Category: Personal Finance

Are You Financially Fragile?

What would happen to you and your family if:

  • your fridge broke down?
  • your car transmission went out?
  • the primary breadwinner in your family dies?
  • the primary breadwinner in your family becomes disabled?
  • the Social Security fund goes bankrupt and you will no longer receive a Social Security check?

As many as 76% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck – they have little to no savings and they spend more than they earn each month. These people are the Financially Fragile.

Financially FragileWhen one of the above events happens it can be challenging for anyone, but it is devastating for the Financially Fragile.

If you are living this way, you can take a few steps to become Financially Resilient. Being Financially Resilient means that you are able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult financial conditions, such as your car transmission going out. Again, that can be difficult for anyone, but the Financially Resilient will recover quickly while it can destroy the Financially Fragile.

Here are some things I recommend to start down the path to becoming Financially Resilient:

  • Have an emergency fund – start out with $1,000
  • Use a budget[i]
  • Spend less than you earn
  • Have adequate insurance
  • Pay off debt
  • Use a Revolving Savings account[ii]
  • Have some “fun money” or “mad money”
  • Pay attention to your credit score[iii]

For more information on these topics, see the links below. I encourage you to take steps to become more Financially Resilient.


[i] Guide to Budgeting

[ii] https://ryanhlaw.com/revolving-savings/

[iii] https://ryanhlaw.com/know-your-score/

Budgeting Software

Budgeting software

Budgeting is the foundation of financial wellness and success. Budgeting puts you in control of your money and helps you achieve your goals.

A few years back two professors did the largest research study on millionaires in the United States. They studied how they made their money, what their family structure was, what kind of car they drove, what kind of watch they had and on and on. After they compiled the research they wrote a great book titled “The Millionaire Next Door.” One of the key findings of the book was about budgeting:

“Millionaires became millionaires by budgeting and controlling expenses, and they maintain their affluent status the same way.”

That’s right – they set a goal to become a millionaire then the budget was the tool they used to get them there.

Maybe you have a goal to become a millionaire, maybe you don’t. You have financial goals, though, even if you haven’t attached a dollar amount to it yet. Do you want to retire someday? That’s a financial goal. Do you want to travel? Go on vacation next year? Buy a better car? Buy a house? Those are all financial goals, and you will achieve those through your budget. Once you attach a dollar amount and a deadline to the goal your budget can start to really work for you.

In this day and age there is no reason not to use budgeting software. It is cheap (or free) and does all the hard work for you.

In today’s post I want to do a review of the top three budgeting programs – Mint, You Need a Budget and EveryDollar. All three are online, have great mobile apps and are very secure.

The basic premise of all three programs is that you budget based on what you actually have – it’s not a projection in the future or a record of the past. If you just got paid and you have $2,000 in the bank then you budget $2,000. In all three programs the $2,000 will go at the top of the page and you give every dollar of the $2,000 a job or a name.

If $1,000 of that is allocated to the mortgage category you put $1,000 in the mortgage category and you have $1,000 remaining. Let’s say you take the remaining $1,000 and put $500 in groceries, $250 in utilities, $200 to a car payment and $50 to entertainment.

At this point your mindset needs to shift. You no longer have $2,000 in the bank – you have $1,000 allocated to your mortgage, $500 in the grocery category, $250 in the utility category, $200 for your car payment and $50 for entertainment. Your bank balance is irrelevant – all that matters is having categories that are funded.

Let’s move on now to what some of the differences are, the costs involved and pros and cons.

everydollarEveryDollar

EveryDollar was developed by Dave Ramsey and his team at Ramsey Solutions.

EveryDollar has two versions – a free version and a paid version. The paid version is $99 a year. The paid version gives you the software and app and the paid version connects to your bank account and imports transactions, which is vital in my opinion. The free version also has a lot of ads pushing you to use the paid version.

