How to Pay Off Student Debt

Nearly three out of every four students graduating from a four-year college or university will have some sort of debt.  Despite the fact that college is supposed to be some of the best years of your life, paying off your student debt after you have graduated can seem like a mountain too big to climb for many.

How to Pay Off Student Debt

According to a recent Forbes article, the average student graduating from college has over $37,000 in student loan debt.  This number is expected to continue increasing due to the constant hikes in college tuition throughout the United States.  Whether you have graduated or are about to graduate from college with debt, there are ways to help you manage the financial burden.




Example 1 on How to Pay Off Student Debt:

Susie went to a four-year state school.  Fortunately, she had academic scholarships to help pay for schooling, and she also lived at home during the four years.  She graduated with $10,000 in student debt.  Susie was able to get a job right after school in the town where she went to school and where her family lived.  She continued to live at home and made a budget.  Susie focused on keeping her expenses low and used every bit of extra money she had left over in her budget to pay towards her loans.  Most importantly though was that she included a category in her budget for paying off her student loans each month.  She devoted $500 per month towards her student loans.  Because of her frugal living and her devotion to get out of debt, she was able to pay off the entire balance of her loans in less than two years!

Example 2 on How to Pay Off Student Debt:

After graduating high school, Chris decided to attend a private university to continue his studies.  The tuition at his university was expensive, but with the help of aid and an alumni scholarship he was able to limit the costs.  Regardless, Chris graduated with $45,000 of student debt after it was all over.  Chris accepted a job with a non-profit after graduation.  Even though he wouldn’t be making much money, he felt a calling to do something he passionately cared about.  Because of his situation, a high amount of student debt and a low salary, he enrolled in an Income Based Repayment Program.  This allowed Chris to avoid the high monthly payments his loans would typically have required him to pay and instead allowed him to pay a small percent of his income every month.  Even with this program, Chris still had to create a budget, but the repayment of his student loans was not as high of a priority as it was for Susie.  Nonetheless, Chris was able to still live comfortably, doing what he loved, while also meeting his student loan obligations.

The examples above illustrate a couple of real-life situations that people face when paying off student debt.  To some, paying off the debt is a very high priority.  To others, not so much.  Only you can decide how quickly you would like to pay off student loans.  The commonality that both Susie and Chris shared in both examples was that they created a budget.  Susie created a budget that allowed her to aggressively pay off her debt.  Chris created a budget that allowed him to live within his means but also meet his payment every month.  Regardless of which category you fall in, creating a budget is a great foundation to tackling any debt, especially student loans.

Should I Invest in Stocks?

The U.S. Stock Market is at an all-time high, and many are wondering how much longer this can be sustained.  People are asking themselves if it is still worth investing in stocks at this high.  The simple answer is: YES!

Below is a chart of the S&P 500, which covers the broad range of the stock market.  The chart below illustrates performance from 1950 until the end of last year.

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Should I Invest in Stocks?

As you can see based on the chart, there are rises and falls, some of which are quite big.  If you look at the chart as a whole, you can ultimately say that U.S. stocks have increased in value over time.  Here are three reasons why one should consider investing in stocks.

Should I Invest in Stocks? Reason 1:

U.S. stocks have outperformed almost every other investible asset over the past 100 years, especially government and corporate bonds.  People often think of bonds as a safer alternative to investing in stocks, but what they really mean by “safer” is less volatile.  Yes, stocks can fluctuate with higher highs and lower lows in a given period of time, but over the long-run they will outperform bonds.

Should I Invest in Stocks?  Reason 2:

Stocks are the easiest and safest way to build wealth.  What I mean by this is that continual investment in stocks will yield higher and higher returns over time if you let your returns compound.  Compounding interest is a great thing when it comes to building wealth and all it takes is two simple steps:

Step 1: Continued investment and reinvestment

Step 2: Time

By continually putting money into your stock investment on a consistent basis and allowing your returns to reinvest, after a period of time you will be able to build a substantial amount of wealth.  And again, since stocks outperform other investments over the long-term, you are compounding a greater percentage each year.

