Category Archives: Finance

Saving Money Is Important

If you don’t earn much and you can barely pay your bills, the idea of saving money might seem laughable. When you only have $5 left at the end of the month, why even bother to try saving? Because everyone has to start somewhere, and if you work at it, your financial situation is likely to improve over time. Saving money is worth the effort. It gives you peace of mind, it gives you options, and the more you save, the easier it becomes to accumulate additional savings.

Peace of Mind
Who hasn’t lain awake at 3:00 a.m. wondering how they were going to afford something they needed? If money is really tight, you might be wondering how you’re going to pay the rent next week. If you’re a little further up the financial ladder, you might worried about how many months you could pay the bills for if you lost your job. Later in life, the money thoughts that keep you up at night might center around paying for your kids to go to college or having enough money to retire.

As you accumulate savings, your financial worries should diminish, as long as you’re living within your means and not always looking for new things to worry about. If you already have next month’s rent taken care of by the first week of the current month, if you know you can get by without work for three to six months, if you have savings accounts for your children’s education and your own retirement that you’re regularly funding, you’ll sleep better at night. The reduced stress from having money in the bank frees up your energy for more enjoyable thoughts and activities.

Expanded Options
The more money you have saved, the more you control your own destiny. If your job has you on the verge of a nervous breakdown, you can quit even if you don’t have a new job lined up yet and take time off to restore your sanity before you look for new employment. If you’re tired of living in an unsafe neighborhood, you can move to a safer area because you’ll have enough for a deposit on a better apartment or a down payment on a nicer home.

If you get sick and need expensive healthcare that your insurance doesn’t cover, you’ll have a way to pay for it even though you can’t work while you’re getting treatment. And knowing that you have options because of the money you’ve socked away can give you even more peace of mind.

No, money doesn’t solve every problem. It you are laid off, it might take as long as two years to find a new job. Some illnesses won’t go away no matter how many procedures you can afford, and random crime can happen even in a supposedly secure gated community. But with more money in the bank to deal with issues like these, you give yourself better odds of coming out on top.

Money Working for You
Most of us put in hundreds of hours of work each year to earn most of our money. But when you have savings and stash your funds in the right places, your money starts to work for you. Over time, you’ll need to work less and less as your money works more and more, and eventually, you might be able to stop working altogether.

What does it mean to have your money working for you? When you’re first starting to save, you’ll want to put your money somewhere safe, where you can access it right away for unforeseen expenses. That means an online savings account, where you might earn 1% interest annually and not even keep up with inflation, which tends to run around 2% to 3% per year. You’ll even have to pay taxes on your meager 1% earnings. Anything is better than earning 0%, though, or not having savings and going into credit card debt, which will cost you 10% to 30% in interest per year.

Once you’ve saved three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund, you can start saving money in a tax-advantaged retirement account. That’s where the magic starts to happen. These accounts, such as a Roth IRA or 401(k), allow you to invest in the stock market. If you do it right, you’ll earn about 8% per year on average over the long run. You won’t pay any taxes on those investment gains along the way, which will help your money grow even faster. With a Roth IRA, you contribute after-tax dollars, and everything that’s in the account after that is yours to keep. With a 401(k), you get to contribute before-tax dollars, giving you more money to invest up front; you’ll pay taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement. (If you’re not sure whether it’s better to pay taxes now or later, you can hedge your bets and contribute to both your employer-sponsored retirement plan and a Roth IRA.) The third choice, a traditional IRA, allows you to contribute before-tax dollars as you do with a 401(k).

If you have a high income and low expenses, you might accumulate enough to retire in 10 years. For most people, it takes closer to 40 years. But at some point, if you save and invest regularly, you should be able to live off the income generated by your investments – the saved money that’s working for you. The earlier you start, the more time a small amount of money has to grow large through the miracle of compounding.

More Information About 6 Financial Lessons

When you hit your thirties, you might still feel young and invincible. The scary truth is that you are halfway to retirement. It is time to put the money foolhardiness of your twenties behind you and master these top financial habits.

1. Actually Stick to a Budget
Most twenty-somethings have played around with the idea of a budget, have used a budgeting app and have even read an article or two about the importance of creating a budget. However, very few individuals actually stick to a budget. Once you turn 30, it’s time to ditch the wishy-washy process of budgeting and start allocating where every dollar you earn goes. This means that if you only want to spend $15 a week on coffee runs, you’ll have to cut yourself off after your third latte for the week.

The overall point of budgeting is to know where your money goes in order to make sound decisions. Keep in mind that one dollar here and one dollar there adds up in time. It’s fine to spend money on shopping or fun trips, as long as these purchases fit into your budget and don’t detract from your saving goals. Knowing your spending habits will help you discover where you can cut expenses and how you can save more money in a retirement fund or money market account.

2. Stop Spending Your Whole Paycheck
The wealthiest individuals in the world did not get where they are today by spending their entire paycheck each month. In fact, many self-made millionaires spend their income modestly, according to Thomas J. Stanley’s book “The Millionaire Next Door.” Stanley’s book found that the majority of self-made millionaires drove used cars and lived in average-priced housing. He also found that those who drove expensive cars and wore expensive clothing were actually drowning in debt; their pricey lifestyles could not keep up with their paychecks.

Start by living off of 90% of your income and save the other 10%. Having that money automatically deducted from your paycheck and put in a retirement savings account ensures you will not miss it. Gradually increase the amount you save while decreasing the amount you live off of. Ideally, learn to live off of 60% to 80% of your paycheck while saving and investing the remaining 20% to 40%.

3. Get Real About Your Financial Goals
What are your financial goals? Really sit down and think about them. Write them out and figure out how to make them a reality. You are less likely to achieve any goal if you do not write it down and create a concrete plan. For example, if you want to vacation in Italy, then stop daydreaming about it and make a game plan. Do your research to discover how much the vacation will cost, then calculate how much money you will have to save per month. Your dream vacation can be a reality within a year or two if you take the right planning and saving steps. The same is true for other lofty financial goals, such as paying off your debt or saving enough money for a down payment.

4. Figure Out Your Debt Situation
Many individuals become complacent about their debt once they hit their thirties. For those with student loans, mortgages, credit card debt and auto loans, repaying debt has become another way of life. You might even view debt as normal. The truth is that you do not need to live your whole life paying off debt. Assess how much debt you have outside of your mortgage and create a budget that helps you avoid gaining any more debt.

There are many methods to pay off debt, but the snowball effect is popular for keeping individuals motivated. Write down all of your debts from smallest to greatest, regardless of the interest rate. Pay the minimum payment for all of your debts, except for the smallest one. For the smallest debt, throw as much money as you can at it each month. The goal is to get that small debt paid off within a few months and then move on to the next debt.

Paying off your debts will have a significant impact on your finances. You will have more breathing room in your budget, and you will have more money freed up for savings and financial goals.

