What does it take to “retire rich”? How much money do you need to be financially independent?
To answer those questions, you need to know what financial independence looks like for you. “Rich” is a vague term. Does it mean you want to be able to take one vacation a year later in life or do you want to be able to travel all the time? You must put some context behind the word. You need to know what your priorities are and what your goals are. Financial planning can certainly help with this, but if you are looking for some starting points, I have them for you.
How much should I have saved?
Most Americans don’t have enough money saved for retirement. But how much is enough? One rule of thumb says that you may need 70%-80% of your current income per year in retirement. It’s a good place to start but a question to ask your self is do I want to be able to spend more or less than I currently do? If the answer is greater, then you will need more for retirement.
But is what you have saved enough? The 4% rule can be a good place to start. This rule says that you can withdraw 4% of your savings each year to live off during retirement. However, it too is just a general rule of thumb. A lot of factors can play into that such as lifestyle expenses in retirement, market returns or even major life changes in retirement such as health issues.
The other thing you could look to is an online calculator. There are many simple ones out there. They won’t give you as good of a picture as a professional can, but you can play with the factors to learn what kind of an impact things will have. Social Security may be a factor for many Millennials, because it will probably look very different by the time we reach full retirement age.
How do I save more?
If you did some of the work above and figured out how much you need to have saved for retirement, then you probably realized you need to save more. The best way to do that is to start early. If you are a young Millennial and have some income available for it, start putting money into that 401(k) now. The power of compounding is on your side. Here is a good primer on the power of compounding. If you are an older Millennial, then you still have time on your side, but you should get started. Everyone has priorities, but don’t neglect the ones that seem far away for sooner ones that truly may be less important.
If you are a freelancer or part of the gig-economy, then I understand that it may be harder to save for retirement. You should still try to find ways to prioritize saving for the future. There are plenty of options out there to save any amount.
Also, there is the old standby of taking a closer look at the budget and seeing where you can cut costs. It may not be as fun, but a little here and there can make a difference. Bring lunch from home, ride a bike to work, go easy on the night out or any number of things from this Mic.com list. It doesn’t have to be complicated but look for the little changes to make in your life to secure your future.
Do you think your financial health is good shape? Or are you worried about something? It’s ok to feel nervous about finances. Most people do because they don’t know what there are reading or hearing about. There is a lack of financial literacy among all generations, not just Millennials that keeps everyone on edge about money. That is one of the reasons I write this blog and tweet and create all kinds of content. I want to help educate everyone about personal finance because it is part of our lives every day. But how do you know if you need to work on something? Well, below are 7 financial red flags that can be warning signs that you need to spend some time looking at your finances. Take a look and see if there are areas for improvement in your financial health.
You don’t have goals. – You’ve got to have financial goals. If you don’t have any goals in life, then what are you working towards? What’s the point of trying to save money if you don’t know why you are saving it? Goals give you motivation. You need motivation to manage your finances properly. Take a few minutes and just jot down a few goals using this worksheet. The goals don’t have to be complicated, but you just must have something.
You don’t have a cash reserve. – If you don’t have at least 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses in a cash reserve for an emergency then that is a major red flag. Life happens, and you should be prepared for it. If you get laid off and it takes some time to find a new job, you need to be able to pay rent and buy groceries. Don’t let a situation like that derail all your goals because you have to tap into other sources to cover an emergency.
You don’t have a handle on cash flow and budget. – Cash flow is a tough one to master, but if you have no idea what you are spending your money on then you aren’t in control of your finances. It’s not fun to look back at your expenses (buying that extra round of drinks for the group maybe wasn’t the best call), but you have to be in control. Once you see what you are spending money on, you can create a budget to give you guidelines going forward. Sticking to that budget will allow you to work on achieving your goals.
Your debt balance keeps you up at night. – If you have debt, then you already know that it can be challenging, but it can be more than just the numbers surrounding your debt. How you feel about your debt can be a red flag too. If you don’t feel in control, then now is the time to do something about it. It’s up to you how you prioritize your goals to handle the debt. If you have other goals, you might want to stick to your current repayment plan versus accelerating it. And maybe it’s not the balance that keeps you up at night but the interest rate on your debt. A high interest rate can add up over time and mean you end up paying even more for your debt. If it is really high you might want to consider options to possibly refinance and lower the rate or pay off the loans sooner. Just be cautious with refinancing.