EveryDollar recommends you:

  1. Budget before the month begins in a team meeting with your spouse if you are married.
  2. Budget to $0 – or give every dollar a name.
  3. Track your transactions – you enter them manually or with the paid version you import them and assign them to a category.

In addition to the ads pushing you toward the paid version, there are ads for Dave’s ELPs, or Endorsed Local Providers. For example, on the sample budget I set up ads came up for auto insurance, home insurance and life insurance.

EveryDollar comes with a good 15-page Guide to Budgeting that teaches you how to use the software.

I found the interface to be clean and very easy to use. Entering transactions was simple. You can set or change the categories any way you want – adding, deleting, or renaming.

The big problems I see with the software are:

  • Neither version tracks your bank account. The paid one pulls transactions in, but it doesn’t track your account. You would have to log in to each one to be sure your balances are the same. Other software acts as a bank register in addition to the budget. Using EveryDollar gives you an extra step.
  • The ads for the paid version and ELPs got annoying.
  • The paid version is expensive for what you are getting.
  • In most of the categories money doesn’t roll over from month-to-month. If you have $10 left in “gas” at the end of the month it is gone on the first of the next month. I think that is a major flaw. When I looked up why they did that it says that there shouldn’t be any extra money at the end of the month. If there is $10 leftover you should apply it towards your goals. I get that, but I still think it should roll over. What if I am putting extra in the gas category to save for the gas for our vacation?

    There is an exception to this – the “goals” categories do roll over. Put $100 in a category labeled “Emergency Fund” and it will roll over. Supposedly you can also turn any category into a “Fund” and it will roll over. When I tried doing that, though, nothing rolled over. It is possible I got frustrated too early and didn’t learn how to fully use it, though.

While it is clean and simple to use, I think the cons outweigh the positive features. I don’t think it fully does what you want a budget to do.

mintlogo_link_presspgMint

Mint was one of the original players in the online budgeting software game. They were acquired by Intuit a few years back who really hasn’t done much with it. My guess is that they bought Mint to market its other products to the users, of which Mint has over 300 million.

Mint is 100% free. It is supported by ads that can get quite intrusive.

When you first sign up the first step is to link it with your bank account. You can’t move past the first screen until you link it. I don’t like that at all. I think they should let people take it for a spin before they commit, but I think we should also read bills before we pass them. I do wonder how many of their 300 million users signed up, then never actually linked an account.

Because I didn’t want to link an account today, my review is based on how the software used to function. However, just last week I tried to help someone with their Mint account, and it looked the same and had the same limitations it used to have, so my review should be fairly accurate.

Mint will allow you to connect all of your accounts, so it can act like a Financial Dashboard for you. As I mentioned, it is also free.

For me that is where the pros stop. I found Mint to be incredibly inflexible and not user-friendly at all, starting from page one where you can’t see what you are getting unless you link your account. Want to rename a category? Nope. Mint fixes the categories and you can’t change them, which means you have to fit your budget around their predetermined account names. Here is their fixed list: https://www.mint.com/mint-categories.

“Honey, which category in Mint is the money we’re saving for a snowblower?” “It’s the laundry category.” It’s about like that.

Returning things and getting credits to your account throws the budget off as well. If you return $50 worth of clothing it sees that as income. I found full blog posts about how to manipulate the software so it isn’t treated as income. It shouldn’t be that hard.

Remember, though, Mint IS free. If you can’t afford a paid version and you want it to link to your accounts (and you do want to), then Mint is a good option.

ynab-logoYou Need a Budget

You Need a Budget, or YNAB for short, was developed by Jesse Mecham while he was a student at BYU. He had taken an Excel class and created a spreadsheet that he used to track their family budget. He decided to try to sell it and to his surprise it sold – a lot. Jesse has a full team working on YNAB now and it has moved far beyond the Excel spreadsheet. It is now a web-based app with an Android and Apple app. YNAB focuses on one thing – budgeting – and they do it extremely well.