Should I Invest in Stocks?  Reason 3:

Because Warren Buffett says so!  At the time of this post, Buffett’s net worth is estimated to be in excess of $75 billion USD.  It has been said that he is the greatest investor the world has ever seen.  How did Warren and others like him make their great fortunes?  Through investments in stocks.  Warren has constantly invested in companies throughout his time via stock purchases in what he calls “value investments”, which is a simple way to say in companies he believes to be cheap in valuation.  Buffett has gone so far as to say that even upon his passing he would like the remainder of his fortune to be placed in a low-cost index fund that mirrors the S&P 500.  The greatest investor ever believed and still believes in the power of stocks.

Hopefully by now you have been convinced that investing in stocks is the right thing to do, but how do I get started?  Simple, to begin investing in stocks I would recommend investing in a mutual fund that covers a wide range of the U.S. Stock Market as well as knowing more about forex trading online. Investment firms such as Vanguard and Fidelity offer these sorts of funds that will allow you to get exposure to the broad range of the U.S. Stock Market and begin reaping the rewards.

What is the Starting Credit Score?

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Starting Credit Score

Having a credit score can have many benefits.  Wait, having a good or great credit score can have many benefits.  As we go through life, credit becomes an essential tool for an individual to progress through society.  You can use credit to purchase everyday items, a car or a house.  Without credit, some of the essential purchases we rely on to carry us through our lives every day would be unavailable, such as a car for transportation to and from work.  Having a credit score and a good one at that can allow you to get the best deal on large purchases and also helps create a financially responsible person.  But just how does one get a starting credit score, and where do you begin?  I will lay out some of the easiest way to start down the path of a good credit score.

Step 1 to getting a starting credit score:

The first thing you need to do to get a starting credit score is simply to get credit.  The easiest way to do this that I recommend is by opening up a $0 annual fee credit card.  Your monthly limit won’t be all that much, most likely less than $1000.  Commit to making a couple easy purchases on it every month and paying it off at its due date.  For example, a couple tanks of gas or a visit to the grocery store is all it takes to start building your credit.  It is vital to pay off the full amount after a month’s time before the card’s due date

Step 2 to getting a starting credit score:

The second step to building a starting credit score is to continue purchases with your credit card and meet the monthly payment date, along with exploring an additional option of building your score.  If you rent an apartment, sometimes the apartment complex allows you to report your on-time payments to credit agencies.  Additionally, if you have student loans you are paying back, this also will show up on one’s credit report.  Time is a big factor in your credit score.  It usually takes at least six months for you to build your first credit score.  Image result for credit score rangeIf you make on-time payments in full, you can expect a score anywhere in the range of 675 to 740.

Step 3 to getting a starting credit score:

By step 3, you should already have shown a positive pattern to creditors through making payments on a timely manner.  The most important part of this step is just to be patient.  Building a good or great credit score takes time.  Two of the bigger factors that impact your credit score are the length of time you have had credit and the number of accounts you have that required credit.  Chances are as you start building your credit both of these factors won’t be too much in your favor.

In summary, there are many benefits to building a good credit score, but it all boils down to a few simple factors.  Firstly, you need to begin building credit through a $0 annual fee credit card, student loan repayment, etc.  Secondly, you MUST make your full payments and make them ON TIME.  Finally, you need to be patient.  It takes time to build a great credit score, but if you budget correctly and make sure not to spend above your income level then a great score will eventually come.

Saving for a Vacation: Ski Edition

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Saving for a Vacation: Ski Edition

We are currently in the heart of wintertime.  January and February are the coldest months in the United States.  While many people despise cold weather, many can agree that the snow which comes with it can be a nice compliment.  Although summertime seems to be the time when most families vacation, a ski trip during winter allows some families to break the mold.  Saving for a vacation is only half the battle.  While having the available funds to do something enjoyable is important, finding a good deal is also just as important.  I recently planned a ski vacation and will share my six tips on how I saved and budgeted for the vacation.

