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Your Dream Vacation Shouldn’t Be a Budget Nightmare

Your Dream Vacation Shouldn’t Be a Budget Nightmare

Almost every bucket list has at least one the vacation of a lifetime to a fantastic destination. Whether it’s whale watching on an Alaskan cruise or a romantic escape to Paris for just the two of you, it’s that one special trip you dream of your entire life. It may feel out of reach, but with a little bit of advance planning, your travel fantasy might be closer to reality than you think. Here are a few things you can do to indulge your wanderlust without breaking the bank.

Start Planning Now

Nothing gets done just by thinking about it. So, get out your calendar and to-do list and set your travel goal. Even if it’s five years away, an actual date on your calendar gives you something concrete to work toward. Break up your big goal into smaller steps, like researching your destination, establishing a budget and making reservations.

Invest in Your Dream

The last thing you need after a long vacation is a big credit card bill as a souvenir. Make your budget and then set a savings goal. Open an account dedicated to your vacation fund and decide how much you can afford to save each week or month. Commit to putting cash gifts, bonuses or raises into your vacation account. For family trips, get everyone involved. Start a communal jar for pocket change, or skip other luxuries in favor of contributions toward the big adventure.

Timing is Everything

Scheduling your trip for the off-season can make travel more affordable. While Paris is beautiful in the spring, the same museums, cafés and shops are also open in November and airfare and hotel rates are generally much lower then too. Avoiding tourist season also means avoiding big crowds and premium prices. Booking flights on major holidays, like Thanksgiving Day, can earn you reduced fares and additional open seats for a more comfortable flight.

Research all Your Options

Comparison shop for hotels, airfare, car rental rates and excursion packages. Make reservations early but check for generous no-fee cancelation policies in case your plans change. More research up front can mean more dollars left in your bank account after you unpack your bags at home.

Protect Your Plans

You’ve done all this work to invest in a big trip don’t let an unexpected medical emergency or natural disaster derail your itinerary. Trip Insurance is a relatively inexpensive way to be sure you’re not left out of pocket if things take a wrong turn. You can often buy flight insurance at the same time you book your airfare. Contact your insurance agent for general travel insurance as well as international health insurance if you’re going overseas. Check with your regular health insurance provider to see how traveling to your specific destination affects your coverage.

Don’t Raid Your 401(k)

Whatever you do, don’t trade fun now for a secure retirement later. Refrain from funding your dream trip from your 401(k). Even if you plan on paying yourself back, unanticipated life events can make that more difficult (leading to hefty penalties), and you may face a significant opportunity cost for not keeping your funds fully invested — even for a short time.

Be a Savvy Traveler

Don’t carry lots of cash on your trip. Use your debit card to take out what you need for purchases at shops, restaurants and hotels. If you go overseas, you can take advantage of the lowest available currency exchange rate by making electronic transactions instead of changing money ahead of time. However, know that some credit companies may freeze your card if you make out-of-US purchases without notifying them in advance.

Are you thinking that your big vacation might not be as far off as you thought it was? Contact your financial professional to make sure your trip is on track with your budget — and your retirement plan. And don’t forget to send us a postcard! Bon voyage!

How to Budget for a Pet

How to Budget for a Pet

If you’re a pet owner, you know just how much fun they can be. But adopting a pet is a big decision that comes with many responsibilities — and expenses. Here are some considerations when planning for the next four-legged addition to your family.

Adoption & Licensing

Most pets require spaying/neutering and vaccinations, and some may also need to be microchipped and trained. If you obtain your furry friend from a breeder, not only does the purchase price go up, but you may also have to pay all these expenses on top which can bring total costs above $6,000. In contrast, adopting a dog or cat from a shelter or rescue organization can be below $500, which generally includes initial vet work. You’re also giving an at-risk animal a happy home. Certain shelters will reduce the price further for older pets that can be good companions for seniors. In addition, some local governments require an annual license that‘s generally below $25 if you spay or neuter.

Food & Supplies

Fish, rodents and birds are often more economical to feed — from around $15 to $50 annually. Cats, ferrets and small dogs may cost approximately $200 to $325 per year, while larger dogs can run up to $400. These prices don’t include special treats or prescription food for older animals. Then come the supplies. Smaller animals can make up for their lower purchase cost with the need to maintain an aquarium, cage or other habitat. Cats and dogs have collars, leashes, crates, carriers and toys that you may replace several times during their lives. Cats have the infamous litter box to repeatedly fill, but dogs can have their own high-ticket demands: After all, they may be the reason you decide to fence in your yard!

Grooming & Veterinary Visits

Cats are generally self-cleaning and may even resent your efforts to groom them (thank you very much), although long hair varieties tend to require more maintenance. Dogs can be a different story. Some even love getting bathed and will try to get you to do it with them. But even if you handle bathing on your own, you’ll still need to buy shampoo, brushes and combs — and some breeds benefit from an occasional haircut. You’ll also need to schedule annual checkups with the vet and may have to purchase heartworm medication or a hairball preventative. You may also want to go to the vet between checkups for certain delicate procedures you don’t feel comfortable with, like trimming nails or — yuck — expressing glands.

Emergency Care & Insurance

Pets can suffer illnesses and injuries, and many owners go to extremes to heal them. And these ailments can occur during the weekend or when the vet is on vacation. Emergency clinics can help, but some can charge thousands in fees. Pet insurance, sometimes as low as a few hundred dollars each year, can help alleviate financial pain in these circumstances — but this coverage can have many exclusions, so be sure to read the fine print of any insurance policy you purchase.

