3 Life Choices to Prevent Poverty

January is Financial Wellness Month. In honor of this special emphasis, I wanted to share some thoughts this week on avoiding poverty. Poverty can be a touchy subject, but I think it’s important to talk about the ways we can avoid it, just like any other pitfall we may encounter in life. Please pass this message on to the young people in your life. It’s one of the most important nuggets of life wisdom they’ll ever receive.

I believe every child is a masterpiece in the making. Sure, there will be some blemishes, but each of them is unique, priceless, and filled with potential. With a strong support system, excellent guidance and education, and an appreciation of their worth, value, and opportunities, they’re well positioned to fulfill their dreams. The fact is, life success also requires living strategically and avoiding choices that can derail futures. Foremost in this is avoiding poverty.

William Galston, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, columnist, and former Clinton Advisor, did a hefty amount of research on the subject of poverty. Thanks to him, we are better aware of some of the chief causes of poverty. His important conclusions, based on his research findings, are surprisingly simple. Dr. Galston asserts you need to do three main things if you live in the United States to avoid poverty:

Finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20!

Here’s the real kicker: only 8 percent of families who do all three are poor; however, 79 percent of those who fail to do all three are poor.

These statistics are compelling and make perfect sense. Students who fail to finish high school will not have access to many well-paying careers and will not be perceived as well by employers. Those who have children before marriage (many teens and young adults) will find it that much more difficult to enter college or complete their degree due to the immense responsibility and financial demands of raising a child. Finally, those who marry before age 20 tend to have higher divorce rates and greater career and life challenges. The common thread of all three poverty causes is reduced access to attractive careers due to lack of education or life circumstances.

Words cannot express how much better our lives, the lives of our children, and our culture would be if more people simply heeded Professor Galston’s advice. These three choices won’t guarantee success, but they will help avoid some of life’s biggest derailers.

 

Are you surprised by the wisdom and logic of these research conclusions to avoid poverty? What are your thoughts on them? Are you as parents, teachers, and mentors sending this message to the children you guide?

Live Within Your Means, Part 1

Money will never make you completely happy—but mismanaging it can be a life wrecker!

Money problems are among the top reasons for divorce, alcoholism, and suicide in our country. For these, and many other reasons, it’s critical to become a wise manager of your financial resources. You should consider this one of your greatest priorities and our nation’s educators should too.

Having a positive (and growing net worth) is essential for all of us, and the good news is it’s not rocket science. Simply put, it requires two things: 1) living within your means by spending less than you make and 2) building long-term wealth through a regular savings and investment program. This will set you up for success in both the short- and long-term.

In order to generate positive cash flow, you must spend less than you make. That means conservatively estimating your income and ensuring you have a “cushion” left over after all of your spending. Trouble sets in when you either overestimate your income or underestimate your spending.

Here’s where many run into trouble on the INCOME side:

  1. They forget that their take-home pay is roughly 60% of their gross salary (after taking into account deductions like federal and state income taxes and Social Security)
  2. They assume that a spike in their income is the new “normal” level of earnings and ratchet up their spending accordingly.
  3. They assume their strong investment returns in the recent past will persist.

It’s important to recognize whether your career provides a steady or volatile income. Generally speaking, the more your income is tied to sales (e.g., real estate agents) or project work (e.g., writers, architects, actors) the more it will fluctuate over time. This income pattern presents unique challenges in your financial planning because you can’t forecast the next few years based on the recent past.

Consequently, people often overestimate their future income when they just had a great year. Then, they increase their spending just when their income falls back to normal. Not good!

Don’t fall into this trap. Plan your income conservatively—it’s far better to be positively surprised than disappointed!

What are some ways you’ve learned to live within your means and generate a positive cash flow? Have you developed creative and effective ways of showing these principles to your own children or students? Share ideas and questions by commenting below; we’d love to hear from you!

How YOU Can Change the World

Note: This post was writting by Noel Meador, Executive Director for Stronger Families in the greater Seattle area (www.strongerfamilies.org). 

“Before you criticize the younger generation,
remember who raised them.”
-Unknown Author

We live in a culture that sees more screen time than family dinner times, that talks more through text and Facebook than eye to eye, and that praises performance and “beauty” over the heart and soul of a person. We have some big problems on our hands.

