- Quick and Dirty Tax Planning Check your W4, review your year to date retirement contributions, update year to date business expenses, check for any tax losses in your taxable investment accounts
- Catalysts for Action: Did you welcome a new family member? New job? Second job?
- Speaking of Retirement Contributions: what about planning to Save More TomorrowTM ? This simply means to up your retirement deferral percentage next time you get a raise or COLA. Or you can increase your automatic contributions to savings in a similar manner.
- Catalysts for Action: new job, promotion, COLA, side hustle
- Organize Your Files for yourself, your business, your family. If you are hit by the proverbial bus, where is everything kept? Online in a folder labeled _____, in a home safe, safety deposit box, behind a password vault, under the mattress etc. This means life and death papers, but also the financial minutiae of daily life.
- Catalysts for Action: a broken shredder, new caregiving tasks, becoming self employed, working from home
- Mitigate Risk Did you have a big life event this year? (marriage, divorce, birth or adoption, commitment, new business etc.) Check for proper insurance coverage (s) and confirm that your written beneficiaries match your wishes. Retirement accounts and life insurance policy designated beneficiaries take precedence over a different designation in your will. (meaning they will supercede your written will wishes)
- Catalysts for Action: How old is my will? Do I have a will? Do my children have guardians?
- Check Your Spending [Plan] Winter family holidays can be expensive, as they can involve family obligations (real or perceived), special food and drink, travel, and gifts. What is your spending plan? Experiences, gift cards, or wish list items from an online shopping cart? Practical, homemade, high quality, fast fashion? Do you tithe or make additional charitable donations at the end of the calendar year? Are any of those decisions made by the entire family? Some families involve their children in their charitable choices, which allows for immersion, learning, and connections to the world around them.
- Catalyst for Action: What holidays are celebrated on your family calendar?
Tag Archives: Get Organized!
Updated Jan 2019.
Originally posted 2013.
Given today’s lengthy, record-setting US government shutdown and the hashtag #shutdownstories, this post needed an update. As a friend told me when we hit 40; “Exercise is no longer a luxury.” A safety net and emergency funds are no longer a luxury. This shutdown illustrates with stories the numbers about Americans living paycheck to paycheck.
When we reach the financial adult stage (your chronological age may vary); you may wish to mend or create a safety net. Safety nets are different from person to person; so feel free to select the pieces that match your own situation.
Security Risk management: often solved with insurance products. Car, renters, condo, house, flood, fire and theft, cell phone, jewelry, business continuation etc. Even if you think you don’t have expensive things, you probably do. How much were your electronic gizmos? Can you afford being without [insert category here]? Many rental complexes now require renters to have insurance, which will also shield you from many liabilities (kitchen or electrical fire, water heater or tub overflow, leaky toilet, disposal failure, to name a few.) Check your specific policies for new exclusions based on the sharing economy, such as AirBNB or or using your car for ridesharing.
Savings (also known as cash these days due to barely visible interest). Rates are rising and one can earn more than whisper of interest One person’s emergency fund is $500, another’s is $10,000 and I have met someone whose security needs are met by one year’s income in the bank ($65,000). I like to suggest thinking of this fund in terms of months of income or expenses (whichever is greater). There’s a joke in there, sort of. What should be the minimum? My audiences are well informed and I hear 3-6 months from many when I ask this question. I suggest making the fund real by linking it to your insurance deductibles, the cost of 4 new tires, or even your family OOP, out of pocket limit for annual health care costs.
Residence Home is where the heart is (and the bills) and your fridge. (see my earlier post called Clean One Refrigerator Shelf at a Time here)
Friends and Family Shoulders to cry on or celebrate with. Who can help you stay accountable to yourself? Who will understand and support your goals? Which of your friends or other loved ones can give you an assist with tangible or intangible help? Do you need to move into someone’s spare bedroom for three months while you save up for XYZ goal? (Tip: set a deadline for being in-residence-the relationship is something you don’t want to lose).
