You know that deciding to invest some of your money in the market automatically means you’re setting yourself up for possible loss.

But how much losing can you take? Does the thought of your stocks plunging make you sick to your stomach? Or are you a genuine thrill-seeker who loves the rush of adrenaline you get when you think about putting your money somewhere shaky?

Determining your risk tolerance is an important step to take for ensuring you’re completely comfortable with your investments. You might also come across trade recommendations that are discussing options based on different risk tolerances.

While your risk tolerance will change according to your age, income requirements and financial goals, there is no fixed label for those who fit certain criteria. There are simply too many variables. For example, most people think that the younger you are, the more of a risk-taker you’ll be. They reason that the years ahead afford you the freedom to take more chances with your money. While this may be true in general, it is not a fixed rule, and determining your risk tolerance depends on several variables besides age.

So, how do you determine your risk tolerance? Consider the following before answering the question:

Time frame

The first factor to determine is the actual length of the investment horizon. When will the funds be needed? Even a younger investor can have a short-term horizon if they’re trying to earn enough capital for a goal they hope to fulfill in the near future, such as buying a home. If the investment horizon is indeed short, the risk tolerance should shift toward being more conservative, regardless of the investor’s age. For long-term investments, there’s room for more aggressive investing.

If you’re an older investor, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, just because you’re pushing 70, you need to move everything into conservative investments. This may be suitable advice for some, but it’s not recommended as a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, a retiree who has sufficient funds to live off the interest without touching the principal can safely invest in volatile stocks. Also, with today’s growing life expectancy, a 70-year-old investor may still have a 20-year investment horizon – or more! When determining your risk tolerance, be sure to consider your actual time horizon, irrespective of age.

Risk capital

An obvious factor of your risk tolerance is going to be how much money you have available to put into the market. What is your net worth? To find this number, simply add all your assets and subtract your liabilities. Risk capital is defined as the amount of money you have available to invest or trade that will not affect your lifestyle if it is fully lost. It is also referred to as liquid capital, meaning assets that can easily be converted to cash.

Naturally, an investor with a higher net worth will be able to take more risk. The smaller the percentage of your overall net worth the investment represents, the more aggressive the risk tolerance can be.

Unfortunately, those with little or even no net worth are often attracted to riskier investments because of the lure of quick and large profits. Bear in mind, though, that when too much risk is taken with too little capital, a trader can be forced out of a position too early to make the investment worth it.

On the other hand, if an undercapitalized trader using limited risk instruments “goes bust,” it shouldn’t take that trader long to recoup the losses. Contrast this with a high-net-worth trader who throws caution to the wind and puts everything into one risky stock and loses – it will take this trader a lot longer to recover.

Investment objectives

Your investment objectives are another important factor in determining your risk tolerance.

Are you saving toward a specific goal? Are you investing your child’s college fund with the hopes that it will grow? Are you trying to earn enough to support your retirement? If your goal is to raise enough capital for a pressing need, you will likely be more risk-averse. Or, you may be so desperate to raise those funds that you’ll make some hasty decisions.

On the other hand, if you’re simply trying to increase your net worth with extra capital, you’ll probably be more open to investing in riskier stocks.

Knowing your risk tolerance goes beyond being able to sleep at night without stressing over your investments. Ultimately, knowing your risk tolerance – and sticking to investments that fit within it – should keep you from complete financial ruin and allow you to invest with a clear head.

Do you love the thrill of the unknown or are you more risk-averse? How does this affect your financial decisions? Share your risk tolerance and reasons for it with us in the comments!

Published in Blog

We recently had our piano tuned, and our tuner shared part of his life story with me. He told me that he is “retired” from his job that he worked for over 40 years. He doesn’t “have to work” because he needs to earn money, but he enjoys tuning pianos, so he works part-time. Through his story, I picked out several keys for staying motivated to invest — no pun intended.

First Key: Personalize Retirement

Our piano tuner told me that he worked because he wanted to work. He loves music, enjoys working on pianos, and he likes to visit with people. He still has plenty of time to spend with his family and on other hobbies. This works well for him.

In contrast, I know retirees who like to travel. Others like to watch their grandchildren. Some like to garden. Not everyone would enjoy working as a piano tuner. We all have our own interests.

I had a college professor who wanted to volunteer at a local library by reading to children when he retired because he really enjoyed reading to his children. Another acquaintance got more involved in government and became a state senator when he retired from full-time employment. The options are endless!

I’ve been thinking about what my family wants to do in retirement. Whenever I try to do what someone else is doing, I lose motivation. I have to do what’s right for me and for my family. What does YOUR custom retirement plan look like?

Second Key: Prepare for Decades

He and his wife worked 40 years in their careers and saved for retirement. I’m not even 40 years old yet, so it impressed me that they had prepared for this stage of their life for longer than I had been alive. Even though I know how important it is to save for retirement throughout our working career, meeting someone who did it makes me feel like I can do it too.

