Category Archives: Money Management

My 2018 Savings Goals

This post is in partnership with SmartyPig. Regardless, all opinions are 100% my own and 100% honest.

What a nifty savings tool! Actually excited to use it so I can achieve my 2018 financial money goals.

As the year comes to a close, I’m forced to look back on my financial progress in 2017. Progress probably isn’t the right word. I struggled with money management over the past 12 months. While I renewed my resolve to get back on top of things, I’m still not where I’d like to be.

So I’m setting some savings goals for 2018.  Because there’s a lot of them, I’m using SmartyPig to break them all down and prioritize. This lets me put money into each bucket rather than having one big “savings” pot which may or may not end up allocated correctly.

Here are my priorities—in a very specific order:

Saving for Emergencies

Using Smarty Pig to save an emergency fund.

My emergency fund needs some TLC. Nuff said.

Saving for a New Place

Using Smarty Pig to save for a move.

We’ve been talking about moving for a while now. We seriously considered it after our last child was born, but decided we could learn to live with less space.

Now we’re looking to move not to upgrade our space, but to enhance the educational opportunities available to our children. Off to the suburbs we go.

I am considering using Jetty to help with the security deposit, but I’ll still have to have cash on hand to deal with a truck and all the other little expenses that come up when you’re moving house.

Saving for Japan

Using Smarty Pig to save for a trip to Japan.

I’m incredibly excited to visit my childhood friend in her hometown of Osaka. I’ve been saving miles for years, and this year I’ll finally be making the trip. Airfare was free as even the fees were covered by travel points, but I’m thinking a JR Rail pass and money for things like food will be important.

Saving for Disney World

Using Smarty Pig to save for a Disney World trip.

I lucked out and ended up with some free tickets to Disney World after our last trip. We have 20 years to use them, but my kids are at some of the perfect ages to go and can’t stop talking about the experience.

With tickets taken care of, I just have to focus on either airfare or gas, accommodations and food. I figure I can find a way to hack the airfare or accommodations, so we’ll primarily be saving for food and whichever aspect of the trip I decide is less travel-hack-worthy.

All in all, it will be an incredibly cheap Disney trip. But we’ll still need to have some money on hand.

Saving for a Home

Using Smarty Pig to save for a house down payment.

After I kick this nasty debt to the curb, I’m going full throttle on this goal again. Pittsburgh’s housing market is stable, but I’d rather not wait too many years to enter the market. Interest rates are moving up. I’d like to get in on the action before they get too high.

Goals Help You Establish Priorities

As I sat down to look at my goals this year, I realized pretty quickly what’s important to me and what’s not. First, I’m trying to get on solid financial footing again. You won’t see it above because it’s not a savings goal, but I want to get rid of my debt even though it’s sitting at zero percent interest. Another aspect of financial health I want to reestablish is that emergency fund.

After that is my children’s education. The only reason financial health comes before that is because I know I’ll need to be financially fit to facilitate that education long-term. Choice few things are more important to me.

Then, travel. It is a priority in my life and always has been. I have itchy feet. After having decided to permanently live in Pittsburgh, I need to know I can get out and see the rest of the world every once in a while.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to blow my budget doing it. I’ve figured out so many ways over the years to travel on the cheap and still see amazing things. But if I spend $1,000-$2,000/year on travel, I’m not freaking out. There are other areas where I spend virtually nothing like clothing and makeup and music and home décor. My one vice will not ruin me, and it will help me stay sane.

The house goal is last because it is long-term. I will save for it regularly, but I need to be okay with the fact that I’m not going to pull 20% out of thin air in a single day, month or year. I’m frustrated that there have been financial setbacks over the past year that thwarted the savings we already had towards this goal, but I’m also determined not to give up.

What are your financial priorities?

I love that SmartyPig lets me separate my goals into individual buckets, prioritizing my goals and tracking my progress.

What would your SmartyPig buckets look like?

 

 

 

Femme Frugality was compensated by Sallie Mae for the content in this post. Any requests for personal information are not associated with Sallie Mae, nor will any information be collected, be used or maintained by Sallie Mae.

How to Make Investing Personal and Beat Your Retirement Goal

Today’s post is contributed by my friend Joseph Hogue. He worked as an equity analyst and an economist before realizing being rich is no substitute for being happy. He now runs five websites in the personal finance and crowdfunding niche, makes more money than he ever did at a 9-to-5 job and loves building his work from home business.

 Not taking blanket investing advice after reading this one. Definietly going to make my investments more personal so I can reach my retirement goals.

