Key to Financial Success is Understanding and Managing Your Spending

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Sometimes the simple things can make the biggest impact on our lives.  One of the most important steps toward achieving financial success is to fully understand where you spend money.   Increasing your awareness of how much you have available to spend and where you spend this money helps you become more intentional in your spending.

Studies have found that many of our actions are based on habit rather than conscientious decisions.  This is true with the food we eat, our daily routines and our spending habits.  By tracking your expenses you may discover spending patterns that are preventing you from achieving your financial goals.

This may seem obvious, but if it’s been a while since you took a serious look at your spending habits, it may be time to track and evaluate your spending.  You don’t need an expensive software package, just a pen, paper, and a calculator.  Review your credit card statements and bank statements over the last 6 months and track your monthly expenses.  If you spend a lot with cash you may need to keep a journal, for a month, to monitor where you are spending your cash.  Don’t leave out the quarterly and annual expenses in your review.  Compare your expenses to your net income to determine how much is left at the end of each month.

This exercise should be enlightening and you will probably be surprised at the amount you spend in certain areas.  Think about your financial goals and evaluate how you are actually spending money in the context of your goals.  Are you maintaining an emergency fund and saving money to meet long term goals such as retirement, a new home, a new car or college education for your children?  Create a spending plan that supports your financial goals.

You may find it helpful to systematically set aside or invest money to build an emergency fund, invest for retirement or save for college tuition.  If this money is put aside, it may be easier to become accustomed to living on the remaining funds.

Regardless of your income level, the secret is truly understanding how much you can spend and being intentional about how and why you spend your money.   Budgeting is about setting financial goals and priorities, not keeping you from doing what you love.   If it’s a priority to spend a lot of money on eating out, taking a vacation or buying a new car and it fits within your financial plan, then enjoy yourself.   Alternatively, if you are spending too much in one area consider enjoyable alternatives.   For example, meet friends for happy hour rather than dinner at an expensive restaurant.

Being aware of your spending helps you spend more intentionally and weigh the trade-offs of every purchase.  The simple act of reviewing your past spending habits will make you stop and think before making spending decisions in the future.

Financially Get a Jump Start on 2017

office pictures may 2012 002The beginning of a new year is a good time to evaluate your finances and take steps to improve your financial situation.  Start by reviewing your living expenses and comparing them to your income.  Are you living within your means and spending money in areas that are important to you?  Look for opportunities to prioritize your spending where you will get the most benefit and joy.

This is also a good time to calculate your net worth to see if it has increased over the previous year and evaluate progress toward your goals.  To calculate your net worth, add up the value of all of your assets including real estate, bank accounts, vehicles and investment accounts and subtract all outstanding debts including mortgages, credit card balances, car loans and student loans.

With a better understanding of your net worth and cash flow you are ready to set some financial goals.  Start with the low hanging fruit including paying off outstanding credit card balances and establishing an emergency fund.  Maintain an emergency fund equal to at least three months of expenses.   Once your credit cards are paid off you may want to focus on paying off other high interest debt.

After paying off debt and creating an emergency fund, it’s advisable to get in the habit of saving at least 10% of your income.   Saving 20% may be a better goal if you are running behind on saving for retirement.

Take advantage of opportunities to defer taxes by contributing to your company’s 401k.  If you are self- employed create a retirement plan or contribute to an IRA.  Take advantage of any match that your employer may provide for contributing to your retirement plan.  If you are already making retirement contributions, evaluate your ability to increase your contributions.  If you have recently turned 50 you may want to increase your contribution to take advantage catch-up provisions that raise the contribution limits for individuals over 50.

As the new year begins you also may want to evaluate your career situation.  Saving and investing is just part of the equation, your financial security is largely dependent on career choices.  Look for opportunities to enhance your career that may result in a higher salary or improved job satisfaction.  It may be time to ask for a raise or a promotion or to explore opportunities in a new field.  Consider taking some classes to sharpen your skills for your current job or to prepare you for a new more exciting career.

You may have additional goals such as buying a new home, contributing to your children’s college fund, remodeling your house, or taking a big vacation.  Strategically think about your priorities and what will bring you satisfaction.  Start the year with intention, identify some impactful financial goals and create a plan.  Formulate an action plan with specific steps to help you meet your goals.

The Secret to Financial Freedom is Living below Your Means

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Over the years I have observed that a comfortable retirement and financial security can best be achieved with reasonable lifestyle choices.  One of the biggest detriments toward reaching financial independence is spending beyond your means and spending on things you don’t really need.  You don’t necessarily need millions of dollars to retire comfortably but you need to follow a lifestyle that minimizes your living expenses while allowing you to indulge on things or experiences that are really important to you.  Good financial planning requires a balance between current expenses and saving for the future. 

