Tag Archives: Saving

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!

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?

Saturday Sneak-Peak: PFfirewall.com

Welcome to this weeks edition of Saturday Sneak-Peak! Every week I explore a personal finance blog and give a brief review of the site. My major intent of the adventure is to expose everyone to new and/or obscure blogs. Up this week is PF Firewall.

Firstly, I want to congratulate Jesse. He and his wife added a new bundle of joy this past week! If you don’t click on any of the links, at least leave a comment and congratulate him on this great blessing (they had a girl). 🙂

Jesse has been blogging since February and has been know to have lengthy, well-thought out posts. He averages about 15 posts a month so those of you who do not like to be bombarded with posts, he is your guy!

Here are some of my favorite posts from him:

Selling Oil Changes Door-to-Door?

Shopping Out of Season

The Real Reason for Lehman Brothers’ Downfall

Now off to the questions!

YMR: Why did you want to start a personal finance blog and what blogs did you read before you started?

Jesse: I started my blog for several reasons. I am actually really new to the blog scene, I hadn’t even read any blogs previous to late 08 aside from The Consumerist, which I didn’t realize was a blog.

When reading The Consumerist, I read about a girl that paid off around $14k in debt by following some Consumerist tips. This led me to think about my debt which I was completely ignoring. One of the tips was to call credit card companies and ask for rates to be lowered, and if they didn’t lower the rate, transfer the balance to another credit card. While searching for credit cards with better rates, I happened on MyMoneyBlog.com, which led me to a few other personal finance blogs including GetRichSlowly.com, BudgetsAreSexy.com and BrokeAsASpoke.com and I was hooked on Personal Finance blogs. I started following blog networks and finding more and more blogs about personal finance to read.

So I decided to start a personal finance blog to track my finances. I also thought if my finances were out there in the open, I would be more accountable and wouldn’t be able to ignore my financial incompetencies.

A second reason, I have always felt like teaching is the best way to learn. By researching what I want to write about, I learn so much about finance from those out there that know more about it than I do, then I can share the information with my readers knowing it is accurate.

Yet another reason was that I am a pretty big geek, and having my own website is one of those things that I wanted to do, coded completely from scratch of course. I had started several websites from scratch but none of them really had a purpose so I would code them, put them up and never update them. I felt like this was holding me back from learning more about web development, so I thought if I started a blog that was really easy to update, using a blog engine like WordPress instead of coding from scratch, I could get the content rolling, get motivated, then be able to spend time coding and modding the blog. I am happy to say this is working. I recently released a new custom theme for my blog, I have been doing a ton of design work in photoshop such as logos, banners and icons, and I have even been hired to redesign someone elses blog.

I even started another site coded from scratch with a purpose/idea that I found while writing my blog. This new site hasn’t really gone public yet as I am still designing it but it fills my geeky void 😉

YMR: Which post (on your site) has been your favorite and why?

Jesse: I think my favorite post was The Most Important Part Is Starting: Debt Recovery and the reason is I felt like the post, massive as it was, was really going to help people. The post was spurred by a friend that was having trouble getting started on the road to debt recovery. I realized there may be more people out there like her that have no clue on how to get started repaying debt so I was really happy to be able to help a friend out as well as anyone else that may read the post.

YMR: How would you describe your writing style?

Jesse: Another reason I started my blog that I left for this section is that I wanted to use my blog to start a writing portfolio. I have always loved to write and thought of doing some freelance writing but I have no public writing experience.

So my writing style reflects this desire. I write as if I am writing for a newspaper. Factual, informative and to the point. I try to hold myself to professional standards. I am known to be long winded but I want to make sure I cover all the facts and leave nothing out that may be important. On that same note I try and make the information more understandable as if I am talking to my readers versus writing to them.

YMR: Tell us something about yourself that some may not know.

Jesse: I am much geekier than I let on in my blog. I am a Linux user..I worked on the Geek Squad when I was younger..and even my TV is running on Linux. I even switched keyboard layouts to be more efficient when typing. I use the Dvorak instead of QWERTY layout and now type a few dozen words per minute faster than I used to. It took about a year to fully switch.

I am much geekier than I let on in my blog. I am a Linux user..I worked on the Geek Squad when I was younger..and even my TV is running on Linux. I even switched keyboard layouts to be more efficient when typing. I use the Dvorak instead of QWERTY layout and now type a few dozen words per minute faster than I used to. It took about a year to fully switch.

