Signs You Will Not Be Able to Afford Holiday Shopping

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The holidays are stressful enough when it comes to figuring out which house to gather at next, adding to the numbers of nights in a short time span celebrating the same upcoming event with different family members, but throw in money worries, and you may already be looking to skip over to January right now.  For your family’s sake, take a look at signs you may have trouble making ends meet this holiday season and make the necessary adjustments while there is still time.

No Shopping Budget

By this point if you have not saved up a fund for holiday spending, the outlook is not bright, but it is not entirely grim since it is still in early on in November and there are a couple paychecks left to prepare and set a little extra off to the side.  Make adjustments right away such as removing as much unnecessary spending such as eating out, or extra entertainment items such as concerts, sporting events, or movies.  Every little bit helps; just think of the end goal.

Need to Use Credit Cards to Buy Presents

If you do not have the cash on hand and have to rely on credit to make purchases that is already not a good sign.  Holiday gifts do not need to be extravagant, it really should be the thought that counts, so maybe this year you can make or purchase items that mean something, more than just gadgets that are trending at the time.  Keep the credit cards away and stick to the debit.

Already Carrying a Balance

If you already have an outstanding credit card balance that has not been paid off, then you are making lower payments and collecting interest, so adding to the balance with holiday spending will only set yourself further into debt.  Not only will you now have to make cuts to afford Christmas, but you will need to eliminate unnecessary spending entirely to even get ahead.  Do yourself a favor and pay off those credit cards, it will only get worse.

Wish List Keeps Growing

Whether your expenses outweigh your current income, you are still paying off last year’s gifts, or have a larger list this year with even the same budget, something has to give.  If the number of people you are buying for is growing compared to last year, you will have to cut costs across the board, not add to the overall spending.  Opt for more meaningful gifts instead of just throwing around gift cards.

Other Saving Priorities

It is entirely possible that there is a larger saving priority such as a wedding or a down payment for a home, that trumps this holiday season.  You cannot feel bad about that, and do not need to overextend your spending just to think you are making others happy with your large gift purchases. Don’t sacrifice contributing to an IRA or your other retirement funds in order to give more expensive gifts. What does IRA stand for, you ask? Then you might need to pay attention to the above advice even more!  If it makes you feel better, not everyone likes every gift anyways, no matter how much it cost, so keep your eye on your own prize.

5 Ways You Are Spending too Much on Health Care

It can be tough to save money on health costs in America. As a nation, the U.S spends double that of Sweden and Ireland on health care. For the average citizen it can be very difficult to see the benefit of that extra buck.

According to the American Medical Association, almost 90% of U.S health cost increases since the year 2000 have been a result of doctor visit price, drug cost spikes, and administrative costs. This means that health care costs are not actually rising due to an aging population as is popularly believed. Though troublesome, this also indicates that we have more control over what we spend on health than popular opinion indicates.

Here are five ways that your health care expenses are secretly overpriced.

  1. Make an ally of your doctor – Many are not aware that the price of healthcare is not universal whatsoever.  Falling victim to overpricing can be explained by a lack of attention to detail. When searching for an affordable medical service, consult your primary doctor for advice. Especially since it is your primary physician that likely diagnosed you, they will naturally be in the best position to advocate on your behalf. Because the price of hospital care can vary so much, it is important to ask your doctor about his opinion on different locations. It is often the case that only particular hospitals will work closely with patients to come to a lower cost. Additionally, your doctor themselves will pose a much greater chance at negotiating a lower cost on your behalf.
  1. Understand the CPT code –

Too often patients go searching without knowing the cost of their procedure, leaving them prone to paying too much. Before speaking with your doctor or a healthcare provider, be sure you know the “current procedural terminology” code for the particular procedure you are seeking aid for. Using this code, you can compare the prices of a particular health care service across multiple locations.

  1. The billing department –

The cost of any medical treatment originates from a source, and that source is often the billing department. By going to the source and speaking with the billing department of a hospital or practioner office, you can speak directly with personnel who can alter the costs of your procedure. This is the best way to understand what costs in particular are high, giving you the best shot at having them lowered.

  1. Negotiate using different payment arrangements –

Often it is a particular payment method that explains why a procedure is so overpriced. If you’re lucky enough find pricing information for multiple locations, try price-matching methods with your local options. If this fails, discuss alternative payment methods. For example, you could negotiate a lower price in return for making a quicker payment than is normally expected.

