Summertime is vacation time! Someone seems to be on vacation at any given point in the summer. I love vacations! Some vacations consist of camping trips. Others are more exotic vacations. Where do you want to go on vacation? I often wonder how others pay for big trips — especially unexpected trips. Have you also wondered this? I would love to hear what you do. Here are a few ideas that my family does:

1. Retained Earnings

This is a fancy accounting term for savings. I like to have a plan for everything in life, but it’s just not possible. So, I plan and prepare as much as possible and then I try to have some flexible savings. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what vacation opportunities will come up, so having some retained earnings allows us to take advantage of these opportunities. It is also fine to turn down a vacation that we can’t afford, but I would rather find a way to be able to afford it and enjoy it. My daughter had the chance to visit family in Alaska with only a few weeks notice. She had savings, and we had some money budgeted for general vacations, which is how we paid for her to go. That worked out well, but now our family has a chance to go to Alaska in a year. This is a much bigger and more expensive trip because there are six of us going this idea won’t work for us.

2. Save Monthly

We have a budget category called vacation, and we put some money into it each month. Since most of our trips have been inexpensive, this has worked well for us. We try go to a family cabin once a month. For those trips, we use some money from our grocery budget to pay for food, and we use money from our transportation budget to pay for travel. So, we don’t have to dip into our vacation money for those trips. If you like to travel, but don’t have a specific destination in mind, regularly putting money into a savings account might be the solution for you. That way, when friends or family invite you to go on vacation, you’ll be ready. Wasatch Peaks Credit Union has resources to help us do this. The Christmas Club Savings Account is one tool that can help you save for your dream vacation by providing a separate account for you to automatically save each month.

3. Irregular Income

We all have received unexpected income. This could be in the form of a gift, inheritance, commission, or bonus. We don’t have control over the timing of this income, but when it comes, unexpected money can be used for vacationing. When our family receives a gift, there are usually many expenses which compete for that income, so we have to prioritize and pay for the top priority. Sometimes tax returns can also be unexpected money. My goal is to not have a tax return because it ties up our money, but last year our income was lower than I expected and we overpaid taxes, so we received a return. I budgeted it for vacation, which is also going to be our Christmas present (see #4). I don’t like to have more tax withheld than necessary, but it is a forced savings account.

4. Give a Vacation as a Gift

We don’t need or have room for anymore stuff around our home, so we are going to start giving our kids trips for Christmas and birthday gifts. (Most of our trips are local and don’t require flying.) We do hope to fly more in the future. We are giving our family a trip to Alaska next year so we can attend a family reunion there. Even though we don’t leave for a year, we will need to pay for airfare ahead of time. This is a challenge for our family. My husband and I have been discussing how we will pay for this since we need more than the amount that we usually spend on Christmas. Do we borrow from savings that we have set aside for emergencies and a car? Vacations are not usually an emergency, but it is a challenge to pay for a vacation before you actually go on the vacation. I’ll let you know how it turns out in a future post.

My parents gave our family a trip to Hawaii for Christmas when my step-dad retired. It was an amazing trip, and we wouldn’t have been able to go without it. We really appreciate their generosity and hope to be able to do this in the future for our children and grandchildren.

5. Pay Down Debt

Although this suggestion won’t immediately allow us to travel more, eventually it will. As debt is paid down, the freed up money becomes available for trips! We have been working on paying down debt so that we free up the money used for debt payments. I don’t recommend borrowing money for trips because that does the opposite: it ties up money.

6. Earn More Money

While our kids are young, we decided to stay close to home and explore Utah, but as they get older, we would like to go farther, and these trips cost more. I’m considering go back to work to pay for some of the trips which we would like to take in the future. We dream of going to Spain, South Africa, Norway, and other international destinations. These are going to cost a lot and we don’t have room in our current budget to pay for these, so one option we are considering is for me to go back to work.

Which one of these ideas have you used to pay for vacations? What are some other ways that you have paid for vacations?

Wednesday, 24 May 2017 09:13

Step #5: Learn The Costs Of Investing

You've learned to invest 15% of your household income into retirement. Now what? The ultimate goal of investing is to let your money work for you and provide you with stable, passive income.

