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Retirement Planning

My office recently held a mid-career retirement seminar.  I probably should have attended, but I didn’t.  Unfortunately, due to the need to balance staffing, some slightly older (though not necessarily senior) members of my team attended and I held back.  After all, I’m still early in my career, and there will be other seminars.

 

It was interesting to hear reactions to the seminar though.  One coworker popped in and out of the office.  During his first break, he was really motivated and excited about the information.  By the end, he was lamenting that he would never be able to retire.

 

One of the biggest keys to retirement planning is apparently realizing just how many years you may need your money.  They were directed to a calculator at Living to 100.  Lucky me, I’m expected to live well into my 90’s according to that calculator.  How accurate is it?  Who knows, but it’s a good starting point. And it’s a lot of years too.

 

At my current job, I’m technically eligible to retire at age 58.  I have no plans to retire at 58 unless something major changes in my financial situation.  I’m not able to sock away enough money right now to even consider retiring then.  Well, I take that back.  I possibly could be socking away more money now, but then I would have to cut back on the things I love, like triathlons and travel.  It’s not a sacrifice I’m ready to make.

 

One of the biggest takeaways from the training was to be sure that you’re taking advantage of all of your retirement opportunities.  If your company has a 401k plan, you should be investing in it.  Especially if the plan offers any sort of match.  I have a match up to the first 5%, so from day one, I’ve made sure to contribute that 5%. Otherwise, you’re just throwing away free money.

 

If you are eligible, you should also have a Roth IRA.  In 2015, to be eligible for the full $5500 contribution, you need to make under $116,000 or filing jointly, under $183,000.  If you make a little bit more than that, you may still be eligible to contribute a smaller amount.   The big key here is to start contributing to your Roth IRA as soon as you can.  Why?  Well, I think we would all like to be making over $116,000, and someday, it may happen.  So make sure you’re contributing now and giving your money as much time to grow as you possibly can.

 

Other important considerations?  Think about your living expenses.  If you live in what you expect to be your forever home, see if you can pay off your mortgage before you retire.  If I stay in my current house, that’s definitely in the plans.  I will have significantly lower expenses once I no longer have a mortgage payment.  I’m not currently making extra payments, but maybe someday I will.

 

The big thing that my coworker came back with was that small steps are just as important as big ones.  So many people look at the idea of retirement and get overwhelmed at how much money they need to save.  Instead of beginning to put away funds, they just shut down and don’t save anything.  That is not the best method.  If you can only save a little bit of money every year, that’s what you should do.  If you want to open a Roth IRA but don’t have enough money to open one (some require an initial investment and then allow smaller investments afterwards), set aside what you can in a separate bank account until you can afford to open that Roth IRA.  Take tiny steps now and do what you can and don’t get overwhelmed.
Plan now so you can enjoy life later.

Spring Net Worth Update

 

Well, it’s time for another Net Worth Update!  I’m trying to do these quarterly this year to really see if my hard work is paying off.

So far, the numbers look good!

In the first quarter of the year, my Net Worth increased by 4.5%.  That’s great!  But let’s drill down and see where that savings is coming from.

Retirement accounts

No surprise here.  My retirement accounts have continued to grow.  I’m contributing money monthly, so I’d hope they would grow and not lose money, but anything can happen.  I won’t need these accounts for at least thirty years, probably longer, so I’m in it for the long haul.

Home value

There have been a lot of home flips in my general area over the past few months.  This has been awesome for the general value of my house.  Of course, on many levels, this number is meaningless until I try to sell the house.  But it’s nice to see that number increasing.  I can’t just bet on the neighborhood’s values going up, of course.  I’m also continuing to work on my house and make improvements.  I’m currently saving towards replacing some windows.  I also want to put in new flooring in the basement, because after four years, the cheapo carpet that was installed down there is looking pretty darn rough.

Credit Cards

These get paid off monthly, so the number isn’t super meaningful, but I’m doing my best to keep my spending in control.  I put every single bill that I can onto my credit cards so as to earn the maximum rewards, but it’s good to keep the other spending down.

