to be laden with jargon and titles that sound similar, but in reality, have very different meanings. Are you hiring an adviser, a wealth manager, a broker, or being sold insurance under the guise of investment planning? It can be very confusing for clients. When it comes to your adviser, you need to know the terms fee-only and fee-based because it determines how the adviser is compensated.

Generally speaking, fee-only financial planners are usually registered investment advisers and act as a fiduciary in the client's best interest. Fee-only advisers do not accept any compensation based on product sales, i.e., no commissions. Fee-only advisers are viewed as having fewer conflicts of interest and are seen as providing more comprehensive advice. Services generally go far beyond just wealth management.

Conversely, a fee-based adviser may not always have to disclose how they are compensated to a client. Many fee-based advisers do offer hourly fee-for-service but they may also offer commission-based products (insurance, annuities, etc.) to clients. Fee-based advisers may not disclose that they will receive a commission based upon their recommendations. Further, fee-based advisers generally have to work in their firm’s best interest first, and not necessarily the client’s. Conflict of interest, anyone? That being said, many fee-based advisers may offer great service to their clients. Just be very aware of what you are paying for as a client.

 Be direct when asking your adviser about their compensation. Ask how they are paid and if they receive any form of commission.

Be direct when asking your adviser about their compensation. Ask how they are paid and if they receive any form of commission.

Admittedly, I am biased in favor of the fee-only model and run my practice this way. Many fee-only planners have also obtained the Certified Financial Planner™ designation and act as a fiduciary for their client. However, you do not have to be fee-only to be a Certified Financial Planner™.  If you would like to learn more about fee-only planners, you can research the following websites for information and use their Find an Adviser function:  National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), the Garrett Planning Network, or the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

For disclosure, I am not a member of NAPFA or Garrett Planning Network at this time. I am however, a fee-only, independent CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and a member of the East Bay FPA and the XY Planning Network.  I can help you with financial decisions, budget for debt, save or invest for retirement, investment allocation and much more. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #feeonly #feebased #commission #fiduciary #CFPPro

Preparing to Buy a Home? Go Beyond the Numbers.

You’ve decided to take the plunge and become a homeowner. Congratulations!! This is a huge step and the joys and benefits of homeownership cannot be overstated. But what do you need to consider beyond this point.

First, you should have already run the numbers to understand how much home you can afford. Do not focus solely on the mortgage payment amount. Fixating on a specific mortgage amount from an online calculator or even your lender could lead to a big surprise. That early payment figure may change just after closing. It could go down a few dollars, but chances are it will actually increase slightly due to the timing of closing, final amount borrowed, closing costs, and escrowed items such as insurance and tax. Your mortgage company may escrow your property taxes and pay them when due on your behalf so that you don’t fall behind and find yourself in a situation where your property taxes are unpaid. Some lenders may also escrow your insurance payments and handle those payments as well. If they do not, it’s up to you to keep your insurance and taxes paid up. To truly be ready to buy, any increase should be manageable for you financially and not affect your monthly budget or your emotions. Be sure you understand this going in and that any increase is not unmanageable.

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Consider also that owning is very different from paying rent. Rent is usually set for a period of time and you pay that exact amount to your landlord every month. Your rent may, or may not, include utilities, but that’s all you pay. Done! With home ownership, you need to consider that you will in most cases be paying your mortgage payment, home owner’s insurance, property taxes, utilities, possibly HOA fees (homeowner’s association or neighborhood association fees) and all on-going maintenance items. You are now king, or queen, of your castle and its financial obligations are all yours. You don’t call the landlord when the heating system or dishwasher stops working. You call a repair service and you pay the bill.

So that is the first step beyond the numbers, know all of your responsibilities.  The second is to know what type of home you want. You need to be honest with yourself and consider whether you want a condo, a single-family home, a planned community, possibly a TIC arrangement (multiple owners share an undivided, fractional interest in a piece of real estate), an urban location, or out in the suburbs. All of these living arrangements can be very different. Spend some time going to open houses and getting a feel for the type of home in which you are most comfortable.

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Once you narrow down the type of home you like, start neighborhood shopping. If it is your first home purchase, you may not be able to get exactly what you want, where you want it; especially if it’s a hot neighborhood. Visit your target location during the day, in the evening, and on weekends. Try to talk with neighbors and get their take on the neighborhood. You need to see what the area is like at all times and make sure you are comfortable being there. Consider buying smaller at first, especially if you can’t get into that ideal home and neighborhood. Look a few blocks away or even into the next neighborhood. Being adjacent to your prime area may pay off over time as the surrounding areas rise in value. One note about buying small, don’t buy too small; your home should be rightsized to meet your current needs.

