European Travel Can Be Affordable, With Some Planning

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

The cost of a European vacation may seem daunting. However, with some careful planning you can travel to Europe for little more than the cost of a domestic vacation. Two major factors in saving money on European travel are when and where to go. Several countries, such as Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Portugal, Greece, Spain and Poland can be considerably less expensive than others. If you are trying to save money, avoid Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark and Luxemburg. Consider avoiding the big touristy cities such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva, Rome and Venice until you have more money to spend.
You can reap tremendous savings by avoiding travel during the peak summer season. Airfares and lodging prices are generally very expensive between mid-May and mid-September. You can find great deals on airfare and lodging between October and April. You can also save money by flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
Additionally, you can save money by flying across the Atlantic into less popular European cities. Once you arrive in Europe, you can take a train or a discount European airline to your target destination. It is also easier to use frequent flyer miles for flights to less popular destinations. Frequent flyer miles can be a great way to save money on air travel.
Once in Europe, it is inexpensive to get around using trains, buses, subways and discount airlines. If you have a long distance to travel, consider a sleeping train or a discount airline such as easyJet or RyanAir. You will be pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive airfare within Europe can be. A sleeper car enables you to cover large distances while you sleep and save the cost of a hotel for the night. There are places that you just can’t reach by train or bus. In this instance, rent a car for a day or two to visit these special out of the way places.
Save money on lodging by staying at an apartment, Bed and Breakfast or locally owned hotel. You can get better deals by staying in small towns or just outside the city center; this works well in cities with a good subway system. There are numerous resources on the internet to research and read reviews on lodging options. Some of my favorite on-line resources include TripAdvisor, VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner), Fodor’s and Rick Steve’s.
Finally, don’t pay unnecessary fees to convert money or to pay for travel expenses. Many credit cards charge between 1-3% on European purchases. Use a credit card, such as Capital One, that doesn’t charge extra fees for European purchases. Generally, you can get the best exchange rate on local currency by using your ATM card at a major European bank. With ATMs, you are charged a fee every time you pull out money, so minimize your transactions. Avoid Change Bureaus; they usually have unfavorable exchange rates.

Stay The Course! Ten Steps to Help You Through Uncertain Financial Times

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

1. Don’t react emotionally! This will result in a constant cycle of buying high and selling low. Once you sell, you lock in your losses. Stay the course and focus on what you can control.

2. Make sure you have an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses.

3. Evaluate your asset allocation to be sure it is consistent with the timeframe in which you need to withdraw money. The stock market is a long term investment; you should never have short term money in the stock market. Make adjustments to your allocation based on your long term goals and need for liquidity not on fear.

4. Maintain a well diversified portfolio.

5. Pay-off credit cards and high interest consumer debt. Be wary of variable rate loans, lines of credit and mortgages. The downgrade in the U.S. credit rating could hasten an increase in interest rates.

6. Get your personal finances in order. It’s always a good idea to understand your spending and keep expenses in line with your income and financial goals. This is a good time to tighten your belt to be prepared for unexpected emergencies.

7. Use dollar cost averaging to invest new money into the stock market. Volatility in the stock market creates great buying opportunities.

8. Don’t get caught up in the media hype. They are in the business to sell newspapers, magazines and television commercials. Avoid the new hot asset class they are trying to promote this week. Sound investment advice is boring and doesn’t sell newspapers.

9. Take steps to secure or improve your income stream. Are you performing up to speed at work? Are you getting along with co-workers? Should you take some classes to keep your skills current? Are you underemployed or under paid for your education and experience? Consider a second job to pay down excess debt.

10. Stay calm, be patient and focus on making sure your financial plan meets your long term goals and objectives. Stay the course, this too shall pass.

Year End Financial Planning Tips

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Roth Conversion –
The income limitations on converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA have been eliminated and taxes due on a Roth conversion, processed in 2010, can be paid in 2011 and 2012.

Required Minimum Distribution –
A required minimum distribution on your IRA and 401k/403b is required every year once you attain 70 ½.

Maximize your retirement contributions –
Be sure to maximize your retirement plan contributions for 2010. Below are the maximum contributions for your 401k and IRA contributions for 2010. You have until April 15th to contribute to your IRA.

401k – $16,500 plus a $5,500 catch-up provision if you are over 50
IRA – $5,000 plus a $1,000 catch-up provision if you are over 50 (income limits apply)
Simple – $11,500 plus a $2,500 catch-up provision if you are over 50

Adjust retirement contributions for 2011 –
There is no change to 401k and IRA contribution limits between 2010 and 2011. However, if you have turned 50 you can make a catch-up contribution. A change in your income may also impact your ability to contribute to an IRA.

