Can Helping Your Kids Hurt?

I recently saw a Pew Research study on financial independence among young adults. The study found six in ten parents of people aged 18 to 29 had provided at least some financial help to their children. In many cases the support was for regular monthly bills like groceries, rent or car insurance.

Of course if your young person is not working, they may need that support. But how long is it reasonable to continue to support your kids if they are not actively seeking an education and are working full time. It’s a question every parent has to answer for themselves. But it is important to understand whether you are setting your kids up for financial failure.

In one of my favorite books, The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, contend that it’s easy for a financial boost for your kids to become financial enabling. The support you provide increases their ability to spend on things they otherwise could not afford. With high rents and big student loan bills, life can be financially difficult for those just starting out, and it can be hard to know where to draw the line.

I did not draw the line in the right place. Last May, I wrote about how my daughter financially crashed and burned in How to Go From Happy to Desperate in Six Weeks or Less. Following the crash, to help her get back on her feet, she was living with us. Her budget was meant to be similar to what she would have to pay if she were living on her own with a roommate in our area. She gave us money for her non-discretionary expenses, like rent, utilities, groceries, car insurance, etc. We put it in savings for her. What was left had to cover everything else.

Except her medical costs. She doesn’t make much money. She has a government job with great health benefits but pretty low pay. I didn’t want her to skip getting the care she needed because she couldn’t afford her out-of-pocket expenses. So we agreed that we would pay for her medical expenses, and she didn’t need to include those in her budget.

Toward the end of that year, she had some tests done, and the medical bills came to around $500. No big deal for us, and we were happy she was getting help. She was actually doing really well with her budget. She was covering her “pretend” bills, and saving money beyond the money she was giving us. She had really embraced the idea of assigning a job for every dollar she had.

The problem was, she was assigning money that should have been earmarked for medical expenses, had we not been paying them, to pay for a tatoo. While we laid out $500 for her medical bills, she spent $500 on said tatoo. It was totally my fault. She had saved for it. She didn’t have to spend the money on anything else. But it bugged the heck out of me.

We made it possible for her to pay for a tatoo, because we were paying for an expense that was legitimately a part of her cost of living. And that is where the flaw in providing support to your kids lies. It masks their true cost of living, and as a result, they make decisions based on the inaccurate picture.

I want Kaye to understand her cost of living. She will make long ranging decisions such as where to live, whether to go back to school or change careers based on what she thinks she can afford, and I want her to make those decisions with all the clear-eyed facts.

Today, Kaye covers all of her expenses on her own. She includes saving for out-of-pocket medical costs in her monthly budget. Similarly she sets aside money for car maintenance and repairs. Of course we will help if something big and devastating comes up. But she is fully living within her means and saving for her needs as well as her wants – including her next tatoo.


Photo by Cory Woodward on Unsplash

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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

How Close are You to Your Money?

I’ve heard more times than I can count “I don’t know where all my money goes.” People carry little cash. Heck, some stores don’t even take cash anymore. Few families keep a check book. It’s no wonder it’s hard to keep track of where your money goes. Without the tangible activity of pulling cash from your wallet or subtracting from your bank balance, there is little connection to your money.

This idea hit home several years ago. I’ll never forget the time when I was grocery shopping with my daughter. She was about six at the time. I had just checked out, paying with my credit card as always, when I realized I had forgotten the bread. Thinking it would make Kaye feel like a big girl to go through the check stand on her own, I gave her some cash and the bread and urged her to get in line for the cashier.

She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language, and panic began to creep into her eyes. She held up the money and asked what she was supposed to do with it, and shouldn’t she have a card?

I was stunned. I didn’t realize that she didn’t understand what cash was, or that paying with cash or a card were essentially the same. Without that understanding, she couldn’t know that spending using a card was ultimately constrained by how much cash was in the bank.

Our family pays for everything with a credit card. It’s a tool. It has never made me feel less connected to my money. I am viscerally aware of every dollar I spend, whether it’s cash or card, and we pay off our credit cards every month.

But we are unusual. Only about a third of Americans pay off their credit card balance every month. A credit or debit card or payment app obscures the feeling of giving up money in exchange for whatever is bought for most people. That makes it emotionally easier to let your money go, and that can be a recipe for overspending.

Society is moving away from cash, and there are positives and negatives that come with that. If the negative for you is that you don’t know where your money is going consider approaching your spending differently.