Many Americans have a habit of systematically increasing expenses in lock step with salary increases.  Along with a big raise or promotion comes the inclination to buy a bigger house or a new car.  As we progress through our careers, earning a higher income, we continually take on more financial obligations becoming hand-cuffed to our jobs and our bills.  By increasing your lifestyle every time your income increases you can get caught up on an endless treadmill, trapped with a lot of debt for a house and cars that may be more than you really need.  I’m all for enjoying some of the benefits that come from all your hard work but it’s prudent to spend below your income.   Avoid the temptation to live an extravagant lifestyle and compete with your neighbors, colleagues and friends.  Instead, take pride in following a solid financial plan by saving for the future to achieve greater financial freedom.

As a rule of thumb, save or invest at least 10 – 20% of your income and maintain a buffer of 4 to 6 months of expenses to cover emergencies or a change in your ability to earn a living.  Try to keep your housing expenses below 28% of your gross income; this includes your mortgage payment, insurance and taxes.  Avoid systematically increasing your expenses.  Give yourself some breathing room in case you want or need to make a career change.  Save for the future and keep your options open.  As your income rises automatically put a larger portion into savings and retirement.

To keep expenses under control, examine what is important to you and set some priorities.  You have worked hard and you deserve some of the nice things in life but spend your money on things or experiences that genuinely make you happy.   If you want a really nice house you may decide to spend less on vehicles, vacations and clothing.  If you love taking extravagant vacations consider buying a smaller home and less expensive used vehicles.  Never buy on impulse – always look for ways to save money on the purchase of things you decide are important to you.  

Prioritize your spending to live below your means, save for the future and focus on what truly brings you joy.

Save Money in Retirement

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

There are many ways to stretch your retirement dollars without dramatically impacting your lifestyle.  Start by evaluating what is of great importance to you.  Create a plan that encourages you to spend on things and experiences that are important to you and helps you reduce expenses in low priority areas.

Depending on your priorities, a decrease in housing expenses may provide tremendous cost savings.   If you live in a city with a high cost of living, consider relocating to a lower cost city – ideally one closer to family.  According to Forbes, some of the most affordable cities in 2014 include Knoxville, Birmingham, Tampa, Virginia Beach and Oklahoma City. 

Downsizing is another great way to reduce expenses.  Now that you’re retired, your housing needs have probably changed.  Downsizing can help you reduce expenses on mortgage, insurance, taxes, utilities and maintenance.  In addition to saving money, you may be ready for a different lifestyle, a new floor plan (living on one level) and a new neighborhood that better meets your needs throughout retirement.

In retirement there are opportunities to save on vehicle expenses.  Assuming you are no longer commuting to work every day, you should be able to save on gas and maintenance for your vehicle.   Additionally, many retired couples don’t need two vehicles, selling a second car can save on car payments, insurance, taxes and maintenance. 

Vehicles are a depreciating asset where you can lose thousands of dollars by simply driving a car off the lot. Save money by resisting the temptation to buy a new car.  Internet sites such as Edmunds.com and Kelley Bluebook (kbb.com) make it easy to research prices to negotiate a good deal on a used vehicle.   Additionally, where possible, buy your vehicles with cash and avoid high interest car loans.

In retirement, you have more time to focus on saving money. Use this time to shop and compare, watch for specials and utilize coupons.  Evaluate your home, auto and health insurance and compare prices and features provided by different companies.  Save on cell phones, internet and television by comparing service offerings and negotiating prices.  Consider doing chores around the house that you previously hired someone else to do and cook more to save on eating out.

Having more time can also result in saving on travel expenses.  A more flexible schedule, allows you to avoid peak season and get reduced rates on airfare, lodging and restaurants.  May and September are great months to travel and get some good deals.  You can also save by flying during the week.   Travel sites such as Tripadvisor.com, Cheaptickets.com, RickSteves.com and Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO.com) can also help maximize your travel dollar.

Finally, avoid the temptation to over spend on children and grandchildren.  You will probably need most of your money to cover retirement spending needs.  Give your family the gift of your love and time rather than your money.

Don’t Miss Out on Retirement Plans When Self-Employed

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Just because you are self-employed doesn’t mean you don’t have access to tax advantaged retirement plans.   There are several options that may work for you depending on your situation.  One option is to contribute to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA.   In 2013, you can contribute up to $5,500 of earned income into an IRA ($6500, if you are over 49).  However, you may be restricted due to income limitations.  In addition to an IRA, consider establishing a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension), a SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) or a Solo 401k.