I have had other friends and family members who have also retired, and their examples have helped motivate me to invest for retirement. They have me given me hope that my personalized retirement plan is possible — especially when we were unemployed and had to stop retirement savings. Their examples motivated me to start again when we were able.

Having mentors who are in retirement is very helpful because they have already done it and can guide us. Both sets of our parents are in retirement and we see what costs they face and how they differ from costs in our stage of life. Preparing for retirement throughout life gives you freedom to do what you would like to do.

Third Key: Enjoy Your Work

Our piano tuner can make the piano sound amazing when he plays it and tune it. He is a pianist, and his love for the piano shows. He has a good sense of humor and makes piano jokes. I can tell that he completely enjoys piano tuning and interacting with his customers.

His story was a great example of working during retirement. He does something that he enjoys. He makes a good amount per hour, but it really didn’t seem like “work” to him. He is his own boss. He schedules as many jobs a week as he would like to work, and he schedules those jobs around his life. Seeing him enjoying retirement so much motivated me to work towards it.

I have another acquaintance who “retired” from his job of 30 years to serve a volunteer mission for his church with his wife. He had always wanted to do this and was still young, so after he finished that, he worked for a friend doing something else. He has freedom to work how he would like to work. Both are enjoying their work.

Statistics show that so many people are not saving enough to retire the way they want to retire, but it's really so simple. Meeting people like our piano tuner help me to realize this. Why aren't most people saving then? Well, it’s so easy for me to get caught up in the immediate expenses and put off saving for retirement.

Hearing his story helped spark my imagination to think about what job would be good for me at that stage of life. What did you learn from this piano tuner’s story? Who do you know who is retired? How has his or her story influenced you?

Growing up, my family loved watching sports together. My younger brother wrote down all of the players' names and kept track of their stats as the games were played. I hadn't seen a Jazz game for a decade until Ty's boss gave us tickets earlier this year. We sat on the fourth row and were so completely entertained that my kids didn't fight or complain at all! It's exciting for our Utah Jazz to advance in the playoffs and play the Golden State Warriors! But, the most important statistics to us individually don't have much to do with the NBA playoffs.

Have you seen the classic game of Family Feud? Why do the family teams care what the “survey said.” Because, if the families guess the responses that were the most common answers, they can win the prize money. In a personal finance class I just taught, we took a financial quiz. I read a lot of financial surveys to prepare for this class. Three of the statistics from these surveys impacted me the most. More importantly than finding out what the surveys said, is to find out what you think about these statistics!

Survey #1 says ... “About half of Americans could pay for an unexpected expense that cost $500-$1,000.”

Could you cover an unexpected expense that cost $1,000? We’ve had a whole lot of rainy days here in Northern Utah the past couple of weeks. We don’t know when, but we know that it will rain. I don’t mind being wet, but I don’t like feeling cold, which always follows my getting wet. We have regular financial storms too. We don’t know when they will hit, but we know that they will hit. An emergency fund protects my family from getting rained on and being left in the cold financially. There are different opinions on how much an emergency fund should be. Because of the emergencies my family has experienced, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with an $1,000 emergency fund, but it’s a great place to start. Do you agree with having an emergency fund? If you were surveyed about having an emergency fund, what would you say? Has an emergency fund ever helped you work through changes in your life? Does an emergency fund matter to you?

I am a fan of having an emergency fund for many reasons, but I’ll share the most recent experience with our emergency fund. My husband Ty changed jobs 6 months ago, and we had a two month waiting period to enroll in the new employer’s health insurance plan. Ty’s employer generously offered to reimburse us for the cost of the COBRA health insurance coverage for the two month waiting period. However, we had to pay for the insurance first before it could be reimbursed. Our emergency fund allowed us to pay for that insurance coverage. When we were reimbursed, we deposited the money back into the emergency fund so that it will be there the next time that we need it. The emergency fund relieved and prevented a lot of stress for us. I recommend an emergency fund to you because it has helped my family adjust to life's changes.

Survey #2 says ... "About half of Americans have retirement savings."

Again, it doesn’t matter whether this survey is accurate, it matters what is true for you. Do you have a retirement savings account? Are you saving regularly for retirement? Just like the rain is sure to come in springtime in Utah, retirement is going to happen as we age. If you don’t have retirement savings, or if you haven't saved as much as you wished you had, it’s not too late to make a plan and work towards retirement.

Am I saving for retirement? Yes! Have I saved enough for retirement? No, but we are making progress. With so many financial emergencies and financial pressures, I understand how retirement can slip into the background of your finances. My husband and I try to keep them in the forefront and make retirement a priority for our family, but to be honest, sometimes we have to cut back our retirement savings. Our retirement contributions increased when our income increased and decreased when our income decreased. Although I’m not retired, I have mentors and friends who are retired. They advise me to save for retirement throughout my working life, and I trust them. I believe in saving for retirement!