5. Establish a Strong Emergency Fund
An emergency fund is important to the health of your finances. If you do not have an emergency fund, then you are going to be more likely to dip into savings or rely on credit cards to help you pay for unplanned car repairs and health expenses. The first step is to build your emergency fund to $1,000. That is the minimum your account should have. By putting $50 of each paycheck in your emergency fund, you will hit the $1,000 emergency fund goal within 10 months. After that, set incremental goals for yourself depending on your monthly expenses. Some financial advisors recommend having the equivalent of three months living expenses in the fund – other recommend six months. Of course, how much you are able to save will depend on your financial situation.

6. Don’t Forget Retirement
Most people either enter their 30s without having a single dime contributed to their retirement, or they are making the minimum contributions. If you want that million-dollar nest egg, you have to put in the savings now. Stop waiting for a promotion or more wiggle room in your budget. In your 30s, you still have time on your side, so don’t waste it. Make sure that you are benefiting from your company’s matching contribution. Many companies will match your contributions up to a certain percentage. As long as you stay with your company long enough to become vested, this is basically free money for your retirement – and the earlier you start, the more you’ll earn in interest!

Should Know About A Financial Planning Checklist

While everybody’s financial situation is different, there are some options and strategies that can be used by all to get on the right financial path.

Financial Fundamentals
Develop a budget and stick with it: When making a budget it is important to develop a realistic one and stick with it. You need to decide how much you can afford to spend and what you should be saving each month. To be financially independent, it is important to start making wise choices early on in order to develop a habit of staying within your budget.

Figure out your credit score: Do you know what your credit score is and how much it can affect you in various areas of your life? How do you build credit in a responsible way to make sure there are no surprises down the road? There are ways for you to check your credit score. Visit one of the three reporting agencies for more information.

Money Saving Tips
Employee benefits: What benefits do you currently have and what benefits are offered at your job? Are you contributing enough to your retirement plan to get the full employer match? What other savings can you get by participating in the other benefits offered to you? Speak to your human resources department to make sure you understand all the benefits available to you.

Emergency fund: Do you currently have an emergency fund? Have you thought about what would happen if your car broke down tomorrow? What if it was something bigger? Most financial professionals recommend three to six months of your monthly expenses to be saved in a liquid account that you can access when you need it.

Pay back loans: When creating a budget, make sure you include any loans that you currently have. When looking at the amount to pay each month try to allocate a slightly higher amount than the required minimum payments. This could possibly save you money by lowering the amount of interest you could be paying.

Set up a savings account(s): Do you have a large purchase in your future? Think about setting up a separate savings account to start saving for any dreams or goals you might have. This helps to separate your money so you can see the progress you are making towards your purchase without tapping into your emergency fund. This can be beneficial if you are looking at purchasing a house as you will most likely need a down payment. (For related reading, see: 10 Ways to Effectively Save for the Future.)

Establish relationships with various insurance and financial professionals: In your 20s it is important to start developing these relationships because you will need various types of insurance and guidance to help you manage the risk that will be encountering on your own. Insurance professionals will ensure you and your possessions are covered, while a financial professional will help you with various financial strategies to help you achieve financial independence.

Set Long-Term Financial Goals
Start saving for retirement: Retirement might seem like a long way away, but it is never too early to start looking at the various retirement options you have. Taking part in the retirement options you have at work are a great start but for some people, it might make sense to look at alternative investments outside of work, such as a traditional IRA. If you qualify based on your income, a Roth IRA can be a great way to start saving for retirement outside of the workplace because it offers tax-free withdrawals during retirement.* You should talk to your financial professional about the different options that are available.

Develop goals and write them down: In your 20s everything can be changing so fast that you don’t know where to start. A great thing to do is sit down and start coming up with some goals. Break these down into short, mid and long-term goals. This helps by giving you some direction in your life. Focus on your goals and make sure what you are doing every day is keeping you on the right track to achieve them. (For more, see: Want to Be Financially Fit in 2017? Use These Tips.)

Guidelines to Achieve Success
Consider saving 30% of your income: This might seem like a lot starting out, but it is important to save for the various aspects of your life. Consider saving 10% for retirement, 10% towards your emergency fund and 10% towards any large purchases you might have coming up.

Have an emergency fund: It is extremely important to set up your emergency fund and not touch it unless needed for an emergency. This fund will help give you the peace of mind that if something were to happen, you can take care of yourself. Try to get six months of your living expenses saved up.

Minimize credit card debt: Credit cards can have high interest rates that can really cost you a lot of money in the long term. Try to pay off your credit cards every month or, if you have to carry a balance, try to keep it under your credit limit.

Buying a vehicle: When buying a car consider putting down a significant down payment. When financing the car consider doing so for no more than four years and spending no more than 10% of your gross income on car payments. If you are buying a new car, consider driving it for 10 years to maximize the car’s value and to limit the loss due to depreciation.

Buying a home: Like buying a car, put down at least 20% as a down payment on a new home. This will help you to lower the monthly mortgage cost, help your chances of getting a favorable loan and also make sure you don’t spend more on your home than you can afford. Some financial professionals will advise you to keep the total cost of your home under two or three year’s worth of annual income.

Best Financial Advice You Need in Your 30s

Now that you’re in your 30s, your career is a bit more established and your personal life may be more complex if marriage and kids have entered the picture. You (hopefully) are no longer living paycheck-to-paycheck, but aren’t sure what to do with your extra cash. When you have kids, debt, and your retirement to fund, where is the best place to put your money to work? Someone keeps calling you about buying an annuity or whole life insurance policy. Should you listen to what they have to say?

As a general rule, it’s good to put 50% of your paycheck toward your necessities (including all types of insurance), 30% toward your wants (like cable, dining out, and travel) and 20% toward savings (including paying down debt). (For related reading, see: The Financial Advice You Need in Your 20s.)

You may be able to contribute to all the items listed below. However, if you have to prioritize where to invest your limited resources, review my comments on each item then decide what works best for you.

Necessities:
Life Insurance – If someone is depending on your salary (i.e. kids, elderly parents, or spouse), consider buying term life insurance. It’s relatively cheap and you’re less likely to have health issues now that may prevent you from being insurable later. If you have kids, this is a must. At a minimum, have enough coverage to pay their expenses until age 18. Whole life policies or annuities tend to combine life insurance with investing and charge a high fee to do so. Instead, just buy term life insurance and invest the rest of your money on your own.

