Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Don't Let Valentine's Day Break the Bank

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Don't Let Valentine's Day Break the Bank: Valentine's Day is a romantic occasion; a time to splurge, to prove your love for your partner. If you're dating someone, it's ...

Don't Let Valentine's Day Break the Bank

Valentine's Day is a romantic occasion; a time to splurge, to prove your love for your partner. If you're dating someone, it's an opportunity to show your intentions.

Who doesn't like to be pampered?

Just don't let the pressure of impressing others drive you to spend more than you can afford. Like any other expense, Valentine's Day gifts should be planned for and budgeted. After all, the holiday comes around every year.

Don't have two dozen roses delivered to your spouse's office by a singing Cupid because you're afraid her colleagues will scoff at a simple spring bouquet and a homemade card. Or that someone else's spouse will outdo you.

She may love being surprised by a pair of diamond earrings, but they'll lose their sparkle once you're saddled with the extra credit card debt. And not many people need the calories in a two-pound box of imported chocolates, despite the initial joy of receiving it. A small sample of her favorites to savor might generate the same appreciation.

The old adage, "It's the thought that counts" may sound like an excuse for being a cheapskate. But there are plenty of ways you can recognize the special day and demonstrate your love without spending a lot of money.

Time is one of our most valuable commodities. Why not take that long walk in the park with her you've been promising? Why not sit down and watch that game with him, even though you hate sports? Accompany it with a home-cooked meal and a bottle of your beloved's favorite bubbly.

If you're in a new relationship, the way the other person handles the holiday will supply clues about what is to come. The person who showers you with expensive gifts might be generous. But she might also be a poor manager of money. The person who writes you a poem in lieu of buying a present might be a romantic, or maybe he's just a tightwad.

Do you really want to spend your days with someone who was insulted that you bought her flowers from the grocery store or the kid on the street corner instead of from the town's best florist? Or maybe you are that person, and you can't abide such party-pooping frugality from your partner on a romantic holiday.

If your relationship is getting serious, Valentine's Day can prompt you to have that all-important talk about money. Is one person a saver, and the other a spender? Before you commit to a life together, find out if your attitudes are compatible because chances are, they probably won't change.

Disagreement over money is one of the leading causes of divorce. The more you know about each other, especially about each other's approach to handling money, the better the chances that the relationship will last.

How do you plan to spend Valentine's Day? Will you think about money, or go all out with a splurge? I'd love to hear your comments.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Staying on Track with Goals

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Staying on Track with Goals: We're a month into the new year, and many resolutions, although made with the best intentions, have already fallen by the wayside. But ...

Staying on Track with Goals

We're a month into the new year, and many resolutions, although made with the best intentions, have already fallen by the wayside. But instead of giving up, why not try to figure out what's not working and recommit? You still have eleven months to get something accomplished this year.

Maybe the goal is not specific enough. "Save more for retirement" is vague. How much are you saving now? Whatever it is, vow to increase your contribution by a realistic percentage. Go online today or call your employer's human resource department and adjust your payroll deductions. If you don't have a workplace retirement plan, set up or increase automatic contributions from your bank account to an IRA.

Maybe the goal is not measurable. "Manage my money better" doesn't have any criteria attached. What does managing your money better look like? How can you tell when you've reached your goal?

Maybe the goal is not really achievable. "Become debt-free" might be a pipe dream if you're mired in credit card bills or skating on the brink of bankruptcy. Sort of like, "look good in a bikini this summer" or "run a marathon" when you're 100 pounds overweight and have never exercised in your life. Start smaller. Identify one bill to tackle, preferably the account with the highest interest rate, and focus on retiring that debt. Or choose a card with a relatively low balance, pay it off completely, and vow to keep it clean (paid in full, on time, every month) so you can use it for new purchases without incurring additional interest while you pay down other debt.

Maybe the goal isn't realistic. "Save enough for a down payment on a house" could be out of reach if your income isn't covering your daily living expenses. Look for ways you can reduce those expenses so you have enough income left over to start saving. Setting a goal that is too lofty just leads to frustration.

Maybe the goal doesn't have a timeline. "Start an emergency fund" is a good goal, but when are you planning to start? How often will you contribute to the fund to build it, and by what date will you strive to accumulate what amount? For example, maybe you'll set aside ten dollars per paycheck, beginning with the next one. Maybe you're expecting a bonus or a tax refund soon, and you'll use that windfall to jumpstart your emergency fund.

If your resolutions are off-track, take another look at what you set out to accomplish and why. Then tune up your goals to make them specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited.

What New Year's Resolutions did you make this year? How are you doing with them? I'd love to hear your comments.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Get Organized for Financial Fitness

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Get Organized for Financial Fitness: Lots of people include "getting organized" on their list of New Year's Resolutions. Getting organized—and staying organized—c...

Get Organized for Financial Fitness

Lots of people include "getting organized" on their list of New Year's Resolutions. Getting organized—and staying organized—can help you on the road to financial fitness.

Here are some examples:

1. Avoid unnecessary late fees and excess interest charges by devising a system for paying your bills on time. Sign up for autopay or manage due dates with an accordion file or spreadsheet. Designate a place for the mail and handle as it arrives so you don't lose a payment notice.

2. Keep a folder for credit card receipts. Open your statement promptly, reconcile it against these receipts, and look for irregularities. Most months everything checks out, but in the past, I've found augmented tips on restaurant bills and duplicate charges (the pre-tip amount, and then the entire bill rung up again to include the tip). Research charges for which you have no receipt, and report discrepancies as soon as you discover them. Dispute incorrect charges. Watch for transactions reported as cash advances instead of purchases; they begin accruing interest immediately, which then subjects you to interest on all subsequent charges until the account is zeroed out.

3. Review your bank and investment statements regularly. Watch for unauthorized activity, new fees for services that were once free, discontinued or reduced dividends, and any drastic changes in the performance of an investment.

4. Keep a folder for tax deductions, such as charitable donations (including purchases on behalf of a charity) and unreimbursed workplace expenses. If you drive your vehicle for business or to do charity work, maintain a log of the mileage. If you have a home business, keep a separate folder for expenses related to the business. Have trouble keeping track of paper? Scan your receipts and file them electronically.

5. Speaking of taxes, it's time to create a folder for forms you'll need to prepare your return. Companies will begin mailing W2s and 1099s by the end of January. If you have a mortgage, look for a 1098. Some mutual funds and brokerages include a 1099 with the year-end statement in December. Round up other deductible receipts such as property tax statements, vehicle excise tax receipts, charitable donations, etc. Review last year's tax return to determine if anything might be missing from this year's folder.
Organize your financial life so you avoid missing payment deadlines or overpaying accounts, and that you benefit from all legitimate tax deductions. With a little effort and attention to detail, you'll suffer less stress and unleash more money for the things and experiences that add value to your life.

What tips do you have for getting organized? I'd love to hear your comments.

Sharon Marchisello is the author of Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Mitigating Holiday Expense

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Mitigating Holiday Expense: Christmas is over, most of the financial damage from holiday spending is done. Here are some tips to help you get back on track: 1.     ...