Jump-Start Saving

savings-piggy-bank-on-empty-412x274You want to save money, but how do you get started? There are always bills to cover, debt to pay, and time is tight. Though these are all real obstacles, they are ones that can and should be overcome. The current personal savings rate in America is in the four percent range – far short of the ten percent most money management professionals recommend to achieve financial security.

Saving money doesn’t happen without taking action. To get you into the swing of things, first recognize the importance of setting aside some cash each month or paycheck. After all, how many times have you wished there was some forgotten account you could tap into to pay for a new set of tires or to do something fun? Without savings, you have to do without – or worse, put it on the credit card. Thankfully, there are many painless and surefire ways to begin a cash-stashing routine.

  • Develop a detailed budget to determine how much you are capable of saving each month. Begin with whatever you can afford, even if it’s only a few dollars.
  • Set up an automatic transfer from your checking to your savings accounts, or use payroll deductions right from your paycheck. What you don’t see you don’t miss.
  • Save all or a portion of each raise you receive.
  • Deposit bonuses, income tax refunds, and monetary gifts from birthdays, holidays, or other special occasions into savings.
  • Put yourself on a short-term austerity program. Commit to buying only what you absolutely need and put the difference into savings.
  • Save all of your loose change. A quarter here and a dime there add up fast.
  • Once you’ve paid off your car or other installment obligation, put the same amount in savings.
  • Save even if you have debt. You’ll have funds available for emergencies, kick the habit of borrowing, and establish a positive routine.

Once you have a savings plan in place, monitor it regularly. Watching your nest egg grow is thrilling. Take pride in what you have achieved. And don’t panic or give up if you experience a setback – read just your budget and try to make it up next month or in future installments.


Copyright © 2007 BALANCE

Financial Goals: Staying Focused And Motivated

f-goalDefining goals and putting a plan in place is essential to personal financial success. But that’s only part of the battle. Maintaining attitudes and behaviors to get you to those goals takes effort. But it doesn’t have to be grueling. There are techniques you can adopt to make the journey quicker and easier.

Envision success

Visualizing yourself enjoying the achievement of your goal can help you remember why you’re doing it in the first place. For example, if your goal is to replace your current junker with a new vehicle, imagine yourself enjoying a stress-free cruise down the road with a breakdown the furthest thing from your mind.

Give yourself rewards along the way

If your goal involves saving $5,000, build into your plan little “presents” for yourself as you reach certain plateaus. Like for every $1,000 saved you get to put $20 toward a fun shopping item.

Make it a partnership

Is a loved one also trying to reach a goal of their own? Make a pact to regularly check in with each other to monitor progress and offer encouragement. If there isn’t someone close to you suited for this job, look for a financial support community online. If your goal involves other family members, do your best to not only include them in tracking progress, but get them excited about the process.

Build in reminders

Maybe it’s a Post-it note inside a cabinet you open regularly. Or perhaps it’s an electronic reminder sent via a computer scheduling application. Either way, it never hurts to get a reassuring hint that your goals are there for a reason. If you’re a highly visual person, consider putting a picture of your goal where you will see it a lot, like at your desk or in your car.

Treat setbacks as learning experiences

It’s unlikely that you will ever encounter entirely smooth sailing on your way to a financial goal. Because of this, it’s important to have the right attitude about the obstacles that spring up. If you get too discouraged, the whole plan could be lost. By treating unexpected jolts as opportunities for sharpening your skills, you put yourself in a better mind frame for ultimately reaching your destination.

Financial goals take work, but it doesn’t have to feel like work. By developing techniques to stay dialed in on the process of achieving your goals, you may even find the experience enjoyable!

© 2013 BALANCE

Tips and Guidance for Your First Credit Card

AAcreditcardYour first credit card can be both a beautiful and dangerous thing. While it can certainly provide you with the security blanket you need for major life events like your first car, college, graduation, or your first job, it can also lead you down a very dark road into debt if you aren’t careful.

No matter what the reason is for your first credit card, you simply can’t allow yourself to get carried away with the façade of this newfound financial freedom. In reality, even the simplest of overextensions can lead to additional charges, which ultimately leads to even more debt.

Remember, not only do the balances that you accrue remain on your bill until they are paid in full, they also continue to grow due to the act of just keeping that balance; this is called interest, and it can cause incredible financial hardships. Therefore, you should approach your first credit card with cautious excitement; know that you are protected, but continue to respect needs vs. wants and know your limits.

Heed the advice of the experts and follow these three simple tips that can truly assist you in being successful with your first card.

