Wednesday, August 16, 2017

23 Things to Find Your Happy and Change Your Life

Once we step into adulthood we become so consumed with life that we forget to live. The mortgage, the student loans; they all get in the way. Our dreams are put aside and what we hoped to accomplish is never to be finished. They say that when we grow old we regret not doing what we wanted to and never did more than things we did that came out wrong. So do what makes you happy.

1. Forgive your parents for mistakes they may have made during your childhood. Nobody is perfect. Hopefully you learned from them.
2. Forgive someone for a past transgression. Let it go, if just for you.

3. Eliminate toxic people from your life; regardless of how hard it may be.  You do not need all the negativity in your life.

4. Take a vacation by yourself. Go where you want, when you want.  You get to see, do and eat what you want.  Every choice will be yours and yours alone.

5. See your favorite band play live.

6. Watch your favorite movies one more time.  Can watch some of mine on mute and recite every line.

7. Take a barefooted walk on wet grass.

8.  Read every day.

9. Quit that job you hate.

10. Try something new.  A foreign dish, or a dance.  Maybe a new language.

11. Make a fool of yourself at least once; do it without regret.

12.  Pick up a new hobby.  Something never really is.

13. Learn a new skill.

14.  "Forget" your phone at home.  After the frightful first few minutes you will find freedom.

15. Declutter your home; if only one room you will declutter your life some.

16. Trace your roots.

17. Try a zip-line.  Forget the panic.

18. Explore a cave.  The Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves in Werfen or Rio Secreto in Mexico.

19. Travel to as many countries as possible. Get away from the tourist traps and see the real people.

20. Pursue your passion if only for a short time.

21. Reconnect with a long-lost friend, just because.

22. Watch the sunrise it is a gift from Mother Nature. We get one every day. Catch one as often as possible.

23. Give yourself that expensive gift; it is okay to be selfish once in a while. Own something that makes happy.

You may not realize this, but activities like these clean your soul some. Try them out.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Take Your Vacation, You Earned It!

Suddenly inspired...Sitting here poolside under a palm tree relaxing while on vacation, a thought crossed my mind. We all love to vacation, yet many people lose vacation time; they simply let it go unused.  I don't understand how someone does not take the time off, you earned it.

A vacation is beneficial to all involved, the employee, their employer and the economy.  

Breaking away from the daily routine gives the body time to rejuvenate and heal itself. A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh revealed that taking part in leisure activities like vacations contributes to higher positive emotional levels, less depression, lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines.  
A vacation also resets your mind. By stepping away for a few days the batteries get recharged because you remove yourself from a major source of stress thus avoiding burnout.

The traditional vacation may not always be an option.  The costs involved are a major hurdle when planning that long wished for trip.  Some people hate to fly and find having to do so a major stressor. Lost luggage and delays add to the stress.  

A suitable replacement is the  stay-at-home-vacation, staycation; when you stay home and partake of the activities normally associated with a vacation. You get to sleep in your very own bed and explore your backyard by visiting local sites.  You get to roam you town like a tourist. The main goal is to create the feel of a traditional vacation at home.

So imagine, no need to pack, no lost luggage, no long lines and better yet no waiting in line to deal with TSA.  How many horror stories started with the opening line “so I was at the airport…”

Just kick back, relax, and vacation at home; unwinding within your own four walls, or just outside them is actually possible.  

Your staycation can’t be cancelled by an airline or hotel, you lose no days to travelling and you will not suffer the dreaded travel drain associated with long drives or flights.

Problems with the staycation arise if we do not actually disconnect from the daily routine. Go ahead and forget the daily chores, no laundry, no cleaning, and definitely no working from home.  That means no work related phone calls or e-mails.  

Lived in New York for about 15 years and never got around to visit the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Only time I ever visited any landmarks was when I took visiting family sightseeing. My guess it that this is a common occurrence.  I always thought I would eventually visit them, they had always been there.

All the places you want to visit; the things you want to do, but never get to do because you have to mow the lawn, fix the sink, paint the house, or clean out the garage. The nearby zoo, museum, that home team you cheer for whether you are a fan of the Chicago Bulls or the Independent leagues’ Long Island Ducks; it really does not matter just as long as you go somewhere you never get to go.

