Thoughts for 30-Somethings

Ray’s take: You spent your 20s setting up your life – developing some marketable skills, getting a career started, (hopefully) creating a budget, and learning to live with it.

Now that you’re in your 30s, it’s time to expand on all of that. Here are a few things to consider as you move along life’s path.

Take time to safeguard what you’ve built by writing a will. Make sure what you have accumulated goes where and how you want it to go. Your state has written one for you, and if you don’t bother, you may not like what it says.

Think about life insurance. Your future income stream is a huge asset that doesn’t appear on your net worth statement. Is there someone depending on that asset? A convertible term – which means a policy with a low initial premium but which allows the insured to convert to a permanent life policy later on if you need to without having to prove insurability – might be a good product to cover your needs.

Think about the next “big thing” in your life, and start saving to make it happen.

Start the habit of investing every month and maxing out that 401(k) you learned about. Use any raises you may receive to bump up your savings instead of just being absorbed into lifestyle. Make a plan for when you don’t want to have to work anymore and how much you want to spend then. Pay yourself first (PYF) every month.

Make sure you keep your credit in good shape. Pay down any lingering debt and think twice about taking on any more. Never ever borrow for depreciating assets. Trying to “keep up with the Joneses” is a losing situation. Don’t compare yourself or your stuff to others. There will always be some with more and some with less. What matters is what you choose to make of the resources and opportunities you have.

Now is the time to make sound financial decisions that will carry you through the rest of your life.

Dana’s take: Now that many people marry later in life, those extra few years provide a great opportunity to pay off student loans and credit card debt. It may take an extra job or project, but what a great way to start a life with someone you love. After clearing the debt, saving and investing can help you ramp up your financial assets to allow you to achieve your dreams.

To 30-somethings searching for a mate, I implore you to look at financial responsibility as a form of trust. Can you trust your future mate to spend in a way that builds financial security? Has he or she shown financial independence or are parents still footing bills and providing financial rescue from debt crises? Financial red flags could signal stormy waters for the relationship.

Sharing money as a couple requires a great deal of trust. Sharing your life with someone who has earned your trust will pay great dividends.

Continue reading
790 Hits

Alternative Banking – Is It For You?

Ray's take: The world of banking is evolving. Over the past decade we’ve seen an increase in the number of online only, or alternative banks. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on whom you talk to about it.

I think everyone can agree it’s great to be able to deposit checks online, pay bills online, and see all of your transactions immediately. Those things are offered by both traditional brick and mortar banks as well as the newer online alternative banks.

So, what ‘s so wonderful about the alternative banks, and why are people interested in them? A big draw is that they usually offer a higher interest rate than traditional banks. Another factor to consider, the alternative bank is never closed. You can reach someone on an 800 number any time.

Interestingly, a study by Accenture found openness to alternative banking varies by age range with the millennials being the most open to alternative banks. The survey found 39 percent of consumers 18 to 34 years old would consider switching to a non-brick-and-mortar bank, compared to 29 percent of customers 35 to 55, and 16 percent of customers over 55.

It really depends on your own comfort level handling your banking needs in today’s digital age. Do you prefer the personal touch of dealing with someone face-to-face? Or does working with someone over the phone satisfy your needs? It’s true, most things CAN be done online, but when the chips are down, an in-person relationship with a banker can save your neck.

Dana's take: With all the local full-service banking options, I have dismissed the idea of using a faceless online banker. Recently, however, I read some popular online retailers including Amazon, Apple and Walmart are inching into the banking business.

I have an Amazon VISA card, so I’ve already moved in that direction. Purchases on the card give me dollars to spend on Amazon.com. What if an Amazon checking account balance earned us dollars to spend on Amazon, too? That might get my attention.

What if my favorite online retailer, Zappos, offered reward dollars for holding a balance with the Bank of Zappos? Their service has been so impressive that I would consider putting my money where my shoes are.

Will financial service customers be willing to give up lollipops in the drive-thru to earn online shopping dollars? I’m banking on it.

Continue reading
849 Hits

Vacation Home – Is It Time to Buy?

Ray’s take: It’s summertime and the vacation season is upon us. Sometimes, it sounds wonderful to own a beach or mountain getaway. Many Americans share that same dream – a “summer place” to enjoy and perhaps pass down through the generations.

Depending on your circumstances and your financial plan for the future, this might be a good time to consider buying. Mortgage rates are still pretty low and prices in many areas remain well below peak levels. According to the National Association of Realtors, vacation home sales jumped nearly 30 percent last year. Nonetheless, they were still about two thirds of the peak in 2006.

So is a vacation home in the cards for you this year? Before you make a long-term commitment to a vacation home, look at the reality and not just the dream.

You should take off the rose-colored glasses prior to making a decision regarding purchasing a second home for vacation purposes. Think about year-round things like the costs of maintaining. You may have to pay pros to do things you do for yourself on your primary residence, like mowing the lawn and minor repairs. Then there’s insurance and taxes. If you decide you no longer want the home or get into financial straits, selling can be difficult since a vacation home is not a necessity potentially causing demand to drop suddenly when the economy is in trouble.

Additionally, you should be careful about over-weighting real estate in your portfolio and being “locked in” to a vacation destination. It’s difficult to predict where you’re going to want to vacation 10 years from now!

A vacation home can be a wonderful thing as long as you have considered all of the ramifications ahead of time.

Dana’s take: My first summer read is “Under Magnolia,” Frances Mayes’ memoir of her Georgia childhood. In it, she tells of her family’s Sea Island beach cottage. Reading it made me contemplate owning a beach cottage.

I imagined all the good times of multiple generations of family gathered and little ones exploring the seashore with buckets and shovels. I don’t imagine mildew, hurricanes, rental hassles, partying neighbors or the new condo development blocking my view.

The joys of a vacation home can be enjoyed with a rental if you book a generous block of time. Let the owners take the location and weather risks so you can enjoy a no-worries vacation. And look at the bright side; when you rent, you are less likely to field requests from acquaintances to “visit.”

Continue reading
769 Hits

What to Do With a Windfall

Ray’s take: You’ve just received a pretty nice amount of cash. It could be a tax refund, a bonus or a surprise inheritance. What will you do with that extra money?

You may decide to pay down some debt or stash it away for an emergency. But somehow, that doesn’t feel like much fun.

How about all the frugality you’ve been exercising the last few years? By its very nature, a surprise windfall begs for a splurge.

Yes. It is a good idea to spend some of it on something for the sheer enjoyment factor. But first, let’s go back to “The Plan.”

You remember, the one you so painstakingly put together for short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Look to see if you are on track with the goals you set. How’s that college fund coming along? Decide where a percentage of that extra money could be used to do the most good. Do you want to shorten your retirement timeline? Now may be your chance. Then agree to use the rest for something fun.

How about a contract in writing with your spouse agreeing on the percentage to be put into “The Plan” and a percentage to be used for pure enjoyment? Putting it in writing makes it easier to remember later.

It’s always a smart move to think of the future any time you have extra money, but being too restrictive can result in going overboard down the road.

Dana’s take: It's Always Something.

“Saturday Night Live” character Roseanne Roseannadanna used to have a signature line: "It's always something." And it’s usually not something good.

If you're lucky enough to receive an unexpected refund, windfall or bonus, set aside a portion of it for your emergency or "It's always something" fund. You could even call it a "bad luck fund."

This week, Ray and I were both told that it's time to replace all of our tires. That's the equivalent of a whole year's car maintenance expense in one week – times two.

Let's face it – “it is always something,” and the timing is usually not the best. After closing on a house, both air-conditioning units die. The tree man says a dead tree could fall on your house in the next storm and $5,000 will solve the problem. A well-stocked emergency fund could be just the good luck you need to handle life's surprises.

Continue reading
802 Hits

Identity Theft and Social Media

Ray’s take: You just logged into your online banking and your account is empty. You go to apply for a loan and are told you don’t qualify due to overextended credit. You file your tax return only to discover it has already been filed and your refund check issued and cashed. These are some of the very real things that have happened due to identity theft.

According to a State-of-the-Net survey by Consumer Reports, if your identity is stolen, it can take 30 hours or more of your time and hundreds of dollars to restore your good name and good credit.

If you are wondering how susceptible you may be to having your identity stolen, ask yourself these questions. How careful are you about storing your PIN numbers and passwords? Do you have security on our computer, such as a firewall or encrypted passwords, to keep from being hacked? Are you a member of one or more social media websites?

Be careful what information you post on your social media sites. While it is probably not enough alone for identity theft, in combination with other available information, identity thieves can piece together everything they need to get what they want.

The ease with which we publicize seemingly harmless bits of personal information online and off is often what scam artists rely upon. You’ve spent so much time working out your financial future. Don’t let all your plans be compromised. Be aware of the potential risks associated with being too forthcoming on a public site.

Dana’s take: Social media presents a dilemma in that we want to make ourselves look good, but in the process we may overshare, risking our assets. It's hard to resist sharing that photo on the beach with your toes in the sand and your tanned children splashing in the waves. Unfortunately, someone suffering from vacation envy may "Like" your patio furniture, Jeep and boat while you're posing for your next selfie at the tiki bar.

There is a function on your cellphone that allows it to post your current location to your social accounts. Check the privacy settings on your accounts and make sure they are as high as possible.

“Checking in” is another option available for Facebook. It lets everyone know where you are at a given moment and where you’ve been. We all like for others to know when we’re at a really cool place, right? But for someone hacking your account, this lets them know you are not at home.

Look over your Facebook and Twitter photos and posts. Are you sharing information that could lead a jealous viewer wanting to "share" in your good fortune?

Continue reading
695 Hits

Shouldering Health Care Costs

Ray’s Take: The employer health care benefits that began in the 1950s as a perk to lure top workers have become an industry standard that many of us take for granted. Now the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way in the face of rising health care costs.

These days, we hear a lot in the news about drastic changes taking place with health care, and many of us are wondering where these changes will leave us.

Over the past 20 or so years, companies have been moving away from paying health care benefits for retirees. Per a Kaiser Foundation Family Report, since 1988, the number of large companies providing health benefits for retirees has fallen from 66 percent to only 28 percent. This trend is likely to continue. Responsibility for our own health will more and more be our own.

Are you making your health care decisions these days based on whether or not you have reached your deductible? Perhaps putting off a procedure because you haven’t reached it? How about down the line, after you retire? Will Medicare cover it when you get there?

Taking care of our own health should be a top priority. Prevention may well become an economic decision just like putting money in your 401(k). Health care providers have already begun penalizing consumers for making poor health choices, such as higher premiums for smokers, and rewarding good health choices, such as covering annual physical exams at 100 percent.

Medicare is changing, and not for the better. Responsibility for choices is more and more being pushed our way.

Dana’s Take: My generation has seen employment benefits go from generous to scarce in just a few decades. Competing in a global economy has led many companies to cut benefits such as health care. Public employees can no longer count on the benefits promised, and private-sector employees are already footing more and more of the health care tab.

Even if your benefits package is still attractive, the wise employee will be prepared to cover some of those expenses in the event of a change of ownership or policy. Take care of your health to combat the things within your control and, hopefully, ward off some that may not be.

A gym membership that you use regularly is a wonderful thing to have. And playing a sport never goes out of style.

We never plan to get sick, so plan to be prepared for the day when we may have to shoulder more of our medical expenses.

Continue reading
725 Hits

Homeownership: Still the American Dream?

Ray’s take: There was a time when owning a home was a key factor in achieving “The American Dream.”

That was when it was actually considered a home and not an investment. Sometime between the end of World War II and the 1990s, a home became a house. It was less about the place where you created memories and more about equity and resale value. Then it all came crashing down.

Per the Census Bureau, during the first quarter of 2014, homeownership for Americans 35 and younger declined to 36.2 percent. This is the lowest on record since the census's Housing Vacancy Survey began tabulating homeownership by age in 1982. Homeownership for all ages dropped to 64.8 percent, the lowest level since 1995.

The decline in homeownership is no doubt due in part to the economic decline experienced in recent years. Increased down payment size and more stringent credit requirements have made mortgages much harder to come by. Coupled with persistently high unemployment, fewer consumers are looking to buy a home.

There are many good reasons to buy a home, but making money may no longer be in the top five. If you are one of those thinking of buying a home you should take a hard look at the pros and cons of homeownership based on your personal circumstances.

Ask yourself these questions. Do you think you’ll be moving within the next five years? Frequent moves will play a factor in any equity you might build up. Is this the best use of your dollars? Are you buying a home because you think “that’s what you should do” at a certain point in your life?

Homeownership is a big step and one that should not be taken lightly.