Disability Insurance – What would you do if you could no longer work? Could your spouse cover all the household expenses? Could someone else step in to help? If not, consider buying long-term disability insurance. It’s better to get some coverage outside of work, but if you can only get some through work that’s better than nothing. The reason it’s better to have coverage outside of work is if you develop a medical condition that makes it impossible to get insurance, then you leave your company, you will no longer be covered.
Other Insurance – Try to bundle your car/renters/homeowners/umbrella insurance at one company to take advantage of reduced rates. Also, if you get married be sure to pass that information along to your insurance agent for possible lower premiums.
Wants:
Saving for a down payment on a house – This could be part of your “savings” but I’d rather you categorize it as a “want.” Cut back on some of your non-essential expenses to work toward your worthwhile goal of homeownership. Consider opening a separate savings account called something like “My First House” and have a certain amount of each paycheck automatically deposited into it. I recommend a savings account over an investment account because it has no chance of declining in value. (For related reading, see: How to Start Saving for a House.)
Savings:
1. 401(k) with company match – This is a no-brainer. Free money is free money. Contribute to your 401(k) at least up to the point you get your company match. Some companies give you an option to automatically increase your contribution each year. If your company offers this then sign up. You probably won’t notice any change to your paycheck, but it’ll have a huge impact on the size of your account on the day you retire.
2. Pay off high-interest credit card debt – After contributing enough to your company retirement plan to get that free money, focus the rest of your savings allocation on paying off your debt as quickly as possible. Pay the minimum each month for all your cards except for the one that charges the highest interest rate. For that one, pay off as much as you can afford each month. Once that one is paid off, focus on paying off the card with the next highest rate. Continue this strategy until all credit cards are paid off. (For related reading, see: Expert Tips for Cutting Credit Card Debt.)
3. Student loan debt – Although I’m listing it here, this shouldn’t necessarily be your next highest priority. If you’ve got a low-interest loan it might make sense to make your monthly payments but not pay it off early. However, if you have a high-interest student loan pay it off as soon as possible. Remember, student loan debt is one of the few debts not forgiven when filing for bankruptcy. (A Note on Debt: The only new debt you should accumulate is a mortgage. Yes, this includes buying a car. If you don’t have the funds to buy a new car without a loan, it’s probably a car you can’t afford.)
4. Roth IRA – Contributing now, while you’re likely in a lower tax bracket than you will be later in your career, allows you to grow your investments tax-free for a very long time. The longer you hold your Roth, the longer the power of compounding works in your favor. Also, as you get older you may make too much money to be allowed to contribute to a Roth. (2016 Roth contribution limit for those under 50 is $5,500.)
5. 401(k) with no company match – If you’ve contributed as much as you can to your Roth IRA, then by all means continue to contribute to your company’s 401(k) until you reach your yearly contribution limit ($18,000 in 2016 for those under 50). It’s still a good deal since the taxes are deferred until you take the money out in retirement.
6. 529 College Savings Plans for your kids’ college – Yes, this should be your lowest priority. Although it’s great if you have enough money to fund your kids’ college education, it has to take a back seat to funding your retirement. Your kids can get a loan to pay for college, but you can’t get a loan to pay for retirement.

Should Know About Setting Financial Goals for Your Future

Setting short-term, mid-term and long-term financial goals is an important step toward becoming financially secure. If you aren’t working toward anything specific, you’re likely to spend more than you should. You’ll then come up short when you need money for unexpected bills, not to mention when you want to retire. You might get stuck in a vicious cycle of credit card debt and feel like you never have enough cash to get properly insured, leaving you more vulnerable than you need to be to some of life’s major risks.

Annual financial planning gives you an opportunity to formally review your goals, update them (if necessary) and review your progress since last year. If you’ve never set goals before, this planning period gives you the opportunity to formulate them for the first time so that you can get – or stay – on firm financial footing (see How can I set financial goals for the future for more on this).

Here are goals, from near-term to distant, that financial experts recommend setting to help you learn to live comfortably within your means and reduce your money troubles.

Setting Short-Term Financial Goals
Setting short-term financial goals can give you the confidence boost and foundational knowledge you need to achieve larger goals that will take more time. These first steps are relatively easy to achieve. While you can’t make $2 million appear in your retirement account right now, you can sit down and create a budget in a few hours, and you can probably save a decent emergency fund in a year. Here are some key short-term financial goals that will not only start helping you right away, but will also get you on track to achieving your mid- and long-term financial goals.

• Establish a budget.

“You can’t know where you are going until you really know where you are right now. That means setting up a budget,” says Lauren Zangardi Haynes, a fee-only financial planner with Evolution Advisers in Midlothian, Va. “You might be shocked at how much money is slipping through the cracks each month.”

An easy way to track your spending is to use a free budgeting program like Mint (see Mint.com: Top Free Money-Tracking Tools). It will compile the information from all your accounts into one place and let you label each expense by category. But you can also create a budget the old-fashioned way by going through your bank statements and bills from the last few months and categorizing each expense with a spreadsheet or even on paper.

You might discover that going out to eat with your coworkers every day is costing you $315 a month, at $15 a meal for 21 workdays. You might learn that you’re spending another $100 per weekend going out to eat with your significant other. Once you see how you are spending your money, you can make better decisions, guided by that information, about where you want your money to go in the future. Are the enjoyment and convenience of eating out worth $715 a month to you? If so, great – as long as you can afford it. If not, you’ve just discovered an easy way to save money every month: You can look for ways to spend less when you dine out, substitute some restaurant meals for homemade ones or do a combination of the two.

Creating a budget also allows you to see what your essential expenses are, how your spending compares with your income, where you might be able to cut back and how much you can save each month.

• Create an emergency fund.

An emergency fund is money you set aside specifically to pay for unexpected expenses so you don’t have to do things like avoid going to the doctor when you’re sick or drive around with an engine that keeps overheating. To get started, $500 to $1,000 is a good goal. Once you meet that goal, you’ll want to expand it so your emergency fund can cover larger financial difficulties, like unemployment.

Ilene Davis, a certified financial planner™ with Financial Independence Services in Cocoa, Fla., recommends saving at least three months’ worth of expenses to cover your financial obligations and basic needs, but preferably six months’ worth, especially if you are married and work for the same company as your spouse or if you work in an area with limited job prospects. She says finding at least one thing in your budget to cut back on can help fund your emergency savings.

Another way to build emergency savings is through decluttering and organizing, says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix sales and operations with Freedom Financial Network, an online financial service for consumer debt settlement, mortgage shopping and personal loans. You can make extra money by selling unneeded items on eBay or Craigslist or holding a yard sale. Consider turning a hobby into part-time work where you can devote that income to savings.

Zangardi Haynes recommends opening a savings account and setting up an automatic transfer for the amount you’ve determined you can save each month (using your budget) until you hit your emergency fund goal. “If you get a bonus, tax refund or even an ‘extra’ monthly paycheck – which happens two months out of the year if you are paid biweekly – save that money as soon as it comes into your checking account. If you wait until the end of the month to transfer that money, the odds are high that it will get spent instead of saved,” she says.

While you probably have other savings goals, too, like saving for retirement, creating an emergency fund should be a top priority. It’s the savings account that creates the financial stability you need to achieve your other goals. If you have to charge every unexpected car repair to a credit card and pay it off over time with interest, you’re losing more to the credit card company every month than you can possibly gain with even the most aggressive investments in a retirement account.

• Pay off credit cards.

Experts disagree on whether to pay off credit card debt or create an emergency fund first. Some say that you should create an emergency fund even if you still have credit card debt because without an emergency fund, any unexpected expense will send you further into credit card debt. Others say you should pay off credit card debt first because the interest is so costly that it makes achieving any other financial goal much more difficult. Pick the philosophy that makes the most sense to you, or do a little of both at the same time.

