Need To Save But Can’t? You Need A First, A Focus & A Fruit

 

Why is saving money so hard sometimes? It seems there is always something vying for the precious dollars we attempt to save. Sometimes savings doesn’t happen because of the bumps in life, like a medical issue, a job loss or an auto accident which requires immediate action. Sometimes it is because there are so many impulses vying for our money. Between TV commercials, social media, influential friends and peer pressure we are bombarded with reasons to spend instead of save. And there are many other reasons why we struggle to save. From a recent poll done by Forbes, here are the four top reasons Americans said they either could not or do not save:

  • Spending Money Offers Positive Short-Term Feelings, While Saving Money Does Not
  • Financial Goals Typically Take a Long Time to Achieve
  • Life Always Seems to Intervene
  • Unexpected emergencies

This contention for dollars results in a troublesome situation in America. MarketWatch reported in a 2016 study: “Americans are some of the worst savers in the developed world. U.S. adults currently save just under 6% of their disposable incomes, according to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That number includes savings and retirement accounts.” Six percent is far below the levels needed to meet most family goals and obligations like retirement, college, new cars and the occasional vacation.

What’s more, the article found that: “Almost half of American adults could not cover an emergency expense of $400 without selling something or borrowing money, according to the Federal Reserve. And about 31% of non-retired adults have no retirement savings or pension at all.”

So, if saving is that hard, how do some people do it very well while most people struggle? After researching this issue extensively, and interviewing many spenders and savers in person, I think the answer comes down to this: People who save money well have a FIRST, a FOCUS and a FRUIT. Let me explain:

Good Savers Have A FIRST

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Meaning good savers prioritize saving FIRST, then spending what is left after saving. How do you do that?

Most of the people I have talked to accomplish their savings goals by consistently doing three things:

  1. They develop a set of goals and objectives and then budget, make and use a spending plan, to allow money to be put aside to meet those goals. In other words, they have a budget that ensures money is allocated each month toward their goals.
  2. Most good savers work hard to define and separate needs from wants. Needs are required for simple living and must be funded in the budget. Wants are something more and good savers usually are willing to fund goals before spending on wants. Good savers are willing to sacrifice wants in order to afford savings for important goals. By that, I mean, savers know what must be paid for, like basic housing, food, clothing and other essential needs.  For instance, let’s take housing. A good saver may be willing to afford basic housing (need) but forego something really fancy (want) because they want to save the money to fund an important goal.
  3. Last, good savers commonly use technology to pay themselves first, automatically and usually quickly so they never miss the money in their paychecks because they never see it. What are examples? Direct deposit into savings or 401K retirement accounts or 529 college savings plans. Many good savers also set up automatic payments to their credit cards so they never carry a balance. Only after all the savings and investments are completed does the remaining money become available for spending. And even then, some good savers automatically pay their important reoccurring bills automatically to make sure they never get behind on items like rent or auto payments.

 

Good Savers Have A FOCUS

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As mentioned earlier, good savers have clear goals which help them to FOCUS where their money should go. If, say, your goal is to retire from full time work by the age of 55, that will require a certain amount of saving and investing each month. Having clear goals helps the good saver stay focused on what’s most important.

There are two important mindsets that help people stick to saving for their goals that are used commonly:

Having “micro goals”. Good savers usually break down their big, seemingly far off goals into smaller goals that feel attainable and are easier to measure progress against. For some people, the goal of retiring in 30 years is not a good motivator to save because it is too far away. But if you broke that goal down into something more immediate and measurable, like “I need to save $275 from every paycheck”, it could keep a person on track to save the money.  As long as the end result of the micro goals contributes to your overall goal, this technique can be quite useful.

Focus on progress made, not the distance to the goal. When you’re working toward a big goal, it’s tempting to keep your eyes on the far off prize. After all, this is all about where you want to go, right? You’re moving in a positive direction. Why would you want to look backward? Well, because sometimes looking backwards focuses on your successes to date, which can motivate future successful actions. Case in point: saving for a big vacation. Doesn’t is sound more motivating to say “I have saved $4,000 toward our Bali trip”, than to say, “I need to save for another 6 months to afford our Bali trip”?

Having clear goals to save toward give us our “why saving is the priority” when we are tempted to spend in the moment on less important items.

 

Good Savers Have A FRUIT

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In order for people to save and/or continue to save, they need to see fruit from their saving efforts. Most good savers consistently do a couple things that bear fruit in their saving journey:

Celebrate small wins: They celebrate small wins to build momentum to continue the quest. Celebrating little wins does two things: It recognizes progress and it allows us to include others into the progress of meeting our goals. It also prioritizes the attainment of the goal over immediate gratification through meaningless impulse purchases.

Another fruit of good savers is knowing that giving up something “good” (an immediate purchase) in order to obtain something “great” (achievement of the goal), builds a higher level of satisfaction and ultimately, self-worth. It builds and shows character that leads to financial freedom!

BONUS – One More Thing – Prepare for Life To Happen

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No matter how wonderful your plans are, sometimes life just intervenes. Murphy’s Law. Whatever you want to call it. Life happens in the form of emergencies, crises, and unexpected costs.You lose your job. Someone gets sick. Your car needs replaced. Your hot water heater fails and floods your basement. Making it hard to make financial progress. And, with that, your plans start to go awry. The path you were on is suddenly diverted and the big goal seems farther away than ever. It begins to feel impossible.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Good savers can take action early to protect their progress toward big savings goals in the way of an emergency fund. Most savers start very early in making their emergency fund. They scrimp, save, live beneath their means and earn extra money to build a fund, usually 3-6 months of expenses, that is there in case of an emergency and make sure the fund does not get eaten away by other expenses. Once the emergency fund is establish and available, they stop contributing to it and start saving towards their other goals.

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Really, the emergency fund is self-insurance. Not only does the emergency fund prevent a run up of wealth-stealing debt, it provides the piece of mind and confidence that goals are attainable and worth saving toward.

Having Trouble Saving?

When it seems like you can’t save money no matter how hard you try, sometimes changing your focus can help. Yes, life happens and sometimes it gets unpredictable and expensive. But by prioritizing savings before spending, having a laser like focus on your goals and celebrating small wins as they big toward the larger goal can be just enough to keep us going and, eventually, realize the goals. That’s why good savers have a first, a focus and a fruit!

 

Should Financial Independence Enrich Our Lives Or Define It?