A SEP is a plan that enables you, as the employer, to set aside money for yourself and your employees.  The entire contribution is made by the employer, and equal contributions must be made to all eligible employees – including you as the owner.  The annual contribution is flexible, which allows you to adjust the contribution based on profitability for the year.  In 2013, contributions cannot exceed the lesser of 25% of W2 earnings or $51,000.  The limits are the same but some special rules apply, if you are self-employed. A SEP has low start-up and administrative costs with no filing requirements.  SEP plans can be of most benefit to companies with few or no employees, since the entire contribution is made by the employer. 

If you have several employees, a SIMPLE IRA plan may be the best option.  Employers are required to make a matching contribution of up to 3% or a 2% non-elective contribution for each eligible employee.  In 2013, employees may elect to contribute up to $12,000 plus a $2,500 catch-up if they are over 49.  A Simple IRA is available to any employer with up to 100 employees.  It is easy to establish and inexpensive to operate.  Discrimination testing is not required and there are no filing requirements.   A Simple IRA plan can be more practical than a SEP for companies with a lot of employees because most of the contribution is usually made by the employee.

Another option is a solo 401k. A one-participant 401k plan is a traditional 401k that covers a business owner with no employees, or a business owner and his or her spouse.  A solo 401k generally has the same rules as a traditional 401k plan.  As a business owner, you play the role of the employer and employee.  As an employee, in 2013 you can contribute up to $17,500 ($23,000 if you are over 49) – up to 100% of your compensation.  As an employer, you can contribute up to 25% of compensation.  Total contributions, not including catch-up provisions, cannot exceed $51,000.  If you hire employees who meet eligibility requirements, they must be included in the plan and their elective deferrals may be subject to non-discrimination testing.   Additionally, if your solo 401k plan has more than $250,000 in assets, you must file an annual report.

Save Money by Focusing on Problem Areas

office pictures may 2012 002Probably the most important step toward saving money is making the decision to focus on your spending habits.  We frequently over spend when we are in a hurry and don’t have time to plan.  If you are serious about saving money slow down, get organized and devote some time to making a plan.   You can save a tremendous amount of money if you think about what you really need, make a list, compare prices and avoid impulse purchases. 

Start by reviewing your spending habits over the last year.  Calculate what you have been spending in relation to your income.  You may discover a gap in what you thought you were spending and the amount of money left at the end of the month.  It may be helpful to keep a spending diary for about a month to see where all that money is going.  Review your spending over the past year for obvious problem areas.  It is common for many people over spend on eating out, clothing, electronic toys and tools.

You may be very good at setting a budget and tracking your expenses. However, if this approach is too time consuming for your busy lifestyle, consider what we call creative budgeting.  Focus on one or two problem areas and develop creative ways to reduce spending in these areas.  For example, if you have a tendency to over spend on eating out, think of some creative ways to reduce spending in this area.   Some creative ideas may include preparing breakfast and lunch at home the night before and taking it to work with you.  When you are preparing a meal, make extra to freeze or eat for lunch the next day.  If you enjoy going out with friends, consider eating something before you leave and then eat something small like a side salad or cup of soup when you meet your friends.  Instead of going to expensive restaurants, organize a potluck dinner or start a gourmet club and rotate going to one another’s home.   Restaurants generally provide very large portions.  Consider taking half of your meal home, to be eaten later, or share a meal with a friend.  You can also save money by meeting at someone’s home for appetizers, desert or drinks before or after dinner.  There are many ways to reduce money on eating out that may result in more enjoyment, better food and less calories.

 Continue working on fun and creative ways to reduce spending in your initial target area.  The key is to substitute what you are giving up with something equally or more satisfying and less expensive.  Once you feel comfortable with your level of spending in this area, identify another place where your spending could be reduced.  After going through this process a few times you should become more focused on where you are spending money and your spending should be better aligned with your goal

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.

10 Financial Planning Tips to Start 2012

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

1. Dream – Take a few minutes to look at the big picture and think about what you want from life. How do you want to live, what do you want to do and how do you want to spend your time. Successful businesses have vision statements and strategic plans. Create your own personal vision statement and strategic plan.

2. Set Goals – What are your goals for the coming year? Start by brainstorming – fill a page by listing all the goals that come to mind. Think about different facets of your life such as family, career, education, finance, health and so forth. Review your list and prioritize three or four goals to focus on in the coming year.