Dana’s take: Some couples enjoy shopping for houses, but have no intention to buy. Attending open houses can even serve as weekend entertainment. Some say they are “just looking for new ideas for our current home” or “getting an idea of what’s out there before we someday buy.”

While "just looking" can be fun, you may be setting yourselves up to fall for the next "bargain" in the neighborhood. "It's selling for only $80 a square foot – a bargain in this neighborhood!" Next, you just can't pass up such a deal, and before you know it, you've bought a house that has twice the square footage you need just because you got a good deal.

Perhaps if you love looking at houses, viewing the Sunday newspaper home ads can be a safer way to get your fix.

Continue reading
746 Hits

Discussing Family Finances with the Kids

Ray’s take: The March 2013 T. Rowe Price Annual Parents, Kids and Money Survey indicates that 73 percent of parents discuss money with their kids. This is good news! It’s an important part of a kid’s education to understand money and finances. Kids may not have to worry about mortgage payments just yet, but learning about money while they’re young can set them up to become financially responsible adults.

So what, specifically, should you discuss with your kids and when?

Age and maturity play a large part in when to discuss financial issues.

Let’s face it, kids aren’t always good at keeping secrets, so you may not want to be specific about how much money you make or your net worth. When they’re at a young age, it’s better to simply let them know you have enough money to take care of things but also need to save for the future.

Kids are also very perceptive about any financial stress they may notice between their parents, so having an honest, age-appropriate discussion will go far in alleviating fears.

Having regular discussions about money and finances is an important part of the learning curve for kids. It can help them understand why this year’s vacation may be different from last year’s.

As they get older and their understanding of money and finances grow, you can be a little more detailed about discussions. When the time is right, bring college, and any expectations regarding paying for it, into the mix.

Be sure to include your own financial independence in these conversations. The best gift we can ever give our kids is to make sure we are independent ourselves.

Dana’s take: When it comes to money, parents’ day-to-day actions speak more to children than our words.

Do mom and dad chase the latest designer “must-have”? Is the message “only the best for our family” or “check the sale rack first”? Is a shopping spree the weekend entertainment?

How about credit cards? How many are in your wallet and what do they see you buying with them? You can tell them to be wise with their money, but if you’re paying 18 percent interest to buy a rake, they may be getting a mixed message.

Start teaching financial responsibility as soon as a child begins noticing that buying things is a regular occurrence in life.

Additionally, being more aware of our own actions and how they relate to what we are telling our children regarding finances is a wise move on our part and may lead to better habits of our own.

Practicing what we preach should be a way of life, not just words.

Continue reading
807 Hits

Your Life in Five Years

Ray’s take: A typical job interview question is “Where do you see yourself in five years?” So should you be asking yourself this question in general? Is a five-year plan a must to your fiscal future?

You do need a comprehensive financial plan that includes your hopes and dreams in a realistic way – one that has short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Be sure to revisit it every year to assess the progress you’re making toward your goals.

Having hard deadlines can be problematic because there are always things that are out of our control. But by keeping score with where you are financially, where the market is at any given time and where you are in your timeline, you can create a framework for things to generally happen closer to your goals.

During your annual review, be honest and hold yourself accountable to your set goals and make adjustments as needed. You shouldn’t need to totally scrap your plan, but you will need to make updates as you go along. Life sometimes dramatically changes your plans. Grieve them, then make new ones.

Everyone has important milestone activities or special purchases they want to make, and planning is the best way to work toward making those dreams a reality. Of course, retirement is the biggest and most long-term of those milestones, but there are also others along the way, such as buying a home, taking that 20-year anniversary trip, and college for the kids. Plug in your dreams and needs, and set some dates.

If you don’t know your destination, how will you know when you get there?

Dana’s take: Some people would rather have a tooth pulled than sit down and create a financial plan. That’s understandable. It can be pretty daunting to sit down, put everything down on paper, and then try to figure out a way to make it happen.

Once you do get everything written down – your hopes and dreams along with the must-haves – and compare those to your income, you might find yourself somewhat disappointed. Everything you aspire to do and have may not actually be within reach.

Don’t let the planning procress discourage you, because creating a financial plan is the best thing you can do for yourself. Yes it looks scary and impossible, but doing so will allow you to see the big picture. You’ll be able to take steps to cut down to a more palatable day-to-day budget. You will also have a map of how to make those dream purchases a reality.

It’s kind of like creating your own TripAdvisor map to the future.

Continue reading
764 Hits

Debt: Prepay or Let It Ride?

Ray’s take: There was a time when debt was something to be proud of. It was the badge of progress and a good credit rating. 2008 made us all rethink the place of debt in our lives.

If you have debt, you should think carefully about keeping it or prepaying it.

If you have consumer debt – such as car loans or credit cards – there’s no doubt that you should pay that debt off as quickly as possible, as you’ll pay much less in the long run. Per the industry group CardHub, the average credit card interest rate for people with fair credit has hit 21 percent, up more than 2 percent from a year ago. Try never to borrow for a depreciating asset.

Mortgage debt and HELOCs (home equity lines of credit), usually considered “good” debt, can be a complicated proposition. Depending upon your tax status, you may be able to deduct the interest on your taxes. Another consideration is asset allocation.

Paying down your mortgage faster is basically increasing your allocation to real estate. This is the paradox when determining whether or not to prepay your mortgage. Will that “investment” in real estate result in a greater return than alternatives? Are your retirement plans on track to achieve your goals without “cashing out” that real estate investment? A tax adviser or financial planner can assist you with determining the various outcomes of prepaying your mortgage and alternatives worth considering.

Sometimes we need to look closely at the long-term consequences of our decisions and weigh them against the short-term happiness they may provide to make sure it is an equitable tradeoff.

Dana’s take: Technology is moving so fast now that I’m getting nervous about jobs and money in the next few decades. For us baby boomers, that means unload debt and start saving. We have had our consuming binge and now it’s time to conserve.

I recently read of a microchip implantable in your mouth that is fueled by the breakdown of saliva. Once we have computers in our heads, what’s next? I’m watching free online courses from Stanford University and MIT. What does that mean for teaching jobs in the future?

So many of the jobs I grew up with will no longer be needed. Record stores, bookstores and shoe stores have been replaced by a few clicks on the computer.

Living small may be more important than ever as job options and retirement plans shrink. Enjoy your many blessings as you end debt and save up for a secure future.

Continue reading
690 Hits

Merging Financial Identities

Ray’s take: Americans are getting married later. The 2013 figures from the Office for National Statistics show the average age at which men get married is 31 years, while women are typically aged 29 years when they tie the knot.

There is an old saying that “two can live as cheaply as one.” However, that’s only true if one of them doesn’t eat or wear clothes. Although you now only have one cost for housing, you still have to pay costs of cars, food, clothing and other necessities of life for two. Finances are absolutely something you will be dealing with as a couple.

Since people are now getting married later in life, they have been out on their own for a period of time during which they developed their “financial identity.” You may be a spender and your spouse a saver. How you deal with this is a major factor in your marriage. A 2010 American Psychological Association study found that 76 percent of Americans see money as a source of stress in their lives.

To reduce stress, couples need to come together and decide how to spend and save their money. Coming up with jointly held values involves some give and take. If you like to buy lottery tickets because “you can’t win if you don’t play,” and your spouse sees it as a waste of money, jointly decide on a spending limit. That agreed upon pool of money allocated to each spouse can be spent on anything, relieving financial stress while still providing a dose of financial freedom.

Many times couples have some individual pieces of their finances in place, but working together to create a holistic plan that is reviewed on a regular basis brings goals, and people, closer together.

Dana’s take: I heard a radio ad for a wedding planning event and thought how these brides and grooms enter marriage carrying more student loan debt than ever. At the same time, weddings are becoming more lavish.

Ray and I often recommend that the parents of a bride or groom consider gifting a lump sum, allowing the couple to decide how to spend it. In a case where the couple carries a combined mountain of debt, the newlyweds might choose to pay off their debt. Maybe skip the covered chairs and gilded swan centerpieces and enter marriage debt-free?

Money and debt can become a blame game in a new marriage so consider starting out with a clean financial slate. All the better to keep those vows, “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health.”

Continue reading
675 Hits

Paying for the College Dream

Ray’s Take: Education is one of the greatest gifts you can give, and the value is clearly calculable. It’s also something that deserves a serious conversation.

Per Sallie Mae’s article “How Americans Save for College 2014,” roughly 50 percent of families are saving for college. Of those not saving, 22 percent expect their children to obtain financial aid or scholarships to pay for college and 16 percent believe it is their children’s responsibility to pay. So should parents pay for college, or should the kids “have some skin in the game” and pay for part or all of it?

There are a number of financial vehicles for saving for college, such as 529 plans, custodial accounts, savings accounts and even checking accounts. All of these saving options can be funded by the parents, and some can be jointly funded by parents, grandparents and children depending on funding restrictions.

529 plans offer more tax advantages, but carry significantly more restrictions. Custodial accounts have more flexibility, but eventually that money belongs to your kids to spend as they wish, usually by age 21.

Then there are student loans. Starting life after college with a student loan can be a significant headwind for a young person beginning their career, but it can be a necessary tool in paying for college. And there are pros and cons to parents in setting aside money for college. It gives your children greater options in schools to attend, but it can be a detriment to obtaining financial aid.

All of these financial vehicles should be part of the college discussion, along with other avenues. For example, is it possible for the student to obtain an academic or athletic scholarship? What steps does the student need to take to create the best possibility of being awarded a scholarship?

Dana’s Take: As a parent, when it comes time for our kids to go to college, we want them to have the best of everything and don’t want them to start out life in debt.

We may have already put money aside and now realize it’s not going to be enough and start looking for other places from which to pull funds – sometimes even out of our retirement accounts. That’s perfectly understandable, but not a good idea. Your kids have the rest of their lives to pay off any debt they incur for college, but you are the only one who will be funding your retirement.

Let them have some responsibility for their education, and maybe it will have more meaning to them. If everything comes on a silver platter, how ready for life will they really be?

Continue reading
771 Hits

How Much of Your Net Worth is Yours?

Ray’s take: Net worth is defined as the single amount that represents how much a person would have if he or she sold all assets and paid off all debt. In other words: Assets - Liabilities = Net worth. Seems pretty straightforward. But that does not paint the total picture.

There is more to know. And that more detailed definition of net worth can change the picture drastically.

Everyone has a general idea of his or her net worth. Usually based on knowing that they have a 401(k), home equity, mutual funds, stock options or any number of combinations of assets.

Some people calculate it obsessively (not a good idea); some never (even worse); once a year is about right.

So do you regularly sit down, using real numbers, and calculate that amount? More importantly, have you determined how much of that net worth is actually yours?

Tax liability is one of those details that can affect your actual net worth. Have you determined if the accounts you are using for net worth are taxable? Start with your retirement accounts. The tax deduction and tax deferral of gains are nice at the time, but that’s a lot tax to pay someday. Then look at tax deferred accounts like fixed and variable annuities – they can build up a lot of taxable gains. Even non-qualified mutual funds can build significant unrealized capital gains. The IRS can be a significant, but unnamed, beneficiary of many of your accounts.

How about that equity you have built up in your home? Home equity has long been considered a tool in financial planning but even with the “free gain” the IRS allows, you have to sell and buy someplace else (and those expenses are significant). And “downsized” or “retirement ready” homes are not as available or inexpensive as many hope.

It’s vitally important to your future to have a real picture of your net worth.

So get those documents together, and consult a financial or tax adviser to assist you with obtaining an accurate picture.

Dana’s take: Could our personal net worth be figured as our strengths minus our faults? Perhaps our daily net worth could be calculated as our good deeds minus our bad deeds.

The New York Times website ran a documentary, “Slomo,” about a North Carolina neurologist turned California rollerblader. In it, the doctor told of taking a daily spiritual reckoning and deciding how much of his workday resulted in spiritual gain and how much in financial gain. He noticed the ratio sliding toward the financial. Ultimately, he cashed out and began a spiritual journey, skating the beach boardwalks of San Diego.

Try taking an accounting of your personal net worth and see where you might want to invest or divest for your spiritual well-being.

Continue reading
773 Hits

Understanding Job Change and Your 401(k)

Ray’s take: A recent CareerBuilder survey shows that one in five workers said they plan to change jobs this year or next.

If you’re thinking of changing jobs, there are some very important things you need to consider regarding your 401(k). Making smart decisions now could save you thousands in employee matching funds, taxes and potential penalties.

