Tag Archives: money

The Root of Our Money Problems

We finally found the root of our money problems. Want to know what it is? According to my wife, it’s me.

When she said that in the car to me the other night, I laughed it off. But as I sat there and thought about it, she was absolutely right. I brought the most debt into the marriage and I probably would still be racking it up if I wasn’t with my wife. I was the most reckless with money before we got married.

But there are still things I do today that damage our finances. For one, I always seem to suggest eating out. Actually, my wife said “I was the problem” after I suggested grabbing something quick to eat. We have a ton of food at home and yet I always seem to want to eat out no matter where we are. What the heck is wrong with me? I really want to be debt free and yet I always want to spend.

I mentioned before that we want to still enjoy some “finer things” while getting out of debt. We would like to eat out once or twice a month and go to the movies occasionally. It just helps us from going insane.  However, I have taken the eating out to an extreme. If I had to guess, I would say we ate out about a dozen times in May. Most were the fast food variety but still expensive none the least. About 90% of those occurrences were my idea.

I guess you could say that I have been a big consumer for most of my life. I grew up on a family farm and started earning fairly good money (for a kid) by the age of 10. I did what most kids would do at that age with money. I spent it and I spent it ALL. However, I earned way more than most kids my age and I got to buy the more expensive items that many other kids only dreamed about or begged their parents for. Life was good.

What I guess I am trying to say is that old habits die hard. I would imagine that many of you are having this same problem. It’s hard to go from one extreme to the next and I’m finding that out that hard way. I once spent with wreckless abandon and now I am trying to pinch every penny. Life is hard.

* * *

What would you say has been the toughest for you? Cutting spending? Setting up a budget? Opening up the lines of communication between you and your spouse?

Starting to Invest: Opening an IRA

Without much more than basic knowledge of how the stock market works, I was prepared to wait to get involved until I got a job with a 401k. I figured that would help me get my feet wet and provide the motivation I needed to learn more and prepare for the future. Words like “investing”, “IRA” and “bonds” all made me feel the same: excited, and really really nervous.

My wife and I have thought about opening an IRA for a while, and now that we have our debt paid off and our emergency fund is well under way, it was the next thing to do on our personal financial checklist. However, something kept stopping me.

I hadn’t ever taken the time to learn about investing, and I felt like waiting wasn’t going to hurt me that much.

Then, something changed.

I read this post about investing returns over time at the personal finance blog Darwin’s Finance. I read the post through a couple of times, because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The post starts with a quote from the author’s father:

“If you started investing at age 25 and put the same amount of money into stocks until age 35, you’d have more money at retirement than if you started saving at 35 and invested the same amount of money in stocks EVERY YEAR until retirement”

Someone who invests $5,000 a year from age 25 to age 35 will (with an average 8% return) have $615,580 when they turn 60.

Someone who begins investing $5,000 at age 35 and continues until age 60 will (again, with the 8% return) have $431,745 at age 60. (See the post for graphs and full explanation).

So even in a down market (and maybe even especially in a down market) in makes sense to start with something, somehow, to cash in on the power of time. But, you don’t want to invest without doing your research and making goals. My wife and I decided to open a Roth IRA, and during our research, completed a questionnaire that helped determine if we were really ready to begin investing. A Roth IRA is a recommended choice for those starting young – the money is taxed now, but not when you draw it out – beneficial if you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket when you retire. I felt like some of the things I learned during my research might help others who are nervous about beginning to invest.

NOTE: This is what I’ve learned over only a short time of research – please learn for yourself and seek qualified financial assistance before starting to or continuing investing. The information below is based only on my experience and is not professional investing advice.

What Is Your Purpose For Investing?

You’ve got to have a goal. This is the first question we were asked. There are three main purposes for investing:

Growth – You want your money to grow. You’re prepared to take slightly bigger risks that have potential to grow, and are also prepared to invest for at least five years (or more) to realize the potential of your investments and recover from down turns in the market.

Sample goals: to save for college, a home or retirement.

Income – Instead of growth, you’re looking for more immediate income. You’ll look at more conservative investments that pay dividends, either monthly or quarterly.

Sample goals: to pay for monthly expenses.