But take heart: tonight you will have the opportunity to change the world.

You can invest in the stock market, have the best house and car, and know great success, but when you die, it will all die with you. All that hard work and dedication, good stewardship, understanding of investment will be gone.

Sure, you can pass on your monetary inheritance but, if it is to a generation that hasn’t been taught responsibility, it will be squandered.

If it is to a generation that hasn’t been taught the value of family and investment in others–a heritage will fade.

If it is to a generation that is self-focused and distracted–your generosity and kindness will end.

So, how can we ensure our heritage will live on?

If we want to invest in something that will live beyond our time and have the ability to change the world, let’s sit down at our table tonight and look at the faces of our children. Take time to talk, listen and teach.

They are it! They are the change we hope to see in the world! The future of this country and our families. I hope and pray I’m investing wisely.


Noel Meador is the Executive Director for Stronger Families in Bothell, Washington and the author and creator of the Oxygen for Your Relationships seminar. Noel has a passion to see families and relationships revitalized and strengthened. He resides in Woodinville, Washington with his wife Karissa and their two sons.

Why YOU Need an Emergency Savings Fund

Sometimes the unexpected happens. You lose your job. You have to take a pay cut when your employer faces a business downturn. Your car just died. You just got in a wreck and will be out of work for months. Your roof leaked (or, in our case, our septic system backed up!) while you were on a long vacation. What will you do?

Hopefully you’ve planned for emergencies.

According to a 2011 survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 64% of Americans don’t have enough cash on-hand to handle a $1,000 emergency. This means that if a crisis strikes, big or small, and you DON’T have money put away for emergencies—you could be in for some real stress and heartache.

An “emergency fund” is an account set aside with money earmarked solely for high impact situations that could substantially affect your wellbeing or quality of life. As a rule of thumb, a fund that contains four to six months worth of average monthly expenses (invested in safe, short-term investments) will help serve as a buffer in these unfortunate situations. During periods when the economy is weak and your job may be in jeopardy, it’s sensible to build a six to twelve-month emergency to give you an extra cushion. Establishing an emergency fund should be your first financial priority once you begin your career.

To determine how much you should have in your emergency fund, you should first identify what constitutes six months’ worth of expenses for you. Add up what you spend each month on normal household budget items and multiply by six. Make sure you include what you pay for your mortgage, utilities, loans, insurance, gas, groceries, and other essential expenses, allowing a small amount for incidentals and entertainment, etc.

Then, to avoid being tempted to spend the money you need to use to build your emergency fund, it may be helpful to set up automatic account transfers (or automatic deposits from your paycheck if your employer offers this). You’ll also need to be disciplined and NOT give into the temptation to withdraw from your emergency fund for vacations, high tech toys you think you can’t live without, or for any other non-emergency expenses or indulgences.

Ultimately, what an emergency fund buys you is peace of mind. If something comes up, you won’t have to scramble to come up with the money you need and you won’t have to turn to credit cards or other debt. It’s like an insurance policy that you’ll be glad you have when life throws you a big fat lemon!

How have you created an emergency fund? It’s never to soon or too late to start. Share your ideas, experiences, and questions with our online community; we’d be glad to hear from you. And pass our site along to a friend and suggest they subscribe; they might be thankful for it!

10 Financial Mistakes You Should Avoid

Money, money, money.

Few things in life generate as much interest yet demand more responsibility. And while money itself will not bring happiness, mismanaging it can surely ruin a peson’s chances  for success and cause a lot ofUNhappiness.
The principles of wise financial management aren’t that tough to master. You simply need to know the basics and abide by the disciplines and key principles. It also pays to understand and avoid these ten most common financial mistakes:

  1. failure to set goals and plan for major purchases and retirement
  2. spending more than you earn and failing to budget and monitor expenses
  3. incurring too much debt, including excessive credit card usage
  4. investing too little and starting too late
  5. incurring significant fixed expenses that can’t be reduced in difficult economic times (e.g., spending too much on housing and cars)
  6. ill-timed investment decisions (“buy high, sell low” habits and market timing)
  7. poorly diversified investment portfolios (overly concentrated in high risk stocks)
  8. impulse buying and lack of value consciousness when shopping
  9. inadequate financial knowledge
  10. lack of discipline and personal responsibility

We all need to keep these principles in mind both now and in the future. Periodically review how you’re doing in each of these areas, and encourage the young people in your life to do the same.

