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Simple Savings
05/07/2010
IconPersonal Loan After Bankruptcy The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com I've filed bankruptcy about a year ago. I understand that a secured credit card would help to re-establish my credit. What I want to know though is that even if I've filed bankruptcy, is it possible for me to obtain a personal loan? If so, do you know of any establishments that would offer loans to someone who has filed bankruptcy? Thank you, Vi With about 1.6 million personal bankruptcies occurring in the last year Vi has company. And, in a society where the availability of consumer debt is assumed, she's got a real problem. Before we get into specifics, let's learn a little about credit and debt. The first known use of credit was about 3,000 years ago in Assyria, Babylon and Egypt. It appears that debt came to American with the Pilgrims. They consolidated their debts in London and made four installment payments. Store credit was common all the way back in colonial times and has been popular throughout our nation's history. Many items, including sewing machines and vacuum cleaners, were introduced into our homes on the installment plan. The first credit card came out in 1951 and was only good at 27 New York restaurants. Once the magnetic strip was introduced in the early 1970's the use of credit cards skyrocketed. But, having all the credit available has a dark side. Some people take on too much debt and have trouble repaying their loans. Thus the need for bankruptcy protection. Our current bankruptcy law was passed in 1978 and amended in 1984. We've come a long ways from the debtor's prisons that existed until the early-1800's. Yet, even today you can land in jail for committing debts of fraud and child support. With a few exceptions (student loans, child support and alimony), bankruptcy wipes out all debts. That's the good news. But, as Vi's found out, the bad news is that a bankruptcy is the worst thing that you can have on your credit report. Depending on the circumstances it can remain there for up to 10 years. So where does that leave Vi. She's looking for a personal loan. Hyperdictionary.com defines a personal loan as "a loan that establishes consumer credit that is granted for personal use; usually unsecured and based on the borrower's integrity and ability to pay". So the lender doesn't have anything to repossess. Just Vi's promise that she'll repay the loan. And by declaring bankruptcy before, she's already demonstrated that she's willing to walk away from her debts. Can Vi find someone who will give her a personal loan? Yes, possibly she can. But unless she borrows from a friend or relative, she can expect to pay much higher rates than someone with an average credit report. Where would Vi find a loan? She might want to try online using a search for "subprime personal loan". Or look for a business that offers 'payday loans' or 'signature loans' locally. But a better question for Vi to ask is should she take the loan if she can find it. And the answer in almost all situations is no. First, she'll be paying very high interest rates on the money she borrows. That means that she can't afford to borrow except for a very short period of time. Second, it makes it harder to repair her credit rating. As she pointed out, she needs to get a secured card to begin the rebuilding process. A secured card will require her to save money first and then deposit it on account. A personal loan with a high rate of interest will make it impossible for her to save the money needed to obtain a secured card. That means she's going backwards. Vi didn't say why she wanted the personal loan. But unless it's absolutely vital, she'll be better off avoiding a personal loan at this time. That probably means not buying something that she really wants or may even feel that she needs. And, that's hard. But given her circumstances, borrowing money today could make the future just that much harder. Which is probably something that Vi really doesn't need. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website: www.stretcher.com You'll find the web's largest collection of free time and money saving articles. Visit today! More >>

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05/07/2010
IconAffording a First Home The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com Can you help me? My husband and I would like to buy our own home to live in. How do we know if we can afford one or not? Thanks, Donna Donna's smart! It's always better to find out if you can afford something before you begin seriously shopping. And with low mortgage rates and home prices going up, many people are wondering if they should buy their first home now. So how does Donna determine if they can afford to buy? Answers to a couple of questions can help them decide. First, do they have enough savings to get into a home? Second, can they afford the regular, ongoing monthly expenses. Let's begin with the first question. How much would it take for them to get into a home? Affording a home means more than having enough cash for a down-payment. Initially Donna will need enough savings to cover a down-payment, the closing costs and some initial expenses like utility deposits. She'll also need some cash for some of the expenses that come with a first home. Things like a lawnmower, ladder and basic lawn implements. Homecenters love first-time homeowners! Naturally, the down-payment is the biggest item. It usually runs from 5% to 20% of the price of the home. You can even find some deals with 100% financing, but Donna can expect to pay higher interest rate if her down-payment is lower. She probably should plan for about 10%. Many mortgages have fees or "points" associated with them. It's not unusual for that to add 2% to the amount that she'd need at closing. Closing costs vary by locale and by what you negotiate in the contract. She can use 3% as a guesstimate, but that could be off by as much as 2% depending on the circumstances of her contract. Some places customarily allocate more