Saving For College: Let Your Student Help!

We all want what’s best for our children, and ultimately, we’d all love to provide them with everything they need to become successful adults. For many, this sentiment often includes the concept of attending and successfully graduating college. While the long-standing idea that a four year university is absolutely essential is now debatable in our society, one thing is not- tuition prices to attend these schools are on a consistent rise each year. In fact, even most trade schools and online educations can put a serious financial strain on your family too. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why parents can have such a hard time fully providing for their children’s education in today’s economic climate.  Often, families try to find answers with student loans and government assistance, but these opportunities typically present themselves during senior year, or even after your child has decided where he/she would like to attend. That is why it is extremely important for parents, and their children, to both begin preparing for this hefty expense as early as possible. Parents can take advantage of a slew of savings opportunities from their banks, jobs, etc., while students can start making a difference inside and outside of the classroom. Here are 3 ways that your son or daughter can immediately begin making a financial impact on their secondary education expenses.

  1. Let them get a job - Look we know that most parents would rather their kids strictly focus on their school work and sports during high school, but with rising tuition costs causing inevitable financial hardships, it may no longer be a reality for most families. On the bright side, your son or daughter does have a lot more to gain from an after school job outside of just money saved; they’ll also learn the value of money earned, develop the ability to juggle a busy schedule, and gain a true sense of responsibility. Plus, it’ll also help them prepare for another scary time in parents’ lives- getting a car and needing constant gas money!
  2. Have them research scholarships early - While many graduating seniors can apply to get grants and scholarships directly from the university they are attending, there are also a lot of other outside financial assistance programs available to students. Your child should immediately begin checking in with their guidance counselors for any local scholarships, either from the town itself or from donors. There are often a slew of opportunities available ranging from social organizations like the Elks and Boy Scouts to scholarships set up in memory of friends and family who have passed. There are even some fraternities and sororities that give away smaller grants to legacies, so start checking with your family!
  3. Make sure they do well in school - This one goes without saying, but often students get foolishly satisfied with simply getting good grades. When you apply to a college, you need to stand out from a sea of students that essentially have all gotten good grades. Your child can do that by joining different social clubs in school, taking part in student government/counsel, and striving towards honors and AP classes. Luckily for them, this will not only help your son or daughter actually get into college, but potentially help them save money on school too! Passing AP exams can count as free college credit, while doing well on your SAT’s can make them eligible for statewide grants such as the Bloustein Scholarship in NJ. Plenty of in-school groups like the Future Business Leaders of America and Bottlecappers also offer their own scholarships to graduating seniors.

Binge on Yourself Instead of on Shopping

pamperIt would great if we all made only rational, well-analyzed spending decisions. But none of us is a robot. We’ve all made emotional buys at one point or another. Think back on purchases you’ve made because you had a rough day at work. Or maybe it was an argument that got you agitated. No matter the cause, buys made on feelings instead of frugality can be rough on your bottom line. Here are a few ways to soothe yourself without draining your funds.

Create “me” time

In a lot of cases overspending happens because it gives you a sense of control over your surroundings. Instead of trying to grab control with money, take control of your time and your surroundings. Whether that means gifting yourself with a nice hot bath or time to work on that tinkering project in the garage, commit to unwinding on your own terms.

Connect with a loved one

Loneliness is another emotion that can turn you into a frenzied consumer. A call to a relative you haven’t spoken to in a while or even a spontaneous get-together with a friend can remind you of the wonderful bonds in your life.

Volunteer

It may sound strange, but in many cases the best way to help yourself is to work at making someone else’s life better.

Exercise

Scientists believe that for certain people splurge shopping releases the same amount of endorphins in the brain as skydiving. So if you are one of those people who gets a real charge out of filling a shopping cart, consider alternatives like going to the gym, walking or riding a bike to get your endorphin rush.

Enjoy nature

One of the best ways to get away from your problems is to, well…get away from them! Leave your connectivity behind and get back in touch with a favorite out of the way spot.

Read

A little healthy escapism is always good for taking your mind off your day-to-day worries. Whereas passive media like television usually serves more as just a casual distraction, diving into a good book forces you to actively engage in the story.

Play

Be it with children or a pet, having some silly fun can shed a lot of stored up tension you might otherwise look to purge with shopping.

De-clutter

Because coming home to a home crammed full of stuff can add to your stress level, give yourself a present and a future of increased serenity by hunting for items that can be donated or sold online or at a garage sale.