Create a plan with a specific goal in mind. Before you spend any money from your next paycheck sit down and decide how every dollar is going to be spent. Be realistic. You need a plan you can stick with. But cover all of your bases. Make sure you are including money for expenses that don’t show up as regular bills, like car maintenance or celebrations.

The only way to keep your connection to your money is to be intentional with it. Cash may no longer be king, but you can stay in control. Rather than letting your money decide what you will do, decide what you will do with your money. Your financial security and your goals require you to make a plan, and understand where every one of your dollars goes.


Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

Nothing Happens Without a Plan

October is Financial Planning Month. Of course it’s also Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Global Diversity Awareness Month, National Bullying Prevention Month, and about ten other awareness, appreciation and support worthy causes month. But since Financial Planning is in there, there is no time like the present to do something important for you.

Rarely anything happens without a plan. Even your daily to-do list is essentially a plan. If something isn’t on that list, the chances of it getting done go down dramatically. So your financial security certainly isn’t going to happen without your attention. It won’t happen when you get a raise. It won’t happen when the kids are out of day care or college. It simply won’t happen unless you make a plan to make it happen.

Recently I’ve been speaking with a few couples who have just gotten started on their plan. They are in their sixties. They have saved a bit along the way, because they knew they were supposed to, but they haven’t followed a plan. As a result, they had not saved enough to support their lifestyles after they leave work. And in all cases, they are mentally ready to leave work.

Fortunately, because they have saved some, and they have equity in their homes, they are still going to be able to support themselves. But their lack of planning earlier means they will have to make significant changes to their lifestyle, even if they plan to work until they are in their seventies.

Now of course, if you are not currently saving, or saving enough, saving more will require a change in your lifestyle, even if it’s only being more conscientious with how you spend. It’s never too late, but the sooner you start the less dramatic and painful those changes will be.

The start of any plan is a goal. Some goals are far away and as hard to imagine as they are easy to put off. Typical savings metrics are uninspiring. You need three months of expenses in an emergency fund. You need 25 times your income in savings before you can retire. Both of these are daunting and unimaginable.

Savings goals aren’t actually about the money, but rather what you want to do with the money. So rather than save an emergency fund, a better stated goal would be to protect yourself from a financial setback, such as a job loss. Rather than saving for retirement, save for the freedom to choose whether to work and who to work for.

The next piece of a good plan is to define your goal, and this is where the money comes in. Your goal isn’t about the money, but it does have a price tag. If you find saving hard, simply start with a dollar figure you can live with. However ultimately you will want specific targets, especially for your long-term goals. And you’ll want to break those goals down into shorter more manageable targets, like how much you want to save this year, in the next three years, and so on. The rules of thumb can be a good place to start, but you know your circumstances, so make your own targets. For some free calculators to help you get started, check out my resource page.

With your goal defined, you can develop your strategy. Be very specific. Decide exactly what you will change on a daily, weekly and monthly basis in order to achieve your goal. Think about what might go wrong and how you will adapt, and if you can’t do all you want to now, think about how you can do more later. If you have a significant other, you have to work together on this. It will be hard to make progress if you both aren’t all in. Decide together on your goals and your strategy, and hold each other accountable.

I try to limit promotion of my book, Save Yourself, to the footer of my blog, but given the topic I’ll make an exception. My book provides a step by step guide to creating your own financial plan from developing goals and defining them to creating a strategy to achieve them. The final chapter walks through the development of a real couple’s financial plan. There are worksheets and references to calculators throughout. It’s available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.

I hope you’ll take some time during Financial Planning Month to get started on your own path to creating your plan. Nothing happens without a plan, and that goes for your financial security too.


Photo by Ben Regali on Unsplash

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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

Confessions of a Super Saver, aka So Tight I Squeak

In the last year, my husband, Jeff, and I have been attempting to be a one car family. At first it wasn’t even real, since one of our neighbors snowbirds in Palm Desert and asked us to drive his Portland car. But now it is, and I find myself wrestling with transportation decisions when I really shouldn’t. It is a great illustration of how our minds can get in our way, whether it’s with spending or saving money.

First, why are we doing this? Now that I don’t work, I barely drive. Most of my social and volunteer activities are in down town Portland, and I live less than half a mile from a light rail station. When I go down town, I much prefer to take the train, because I may, in fact, be the world’s worst parallel parker. The rec center where I work out is a block away. When we had two cars, I only used mine once a week, if that. For the first couple of years of retirement, aside from road trips, I probably only drove 1,000 miles a year, and many of those I could have walked.

