Finances

churchmoney

I know that we all have wasted money here and there. I will fully admit that I have a time or two. Most of the time it has been on accident but there have been times where I legit wasn’t able to make a payment on time…back in the day. I just had to accept it and suffer the consequences.

Now that I have dug myself out of living paycheck to paycheck and I am more financially conscious I try to avoid having any unnecessary expenses…at all costs. <<— Does that even make sense? LOL You know what I was trying to say. 🙂

I like to think that no one wants to waste money but sometimes we do. I was thinking maybe you just need a list of the top ways that either I have wasted money or ways that I have witnessed other people wasting money to open your eyes and NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY! Some of it is common sense and some of it you actually have to make a change in your life in order to not waste your money. Either way if you always try to be aware of these things you will always end up with more money in your pocket.

CHECKING ACCOUNT FEES

Free checking accounts seem to be rare these days. Make sure you aren’t being charged and don’t know it. Call a customer service rep at your financial institution. Sometimes they have certain requirements to get the account for free like signing up for E-statements. If you can’t avoid the fees then shop around for a new bank. There are still free ones out there.

OVERDRAFT FEES

I think that this is one of my pet peeves. Some people will know dang well that they do not have any money in their account but go into a store and buy something so minimal, like $3 to $4, with their debit card and end up paying an extra $34 in an overdraft fee. What the what??!?! This one is common sense. I know that most people do not keep a register of their account…shoot, I don’t even do that, but I do look at my account online or through the app and make sure I have money. If I’m getting low I just don’t use my debit card. I would rather pull out the little bit of cash and when it is gone it’s gone. I do not want to play around with overdraft fees — they add up real quick and then you will have yourself in a real negative situation.

AVOID LATE PAYMENTS

When people have multiple bills to pay I know that accidentally skipping one can happen. This is why it is a good idea to write down your bills each month and check them off as you pay them. I have a very sloppy spreadsheet log that has each of my pay dates for the whole year and under each pay date I list which bills I need to pay with that pay check. As soon as I pay it I highlight in yellow. You are looking at a $25-$35 late payment fee, not to mention the ding you will get on your FICO score.

AUTOMATIC SUBSCRIPTIONS

This is a sneaky little trick that can get many people. For instance, I know someone who recently was duped into this. What happened was he used Equifax to check his credit report/score for free. Well it was one of those where after you received your free package you were then automatically signed up to receive monthly credit report updates at a cost of something around $30.00. You had to manually opt out of that yourself and I bet you can guess what happened… he never opted out. 6 months went by being charged $30 and he didn’t even realize it.

Lesson here: unless you know that you will opt out of whatever subscription you come across on time don’t bother taking advantage of any of the one time offers.

PROGRAM YOUR THERMOSTAT

This is one that I finally started doing a year ago. I know I know – it was stupid of me that there was a time I did not do this. It does save you money though. I live in Northern Indiana and we experience all seasons. During the day while we are at school and work we do not need so much heat or A/C. If you don’t have the ability to program your thermostat all you need to do is adjust it before you leave and then again when you come home.

QUIT UNHEALTHY HABITS

Quitting an unhealthy habit like smoking, drinking every single day, eating fast food every day or cutting out pop can save you tons of money. I realize this would be a hard change to make but the benefits are two-fold: you save money and your saving your health. The average price of a pack of cigarettes in Indiana is about $6.00. A pack a day will cost you about $2,190.00. Holy cow! This topic is personal to me because my dad smokes and the struggle is real. I know he wants to quit but it is so hard and I understand his struggle t to a point. My best advice is to never start.

PAYDAY LOANS

Payday loans may seem so convenient and easy to get and if you can pay it back right away then you might be asking what the big deal is. Well typically your average payday loan customer is a low-income worker who is living paycheck to paycheck. The odds of a payday loan being paid back right away is small — and most of the time people find themselves extending it or just repeatedly taking payday loans. This eventually catches up to most people and causes them to sink further into debt. I personally think this should be illegal as I feel these places do more harm than good for people’s finances. On average, you will be charged $10-$15 per $100 borrowed for 2 weeks. If you can’t pay it back right away you can easily owe more than you borrowed. Don’t do it!

POOR PLANNING

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail”

This is me! This is my struggle that I am working on. This can cover many areas that could end up costing you more money. For me though – it’s all about meal planning. I don’t plan meals which causes us to eat out often. I don’t even like eating out that much but I get caught up in it for the convenience. We have cut back on eating out but it still happens, especially during busy seasons. This can cost me any where from $20-$50 per week depending on how much or where we go. Ideally I’d love to eat out only 2 times a month but man oh man is that hard! I am working on it though.

If one would stop doing all of these things for a month, how much would they save?
Based on my situation and family size I would guess that if were wasting money by doing this list of things we could save around $300 per month.