 

© 2012 BALANCE

Basic Security Tips when Diving Into the Online Pool

Man with splash swimming under dark blue waterNot everyone enjoys technology, but most are forced to embrace it in some way these days. Even if you hate it, it’s here to stay. If you’re a skeptic or just extra cautious, do your best to be informed about online security. Below are a few tips when you’re ready to dip your toe in the online pool.

Passwords

It’s not news that strong passwords are highly recommended and often mandatory these days. At a minimum, they should be eight characters and include a combination of upper and lower case letters, at least one number, and a special character; or several of them. Avoid using dictionary words or information that is private or easy to guess, such as birthdates of loved ones.

Every online account should have a unique user name and password combination. Yes, it’s tough to keep track of them all, but find a way to remember them or write them on paper and lock them in a cabinet in your home somewhere.

Rotate the use of your passwords. Change them as often as possible, but at least quarterly is the recommended schedule.

When two-factor authentication is offered, take advantage. This means to use more than one way to confirm the user’s identity. Often it means receiving an email or text with a code that needs to be entered before the site will allow access. However, there are other ways this can be done as well.

Computer Protection

Know what operating system is on your computer. It will typically be some version of Microsoft Windows or Apple iOS. However, there are others as well. Keep it updated with the latest fixes and version updates so that it continues to be supported by the vendors.

Even if it isn’t reasonable or possible to update the operating system every time a new one is released, ensure that all critical and security updates are applied as soon as they are made available.

Install some type of anti-malware and antivirus protection on the computer. There are many choices ranging from basic protection against viruses to more thorough solutions that act as personal firewalls. The price ranges are vast as well; from free to hundreds depending on individual needs.

Backups

Get into the habit of backing up important files and programs. There are many ways these can be lost, including a hard drive failure or getting infected with ransomware that holds your files hostage until money is paid to a bad guy. Backups can be done easily to an external hard drive. Some are so simple that they just need to be plugged into the computer with a USB connection and the hard drive just grabs the files.

Copying them to some type of cloud service is also an option. Many vendors offer this service and some provide a basic amount of storage space at no charge. The more space needed, the more it costs.

Do these backups regularly, depending on how often your data changes. The more recent the backup, the less re-work needed should the backed up files be necessary to retrieve.

Tools for Safety

There are tools that help keep your information and equipment safe. Some are locks to keep a thief from walking off with the computer and others are software solutions such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and solutions for encrypting software. Also, make sure the popup blockers are switched on for each browser used when surfing the Web and consider getting an ad blocking software. This will help to avoid accidental clicking on malicious ads.

Social Media

Most who are skeptical of new technology and particularly online technology may not be as likely to use social media. However, even those who don’t like sites such as Facebook and Instagram, may have a need for using business-related social media. Use caution, regardless of the website, about connecting with those who are strangers. Just as using the sixth sense out in the physical world, it comes in handy here too.

Email

It is nearly impossible to be a consumer without using email. When opening email messages, be extra certain the sender is trustworthy. If there are attachments or links included, don’t open them unless it is absolutely safe. Take extra time to learn how to identify phishing email messages. This is the number one way in which malicious programs are let loose on computers.

There is plenty of information on products and safe browsing habits and it can even be found in books that can be physically held in hand.  So, jump on in to the virtual world. The water’s fine!

 

© Copyright 2015 Stickley on Security

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

RMDsWhat Are Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)?

PiggyRequired minimum distributions, often referred  to as RMDs or minimum required distributions,  are amounts that the federal government requires you to withdraw annually from  traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored  retirement plans after you reach age 70½ (or,  in some cases, after you retire). You can always withdraw more than the minimum amount from your IRA or plan in any year, but if you withdraw less than the required minimum, you will be subject to a federal  penalty.

The RMD rules are calculated to spread out  the distribution of your entire interest in an IRA  or plan account over your lifetime. The  purpose of the RMD rules is to ensure that  people don’t just accumulate retirement accounts, defer taxation, and leave these retirement funds as an inheritance. Instead, required minimum distributions generally have the effect of producing taxable income during your lifetime.

Which Retirement Savings Vehicles Are Subject to the RMD Rules?

SEPIn addition to traditional IRAs, simplified employee pension (SEP) IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs are subject to the RMD rules. Roth IRAs, however, are not subject to these rules while you are alive. Although you are not required to take any distributions from your Roth IRAs during your lifetime, your beneficiary will generally be required to take distributions from the Roth IRA after your death.