Recently, I was sitting amongst a group of thrifty friends discussing financial independence (FI) and how important it was to each of us. Some of the discussion was around the definition of FI, and I learned that the definition of FI differs from person to person. Some of the discussion was around dates and amounts of money needed to meet FI. Most of the discussion focused on how important FI was to the group. After about an hour or so of discussion, it occurred to me that FI was the only topic we discussed. There was no discussion of life goals (beyond FI), family, friends, work, sports (Go Astros!) or recent adventures. I found that a bit interesting. On the one hand, FI was a central theme to everyone there. That’s no surprise. Clearly, FI was a top goal for each of us. But on the other hand, is that all there is to our interests and pursuits? Don’t get me wrong, the conversations were interesting and spirited. I really enjoyed it. But it left me asking: Is there more to our lives and our friendship than financial independence?

Which precipitated the topic question in this post: Does financial independence define our lives or does it enrich our lives with the freedom to pursue the goals and dreams in our hearts?

Financial independence: What Is It?

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Financial independence (FI) is a term often used without consistent meaning. Typically, FI means having enough income to pay your living expenses for the rest of your life without having to work full time or be dependent on others.  It also usually includes being free from debt, worry and anxiety about money. Some simplify the definition and see it as simply being self-sufficient. While each person might define it differently, it was obvious that FI was the primary focus for each of us. But in this particular conversation, FI was the only thing being discussed. Aren’t we more than the pursuit of financial independence?

A Case For FI To Define Us

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Starting with a little help from Webster’s Dictionary, being defined by financial independence means to be described or identified with the nature or essential qualities of financial independence. In this case, that means, identified as being frugal (living below their means), having ample income outside of a regular full time job to meet all money needs, dependent on no one other than themselves, free of debt, free of worry and free to pursue one’s goals or dreams. Sounds worthwhile so far!

People pursuing financial independence are passionate people in their pursuit. Usually focused, committed and goal orientated, or obsessed. Saving and investing, combined with the magic of compound interest, is intoxicating and satisfying. Each goal met just increases the desire for the next FI milestone. In addition, FI can be viewed as a great way to provide or support your family, so it is easily perceived as honorable, wholesome and worthwhile. Still sounds pretty good to be defined by our pursuit of FI!

Sometimes, it helps to find answers by looking backward on life decisions, so it begs the question: On my deathbed, will I be satisfied that my life was worthwhile and all that it could or should be if I defined success as being financially independent? Does my pursuit and ultimate achievement of financial independence completely define me and my purpose on earth?  This view of the topic question starts to shed doubt in my mind that FI should define us because it seems too narrow. Why? Because it seems to me that life should be so much more. I can’t image my tombstone saying something like “Here lies Mike, who pursued and achieved financial independence.” I’ve never seen one of those tombstones. But I have seen tombstones that have listed many other attributes to define the deceased: father, husband, Christ-follower, man of integrity, leader, brother and son, to name a few. This leads me to believe there is more to life than just being financially independent.

 

A Case For FI To Enrich Our Lives

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There is no doubt that money is absolutely necessary to live and the more you have of it, the more freedom, and choices, you have. So having money is very important. And making or getting money independent of full time work is extremely desirable. But money and financial independence do not define us, but enhance  our lives and the possibilities.

Money is just a tool for us to use to meet our goals and obligations. Whether those goals are to raise a family, travel, buy a home or eat dinner, money is just a mechanism to achieve those goals. So to define ourselves by being able to meet those needs, independent of full time work or any dependence on anyone else, seems to be too limiting. I’m not defined by other tools that I have, like a computer, a hammer or a pencil, so why would I be defined by the tool of money independently obtained from full time work?

 

Means To An End

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We are so much more than our money or possessions. Which means that we are so much more than our pursuit and achievement of being financially independent. We are (in my case) a husband, father, Christ-follower, businessman, leader, neighbor, friend, a brother, an uncle, a son, travelers and so much more. The financial independence we pursue is a better way to be all those things. But FI doesn’t define us. To let FI define us is to sell ourselves short. The faster we get to FI, the better, because we can spend more time doing what we want or are called to do, and less time working full time to make money. So financial independence enhances our lives.  It does not define us.

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So, going back to that conversation that started of this post: There’s nothing wrong with talking about something you are passionate about, like financial independence. And having deep conversations with friends and family about FI is encouraging, invigorating and informative. But since money is just a tool and being independent of full time employment is just a better means of making it, it stands to reason that financial independence is simply a means to an end. A means to achieve one’s goals in the best possible way. A means to freedom.

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Money, Motley Fool and the Cost of Christmas

Silly title, I know. But the financial advisory firm, Motley Fool, reported that the average American household spent about $929 on Christmas presents last year. Here. There’s no reason to believe we won’t spend even more this year given the economy and the American people’s confidence in it. Then I got to thinking…
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We are just about one quarter of a year, 13 weeks, away from Christmas. It made me think about smart ways to steward our money so that we can fulfill your Christmas shopping desires without going into debt or breaking the bank.
Then I thought that it has been a while since we discussed together God’s plan for each of us to live in financial freedom so that we are able, and free, to worship Him!
Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
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Here are some simple ways to experience financial freedom, including saving money for Christmas presents, if you haven’t already started:
1. Put aside $72/week, starting with tomorrow’s paycheck, to pay for Christmas
2. While your saving anyway, increase your savings to $120/week and put aside $30/week towards your emergency fund and $20/wk towards your 401K plan, why?
a. your Christmas presents will be paid for by the time Christmas arrives
b. you want to have a readily available emergency fund for life’s little bumps…sometimes expensive bumps (this is called “sleep well at night money”)
c. most companies have a matching 401K plan where you get free money just for participating in the plan…who doesn’t want/need free money?
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3. Another way to save money for Christmas is to cut back expenses. Now is a great time to see if you are getting the value for your money on:
a. subscriptions (software, magazines, wine of the month club, etc)
b. gym memberships
c. phone apps and reoccurring monthly phone expenses
d. everything Amazon
e. cable and internet…are you taking advantage of all the features (and costs)?
Maybe you can save some money by cutting out things you are not getting the value from.
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Make every effort not to go into debt to afford a merry Christmas. God said, through King Solomon: The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.
Don’t become a slave to debt. Live financially free to love and serve the Lord!
 
Psalm 119:45 “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.
Financial freedom (and a debt free Christmas) is not easy…but worth it!

What Do Aging Athletes And Financial Independence Have In Common?

I am passionate about sports and I have been that way for as long as I can remember. More so playing them than watching them but nevertheless, passionate. It was football, baseball and basketball in high school. Then, football and baseball in college. Followed by softball, basketball, tennis, cross-fit and competitive running thereafter. And all the while, I have lifted weights and worked out as a way of life. I love it. It makes me fit, I feel good and it’s cheaper than a psychiatrist when it comes to working out your daily problems! But over time, or more specifically, advancing in age, has a way of catching up to you when it comes to physical performance!