3. Evaluate Your Current Situation – What did you spend and what did you earn last year? What was necessary and what was discretionary? Did you spend in a purposeful manner and do your expenses support your goals and strategic plan. How much did you save or invest in a retirement plan? Can you increase this in 2012? If you are like most of us, a category is needed for “I have no clue”.

4. Track Spending and Address Problem Areas – If you aren’t sure where you spent all that discretionary cash, track your expenses for a month or two. It can be very enlightening – Yikes! Identify a few problem areas where you can cut spending and really place some focus. Identify the actions you will take to cut spending in these areas. Set weekly limits and come up with creative alternatives to save you money.

5. Evaluate Your Career – Are you doing what you really want? Are you being paid what you are worth? Have you become too comfortable that you are settling for safe and familiar? Could you earn more or work in a more rewarding position if you took the time to look? Are you current in your field or do you need to take some refresher courses? Do you know what it will take to get a promotion or a better job? In this volatile job market you need to keep your skills current, to nurture your network and to maintain a current resume.

6. Maintain an Emergency Fund – Start or maintain an emergency fund equal to at least four months of expenses, including the current month. This should be completely liquid in a checking, savings or money market account.

7. Pay Off Debt – Establish a plan to pay off all of your credit card debt. Once this is paid off establish a plan to start paying off personal debt and student loans.

8. Save 10-15% of your income (take advantage of employee Benefits) – You need to save at least 10-15% of your income to provide a buffer against tough financial times and to invest for retirement. At a very minimum, you need to contribute up to the amount your employer will match. Additionally, be sure to take advantage of flex benefits or employee stock purchase plans that may be offered by your employer.

9. Maintain a Well Diversified Portfolio – Maintain a well-diversified portfolio that provides you with the best return for your risk tolerance, your investment goals and your investment time horizon. Be sure to re-balance your portfolio on an annual basis. Avoid over reacting to short term swings in the market with money that is invested for the long term.

10. Don’t Pay Too Much Income Tax – Avoid paying too much income tax. Get organized and keep good records to be sure you are maximizing your deductions. Make tax wise investment decisions, harvest tax losses and maximize the use of tax deferred investment vehicles. Donate unwanted items to charity – be sure to document your donations with a receipt.

10 Tips for Financial Success

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Jane M. Young CFP, EA

1. Set Goals –
Review your personal values, develop a personal strategic plan, establish specific goals for the next three years and identify action steps for the coming year.

2. Understand Your Current Situation –
Review your actual expenses over the last year and develop a budget or a cash flow plan for the next 12 months. Compare your expenses and your income to better understand your cash flow situation. Are you’re spending habits aligned with your goals? Can or should you be saving more?

3. Have sufficient Liquidity –
Maintain an emergency fund equal to at least four months of expenses in a fully liquid account. Additionally, I recommend having a secondary emergency fund equal to another three months of expenses in semi-liquid investments. Increase your liquidity if you have above average volatility in your life due to job instability, rental properties or other risk factors.

4. Always save at least 10% of your income –
Regardless of whether you are saving to fund your emergency fund or retirement you should always pay yourself first by saving at least 10% of your income. Most of us need to be saving closer to 15% to meet our retirement needs.

5. Pay-off Credit Cards and Consumer Debt –
Learn the difference between bad debt (credit cards) and good debt (fixed-rate home mortgage). Avoid the bad debt and take advantage of the leveraging power of good debt.

6. Take Advantage of the Leveraging Power of Owning Your Home –
Once you have established an emergency fund and have paid off your bad debt start saving for a down payment to purchase your own home.

7. Fully Fund Your Retirement Accounts be a tax smart investor –
Participate in tax advantaged retirement programs for which you qualify. Maximize your Roth IRA and 401k contribution take full advantage of any company match on your 401k. If you are self-employed consider a SEP or Simple plan. Always select investment vehicles that provide the most beneficial tax solution while meeting your investment objectives.

8. Be an Investor, Not a Trader. Don’t time the market and don’t let emotions drive your investment decisions –
Investing in the stock market is a long term endeavor, forecasting the short-term movement of the stock market is fruitless. Avoid emotional reactions to headlines and short-term events. Don’t overreact to sensationalistic journalists or chase the latest investment trends. You can establish a defensive position by maintaining a well diversified portfolio custom tailored to your unique situation. Slow and steady wins the race!
“Far more money has been lost by investors in preparing for corrections, or anticipating corrections, than has been lost in the corrections themselves.”  -Peter Lynch, author and former mutual fund manager with Fidelity Investments

9. Don’t Invest in anything you don’t understand and be aware of high fees and penalties –
If it sounds too good to be true and you just can’t get your head around it, don’t invest in it! If you want to invest in complicated products, read the fine print. Be aware of commissions, fees and surrender charges. Be especially wary of products with a contingent deferred sales charge. There is no free lunch, if you are being promised above market returns there is probably a catch. Keep in mind that contracts are written to protect the insurance or investment company not the investor.

10. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify – rebalance annually –
It is impossible to predict fluctuations in the market or to select the next great stock. However, you can hedge your bets by maintaining a well diversified portfolio. Establish an asset allocation that is aligned with your goals, investment timeframe and risk tolerance. You should have a good mix of fixed income and equity based investments. Your equity investments should be spread over a wide variety of large, small, domestic and international companies and industries. Re-balance your portfolio on an annual basis to stay diversified and weed out any underperforming investments.

New Normal

By Bert Whitehead, MBA, JD

A number of clients have expressed alarm at the recent clamor of commentators who have been predicting a cataclysmic economic change worldwide. These pundits claim that we are facing an economic “New Normal” and express concern that the ‘old’ economic rules on which we rely no longer operate.

Their conclusions? Drastic changes are needed in our lives and investments to accommodate the “New Normal!”

Usually they question the viability of the U.S. dollar and offer the possibility that China, or perhaps a block of other nations, are somehow positioned to ‘take over’ the U.S. because they hold so many U.S. bonds. Another variation of this calamity centers on the recent collapse of the real estate market, the precipitous drop in the stock market, and extraordinarily low interest rates. Taken together, these developments presage the end of American prosperity for our children and ourselves.

Of course these apocalyptic pronouncements are more effective if they are tied to some political viewpoint, the more extreme the better. More often than not, far right political viewpoints proclaim that doomsday is the certain result of left-wing politics. Leftist views generally emphasize the inevitable revolution that suppression of the masses will cause.

(Note to “Investment Advice” file: Never let your politics drive your investments!)

It’s time to confront these ridiculous assertions. Yes, it is true that the investment and economic travails of the past decade have been severe and have impacted many people worldwide. Some of these changes have not occurred before during many of our lifetimes. It is enticing to point the finger of blame and shame at our financial, economic, investment and political leadership. But that is not the whole story
The power of momentum in democratic economies is easily underestimated. Although dramatic from time to time, the impact of severe financial shifts must be kept in proportion and viewed within a broader historical perspective. We need to recognize that most extreme economic shifts are self-correcting.

Even with unemployment at over 9%, over 90% of our citizens are employed. Real estate crashes, weather-related disasters, stock market crashes, low interest rates, etc. have all happened before. Indeed the damage done by seismic economic shifts during the Great Depression, the severe stagflation in the 1970’s, and the collapse of S. & L.’s in the 1980’s were all worse than we have seen today…and all of these are relatively minor when compared to the disruption of the financial markets in the 19th century. And whatever happened to the “New Economy” theory that gave rise to the ‘dot-com’ frenzy of the 1990’s?

It is folly to fret about how much of our debt is owned by the China (interestingly, Japan owns nearly as much U.S. debt as China, even though that fact is not usually noted). What can the Chinese do with our debt? They can’t dump it on the White House lawn and demand to be paid off with gold. They can’t go on the world markets and exchange dollars for Euros or Yen, or even buy gold. Any of these moves would be self-defeating because dumping huge amounts of money in any market would decrease the value of their remaining dollars. Actually, their only realistic option is to spend it in the U.S.!

There is a concern that the U.S. dollar is at a “tipping point” and will soon lose its status as the world’s reserve currency. But no other currency is in a position to take its place. The Euro’s stability is much too questionable. The Yuan doesn’t have a long enough history to be relied upon, especially when a dictatorial government can arbitrarily determine its value. Neither these nor other ‘respectable’ currencies such as the Yen, the British Pound, the Swiss Franc, etc. have enough depth to support a global economy.

Those who espouse extreme economic outcomes are invariably selling something. Usually it is their newsletter or book, or some strategy to beat the market, or gold itself. The most eminent economists in the world have never been able to predict any economic cycle with a meaningful consensus. Why should you believe the extreme voices of charlatans who use their advanced marketing techniques to dupe the fearful?

What can you do? I suggest that you sit back and follow sensible advice. The Functional Asset Allocation model, which is used by nearly 200 fee-only members of ACA (Alliance of Cambridge Advisors), focuses on the basics.

Consider this…there are only three possible economic scenarios: we can have inflation, deflation, or prosperity. It is a waste of time to try to determine which is coming next. The prudent approach is to be prepared for all three possibilities. As the ancient wisdom of the Torah exhorts: “Invest a third in land, a third in business, and a third in reserves!”

