Help With My Budget - Little Things Add Up

Help With My Budget - Little Things Add Up

If you have big financial goals in mind — buying a house, paying cash for a car, retiring early — you need to mind your budget. But that budget should be a helpful roadmap, not a straitjacket. And like a road trip, small things can make a huge difference in how long it takes and how much you enjoy the ride. 

Paying attention to details can pay off big when you identify and eliminate small, repetitive charges from your monthly spending. To gauge the impact of these budget busters, start with a list of all the things you’re paying for. If you use a debit or credit card to pay your bills, this should be easy. Get your last few statements and print them, then sit down with a highlighter and start snipping — and saving.

Amazon. Think about this: If you’re an Amazon Prime member for the next 10 years, you could buy Jeff Bezos up to nearly 1,600 gallons of fuel for his rocket at about a buck a gallon. While the $12.99 per month cost may not seem like much, over time this type of expense can push your budget into the stratosphere. But that’s just the beginning. Maybe you have an Alexa? How much is that costing you? Sure, the basic Alexa services are free, but its seductively simple ordering capabilities can quickly put a dent in your wallet. Instead of barking out, “Alexa, buy me a case of that mango-scented soap I like,” you might decrease or eliminate that purchase if you had to sit down and think about it.

Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, etc. How many streaming services do you have? How many do you actually use often enough to make it worthwhile? If staying at home streaming “Frozen” keeps you from driving halfway across town for a frozen yogurt multiple times a month, it might be worth it. Otherwise, “let it go.” 

Cable packages. If you have a cable or satellite service and you also pay for online streaming services, ask yourself how much TV you’re actually watching. In addition to the financial cost, there’s also the health costs of couch surfing for days on end. Write down all the channels you watch monthly, weekly and daily and start cutting out all the pieces that you’re using infrequently — or not at all. If you really miss a channel after you cancel, you can always resubscribe. 

App subscriptions. Remember when you thought it would be cool to sign up for a language app so you could talk to your fourth cousins in Lithuania? Then you forgot all about it. We can guarantee it didn’t forget about you, and is still charging you $19.99 a month. Check your credit or debit card statements and start canceling. And if you’re paying subscription fees for office suite software, keep in mind there are free (yes, free) alternatives like GoogleDocs, Libre Office, WPS Office and Free Office. The same is true of other popular software packages.
Small expenditures, over time, can add up to big bills. When it comes to your retirement, the effect can be the equivalent of death by a thousand paper cuts. If you’re not careful, you could easily blow a hole in your budget and imperil your financial future. In this second installment, we look at more little things that can derail your budget and retirement goals over time — and how to get back on track.

Bank/ATM fees. The next time you review your credit card and checking account statements, take a hard look at your bank fees — including ATM charges. If you’re overdrafting your account, you and millions of others are paying for it to the tune of $8.82 billion annually. Then there are account maintenance fees, wire transfer fees and the king of them all, ATM fees. If you use an ATM that belongs to your bank, or to the network your bank belongs to, you may not be charged at all. But go outside that network and you’ll probably get pinged per transaction. Some solutions: Use less cash, keep enough in your account to avoid overdraft and account maintenance fees and avoid taking out small sums frequently. And comparison shop for a bank with lower fees or lower minimum balance requirements. 

Credit card interest payments. If you haven’t shopped your rate in a while, you could be paying upwards of 14% to 18% interest on your balance. And that’ll add up fast. There are times when you might need to use a credit card for large purchases — your dryer or the car breaks down. But resist the temptation to let those balances hang around for too long. And find a better deal if you can’t negotiate down your rate with your current lender. There are scores of different offers out there, from zero interest for a year or more to generous cash back rewards. 

Un- or underused gym memberships. Unless you’re actually going to use that gym membership, cancel it. According to a USA Today study, 67% of those who have a membership don’t use it, so cancel before you rack up even more charges. If your gym has a contract, find out how many months are left and how much they’re going to charge to let you out of the contract, then turn off any auto-renew feature. 

Other subscriptions. The same advice applies to other memberships and subscriptions: discount warehouses, the jelly of the month club and those meal in a box delivery services. If you haven’t used it in the last 30 to 60 days, cut it loose. If you’re going to miss it, you’ll know soon enough. And you may find the service sending you emails begging you to come back — and maybe even offering you a big discount to incentivize you.

Unconscious or impulse spending. The drive-through double mocha latte, fast-food lunches, the magazine at the checkout counter (or, worse, the candy bar), the sale item you don’t really need — these are the kinds of purchases we all make without thinking much about them. It’s time to start thinking. Do you really need premium takeout coffee every day? Is there an alternative, such as brewing at home and using a thermos? 