You are drowning in debt payments. – This goes hand in hand with cash flow and budgeting. If you can’t even make the minimum monthly payment, then you have hit the point where you need to make some tough decisions. What is the reason you can’t make the payments? Are you truly working as hard as possible just not making enough money or do you need to work on your budget and cut back on frivolous spending? There are some last-ditch options such as switching to an income-driven repayment plan, deferment or forbearance. But those can have consequences. The better plan might be to work on your budget and find ways to bring in more income. There’s a reason so many Millennials have a side-hustle.
You have no long-term savings. – For younger Millennials, this may not be in the cards yet, but for older Millennials, if you don’t have anything set aside for financial independence, that is not a good sign. Time is on your side when saving for long term goals so take advantage of it and start saving now. This should be one of those goals on your list. Don’t just assume you can save later for that. I know it seems like a long way off, but as life progresses with houses and kids, the amount of money you may feel like you can set aside may decrease. If you get in the habit of saving now, you can better handle cash flow down the road.
You haven’t done any protection or estate planning. – If you are a little farther along in life and have things like a mortgage and family, then you should have considered life insurance and estate planning. They are an important piece of your overall financial health but often forgotten. If you don’t have these then you may not be adequately protected for the future or the future of your family. Don’t leave the most important things in your life unprotected.
If student loan debt feels like a huge mountain that you don’t know how to climb, I want to share with you these 5 tips that I see time and time again for dealing with student loan debt. And, I don’t mean eating ramen noodles for a year while you put as much money as possible towards them because then you are just a miserable person. And your friends don’t want to hang out with someone miserable. You don’t have to sacrifice everything to start tackling your debt. You can have a life. I give you permission! You just need to do a little bit of work to get yourself on the right track to paying them off. Here’s how to get started:
You must know what you owe before you can deal with it! Start by creating a spreadsheet with all of your loans. It should include who the loan provider is, how much you owe, the interest rate and monthly payment. This is the starting block because you can’t deal with your loans unless you know what they are.
Look at Repayment Options
There are all kinds of options out there for repayment plans for both federal and private loans. Those options include things like extended repayment plans, income based payment plans and private refinancing and consolidation. You might be able to work with a company to figure out a better way to pay your loans or even refinance them. The options are there you just have to look for them.
Master Cash Flow
In order to be able to pay back those loans, you need to become a master of your cash flow. Know where each dollar leaving your bank account goes. Spend some time looking at your budget and figure out what you can devote to paying off student loans along with any other financial goals you may have. You can’t let spending get out of control. You must be disciplined around your budget.
Have a Financial Plan
This is one of my favorite pieces in case you didn’t already know! It’s pretty obvious, right? You need to have a plan to be able to conquer your debt. You can’t just wave a magic wand and it will disappear. Work on a plan for yourself to figure out how you are going to pay off the loans and when. You will feel much better even just after having come up with a plan. It will give you guidance to start tackling your loans.
Give Yourself a Break
You won’t be able to pay off your loans overnight nor will you even be able to come up with a plan to pay it off overnight. It took time to get into the debt and it will take time to get out of it. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You made the best decision you could at the time and you will do the same now. You will just keep working on tackling your debt so that you can achieve all your financial goals. And know that many other people out there are dealing with the same thing, but you are more than capable of handling your debt!
If you read last week’s post about financial resolutions, then you know that one of the most important ones is to set your goals. For many, this can be difficult because most of us have multiple financial goals in life. Some common ones I see are retirement, buying a house and paying down debt. It can be tough to figure out what is most important and where to spend your money. However, goal priority can help simplify your decision. I’m going to break down the basic steps of goal setting because simply saying “I want to have a million dollars” is a pretty weak goal. I don’t know what purpose this money has or when you want to have it so we need to get into specifics. Start by downloading my Goals Worksheet from Downloads page to help guide you through this process.
How to Set Goals
Identify your goals
List out anything you consider to be a financial goal. Some common ones include:
Save for retirement
Buy a house
Start a business
Save for a child’s education
Pay off credit card debt
Pay off student loans
Quantify your goals by time and value.
For each goal, go through and figure out when you want to achieve it and how much it will cost. Here are two examples:If you listed “Buy a home” as a goal, you could say you want to do it within 3 years and the home value is $500,000. And you can get more specific with how much you will put down, what closing costs are and factor in furnishings.