 

Do any of you waste your money in these ways? Do you have other ways we could be wasting money…that we should stop doing!

photo via sharefaith

Budget, Life, Parenting

back-to-school2The back to school countdown is officially beginning for us. School starts on August 17th around here which means we they have 16 more days until the big day.

I am happy to say that we are done shopping for back to school supplies and uniforms and I did it all in one weekend. I am super proud of myself because typically we are rushing around from store to store, sometimes just days until the first day. #GOME

This year we did all of our shopping at Target for the school supplies and we went to Old Navy for school uniforms. Only going to two stores made the process so much easier and less painful. No dragging my kids from store to store hearing them ask over and over again “Are we done?” #NO

I can usually rely on Old Navy for good prices and sales. And just maybe there is something to not shopping at the last minute because they actually had a good supply of choices and sizes. #DUH In the past, when I would wait until the last minute we would have to hop from store to store because lots of things were sold out or they didn’t have my kids sizes. Lesson learned! #ALWAYSGOEARLY

My kids attend public school and our school system requires uniforms. I personally don’t mind this at all. It makes shopping for clothes a little more easy and it makes getting ready in the mornings a heck of a lot easier. I also feel like I don’t overspend on clothes anymore and we aren’t feeling the pressure of buying the best name brand items.

Shopping for school supplies is a lot more fun. My kids are usually excited to get the supplies and pick out their folders, notebooks and backpacks. I have to admit I enjoy it too – except when we are paying.

This year my daughter will be in the sixth grade and my son will be in second grade. This will be the very last year that my kids will be going to the same school together and I am starting to get very sentimental about that. Which means this is going to be an emotional year. I foresee tears at every event and school function. #SIGH

All in all – I don’t think the amount I spent on back to school shopping was too bad. I am so happy we are done. My son could probably care less about school starting but my daughter is pumped. She has already started organizing her supplies and getting ready for the first day of school.

SCHOOL SUPPLIES         $102.00 *includes backpacks

SCHOOL UNIFORMS     $194.00

TOTAL                                 $296.00

What is your back to school budget? What supplies are you required to buy?

ARE YOU READY?

 

Finances, Life

Time-is-Money1

When it comes to saving…time really is money!

And this my friends is just more of a reason to participate in a retirement plan as soon as you get your first gig, that is IF your employer has one set up – and NEVER touch it! The younger you start the absolute better off you will be.

I know, I know – a 401(k) plan is no pension plan with an expected rate of return but unfortunately those plans are kind of a thing of the past. And if you have an employer who offers a 401(k) plan that includes a match (AKA…FREE $$) then you better take advantage.

It pays to start early! I am by no means a wizard at using excel but I wanted to quickly put together a chart that shows what starting early could mean for you.

DATA

This data includes the assumption of a 6% return on investments. Yes – I realize that seems so unbelievable at the moment but remember we are thinking long term…not short term.

We are looking at two people; one who starts contributing $100 per month at 25 for 10 years then stops, and the other one who starts contributing the same amount starting at 35 for 30 years.

This just goes to show you that time is on your side. Time is your BFF! One of the main things to take away from this is that the earlier you start saving the less you will have to save out of your pocket. In this example, between two people one only had to put away $12k, as opposed to $36k, to end up with about the same amount of savings.

If you are reading this I urge you to saving NOW and to encourage your younger family/friends to start saving ASAP.

At what age did you start saving?

Photo via: BlogActiv.eu

 

 

 

 

Finances, Life, student loan

student loan debt

We all need an edumication…I mean, education – right?! But at what cost? My personal take on college is that it costs too much damn money. I know that it can’t be 100% free for everyone (yet), but I think we can all agree that we are being robbed blind. Am I wrong?

I will tell every high school senior I know that I do not believe going to college is worth it if you do not have a plan to pay for it.

I have approximately $19k in student loan debt – that is a lot! And from what it sounds like, in comparison to my counterparts, I may have the least amount of student loan debt. If I have a lot then how much do they have? From the people that I personally know their student loan debt ranges from $50k-$100k. Ew!

If you have not secured any significant scholarships, if you do not have parents who are going to fully pay for your education or if you are not 100% sure what you want to major in then…HOLD YOUR HORSES ON GOING TO COLLEGE. I’m just being real with you. #sorrynotsorry

In all seriousness, I want everyone to further their education, it just really pisses me off when kids get sent off to school uneducated about the reality of what going to college could cost you. Which causes them to come out of school with a debt burden that gets in the way of starting their life and enjoying it. And to think all they did was want to learn more.

Why aren’t kids more educated about the cost of going to college? I think there are a few answers to this. In some case kids are made to feel like college is the only option they have; either from their parents and/or society itself. Also, sometimes kids can’t wait to go off to college and have their independence so they will do whatever they need to do to make that happen.

As much as high school seniors think they know everything…they don’t. As mature as some high school seniors may seem they still need to be schooled on this topic. They all should be sat down and informed of the reality of what the costs are associated with going to college.