Preservation of Capital – The main goal here is to preserve and slowly increase your investment. You’d want to use this type of strategy when you’re looking for small returns on your investment, but your main goal is to preserve what you already have.

Sample goals: to build an emergency fund or save for an expense within the next 12 months.

How Long Are You Planning on Investing?

Obviously, the length of time your money will be invested affects what type of investment you’ll choose.

Do You Have a 3-6 Month Emergency Fund?

I was very glad they asked this question. Investing is an important financial goal, but it should become a priority only after other major financial needs are met. An emergency fund should be the first thing on your list to take care of.

How Much Are You Going to Contribute?

This is also a key thing to consider. You shouldn’t go into debt to invest. You should only contribute a small, reasonable amount until you’re comfortable with investing and have learned more about it. We’ve started with just $20 a month into a mutual fund. We’ve budgeted that amount into our monthly budget and know we can afford to contribute at least that much each month – both key considerations.

Start With The Basics

Don’t feel pressured to begin investing if you’re not sure you understand how everything works. My wife and I have been looking at doing this for quite a while, and have sat down and gone over the numbers and the different ways we can invest, as well as the different tools we have access to. Begin learning, and before you know it you’ll be ready to go. Again, though, take the proper time to consult professionals and understand the risks of investing. You need to understand there is a very real possibility you’ll have weeks, months, and years where your investment might be losing money. Hopefully, though, if you’ve done your research and prepared for the worst, you’ll be able to ride out the bumps in your long-term investment strategy.

I understand that there will still be ups and downs (probably even more major ones) between now and the time I retire. But I also can’t describe the relief and the feeling of comfort that I have knowing that I’m at least doing something for the future. The earlier you start, the more consistent you are, the better of you’ll be, and the more time you’ll have to recover from major downswings in the market. Investing wasn’t the huge ugly monster I thought it would be. I’m actually enjoying putting what I’ve learned to use. Do your research, talk to a professional, and get started!

Volunteer to Help Pay Student Loans

If you are like me, you paid a pretty penny for your college education. I however, decided to finance most of my education in the form of student loans (private and federal). It amounts to a great sum and I wonder how I am going to pay it off every day. Looking back, I know I would have been able to pay for college with cash and yet didn’t.

Do you find yourself searching for topics such as this every day? By subscribing to this site, you can get FREE updates in your inbox daily. Why not give it a try? You can unsubscribe at any time and it’s FREE. You can subscribe via RSS or you can subscribe via email.

I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to pay of the majority of the loans but I am always looking for other avenues. Volunteering is one of those avenues. As you will see, there are plenty of ways to get your college education paid for by volunteering. As a bonus, you are doing good things to help around your community and the world. Here are some resources for paying off your student loans while volunteering:

AmeriCorps

Each year, AmeriCorps offers 75,000 opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. You can volunteer in various areas such as education, business, housing, disaster relief, health, technology and more. You serve for 12 months and receive a living stipend up to $7,400. At the end of your service, you receive a $4,725 education award to be used toward your federal student loans or your tuition if you are currently in college. AmeriCorps is also the group that offers the VISTA program.

Personally, I looked around the site and found a few good positions that I would be interested in. There were several positions in financial education, foreclosures, and housing. Check it out because there is something there waiting for you!

Peace Corps

Peace Corps volunteers serve in 74 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. Collaborating with local community members, Volunteers work in areas like education, youth outreach and community development, the environment, and information technology. The Peace Corps provides volunteers with a living allowance while they are serving. It enables them to live in a manner that is similar to where they are stationed. After completion of the program, the Peace Corps provides volunteers with a $6,000 payment to help with the transition back to a normal life.

While serving in the Peace Corps, volunteers are able to defer their federal student loans until they are finished with the program. If you have a Perkins loan, you will be eligible for a cancellation of 15% for each year you spend in the program. If you spend more than 2 years, you can have 20% of your loan cancelled in years 3 and 4. In all, you can have up to 70% of your Perkins loan cancelled.

Teach for America

Teach for America is an American non-profit that enlists America’s future leaders to help end education inequality. The program will place you in a low-income school in various locations around the country where you will teach students (you do not need an education degree). The great thing about the program is that you receive all of the same benefits as other professional teachers in the school district. In other words, you receive the same salary and health benefits as beginning teachers.