Employer-sponsored retirement plans that are subject to the RMD rules include qualified pension plans, qualified stock bonus plans, and qualified profit-sharing plans, including 401(k) plans. Section 457(b) plans and Section 403(b) plans are also generally subject to these rules. If you are uncertain whether the RMD rules apply to your employer-sponsored plan, you should consult your plan administrator or a tax professional.

When Must RMDs Be Taken?

GlassesYour first required distribution from an IRA or retirement plan is for the year you reach age 70½. However, you have some flexibility as to when you actually have to take this first-year distribution. You can take it during the year you reach age 70½, or you can delay it until April 1 of the following year.

Since this first distribution generally must be taken no later than April 1 following the year you reach age 70½, this April 1 date is known as your required beginning date. Required distributions for subsequent years must be taken no later than December 31 of each calendar year until you die or your balance is reduced to zero. This means that if you opt to delay your first distribution until April 1 of the following year, you will be required to take two
distributions during that year–your first year’s required distribution and your second year’s required distribution.

Example: You have a traditional IRA. Your 70th birthday is December 2, 2014, so you will reach age 70½ in 2015. You can take your first RMD during 2015, or you can delay it until April 1, 2016. If you choose to delay your first distribution until 2016, you will have to take two required distributions during 2016–one for 2015 and one for 2016. This is because your required distribution for 2015 cannot be
delayed until the following year.

There is one situation in which your required beginning date can be later than described above. If you continue working past age 70½ and are still participating in your employer’s retirement plan, your required beginning date under the plan of your current employer can be as late as April 1 following the calendar year in which you retire (if the retirement plan allows this and you own 5 percent or less of the company). Again, subsequent distributions must be taken no later than December 31 of each calendar year.

Examples: You own more than 5 percent of your employer’s company and you are still working at the company. Your 70th birthday is on December 2, 2014, meaning that you will reach age 70½ in 2015. So you must take your first RMD from your current employer’s plan by April 1, 2016–even if you’re still working for the company at that time.

You participate in two plans–one with your current employer and one with your former employer. You own less than 5 percent of each company. Your 70th birthday is on December 2, 2014 (so you’ll reach 70½ on June 2, 2015), but you’ll keep working until you turn 73 on December 2, 2017. You can delay your first RMD from your current employer’s plan until April 1, 2018–the April 1 following the calendar year in which you retire. However, as to your former employer’s plan, you must take your first distribution (for 2015) no later than April 1, 2016–the April 1 after reaching age 70½.

How Are RMDs Calculated?

CalculatorRMDs are calculated by dividing your traditional IRA or retirement plan account balance by a life expectancy factor specified in IRS tables. Your account balance is usually calculated as of December 31 of the year preceding the calendar year for which the distribution is required to be
made.

Example(s): You have a traditional IRA. Your 70th birthday is November 1 of year one, and you therefore reach age 70½ in year two. Because you turn 70½ in year two, you must take an RMD for year two from your IRA. This distribution (your first RMD) must be taken no later than April 1 of year three. In calculating this RMD, you must use the total value of your IRA as of December 31 of year one.

Caution: When calculating the RMD amount for your second distribution year, you base the calculation on the IRA or plan balance as of December 31 of the first distribution year (the year you reached age 70½) regardless of whether or not you waited until April 1 of the following year to take your first required distribution.

For most taxpayers, calculating RMDs is straightforward. For each calendar year, simply divide your account balance as of December 31 of the prior Calculator year by your distribution period, determined under the Uniform Lifetime Table using your attained age in that calendar year. This life expectancy table is based on the assumption that you have designated a beneficiary who is exactly 10 years younger than you are. Every IRA owner’s and plan participant’s calculation is based on the same assumption.

There is one exception to the procedure described above–the younger spouse rule. If your sole designated beneficiary is your spouse, and he or she is more than 10 years younger than you, the calculation of your RMDs may be based on the longer joint and survivor life expectancy of you and your spouse. (The life expectancy factors can also be found in IRS publication 590.) Consequently, if your spouse is your designated beneficiary and is more than 10 years younger than you, you can take your RMDs over a longer payout period than under the Uniform Lifetime Table. If your beneficiary is not your spouse, or a spouse who is not more than 10 years younger than you, then you must use the shorter payout period specified in the Uniform Lifetime Table.