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Be passionate, but don’t romanticize buying your first place and never fall in love with the first home you see that is nicer than your current living arrangement. You need to really shop around and not overpay just to secure a home. Overpaying could put you in financial jeopardy if you find out three months in that you cannot handle the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and upkeep on your dream property. This is known as being house poor when you spend too much of your income on a home and lack resources to live comfortably and be able to save for retirement, take vacations, and meet other financial goals and needs.

Finally, don’t rush! Set a longer timeline than you think you will need and start saving extra money well ahead of the purchase target date. You should even try making your future mortgage payment before you buy. Start with your rent and add any extra amount you would need so it equals the projected future mortgage payment. Next, add an amount for insurance and property taxes. You can find annual estimates and divided by twelve and add that amount to the projected mortgage. If this wreaks havoc with your budgeting you may not be ready to own a home.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you prepare for buying a home. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #firsthome #homebuyer #house #condo #Hireaplanner #income #cash #CFPPro #housepoor #neighborhood

What I Learned Thrift Shopping

This week I decided we needed some pasta specific dishes. You know, those things that are not really plates and not really bowls. I also decided I would go back to an old pastime from my college days – hitting the thrift store. Was I in for a surprise!

I haven’t been to a thrift store in a long time. Since we won’t be using these pasta dishes on a daily basis, I thought it would be fun to hit some thrift stores or antique shops. My experience was both a bit startling and educational.

My first stop was at a local thrift shop that is a really large, well-known national chain. I understand that they are not really a charity, but since there is one a few blocks from my house, I hit it first. My first surprise was just how busy the store was for a weekday. I didn’t expect the crowds for a Wednesday. My next surprise was when I actually found something that was pretty much exactly what I wanted, but not at all in a pattern or color that I could live with. Just that the bowls were available and so easily located was a surprise. My surprise turned to shock when I looked at the stamp on the bottom of the dish and discovered it was from a famous cookware store, and that the thrift store had each unit priced higher (at $8.99) than what the dish was selling for online at the cookware store! Who’s running this place? was my first thought. In the age of Smartphones and instant connectivity I could easily look up the current price online and see that the thrift store was, in this instance, no bargain.

I left the thrift store and stopped by my friend Erin’s house. She’s on maternity leave and her newest was down for his nap. This gave mommy a much-needed break and some time to chat without the little guy in her lap. We were talking about the kids (she has four now), their school, Erin’s work, her and her husband’s recent home renovations, and just the things friends chat about. I mentioned I had dropped in to that national chain thrift store and was shocked that the prices were not what I had expected and even more shocked the staff didn’t seem to take the time to search the web to price items more accordingly. This, is when I got a better tip on discount shopping!

Erin told me about the large, national chain’s competition! Yes, competition amongst the discounters. This had never really occurred to me. It’s a local place but part of a family company that operates in California, New Mexico, and Texas and partners with charities and community groups to give back. Being that it was close, and highly recommended by Erin, I stopped by just for a look around. Surprise! It really was different. They, too, were busy for a weekday, but the store was cleaner, larger and much more organized. It did have similarities to the national chain with old furniture and outdated appliances lining several aisles, but there was a buzz about the place and the colorful red, white, and blue circus-theme branding livened up the store.

 Each bowl on the left came in at only 0.55¢.  The serving dishes were more, but still a bargain! 

Each bowl on the left came in at only 0.55¢.  The serving dishes were more, but still a bargain! 

I made my way to the housewares section and discovered that this must be the place where folks are actually making donations. This thrift store had a huge selection of items in every category and true thrift store pricing. I soon located a few pasta dishes in a style and pattern I could live with – white with a wheat pattern. Unfortunately, I also spotted two grape-themed serving dishes and five grape-themed napkin rings. Given that grape growing and wine is a big part of our family, of course I couldn’t pass these up!

I decided that was it and I needed to make my way to the register before I got caught-up in buying a silver-plated cigar server or 1970s Jell-O mold. I mean seriously, when would I ever use those? At the register I discovered that today was a yellow tag sale day. What that meant for me was that each pasta dish I found was going to be 0.55¢. Yep, a whopping fifty-five cents! A far cry from the $8.99 each at the first shop.

Overall, it was a good afternoon outing. I might add visiting these places and those that call themselves antique shops to my list of businesses to patronize from time to time. The thing is, know what you need, keep your impulse buying under control to avoid frivolous spending, and just have a sense of adventure and openness because you don’t know what awaits. You may not find the exact item you need, but that’s what a mainline retailer is for. If you are flexible, these shops can save you a lot of money and they can be fun. And who knows, I may just go back and get that Haggar dinner jacket I saw for $7.99….and that silver-plated cigar server!