Your current employer’s vesting schedule is something you need to investigate. You can always take your own 401(k) contributions with you when you leave a job, but you won’t be able to keep your employer’s match or profit sharing contributions unless you are vested in the plan. Check to see when you will be fully vested. If you are close to the vesting date, it would be financially in your favor to stay until you can take your employer contributions with you.

A common mistake made when you leave a job can cost you. If you take your 401(k) in cash rather than transferring it to another qualified plan, you could incur some pretty stiff penalties. Your plan administrator will remove 20 percent right off the top for taxes, and then, if you are under 59½, when you file your income taxes, you will owe an additional 10 percent. That’s a big piece of your 401(k) pie lost. An existing loan to your plan can further complicate your options.

Your best options are to: roll your existing 401(k) from your former employer to your new employer; roll it to an IRA; or leave it with your former employer – usually in that order. 401(k) plans have more flexible distribution options than IRAs; and once they have moved to IRA status, you can’t go back.

Each of these options has benefits and drawbacks. You should choose the option that works best for your individual circumstances and consult a tax adviser or your financial planner for more information.

Dana’s take: When the economy was shaky, you may have chosen to remain in a less-than-fulfilling job for safety’s sake. Now that the employment market is improving, you may be considering looking for a new job or striking out in your own venture.

However you plan to work, make sure that a 401(k) is a part of your plan. Gone are the days of gold watches and lifetime pensions. Today, retirement means every man for himself. If numbers aren’t your strength and you don’t understand what a 401(k) is, do research online or make an appointment with a tax adviser or financial planner.

Knowledge is power. Use it to create the life you want to live. Every dream deserves a plan.

Continue reading
789 Hits

Diversify to Help Your Taxability

Ray’s Take: Planning for the tax portion of your retirement can have an important impact on the longevity and quality of retirement savings. Various investment and savings instruments are taxed in different ways, so building a pool with different levels can help you with your taxes.

These levels consist of taxable accounts, tax-deferred accounts and tax-exempt accounts, and you should manage carefully the order and percentages for withdrawal.

Taxable accounts are usually securities such as stocks or mutual funds. These are taxed as long-term capital gains if you have held them for a year and a day or more. Shorter holding periods create a different and higher tax bill. But since you have a tax basis, the overall tax is less as a percentage of the distribution amount.

Tax-deferred accounts are the 401(k)s and IRAs we are all familiar with. Maximizing tax-deferred growth is a powerful way to accumulate money on which you do not pay taxes until withdrawal. This allows gains to compound over a long period of time to produce the best increase. But they are 100 percent taxable upon distribution. Depending on your bracket, Roth conversions of a portion of these accounts can be very effective.

Tax-exempt accounts are commonly Roth IRAs or Roth 401(k)s, and withdrawals from these types of accounts are tax-free once you have met the requirements. Additionally, you are not required to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) at age 70½ as you are with the traditional 401(k) or IRA.

So what do you do?

Once you’ve determined what you want your retirement income to be, take a look at your portfolio and determine if you have tax diversification in addition to asset class diversification. Creating a withdrawal strategy, that will stretch your dollars and also decrease your tax bill, can make for a happier retirement. Tax policies come and go like presidents and Congressmen. Unless you have a crystal ball, it’s best to have a variety of tax pools from which to draw.

These are just some of the ways to reach diversification. Consult a tax adviser or your financial planner for more information.

Dana’s Take: Teaching your children the importance of saving and thinking about the future from a young age is one of the best inheritances you can give them.

But what if you want to leave them a monetary inheritance in addition to all the wisdom?

When reviewing your retirement portfolio and thinking about taxes, also consider the money you may want to leave to your children or grandchildren and the tax ramifications of the inheritance.

With good tax planning and time, your legacy can fulfill more of your wishes for generations to come.

Continue reading
713 Hits

Invest Early For the Best Retirement

Ray’s Take The very best friend a young investor has is time. Someone who puts $4,000 per year into retirement accounts starting at age 22 could have $1 million by age 62, assuming an 8 percent average return. Waiting 10 years to start contributing means you would need to put in $8,800 per year to get the same results.

According to an Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) Retirement Confidence Survey in 2013, adults age 25 to 34 reported total savings and investments of less than $10,000. The same survey shows that while 42 percent of the same age group reported workplace retirement savings plans offered, only 32 percent of that number were making contributions.

When you are young and just starting out, you are focusing on getting your career started, getting a place of your own, possibly getting married. Your income starts lower, and you may have accumulated some debt – education and other.

The very word “retirement” has a negative ring to it at this phase, which is part of the reason most ignore it. But a relatively small commitment at this point can have huge impact on the future. Every year you kick the can down the road increases the headwind you’ll face later on.

If you have the option to contribute to a workplace 401(k), contribute everything you can right out of the gate, not just enough to garner the company’s matching dollars. If you can, invest in a deductible IRA as well and max it out. Then start saving something every month on a non-qualified basis – pay yourself first (PYF). If you’re married and have two incomes, live on one and save all of the other. One day you may have to or choose to so that one of you can be a stay-at-home parent.

Small steps now lead to big rewards later.

Dana’s Take Retirement funding today is a do-it-yourself project. Unfortunately, unlike home DIY projects, it will be decades before you see the fruits of your efforts. Your monthly 401(k) contributions exist on paper, but otherwise are kind of invisible.

If you get a bonus, it’s easy to get excited about funding a ski boat or a deck. Saving for retirement just isn’t hot. But, just like high school nerds who become millionaires – as their money grows, they get more attractive. As your retirement fund grows, you will grow to love it. I bet you will even want to send it more money every month. And unlike that ski boat, it will be in better shape than ever when you retire.

Continue reading
737 Hits

Time to Ignore Financial Predictions

Ray’s Take. Financial “experts” like to make predictions about what the markets, the economy and sundry other things financial will do in the months ahead. At the beginning of 2013, one well-known economist predicted 2013 would bring 50 percent unemployment alongside a 90 percent drop in the stock market. Thankfully, he was about as far off the mark as you can get. What’s in store for 2014?

Most predictions come closer to reality than those, but basing your investment and portfolio balance decisions on predictions usually isn’t the wisest move.

Someone could claim “stocks will go down,” and he’ll be right at some point. After all, stocks do go down, then they go up again. Another talking head could state, “interest rates will go up.” Since they're pretty close to zero, they will at some point. The real questions are: When, how fast and how far?

Do you really think you can time these changes? There are thousands of really well-trained analysts with massive resources and 100 times the information you have who are striving to do just that. Most of them don’t beat the averages. Do you really think you can do better?

Instead of worrying about predictions, spend your time developing and regularly reviewing a realistic financial plan. Spend less than you earn and don’t mistake luck for smarts when it comes to investment decisions. When it comes to growing wealth over time, there are no magic bullets. Calm and consistency are the keys to success for most of us.

Develop an asset allocation that you can live on and live with to reach your financial goals. Then go watch a sunset. That’s time much better spent than following financial predictions.

Dana’s Take. Now that the first quarter of 2014 is behind us, how are your resolutions going? If saving more and spending less was one of your plans for the year, it’s not too late to get on track.

Consider selecting a significant date that has some relationship with your goals. For example, if you intend to save more for your kid’s college, try starting on her birthday. That way you’ll have a significant annual date to consider how far you’ve come that is also relevant to your goal. Marriage, death, and other annual anniversaries may provide the inspiration you need to help you keep on track with your goals.

After all, we tend to think of Jan. 1 very seldom, but we think of our loved ones frequently. Tying your goals to those most significant in your life will provide a year-round reminder of what you want to achieve.

If you just can’t get the savings ball rolling, consider hiring a professional to get you started. Every dream deserves a plan.

Continue reading
662 Hits

Manage Your Credit, Not Your Credit Score

Ray’s Take You must have a great credit score to do anything these days, or so the lending industry would like for us to believe. Increase your score! Buy more stuff on credit!

It is important to have a good credit score, but not in the obsessive way that we are led to believe. When you give your credit score more importance than it actually holds, you can easily lose sight of much more important priorities like your ultimate financial independence by obtaining more and more credit to increase your credit score. It can be a vicious cycle.

There are only a few times in your life when your credit score will truly matter and if you have managed your credit, then you will not have any problems.

The two most financed items are an automobile and the real biggie – a home. So, how often do you buy these two items? Certainly not every year. And my advice regarding an automobile would be if you have to borrow money to buy it, you need to be looking at a less expensive car!

So, since your credit score only truly matters when you are going to make these large purchases, why obsess over what it is from day to day or year to year? Certainly you should be careful about using credit cards. Don’t have a wallet full of them. Pay the full balance monthly on the ones you do carry.

Credit is just a nicer way of saying debt. But debt score – or how much do you owe – doesn’t sound quite so attractive. Does it?

Dana’s Take It’s so easy to look at the people around us and see them driving the great new car or wearing the latest designer clothes and think “Wow. They must have it all.” We all want to have the nice things in life, and it’s hard to make that decision not to buy something on credit now that will need to be replaced by the newest “in” thing next week or next month.

What if we had special glasses where things purchased with debt or credit cards showed up as red and those paid in full showed up as green? We would see a lot of red cars, houses and outfits. Folks with a positive net worth would show up in shades of green and those in debt would be blushing.

How’s your financial color? If you’re living on borrowed money, stop the flow of red ink and start flying your green flag of financial freedom.

Continue reading
775 Hits

What’s Your Retirement Status?

Ray’s Take: What are your thoughts about contributions to a 401(k), an IRA or any other tax-qualified investment vehicle? Are you thinking about the “right now” advantage of a tax break or are you thinking long term about what kind of life you would like to live in retirement?

Have you really put a pencil to what your vision of financial independence will cost? Do you picture yourself traveling the world? Relaxing on a beach? Assisting your children or grandchildren financially?

Per an analysis done by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) in 2012 roughly 44 percent of Baby Boomer and Gen X households are projected to be at-risk of running short of money in retirement, assuming they retire at age 65 and retain any net housing equity in retirement until other financial resources are depleted.

The biggest risk most people will face is not stock market volatility or interest rates, it’s living longer than their financial plan. It’s a wonderful thing to live longer and enjoy life. With that longer life expectancy comes the possibility of outliving the resources we allocated to the future. If we don’t put careful thought into our actions and investments and get out of the habit of short-term thinking, we’ll inevitably face the harsh reality of being old and broke one day.

Everyone should have an emergency fund, usually at least six months living expenses as a basic. After that, consider putting away additional funds toward the future to make sure you have the one you would truly like to be living. Lots of additional funds. And don’t guess – have a plan.

It’s far better to plan ahead and to talk to a professional. Ask your accountant or financial planner for advice on how to put your plans for the future in place.

Dana’s Take: Today I read that the number of people who have reached their 100th birthday is growing at twice the rate of the general population. Gulp. With medical breakthroughs in genetics in the next few decades, that rate may continue to climb in my lifetime. So now I have to save enough money to last me past 100 years old? Overwhelming, isn’t it?

Will your plan support you through 100? Ray ran into a Memphis man recently who moved to Mexico for the lower cost of living in his retirement years. That’s thinking outside the box. If Mexico’s not your cup of tea, meet with your accountant or financial planner and crunch the numbers. Better to do it now, while you are still earning and can do something about your financial choices.

As living past 100 becomes more likely, creating a modest and sustainable lifestyle makes more sense than ever.

Continue reading
718 Hits

Do You Feel Lucky?

Ray’s Take: When thinking about your future, do you believe that you will be taken “feet first in a pine box” out of the home you worked so hard for during your younger years? Or do you sometimes get that uncomfortable feeling that you need to “knock on wood” as you look around at friends or acquaintances who have experienced a sudden change in health forcing a change in venue?

Since no one has a crystal ball, how do you deal with this issue?

Would your spouse be able to care for you, allowing you to remain in your home if your health failed? The spousal option also has to be weighed from the viewpoint of the health of your spouse in those years.

Would you be able to live with your children if you are no longer able to live alone and do not have a spouse?

Many people think “well, if the worst happens, I’ll just go in the nursing home.” However, this “solution” brings up a number of new issues.

The first is cost. The current average monthly cost of nursing home care in Tennessee is approximately $5,000. That adds up pretty quickly. Remember that Medicaid does not pick up the cost of the nursing home until you have spent down your assets. That means spent, not transferred to their kids.

Additionally, after a person who received Medicaid benefits passes away, the state must try to get whatever benefits it paid for that person back from their estate. In the event you are married, there are some exclusions regarding the sale of the home and protection of a specific allowable percentage of assets under the “spousal impoverishment” rules.