The Future What does your future hold? What’s on your bucket list?
- Encore Career
- Additional or ongoing education or professional development
- Caregiving for family member (s) now or in future
- Travel both domestic and foreign
- Volunteering (Peace Corps, Volunteer Vacations, International Red Cross)
Education, knowledge or wisdom (not to be confused with advertising, too many data points, endless supply of new products, Squirrel!),
Wisdom comes from mistakes, mistakes come from experience. Or,
There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience. ~Laurence J. Peter
Emotional IQ Know yourself. Are you a DIY (do it yourself) person? How resilient are you? Can you reframe an experience and move forward? Do you want to bury the memories? What makes you feel shame (if anything) ? What are your money values ? Status or security, self fulfillment or self indulgence? Are you a planner, spontaneous spender, or celebrator?
How do you like to learn new information? Are you a lifelong learner? I have always enjoyed the opportunities I have had in my career to ask other people about their questions, or to consider what the important questions are for me when making a decision. Getting help with the right questions can be better than only searching for the answers.
Let’s help you get 3 D’s in personal finance this month. As on Sesame Street, this post is brought to you by the letter D, because we’ve been trained since preschool to get A’s. Are you a personal finance slacker? This post is for you!
Let’s consider these 3 D’s: Decluttering, Disaster and Discussion.
- Three things you can do today! Financial decluttering- included here are things like unsubscribing from shopping site emails, from Groupon to misleading requests for your bank account number or to “verify” your order from BigBoxCity.com Unsubscribe, delete and mark them as spam until they disappear.
- Spreading the wealth is not always a good thing. Do you have multiple financial accounts spread around town, or the country? Do you still have an old 401(k) account with a former employer? If you had had a life changing event-did you change your beneficiary? Beneficiary choices always trump your will.
- Are you still receiving multiple credit card or insurance offers? You can stop them, you know.
- What to have in the house in case you are stuck for 3-7 days, and what to take with you for an evacuation (say, for a wildfire or a hurricane)
- You might think of your children first, or maybe not….Quick, what are the first three things or people you are going to grab? Start there and then add to the list throughout September, which is National Preparedness Month. #NatlPrep on Twitter
- Practical digital tasks you can accomplish quickly. Load up an 8G flash drive on a lanyard with scanned important documents and photos-I got this tip from a friend who is a trained Urban Disaster Responder. Place in your disaster box or backpack.
- Upload these same documents into your regular cloud storage.
- Complete this handy document created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of the US.
- Actual cash somewhere ($10 in quarters, in case you find a working washing machine) and small denominated dollar bills. Remember the comedian David Brenner’s last wish here-“Bury me with $100 in dollar bills in case tipping is suggested at my final destination”.
The Chinese economy is beyond our control but you can look ahead to your own tax season. Here is a great tax planning sheet from Morningstar to review now or set aside until March (if that is your routine). Remember that you can still send in estimated taxes-even if you missed doing so on January 15th (the day for 4th quarter 2015 estimated payments).
Small Business Links
Small steps to success will be a big theme for this blog in 2016. What can you do right now to be better prepared to do your taxes for 2015?
Have you heard of SCORE? It’s a national organization dedicated to help for small business owners, whether you are just thinking about a business or have had one for several years. They have low cost classes, free webinars and centers all across the country. More information on their tax programs is available here.
How Do I Love Thee? On Paper, Online and On Time
In life and in death, let me count the ways that I love thee. Let’s review the beneficiaries, the online accounts, and the papers.
To paraphrase Meghan Trainor, modern philosopher:
It’s all about that signature
It’s all about survivorship
It’s all about that heir, no trouble.
When you love someone, you are told you should have “your affairs in order”.
This is much harder to do than say. What affairs, what is order?
When you have a family, you want to look ahead into a future where you may not be in the picture.
“Yikes, this means I have to pretend I am dead; that makes me uncomfortable and I’ll just hope nothing happens.”