Survey #3 says ... ”Nearly half of [parents] admit to not talking about money and finances with their kids on a regular basis.”

Do you talk about money with your friends and family? If you have children, do you give them opportunities to save, share, and spend money? Do they understand that a $20 bill is worth much more than a $1 bill? My kids may think that I talk with them too much about money. I talk about it all the time because we use money all of the time.

My 5 year old daughter and I ran a lot of errands this past week. I told her we were going shopping and encouraged her to bring her Hello Kitty purse and five dollars. On the way to the store, she told me that she wanted a ball. I let her spend her money as she wanted. At the first store, she bought some cotton candy. The price rang up higher than the price listed. It turns out that the cotton candy was in the wrong spot on the shelf. I asked her if she still wanted it. She bought the overpriced cotton candy, and she was excited that she still had money left. At the next store, she saw the bulk bins of salt water taffy in the middle of the isle and bought that. She used her last few quarters to ride the Clifford ride at the front of the store. Although it was hard for me to watch her spend money on candy, I let her experience spending her own money.

I think she learned a lot that day. By going on the Clifford ride, she learned what a quarter looks like. (The machine only took quarters.) Even though I didn’t agree with her spending choices, I felt proud of her for learning what a quarter was and being able to spend money on her own. At the last store, she saw a tiara that she wanted badly, and I explained that she had enough money at the beginning of the day to buy the tiara, but she didn’t any left. She replied, "But I didn’t know they would have this.” We talked about figuring out what she wanted and then not getting distracted by other items.

Surveys are just one tool to find out how our personal finances are going. Are the statistics from these surveys true for you?

As you cheer for your favorite NBA team, I hope you think about the most important financial statistics for your life.

Now that you understand the basic investing terms, your first actual investment is going to be one in your future. Experts recommend allocating 15% of your monthly income toward retirement.

Before you start exploring your options, though, you’ll need to set a goal, or a target number. This number will represent how much you need to have saved for living comfortably and independently throughout your retirement. A good way to set a target number is to take your current living expenses and multiply that by 400. This will give you the amount you’d need to have to sustain yourself, based on a 4% investment return.

There are many investment options to consider for retirement. The most common are 401(k)s, IRAs and Roth IRAs, each of which have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Here’s what you’ll want to look for:

1.) Matching funds

This refers to matching monies offered by employers. Most will offer to match your contributions up to a certain limit. For example, your employer may offer a 100% match on the first 3% of your salary. If you earn $60,000, that means for the first $1,800 you have withheld from your paycheck and put into your retirement account, your employer will gift you an additional $1,800 in completely tax-free money. Even if all you do is park that money in something stable like a trust fund, it’s the highest, safest, most immediate return you can earn anywhere in the stock market. Don’t leave free matching money on the table!

2.) Tax-deferred growth

If a retirement vehicle is tax-deferred, this means all the assets parked in that particular fund will not be taxed until they are withdrawn. This allows the money to grow, untouched, for years.

3.) Tax-deductible

If a retirement fund is tax-deductible, every dollar you put into that fund is subtracted from your taxable income, automatically lowering your taxes. For those in their peak earning years, this can provide considerable tax savings.

In the table below, we offer a brief summary of the pros and cons of each retirement vehicle for easy comparison.
 
Features/requirements 401 (k) IRA Roth IRA
Matching Funds Yes No No
Tax-deductible Yes Depends on income, tax-filing status and other factors No
Tax-deferred Growth Yes Yes No
Taxable Withdrawals Yes Yes No
Maximum Yearly Contribution (2017) $18,000.00 $5,500.00 $5,500.00
Maximum Yearly Contribution Age 50+ (2017) $24,000.00 $6,500.00 $6,500.00
Age Limit For Contributions None 70 1/2 None
Income Eligibility (2017) Any income earned through a company that offers a 401(k) Any earned income as reported on a W-2, wages from self-employment, tips and alimony Any income with a gross worth of less than $118,000-$133,000/yr or $186,000-$196,000/yr for taxpayers filing jointly

 

Once you have chosen your retirement fund, you’ll need to choose somewhere to invest the money. Low-risk investment vehicles, such as federal bonds or trust funds, are usually the best choice.

If you are saving for retirement through the use of a 401(k), be sure to check if your employer offers a target date fund.

The term “target date” refers to your planned retirement date. You’ll know your employer offers a target date fund if there’s a calendar year in the name of the fund, such as A.J. Holdings Retirement 2050 Fund. Simply make an estimated guess of the year you’d like to retire, and then pick the fund with the date closest to your projected retirement.