Investments

When I first started blogging, I called my site “A Dollar a Day” and put aside (you guessed it) one dollar every day. After the end of the year, I used that money to buy stock in Kraft, and that has been going quite well for me.  I’m not going to get rich on an initial $365 investment, but it was a smart move on my part.  That stock has since split off into two separate companies, and now the potential merger of Kraft and Heinz has the numbers up even higher.  I’m not planning to sell – I’m a long term investor.  But man, it’s fun to watch that number grow.

Cash Accounts

Here’s where the real information lies.  Am I saving money like I should?

The short answer is no.  But I’m doing better.  One of my big goals this year is to put aside money every month to really be ready for my big annual bills (tax payments, insurance, etc).  So far, so good.  That means that the cash accounts are growing, but it’s not real savings, just preparation for upcoming bills.  But I’m not saving like I could.  I’m continuing to try to tighten my purse strings.  I’m also working on other ways to bring in some cash.  I’ve been a bit of a packrat over the years, and one of my goals for the spring is to really declutter the house.  That has meant getting rid of a lot of stuff.  Much of it is going to donation centers, but there are some items that need to be listed on eBay for sale.  I’m also keeping boxes of stuff for the neighborhood yard sale.  I won’t get rich there, but it feels better than just throwing everything away.

Closing Thoughts

Things are moving in the right direction.  I’m getting better at putting money away.  I’m getting better at controlling my random spending.  It helps that I don’t have any travel planned for the next few months, which always puts a huge dent in my bank accounts.  I plan to be a bit of a homebody for the next few months and I’m really looking forward to it.  Not only for the rest, but also for the savings.

Top Money Saving Tips and Tricks for Single Parents

There are many single parent households around these days and if your household is one of them, you are no doubt already aware of the challenges you face to make ends meet when there is only one income to rely on.

If you are as smart with your money as your can be, you should be able to make some handy savings on everyday items and cut your household bills too. Here are some tips and tricks to help you stay on budget as a single parent.

Coupons work

Cutting out coupons might not appeal to you just to make what appears to be a small saving using the money off and discount voucher, but those small amounts can add up to a decent sum of money each month.

Some people become obsessive about coupons, but if you are sensible and keep a look out for deals that are of interest to you rather than buying things just because you have a voucher, you could make this strategy pay.

There are also often deals that come up such as two-for-one entry to theme parks and other entertainment, so take advantage and enjoy a day out for less than it would normally cost.

Brand loyalty is expensive

Big brands spend millions on marketing and getting you to recognize their products when you go shopping.

This marketing has to be paid for and that means that branded items are often the most expensive. Don’t be afraid to try generic laundry powder or anything else for that matter, to see if you can tell the difference.

Some things might not be as good as the branded version, but if you manage to find some cheaper versions of your regular items that are just as good, you will end up making some significant savings on your shopping bill.

Make the most of drinking water

It is often the small things that when you add them all together, add up to more than you realize. This is the case with cans of drink and other beverages that you probably like to buy on a regular basis.

If you can cut out the cans of coke and other sugary drinks and drink tap water instead, you will be doing your health a power of good and saving yourself some money at the same time.

Shop around for the best deals

If you have been with the same mobile phone or internet provider for a while, or have been paying the same amount for ages for your TV package, it could pay to shop around and save some money.

Check out the latest packages from suppliers such as SatelliteTVCable.com to see if you can get the entertainment package that you want at a better price than you are paying now. The same thing applies to your other deals for phones and internet. Tariff’s change regularly and it is quite likely that you might be able to the same or even a better deal, for less money than you are paying now.

John Doss is a financial advisor. He likes sharing his financial advice online. His posts appear on many money and financial blogs.

Buying Bedding: Cutting Costs Not Quality

The choice of bedding affects how well you sleep, and the quality of your sleep has a significant impact on your health. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, adequate sleep improves learning, decision making, problem solving, and many other mental functions. Sleep deprivation increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, and weakens your immune system.

What Makes Bedding Good

As far as the quality of your sleep is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether your bedding is endorsed by celebrities, designed by a famous couture house, or follows fashion trends. What matters is the type of fabric used, how well it fits your bed, and how you maintain it. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a good night’s sleep, but you do need to look carefully at labels.