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I remember playing sports in my twenties and it was so easy to perform: Stretching the muscles was easy, as was gaining strength and endurance. If you got a little bit out of shape, you were able to get it back really fast. It wasn’t until I turned 34 that I realized my first reduction in athletic ability. I lost a step. I was moderately fast and running the bases while playing softball I was thrown out going from first to third on a base hit. For the first time ever!  This was my first dose of reality that athletic ability diminishes with time.

Then, I went into my forties. Now I was introduced to regular soreness after working out, coupled with a longer time period to fully recover from the workout. What used to take 24 hours to recover now took at least 48 hours. In addition, it took considerably longer to get in shape. At a twenty something, it felt like three weeks of solid work would produce a great fitness level. But by forty something, it took every bit of eight or nine weeks to feel really fit and even then, I wasn’t sure if I had reached the highest level of fitness. The other side of it was also true: As a forty something, it felt like six or seven days of not working out resulted in losing every bit of fitness and you had to start over again from the bottom of the fitness ladder!

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Then I reached my fifties…and a further reduction in athletic ability, with more aches and pains, and longer recoveries. It was in my fifties that I had to fully accept my physical limitations as an athlete. I could no longer deny that past performance levels were long gone and unreachable.

What Do Athletics Have To Do With Financial Independence?

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At this point, you might be asking, what does athletic ability have to do with financial independence? And I would understand if you did. But follow me here for just a moment. Because the lessons learned as I have aged as an athlete are directly applicable to the process of obtaining and maintaining financial independence. How, you might say?

First, It’s About Time

As an aging athlete, it takes time to get ready to perform. Much more time than it used to as a younger athlete. You need to take the time to fuel your body right before the workout. You also need to stretch and stretch a lot. In other words, you need to be patient  and prepare correctly before you can really perform.

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The same is true with the pursuit of financial independence. It is over time that one can develop wealth. It usually doesn’t happen overnight, and, expectations to the contrary can build unwanted anxiety or stress. To build wealth that can lead to financial independence requires saving and investing money over a long period of time, in order to produce a return. This patient approach to building wealth, and as a result, financial independence, is both time proven and considerably less stressful. There’s one more piece to the time element to develop wealth and that is compound interest.

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Saving money over time is only the first part of the equation. The second part, and largest part, is investing the money and letting compound interest work to develop an exponential wealth effect. What does that mean? It means that investments over time will produce far more profits than the amount of money you actually put into the investments. It is a multiplying effect. An example: A one time $2000 investment with a 6% annual return will yield $xxx after 40 years. But if you left it accumulate for only 20 years, half the time,  you don’t have half of the 40 year amount, you have only xx% of it. It takes an investment in time, using compound interest, to develop wealth, and it grows more and more each year. Just like it takes time as an aging athlete to prepare for a workout to produce athletic results.

Limitations Can Be Your Friend

As an aging athlete, you have to recognize your limitations or else run the risk of hurting yourself. When I was 21 years old I ran a five minute mile as part of a fitness test in college as we were getting ready for my junior year of college football. I’ve got NO CHANCE of running that same five minute mile now, regardless of my preparation or efforts to perform at my best. I need to accept my limitations or risk being deeply disappointed or getting hurt when I tey. In essence, I need to be content with my diminished performance level.

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Contentment is also a key foundational element when it comes to financial independence. Without contentment (Being happy where you are, while on your way to where you are going), what you have will NEVER be enough. You will always think in your mind: “I need more to be happy, or rich, or successful, or wealthy, or (fill in the blank).” Part of being financially independent is to be independent of envy or perceived need for something to make you complete or happy. In fact, only when we can learn to be content in the moment, combined with gratitude for what we have, can we be truly independent of envy, covetousness and the sense of lack. There is certainly nothing wrong with ambition, but when that ambition prevents you from ever feeling secure, peaceful or blessed, you can never truly be financially independent.

Three Cheers For Consistency

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As an aging athlete one of the most important fundamentals of working out is consistency. You need to consistently stretch, consistently eat right, consistently hydrate and consistently work out because of what I mentioned before about losing your fitness level fast! When you can get into the appropriate consistent rhythm, your workouts and performance can be very rewarding.

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The same is true when it comes to financial independence. I have found that most financially independent people I have met didn’t hit the lottery or write a best selling novel to develop instant wealth, but built that wealth over time with consistent savings and investing. What do most of the financially independent people do consistently:

  • They save money consistently
  • They invest consistently
  • They live on a budget in order to meet their goals consistently
  • They track goals consistently to stay focused and on track

Consistency also lessens the sting of living below your means. If you consistently put money into an emergency fund, a retirement fund and a vacation fund, you eventually get used to that money being “gone” and you don’t miss the spending power in your day to day budget. Consistency is so important to old athletes and people pursuing financial independence alike.

Taking Advantage Of Technology

As you get older, an aging athlete is wise to take advantage of new technology to increase their performance, and comfort. There are new fabrics on the market that wick away your sweat while you perform. Running in the Texas heat, I depend on moisture wicking clothing. There are new shoes of all types that help you run faster, farther and with more comfort. There are new training apps that help you work out at peak performance. There is an abundant amount of new technology that can help you better perform.

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There is also new technology to help you obtain financial independence. There are tools like Mint to help you track your expenses and budget, Acorns to help you save spare change, Robinhood to help you invest and most banks now have automatic deposit and withdrawal for 401K plans and emergency savings accounts. Use technology to achieve your financial plans: In most cases it is easy, cheap (as in free), automatic and efficient.

Last, Know Your Why

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Motivation is paramount when it comes to working out or achieving financial independence. People ask me all the time: At your age, why do you workout so hard, and so consistently? It’s easy. I do it because it makes me feel great, it clears my mind, it challenges me and it helps me sleep so soundly. In other words, my “why” is to feel better and, God willing, live longer. It is worth it to me to put the effort in now, to feel better later. We need to “know our why” in the pursuit of financial independence too. We need to know why we are budgeting, saving and investing because it sure would be fun to live life unrestrained now. It would be fun, but it would not help us reach our goal of financial independence. Our financial independence “why” we sacrifice now is so that we can be independent later. Independent of money worries or stress and to be independent to follow our heart’s desire. To move working from something we have to do to survive, to something that we choose to do if we want to. Financial independence is not easy and it does not happen overnight. Just like trying to get into and staying in shape as an older athlete. But by using time to our advantage, practicing contentment, being consistent, taking advantage of technology and knowing our why, we can better enjoy the process and eventually achieve the goals of feeling good and experiencing financial independence at any age!

If you want more information on financial independence and/or the steps to get there, consider Dave Ramsey’s book “The Total Money Makeover”. Click the image to enjoy instant savings.

The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Dumb Financial Freedom Dichotomies & How To Avoid Them

Dumb Dichotomies

So, you’re eliminating your credit card debt. And your friend tells you that they know a thing or two about personal finance and tell you that you MUST quickly choose between using the Debt Snowball method or the Debt Avalanche method to pay off your debt or else you are making a huge mistake. Which method are you going to use?