As a strategy for paying off credit card debt, Davis recommends listing all your debts by interest rate from lowest to highest, then paying only the minimum on all but your highest-rate debt. Use any additional funds you have to make extra payments on your highest-rate card.

The method Davis describes is called the debt avalanche. Another method to consider is called the debt snowball. With the snowball method, you pay off your debts in order of smallest to largest, regardless of interest rate. The idea is that the sense of accomplishment you get from paying off the smallest debt will give you the momentum to tackle the next-smallest debt, and so on until you’re debt free.

Zangardi Haynes says you will likely have to cut spending to pay down debt, and the best categories to consider cutting are dining out, clothing, gifts, extracurricular activities for the kids, hobbies and vacations.

Gallegos says debt negotiation or settlement is an option for those with $10,000 or more in unsecured debt (such as credit card debt) who can’t afford the required minimum payments. Companies that offer these services are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and work on the consumer’s behalf to cut debt by as much as 50% in exchange for a fee, typically a percentage of the total debt or a percentage of the amount of debt reduction, which the consumer should only pay after a successful negotiation. Consumers can get out of debt in two to four years this way, Gallegos says. The drawbacks are that debt settlement can hurt your credit score and creditors can take legal action against consumers for unpaid accounts. Still, it can be a better option than bankruptcy, which should be a last resort because it destroys your credit rating for up to 10 years.
Setting Mid-Term Financial Goals
Once you’ve created a budget, established an emergency fund and paid off your credit card debt – or at least made a good dent in those three short-term goals – it’s time to start working toward mid-term financial goals. These goals will create a bridge between your short- and long-term financial goals.

• Get life insurance and disability income insurance.

Do you have a spouse or children who depend on your income? If so, you need life insurance to provide for them in case you pass away prematurely. Term life insurance is the least complicated and least expensive type of life insurance and will meet most people’s insurance needs. An insurance broker can help you find the best price on a policy. Most term life insurance requires medical underwriting, and unless you are seriously ill, you can probably find at least one company that will offer you a policy.

Gallegos also says you should have disability insurance in place to protect your income while you are working (see What is disability-income insurance?). “Most employers provide this coverage,” he says. “If they don’t, individuals can obtain it themselves until retirement age.”

Disability insurance will replace a portion of your income if you become seriously ill or injured to the point where you can’t work. It can provide a larger benefit than Social Security disability income, allowing you (and your family, if you have one) to live more comfortably than you otherwise could if you lose your ability to earn an income. There will be a waiting period between the time you become unable to work and the time your insurance benefits will start to pay out, which is another reason why having an emergency fund is so important.

• Pay off student loans.

Student loans are a major drag on many people’s monthly budgets. Lowering or getting rid of those payments can free up cash that will make it easier to save for retirement and meet your other goals. One strategy that can help you pay off your student loans is refinancing into a new loan with a lower interest rate. But beware: If you refinance federal student loans with a private lender, you may lose some of the benefits associated with federal student loans, such as income-based repayment, deferment and forbearance, which can help if you fall on hard times.

If you have multiple student loans and won’t stand to benefit from consolidating or refinancing them, the debt avalanche or debt snowball methods can help you pay them off faster.

• Think about your dreams.

Mid-term goals can also include goals like buying a first home or, later on, a vacation home. Or it could be a boat on which you will take long vacations, now or sometime in the future. Maybe you already have a home and want to upgrade it with a major renovation – or start saving for a larger place. College for your children or grandchildren – or even saving for when you do have children – are other examples of mid-term goals.

Once you’ve set one or more of these goals, start figuring out how much you need to save to make a dent in reaching it. Fantasizing about the type of future you want is the first step toward achieving it.

Setting Long-Term Financial Goals
The biggest long-term financial goal for most people is saving enough money to retire. The common rule of thumb that you should save 10% to 15% of every paycheck in a tax-advantaged retirement account like a 401(k), 403(b) or Roth IRA is a good first step. But to make sure you’re really saving enough, you need to figure out how much you’ll actually need to retire.

• Estimate your retirement needs.

Oscar Vives Ortiz, a CPA financial planner with First Home Investment Services in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area, says you can do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation to estimate your retirement readiness.

1. Estimate your desired annual living expenses during retirement.

The budget you created when you started on your short-term financial goals will give you an idea of how much you need. You may need to plan for higher healtcare expenses in retirement.

2. Subtract income you (and your spouse) will receive. Include Social Security, retirement plans and pensions. This will leave you with the amount that needs to be funded by your investment portfolio.

3. Estimate how much in retirement assets you will have at your desired retirement date. Base this on what you currently have and are saving on an annual basis. (An online retirement calculator can do the math for you.) If 4% or less of this balance at the time of retirement covers the remaining amount of expenses that your combined Social Security and pensions do not cover, you are on track to retire.

Why 4%? “If you look at the safe withdrawal research, 4% was found to be the highest initial withdrawal rate that has survived all historical periods in U.S. market history, assuming a diversified portfolio of stocks and intermediate government bonds,” Vives Ortiz says. For example, if you started with a portfolio of $1,000,000 and withdrew $40,000 in year one (4% of $1 million) then increased the withdrawal by the rate of inflation each subsequent year ($40,000 plus 2% in year two, or $40,8000; $40,8000 plus 2% in year 3, or $41,616, and so on), you would have made it through any 30-year retirement without running out of money. “This is why you often see 4% as a rule of thumb when discussing retirement,” he says. (See The 4% Retirement Withdrawal Rule: What to Know and What’s the Best Retirement Drawdown Strategy for You?)

“In most scenarios, you actually end up with more money at the end of 30 years using 4%, but in the worst of the worst, you would have run out of money in year 30,” Vives Ortiz adds. “The only word of caution here is that just because 4% has survived every scenario in history does not guarantee it will continue to do so going forward.”

Information About Some Ways to Reach Your Financial Goals

The last few weeks of the year are often a mad rush so we thought this would be a good time to share a checklist of important items to consider well before the calendar year ends. They’re all related to your investments and finances, so that you can reach your goals and dreams faster.

1. Review Retirement Accounts: Are You on Track?
You could increase the funding of your IRA and company retirement plan like a 401(k) or 403(b). Returns generated in IRA and 401(k)/403(b) accounts compound tax-free over their entire life. Avoid taking distributions prior to age 59½, otherwise a 10% early withdrawal penalty may apply.

401(k) and 403(b) accounts allow individuals younger than 50 to contribute $18,000 each year, and individuals 50 and older to contribute $24,000. Some plans allow workers to make additional contributions of after-tax money. For those under 50, the maximum is $53,000. Doing so does not reduce your taxable income, but taxes are deferred on any earnings that the after-tax money makes. Later, some people roll these contributions into a Roth IRA so the money would then grow tax-free.