If you love to go camping you can do so in your own backyard..  Set-up the tent, and bring your sleeping bags.  For the campfire you can dig a fire pit (it is easy) have some marshmallows, hotdogs and cook  your meals outdoors.

For those of us that are not campers, the backyard is still a suitable option. Get a fast-set pool, a cooler and fire up the grill.  When night falls you are set for a night of stargazing or movie watching.

Create a spot that mimics your favorite getaway.  I love the beach; some beach towels, and chairs may remind you of the ocean.  When I stop to look at a baseball field a tiny smile appears as I am momentarily transported to my youth and instantly feel better than I did just a few seconds before.  Nothing else is needed.  Just remember the joy of playing.  

Stay at a nearby hotel...  I always thought this was not too smart of an idea; why have the added expense? Why would you when so close to home?  There is room service, someone makes the bed and cleans the room, the amenities.  You feel like you are thousands of miles away even though you may actually be only be two miles away. Not so dumb once  you see it.  

Many let the days go unused believing that they are the only ones who can do their jobs and dread the pile of work awaiting once they return. Even if we are an integral cog, we are all replaceable.   So take that vacation, you earned it. You will come back to work refreshed and ready to go.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

How To Absolutely Get Yourself FIRED Today

A Slice Of Paradise

My primary goal is to reach Financial Independence and retire early and work because I want to and not because I have to. Whether you want to join and retire early, or work until you are 62 or 67 or wait until you after you turn 70,  having a  retirement fund is must.

There are many tools available and you need to make use of these as soon and as often as possible. You can actually start using these tools before you reach the normal retirement age.

First some of the tools.

The 401K is the a tax-qualified account where, retirement savings contributions are both provided by the employer and deducted from the employee's paycheck usually before taxation.  Most employers will match a percentage of employee contributions, up to a certain portion of total salary. The maximum pre-tax annual contribution is set at $18,000.  Employees aged 50 by the end of the year and older can also make additional catch-up contributions of up to $6,000.

Traditional 401Ks are a retirement savings plan sponsored by an employer.  It allows employees to save and invest a portion of their paycheck before taxes are taken out.  The maximum annual contribution is set at $18,000.  Employees aged 50 and older can also make additional catch-up contributions of up to $6,000.   

SIMPLE 401(k) plan is available to employers with 100 or fewer employees who received at least $5,000 in compensation.   This was created so that small businesses could offer their employees cost-efficient retirement benefits.  The employer is required to make contributions that are fully vested.  

Most plans offer mutual funds composed of stocks, bonds, and money market investments. You control how your money is invested. A very popular option is the target-date fund.  This fund is a combination of stocks and bonds that gradually become more conservative as you approach retirement.    

You should attempt to contribute the maximum allowed into your retirement plan and if possible front-load as much you can thus taking advantage of the compounding interest.  You will need to look into how your company match is calculated.

The IRA or Individual Retirement Arrangement, may be the ideal way to save for retirement. The most common types of IRAs are the traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, and SIMPLE IRA. Each has restrictions based on income, employment status and if you have other types of retirement plans. All have caps on annual contributions and most have early withdrawal penalties.

Traditional IRA - A tax-deferred account. Meaning you will pay taxes when you make withdrawals in retirement. Deferring taxes means your savings compound and your balance grows each year without being taxed. Uncle Sam will collect payment at time of withdrawal, when theoretically both your income and tax burden will be lower.  If you are under 701/2 years old and earned taxable income you are eligible to contribute. you must start making withdrawals after you reach age 70 ½.

Roth IRA - Works somewhat differently. Contributions are made with post-tax dollars; meaning  all earnings accumulate tax-free and remain so upon distribution.   Roth IRAs also let you leave your money untouched for as long as you like.  You can keep contributing  regardless of your age.

Both currently have a cap on contributions set at $5,500, but those 50 years of age and over have a catch-up provision and can contribute up to $6,500

These two IRAs are solely dependent on the owner.  Your choice… the brokerage firm, the level of aggressiveness, the type of fund, it is all up to you.  I have opted to invest in  low-cost index funds. Studies have shown that index funds steadily outperform the returns of most actively managed funds.  

