Do Your Homework, Buy Quality When You Shop

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Shopping can be a lot of fun. No matter what you are shopping for, we all are influenced by our past experiences, marketing, and legacy advertising. What is legacy advertising? Think of any brand name that you have heard and seen since your personal day one on this planet. For many of us it’s the two big soda companies, a few domestic car producers, and a couple of blue jean manufacturers. You already know their names and iconic brand logos without me telling you.

When it comes to the big purchases, like a car, we are influenced whether we admit it or not. But there are a few things you can do when you need to make a big purchase.

First of all, slow down… take some time to really think about whether you truly need the item. If the answer turns out to be yes, start your research. Jump online, read reviews, talk to friends and family who have purchased the same item. Share with others what you are thinking of buying and elicit their feedback. Be open to hearing divergent opinions and experiences. You can usually tell if the comments are just grumbling or if a true complaint pattern starts to develop from person to person. Sometimes, a negative comment turns out to be more of a personal disgruntlement than an actual fault of the product. But if you keep hearing “it broke on the fifth use” it’s not disgruntlement.

Consider not buying brand new. Great bargains can be had on high-end items if you know the item, it’s history, and its value in the resale market. Cars, boats, RVs, and athletic equipment come to mind. Sometimes people buy too early or change their mind about wanting the item and they put it up for sale.

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When I moved to Oakland, I realized I had a desire for a car. I was influenced by marketing from Volkswagen, Audi, and Volvo. I started narrowing the choices down and reading what I could about those cars. I also asked people who owned those cars if they were happy with their car. Surprise! Most people are. However, there was the occasional complaint and I made a mental list of these complaints. I also test drove a few of the options to see if I liked them. I have always had a fondness for Volvo and in the end, I bought a slightly used, two-year-old Volvo that a woman was selling due to a divorce. That was in 2006 and I am still driving that car to this day – and I am happy with it.

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Go to trade shows before making a big purchase. See what all is really available in the category. Spa, RV, auto, and boat shows almost always have new and slightly used models. Talking with dealer reps may at times garner you a personal discount you can use after the show.

Look at the annual calendar. Watch for model cutoffs such as 2019 models being discounted at year-end to make room for new 2020 models. Consider shopping in late December or early January when stores are desperate to clear merchandise and old models.

Slow down, do your research, share what you want with others, and keep an eye on the annual flow of merchandise and you can acquire quality items at a good price. For bigger items such as leases or real estate, let’s talk. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #CFPPro #savemoney #buy #shop #quality

Points Programs are Valuable - Maximize Them!

After focusing for the past few weeks on serious topics like saving, debt management, and what to do with that tax refund, I decided to write about something a little more fun. All you road warriors, this one is for you!

The family enjoying a retirement dinner at Michel’s, Honolulu.

The family enjoying a retirement dinner at Michel’s, Honolulu.

Many folks who travel for work, and travel a lot, accumulate large amounts of hotel, airline, and even preferred credit card points. If this is you, be sure that you are aware of the value these points add to your life. You also want to maximize your points any time you can.

Randy’s sister, Leesa, enjoying her balcony on Kauai

Randy’s sister, Leesa, enjoying her balcony on Kauai

In our family, we have used points for ourselves and for family and friends. When my parents retired, I cashed in a block of air mileage points and got my mother and step-father first class tickets to Honolulu. My husband cashed in hotel points and got them a nice room at one of those swanky hotels on Waikiki Beach. We went along with them, on points of course, and even flew my sister-in-law over to join us. This fall, we are staying on points in Italy for my fiftieth birthday trip. Hawaii has been a popular draw. All told, we have taken ten family members to Hawaii – all on points!

Here are some points accumulation tips:

Know the rules of your particular hotel, airline, or credit card points program. Airlines, for example, are notorious for allowing points to expire and that is actually money lost! If you know you won’t fly, can’t use the miles, at least donate them to charity or cash them in for a product. For hotels, knowing your membership level and the benefits that come with that level is key. You may be entitled to additional points depending upon the category of room, or hotel, you book. It all adds up!

Take advantage of bonus programs. Programs may involve booking a certain number of nights per period to earn bonus points, or flying a certain number of flights per period. Make sure to understand and fulfill the terms of the bonus program offering and book accordingly. If you are not sure, always ask if the hotel booked or flight reserved meets the bonus program requirement.

Monitor flight sales and hotel offerings for bonus points destinations. Be sure to confirm you are booked in the proper ticket class or hotel to earn the bonus. If you travel a lot for work, the destination may already be on your schedule so get the extra points!