The following will be my list of things NOT to do, my big red warning signs of things to avoid – or maybe it’ll  be a list that includes my tips and advice. I don’t know really…I’m winging this list. It is an accumulation of things I learned the hard way or learned from others. And just a word to the wise – it is ALWAYS smarter to learn from someone else’s mistakes. 

student loan

  1. If your parents are going to take out a parent loan for your education with the expectation that you will pay it back at some point kindly reject that offer. It is very nice of them to be willing to do that and you should be very appreciative of that fact but think about for a minute. Once it is time to pay it back you will have zero options in the terms of paying it back. Since it will be in their name you will not have the opportunity to call the lender yourself and apply for a deferment/forbearance or to change the payment amount. The loan payment amount will probably be based on your parents income which in most cases would result in higher payment than you could afford just starting out. These would be possibilities if the loan was in your name. Unless they are going to out right pay for any loans that they take out for you don’t get stuck in this situation.
  2. There is nothing wrong with going to a community college! A local college is going to be less expensive than a big named school or an out of state college. You can decide to take all of your general education and pre-requisites at a community college, focus on excelling in your classes and you can later transfer to the school of your choice. I know a lot of people who did this. It did save them a ton of money. They not only saved money by starting out at a less expensive school but they were also able to pick up some scholarships to use at the school they transferred to.
  3. If you do not know what you would like to major in I would hands down suggest that you start out at a community college. Again, this will be less expensive and it will give you the opportunity to explore your interests in hopes that you will figure out what it is you want to do.
  4. If you go into college unsure of what you want to major in OR you change your mind after already starting school you could potentially waste not only a lot of money but your time as well. I urge all high school seniors to really give your future some actual thought. What could you picture yourself happily doing day in and day out for the rest of your life? <<– Hint Hint: That is what your career should be.
  5. Looking back at my high school life I feel bitter about one thing. I was not a high achiever nor was I an under achiever – I was your average B student. I sort of feel like because I was not in the top of my class academically AND I was not a low income student, that may have caused my situation to be over-looked by my counselors or a possible mentor. I didn’t have totally involved parents guiding me through high school who talked to me about college and what I wanted to do. I could have really benefited from having some guidance from a school counselor who could answer questions that I didn’t even know to ask. I went to a larger more diverse high school so I know it is hard to have a one-on-one with every single student. But as a senior, I do believe counselors should talk to every senior on a personal level. If you are a senior and you feel like you don’t have someone to help you please seek out your counselor or a teacher you have a good relationship with and ask for guidance. Or just email me!
  6. Apply your butt off for every single scholarship you can! The chances of you receiving a scholarship are greater the more you apply for. And it doesn’t matter the amount the scholarship is for – every bit of money helps. If you can get a one time $500 scholarship you better be excited. That could pay for your books one semester. Hello!
  7. You should totally look into work study programs at the schools you are thinking about attending. If you can, do it! Do whatever you can to help pay for school so that you do not have to take out so much in loans.
  8. Back to the community college thing. If you go to a local college chances are you can live at home. Think about that for a minute…you will save so much money not paying for on-campus residence. Plus, if your parents are awesome and let you live at home for free while getting your degree, you better kiss their butts! Seriously. If living at home does not sound appealing to you ask yourself this: Would you rather live at home now or live at home later as a grown adult when you can’t afford anything due to student loan debt??? #justsayen
  9. If you are sure of your major and you have a career plan that you are happy and excited about then GO TO SCHOOL AND GET THAT DEGREE YO! If you have to pay for your schooling yourself my main advice for you is to take out the least amount of loans as possible. That means you need to look in to scholarships and any grants you could qualify for to use towards school. You should look into the work study programs offered at your school. If you can swing working and college at the same time you should try and pay for as much as you can out of pocket. Do any and everything you can to minimize the student loan amounts you will need to pay for the remainder of costs.

 

I hate leaving this so-called list at only 9 (such a random ending) but I feel like this was a rant more than anything. A legit rant though — a rant that you should really give some thought to.

The realization is this:

When you are as young as you are when you start college and money is literally being GIVEN to you to pay for school it feels fake in a way. Everything happens behind the scenes when your schooling is getting paid for – you don’t physically have money being given to YOU to then have YOU turn around and PAY the college. In the midst of all of the excitement of getting accepted to college, the school is handing you loan documents to sign to pay for school. You don’t see this happening – you just know that it’s being paid for and you can go on your merry way, right? Wrong!

The fact is when you are done with college (good job, btw!) and your grace period is over, that loan becomes very real and you really have to pay it back – with your money! So…please, please, please keep that in mind before you make the big decision on where to go to school, what you want to go to school for and how you intend on paying for it. ~Drops mic!

Please pass this along to every high school senior you know.

Photo via Lending Memo

Photo via Occupy

Budget, Life

Goodby June Hello July

I think that I got a little bit ahead of myself in June. I was getting too excited about actually trying out a budget and I didn’t even think it through. I failed miserably! I’m glad to be starting a new month.