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Really? There’s only two choices and I MUST pick only one right now and use it forever? Not true! Although there are pros and cons for these two popular debt elimination approaches, nothing says you must only use one of the two methods and be faithful to that method forever.  That’s a dumb dichotomy. You don’t have to pick one over the other. In fact, many times, a mixture of the two methods might be best. Why would we want to put that kind of unnecessary pressure on anyone who is trying to do something as important to personal finance as eliminate their credit card debt? Debt elimination is hard enough without undo requirements. Dumb dichotomies can get in the way of financial freedom because they make the task that much harder to accomplish. Here’s a look at some financial freedom dumb dichotomies and how to avoid them:

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Snowball Or Avalanche

To finish the discussion of which debt elimination approach is best, we first have know a little about the person eliminating the debt. Does that person need constant motivation to stay the course? If so, then the Debt Snowball is perfect, where the focus is to pay off the smallest credit card balances first and then work off the larger accounts as the smaller ones are paid off. This approach motivates the debtor in that the debtor sees a rapid reduction in creditors and uses that motivation to continue the debt elimination effort.

Another valid debt elimination technique is called the Debt Avalanche, whereby the debtor pays off the highest cost debt first. In other words, the debtor pays off the credit card that has the highest interest rate first, then works his way down the list towards the lowest interest rate card until all debt is repaid. This technique may interest a “math person” or a cost conscious person. This approach affords the debtor the lowest cost approach to debt elimination. This blog is not judging one approach versus another, but intends to highlight that you don’t have to pledge allegiance to one or the other. In fact, a combination of the two can very effectively motivate the debtor to eliminate the debt AND minimize the amount of interest paid during the debt elimination. For instance, some people have had success starting out with the debt snowball by paying off a small balance to get a quick win, and therefore boost motivation, and then switching to the debt avalanche to reduce interest payments.

From my point of view, “just tackle the debt!” Eliminate it as fast as possible and at the lowest cost as possible because debt, especially consumer debt, is the biggest obstacle to building wealth and more importantly, financial freedom. Debt snowball, debt avalanche or a combination of both…use either or both but just kill the debt!

Looking for a great resource to lead you through debt elimination? Check out Dave Ramsey’s book:

The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Emergency Fund: In Savings Or An Investment?

An emergency fund, money set aside for when, not if, you have a real financial emergency, is central for financial freedom. In effect, an emergency fund is self-insurance to ensure that an emergency  1) does not force you into deep credit card debt or 2) cause you physical and emotional stress from money worries. And for some time there has been an ongoing debate where that money should reside. The two loudest groups suggest that an emergency fund show either be placed in a savings account (because it is the most readily available) or in a secure mutual fund (because it can earn a “greater than inflation” return while sitting in the account). In reality, this is a dumb dichotomy, because you don’t have to choose one or the other. While both are valid options, you could also split the money between an account that is readily available (like a savings account, understanding it will have a very low or no return) and a safe investment like a mutual fund or something similar that produces a larger return on your money. While leading experts, like Dave Ramsey, suggest you have between three to six months of expenses in your emergency fund, you can allocate that money according to your priorities and risk level.

Investing: Active Or Passive?

Active investing, defined here as using professional investing resources to buy and sell investment instruments, is an effective investment approach. So too, is passive investing, where investors invest their money in simple automated investments, like index funds or ETF’s. I recently witnessed a lively debate where people took sides on the “right” investment approach. The battle was focused on the slightly better returns of the active investment approach versus the low cost and low stress of the passive investment approach. There is no one right answer! This is a dumb dichotomy. Both approaches work and the right approach for any investor is based on that investor’s needs and approach to investing. Some people, like me, have both active and passive investments. The point is, there’s no one right approach and you don’t have to unilaterally choose.

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Budgeting: To The Dollar Or With Margin

Budgeting is essential to achieving financial freedom because the budget “tells our money where to go instead of just wondering where it all went” (Dave Ramsey quote). Yet most Americans don’t take the time to budget and the results are not good. The facts are that the same percentage of people in America that do not budget (roughly 74%) equal the same percentage of people who are living paycheck to paycheck! Budgeting is important. But the debate between the experts that say you must either budget “to the dollar” and have every dollar accountable to a category, or, budget with a large amount of margin, or reserve cash, has formed a dumb dichotomy. It doesn’t have to be one form or the other. Pick the budget form that works for you and follow it. Since only 26% of Americans budget anyway, any form of budget would be better than the norm! There’s just a couple foundational rules that a good budget must follow to be effective and sustained: The budget must balance, must be measured and must be followed to be effective.

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Financial Freedom Is The Point

Eliminating debt, having an emergency fund, investing money and having a budget are all essential to developing financial freedom. But the approach to accomplish each one of these elements is dependent upon the person or persons involved, and any person suggesting that one approach is inherently better than the other is causing a dumb dichotomy, which is both unnecessary and distracting. Eliminate your consumer debt as fast as possible, using the method, or methods, that work best for you. Make and keep an emergency fund and reduce your financial worries. Invest money to develop wealth in the way you are most comfortable. Last, make a budget and follow it to ensure proper allocation of your precious dollars. Don’t let any dumb dichotomies distract you from your pursuit of financial freedom! These dichotomies are just…dumb.

For more information on financial freedom, check out Dave Ramsey’s book:
 
The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

And Then There Was One

 

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On The Path To Financial Freedom

To this point, the path toward financial freedom has been straight forward. The budget is in place. All consumer debt has been paid off, including cars, student loans and credit cards. Emergency fund is all set. Same is true with college savings for our last child in the house. We are saving and investing 15% toward retirement and tithing 10% to our church. And any left over money gets invested in a taxed account that will be used for future purchases.  Last, everything is automated so it “just happens”. Now, time and compound interest should produce results that lead toward freedom freedom. So far, so good. Now there’s only one debt left to deal with, the home mortgage, so the big question is: Do we pay off the mortgage, our last debt,  or do we invest that money to meet future needs?

Two Choices, Is One Better?

I think the choice between paying off an existing mortgage on a primary residence or investing that money to growth wealth is a matter of priority between financial freedom and financial independence. They are the same thing, you might say? I don’t think they are. Financial freedom puts peace of mind at a priority, including freedom from money worries and anxiety. So that would favor paying off the mortgage, because a debt, any debt, is an obligation that presumes we know and can control the future. Unknown-3It presumes we can make all the payments, but that is not a sure thing. Because in a 30 year mortgage, (15 year mortgage if you are really savvy), a number of things can go wrong that are out of your control and could prevent you, or hinder you greatly, from paying the mortgage like job loss, physical injury or other family health related issues. Yes, an emergency fund certainly helps in these circumstances, but if peace of mind and total freedom from money worry is the top priority, you probably would pay off the mortgage as soon as possible to ensure you always have a place to live.