A target date fund is a smart choice because it spreads the money in your 401(k) across many asset classes such as large company stocks, small-company stocks, bonds and emerging-markets stocks. Then, as you near the target date, the fund becomes more conservative, owning less stocks and more bonds, automatically reducing your risks as you near the date of your retirement.

To get the ball rolling on whichever retirement plan best suits your needs, you’ll need to speak to an HR representative at your workplace. With a bit of work and a lot of planning, you’ll have your future secured in the best way possible.

What steps have you taken toward securing your future? Share your retirement plan with us in the comments!

Published in Blog

A couple of years ago, we received a lot of money as a Christmas gift from our parents. That gift shocked us because we weren’t expecting that extra income. Adrenaline started running through my body as I thought of what we could do with this money. We were saving for a car, so that’s where we used it. Having a goal helped me calm down. It was great to know where to spend the money so we didn’t regret how we spent it. Even though the timing of bonuses, gifts, or inheritances is often unexpected, you can plan how to spend the extra income when you receive it.

I think all of us would like extra income, but do you know how you would spent it? Would you save it for retirement? Would you spend it on a vacation or a purchase? Would you pay down debt? It’s good to think about this ahead of time so that you know how you would spend extra income.

When Ty changed jobs in November, all of his accrued vacation pay was paid out to him from his previous employer. We didn’t expect that he would change jobs and receive all that money at once. We hadn’t been able to save for Christmas throughout the year, and we were considering using some of our emergency fund for Christmas. When he received that extra income, we paid for Christmas. I was glad that we didn’t have to use emergency fund money because I don’t consider Christmas an emergency, but we weren’t sure how we were going to pay for it.

I have noticed that unexpected income is often followed by an expense. Have you noticed this? Maybe you received a gift and then the washer broke. I have seen this happen enough times in my life and in the lives of others to see a correlation. A few years ago, my friend and I discussed this and how it can feel discouraging. She had learned to appreciate that money comes when you need it. I decided that I wouldn’t let myself be discouraged anymore when this happened. She helped me to learn to be grateful for extra income even if it needs to be used for bills.

After my family had saved an emergency fund, the unexpected repair expenses didn’t use the extra income anymore. I really don’t like to spend our emergency fund - just ask my husband. He teases me about having an emergency fund that I "won’t use even for an emergency.” I reply, “If I spend it, I won’t have it for an emergency!” Anyway, I might still choose to use extra income for an unexpected expense, but having an emergency fund gives me options to pick which money to use.

The purpose of this blog is to help you reach your financial peak. Each week I’ll give you a financial exercise to do. This week’s exercise was fun for me. I hope you will do it! And, I hope you enjoy it. I want you to make a wish list. Prioritize from the most important or most urgent financial goal down to the least urgent goal.

Here is my Extra Income Wish-List:

  1. Fund Roth IRAs. We are allowed a yearly limit of $5,500 to contribute to our IRAs, and when the deadline passes, our chance to contribute for that year passes too.
  2. Pay off our mortgage. If you are thinking that these first two items are pretty boring goals, you are right, but a financial planner once told me that paying off debt and saving for the future will open up options later on. Since these boring goals will free up and create money, I keep these boring wishes as my #1 and #2 priorities.
  3. Alaska vacation. My sister’s family moved there last summer. She posts amazing pictures from their outings. We would love to see these places in person, and we also miss her family a lot and want to be with them. If you ask my kids what the favorite part of any vacation was, they will say, “playing with cousins.” They even said this about Hawaii!
  4. California vacation. My kids love LEGOs. We dream about going to LEGOLAND, Disneyland, and the beach near San Diego. We went to Disneyland six years ago and had a great time - even my reluctant husband loved it! The two youngest children haven’t been and would like to go.
  5. Spain vacation - Viva España! I miss Spain and really want to go back with my family. We have a goal to take my kids when they finish their Spanish Immersion program. We have kept our vacations frugal and have really enjoyed camping and visiting sites in Utah, but are hoping to do more national and international travel as our kids grow.
  6. Car for my husband. His 1997 Jeep is a champion! It doesn’t owe us anything, but the interior is falling apart, and he doesn’t plan on restoring it. We are saving for a new vehicle but if a lump sum of extra income came in, it would be nice to put here.
  7. Braces. We will need these for our children in the future. Our dentist recently suggested that my oldest get a consultation for braces.
  8. Furnace. Another boring goal that will rob my emergency fund eventually.

I often say that we can’t buy everything that we want, but we can do anything. Staying focused is challenging for me. This exercise helped me define what I would do with extra income. Now, I’m ready for unexpected and extra income. It’s welcome anytime!

Monday, 27 February 2017 09:44

The Key to Financial Fitness!

