Monday, November 20, 2017

Countdown to Financial Fitness: The Link Between Financial and Physical Health

Countdown to Financial Fitness: The Link Between Financial and Physical Health: Studies have shown a direct correlation between financial fitness and overall health. Think about it. When you worry about how you’re going...

The Link Between Financial and Physical Health

Studies have shown a direct correlation between financial fitness and overall health. Think about it. When you worry about how you’re going to pay the bills, when you feel guilty about how much you’ve spent, how you're buried in debt, your physical well-being may be affected.

Financial stress can cause depression or anxiety. It can elevate your blood pressure, even give you ulcers. You might have trouble sleeping. 

Whether it manifests itself in junk food binges or whether your stomach is too nervous to digest a proper meal, your body may be deprived of the nutrition it needs to maintain optimal performance.

Obsessing about money can lead to drug or alcohol abuse. Which in turn can create more problems in your life, both physical and financial.

Your relationships may suffer. At a well-meaning spouse’s mention of the overdue bills, or a child’s need for school supplies, you may lash out without thinking, consequently hurting people you love. Obsession over money can cause you to miss those special moments with family and friends, like watching a child take a first step or celebrating someone’s accomplishment. Important moments that shouldn’t cost anything.

So how do you avoid feeling stressed if your finances are indeed out of control?

Think of the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Have the courage to stop the bleeding. Now. Don’t wait until after the holidays. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Write down everything coming in and everything going out, and then prepare a budget. Cut out unnecessary expenditures like subscriptions to magazines you don’t read, membership in clubs you don’t frequent, premium cable channels you don’t watch, etc. Maybe you can get by a little longer between haircuts, manicures, professional cleanings. Make a list when you go shopping—on a full stomach—and resist the impulse to splurge on items you don’t need. Complete transformation won’t happen overnight, but if you make small, steady, permanent lifestyle changes to help you live within your means, you will soon see progress.

Accept that there will always be someone who lives in a bigger house, drives a newer car, gives better presents, wears nicer clothes than you. Stop trying to keep up with people who have more money than you do. Buy only what you can afford, and learn to be happy with what you have. If you’re reading this, undoubtedly, there are others who have a lot less.

What tips do you have for reducing financial stress? I'd love to hear your comments.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Navigating the Holiday Season

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Navigating the Holiday Season: I've been a Lifetime Weight Watchers member for more than a decade, and this time of year is always the most challenging for those who ...

Navigating the Holiday Season

I've been a Lifetime Weight Watchers member for more than a decade, and this time of year is always the most challenging for those who are trying to lose weight or keep it off. You have to make trade-offs. Enjoy your favorite foods—especially those once-a-year treats—but don't let them hijack your SmartPoints budget.

The holiday season is also challenging for people who are trying to get on the right track financially, or just making ends meet. You want the holidays to be special, but you dread starting out the next year deeper in debt.

The key to staying trim—and financially responsible—is moderation. What do you value most about the season? The spiked eggnog and frosted gingerbread men, or the fellowship with friends at a holiday gathering? Giving the most expensive present, or being with family?

Even though this is the season for holiday celebrations, not every day during November and December calls for overeating. Dieters can balance days of extra workouts and eating a green salad for lunch to save up enough SmartPoints for a slice of Grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie. One slice. Savored.

The same principle applies to spending money during the holidays. There will probably be more lunches out, more office parties and gift exchanges, more reasons to shop. Prioritize and participate in those activities from which you derive the most value.

Instead of going out and buying something new for the dirty Santa / white elephant gift exchange, why not scour your closet and recycle that item you received last year and had no use for? (If you’re afraid someone will recognize it, use it with a different group.)

Are there people you buy presents for every year out of habit? And the items they give you end up re-gifted or donated to charity? Make the suggestion to change the tradition, perhaps get together for a meal or a movie instead. Depending on your talents, substitute giving homemade goodies or flowers from your garden. Chances are, it’s not the gift that’s important to the person, it’s the relationship, the act of being remembered and acknowledged.

Throwing a holiday party? Cut down on costs by allowing guests to add to the bounty with a favorite dish or bottle of spirits to share. Most people will ask what they can bring or what they can do to help. Take them up on their offers. Most guests won’t care how much you’ve spent on food and decorations; they’re more interested in the opportunity to catch up with friends and neighbors in a relaxed environment.

I used to spend a lot of money on Christmas cards, postage, and printing a year-in-review letter with color photos. More and more friends and family now send their holiday greetings by email, so my mailing list for physical cards has shrunk over the years. Saves postage, and delivery is much faster.

If you decorate heavily, it’s tempting to add more adornments each year to replace worn items or freshen the look. Try to make do with last year’s stash, and then stock up on new stuff toward the end of the season. Years ago, the big sales happened the day after Christmas. Now it seems that by December 26, Christmas has been erased, and the big half-price sales on cards, wrapping paper, decorations, trees, etc., happen the week before the holiday. In time to add to your collection this year, if you’re patient.

And speaking of wrapping paper, I can’t seem to shake an old habit instilled in me by my mother: unwrap packages with care so you can reuse the paper. Especially if it’s pretty. And expensive, i.e., from someone outside our family.

What tips do you have for saving money during the holiday season? I'd love to hear your comments.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Open Enrollment

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Open Enrollment: My husband and I are fortunate enough to be covered by health insurance through his employer. Even though our premiums have increased and b...

Open Enrollment

My husband and I are fortunate enough to be covered by health insurance through his employer. Even though our premiums have increased and benefits have decreased over the years, we're still better off compared to those who have to purchase health insurance through the exchanges.

This time of year brings open enrollment for most plans, when it's a good idea to take a look at your coverage options for 2018 and make changes if necessary. Do you need to add or drop a family member? Go for a richer plan to keep or upgrade to the coverage you need, or drop down to something cheaper to save on premiums? Adjust contributions to a Health Savings or Flexible Spending Account?

Another consideration is to avoid leaving money on the table. If you have a Flexible Spending Account, you most likely must use the money for qualified medical/dental/vision expenses before the end of the year, or risk losing it. How about making an appointment with an eye doctor, getting your teeth cleaned, or having a skin cancer screening if you have not yet done so?

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are portable and the balance carries over from year to year, so no need to worry about spending that money now if you don't have to. But check to see if you've reached your funding limit, and back out any excess contributions.

An individual can contribute up to $3400 to an HSA for 2017; if the account covers other family members, the limit increases to $6750. If you're over 55, you can contribute an additional $1000. If the account is associated with your workplace high-deductible healthcare plan, you can probably make regular, automatic contributions on a pre-tax basis. If you transfer after-tax money from your bank account to your HSA, you may deduct those contributions on your income tax return. Fortunately, you have until April 15, 2018, to fund your 2017 HSA, so if you can't afford to make all your contributions before the holidays, you haven't lost out.

Like many companies these days, my husband's employer gives incentives for completing certain health actions (completing a survey, having an annual physical, being tobacco-free, achieving favorable biometric results, etc.) which translate into real money deposited into his HSA. Most of these health actions must be completed by the end of the year if not sooner; if you have such an opportunity, don't pass it up.

Open enrollment is the best time for an annual financial check-up to ensure you're taking advantage of all the benefits of your healthcare plan, and to make the best possible health insurance decisions for 2018 for you and your family.

What suggestions do you have for making the most of your healthcare dollars? I'd love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017