To build status and points fast, choose one company and stick with that company. Often times, members can earn extra points after attaining certain reward levels. However, if you must fly an alternate airline, or stay in a non-preferred hotel, be sure to join that points program as well. You never know when your needs may change or where your travels will take you.

Know your preferred hotel and airline partners and all properties or services in their respective portfolios. This will also help you build points fast. For example, did you know that St. Regis (luxury), Le Meridien (premium), Aloft (select), and Element (long-term stays) are all part of Marriott’s Bonvoy points program?

Only use a rewards credit card tied to a particular hotel or airline if you are always going to use that service provider. Using the card can help build points fast, but many branded cards come with hefty annual fees or large spending requirements.

Your points are hard-earned and very valuable. Never underestimate the positive impact acquiring points can have on your life. After all, you’re on the road for work and that isn’t always pleasant. Save your points, maximize them, and reward yourself accordingly.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you focus on your finances in more ways than just looking at salary, investments, and benefits. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #points #vacation #CFPPro #savemoney #rewards #airmiles #mileage #travel

Tackle Your Debt!

We have just wrapped-up America Saves Week. If you are struggling to get a grasp on your finances, there is a lot of free help and resources out there like America Saves Week and of course April is financial literacy month. With all of these resources, why do folks still struggle to save and pay down debt?

First, don’t beat yourself up over your debt and lack of savings. It is what it is and fixating on it is just stressful. Do, however, acknowledge your situation. That’s the first step above all to change your situation – acknowledge what you owe. 

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Your next step is to self-assess. This may require help so be open to working with a person such as a Certified Financial Planner, debt counselor, or even working with technology (think spending app). These professionals can provide you with a debt analysis and guiding plan to help you out of debt. Get a firm figure on what you currently owe by learning your balances, interest rates, payments, and any other relevant terms around your debt. Don’t bury your head and estimate; really look at it.

The next step requires brutal honesty. Take a look at your monthly spending and money behaviors that got you to this point. You may need some time to accept that you are indeed going to have to change your spending habits. Acceptance is a difficult step.

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Start turning your ship. It took a while to get into debt, it will take time to get out of debt. Scale back in areas where you are spending “just because” or on items and services that you truly don’t need. Stop memberships and subscriptions you no longer use. Have a sale! Raise some quick cash by selling books, art items, sports equipment, collectibles – anything you no longer need.

This is a good time to mention that you should take this step-by-step. Set achievable goals with a timeline. Acknowledge your situation, accept it, start moving forward! People often ask if they can save while paying down debt. YES! Saving and paying yourself first is a pillar of financial fitness and success. Be sure to pay yourself first even as you tackle your debt. Let’s say you come into some unexpected money. Apply the one-third rule: one-third toward paying debt, one-third to savings, and one-third to your monthly living expenses.  

These steps over time will put you on the road to recovery. You just have to get started and keep going! As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you focus on your month-to-month finances. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #debt #debtreduction #CFPPro #savemoney

America Saves Week

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February 25 through March 2 is America Saves Week! America Saves motivates and encourages people to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. This is a week you can access free resources and focus on your saving, spending, debt, and wealth building.

I am providing a link to a free digital toolkit, Save With a Plan, that you can access and share with friends and family. If you cannot access the toolkit online, email me and I’ll send you a copy. You can also explore the America Saves Week website for more information and free resources. I’ll also be posting savings tips on our Engage Advising Facebook page all week, Facebook.com/EngageAdvising.

Your future self will thank you!

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you start saving, manage debt, and begin your wealth-building journey.  Contact me and let’s get started on a savings plan! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #AmericaSaves #AmericaSavesWeek #savings #ASW19

Three Tips for Using Your Tax Refund

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Many folks are about to come into a mini-windfall of cash. For these same folks who often complain about not being able to save money, fund an IRA, add to investments, or pay down debt, this is an opportunity. That mini-windfall is a tax refund. Instead of envisioning all of the lovely, disposable, soon-to-be-forgotten things you could buy with your refund, consider buying some financial peace of mind. Here are three things to do with this windfall that would be financially beneficial.

First, pay off debt. Look at your debts; is the refund you are getting enough to completely payoff a debt. If it is, this could be a good choice. Use the monthly payment amount you were making on that paid off debt to make a larger payment on another debt. Work with your financial planner and pay off the debt that gives you the greatest bang for your buck and you’ll be debt free in no time. Your financial planner can tell you which debts and in what order provide the shortest payoff time, or saves you the most money.

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Second, build an emergency fund. If you are a two-income household, the emergency fund should be, at minimum, the equivalent of six months total expenses. This includes all discretionary and non-discretionary spending. If you are a single-income household, you should really consider having nine to twelve months of total expenses as an emergency fund. Your tax refund can add nicely to your cash stash.