Uniform Lifetime Table

Tip: In order for the younger spouse rule to apply, your spouse must be sole beneficiary for the entire distribution year. Your spouse will be considered your sole beneficiary for the entire year if he or she is your sole beneficiary on January 1 of the year, and you don’t change your beneficiary during the year. In other words, even if your spouse dies, or you get divorced after January 1, you can use the younger spouse rule for that distribution year (but not for distribution years that follow). In the case of divorce, however, if you designate a new beneficiary prior to the end of the distribution year, you cannot use the younger spouse rule (since your former spouse will not be considered your sole beneficiary for the entire year).

If you have multiple IRAs, an RMD is calculated separately for each IRA. However, you can withdraw the required amount from any one or more IRAs. Inherited IRAs are not included with your own for this purpose. (Similar rules apply to Section 403(b) accounts.) If you participate in more than one employer retirement plan, your RMD is calculated separately for each plan and must be paid from that plan.

 Should You Delay Your First RMD?

chalkboardRemember, you have the option of delaying your first distribution until April 1 following the calendar year in which you reach age 70½ (or April 1 following the calendar year in which you retire, in some cases).

You might delay taking your first distribution if you expect to be in a lower income tax bracket in the following year, perhaps because you’re no longer working or will have less income from other sources. However, if you wait until the following year to take your first distribution, your second distribution must be made on or by December 31 of that same year.

Receiving your first and second RMDs in the same year may not be in your best interest. Since this “double” distribution will increase your taxable income for the year, it will probably cause you to pay more in federal and state income taxes. It could even push you into a higher federal income tax bracket for the year. In addition, the increased income may cause you to lose the benefit of certain tax exemptions and deductions that might otherwise be available to you. So the decision of whether to delay your first required distribution can be important, and should be based on your personal tax situation.

Example(s): You are single and reached age 70½ in 2014. You had taxable income of $25,000 in 2014 and expect to have $25,000 in taxable income in 2015. You have money in a traditional IRA and determined that your RMD from the IRA for 2014 was $50,000, and that your RMD for 2015 is 50,000 as well. You took your first RMD in 2014. The $50,000 was included in your income for 2014, which increased your taxable income to $75,000. At a marginal tax rate of 25 percent, federal income tax was approximately $14,606 for 2014 (assuming no other variables). In 2015, you take your second RMD. The $50,000 will be included in your income for 2015, increasing your taxable income to $75,000 and resulting in federal income tax of approximately $14,843. Total federal income tax for 2014 and 2015 will be $29,449.

 Now suppose you did not take your first RMD in 2014 but waited until 2015. In 2014, your taxable income was $25,000. At a marginal tax rate of 15 percent, your federal income tax was $3,295 for 2014. In 2015, you take both your first RMD ($50,000) and your second RMD ($50,000). These two $50,000 distributions will increase your taxable income in 2015 to $125,000, taxable at a marginal rate of 28 percent, resulting in federal income tax of approximately $28,071. Total federal income tax for 2014 and 2015 will be $31,336–almost $1,887 more than if you had taken your first RMD in 2014.

What If You Fail to Take RMDs As Required?

FailRMDYou can always withdraw more than you are required to from your IRAs and retirement plans. However, if you fail to take at least the RMD for any year (or if you take it too late), you will be subject to a federal penalty. The penalty is a 50 percent excise tax on the amount by which the RMD exceeds the distributions actually made to you during the taxable year.

Example: You own one traditional IRA and compute your RMD for year one to be $7,000. You take only $2,000 as a year-one distribution from the IRA by the date required. Since you are required to take at least $7,000 as a distribution but have only taken $2,000, your RMD exceeds the amount of your actual distribution by $5,000 ($7,000 minus $2,000).You are therefore subject to an excise tax of $2,500 (50 percent of $5,000).

Technical Note: You report and pay the 50 percent tax on your federal income tax return for the calendar year in which the distribution shortfall occurs. You should complete and attach IRS Form 5329, “Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts.” The tax can be waived if you can demonstrate that your failure to take adequate distributions was due to “reasonable error” and that steps have been taken to correct the insufficient distribution. You must file Form 5329 with your individual income tax return, and attach a letter of explanation. The IRS will review the information you provide and decide whether to grant your request for a waiver.

Can You Satisfy the RMD Rules with the Purchase of an Annuity Contract?