  1. Know Your Interest Rates and Annual/Service Fees!– Most people foolishly ignore “the fine print” when it comes to applying for and eventually opening a credit card account. Well unfortunately for them, that’s where the subsequent fees and financial pitfalls can almost always be found. Be wary of a card that claims no interest, only to see the rate is ridiculous after a certain trial period ends. The same can be said for cards that state that they have no service or annual fee; you can bet anything that while you may get even the whole first year free of charges, that second year can bring upwards of several hundred dollars in annual fees just for having the card in your wallet. Remember, plan big purchases during those initial enrollment time periods where additional expenses are either waved or very low. Always weigh the pros and cons of annual fees for credit cards; the rewards that some companies offer can absolutely justify these charges, but that isn’t always the case.
  2. Make Sure You Are Getting the Right Rewards– One of the most underutilized functions of credit cards are the eventual rewards that smart spending can bring. Other cards can offer a slew of benefits ranging from cool gadgets and household items, all the way up to first class travel to amazing destinations. If you know you are going to be making consistent big purchases, for example with traveling to the city for your first job, make sure you purchase that train or ferry each month on a card that can let you reap serious benefits for your expenses. You aren’t going out of your way for these rewards; it’s really just a nice perk that comes along with being responsible with your card.
  3. Start Off With A Small Credit Limit– We saved the most important tip for last. Let’s face it, sometimes you just have to start things off slowly until you fully understand the ins and outs of a new process in your life; getting a credit card is no different, especially because any lapse in proper usage can lead to such staunch financial repercussions. Save yourself from serious growing pains by starting off with a low credit balance of a thousand dollars or less. This will grant you serious freedom in case you need to make a big purchase, but it will also hold you in check by hard capping the limit that you can overdo it. College years especially can lead to many a night out on the town wielding the plastic with no regard; setting a limit will ensure you things don’t get out of hand. No need to have more than student loans to pay for once you graduate.

Financial Tips for Becoming a Stay-at-Home Parent

asian-parents-kissing-babyWhen a couple confirms the amazing news that they are in fact pregnant, a million thoughts immediately rush through their heads. Questions like, “is this really happening?,” “are we ready for this?,” and of course, “can we afford all of this?,” quickly go from rhetorical for the future to very real gut check moments for expecting parents.

From a social standpoint, today’s parents were much more likely to have grown up in households with a stay at home Mom than the current generation of children is. In the perfect world, every set of parents could still afford this ideal setup, but sadly, most families simply can’t make it work financially.

Let’s face it–kids can be the best thing that can happen to a couple; unfortunately, they’re also one of the most expensive things too. If you are lucky enough to be in a good place in your lives, with some money in the bank, insurance, and a strong career, you may still be able to pull off a stay-at-home parent plan. Please know, however, that this is a decision that should absolutely not be made rashly without either full spousal discussion or economic analysis.

Therefore, before one of you decides that placing your career on hold is manageable, pay close attention to these three tips. Remember, outside of the absolute love that comes natural with a baby, the best thing you can do for your child is to provide them with the most financially secure environment possible growing up.

  1. Come to a conclusion together– This conversation is almost as big as the one about having children in the first place! If you decide to go the stay-at –home route, your lives will certainly change, and both parties need to make all of their questions and concerns known immediately. Whose salary can we afford to lose more? Who has the better benefits we need to keep? Should we maybe start by having one of us simply cut hours first? These questions, and many many more, are the ones that you and your spouse need to discuss. Make sure you do so with complete honesty and before the emotions of the baby’s arrival can possibly cloud the discussion.
  2. Plan a budget and test it!– There’s no way you can go into a stay-at-home situation without making absolutely sure it can work financially first. Sit down and figure out exactly how much money you will be losing each pay period, as well as how you need to adjust your monthly spending to account for it. Next, test your adjustments by only using the paycheck you’ll have moving forward to pay for your monthly expenses. This is an easily identifiable pass/fail scenario that you should tinker with during the months before your spouse goes out on leave to have the child. Please don’t be foolish enough to quit one of your jobs before making yourselves absolutely sure this can work.
  3. Build Respect for each role– Let’s just set one thing straight right off the bat, whether you are the one waking up to go to work every day or the one staying home with the kids, NEITHER of your jobs are going to be easy. Excuse the rhyme, but it is going to be a struggle to juggle all of the responsibilities that come with both roles. Staying home all day accommodating a moody toddler can be just as frustrating as waking up on no sleep to deal with a commute, bosses, etc. The important message here is respect and love what each of you are bringing to the equation that is your successful family; greeting each other with anger and jealousy at the end of your days is not just unhealthy for your relationship, it’s a terrible precedent to set for your children too.

Tips to Help Protect Your Personal Identifiable Information (PII)

Secured Online Cloud Computing Concept with Business Man protecting data

It is well-known that Google gathers data for a variety of purposes. However, Apple has a different policy. It actually prohibits the collection of personal information from users of its products. Recently it removed a software development kit (SDK) made by a Chinese company because it violated that policy.

Information gathered by the Chinese company, Guanghou Youmi Mobile Technology, which provides mobile advertising services, includes email addresses and unique identification codes that are stored on iOS devices.