YMR: Tell me a little bit more about this financial highway adoption you got going on.

Jesse: Well, I started my blog to be more financially responsible yet I spent about a hundred dollars on hosting. I knew it was necessary especially on the commitment and motivation side but I felt bad about it. Even before I started trying to get my finances in order, I had a real hard time spending money on myself for any reason. Even my play sites that I mentioned before were hosted on my home computer, making them unbearably slow. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for donations in the traditional way because I felt like a hypocrite, telling people to save money yet asking them to give me money. So I started thinking of ways I could reduce the cost of my blog without asking for a hand out.

My adoption system does just that. When someone adopts my blog, they pay a small piece of my costs, roughly the cost of hosting per year divided on a weekly basis, and in return get recognition from my readers for doing so. They get a banner in every post of their week and a banner on a dedicated page, forever.

I also want my readers to feel like they are a part of the little community my blog creates. Through the people that have adopted so far I have made some great contacts and friends, and gotten to know some of the bloggers that read my blog much better.

Thanks Jesse! Have a great weekend everyone! I am heading off to PA so limited posting this weekend.

How MyRate From Progressive is Saving Me 20% on My Auto Insurance

As I mentioned in my post on auto insurance, I am currently insured with Progressive. I switched to them because #1, they were the least expensive and #2, they offer the MyRate program. What is the MyRate program you ask? I’ll tell you!

Progressive MyRate Program

The MyRate program helps out drivers who are safe and drive only occasionally. In my case, I fit both of those classifications. I hardly ever break hard, go over 75 mph, etc. I also only have to drive 2 miles to and from the train station each day. Actually, it seems I am getting ripped off for insurance because I drive so little (I pay around $500 every 6 months). So in other words, I am being “classified” as a typical driver when I am actually not.  Here is how the MyRate program works:

1. Plug in the MyRate Device in Your Car

The device that they send you (for free) plugs right into your car. It monitors things such as time spent in the car, speed, breaking, excessive acceleration, etc. So obviously, if you do all of those things in excess, this program is probably not for you.

2. Drive as You Normally Would

The device then wirelessly and securely sends information to Progressive. It’s that easy! You really do not even know it’s there.

3. Log In and See How Well You’re Driving

This is by far the funnest part. I love logging in and seeing how my driving compares to the masses. Here is how I compare to the nation on average per day:

Number of Trips Per Day:     Me 3  |  Nation 5

Driving Time:     Me 0:52  |  Nation  1:12 (in hours)

Over 75 mph:     Me 0  |  Nation 0:42

Mileage:     Me 30.7  |  Nation 31.1

Sudden Starts:     Me 0  |  Nation 2

Sudden Stops:     Me  0  |  Nation 4

Those are some pretty good numbers on my part. You know what that means? I SAVE MONEY!

According to the renewal rate, I will be saving $105 at my renewal. A savings of around 20%! Not to bad for being a good driver.

I think I will be staying with Progressive from now on thanks to this program.

Anyone else using this program or planning to switch after reading this?

Weekly Roundup – May 3rd

Welcome to this weeks roundup! There were plenty of great articles this week and it was hard narrowing them down to some of my favorites. However, I did it and am very happy to share them with you.

On a side note, I wanted to mention that I have resurrected the Carnival of Money Stories. It is a weekly blog carnival where bloggers share their unique money stories/experiences. I am currently looking for hosts. It is a great way to get some recognition (and links) from other bloggers. If you do not want to host but would rather submit one of your articles, head over to the submission page.

Articles of the Week

My Life ROI give you 6 signs that the recession is ending. I hope #2 doesn’t end soon. We are shopping for our honeymoon!

Wealth Pilgrim has 7 steps to turn your college-bound kid into a financial genius.

Pinyo at Moolanomy says that college students should take responsibility for their financial situation.

Miranda at Yielding Wealth recommends not using your 401(k) as a savings account. I second that!

Matt at Stupid Cents has a great tip on how to get discounts at eBay.

Is it better to sell to an atheist or a virgin? Kevin at The Money Hawk lets you know the answer.

Baker at Man vs Debt compares Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey. Which one is right?

Hope you enjoyed this weeks great posts!