Small tweaks in your spending can make a big difference. Your WellCents financial professional can help you set up a budget to help meet your financial goals. Give them a call and learn how you can put those hard-earned dollars you save to work for you. 

Sources:
https://www.fool.com/investing/2021/06/16/which-large-us-bank-stands-to-lose-the-most-if-ban/
https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2016/04/27/your-gym-membership-good-investment/82758866/
https://www.techradar.com/best/free-office-software

The Secret Price of Poor Credit

The Secret Price of Poor Credit

Most people know that having good credit is important. Your credit impacts your ability to qualify for a mortgage or car loan, as well as the interest rate you’ll receive from lenders. The consequences of poor credit, however, can be less obvious — and a lot more insidious — than just having one less card in your wallet. Credit regulations vary by state, but here are some ways credit damage might cost you that you might not even realize.

Losing out on an apartment or car lease. When you apply for a rental, your landlord might run a credit check. If you have poor credit, you may not be able to get that apartment. Or, if you’re approved, you could be on the hook for a higher security deposit or an additional month’s advance on rent. The same is true of leasing a car. You might need a co-signer on the lease if you have bad credit.

Missed job opportunities. Some employers may pull a special version of your credit report as part of a background check for a job. If there are red flags on your report, you might not get the offer.

Unfavorable credit card rates. When you get a credit card, your credit score greatly influences your interest rate. If you carry a hefty balance, a higher credit score could cost you hundreds of dollars a year in additional interest payments.

Pricier car insurance. Depending on the state, you might end up paying a higher premium based on your credit score. Only seven states currently restrict the use of credit scores when determining insurance rates, so you could end up saving money on your premiums if you boost your credit score.

More expensive utility deposits. You may have to fork over a larger deposit when you set up utilities and other home services. Poor credit could mean coming up with more money up front — money you might not be able to spare.

Worse loan terms. Like credit cards, you can also end up with less-competitive rates on auto and home loans. Companies may also charge higher fees because of poor credit. Before you apply for a loan, it’s a smart move to improve your credit.

First Things First

Even if you’re not in the market for a house or credit card, it’s important to protect your credit — and improve it if need be. The first step is to check your credit from the three major credit reporting agencies by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free credit report. If you have additional questions about your credit, contact your WellCents financial professional for advice.

Sources

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/which-states-prohibit-or-restrict-the-use-of-credit-based-insurance-scores/

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/how-to-get-apartment-with-bad-credit/#s1

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-education/life-events/employment/

Control Car Costs

Control Car Costs

There’s more to consider when buying a car than deciding on whether you want the upgraded sound system. Remember that your monthly payment will comprise more than just your car note. AAA reports that drivers can expect to spend about $750 a year on average for repairs and another $1,200 or so on insurance. And then there’s filling the tank, an occasional trip through the car wash and purchasing a pair of fuzzy dice. But with prudent planning, you can still own a car without breaking your budget. 

Keep up With Routine Maintenance. Even if you have a brand-new car with a full warranty, you’ll still have regular maintenance expenses like oil changes, air filter replacements and tire rotations. So, set aside money in your monthly budget to keep up with these routine costs. Skipping or delaying service can lead to more expensive repairs down the road. And especially if you have an older car, a membership with AAA or other roadside assistance program can avert a pricey tow should you break down far from home.
 
Curb Insurance Costs. Remember your high school driving class? Those lessons are just as relevant now. Don’t have a lead foot on the road. Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs (legal or otherwise). Tickets can have lasting effects on your pocketbook. In some states, insurance rates can rise by as much as 30% after you get a ticket — and premium increases can last for years. 

Luxury or high-end vehicles can also jack up the price of insurance because of the typically higher repair costs for these cars. So buying a more moderately priced vehicle can help reduce your insurance bill as well as your loan payments. And there are other steps you can take to reduce the risk of a claim. Leaving a car parked in a driveway most of the time, instead of garaging it, can increase the risk of theft. This matters because even if you’re well-insured, you’ll be required to pay a deductible. 

Save on Gas. Use a mobile app to find the best price for gasoline in your area. And plan your errands to avoid zig-zagging all over town. Keeping tires properly inflated and not carrying excess cargo in your trunk can help maintain fuel efficiency — as does avoiding “riding the brakes” excessively. And don’t forget carpooling as a great strategy to save on gas and mileage.

Don’t Let Your Car Take You on a Financial Detour. The emotional benefits of owning a car you love can be as impactful as the practical ones, but don’t let an impulsive purchase derail you from your future financial priorities. An expensive car payment, high insurance rates, costly repairs and poor fuel efficiency can put the brakes on long-term goals like saving for a new home or investing for your dream retirement. Contact your WellCents financial professional for help analyzing your budget to find the ride that can keep you driving toward all the things that matter.  