Your purchase of an annuity contract with the funds in your IRA or retirement plan satisfies the RMD rules if all of the following are true:

• Payments are made at least yearly

• The annuity is purchased on or before the date that distributions are required to begin

• The annuity is calculated and paid over a time period that does not exceed those permitted under the RMD rules

• Payments, with certain exceptions, are non-increasing

Tax Considerations

Income tax

TaxLike other distributions from traditional IRAs and retirement plans, RMDs are generally subject to federal (and possibly state) income tax for the year in which you receive the distribution. However, a portion of the funds distributed to you may not be subject to tax if you have ever made after-tax contributions to your IRA or plan.

For example, if some of your traditional IRA contributions were not tax deductible, those contribution amounts will be income tax free when you withdraw them from the IRA. This is simply because those dollars were already taxed once. You should consult a tax professional if your IRA or plan contains any after-tax contributions.

Your distribution may also be income-tax-free if it is a qualified distribution from a Roth 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) account. Generally, an RMD is qualified if your Roth account satisfies a 5-year holding period requirement. If your RMD is not qualified, then generally only the portion of the RMD paid from your Roth account that represents earnings will be taxable to you–your own contributions to the Roth account are returned tax free.

Because RMDs are paid after you turn age 70½, or after your death, they are not subject to early distribution penalties. Income taxes on RMDs paid to your beneficiary after your death are generally calculated in the same manner as if the payments were made to you.

Caution: Taxable income from an IRA or retirement plan is taxed at ordinary income tax rates even if the funds represent long-term capital gain or qualifying dividends from stock held within the plan. Note that there are special rules for capital gain treatment in some cases on distributions from employer-sponsored retirement plans.

Estate tax

You first need to determine whether or not the federal estate tax will apply to you. If you do not expect the value of your taxable estate to exceed the federal applicable exclusion amount then federal estate tax may not be a concern for you. However, state death (or inheritance) tax may be a concern. In some cases, your assets may be subject to more than one type of death tax–for example, the generation-skipping transfer tax may also apply. Consider getting professional advice to establish appropriate strategies to minimize your future estate tax liability.

For example, you might reduce the value of your taxable estate by gifting all or part of your required distribution to your spouse or others. Making gifts to your spouse can sometimes work well if your taxable estate is larger than your spouse’s, and one or both of you will leave an estate larger than the applicable exclusion amount. This strategy can provide your spouse with additional assets to better utilize his or her applicable exclusion amount, thereby minimizing the combined estate tax liability of you and your spouse. Be sure to consult an estate planning attorney, however, about this and other possible strategies.

Caution: In addition to federal estate tax, your state may impose its own estate or death tax. Consult an estate planning attorney for details.

Inherited IRAs and Retirement Plans

IRAsYour RMDs from your IRA or plan will cease after your death, but your designated beneficiary (or beneficiaries) will then typically be required to take minimum distributions from the account. A spouse beneficiary may generally roll over an inherited IRA or plan account into an IRA in the spouse’s own name, allowing the spouse to delay taking additional required distributions until he or she turns 70½.

As with required lifetime distributions, proper planning for required post-death distributions is essential. You should consult an estate planning attorney and/or a tax professional.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES

Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances.

To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.

These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

How to Best Prepare for Your Mortgage Process

Obtaining a fair mortgage can be the biggest challenge while purchasing a home in today’s unstable economic environment; the real estate market has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride over the last decade with several notable ups and downs. While mortgage rates are still currently low, making it a buyer’s market, many lenders are more careful than ever when it comes to approval. Unfortunately, it seems that the past errors that left thousands ill equipped at ever succeeding in repaying their mortgages have created a cautious atmosphere in which buyers need to tread lightly. It is in this light that we offer 4 helpful tips to consider when preparing for and applying for a mortgage loan.