If we can all successfully avoid these traps, we’ll be in excellent financial shape!

What are some ways you’ve learned to avoid–or overcome–costly money mistakes in your own life? Do you ideas for passing these principles on to young people? Please share your suggestions and comments below.

Are You Financially Prepared for Life’s Lemons?

We’ve all experienced unexpected curveballs at some point in our lives, and realistically, we’ll probably experience many more. A lost job. A broken dishwasher. A pay cut. Medical bills. An injury that prevents you from working for several months. A leaky roof. The question is, what will you do in these situations. How will you handle them? Hopefully you’ve planned for emergencies.

 

 64% of Americans don’t have enough cash on-hand to handle a $1,000 emergency. This means that if a crisis strikes, big or small, and you DON’T have money put away for emergencies—you could be in for some real stress and heartache.

 

An “emergency fund” is an account set aside with money earmarked solely for high impact situations that could substantially affect your well being or quality of life. As a rule of thumb, a fund that contains four to six months worth of average monthly expenses (invested in safe, accessible, short-term investments) will help serve as a buffer in these unfortunate situations. During periods when the economy is weak and your job may be in jeopardy, it’s sensible to build a six to twelve-month emergency fund to give you an extra cushion. Establishing an emergency fund should be your first financial priority once you begin your career.

 

To determine how much you should have in your emergency fund, you should first identify what constitutes six months’ worth of expenses for you. Add up what you spend each month on normal household budget items and multiply by six. Make sure you include what you pay for your mortgage, utilities, loans, insurance, gas, groceries, and other essential expenses, allowing a small amount for incidentals and entertainment, etc. And, don’t forget those seasonal items like vacations and gifts!

 

Then, to avoid being tempted to spend the money you need to use to build your emergency fund, it may be helpful to set up automatic account transfers (or automatic deposits from your paycheck if your employer offers this). You’ll also need to be disciplined and NOT give into the temptation to withdraw from your emergency fund for vacations, high tech toys you think you can’t live without, or for any other non-emergency expenses or indulgences.

 

Ultimately, what an emergency fund buys you is peace of mind. If something comes up, you won’t have to scramble to come up with the money you need and you won’t have to turn to credit cards or other debt. It’s like having a free insurance policy when life throws you a big fat lemon!

 

How have you created an emergency fund? It’s never to soon or too late to start. Do you have any other tips, ideas, or experiences to share?

The Mother of All Financial Musts

We’ve all heard the age-old saying that money will never truly make you happy. However, mismanaging your money and making poor financial decisions can be a life wrecker!
 
Believe it or not, money problems are among the top reasons for divorce, alcoholism, and suicide in the United States. Therefore, it is crucial to become a wise manager of your financial resources. Financial literacy should be one of your greatest learning priorities, and it should be a core requirement for our nation’s educational institutions.
 
Fortunately, having a positive (and growing) net worth is not rocket science. If you follow this one tip, you will be on the path to responsibly managing your finances and avoiding major financial pitfalls. Are you ready for it?
 
Live within your means by spending less than you earn—no matter what your income level. It’s that simple!
 
In order to generate positive cash flow, you must spend less than you make. This means conservatively estimating your income and ensuring you have funds leftover after all of your spending. Major trouble can set in when you overestimate your income (common in careers with cyclical earnings), underestimate your spending, or charge more stuff on credit cards that you can’t afford to pay off each month.
 
When determining how much you earn (and therefore the limit of what you can spend), here is where some people run into trouble. You will want to avoid these mistakes at all costs to enable you to live within your means:

  1. They forget that their take-home pay is roughly 60 percent of their gross salary (after taking into account deductions like federal and state income taxes and Social Security)
  2. They assume that a spike in their income is the new “normal” level of earnings and ratchet up their spending accordingly.
  3. They assume their strong investment returns in the recent past will persist.

 
It’s important to recognize whether your career provides a steady or volatile income. Generally speaking, the more your income is tied to sales (e.g., real estate agents, commission-based retail sales) or project work (e.g., writers, architects, actors) the more it will fluctuate over time. This income pattern presents unique challenges in your financial planning because you can’t forecast the next few years based on the recent past. Therefore it pays to average peak and trough earnings to calculate “normal” earnings more conservatively.
 