You should talk to your attorney or CFP who can help you gather information to assist you with making an informed decision that will make your life comfortable and find ways to leave money or other assets to your children or grandchildren without burdening them with legal concerns.

Consider your health, and the options for your care, when planning for the future so that you will have a comfort level with the “what ifs” that come along with growing older. After all, don’t we all want to feel good about the future?

Dana’s Take: Imagine yourself 10 years from now, 20, 30 and 40 years from now. Perhaps I’ve watched too many commercials for Centrum Silver, because I can only picture myself as a vibrant silver-haired woman walking on the beach. I can’t picture memory loss, wheelchairs or live-in caregivers. That must be a different stretch of beach.

Our imagination’s optimism about our future selves may explain why it’s difficult to forgo spending now to save for our future care needs. Facing the expenses of assisted living can be a real shock. I have recently learned of Medicare’s 100-day lifetime limit on paying for nursing home care. After 100 days, the patient is responsible for payment. Yikes.

Even if you can’t picture needing assistance, make sure you are setting aside enough to provide for the level of comfort and care you desire.

Continue reading
650 Hits

Kids' College Versus Your Retirement

Ray’s Take: Most parents want to give their kids the best college education possible. At the same time, they know they must finance their own retirement. It’s hard to objectively prioritize, especially when your precious children are involved.

Despite parental instincts as well as your kid’s pleading, retirement savings should take priority. After all, there are other funding options for college, including student loans, scholarships and work-study programs. However, when it comes to your retirement, it’s all up to you.

While student loans can be an enormous headwind for new graduates, having to support you throughout your retirement years could be even tougher on your kids, and that’s only if they can and will do it! That said, ideally you want to save for both. And, it is possible.

For your own retirement, make sure you maximize contributions to employer-provided 401(k) accounts (not just enough for the match). If there are two incomes, there should be two maximum funded retirement plans. This allows you to build retirement funds early for long-term growth. Plus, these funds – and all funds you save in retirement-specific accounts – are not considered in federal financial aid formulas.

For your kid’s college, start a 529 college savings plan at birth and contribute to it regularly – automatically if possible. Encourage grandparents, aunts and uncles to join in. Most states now offer these, allowing you to save and withdraw money tax free for college-related costs. Remember, you don’t have to use your own state’s plan.

To make it all work, you’ll have to develop a realistic budget that takes these “big picture” goals into account instead of simply focusing on month-to-month expenses. Retirement may not happen at 65, but it won’t happen ever if you don’t make a plan. If figuring it all out feels beyond you, get financial advice. Don’t do it soon. Do it now.

Dana’s Take: Another good potential source for college funding to consider: gifts from family and friends.

Add up all the toys, clothes, stuffed animals and gift cards your friends and relatives have given your children. What if those loved ones saved themselves the shopping and wrapping and deposited into a savings account instead? After 18 years that would be one wonderful gift to the child and parents.

For a couple of special friends, Ray started a savings account at the birth of each child. At every birthday and Christmas, he deposited in their accounts. They recently cashed in those accounts and were surprised at how those little gifts had grown.

If your own relatives are in a secure financial position, suggest they cut back on gifts to the kids and instead contribute to a savings fund. They might even want to establish their own 529 fund. Any family member can establish one of these accounts for any other family member, and enjoy some potential tax benefits as well.

Continue reading
681 Hits

Is That Big Move Going to Pay Off?

Ray’s Take You’re contemplating moving to another home – maybe even to another city or the country. The catalyst could be a job offer, school changes, the desire for more living space or to be near family. While your personal, family and career situation will be major factors in the final decision, don’t forget to consider the financial angle as well. There are more costs for a new home than the selling price alone.

When you’re moving to another city, the biggest financial consideration is the overall cost of housing. A home in the Los Angeles area will cost much more than an equivalent home in this area, for example. Most people are aware of that difference and look at housing costs carefully, but that’s not the only factor.

As simple a thing as house size has financial repercussions. A bigger home means higher utility bills and higher maintenance costs. You’ll want more (or different) furniture and have to make a commitment in time or money to clean. Homeowners insurance will also increase.

If you’re moving to another community, even one nearby, you could have changes in property taxes, sales tax or even income tax. These would all impact your budget. I’ve found that you should be more concerned about the ongoing expenses than the one-time ones.

Then there’s all the cost of selling and buying a home, as well as moving everything you own. Even if you’re lucky enough to have your company carry most of the moving costs, there are still out-of-pocket expenses.

Is the move worth it? Only you can decide. But, take the time to figure how all the associated costs will impact your budget. Not just for the move itself, but for every month beyond.

Dana’s Take Our daughter recently moved to a new high school after attending the same school since preschool. I have been amazed by how well she and her friends have transitioned to new schools and even new cities. After initial jitters, they do fine – and always grow from the challenge. Sometimes the kids do better than their parents. A move across town could mean your usual babysitter won’t be willing to make that drive, and you’ll lose the watchful eyes of your next-door neighbors when you’re out of town.

Moving to a faraway city can create stresses for everyone as it takes time to form the genuine friendships in which you share confidences and seek advice.

To ease the transition, keep in touch with old friends and family while you develop a new support system. Technologies like Skype make this easier than ever.

Putting down new roots takes time and effort. However, you never know when the next person you meet could be the best friend you’ve ever had.

Continue reading
581 Hits

Are Weddings Really Worth Huge Expense?

Ray’s Take I once heard it said that large cathedral weddings cost around $1,000 per step – and some churches have long aisles! According to TheKnot.com, U.S. couples spend an average of over $25,600 on their weddings. Of course, that’s the “average” amount. When you take the mean cost – the point where most weddings cluster – the cost is just over $18,000 – still a substantial sum.

If a dream wedding is something a couple in love can afford, and it doesn’t put anyone in debt, there’s nothing wrong with spending that amount, or many times more. But not all parents and fewer about-to-be-weds have the financial resources on hand to do that.

What to do? Save in advance, scale back on expectations or both. You won’t be surprised to hear me state the best way to control wedding expenses is to create a realistic budget and stick to it. The inevitable emotions and expectations intertwined with wedding plans make sticking to a budget more than a little hard. Wedding planners, caterers, florists, and every other professional in the wedding industry will offer a host of unbudgeted but attractive additions to the big day. After saying “yes,” a couple has to spend a lot of time saying “no,” or else start piling on the costs – and debt.

I am a big advocate of starting with the budget and working backward. The couple getting married should identify just two or three things that really matter to them. They should then keep the bulk of their budget focused on those areas – be they venue, flowers, photography, food or whatever – and skimp on the rest.

Keep in mind that wedding guests are there to celebrate the formation of a new family, and don’t notice things like wedding favors or bridesmaid’s bouquets as much as you might imagine. The memories guests will treasure most have much less to do with catering or music. They’ll recall the joy on the faces of those being wed and this very happy and personal moment they shared.

Dana’s Take When planning a wedding, consider going vintage to start the marriage on good financial footing. Ask to look at family wedding albums going back several generations.

In days past, the reception was often held in the house of worship or the parents’ home. Is either an option? These days, we typically think of weddings as evening or weekend occasions, but traditionally weddings were likely to be morning affairs, followed by a wedding breakfast.

Is an heirloom ring or wedding band a possibility? Ray gave me his grandmother’s engagement ring from the 1920’s and I treasure it. If grandmother’s wedding dress is still viable, can it be adapted for the bride?

Thinking outside the consumer-driven wedding industry mind-set can dramatically reduce the wedding budget, it can also make a wedding more distinctive, personal, and memorable.

Continue reading
785 Hits

College Housing Options Have Different Costs

Ray’s Take: As if college tuition – and books – weren’t expensive enough, there’s also the cost of housing for your college student. Unlike the other two, however, this is one area where you can possibly have a little control over how much money is spent.

Many colleges offer various dorm options these days. The old complaints about lack of privacy and shared bathrooms aren’t necessarily valid – depending on how much you’re willing to pay. Dorms still provide less privacy and more distractions, however. That’s why some students opt to switch to housing off campus – and position it as a money saver.

When that happens, sit down with your student and do the math together. It isn’t just the cost of an apartment versus a dorm room, there are a lot of other factors to consider as well.

Campus housing usually includes utilities, high-speed Internet, cleaning services, basic furnishings, the option of a meal plan that offers a balanced diet, a built-in support system through resident assistants, and eliminates the need for transportation to and from campus. These are all expenses that will add to the cost of off-campus living. Plus, the student will have to do all his own cooking and cleaning. Is it ultimately worth it?

Some parents think they can largely offset college housing costs by buying a condo or house and then selling it when their child is through school. If they’re really lucky, this might work out. However, when you consider the short duration of ownership, wear-and-tear, and associated costs like taxes, insurance and local oversight, the odds are against them.

Do the math, and think through the social and college-experience aspects, too. There is no one right option, but there is a better one for your child.

Dana’s Take: Imagine a student having to get to an 8 a.m. class in 30-degree weather. As hard as it is for a student to get him or herself up in the morning at all, it is important to remove as many obstacles to class attendance as possible.

Students living off-campus may have to drive to campus, park on the outskirts of campus, and then walk to class.

University housing is nearly always a short walk to class, thus improving the odds of the student arriving to class to learn.

Might the parent or student save money by renting off-campus housing? Yes. The risk is that the off-campus student may miss more classes, resulting in a lower overall return on the education investment.

No one knows your college student better than you. If your child craves independent housing, make sure he or she has the tools and discipline to make it work financially, socially and academically. Otherwise the costs could be severe.

Continue reading
722 Hits

Traveling is a Worthwhile Investment

Ray’s Take When you set your spending priorities, don’t forget to consider travel. Assuming your finances and budget are adequately on track, investing dollars in traveling can repay a host of personal dividends.

You can rent a cabin at a nearby state park to enjoy experiences outside typical city life. Or, you can fly halfway around the world to discover totally different cultures, histories and foods. To broaden your range of experiences, travel need not entail lots of money or even great distances, it just needs to bring something different into your life.

The primary benefit of travel is it takes you outside your normal existence, helping to renew your spirit, and will hopefully expand your view of the world. Travel helps you break daily habits, unplug your various electronic devices (hopefully) and reawaken your sense of curiosity and adventure. Our family has found new and improved perspectives upon our return home. Perhaps the most exciting thing about travel is that you learn how the real world differs from what you experience through books, TV or movies. This holds true on a beach break or a trek up the Himalayas. There are wonders to be found in every environment, however, it’s only when we travel outside our normal realm that we see things with new eyes.

All the changes in your daily existence that travel entails help to enhance enthusiasm for life, build confidence, and connect with others in a different way. When you travel somewhere new, you bring home more than souvenirs. You bring home a new, more vibrant you. That’s certainly a worthwhile investment for anyone.

Dana’s Take When traveling with kids, it’s important to make sure your adventures are age appropriate. Teary, exhausted 2-year-olds seem to be a regular feature of theme parks. Typical 5-year-olds aren’t going to care about seeing the Louvre collection. Nothing can be more frustrating than expecting to open new doors for a child and finding the child could not care less.

Family-oriented tour groups could be the solution. There’s something about including others kids of a similar age – whether toddlers or teens – that seems to make children more receptive to different experiences. Perhaps it is because they are sharing these new experiences with members of their peer groups in addition to their parents.

When you do opt for a family-only trip, keep in mind the stamina and attention span of all family members. Little ones will usually have a better time in the afternoon if they get a chance to nap first. Teens often need a certain amount of alone time; letting them explore a museum on their own lets them focus on their interests and provides some autonomy. Whatever your destination, try to include your children’s input. That could make the biggest difference of all.

Continue reading
689 Hits

Traveling is a Worthwhile Investment

Ray’s Take When you set your spending priorities, don’t forget to consider travel. Assuming your finances and budget are adequately on track, investing dollars in traveling can repay a host of personal dividends.

You can rent a cabin at a nearby state park to enjoy experiences outside typical city life. Or, you can fly halfway around the world to discover totally different cultures, histories and foods. To broaden your range of experiences, travel need not entail lots of money or even great distances, it just needs to bring something different into your life.

The primary benefit of travel is it takes you outside your normal existence, helping to renew your spirit, and will hopefully expand your view of the world. Travel helps you break daily habits, unplug your various electronic devices (hopefully) and reawaken your sense of curiosity and adventure. Our family has found new and improved perspectives upon our return home. Perhaps the most exciting thing about travel is that you learn how the real world differs from what you experience through books, TV or movies. This holds true on a beach break or a trek up the Himalayas. There are wonders to be found in every environment, however, it’s only when we travel outside our normal realm that we see things with new eyes.