Sheet Fabrics

Although microfiber and polyester/cotton blends make cheap, durable, wrinkle-free sheets, because these artificial fabrics aren’t as breathable as cotton, they can retain heat, especially in warm weather. Cotton is a perennial favorite for its crisp, cool feel, but it is prone to wrinkling. As permanent press or wrinkle-resistant sheets are often treated with formaldehyde, choose 100% organic cotton sheets if you have chemical sensitivities and take them out of the dryer promptly to avoid wrinkles.

Sheet Textures

The most common textures for sheets are percale, satin, knit, and flannel. Percale, the traditional crisp matte fabric, is the most durable. Satin sheets are shiny, smooth, and soft, and don’t wrinkle as easily as percale, but they are less durable. Knit and flannel sheets feel like sleeping on a soft t-shirt; they are comfortable, warm, and wrinkle-resistant but not as durable as percale.

Thread Count

Although thread count is one measure of quality, it can be misleading. The term refers to the number of threads per inch, and generally, the more threads, the softer and more durable the sheet. However, some companies will inflate thread counts by using lower quality twisted yarns. Save money with well-made, combed cotton 200-count sheets; or invest in 300- to 400-count cotton percale for maximum durability.

Sheet Shapes

Sheets are either flat or fitted and sized to fit standard beds. While you can be somewhat flexible on the size of flat sheets, fitted sheets that are too tight won’t fit over your mattress, but if they are too loose, they will bunch up or wrinkle. Use extra-deep fitted sheets with a mattress topper or thick mattress, and avoid them for thinner mattresses.

Duvet Covers

Duvet covers protect your comforter. Although you may enjoy decorative patterns if your duvet doubles as a bedspread, for fabrics, a machine-washable cotton or cotton-polyester blend is the most practical choice. You can make your own affordable duvet cover by sewing two flat sheets together on three sides.

Andrea Harris is an avid writer and hobby carpenter. She enjoys finding innovative ways to improve her health and lifestyle and enjoys blogging about it online. Her articles mainly appear on health and lifestyle blogs.

4 Actions to Take When You’re in Debt

debtAlmost everyone in the United States has debt. Whether it’s a mortgage, car loan, student loan, or credit card debt, a large majority of Americans make payments towards at least one type of debt.

It’s important to take action when you have debt. Today I want to discuss 4 specific actions to take when you are in debt.

1) Be Aware of how much Debt you Have

Believe it or not many people are not aware exactly how much debt they’re in. Many simply make payments as they are required and never take a closer look at their debt. This is especially true for people who have student loans and consumer debt.

One action step you should absolutely take if you are in debt is to list out all your debt. Include how much the debt is, how much the monthly payment is, what company owns the debt, and finally what the interest rate is on your debt.

cmp debt

You should consider attacking high-interest debt first and worry less about low interest rate debt (6.5% or lower). High interest debt can be much costlier than low interest debt, so it might make sense to consolidate high interest debt or negotiate with the lender for a lower rate.

2) Automate Payments

Another action step you should take when you are in debt is to automate payments. This step should be taken after you list out the details of your debt, because once debt is on auto-pay you will likely have less motivation to take a deep-dive look at your debt.

The value in automating payments is from the “set it and forget it” mentality that comes with it. If you consistently make payments towards debt, you know that each month you are one step closer to your ultimate goal of being debt-free.

3) Find Ways to Increase Income

One thing I think most people fail to do is leverage their debt for motivation. Debt can be incredibly motivating and in many cases will push people to do things that they otherwise would not. I suggest using this motivation to find a way to increase your income.

Income can increase from getting a raise at a full-time job or creating a business or “side hustle” that is done in your spare time. For example, many writers and bloggers did not (and do not) work on their websites and writing full-time. Instead they spend they utilize their spare time to write and blog. This can lead to a new stream of income that can offset – or even exceed – your monthly debt payments.

4) Get Help if you’re Feeling Overwhelmed

The final action step I recommend is an important one: get help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. There are a number of companies and organizations, such as GreenPath that offer debt counseling, and I would highly recommend checking it out if you feel like you are constantly struggling with balancing your debt payments and other bills/priorities.

GreenPath is a nonprofit that has personalized debt counselors that create custom debt management plans for clients.
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First photo by Dimitris Siskopoulos
Second photo by Justin See