Saving for a Vacation Tip 1:

If you are like me and enjoy traveling with family and friends, then it is important to have a “Travel” category in your budget.  Setting aside $100 or $200 every month for travel allows the funds to add up and allows you to have a couple enjoyable vacations every year.

Saving for a Vacation Tip 2:

Vacationing for many people means eating out every meal, which can get very expensive.  Packing snacks ahead of time and a quick trip to the grocery store when you arrive can help limit your food costs.

Saving for a Vacation Tip 3:

Plan for transportation ahead of time.  Booking a rental car before you arrive to the airport is often cheaper than waiting until you arrive at the destination to get one.  Kayak.com is a great place to search for the best rental car rates.

Saving for a Vacation Tip 4:

If flying to a destination, use Google Flights to search for the best rates.  Google Flights allows you to search many airlines at once and see the cheapest rates for the best dates.

Saving for a Vacation Tip 5:

When booking a ski vacation, book your lift tickets and ski or snowboard rentals online.  Keystone Resort in Colorado offers online reservations to early bookers for a 20% discount.  Additionally, you can rent your equipment cheaper online ahead of time as well.  By booking my equipment through Christy Sports I was able to save an additional 20% versus the walk-in rate.

Saving for a Vacation Tip 6:

Lodging tends to be one of the more expensive parts of any vacation.  Last year when I traveled to Hawaii, a night at a resort was close to $600 per night; however, a couple friends and myself split a three bedroom Airbnb for less than $150 per night.  Exploring your lodging options can help greatly reduce the cost of any vacation.

As you can see, saving for a vacation is a two-fold strategy.  You first want to make sure you have the available funds.  This is done by creating money in your budget.  Secondly, you want to make sure you find the best deals out there.  I have found that planning for a vacation ahead of time is one of the easiest ways to save on your trip.  Meshing both of these aspects together can help create an enjoyable, budget friendly trip for all.

How to Become Independently Wealthy

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How to Become Independently Wealthy

Becoming wealthy is a goal many of us hope to achieve in our lifetime.  Whether you want to be wealthy so you can have unbelievable lifelong experiences or to validate your success, the goal is often dreamed of but rarely achieved.  Ken Fisher, the author of The Ten Roads to Riches, discusses the many ways people can achieve wealth throughout their lifetime, ten to be exact.  All of these roads have proven to make someone independently wealthy throughout their lives.  Some are more common than others.  So if the question of how to become independently wealthy has crossed your mind, I will discuss two of the ten Ken illustrates in his book.




How to Become Independently Wealthy: Save and Invest Wisely

I usually sign off my posts with a simple phrase: Budget Smart, Invest Wise.  Budgeting allows you to allocate your funds to various categories, and hopefully one of those categories is savings.  Whether your savings vehicle is an IRA, Roth IRA or other type of investment, saving money is critical to building wealth.  However, saving is only half of the battle to building wealth this way.  The other key ingredient is investing wisely.  Investing wisely means creating a smart investment plan, be it with a financial advisor or through acquired knowledge, that creates a return on one’s investment.  For example, I have found that investing on a monthly basis in a mutual fund that covers the broad range of the U.S. Stock Market to be of most benefit to me.  I recognize that this investment, although it has risk involved, prevents me from being susceptible to the failure of one company or one sector of the market.  Saving and investing wisely is the road most traveled, but it also provides the greatest chance of reward.

How to Become Independently Wealthy: Invent Income

Inventing income can cover a wide spectrum of earning additional money.  For example, if you are a song writer or musician, you can create an ongoing stream of royalties from your lyrics or music.  If you purchase a property that you decide to rent out, you could turn it into a cash flow positive stream of income.  The possibilities are endless.  Maybe you have a specific skill that people are willing to pay for you to teach them.  Perhaps your area of expertise at work can lead to consulting other companies on the side.  Do you have something you’re passionate about that you can create into a blog or website and charge for ad revenue?  Many of us have the tools, knowledge and capabilities to put our talents towards creating additional income.