Today, that translates into a balanced portfolio of real estate, equities (i.e. stocks in companies), and cash and bond reserves. Trying to market-time and pick the next ‘hot investment’ is foolhardy. If you allow the vagaries of global economics, i.e. exogenous factors, to be the focus of your attention, you risk making decisions based on emotion rather than rational thought. In truth, it is the ‘endogenous factors’ in your life that determine your financial future.

As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” Instead of dithering about what will happen in the Mideast, or where interest rates are headed, or when will real estate level off, look at the things in your life that make a difference. Are you saving at least 10% of your gross income? Are you living within your means? Do you have enough liquidity to ride out a financial setback? Do you have a long-term fixed rate mortgage to protect you from inflation? Do you have government bonds to weather another bout of deflation.

Obsessing about the various complexities and possible outcomes in today’s global economy inevitably leads to rash and unwise leaps. Keep an eye on the issues within your reach! It is the key to a confident journey and a serene financial future.

I appreciate the editorial review contributed by Chip Simon, CFP®, an ACA colleague in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Attend a Financial Fireside Chat with Jane and Linda on December 2nd to discuss “Year End Financial Planning Tips and Money Saving Ideas for the Holidays”

 

You and a guest are invited to a Financial Fireside Chat with Jane and Linda at our office, from 7:30 – 9:00 am on Thursday, December 2nd to discuss “Year End Financial Planning Tips and Money Saving Ideas for the Holidays.”

A Financial Fireside chat is an informal discussion over coffee and donuts, where our clients and guests can learn about various financial topics in a casual non-threatening environment. This is free of charge and purely educational. There will be absolutely no sales of products or services during this session. We will provide plenty of time for informal discussion.

The Fireside Chat will be held at the Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc. offices at 7025 Tall Oak Drive, Suite 210. Please RSVP with Judy at 260-9800.

We are looking forward to seeing you on Thursday, December 2nd to learn about and discuss some great year end financial planning ideas.

Take Control of Your Life with a Personal Strategic Plan

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Jane M. Young, CFP,EA

At least once a year we need to step back from our daily routine to look at our lives from a broader perspective. We get so bogged down with daily responsibilities we lose track of where we are, and where we want to go. Take the time to do some personal strategic planning. Start by looking at what you are actually spending and saving. How much do you spend in a typical month, how much is necessary spending and how much is discretionary? How do your expenses compare to your income? How do your expenses and your savings line up with your goals?

Maybe you haven’t thought about your long range goals for awhile. I challenge you to make a list of 30–50 goals that you would like to accomplish over the next five years. I know… that’s a lot! Think of this as a brainstorming exercise. Don’t evaluate the importance of a goal, just write down what comes to mind. If you are having difficulty thinking of 30–50 goals, try thinking of goals in the following categories: friends and family, health, career, social and entertainment, money and finance, spiritual, education, and community. Once you have created your list, prioritize your goals by importance and timeframe. Develop an action plan for your high priority goals.

Now go back and review your expenses. Are your spending and saving habits congruent with your long term goals? Use the information you have pulled together to develop a spending and savings plan that supports your personal strategic plan. Once you have a clear picture of where you are and where you want to go, you can take control of your life.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

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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

What You Should Be Doing Now!

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

1. Start by re-evaluating your monthly expenses to determine how much money you need for necessary expenses. Then determine how much you have remaining after you cover these expenses.

2. During difficult economic times, like the present, most people should maintain an emergency fund of at least 6 months of expenses. If you have an exceptionally secure job you may be able to drop it down to 3 months. Always be sure to sure to maintain an adequate emergency fund.

3. Once your emergency fund is established pay off any high interest credit cards.

4. Put aside money for special one time expenses such as a new roof, a new car or a down payment on a house. If you don’t own your own home give some serious consideration to saving up to buy one. Decide how much you want to save on a monthly basis and start a systematic savings plan.

5. Now you can start investing! Determine how much you can afford to invest on a monthly basis. Most people should start by investing in their company retirement plan up to the level that the company will match. If you can afford to invest beyond the level of your company match, invest up to the maximum allowed in a Roth IRA. This should be done on a monthly basis to take advantage of dollar cost averaging – investing the same amount every month. The 2009 contribution limit for a Roth IRA is $5,000 if you are under 50 and $6000 if you are over 50. There is an income limit on your eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA based on your adjusted gross income. For 2009, your eligibility to contribute begins to phase-out at $166,000, if you are married filing jointly and $105,000 if you are single.