All the changes in your daily existence that travel entails help to enhance enthusiasm for life, build confidence, and connect with others in a different way. When you travel somewhere new, you bring home more than souvenirs. You bring home a new, more vibrant you. That’s certainly a worthwhile investment for anyone.

Dana’s Take When traveling with kids, it’s important to make sure your adventures are age appropriate. Teary, exhausted 2-year-olds seem to be a regular feature of theme parks. Typical 5-year-olds aren’t going to care about seeing the Louvre collection. Nothing can be more frustrating than expecting to open new doors for a child and finding the child could not care less.

Family-oriented tour groups could be the solution. There’s something about including others kids of a similar age – whether toddlers or teens – that seems to make children more receptive to different experiences. Perhaps it is because they are sharing these new experiences with members of their peer groups in addition to their parents.

When you do opt for a family-only trip, keep in mind the stamina and attention span of all family members. Little ones will usually have a better time in the afternoon if they get a chance to nap first. Teens often need a certain amount of alone time; letting them explore a museum on their own lets them focus on their interests and provides some autonomy. Whatever your destination, try to include your children’s input. That could make the biggest difference of all.

Continue reading
763 Hits

You Can Save Too Much for Retirement

Ray’s Take Around half of all workers older than 55 have less than $50,000 saved for retirement. We hear this message over and over along with warnings that many Americans may never be able to afford to quit working. Some respond by effectively giving up hope. Others keep saving, but live in constant anxiety that it probably won’t be enough. They may be fine and not even know it!

It is important to face the truth – good or bad – by determining what you do need to be saving. There’s a common rule of thumb for determining just how much money you need for retirement – and plenty of online calculators to help you determine that magic amount. Many of these formulas assume you’ll need around 70 to 80 percent of your working salary to fund your retirement lifestyle, along with investments that at least keep pace with inflation, and enough funds to live on for 30 (or more) years.

Of course, this is a generic formula and does not apply equally. If you’re currently seeing a large portion of your income go to day care, private school tuition, or a large mortgage; the percentage of your current income you’ll need for retirement may be lower. On the other hand, if you intend to travel the world in style when you retire, your post-retirement income needs could be substantially more than your current income.

Retirement is by far the largest investment you’ll ever make. It takes careful planning and shrewd investments. However, you also need to start with a clear goal so you’re not just saving for retirement at the expense of everything else.

Don’t secure your future at the cost of short-changing the rest of your life. It’s a balancing act. Without the right strategy and guidance, you could tip things in the wrong direction. Finally, once you face the beast and deal with retirement, don’t forget to go back at least once a year and see how you’re doing.

Dana’s Take Saving money for retirement can provide more comfort and more options. Quality of life in retirement, however, is not always determined by dollars saved. Community and activity can make the years better regardless of your bank balance.

Wealth without health is not much fun. Choose activities that promote health while building community. Volunteering at a community garden, walking pets at a shelter, and yoga classes all build health and friendships.

Retirees who serve their community reap rewards in social contact plus wellbeing from helping others. Choir, worship and prayer have soothed souls for centuries. Faith-based groups provide countless fellowship activities that feed the spirit while building a network of support.

Retirement can be the perfect time to pursue a purpose-driven life – on any budget. Adding life to your years can add years to your life.

Continue reading
611 Hits

You Can Save Too Much for Retirement

Ray’s Take Around half of all workers older than 55 have less than $50,000 saved for retirement. We hear this message over and over along with warnings that many Americans may never be able to afford to quit working. Some respond by effectively giving up hope. Others keep saving, but live in constant anxiety that it probably won’t be enough. They may be fine and not even know it!

It is important to face the truth – good or bad – by determining what you do need to be saving. There’s a common rule of thumb for determining just how much money you need for retirement – and plenty of online calculators to help you determine that magic amount. Many of these formulas assume you’ll need around 70 to 80 percent of your working salary to fund your retirement lifestyle, along with investments that at least keep pace with inflation, and enough funds to live on for 30 (or more) years.

Of course, this is a generic formula and does not apply equally. If you’re currently seeing a large portion of your income go to day care, private school tuition, or a large mortgage; the percentage of your current income you’ll need for retirement may be lower. On the other hand, if you intend to travel the world in style when you retire, your post-retirement income needs could be substantially more than your current income.

Retirement is by far the largest investment you’ll ever make. It takes careful planning and shrewd investments. However, you also need to start with a clear goal so you’re not just saving for retirement at the expense of everything else.

Don’t secure your future at the cost of short-changing the rest of your life. It’s a balancing act. Without the right strategy and guidance, you could tip things in the wrong direction. Finally, once you face the beast and deal with retirement, don’t forget to go back at least once a year and see how you’re doing.

Dana’s Take Saving money for retirement can provide more comfort and more options. Quality of life in retirement, however, is not always determined by dollars saved. Community and activity can make the years better regardless of your bank balance.

Wealth without health is not much fun. Choose activities that promote health while building community. Volunteering at a community garden, walking pets at a shelter, and yoga classes all build health and friendships.

Retirees who serve their community reap rewards in social contact plus wellbeing from helping others. Choir, worship and prayer have soothed souls for centuries. Faith-based groups provide countless fellowship activities that feed the spirit while building a network of support.

Retirement can be the perfect time to pursue a purpose-driven life – on any budget. Adding life to your years can add years to your life.

Continue reading
630 Hits

You Can Save Too Much for Retirement

Ray’s Take Around half of all workers older than 55 have less than $50,000 saved for retirement. We hear this message over and over along with warnings that many Americans may never be able to afford to quit working. Some respond by effectively giving up hope. Others keep saving, but live in constant anxiety that it probably won’t be enough. They may be fine and not even know it!

It is important to face the truth – good or bad – by determining what you do need to be saving. There’s a common rule of thumb for determining just how much money you need for retirement – and plenty of online calculators to help you determine that magic amount. Many of these formulas assume you’ll need around 70 to 80 percent of your working salary to fund your retirement lifestyle, along with investments that at least keep pace with inflation, and enough funds to live on for 30 (or more) years.

Of course, this is a generic formula and does not apply equally. If you’re currently seeing a large portion of your income go to day care, private school tuition, or a large mortgage; the percentage of your current income you’ll need for retirement may be lower. On the other hand, if you intend to travel the world in style when you retire, your post-retirement income needs could be substantially more than your current income.

Retirement is by far the largest investment you’ll ever make. It takes careful planning and shrewd investments. However, you also need to start with a clear goal so you’re not just saving for retirement at the expense of everything else.

Don’t secure your future at the cost of short-changing the rest of your life. It’s a balancing act. Without the right strategy and guidance, you could tip things in the wrong direction. Finally, once you face the beast and deal with retirement, don’t forget to go back at least once a year and see how you’re doing.

Dana’s Take Saving money for retirement can provide more comfort and more options. Quality of life in retirement, however, is not always determined by dollars saved. Community and activity can make the years better regardless of your bank balance.

Wealth without health is not much fun. Choose activities that promote health while building community. Volunteering at a community garden, walking pets at a shelter, and yoga classes all build health and friendships.

Retirees who serve their community reap rewards in social contact plus wellbeing from helping others. Choir, worship and prayer have soothed souls for centuries. Faith-based groups provide countless fellowship activities that feed the spirit while building a network of support.

Retirement can be the perfect time to pursue a purpose-driven life – on any budget. Adding life to your years can add years to your life.

Continue reading
605 Hits

You Can Save Too Much for Retirement

Ray’s Take Around half of all workers older than 55 have less than $50,000 saved for retirement. We hear this message over and over along with warnings that many Americans may never be able to afford to quit working. Some respond by effectively giving up hope. Others keep saving, but live in constant anxiety that it probably won’t be enough. They may be fine and not even know it!

It is important to face the truth – good or bad – by determining what you do need to be saving. There’s a common rule of thumb for determining just how much money you need for retirement – and plenty of online calculators to help you determine that magic amount. Many of these formulas assume you’ll need around 70 to 80 percent of your working salary to fund your retirement lifestyle, along with investments that at least keep pace with inflation, and enough funds to live on for 30 (or more) years.

Of course, this is a generic formula and does not apply equally. If you’re currently seeing a large portion of your income go to day care, private school tuition, or a large mortgage; the percentage of your current income you’ll need for retirement may be lower. On the other hand, if you intend to travel the world in style when you retire, your post-retirement income needs could be substantially more than your current income.

Retirement is by far the largest investment you’ll ever make. It takes careful planning and shrewd investments. However, you also need to start with a clear goal so you’re not just saving for retirement at the expense of everything else.

Don’t secure your future at the cost of short-changing the rest of your life. It’s a balancing act. Without the right strategy and guidance, you could tip things in the wrong direction. Finally, once you face the beast and deal with retirement, don’t forget to go back at least once a year and see how you’re doing.

Dana’s Take Saving money for retirement can provide more comfort and more options. Quality of life in retirement, however, is not always determined by dollars saved. Community and activity can make the years better regardless of your bank balance.

Wealth without health is not much fun. Choose activities that promote health while building community. Volunteering at a community garden, walking pets at a shelter, and yoga classes all build health and friendships.

Retirees who serve their community reap rewards in social contact plus wellbeing from helping others. Choir, worship and prayer have soothed souls for centuries. Faith-based groups provide countless fellowship activities that feed the spirit while building a network of support.

Retirement can be the perfect time to pursue a purpose-driven life – on any budget. Adding life to your years can add years to your life.

Continue reading
716 Hits

Does Your College Student Know Debt?

Ray’s Take Too many of us are sending our kids to college with no understanding of how to handle – or better yet avoid – debt. A recent survey revealed that while 70 percent of undergrads had credit cards, fewer than 10 percent paid them off in full each month. Even worse, a mere 14 percent knew what their interest rate was!

Consider that the average credit card debt for college students is over $3,000, and that’s on top of student loans that average more than $30,000. That’s a significant financial headwind for these kids before they even start their independent lives. A tougher job market makes this handicap even more difficult.

The recent economic downturn has reduced credit card use by college kids somewhat – they’re turning more to debit cards. However, they still need to understand how their cards – credit or debit – work, what the interest rates are and what financial penalties they may incur for overdrawing/spending or late/missed payments. They need to learn these things before credit card offers arrive at their college dorm rooms.

Most kids see these transactions as a quick swipe of the card and you leave with whatever you want. They rarely see the bill paying part of the transaction. While your kids are still in high school, explain the intricacies of credit and debit cards to them and consider giving them a card-wielding experience you can supervise. There are secured credit cards and co-signer cards that involve you in the credit decisions – for better or worse. This gives you an opportunity to supervise the experience and will help your kid build the credit rating needed to rent an apartment or buy a car later. When you know your credit is on the line as well as your child’s, that’s a powerful incentive to make sure your kid understands the repercussions of every credit purchase they make, both when the bill comes due and in the long term.

Dana’s Take The come-ons for credit cards can be really sweet – especially to the ears of a cash-strapped college student: no annual fee the first year, no interest for the first six months or more, maybe even an account credit just for signing up and using that card for the first time.

Which college student wouldn’t want to be able to use someone else’s money in order to buy that emergency pizza or concert tickets? With no interest, there’s no incentive to pay the balance in full. Optimistic college students believe the money will come in later to cover everything. Except it doesn’t. Sooner than expected, that credit card interest-free honeymoon expires, and your college student is facing horrendous interest rates. So when you’re teaching them about the proper use of credit cards, make sure they’re well aware of the dangerous seduction of credit card companies – and avoid them like the plague.

Continue reading
734 Hits

Don’t Panic Over Scary Financial News

Ray’s Take If it’s not another country defaulting on their debts it’s political gridlock on economic issues here or ominous predictions about the Federal Reserve. The news seems to be featuring more than its share of scary economic news these days.

The question is: What should you do? First and foremost, don’t panic. That’s when the worst investment decisions are made. Remember, bad news attracts more television viewers than good. Rarely are things quite as dire as those talking heads predict.

Secondly, the best course of action could be to do nothing. That doesn’t mean the market won’t react to bad news – and react badly. However, if you follow the herd and sell when everyone else does, you’ll be losing money. You might call it “cutting your losses.” I call it losing money. It sounds tempting to “play it safe” until you think it’s OK to venture back, but it rarely works.

Numerous studies show that those holding tight during market downturns usually come out better when the market rebounds. It might take time, but the alternative is selling when prices are low and then reinvesting when they go up again. That’s not the best approach to growing your nest egg. Don’t go looking for a crystal ball when simply avoiding fear and greed in investing will produce better results.

Even the smartest professional investors don’t know exactly when to move in or out of the stock market. But that doesn’t prevent a lot of salespeople from implying they know the secret. By the time you figure out they really don’t, it’s usually too late.