Becoming independently wealthy or successful all boils down to one’s level of commitment.  If you are committed to becoming independently wealthy, then most likely you can find a way.  Some individuals, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, created an enormous amount of wealth.  Maybe you want billions like these company creators, or maybe you will be satisfied with millions or even a million.  Only you can determine what being wealthy is to you.

How To Trim Your Budget

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With the new year in full swing, people are doing their best to stick to the freshly made New Year’s Resolution’s they mapped out for themselves.  The most common resolution always seems to be losing weight.  Instead of going with the status quo resolution this year, why not try to trim something else?  Your budget perhaps?




How to cut my expenses? Is a question often asked by many in order to free up funds in their daily lives.  Maybe they are living paycheck to paycheck, maybe they are trying to save up money for a special purchase, either way trimming your budget is the best way to go about doing this.

For starters, you need to have a budget.  You can download a free budget template and simply put in your income and expenses.  The best part about budgeting is you get to see where your hard-earned money is going every month.  Perhaps you are spending a large portion on eating out, can you bring your lunch instead of going out to eat?  If so, you might be able to not only cut some expenses but trim your waistline also.

The free downloadable budget allows you to choose the expense categories you have for a given month.  Say for example you spend $100 a month on your cellphone bill, can you change service providers and possibly get the monthly expense down to $80 per month?  If so, you have freed up $20 per month or $240 for the entire year.  Can you trim $10 a month off your grocery bill by purchasing generic products versus name brand?  This can be an additional $120 in savings for the year.  Attempting to save as little as $10 to $20 per category for a few of your monthly expenses can add up to some awesome end of the year savings.

Below is a quick easy way to trim your budget:

  • Create a budget: If you don’t already have one, now is the best time to start budgeting. This will determine where you are spending your money every month.
  • Track all of your expenses: See just how much you are spending in the various categories every month. Some may surprise you.
  • Pick 2-4 categories: By selecting a few categories where you think you can cut some expenses you will maximize your yearly savings.
  • See how much you can cut: It can be $5, $10, $20 or maybe even more per category per month. Living on a little less each month won’t change your quality of life for the worse.  Instead, you can use the money saved to enhance it by saving up for a vacation or a future purchase.
  • Don’t incur new expenses: While trimming your budget to save up money is the ultimate goal, don’t incur new expenses during the process. A car payment or a gym membership will quickly eat away at the money you are trying to save.

Stick to it: Trimming your budget will only be beneficial to your wallet if you stick to it.  Developing discipline for sticking to a budget can be tough but also very rewarding.

 

Build an Emergency Fund with this 52 Week Money Challenge Printable Version

As the end of 2016 approaches and a new year is on the horizon, it is time for a new year of financial goals.  According to a recent USA Today article, nearly 70% of all Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts. That means when someone has an unexpected expense they must turn to high interest pay day loans, or credit cards that can’t be paid off at the end of the month. The interest paid on these will cost way more than the original amount in the long run. Even something as simple as $1,000 in an emergency fund can help offset these costs. So if you’re interested in avoiding the pain of credit card borrowing, it pays to have some financial security.

What does financial security mean? It is different for every person.  It could mean paying down student loans if you are a recent college graduate.  It might be tackling credit card debt that has plagued you for months or even years.  Maybe it is saving for a home.  Each person’s financial goals are different. Today’s focus will be on building an emergency fund for you to have in case you encounter any unexpected expenses.  The best part about an emergency fund is it can be done with little effort on your part and in just one year’s time.

Now if building a $1,000 emergency fund sounds good, building a $1,378 emergency fund will sound even better.  The best part is that there is a simple and easy way for almost anyone with an income stream to accomplish this.

Beginning in 2017, set a goal to accomplish the 52 Week Money Challenge printable version.  The challenge takes minimal effort and the downloadable sheet allows you to easily track your progress.  January 1, 2016 falls on a Sunday, so for simplicity reasons we will begin the challenge on Friday, January 6, 2017.  On the first Friday in the new year, simply put one dollar into your savings account or in a piggy bank if that is easier.  On the second Friday of the new year, put two dollars into your account.  Each of the Friday’s that follow, you will increase the amount you deposit by only one dollar.  It would look something like this for the month of January.