expenses to the buyer than other places. Donna should ask someone in the real estate industry what costs are typically paid by the buyer in her area. A few quick calls to the utility companies should give Donna an idea of any deposits or set-up charges that will be required. Once Donna has determined if they have enough money to get into a house, she'll need to figure out if they can afford to hang onto it. Most experts say that housing expenses shouldn't exceed 35% of your after-tax, spendable income. Donna can calculate her annual after tax income using her payroll check information. In fact, unless she got a large IRS refund or had to write a large check last April, she probably can use the net figure from her paycheck. All she needs to do is to figure out how many paychecks she'll get in a year and then multiply her after-tax pay by that number. Another benchmark that some advisers use is to total all debts and then compare that to income. The reason is simple. The part of her paycheck that Donna has already committed to car payments or credit card minimums is not available to pay the mortgage. Typically experts suggest keeping total debt payments to less than 40% of Donna's income. If her estimate of a mortgage added to her existing payments exceeds 40%, she might be wise to try to pay down some debt before she begins house hunting. There's another more accurate way to gauge Donna's ability to handle the monthly expenses. That's to create a "make believe" budget that included a house payment. She would take her current budget and just replace her renter's expenses with the mortgage payment and other homeowner's expenses. Don't forget to include taxes, insurance and some money each month for home repairs. If Donna is close but can't quite get the numbers to work, she could check out some lower cost alternatives. Foreclosures or "handyman's specials" could offer an opportunity. She might also want to consider buying a duplex and renting one side while living in the other. Finally, if she does decide to buy, Donna will want to check her credit report before she begins shopping. That will give her an idea of how she'll look to a mortgage company. A FICO score of over 700 should put her in good shape. She'll be able to find a mortgage with a score in the 600's or even 500's, but the interest rate will be higher. She should also check her credit report for errors. About 25% of all credit reports contain an error significant enough to effect the interest rate on a mortgage. If Donna finds an error she'll want to get it corrected before she begins shopping for a home or a mortgage. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website: www.stretcher.com and newsletters: subscribe@stretcher.com copyright 2003 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconA Dozen Cheap Thrills: Family Entertainment on a Budget Copyright Deborah Taylor-Hough Used with permission on DrLaura.com. All rights reserved. hometown.aol.com/dsimple/ Frugal living and family entertainment often feel like termson the opposite end of the spending spectrum. But ifmoney's tight, it's important to plan some fun into thosesunny weekends and summer vacation, otherwise lifecan get a bit dull and frugal living can seem more like astraight-jacket rather than a means to help you reachyour financial goals. Here are a few simple ways to save a few pennies oncommon entertainment expenses: Be patient and wait to see new movies on video. Somecommunities even offer free video rentals at local librariesand will order new movies if library patrons request a certaintitle. Check to see if there are any discount movie theaters inyour area. Most of these places show movies just beforethey're released to video. A family of four can go out foran evening at the movies and only spend around $10 fora fun family outing. Keep a list of movies you want tosee, and then check the discount theater listings eachweek. These theaters often keep the movies for justone or two weeks, so stay alert to what's playing. Go to the first show of the day at first-run theaters forthe best prices (and shortest lines!). Check your area for free days at museums, zoos, etc. Rather than buying separate admissions to differenteducational or fun family destinations, buy one yearlyfamily pass to either the zoo, the aquarium, or a themepark. Go repeatedly to that one place each time youwant a family outing. You will easily save the cost ofthe family admission, plus you'll have the benefit of notfeeling pressured to see everything in one day. Youcan always see what you missed the next time youcome. Next year, buy a pass somewhere else. Check for free concerts, plays, and other live familyentertainment in local parks. Call and find out if your local college stage productiongroup, ballet or orchestra will let you watch them rehearsefor free. If you want to eat at an expensive restaurant, go forlunch rather than dinner. The menu is usually the same,but the prices are often half. When dining out, drink water only. Ask for a lemonor lime wedge if you want to make your drink seemspecial. This trick can easily cut $10 off your family'stotal dining bill, which could mean the difference betweengoing out for a fun meal or staying home eating frozenegg rolls again. Go fly a kite. Literally! Make the most of any available student discounts.Show your child's school ID at museums, zoos, galleries,theaters, etc. Instead of an expensive day of professional sports,go to a high school or community college game. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: --Deborah Taylor-Hough (wife and mother of three) is theauthor of 'Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eatfor a Month' and the newly released, 'Frugal Living ForDummies(r)' (Wiley, 2003). Visit Debi online for morearticles and tips at: hometown.aol.com/dsimple/ More >>

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05/07/2010