Maintain easy-to-access cash for emergencies along with an allocation matched to your needs and time horizon; structured to weather bad times and benefit from good ones. Then you won’t need to panic when bad financial news looms.

Dana’s Take Bad financial times can be a good thing for kids and adults. An economic downturn reminds us that what goes up will go down – so expect it and plan for it.

When prosperity is on the rise, it’s easy to plan only for continued prosperity. If you bought an expensive home at the peak of the real estate market, you know what I mean. Ouch.

It’s just as important for a child to learn about losing money as making it. Allow your child or young adult to feel the pain when he or she makes a poor financial choice. Don’t rush in with a bailout. Let the child work out a solution.

Don’t feel bad if your kids experience family financial setbacks. Those scary drops in the economy are a reality check. Were we spending and borrowing based on an exclusively optimistic plan for the future? Your kids will learn from it and may become great savers and financial planners some day.

Sometimes bad economic times can provide life’s greatest lessons.

Continue reading
765 Hits

Don’t Lose Your Investment Balance

Ray’s Take What’s the right portfolio balance for you? There are no stock answers (no pun intended). The makeup of your personal stock, bond and investment portfolio balance is as individual as your fingerprints. It depends on your age, the number of kids you have, your fixed and discretionary costs, your income, risk tolerance, your health, your spending habits, and much more – not to mention your specific financial goals.

However, people often just follow the general rule of thumb – accepting riskier investments when they are young and gradually moving to more conservative ones as they age. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach, but it ignores a lot of the nuances that impact each household.

Determining your investment balance is the key to reaching your goals. If putting together a financial plan and determining what your balance of investments should be is a daunting task, consult with a financial adviser. It’s too important to “wing.”

Even after you have developed an investment portfolio balance that suits your particular needs and goals, you’ll still have to make changes along the way. These variations will not only reflect changes in your current situation and age but will also be influenced by fluctuations in the capital markets. You’ll need to occasionally make changes in order to maintain your investment plan balance. But don’t overreact. If you’re reallocating more than once or twice a year you’re probably doing more harm than good.

Financial planning is a balancing act all around: balancing the diversity of your investments, balancing savings against current financial needs, and balancing short-term and long-term goals. When you keep everything in balance, your investment balance sheet should continue to grow.

Dana’s Take Emotional balance is just as important when it comes to money matters. We all have complicated relationships with money, reaching back to our childhoods. The way we see money today – whether as a symbol of freedom, something to worry about, or a sign of materialism – has a lot to do with how we save and spend it.

Changing the emotional responses you have to money isn’t easy. However, if you are at least aware of when your emotions come into play, it can help to make financial decisions less about your feelings and more about your actual needs.

It’s not good to be the proverbial grasshopper, who has a great time spending everything but then faces financial ruin. Neither is it good to be the ant, who saves every cent but fails to enjoy life. The optimum position lies somewhere in between. Find the spot that balances your lifestyle and your hopes for the future, and money becomes a tool for you to use instead of something that rules you.

Continue reading
783 Hits

What If You Need Money – Fast?

Ray’s Take Sometimes bad things happen. Despite careful financial planning you can simply hit something you’re not prepared for. The fact is no matter how well you plan for financial security, something outside of your control can happen and threaten your plan, your lifestyle, and potentially your solvency.

What do you do then?

You start by reviewing your discretionary expenses: cable, high-speed Internet, morning frappuchinos, entertainment – they all probably have to go. You may need to consider more drastic measures like selling your car or downsizing your home. Big-ticket purchases will need to be delayed.

However, cutting back only gets you so far and your situation may not allow for a gradual work out. You may need to think about borrowing just to keep a roof over your head. This is where one needs to be careful – there are a lot of seemingly easy, high-interest options out there. The easier the solution sounds, the worse it will probably be in the long run.

While borrowing from family or friends can be embarrassing and put relationships at risk, that might be your best source for financial help. Just be sure to put everything in writing to keep everything crystal clear to all parties.

If you are participating in your company’s 401(k) plan, you can possibly borrow from that. This could be a good option as any interest charged on your loan goes back into your account, reducing actual costs. But your paycheck will automatically be reduced by the repayment schedule and be aware that you’ll also pay all taxes and a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if that money is not restored within the guidelines.

After this, your money options get more costly and have a larger impact on your credit rating. A home equity loan or secured personal loan could be a possibility. Margin loans on your portfolio are an option, but they too have risks and can be expensive. Try to avoid cash advances on your credit card at all costs.

However, before you go into debt, look hard at your expenses. Anything you don’t spend makes that emergency fund last longer.

Dana’s Take When faced with a money meltdown, before borrowing think back to the Great Depression and how grandmother and grandfather got by.

Sharing a home or taking in renters was one solution. If you’re renting, consider moving in with a senior adult and helping with driving, cooking or companionship in exchange for housing. Working as a live-in nanny is another option. Get creative.

To earn extra money, women cooked pies or took in laundry and men did handy work. Can you or someone in your family tutor or provide pet walking, lawn care, babysitting, or grocery shopping services?

Who knows, you may even discover a whole new career path that is fulfilling as well as lucrative.

Continue reading
711 Hits

How to Handle Your Child’s Financial Trouble

Ray’s Take You’ve finally reached the point where your children are grown and launched, and are looking forward to a secure retirement, or at least a slower financial headwind. Suddenly, catastrophe strikes one of your kids. Should you help, even if it could jeopardize your own future?

A lot depends on the nature of the problem. Every situation is unique and there are no pat answers. However, it’s wisest to proceed with caution.

According to the AARP, people over 55 are in the group most likely to declare bankruptcy. Medical expenses and debt are factors in this, along with giving money to adult children. Too often parents are so anxious to ride to the rescue they wind up putting themselves in financial straits.

Obviously, if a child is suffering from a debilitating illness, you’ll want to help and should. But in many circumstances, you might want to think twice.

A divorce, loss of a job, or some other major financial setback is something almost everyone faces at some time. A knee-jerk turn to parents for help could be a sign that the adult child was not engaged in wise financial planning to begin with – there was no emergency fund or savings to fall back on.

In cases like these, you can offer support without necessarily opening your checkbook. Just listening can make a big difference. Through active listening you may pick up problem-solving ideas or be able to make useful suggestions. If suggestions are ignored in a search for fast cash, a handout may be the worst thing you can do.

You could find a professional financial resource to help your child through the situation, or enroll him in a financial planning seminar. If you feel you absolutely must contribute financially, have a clear understanding of boundaries. Remember, though, the best help is often to counsel and encourage, and refrain from offering a bailout.

Dana’s Take Teen and young adult messes get costly – cell phones break and cars get wrecked. If we show our kids that their mistakes are our problems to fix, they may never stop sending us the bills for their disasters – and worse, they may never grow up. It’s hard to stop swooping in to the rescue, I know.

As a responsible parent, it’s up to you to cut those financial apron strings so your children will focus on their problems and think seriously about how they can solve them. This is the only way they’ll develop the financial management skills they need to succeed in life.

The sooner your kids learn those skills the better. If they seem to be floundering, you can provide guidance, but providing cash gifts or loans will not only keep them from figuring out how to handle things on their own, ultimately it could put a major strain on your relationship.

Continue reading
701 Hits

Go Homemade This Christmas

Ray’s Take Black Friday may be getting close, when the rush of holiday shopping begins in earnest, but I’m already seeing decorations up. You could do yourself, your wallet and your loved ones a big favor by skipping all the crowds, hassles and budget-busting store temptations by dedicating this season to a homemade Christmas.

Homemade gifts and decorations aren’t just about saving money, though they usually do save dollars even after you buy any needed supplies. Just the fact that you aren’t in a store where impulse buying is an ever-present risk is a big budgetary advantage. Beyond that, homemade gifts show that you took the time and effort to make something special, personal and completely unique for those you care about.

With all the commercialization of the holidays, it can be hard to remember that part of the reason we give gifts is to celebrate our love for each other. After all, homemade means you care about someone enough to devote yourself to making something special. Less really can be more.

Homemade is an opportunity to build family memories as well. Everything from holiday cards to tree decorations can be designed and created by all ages of your family working together. From holiday cookies to origami cranes, there’s a world of options available.

For example, each family member could contribute a new holiday ornament each year. Even decades later, everyone will remember the creative process they went through and will probably cherish those simple ornaments over the most elaborate ones from any store.

While saving money is always great – especially at this time of year – creating treasured memories and handcrafted family heirlooms for the future is invaluable. What could be better than passing up buying the latest fad toy or fashion and instead investing time showing how you really care about family and friends with a gift from your hands and your heart?

Dana’s Take Even if you don’t usually engage in crafty activities, or feel that you don’t have an artistic bone in your body, there are plenty of homemade gifts and decorations you and your family can create together or in secret.

The Internet is awash with thousands of ideas, from the exceptionally simple to the extremely complex, not to mention enough food gift ideas to fill a shelf of cookbooks. You can easily find ideas that suit your abilities, your budget and the people you want to delight.

If you can’t see your family going totally homemade, try encouraging everyone to create at least one homemade gift. Doing that can encourage creativity and maybe even inspire the desire to learn a new household skill or develop a different hobby. When you step away from the shopping mall and into your own imagination, anything can happen. That puts real magic into the season.

Continue reading
709 Hits

Automate for Painless Saving

Ray’s Take Saving is hard. There are so many temptations when you have to make a conscious decision to put money aside each paycheck. For many, the money goes straight into a checking account, and then flows right out again to pay an endless stream of bills.

If something is left over it might go into savings, but how often is something left over? Our intentions are good, but even with modern technology easing the way, inertia is still a powerful force: An object at rest tends to stay at rest.

I’m a big believer in PYF, the “pay yourself first” philosophy – before you pay all your bills and expenses, you should save something for yourself first, not last. After all, isn’t your future at least as important as all those other responsibilities? So why not save to secure it?

Putting your savings plan on automatic is the easiest way to make “pay yourself first” a reality. It’s easier to save when the process is something you don’t have to think about – there are no additional steps to take, and the decision of what to save has already been made. Even better, when you don’t see the money in the first place, you’re far less likely to miss it.

The first step is to contribute the maximum to your retirement plan, not just enough to get any match. It’s hard to spend money that you never “get.” After that, you should set up an automatic draft from your checking account to your investment accounts. Most mutual funds are glad to set these up.

Try to automatically save as much as you can, but even if it is little as $50 a month, you’re creating the habit of regular investing. When you get a raise, be sure to “raise” your PYF. At some point you can calculate in more detail exactly how much you need to save for various goals, but at least you’re already saving.

Make automatic savings your first tool to “pay yourself first,” and you’ll be surprised at how quickly the money accrues.

Dana’s Take To instill the idea of saving, or “paying yourself first,” in your children, take advantage of their natural love for ritual and tradition.

As soon as you start giving a child an allowance, make it clear that part of that allowance is to be saved for the future. However, don’t just hold that money for her. Have your child place it herself in a special bank or container so that she can see it grow.

You might even add some aspirational statement to the occasion, something like: “What I’m saving will get me a bicycle/video game/whatever.” By doing this every time your child receives an allowance, you are instilling the idea of saving as a positive force from the very start. That can only serve well for the future.

Continue reading
772 Hits

Plan Your Legacy

Ray’s Take Webster defines legacy as “something received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” Our personal legacy is what we are remembered for; the contributions we have made to our family, our community, and our world.

We might not have the enormous financial abilities of a Bill Gates or Warren Buffet to shape and improve the future, but we all still leave some kind of mark on the world after we’re gone. The lessons we’ve taught our kids, the people we’ve mentored in the workplace, the causes we’ve contributed to financially or through volunteer efforts are all part of our legacy.

It is worth taking the time to think what you want your legacy to be. Instead of just continuing to consume or accumulate material things, think of how you can deliberately craft a legacy for the future – both by giving of your abilities and time and through financial commitments.

How do you want to be remembered? How would you like to brighten the future? Think about what you want your legacy to be and form strategies to achieve it. Your legacy doesn’t have to change the world. It can be very local. However, the only way you can shape your legacy is to take steps now – and in the future – so you are able to mark your progress toward achieving the legacy you envision.

Of course, many people leave a legacy they actually never see to fruition – think of John F. Kennedy and the space program. I often encourage people to leave a financial legacy through their estate plans. Planned giving to an organization like the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis can have a lasting, positive impact on your community that reaches far into the future.

Dana’s Take Those of us who have children may see them as our legacy. What kind of legacy are we leaving the world? Will our children’s financial habits today cause problems in their futures?