This is a common reaction, due to your present, your past or reluctance to look too far into that uncertain future. I have met many people who think that they don’t need to consider these things, because “they don’t have any assets”, “they don’t have any children”, or all they have are the photos on their Facebook and Instagram pages. But you do, you do! You have your organs, your online life and photos, and your entire financial life to care for and secure.
You may have missed the opportunity to send roses or a sentimental card this past weekend, but here are several steps to take in this next week, to say “I love you” to those special people in your life. I’d like to help you move into action!
On paper: Check your retirement plan beneficiaries at work and for your personal retirement accounts. Do the beneficiaries match up with your current sweetie and family? Just sayin’. By the way, for those of you with older pension plans (could be frozen, or discontinued), check those too and keep a copy of the beneficiary page.) You can keep a paper copy, scan or photograph, then store in your cloud somewhere.
Real life story: This just happened to a friend-her husband hadn’t updated his old pension plan documents when he got married. When he passed away suddenly in 2014, his cousins were still his beneficiaries, not his wife. These cousins were sympathetic, but not all relatives would be as thoughtful.
It is important to create, review, or update important documents (will, power of attorney, health care directives) before any major life transitions. This probably also applies to people who take part in extreme sports, marathons, and those races in the mud. If you are in the military, they will place you in a workshop with your significant other to cover many things like this before deployment.
Real life story: http://cnet.co/1Mn3RPO Yahoo denies family access to dead Marine’s email.
On Time: This has to do with matching your documents and decisions to your actions. Wedding coming up? Do you need to alter your current will and property distribution? Would the laws of your state (and your family) allow your loved one to make medical decisions for you and visit you in the hospital?
Real life story: a relative with a terminal illness lived into the last month of his car loan, so his wife didn’t have to worry about that last payment. This relative also hadn’t changed two pieces of property to be jointly owned with his [second] wife, so altering those property deeds occupied some stressful hours of his last days.
PS For those readers who may have several kinds of pensions (military, Social Security, employer plans), it is important to check the pension payouts with your spouse. For example, will you choose a single life or joint and survivor payout? A single life payout goes for one person’s (the retired employee) life. A joint and survivor payout is calculated over the joint life expectancies of the couple. It is usually less than the single life payout, but it provides a lifetime income for the survivor. See definition of joint life payout from Investopedia here.
If this post inspires you to take action, from creating new documents to reviewing existing ones, you will feel better afterwards. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the relief generated upon accomplishment will feel wonderful. Plus, your family members will thank you for remembering them. Get from To-Do to To-Done! (Shout out to https://transmutable.com for my first To-Done experience.)
The question below on how to handle six figures ($354,000) of debt with an incoming check for $500,000 was answered by me on October 30th at Nerdwallet.com. Since last spring, I’ve been answering questions from real people at Nerdwallet’s Ask An Advisor platform. Those of us on the platform answer real questions from real people without knowing all the relevant information, only what they tell us. Other answers as well as mine can be found here.
Q: I will soon get a check for $500,000. I have $354,000 in student loans. Should I pay those off first?
A: (Dana Twight) Great that you are asking about how to handle this windfall. This is exactly the situation that financial planning is made for – balancing competing priorities and improving your short and longer term financial situation.
1.Other debts: Do you have any other non-mortgage debts? If you do, they may very well have higher interest rates than your student loans. Consider paying those balances down first.
2. Emergency funds: Do you have an emergency fund-are you employed? In addition to the fund portfolio suggested by my colleague, I would consider setting aside a fund with six months income or expenses in it from this check. Or you could set aside the amount of one year’s health insurance premiums and deductibles. This could be the base of that fund-keep it in insured CD’s or accounts.
3. Insurance: This is also a great time to build an umbrella liability insurance policy into your annual budget. This type of policy covers you above other liability limits (say on a residence or a vehicle). Investopedia has a definition which mentions that it also includes libel, slander and invasion of privacy.