Third, start or add to investments. If you have your debt under control, and your emergency fund is sufficient, now is the time to add to investments. Your tax refund could be just the ticket. Consult your financial planner and decide whether you should be starting, or adding to, an IRA, a taxable fund, or topping up an existing investment account.

A note about tax refunds; if you are receiving an unusually large refund (and tend to do so every year) now is a great time to meet with a financial planner to figure out why. You should be receiving a smallish-to-zero refund. That way, you are enjoying the benefit of your funds all year and not making a free loan to Uncle Sam.

Keep in mind that using your refund for one of the recommended tips does not have to be an “all or nothing” approach. Be sure to use a small amount to reward yourself and do something like a nice dinner, a day retreat, a spa, or take a cooking class with a friend or significant other. Just don’t blow your windfall on things you don’t need and won’t notice in a few weeks.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™ I can help you decide how to put your windfall to work for you. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #refund #Hireaplanner #bonus #income #cash #CFPPro #tax

Can I Contribute to a Roth IRA?

This week’s post will be a spotlight on the Roth IRA. As with all information, be sure to ask a professional before making any financial decisions. This post will cover just the highlights of the Roth IRA and may not represent your situation.

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Recently, a friend called and wanted to know if she could contribute to a Roth IRA with a contribution date of 2018 to start her five-year clock. What she is referring to is the five-year holding period on a Roth IRA, generally known as the five-year rule. Basically, at age 59½ you are able to withdraw both contributions and earnings with no penalty, provided your Roth IRA has been open for at least five tax years. You can make a contribution for the tax year up until the tax filing deadline and start the clock (as of the tax year) if you have not finalized and submitted your taxes. That is, she could have started her five-year clock dated 2018 for the 2018 tax year, being filed this 2019 season, but unfortunately, she had already finalized and filed her taxes for 2018. Keep in mind, if you are under 59½, you can withdraw your contributions with no 10% penalty, but not your earnings. There are other five-year rules depending on whether you are a beneficiary, or made a Roth conversion. We’ll save those for another time.

Another problem this friend encountered is that she is a SHE, Successful High Earner. She is fortunate to have a good income, but unfortunately being single she earns too much to contribute to a Roth IRA. Her modified AGI (defined in Publication 590-A for Roth IRA) was well above $137,000. When thinking about a Roth IRA, keep in mind the following contribution limits from the IRS:

If your filing status is Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Widow(er), and your modified AGI is less than $193,000, you can make a full Roth IRA contribution for the year. Between $193,000 but less than $203,000, you get to make a reduced contribution. However, once you earn $203,000 or more, your contribution amount is zero!

Married Filing Separately? Oh, dear…not good news. If you are married filing separately and you lived with your spouse at any time during the year, and you earned less than $10,000, you can contribute a reduced amount. If you earned $10,000 or more, your contribution is zero.

For Single, Head of Household, Married Filing Separately (and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the year), and your modified AGI is less than $122,000, you can make a full contribution. Between $122,000 but less than $137,000 you can contribute a reduced amount. If you earned $137,000 or more, your contribution is zero!

What are those contribution amounts? For 2019 your total contributions to all IRA types cannot exceed $6,000. If you are age 50 or older, you can contribute an extra $1,000 for a total of $7,000.

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Now, about those aforementioned reduced amounts. You will need to follow the formula provided by the IRS to calculate your contribution. There is an explanation and a worksheet provided in Publication 590-A (go to IRS.gov and search the most recent Pub 590-A). A quick summary is provided here:

Step 1 – Start with your modified AGI.

Step 2 – Subtract from the Step 1 amount either: a) $193,000 if filing a Married Filing Joint return or Qualifying Widow(er), or b) $0 if Married Filing Separate, and you lived with your spouse at any time during the year, or c) $122,000 for all other individuals.

Step 3 – Divide this result from Step 2 by $15,000 ($10,000 for filing a Married Filing Joint return, Qualifying Widow(er), or Married Filing Separately and you lived with your spouse at any time during the year).

Step 4 – Multiply the maximum contribution limit before reduction by this adjustment, and before reduction for any contributions to traditional IRAs by the result in Step 3.

Step 5 – Subtract the result in Step 4 from the maximum contribution limit before this reduction. This final result is your reduced contribution limit.

For example, Susan’s modified AGI for 2019 is $135,900 and she is age 47 and single. What is her maximum contribution? Ignoring other tax factors and simply considering the formula, Susan would calculate her contribution as follows.  Step 1 – $135,900 - $122,000 = $13,900. Step 2 – Step 3 – divide $13,900 / $15,000 = 0.92666, or 0.93. Step 4 – multiply $6,000 x 0.93 = $5,580. Finally, Step 5 – subtract $6,000 - $5,580 = $420.  Susan can still make a Roth IRA contribution of $420 for 2019 prior to finalizing and filing her 2019 taxes.  