IconDivorced Stay-at-Home Mom The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com Gary, Do you think it is realistically possible for a divorced, single Mom of a 15, 12, and 6-year old to stay home with her children? I do not have a profitable skill, a degree or money in the bank. All I know is that a tired, stressed-out mother is not what I want for my kids. They deserve more of me. I currently hold a temporary job that has lasted over a year so far. It covers the monthly expenses, including car payments for a pre-owned car I just purchased this past November. Their Dad kicks in his share, but not enough for us to live on alone. Any suggestions? Sue Sue has plenty of company. Over 1 million couples get divorced each year and roughly one third of all families are headed by a single parent. According to Raise the Nation, an advocacy group, there are over 13 million single parent households raising 20 million children. They also estimate that only 1/4 receive full child-support. So is it possible to Sue to get by financially without working? Probably not. Studies indicate that financial problems are one of the biggest hurdles for single parents. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nearly one half of all single mothers have more than one job. Talk about stress! With a little work Sue can determine whether it's possible to survive without a job. If she doesn't already have a budget, she'll need to create one. Having a budget is a good idea whether she tries to stay-at-home or not. It's important to know how much income you have and where it's going. And Sue's stress level will go down once she knows that her expenses don't exceed her income. The next step is to adjust her budget as if she wasn't working any more. How much income would she lose? And, how many of her expenses could she reduce if she were staying at home? The exercise isn't exact, but it will give her a pretty good idea of whether there's any possibility of staying home. Chances are that she'll find that staying home isn't financially feasible. But Sue shouldn't give up if she can't stay home. There are other ways to reduce stress. The first step is to guard against depression. A divorced person is three times more likely to suffer from depression. Fortunately, doctors are better at identifying and treating depression than in previous generations. A single parent must stay organized. There simply isn't time to look for lost keys. There are many resources that can show you how to get things under control. Organization can bring a sense of serenity to a home. Train your children to help. Even preschoolers can learn their colors by helping to sort laundry. You're not cheating them by teaching them to cook and clean. In fact, you're preparing them for adulthood. And, sharing tasks is often the real quality time that they'll remember years later. Also remember that children aren't damaged because they don't have everything that their friends have. Despite what the advertisers or your kids say. Sue will be well served by spending time with other adults. A lack of adult friends breeds depression, fatigue and fear. A mentor could be valuable to Sue. Someone who has been a single parent and knows the challenges. Same thing with a good friend. Knowing someone in similar circumstances puts your own situation into perspective. Being able to help them, and be helped by them can be beneficial, too. And don't limit the friendship to talking. Cooking an extra meatloaf to share with your friend will relieve their mealtime stress one day! If Sue finds that she's still overwhelmed, she might want to consider sharing housing with another single mother and her children. By sharing cooking, cleaning and shopping chores the two mothers regain some of the advantages of a two parent home. Finally an editorial comment. In recent decades people have laughed at the notion of 'staying together for the children'. After hearing of the struggles of single parents like Sue maybe it's time to reconsider the idea. That isn't to say that people should stay in an abusive relationship. But perhaps trying to tolerate a troubled marriage is less painful and takes less effort than trying to raise children alone after a divorce. Hopefully Sue will find the resources to live comfortably and enjoy the years she spends raising her children. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website www.stretcher.com and newsletters subscribe@stretcher.com Copyright 2003 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. all rights reserved. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconUsing ROI (Return On Investment) at Home The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com Gary, I once read about using ROI to determine whether a certain purchase was saving time, energy, or money. Could you write up a story with the ROI formula and how to use it? Wendy Wendy has a good idea. Adapting business tools to your home finances often helps take the emotion of out of a decision so that you can make a logical choice. The idea of ROI (Return On Investment) is fairly simple. A business investment should save or make money. The ROI calculation is an attempt to determine how much each dollar invested will return. If a business has limited resources only the highest ROI projects would be financed.To calculate the ROI you take the value of the benefits and divide by the value of the costs. When professionals use these tools they'll often use complicated formulas that take into account that having $1 today is worth more than one you won't get until next year. Fortunately, in most home applications that's simply not necessary. Let's suppose that a business could make a $500 investment that would produce $700 of extra profits. The benefits are $200 ($700 extra profits minus $500 invested). Divide the benefits by the investment ($200 / $500 = .4) to get an ROI of 40%.The obvious shortcoming of the model is that you need to make some assumptions as to how much you'll save. So many businesses also consider how long it will take to recover the initial investment. That's called the 'payback period'. Let's see how it works. First, an easy one. You compare the yellow energy efficiency label from your 12-year old refrigerator to one on a brand-new