  1. NO Big Financial Moves
    When dealing with down payments and approvals, banks will pay very close attention to any large sums of money moving in or out of your bank account in the time leading up to your application. Experts suggest that you make sure to cash in any savings bonds or stocks you plan on using at least 4 or 5 months ahead of time. The same rule applies if you are lucky enough to have a generous uncle, parent, or grandparent willing to help with your initial down payment; depositing this money early will also save your family member or friend unnecessary “gift letter” paperwork.
  1. Maintain Your Current Credit
    The same rules mentioned above apply to your current credit profile, as you should absolutely avoid anything that may have a negative effect on your credit score during the months leading up to your mortgage shopping. A lower score could lead to a negative change in rates and increased fees, as well as even a loss of loan qualification. Experts state that maintaining a consistent “debt to income ratio” is vital, meaning you must avoid opening or closing any current cards, as well as any big purchases like a car or even a wedding.
  1. If Possible, Wait Until You Have 20% for a Down Payment
    We know that this one is much easier said than done depending on your own individual family and financial situations, but there is very good reason to hit that 20% mark before applying. Often, loan insurance comes into play when a down payment is less that 20% of the overall home cost; this is understandably forced by lenders to protect them from instances of default. While Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will be offering loans to people with as little as 3% for a down payment later this year, the insurance can be quite costly in the long run. Therefore, if you can afford to wait and avoid any FHA Insured Loans, a private mortgage premium with 20% down is the most efficient way to go.
  1. Secure a High Quality Pre-Approval
    Getting a pre-approval will not only make you more desirable to lenders, it will also help you close faster when you actually go into contract. The reason for this is that a pre-approval will actually let your broker or bank review your full debt obligations, credit score, and income when determining the terms of your mortgage rather than using estimates on an application. The lender will have your full financial analysis completed earlier in the process, resulting in fewer headaches as you go deeper into the process.

Why We Shop: Understanding the Psychology of Spending

psychology-of-moneyEver wonder why it is so hard to control spending? There are many factors that loosen our purse strings and open our wallets. Knowing what these forces are and keeping them in mind can help you stay on budget – and out of debt.

Advertising

Countless dollars are being spent to understand your buying habits and create a psychological connection between you and a product. Advertisers use “psychographics” – the study of lifestyle, ambitions and world-view to help marketers focus in to specific psychological triggers. And once those ads tap a deep psychological level, it becomes difficult to remain rational. You respond without knowing just what you’re responding to.

Shopping as Experience

Shopping is not simply an act of purchasing what you need and then going home. It is entertainment and social involvement. The shopping mall has become “experiential.” They are vast, complex and complete. Studies have shown that most actual purchases occur in the 3rd hour of shopping. Therefore, malls are designed to keep a shopper there for at least that long, with winding architecture, appealing music, and sometimes even adding pleasing aromas.

The Media

Popular television shows and movies display images of “the good life,” yet the lifestyle they depict is often way out of line with reality. These projected images deeply influence the way we see our personal level of success. For most people, attempting to keep up with fictional characters and the possessions they have is a recipe for credit card debt.

The Proliferation of Consumer Goods

There is simply so much to buy! Walk into any large children’s toy store and count the types of dolls alone. Or an electronics store – the variety of stereos and DVD players is staggering. Goods and services that used to be luxury items are now more in the financial range of most consumers. This leads to increased spending because everything is “so affordable.”

Society

What is “success”? Walk into a store to request service when you are wearing an expensive watch, designer clothes, and stylish accessories. Walk into the same place wearing rags and see if you get equal treatment. Society defines success by what we look like, how much money we make, and what we own. There is no doubt that we have more clout when we convey an air of “success.” It is not surprising that we are often tempted to buy things that will make us appear wealthier.

Friends and Family

Pressure from friends and family members can be overwhelming. You may feel a strong sense of expectation from them, believing that they deserve to live with certain things and in a particular way. You may not want to disappoint them or cause conflict so you spend to their desires. Saying “no” to the people you love is an extremely difficult thing to do – and many people don’t.

Tools to Overcome Overspending

There are many techniques to help even the most entrenched spender transform negative habits into positive behavior:

  • Avoid the Hot Spots. If you know you can’t go into a store or mall without exiting with an armload of unnecessary objects, don’t go in.
  • Use Lay-away, or a store’s “hold” policy. In other words, give yourself time to think before you buy.
  • Write a shopping list. Nothing ruins splurging like a little forethought. Make a list of what you need before you leave the house. Buy only what’s on the list.
  • Splurge … but economically and consciously. The pleasure of saying “yes” to the urge to splurge is the same, whether you’re at the Salvation Army or Saks Fifth Avenue, and the morning after is a lot less painful.
  • Count your money. Know how much you’re earning and spending. Each dollar represents a portion of your life – you traded your energy for it. Where is it going? Are you getting fulfillment for each dollar spent? Are you spending your energy (money) in ways that support your values?
  • Phone a friend. If you’re on the verge of splurging, phoning a friend is a good way to purge the urge.

Now you don’t have to wonder why it is so easy for spending to get out of hand. The reasons are many. But by understanding all these factors and working against them, you – not outside forces – can make conscious and sound shopping decisions.

Copyright 2006 Balance