Financial Spring Cleaning

Spring is finally here, regardless of whether it feels like it outside or not.  Around this time of year, many see it as their obligation to go through their homes and rid themselves of unnecessary items that clutter the place up.  The idea that a clean and happy dwelling is a rebirth and a new start.  Why not take this same approach to your finances?

At the start of every calendar year, I always suggest creating a new budget for the upcoming year.  Mapping out your income and expenses presents saving opportunities and fiscal responsibility.  We are now almost three months into the new year and expenses sometimes change.  That is why I always do a financial spring cleaning.  Below are my favorite three ways to do a financial spring cleaning

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Financial Spring Cleaning

Financial Spring Cleaning Tip 1:  This first tip is directly related to a normal spring cleaning of the house people already do.  Go through your closet and determine which clothes you don’t need anymore.  Maybe you have shoes you don’t wear, pants you’ve outgrown, DVD’s you no longer watch because of a Netflix subscription.  Gather up these items and donate them to a local shelter like The Salvation Army.  Not only will you eliminate these useless items from your place, but you will be giving to those who could benefit from such items.  The best part about all of this is most of the times you can receive a tax deduction for your donations.  This can lead to a higher income tax return for the 2017 year.

Financial Spring Cleaning Tip 2:  Clean out unnecessary clutter in your budget.  For example, maybe at the beginning of the year you signed up for a gym membership you no longer use.  Cancel it.  Go through the various categories in your budget and see if they are relevant to the remainder of the year going forward.  Perhaps you dedicated a portion of your budget to pay off debt, but now you no longer have that debt.  Eliminate that category.  Eliminating categories in your budget makes it simpler and much easier to read and track.

Financial Spring Cleaning Tip 3:  Review the dollar allocations in your budget.  Say at the beginning of the year you were eating out lunch every day, but now you realize the many health benefits and cost savings of bringing your lunch to work.  See if you can slash $30-$50 a month off your food budget.  Shop around for car insurance.  Perhaps you find the same coverage with a different company for $15 less a month.  Eliminating a little bit of money from a few categories adds up and helps boost your savings potential.

Financial spring cleaning allows you to revamp your finances for the remainder of the year.  Even if you haven’t done a good job of sticking to your budget, it is never too late.  A financial spring cleaning can allow you to set up your financial priorities for the remainder of the year and gives you a clear financial conscious heading into the spring and summer months.

Diworsification: How Much Diversification is too Much or Little?

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Diworsification

When I was picking stocks, I saw my portfolio lose 15% of its value in one day.  Simply put, I had too many of my eggs in one basket or too many of my investment dollars in one stock.  I wasn’t diversified.  Sure, I could hit it big with a stock, but I could also lose.  I saw the amount of time I was spending on picking stocks and knew it could be put to better use if I let the professionals handle my money.

My portfolio was under diversified, but many people also suffer from too much diversification of their portfolio or diworsification.  Diworsification occurs when you continually invest in the same asset class and keep your risk low but hurt your overall return potential.  It would be the equivalent of investing in many different mutual funds that only contained U.S. stocks.  If you want exposure to the U.S. domestic stock market that is great, I highly recommend it, but pick a fund that gives you just that and move on.

My investment strategy has come a long way from my earlier days when I was picking and choosing stocks.  I thought just like many that I could pick homerun stocks that nobody else could.  I did well on some and poorly on others.  I would come home every day from work and watch Jim Cramer’s show Mad Money.  I soon realized that the effort I was putting in wasn’t yielding the rewards I desired.  I quickly shifted all my investments to a mutual fund.  Being young, I knew I wanted a large exposure to stocks.  What better stocks to invest in than the U.S. Stock Market?  Warren Buffett has been noted to say that when he passes he wants the remainder of his fortune put into a low-cost index fund that mirrors the S&P 500.  That’s right, just one fund.  If he wanted his fortune to be spread across many funds that mirrored the S&P 500 he would be subject to diworsification.  I decided to follow Warren’s advice.

While my investment dollars are placed into a single low-cost Index fund that mirrors the U.S. Stock Market, not everyone will agree with this position, and that is fine.  Investment advice can be given to you from a hired professional or you can decide on your own.  My knowledge came about through the reading of numerous books.  If you want to invest in South America, there are funds for that.  If you want exposure to corporate bonds, there are funds for that.  If you think that the pharmaceutical sector is the next big thing, then by all means find a fund that suits you for that investment.  There are many ways you can invest your hard-earned money, but try and keep to the One and Done Philosophy when investing in mutual funds to prevent diworsification: Pick one mutual fund that covers the class or sector you are wanting exposure to and leave it at that.  Not only does it simplify your portfolio, but it keeps you diversified and away from diworsification.

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.  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.

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

Budgeting With Credit Card Debt

I recently spoke with an individual who was excited to begin his budget.  He downloaded the spreadsheet available on my site and asked me to look over it.  Everything looked good except for one thing I noted.  This individual had a category as follows:

Credit Card Payment (minimum)

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This shocked me for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, the minimum part that was included.  Secondly, paying off your credit cards is not an expense.  For example, if you go to the grocery store and spend $50.00 on groceries but apply the charge to your credit card, then your budget should reflect a $50.00 purchase on groceries.  The credit card is simply a means to pay for it.  Finally, I recognized that this individual had credit card debt, and he assumed paying off in minimum installments would eliminate it.  Yes, theoretically, as long as no further debt was incurred, but it would take a while.

This ultimately led me to the following conclusion.  This individual had a significant amount of money remaining in their budget every month.  I advised him that if I was in his situation I would do the following:

  1. Make sure I am able to cover all of my necessary expenses in the budget.  This would include rent, gas, food, student loans, etc.
  2. See where some expenses can be cut.  Bringing his lunch to work versus going out to eat might be the smartest financial decision until he gets his credit card debt under control.
  3. Use any extra money at the end of the month to pay off the remaining balance on the credit card.  Credit cards are notorious for having extremely high interest rates.  The quicker you tackle this type of debt, the more you save.
  4. Set a goal for paying off the credit card debt.  We agreed by the end of the calendar year.  Once the debt is paid off we could redo the budget and include categories for savings, retirement, and other financial goals.

Credit card debt can be a nasty thing, but a budgeting approach to handling it can make your financial life much better.  Use a budget to pay off your debt if you have any, then you will be able to create additional space to begin planning for your financial future more aggressively.

 

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

Compound Interest

Some have called compound interest the unofficial 8th wonder of the world.  It is definitely a wonder when it is applied to your financial life.  The best part about compound interest is that it allows for exponential growth of a portfolio.  The concept is simple.  When you earn interest/dividends/capital gains, you reinvest them into your portfolio instead of withdrawing the funds.  The video shows just how powerful compound interest can be in increasing your wealth over time.

 

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