Ray says the best financial advice is to spend less than you make. Are your children starting with good financial habits? As parents we seem to be nudging our kids into bigger and better lifestyles and we don’t expect them to pay the tab.

How many kids and teens have a $600 iPhone with a $40-per-month data obligation? Lots. How many of them are actually paying those bills? Not many. If a teen has a $4-a-day Frappuccino habit, is he or she saving for those purchases? What about the manicures and pedicures? Unlikely.

Children learn what they live. If we want them to learn responsibility, we have to expect them to act responsibly. That includes their money habits. As you make daily decisions with your children, think about the legacy you and they will leave.

Continue reading
776 Hits

Could You Be Facing Disaster?

Ray’s Take Studies claim 70 percent of Americans are a mere three weeks from being unable to pay household bills – largely because they live paycheck-to-paycheck with little to no reserves to fall back on if anything out of the ordinary happens. This is not just at the lower income strata. It includes high earners too.

Inevitably, something out of the ordinary will happen because no one actually lives a charmed life. The tipping point could be anything from a job loss to a health issue to financial losses due to liability exposure.

If you typically check to make sure your latest paycheck has cleared before you pay your monthly bills, you might want to keep reading.

Here are a few of the warning signs: more than 20 percent of your income goes toward loan payments; you have less than six months’ expenses in an emergency fund; you’re anxiously awaiting the next limit increase on your credit cards; or you regularly pay less than the full balance on your credit cards.

Falling into the credit and loan trap and putting yourself at financial risk is easy. Getting out – not so much. Many people assume that when a company is willing to lend you the money or set a high credit limit that it is a good thing. That’s not necessarily true.

Instead of thinking, “How much will the payments be?” focus on the actual cost, and that’s including the cost of interest if it’s a big item (like a car) that requires a loan.

However, the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself from potential financial disaster is develop a monthly budget that includes savings – even if you have to give up little luxuries – and then stick to that budget.

When financial setbacks strike, having that savings could make all the difference in the world.

Dana’s Take Staying in denial about your financial situation doesn’t make it get any better. Setting aside those credit card bills till the last possible moment because you simply can’t stand to see how much you owe is not dealing with the problem.

If you have a spouse, involve your partner in finding the solution to your money woes. It may be one of you has a better head for figures or a stronger idea of monthly expenses. If it took two people to get you in a precarious financial situation, then those same two people should work together to resolve the situation.

If you’re single and feeling lost, reach out for an accountability partner. It could be a friend or church member. The partner isn’t responsible for fixing the problems, just listening and supporting you through taking action.

If you still feel overwhelmed, get professional financial advice.

Dealing with debt is easier to face when you know you’re not alone.

Continue reading
674 Hits

Talk to Your Parents About Their Future

Ray’s Take It’s a conversation no one wants to have; however, it’s important to have at least an idea of how financially prepared your parents are for their retirement. People are living longer – much longer – and the costs for senior care are soaring. Many older Americans saw a large portion of their nest egg disappear in the last recession.

All these factors explain why the percentage of adult children providing some level of care for their parents has more than tripled in the past 15 years, including 41 percent of the baby boomer generation.

Your parents might not welcome inquiries about their financial situation. They could see it as none of your business, or an attempt to take control. It can help to involve a third party. Ask them to go with you to a financial seminar for retirees or set up a joint appointment with a financial adviser for a consultation.

By bringing in an outside professional you give everyone a greater sense of comfort when discussing money matters. Otherwise it’s too easy to revert to old “parent-child” roles.

If it turns out your parents are in good shape, all you need to do is make sure you know where all their important paperwork is – original wills, financial records, insurance policies, powers of attorney – or know who does know this. Plus, find out if there’s a lock box and where the key is.

If you learn your parents are not in good shape financially, you and your siblings might need to step in. There may be assets that can be sold to increase savings. It might be time to consider a reverse mortgage on their home, though this is usually a last resort. You might need to open your home to them.

You’ll want to do what you can to help, just be sure not to put your own financially secure retirement at risk in the process.

Dana’s Take Parents are always talking about setting up college funds for their kids, often giving that goal priority over saving for their own retirement. This can be a costly mistake for both generations.

When you take saving for your own retirement seriously, you’re freeing your children from what could be a tremendous financial burden later. The best gift you can ever give your children and grandchildren is your own financial independence.

If you run out of money in your senior years – or don’t have enough to meet basic needs – who will pick up the slack? Is that the legacy you want to give your kids?

Paying for a college education for your kids is admirable, but don’t let it sink your own future. Your kids would be much better off paying for their own higher education now and not supporting you at the same time they’re trying to raise your grandchildren.

Continue reading
668 Hits

Lessons of the Great Recession

Ray’s Take This last recession was a real wakeup call for everyone: once secure jobs evaporated, homes values were halved, retirement portfolios surrendered a decade’s worth of gains. It was a painful experience all around.

However, did we – as investors – learn anything to prevent the same thing from happening again, or at least to mitigate the impact? Maybe.

We clearly learned that stocks don’t always go up, and a mix of stocks and lower risk assets is still a better way to reduce risk. In fact, the closer you are to retirement, the more you should consider reducing risk in your portfolio. Further, accelerating your retirement date after a sudden investment run-up is a risky choice, as markets seem to overshoot at each end.

Buying a home is about owning a place to live rather than investing in a giant piggy bank. People who stretched too far when buying, or kept refinancing their homes to cash in on inflated home prices wound up in trouble when the housing bubble collapsed. Debt is not your friend. Your home is not an ATM, and planning on selling it to finance your retirement is not likely to work out well.

We discovered that no job is truly safe. Families need to have the ability to live on one income, because they might have to do just that for months on end. That also means building an emergency fund of easy-to-access money covering six to twelve months of expenses is a must.

The Great Recession also taught us that college graduates may be headed back home again, that just because someone is willing to lend you money doesn’t mean you can afford to repay the debt, and television “experts” don’t have the answers. Finally, don’t invest in something you don’t understand. Ever.

It’s up to us what we do with these lessons.

Dana’s Take For quite a while there, many of us were living so well that we forgot the difference between wants and needs. Actual needs are fairly few: a place to live, healthy food and water, transportation of some sort, basic clothing and household items, and general health care. Pretty much everything else is a want. In fact, enhancements on these basics are actually “wants” too.

You might want that big house, but families have survived and thrived in much smaller abodes. You may want a new car every few years, but you may not actually need a car at all.

Recognizing when something is a want rather than a need not only makes it easier to stick to a budget and save money, it can also make a change in your life. Instead of being burdened by all the possessions and services you think you need, you can focus on what you need the most – the companionship of your family and friends.

Continue reading
750 Hits

Don’t Leave Your Kids a Big Mess

Ray’s Take You may believe your financial records are fairly well organized. However, you could unwittingly be leaving your loved ones a big mess. No one likes to dwell on dying, but one day we’ll all “make the switch,” and a little planning can greatly ease the pain for those left behind.

All families need to have certain legal documents in order. These include a valid and regularly reviewed will, a living will and an official assignment of power of attorney for both health care issues and finances – which can be two different individuals.

In addition, all financial records should be summarized and easily accessible, including Social Security numbers, insurance policies, brokerage and bank accounts, and loan and credit card information. If a lot of this is computerized and password protected, have a written record of that information as well. You need to let someone know you have a lock box, where it is and where the key is kept.

Then let someone know where everything is and how it is organized, preferably the qualified person you selected as executor of your estate and/or power of attorney. Plus, tell your heirs what to expect in clear language. Your death will be shock enough for them to deal with at the time.

It’s important to keep the various beneficiaries of different financial instruments updated, too. If an ex-spouse is listed as a beneficiary, that person will still benefit even if you have remarried. Beneficiary designations on insurance, annuities, and retirement plans trumps whatever your will says every time.

If it all sounds a little confusing to you now, imagine how your family and friends will feel when they are have to deal with a financial mess on top of their grief. Get the advice of an estate attorney or financial adviser. A few hours invested now will protect your loved ones from many troubles later.

Dana’s Take Our 12-year-old son has been asking us lately, “How much money do you have?” Discussing family finances is not appropriate at his age, but when is the right time? Once the child is an adult, both sides can feel pretty uncomfortable talking about emotionally loaded topics like illness, death and inheritance.

Consider retaining a Certified Financial Planner to look over your finances and discuss your future. After that, call a family meeting with the financial planner present to go over insurance coverage, care options, and future financial needs or distributions.

Such a meeting gives heirs a chance to ask questions and address issues that might be important to them, yet overlooked by you. Inviting a professional to join the conversation can help everyone prepare for the future.

No one likes to talk about change and loss but maintaining silence could result in bad feelings and family fractures instead of the memories you would rather leave behind.

Continue reading
713 Hits

Think Twice Before Picking Retirement Date

Ray’s Take “When I hit age 65, I’m out of here,” is a common enough observation. Global competition, increased governmental regulation and the speed of technological innovation have made working careers more unnerving than ever. That magical number “65” was selected a long time ago when life expectancies were a good bit shorter. We run our retirement models to at least age 95 now. Delaying retirement beyond that magical number of 65 for even a few years can make a significant difference in your financial security.

Let’s say you delay retirement for three years. That means your monthly Social Security benefits would start larger and have a greater base for cost of living increases. It also means any 401(k) or pension plans you participate in would have three more years of contributions and growth. Your non-qualified savings and investments would also have three additional years of potential growth. Plus, these incremental increases will compound in value over time.

However, the biggest reasons for delaying retirement is that you won’t have to start withdrawing from your savings for living expenses for those years, and you have three fewer years of life expectancy.

Don’t assume you’ll magically find part-time work – a “plan” I hear expressed sometimes. Those jobs just aren’t out there. Employers tend to hire someone younger with more current skill sets, and who would have less of an impact on the cost of benefits and require a lower salary.

The key is to make a realistic plan that factors in inflation, long life expectancy and loads of surprises. If there’s not much room for error in that plan, it’s not likely to turn out well. That may require you to work longer, save more or both.

Dana’s Take Working longer isn’t only beneficial to your financial situation. Studies show staying employed is better for your health and mental well-being, too. When you’re working, you stay busy, connected to others and have a clear purpose. Those are all positive factors that may not be easy to replace in retirement.

One study found that retirement increased the likelihood of clinical depression by 40 percent and the chance of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60 percent. The study concluded that there were health benefits to staying employed past traditional retirement age.

On the other hand, a study by the American Psychological Association Center for Organizational Excellence found that workers over age 55 were the demographic most satisfied with how their job fit into their lives, with 80 percent of them acknowledging job enjoyment as the reason they continued to work – a number 22 percentage points higher than those 18 to 34.

Why quit work when you’re enjoying it most? Stay on the job an extra few years for your health as well as your wealth.

Continue reading
668 Hits

Be Aware of Your Company’s Finances

Ray’s Take In the “good old days,” many individuals felt comfortable with a lifetime employment approach to their careers. Perhaps they might not become wealthy, but they felt their jobs and pensions were secure. They would then blithely go about their tasks without paying attention to what else was going on in their company. The world is very different now, and it is now essential to regularly scan the health of your career, the company you work for and its competitors.

Do you know how financially stable your company is? If you work for a publicly traded company, the stock market may give you some idea, though that is only one factor. There’s a host of public information out there, starting with things as basic as an annual report. A company’s financial outlook is just as important for the 52 percent of Americans who work for small companies. Either way, you need to be alert for warning signs to protect your future.

Small changes could add up to big consequences, and you are more likely to spot them before the research analysts on Wall Street. Sudden changes or cutbacks can be the beginning. Other signs are reductions in health benefits or 401(k) contributions.

Personnel changes could be warning signs, too. If top-level employees are leaving, they may know something you don’t. Changes in the regular workflow, an inordinate number of closed door meetings and employee vacancies going unfilled are other causes for concern.

Anytime a company is sold, sells off key assets or engages in a merger, it could indicate a potential problem. In the case of mergers, the resulting company may be stronger, but you might find your job is redundant.

If you start to see the warnings of cash-flow problems or major change coming to your employer, keep in mind your personal productivity has a lot to do with your company’s financial future. Try to be part of the solution your company needs, but keep your resume and networking skills fresh. Just in case.

Dana’s Take Just like an earthquake drill, a good career drill is writing down people you would contact in case your job, employer or industry started to feel shaky. Neighbors, church and school friends, and even former co-workers can be good sources of job possibilities.

If you’re out of touch with some of the people on your list, get busy. Reach out and catch up over coffee or lunch. Sign up on social media like Facebook and LinkedIn and get your name circulating.