Fail #1

I failed to think through the fact that I have two kids. How could I possibly forget those adorable little money sucking crumb snatchers?? Here is what having two kids cost me in June:

  1. School Book Rental Fees:     $317.94 *For the entire school year
  2. Theatre:                                  $100.00 *This included tickets & sponsorship
  3. Cheerleading:                         $175.00 *This is a one time cost for the year

TOTAL:                                        $592.94

Wow! This practically took up all of the extra money I was planning on having in June to put towards debt. These are all annual expenses so I will not be seeing these again until next year. I really did not set myself up for success here. I knew about these things yet I did not plan for them or even remember they were coming up. *Smacks self in the head*

SOLUTION: I need to be realistic and ask myself at the beginning of each month what do we all have going on. My kids are involved in extra-curricular activities and most of the time those cost some money depending on what they do. This could be anything; birthdays, activities, school clothes, etc.. Every month there is usually something. I have to keep that in mind. It was poor planning on my part and that is because I am not used to budgeting. Must do better next time!

 

Fail #2

If you recall I took a very important test in June. I spent a solid week studying and wigging out about this test. I was virtually non-existent at my house. This meant that I made ZERO meals. #SorryNOTSorry I mean, I passed the test and no one starved so it all worked out, right?. The truth is we ate out a lot that week. I didn’t want to deal with making food, cleaning up food and I wanted needed the convenience. Here’s what our food spending looked like in June:

  1. Groceries      $184.14
  2. Restaurant    $  74.86
  3. Fast Food      $134.01

TOTAL:              $393.01

 

SOLUTION: The solution here is that I probably should have went to the grocery store, spent half of what I spent on fast food and restaurants and got easy meals that my family could prepare on their own and put them in charge of the cooking and the cleaning it all up. To be honest – my mind was so hyper focused on the test that I wasn’t thinking straight. Since I do have another test to take around November I will try to implement this solution. Family must step up to the plate!

 

Fail #3

I failed to track my expenses for a period of time and I failed to be real with myself. I just jumped in to a budget I was not mentally prepared to follow. I know that we all have to start somewhere but looking back I made my so-called budget while writing my budget post, which took like an hour or two. It looked so easy – it looked so do-able. Well, well, well – it’s not that simple for me and it’s probably not that simple for most people who are new to budgeting.

SOLUTION: There must be something to the whole track your spending thing. I sort of thought that was a waste of time but now I can see that studying your spending habits for a month or two could help you plan for your personal spending pitfalls, so to say. If you want to start a budget I would suggest that you track your spending. I already dissected my transactions in June and I want to track my spending in July. I plan on making new budget in August/September, with the hopes that I have a realistic idea on what to include in my budget and how much to allocate to each item.

 

*ATTENTION ALL BEGINNER BUDGETER’S*

Have the following things in mind when creating a budget for the first time ~
  • Think of the bigger expenses you could encounter throughout the year. Take a calendar and write down when birthdays are, vacations you might take, kids school expenses, kids activities…this list could go on. Write them down and try to plan for them.
  • Even though you run into feeling stress from time to time, you should intentionally try to not spend money in response to that stress. If you must – keep it at a minimum. We are human. However, don’t be drastic with it.
  • Track your spending. Get to know your spending habits, bad and good.

All in all – I am not super disappointed. I am actually excited to learn these things and to try again. I’m ready for you JULY! 🙂

Help a sister out – What are your secrets to successful budgeting???

Budget, Finances, Life

REFINANCE! I Saved $281/Month by Using the HARP Program. Say What?!

saving money

We bought our home right before the housing crisis! This could be considered both a good thing and bad thing. It was good for us because we were able to go through the buying process when it was less stringent, which is ultimately how the mortgage crisis was caused. Getting our mortgage was almost too easy. The bad thing was that house prices dramatically dropped and we missed out on that. Urgh!

As I explained in my previous post My Debt Affairs, we chose a home that was sort of outside of our price range. Not a good decision. Luckily for us as the years went on our income increased so it never caught up to us. BUT, also as the years went on our mortgage payment increased. Would you believe that from 2007 until 2016 our mortgage payment went UP by about $300!!?! Ridiculous! What is more ridiculous is that I did nothing about it until now.

One reason why our mortgage payment increased was due to property taxes. We experienced some property tax issues at a county level. It was a HOT MESS! While they were in the middle of doing all of their assessments we had a payment or two when the property taxes were not paid. Which meant that the next payment was doubled from our escrow which really screwed with our escrow analysis. The other reason that contributed to our increased payment was our homeowners insurance premium kept going up, up and up every year. Again, this really messed up our escrow analysis.