It seems like a small amount, but keep in mind, every bit helps when building your retirement nest egg. Plus, this amount may be the year Susan starts her five-year clock which is very valuable! Or, it could be an unusually high earnings year for Susan. Either way, know the amount each year that you can contribute, and if a Roth is right for you – contribute!  

Yes, I love this stuff! As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you focus on your retirement finances and many other financial planning issues. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #CFPPro #savemoney #Roth #IRA #RothIRA #IRS

Why Tax Time is a Great Time for a Financial Review

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For the majority of folks who file taxes, it’s now crunch time. Between January and the filing deadline in April (for the majority of filers), we will all be hit with W-2s, 1099s, 1095-Bs, 1098s, annual giving statements, investment statements, and many other forms. All the statements arriving by post and online can be overwhelming.

This can also be a benefit. It’s around tax time that people focus on their financial situation. With all of the forms arriving, it’s a good time to organize and take stock of your situation and schedule a meeting with your financial planner. Here are a few things you can do.

Organize and setup your filing system for the current tax year! While you are receiving all of last year’s tax documents, go ahead and make files for the current tax year. That way, as you accumulate tax documents during the current year, your file is ready. This makes next year’s filing easier.

Identify what you owe and what you own. Tax time is a great time to review and learn about what expenses you have going out monthly and annually. It’s also a great time to take a look at your investment holdings. Most likely you are receiving bank, brokerage, or investment statements so give them some attention.

Make changes if needed. If, for example, you find you owe taxes for the past year, and you owed a similar amount the previous tax filing season, identify why. In many cases, you may simply need to adjust your W-4 withholding allowance through your employer. Early in the year is a good time to do this if you need to have additional taxes withheld.

Schedule time with a Certified Financial Planner™ to get started aligning your goals and resources and putting yourself on-track to a new financial year. The advice can be invaluable and today, CFPs offer a wide range of services and pricing.

Tax time is a great time to meet with your CFP.

Tax time is a great time to meet with your CFP.

Having so many financial documents arriving at one time and preparing to finalize your taxes is a great time for a financial review. You’ll have most of what you need readily available. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you focus on your finances month-to-month and not just at tax time. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #CFPPro #savemoney #tax #taxtime

Cash is Still King – Build Your Savings!

Over the past few weeks, the government shutdown highlighted the lack of savings in America, the number of folks living paycheck-to-paycheck, and the inability or general aversion to saving for a goal. Last week, I wrote a post Government Shutdown Highlights Need for Emergency Fund that you should read if you don’t have an emergency fund.

This week, once again I want to focus on savings. Too often I hear people half-jokingly proclaim, I can’t afford to save. I say half-jokingly because for some, their earnings compared to what they need to spend on living is truly a struggle. Especially when what they want to spend is added to the mix. Therein lies one of the biggest culprits of cash savings in America today – lack of delayed gratification for wants, versus paying for current needs. Saving for a goal is a concept that seems downright foreign in today’s world of zero-money-down, same-day-delivery, and buy now! It’s time we get back to understanding the difference between true needs and our wants to de-stress our lives.

Save, save, save! Savings add up faster than you think!

Save, save, save! Savings add up faster than you think!

If you are one of the people out there struggling to save, you can’t afford NOT to save! Witnessing friends and family go through the shutdown should be a wake-up call to kick you into gear to becoming a savings pro! Let’s start with the basics.

First of all, we need to embrace saving cash just as much as our desire to shop, be on social media, or any other fixation. Saving cash can lead to a lot of positivity in life. It can help reduce anxiety over money, help you sleep better, fear less, and be prepared when a financial disaster – or opportunity, arises. Delaying a purchase goal also provides time to assess if you should really be spending the money, really need the item, or whether it will truly add value to your life. If it does, delaying will make the purchase much more satisfying and meaningful.

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Remember to pay yourself first. You are the most important person in your earnings world. Without you, there would be no earnings! Take care of yourself and remember that you are debtor number one!

Start saving 15%, or more, from the first job you ever have. Get into this habit of paying yourself 15% first and saving will be second nature to you. Saving 15%, or more, from your first job until your last job in your Golden Years will likely ensure that those years are truly golden.

Remember, you are probably not alone when it comes to your 15%, or more, savings target. Many people have access to a qualified retirement plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b) through their employer. If the employer offers matching, this match is basically FREE money going into your retirement plan account and the employer’s matching amount can count toward your 15%, or more, savings target.