If your list of contacts looks skimpy, get involved. Consider joining professional associations, business, or civic groups. Volunteering can be a great source of contacts, too.

So turn off that video game and get out there. Building a network of support can lead to great things in your work life and social life.

Continue reading
729 Hits

De-Clutter for Cash and Control

Ray’s Take Marketers are very good at persuading you to buy stuff. That’s why so many homes are literally stuffed so full that additional storage facilities have become a booming business. Instead of you controlling your stuff, it controls you.

Clear away all that clutter and you will not only have more time, peace of mind, and space to breathe – it could help enrich your bank account. Tim Luke, from HGTV’s “Cash in the Attic,” believes the average American household could gain $1,000 to $2,000 by selling unneeded stuff. While that may seem like a drop in the bucket in the big scheme of things, breaking the “acquisition cycle” can be a significant and life changing event.

There are plenty of avenues for selling things you don’t need, from fine antiques to old floral vases. Chose the right one to maximize the money you make. Yard or tag sales are great for small items, clothes, and other inexpensive items. More valuable items that are relatively easy to pack and ship might bring more on eBay or Amazon. Craigslist can be used for almost anything. For truly valuable items you might use an auction company or consignment shop. While the fees are higher, you have a better chance of finding the right buyer for the best price.

For some it is all “found money.” For others, it’s a cold slap in the face when they remember how much they paid for these items in the first place.

A more symbolic and karma-enhancing gesture might be to donate to a worthy cause, so it all goes to those who really need them. Whether you de-clutter for money or charity, you stand to regain control of your home and your life as long as you don’t rush out and start the cycle over again. That could be the richest benefit of all.

Dana’s Take Close your eyes and imagine how you want to feel in your home. Serene? Does that peaceful home look clean and sunny? For most of us, that’s the ideal. While that is a satisfying vision, we tend to purchase and hang onto so much stuff that we end up with the opposite effect: clutter.

A few years ago, a home staging professional changed my vision of uncluttered. She removed about 60 percent of our decor, leaving a spare 40 percent. She removed rugs, photographs, tables, chairs, dressers and bookcases. The result was a shining clean home that felt like a spa. I wanted that home. Wait, it was my home – minus a ton of excess furniture and all those “just in case” items that filled every closet and cabinet.

A stager or organizing professional can deliver the serene home of your dreams. After they leave, imagine how much time and money you will save on shopping by maintaining your new Zen décor.

Continue reading
699 Hits

Buying Used Can Save You Money – Most of the Time

Ray’s Take: Too often as individuals consider ways to improve their financial situation they first look at the income side of the ledger; how to earn more money or increase their investment return. More often than not, we have much more control over the expense side of the ledger. You can save a lot of money buying some things used rather than new. However, you can also waste money that way, too. Doing your homework and knowing the worth of what you’re buying can make all the difference.

The biggest single savings comes from buying a used car. A new car loses 20 percent of its value as soon as it leaves the lot, and typically another 10 per cent that first year. Since auto manufacturers no longer redesign their cars each year, your friends might not even know the difference.

A few other things it makes sense to buy used are books, especially textbooks; sports and exercise equipment; a wide range of tools; silverware, dishes, and stemware; and young children’s clothes, which are so quickly outgrown; and furniture.

When you buy used, you might spend more time shopping around. Only you can determine if the savings is worth that effort; or, if savings matter more than pride in a new possession. It’s always a trade off.

That said, there are some things you should probably never buy used: personal items like mattresses, makeup, or shoes; laptop computers and tablets that could have been dropped, spilled on, or otherwise abused; and used software, which usually has limits to the times it can be used.

I’ll take things a step further – why buy at all? There are libraries for books, music and other rentals – most of them at no charge whatsoever. Moving is always sobering when you have to deal with all your stuff, much of which has never been used. Think about that before you add to the stack.

New, used, free or skipped – make careful choices for your wallet, your safety and your health.

Dana’s Take: We sometimes forget that fixing what we already have is an alternative to either buying new or used. Revolutions Memphis, a community bike shop in Cooper-Young, is changing that.

The Revolutions Memphis workshop in the basement of First Congregational Church rehabilitates and recycles donated bicycles and gives them to kids and adults who need them. Their Earn-A-Bike program allows a volunteer who has rehabilitated a bike for someone in need to then fix up another bike – and keep it.

I took my son there to volunteer and learn about fixing bikes. Once he got his hands dirty cleaning a bike chain, he was all smiles.

The vintage-friendly lifestyle of Cooper-Young was a refreshing change from the big-box consumer mentality of East Memphis. Who knew that “used” could be so cool?

Continue reading
644 Hits

Bundle of Joy Can Cost You Bundle of Cash

Ray’s Take I was asked once if two could live as cheaply as one. I answered, “Certainly, as long as one of them didn’t eat or wear clothes.” Most couples realize having a baby is going to mean extra expenses. However, many are shocked when they realize just how high those expenses are. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, a child born in 2011 will cost an average of $235,000 to raise to age 17. That number doesn’t include a penny for private tuition or college.

Fortunately, that is spread over all those years. The bad news is for even low-income families, raising a child still costs $212,000.

Of course, planning – and saving – for these additional expenses makes the most sense. Long before families are started, I suggest couples live on one of their incomes, saving all of the other. That helps create a pretty good portfolio and accustoms the family to a single-income source, should they decide one of them should be a stay-at-home parent.

If you are planning on using childcare, learn what your planned provider charges. Start penciling that amount into your monthly budget before the baby arrives so you get the feel for its impact, setting aside the money for later.

At the very least, sit down before the baby is born to develop a new household budget, remembering to factor in food, clothing, diapers, medical care, and all the equipment babies need. Finally some good news: the cost per child decreases with more children. Where do the savings come from? Shared bedrooms, hand-me-downs, and bulk food purchases.

Having said all of this, let me say that being a parent is probably the greatest privilege and joy of my life, and the rewards swamp the expenses a million to one every day. But the hard cold facts are that you can’t pay a bill with feelings.

Dana’s Take It’s back-to-school time, so let’s talk about the cost of private schools for pre-K-12. Tuitions vary from parochial to private, but count on $10,000 per year per child, starting at age 3 through 18. The lifetime cost of raising a child just went up by $150,000 in today’s dollars. Many private high schools charge closer to $20,000 a year, so bump that number up to over $200,000, per child. Add meal plans, uniforms and sports. Gulp.

Without deliberate planning, tuition and childcare expenses can sap dollars intended for college and other goals. Grandparents, bless their hearts, help with tuition for about a third of private school students. Scholarships can help, too. A good education can be a great investment. If a private education is on your dream list for your children, start the conversation and start planning. As Ray says, “Every dream deserves a plan.”

Continue reading
700 Hits

Your Budget May Need Revising

Ray’s Take No one ever likes it when I use the “B” word, but there’s a reason I do it.

A budget helps you achieve your goals in life, whether they’re for a luxury vacation, the kids’ education, or retirement. Without one, you don’t really know where you are financially, much less where you are headed. You are out of control. There are a lot of smart, hard-working people scheming this very instant on how to separate you from your money. The best ones even make you think it was your idea!

However, going through the budgeting process is not a one-time thing. Every time something changes in your life or financial situation, it’s time to re-evaluate that budget.

Say you get a raise, even a modest one. That might be the time to set aside more money for paying off bills or maybe increase the amount you’re saving toward a new car. The goals are yours to determine, but it’s up to you to determine them. If you don’t make a conscious effort to make that decision, it gets made for you. Capitalism abhors a vacuum.

Your budget should be revisited when your expenses change: paying off a car note; altering your mortgage payments; when your family increases or decreases in size. Anytime your income rises or falls, it’s time to revise the budget again. This is true even if that increase is from a one-time windfall or inheritance. Deciding how to save or spend that money has a huge impact on your financial picture.

Finally, make sure your budget is keeping pace with your changing goals. If your goal is to pay off debt, then your goals – and your budget – need revising once that happens.

If you don’t have a budget, make one. If you do, take a look at it and be sure it reflects the goals you want to achieve.

Dana’s Take Be sure to include your spouse in the budget making and revising process. That’s a critical step to making sure your goals are in alignment. If the word “budget” makes your spouse run and hide, substitute “savings goals.”

What if one of you hopes to become a full-time homemaker while the other one is planning on two incomes for life? That would have a major impact on your plan, not to mention on your future relationship.

If one of you is expecting to get a new vehicle soon, both of you need to be planning for it. If one partner has already priced out the cost of a media room, both partners need to see how that works into the plan.

Creating a savings plan is all about short-term and long-term goals and expectations. Since you want the best for each other, do it together.

Continue reading
700 Hits

Rich Doesn’t Mean Successful

Ray’s Take Society tends to equate the possession of riches with a happy, successful life and the pursuit of riches as the best course to achieve success. That’s a rather limited definition, however, and reality doesn’t bear it out. Studies show that the 100 richest people in this country are only slightly more satisfied with their lives than the average person. As the saying goes, “money doesn’t buy happiness.”

So if wealth doesn’t necessarily translate into success, what does? That’s something very individual. For different people, success means different things. For some it may mean amassing a lot of money, for others it means doing what you love, or leaving the world a better place. There are countless ways to define success. It all depends on the individual.

The point is that it is a worthy exercise to examine and try to determine what success is for you, set your goals accordingly, and then decide on strategies to achieve the success you want. It’s a lot like the process you go through to develop your financial plan. Both involve some trial and error to figure out what works for you. In fact, your decisions about the success goals you want to achieve will have a major impact on that financial plan. The two go hand-in-hand.

A person who has stripped down life to the bare necessities in order to devote more time to a beloved activity like surfing or painting should be considered just as successful as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and is probably far less stressed to boot. While those are two extremes, finding the right balance between financial gain and the success of personal satisfaction is a process we all should strive to achieve.

After all, there’s no point in being rich if you’re not fulfilled; and if you’re not fulfilled, how can you say you are truly successful?

Dana’s Take You can look at success as either a destination or a process. Maintaining a fixed definition of success can lead to stagnation and even depression. If you look at success as a process, it could be defined as continuing to achieve your ultimate potential as an individual. Once you successfully achieve your goal in one area, you can move on to another.

You could measure these successes by achieving temporary, tangible goals like running a marathon or catching an eight-pound bass. Alternately, you could set goals where ultimate success takes your entire lifetime, like a happy marriage, spiritual discovery or perfecting your golf swing.

The quest for success, and the sense of satisfaction it brings, is a motivating factor that helps keep one engaged with life and community. You can look back with pride on what you’ve achieved, but there is always a new goal to keep you looking forward to the future.

Continue reading
748 Hits

Value Your Time

Ray’s Take Time is one resource that can’t be reclaimed. While you can regain lost investments and recycle natural resources, once time has passed it is gone forever. In our youth, we trade it for money. As we get older we realize we can’t trade our money back for time. Unfortunately, people are inclined to regularly undervalue one of the scarcest assets around – time.

One good way to start recognizing the value of your time – and making wiser time investments – is to figure out roughly what you earn an hour. If your annual salary is $50,000, your time at work is valued at just over $24 an hour. Accordingly, if you’re performing tasks that you can hire someone else to do for less than that, you’re undervaluing your time. When I hear the grounds crew at work around our home, it sounds like angels singing to me. They’re helping me save precious time that I can spend with my family or helping my clients.

Housework, cooking versus ordering in, searching the Web for the best possible prices, yard work – it might be better to save your time on pursuits like these and invest your money instead.

Of course, how this fits into your budget comes first. If you don’t have a lot of disposable income, investing your time makes more sense. Plus, when something gives you personal enjoyment – like cooking, for example – that factors into the value of your time too.

The wise investment of time counts on the job, too. Casual chats and waiting for that last meeting participant cost valuable time. If you find yourself putting in long hours on the job, you might look at how your time is spent and try to make some changes.

A good life includes allocating time at least as carefully as one allocates dollars. But thank goodness we all prioritize things differently, or else we would all want the same things at the same time!

Dana’s Take While you should definitely value your time, determining what is a waste of time isn’t always as easy to determine.

Time spent simply looking at a calming landscape might seem like a big waste, however, it can relax you and clear your mind. It might be just the break your conscious and subconscious mind needs to come up with a wonderful idea or solve a vexing problem. That is certainly not a waste.

Activities that keep your mind or body alive and alert can have benefits that stretch across your day. Time spent in spiritual renewal – whatever that means to you – also has its own benefits.

Ultimately, you have to put your own value system on how to spend your time. Just be sure that you are consciously spending it and not simply throwing it away.

Continue reading
735 Hits