FYI: An escrow account holds funds paid by the homeowner that will eventually pay certain property related expenses. This includes but is not limited to taxes and/or homeowners’ insurance premiums. These expenses are broken down and added to your mortgage payment. Your mortgage provider then performs an escrow analysis on your account each year. So…if your taxes and homeowner’s insurance increase then your escrow payment will increase. Insert picture of me crying —>>>losing money

Back in March they had just done their escrow analysis on my mortgage account and it was short because, as you guessed it, my expenses went up. Of course that was causing my mortgage payment to go up by another $35. I had finally had enough! I felt pissed – which is not normal for me. I can get mad but I rarely get like pissed mad. You know the difference. I was mad at my county for having such a mess up with our property taxes, I was mad at my insurance provider by not really looking out for me, I was mad at this stupid escrow analysis because I still honestly think how they calculate it is whack, and finally, I was mostly mad at myself for not being proactive about all of this a long a** time ago. *RANT OVER*

I finally did some digging. They finally have our property taxes straightened out as of last year, so we are good on that. They still will probably go up in the future but at least the amounts aren’t changing every time it is due. They are stable now. Then my next call was to my insurance provider. I did do comparison shopping and without going into all of the details (maybe in another post) I ultimately decided to stay with my current provider. They were able to lower my homeowners insurance premium but $250 by adding my auto insurance to the package, which gave me some discounts. Through this process I was able to lower my auto insurance as well. Holla!

Since I was on this ‘lowering my bills’ ride I didn’t want to get off…so I started looking into refinancing. I have contemplated refinancing more than a dozen times but knowing how much the banking regulations have tightened I just thought it would be too daunting and I didn’t want to deal with any potential issues. Knowing what I know now I will say it is worth looking into so if you are tossing around the idea of refinancing go to your local trusted bank or credit union and start asking questions. The worst case scenario is you decide not to do it.

In my case my goal was to simply lower my monthly payments. I am pretty sure that this is not our forever home so at some point we will put it on the market. A downside I was dealing with was that the housing market in my immediate neighborhood is not that great. There was enough uncertainty there that my mortgage originator suggested that the HARP program might be good for us.

HARP—the Home Affordable Refinance Program—was created by the Federal Housing Finance Agency specifically to help homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments, but have little to no equity in their homes, refinance their mortgage. If this sounds like this could be right for you then here are the requirements you must meet to be eligible:

  • You are current on your mortgage, with no 30-day+ late payments in the last six months and no more than one in the past 12 months
  • Your home is your primary residence, a 1-unit second home or a 1- to 4-unit investment property.
  • Your loan is owned by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. You can look it up if you are unsure. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
  • Your loan was originated on or before May 31, 2009.
  • Your current loan-to-value (LTV) ratio must be greater than 80%. Calculate your LTV ratio with this tool.

 

If you meet all of the above requirements you can move forward with attempting to refinance using HARP. I say attempting because the bank you are working with still will need to approve you for the mortgage. This is called the underwriting process. The bank will dig into the following three C’s:

  1. Capacity – They will want copies of your financial statements, pay stubs and they will look at your current debt. They will look closely at your debt-to-income ratio to see if you have the money to be able to take on this mortgage on top of your current expenses.
  2. Credit – Of course they will be dissecting your credit report and looking at your credit scores. This is one of the more important factors. This will let the bank know how you have handled your finances in the past and in the present to determine your ability to pay for this new mortgage. If you have consistently paid for your loans late or if you skipped out on paying at all then the bank won’t be jumping up and down to loan you money.
  3. Collateral – The bank will also look at the type of property you are buying. Investment properties are more risky than buying a home you will live in. Also, they want to make sure they are not loaning you more than what the property is worth. In most cases, they will want a home appraisal done.

After all of that was said and done I made it to the end. I found out I was eligible to use HARP. Great! I gave my mortgage person all of the requested documents and she pulled my credit report. I met the underwriting requirements too. Phew! In some cases the HARP program will allow the appraisal to be waived and that was the case for me. That saved me about $350 not having to do that. I also did not need to put any money down. It feels unreal.

I really want anyone who thinks they could benefit from the low interest rates right now to go in and at least ask about refinancing. There is no harm in that. If you have a good mortgage person they will be determined to find the right loan for you. It could be that HARP won’t work for you but another type of mortgage loan would. This is why taking some time to sit down and talk it out with a professional is a good idea. If for some reason you get denied, look at that is a good opportunity to clean up your finances and try again at a later date.saving money

In the end my mortgage payment was reduced and I am now saving $281/month. It feels amazing to be saving that much money. This is me feeling amazing —>>

Could you benefit from refinancing right now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life

board-361516_1280So…if you haven’t noticed I have been MIA for the last week. Why? My face has been stuck in a book every chance I had for the last 7 days. I have not allowed myself to visit this blog, or anyone’s blog, at all because it would have been too distracting to me. Let’s face it, reading and writing for enjoyment purposes is much better than doing it because you have to take a super important test.