During your two years as a teacher, you can receive forbearance (they still pay the interest) of your student loans. Plus, at the end of each year you will receive a $4,725 education award that can be used to pay off federal student debt.

Military

The military offers many great education benefits while you are in the service or after you leave. With the active duty and verterans GI Bill, you can receive up to $1,075 per month for education and training. If you are in the reserves, you can receive a reduced benefit of up to $297 per month.

Charity for Debt

Charity for Debt offers a unique program in which you can volunteer your time with various non-profits in return for the payment of parts of your student loans. The program is still in the pilot stage and is currently only being offered in Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Washington DC. Basically, you volunteer your time at various sponsored non-profits and you receive anywhere from $15 to $20 per hour (tax-free) that is then used to pay your student loans.

Personally, I have signed up for this progam since I live in the DC metro area. I will keep you informed on how the process goes and if it even takes off.

Does anyone else know of any other ways to volunteer your time and have you student loans paid?

Money Genie: I Grant You 3 Financial Do-Overs

Today is your lucky day! The personal finance genie has graced this site with his presence. What’s he doing here? Well, he has come to grant you 3 financial do-overs.

What Would You Change Financially If You Had the Chance?

The genie wants to know what financial decisions you would change if given the chance. Do you wish you began investing at 18? Do you wish you never set eyes on that guy giving away t-shirts in college if you signed up for a credit card? Here are my 3 wishes:

1. I wish I never saw a credit card in my life

I’ve never wanted to get too much into detail about our personal finances because some people who read this blog obviously know me. However, I will admit that I have made some bad decisions concerning credit cards over my lifetime. I received my first card at 18 and I could just feel the immense power that it had. That power caused me to feel financially invincible and it caused me much financial harm. Let’s just say that it will take me quite awhile to dig myself out of this financial hole that I have dug.

If this wish came true, I would live my life with MUCH less stress. As many of you know, debt puts a huge weight on your shoulders. You have to continually focus on the final outcome of being debt free. Having that vision helps you continue the battle and kill debt a lot faster. I cannot wait for that day to come!

2. I wish I fully funded my Roth IRA every year since I opened it 7 years ago

All I can say is that I started out on the right path. I opened a Roth IRA when I was 18 (actually, my uncle did it for me). However, over the years I completely neglected it and managed to only put around $1,500 into it. I know a lot of you will say that I lucked out because of the market collapse, but I do not see it that way. If I would have put the max in each year ($31,000 total) and invested it in an index fund (Vanguard Total Market),  I would only have around $27,000 in the account. Frankly, that sucks. However, that would be $26,000 more than I currently have in it and if I had done that every year, I imagine my credit card debt wouldn’t be as high.

3. I wish I would have paid my way through college and not taken on student debt

Looking back, I know I would have been able to pay my way through college (undergraduate AND graduate). Yet what do I have to show for it? Many times the average debt of a typical college student. In plain english, I was stupid. I really have no idea where the money went that I earned while working during college. It could have easily went to my school and yet it didn’t. I just want to scream from the hilltops for being so dumb. Don’t get yourself in the same mess I did. PAY CASH FOR COLLEGE!

I really wish there was a money genie and he could take care of all my financial woes. Unfotunately, there isn’t and I will have to live with my decisions and learn from them.

What are your top three financial mistakes? Share them with us in the comments!

Do you have a blog? Share your financial do-over wishes with your readers! Link back to this article so we can have a collection of them all. Hopefully this can be a large resource for younger individuals (college students) on what NOT to do financially at a young age.

UPDATE:

The genie has been making his way around the blogosphere. Check out some of the places that he has been:

Mrs Micah

Suburban Dollar

Budgets are Sexy

Free Money Finance

Joe Taxpayer

Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Punch Debt In the Face

Fighting Foreclosure

My Financial Recovery

I’m Addicted to Soda (and Spending Lots of Money On It)

Hello, my name is Adam and I am addicted to soda. Believe it or not, that was hard for me to type. Although, as I write this, I have gone 3 days without a drop of soda (or caffeine for that matter) and the headaches have begun. Wish me luck on this tough task!