model. According to the labels you should save $65 per year in electricity. The new refrigerator costs $449. If you use the new fridge for 12 years you'll save $780 ($65 x 12 years). So the ROI is 73%. ($780 - $449 = $331 and $331 / $449 = 73%) That's interesting, but should you buy the fridge? You might get a more useful answer by considering the payback period. If you save $65 per year and pay $449 for the refrigerator, it will take 6.9 years before you've recovered the cost of the fridge ($449 / $65 = 6.9 years). So unless you plan on using it for more than 7 years you should pass up the purchase.Next, let's look at a case that most homeowners are familiar with. You've been in your home a couple of years and mortgage rates have dropped. Should you refinance to take advantage of the lower rates? To answer the question let's consider the payback period. Begin with the cost to refinance. That's the investment. Next, how much you'll save each month (AKA: the benefit). Then you can calculate how long it will take to make up the cost. Suppose that refinancing triggers $3,000 in various costs. But, you'd save $125 per month. You could calculate that it would cost you 24 months before you had recovered your investment ($3,000 divided by $125 = 24 months). So if you'll be in the home more than two years it's a good idea to refinance. One final example. You'd like to replace that old 9 MPG gas guzzler. The new car you like gets 23 MPG. With gas prices so high doesn't it make sense to spend $19,000 to trade for the new car? We'll begin by figuring out how much we'd save each year. You drive 18,000 miles each year. So the old car uses 2,000 gallons of gas (18,000 / 9 MPG). At $1.50 per gallon that's $3,000. The new car would only use 782 gallons or $1,174 per year. So you'd save $1,826 per year ($3,000 - $1,174). Your insurance would also drop by $200 per year. That brings the total savings to $2,026 per year. So what's the payback period? Divide the trade-in price of the car ($19,000) by the annual savings ($2,026) and you get 9.3 years. So you can't justify this car trade based on gas savings. You'll notice that in each case you need to think through the process a little. Usually the hardest part is estimating how much you'd save with the new item. Just remember that this isn't an exact science so do the best you can with any assumptions. Many spending decisions are hard to analyze. You can use this same process to calculate whether it's worthwhile buying compact fluorescent bulbs or a new furnace. By breaking a decision down into an ROI or payback type of calculation you'll have a framework for making a better decision. Gary Foreman is a former purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website www.stretcher.com and ezine . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconPiggyback Mortgages and PMI The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com Dear Dollar Stretcher, We have a new home under construction. After paying off debts we don't have enough for the 20% down payment to avoid PMI. I am trying to compare a low fixed rate 30 year mortgage to an 80/15/5 mortgage where the PMI is waived. Is an 80/15/5 mortgage a good deal for the borrower or just for the lender? Most of the info I found was from brokers. It is hard to be too confident about their information since they are selling the product. Rob in Texas Like many people, Rob is anxious to enter the housing market. Low interest rates make mortgages more affordable. But they also drive up housing prices. Which means more people are having trouble saving an adequate down payment. Let's begin with a couple of concepts. Private mortgage insurance (PMI) helps people to buy homes when they have a small down payment. PMI does not protect the homeowner even though they pay for the insurance. It covers the mortgage company if the borrower stops paying. PMI may require an initial payment and/or a regular monthly payment. A smaller down payment means a higher PMI premium. Typically, the homeowner is allowed to cancel PMI after they have equity in their home of 20%. They can build equity by paying down principal or by seeing the value of the home appreciate through rising prices. As you would expect, everyone wants to stop paying for PMI as soon as they can. Which brings us to the "piggyback" or combination mortgage. How does it work? The first mortgage company provides a mortgage for 80% of the property. A second mortgage company that doesn't require PMI grants another mortgage for 15%. That leaves the buyer to come up with the final 5% as a down payment. It's like getting a 95% mortgage without PMI. Thus the 80/15/5 description. There are some variations on the piggyback. Some are 80/10/10. Others even ask the seller to come up with the final 10% so that the buyer needs no money down. Why would Rob use a piggyback? Mortgage payments are tax deductible. PMI payments are not. If you pay off your 2nd mortgage early, you can reduce your monthly payment. Sometimes the seller is willing to carry the second mortgage at rates lower than traditional lenders. But, Rob is right. There are some disadvantages that often get overlooked. Second mortgage rates are typically higher than those charged on first mortgages. It's possible that the combined mortgage payments could be higher than a single mortgage plus PMI payment. The second mortgage will have a second set of costs associated with it. Some even carry a prepayment penalty. And, second mortgage payments will continue until that loan is paid off. PMI can be cancelled when your equity reaches 20%. Rob also should beware of 'balloon payments' on the second mortgage. He may be offered a loan that's amortized over 30 years. In other words, the payments are calculated as if you'll be making them for 30 years. That makes for low monthly payments. But at some point in the future (usually 10, 15 or 20 years) the balance of the loan is due. That balance is the 'balloon'. And the homeowner is required to come up with the cash or refinance at that point. So which is best? In part it will depend on the