Making investing personal with an investment plan will help you avoid the worst mistakes investors make.

Turn on the TV to any financial news program or click through to any investing website and you’re likely to get bombarded by generalized investing advice.

Buy this stock, don’t buy that one. This sector of the economy will benefit the most from the current economic trends while another sector will languish.

It’s a mass-market approach to investing, designed to reach the absolute largest audience possible. The problem is that this mass-market approach to investing is just as likely to leave you penniless as it is to make you rich.

Investing advice made for everyone serves no one at all.

Just as a prior article on asset allocation pointed out, there is no one-size-fits-all investment plan. Investing advice may fit us all into cookie-cutter strategies for the sake of convenience but it isn’t the advisor that has to pay for your retirement when you come up short.

The solution, realize just how personal investing is and start asking yourself the questions that will help you build the perfect investing plan for YOU!

Investing is More Personal than You May Know

Everyone loves to talk stocks and that next hot investment. From traditional financial news channels to investing blogs, it’s all about beating the stock market.

But let me ask you a question, does that percentage return on the stock market have anything to do with your retirement goals?

Whether the stock market rises or falls doesn’t change the fact that you’ll be retiring some day or paying tens of thousands for your child’s education.

Investing is about YOUR needs and YOUR goals, not about finding the stocks that will produce double-digit returns on your money. Making sure you’re able to reach your goals, avoid a growing retirement savings crisis or send your kids to college, means understanding what investments will get you there.

That starts with asking yourself some personal questions to find the best investments for you.

What Investing Questions Should You Ask Yourself?

The one thing you usually won’t get when you turn on your favorite investing show are the most important questions you should be asking yourself. It’s these questions that get drowned out in the constant noise of picking stocks to beat the market.

These questions are where investing starts. It’s these personal questions that will be the foundation of your personal investment plan that will help you reach your goals with the least amount of stress possible.

  • How old are you and at what age do you plan on retiring?
  • What does retirement look like for you and how much will it cost?

Saving for retirement? That’s great but if you don’t know what retirement looks like, it’s going to be impossible to stick to your saving. Make a mental image of what you’ll do each day. This will not only keep you motivated to reach your goal, but you’ll also have a better idea of how much it will cost.

  • How much do you have saved now and how much can you reasonably save each year?

Be realistic with how much you can save each month. Who wants to be a millionaire at 65 if they had to live on oatmeal for their whole life? Enjoying your money now is just as important as enjoying it later.

  • What else do you want to do with your money? Will you use some of it to pay for your kids’ education or for other large expenses?

Because some of these large expenses come at different times, it might change how you invest for them. You’ll have less time to recover from stock market losses for tuition savings you need in a few years so best to hold them in safer investments.

  • How important are your financial goals? Are some less important than others or are there alternative ways to meet some goals?

You may want to invest must-reach goals like retirement and education in less risky investments, but you can take more risk, and maybe get higher returns, in less important goals.

Taking Your Investment Plan Beyond the Numbers

Using a retirement calculator will give you the rate of return you need on your investments to reach your retirement goal but making your investments personal is more than just the numbers.

One of the biggest factors in your personal investment plan is called your risk tolerance. Rather than all the numbers, this is your personality and how you react to risk. Do you tend to stress out easily? Do you prefer the slow and steady or are you a thrill-seeker?

You can take a risk tolerance questionnaire online, but it really comes down to two questions.

  • How much time do you have to invest before your goals?
  • How would you react to a 20% drop in your investments?

If you have more than five or ten years to retirement, you can withstand the ups-and-downs of the stock market. Even if a stock market crash wipes out a lot of your investment, you’ll have time to see your portfolio bounce back.

If you don’t tend to stress out over big changes in your portfolio’s value, then you can take a little more risk in the stock market and enjoy a higher return over time. If a 20% drop would cause you to lose sleep or panic-sell at the wrong time, then you might want to hold less in stocks and more in bonds.

Using Your Investment Plan in Asset Allocation

Once you know the annual return you need to meet your investing goal and your risk tolerance, you can put them together for an asset allocation that will reach your goal with the least amount of stress possible.

As a general rule, stocks provide a 7% to 9% annual return when averaged out over a decade or more. Bond investments provide 3% to 5% returns but are much less volatile than stocks.

If you get stressed out easily or have only a few years left to retirement, you’ll want to invest more in bonds than stocks. On the other hand, if you have a high tolerance for risk and many years to your goals, you can afford to take more risk in stocks for a higher average return.