Need tips on saving money? As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you assess your financial situation, set goals, and take steps to achieve improved financial wellness. Whether it’s reminding you to use coupons, ideas for saving on home goods, or mapping out retirement or career change goals, contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #CFPPro #stressfree #FinancialLiteracyMonth #savings #retirement #goals #thrift #thrifty #pinchapenny #pennypincher

It’s Tax Day! Four Tips to Better Tax Filing

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Today’s the day! Thanks to a federal holiday, today is the deadline to file your personal tax return unless you file for an extension. If you file an extension, you have until October 15 to file your return. Here are a few tips to make tax filing and preparation easier.

The first thing you should do is assess this filing season. Was it stress free? Did you owe? Maybe you owed a lot. Did you get a big refund? Assess your situation if any of these events occurred.

If you owed a lot and are not sure why, the first place to check is your Form W-4 withholding allowance. If, for example, you are married, filing jointly and have two incomes, you may wish to have both wage earners claiming married and zero if you are in a higher income tax bracket. If you have dependents, this may be different. The best thing to do is grab your last two to three paystubs and head over to the IRS Withholding Calculator and be as specific as possible and run the numbers.

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Second, did you receive a large refund? Well, that too can be a red flag. After all, the point is to get as close as possible to paying just what you owe and no more. A large refund may mean that you are over withholding. It would be better to get that money on a weekly or monthly basis if it is from earned income (i.e., your paycheck). There is no need to give Uncle Sam an interest free loan during the year when you can use that money for yourself.

Third, you should have electronic copies of your tax returns. Consider scanning them and creating and saving electronic copies. You can create a password protected file and many professional tax preparers already provide password protected electronic copies. Review this year’s copy and compare it to last year’s copy. There should be some consistency in taxable income, deductions, credits, and tax owed. If not, it’s time to ask why and meet with a tax preparer. Look for a preparer with good training and if possible, a designation such as EA, Enrolled Agent.

Finally, keep your tax returns together in a secure place. Now is the time to create a 2018 folder for next year’s filing season. All things related to your tax return should go into this folder. All receipts from charitable contributions, copies of Forms W-2 and W-4, 1099 forms, student loan interest paid, real estate taxes paid, mortgage interest paid, etc., should be included.  Any form you receive that is related to a tax credit, deduction, or income production should be kept in this file. You may not receive some of these forms until early next tax filing season, which would be in 2019.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you prepare for a better tax filing season. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday  #refund #Hireaplanner  #income #cash #CFPPro #taxfiling #tax #1040 #w4 #w2

One Woman’s Success Update During Financial Literacy Month

Given that it is Financial Literacy Month, I wanted to check-in with my friend Kim about a post written a year or so ago. In that post, What Does Your Habit Cost You? Try $112,000 I explored the cost of bad habits. The timing was perfect because Kim was trying hard to break a bad habit – smoking. I am happy to say that she has been successful and is making amazing progress. Kim tells me she feels “100 times better” and that her overall health has improved.

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Kim used technology to help her with her goal. She has been tracking the number of cigarettes not smoked and money saved by not buying cigarettes with an app. In addition to the health benefits, Kim has realized a positive financial benefit as well. She has been able to route the money saved (over $2,100) back into her monthly budget. This has made budgeting and paying for necessities during the month easier. The stress of spending money on her former habit is gone!

Financial Literacy Month provides an opportunity to learn about all things dealing with personal finance. One of which, is making a change and improving your financial well-being. Whether it’s a new financial term or using a recommended technology to making a major change (like Kim did), this is a great month to explore learning about personal finance.

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You can be like Kim and a year from now look back and celebrate your success on the road to financial wellness. Whether you want to break a bad habit and track the savings, or be better with your budget, there is support. Discover your motivation, set a goal, and pick a tool to help you with reaching that goal. It might be an app for saving and budgeting, or a website that provides tracking calculators, or even a real live group of folks that meet in person at a local coffee shop, take the approach and support that works for you. Don’t forget that I am also here to help, so feel free to contact me if your goal involves financial planning.

One place to look for support is at FinancialLiteracyMonth.com and follow the Tools for Success link. Here you will find a roundup of tips, worksheets, webinars and even success certificates to help you reach your financial wellness goals. Let this month be your kick-off point to better financial wellness. Tackle one topic to start with and then build on that success.

If you need more help, reach out to me and let’s get started. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you asses your financial situation, set goals, and take steps to achieve improved financial wellness.  Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #CFPPro #stressfree #FinancialLiteracyMonth #savings #retirement #goals