If you still have money to invest after maximizing your Roth IRA, resume contributing to your company retirement plan up to the maximum amount. The maximum contribution limit for a 401k in 2009 is $16,500 if you are under 50 and $22,000 if you are over 50.

Invest your money in a diversified set of mutual funds. Establish an asset allocation consistent with your timeframe and risk tolerance. For most individuals this will vary from 50% to 80% in stock mutual funds, with the balance in fixed income investments. The market is still priced very low and it is a great time to buy stock mutual funds. However, the market will be very volatile over the next 6 – 9 months. Dollar cost averaging into your retirement plans will help you take advantage of this volatility.

This is very general advice and everyone’s situation is unique. Treat this advice as a general guideline and adapt it to your own situation or consult a Certified Financial Planner for guidance.

Ten Things You Can Do Now To Save Taxes in 2009

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Whew!! The 2008 tax season is finally over and we can relax. Well not exactly; this is a great time to prepare for 2009 taxes. A little effort now can help you save in 2009 and will make the process a whole lot smoother. Below are some ideas to help save taxes in 2009.

1. Create a folder for your 2009 tax documents and receipts. Create a file right now, and keep it somewhere convenient, to keep track of all those expenses and donations as they occur.

2. Start going through your old clothes and junk in the garage and donate it to a charity of your choice, if you itemize this can provide a sizable deduction. Remember, keep a log of everything you donate and get a receipt!

3. If you anticipate a substantial change in your 2009 income or if you owed a lot in 2008, now is the time to adjust your withholdings or your estimated payments. There is nothing worse than owing an unexpected $5000 at the end of the year.

4. Maximize your contribution to tax deferred retirement plans. Limits on the 401k, Simple and SEP have all increased this year. If you turned 50 this year you can now make catch-up contributions to your retirement plans including your IRA (assuming you are otherwise qualified).

5. Do you anticipate a decrease in income this year? You may be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA or for a conversion from a Roth IRA to a traditional IRA. The recent drop in the stock market has made conversion to a Roth IRA very appealing. You can pay income taxes on your account now, while the balance is low. Then during retirement, when the market has recovered, you can take tax free withdrawals. In 2009 your AGI must be less than $100,000 to be eligible for a conversion.

6. Will you be paying college expenses sometime soon? If you live in Colorado you can invest the money you will be spending on college expenses in a 529 plan and deduct the contribution from your state income tax. If you have a couple kids in college this can be significant. Don’t worry; you can invest the money in something very safe within the 529 if you are worried about market volatility.

7. If you are a first time homeowner you may be eligible for a 10% credit up to $8000 if you buy a home by December 1, 2009. This is really more like an interest free loan because it must be paid back over 15 years. Additionally, it is subject to income limits. The credit begins to phase-out for joint filers with modified adjusted gross income of $150,000 or more.

8. Are you thinking about buying a new car? You may be able to deduct the sales and local tax if you buy the car this year. This is subject to an income phase out if your adjusted gross income exceeds $125,000. I know they take all the good stuff away from middle class wage earners.

9. If you own a business or work as a consultant, be sure to keep accurate and complete records. Don’t forget to track your mileage, the current deduction for business mileage is $.55 per mile. This is frequently overlooked or understated due to poor record keeping. Additionally, if you work in your home and have a dedicated work area you may want to claim a home office deduction.

10. Take advantage of the drop in the stock market to do some tax harvesting. Tax harvesting is taking advantage of a market decline to sell some of the dogs in your investment portfolio while taking a capital loss or reduced capital gain. Prior to the market drop, the sale of a particular security may have been prohibitive due to capital gains. Now you can take advantage of the drop in the market to clean up your portfolio or do some re-balancing of your asset allocation.

10 Ways to Save Money on Food

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

1. When grocery shopping, select items from the lower shelves, the more expensive items are usually placed at eye level.

2. Stock up when durable goods that you always need go on sale. Don’t buy something you wouldn’t otherwise buy just because it’s on sale.

3. Reduce impulse purchases at the grocery store – go less frequently, make a list and eat before you go. I know, I know, those strawberry shortcake cookies, with the cream filling and chocolate swirls looked so good. But a few days later …… what was I thinking??

4. When comparing prices check the unit price not the total price. You may pay less but you are probably getting less for your money.

5. Eat smaller portions of meat – you might even lose a little weight. Meat is very expensive, use more vegetables and less meat in you recipes.

6. When eating out, eat half of your meal at the restaurant and take the rest home with you. Most restaurants serve very large portions.

7. When eating out limit yourself to one glass of wine or drink tap water instead of coffee, tea or soda. Beverages can be very expensive relative to the cost your food.