Pet Sitting

You can’t take your pet everywhere, but getting a sitter before your vacation or during the holidays usually isn’t cheap. Professional pet sitters can charge different rates depending on the time frame. This can be around $75 a night. Another option is a boarding facility, where your pet can have 24-hour care for about $50 per night. And many pet parents choose to install in-home wifi cameras to monitor their pets when they’re out (some even include remote treat dispensers).

The Joy They Bring … Priceless

Some costs can be difficult to anticipate, such as a pet deposit or monthly fee for renters. It’s important to include all costs as budget line items. And consider a dedicated expense account for furry, feathery or scaly companions. But if you‘re responsible with your pet spending, you’ll find that all creatures great and small can be worth every penny for the joy they bring you.





6 Reasons We Overspend

6 Reasons We Overspend

You begin every month with the best intentions. You make a budget and plan to stick to it. So how come you find yourself coming up short by the time the next payday rolls around?

1. Impulse purchases. Have you ever gone into a store to pick up one small item and left with a bag stuffed full of merchandise you didn’t intend to buy?

What you can do. Impulse purchases are more likely when you’re rushed, tired or under stress. Try to avoid online or in-person shopping under these circumstances, and always bring a list to the grocery store.

2. Missed savings opportunities. Don’t you hate finding out that the very thing you just bought was available from another retailer at a lower price?

What you can do. Think twice about squeezing in some quick online shopping during your lunch hour. Plan purchases well ahead of time and give yourself the opportunity to comparison shop for the best deal. Purchase from stores that have a price protection policy in case your item goes on sale later.

3. Buying on credit. It can be easier to overspend when you use plastic, especially when it doesn’t feel like “real money.” And you can quickly lose track of growing card balances that make even the items you buy on sale a lousy deal after factoring in hefty interest charges.

What you can do. Pay cash whenever you can — and bring only enough money for items you plan to buy. Be careful about reflexively using credit cards for a cashback or travel benefit. You may find it’s not worth it in the long run. You can also use your debit card, which is more likely to make you stay within your available balance. If you do use credit cards, pay off balances in full each month.

4. Unexpected expenses. Sometimes we spend too much because we don’t anticipate purchases that we probably could have — like a car repair for a vehicle with 150,000 miles.

What you can do. This is why it’s so important to establish an emergency fund to cover at minimum three-to-six months of regular expenses (more is better if you can) or an occasional big repair bill. And beef up your savings target if your car or house or computer is older.

5. Falling for a sales pitch. It’s the cliché of the pushy used car salesman that comes to mind, but coming across slick or aggressive salespeople is sadly a common experience. Sometimes, they can persuade us to act against our better judgment.

What you can do. Know your limits in advance. Set a cutoff for purchases and be willing to walk away. You can always fake an emergency phone call or restroom trip to buy yourself time before you pull the trigger on a purchase. Remember that you can always come back later to buy.

6. Impulsive holiday or vacation spending. It’s easy to get swept up in the moment during holidays or your annual summer trip to the theme park, especially when you want to make special memories for loved ones.

What you can do. Include holiday and vacation spending in your household budget. Put a little bit aside each month before the event. You can also open a separate special occasion fund.

Simply having a budget isn’t enough — you have to stick to it to get the benefits. Talk to a WellCents financial professional to help you crunch your numbers and figure out a sensible strategy to stay the course.

Holiday Gifts That Won’t Break Your Budget

Holiday Gifts That Won’t Break Your Budget

You’ve done a good job of sticking to your financial plan all year, but when it comes to holiday gift giving, it’s easy to let good intentions knock you off your savings path. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend about $1,000 on winter holiday gifts. That can be a real budget-buster, but meaningful gifts don’t have to come with a hefty price tag. We’ve got some $25-or-less gift ideas for everyone on your list.

Celebrate Coworkers
Office gifts are part of work culture. Maybe you manage a team and want to give your group a token of appreciation. Or you know one person who always gives gifts, and you want to return the favor. A work-appropriate gift that won’t put your account in arrears could be a nicely bound notebook, a quality writing pen or a gift bag of color-coordinated office supplies like paper clips, magnets and Post-it notes. Keep it professional but fun to brighten your coworkers’ day.

Seasonal Presents to Service Providers
Postal workers, hair stylists and even your GrubHub driver are people you might want to thank during the holidays. A batch of your favorite cookies presented in a festive box or tin is a low-cost way to show your gratitude for a year of good service. Make it extra special by including a handwritten note and a copy of the recipe.

Thank Your Terrific Teachers
Whether it’s your child’s 4th grade teacher or your yoga instructor, there’s lots of reasons to give extra thanks to the people who help us learn and grow. A pick-me-up, like a $10 gift card to a coffee shop, can help any teacher start their day off right. Make it more meaningful by supporting a local business close to your favorite teacher’s place of employment. Bakeries, ice-cream parlors or tea shops often offer gift certificates or cards that you can package in a pretty envelope or decorated box for that personal touch. 

Great Gifts for Grandparents
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — you want to remember your extended family in your holiday giving, but the costs can add up. Go for truly personal, budget-conscious family gifts by using the photos you take during the year to make photo-mugs, photo-calendars or even a family photo t-shirt! You can look online for low-cost, photo-personalized gift services. And at some big-box stores or national pharmacies, you can connect your camera or thumb drive to their in-store kiosk for easy ordering and processing.

Treat Yourself Too
No one should fault you for indulging in a holiday gift to yourself, but you should be as mindful here as you are in your presents to others. Money you receive as gifts (and funds you save by using our budget gift ideas!) can add up to a special treat and an end-of-year contribution to your retirement savings account. Talk to your WellCents financial professional about how catch-up contributions can help maximize your retirement savings and give your future self the gift that keeps on giving — a more financially secure retirement. 

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



     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.

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