Want financial freedom but don’t know where to start? Start with Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, click and enjoy!


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Financial independence, on the other hand, prioritizes choice over freedom. And it is quite possible that investing the money, instead of paying off the mortgage, can provide more choices. Choices like work (or not to work) choices, location choices and purchase choices. The assumption here is that the return on the money invested is greater than the savings in interest paid on the mortgage. And for the last ten years, including the financial recession of 2008-2009, that has clearly been the case. First, let’s look at the math.

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The Math – The Easy Part

Simply put, the cost savings by paying off the mortgage in the last ten years has been significantly less than the return on investment if that money was put into any S&P500 Index Fund for investment. This is how it works out for me: Mortgage interest rate of 3.875% minus the mortgage interest tax break (use a conservative tax rate of just 10%) gives you an effective cost of the mortgage money around 3.5%. Another way of saying this is that the financial benefit of paying off your mortgage is roughly a 3.5% return on your money. Compare that with investing that same money in a simple S&P500 Index Fund for the same time period, ten years, which according to Fidelity Investments, returned 7.5% annually, not including dividends. Minus out the taxes on that return and you have an after tax return of roughly 6.7%, or almost double the return when compared to paying off the mortgage!

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But There’s More

The math between our two choices is the easy part. Clearly, investing money instead of paying off the mortgage will generate more value. In my example, investing produces almost two times the return as paying off the mortgage. But there are several other factors to consider:

  • Peace of mind – Clearly paying off the mortgage will give you great peace of mind but it will cost you. In my ten year example, the investment difference of investing the money instead of paying down the mortgage is worth over $115,000! That is a high cost for peace of mind but for those that are truly risk adverse, it may be still worth it to pay off the mortgage.
  • Cost of the mortgage – If your mortgage interest rate is over 5%, the financial freedom of paying off the mortgage may be worth it, since the financial benefit of investing the money is much smaller. But, something else to consider, if your mortgage interest rate is that high, consider refinancing your mortgage. Today’s rates are much lower.

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It’s A Personal Decision, Possibly An Expensive One!

For me the decision is simple, because my investments actually did far better than average over the past ten years, (10% including reinvested dividends) and my mortgage rate is fixed at 3.875%, I choose to continue to invest our money instead of using that money to pay off the mortgage. Our six months of expenses emergency fund gives us peace of mind as far as making the mortgage payments, as does our long term disability insurance. Worst case, I can change my mind any time and pay off the mortgage with a portion of the investments. But the priority is to invest the money for a greater return. Assuming my wife and I live an average life span and we keep the money invested in the market, we can expect to earn about $400,000 more dollars by this decision than if we decided to pay off the mortgage. That certainly helps calm the nerves about having a mortgage!

What do you think? This is what I think: Financial freedom (or independence) is hard work, but it is worth it!

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The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

The Financial Freedom Letter I Want To Write To My 30 Year Younger Self

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Letter To Self

Dear Self,

Freedom is a big deal. Great people in our country have fought and died for it. And financial freedom is no exception. If you start early and 1) aggressively save,  2) use the power of compound interest and 3) exercise some budget restraint, you can achieve complete financial freedom and transition into retirement at an early age. What does this mean? You will have the freedom to choose if and where you work. You will have freedom from worry about money and the anxiety of debt. You will have freedom to chase your dreams and spend time in those things you are passionate about. Sound good? I think so too. If you are seriously interested in financial freedom, listen carefully. There are just a couple simple actions you need to take right away. They require immediate commitment and action. Still interested? Then read on…

Begin With The End In Mind

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The first step toward financial freedom is to know your “why”. Actually, it is to know your “what” and your “why”. The what we already discussed. The what is to retire from full time employment at an early age and to experience financial freedom. To go a little further, let’s be more specific. The what is to retire by age 55 and have the freedom to pursue the passions of your heart, namely: tropical beach centered living, travel and generously giving back in my community. That brings us to the why. The why is that financial freedom allows me to contribute the most to my family and to society in general. I am more valuable to my family, community and God if I am financially free to live and serve others without the constraints of a full time job or full time financial worries. Let’s get started.

Save And Invest From The Start

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You’re 22 years old and fresh out of college, making a good salary in a growing industry. Your first step is to save aggressively. You just came out of four years of living frugally on the college campus, so before you expand your cost of living with the new salary, dedicate yourself to save 30% of your salary from the first paycheck on. That’s right, 30% right off the top. Have the savings automatically deducted from your paycheck before you see it in your checking account. That way you don’t even miss it, because you never had it to spend in the first place. Where will the savings go? Three places to start: 1) 10% of your paycheck will go into an emergency fund until it gets up to one month’s of expenses. 2) 15% will go into your retirement account, offered by your employer, and includes a matching program. 3) The balance, 5%, goes into a new investment account. Once the emergency fund totals the equivalent of one month’s of expenses (enough for a single guy with a stable job, for now), that 10% of your paycheck will be added to the investment account (now totaling 15%). It’s that simple. Do this and your on your way to financial freedom…but not there yet.

Keep It Simple And Watch It Grow

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You were taught compound interest and investment principles in college, but go back and learn them again. What will you learn? That compound interest of savings that is invested in low cost, equity based investments develop rapid growth of wealth. Let’s go over the basics in some detail. The emergency fund goes into a checking or savings account and does not earn any investment return, but acts as self-insurance. This is called “sleep at night” money because it helps you sleep at night knowing that you can cover most of the unexpected little costs that come up in every day life. The emergency fund is the single biggest deterrent to mounting credit card debt. In turn, credit card debt is the single biggest threat against financial freedom, so we want to avoid consumer debt at all costs.

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The retirement account goes into the company 401K program as a pre-tax investment which lowers your taxable income and is eligible for the company matching program. That means the 15% of your income that you put aside from each paycheck automatically gets another 5% (50% match up to 10% of your income) added to it and then gets invested in low risk equity based mutual funds. This retirement savings, match and investment gets done automatically, each paycheck, before you see your paycheck.

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Last, your regular investment savings goes straight into a low cost equity index fund. Specifically, an S&P 500 Index Fund, which over the course of history has produced a 10% return annually. It’s that simple. Save money, invest money, let compound interest do it’s thing. What’s the key? Have the money automatically taken out of your paycheck so you don’t see it or be tempted to spend it before it goes to your investments.