52 Week Money Challenge Printable Version Example:

Date Deposit Amount Total Amount Saved
1/6/2017 $1 $1
1/13/2017 $2 $3
1/20/2017 $3 $6
1/27/2017 $4 $10

52 Week Money Challenge Printable Version

By the end of January, you will have already saved ten dollars into your account and will be well on your way to establishing an emergency fund. Pretty much you just do the same thing for the rest of the weeks in the year, just for each week add one dollar to your weekly savings total.

Can you live on one less dollar each week?  That is how you need to look at this challenge.  Each week you train yourself to live on one less dollar than the previous week.  In the final week you will live on $52 less than you did the first week of the new year.  The total amount you will have saved up in just one year will be $1,378, which is more than what 70% of Americans have currently in their savings accounts.

Challenge yourself, a friend or a family member.  Take on and print out the 52 Week Money Challenge printable version sheet and get your new year off to a great financial start.

Budget Smart, Invest Wise

New “Investing Wisely” Page

So the purpose of this blog is twofold:

Budget Smart, and Invest Wise.

In addition to the “Creating Your Monthly Budget” page, I have added a new page to the site, titled “Investing Wisely”.

 

There are many investment products out there and many places to turn to to do your investing.  How do you know which one is right for you?

Each person develops their own specific investment habits through a number of different avenues.  I prefer investing in a low-cost mutual fund.  However, others have a knack for picking the right stocks at the right time.  To each his own.  To help you decide which investment avenue is right for you, check out The Simple Dollar.  They weigh the pros and cons of various investment strategies along with the right investment company for each individual.

Budgeting is only the first part of building lifelong wealth, the second part, investing wisely, is ultimately what will help build and maintain that wealth.

 

Budget Smart, Invest Wise

Book Review: The Surprise Millionaires

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I recently finished ready The Surprise Millionaires by Keith McDowell.  A great read indeed.  It is packed with amazing stories of ordinary people who passed along extraordinary wealth.  Keith did a wonderful job of including stories from all over the country that date back to the beginning of the 20th century.  You can purchase the Kindle version of the book for just 99 cents!  You can also follow his blog here: https://thesurprisemillionaires.com/

Here are my 3 main takeaways from his book:

  1. No matter your income level, everyone and I repeat everyone has the opportunity to create wealth over $1,000,000.
  2. Most if not all of these individuals valued relationships over possessions and money.  It was who they could impact with their wealth that was much more important than the amount of earthly items they could collect.
  3. Every single one of the stories ends with a person(s) creating a lasting legacy in their community.  When your time on earth is finished what do you want to be remembered for?  I’m sure the people in these stories asked themselves this question, and the legacies they created was beyond comprehension.

Budget Smart, Invest Wise

One Easy Way to Slash Taxes

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Reduce your taxes and increase your savings.  Sounds almost a little too good to be true right?

It’s possible, it’s easy, and I just did it and so can you.

Today is the final day for you to file your taxes for this year.  Did you pay more in taxes than you would have liked?  Do you want to lower your tax bill for next year?  If so, then here is how to do it:

Increase your 401k contribution to your company’s plan.  What percentage of your salary are you contributing to your 401k currently?  Bump it up.  By increasing your pre-tax 401k contribution to your plan you are in effect reducing the amount of income you take home, thus reducing your tax burden.

I recently increased my pre-tax contribution percentage by 8%, and found that I will save roughly $1700 this year on my taxes.  It’s that simple.  Increase your savings, reduce your tax burden.  This offers 3 key benefits.

Benefit 1:

You lower the amount of taxes you will be paying for the year.

Benefit 2:

You increase the amount of savings you will have at retirement.  The more you save now, the more you will have later.

Benefit 3:

Because you don’t see the additional money you put into your 401k plan on your paycheck, you won’t spend it, and most likely you won’t miss it.

 

Budget Smart, Invest Wise