Index funds match the component of a specified index.  Take an index  fund that tracks the Standard & Poor's 500, you will see that the fund owns the  same stocks that make up the actual S&P 500 , and because they do not require an investment analyst, the funds have operating expenses much lower than actively managed funds.

Index funds reduce risk because of  high diversification.  While this does not guarantee higher performance,  it does guarantee lower risk.  Many funds have come and gone but Index funds have withstood the test of time; the crashes and corrections. Your broker may not even push these  because of the lower profit margin for him.

Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Arrangement- SEP IRA is a variation of the Individual Retirement Account utilized by business owners to provide retirement benefits for themselves and their employees.  All employees must receive the same benefits. At present an employer can contribute the lesser of 25% of employees total compensation, or $54,000.  These are solely employee funded.

Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees- SIMPLE IRA Is a tax-deferred employer sponsored retirement plan that allows both employees and employers to contribute into an account that has been set up for the employees.  Every eligible employee can  make a salary reduction contribution of no more than $12,500  and the employer must either have a non-elective contribution or match the employee contribution.  This is best suited as a start-up retirement savings plan for small employers not currently sponsoring any other retirement plan.

For those that may want to retire a few years earlier there are several things that can be done to get there earlier.   

IRS rule 72(t) allows for penalty-free withdrawals from IRA accounts.  This has to be done utilizing substantially equal periodic payments (SEPPs).  This rule permits IRA owners to benefit from their retirement savings before retirement age, without having to pay the required 10% penalty. The withdrawals are still taxed at the normal income tax rate.  These payments must occur over the span of five years or until the owner reaches 59.5, whichever time period is longer.  Neal Frankle over at explains it in detail.

Your contributions, the money that you put into your Roth IRA can come out at any time, tax and penalty free after only five years.  That refers to your deposit only and not the gains.  The IRS counts the five years from the first day of the tax year in which you make your contribution. For example, if you make a deposit into your account on December 1, 2017, the IRS sees it  as a January. 1, 2017 deposit, the start of the calendar year.

This, in some manner is being done every day.  People are retiring as early as in their 30s. Some into a life of leisure; others have continued to work, not for the money, but because they enjoy what they are doing.  Others are able to follow their passion and change course into a more fulfilling career; one that may have a much lower earning potential but their retirement has been secured.

Many people do not see the numerous advantages of contributing into 401Ks and IRAs both now and in the future.  Do not be one of them.  Look into both and maximize the benefits the provide.  Your future self will thank you.

I am not a financial advisor.  I hold no fancy degree and as such this is not financial advice.  Seek the advice of  a professional.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How To Pay Off Your Debt Now

We all need credit to survive in today’s economy. Having some debt is not necessarily a bad thing. How many of us have enough cash on hand to buy a house outright ?  We need a credit card just to rent a car.

Too much debt on the other hand is bad and eliminating excess debt should be a top priority for all.  There are several ways to approach the situation but the first step to accomplish any task is to understand it.

The quickest way to curb your pending may be to become a cash-only consumer.    If you do not have the cash, you do not need to buy it. Stop using your credit cards.  

Getting out of debt is possible.  While this may not easy, possibly the hardest thing, it can be accomplished.  You need to develop and follow a plan and look for money saving opportunities.  

Many recommend creating an emergency fund, but I do not think this is a wise move.  If you owe $25,000 at 18%, why would you save anything at 1% or 2%?  Throw every available dollar at your debt.  This is already an emergency!  

Some suggest extreme measures to cut expenses like lowering your thermostat, or buying soon to expire foodstuff because it is on the clearance rack.  I am not going to wear a coat in my own home to save a few dollars, that is ridiculous.   There are more sensible ways to save money.

  • Amazingly, this is a hot button for many; I can't understand why, the math is all there. Make your coffee at home.
  • Brown bag your lunch, do it often.
  • I love eating out, I go easy on the booze and skip the appetizers and the extras.
  • Use store reward programs to earn cash back and discounts.  Stick to stores you regularly visit and get the most bang for your buck by buying generic when practical.
  • I am not a fan of the side hustle because it often times becomes a necessity.  Shoot for a goal. Pay off a credit card or airfare for your trip.  Once achieved, you are done...
  • Call your insurance provider and negotiate a lower payment for your home and car  insurance.  Shop around if you are not satisfied.
  • Contact your cable/satellite provider and negotiate your package, or subscribe to a streaming service and get rid of it altogether.
  • Buy your non-perishables in bulk. Anything that does not go bad over a short period of time. Your detergents, paper products and the like.