Embrace The Budget

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To ensure you stay disciplined in your regular savings, embrace living on a budget. What does that mean? Develop a spending plan and learn to live (and spend) by it. Take the 70% of your paycheck that is left after savings is invested and allocate the money for living expenses. It’s pretty straight forward but you would be surprised how many people do not have a budget and lose track of their spending, only to end up broke or in debt. Here are the big budget items and targets for spending:

Housing (house payment/rent, utilities, insurance, taxes, HOA): 30% of net monthly pay

Auto (Car payments, gas, repairs, insurance, etc): 15% of net monthly pay

Food (Groceries, toiletries, eating out): 15% of net monthly pay

Debt Payment (No debt payment, no credit card balances, start off right!)

Generosity (Tithe, donations, etc): 10%

Entertainment (Fun, travel, vacations, pets, hobbies): 10%

Living Expenses (Clothes, gifts, household stuff, medical): 10%

Misc. 10%

Make a budget, live by that budget and get comfortable living well below your means by learning how to find low cost or free entertainment, food, transportation and household needs. You will not miss anything important by keeping your cost of living down. It’s that simple: Save, invest, live on a budget…and oh yeah, compound interest!

Enjoy The Ride

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I’ll say it again, it’s that simple: starting right out of college, save 30% of your paycheck, invest in an emergency fund, a retirement fund and low cost equity investments, and live below your means using a simple budget. Those are the primary vehicles to financial freedom. Because, over 33 years, from age 22 to 55, using the power of compound interest, those investments turn into something much bigger than the sum of the savings made over that time. Let’s take a look at the math with a couple assumptions:

Starting pay right out of college: $50,000 annually.

Assume 3% annual salary increases, pay by age 55 is $128,000 annually

Total savings over 33 years at 30% of income (Age 22 to age 55): $1,030,550 including company match

Investment value at age 55, given the following returns: emergency fund 0%, retirement fund 6.5%, investment account 10%: $2,991,000

That much money, almost $3M, produces $120,000 a year in annual income at age 55 (4% rule) or $10,000/month, which supports just about any lifestyle. More importantly, this income, allows for full financial freedom! And this does not include other income sources such as social security. In addition, by starting your saving and living on a budget early, and investing regularly, the process to achieve financial freedom was simple and easy. Compound interest does the heavy lifting. It turns your million dollars of savings over 30 years and into three million.

Start early, be disciplined, trust investments over time and the power of compound interest. It’s that easy!

Sincerely, The older you.

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Three Common Budget Leaks & How To Prevent Them!

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Here’s the setting: You’re committed to living in financial freedom. You’ve got big dreams and goals. On paper, you have a balanced budget, meaning, your expenses are less than your income each month, so there is money for savings and investments that support your goals. You’ve got an emergency fund. You’ve got no consumer debt and you are working toward paying off your mortgage. You’ve got a great plan to realize your dreams but there’s just one problem: At the end of each month, there’s not much money left to meet your savings and investment goals. You are trying to do everything right but you are leaking money somewhere. A little over budget here, a little over budget there and next thing you know, there’s little money to save or invest for the future. Help!

Three Common Budget Leaks…

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Budget Leak #1: Eating out

What is the biggest discretionary expense budget leak? Eating out. Eating out has become a bigger and bigger percentage of the American family food budget to the point where in 2015, the cost of eating out surpassed the cost of groceries in the average American food budget. And eating out can quickly become a budget buster! By the numbers, a home cooked meal averages about $2.45/meal whereas the average purchased meal is $7.55/meal. That’s almost three times as expensive as eating at home! All told, the average American family spends around $2,650 a year eating out, or $50/week. How does your eating out spending compare?

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Budget Leak #2: Paying for Convenience

The cost of convenience can cause several leaks in your monthly budget. Whether it is food, coffee, getting cash, mowing the lawn or getting our entertainment, the issue is usually paying money to save time. So we do things like buy food or a snack at the convenience store attached to the gas station while we are getting gas. Or we buy our coffee on the way to work instead of making it ourselves. Sometimes it is as simple as hiring someone to cut our lawn on a regular basis so we don’t have to do it ourselves. One type of convenience option that is popular but mostly forgotten are the entertainment subscriptions: Most of us have Netflix and/or Hulu, cable on demand or premium cable channels. In each of these cases, we pay a premium for convenience. The question is, are we using them and getting the value out of them?

By the numbers, convenience food and drink is roughly 50% more expensive than that from the home. The average lawn service is $150 a month and average monthly entertainment subscriptions are $83/month. Don’t forget about other convenience costs too like ATM and other banking fees, home cleaning and valet parking. All told, we have hundreds of dollars of convenience spending each month. Is it worth it?

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Budget Leak #3: Impulse buys

Impulse buying is a huge budget breaker. Everyone does it, right? Well, yes, according to a 2015 report, over 84% of Americans admit to impulse buying. And most of that impulse buying is done in the store (79%). In fact, department stores, grocery stores and more recently, online stores focus their displays to promote impulse buying. That doesn’t come as a surprise. What may be a surprise to most of us is that a recent report it was calculated that each American family will spend more than $114,000 in their lifetime on impulse buys! In the long run, is it worth it? Most times, no. But we see that pretty display or see that sign that says “Sale” or “For a limited time only”, and we just have to have it. This is what I know, most of us can’t recall that impulse buy we made last month or last week, but we would remember anything we did with $114,000 if we used it to fund a life goal and dream with! That would be a really big life goal(s)!!!

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…And Four Ways To Prevent Them

Budget Leak Prevention Tip #1: Get The Budget Order Right

Warren Buffett is credited with this quote about the proper budgeting order for savings and spending: “Don’t save what’s left after spending, but spend what’s left after saving!” This quote sums up the proper approach to determining our starting point for budgeting our expenses. The dollar amount we have to spend each month is determined AFTER we pay ourselves (and fund our dreams) first. Fund your emergency fund, retirement fund, college expenses fund and future purchase fund first. Then allocate the money that is left for spending. This is the first, and most important (arguably) action to prevent budget leaks.

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Budget Leak Prevention Tip #2: Know The Value Of Your Time

The value and convenience of using services to gain more time in our schedules is frequently worth it. But not always, so we need to know the value of our time so we can answer the question: Is the cost of this service worth it? We want to spend money when it is worth the cost in our lifestyle and budget. But we have opportunities to save money (and stop budget leaks) if we can eliminate unnecessary and cost prohibitive services, or services we have just because someone you know is doing it. For me, I use $50 an hour as the value of my time. So if there is a task that costs more than $50/hour, I try to do the task myself. For each person and each task, this value varies. But it is good to review the value of each service you are using to look for ways to save money (or stop leaks) in your budget. Here are some personal examples: Cutting the lawn, cleaning the house and small painting jobs are all jobs I choose to do myself in order to save money in my budget. Why? Because these tasks cost more than $50/hour to have someone else do them. But things like changing the oil in my car ($24) and weekly trash service ($4) we have others perform because it is not worth our time to do. Know the value of your time and know what you are willing (and not willing) to do to save money for bigger purposes like funding goals and dreams.