If you listed “Pay off student loans” as a goal, you need to gather all your loan information and figure out how much you owe on each one and when they need to be paid off by.
Prioritize your goals
Number your goals from the most important to the least important. This is where you have to be honest and realistic. You may want to save for your child’s education but if you want to buy that house in three years, the child’s education savings may have to wait.
The Goals Worksheet can help guide you through this process of setting goals. By laying everything out on paper, you can see what matters most to you. It will also help you determine where to save your money. It may involve some sacrifice, but if you are honest with yourself during this exercise, then you will be happier with your financial goals in the long run.
Happy New Year! I hope you ate lots of good food and spent time with family and friends this holiday season! Now that 2018 has arrived, let’s spend some time on those resolutions. I’m personally not the biggest fan of resolutions but it is a good opportunity to tackle some things you have been meaning to do. Just like the people who make a resolution to be more physically fit in the new year, I encourage you to also be financially fit this year. It’s not hard to get started but if you put in the work, it will be worth it. Let’s look at some ideas to get you started with your financial new year’s resolutions:
Set goals – This should be a simple one to get started. Identify, quantify, prioritize those goals. Start with this worksheet on my downloads page. Don’t overthink it but just get something down on paper.
Work on your budget – This will be an ongoing project but something so worthwhile. Whether you use an App, Excel or pen and paper, just start working on it. If you need some help, this post breaks it down to the basics.
Establish a cash reserve – Having a cash reserve for emergencies is essential. Once you do your budget and figure out how much it cost you to live, aim to have 6 months worth of living expenses in that savings account for emergencies. Check out this post for more about why it’s important to have a cash reserve.
Save for retirement – If you have identified retirement or financial independence as one of your financial goals, consider saving towards that goal via an employer-sponsored plan like a 401(k) or 403(b) or an Individual Retirement Account. Figure out which option fits your personal situation and start saving.
Seek professional advice if you need it – Don’t be afraid to work with a professional if you are ready for more formal financial planning or really want to get things organized. There are certified financial planners out there that can help you get a plan in place and lay out action steps.
The holidays can be a wonderful joyous time or a very stressful time. For many the stress of the holidays comes from shopping for gifts for loved ones. According to a GoBankingRates survey, about 57% of people plan to spending one full paycheck on the holidays. That’s an average of $1,908 for someone paid every two weeks. That’s a lot of money for the average American to spend at the holidays and I have a suspicion that it isn’t really in the budget for most. I think that most people probably spend more than they should on the holidays because they don’t have a good handle on their budget to know what the really can spend. Not being disciplined about cash flow can cause people to eat into funds that should be earmarked for emergency savings. If working on a budget isn’t going to happen this holiday season, here are some tips to get by in the meantime. However, come the new year, put “creating a budget” on your resolution list!
Tips to Survive the Spending Season
Look for Deals. If you missed the Black Friday deals, know that as we get closer to the end of the year, more sales might start appearing. Retailers may be looking to move excess merchandise before the end of the year so keep your eyes open.
Shop Smart. As fun as it is to browse the aisles looking for something to jump out at you for that one family member, knowing what you are shopping for may be a better strategy. If you know exactly what you are going to buy for Mom, then you may be less likely to overspend on something else. Also, if you are shopping for big tech items like a laptop or TV, do your research. Don’t just buy it because it’s a good deal if the product itself isn’t right for your needs.
Don’t procrastinate. Well, if you are reading this and celebrate Chanukah, you are almost out of time (I hope you have Amazon Prime!). But for those shopping for Christmas, time to shift into overdrive. With Christmas Eve falling on Sunday this year, the stores are going to be a madhouse on that Saturday with last minute shoppers. Shop at your own risk on that day!
Set Family Expectations. If you worked hard on a budget this year and are cutting back on gifts, be upfront with your family. Let them know that you are trying to save for your financial goals, so gifts will be smaller. Don’t worry if some family members are disappointed. They will get over it and shouldn’t be focusing on gifts anyway! You will be happier in the long run knowing that you stuck to your budget.
If you bought a home recently, you understand how easily it can eat up money. From the down payment and closing costs to paint and furniture, it disappears fast. And now as we approach the holiday season, where spending often increases, you may start feeling the pinch. However, all is not lost. If you spent the time working on your budget this year you should know how much you can spend on the holiday gifts. Here is a budget refresher if you need one. But even if you didn’t, I want to share with you some ways to save some money along with a little does of unsolicited advice. Although, you clicked on this post so you must be expecting some sort of guidance!