4. Tricks: Be careful about how you share this news with others. Resist the opportunity to open new credit accounts. Visit the opt-out website to opt out of new credit card offers https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t so that you don’t get oceans of new email or regular mail offers. Your financial institution may see your funds deposited and offer to help you invest them-stick to a fee-only planner and get hourly advice instead.
5. Treats: It’s ok to let yourself do something fun with a small part of the money, if you have waited for a vacation or a newer vehicle, or a really cool bike. Also treat yourself to fully funding your 2014 and 2015 retirement plan contributions, if you are still under retirement age.
Last but not least: Do you have your estate documents in order? A will, a durable power of attorney and health care directives as required for your state are a must. Take the time and the nominal percentage of this windfall to make sure that your documents match your intentions, now that you have more assets.
One of the most common questions every financial adviser hears is,”What shall I bring to a meeting?
In order to maximize your time with a professional (visit www.letsmakeaplan.org to find a CFP® ), I suggest six steps to take first:
1. Pull a truly free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com (your scores are based on the report information)
2. Pull a copy of your accrued Social Security Benefits ( Yes, you will be able to receive a benefit in the future)
3. Gather up your employee benefits books or intranet site, last year’s tax return (first two pages is a good beginning) and any company retirement plan/bank/credit card/student loan statements.
4. Write down some family lessons that you learned about money (take 5 minutes and see what you come up with). For example, never borrow money, save 10% of everything, always buy on sale, etc. Walking up and down every grocery aisle was one of mine.
5. List your expenses (all of them), and then your income. See how they match up to the 50/30/20 rule. 50% needs/30% wants/20% savings. (from the book called All Your Worth by Warren and Tyagi)
6. What are your financial hopes and dreams? Retire at 50, travel around the world for one year, start your own business…do share those with your adviser as well.
Now you are more knowledgeable about your financial past and present, so that you can use a professional to discuss your financial future.
PS: You may decide to interview more than one person. Prepare these items and see who asks questions on any of the topics.
How do you handle your spending? Is it an aimless stream of expenses, or do you have a plan for each month and year? Sometimes a budget is hard to follow, especially if it is inspired by a particular event, such as a move, a raise or a layoff. Or, as happened to me once-it was someone else’s idea that I have a budget. First: words matter. I prefer the term spending plan, as I think when you are planning your spending, it implies more forethought and care for yourself. Be proactive!
The hardest part for people is to record all income and spending. No, I am mistaken – the income part is usually easier than the spending. When recording income, include wage income, as well any other sources along the way (rental income, refunds, rebates, gift cards, checks from any side gigs etc.).
Now, you are ready to record your spending (you can use online tools such as mint.com) or check your bank or credit union-they may have a free online solution already integrated into your accounts. Or use a notebook, a napkin or your bank statement. Low tech is better than no tech.
Which expenses are fixed? These may include rent/mortgage, insurance, tuition, commuting costs (tolls, parking, gas), groceries, utilities, loan payments (student loans, car payments, minimum on your credit card bills, if any), tax withholding, child care, pet care or babysitting costs, condo fees.
Which expenses are variable? These may include eating out, any phone/internet/cable costs above the basics, paying extra on any loans or credit card bill, clothing, gifts, personal care, charitable contributions, and entertainment. How do you handle vacation spending?
Next, look at some ratios and categories more closely: Continue reading
Did you get a present of credit card fraud for the holidays, courtesy of Target? This could lead to identity theft. To be fair, this is not the only recent large case. Neiman Marcus Group announced a similar breach on January 22, 2014. We all need to be aware of this possibility. With credit card fraud and identity theft, my first recommendation is to realize what factors are within your control.
First, know what you have:
- “What’s in Your Wallet ?” says Capitol One but really, what’s in your wallet? First, try this exercise-make a list from memory. Did you capture everything? Scan or copy the front and back of everything in your purse or wallet. Save the scan in a secure, encrypted file on a device. Secure the copied card copies in a safe, locked file, or even a safe deposit box if you have one. The backs of credit cards usually have the customer service or theft reporting number on them. (As does your statement.)