So having a second car was a waste, and it really wasn’t good for the car, which needs to be driven to keep working well. We are literally saving thousands a year by owning only one car. The average cost to own a car is over $9,000 a year.

For that money, I could take a Lyft or Uber every day. I can use the train all day every day for nearly five years. Yet I hesitate. If I want to go to a place where I can’t walk or easily take public transit, I tend to assign the cost of a Lyft to my activity, and mull over whether the activity is really worth it.

This is not because money is tight. We have plenty of money to do whatever we want. It’s because I am habitually and detrimentally frugal (some would say cheap). Mulling the value I get for the money I spend is so deeply ingrained in the way I think that it gets in my way.

So that is my confession. I’ve read that every strength, taken to an extreme, becomes a weakness, and this is one that has for me. What I really should be thinking about when I call that Lyft is how much fun I’m going to have, or how much good I’m going to do if I’m volunteering. I shouldn’t be thinking about money at all, because I’ve already figured out that I’m saving a ton by not owning a second car.

This is how our brains work. We are naturally irrational. We focus on the thing that is in front of us, and it takes effort to see the big, long-term picture. Whether we’re a saver or a spender, it is this short-term focus that works to our detriment.

It helps to verbalize what you are trying to accomplish. If you need to save money, talk about what you are saving for with your partner or a friend. Write it down in a journal or wherever you keep your budget. Revisit it regularly and mark your progress. If you are holding too tight to your money, like me, turn your attention to and talk about all that you have accomplished, and take joy and comfort in knowing you are on track.


Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

Going Green and Saving Green

They were lined up on my counter top like a small cityscape. Drops of water ran down their sides as if the city had been hit by the largest rain ever. A friend, who had just popped over, saw them and exclaimed “is there some kind of shortage of freezer bags going on!”

Yes, we reuse our freezer bags. We may in fact be the only ones who do this. If you do this too, please leave a comment so I know we’re not alone. We recently visited two sets of friends, one in Utah and one in California. As I was helping with the dishes, I naturally washed the used freezer bags. My friends both questioned why I would do such a thing.

My husband and I have always reused our freezer bags. They are plastic, and therefore will live on nearly forever in our world’s ever growing heaps of trash. If we reuse ours, there will be fewer in the landfill.

As a side benefit we also save money. We use our freezer bags anywhere from three to ten times. So that is a third to a tenth of the money we would have spent and the same reduction of plastic in the landfill.

We also only use freezer bags for some things. We try our best to mostly use storage containers. Those can last a very long time. Longer than you might think if you use duct tape when the lids crack (just kidding). You only have to buy them once every few years.

Now, of course, lowering these small expenses will not lead to an early retirement. But it can be part of a habit that can lead to more savings, less debt and smaller landfills.

If what you put in the trash looked like money, you wouldn’t throw it away. I’ll wager, you’ve never thrown a dime in the trash. A freezer bag doesn’t look like a dime, but that is what it cost. And it can be reused, just like the dime. We’re far from perfect. We have our fair share of waste, and poor purchases. But avoiding waste is always at the back of my mind.

Try this experiment. For a day, before you throw something away, think of how much it cost. Some things have to be thrown out. There is no other use for them. But some things could have gone to a better use. Spoiled food could have been eaten before it turned, saving you money. Some things could be reused or donated rather than thrown away. If you think of your trash as money, is less of it trash?

In our consumer culture, we buy more than we need. The costs are hidden. We don’t take into account how a few dimes here and a few dollars there add up. It’s easy to throw something that didn’t cost much away. But everything you put in the trash started with money coming out of your pocket. Being more mindful of the ultimate demise of what you buy could help you save both your financial future and the planet.


Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

If You Ignore Your Money, It Will Go Away

Your money is like anything else important in your life. It takes time and effort to make it do what you want. But our world makes it easy to ignore your money for a very long time until, finally, you simply can’t ignore it any longer.

Saturday, I spent a few hours with my book at a book fair showcasing local authors. It’s always interesting to talk about money with total strangers. I usually learn something about human nature and the financial predicament of too many Americans.

One woman stood out to me. She told me she really needed a book like mine, but she knew she would never read it if she took it home. She said she was 47, and only had $16,000 in retirement savings. She probably was right on both counts.

