Monday, May 28, 2018

Prosperity Mindset Month - Chapter 4

This month was dedicated to different types of debt that we take on during our life. After we talked about student loans, wedding expenses and mortgages, we will talk about how to plan our monthly budget so we can make sure we pay off all these debts and reach financial serenity.

I know that "budget" is a tough word in Americans' vocabulary. I will endeavor to make it easier for you, my reader, by telling you that by budgeting your money you are not giving up all opportunity for fun and things you desire. You are only planning all your desired purchases and you are also making sure that all your necessities are taken care of. 

I have to agree with the financial experts who tell you to track all your expenses, to the last penny. It is the best way to understand your expenses over a 30-60 day period and to be able to control them afterwards. However, I also have to agree that most of the people (including myself) don't have the patience or the discipline to track every penny spent and to plan where each penny goes. So I have devised a simpler system that has also been sustainable. And I will go over the 3 categories of expenses that I use in my own budgeting:

1. Fixed expenses
This category includes all the payments that are due every month and that have set amounts that cannot be changed, such as: mortgage/rent, insurance payments (all policies: homeowners, car, life, etc), retirement contributions (once you determined how much you contribute), car payment (only after you negotiate the best interest rate available to you), student loan payments, credit card payments (once you negotiate the monthly payments). This is what you must cover every month from your income. You will include all those payments that are a must, and once you have listed them all, you make sure your income goes to them first, before taking care of the next two categories.

2. Flexible expenses
This category includes all the payments necessary every month, that can be negotiated with the companies you have to pay, such as: utility payments (you can control how much electricity, gas or water you use), gas for your car or common transportation (whichever way you need to get around, most of all for work or your business), groceries and any food you eat out (if you have to go out for business meetings), any dues to professional organizations, any other activities that you need to pay for (like children's music and sport activities). 

3. Discretionary expenses
This category is for all the fun spending, such as purses and shoes, or clothes, or any other items you want to collect, as well as vacation money, and money for any other fun family activities. These expenses should not happen before any of the other two categories. I'm not saying to give up all the fun, I'm only saying that these cannot be a priority over the fixed and flexible expenses that you have to take care of every month.

Hope these ideas help you, as you build a better relationship with your money.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Prosperity Mindset Month - Chapter 3

Now that we have talked about your wedding, you are ready to start your new life and probably want what the American Dream is all about: your own house with a white picket fence. Great! Just remember, usually, this house comes with a mortgage - for the next 30 years or so. Most people want to buy a home, so the long commitment to a monthly payment is not a deterrent. 

Most of us sign on the dotted line and agree to the monthly payment without considering what the contract says, the only concern being that the APR is as low as possible, and the monthly payment manageable for the monthly budget. Everyone knows (or can find out) that the APR refers to the annual percentage rate. Though few know that is also influences the monthly payment for the mortgage. By having a smaller APR, your monthly payment will be lower - but have you thought that the amount of total interest is still high, because you pay less on the principal (the borrowed amount)? 

This is why, in order to pay less interest overall, you need to make extra payments, so you reduce the number of years you pay it all off. I know all the financial gurus out there tell you to pay an extra payment a year or to make payments every other week when you get your paycheck, in order to save a lot of interest and pay off your home in less than the 30 years usual mortgage is set up for. This may feel like a tough order if you cannot afford an extra payment annually. Even if that is the case, you may still benefit from this technique if you can pay something extra every month - you may choose to round up your monthly payments to the nearest hundred, or add an extra $50 or $100 each month... whatever fits your budget. Just make sure that you designate the extra payment as going towards the principal, because otherwise it is very likely for it to go towards both interest and principal, and therefore diminish the impact on lowering the amount you owe.

We will be talking about the impact of the interest payment on your taxes for the year in a later post, but for now all I want to emphasize is the benefit of paying off the mortgage earlier than the original schedule. If you can pay the property taxes and the homeowners' insurance separately from the mortgage payments, it will help decrease your monthly payments, so you can pay more - if you can afford to add anything to that payment. A word of caution here: if you make payments for taxes and insurance by yourself, please make sure you plan them into your budget, so you can keep on track. In my experience, your payments will add to less than what the mortgage company charges through the escrow account. 