Last week I went to yoga, and the instructor told our class to “embrace the warming feeling in your muscles.” Embrace that burn? I didn’t want to embrace it because it felt so uncomfortable. I don’t naturally enjoy exercising. In fact, I almost didn’t graduate high school because I didn’t have enough gym credits.

So, why do I exercise regularly? Those burning yoga stretches take my mind off the worries of life. As I fight for each pose, I become stronger. Going to the gym gets me out of the house and around inspiring people. The music playing in the gym inspires me. I exercise so that I can feel good afterwards.

My dad was in his mid-40’s when he started breathing heavily going up and down stairs. This was strange because he had been active and healthy. Doctors found that his heart’s mitral valve wasn’t closing correctly. He went through open heart surgery. Although it wasn’t his fault, his health gradually declined from that point, and he died a little over a decade later. That experience really impacted me. I decided that I would do all I could to be healthy. This is a strong enough reason to motivate me to leave the house in the wee hours of the morning to dive into a cool pool and swim.

Consistently doing anything is challenging. I have to have a strong enough reason for doing it, so I can overcome the challenge. It’s uncomfortable and even painful to do financial exercises like living within your means, using a budget, and saving an emergency fund. But, it feels so good to be financially strong. Find and define your reason! During the recession, I saw the stress of finances on my dad. When my dad died, I understood firsthand the importance of having life insurance and being financially prepared. This is my reason for living financial principles and having financial health. That keeps me motivated to budget and save especially when I make mistakes. I want my family to have financial freedom and avoid pain that financial stress causes.

Consistent effort doesn’t mean that you are perfect. It means that you keep trying. We have a framed poster on our wall of our turtle that says, “Slow and steady wins the race.” I’ve read the story of the Turtle and the Hare over and over to my kids, and we talk about it a lot. I’m not sure that they are convinced yet. Recently my daughter told me that she could beat that turtle. They don’t understand how a turtle who travels at walking speed could win. A couple of friends and I did a mini triathlon this month, and I was the fastest of the three of us. This shocked me because they both run better than I do. One is a better swimmer and is more experienced. I expected them both to be faster than me. Afterwards, my friend told me that I had been the most consistent at training. Her comment really impacted me and made me realize the importance of being consistent in whatever you are doing.

There are some factors of our finances that we can’t control. I am a recovering control-aholic. I’ve realized that I can’t control the weather, the economy, or others, and I'm okay with that. I can’t prevent a financial storm, but I can commit to living financial principles. The storms still hit my family, but we’ve had financial umbrellas that have protected us. That feels so good. One of my friends has been really consistent at saving and investing. She is only forty and her dad told her that she didn’t need to be worrying about retirement, but should enjoy life more. I felt shocked that he was trying to discourage her from living her financial habits. Slowly and steadily living financial principles isn’t popular, so the only way I can do it is to have a strong enough reason for doing it. When you feel the pain that comes from financial exercise, remember how good it is going to feel later and remember your motivation for doing it.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017 09:08

Tips for a Great Tax Season

I hope you enjoyed the President’s Day holiday. Our kids were out of school on Friday & Monday, so we had a long weekend full of fun times. President’s Day reminds me of tax season. Although IRS technically started accepting tax returns on January 23rd, most of us have not filed because we were waiting for information. Also, some returns weren’t being processed at that time. For example, if you are claiming the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit or if you are claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and were receiving a refund, it wouldn’t be paid before February 15th. Now, tax season is definitely here. Unless you are waiting on some K-1s or 1099s, you probably have the forms that you need in order to file your taxes.

I recently attended an 8 hour seminar highlighting the updates for taxes - by the way, that was the short class. The long one was 2 days. Some things in life never change, but tax law isn’t one of those unchangeable things. For this post I’ll mention some of the tax topics that I think the readers here will appreciate. Apply each topic to your situation.

Filing Deadlines

Partnership returns are due on March 15th now, which falls on a Wednesday this year. By the way, whenever a tax filing deadline falls on a weekend, taxes are due on the following Monday. Because April 15th falls on a Saturday and Emancipation day is observed on Monday, April 17th, the tax filing deadline is April 18th this year for individual filers and businesses filing an 1120. (See IRS for more information.)

Tip: If you have some investment accounts, you will want to wait until the final 1099s are sent out. Last year I worked on several tax returns that we thought had the final 1099s, but a few weeks after they were filed, another 1099 was received. Some of these 1099s were not received until mid-March. It is easier, cheaper, and better to wait to file than to amend a return, but returns can be amended. Regardless of when you file, I recommend you prepare the information you’ll need for your return now!

Retirement

You have until your tax return filing deadline to contribute to your IRA accounts! For most of us, that is April 18th. Each year my husband and I try to reach our $5,500 limit for IRA contributions. Some years we do and some years we don’t even get close, but we aim for it. Having a few extra months helps me. If you haven’t started contributing to an IRA, I recommend you start with a small amount. That’s how we started. How much do you want to contribute before the tax deadline? You need to know this in order to file your taxes. For specifics, check here.

Tip: Always be aware of phase-out amounts. This means that if you earn over certain amounts, the credit or deduction “phases” out until you aren’t allowed any of that benefit. You can look up the specific phase-out amounts for the deduction or credit you may be wondering about. Just because a deduction is generally allowed, doesn’t mean it will be allowed for you. For example, if you are married, the phase-out range for the American Opportunity Tax credit is $160,000-$180,000. This means that as your income reaches $160,000, the credit will ratably be reduced, and if you make over $180,000, it will be gone. I often hear someone say “that is tax deductible” in conversation. I think to myself that it depends on the taxpayer’s income. Student loan interest is tax deductible unless you earn over the phase-out amount. I won’t list all of them here, but you can easily check them on IRS’s website for any deduction or credit that you are considering.

Tax Withholdings

Will you be receiving a huge refund? Emotionally, it feels great to get a large refund. I understand this! I know I’m swimming upstream to suggest that you adjust your withholding, but a large refund means that you are letting the government hold your money. I try to withhold just enough to get a small refund.

Some people tell me that they don’t have the self discipline to save throughout the year so at least that forces them to save. I get that. However, USING your budget will solve this problem, and you can get off that wagon. I’ll get off my budgeting “soapbox” now.

Watch out for Tax Fraud

IRS is trying to protect against this. If you want to read more information about possible fraud, click here.

Identity theft is a big problem right now. I personally have a friend who wasn’t able to file her taxes electronically because someone had fraudulently used her social security to file taxes.

PATH Act

This was an important law passed at the end of 2015. Some tax provisions were made permanentsuch as Child Tax Credit, AOTC - American Opportunity Tax Credit, & Tax Free transfer from IRA to charity.

Other tax provisions were extended. For example, the deduction of mortgage insurance premiums was extended through 2016. This is a nice deduction if it applies to you.

The IRS website is a great resource for tax topics. I hope your tax season goes well!

Monday, 13 February 2017 10:07

Saving Strategies that Work

According to ycharts, the average personal savings rate in the U.S. at the end of 2016 was 5.5%.

That is what my family was saving, so we are average savers right now. Savings doesn’t happen without strategy, so this statistic shows we are prioritizing savings, but we can improve this percentage.

Eight years ago, my family had a savings account with a few thousands of dollars in it. We emptied the account in order to pay for a new roof. We saved for a couple more years and then we emptied it again to pay for a fence in the backyard, which we justified as an “emergency.” It felt like we couldn’t get ahead because we were filling and emptying our savings and couldn’t ever move on.

At the same time, I was feeling pressure to save for retirement, vacations, and my childrens' future college and marriages. I wanted the time value of money to be working for us in all of these areas. That resulted in me using that marriage fund for another expense. We only saved a couple of hundred dollars for college, and our retirement savings was minimal.

Focus on One Savings Goal

In 2010, we decided to focus on one savings goal and invest 3% towards retirement. We decided that our first goal would be to fully fund an emergency fund, which we would only use for emergencies. (Home improvements didn’t count as emergencies for us anymore!) About a year and a half into the goal, we had saved ¾ of our goal amount. I felt tired as we hit a savings wall. I started to justify that we had enough saved, but our commitment to this goal helped us to stay focused on it and climb over the savings wall. About a month after hitting that wall, Ty received a promotion and large raise from his employer. This raise was 5X bigger than any raise he had ever received in the past, and it allowed us to reach our savings goal within a few months.

I remember the Magic Eye 3-D images that required me to relax, focus, and disregard all of the distracting images in order to see the 3-D image through the busyness. You have to be committed to finding that 3-D hidden image. That’s what happened when we focused on one savings goal. We were able to ignore all of the busy distractions. We relaxed and focused in order to see the goal realized.

Savings Snowball

I don’t know who to give credit for the term “savings snowball.” When we were going through our Savings Attention Deficit Phase, I knew about the debt snowball. This focused on paying one debt off at a time while paying the minimums on everything else, and I thought it would be great to do that on the savings side so that we could avoid debt. I googled “savings snowball,” and found the phrase several times, so I wasn’t the first to coin it.

Think about how we make snowballs. My kids have been making a lot of snowballs. They can make a lot of little ones for a snowball fight, but to make a snowman, they have to focus on one and roll it until that snowball gets bigger and bigger. Pretty soon, we have a large snowball to use to build the base of a snowman. Once the snowball is big enough, we can move to the next snowball, which doesn’t need to be the same size as the first. We decide how big it needs to be, and then we roll it until it gets to be that size.

We started doing this with our savings. After saving for an Emergency Fund, we saved for a trip to Disneyland, which was a much smaller goal that we reached quickly. Then we saved for a minivan. Now we are saving for an SUV to replace my husband’s SUV. The savings snowball has worked well for us because we see progress in reaching our goals in a relatively short amount of time.

This method also helped me relax and focus. I don’t goal hop anymore or try to do everything. The percentage of our income that we saved has changed. We started with about 5%, and each time we got a raise, we put it towards savings until we were saving 20%. Then, with our job loss, we weren’t saving at all for a short time. Then, once again, we started saving 5%, which is where we are now.

Look at your budget to determine what percentage number is right. As you free up money by reaching your savings goal or increasing your income, you can add to that. What other savings strategies have helped you?

Monday, 16 January 2017 09:11

Making Resolutions That You Can Commit To!

You know that it’s January when ... you drive around the gym parking lot for 10 minutes without finding a parking space!! That happened to me last week. Finally, I stopped, waited for someone to come out of the gym, and I followed her to her car so that I could get a parking spot. My friend and I call this the January Gym Crowd. After January, the crowd usually shrinks. The gym was so packed one night that I couldn’t even park in the parking lot!

Ever since that night, I’ve been thinking about the resolutions we make. The resolutions that don’t last are the ones that I'm not really resolved to do. The resolutions that stick are the ones that help me to become something, rather than to do something. When I resolve to change who I am in order to become healthier, it doesn’t matter if I miss a workout or overeat one day. My commitment helps me to try again the next day. I have written many blog posts about how to do something related to finance. I am not talking about how to make or do anything today. This is all about how to become financially fit by committing to financial fitness.

Find Your Commitment

I struggle with consistency. A friend told me that there are different seasons of our lives. She helped me realize that I can’t be consistent in everything all the time. When it comes to finances, we don’t always have the same level of consistency, but we can be consistent in our commitment to our financial health. Our effort doesn’t always have to be equal. There are seasons when we spend more time on our than other seasons. That is okay.

My commitment to personal finances has developed over time and with different experiences: my dad’s death, my friends retiring early, and experiencing unemployment. No one can give this commitment to you, you have to find the reason for your commitment. I’m committed to financial fitness because I want to have financial freedom. If my commitment isn’t strong enough, I won’t stick with it.

Stick With Your Commitment

Once you’ve make a commitment to financial fitness, you can expect it to be tested. My commitment is often tested. Here are a few suggestions that help to stay committed.

Don’t Compare

It takes a lot of inner strength in order to avoid comparison. Last October, I realized that comparing was a weakness of mine, and since then I have been practicing eliminating comparisons in my life. The effects of comparison are really damaging. Either I feel better than or worse than someone else. I don’t like that feeling. Plus, comparison can kill commitment if I let it. Comparison is a bad habit that is tough to break. Here are a few exercises I’m doing to help break the comparison.

Evaluate What I Think And Say

Yesterday I told my friend that we aren’t able to meet our retirement goals, but we’re doing more than others so if we are not okay financially in retirement, no one else will be okay. I thought about the comparison I made and realized I was trying to justify not reaching our goals. I thought about how I can change what I said next time.

Practice Gratitude

I’ve been journaling and call it my journal “JOYrnal.” I try to live with childlike joy. On Friday night, I bought pizza for my kids. My son’s eyes lit up and he screamed, “We’re having pizza!” It amazed me how much joy he found in a $5 pizza. To help me remember to journal, I write before I eat dinner. I learned that from a musician, Lindsey Stirling. In an interview, she said that she never forgets to eat so she ties important things that she wants to do with eating. I never forget to eat so that has helped me!

Encourage Others, Including Yourself!

The past few months I have exercised with an awesome friend. She is always encouraging me to be my best. I hadn’t lifted weights for a long time, and I started out with small amounts. She told me “Good job!" when I completed a set. She strives to be her best and doesn’t compare or compete against me. My husband also does this. He encourages me. One day after taking a cycling class, Ty asked how it went. I told him that it was rough and I didn’t do very good. He said, “You made it there. That’s good!" Last week, it was a struggle for me to get out of bed and get to the pool. After I swam, I encouraged myself.

Even though my husband and I are not maxing out our retirement plans, we are contributing! We are teaching our kids to save and invest! I encouraged myself to keep investing. We are meeting with an investment adviser this week. That is good!

Forgive Yourself

I make mistakes all the time, in every area of my life. Forgiving myself allows me to stick with the commitment. This weekend I watched a talk by J.K. Rowling, who is super successful writer, and she talked about how she had failed in so many ways that it helped her to focus on the one area she had left. Her talk actually inspired me to fail! She said that a benefit of failure is that it allows you the chance to rebuild and commit.

Focus

Focusing on one goal helps me stick to my commitment to be financially fit. Looking back, in 2010, I was trying to do everything financially. Each time that I would hear a new suggestion, I would add it to my list. I was saving for retirement and paying down our mortgage. I was also saving for my kids marriage, mission service, and college as soon as they were born. I actually TOOK my newborn and my young kids to the credit union to set up an account for the baby. This is really comical to me now. I LOL at myself!

I had to learn an important lesson about focusing. By trying to do everything financially, I didn’t see progress. I only saved a few hundred dollars towards college. I ended up having to use the kids marriage funds for something else. So, I stopped doing everything, and in 2010, I focused on saving an emergency fund. It took two years to build it. Then, I focused on increasing our retirement. By focusing on one financial goal, it has allowed me to relax and experience grace with my finances. I don’t feel bad that I’m not saving for my kid’s marriages. In a few years, that will be my focus. Right now I just want them to stay little!

Committing to financial fitness is so important. It will help you avoid comparisons and distractions. It may be the most important resolution you make!!

The New Year is a great time of renewal. That makes it a good time to make bold, decisive changes in your life. Leave behind the baggage that was 2016 and start fresh with a blank slate in 2017. If you’re looking for some resolutions to improve your personal finances, we’re pleased to offer seven ways to make 2017 the year of the dollar!

Track your spending

If you’re looking to take your first steps toward financial literacy, figuring out where your money goes should be at the top of your list. If you don’t know where your money goes, it’s going to be tough to follow through with any other money plans. You may have a general sense of how much you spend, but after a month where you’ve recorded every dollar, you’ll have a much better picture. Using Peaks Money Manager™ can automate the process. You might even find that keeping track of what you do with your money encourages you to spend a little more judiciously.

Make a budget

About 70% of Americans live financially spontaneous lives. They don’t make a plan for spending or saving. When asked why they chose not to do so, the most common response was that the family spent all the money anyway. This is a circular problem. If you don’t have a budget that includes setting aside money for long-term expenses and savings, you’ll end up spending all your money on unplanned things and events. The best way to stop the cycle is to sit down and make a budget that modifies your spending to be more in line with your priorities.

Get out of debt

Easier said than done, right? However, there’s no bigger stumbling block to financial security and wealth building than debt. It’s hard to save for long-term goals when so much of your monthly income gets eaten up by interest and fees. There are a variety of methods you can use to help accelerate your payoffs. For instance, you can add an extra $50 or $100 to your credit card payments. Or, you can focus all your payment resources on the highest interest debt until it’s paid off and then move it all to the next highest for snowballing your way to freedom from debt.

Start an emergency fund

The best way to avoid going into debt is to have some money on hand to handle the occasional, yet inevitable, emergency. Most Americans, though, can’t come up with $500 in such instances. Set a specific goal, like adding $10 per month to a savings account. At the end of the year, you’ll have more than $100 available in case something goes wrong.

Start a retirement account

You can’t save for what you don’t think about. When retirement is years or decades away, it’s difficult to incorporate thinking about it into your daily routine. If you have a retirement account open, you’ll get monthly statements, which serve as reminders. The challenge, though, is taking that first step. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. While there are important differences between Roth and Traditional IRA accounts, either one is better than no retirement savings at all. If your job offers a 401(k) matching program, sign up to get at least the full matching funds amount – it’s free money. Do a little bit of research, then open the account that seems like the best idea.

Automate your savings

Saving money takes willpower. Because it’s hard to practice self-denial on a constant basis, that extra $5 you’ve earmarked for savings can very easily turn into a mid-morning coffee. Fighting that impulse is a constant struggle. That’s why it’s easiest to avoid the decision altogether. Change your direct deposit to put some of your paycheck directly into a savings account, where you won’t even think of spending it impulsively.

Get educated

Knowledge is power, and that’s especially true in the world of personal finance. What you know about your money goes a long way toward determining how much of it you get to keep. There’s a lot to learn, but you’ve got a wealth of information at your fingertips. Resolve to read one personal finance article a week. Not only will this give you good ideas for improving your personal financial situation; you’ll also spend more time thinking about your money. That’ll lead to positive results down the line!

Happy New Year from all of us at Wasatch Peaks Credit Union. We hope you have a safe, happy and prosperous 2017!

What resolutions are you making this year? Will 2017 be the year you join a book club, quit smoking or spend more time with your family? Let us know in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://wallethub.com/blog/financial-new-years-resolutions/9202/
http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/money/13-financial-new-years-resolutions-you-should-make
http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/personalfinance/savingspending/budgeting/newYearsRes.php
http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/07/16/so-what-percentage-of-americans-actually-keep-a-budget-gallup-results-may-surprise-you/

Published in Blog
Page 1 of 2
Have a minute?  Take our quick member survey