She is not unusual. Only a little more than a third of Americans have ever even attempted to figure out how much money they will need in retirement. Those who do are far more likely to build enough savings to at least be comfortable when they can no longer work for pay. Like any problem, if you understand it, you are much more likely to be able to solve it.

But money is easy to ignore. You can buy just about anything, anywhere without cash. Some stores don’t even want to take it anymore. You can travel the world on a credit card, send your children to school with student loans, and buy a house with no money down.

When you pay with a credit card, it doesn’t feel like you are spending money, and it’s harder to keep track of what you do spend. Before you even realize it you’ve spent your future income well before it arrives. Eventually, debt payments crowd out other things you can do with your money, and you have no other choice but to finally give your money the attention it deserves.

One friend said to me, “It’s like exercising. You don’t really want to, but you have to if you want to stay in shape.” If you want to stay in financial shape you have to pay attention to your money.

Start by planning how you will spend your money. Rather than waiting until the end of the month to see what you have left, start at the beginning of the month and plan what you will have left.

Create financial goals. Contrary to their name, they are not about money, but instead, what you will do with the money. What do you want to do with your money? Three financials goals everyone should have are:

  • Protect yourself from financial setbacks
  • Support yourself when you can no longer work for pay
  • Take care of your family if you die or cannot speak for yourself

These types of goals can inspire you, because you make them about things you care about. Once you have your goals in mind, you can introduce money as a way to measure whether you are meeting your goals. For example, you can protect yourself from a financial set-back if you have a few months worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund.

Start small. Anything and everything you do is worthwhile and will make a difference in the end. You can do more as you get the hang of paying attention to your money and your situation improves.

Don’t let a setback keep you from moving forward. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. If you have goals and a plan you are much farther ahead than if you only have a hope and a dream.

You have to pay attention to your money the way you pay attention to your career, your family and anything else you care about. Without care and feeding, your finances will whither and die like the houseplant you forgot to water. No one else will take care of it for you. You have to take care of it yourself.


Photo by Lauren Ferstl on Unsplash

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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

How to Help Your Kids Understand Money

Recently I had an opportunity to speak with a class at Pacific University, in Forest Grove, Oregon. We covered a variety of personal finance topics. I’ve done this before, and I’m always struck by the fact that young people are largely unprepared to live in the world of personal finance.

There are many reasons for this. It’s not taught in schools. Often parents themselves don’t understand the concepts. When quizzed about basic financial literacy topics, most Americans only score about a C minus. But a big obstacle is interest.

When talking with kids, or anyone, about money, you have to meet them where they are. The topic has to match not only their skill, but their interest. As with most skills, if the topic is not currently relevant, it is too abstract. Here is what I’ve learned from the literature and my own experience:

Elementary School Kids

Once kids are in the third grade, they have enough math skills to do a bit of money management. Your kids should have some money available to manage on their own, whether it’s from doing chores or an allowance. Have them save up for the things they want that are not necessary to everyday life. Help them understand the process for saving. How much money will they put aside each week? What are they willing to do for the thing they want, such as extra chores or giving up other ways they spend their money?

It’s important that kids truly have a choice. This is one area where I routinely got it wrong with my own kid. I remember vividly the day she wanted to spend $5 for a pony ride. I lectured her about how many weeks of allowance it took her to save $5 (though she wasn’t saving for anything in particular) and how short the ride was going to be. I should have just let her get on the pony.

Older elementary school children have the ability to understand the concept of debt. While I don’t encourage taking on debt for things you can reasonably get by saving ahead, it’s not a bad idea to let your kids have the experience of owing you money.

If they have something large on their wish list, consider letting them borrow the money from you to be paid in installments over a time you choose. Make a contract with them that clearly states what they will pay each week and how long it will take to pay you back. Talk to them about how they will raise the money for the payments.

Middle School Kids

Middle school kids can start to learn more about creating a budget. You can give them control over some of their needs as well as their wants. Give them a reasonable budget for things like their school clothes and supplies, and let them make their own choices about how to use it. Show them alternates to their choices, but let them make their own and live with them.

They can also understand the cost of living. Consider having your kids participate in paying the bills with you and making some family decisions. For example they could help plan a vacation, making choices that fit in your budget. Or you can work together to save for something the whole family can enjoy, like a new television.