YNAB has four rules for making your budget work:

  1. Give every dollar a job. You budget just the money that you have on hand by asking yourself, “What should this money do before I’m paid again?” You follow this rule by connecting your bank and credit card accounts to YNAB, setting up spending categories, putting money in the categories and tracking your expenses.
  2. Embrace your true expenses. Think about your less-frequent expenses such as Christmas and insurance. You set a goal with a deadline and a dollar amount to meet those goals. The software tells you if you are on-track or not. See my blog post at https://ryanhlaw.com/revolving-savings/ for more details.
  3. Roll with the punches. When you need to change your budget, just change it.
  4. Age your money. Work towards spending money that you earned at least 30 days ago – that way you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck anymore. The software displays an “Age of Money” number at the top of your budget.

YNAB is free for 34 days, then you can pay either $5 a month or $50 a year. Students can get a copy for free for a year by emailing student@ynab.com.

YNAB is simple to use, and in my opinion it is the most powerful budgeting software out there. The only downsides I can think of are:

  • The Android and Apple apps need some more developing. I happen to know that this is a feature they are working on right now.
  • It has a bit of a learning curve. While they have user guides, they could benefit from a simple booklet like EveryDollar puts out with their software. However, they have free online classes (over 100 per week) – including some early in the morning and others in the evening. You should be able to find a class time that works for you. There are currently 13 different classes – from Getting Started to Learn From Reports (https://www.youneedabudget.com/classes/).

Conclusion

If you need a free solution I recommend Mint. If you are willing to pay for a far superior product, though, I recommend YNAB. I have been using YNAB for years now and I recommend it all the time. It is the most powerful and versatile option. You will get far more from YNAB than you will from either other software package.

With any budgeting software, though, it only works if you put in the time. EveryDollar recommends a weekly meeting and check-in. This will work for most people. Being the budgeting nerd that I am, though, I actually log in each morning, pull transactions in from the previous day, and make sure everything is up-to-date. It takes just a few minutes, then I can be sure that all of our budget categories reflect correct numbers.

You can learn more about any of these solutions at:

http://www.everydollar.com

http://www.mint.com

http://www.youneedabudget.com (NOTE: If you sign-up for YNAB through this link you will get your free 34-day trial plus another month for free.)

Droids or Tax Time?

Have you started receiving forms with names that sound like droids from Star Wars?

I’m fairly certain that all these droids will be in Star Wars episode 18:

  • W-2
  • 1099
  • 1098
  • W-4P

That can only mean one of two things. Droids are finally making their long awaited arrival on Earth, or it is tax time.

Droids or Tax Time

 

Just in case it is tax time, here are some answers to common questions to help make tax season a little less taxing.

1. How early can I file my taxes?

Wait to file your taxes until you have ALL the tax forms. This includes W-2s, 1099s, Interest statements, etc. Employers and companies have until January 31 to send you everything, so you should have everything shortly after that. Make a list of what you should receive and wait to start until you have it. The most common forms are:

  • Form W-2: You should receive one from each of your employers
  • Form 1098: If you paid interest on a home or student loan or paid college tuition you will receive a 1098
  • Form 1099-DIV: If you received dividends, distributions or capital gains on any investments, watch for one of these to grace your mailbox
  • Form 1099-INT: Any interest paid to you, such as interest on a CD or bank account, will be reported on this form.
  • 1099-MISC: If you did work as an independent contractor you’ll get one of these.
  • If you donated to a charity they will either provide you a receipt when you donated, or an end of year statement.

There’s other forms as well, but those are some of the most common ones.