Consequently, people often overestimate their future income when they just had a great year. Then, they increase their spending just when their income falls back to normal. Not good!
 
Another helpful rule of thumb is to earmark your income first to charitable giving and investments and then to spending. It adds discipline when you force yourself to save 15+ percent of each paycheck. By thinking of your spending as the “leftovers” rather than your savings, you’ll avoid the trap of living paycheck to paycheck.
 
Plan your income conservatively and spend accordingly—it’s far better to be positively surprised than disappointed! 

Financial Literacy: Keep It Simple!

As a nation, we have been witnessing a tragedy of epic proportions. Debt, deficit spending, and credit card use have taken control of the lives of millions. The result has been skyrocketing bankruptcies and enormous stress on individuals and their families. How can we avoid this situation? One way is to AVOID the credit card trap altogether!

           

I grew up in a family with a very modest income. However, we were never financially strapped. My parents’ method of managing their finances was a simple one, but it worked. They stuffed with cash for key expenses and lived on what was inside. No credit cards, no loans, no overspending. No more money in the envelopes meant no more spending. Simple. I have adapted my parents’ conservative, simple approach through budgeting and banking and we’ve always lived financially stress-free.

 

The same is not true for the majority of Americans. The credit crisis is enormous on both a national and an individual level. Bankruptcies are at a record high and most families would say that they are experiencing at least some level of financial stress. How did this happen? A couple of things have caused it:

 

·      The widespread availability of credit cards, coupled with a lack of discipline to use them responsibly (studies show spending via credit cards is substantially greater than cash only)

·      Financial literacy is not a priority in many education institutions, despite the importance of budgeting and investing in daily life

·      The rise in consumerism and the strong focus on buying “things” in our culture

 

The long and short of it is that easy access to credit cards and loans has given consumers a false sense of financial security. This lures them into spending more than their income can support. The debt builds and accrues interest, making the monthly payment grow every month. Today’s average family has several credit cards with monthly balances well into the thousands? Eventually, there has to be a day of reckoning and these large balances and interest charges MUST be tackled.

 

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to live debt free. It’s easy—just be disciplined and abide by this basic principle: Use credit wisely and sparingly and resist making purchases if you can’t pay with cash. Keep it simple—avoid the credit trap and you’ll relieve your financial stress.

“Credit buying is much like being drunk.

The buzz happens immediately and gives you a lift. The hangover comes the day after.”

Joyce Brothers

 

Do you have some good strategies for (or questions about) avoiding or overcoming credit card spending and debt?  Do you keep it simple? What’s YOUR method? Jump into the conversation on my website and leave your comments. Then keep the conversation going: please forward this to friends and encourage them to sign up for our weekly email at www.dennistrittin.com/newsletter.aspx..

 

5 Tips for Getting SMART about Retirement

When you envision retirement, you probably don’t see yourself depending entirely on Social Security as your main source of income. Unfortunately, many people do, and are alarmed at how little money they have to live on in their golden years. Consequently, many seniors are heading back to work for some “financial supplements,” which is also affecting job opportunities for younger people.

 

It’s time to get SMART about retirement—and here’s a catchy acronym to get you started. The five tips in this acronym will help you develop an investment program now that will give you the financial freedom for later on in life: Start early and Make room in your budget, knowing the growth of your wealth is a function of the Amount you invest, the Rate of return you earn, and the Time period over which you invest.

 

S—Start early

It is never too early to begin strategically planning for your financial future! If you only take away one thing from this blog, may it be this: beginning your investment program as soon as you start your career should be a top priority. By investing early in a long-term program, you’ll have the best chances of building substantial wealth for your retirement. You might be thinking, “Why now…I’m not retiring for 30 years!” The answer is simple—the power of compounding your returns over many years is enormous. Here’s an example:

           

If Brad invests $2,000 per year at a 7% return from age 18 to 27 and lets it grow at that rate until he’s 65, he’ll have a much larger nest egg than Madison, who waits until age 31 to start investing $2,000 each year until age 65. That’s right! Brad’s $20,000 produced greater wealth than Madison’s $70,000! So, start investing ASAP!