High School Kids

In high school, you can add in activities that involve more complex financial concepts, but you are losing their interest. From here on out, you need to focus on things in which they will have a personal stake. College is a good one. Most parents have not saved enough to cover the full cost of college. Kids need to understand where the money is going to come from.

Make your family situation clear to them, and explain how they can help themselves. Good grades and extra curricular activities can result in scholarship money. After school and summer jobs can help them pay for books and room and board. And most importantly, their choice of schools will have a huge impact on how much money your family has to come up with.

If debt is going to be part of the picture, estimate their monthly payments now. It will help them understand the impact of the choices they make. You can estimate payments for different loan amounts at StudentAid.gov, and you can find more resources to help your child understand their options at the same site on this page.

College Age

College students are living on their own to some degree, and it’s a great time for them to begin to understand how the world works. College students should begin to pay some of their own bills. Likely candidates are cell phone bills and car insurance. If they are not living in the dorms, have them manage rent and utility payments and groceries, even if you are providing the funding.

When your child starts looking for work, with or without college, help them understand company benefits. Even some internships offer health insurance and an opportunity to participate in retirement plans. Help them understand how these benefits work and why they should participate. It’s also important to talk to them about building an emergency fund. How much they need, how they will save it, and why it’s important should all be understood.

It’s hard to get young people to begin thinking about retirement, but if they start participating in their company retirement plan early, it will reduce the amount of money they need to save out of their paychecks for the rest of their lives. I’ve found illustrating how a company matching contribution works is miraculous in getting these newly minted workers to participate. Here is a simple example you can use:

  • Your young person contributes $100
  • Since the contribution is before tax, only $80 comes out of their pay
  • Their company matches their contribution with $100
  • They have saved $200, and only $80 has come out of their pay.

Talking to kids about money is hard. You want to protect them from the cold world realities as long as possible, and as a culture, we’re just not good at talking about money period. The hard part is even if you do everything right, which you won’t, sometimes they just don’t listen. I wrote about how my own efforts didn’t help my daughter avoid going into the financial ditch in this post. But keep in mind, every lesson you teach stays in their heads somewhere. They’ll remember when the time comes.


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

Slice Your Own Darn Cheese

The latest thing to hit the snack food isle is Oscar Meyer’s P3 protein snacks. They are two ounces of protein in a handy portable package. They contain a few cubes of lunch meat, a few almonds and a few cubes of cheese.

On the Safeway website, they run $2.29 per package. That’s more than $18 a pound. You can buy some really nice fish or a fancy steak for that price. What if you cut up your own meat and cheese and bought your almonds in bulk? Here’s what it will cost you.

Cost/PoundCost/P3 Serving
Turkey (pre-cooked)$10.00$0.42
Colby Jack Cheese$11.00$0.46
Almonds (bulk)$3.76$0.16
Total$8.25$1.04

So, you can essentially have the same thing in your own reusable package for less than half the cost. Convenience foods are expensive. This may not seem like a big deal, and it’s not if you grab one on the go once in a while. But if food like this is a staple on you’re grocery list, it’s an easy place to look for savings.

Here are a few other items where you can find big savings if you do your own slicing and packaging.

Pre-packagedUnpackaged
Bottled ice tea
6 pack
$9.89Home brewed ice tea
Same volume
$1.00
Steel cut oatmeal
24 oz package
$3.00Bulk steel cut oats
24 oz
$0.60
GoGo squeeZ applesauce
12 pack
$8.79Applesauce
Same volume
$3.84
McCormick Ground Cinnamon
2.4 oz
$2.37Bulk cinnamon
2.4 oz
$0.58
Sliced apples
Five 2 oz multi-packs
$4.49Apples
10 oz
$2.18

There are savings from 50 to 90 percent here. Next time you are at the grocery store, see what’s on your list that also comes with less packaging. You’ll find your savings add up quickly.

On the road to meeting your financial goals, it helps if you have a few short cuts. Finding a way to cut expenses without giving up anything is one of those. By doing your own portion sizing and packaging you can save big on your grocery bill. And that is one step closer to everything you want to achieve with your money.


Photo by Thanos Pal on Unsplash

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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

Your Retirement Savings Account is Not an ATM

There it is. It’s just sitting there, and you need it. Why not take advantage of it. It’s your money after all. If you need money, and you have money in your retirement account, it can be very tempting to borrow from it.