There are ways to boost your savings immediately. All of us have very nice, usable items around the house that we no longer need. Sell them! It’s a quick cash boost. You can hold an old-fashioned rummage sale, or step it up and use an app. Whatever works for you. If you have a side-gig, save money from the side-gig. Are you hitting up the local coffee shop a couple of times per day? Eliminate just four visits per week and that is approximately $20 in immediate savings. Translation, $1,040 per year! How many of us set the coffee machine at home on automatic to brew a pot of coffee, have a quick cup, dash out the door and leave nearly a pot full of coffee behind? We complain about the office coffee or end up buying premium a few times per day. Coffee we make at home is probably much better and more to our liking so dig out that thermos and start taking it with you!

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Another activity to boost your savings immediately is to review your cash flow monthly. Check for items such as memberships, subscriptions, home delivery, or any auto-pay item that you are not actually using. Cancel it!

Make micropayments on your credit cards. Over time this will not only reduce your debt faster, but it will boost your credit score and put you into a better qualifying position for lower interest rates on borrowed money. Read more on How to Improve Your Credit Score here.

Set up separate savings and checking accounts. Have a savings amount automatically transferred on payday directly into your savings. If it’s not in your checking account, you likely won’t miss it and be tempted to spend it.

Use a spending app on your phone to get alerts when you are close to budget limits you have setup. Sometimes just a reminder will do the trick to keep savings in line. Find an app that works for you and put it to good use.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you focus on your finances month-to-month, set goals, and assess cash flow. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #CFPPro #savemoney

Government Shutdown Highlights Need for Emergency Fund

Financial gurus all over America recommend having an emergency fund. But in our hyper-consumption society and ten-plus-year Bull market, this advice seems to have either fallen on deaf ears, or out of fashion. The government shutdown does shine a light on the savings crisis in America telling us that 78% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck according to a report by CNBC.  

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First of all, what is meant by an emergency fund? Your emergency fund should be readily available cash savings, not at risk, to cover all monthly living expenses. Total up your monthly expenses such as rent/mortgage, utilities, transportation, insurance premiums, groceries, prescription co-pays or out-of-pocket treatments, entertainment, membership dues, credit card payments – anything that you pay during the month. Don’t forget annual payments. Those are divided by twelve and you include one-twelfth in your monthly savings amount. That total of all expenses is your monthly spend, the amount of cash outlay you need to cover to maintain your lifestyle.

So how much do you need? This varies depending on whether you are a dual-income household, and whether you are married or single. For my clients, I recommend six months minimum as a basis. For married couples, dual-income, six months should suffice if both couples are high-earners. If not, build to six months and then work toward nine months of emergency fund. Married with one income, you should have nine months saved. If you are single, you should have a nine-month emergency fund regardless. If others rely on you, such as children or adult parents, stretch your goal to twelve months emergency fund.

How did we get here? How did we get to a point where missing one paycheck creates a financial disaster? Those answers are beyond the scope of this blog post. But, I suspect it is safe to say at least two contributing factors are the lack of financial literacy being taught in schools or at home, and the growing inability of people to separate needs from wants. We live in a society that outright discourages delayed gratification and saving cash for a goal.

Take action! Turn this on-going shutdown crisis into a personal action plan.

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First, tally up your expenses as described above. Review them for services, memberships, subscriptions, etc., that you are no longer using and cut those. Your goal should be to cover the monthly costs for items that you do use and need.

Second, determine how many months you need to have by examining your situation: married, high income, single, dependents, etc. Set your first goal to save a one-month emergency fund, and build from there.

Next, resolve to start! That’s the BIGGEST hurdle in getting an emergency fund together. If you are a lower earning worker, it is a challenge, but starting now is key. Always pay yourself first! Follow that mantra for every job you ever have in your life. Ideally, we should all be saving at least 15% from every job over our lives starting with our first job – but that’s another blog post! If you have zero in savings, start by putting a twenty-dollar bill in an envelope or container each week. That’s about four coffee drinks per week – your latte factor! By week 52 you’ll have saved $1,040. Even at $1,000 you are better off than when you started. For those with greater means, examine your cash outlay every month and work with a financial planner to help you cut expenses and get on-track to savings.

Cash is a key component of financial security and an asset class that should be included in every financial plan. It’s time we remember that.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you plan for cash goals.  Contact me and let’s get started on a savings plan for your personal emergency fund! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #stressfree #emergencyfund #savings #crisis

Three Ways to Teach Children Good Money Habits

Many parents seem to be unsure about how to teach their children good money habits, unwilling, too busy, or some combination thereof. Teaching your child good money habits early on can have a positive, lifelong effect. Don’t be shy about bringing up the topic. Here are few tips to get you over the hump.