Next week, we will talk about some budgeting ideas, to help you fit all this into your available money every month. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Prosperity Mindset Month - Chapter 2

Now that you are all excited about getting out of student loan debt (see last week's post), let's talk about getting rid of another big chunk of debt that you may have hanging over your head, a.k.a. wedding expenses. If you are already shaking your head and telling me that you DESERVE a big wedding because it is your ONLY ONE, and because it is your special day... I'm not here to argue with your point. I have no intention to tell you that you should not get a big wedding. Nor am I saying that your should not give your daughter a big wedding. I'm simply suggesting that you plan beforehand, that you execute during and that you stick with the plan afterwards.

From a financial standpoint, I truly believe that you deserve to have anything your heart desires. I just also believe that planning for it is the best way to ensure you don't have regrets afterwards. When it comes to your big day, your wedding day, usually you have a long time to plan - it is not an impulse buy and it is not a small chunk of change. This is why you can make the wedding account your priority when it comes to saving during the year prior to the big event, so you can pay with your money instead of the bank's money (which you will be repaying with interest).  

Another suggestion for the entrepreneurs reading this post, is to check into bartering different things you need for your big day. If there are some services you can provide in exchange for photography, videography or even flowers and cake, this can be a way to lower your final bill. Many times it also helps to deal with smaller local companies - like the dress designer, the tailor for the bridesmaid dresses - because they may be willing to give you discounts, or you may be able to make arrangements for future collaboration and/or sponsorship.

If you already have a house and many of the items you need inside, you may not want to register at the traditional stores for the brides. One way to lower the price tag for the wedding, or to have more money left after your big day, is to register for honeymoon registry so you don't have to use your own money for any traveling you want to do. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Prosperity Mindset Month - Chapter 1

This is the month when many lives change in the US. Whether it is the college graduation that launches the new adults into the real world, or the wedding that unites the lives of two people (formerly single), May is a month of changes in many lives.

I will apologize right now for playing the role of Debbie Downer! Since this a blog related to finances, and especially to YOUR relationship with money... we will talk about the increase in personal debt the month of May brings about: student loans that now need to get paid, wedding expenses that add up to a high balance on your credit card if you didn't plan it right, and maybe even a new mortgage if you timed your home purchase with your wedding.

Since we already learned that we always eat an elephant one bite at a time, we will tackle one of these scary debts in this first post - stay tuned next week for another exciting episode (LOL). Today we will talk about the student loans, and some information that may help you pay them down faster, or at least to plan appropriately for when you can be rid of them.

For those of you who are the parents of students, please think twice before co-signing on the student loans. Now, please don't get offended, and don't accuse me of not being sympathetic to your desire of being a great parent and helping your child financially. If you can provide the capital for them to go to school, by all means, do so. Even if you want to take on some loans to help them out, that is entirely your choice, and I can respect that. 

Having worked in the financial industry for more years than I care to acknowledge (since I'm still 25 years old), I have met a lot of people who have put their retirement in danger by taking on loans they could not really afford. If your budget doesn't suffer by adding another monthly payment (such as a student loan payment), then by all means, take on a loan for your child. Otherwise, please consider helping them in other ways that don't risk your ability to retire. One idea for you is to check out some grants offered by smaller organizations in your area. If you are not familiar with such organizations in your town and still have some time before your student goes to college, please consider reaching out to organizations in the community; it will be an opportunity to meet some great community leaders.

One great resource that I came across while watching Shark Tank (valuable resource for entrepreneurs) is an app called Scholly - provides a list of many organizations and companies that provide scholarships. This can cut down on your research time. 

Please feel free to share in the comments any resources you have that can help another un-broke woman with money for college and limit the amount of student loans.