Harvest Tax Losses –
If you have been thinking about selling some poor performing stocks or mutual funds, do so before the end of the year to take advantage of tax losses in 2010. However, if capital gains rates increase in 2011 it may be more advantageous to offset gains in 2011.

Charity Contributions –
Go through your closets and garage before the end of the year and donate any unwanted items to get a nice deduction on your tax return. When you drop off your items be sure to get a receipt. When making a charitable contribution, consider donating appreciated stock rather than cash.

Take advantage of the annual gift allowance –
In 2010 you can gift up to $13,000 per person without paying gift tax or impacting your estate tax exemption.

Make 529 Contributions –
Contributions made to the Colorado 529 plan are deductible on your state tax return. Money can be contributed into the Colorado 529 plan for tuition that is payable in 2011.

Review your expenses and draft a new budget –
Everyone should review their expenses and revise their budget at least once a year. December is a good time of year to review historical spending habits and make adjustments to your budget for the coming year. It is difficult to establish saving goals without a good understanding of what is available after your non-discretionary expenses.

Set financial goals for 2011 –
I recommend setting new personal and financial goals at the beginning of every year. Think of it as personal strategic planning. Set some long term goals for 3-5 years then identify some action plans for the next twelve months.

Adjust tax withholdings for 2011 –
Adjust your tax withholdings or estimated taxes for anticipated changes in income and deductions in 2011.

Organize 2010 tax documents –
Year end is a good time to create a folder for all of the 2010 tax documents you will be receiving and to start organizing your expenses and receipts. You will have everything thing in one place when it comes time to complete your tax return.

Make adjustments for changes in family circumstances – birth, death, marriage, dependents, and retirement –
Major changes in your life circumstances may result in numerous changes in your financial situation. For example a birth, marriage, or death will probably necessitate a change in your will and beneficiary designations. It also may impact your income tax withholdings. The birth of a child may result in significant tax benefits. With the birth of a child you also may want to consider starting a college fund and a change in life or disability insurance.

Spend FSA accounts –
With many companies, flexible savings accounts cannot be carried over into the next year so be sure to spend the money in your FSA account this year, before you lose it.

Consider the impact of possible changes in the tax law –
If the Bush tax cuts are not extended, there is a possibility that the capital gains rate will increase from 15% to 20%, that tax rates will increase, and that some tax deductions will disappear. These possibilities need to be considered in making your year end financial decisions.

Your Money Bus is Coming to Colorado Springs

Your Money Bus is coming to Colorado Springs.

                               Get free professional advice, no strings attached

It’s never too late to secure your financial future.

Re: Free Non-profit Financial Education Event – Please share with friends, family and business associates.

All of us have family; friends and colleagues who are struggling to save money, eliminate debt and find jobs. Please share with them the opportunity to meet for a free one-on-one with local independent financial advisors when the national Your Money Bus Tour rolls into Colorado Springs on July 8th and 9th. Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc. is coordinating the Colorado Springs stop of this non-profit tour, visiting more that 25 cities. We will be volunteering at this event along with several other fee-only financial planning firms in town. The Your Money Bus Tour is sponsored by The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) Consumer Education Foundation, TD AMERITRADE, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and FiLife.com.

The Your Money Bus Tour will stop in Colorado Springs at the Penrose Library (downtown) on July 8th from 12:00 – 7:00 and at UCCS, Lot 1 on July 9th from 12:00 – 5:00. At each stop, consumers can sit down with locally-based volunteer financial advisors to ask pressing financial questions. All Money Bus visitors will receive a free financial education kit, including a Kiplinger magazine and a budgetary workbook.

Forty percent of American families spend more than they earn and the average American with a credit file has more than $16,000 in debt, not including mortgages. We encourage people to stop byYour Money Bus to learn how to better save, eliminate debt and develop personal financial sustainability habits that will get them through and beyond these tough times.

The NAPFA Consumer Education Foundation is a 501c (3) organization committed to educating Americans on personal finance. Consumers need easy to understand information without any bias, sales, or conflicts of interest. All volunteer financial advisors are fee-only fiduciaries; nothing is being sold or promoted. This is strictly educational and free information for the public. The public is welcome to just stop by or make an appointment ahead of time.

For more information, visit www.YourMoneyBus.com and for up-to-date schedule information contact Krist Allnutt,krista.allnutt@perceptiononline.com.

Warmest Regards,

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

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