8. If you are having an entrée avoid ordering appetizers or desert at the restaurant. Have drinks and appetizers at home before you leave or coffee and desert at home after dinner.

9. Eat something at home before you go out to meet friends. Limit your order to an appetizer or a side salad to be sociable.

10. Rather than celebrating at a restaurant, organize a potluck or take turns hosting a dinner party.

Painless Money Saving Ideas

I am starting a new on-going feature that will provide money saving ideas.   My goal is to contribute something on saving money about once a month. In the current economy we need all the help we can get. If you have any money saving ideas please send them to me and I’ll include them in the blog. I’ll start with a few ideas that have worked for me.

• Start shopping for clothing at consignment stores. I love good quality clothing but hate to pay the price. For years I’ve been meaning to stop by this cute little boutique on the west side of town and I finally did. Three hours later and two hundred dollars poorer, I walked out with what would have cost me at least $1000 in a regular retail store.

• Save your change. Do you have loose change all over your house and car? I started putting all my loose change in a jar and I had over a hundred dollars saved up in no time!

• Identify and focus on one or two problem areas. We all have areas in our lives where we spend too much. Mine is spending too much eating out. I am trying to focus on this area by keeping groceries in the house, taking breakfast and lunch to work, going to restaurants when they have special deals, sharing a meal and going to a nice restaurant and eating at the bar (same chef ).

• Lengthen the time between personal care appointments such as hair-cuts and manicures. I used to get my hair cut every 4-5 weeks. I found I could go about 6-8 weeks without any problem. Do some of your own personal care and limit that professional manicure or pedicure to once a month or to special occasions.

• Take the time to really shop around for airline tickets. We recently saved $400 per ticket by shopping around and checking numerous different possibilities. Take advantage of opportunities to get airline miles on your credit card. I have two cards that give me airline miles and I make a point to put all of my large purchases on a credit card to get the mileage credit.

Finding Peace of Mind in Turbulent Times

 Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

                                         

1. Don’t lose sight of your investment timeframe.  You’ve heard it time and time again but stock is a long term investment.  So, don’t let the current drop in the stock market cause you to make drastic changes to money you won’t need for 10, 15 or 20 years.   If you don’t need your money for 5 to 10 years stop worrying about it, the market will recover.   If you are in or approaching retirement, you should have put aside the money you will need in the short term.   Use this for your immediate needs.   Down the road in 5 or 10 years when you need to tap into your stock mutual funds they should be back to reasonable levels.   Don’t lose sleep about the level of your investments 10 years from now.

 

2. Every financial crisis feels like the end of the world while we are in it.  If you were to look at the headlines during any one of the past financial downturns you couldn’t differentiate them from today.   Every time we go through a financial crisis whether it’s the savings and loan crisis in the 80’s or the dot.com crisis the message is the same.  This time it’s different, things will never be the same, the sky is falling and so forth.   Everything isn’t rosy, but we will recover from this.  We need to avoid making decisions based on emotion and fear.  The media is in the business to sell papers or increase viewers.  They are going to sensationalize our economic situation.  Good news does not provide high ratings.    Take a deep breath, hug your kids, walk your dog, live your life and stay the course with your portfolio – this too shall pass.

 

3. Don’t pass up a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in stock at exceptionally low values.  Sure it has been exceptionally painful to watch the stock portion of our portfolios drop by 40% but what a great opportunity we have.   If you have a long time horizon now is a great time to invest in the stock market.  I encourage you to invest a set amount of money into a diversified set of stock mutual funds every month (dollar cost averaging).   Investing in your company 401k or a Roth IRA is a great way to make systematic investments.   Now is the time to invest, not to sit on the sidelines.  It is always darkest before the dawn.  Remember, the stock market is counterintuitive – you feel like selling when you should be buying and you feel like buying when you should be selling.  Therefore, right now we should be buying!!!   When you feel it is safe to buy again it will be too late.

 

4.  Choose your battles and focus on what you can control.  You can’t control the fluctuations in the stock market or where the market is headed.  However, you can better prepare yourself for a weak economy.  Maybe now is the time to cut your personal spending and build up your emergency fund.  Evaluate how to reduce your expenses and pay off debt. Make sure your skills are current and relevant.  Build and strengthen your network now before you really need it.  If you are approaching retirement, and the market has set you back, evaluate alternatives and contingency plans.   Take advantage of opportunities available to you – buy stock mutual funds at low values,  re-finance your home at a low interest rate, convert your traditional IRA to a Roth and sell those especially weak stocks to harvest tax losses.