Where It All Began

I have been drinking soda for as long as I can remember. Both of my grandfathers drank it and I think that is where my addiction began. When I was younger, my one grandfather used to take me to the local distributor once a week to return his empty Pepsi bottles (they refilled them back then). While there, he allowed me to get a whole bottle of Pepsi and some Munchos (does anyone still eat those?) for the ride home. I used to drink Pepsi at both of my grandparents on a daily basis.

This trend continued throughout my life until Monday May 18, 2009. Since that date, I have pledged to stop drinking soda for my health and my wallet.

How Much Did This Addiction Cost Me?

I have never really thought about how much this addiction has cost me over the years, so I figured now was a good time to find out.

Past 5 Years

I would say that I have been paying for my own soda for that past 5 years. Now, let’s assume that the average price over those 5 years was $1.10 per 20 ounce bottle (that is usually what I drink) and I had 1 bottle per day for the entire year. That means I spent $2099 on soda over that time period! Sounds a bit ridiculous right?

Over a Lifetime

How much would I spend if I keep drinking soda over my lifetime? This requires a little time value of money but I will skip all of that and just give you the number. For this example I assumed that the average price of a 20 ounce soda is $1.25 now and it will increase by 3% (inflation) each year. I also assumed that I would continue to drink soda until age 75 (50 more years). Want to know what the final number is? I would spend just over $51,000 on soda alone!

Technically, I didn’t quit drinking soda because of money. I did it because I am starting to focus more on my health. As many of you know, soda is loaded with sugar and all of the caffeine cannot be good for you.  All I know is that this is going to be VERY HARD as I have not gone more than 3 days without soda in over 15 years. 

Anyone else have a costly “addiction”?

Credit Cards vs Debit Cards: Liability for Fraudulent Charges

This will probably be a short post but I still wanted to address this important topic. With many individuals now becoming victims of identity theft, it’s important to know the amounts that you may be liable for if your credit/debit card is stolen.

Debit Cards

As many of you already know, debit cards are typically linked to your checking account and give you instant access to the funds that you have in your account. It is different from a credit card because you are using your available funds to pay for the item and are not borrowing money. However, you should be careful of the unlimited overdrafts because those banks will just let you keep buying! That makes it possible to rack up hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees in one day.

Even though debit cards are typically praised for their ability to control spending, they can be rather costly if they are ever stolen. With a debit card, if you neglect to notify the bank within two days of it being stolen, you can be held liable for as much as $500! You may even have UNLIMITED liablity  if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer with sixty days of when the bank sent you the statement with the unauthorized transfer shown on it. Another bad thing about debit cards is that if your card is fraudulently used by someone that you previously gave your PIN to, you may be held responsible for all of their fraudulent charges. For example, if you gave your card to your nephew to use (and gave him your PIN) several months ago for $20 at the ATM and he later steals your card and wipes out $3000 in your checking, you will be held responsible for those charges.

My advice would be to contact your bank as soon as you notice that you debit card is gone. Even if you think you accidentally just left it at the grocery store, call them right away. It’s better to be safe than sorry and it might save you quite a few bucks. Both VISA and MasterCard have “zero liability” policies that limit fraudulent purchases used as a credit transaction (not using your PIN). However, they do not apply  when you use your debit card at an ATM and for many PIN purchases.

Credit Cards

Credit cards allow you to borrow money to pay for items. If you do not pay off the balance due at the end of the month, you will be charged interest on that borrowed money. While this can be risky (just ask the millions of Americans in credit card debt), the credit card does offer you better protection against fraudulent charges.

Thanks to the Truth in Lending Act, a credit card holders liability for a lost or stolen credit card is limited. If you notify the card issuer within two days of a lost or stolen card, you are not legally held responsible for any fraudulent charges. If you notify the card issuer after two days the most you can be held liable for is $50. Many credit card companies will waive this $50 charge as a good gesture.

Although you liability is more limited with credit cards, it’s still crucial that you contact the issuer as soon as you think your card has been misplaced.

Does anyone have card fraud experiences that would like to share? How much were you held liable for?