rates that Rob will be offered on first, second and PMI. He'll also need to consider how long it will be before he has a 20% equity in the home and can cancel PMI. Rob can take that info and estimate what his payments will be in future years. Unfortunately predicting the future isn't an exact science. So there is no one correct answer. Finally, a warning to Rob and others with small down payments. Housing prices can decline. One industry study estimates that there's roughly a 6% chance that housing prices could drop 10% in the next two years. When interest rates rise people will not able to afford as much housing. For instance, if rates rise from 6% to 7%, a buyer can only spend 90% of what he could at the lower rate. So the check that paid for a $200,000 mortgage now becomes the payment for a $180,000 loan. That could hold down home prices. Many people are familiar with the concept of being 'upside down' in a car loan. That's where they owe more money than the car is worth making it difficult to sell or trade the car. Being upside down in a mortgage could be significantly more painful. Imagine that you've lost your job and need to move to a new city to regain employment. But the only way that you can sell your home is to bring a check for $10,000 to the closing because you owe more than it's worth. For many that would be an impossibility. So please move cautiously if you're buying with a minimal down payment. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website: www.stretcher.com and ezines Copyright 2003 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. all rights reserved. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHow Much? The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com I understand that 25% of my monthly income should be for mortgage, taxes and insurance. How much should I plan for the remainder of my budget? There are two of us in our household. Is there a set formula? Also, if I plan to retire in the next 5 years, should I be carrying a mortgage for the sake of a tax write off? Debbie Debbie's first question is a very good one. Knowing how much you can afford to spend in any category is important to a successful financial plan. There is no set formula for dividing up a budget. That's because every family is unique. Housing costs vary by region. Family size and age will effect expenses. So your best plan is to adjust your budget until you find a formula that works for you. And, even then, you'll need to adjust it occasionally as your family circumstances change. A budget shouldn't be a straitjacket. The best use is as a guideline for your expenses and an early warning sign of trouble ahead. A budget can do a great job of telling you where a problem is and can even help you find a solution. The trick is to keep the total spending to less than 100% of your after-tax income. You can spend more than you make if you use credit cards to borrow money. But doing that makes it harder to live within your income the next month. That's because you've accumulated debt that will need to be paid back with interest. The two most common causes for budget failure are housing and automobiles. Both problems are hard to correct. You can't sell a little bit of your home or car. And it's very difficult to save enough in other areas to overcome a big ticket mistake. When you prepare your budget you'll probably have a hard time deciding where to put certain expenses. For instance, dinner with friends could be considered food. Or it could be entertainment. Where you put it is not critical. But, making sure that you don't overspend both food and entertainment is important. OK, so let's look at one possible budget for Debbie. This one uses after-tax income. Housing 30% Auto 15% Food 17% Health Life Insurance 5% Entertainment 7% Clothing 4% Medical 6% Debt Repayment 5% Savings/Investment 5% Misc. 6% How does it work practically? For illustration, let's assume a family income of $60,000 per year after taxes. That may seem like a lot. But, you'd be surprised how quickly you can spend $5,000 per month. If Debbie spent 30% of her income on housing, she'd have $1,500 per month to work with. That would include her mortgage payment, taxes, insurance, maintenance and repairs. Many are tempted to buy a more expensive home. There are even some professionals who advise clients that they'll do fine committing 35% to housing. Often the result is a family struggling with mortgage payments that are too big. And finding an extra 5% in the other categories is often painful. On the other hand, let's suppose that Debbie manages to keep her household expenses to 25% of her income. That will allow her an extra 5% to use in other places. That $250 each month could be used to repay debts, save for retirement or spend however Debbie wanted. A word about automobiles. Trying to fit two car payments into our sample budget could be difficult. Debbie would have $750 per month to spend. Besides any car payments she needs to leave some money for insurance, registration, gasoline, tolls, maintenance or repairs. Realistically to keep two cars on the road, she'll probably spend about $150 to $200 per month above her payments. So Debbie really only has about $550 per month that can go towards car payments. Note that the 'debt repayment' category does not mean making minimum credit card payments. It means repaying previously accumulated debts. You should always plan on paying off any new charges completely in the month that they occur. Ideally, Debbie wouldn't have debts to repay and could allocate 10% for retirement savings. Debbie's second question is easier. No one should be carrying a mortgage for the tax deduction. It's really pretty simple when you cut through the jargon. You borrow money and pay interest on the loan. For every $1 in interest you pay the mortgage company, at tax time you'll deduct $1 from your income. Depending on your tax rate you'll save 15 to 30 cents. Trading 30 cents for a dollar is not a good idea! Some would argue that the money that you don't use to pay your mortgage can be invested to earn more than the mortgage costs you. But you'll need a return that's guaranteed as to principal and earnings for an apples to apples comparison. And with very rare exceptions, you won't find it. For instance, if Debbie has a 5% mortgage and is in the 30% tax bracket the money will cost her 3.5% after taxes. She'd need to find a guaranteed investment that would pay that much after taxes. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website: www.stretcher.com and newsletters Copyright 2003 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHow to Manage Money -Together By Ginita Wall CPA, CFP and Candace Bahr CEA www.wife.org Copyright 2003 "When people argue over money, the argument is likely to have little to do with money. It almost always has to do with issues of control, security, self-esteem, and, above all, love."--Grace Weinstein, authorIn our lives, we are pulled in many directions. We both desire and fear the power of money, and most of us have problems harnessing the positive power of money through regular saving and investing. But that doesn#146;t have to hold you back. Here are ten things you and your spouse can do to foster good money management habits and get your savings on track. Decide together what you want. Many people live from day to day. Unfortunately, they also spend from day to day and build no financial nest egg to see them through. To make progress in saving for the future, approach the future one step at a time.Begin by establishing some short-term financial goals: a vacation next summer, or a new car the year after that. A desirable short-term goal can be the carrot-on-a-stick encouragement you need to start a savings plan and take additional steps toward financial security. Build for your future together. As children, we learned about Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, who were saved from peril by their charming princes and lived happily ever after. As adults, we all entertain the fantasy of financial rescue at some point in our lives. That#146;s why lotteries are so compelling, despite the odds. Although the fantasy of financial rescue is entertaining, it can become a barrier to accomplishment. Take serious steps toward providing for your own financial future, beginning right now to create goals based on your current income and financial situation.If your fantasy comes true, so much the better, but if it doesn#146;t, the two of you will have done what was needed to take care of yourselves financially. Make a financial commitment to each other and your marriage. Many people tell themselves that they will begin to save when their income rises, but few ever do. Unless you put yourself first, when you make more, your expenses will inevitably rise to meet your income and nothing will be left for you. Persuade yourself that you deserve to keep a portion of your income for you and your future. Once you truly believe that, make a commitment to set aside 5 or 10 percent of all the money you receive in a special account that#146;s just for you. Just as some people tithe to church or charity, so should you tithe to yourself. You#146;re worth it. Learn about your finances together. Most people learn little at home or in school about money, investment, and personal finance, and those people rarely seek formal training in finance as adults. Begin by learning about your personal income and expenses. Find out where your money goes by tracking last year#146;s expenses, and then decide where to trim. Here are some spending guidelines: 35 to 40 percent of your take-home pay is probably spent on housing costs 10 to 15 percent goes for food Your car payments shouldn#146;t exceed 10 to 15 percent of your income Another 15 to 20 percent might be spent on variable expenses, such as household repair, recreation, and clothing 5 to 10 percent of your budget should go for insurance premiums and property taxes 5 to 10 percent of your income should be deposited to your savings. Start right now. Procrastinators put off saving, or go on spending binges as soon as they accumulate much of a nest egg. To overcome financial procrastination, begin by setting some minor goals, such as reading one article or newspaper column a week on financial matters, then add more substantial goals, such as devoting three hours to preparing a budget and an hour or two a month to monitoring spending.Work together to develop financial knowledge and confidence, and soon you will find yourself gliding painlessly into the world of finance, and you will be ready to begin your savings plan. Explore your money issues together. Carefully examine your early teachings about money to see if you can find clues that are sabotaging you financially. As a child, were you taught not to envy those who were better off? Did you family teach you that money is the root of all evil? Was money used to reward or punish in your family? Did you have enough, or were you constantly afraid? As you work to build a financial future together, it is important that you each understand your deep-rooted attitudes toward money, and the attitudes of your spouse. That will reduce conflicts over money matters, and help you succeed financially. Balance the financial power in your relationship. Women are sometimes balanced between wanting the right to control their own lives and make their own choices, and the need to rely on others and be comforted and loved, and to provide a nurturing environment for their families.Men are confused as well. They have been raised to show love and affection through providing financial support. If a woman does not need financial support, some men are in a quandary: What do women want from them? Yet if their spouse wants to quit her job to take care of the family, they are afraid she#146;ll become too dependent on him, and he#146;ll sacrifice his freedom. Discuss together the roles that each of you will play in earning, managing and spending money. Talk about how you each feel in the roles you choose, and how money affects your relationship. Don#146;t shy away from discussing the power and freedom that money brings. Discussing