  1. Health insurance plans –

As tedious as it may sound, changing your health insurance plan can help you save big on the costs of particular expenses. For example, millions end up spending too much because their health care plans don’t include full dental insurance. Thankfully, there are plenty of all-inclusive plans that are proven to help families and couples save money over the long term.

6 Ways to Be More Wealthy at the End of 2015

If, like most consumers, you weren’t very good about keeping your New Year’s resolutions, but you’re still hoping to end 2015 with more money in the bank than you have now, the next 10 tips and bits of advice will definitely help you meet your goal. Enjoy.

Tip #1: Start using Cash instead of credit and debit cards.  This is a simple strategy that will help you to spend less, sometimes drastically. If you take out a specific amount of cash at the beginning of the week and don’t spend more than that, you will not only quickly realize how all of the little purchases you make add up, but you will also spend less overall.

Tip #2: Increase your contributions to your 401(k). This is really a no-brainer. If you have a 401(k) at work you definitely should be putting in as much as possible, especially if your employer has a matching program that matches a specific amount of the contributions that you make.

Tip #3: Make one of your goals this year to pay down as much credit card debt as possible come out while not creating any more debt. Start with the credit card that has the highest interest rate and, once that’s paid off, start with the next and keep going. Do that until everything is paid down and, during that time, don’t put anything new on your credit cards unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Tip #4: Start putting 10% of your income aside every week. You’ve heard the Nike slogan “just do it” and that’s exactly what you need to start doing with your income; Just save it. 10% a week is really not that much but, at the end of the year, you’ll be amazed at how much money you have in a savings account, emergency fund or IRA.

Tip #5: Raise the deductibles on your insurance. The way you need to look at insurance is in “catastrophe mode”. If something small happens and you have to pay $500, $600 dollars or even up to $1000 out of your own pocket, the savings that you will get from increasing your deductibles really make it worth it for the time when something devastating happens and you need, say, $180,000 to replace half of your home that was torn up in a tornado.

Tip #6: Make more money! If you think you don’t have enough time or energy to earn more then think again. Even if you have a full time job there are still plenty of ways to earn extra cash. An easy one that comes to mind is writing SEO content for bloggers. You can earn as much as $50 an article once you become established. The best part, you can earn this money from the comfort of your own home.

Saving while in your 20’s

It’s not easy to save when you’re young, fresh out of college and just starting out in the world. Sometimes the priority is not about savings or making an investment but food, rent, going out with friends and loan payment. But what they failed to note is that you’re in your 20’s saving up should be one of your goals. It might feel like you’re trying to build a three story house using straws but saving up for retirement and for stuff such as investments at your 20’s and 30’s is really the best. But anyone nearing retirement age will tell you that the years slip by and that building a sizable nest egg becomes much more difficult if you don’t start early. Also, you’ll probably acquire other expenses you may not have yet, such as a mortgage and a growing family.

So what would be the best start for you to be able to save money while you’re still young and able?

Make it a habit

Remember the saying that it takes 21 days of practice for something to become a habit until it becomes a permanent fixture in your life? This is the same with savings. By practicing it daily/weekly, it’s important to establish a savings habit while you’re young. Begin saving small, effortless amounts and watch your savings account balance grow.

Develop multiple revenues

Do contractual or part time work on the side.  You may also invest in a business as a silent partner or start looking at the rental properties section of real estate websites and delve into the real estate market. Learn to play the currency markets or trade stocks. Do whatever you can to generate income from multiple sources. A good thing is to have a cheap life insurance policy that pays dividends. Grow these multiple revenue streams to the point that they produce adequate consistent and reliable cash flow to replace your current income.

Live below your means

Do not fall into the traps of yuppies where they overspend more than what they’re earning. Overspending is one of the biggest financial problem for a lot of people, and this can be addressed by creating a budget, living a lifestyle tailored fit to saving money and working toward healthy spending habits.

A need for emergency fund

Making sure that you have an emergency fund will protect you and help you keep your finances on the right path. Even when life hits you with unexpected or big expenses, you’ll have the emergency fund to act as a buffer for unexpected expenses — instead of having to use money saved for other goals, or worse, go into debt. As a rule of thumb you should squirrel away at least 3 months’ worth of living expense but if you can afford to save at least 6 months’ worth it will be better.

Remember the earlier you initiate saving for retirement, the better. When you start early, you have the opportunity to put away less money a month since compound interest is on your side.

Predict the Future in Order to Save for Your Retirement

Psychologists working hand-in-hand with financial experts have figured out that the best way for a person to motivate themselves to stick with a savings plan is by envisioning what their future self will look like.