Here’s a great printable checklist from TurboTax:

http://images.turbotax.intuit.com/iqcms/marketing/lib/TurboTax_TaxPrepChecklist.pdf

 

2. Should I file my own taxes or have someone do it for me?

There’s a few different ways you can file your taxes:

  • On paper
    • I don’t recommend this – calculations can be complicated
  • Software such as TaxAct, TurboTax or H&R Block at home
    • As long as you use top-rated software you’ll find it’s intuitive and simple. You’ll enter your tax forms in and the software will search for possible errors. I personally use TaxAct.
  • Discount tax preparation services, such as H&R Block or Jackson-Hewitt
    • These companies have their place, but can be expensive. Their tax preparers are trained, but basically use similar software that you can use on your own. If you want the peace of mind from having someone do your taxes, this can be a good option.
  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)
    • VITA and TCE volunteers are IRS-certified and will file your taxes for free. You read that correct. It’s free, and there’s no catch. VITA is available for anyone that makes under $54,000, and TCE is available for those over age 60. You can find them here: https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers. Both VITA and TCE tend to fill up quickly, and many are first-come, first-served.
  • Accountant or CPA
    • Unless you run a business you probably don’t need an accountant or CPA to prepare your return. I have several small businesses, and we still file our own, but if your business starts to move beyond small you should work with the accountant or CPA throughout the year.

3. What is the due date to file my tax return?

It’s normally April 15, but this year it is Tuesday, April 18. Why? The 15th is a Saturday, and anytime tax day falls on a weekend it is pushed to Monday. However on Monday the 17th Washington DC has a holiday (Emancipation Day), therefore tax day gets moved to the next business day.

 

To close up this week’s article, I strongly encourage you to check out one of the VITA sites if you make less than $54,000 a year. Almost anyone who uses a discount tax preparer could have their taxes filed for free instead.

One last note – don’t ever get a Tax Refund Anticipation Loan. Companies will offer to give you your tax refund right then, for a fee that ranges between $30 and $150. Don’t fall for it – if you file electronically you’ll have your refund in 1-2 weeks.

Knowledge is not power. It is the wise application of knowledge that is power.

It’s been said that knowledge is power, but all of us, including me, have knowledge about something we should (or shouldn’t) be doing, but we fail to take action. Knowledge is neither wisdom nor power. It is simply knowledge until it is applied.

Here’s an example. I know I shouldn’t eat refined sugar. It is addicting, fattening, a depressant, it causes inflammation, leads to aggressive behavior, anxiety, fatigue and even cancer. I know all of that, but I continue to eat it.[i] I’ve cut back, but I still eat it.

People know that riding in a car without a seat belt or driving a motorcycle without a helmet leads to an increased chance of dying in an accident. But they still drive without a seat belt or without a helmet.

The Surgeon General has warned us for years that smoking is hazardous to your health, yet millions of people still smoke.

We think the odds are in our favor. I won’t get cancer from sugar. I won’t be in a life-threatening accident. I won’t get lung cancer.

It would probably take a trained psychologist to work out all the issues around these statements and thoughts, but the fact is that we know, deep down, that we should change.

The same is true of our finances. Personal finance is mostly common sense. Use a budget, get out of debt, save for the future, insure for major losses and plan for emergencies. We have the knowledge, it’s the execution that is lacking. If you fail to take action, though, you are going to wind up broke and frustrated.

The challenge today is simple. Turn your knowledge into power through wise application. Pick an area of your personal finances that you need to make a change in. Maybe it’s reigning in your fast food spending. Perhaps it is finally setting up a budget. Maybe you need to take a step to protect your identity. Do it today! Add it to your to-do list and get it done.

power

[i] Sorry if I ruined Halloween, but all of these things are true…

How to Protect Yourself from Banking Fraud

wellsfargoBy now you’ve probably heard about Wells Fargo and the $190 million fine they are being issued because their employees created more than 2 million unwanted deposit accounts and credit cards for their customers. Because of the scandal 5,300 employees have lost their jobs. Wells Fargo customers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for these unwanted accounts.

Why did the employees create fake accounts?

The employees are paid an incentive for every new account or credit card they opened. They might get $3 for signing someone up for online banking, or $5 to open a savings account, or $20 if they open a new credit card. Imagine the incentive there – if an employee making minimum wage could open 2-3 new cards a day, that makes a big difference in how much they take home.

How did so many accounts get opened without customer’s knowing about it?

Some customers did notice, and they would get the accounts closed. Others probably noticed, but didn’t take the time to get them closed. Others probably didn’t notice it. Far too many people don’t really pay attention to their accounts or even their balances.

Let’s put a few things in perspective

  • 5,300 employees are a tiny portion of Wells Fargo’s workforce. They have 265,000 employees, so 5,300 is only 2% of their work force. Also, the firings took place over several years, not just today as most news stories are indicating. The majority of Wells Fargo employees are honest and wouldn’t do something like this. Will they encourage you to open a credit card? Sure. They might take home $20 if they can convince you, but most of them would never dream of opening one up for you after you said you weren’t interested.
  • $190 million means nothing to Wells Fargo. They are worth $250 billion, so $190 million is only .076% of the bank’s net worth. If you have a net worth of $200,000 a fine of .076% would be $152. Annoying? Sure. But it isn’t going to cause any trouble to your budget or your net worth. Some people have asked if the fine is high enough. It probably isn’t.
  • Wells Fargo has agreed to change their sales practices and provide more oversight, and anyone who paid fines or fees will receive a full refund.
  • Many banks offer their employees these types of incentives. The more accounts a person has with a bank the more tied in they are, and the harder it is to leave. Employees are incentivized for helping tie you in with that bank for life.

What can you do to protect yourself?

There are a few simple steps you can take:

  • Watch your accounts. Be sure to check your accounts regularly to make sure nothing is being charged or added to your accounts.
  • Keep things simple. You don’t need 12 accounts at 9 different banks in the area. You should have one main bank. If you have little accounts open at other banks because you got a free toaster for opening an account, get them closed.
  • Switch to a local credit union. Credit unions are owned by their members, and they charge fewer and lower fees and will give you better rates on loans. You can also get to know the managers. Most of them are happy to meet with their members and will help you out if there is a problem.
  • There is no reason for you to pay any maintenance fees on your checking or savings accounts. There are plenty of credit unions and banks that have free checking and savings accounts with no minimum balance requirements and no limit on the number of transactions you can make per month.

I encourage you to be proactive about your banking by taking these simple steps to protect yourself.

And if you have a Wells Fargo account, pull up your online banking and make sure no accounts were opened for you that you didn’t want or ask for. Check for fines and fees you shouldn’t have paid. They will be contacting their customers to let them know how to get a refund.

 

Picture credit: http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/wells-fargo-go-go/

Automate Your Finances

A good part of financial success is setting up systems that will ensure success.

Something simple you can do is automate a few key things. Automating your finances is one of those systems that will help you be successful. Here are some examples:

  • Have your paycheck direct depositedDirect Deposit

    Many employers default to direct deposit – you have to put in a special request to get a paper check. Direct deposit is generally available in your account the same day the deposit is made and it costs less in time for both you and your employer. If your employer doesn’t offer this service, encourage them to set it up. With many accounting software packages, such as QuickBooks, direct deposit is included as a free add-on.

  • Set up as many of your bills as possible on automatic bill paybill pay

    There are two ways to do this – either set up the bill to get paid directly out of your account each month (generally charged to a credit or debit card) or you can pay through your bank’s online bill pay.We pay all of our regular monthly bills, such as the electric and gas bill, Netflix, our mortgage and others by having the payment charged to our debit card. It pulls out the same amount each month, and I can set it up once and forget it. It also ensures that we will never be late on these payments and get hit with a late fee.

    For other payments that don’t have this feature I pay them through our bank’s bill-pay system. Our children attend a local children’s choir, for example, and they don’t offer direct bill pay, so I log in to my bank when I get the bill and send the payment off. You don’t even have to pay for postage if you use this method!