Traditional and Roth IRAs allow individuals younger than 50 to contribute $5,500 each year and individuals 50 and older to contribute $6,500. Even if you earn too much to contribute to a Roth IRA directly, it may be beneficial to you to open a traditional nondeductible IRA and convert it to a Roth. There is no income limit on traditional nondeductible IRAs or conversions.

2. Start Tax Planning
Review your taxable and non-taxable accounts to ensure they are optimized for tax efficiency. Evaluate if you should delay purchasing mutual fund shares until 2017 to avoid taxes on brand new investments. If you have foreign bank accounts, make sure you comply with FATCA and FBAR (forms FinCEN 114, 8938, 8621, etc.). If you have forgotten, you may look into the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) or streamlined procedures.

The federal income tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends are 0%, 15% and 20%. High-income individuals can also be hit by the 3.8% NITT. It is still lower than the top regular tax rate of 39.6% (43.4% if the NITT applies). Holding on longer to your appreciated securities can lower your taxes. Owning them for at least one year and a day is necessary to qualify for the preferential long-term capital gains tax rates.

Selling the right shares may also lower your taxes. It may be beneficial to you to sell shares that have been held a year or less rather than those held longer. Selling recently purchased shares at little or no gain may be better than selling shares held for more than one year if that sale would produce a significant gain. In that case, you should notify your broker as to the specific shares you want to be sold. Finally, you can also invest in tax-free securities.

3. Rebalance Portfolio
Make sure you have rebalanced your portfolios to keep them in line with your goals, time horizon and risk tolerance. Market movements may have thrown off your portfolio balance between stocks and bonds.

David Swensen, the Chief Investment Officer at the Yale Endowment, in his book Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment performed an analysis that showed optimal rebalancing could add 0.4% to your annual return.

4. Harvest Capital Losses
Maybe it is time to sell some funds, ETFs or stocks to generate some capital losses? Tax-loss harvesting is a method of reducing your taxes by selling an investment that is trading at a significant loss.

Find out if you have any loss carryovers from prior years to be applied against capital gains (from sale of funds, ETF, stocks in your taxable brokerage accounts). If your current year’s capital losses exceed your capital gains, you have a net capital loss. You can use up to $3,000 of that loss ($1,500 if you are married filing separately) to offset other taxable income such as your salaries, wages, interest and dividends. If the capital loss is more than $3,000, you can carry over the excess and apply it against capital gains next year.

5. Check Emergency Fund
Don’t forget to establish or tune up your emergency fund. It is an account that is used to set aside funds to be used in an emergency, such as the loss of a job, an illness or a major expense. This is also a good time to set aside money for the next year’s cash needs.

6. Review Insurance Policies
Do you have a life, disability, long-term care or an umbrella insurance policy? Make sure you and your loved ones are well protected if something happens to you. Your life may have changed (birth, marriage etc.). If you do have enough coverage it is also a good time simply to review the different types of coverage you have. Whole life or variable universal life policies may help you reduce your taxes.

7. Contribute to Health Spending Account
Did you maximize your contribution to your healthcare HSA? The interest and earnings in this account are tax free. The maximum contribution for 2016 is $3,350 for an individual and $6,750 for a family ($1,000 catch up over 55). The contributions are tax deductible and withdrawals are non-taxable if they are used for medical expenses. Over the age of 65 you can withdraw funds at your ordinary tax rate if the distribution is not used for unreimbursed medical expenses.

Fidelity Investments estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring will need $220,000 for health care costs in retirement in addition to expenses covered by Medicare. The HSA can be a great source of tax-free money to pay those bills. If you don’t have an HSA, make sure that you have spent the entire balance in your Flexible Spending Account.

8. Take Required Minimum Distribution
If you are age 70 1/2 or older, remember to take your required minimum distribution to avoid a potential 50% penalty.

9. Contribute to 529 Plan
Did you contribute to your 529 educational plan for yourself or your child/children? You can contribute $14,000 per year (annual gift tax limit) for each parent or you can pre-fund accounts in a single instance up to five years’ worth of contributions, $70,000 (5 x $14,000). Together, that means a married couple can open a 529 plan with $140,000.

Money saved in a 529 plan grows tax-free when used for eligible educational expenses and some states have additional tax benefits for residents who contribute to a plan in that state.

10. Determine Net Worth
Add up what you own (home, car, savings, investments etc.) and subtract what you owe (mortgage, loans, credit cards, etc.). This will allow you to track your progress year to year. It may also give you some incentive to save more and create a better budget for next year.

11. Check Credit Score
Go to annualcreditreport.com and request a free credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. You’re entitled to one free report from each agency every 12 months.

12. Check Beneficiaries
You can check the beneficiaries on your financial accounts or insurance policies at any time, but it’s a good idea to do this at least annually.

13. Update Estate Plan
New baby? Newly married or divorced? Make sure your beneficiary designations reflect any changes. Don’t yet have an estate plan? Make that a new year’s resolution. Estate planning may include updating or establishing a will or trust that can help avoid public disclosure of assets in probate.

14. Maximize Business Deductions
You may want to increase your participation in passive activities since the rules prevent taxpayers from deducting losses from business activities in which they do not “materially participate.” To meet the material participation standard, there are some tests (e.g., spending more than 500 hours per year in day-to-day operations, performing substantially all the work in the activity, or completing more than 100 hours per year and more than anyone else). It may be very beneficial if you’re expecting a loss from your activity.

15. Spending and Automated Savings: Look Ahead
Did you review your budget and set up automated savings? You may have started the year with a clear budget, but did you to stick to it? Fall can be a good time of the year for your financial checkup and to reflect on your spending and develop a budget for next year.

It is also a very good time to put whatever you can on autopilot Bills, recurring payments, even savings – the more you can put on auto-pay now, the easier your financial life will be next year. With this year’s facts and figures in front of you, it will be easier to plan and prioritize your expenditures for next year.

More Information Personal Finance Resolutions You Need

New Year is almost upon us and that means it will soon be time to start making some resolutions. This year, consider making some financial resolutions to go along with your solemn promises to quit smoking, lose 75 pounds and stop torturing the family dog.

TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics

Here is a list of resolutions that can help you to get your finances in order.

Live Within Your Means
This is probably the simplest of all steps that you can take to get your financial life in order – and the hardest to actually perform. Start by reviewing your budget over the past year to see where your money actually went. (Be warned: this often leads to some disturbing and painful revelations, as it will reveal how much of your cash went into the register at the local liquor store or other proprietary establishment of your favorite vice.) After this, see where you can cut costs without sacrificing things that you need. Finding a new cable/internet or car insurance provider can often free up about a hundred dollars a month. Budgeting programs such as mint.com can help you do this and provide numerous other services and benefits as well, such as reminders of upcoming expenses.