Walking through the holiday section at Target is like being in a winter wonderland. Everything is bright and shiny. It is tempting to want to buy everything to make you home look like it came out of a magazine your first year in. I know you have put a lot of work into your home and want it to be perfect, but you have time. You will be in this house for a while so don’t rush to get it completely decorated the first year. Here are some ideas to satisfy that holiday décor itch:
Collect things you really love over time. This will make you house feel more unique and you will have more quality pieces to have for years.
If you want to have more décor items, you can always check out Pinterest and get some inspiration for decorations you can make to save some money. Just don’t be over ambitious. Know your skill set and limitations to avoid a #pinterestfail.
If you are looking to save some money outside, maybe skip the inflatables and extra lights. Lights can make a house look great, but you don’t want to drive up your electric bill.
Shop after the holidays. Hit the sales for decorations for next year. You’ve got a house now so there should be plenty of room to store them for the year.
Gifts for your Home
If your family is looking to give you gifts, this could be the year you ask them to contribute to a larger gift for your home such as a new piece of furniture. If you have had your eye on a new sofa, but felt like the cost was too much, if they ask, let you family know that instead of little gifts, you would like some help for the sofa. I think most parents especially will appreciate that they are helping you buy something substantial for your home that will be with you for a long time. They are also most likely to know that a new homeowner often needs some big-ticket items and help with those goes a long way.
If your budget is tight and you need to cut back, your family should understand most if the gifts you are giving them are less this year. Many of them have been in your position of buying their first home and know how big of a financial step it is. They understand how much it costs to turn the house into a home for you and your family. And this year focus on the fact that the holidays are for spending time with family. Don’t get caught up in the shopping frenzy. Remember what Lucy said in A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”
No matter what you do this holiday season, try to focus on the bigger picture. Be grateful that you are a new homeowner this year and have put in the time and energy to make that happen. You worked hard to get to this point. It’s time to relax with family and start making your to do list for next year!
October 2017 marked the first time that borrowers could apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). The PSLF program forgives the student debt of federal borrowers who, as Ron Lieber of the New York Times writes, payed their loans the right way, worked for the right kind of employer, had the right kind of federal loan and made the right kind of payments. As tricky as it sounds, one might hope that achieving loan forgiveness through a program specifically created for the benefit of public service workers would be straightforward and as painless of a process as possible. After all, the spirit of the PSLF program is clear: as an incentive for working for the good of the public, your federal loans will be forgiven tax-free after making 120 monthly payments. That appears to be pretty straightforward to me. However, achieving forgiveness has already proved to be anything but straightforward and we are only beginning to see how difficult qualifying for PSLF can be. Unfortunately, as more applications for forgiveness are submitted, I expect there to be a lot more tumult to come.
Opponents of the PSLF program will argue that it is not the government’s fault that borrowers didn’t adhere to the rules that were put in place at the program’s inception. It’s a valid point, but doesn’t it feel wrong to be a stickler for the rules given the somewhat altruistic nature of PSLF? It seems almost amoral to give these folks a hard time over something that can make or break their financial lives. Morals aside, we can also point to concrete instances where the rules don’t make sense. For example, let’s say you didn’t make the “right kind of payments” by failing to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan. Yet, in making the wrong kind of payments, you may have actually ended up paying more money towards your loans than if you were in the right plan because income-driven plans often afford borrowers smaller monthly payments than other more standard repayment plans. Therefore, it’s outrageous to deny someone from qualifying because they didn’t follow this particular rule.
At the very least, this one example is an oversight and will be corrected by amending the rules to allow payments from any repayment plan to qualify for PSLF. At the very worst, it demonstrates that the rules were designed to trip up public workers from qualifying all together and, while I’d love to think this and any other “errors” will be fixed as the volume of applications increases, I am not holding my breath as the future for the PSLF program and income-based repayment plans looks grim. According to a recent federal budget proposal, both programs are slated for termination. This would affect nearly 550,000 student borrowers and $108 billion in loans that are on pace for forgiveness, according to the U.S. Government Accountably Office. That’s more than half a million American working jobs that keep our country running.