 

M—Make room

With money, come choices and tradeoffs. Each time we buy now, we lose the opportunity to buy something of even greater value in the future. It takes self discipline to resist the now for the sake of the future. There’s no getting around that making room in your monthly budget to invest is the only way to build assets for your future.

 

A-the AMOUNT you invest (more is merrier)

The more you invest, the greater (and sooner) your wealth will grow. Strive to invest at least 15% of your income for your retirement, and take this amount into account for your monthly budgets (while considering your employer’s plan). By doing so, you’ll significantly supplement your Social Security income. If you want a retirement lifestyle similar to your career years, you simply have no choice.

 

R-the RATE of your return (higher is happier)

It’s not as intimidating as it sounds. The higher the percentage rate of return after expenses, the greater the wealth you’ll build. Develop a well-diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds that fits your risk profile and beats inflation. The earlier you start, the greater risk you can afford to take and the more wealth you’ll accumulate.

 

T-the TIME period over which you invest (longer is better)

Remember, it’s a snowball effect. The longer the time period that you invest, the more wealth you will accrue. A $10,000 investment with a 7% return grows to over $76,000 in 30 years. That same investment is worth only about $20,000 in 10 years. Make sure time is on your side!

 

           

Being SMART about your retirement takes discipline, but the impact is astounding!

 

In what ways have you begun planning for your retirement? Have you followed these SMART steps? What challenges or obstacles have your run into? We welcome all of your questions, comments, and suggestions!

 

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? Learn to Analyze Your Spending

When it comes to “budgeting,” many find it right up there with dieting and root canals in terms of the pleasure factor. However, tracking your spending and disciplining yourself to live within your means and save for the future is definitely worth the effort. If budgeting is not a natural bent for you, don’t give up on the idea altogether. You just need a willing attitude and some good resources to help you stay disciplined and on track with your finances.

How do you stay on top of your financial game?

The basic report you should complete (on at least a quarterly basis) is a cash flow statement. This report tallies your income and expenses in several key categories. It’s the surest way to see whether you’re living within your means and where your spending may be excessive. After subtracting all of your expenses from your income, you’ll see whether your net cash flow for that period is positive or negative. Remember, the goal is positive, positive, positive!

There are many online tools to help analyze your cash flow  (e.g., www.quicken.com and www.mint.com). In the past, analyzing cash flow was a lot more work—you had to save your receipts and organize them manually. But nowadays, if you use a debit card and checks for your purchases and bills, and you link your bank account to your online budgeting program, it will automatically categorize your spending and indicate where your money is going. It will even send you an email in the middle of a month to let you know if you’re over budget in a particular category (it knows if you’ve been bad or good)!

Even if it’s just a 75-cent daily newspaper or a $3 latte as you head to work each morning, make sure you account for every single dollar you spend. That’s how you can see exactly where your money is going. You may be surprised when you look at your spending after even just a couple of weeks. The nickels and dimes add up!

Analyzing spending and developing budgets are great skills to develop in the young people in your life. For young adults just starting out, tracking their spending will help determine how much they can afford for rent/housing and a car, significant expenses each month. How much should average living expenses cost? The following are typical expenditure categories and the rough percentages each should represent:

  • Housing/rent (includes utilities)    30-35%
  • Household/personal items                     20
  • Autos/transportation                              10
  • Charitable giving                                      10
  • Savings and investments                        10+ (not an expenditure per se)
  • Entertainment and leisure                       7
  • Debt/loans                                                  5
  • Insurance                                                    5
  • Miscellaneous                                             3

While the above percentages are ballpark figures (and they do change through life),  spending more than five percent above these levels is getting “up there,” with the exception of savings and investments and loans for new college grads. It’s also important to reflect periodic expenses like gifts and vacations in a budget. Holiday spending tends to spike in December, as does vacation spending in the summer. Therefore, it pays to update statements on a monthly or quarterly basis to avoid underestimating expenses. Compare actual spending to these ballpark figures, and you’ll have a good sense of whether you’re overspending in particular categories. And, take special precautions against buying too much house or car—these fixed expenses get many people in trouble.

Wise financial planning requires knowing where your money goes. You’ll make better financial choices, build a stronger credit rating, and develop good savings habits that help build wealth.

Do you track and analyze your spending?  How do you do it?  Have you trained and modeled this to the young adults in your life and, if so, how? We’d love to hear your insight and experiences!