The percentage you hold in stocks versus bonds will give you an idea of the average return you can expect. For example, if you have half your portfolio in stocks and half in bonds, you can expect an average return of 6%.

NOTE: These percentages are general rules and are not a guarantee of a certain return.

The problem many investors confront is they need an average return above 8% so they invest everything in stocks with no consideration to how a stock market crash will affect them emotionally. At this point, it’s better to either find ways to save more or lower your retirement goals a little so you don’t need such a high return rather than take more risk than is appropriate.

You don’t have to be a professional financial planner to make the right investing decisions. Investing according to your personality and needs will help you avoid bad investing behaviors and fit the best investments for your goals. Listen less to what the TV tells you about investing and more to what your own goals are telling you.

 

Check IIHS Ratings Before Purchasing a Vehicle

This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. The views expressed in the article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. PenFed Credit Union is an Equal Housing Lender and is federally insured by the NCUA.

Talk about buyer's remorse! I didn't even know what IIHS ratings were, but now that I do I'm definitely checking them before I buy my next car.

Two years ago, one of our vehicles broke down out of nowhere. There were no warning signs, which was both a blessing and a curse. We had no idea we were about to enter the used car market on the one hand, but on the other we also didn’t sink a bunch of money into repairs for a vehicle that was going to die anyways.

I hit the used car market as I always do, looking for a great deal. I quickly realized that prices had gone up since the last time I went shopping, which was back before Cash for Clunkers was a thing. I also realized that virtually no dealership in my region was going to negotiate with me.

I browsed and browsed, until I finally test drove a vehicle that seemed just right. It had about 40,000 miles on it, had an automatic transmission, and was under the $10,000 mark. It handled well and drove smoothly despite being seven years old. On top of it all, I was able to get great auto financing at a low interest rate.

Naively, I bought it. I wasn’t going to find another deal like that, and if I thought on it too long someone else was going to scoop it up.

What’s wrong with this story?

Can you see the glaring mistake I made in all my car-purchasing haste?

The deal was too good to be true. I recognize that in retrospect, but in the moment, I just wanted the really good deal.

A few months later, I was researching a piece on auto recalls and came across an organization called the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS.) It’s an agency that assesses the safety of all those vehicles we put on the road.

For kicks, I looked up where our vehicles fell in IIHS’s ratings. The first one fared all right. It wasn’t at the tippy top, but it was well above the median safety level.

That car I had bought for under $10,000? It turns out there was rationale behind the price tag. It was literally the least safe car produced in its model year. I had used this vehicle to drive my kids on our annual trip to Niagara Falls, nonetheless to school, therapy appointments and the like.

Sick to my stomach, I realized that even with all the recall service orders that had been completed prior to my ownership, I was still going to be in a lot of trouble if I ever got into a wreck. I also suddenly understood why, exactly, my auto insurance rates had jumped up with the new purchase.

How to Check IIHS Ratings

IIHS makes it super easy to check out how safe a vehicle is before you purchase it. Simply go to their ratings page armed with the make model and year. You don’t need a VIN or anything of the like.

There are three different aspects of safety rated—four if the vehicle comes with an option to not have side airbags:

  • Moderate Overlap Front– This is essentially a test for how the vehicle performs in a head-on collision. They run the driver’s side of the front of your car into a wall at 40 miles per hour in their testing.
  • Side- What would happen in a side-impact collision? To perform this test, IIHS runs an SUV-sized vehicle into the side of the test car at 31 miles per hour.
  • Head Restraints and Seats- To test if the geometry of the vehicle is going to protect a human driver in an accident, IIHS runs a test that’s the equivalent of hitting a sitting vehicle from behind with another vehicle moving at 20 miles per hour.

While these three tests are the ones you will find immediately, if you dig a little bit deeper you’ll also be able to find ratings for tests on roof strength, crash prevention technologies, headlights, and LATCH systems for children’s car seats.

Check IIHS Ratings Before Purchasing a Vehicle

I still have the unsafe car. We don’t put the kids in it since we made the IIHS discovery, though. I’m always aware of my surroundings, but I ratchet my senses up to Spidey level when I drive this vehicle.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Check the IIHS rating before you purchase a vehicle. Not only will it ensure you’re safe on the road, but it will also help you make sense of increased costs like insurance rate spikes. And you may just find out why that deal actually is too good to be true.

 

Budgeting to Hire Professionals for Home Maintenance

This post is contributed and brought to you by Abby Locker.