For the last 7 days I have been preparing to take one of two tests that I need to receive my QKA credential. In case you do not know, having the QKA credential means that I will be a Qualified 401(k) Administrator. This designation is credentialed through the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries (ASPPA). Let me tell ya, being on the participant end is much easier than being on the administration end of a retirement plan. There are so many details that go into making sure a retirement plan is operating according to the laws and regulations – it is overwhelming. Even for me and I have been doing it for a little while now in one aspect or another.

If you are wondering why I would allow myself only 7 days to prepare for a very important test, it is because I am a procrastinator. Always have been and let’s be honest, I probably always will be (to an extent). As I get older I know my boundaries and limits more with what I can hold off on. But I am still a ‘wait till the last minute’ type of person. With that said, I really do feel like I do my best work that way. It has been a challenging week getting prepared for the test to say the least. I only had one little breakdown moment towards the kids when they questioned my mood. I went on a little crazy rant and I may or may not have started to cry during that rant. Only having one is pretty good in my opinion. (No judging!)

In regards to this test I had 12 chapters to learn and know like the back of my hand. 12 looonng chapters! Without further ado…here are my studying methods that helped me these last 7 days.

  1. Being in the right frame of mind

As anxious as you might feel you really have to try your hardest to put your mind in a good and positive place. I know that you can’t be Mary Poppins 24/7! There will be moments of sheer panic as though you will never be ready to take the test. That is a definite. But overall – when you are thinking about taking the test visualize yourself passing it and try to be in that moment and feel how great it will be. When you talk about the test to others or even to yourself (I did that – again, no judging!) try to not to speak negatively about it. Don’t say things like “I am going to fail” or “I can’t do this”.

I really tried to have a positive outlook the entire week. Like I said, I had my mini meltdown and I had moments where I felt that nothing was making sense to me and I wasn’t getting it. Those are times where you really need to step away and rejuvenate. Which lead me to #2…

2.  Take a break and step away from the booksbooks-1015594_1280

When I was having my moments I would make myself walk away. Specifically, over the weekend the kids and I went to the beach, for a bike ride and to a new park in another town. Those moments were very necessary for me to restore my positive mind frame. Usually when I came back I was ready to study effectively. There is no way you will be able to sit there from morning until night studying. You need a break and the break should be doing something that will truly take your mind off of the big test altogether.

3.  Reward yourself

Since I had 12 chapters to study I would give myself mini rewards. For instance, one of the nights during the work week I told myself that once I was done studying a certain chapter I would take a relaxing bubble bath. That gave me something to look forward to and in that moment gave me motivation to get through the chapter. Even over the weekend when I took my breaks with the kids I only did those things once I completed a chapter. Doing small rewards like this helps give you a push to complete a small goal, like finishing a chapter.

4.  Study in a noise free zone

This one was hard for me. I have two kids who like to sing, dance and pretend to be an American Ninja Warrior. I have two kids who bicker and fight. I have two kids who watch YouTube videos at full volume. On top of that I don’t have a house that accommodates a noise free zone. So in my case – I had to first hand out headphones and also give mini rewards to them. Some would call that bribing but I needed those rewards too. I would explain to the kids that they needed to be quiet because I needed to study but I also would add that if you are quiet and I make it through this chapter we will go to the beach for a little bit. They were all for that! I have to give thanks to my kids for being cooperative and respectful through my week of studying. Lastly, if you are creating a quiet study spot then you really need to keep your phone or ipad/tablet away from you. This is where I failed a little bit. I finally had to turn off my phone because I kept looking at it for absolutely no good reason.

That is my situation and that is how I had to create my noise free zone. Others have the ability to get up and go to the library at a moments notice and some people have a home office they can utilize. Wherever it is, go there! Distraction free. And study, study, study.

5.  Now…for the actual studying part

Even though the set up of tests could be different and the material to study is different for each test, the way someone actually studies is overall the same. Before I explain how I studied for my test I will say that there is no wrong way to study  and you should do what works for you.

The book that I used to study had practice questions at the end of each chapter. The method that I felt would benefit me the most went a little something like this:

  • First, I read the chapter with intention. I didn’t speed read but I didn’t go super slow either. I read like I would read a regular book with no pressure.
  • After I finished reading the chapter I went back through and wrote my own outline and took notes. I would read my own outline and notes, sometimes out loud.
  • I would then answer the practice questions on my own, without looking at the book or notes. Any questions that I got wrong I would go back to that topic and spend a little more time on it. Doing this for 12 chapters took me from Monday until Saturday morning. I made a schedule and for the most part I stuck to it. Making a schedule of when I wanted to complete each chapter really helped me stay focused and complete those small goals.
  • Saturday and Sunday I re-took all of the practice questions for every chapter. Again, I went back and reviewed the material on any question I got wrong.
  • On the day of the test (which was yesterday 6/20/16) I spent the day just reviewing my own notes.