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Budget Leak Prevention Tip #3: Maintain Short Term Goals

Having short term goals to work towards keeps us motivated to stay on our budget. In Tip #2 listed above, I mention that I chose to mow my own lawn and clean my own house. Why would I do these dirty jobs? The answer is simple: Because the cost savings of those two actions alone, over the course of a year, completely pay for one of the vacations we take every year! That’s right, a little bit of dirty work each week (under an hour each) provides us with a debt-free vacation to our happy place. To me and my wife, it is worth it. Having that short term goal also motivates us when we don’t feel like cleaning and mowing the lawn.

We have made other short term goals that help keep us on budget to achieve bigger goals and dreams, like retirement, the children’s education and, someday, a new, smaller home, paid for in cash. For example, the goal to fund retirement requires a very bigger number, seven digits. Seemingly almost unachievable. But breaking down that goal into monthly savings amounts makes it seem doable and motivates us to stay on our savings plan.

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Budget Leak Prevention Tip #4: Practice Contentment

Practicing contentment helps us prevent budget leaks because it reduces our need for spending, impulsive or otherwise, that comes from the need for instant gratification or from envy of the neighbors. Contentment helps us keep our eyes on our bigger dreams and goals, and away from the immediate wants in front of us. Sometimes contentment gets a bad rap, and is viewed as being complacent or staid. But that is not contentment at all. Contentment is being joyful and having ease of mind where you currently are (and maintaining the budget), on your way to where you are going (dreams and goals). And we need to work at (practice) contentment because it doesn’t come to us naturally as we are bombarded with commercials and advertisements telling us that we need more (spending) to be important, successful and happy. In essence, contentment helps us prevent budget leakage from seemingly “good” ideas at the time, to save up for “great” dreams and goals in the future.

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The Final Say

U.S. News and World Report did a study that found that the average American spends 22% of their discretionary money on things they can’t recollect. That’s almost one out of every four dollars spent that has no lasting value! That’s a lot to pay for forgettable stuff! The purpose of making and using a budget is so that every dollar is allocated according to your dreams, goals and plans. Thus, budget leaks are dream stealers and should be prevented or corrected. I hope these tips help you prevent budget leaks and I hope you achieve everyone of your dreams and goal!

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The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Free Money! What Do I Do With It?

Free Money!

Maybe its money from a long lost relative. Maybe its a business deal or stock trade that went far better than planned, or maybe its a big tax return check or a bonus. We all LOVE getting money we weren’t expecting. I call that free money! Boy, the possibilities start to enter your mind on how to enjoy that money! I’m not talking about the dollar bill you found on the sidewalk or the five dollar bill folded up in a pocket. Those finds are sweet, don’t get me wrong, but I’m talking about some serious money that could afford something big, like a vacation, a new car or a whole lot of fun! If you’re like me, my head can get filled with ideas on how to use the money real quick. So years ago, when I was in one of these sweet situations, I had to stop for a moment and come up with an approach to dealing with large amounts of unexpected money so that I would make the best use of this new windfall. I call it the 30/50/10/10 plan. Here’s my approach:

Before We Get Started

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Before we get started let’s do two things: First, take a moment and list your overall financial goals and objectives. It helps to look at the big picture before we get into the details. For me that’s pretty simple: 1) Live in complete financial freedom, 2) Provide for my family, 3) Responsibly help in my community, 4) Pursue our passions. What does that look like practically?

  • No debt, no money worry or anxiety, no dependence on others for our needs
  • Ample savings for emergencies, retirement, family/house needs, and college expenses
  • Live on a balanced budget and teach our kids to do the same
  • Tithe to our local church plus support some local charities
  • Travel!

Second, before we use the free money, subtract an amount for taxes and (in our case) our tithe so that we know the real amount available for use. Typically, that totals about 30% of the free money. This is the 30 in the 30/50/10/10 plan, meaning the first 30% of the free money. In other words, if we received $10,000 of free money, we would put aside about $3,000 for taxes and tithe, ( giving thanks to God and giving Uncle Sam his portion), then plan to use the remaining $7,000. By doing this, we eliminate a nasty surprise come tax time at the next of the year when the money is all spent and we have nothing to pay the taxes with. Now we are ready to use the rest of the free money. But what do we do with it?

Step #1: Pay Yourself (The “50”)

Since financial freedom is our top priority, always, we need to pay ourselves first, in the form of eliminating debts and/or adding to our various savings and investments. At least half of all free money goes to paying ourselves first. This is the 50 (50% of the free money) in the 30/50/10/10 plan. First step: pay off any outstanding consumer debt. Is there a credit card with a balance still on it? Pay it off first. No questions asked. If there is no credit card balance but there is a car loan balance or a student loan balance, we make payments to pay down that debt. Next, if we paid down our debts and we still have some of that half left, we pay ourselves by adding to our savings and investments in this prioritized manner:

  • Top off our emergency fund, if it needs it, which when full, stands at three month’s worth of expenses
  • Extra savings for upcoming household needs: replacement used car, replacement washer and dryer, etc
  • Money towards the kid’s needs: College 529? Summer camp?
  • Add to long term investments
  • The retirement fund already gets maximum contributions from the budget so it gets a lower priority for any free money allocation.

Again, about half of the available free money goes to paying off any debts and/or savings, with the hope that we can achieve a milestone of some sort that we then can celebrate as a family.

Step #2: Celebrate!

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Celebrate! Take some of the free money and take time to celebrate 1) the free money and 2) the debt reduction and savings milestones you achieved in step #1. If the free money allows us to completely pay off credit card debt. Awesome! Let’s celebrate that. If the free money allows us to purchase, with cash, a good replacement washing machine because the old one died, great, let’s celebrate. If we can put some money away for that next vacation, celebrate! You get the idea. Most people don’t celebrate saving money or paying off debt, but most people will get excited about achieving a milestone. Take the family out to dinner, or go to a movie, or something that everyone gets excited about.

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Let your kids know what you are celebrating so they connect the fun with the milestone. The celebration doesn’t have to be big. Just big enough to make the point that the free money is an unexpected blessing that allows you to obtain or maintain your financial freedom as a family. The money to celebrate is a portion of the first 10 in the 30/50/10/10 free money distribution plan. In fact, step #2 and step #3 (explained next) combined make up the full 10%.

Step #3: Meet Family Needs

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Now’s a good time to put some money aside for upcoming family needs. These are things like kid’s school expenses, clothes, a delayed car repair or shoes. This money can also go toward a date night with your spouse or attending a special event. This money allows us to catch up on “want” expenses. Those purchases or experiences that make you feel special but don’t qualify as a “must have item”, like an emergency fund or putting money towards retirement. As mentioned in step #2, the combined total of money spent in steps #2 & #3 is not to exceed 10% of the free money.

