0 comments on “How to Use a Check Register to Take Control of Your Money”

How to Use a Check Register to Take Control of Your Money

I may be dating myself by discussing check registers. In this age of ubiquitous electronic payments, few use checks anymore. Today payments are posted to your account nearly immediately, so what you see online in your account really is what you have.

But it still may not be what you can spend. If you haven’t accounted for future expenses, it is easy to overspend, and that can result in an increasing credit card balance. With a simple check register you can create a plan for your money and avoid overspending.

Before electronic payments became so prevalent, it used to be you paid all your bills with a check, and it could take days, if not weeks, for the money to be withdrawn from your account. To avoid over drafting your account, you had to keep track of the checks you had already written but which hadn’t yet cleared. You did this in a check register.

Now days, I see people running into a different problem with their bank accounts. Because they aren’t keeping track, it’s easy to overspend. While you don’t have to worry that your account balance shows more money than you really have due to outstanding, un-cashed checks, you still can’t just go out and spend the money that’s there.

I recently helped a young woman, Kara, take control of her money by using a check register. Rather than using it to record money she had already spent, I encouraged her to use it to record money she expected to spend.

With each paycheck, Kara listed the deposit and then what would happen with every dollar of the money. She listed each bill she had to pay with the check. She also listed what she expected to spend on groceries, hair cuts, gas for the car, and other unavoidable expenses. Before she spent a dime, she knew exactly what it would be spent on.

In addition to the expenses that came up every month, she also allocated money for expenses that would come up in the future. Each paycheck, she set aside money for future car repairs and a trip she wanted to take. This way she knew how much money she really had to spend on non-essentials.

Back in the day, at the end of each month, good money management practice was to reconcile your bank balance with your check register. In this exercise, you accounted for all outstanding checks and made sure you corrected any errors. Similarly, Kara needed to reconcile the way she actually spent her money with how she had planned to spend it.

In addition to recording the deposit of her paycheck, Kara verified that the balance she predicted she would have was the balance she did have. In between paychecks,  if she had unavoidable unplanned expenses, she recorded those and adjusted her spending plans accordingly.

Sometimes things come up that you don’t foresee. You forget your lunch, so you have to buy it. You’re running late, so you have to drive, and pay for parking, rather than take the bus. Your electric bill is unusually high. By recording these kinds of unplanned expenses in her check register, Kara could see what needed to change before she spent more than she wanted.

It didn’t take long for Kara to get out of debt and begin to save money. She no longer needed to bridge the gap between her bills and her money with a credit card. She did it with a very old fashioned tool, the check register.

What she had actually done was create a budget. There are all kinds of high-tech tools for creating a budget. But when you boil it down, you still have to do the work of figuring out where your money is going to go. Sometimes it’s easier to see how things will play out if you build your plan by hand.

While you may no longer need to write checks, you do still need to keep track of where your money is going. A simple no-cost tool for doing that is a check register. It’s value today isn’t in recording the money that you’ve already spent. Instead, use it to record the money you plan to spend, and you will avoid spending more than you can afford.

0 comments on “Freedom and Financial Security”

Freedom and Financial Security

Wouldn’t it be nice to have complete control over your life?

Quit the job you hate. Travel for a year or two. Work for a non-profit despite the lower pay. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to do these things, or whatever else is on your list, without fear?

You don’t have to be rich to live your life on your terms. Saving in a retirement account can give you this freedom. I’ve talked to many people who have been able to do all these things because they had retirement savings. And they didn’t even have to touch their accounts.

One couple I know took two years off work and traveled the country in their RV. They weren’t rich. One was a public school teacher and the other was an IT manager at a financial services firm. Yet they were comfortable giving up their jobs to see the country while they were still young enough to enjoy it.

They were diligent savers. They had no debt, their retirement savings were on track, and they had money for emergencies. While they traveled, they took part-time, minimum wage jobs to cover their costs. They didn’t need to draw on their savings, and because they had retirement savings, it was not a setback for them to skip contributing for a while.

A woman I met with recently, plans to leave her career early and work for a non-profit in a field for which she is passionate. She’s not rich either. She is a project manager now, but she’ll spend the last decade or so of her working career doing something she loves.

It doesn’t matter that she won’t be bringing down the same pay, because she’s already built up her retirement account. Her low living expenses will allow her to maintain her lifestyle with less income, and she won’t need to dip into savings. She won’t need to contribute to retirement savings either, because what she has will continue to grow.

Saving for retirement early in your career is more valuable than saving later in your career. The early money you invest earns investment returns longer, and grows larger, than money you invest later in your life.

Saving early gives you a cushion that can allow you to stop saving sooner. With a 7 percent average annual rate of return, you would only need to save half as much per month now as you would ten years from now to accumulate the same amount of money at a traditional retirement age. The earnings on your money’s earnings will carry you.

If retirement seems a long way off, or you can’t imagine what you would do if you weren’t working, it still pays to save for it. Your retirement account can give you the flexibility to do the things you want without touching it. It frees you to save less, or take a break from savings all together. It gives you both freedom and financial security.

 

 

2 comments on “Is Your Money Leaking Away?”

Is Your Money Leaking Away?

The other day, I was putting the cushions for our patio furniture away when I realized we have had them for at least ten years. They’re nothing special. I bought them at Home Depot for less than $20 each. They’re definitely not something you’d expect to last so long. So what is the secret?

The secret to their longevity is in what I was doing when I had my revelation; putting them away. We put the cushions in a container when we’re not sitting on them. They don’t get left out in the sun or the rain. They stay nice and dry and ready for use every time we want them.

They’re still in perfect condition. If I had to replace them today, it would cost me around $140 for the four of them. There you go. $140 saved. If you assume I would have replaced them at least a couple of times in the last ten years, had they not been so well protected, that’s a few hundred dollars saved.

I’ve written before about the value of maintaining the big things, like your car and your home systems and appliances. But there are lot’s of little places where your money can leak away.

It turns out your Mom and Dad were right.

“Put the tools away!”

“Don’t leave the windows open while the heat is on!”

“Don’t stand with the refrigerator door open!”

The reason they said those things, wasn’t to annoy you. It was to save them money.

If you put the tools away instead of leaving them out in the elements they last longer. Leaving even one window open with the heat or AC on needlessly increases your utility bill, as does leaving the refrigerator door open any longer than necessary.

Now, admittedly, you’re not going to retire on the money you save by putting your patio furniture cushions away, or making sure all your windows are closed if the heat is on. But money is a precious resource representing your time and hard work. Letting it slip away needlessly means you simply have less for other things that are actually important to you.

Maybe you would find a bit of extra money to take your partner out for a nice dinner. Or maybe you’re able to save up for that weekend get away sooner than you thought. Or you might just be able to increase the contributions to your retirement account.

Everyone has little ways that money quietly leaks away from them. Simply being cognizant of the possibility will help you find yours. If you can plug as many of those leaks as possible, you may be surprised by how much extra money you have to do the things that are truly important to you.

0 comments on “How to Lose Money with Every Dollar You Invest”

How to Lose Money with Every Dollar You Invest

Recently I was helping my daughter with her bank account and noticed a $1 withdrawal labeled “Stash Fee”. It was a fee to robo-adviser, Stash. Normally I would be thrilled by the good news that my daughter was saving and investing. But in this case I wasn’t.

I had a couple of concerns, but the biggest one was that $1 fee which would be coming out of her account monthly as long as she maintained her account with Stash. It doesn’t seem like a lot, $12 per year, but she had only invested $50 so far. That’s an investment expense of two percent per month! It would be really hard for her investment to make money with that expense load.

I’m a fan of robo-advisers. They offer a great service for savers with both small balances and big ones. They generally use low cost exchange traded funds to build a well diversified portfolio, and their management fees are also low. For more details on robo-advisers, check out the post I did a little over a year ago.

The Stash service allows investors to invest as little as $5.00. You can set up an automatic regular transfer from your bank account. In fact, you are required to link your bank account to your Stash account, so they can automatically withdraw your fees every month.

Most robo-advisers subtract your fees from your investment account, and even with small balances, the fees are lower. Betterment, and Wealthfront two other robo-advisers, offer investment management for 0.25 percent per year. Betterment has no minimum balance, but Wealthfront does require an initial $500 investment.

Stash bills itself as a way for young investors to learn more about investments while building their portfolio. They offer lots of information on investing as well as help selecting investments. But they seem to leave out the bit about how high fees eat into your savings.

Stash’s fees do become more reasonable as a percent of your investments the more you invest. Once your balance hits $5,000, the fee converts to 0.25 percent per year, which is about $12.50 on that amount of money. That is in line with Betterment and Wealthfront, but both those advisers will build your portfolio for you, as opposed to offering to help you build your own.

This experience highlights the importance of understanding what you are getting into. Never hand over your money to any adviser without investigating how they work, what they offer and how they compare to other alternatives. There are many low cost ways to have your money invested for you.

Robo-advisers are a good way to go, particularly if you don’t have much to invest right away. However, Stash’s fee structure makes them a poor choice for balances less than a few thousand dollars. There are other options with much lower fees. If you like what Stash has to offer, wait until you’ve saved up the $5,000 to make the fees competitive before you invest with them. Whatever investment adviser you choose, make sure that you understand what they offer and what they charge before you hand over your money.

0 comments on “Five Rules to Get Your Spending Under Control”

Five Rules to Get Your Spending Under Control

Does your money simply disappear without you fully knowing what happened to it? It can be really frustrating, when you’re trying to save money, if you never seem to have anything left over at the end of the month.

When you don’t have a recollection of how you spent your money, you are spending it mindlessly. Essentially you have a habit, and when you have a habit you can do something without thinking about it.

It’s like when you drive home from work, but you can’t recall any of the details of your trip. You make all the right turns, avoid obstacles and securely arrive in your driveway without having to engage the decision making part of your brain.

Mindless spending can be a big road block to saving money. It can keep you living paycheck to paycheck even if you have a decent income. You pay your bills, go about your life and at the end of the month there isn’t anything left. You don’t really have anything to show for it. You just don’t have any money.

If this sounds like your life, you can change your spending habits by imposing a few rules on yourself. Rules are low barriers to spending, but they can be very effective. After following your rules consistently, you can change your spending habits.

Only you can decide what rules will work for you. But here are five that have worked well for others.

  1. Set your savings aside first. Put your savings goal in savings before you pay any bills, buy any groceries, go out to eat or do anything else. Use automatic deposits to savings to take the decision making off your plate.
  2. Give yourself an allowance. Aside from the bills you must pay, in other words, those you’ve agreed to pay by contract, allow yourself a specific amount of money to pay for everything else. Your groceries, gas, entertainment, essentially everything else must be paid from the allowance. The amount you choose should leave room in your monthly income to meet your savings goals.
  3. Only carry cash. Studies have shown that you are more conscious of your spending when you physically experience the cash leaving your hand than when you swipe a card to pay for your purchases. If any cash you carry disappears, carry only enough for purchases you plan ahead of time. If you don’t plan to buy something on a given day, don’t carry any cash or your cards. If you need to put gas in your car, only carry enough cash to fill the tank.
  4. Only go out if it’s an event. Skip the $10 sandwiches scarfed at your desk. Not only will you not remember you spent your money on them, you won’t remember eating them. Save your restaurant trips for experiences you’ll remember, like a date night, a celebration or catching up with a friend.
  5. Give yourself a cooling off period. If you are tempted to buy something that wasn’t in your plan, give yourself 24 hours to think it over. Chances are it won’t be quite as appealing once you’ve turned your back on it. If the day goes by, and you really think the object of your desire is your priority, you’ll have had time to figure out how to rearrange your spending plan.

Find something that works for you. If you are ready to prioritize saving over spending, giving yourself some rules can help you change your spending patterns. Once you get the hang of it, you won’t be able to stop being conscientious with your money. You will know too much.

 

 

0 comments on “Double Your Salary in Savings by Age 35 or Double Your Savings from Salary”

Double Your Salary in Savings by Age 35 or Double Your Savings from Salary

This last Monday (May 21st, 2018), Buzzfeed highlighted the Twitter responses to a recent Marketwatch article that said by the time you are 35 you should have saved twice your salary. Some of the Twitter comments were very funny. Here are a few from the Buzzfeed article.

By the time you’re 35 you should have saved at least half your sandwich for lunchtime instead of noming it at 10am.

By age 35 you should have approximately 10 times the existential dread you had when you graduated high school.

By age 35 you should stop paying attention to condescending life advice from strangers writing think pieces.

While accomplishing such a feat seems incredible, there are reasons why it is a good benchmark. First, it is a reasonable savings rate for anyone leaving college. The math follows. Second, it’s necessary unless you want to give up much more of your income later.

To have twice your salary in savings in ten years, with a reasonable rate of return, you would  need to save 15.0 percent of it. That is common advice for those beginning to save in their twenties. If your employer matches your contribution to your retirement account, you could save less.

Say your starting salary when you left college was $45,000. With annual increases, you now make about $54,000. Your employer would contribute 5.0 percent to your company 401(k) if you contributed at least that much. You only have to contribute 10.0 percent of your salary to save 15.0 percent. You would contribute $375 each month to start, and your employer would contribute $187.50. Your and your employer’s dollar contribution would grow with your salary.

Your share of the contribution would be less if you contribute pretax dollars in a traditional 401(k). With a combined state and federal tax rate of 24 percent, your paycheck would only have been reduced by $285 per month to start. For $285, you would be saving $563 every month with your employer match.

At the end of ten years, assuming a 7.0 percent rate of return, your balance would have grown to over $105,000, which is almost double your current salary. Your contributions would have totaled $48,781 before tax and $37,073 after tax. With the employer match and market returns, doubling your money in ten years is very possible.

If you haven’t been saving a total of 15.0 percent of your income, between you and your employer, prior to reaching age 35, you’ll need to save much more after to be able to maintain your current lifestyle when you eventually do retire.

If you begin saving in your 36th year, to accumulate the same amount of money by age 65 as you would have if you started saving at age 25, you would need to save a total of 28.0 percent of your salary, using the 7.0 percent return assumption. If your employer matches 5.0 percent, you still have to contribute 23.0 percent of your salary. You would need to give up more than twice as much of your take home pay to arrive at the same balance.

On the surface, to have saved twice your salary by the time you’re 35 seems outlandish. Who could save that much? But if you take into account market returns, it’s not as crazy as you first thought. Add in typical employer matching contributions, and it is down right doable. If you didn’t manage it, you can still get to where you need to be. You’ll simply need to save more.

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When to Take Social Security

My husband, Jeff, recently turned 60. It’s an interesting age. It’s as if you’ve crested some hill, and can now see retirement laid out before you. Jeff has been retired for five years, but his friends who are still working are starting to think seriously about what’s next. Conversations on the topic inevitably turn to Social Security claiming strategies.

Should I take it early, at age 62, is the usual question. A few have done some math to arrive at a dubious conclusion. If you assume you live to a certain age, say 80, you will get the same amount, in total, from Social Security whether you claim it at 62 or the normal retirement age of 67, despite the larger benefit. If you wait until you are 70, you’ll actually get less money. Here is an example of the calculation.

SS Claim Strat

The first problem is you’re not likely to die at age 80. In the absence of some known health issue, at the age of 62, men can expect to live to be 84, and women can expect to live to be 87, according to the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator. That change alone makes a significant difference in the total benefit you can expect to receive, and claiming at 62 no longer makes sense, if your goal is to maximize your life time total benefits.

SS at Life

If you live to be 80, it turns out you are likely to live to be 89 if you are a man and 90 if you are a woman. At those ages, the difference in life time benefits between claiming early and claiming at the full retirement age grows to $52,000 and $58,000 respectively.

But all of these calculations miss an important purpose of Social Security. It is a guaranteed income that supplements your retirement savings. If you wait to claim Social Security until your full retirement age, or later, the larger benefit will allow you to take less from your savings, and therefore your savings will last longer. Since you really don’t know how long you will live, you need your savings to last as long as possible.

Say that you have $1 million saved for retirement and you need $60,000 per year to maintain your current lifestyle. Also assume your savings will earn 5.0 percent per year. If you claim Social Security at age 62, your savings will only last until you are 92, whereas if you wait until age 67 to retire and claim Social Security, the higher benefit means you are not likely to run out of money ever.

If you consider that things may not work out as planned, that extra buffer is even more important. About two thirds of people over the age of 65 are expected to need long term care sometime in their life, according to a paper by the Society of Actuaries. Long term care will sap your savings quickly. The higher social security benefit you receive at the full retirement age will leave you with more savings to deal with these higher expenses.

A higher benefit will also provide you a buffer against the vagaries of the market. Your savings won’t earn 5.0 percent every year. Some years it will earn more and some less. The larger your Social Security benefit the better you will be able to maintain your lifestyle in the event returns aren’t as high as expected.

Maximizing your lifetime Social Security benefit shouldn’t be your primary goal. Making sure you have enough money to last your lifetime should be. You are more likely to realize the latter goal if you wait to take Social Security until your benefit is higher.