No doubt I was imparting vital knowledge to my youngest nephew, Kendall.

No doubt I was imparting vital knowledge to my youngest nephew, Kendall.

Set up an account just for them! Visit your local bank with your child and find out what is available for minors. Many states and banks offer various account types and have differing regulations covering accounts for minors. Generally speaking, banks may require at least one parent or guardian to be a joint account holder. Teach them how to use their account, how to safeguard their account, and why it is important to have an account and be responsible. If your child is a teen, and already working or about to start work, they will likely need an account.

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Develop a strategy. Be it allowance, earnings from work, odd jobs, or even gift money for holidays and birthdays, start early teaching your child to save part, spend part, and share part. Many children in our consumerist society will spend every penny they receive unless this lesson is taught early.  Reach an agreement that your child will for example, save 70%, spend 20%, and share 10% of their income. You and your child have to reach the right percentage, but try to get them saving the bulk of their money early on. The spend category can be just for them and let them spend it on what they feel they need. When it comes to sharing, this can be as simple as letting your child buy the family a pizza for pizza night, or treat their friends to a movie ticket, or making a contribution to a charity. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but instill the concept of sharing.

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Talk about money. Encourage your child to be curious and ask questions about money. At the same time, be honest if they come up with a particularly difficult question to which you don’t know the answer. Tell them you are not sure and say, “let’s find out” and teach them how to seek advice or research the answer. Show them the different forms of currency we use today. If they encounter a variety of money from physical cash, gift cards, electronic transfers, etc., they will have a better understanding and know that it all has value although it is in different forms.

There are lots of ways for children to learn about, and earn, money these days. Allowances are still common, but so is working odd jobs or even part-time jobs once they are old enough. Once they get the basics down, move on to more advanced topics like investing, qualified plans through employers (like 401(k) plans), and even stock. Some families teach this lesson by explaining their own employer’s retirement plan. You can also offer your children a chance to earn more money by setting up your own 401(k)-style matching plan for their allowance. I don’t mean a formal, qualified plan, but let your kids know that if they, for example, complete additional chores or improve grades they can earn a “match” to their allowance. Agree on a percentage in advance and document it. This extra match amount should go into their long-term savings.

There are many activities you can use to teach children and teens great money habits. If you are stuck, give me a call and let’s work together. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you pick topics or activities to guide your children. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #kidsandmoney #teensandmoney #teens #CFPPro #savemoney #bank #bankaccount #401k

Five Tips for Financial Date Night

With the new year comes our tradition of resolutions. One resolution you should make is to have a date night with your spouse, or partner. Hopefully, you are making date night a weekly event. It doesn’t have to be an expensive outing; date night can be dinner at home, time spent with another couple for a movie, a game, or a health walk. There is one thing you should incorporate into date night – a financial date night.

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Once a month, you and your spouse or partner should have a financial date night. The purpose of this financial date night is to make sure you are on the same page, and that you are sharing information, setting and tracking goals, and working together. It’s also a good way to hold one another accountable for your financial goals and to track the progress you are making. Here are some tips for successful financial date nights.

Schedule it. Given that there are generally four weeks per month, and that you have four date nights per month, pick only one of the four and designate it as your financial date night. Be sure that you both agree that this date night is to focus on your finances. It’s twelve times per year that you give attention specifically to your finances.

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Pick your topic in advance. You have the opportunity for twelve financial date night topics. It is a good idea to sit down together, draw-up a topic list, and decide in what order you would like to cover the topics. You may wish to start with your most pressing matter first. By deciding the topics in advance, you have opportunity to think about the issues, do some research, and be prepared when have your financial date night.

Keep it civil. Financial date night is not the time to fight over money! The purpose is to address financial topics together, to work on solutions, find answers, and exchange information. It’s not the time to argue, or make accusations.  

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Record your progress. Keep a special financial date night journal. Record your ideas, decisions, timeline, and any new goals that are discussed or set. If you set a new goal, calendar it and be sure to act on it and put your new goal in action.

Make it fun! Your financial date night is not supposed to be a dreary ordeal. So, open your favorite wine, beer, or make a cocktail to go with the conversation. Serve your favorite snack, or order from your favorite restaurant.

You have a host of topics to choose from whether it be budgeting, saving, debt reduction, loan consolidation, insurance, investment, retirement, estate planning, etc. Pick your topic, schedule it in advance, and record your progress. Remember, keep it civil and make it fun.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you plan for the new year and be on top of your goals.  Contact me and let’s get started on a savings, retirement, or debt reduction plan or just a hike! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #stressfree #newyear #savings #CFPPro #datenight

Great Year-end Money Tips

Toast all the adventures and successes you’ve had in 2018.

Toast all the adventures and successes you’ve had in 2018.

Can you believe it? We are nearly at the end of another year! Given how the Christmas and New Year’s holidays line up, this will be the last #TalkToMeTuesday blog post for 2018. Although money never sleeps, this financial planner needs to and so should you. However, that doesn’t mean taking leave of your financial responsibilities. Here are few year-end tips to help you finish out the year in good fiscal shape.

We all tend to spend more around the holidays so keep a close eye on your budget. If you need to, build a contingency into your budget for slight overages. People do this with remodel and construction projects, you can do it with holiday budgeting. Use an app to track spending, sign up for alerts from your bank or credit card company, or calendar a reminder to check your credit card, savings account, and bank statements more frequently this month.

Keep gift giving to a minimum. No need to be a Scrooge, but definitely sit down and draw up a list of recipients, and a per gift spend for each. It’s better to gift one nice item than several unwanted, cheap gifts that will get thrown away, forgotten, or regifted. You could even consider coordinating and sharing in the purchase of a gift with another friend or family member. For example, if mother needs a new coat but it is out of your budget, consider partnering up with a sibling or relative and co-gift.

Beautiful November weather begged us to fly to Santa Catalina for the day. A great gift spending time with family in such a beautiful locale.

Beautiful November weather begged us to fly to Santa Catalina for the day. A great gift spending time with family in such a beautiful locale.

Pay off all credit purchases by December 31. I like to pay off my credit card statement each month. December is a particularly important time to do so. If you are tracking that balance and are prepared to pay it off by month’s end, this will help you stick to your budget and not overspend and carry a balance into the New Year. If you are not quite able to do so, consider making this a goal for next year.

Volunteer. Seriously, do one volunteer activity and if you have children, make them go with you. Teaching your kids that giving of yourself and your time can be just as rewarding and important as giving money is a great thing. I am sure you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and it will be very helpful to the organization you select. So, go ahead, do something nice and donate some time.

Review your year-end statements and keep an eye out for purchases that are not yours, deadlines to pay bills (especially insurance, auto renewal, taxes, etc.), and anything that if missed would cost you a late fee, or worse, a lapse in coverage or service. Don’t let these items slip through the cracks during all the year-end revelry.

We enjoyed a great family hike at Rock Creek in the Eastern Sierra.

We enjoyed a great family hike at Rock Creek in the Eastern Sierra.

Finally, relax! Seriously, be sure to take a few days and just enjoy some down time. It’s a great time of year to go for a winter walk and actually enjoy the colors of winter and the changeable weather that it brings. Invite a friend that you haven’t seen in a while or spend extra time with the family or that someone special. Just make a point to do it even if you have to mark off a calendar day as a reminder not to book anything.

As an independent CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I can help you focus on your finances month-to-month and not just at year’s end. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #Christmas #vacation #CFPPro #savemoney

2018 Year-end Tax Tips & Reminders

It’s that time of year to cast an eye toward tax preparation. Most of us don’t like preparing for tax filing season as it is, and this year, there are many new changes to keep in mind with passage of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act 2017 (TCJA). Be prepared and do everything you can to make it easier on yourself. Here are a few ideas for you.

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Start gathering your documents. If you have a box of receipts spend some time going through them and organizing and totaling the receipts by category. You should do this prior to giving your information to your accountant or tax preparer. It will save them time, and you money!

Work on your tax prep a little each week and it won’t be overwhelming. Create a specific space to organize your documents and work on your filing. If you start preparing now, the April deadline won’t be so stressful.

Sell stocks or funds that have lost value by December 31 if you need a loss to offset gains. You can apply this loss against gains to help reduce your overall tax burden. Check with your financial planner or accountant prior to making this move. Remember, this applies to taxable accounts, and not qualified, tax-deferred retirement accounts or IRAs.

Consider finalizing cash gifts to charities. Cash gifts to qualified charities are deductible in the year made. However, with the TCJA increase in the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers, $24,000 for married filing joint, many people will no longer be itemizing. You may need to consider establishing a donor advised fund, or bunching your gifts and filing an itemized return every other year.

Keep in mind the new changes.  Under the TCJA, as noted above, the standard deduction has dramatically increased. It is estimated that nearly 90% of US taxpayers will no longer itemize when they file. Here are a few other key changes: unreimbursed employee expenses, investment fees, tax preparation fees, employment related education expenses, moving expenses, job search expenses, theft, and many casualty losses are no longer deductible. State and local taxes (SALT) are now limited to $10,000. This may affect taxpayers in states with high local taxes or high property values or a combination of both.