The things you are eliminating are not necessarily gone forever. You can  still have the occasional coffee, maybe once a week is much better for the balance sheet than every day. See how much that daily cup may actually cost.  Try out the calculator for yourself.

A simple phone call to the card issuers is all that you may need to get the interest rate reduced. A point or two reduction can translate into hundred even thousands of dollars in savings.  Loyalty, credit score and  history of on-time payments weigh heavily when looking for a rate reduction.  Shopped around and were offered a lower rate?   

Transfer balance offers are tempting.  More so if a substantially lower interest rate is offered.  The key is to pay off the debt within the offered low-interest-rate window.  This is usually limited to 12 months.   Otherwise the interest rate may go up and you will fall back into the cycle.   Keep in mind that these offers normally include a balance-transfer fee.

Never miss a payment.  The late fees are wasted money, they can potentially damage your credit score, and raise your rates.  That money is better served paying down debt.

Your financial institution may offer a loan large enough so you can pay off credit card balances and replace  multiple payments with one single loan that offers a lower interest rate.  Be aware that the lower interest rate may only be temporary.  You also need to read the fine print for any associated fees.  These might even negate the advantage of consolidating your debt.

The minimum payment due you see on every bill sounds enticing, but it is a very expensive proposition...For you, that is; the bank loves it. For them it is all profit! That is why it was created.  You should strive to never carry a balance.  Now that you need it, use it wisely.

Now that you have decided to aggressively attack your debt you should use one of the more common methods.  To this day I still use pen & paper to jot things down, even if just the key points.

The most common are the snowball method whereby one pays off the account with the smallest balances first, while paying the minimum on all remaining debts.  Once the first item is completely paid off, you tackle the next item. The avalanche method focuses on the highest interest rate first.  Like with the snowball method all others get minimum payment.  This process is repeated  until all the debts are paid.

The benefits of the snowball method are primarily psychological. As there is a sense of accomplishment. This approach works for those that need a quick “win” to stay motivated. I am a proponent of utilizing the avalanche method because it saves both time and money, making it the more logical way to pay off your debts.

Whatever method you choose, stay the course.  Eliminating debt is one of the pillars of financial freedom. You can now start the next phase-saving for retirement. Getting started is much easier than many think.

You did not go into debt overnight, and you will not get out of debt by tomorrow; It may take several years.  Rome wasn't built in a day.  Stay focused on your goal and you will get out of debt.

I am not a financial advisor.  I hold no fancy degree and as such this is not financial advice.  Seek the advice of  a professional.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Do Not Let This Be You, A Cautionary Tale

These are all real.  The names have been changed to protect the not so financially smart, but I am sure they see themselves.  Others know someone  that is in this situation.  Quite easy to fall into the trap.  Not so easy to get out.

Carlos and the Mini Mansion

Several years back, maybe 15,  my friend Carlos received a promotion  and the  raise that came along with it. He did what many of us do: he ran to the bank with his pay stubs and asked "how much can I get?" and bought as much house as the bank said he could!  A beautiful four bedroom, three bathroom house with a huge backyard. He lives in a gated complex nested within  a larger gated community where he gets to pays two separate maintenance/security fees.
His only son is away at college and will soon get married.  Carlos and his wife are now empty nesters and have no wish or opportunity to have more children.  They have that huge  house all to themselves.
The complex has tennis courts, a large swimming pool and many other amenities that exclusive gated communities offer.  Never used them in all the years they have lived there, even though that was  one of the reasons they were attracted to the complex house.

He lives less than 6 miles from work, but he must leave home by 6AM.  He does not start work until eight, but rush hour traffic is so bad that if he were to leave at say 6:15 he would never get to work on time.  He hits vehicular congestion as soon as he drives out of his complex. So he arrives more than an hour before he starts and buys breakfast every morning!  Quite a large expense when added up.
Now they would love to sell and buy a smaller house that is also closer to his job.  Something that is more suited to their needs.  Problem is he can't, the housing market is so depressed that the house  has lost about 40% of its original value and they can't take that big a loss.
Sad story this one, quite common today. Don't be like Carlos!