  • Have a set amount (ideally 10%) transfer from checking to savings when your paycheck is deposited.Pay Yourself First

    You can either have your bank do this automatically or if your bank doesn’t offer this service, you can often have your paycheck split into several accounts. My employer, for example, will allow me to put different percentages of my paycheck into different accounts. By doing this you are “paying yourself first.” Jim Rohn once said that poor people spend their money and save what’s left, while rich people save their money then spend what’s left. Make the savings portion automatic, then spend what you have left.[1]

These three simple tips can help ensure your success with your finances. Choose one you aren’t currently doing and get it set up today.


 

[1] This does not count, of course, for cases of extreme poverty, but the vast majority of people reading my blog could adopt the idea of paying yourself first. If 10% is too much, start with just 1%, or even just ½ of 1%! Are you going to build up much money saving just 1%? No, but that’s not the point. The point is starting the habit, then building it up over time. See https://ryanhlaw.com/one-small-step/ for more ideas about starting small.

One Small Step

by Ryan H. Law

When we decide we want to achieve a goal we usually get excited and want to jump in the deep end. For some people, this might work, but the majority of people are going to sink. Research has shown that taking really small steps can be the best way to achieve a goal.

Robert Maurer, author of “One Small Step Can Change Your Life” tells a story about a girl named Julie who needed to lose weight and get her blood pressure down. He was tempted to tell her to exercise aerobically for 30 minutes every day, but he knew from experience that while the advice was good, she was unlikely to do it and would just feel misunderstood and guilty.

Maurer decided to try something different. “How about if you just march in place in front of the television, each day, for one minute?” Julie responded that of course she could do that. After all, there was no way she couldn’t succeed.

Was she going to get healthier exercising for a minute a day? Probably not. What happened the next week, though, was that Julie came back excited that she had achieved her goal. Together they built up the exercise habit, minute by minute, for a few months, until she started exercising for 30 minutes each day.

If you set really small steps towards your goal you will achieve success over time. The steps should be so small that you are guaranteed success.

You should be setting goals in seven areas of your life:

  • Work/career
  • Mind/intellect
  • Spiritual
  • Physical/health
  • Personal/social
  • Family
  • Financial

What is one small step (so small that you can’t fail) that will begin to move you forward? Here are a few ideas:

  • I will march in place during one commercial
  • At noon I will go on a five-minute walk
  • At 8:00 in the morning I will read one verse in the Bible
  • When I get home from work I will spend five minutes connecting with my spouse
  • After dinner I will play with my children for three minutes

This process works the same for financial goals. We all hear the advice that we should pay ourselves (save) 10% first, but few people do it. If you aren’t saving any money right now, can you save just 1%? If that is too much, how about .5% (one-half of one percent)? Can you add .5% more to your 401(k)? Can you pay an extra $5 this month towards your debt?

Again, these steps seem so small that it seems they won’t make any difference. Starting small, then moving up from there, works!

Here’s an example. About 2.5 months ago I decided to start jogging 3 days a week. I haven’t been jogging in at least 10 years. I started a program where the first week looked like this:

  • 60 seconds jogging
  • 90 seconds walking
  • Alternate for 20 minutes

Almost anyone can do that, right? If that sounds too hard you can decrease the jogging and increase the walking. The point is to increase, over time, the amount of time jogging and decrease the amount of time walking.

I’m on to a different program now where I run for four minutes then walk for one. My endurance and strength have built up and now I am running four miles in about 40 minutes, and that includes 10 minutes of warm-up and cool-down time.

Am I where I want to be, fitness-wise? Not quite, but I’m making progress. The name of the game is improvement, not perfection, and that applies to your money, your fitness, your family, and every other area.

Here’s my challenge to you:

  • Pick one area from the seven areas of your life.
  • Set a small goal – one you know you can’t fail at.
  • Let me know what your goal is in the comments below or on Facebook or Linkedin.

If you found this helpful, I would appreciate it if you would share it with others using the links below!