While it may seem insignificant that email addresses were gathered, it is underestimated what value an email address does have in the cyber world. It is used by advertisers for marketing products, by scammers to attempt to get people to send money for nothing, and to phish for login credentials to online banking and shopping accounts. It is also still the number one way malware gets spread. In many cases, an email address is also used as a login ID for various accounts. So protecting it is increasingly more important.

Following are a few ways to avoid having your email used for purposes you do not intend and to cut back on unwanted email:

  • Report spam to your email service or internet service provider (ISP) if they offer that option. Sometimes your email providers or ISPs offer an option to report spam to them. The address from which the messages are sent gets put on a black list. Some also will offer to attempt to remove your address on your behalf.
  • Avoid unsubscribing from email lists when you know you never did subscribe in the first place. Often the unsubscribe feature just confirms to the spammers that your address is legit. Just filter it right into the spam mailbox and report it to your email service provider.
  • Consider creating a separate email to use as a “junk” account. This does not mean it isn’t a legitimate account, but use it for things like signing up for online catalogs, taking surveys, or for entering sweepstakes; even when writing it at the shopping centers to win a trip to Hawaii. Often, if not most of the time, the email addresses collected for such things are sold to other companies that use it to spam you.  You can always change your email address to your regular one later.
  • Always give your financial institutions and other important organizations your legitimate and often-checked email addresses.  They will send important information regarding your accounts and will not spam you.
  • If you discover that your email address was used to send spam or other unwanted messages, change your password right away as a precautionary measure. Then alert your friends, acquaintances, and others whose addresses may have been stored in your address book that your email address has been used to send spam. When scammers get into email accounts, they will often spam everyone in the address book.

Apple suspects the developers in this case are not at fault because it is likely they did not know the SDK was doing this. However, Apple removed an unknown number of apps using this SDK and will not accept any more into the App store until further notice.


© Copyright 2015 Stickley on Security

Your Year-End Financial Checklist



It will begin soon enough – all those “beat the rush!” ads for holiday shopping, activities and events. Right now, you have a great opportunity to beat the rush to organize your year-end finances and make some smart moves for the New Year.

Consider the following tasks for your year-end financial to-do list.

Total up your year-to-date spending. Whether you organize by computer or on paper, make sure your tracking system for spending, saving and investment is up to date. This way, you can make sure you are on budget for the year and ready with data for tax time. Once you are finished, determine your net worth – what you own less what you owe – and get an early idea of what you need to change next year.

Check in with your planner or tax professional. Late December is a busy time for financial professionals. Take a minute to see if they can review your numbers and make suggestions on year-end financial activities and new moves you should make in 2016.

Make sure you’ve reviewed all your credit reports for the year. You are entitled to one free copy (https://www.annualcreditreport.com) of each of your three major credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. It’s generally wise to schedule delivery of each at different points in the year to catch errors or irregularities.

Check and rebalance your portfolio. With the dramatic market swings this past year, be sure to check if your retirement and other investments are still on track with your investment goals. Get qualified help if necessary to see if the assets you own still fit your needs. And if you need to do any tax selling by the end of the year, now is the time to start thinking about it.

Check your insurance coverage. If you buy your own home, auto, life or other insurance policies, contact two or three agents representing highly rated (http://www.ambest.com) insurers to review the adequacy and pricing of your coverage. If you have made any structural changes or improvements to your home, make sure those actions are reflected in your homeowners insurance. Such work may boost your home’s replacement value. Also, if you’ve had a major life or financial event like a new baby or the purchase of a new home it’s time to make sure all your coverage is sufficient.

Update your W-2, benefits and estate plan if necessary. While you’re updating your insurance and investment needs for big life events related to family, property or marital status, see if your tax withholding and employee health coverage and investments need review. Get qualified help to make this assessment if you are not sure.

Empty out your flexible spending accounts. If you have a Flexible Spending Account for health care or other qualifying expenses, it’s time to submit outstanding claims from the doctor, dentist or optometrist. Remember you can only transfer $500 in your remaining balance over to the next year. Make any appointments or medical purchases you need to now and get the paperwork in fast.

Do a last-minute tax review. If you work alone or with a tax professional, review your annual income, investment and spending data to see if there’s anything you can do in the final weeks of the year to save on taxes. If tax-deductible donations to qualified charities and nonprofits are recommended, consult sites such as GuideStar (http://www.guidestar.org), CharityWatch (https://www.charitywatch.org/home) and Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org) to evaluate your choices so you know your contribution is being well spent.

Save time and cut back on waste with online bill pay and deposits. Automatic online bill pay means you won’t have to waste time writing checks or risk late payment fees. Scheduling bill payment through your checking and savings accounts can save time and money, while setting up regular electronic deposits to savings and investment accounts can also help you save money before you are tempted to spend it.

Bottom line: Doing a last-minute review of your finances can potentially save money and help you save, spend and invest smarter in the coming year.


By Nathaniel Sillin