If this sounds a little bit esoteric, it’s actually quite simple. It means taking a look at yourself in the mirror on a regular basis and envisioning what you will like in 20 to 30 years. Thinking about what you would like to say your self about the decisions you are making now, and whether or not you need to apologize for them or thank yourself for them, can give you a real clue as to whether you are handling your finances correctly.

Psychologists believe that the more concrete a person feels about their future, the more motivated they are to stick to a savings and retirement plan. New evidence from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research shows that the technique of envisioning specific future results for decisions being made today is a very powerful motivator and, luckily, everyone can use the technique.

Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist based in Westport, Connecticut, says that “We want to think that the motivation to save is intellectual and academic, but it isn’t at all.” Peterson works with professional money managers as well. He says that “Money provides a security and satisfaction,” adding that “not about the numbers…[but] about what money will do for us and about imagining the life you want to live and the person you want to be [in retirement].”

One problem that Tony Krance, the president of the advisory firm 401k Plan Advisors out of Green Bay, Wisconsin, sees is that Americans are being taught that investing is equivalent to unnecessary risk taking. When you teach people that investing is all about the short-term return, he says, it is much harder to break their mindset and open their minds to the reality that long-term investing is much more valuable.

Krance believes that envisioning their future self and their future payoff for their self-discipline today is a technique that people with at least 20 years to save should take advantage of. Not surprisingly, he feels that a 60-year-old who hasn’t saved enough isn’t going to have as much fun envisioning their future as a 30-year-old who is just getting started.

If you’re keen on using envisioning the future to help you with your financial tasks today, advisers recommend coming up with various ‘what if’ scenarios to envision the kind of lifestyle that you would like to have in the future and the kind of money that he would need to be able to support that particular lifestyle. These factors and scenarios should include things like:

  1. Travel
  2. Automobiles
  3. Housing
  4. Technology
  5. Giving to charity
  6. Giving to your family
  7. Staying healthy and fit
  8. Paying off your house

They also advise that, if the priorities that you have today make saving money feel almost impossible, set up a couple of savings accounts and simply have $100 a month directed to them. By doing this you set up an expectation, and a small amount of guilt, that will help you to move in the right financial direction.

In the end, financial analysts and psychologists believe that by reframing savings as the “carrot” and as the “stick” a person can change their perspective, and their beliefs, and when they finally do meet your future self will be in a much better financial state. In other words, your older self won’t have to look back on your younger self with anger and resentment but instead with gratitude.

Caution: Don’t Make This Costly Investment Tax Mistake

Think all retirement accounts are equal? If you do, you could be losing out big on your investments.

You might think you’re in great shape by investing in a tax-deferred 401k through your employer as well as a separate investment account of your own, like an educational IRA. Investing in municipal bonds and REITs in one account and equities in another is fine as long as your overall asset allocation is okay, right?

Wrong, due to one important detail: tax structure. Making the mistake of ignoring tax structure and not allocating investments properly between retirement accounts can make a big difference the future value of your investments. Let’s look at an example for why taxes matter have such a big impact.

A costly example

Silly Sam and Smart Sarah both have identical asset allocation goals. They both have the same total balance ($50,000) in their retirement accounts. Silly Sam doesn’t pay attention to the tax structure of her accounts when she invests. But Smart Sarah wisely pays attention to taxes when deciding which account to hold investments in.

Silly Sam invests $50,000 of her money into a fully-taxable investment, paying taxes at a rate of 25% per year on returns from this investment based on a online tax tool.

Smart Sarah invests $50,000 in a tax-deferred investment account. Her investment grows tax-free, and she only pays taxes once she takes distributions in retirement.

How big of a difference do these tax structures make? Let’s test it with a taxable vs. tax-deferred investment calculator:

(embed calc here) – http://financialmentor.com/calculator/taxable-vs-tax-deferred-calculator

Assuming an 8% annual rate of return and a 25 year investment period, Silly Sam’s investment is worth about $214,000. However, Smart Sarah’s investment grew to almost $330,000 because she didn’t have to pay taxes as her investment returns compounded.

Don’t forget: Sarah still needs to pay taxes on her investment when she receives distributions from her account. But even after taxes, her investment still performs well. Assuming she pays the same 25% tax rate on her $330,000 future investment, she’ll still have $247,500 after paying about $82,500 in taxes. That’s $33,5000 (nearly 16%) more than Sam!