Start a Retirement Plan
If you are not saving for retirement yet, now is the time to start. Your company retirement plan is a good place to begin saving, especially if your employer offers matching contributions. If you are already participating in your employer plan, consider increasing your contribution percentage or even making the maximum possible contribution, if you can afford it. If you make $40,000 a year, then a 15% contribution equals $6,000. If your employer will contribute 50 cents for every dollar you put in up to the first $3,000, then you have a total of $7,500 per year going into your plan. If you are 35 years old, then that would amount to $225,000 in contributions alone by the time you are 65. If you are already contributing the maximum amount to your company plan, then consider opening a Roth IRA and doing some investing on your own. (For more on retirement, see The Best Retirement Account For You.)

Create an Emergency Fund
Nothing disrupts a well-planned budget like large, unforeseen expenses such as major car repairs, medical bills and legal fees. Resolve to set aside $200 a month every month this year to put into a liquid savings or money market account so that you will be prepared for this type of expense when it comes up. You may need to get an additional part-time job to fund this, but allocating some time for this now may be a very wise investment for you when catastrophe comes calling.

Get Out of Debt
This is one of the greatest financial feats that you can accomplish in a given year. Resolve to take a second job for 12 months and get your car loans and credit cards paid off. Of course, this is a major sacrifice for the year, but the money you save will benefit you for years to come. Paying off your debt is equivalent to getting a major raise, in terms of cash flow. Working an extra 12 hours a week for one year, at $10 an hour, will net you an extra $5,000 for the year. Even if you don’t pay off your debt entirely, you will save hundreds of dollars in interest charges over the life of your loans.

Should Know About Financial New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep

Did you make any resolutions concerning your personal finances last January? If so, how did you do? Did you attain your financial goals, or was this year a total financial washout for you? While the days leading up to New Years Eve are often spent reflecting on the year gone by, the following days should be spent reflecting on the New Year, reviewing your financial scorecard for the past year, and then look for ways to improve in 2014.

There’s a good chance last year’s resolutions didn’t stick. According to a report from the University of Scranton’s “Journal of Clinical Psychology,” only 8% of us actually achieve our New Year’s resolutions. The good news about New Year’s resolutions is that you get a fresh crack at them each year. Here’s some financial changes you should resolve to make in 2017.

Calculate Your Net Worth
If you haven’t done so already, The New Year is as good a time as any for determining what you’re worth (financially, of course). Calculating your net worth is a key step to assessing your financial health and reaching your financial goals. Looking closely at all your assets and liabilities helps create a clear picture of where you are prioritizing your current spending and saving and where you need to make changes in your spending and saving habits.

It’s a good idea to recalculate your net worth each year to keep on top of your progress towards your financial goals and correct any mistakes you’re making before they create overwhelming debts. Many sites, including Investopedia, offer free tools to help you calculate your net worth. The resolutions you need to make will become more obvious after making this calculation.

Reset Your Retirement Savings
At work, you probably have the opportunity to save for your retirement through a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan sponsored by your employer. If so, consider that most people find it easier to max out their retirement contributions by budgeting to contribute a set amount each month.

Employer Plans

If you have access to a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan at work, consider instructing your employer to withhold enough through salary deferrals to ensure that you reach the maximum limit each year. If you’ll be 50 or older by December 31, bump that amount to account for the additional catch-up contributions you’re allowed to make. If you are paid on some other frequency, such as weekly or bi-weekly, simply divide the contribution limit by the number of your pay periods for the year.

Of course, you should save only amounts that you can realistically afford, as contributing more than you can afford may result in having to incur debts to cover everyday expenses. To determine how much you can save each period, incorporate your retirement savings into your regular budget.

Are you self-employed? If so, depending on your income, you can contribute to an SEP IRA, profit-sharing plan or independent 401(k) plan. And if you’ll be 50 or older by Dec. 31, the contribution limit jumps for independent 401(k)s, helping you save even more.

Don’t Forget About IRAs

Even if you’re covered under a retirement plan at work, you and your spouse can each contribute to a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA, as long as your combined taxable wages and net self-employment income is not less than the total amount contributed. Anyone 50 or older can contribute an extra $1,000, increasing the total allowable contribution to $6,500, or $541.66 per month. Keep in mind, however, that in 2017, a modified adjusted gross income of $62,000 to $72,000 ($99,000 to $119,000 for married couples filing jointly) puts you in the phase out range for deducting your traditional IRA contributions (these numbers apply if you are covered by a retirement plan at work, limits will be different if you are not, see here for more information).

Update Your Savings and Debt Reduction Goals
Creating easy access to your funds can be quite tempting, and if you are like most people, you will spend money that you can easily attain. Therefore, to help you reach your goal, be sure to transfer amounts earmarked for savings from your checking account to a designated separate savings or investment account that is not easily accessed, making it less tempting for you to spend the money that you have managed to save.

Take a few minutes now to set new savings goals for 2017, including how much you would like to add to your retirement nest egg, your children’s education fund or the down payment on your home. You should also reset how much you plan to pay on your personal loans, debts and home mortgage accounts.

And don’t forget about paying some extra principal toward your mortgage payment each month. By doing so, you’ll earn a risk-free return on that money equal to your mortgage interest rate. Plus, you’ll cut down on the number of years it will take to pay off your mortgage. However, if you must choose between adding to your retirement nest egg and paying extra on your mortgage, talk to your financial advisor to determine which option is more suitable for you.

Other Resolutions
Rebalance Your Investment Portfolio

The previous year was no different from any other year: some sectors over-performed and some sectors under-performed. Chances are that the sectors that did the best last year may not enjoy a repeat performance this year. By rebalancing your portfolio to its original or updated asset allocation, you take steps to lock in gains from the sectors with the best returns and purchase shares in the sectors that have lagged behind last year’s leaders.

Pay Down Your Credit Cards.

If you owe money on your credit cards, determine how much you can realistically afford to pay off during the year. For best results, try not to charge additional purchases on those cards while you’re trying to pay down what you owe. If you have high interest credit card balances, consider whether it would be more beneficial to pay off those high interest debts or to add to your savings.

Review Your Credit Report

Review your credit report, and take steps to repair any negative aspects. Now that you’re entitled to three free credit reports each year, there is no excuse for not reviewing what is one of your most important financial reports, especially since errors in these reports are not uncommon. That said, obtaining a truly free credit report isn’t as easy as some companies claim, so be sure you know all the terms and conditions before requesting a report. A poor credit report could adversely affect the amount you are able to save, as it could result in you paying higher interest rates on loans, which reduces your disposable income.

Review Your Life Insurance and Disability Insurance Needs

As you move through your career, your life and disability insurance need to continue to change. Give some thought as to how much protection you need and compare it to the coverage you currently have through your employer’s benefit package. Consider whether you need more or less life insurance, and whether your needs would be better satisfied by term or permanent life insurance. Also, review your disability insurance coverage to determine whether you have enough coverage.

Know More About 10 Bank-Breaking Money Myths

Unfortunately, one of the factors that will prevent many people from becoming financially successful is a false belief about money. In fact, widespread financial myths can negatively impact both your short- and long-term net worth. Throw away these top 10 money myths, and you’ll avoid the consequences of believing them.

TUTORIAL: How To Manage Credit And Debt

1. If I get a raise that bumps me into a higher tax bracket, I’ll actually take home less money.
Thankfully, this isn’t true. Moving into a higher tax bracket only increases the rate of tax paid on the last dollars you earn. Suppose you’re filing single, your old salary was $30,000 a year and your new salary is $33,000 a year. According to the IRS’s 2007 federal tax rate schedules, when your salary was $30,000, your marginal tax rate was 15%. With a salary of $33,000, your marginal tax rate is now 25%.

The key to unlocking this myth is the word “marginal”. In this scenario, your first $31,850 of income is still taxed the same way it was before you got your raise. With a $30,000 income, your take-home will be $25,891.25. If you make $33,000, you will take home $28,326.25. This is because only the extra $1,150 above $31,850 is taxed at 25% – not the whole $33,000.

2. Renting is like throwing away money.
Do you consider the money you spend on food to be thrown away? What about the money you spend on gas? Both of these expenses are for items you purchase regularly that get used up and appear to have no lasting value, but which are necessary to carry about daily activities. Rent money falls into the same category.

Even if you own a home, you still have to “throw away” money on expenses like property taxes and mortgage interest (and likely more than you were throwing away in rent). In fact, for the first five years, you are basically paying all interest on your mortgage. For example, on a 30-year, $250,000 mortgage at 7% interest, your first 60 payments would total about $100,000. Of that you “throw away” about $85,000 on interest payments.

3. You get what you pay for.
Higher-priced items are not always higher quality. Generic drugs are medically considered to be just as effective as their name-brand counterparts. A million-dollar home that falls into foreclosure and is repurchased for only $900,000 may still have $1 million worth of value. When the price of Google’s stock drops on a random Tuesday because investors are panicking about the market in general, Google isn’t suddenly a less valuable company..

While there is sometimes a correlation between price and quality, it isn’t necessarily a perfect correlation. A $3 chocolate bar may be tastier than a $1 bar, but a $10 bar may not taste significantly different from a $3 bar. When determining an item’s value, look past its price tag and examine its true indicators of value. Does that generic aspirin stop your headache? Is that home well-maintained and located in a popular neighborhood? Then you’ll know when paying the higher price is worth it when it isn’t (and you’ll be on your way to understanding the venerable Benjamin Graham’s principles of value investing, too).

4. I don’t have enough money to start investing.
It’s true that some brokerage firms require you to have a minimum amount of money to invest in certain funds or even to open an account. However, if you wait until you meet one of these minimums, you may get frustrated and have a harder time reaching your goal.

These days, it’s easy to start investing with very little money thanks to the proliferation of online savings accounts. While traditional bank savings accounts generally offer interest rates so low that you’ll barely notice the interest you accrue, an online savings account will offer a more competitive rate based on how the market is currently doing. In 2007, it was common to find online banks offering 5% interest, which is a pretty good return on your low-risk savings account investment when you consider that stocks historically return an average of 9-10% annually. Also, some online savings accounts can be opened with as little as $1. Once you’re in a position to start investing in stocks and mutual funds, you can transfer a chunk of change out of your online savings account and into your new brokerage account.

Alternately, you could open a brokerage account with minimal funds through one of the online trading companies that have cropped up. However, this may not be the best way to start investing because of the fees you’ll pay each time you purchase or redeem shares (generally $5 – $15 per trade). While these fees have been drastically reduced from when you had to trade through human stockbroker, they can still eat into your returns.

5. Carrying a balance on my credit card will improve my credit rating.
It’s not carrying a balance and paying it off slowly that proves your credit worthiness. All this strategy will do is take money out of your pocket and give it to the credit card companies in the form of interest payments. If you want to use a credit card as a tool to improve your credit score, all you really need to do is pay off your balance in full and on time every month. If you want to take it a step further, don’t charge more than a small percentage of your card’s limit because the amount of available credit you’ve used is another component of your credit score.

6. Home ownership is a surefire investment strategy.
Just like all other investments, home ownership involves the risk that your investment may decrease in value. While commonly cited statistics say that housing appreciates at somewhere between the rate of inflation and 5% per year, if not more, not all housing will appreciate at this rate. In fact, it is perfectly possible for your home to lose value over the years, meaning that if you want to sell, you’ll have to take a hit. The only way you’ll avoid realizing a loss in such a situation is if you continue to own the home until you die and pass it on to your heirs.

Even in a less drastic situation, a job transfer, divorce, illness or death in the family could compel you to sell the house at a time when the market is down. And if your house appreciates wildly, that’s great, but if you don’t want to move to a completely different real estate market (another city), the profit won’t do you much good unless you downsize because you’ll have to spend it all to get into another house. Owning a home is a major responsibility and there are easier ways to invest your money, so don’t buy a home unless you are attracted to its other benefits.

7. One of the major advantages of home ownership is being able to deduct your mortgage interest.
It doesn’t really make sense to call this an advantage of home ownership because there is nothing advantageous about paying thousands of dollars in interest every year. The home mortgage interest tax deduction should only be looked at as a minor way to ease the sting of paying all that interest. You are not saving as much money as you think, and even the money you do save is just a reduction in the costs that you pay. Interest tax deductions should always be considered when filing your taxes and calculating whether you can afford the mortgage payments, but they should not be considered a reason to buy a home.
8. The stock market is tanking, so I should sell my investments and get out before things get any worse.
When the stock market goes down, you should really keep your money in. This way, you can ride out the dip and eventually sell at a profit. In fact, stock market lows are a great time to invest even more. Many seasoned investors consider a decline in the market to be a “sale” and take advantage of the opportunity to pick up some valuable investments that are only experiencing a temporary dip. Believe it or not, investors who continued putting money into the stock market during the Great Depression actually fared quite well in the long run.

9. Income tax is illegal.
Sorry, folks. There are quite a few different arguments here, but none will hold up in court. One is that the tax code says that paying taxes is voluntary. Another is that the IRS is not an agency of the United States. The IRS considers all of these arguments to be tax evasion schemes and will punish so-called tax protesters with penalties, interest, tax liens, seizure of property, garnishment of wages – in short, whatever it takes to get tax evaders to pay the full amount due when they’re caught. Most tax protester arguments and the IRS’s rebuttals can be found on the IRS website. Don’t fall for this shenanigan – it will ultimately cost you much more than you were hoping to save by not paying your taxes.

10. I’m young – I don’t need to worry about saving for retirement yet. / I’m old – it’s too late for me to start saving for retirement.
The younger you are, the more years of compound interest you have ahead of you. Compound interest is like free money, so why not take advantage of it? Someone who starts saving and earning interest when they’re young won’t need to deposit as much money to end up with the same amount as someone who starts saving later in life, all else being equal.

That said, you shouldn’t despair if you’re older and you haven’t started saving yet. Sure, your $50,000 nest egg may not grow to as much as a 20-year-old’s by the time you need to use it, but just because you may not be able to turn it into $1 million doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try at all. Every extra dollar you invest will get you closer to your goals. Even if you’re near retirement age, you won’t need your entire nest egg the moment you hit 65. You can still sock away money now and make a considerable sum by the time you need it at 75, 85 or 95.

Should Know About Debunking 10 Budget Myths

The closest many people get to budgeting is depositing their paychecks into their checking accounts and buying everything with an ATM card until the money’s gone.

While there are certain advantages to this method, such as not incurring credit card debt, there are also major disadvantages, such as not quite knowing where all that money is going and not contributing enough to your savings because there’s never anything left over.

Even though budgeting is a wonderful tool for managing your finances, many people think it’s not for them. The logic they use, however, is often flawed. Below is a list of 10 budget myths that stop people from saving as much as they could – and should. Do any of these budgeting myths apply to you?

I Don’t Need to Budget
The truth is, almost everyone, even those with large paychecks and plenty of money in the bank, can benefit from budgeting. Keeping track of your monthly income and expenses allows you to make sure your hard-earned money is being put to its highest and best purpose. For example, if you knew how much money you were spending on restaurant meals every month, you might decide that you’d rather be putting that money toward something else, like a nicer vacation.

I’m Not Good at Math so I Can’t Manage My Money
Thanks to budgeting software, you don’t have to be good at math, you simply have to be able to follow instructions. Many of these programs are free and can be safely downloaded without fear of viruses or spyware from CNET’s download.com. If you know how to use spreadsheet software, you can even make your own budget. It’s as simple as creating one column for your income, another column for your expenses and keeping a running tab on the difference between the two.

My Job is Secure
No one’s job is truly secure. If you work for a corporation, downsizing or losing your job is always a looming possibility. If you work for a small company, these concerns may not apply, but if the owner died suddenly, the company might die with the owner. You should always be prepared for a job loss by having at least three months’ worth of living expenses in the bank. It’s a lot easier to accumulate this money if you know how much money you’re bringing in and laying out each month.

Government-Sponsored Unemployment Pay Will Tide Me Over
Unemployment benefits are not a sure thing. Let’s say a bad situation at work leaves you with no choice but to quit your job. Because you weren’t laid off, leaving your job will be considered voluntary and it’s very unlikely you’ll receive any benefits. It won’t help if you decide to remedy this problem by getting yourself fired, as those who are let go for bad behavior are also very unlikely to receive unemployment assistance. On top of that, getting fired will make it harder for you to get a new job.

It Won’t Happen to Me
We all think that unexpected high bills and tragedies won’t happen to us. With the number of things that can possibly go wrong in life, hoping for the best is the most logical emotional survival tactic. However, you might lose your job, be in a car accident, get cancer or need to help a friend or family member who falls on hard times. It’s best to be prepared and hope that you’ll get to use the money for something fun one day instead.

I Don’t Want to Deprive Myself
Budgeting is not synonymous with spending as little money as possible or making yourself feel guilty about every purchase. The crux of budgeting is to make sure you’re able to save a little each month, ideally at least 10% of your income, or at the very least, to make sure that you aren’t spending more than you earn. Unless you’re on a very tight budget (and we all are sometimes), you’ll still be able to buy baseball tickets and go out to eat. Tracking your expenses doesn’t change the amount of money you have available to spend every month, it just tells you where that money is going.

I Don’t Want Anything Big so I Don’t Need to Save
This one is tricky. If you don’t have any major savings goals to buy a house, a new car or to save enough money to quit your day job and take a stab at starting your own business, it’s hard to drum up the motivation to stash away extra cash each month. However, your situation and your attitudes are likely to change over time. Perhaps you don’t want to save up for a house because you live in New York City and expect that renting will be the most affordable option for the rest of your life. But in five years, you might be sick of the Big Apple and decide to move to rural Vermont. Suddenly, buying a home becomes more affordable and you might wish you had five years’ worth of savings in the bank for a down payment.

As another example, many people thought home ownership would be forever out of reach when the housing bubble was pushing prices ever higher, so they gave up on the idea of owning a home. After the bubble burst and prices sank, however, those who previously couldn’t even afford condos sometimes had the income to afford houses. Even FHA loans require a down payment, though, so those who saved their extra money when prices were high put themselves in a great position to buy when prices dropped.

Any Money I Save Would Just be Used for Education
Yes, the catch-22 of student financial aid is that the more money you have, the less financial aid you’ll be eligible for. That’s enough to make anyone wonder if it isn’t better to just spend it all and have nothing in the bank in order to qualify for the maximum amount of grants and loans.

When you apply for federal student aid such as the Stafford Loan, Perkins Loan or Pell Grant, you will fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Whether you are an adult student going back to school or the parent of a student headed to college, this form does not require you to report the value of your primary residence (if you own a home) or the value of your retirement accounts. This means that if you want to save money without compromising your financial aid eligibility, you can do so by using your savings to buy a house, prepay your mortgage or contribute more money to your retirement accounts. The savings you put into these assets can still be accessed in the event of an emergency, but you won’t be penalized for them. Paying down credit card debt and auto loans can also serve as a form of saving that won’t detract from your financial aid eligibility. Just think of all that interest you won’t have to pay when your balances go down or are even paid off completely.

Another issue is that even if you employ all the legal strategies available to you to maximize your financial aid eligibility, you still won’t always qualify for as much aid as you need, so it’s not a bad idea to have your own source of funds to make up for any shortfall in the aid you’re offered.

I’m Debt-Free
While being debt-free is unusual and commendable, it won’t pay your bills in an emergency. A zero balance is better than a negative balance, but that zero can quickly become negative if you don’t have a safety net.

I Always Get a Raise or Tax Refund
It’s never a good idea to count on unpredictable sources of income. Your company may not have enough money to give you a raise, or as much of a raise as you’d hoped for, even if you’ve earned it. The same is true of bonus money. Tax refunds are more reliable, but this depends in part on how good you are at calculating your own tax liability. Some people know how to figure to the penny how much of a refund they will get (or how much they will owe) as well as how to adjust this figure through changes in payroll withholding throughout the year. Others find W-4 forms, 1040s and tax tables incomprehensible and April is always a surprise. You might be expecting a $1,000 refund only to find that you’re getting $300 – or worse, that you owe.

Solutions
If you’re still not convinced that budgeting is for you, here’s a way to protect yourself from your own spending habits. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a savings account you won’t see (i.e., a savings account at a different bank from your checking account) that is scheduled to happen right after you get paid. If you are saving for retirement, you may have the option of contributing a regular, set amount to a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan. This way, you’ll always pay yourself first, you’ll always have enough money for the transfer and you’ll always pay yourself the same predetermined amount that you know will help you meet your goals. If you don’t think you have the discipline for budgeting, this is your best bet.

However, a better solution is to make this automatic contribution in conjunction with starting a budgeting spreadsheet or using budgeting software. This way, you won’t run into any unpleasant surprises, like your checking account balance reaching zero when your car insurance is due and you don’t get paid for another week.