Step #4: Be Prepared…And Generous (The Last 10)

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Want to really experience financial freedom? Try taking 10% of your free money, after you have tithed, paid Uncle Sam, saved, eliminated debt, celebrated and bought something special for that someone special, and set it aside…for what comes your way. That’s right, set aside money for living, and helping, in the moment. Do you have a friend that needs a little help? Maybe that friend just lost her job and you feel like you’d like to bring over some groceries. Use this money! Maybe you get an opportunity to help a local charity. Use this money. Maybe you’ve got wedding/birthday/Christmas presents you want to purchase, outside your regular budget. Use this money. Take 10% of your free money and set it aside as a contingency to help and/or bless others as you feel moved to do so. You may be surprised how freeing this money makes you feel, because it gives you the freedom to act in the moment. This is the final 10 in the 30/50/10/10 plan.

Financial Freedom Is Better

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Coming into free money, that is, a large amount of money that you did not expect to get, is wonderful in and of itself. But free money that is allocated in a way that supports your financial goals following financial freedom principles is even better. Why is that? Because the money is allocated consistent with your long term dreams and priorities. Let’s recap the free money allocation discussed here:

  • We gave thanks to God for the free money (Tithe)
  • We set aside a portion for taxes so that there would be no “gotcha” come tax time
  • We paid off debt
  • We saved and invested money for future needs, emergencies and dreams
  • We celebrated the blessing of the free money
  • We invested in some family  wants
  • We set aside money for opportunities that come our way

That is great use of money we never expected to get. It is invested in both our present and future needs that the whole family will benefit from. This distribution of free money is also generous, grateful and opportunistic, which goes a long way in our quest to live in financial freedom. What do you think of the 30/50/10/10 model? Let’s us know what you think! However you use your free money, I hope you achieve and maintain financial freedom.

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How Much Should I Be Saving? a.k.a. Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

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Knowing What To Do, And Doing It, Are Two Different Things

In January of this year, Fidelity Investments published a report that said we need to be saving at least 16% of our net spendable income (total income minus taxes and charitable giving). It went on to say that we really need to be saving closer to 23% of net spendable income if we want to be sure to have enough money to fund most of our dreams and plans. Yet, in that same article, Fidelity reported that the actual American savings rate is actually in a range between 4.5% to 7% of net spendable income. That’s right, Americans are saving roughly one third of what we should be saving. So what does that mean? Does it mean we only have 4.5-7% of our money left after paying our bills to go towards savings? Or maybe it means that we aren’t serious about the American dream, including retirement, travel and helping our kids with college. In any case, let’s take a look at what we should be saving for, how much we should be saving, and why it matters.

Categories Of Savings

Before we discuss the categories of savings, we should determine WHY we need to save. We save money from each paycheck to 1) build wealth to fund our lifestyle, dreams and goals, 2)self-insure against disaster, 3)  raise our families and 4) to help others through generosity. When there is enough savings to cover all four of these areas, we are well on our way to financial freedom. If that is the case, then there are four types of saving we need to maintain:

  1. Emergency Fund
  2. Retirement
  3. Family/Kids Savings
  4. Future Needs Savings

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Emergency Fund

First and foremost is an emergency fund. This is money set aside for true emergencies so that we don’t rely on debt when an emergency strikes. In fact, the emergency fund is the number one way to keep out of debt, as it is the most cost-effective self-insurance. How much emergency fund is enough?  Most pundits agree that somewhere between three months and six months of expenses is the right range for an emergency fund, depending on your risk adverseness. Once the emergency fund is fully funded, we do not need to continue to fund it. But every time we dip into the fund, we need to re-fill it to prepare for the next emergency.

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Retirement Savings

The second reason to save is for retirement. Let me say it another way. Once we have funded an appropriate emergency fund, we need to start saving for retirement, and the earlier we start the better because of the power of compound interest. There are many theories about how much and where you should save for retirement but the fact remains that we must prepare for life after full time work and/or old age. It is not our children’s responsibility to take care of us when we are old but our own. How much do we save? As a general rule, target 25 times your annual expenses as the amount you want to have for retirement. And though this amount varies for each individual, there are some smart rules to follow:

  1. Start saving for retirement early, letting compound interest work over decades of savings.
  2. Take advantage of tax preferred accounts like 401K, Roth, SEP and IRA accounts to minimize taxes
  3. Take advantage of employer matching plans and/or other employer retirement benefits

How much should we be putting away for retirement each month? Experts suggest we save 15% towards retirement.

images-3Family/Kids Savings

For those raising families or expecting to raise families, we need to be saving for known children expenses, including school, marriage, cars and other events (think summer camp and travel) that are assumed to occur. For most of us, this can be done over many years so slow and steady savings can meet your needs. Why not start savings accounts for each child on the day they are born? Where should we save this money? 529 Plans come to mind for their education. Also trust accounts or ESA’s. But they should be separate from our day-to-day funds and take advantage of tax preferred accounts if we know the money will be used for higher education. How much should we be saving each month? Experts suggest  3-5% of our pay.

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Future Needs Savings

Life happens and it can be expensive. All of us have autos, homes, furniture, appliances and other items that wear out or need upgrading over time. We need to be saving for these eventualities. Since these savings are short term in nature, less than 10 years, the money needs to be invested in something that is safe but returns more than the cost of inflation. Maybe a safe low cost, low turnover mutual fund or an ETF. How much each month? Again, 3-5% of pay.

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Total It All Up

Savings must be a part of the monthly family budget. Savings is as important as the rent, food and clothing. Why? Because savings, when invested correctly, generates the wealth needed to fulfill goals and dreams. Want to retire some day? Invested savings is the answer. Want to send your kids to college? Savings is the key. Want to stay out of debt? Saving, in the way of an emergency fund, is the only way to prevent credit card debt when (not if) an emergency occurs.

What are we looking at when it comes to savings as a percentage of net income? When you add it all up, it really is between 16-23% of our net pay. Wow! Some people even suggest it should be 30% of our net pay. That’s a lot. But it pales in comparison to the financial and mental cost of debt, worry and anguish that comes when “life happens” and we don’t have funds set aside to deal with the emergencies. Or don’t have the money when a car of some other piece of equipment wears out and we can’t replace it. What is the alternative? Credit card debt? Student debt? Auto loans? Line of credit? All of these option are expensive and ultimately steal away financial freedom.

Here’s the mindset we must have as stated by Warren Buffett: “We must spend what’s left after saving, not save what’s left after spending.” Instead of trying to save what’s left after spending, we need to make savings a priority and right-size our lifestyle to live comfortably on what’s left after saving.

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The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness