The following is an excerpt from Suze Orman's "10 Tips for a Fresh Financial Start."
1. No Blame, No Shame
The foundation of a financial fresh start actually has nothing to do with money or specific financial dos and don'ts. The first and most difficult step is to absolve yourself, and your spouse or partner, of any guilt. So you need to make a promise that the past is the past and you are going to focus on the future. You are free to move forward when you have removed the emotional shackles of regret.
2. Take a Snapshot of Your Finances
It's impossible to map out a route to your destination if you don't know where you're starting from. Take a "before" picture of your finances. You want to open every single financial statement and take a look. Only when you have everything in front of you can you set priorities about what to do next.
3. Adopt a Foolproof Credit Card Strategy
Make this the year you tackle the credit card debt once and for all. Every time you pay off a card with a 15 percent interest rate, you get a 15 percent return on your money. Always pay the minimum due on each card, on time, every month. Whenever possible, send in some extra money on the card that charges the highest interest rate. Your goal is to get the costliest balance paid off first. When the first card is cleared, direct your payments to the card with the next highest interest rate.
4. Try Harder to Save
I challenge you to reduce every one of your monthly utility bills by 10 percent. Change your calling plan or get rid of the landline account unless you absolutely need it. Cars are another great place to save. Consider buying a used or certified pre-owned car rather than a brand-new one. If you get a three-year loan, you have plenty of life left in your car and money that once went to car payments is freed up for other financial needs.
5. Separate Savings from Investments
Money you know you need or want to spend in the next few years (or money you keep handy for an emergency) belongs in savings. And all savings belong in a low-risk bank savings account or money market account. The goal is to keep your money safe so that when you go to use it, it will be there. Money you won't need to use for at least seven years is money for investing. Since your goal is in the future, money for investing belongs in stocks.
6. Know Your Credit Score
You will need a sparkling financial personality: a FICO score above 700, solid verifiable income, a manageable amount of existing debt (to get good offers for credit cards), auto loans, mortgages and refinancings. Get your credit score by going to MyFico.com. If your score is below 700, two of the best ways to improve it are to pay your bills on time and push yourself to reduce your credit card balances.
7. Evaluate Your Retirement Plan
In your 20s and 30s, aim to keep 80 percent in stocks and just 20 percent in bonds. As you age, slowly ramp up the percentage in bonds. The biggest mistake you can make is to stop investing in your retirement accounts or shift money from stocks into "safe" money market accounts.
8. Diversify Your Assets
Try to reduce any company stock you own in your 401(k) to less than 10 percent of your total retirement assets. Mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are ideal for retirement savings because they own dozens of stocks in their portfolios.
9. Don't Obsess Over Your Home's Value
Try to love your home for what it is - a haven for you and your family, not a path to riches. Buy a house you can really afford. Over time it will rise in value. But its main value is to be a home. Period. If you got caught buying into the housing bubble and are now in mortgage trouble, talk to the lender about your options. Don't raid your retirement accounts to keep up with the payments.
10. Protect Your Family-and Your Nest Egg
If there is anyone dependent on your income-parents, children, relatives-you need life insurance. As always, it's important to buy a policy from a firm with a strong financial rating. I also want every woman to have her own personal savings account that could support her for at least three months (because you never know). Finally, every family should have an emergency savings account that can cover at least eight months of living expenses.
Feel better? Follow these steps and no matter what the future brings, you will be in control of your financial destiny. And there's nothing more valuable.
Don't make these 401(k) mistakes
In retirement seminars across the country, attendees are often advised to think of retirement income as a three-legged stool: social security, traditional company pension and 401(k) plan. Over the years, the pension leg of that stool has been getting wobbly. In an effort to avoid long-term liabilities in today's competitive environment, fewer companies are offering traditional pensions (also known as defined benefit plans). As a result, responsibility for retirement planning has increasingly fallen on employees. All this makes 401(k) planning more important than ever. Unfortunately, easily avoided mistakes may sidetrack the accumulation of a sufficient nest egg to fund your golden years. A prudent employee will steer clear of these 401(k) blunders:
- Failure to contribute. According to recent reports by the Department of Labor, in the United States there are over 638,000 defined contribution retirement plans. More than 80% of full-time American employees at large companies have access to, and participate in, such plans. That's the good news. The bad news? Upwards of 10% of employees at those companies don't participate. If you're not taking full advantage of your firm's 401(k) - or equivalent defined contribution plan - don't wait. The retirement clock is ticking.
- Not saving enough. First of all, take full advantage of any company match that's offered. Say your firm offers to match 50¢ for every dollar you contribute up to a maximum of 8% of your income. That's a whopping 50% return on your contributions. Try to beat that in the stock market! And don't stop there. Depending on your age, you'll want to set a goal of contributing at least 10% of your income to your retirement savings, more if you're closing in on retirement and haven't accumulated a substantial balance.
- Failure to allocate. Contributions should be spread out or allocated among conservative and more aggressive (and, therefore, riskier) investments. That way your nest egg will have a better chance of weathering the inevitable vicissitudes of the market. In general, the closer you are to retirement, the more conservative your investment mix should be.
Source: J.P. Spillane, CPA, PA
GCU claims no responsibility or ownership for this content.