But getting there is going to cost a pretty penny.

This month, take the time to learn the dollars and cents of investing. Of course, you knew that investing was going to mean coming up with the actual money you’re putting into the market, which always holds the possibility of being lost forever. But did you know there are going to be various fees, commissions, and taxes you’ll have to pay, too?

Let’s take a peek at an actual investment to illustrate this. The company and amounts have been changed, but they’ve been accurately scaled down to size.

Suppose that, on Aug. 13, 2015, a share of stock in Apple closed at $43.26. During the next few months, Apple issues four dividends of $0.55 per share. On Aug. 25. 2016, a share of stock in Apple closed at $51.23.

Let’s say you chose to invest $1,000 in Apple on Aug. 13, 2015 and you withdrew it on Aug. 25, 2016.

At the time of your investment, $1,000 would buy you 23.25 shares of Apple. Over the year, you would have received $51.16 in dividend payouts. When you withdrew from the company a bit over a year after your initial investment, you’d sell that stock for $1,191.09.

It seems like your gain from this stock is $242.25, broken down into $51.16 in dividends and another $191.09 from selling the stock. Simple, right?

The problem is, though, you haven’t exactly earned that much. Here’s where the costs of investments come into play.

First, the dividends would be subject to income tax. In this case, the dividends are considered qualified dividends, and would therefore be taxed at a rate of 15% by the federal government and possibly more by state and local sources. As a result, $7.67 of that dividend gain is eaten up by these taxes.

Second, you’re going to have to pay your broker for the cost of buying and selling the stock. Let’s say, hypothetically, you’ve used an online discount stock brokerage firm. The buy and the sell would each cost $9.99. That’s another $19.98 dropped from your gain – although this fee is tax deductible.

Third, the gain on the sale would be a long-term capital gain, so 15% of that gain goes to the federal government. Since your gain was $191.09, you’d be paying an additional $28.66 in taxes on the sale.

In total, your expenses for your gain add up to $56.31. Just like that, nearly 30% of your gain is gone!

Even if your investment is a loser, you’re still paying the brokerage fees and will earn less in dividends.

The moral of the story? Investing costs. You’re taxed if you gain, and you’ll get hit with brokerage fees whether you win or lose.

Some forms of investing have lower costs than others. If you invest directly with an investing house, you can bypass the investing fees and only pay the taxes on your gains. However, you’re limited to the offerings that the investing house has available, and you’ll be subject to their often inflexible minimums for investing.

You could also simply invest in a money market account or other savings option at Wasatch Peaks Credit Union. Your returns will come with fewer or no costs. Plus, your balance isn’t at risk. Yes, you might “lose” some gains by only having the cash in a savings account, but your money is earning a steady return. If you invest elsewhere, it’s possible that the costs, the fees and the taxes can easily eat up a substantial amount of whatever you gain or make an already painful loss even harder.

It’s important to note that the bigger your investment, the smaller the impact such costs have. At the $1,000 level, the investment fees in the above scenario typically eat up about 2% of your balance. If you’re investing $10,000, the fees will only eat up 0.2% of your balance, and if you invest $100,000, the fees eat up only 0.02% of your balance.

Thus, as a beginning investor, it’s crucial to know the total cost of ownership of an investment as you consider it. Even a small fee can significantly lower your total return when you’re starting out with small investments.

That’s why it’s best to take it slowly at first and continue learning about the market and stocks you’re interested in. Know exactly what you’re going to invest in – and what all of the costs of that investment are – before you put down any of your money. After working out the math, you may find you’d rather wait until you have a substantial amount saved up for investing, as these fees don’t make such a big dent when the gains are larger.

So, before you make that first investment, learn the costs and be sure it’s worth the price!

Did you get hit with any surprise costs on your first investment? Share your experience with us!

Published in Blog

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
Thursday, 06 April 2017 15:36

INFOGRAPHIC: Ten Tax Scams to Avoid

Published in Alerts
Monday, 06 March 2017 07:41

Understanding Your Credit Score

Countless blog posts have been written about credit scores and credit reports. Not one post has been written about my personal experience with credit reports. So, I’m going to share my credit story. I would love to hear your experience with credit reports & scores too!