On the plus side, long-term capital gains rates are retained at 0%, 15%, and 20%.  The TCJA provides for a 20% qualified business income deduction (QBI). The QBI rules can get complicated pretty quickly, so talk to an adviser. Section 179 expensing rises from $500,000 to $1 million for small business. The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is permanently repealed for corporations (but not for individuals).

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Hire a financial planner! Your financial planner may not be able to help you with a lot of tax prep for 2018 at this time of the year, but getting you in financial shape in 2019 is something a financial planner can do. Set some goals and get started.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you get organized and create a plan for a less stressful filing season.  Better yet, we can start working on your 2019 goals.  Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #tax #taxfiling #stress #stressfree

What to Look for in Hiring a Certified Financial Planner™

People often question whether hiring a financial planner is worth the money. Studies by Vanguard and Russell Investments and a recent article in AARP The Magazine say yes! For example, in AARP The Magazine in the October/November 2018 print edition, AARP provided guidance on selecting a financial planner even if you are not wealthy.

AARP The Magazine, Oct/Nov 2018, pg. 24 (print edition). All represented data provided by AARP and not by Engage Advising.

AARP The Magazine, Oct/Nov 2018, pg. 24 (print edition). All represented data provided by AARP and not by Engage Advising.

AARP The Magazine also included a handy graph reflecting the potential extra money earned by those who hire a comprehensive planner. Please note this is AARP The Magazine’s sidebar and data and not that of Engage Advising. For example, on page 24 of the October/November 2018 print edition, AARP claims working with a financial planner could possibly in the instance of a medium income individual increase overall net worth by $83,000 (see graphic).

So, what should you look for in hiring a comprehensive financial planner? Start with asking for recommendations. Your friend’s financial planner may not be a good fit for you, but that adviser may know someone who is a great fit. You can also search in your area by zip code and/or specialty on sites like NAPFA and XY Planning Network.

Check qualifications. The CFP® mark stands for Certified Financial Planner™ and is considered the gold standard for financial planners. You can visit letsmakeaplan.org to learn more about the designation and to look for a financial planner in your area that is in good standing.

Be sure to question your potential financial planner about fees and compensation. You have a right to know what you are paying, when you are paying, and what you will receive for your fees paid. Today, there are many billing structures offered to meet the needs of clients. Some financial planners are fee-only, others will work with you on an hourly basis, and some will setup a monthly plan. There could also be combinations of these fee arrangements depending on your personal circumstances and needs.

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You don’t have to go it alone for financial advice. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you decide how to plan for your goals, investments, or retirement, or how to start enjoying your retirement savings. No matter where you are in life, a CFP® professional can help you create an action plan for today and tomorrow. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #retirement #income #drawdown #IRA #401k #CFPPro #LetsMakeAPlan #AARP #AARPTheMagazine #DIY

Should I Save for Retirement, or My Children’s Education?

Clients often feel that they face a conundrum: save for retirement, or save for their children’s education.  Many believe that saving for their children’s education is an absolute must, a responsibility. For many families, education is a top priority and they want the best for their children. For many parents who struggled to pay for their own education, this impulse can be even stronger. There’s nothing wrong with this desire to save and education is invaluable. So, what do you do; which takes priority?

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When addressing this conundrum, ask yourself one simple question; can you borrow to fund your retirement? The answer is no. Your children, if necessary, can borrow for their education and as challenging as it is, they have years to repay. You cannot borrow for your retirement and then spend years paying it back. There just simply isn’t the time or income stream in retirement and nowhere to borrow from. Retirement savings simply has to take priority.

That’s not to say you cannot help your children. Keep in mind that saving for your own future and a secure retirement is helping your children. If you save sufficiently for your own needs, you will not need to rely on your children in retirement. This will be beneficial for you and for them. If you have saved sufficiently for retirement, you may have enough money to help pay off student loan debt for your child, or possibly gift them money for a home purchase. Having ample savings in retirement is better than losing out on investment returns and years of compounding by funding your child’s education at the expense of your own security, comfort, and peace of mind.  

Enjoy your Golden Years!

Enjoy your Golden Years!

If you are going to fund education for your children, make sure you have met your retirement funding goals first. Be sure to max out that 401(k) plan at work, save in Roth account, save in a taxable account, and have your cash emergency fund in place. Thereafter, if you have the extra cash flow, go ahead and calculate what amount you can allocate to your children’s education fund. Just be sure you prioritize your retirement savings.

If you need budgeting help, retirement savings, debt reduction, or an education savings plan, let me know. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you make decisions and layout a plan to reach your goals. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner  #retirement #education #529 #income #debt #savings #CFPPro #moneyhabits