How We Almost Lost a Home

by Ryan H. Law

About 15 years ago my wife and I moved to Indiana, excited to start a new adventure far from where we both grew up. We rented a great apartment that fit our needs and expenses. It was close to the library and shopping, not too far from my work and it had a nice pool. It was perfect.

build a homeHowever, after a while, we got restless. We wanted to own a home. After all, that is the American Dream, right? So we started looking for homes. We found a brand new community that was being built, and they offered 100% financing. We picked out a home we liked and put down some earnest money, then they started building it. What an exciting time!

There were some red flags, though. The first one was that we couldn’t actually qualify for the loan on our own. We didn’t have enough income or credit history. The sellers used some “creative financing strategies” to get us qualified, which involved using a tax credit that would bring our income up. We also had to get a co-signer.

Red-FlagAnother red flag was that we had no money for a down payment or closing costs. Of course, to the seller, that was no problem. They could just roll it all in to the loan.

We really couldn’t afford the payment, either, but we were excited about the home and figured if we qualified, that things would work out. We drove out nearly every day to see the progress on our home.

At some point, though, reality set in. We really couldn’t afford this home. We panicked and contacted the seller, asking to be released from our contract. Of course, they said no. We were committed. We explained that we couldn’t really afford it, but that didn’t deter them. We had a real estate lawyer look over our contract. He said he couldn’t see a way out. We weren’t sure what to do.

We got lucky, though. They had committed to have it done by a certain date, but they got behind on construction. We were able to argue that they had broken the contract, and we were therefore no longer bound by it.  They let us get out of the contract and sent our earnest money back.

Perhaps they also realized that if they had forced us to follow through, we might have lost the home in a foreclosure or short sale, which would have looked bad in this brand new community.

We ended up moving shortly after that, and have been very cautious about home buying since that time. In fact, we waited more than 7 years before we actually purchased our first home.

Along the way we have learned some important lessons. Before you buy a home, I recommend you consider the following:

  1. Make sure your income is stable.
  2. Have 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in an emergency funds in the bank.
  3. Pay off ALL high interest debt (credit cards, vehicles, student loans, etc).
  4. Save up 20% for a down payment. If you put down at least 20%, you don’t have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI is generally 1% of the loan annually. On a $200,000 home that will be $2,000 per year, or $166 a month. That’s a lot to be adding to a mortgage payment each month.
  5. Make sure your TOTAL home cost (Principal, Interest, Taxes, Insurance, HOA fees) is no more than 25% of your take home pay. The lender will likely qualify you for much more than you can afford, but stick with your price range. Let your Real Estate agent know exactly the price range you are looking at, and stick with it. We were fortunate to find a great Realtor® in Missouri[1] who helped us find exactly what we were looking for in the price range we were comfortable with. Find someone you trust who will help you do what is best for you, not their commission.
  6. Remember that homes come with extra expenses. For example, if the water heater goes out in your home, you have to pay for a new one. Experts recommend that you save anywhere from 1-4% of your home’s value per year for maintenance and repairs. On a $200,000 home that is $2,000 – $8,000. While $8,000 is probably a bit high, the reality is that you will have to pay for repairs.
  7. I recommend that, on top of repair money, you have enough saved up to pay your insurance deductible. After all, if the roof gets destroyed in a hail storm, the insurance company will pay most of the repairs, but you have to pay your deductible first. That can be anywhere from $1,000 – $5,000.

Buying a home can be a great decision. In general, homes appreciate in value, meaning that you should be able to sell it in the future for more than you bought it for. Even that isn’t always true, though. Remember 2008? Some markets have yet to fully recover from that housing crash. Go slowly and buy what you can afford when you are ready.


 

[1] A shout-out to our friend and Realtor® Ted Webber: http://www.tedwebber.com/.

Buy Experiences, Not Stuff

by Ryan H. Law

For most of us Summer is about half-way over. My question for you is this: What have you done this Summer to build lifelong memories with your family?