Here are my tips for healthy credit scores:

Understand Your Credit Score

Credit scores determine your ability to borrow money from many lenders. In my early 20’s, I applied for a car loan from a credit union. Then, I shopped for my dream car. The lender told me that I qualified to borrow $10k. That wasn’t enough to buy my dream car. I felt surprised that I didn’t qualify for more. I had heard stories of others who made less than me and qualified for so much more. I didn’t understand how credit was used to grant loans.

Years later I worked for a nonprofit and taught financial education. As I taught about credit, I understood why I hadn’t qualified for more money years before - I even felt surprised that I had qualified for $10k. Since I had no credit at the time, I had no credit score. The credit union was looking at my credit score and my income.

If you are wondering about the end of the story, here it is: Well, that experience helped me realize the value of money. I realized that ten thousand dollars was a lot of money! I actually decided not to buy car at that time. Instead, I used a free bus pass offered through my college until I graduated.

Check Your Credit Reports Regularly

Nine years ago, we refinanced our home. The refinancing process included a credit check. The loan officer noticed that another social security number was being reported on one of my credit reports. It was an easy fix. She sent a letter stating that the social security number reported was not mine, and it was corrected.

Checking your credit report is one way to catch identity theft as early as possible. Also, mistakes on your credit report can negatively affect your credit score. Millions of Americans have mistakes on their credit report at some point in their lives. If you notice the mistake and notify the Credit Reporting Bureau of that mistake, they are required to investigate it. If you need more information on how to do this, check here. Disputes can be done online.

Ever since that time, I’ve checked our reports regularly. How often is regularly? Well, it’s not as often as I should be exercising or eating, but it is as often as I should be getting a physical check up (which I haven’t done for a while). An annual credit checkup has worked well for me. I suggest you find a time that you can remember to check it. If you aren’t preparing to get a loan, it’s easy to forget about checking your credit - just like it has been easy for me to forget about getting a physical checkup because I’ve been healthy.

By checking your credit score once a year, you can ensure accuracy so that when you do need credit, your reports will be accurate and you will be prepared. One friend told me that she checks her credit reports on her birthday so that she can remember to do it. I check my reports when I do my taxes, because they are both financially related. You can check your credit report once a year from three credit reporting companies for free through this website. (It does cost to get your FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) score.) Each company reports different information in different ways. You don’t have to get all three reports at the same time. If you want to check one report every four months, you could do that. Decide what works best for you.

Understand Credit Reports

Credit Reports are not the easiest documents to read and understand. I almost needed a magnifying glass to read Transunion’s small wording on its report. I remember feeling confused and overwhelmed the first time that I read my credit reports. The reports seemed too long for someone with such little credit history, but it listed every address where I had lived. It also listed everything I had done financially.

Credit history can be long. Our mortgage loan was sold several times, and we have refinanced twice. So, all of that information is listed. Be prepared to sift through a lot of information. Check to make sure that the information is accurate. There are three different agencies that report credit information: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Each report is different.

There are five basic components of a credit score. If you want more information about those five components of the credit score, read this blog post from Wasatch Peaks. I promise that checking your credit reports isn’t as painful as it may sound and is vital to keeping your credit score accurate and healthy.

To further understand your Credit Report, feel free to use the financial counseling services that Wasatch Peaks offers. The counselors are certified credit report reviewers and are there to give you guidance and support, whatever your financial situation.

Imagine skipping a day of class, then coming into the next session and seeing a test. You open the packet and see what appears to be gibberish staring back at you. Everyone else around you seems to have a perfect grasp of what’s going on, but you’re just stumbling in the dark.

That can be what the process of preparing your taxes can feel like the first time you do them. You’re given a big pile of paper and expected to sort it out yourself. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Before you start to panic, though, take a deep breath. There are a few questions that might make your life much easier. Grab that big stack of paper and ask yourself …

Do I even have to file?

There’s an easy way to short circuit this whole process. If you didn’t make much money last year, you don’t have to file taxes. If your earned income (wages and tips) is less than $6,300 and your unearned income (interest and dividends) is less than $1,050, you probably don’t have to file taxes.

Of course, you might still want to do so. If you had a summer job, your employer took taxes out of your paycheck as though you’d been working all year. You might be able to get a little bit of a refund for your effort.

How hard does this have to be?

If your tax situation is relatively simple, you may be eligible to use a form called the 1040-EZ (as in easy). It’s a much more straightforward document. You just enter your wages, your filing status (married or single) and the taxes you’ve already paid. It’s all laid out on your W-2, the form you got in the mail or online from your employer.

The 1040-EZ lives up to its name. It’s one page long. Once you put your name, address and Social Security number on it, you’re about halfway done. You don’t get to claim any tax credits, but there aren’t a lot of tax credits available for college students in any case.

Where can I get help?

You don’t have to go it alone. If you’re feeling antisocial, you can (and should) use an e-filing service. The IRS has a tool to help you pick the best one. Remember, members of Wasatch Peaks can save up to $15 on TurboTax®!

There may also be tax help available. A program called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is available on many college campuses. Business students looking to bolster their resumes will frequently volunteer to help with taxes for free. This is especially important if your tax situation is more complicated, like if you’re paying for college on your own or have self-employment income from a side hustle.

Are you stressed about taxes? Tell us about it in the comments, or pop down and help your fellow students out!

Sources:
https://www.irs.gov/individuals/free-tax-return-preparation-for-you-by-volunteers
http://blog.taxact.com/1040-tax-forms/
http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/when-does-your-child-have-file-tax-return.html

Published in Blog
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!

Friday, 03 February 2017 09:10

Tax Form Secrets Revealed

Q: Tax forms have started rolling in and my mailbox looks like a can of alphabet soup exploded in it! What do I need and where do I start?

A: This is a tough time of year for people who don’t like paper. Starting at the end of January and continuing through March, taxpayers start drowning in paper. Sorting out what’s important and finding a place to store it is a big challenge, and it becomes harder if you don’t know what’s what.

Fortunately, it’s easier to tell these forms apart than you might think. There are only a few types of forms you’ll need to deal with, and most of them don’t even need paper. Here are the four most common tax forms you’ll see and what to do with them!

1.) W-2

This is the most common informational form you’ll receive. It’s a statement from your employer that contains your yearly wages, how much tax you’ve had withheld and how much you’ve paid (pre-tax) for things like health care premiums. If you have one job, this may be the only major tax form you get.

It’s also one of the most important forms. You’ll want to keep it with other tax documents until it’s time to file your taxes. This information – your yearly earnings and the amount of tax you’ve had withheld – are the most important factors for determining what your tax bill will be (or how big a refund you’ll get).

2.) 1099

This is a series of forms identifying income from sources other than a contract job. Most common is the 1099-INT, which lists interest income. You may get one of these from any financial institution where you have an account.

If you freelance or work as a contractor, you’ll probably receive a 1099-MISC. If you received unemployment or another source of government income, you’ll get a 1099-G. If you had debt canceled this year, you’ll get a 1099-C. There are a few other kinds of 1099 forms, but they all do basically the same thing.

You’ll need to hold on to these forms, too. They document income that you haven’t yet paid any taxes on. You’ll need the amounts on these forms when you get ready to file.

3.) 1095

These are relatively new forms that deal with health insurance. Form 1095-A is a statement about insurance purchased through a marketplace exchange. 1095-B is for private health insurance. 1095-C is for employer-sponsored health care coverage.

These forms are important if you get a health insurance subsidy through the Affordable Care Act. If not, you can go ahead and put this form into long-term storage. You’ll be asked when you file if you had health insurance all 12 months of the year. The IRS receives a copy of this form to check your work, so you’ll only need it if issues come up regarding your coverage.

4.) 1098

Two forms, the 1098 and the 1098-T, report tax deductible expenses. The 1098 form lists mortgage interest and points on your primary residence, while the 1098-T itemizes tuition and other expenses paid to an institution of higher learning. The 1098-T is used in a variety of places, including claiming the Lifetime Learning Credit and the Hope Credit.