As you can probably could guess I DID pass my test! Hallelujah! I still have to take one more test, which I intend on taking in November, before I will get the QKA credential. I will follow the same methods that I did this time. However, I do plan on purchasing the book for this next test this week so maybe I will start reading each chapter sooner. 😉

Hopefully this will help anyone else out there who is feeling anxious and overwhelmed about taking an important test. I do believe the way you approach the test makes a big difference. Try and think positive. Never say I can’t!

What are your studying methods?

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

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A little unknown fact about me so far is that I work in the financial industry. More specifically, I work with retirement plans. I have seen both ends of the spectrum; people who have more than enough saved for when they are ready to retire, which means I have also seen people who have little, to nothing, saved for when they can’t work anymore. I say “can’t work anymore” because let’s face it – the people who haven’t saved enough will HAVE to work until they are physically not able to. This is a classic case of letting your money control your life and your decisions…being a slave to working.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. If you are currently working for a company and they offer a 401(k) Plan – by all means you better be taking full advantage. Here’s my Top 10 Reasons you should participate in your company’s 401(k) Plan.

10. IT’S EASY PEASY

Once you have met the eligibility requirements to participate all it takes is a simple form to officially enroll in your company’s 401(k). You choose how much you want to contribute; usually by setting a fixed amount or choosing a percentage of your pay. After the initial set-up you are good to go. Your contribution is taken directly from your paycheck. The set-up is easy and you don’t have to physically make sure you save money each pay period, that part is done for you. You won’t really miss the money either since this is all a pretty hands-off process.

9. SOCIAL SECURITY

Who the heck knows if Social Security will be around when you retire! Why count on it at all? Don’t! Save through your company’s 401(k) Plan and if Social Security is around when you retire, then GREAT! If it’s not, then at least your own security in the form of your retirement savings.

8. HIGHER LIMITS

A 401(k) allows for much higher limits as opposed to an IRA. For 2016, the annual limit you can contribute to a 401(k) is $18,000, plus if you are 50 years of age or older you can do a catch up contribution in the amount of $6,000. This can change year to year based on cost of living adjustments. The maximum contribution you can make to an IRA is $5,500 plus $1,000 as a catch-up contribution, again if you are 50 or older.

7. YOU DECIDE HOW MUCH TO SAVE

Stemming from number six you might be asking “Who the heck can contribute $18k?” Probably not many people besides for your doctors and lawyers. We all know that a teacher should be making what a doctor makes but since they don’t, we also know they probably live a more modest lifestyle and will save based upon that. The beauty is you decide how much you can contribute based on your income, your family situation, or your lifestyle. You can start small and gradually increase your savings or you can stop your contributions when you need to (but hopefully you’d start back up ASAP). You have the control in deciding this.

6. COMPOUNDING INTEREST

www.gotcredit.com
www.gotcredit.com

This reason alone makes having a 401(k) account very powerful. To put it simply; you earn interest when investing money, when that interest is earned it is put right back into your account to be invested and then earn more interest. So…you are earning interest on top of interest on top of interest, and so on and so on. This earnings might not be too noticeable in the beginning but over time you will most definitely see the growth.

http://401kcalculator.org
http://401kcalculator.org

5. SAVER’S CREDIT

This is a tax credit that the IRS provides to offer an incentive to people who contribute to a retirement account. This credit deducts dollar for dollar from the amount of tax you owe. It can be extremely advantageous.

4. TIME

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/

Hopefully I do not offend anyone here but the younger you start saving the better off you will be. You have time on your side, you lucky dog you! You have the time to save more money yourself and you have more time to watch that money grow over the years.

3. TAX ADVANTAGES

There are two tax advantages:

Your 401(k) contributions are tax-deductible. The money you contribute from your paycheck is deducted BEFORE taxes are taken, aka a pre-tax contribution. BOOM! This lowers you taxable income and saves you some money.

Also, your money grows tax-deferred. You are never taxed on your 401(k) account until you withdraw your funds. This includes your personal contributions and the matching contributions. The thought is you’ll be in a lower tax bracket when you retire and won’t pay as much in taxes.

2. INVESTMENT OPTIONS

Now a days, most 401(k) Plans are set up so that there are a list of mutual funds that you (yes, YOU) can choose from. This gives you more control over your investments. You are not relying on a company to make your investment decisions for you. If you don’t feel up to that task, there are usually target date mutual funds to choose from. These are funds that are actively managed so that you won’t have to do anything and you can be more hands off. Something you should particularly take note of are the costs of the mutual funds. If you know nothing about investments and you are participating in your company’s 401(k) – please know that you should always be informed of how much the mutual funds are costing you and how they have performed over time. Never be too scared or intimidated to ask that.  As a matter of fact, if you go to www.morningstar.com you can type in the fund’s ticker and find the information there.