Great tips for those home maintenance repairs you just can't DIY!

Owning a home is a dream that most Americans have. However, once they get into the home, they realize just how expensive it can be to keep the home in perfect shape. There are a few things that you really don’t need to do yourself. You should have the professionals do it for you. 

But how do you afford it without breaking your budget? Read on below for a few of the things you need the professionals to do in your home and how to do them without overspending.

Pest Control

If you live in a warmer climate—like Arizona—you’re probably more familiar with pests than you’d like to be. Whether it’s spring, summer, winter or fall, there are pests that are going to be trying to come into your home. Hiring reputable pest control in Tucson, AZ is the best way to ensure that they aren’t taking over.

This is one of the household tasks that you should be paying a little extra for. Make sure that you do your research and choose the best pest control company that will give you quality service at an affordable price.

Heating and Cooling Professionals

Of course, you know that you have to have a heating and cooling unit in your home. You want to keep those bills down as much as possible, especially in the summer and winter months. That’s why it’s a good idea to have professional HVAC company come out and inspect your unit on a regular basis. Putting aside the money to do this is important, as if your unit is having problems it will cost you a lot more in the long run for repairs and in energy bills than it would to pay for this service.

Home Improvement Contractors

While home improvement isn’t something that you have to have on a monthly basis, there are times that home improvements are unavoidable if you want to keep the value of your home from going down. In the end, if you don’t budget and hire a contractor, you will end up paying a lot more down the road, especially if you decide to sell the home. You will get a much higher price for the house if it is in good condition and modernized.

Plumbing Professionals

Into every homeowner’s lap, a little plumbing trouble must fall. Even if you are great at DIY projects, there are some plumbing problems that need the hand of a professional in the mix. Making sure to keep a plumbing company on speed dial can be the difference between a quick fix and a fix that might keep you without plumbing for weeks, not to mention the high costs involved.

These are just a few of the things you need the professionals in your home to do. While you may be on a budget when it comes to things to do with repairing and maintaining your home, it’s best to budget these things into the mix. You will be glad you did, when you have no pests wandering your home and your family is warm, dry and able to use the fixtures in your bathroom without worry.

What You Need to Know About Balanced Funds

Today’s post, contributed by an outside writer, is brought to you by Philam Asset Management, Inc.

I hadn't heard of this conservative investment option before! Will have to look into balanced funds more.

 

Looking for another way to invest your money? Consider a balanced mutual fund, offering a single investment fund that has characteristics of both stocks and bonds. While primarily, a mutual fund allows you to choose between a stock or a bond, a balanced fund gives you the best of both types of investment. Think of it as a hybrid investment which reflects growth in income and equity.

But let’s dive even deeper into the pros and cons of a balanced fund.

Balanced Funds Benefits

This will all depend on your goals as an investor, of course. With that being said, a balanced fund can endure different market conditions. Which means that if bond markets are weak, the stock portion of your investment may still hold its value. On the other hand, if stocks fall, the bond portion of your balanced fund may earn for you.

Balanced funds may be particularly appealing to those nearing or already in retirement. While no investment is 100% safe, they are a comparatively conservative product, making them attractive to those who don’t have time to ride the ups and downs of the market.

Balanced Funds Risks

Remember that a balanced fund just allocates an amount to both asset classes within a set minimum and maximum. It is still just one investment. So let’s say you put $10,000 in a balanced mutual fund; it could be divided 50/50, 60/40, or 70/30.

But you might need more growth to achieve your long-term goals–especially if one or both markets are being unpredictable or unstable. Additionally, balanced fund investors might not be able to maximize the gains of a bullish market, just as equity prices increase.

Remember to check the expense ratio before you purchase any mutual fund.

Why you should consider a balanced fund

Basically, a balanced fund allows you to play safe. We all know that any type of investment comes with certain risks, mostly because we would not know what the market will be like in 3 years or 5 years’ time. You may choose to put money into an asset that is predicted to earn big in the future, but it is possible that the opposite may happen.

With a balanced fund, you will be owning two assets that do not necessarily move up and down at the same time. Not only does this provide you with more of a safety net, but you will also still be likely to preserve your investment regardless of the performance of one asset.

It would be best to familiarize yourself with the stock and bond markets individually, especially if this is your first foray into investing. A good foundation of those two will help guide you in your desired asset allocation—the percentage in stocks and the percentage in bonds–for both assets once you have decided you’re ready to invest in a balanced fund investment.