Even better news: Sarah’s tax rate depends on her income when she takes money out of her retirement account. If her income is lower in retirement, she might pay an even lower tax rate. If her tax rate is only 10% in retirement, her investment will be worth $297,000 after taxes and she’ll have $83,000 (about 39%) more than Sam.

If only Sam had been as careful with her retirement savings…

Retirement accounts: How they differ

Now that you’ve seen the difference, you’re probably itching to know more about your retirement account options so you can end up like Smart Sarah instead of Silly Sam.

Retirement accounts fall under three general tax structures: fully-taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-exempt.

Fully-taxable accounts are those that aren’t special retirement accounts like a 401k or IRA. They’re funded with after-tax dollars, and returns from these investments are taxable in the year they’re received. These earnings are taxed as ordinary income (except in cases where the long-term capital gains rate applies). Even if you don’t sell investments held in your taxable account, you may still owe taxes on dividends, interest, or on sale of stocks by a fund manager.

Tax-deferred accounts, which include traditional 401ks and IRAs, are funded with pre-tax dollars. Investments are allowed to grow tax-free until distributions are made from these accounts. The main benefit is the tax-deferred compounding of investments that’s highlighted above.

Tax-exempt accounts, like Roth IRAs, allow your money to grow and typically be withdrawn tax free. The disadvantage is you’ll have to fund your accounts with after-tax dollars. But as long as you follow the rules, you won’t ever have to pay taxes on this type of account.

Special retirement accounts do have more rules than plain, taxable accounts. For 2013, your income must be below $127,000 if filing as single or $188,000 if file a joint return to contribute to a Roth IRA. If you make more than this, a 401(k) is still available as it’s not income restricted.

Both tax-deferred and tax-exempt accounts typically have contribution limits for each tax year. For 2013, total contributions to IRAs is capped at $5,500 ($6,500 if age 50 or older). 401k and similar plans are limited to $17,500 for 2013.

Choosing the right account

Before you decide which accounts to invest in, you’ll need to consider other important factors and  limitations. Some important ones include:

  • Employee match. If your employer matches 401(k) contributions, contributing up to the full match almost always makes sense. This is basically free money and is like receiving a 100% return on your investment right from day one.
  • Time horizon. If you have decades until retirement, Roth IRAs are often the better option. If you’re early in your career with a lower salary, your income tax rate is likely low than it could be later in your career.
  • Tax rate expectations. From the last bullet, the opposite can also be true. If your tax rate is high now but you expect it to be lower when you’re ready to withdraw retirement funds, a 401k may result in less tax owed.
  • Flexibility. Taxable accounts typically don’t have any restrictions or penalties for withdrawing your money at any time. For retirement accounts, you may be subject to a 10 percent penalty for withdrawing funds before age 59 1/2.
  • Tax diversification. While you can calculate returns and investment returns based on today’s income tax rates, we don’t know what tax rates will in the future. With this uncertainty, having a mix of investments that are tax-deferred and tax-exempt on withdrawal may be a good strategy to protect yourself.

Remember that your decision should be guided by a calculation based on your specific circumstances including your view of future income and taxes.

Life After Quitting – A Few Quick Updates

I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve given any updates, but I’m working on a big post about quitting my job (which I did 2 weeks ago). Look for it soon.

In the meantime, I’ve also been writing weekly for Hat Toss, a site with money, career, and health tips for college students and grads. Here are a few of my recent posts up there. I’d love it if you’d stop by and Like or Tweet the posts:

Your First Paycheck! What to Do Before Spending It – Just as it sounds, this post has advice for what to do when you get your first big paycheck from your first job after college. As you can guess, I don’t propose spending it all on gadgets 🙂

5 Ways to Travel on a Budget – As you know, I try to travel as much as I can (even though I don’t have a ton of money to do it). Here’s some of my best tips for traveling, especially for recent graduates that might be faced with the tough decision of traveling and going into credit card debt to do it.

That’s it for now. Thanks for stopping by!

Hitting a Financial Knowledge Peak (and What Really Matters)

I’ve spent the past 2 years+ absorbing all the personal finance knowledge that I possibly can. Books, blogs, webinars, conferences, and more – I’ve read a ton on a wide range of topics. I don’t know everything, but I still feel like I’ve hit a knowledge peak.

Hitting a knowledge peak

In some ways, I’d like to give up my pursuit for consuming more and more financial knowledge. I feel like I’ve definitely hit the point where the return I get for time spent has neared its peak. I don’t know everything, but I do think I know more than I need to live my daily life (and I DEFINITELY know more than the average person).