1. FREE MONEY

The number one reason you should be participating in your company’s 401(k) Plan is for the FREE MONEY! Personally, this is reason enough for me to get the ball rolling. I realize that not every company does a matching contribution but if they do there really is no reason you shouldn’t take advantage of that while you can. Matching contributions can vary, since the company is the one who chooses what they will match. Some companies can be more generous than others, but if they are giving you anything, then it will be a benefit to you no matter what…because it’s free.

Saving for your retirement is super important, and don’t forget, the younger you start the better. Even if you are only contributing 1% of your pay that is better than nothing, especially if you are receiving a match on that 1% (remember, it’s free money!) Then as time goes on you can gradually increase that percentage as you can or when you get a raise. It is really a ‘set it and forget it’ type plan and there is nothing easier than that, especially when it has the potential to allow you to retire when YOU want to.

 

 

 

Budget, Finances, Life

8231671430_e83d55aa51_zDebt can be such a necessary evil!

It’s great in certain circumstances – you know, when it allows you to get on the path to own your home or it helps you finance your education. But even in those situations you can find yourself drowning. You always have to be on your ‘A’ game when making these huge decisions. What if you spend more than what your budget allows on your house and now your ‘house poor’ OR you always manage to take way more than you need in student loans each semester and when you finally graduate you have way more student loan debt than you anticipated.

On top of those potential pitfalls we also tend to finance our vehicles, furnish our home, vacations and even our wardrobe. We just whip out that credit card when we want something. Not to mention if you experience any unexpected health issue – you will then have medical bills to pay on top of it all. Ugh!!

Debt can make you stressed, worried and anxious. We know what that could lead to, right? Health issues. Depression. Bad moods. Who really wants to live like that? If you are done with feeling overwhelmed with debt I can almost guarantee you that just making the decision alone to make a change will instantaneously make you feel better. However, since you can’t erase debt over night, you will have to put in the effort and work to continue having that positive feeling. It will be a feeling of empowerment and pride that you are committing to getting out of the debt cycle.

5 Ways To Defeat Debt! 

 

Know your debt situation.

You are able to pull your credit report for FREE from each of the credit reporting agencies, one time per year. These agencies are: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com and follow the instructions. Helpful tip: Instead of pulling all three at once, I suggest pulling one every 4 months. That way you can review them on a regular basis through out the year. Once you pull your first credit report make a list of all of the debts you owe. Write down the creditor and the amount owed.

Look for inaccuracies.

Be on the lookout for any debt that is not yours. Mistakes happen, and more importantly, FRAUD happens. If you find something that is not yours: Dispute it to the death!

Reduce your expenses.

This is where you need to write down all of your monthly expenses, and even annual expenses if it applies. Which ones can you completely get rid of? Which ones could you try and get reduced? Get rid of your cable or at least try and reduce the bill. This is where more effort comes into play. Do your research to try and reduce your car insurance premiums and/or your homeowners insurance premiums. Refinancing your mortgage could be an option to reduce your monthly payment. Switch cell phone providers to lower that cost. Try and get any credit card companies you owe to lower the interest rate (the worst they will say is no). In this step you will have to pick up the phone and make some calls. Don’t get deterred by this step. The point of this is to free up some additional money each month. This will also make you feel less stressed and in more control of your finances. You can do it!

Create a budget.

Hopefully you were able to free up some extra funds in your bills somewhere. Even if you reduced one expense that is great. But now it is time to create your budget. This does not have to be fancy by any means. Grab a pencil and piece of paper. Start by writing down your monthly income and then listing your living expenses; mortgage/rent, heat, electric, water, food, and transportation. Next write down your debts and the minimum payment required. If there is anything left over you will want to first create an emergency savings and once that is funded you should apply anything left over to your debts. This step will definitely require willpower. You may have to forego dinners out, a new outfit, or even a big Christmas for your kids. Explaining your goals to your immediate family and close friends may be necessary. You can give them a chance to be supportive and make it easier for you during this debt repayment time period. The struggle will be worth it in the end.

Make extra money.

Finally, if you can – try and find some type of part time job. This can be done inside the home or outside the home. Think of something you are particularly good at or really anything that you are capable of doing and reach out to people and let them know you are looking for extra work. Social media is perfect for that. You never know who needs their house/car cleaned, children taken care of, animals taken care of, vehicle fixed…the possibilities are endless. Again, you just have to put the leg work in to finding the opportunities. If you can do this your emergency fund and debt repayment will happen that much faster. And once you pay one debt off you can apply that payment to another debt (aka the snowball method). Helpful tip: If you get any sort of bonuses at work or if you typically receive a tax refund each year use that to quickly fund your emergency savings and pay off debts quicker.

I know these steps work because I have done them. I am not completely debt free but I have a come a long way. I can tell you that even though I am not where I want to be I still feel less stressed and more in control of my money as opposed to feeling like my money is controlling me. The icing on the cake is that when I am less stressed I am more enjoyable to be around. I am sure my family and friends appreciate that.

Are you in the middle of getting out of debt?