Most retirement plans allow participants to borrow against their balances. About one in five 401(k) participants have an outstanding loan, and over a five-year period, almost 40 percent of participants borrow from their account at some point. Most loans are taken to pay off debt, usually of the credit card variety.

That can make some sense, since the loan rate on a 401(k) loan is lower than rates on credit cards. But there are other costs beyond the interest rate. While you are essentially borrowing from yourself, there are several consequences to taking the loan that make this a bad idea.

  1. While your loan is outstanding, your money is not invested in the market. You are earning the interest on the loan to yourself, but you are missing out on the greater growth you could get from stock market-oriented investments. The market rate of return is the true cost of your loan. Historically the stock market has returned on average 10 percent per year.
  2. Some employers don’t allow you to make contributions while you have a loan outstanding. If that is the case with your plan, you will miss out on the opportunity to grow your retirement account balance. If your employer matches contributions, you will also miss out on that.
  3. Your loan is repaid with after-tax dollars. When you retire, the money you repaid, like the rest of your balance, will be taxed when you take it out to meet your living expenses. So your loan will be taxed twice.
  4. If you leave or are let go from your job, you will only have sixty days to repay the loan or it will be considered a distribution. The distribution will be taxed as ordinary income in the year you take it, and you will pay an additional 10 percent penalty.

Instead of taking out a loan from your retirement account, consider what other options you have. If you are consolidating debt, have you considered taking advantage of a zero or low interest promotion on a credit card? Instead of adding to your debt, can you reduce your spending either by cutting discretionary expenses or by making bigger changes to lower the cost of where you live or how you get around?

To avoid using your 401(k) as an ATM, make sure you have an emergency fund. You should have at least three months of mandatory expenses saved in an easily accessible account, such as a bank savings account or a money market mutual fund. If you have a high deductible health care plan, work toward saving enough to cover at least the deductible. And make sure you are setting aside money for those big expenses, like home and auto repairs, that you know will come up, but you don’t know when.

In some cases, a loan on your retirement account may be the best of a few bad options, but that doesn’t make it a good one. There are costs that aren’t obvious, and they put you at risk of a big tax bill if you lose your job. Avoid having to make the choice by saving ahead for emergencies and other big expenses.


Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

I Want it All

GrubHub has a new TV ad that features the song lyrics by Queen “I want it all and I want it now.” This ad seems to sum up our consumer culture and precisely why so many people with good incomes can’t seem to get a grip on their financial situations.

Americans of all income levels struggle with unexpected expenses and debt, and, as a result, find it difficult to even have financial goals, let alone achieve them. Just this week, it was reported that the famous lawyer, Michael Avanatti, is accused of embezzling nearly $2 million from a client’s settlement to pay for his “own expenses and debts.” How can a guy like that run out of money?

A 2015 study by the Center for Retirement Research found that of those in the top one-third by income, one in three reported having difficulty covering regular expenses. I’ve seen it myself. I recently spoke with a couple making $400,000 a year, but going further into credit card debt with each passing month.

This couple seemed confused. They made so much money but couldn’t understand why they weren’t getting ahead. Eating out twice a day, designer clothes, and weekend getaways had something to do with it, but they hadn’t tallied their expenses. They also weren’t paying their debt down, which caused them to wrack up extra interest charges, and their careless approach to paying their bills resulted in unnecessary late fees. They simply weren’t paying attention.

It could be that high income people like these simply believe they don’t have limits. They make enough money, they shouldn’t have to worry about how they spend it. They want it all and they want it now. But that mindset is a trap. It can keep you on a treadmill of always needing to make more money, or in the case of Avanatti, to steal it.

There is always a limit. No matter how much money you make, if you want financial security, you actually have to do something about it. You must always pay attention to how you spend your money, and save for your financial goals. And you don’t even need to make a lot of money to do it.

Alan Naiman, a Seattle social worker who died last year at the age of 63, managed to save enough to give a small fortune to charity when he passed. By living an extremely frugal life, he was able to save and invest enough to have several million dollars in his own estate, and to his own savings he added his parent’s estate. All tolled, he donated $11 million.

Of course, these stories are extremes. You are probably not spending your way to bankruptcy despite a top 1% income, nor are you willing to hold your shoes together with duct tape in order to reach your financial goals. But they do illustrate the possibilities and what is required. While it may be true that you can have anything you want, you can’t have everything you want. You will always have to make choices. Choose wisely.


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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my award winning book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security.  It is available on Amazon.

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