Unfortunately, in order to take advantage of deductions relating to mortgage expenses, you’ll need to itemize your deductions. Claiming the deductions listed on the 1098 requires you to forgo the standard deduction, which for most people turns out to be a bad idea. Unless you have a host of other deductions, or you bought or refinanced your home this year, claiming the standard deduction and filing the 1098 away for later will serve you best.

The bad news is you can’t file your taxes and be rid of the whole mess until you get all of your forms together. You’ll need to keep any W-2 forms, 1099 forms and your 1098-T form together until all of them arrive. Get a manila folder or a document envelope to keep them all in the same place. Keep that folder somewhere safe, and as soon as possible, file your taxes so you can put it into storage. Keep your returns for at least 3 years after you file. A paper copy of last year’s tax return in your filing cabinet can make a world of difference!

How do you keep up with the paperwork requirements of your tax return? Have a magical filing system? Share your best organizational strategies with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/tax-tips/
https://www.efile.com/tax-form/tax-year/2016-federal-form-1095-a-health-insurance-marketplace-statement.pdf
https://www.efile.com/tax-form/tax-year/2016-federal-form-1098-mortgage-interest-statement.pdf
https://www.efile.com/irs-federal-income-1040-tax-forms/

Published in Blog

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Published in Blog
Tuesday, 27 December 2016 12:34

Get Up When You Fall Financially

This morning was hard to get up. My husband's alarm went off and I woke up to use the bathroom. My body felt sore. I felt the effects of the cookies, bacon, and chocolate covered popcorn, which I ate yesterday. I felt cold as soon as I got out of my bed. I wanted to go back to sleep. I felt gravity pulling me back to my warm bed. I thought of all the work ahead of me today. Except for the bathroom, every room looks like it experienced a tornado. Christmas was a busy day for my family. I visited 3 families, attended two church services, and had a sick child. The house was now a disaster zone. This can also happen financially over the holidays.

Somehow, I found the strength to walk past my bed without getting back into it. Somehow, I meditated and planned my day. This was a HUGE victory for me today. I think it was because Christmas gave me the belief that I can change. Seeing friends and family and feeling loved inspired me to keep trying. Experiencing kindness and generosity inspired me to want to keep moving forward. Even though I overspent, I can recommit. Even though the house is a mess, we can restore order one item and one room at a time. Sometimes we don't feel like waking up financially, but every day is a new day. If we mess up and give in to a purchase we didn't plan on, or miss a budget meeting, we can start again any and every day. In the big picture, it's not really going to matter that I spent a few more hundred dollars than I wanted to spend, as long as I keep trying.

During this holiday, several of my friends and family have told me that they want to get on top of their finances. They want to budget. They want to plan for taxes. They want to invest. These friends and family have asked my advice on budgeting and asked what app or system they should use. Some of them face huge obstacles in doing this, so I don't want to minimize how hard it can be to change financially. I will compare it to my experience with exercising.

I started exercising regularly a couple of months ago. At the gym, I am surrounded with healthy and strong people. I think about what they had to sacrifice to build the muscles that they have. It is a long and gradual process, and it can't be faked or sped up. There is no shortcut. I can't just be stronger because I want to be. For the first time, I have been weight lifting with a bar and weights. I started with just the bar and am adding small amounts. I can't just put a 35 pound weight on the bar and lift it. I have to sacrifice, plan, and build up the strength. I have to commit. On Christmas Eve I went to a hard interval training class. The teacher pushed herself and admitted it was hard, but at the end she encouraged us and played inspiring music that talked about getting back up and try again. I left feeling so inspired to celebrate my victories and keep trying.

There is no magical app that will make me in shape or get my friends to budget. It doesn't really matter what app you use. There are a lot of good tools, but there is no magical app that will force us to be disciplined. However, exercising at the gym helps inspire me. I believe I can get stronger.

Consider this blog to be your financial gym. Come here to believe that you can change, and surround yourself with people who are growing stronger physically and believing that they can improve. Happy New Years. Enjoy the holiday!

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