I want you to think back to your childhood for a minute and think about some of the gifts you received. How many can you remember? You probably remember a few. I remember getting a stereo one year, and a skateboard a different year. I can remember a few other items as well.

Now think back instead to some fun experiences your family had. For me that brings up many memories of camping or hiking as a family, trips to Disneyland and Sea World, family reunions and others.

Which of the two memories triggers happier thoughts? For most of us, it is the experiences. In fact, research by Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University has shown that we get greater pleasure from experiences than we do from “stuff.”

I’ll share one recent example from our family. We were up at Bear Lake in northern Utah enjoying a day on the beach with some extended family. We decided to rent a boat for an hour, and we had a blast. It was definitely worth the money we spent on it. We could have bought cheap souvenirs for the kids instead that would have been lost or broken in a week or two, but instead they built wonderful memories on the boat.

Here is how my friend and colleague Carl Richards expressed it in a great image:

DD_MoneyHappiness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So with just over a month of Summer left, what are you going to do to build some memories with your family?

Habits of the Wealthy

My last two posts have mainly focused on the internal world (thoughts) of the wealthy. Success, however, is a combination of our attitudes (internal) and our habits (external).

Before I go any further into today’s post, I want to clarify a few things:

  • Wealth does not (automatically) equal success. If fact, you can find story after story of wealthy people who are estranged from their families and have no real friends. However, while the media loves to focus on those types of stories, there are many stories of wealthy people who are very successful in other areas of their lives as well.
  • You may not want to be wealthy. Wealth brings additional challenges that some people may not want. The habits and attitudes defined here, however, can help in any area of your life.
  • We are not wealthy (yet). We are doing better financially than we ever have, and I am confident that these habits will only improve what we have done.
  • These posts only apply to those in a free-market economy, such as America. Being born in poverty in a third-world country brings an entirely different set of challenges. People born in poverty, however, can rise out of it using these types of habits.

If you would like to be better off in the future than you are now, however, this post, and my previous two posts, should help.

rich habitsMy post today is based on some great research that Tom Corley has done. He spent five years studying the habits of the wealthy and the poor. Tom’s family was wealthy until he was about 10, then they lost everything overnight and lived in poverty the next 11 years. Tom didn’t want to live this way – he wanted to know exactly what wealthy people did to become and stay wealthy. Here are some key findings from his five-years of research:

  1. The wealthy live within their means. They save approximately 20% of their income and spend no more than 25% on housing, 15% on food and 10% on entertainment. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes about millionaires:

    “Millionaires become millionaires by budgeting and controlling expenses, and they maintain their affluent status the same way.” -The Millionaire Next Door

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  3. 88% of the wealthy read at least 30 minutes per day about their career, education or for self-improvement. Only 2% of the poor do this. 63% listen to audiobooks as they commute, while only 5% of the poor do this.
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  5. 67% of the wealthy watch less than an hour of TV per day. 77% of the poor watch more than an hour of TV per day. Instead of watching TV the wealthy work on hobbies, or side businesses, or they volunteer and network.
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  7. And speaking of volunteering… 3/4 of wealthy people volunteer with an organization or cause they believe in at least 5 hours a month, while only 10% of the poor do this. Volunteering is a great way to network as well.
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  9. 62% of the wealthy are focused on at least one major goal every day. Only 6% of the poor do this.
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  11. The wealthy wake up early – 44% get up three hours before their work day begins. 3% of the poor do this.
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  13. 81% of the wealthy make and prioritize a to-do list the night before, while only 19% of poor people do. In addition, they focus on the tasks – they complete, on average, 70% of their list.

There are other habits as well, but these seven are a good starting place. If you were to pick one or two of these to begin focusing on, what would you choose?

My plans are to work on:

  • Listening to audiobooks as I commute
  • Waking up earlier
  • Prioritizing my to-do list the night before

I would love to hear what area you are focusing on – please leave your comments below!