money matters openly will help foster a healthy relationship you both can cherish. Take action, one step at a time. Some people have no interest in dealing with their personal finances. They know little about money, and find the subject uninteresting and boring. To deal with money matters when you haven#146;t the time or interest, break your financial tasks into manageable portions. For example:if your goal is to amass $1 million, it may seem overwhelming at first. But though $1 million sounds like a lot, it#146;s really just $1,000 multiplied by 1,000. If you could save $1,000 a thousand times, you#146;d be a millionaire, and it is even easier than that, because money begets more money through compounding. As you seek out ways to create your nest egg $1,000 at a time, you will become more familiar with the world of money, and that will make it more interesting as well. Understand the risks and rewards of the Money Game. Did you play Monopoly as a child? The grown-up money game, Working-Investing-and-Retirement, is a lot like Monopoly, but the stakes are higher.Most people play the real-life money game too conservatively, even if they were risk-takers in juvenile games. Others are too aggressive in real life, investing in outlandish get-rich-quick schemes. Risks and reward work in tandem: the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward. Assess your personal risk tolerance and follow your intuitions. By learning about investment risk and reward, and combining that knowledge with basic intuitive skills, you can invest wisely for your financial future. Accept your imperfections, and those of your spouse. Some people want to pin down every detail before making any decision about money. But perfectionism delays financial success. Emphasize action: Don#146;t wait until you are fully educated in finance to start saving, or you will never begin. Begin saving now, then start an investment program using mutual funds.Making financial decisions creates the possibility of mistakes, it is true. But fortunately, in most financial situations, there are a wide range of right decision and only a narrow band of decisions that are decidedly wrong.You don#146;t need to know how to pick the exact right investment, only how to avoid those that don#146;t suit your financial needs. (Note from Candace: We started the non-profit Women#146;s Institute for Financial Education in 1988 when we realized there was very little reliable, independent financial education and advice for women. The acronym W-I-F-E is intentional. After all, it is usually the wife in a relationship who councils and empowers, listens and advises, and offers comfort when needed. Our mission is to empower women to succeed and prosper #150; we are here as your support and guides. Our new concept, The Money Club ( www.themoneyclub.org ) offers an exciting new way to help yourself and your friends learn about money. It#146;s completely free, non-fattening, and will give you a chance to hang out with your friends.) Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconWork Less and Earn More by Joan Sotkin Mary B. is a talented graphic artist. For years, she worked for a large corporation where her work was appreciated. Yet she yearned to be in business for herself. In September, 1995, she took the plunge and opened an independent graphic arts studio. Unlike many new entrepreneurs, Mary had a large enough bank account to survive for six months with a minimum amount of income. She also had many contacts from the corporate world that she could use to establish her customer base. Mary was in great shape to start her own business. Mary knew she was in a good position for success. She was also very conscientious and wanted to make sure that she did everything possible to make her business work. She put in long hours on the phone, going to networking meetings and planning her marketing. She wrote articles for local publications, volunteered her time when she had something to offer, and even appeared as a guest on a local talk show that had a business focus. When she did work for a client, Mary often worked to exhaustion to get the job done as quickly as possible. Mary began to realize that something was out of balance. Her whole life was wrapped around her business, and, although she had created a positive cash flow, she was no where near her earning potential. After a year in business, she was exhausted and constantly worried about where her next client was coming from. What Mary needed was to learn to let go and allow her life to happen -- rather than pushing to make it happen. She also needed to see her work as something she did during the day and not what defined her as a person. Although it was scary at first, Mary learned to set boundaries. She established specific hours that she would work. During the week, she limited herself to eight or nine work-related hours per day. Weekends were for her, not for the business, unless she chose to take a day off during the week. She set aside days that were specifically for her spiritual growth. During these days, business of any sort was entirely off limits.During the hours designated for work, Mary often took people breaks: having lunch with a friend, meeting with another graphic artist, talking to a far-away friend. She learned to have short breaks within her workday when she would focus on something other than her work. Mary also learned to spend 10 to 15 minutes each morning and 20 to 30 minutes every night, sitting quietly and letting her mind slow down. After a few months, she began doing specific meditation techniques. Because Mary had more time for herself, she started exercising regularly and found her energy levels increased rapidly. The big change for Mary was learning to let go in order for her business to take shape by itself. If she really wanted to go to networking meetings to be with other people she did. But she didn't push as hard to get new clients. Whenever she felt the fear of not earning enough coming up, she learned to take deep breaths and not take any overt action. Mary was amazed