Four Tips for Building an Emergency Fund
Planning for emergencies is kind of like buying insurance: You pay into an account and hope you'll never have to use it. But life happens. Cars break down. Roofs leak. Kids break arms. Having money in the bank to cover those unexpected expenses can reduce stress and keep you from relying on credit cards and loans to make ends meet. Here are four easy and effective ways to establish and maintain an emergency fund:
- Start small. Many financial planners advise setting aside enough money to cover at least six months of expenses. That's a worthy goal. But for many people, it's also a daunting task that will take years to achieve. So be realistic. Set an achievable goal for your emergency fund. Dave Ramsey, a financial author and radio host of the "The Dave Ramsey Show," suggests starting out with a goal of $1,000 and working your way up to having three to six months of expenses.
- Sell stuff and slash expenses. Yard sales, online auctions, consignment shops-selling items via such venues can generate cash to bolster your emergency fund. Take a hard look at your budget and consider everything fair game: expensive dinners, vacations, cable television and so on. You may find that a surprising amount of money can be freed up and stashed away in savings. The key, of course, is to direct those savings away from regular spending and into your emergency account.
- Make it automatic. With online banking, it's easy to set up routine transfers from your regular checking account to a separate savings account. If allowed by your employer, allocate a portion of each paycheck to an emergency fund. Consider establishing the account at a financial institution other than your regular bank. As the saying goes, "Out of sight, out of mind." If the money never shows up in your regular checking account, you'll be less likely to use it for everyday spending.
- Pump it up. When you get a bonus, cost-of-living adjustment, tax refund or windfall, consider using a portion of that money to bolster your emergency fund. Fight the temptation to increase spending with every new dollar that comes along. This will bring you closer to your end goal of six months of expenses.
Create a Budget in Five Easy Steps
In 2014, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that approximately two out of five U.S. adults (39%) say they have a budget and keep close track of their spending, a proportion that has held steady since 2007. Though you may avoid creating a personal budget because you are afraid of what you will find, creating and working your budget monthly is one step closer to financial well-being. In fact, after abiding by a financial plan for a few months, you'll find it can help alleviate some financial stress. Here's how to create a budget in five steps:
Step 1 - What's Coming In?
Total your monthly income. This includes things like net wages, tips, interest earnings, alimony and child support. Don't include unreliable sources of income like gifts from family members.
Step 2 - What's Going Out?
Total your expenses. Write down all the things you spend money on each month. Don't guess. Take some time and run through your bank statement. You might find things you forgot about. Create a budget category for everything you're spending money on - you'll adjust it later.
Step 3 - Does it Add Up?
Ideally, your income will be greater than your expenses. If that's not the case, review your expenses and look for places to scale back. Evaluate your needs vs. wants. When you can't reduce your expenses you'll have to increase your income. Take on a part-time job or ask for overtime. Or find ways to make money from hobbies. Evaluate your tax withholding. If you typically receive a tax refund it means you're probably having too much money withheld from your paycheck each month.
Step 4 - Put the Paper into Action
Once your budget's on paper it's time to start living by it. Refer to your budget to make spending decisions. At the end of the month write down the actual amount you spent in each budget category. Highlight any places where you went over your budget.
Step 5 - Make Budgeting a Habit
Don't give up if your budget doesn't work the first month! It can take a few months of practice to get your budget into the perfect place.
Focus On Expenses, Not Just Income
Listen closely. In workplaces across America you'll hear this refrain: "If only I made more money. Then I'd have plenty to live on."
It's important to earn a sufficient salary to pay the rent, keep the lights on, service the car and purchase school supplies. But the income side of the ledger tells only half the story. Expenses are the other half.
Retirement planners often tell clients to take a hard look at expenses they expect to incur when full-time employment draws to a close. But even if you're decades from retirement, it makes sense to scrutinize your routine and not-so-routine expenses on an annual (or more frequent) basis. Folks who accumulate wealth over a lifetime generally develop a habit of living within their means. In other words, they've whittled down their expenses to a level commensurate with their income. By one means or another, they've learned to stick to a budget and save for the future.
Does that mean they never take a vacation? Or buy a newer model car? Or send their kids to college? No.
It does mean, however, they've learned to sacrifice in the short term for long-term benefits. They refuse to live paycheck-to-paycheck until the paychecks dry up.
Here are four expenses that can often be trimmed with minimal pain:
- Cable or satellite television. Watching pay-per-view events and TV packages with premium channels can drain your budget in a hurry. Take a break from TV for a week and use the time to read a book or play cards with friends. Your thinking may change. You may find that the cost of premium television begins to outweigh the benefits.
- Auto fuel. Consolidate trips to the store, the school and the church. Planning ahead is a relatively painless way to minimize visits to the gas pump.
- Telephone services. If your wireless bill is beginning to resemble a phone book - with most of the records logged against your kids' phones - maybe it's time to shop around for less expensive plan.
- Vacations. America is a huge country (just ask someone who lives in Europe). It's also a great place to explore on a budget. Road trips, especially if planned for the off season, can provide a wealth of memories for a reasonable price.
Take steps to increase your earning potential, but don't forget the other side of the ledger.
Source: J.P. Spillane, CPA, PA
GCU claims no responsibility or ownership for this content.