- Reduce, reduce, reduce! Many people (men first on this one) are sitting on too full a wallet. This is back for your back and could be bad for your bank accounts. Also, if you are fumbling at a gas tank, or ATM for the correct card, someone watching may decide you are a good target for them. Common mistakes are Social Security card (definite no-no) and Medicare cards (they have the Social Security number on them-black it out or use a copy with the SS# blacked out); too many credit cards. Passport-leave that one at home.
- What credit cards are you using online? Your heirs and family will need this information if something happens to you so may as well do the research! To reduce risk, use only one card for online purchases and don’t link it to any other accounts or financial relationships that you have. If you have already used more than one card online, consider getting a new card just for online use, or eliminating the use of all but one.
Second, what behaviors can you change?
- When you shop online, check for the https in the URL, not http. The added ‘s’ means the site has added security. Look for a lock symbol next to the https or elsewhere on the site. (Norton, Verisign and Symantec are companies that offer this protection to the company you do business with.)
- When shopping in person, be aware of other shoppers being too close while you are finishing your transaction. Shield your PIN when using your debit card. Even if it feels rude or awkward.
- In restaurants or bars, be aware of where your credit card is when paying your bill. Can you see the server ring up your transaction?
- Consider using cash or checks for some transactions. This may be impractical-as carrying around $2000 in cash for that big-screen TV you want for this weekend is not safe.
Third, check your credit report annually by using this tool, authorized by federal legislation: (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003). It’s time to order the first one for 2014, to spread them out throughout the year. This is the source of your credit score aka FICO®. Verify that all card history is correct, including payment history, your name(s), addresses and employers. Note: There are many imitators for this website (annualcreditreport.com) with large advertising budgets. They will try to up sell you at every turn.
In the next post: If your identity is stolen, five things to do immediately.
Remember, even though you don’t control all factors, the first brick in this wall can be strengthened by you.
Disclosure: I shopped at Target last year and have signed up for the free credit card monitoring, which Experian is running for them.
Related article via NerdWallet.com: http://bit.ly/1iF9sAy
What are your favorite holiday traditions? Do you go berserk each year trying to decorate or do you gather the family and enjoy a leisurely afternoon installing the decorations of the season? Wherever you land on this continuum, it might be time to check on the “we always do it this way” types of activities. Shoulds are not allowed in Santa’s pack!
From a financial perspective, these traditions are expensive, especially if it turns out nobody is that interested. One way to tell if a change is needed is if you are the only one getting it all done. When measuring the cost, don’t forget to consider time, talent and treasure (money).
Travel: Do you travel for the holidays? Have you tried some alternative techniques, from taking the train instead of driving to offering to book a nice B and B (or Airbnb) for the visiting family members?
The Tree(s): How many? Fake or real? Lie down for a nice nap and decorate the rosemary bush instead? Holidaze….
Entertaining: Whether you prefer a bountiful dinner party, an ‘Open House’ or gathering the clan together after a school concert, make a plan and set a budget in advance.
Gifts: many families organize gift giving around experiences, or gifting locally. Some make things at the do-it-yourself ceramic place, cook together, or offer to take someone else’s kids out for an afternoon of shopping or the movies. Looking for gifts made just down the street ensures more of the funds stay in your community. Another strategy is to give everyone the same thing, from tickets to the local playhouse to down slippers or cloth napkins you made yourself.
Think about why you do certain things in December, and if they still bring you joy.
Will they bring family and friends together?
Could you have a low-key gathering on Boxing Day instead (12-26)?
Attend the live reading/playing of Handel’s Messiah at church?
Can it involve recycling such as a ‘white elephant’ exchange or Bill Cosby sweaters?
Donate or do something for others in your community-or make time to do something special for a family, non-profit or school AFTER the New Year has begun.
Whatever your decision, and especially if you have a new household, be intentional about your traditions this year. You will enjoy them more and maybe even save a little ‘green’.
- Christmas Spirit; It’s Free (becomingcliche.wordpress.com)