My Neighbor’s New Car
My neighbor just bought the brand spanking new latest car of his “dreams”.  How long did he dream of it,? Not too long, the thing just came out.   He will probably trade it in within three years for his next "dream" ride.

The real story behind this purchase  and the  many others before it  is quite different from what has been presented.  He is in perpetual competition with someone. He is special that way.  Never happy with just keeping up; he has to do one better than those of us around.  

Neighbor up the block just bought a new car, his old one had over had over  175,000 miles on it and was at its end.  Good old Joe, everything is a competition.  Within a month Joe had a new car too.  He tried to explain that it had  something to with gas mileage, safety or some other nonsense, but I can't remember.

This competition with everyone over everything  has gone on for years.   Hardly see him. Probably works close to 60 hours a week.  Never gets to go anywhere on vacation; he can't afford to.   

I have tried to make him realize; he needs to quit with the competition.  The keeping up with the Joneses is slowly killing him and he doesn't even realize it.  Nobody else pays his mortgage, car note or any other bill for that matter.  So he should not care what they may think and focus on what makes him happy.  

Maybe one day he will learn.

Where Did My $20 Go.

I too was once a moron with my money;  I had the financial IQ of a bagel.  Sure I started the 401K at work and contributed enough to get the company match, but did nothing more.  One day I finally realized I needed to maximize my 401K contribution.  I did a lot of stupid things before I realized they were stupid.  
For one, this is what a typical workday was like. Many years had gone by before I realized my mistake.

One night, sadly, not too long ago I arrived home from work and emptied out my pockets. Keys, wallet, two bucks and change and some pocket lint were all I found.  I left with $20 that morning and got home with nothing to show for it .

I decided to take inventory next work day.  This is what I found:

  • A coffee when I arrived in the morning
  • Lunch
  • Another coffee in the afternoon  
  • Snacks somewhere along the way

That was it, poof my money was gone.  I realized that I was throwing away money here. I got to thinking that I should be saving some money here.  

What is the point of narrating these three sad tales of financial stupidity?  More are created every day. I realized we are all guilty to some extent.  I see it all the time, and if we want more out of life we need to make changes.  I see the end effect of this lifestyle.  

Living paycheck to paycheck or waiting for your pension or social security deposit to arrive so that you can buy some groceries does not lead to a fulfilling, happy life.   Having a nice house and a good car are not bad goals.  We should all aspire to own them, but   this needs to be done in a financially responsible way.

My fix was fairly easy, for others it may not be so easy. I started by getting three things: an envelope, a travel mug and a food container.  Took a twenty to work every day, but I also took my morning coffee with me and lunch on alternating days; Nothing extra, just last night's leftovers. Whatever cash was in my pocket went into the envelope.   After week one  I had $51.   The envelope was the easiest way to keep count of what I was spending.  Don't believe small savings add up to big money over time?  This should open your eyes.

As far as having a car, we all need one, but a shiny new one that gets replaced every two or three years is ridiculous.   Buy one  that may be  a year or two old and take care of it.  This car  should give you more than 150,000 miles at substantial savings when compared to a new car. A car is simply a tool, not an investment.  Others consider it a status symbol, but if you cannot afford the car you drive and it is all about appearances, then something is wrong.
When you bought your house you probably did what I did.   I went to the bank with my pay stubs and wondered how much  I could borrow and then bought what the bank suggested, a not what best suited me.  Now I need to downsize, not because I can't afford it, but because I do not need so much space and I choose to enjoy life rather than spending my time with the upkeep.  

Cannot turn back time.  Make the needed adjustments now.  Starting today is better than next week or next month.  Pay down that loan.  Increase;  the contributions to your 401K or your IRA.  Do not have one, then open one up.  Life is much better when you tell your money what to do, not the other way around. Before you go out and spend your hard earned money, keep in mind these cautianary tales.

I am not a financial advisor.  I hold no fancy degree and as such this is not financial advice.  Seek the advice of  a professional.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Embracing Frugality For Easy Savings

The spend money whether you have it or not mentality has caught up with us all.  Excessive consumerism is the culprit. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the average American saves little more than 4 percent of their income. That is much better than saving nothing at all, but that will not be enough in retirement; at least not at your current standard of living.

Where is the rest of the money going?  On average, we spend more than half our earnings on housing and transportation.  Buying a bigger house or a “better” car only leads to buying more of the bigger and “better” things, and so the endless cycle of buying stuff that adds no real value to our lives continues, but does it have to?

People will say the need a bigger house, but they only need one to store all the stuff (junk) they own.  They buy a new car not because they need one and make nonsensical statements to justify the expense like “to save gas”, or because it is safer.  The real reason is to keep up appearances. The “my car is better than your car mentality” at work.

While it may be easy to say that you want to save money, implementing a plan that actually works may not be. We must break from the mentality that our self-worth is tied to our stuff.

All things being equal, frugality is the easiest way to ramp-up your savings.

Naysayers will argue that there is just so much you can save with frugality because once you cut out an expense you are done; you can't cut it again.  While that is true, that is rather shortsighted.  Say you used to pay $100 for cable, change providers  and now pay $50; you will now have an additional $50 in your pocket from that day forward, and not just once.

Problem with frugality is that many have a negative opinion of frugality. Spending countless hours clipping coupons or some other mind numbing task is what comes to mind. Frugality is all about being economical, maximizing your dollars and finding less expensive ways to have the things you want without being wasteful.

You don’t have to become a cheapskate. This is not the same as being frugal. Eating canned soup for dinner every night because you got a case on clearance and pay pennies on the dollar is just plain cheap, and unhealthy not frugal.

Many people only visualize extreme frugality, not what I am selling. These extreme examples are all real.  Some people are actually doing THIS stuff and suggest you do the same. One only takes cold showers because with no hot water, shorter showers are the norm, thus saving on both heating and consumption.  OK if you like cold showers, but not so much if you hate them!

Another one I recently read, you do not need a fridge, get rid of it and just scrape the mold off the cheese instead. Use your car as an oven to bake some cookies and not as means of transportation.  I am not making these up.  Selling your car and walking everywhere sounds economical, but unless you live within walking distance from the places you frequent, like your job and the market.

While extreme frugality may have its place as part of an overall savings plan, there is no room for it at the expense of comfort and more importantly your health.  You cannot diminish you quality of life to save a few dollars.  Can't take the kids to the park because you have the Sunday paper and are clipping coupons? Time to rethink your strategy.  After two or three months, those extreme ideas will destroy your will power and frugality will be gone.

I refuse to give up anything that will make me live like we did back in the 20th century. Giving up my cell phone or other modern conveniences is out of the question.

I like to think of myself as frugal, but if I had to give up things that I enjoyed or cared about, I could not be.  Could not do some of the outlandish things many out there actually do.

I don’t clip coupons, use homemade cleaning products or cut open the tube to get to the last bit of toothpaste. There is money to be saved that way, but I prefer one-time actions that will continue to save time and time again above all else. I replaced my regular light bulbs with more cost efficient LEDs. I just lowered my utility bill. The best frugal actions don’t add extra work.

First blog I ever wrote grew from a note to my kids about how easily we could save $25 a week. I used the morning cup of “coffee” their uncle buys as an example and suggested he make his at home. Easy math when one cup equals $5.

Thing is he looks forward to that cup, needs it to get going and is not willing to give it up. If something is that important to you, keep it. I used that cup of coffee just as an example, but a simple adjustment/cut like this can be easily accomplished elsewhere.

Eat a home cooked meal tonight instead of take-out and make enough to brown bag your lunch tomorrow. Save on dinner tonight and tomorrow’s lunch. This action alone can potentially save $25 a week.  You can do so much with just $25 a week.

Whenever I shop, I take a look at the store brands. Generic items like trash bags, detergents and foodstuff like sauces and pasta. Just spend a few minutes comparing labels, if I see no problem I will always go with the more economical option.  The only real difference, at least most of the time, is the more attractive and therefore more expensive packaging.

Small changes; all achievable and repeatable over time that will lead to a more frugal, happier life. Applying the principles of frugality to your life will help save for both that immediate goal and for the future.
I am not a financial advisor.  I hold no fancy degree and as such this is not financial advice.  Seek the advice of  a professional.