Can knowing more really help me right here and now? I don’t think so, or not by much at least. It’s more going to come down to how I use the knowledge that I have through the trying time of launching my own business.

Like a lot of things, having the knowledge itself dones’t guarantee anything. It’s how you use that knowledge, coupled with internal and external factors that determines what happens.

Much of what’s really essential to financial success is emotion. It’s how you handle situations in life, like risk, fear, failure, and success.

Emotions

What’s else is wrong with the financial knowledge peak? Despite my wealth of knowledge, I don’t think it will help me most to succeed financially. Not at this stage at least.

When quitting a job or making a career change, it’s ultimately how you act and react in that situation that determines the outcome. Sure, knowledge comes into play, but it can only take you so far. Even with all the knowledge one can possibly have, fear of failure can still snap you like a twig.

I haven’t quit my job yet, but I’ve already experienced just about every emotion over the last several months. Most of them are tied to the uncertainty of my future or working on side-businesses that take a lot of work besides my full-time job. I’ve had times when I was certain that I would succeed, but there’s also been moments where I’ve felt like crap because I’m a failure.

I know it’s going to take even more strength to keep myself on the entrepreneurial path. I’m reminded all the time by others how easy it is to go back to working a steady job with a good paycheck. I’ve seen and heard stories from many people around me that have done that (and they’re often unhappy with their jobs once they go back).

I don’t think it’s always a bad choice to go back to working for these people, but it’s the easy way out in a lot of ways.

Emotion = Living

As much as it sucks to go from the highest highs to the lowest lows, it’s what makes us the most alive. I’ve been in that situation where I just feel numb. No excitement for tomorrow, but not necessarily any resentment for today, either. It just is what it is. It’s easy, but it’s boring.

Creating situations that generate emotion is what defines life and gives it meaning, and I’m all for making those things happen no matter how uncomfortable.

What do you think? Have you hit a knowledge peak?

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photo credit: quinn.anya

A Few Links – Roundup

Hey All,

Juts wanted to roundup my carnival inclusions from the past few weeks:
Totally Money Blog Carnival at My Personal Finance Journey
Best of Money Carnival at Financial Success For Young Adults
Carnival of Financial Planning at Thriftability
Carnival of Financial Camaraderie at My University Money
Carnival of Money Pros at My Journey to Millions
Yakezie Carnival at Faithful With A Few
Carnival of Retirement at Broke Professionals

Totally Money Blog Carnival at My Personal Finance Journey
Best of Money Carnival at Financial Success For Young Adults
Carnival of Financial Planning at Thriftability
Carnival of Financial Camaraderie at My University Money
Carnival of Money Pros at My Journey to Millions
Yakezie Carnival at Faithful With A Few
Carnival of Retirement at Broke Professionals
Carnival of Financial Planning at Cult of Money
Festival of Frugality at See Debt Run
Carnival of Financial Camaraderie at Young and Thrifty
Totally Money Blog Carnival at Balance Junkie
Yakezie Carnival at One Cent At A Time
Carnival of MoneyPros at Financial Success for Young Adults
Carnival of Retirement at Simple Finance Blog

Spruced Up: Zero Degrees Edition

I’m sitting here writing this week’s Spruced Up post, and it is cold outside! The windchill is around 0!

Luckily, I’m warm inside, so here are some of my favorites from the week:

Lots of blogs covered the Suze Orman debit card saga this week, but Eric at Dollar Versity did a great job covering it on his Facebook page and wrote a great post on Suze and her handling of criticism.

The Happy Homeowner continued her “confessions” series with a moving story about being homeless. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more!

Jana at Daily Money Shot told us how repo men from Lizard Lick towing can teach us about finances, too.

101 Centavos featured a post about how to not invest in water. With my engineering background, water is something that I’ll always find interesting.

JT at Money Mamba made be think with his post about when assets are liabilities. Once I read it, it made much more sense to me.

Jackie at Money Crush questioned if passive income is all it’s cracked up to be. There’s a lot of buzz about it lately, and I’m not sure it’s worth all of the attention it gets.

Corey explained why people can’t get out of debt on Life and My Finances, and used some real-life examples to back up his case.

Andrea at So Over Debt started a discussion on whether altruism is a bad thing or not. I don’t see how you can make a real case that it is bad, but check out the conversation.

PK at DQYDJ asked how we define savings. Hard to believe, but there are many different definitions.

Cryal from BITFS was featured in a reader story on Get Rich Slowly. It’s been great hearing about her success, and I hope I can go on to follow in her footsteps in my own way.

Have a great week!

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