Coping With Financial Setbacks

Coping With Financial Setbacks

It’s not always a smooth ride when it comes to managing personal finances. Bumps in the road can derail your plans if you don’t take steps to protect yourself and stay on top of the situation. Here are some strategies that can help.

Financial Challenges

There are a number of difficulties you can face on the journey through life. Some events that can negatively impact your personal finances include:

     Layoff or furlough

     Illness or disability

     Lawsuits

     Divorce

     Death of a spouse

     Investment losses

     Fire or theft

     Pay cut or reduced hours

     Major repairs (including home or auto)

Plan, Prepare and Protect Yourself

You can prepare financially for most of these situations. Combining approaches to create multiple layers of protection is even better.

     Insurance. A good home or auto insurance policy can help lower expenses related to an insured event such as a theft, fire or accident. Health and disability insurance can cover some costs related to illness or injury. And life insurance can assist your family in the event the unthinkable occurs.

     Umbrella policy. If you’re worried about major accidents and lawsuits that target your assets, an umbrella policy can protect you in a way that a regular insurance policy might not. An umbrella policy’s coverage generally picks up where home and auto policies leave off.

     Emergency fund. Set aside money in an emergency fund to cover expenses without having to rely on credit cards. This dedicated account can also help you withstand investment losses as you wait for a recovery or adjust your strategy.

     Maintain good credit.  Should you need a loan to help with certain setbacks, having good credit can go a long way toward ensuring access to lower rates and more affordable terms.

With the right planning in place, you have a better chance of weathering financial storms. Take action before you’re in the middle of a crisis if at all possible.

Additional Tips for Managing Financial Setbacks

     Don’t panic. Take a moment to stop and breathe. It can be difficult to make decisions at this time, but it will be harder to think clearly if you’re panicked.

     Look for community and state resources. If you can access a food pantry, apply for unemployment benefits or connect with other programs, it can free up necessary cash to deal with a crisis. Remember that these services are meant for times of distress. Consider returning the favor for others when you get through this setback.

     Take care of yourself. Do your best to eat healthy, get adequate sleep and exercise. You’ll make better decisions and have greater resiliency when you practice self-care.

     Do some research. There’s a plethora of articles and advice online, but seek out only reputable sources of financial information not chat rooms or social media.

     Seek social support. Get emotional support from friends and family who won’t judge you. Find people who can serve as a sounding board as you work through financial challenges.

The Bottom Line

Seek information and advice from reliable sources as you navigate financial setbacks. Your WellCents financial professional can be a value resource to help you plan and pivot to adjust your financial strategy to help weather whatever storm blows through.

Is Your Financial Plan in Need of an Update?

Is Your Financial Plan in Need of an Update?

An important part of a financial plan is keeping it up to date. Life can throw you a lot of curveballs, and your financial plan will need occasional tweaks to adjust for them — whether they’re the kind of changes you wanted or not.
The Times They Are A-Changin’

Major life events often require adjustments to budgets and expenses. There could also be significant tax implications to consider. Here are some changes that should alert you to the need for a financial reevaluation — especially when it comes to their potential impact on your retirement plan.

Marriage or divorce. Depending on the situation, marriage can add new debts and obligations. If you’re combining expenses and incomes while merging households, you might see your situation improve. On the other hand, divorce can be financially devastating. For women over 50, the termination of a marriage can lead to a 45% reduction in standard of living. Planning for this contingency is important as you approach retirement.

Birth or adoption of a child. Parents can expect to spend more than $233,000 when raising a child from birth to age 18. And that doesn’t include the cost of college. Adjust your financial plan after a birth or adoption to make sure you remain on target to achieve all your dreams — for you and your growing family.

Empty nest. You might be able to set aside more for retirement or shift focus to other goals once your last child leaves home. After you send off your first care package, start reviewing your financial plan to see where you might reallocate financial resources.

Buying a home or moving. A new living situation can come with higher — or lower — expenses as taxes, changes in insurance and maintenance costs as well as renovations can significantly impact your budget. Ideally, speak with a financial professional ahead of any move.

Illness or serious diagnosis. The average cost of healthcare in the United States is about $11,000 per person each year. And this number can skyrocket with a major illness or disability. If you have a chronic condition or significant healthcare crisis, it can be helpful to involve a financial professional early on to help you navigate.

Other Finance-altering Life Events:

     Job loss or change

     Pay raise

     Inheritance

     Fire, theft or accident

     Lawsuit

     Death of a spouse

     Starting (or selling) a business

Don’t Go It Alone

All these events can alter your financial trajectory. Reviewing your financial plan periodically is prudent as you navigate life’s twists and turns. You may need to increase retirement account contributions or end up being able to retire sooner than planned. But no matter what’s next, contact your WellCents financial professional for expert advice to help keep your retirement plan on track.

Sources


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