at the results of her new approach to life. It didn't take long for enjoyable projects to come her way. New clients started coming as a result of referrals rather than her marketing efforts. Within a few months, she was able to vendor out some of the work that came her way so that she could earn more without putting in extra hours. Mary also noticed that her business was moving in a new direction -- one she could not have foreseen if she kept plugging away and doing everything she thought she had to do before. Mary learned to take care of herself and her life became a reflection of that care. The less she pushed to make her business happen, the easier it was for it to support her. Mary's new-found trust in herself and how life works paid off for her. Mary never stopped paying attention to her business. She also had clear income goals and a picture in her mind of what she wanted her life to look like. What she stopped doing was pushing to create what she wanted in the way she thought she had to do it. She let herself believe that she could have what she wanted and let her life take shape. When we aim for a goal, if we don't take pauses in order for the energy of our life to reshape itself, everything we do comes from a previously known point of view. In order for something new to take form, we have to give it time for the energies to gather -- and shape themselves. What we have to do is not do anything and give our creation room to breathe. It may look like goofing off, but there is a lot going on deep within our creative being. Try taking longer pauses in your life. If you find the concept frightening, ask yourself what you are afraid of. Don't let the actions you take come from fear. Let them come from knowing that the action is the right one to take. That knowing can only come from a silent space that you create by not doing. Joan Sotkin is the creator of ProsperityPlace.com , author of "Build Your Money Muscles:9 Simple Exercises for Creating Wealth Prosperity" and "Prosperity Is an Inside Job" and publisher of Prosperity Tips, a free monthly ezine. Visit ProsperityPlace.com .Copyright copy;2003 by Joan Sotkin. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconTop 10 Things You Can Do to Insure Your Prosperity by Joan Sotkin Be Positive. It's a known fact that optimists live longer and do better than pessimists. Practice seeing the positive side of everything. Become aware of any fears you may have about trusting in a positive outcome. Examine Your Values. Find out what really matters to you so you can use your personal values as a guide for planning your life. Support yourself by honoring your values. Use Your Values As a Guide for Your Actions. There's a saying that I like -- If one of us has to be uncomfortable, it doesn't have to be me. If you are ever asked to act against your own values, don't do it. This takes courage, and you will probably have to work through some fears, but do it! Strive to Increase Your Levels of Awareness. Awareness is the first step in the process of change. If you are going to change your life position, then it is important to take an inventory of where you are now. This means looking at the condition of your home, possessions and relationships as well as being very conscious of where you are now financially. Vagueness is a serious impediment to prosperity. Be Willing to Step Outside of YOUR Box. If you keep on doing what you've been doing, you will keep on getting what you've been getting. If you are uncomfortable in any area of your life, then you will need to do something different in order to change. Take Care of Yourself. If you don't support and take care of yourself, others won't do it for you. The more you nourish yourself with what you actually need, the easier it will be to create a comfortable lifestyle. A comfortable body/mind/spirit reflects itself in prosperity. Take Care of Your Money. Balance your checkbook, post your sales, keep track of what you spend and earn. Money, like people, goes to those who nourish and care for it. If you don't learn to take care of your money, when you start earning more, it will overwhelm you. Every dollar is a decision and it's easier to learn to make financial decisions when there is less to deal with. Keep Learning about Money Management. Money is a powerful force that requires skill to handle it. A lot of people are intimidated by the whole money arena because they've never learned about it before. It is never too late to start and there are many good resources and books for beginners that will introduce you to the principles of investing and money management. Take Responsibility for Your Personal Power. It really bugs me when I hear people say things like, "I guess God (or any variation thereof) dosn't want me to have money now." I firmly believe that we create our own reality with our thoughts, beliefs and emotions (TBEs). Prosperity requires a willingness to no longer be dependent on others or to be a victim of circumstances. The principles we teach require a willingness to take responsibility for creating your own life -- and your prosperity. Take Action. Sitting still won't get you anywhere but where you are already. Small actions that move you closer to your goal of increased prosperity will move you along the path. Take small steps, but take them. For example, save a few dollars, read a book like Learn to Earn by Peter Lynch, balance your checkbook (if you don't normally do that), set realistic short-term financial goals, evaluate your life, add healthier foods to your diet. It's a good idea to get a buddy and make changes together. Talking about what you plan and the actions you are taking reinforces your resolve. Joan Sotkin is the creator of ProsperityPlace.com , author of "Build Your Money Muscles: 9 Simple Exercises for Creating Wealth Prosperity" and "Prosperity Is an Inside Job" and publisher of Prosperity Tips, a free monthly e-zine. Visit ProsperityPlace.com . Copyright copy; 2003 by Joan Sotkin. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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