In a more perfect world, shouldn’t our government be advocating for those who accepted the PSLF incentive? The spirit of the program suggests it should but, in reality, how could we possibly expect that to happen when the current administration’s view of public service appears to be more of a means to achieve power, popularity and control? How can we expect the spirit of the PSLF program to be protected when we’ve already seen how hasty decisions and selfishness have resulted in outcomes that don’t align with what’s best for the American people? Sadly, we shouldn’t. At the end of the day, violating the spirit of the PSFL program not only hurts the hundreds of thousands of Americans trying to qualify, but it also crushes the spirit of public service in general. That’s not great for America no matter how you cut it.
Most of my career as a financial advisor has been steeped in the world of student loans. I’ve built a business around helping individuals, mostly Millennials, tackle student debt. My wife and I recently wrote a book about the subject called The Millennial Money Fix. In it, we share our own personal relationship with student debt, which extends well into the six figures. We intimately understand the financial challenges facing millions of hardworking Americans and advised both new and existing borrowers not to rely on forgiveness programs, arguing that there is no guarantee they would exist in the future. We sincerely hoped our advice would turn out to be wrong. Unsurprisingly, and to all of our detriment, we’re witnessing just how right we were.
If you are looking to start your own business or are already working on turning the side hustle into the main hustle, then I want to share with you some advice. I see many Millennials taking this path for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s to have a better work-life balance and sometimes it’s to follow the passion they have been dabbling with on the side. Either way, it will be a challenge, but if you are passionate about what you want to do, then the challenge won’t seem as difficult. You may also have to make sacrifices, but it can be worth it. The first step before you leave that job that is paying the bills is to have a plan. You should have put in the work to figure out how much money you need to bring in to cover your basic living expenses. Additionally, let’s look at some other areas that you should consider when deciding to transition to being your own boss!
Budgeting If you are transitioning from a job where your paycheck is automatically deposited into your bank account every 2 weeks to something where your pay is varied, budgeting is going to be essential. You may have to wait until a project is finished to get paid. If you do have to wait, you should have an adequate cash reserve so that you can cover the necessary expenses for both your family and your business. That cash reserve will be essential as you grow your business so if that isn’t in place yet, start working on it ASAP.You should also have an idea of how much money you need to bring in each month and how long it will take to get to that point. Income may be low and expenses may be high at the beginning. Worst case, you may have to stay at your current job a little longer while you get things up and running on the side to bridge cash flow. Bottom line is that you need to know what it costs to run your business and your life and make sure the numbers work.
Protection & Retirement Protecting you and your business comes in many forms. In terms of the business itself, that means how it is structured. Whether that means working as an LLC (Limited Liability Company) for some protection in case of a lawsuit or as an S Corp because you can pay yourself dividends instead of compensation as salary, the structure has to work for your business. An accountant can help guide you on some of these areas and an attorney can also be a big help with legal documents. Side note: I always recommend working with licensed and/or certified professionals on legal and tax related things.The other side of protection is protecting your ability to do your job. This means disability insurance, although it can be expensive. If you are considering it, know that disability insurance policies have many features that can be modified to fit your budget so don’t be afraid to ask to see different choices. For retirement savings, you have a lot of options as a self-employed person. I broke them all down in this blog post.
Taxes Unlike people working for an employer, as the business owner you are responsible for making quarterly payments of employment and income taxes. If you are starting your own business, it’s a good idea to find a good accountant who understands small businesses and can guide you in some of the tax questions. You don’t want to get penalized by the IRS for not paying certain taxes because you didn’t do your homework. The accountant can also help come tax time figure out what is deductible for business purposes. Those deductions could include a home office or car used for business travel. Taxes aren’t something to mess around with so make sure you have a strong handle on this part of your business.
Team Lastly, but probably most importantly is your team. As much as you are thinking about this as going it alone, you probably shouldn’t. You should have an arsenal of professionals (accountant, attorney, financial advisor) at the ready to help you start and grow your business. They are valuable resources so don’t overlook them.Also, make sure you let people like your spouse or significant other in on your plans. Your new business may affect family income and decisions as well as your stress levels as you take on this new challenge. You need to have your partner on board for the challenge. Trust me, it will be a lot easier if you know you have that support system at home to cheer you on!
This week on the blog, I want to share the love and tell you about one of my favorite people on the planet: Shannah Compton Game. Shannah is not just an amazing CFP® Professional (and good friend of mine), but she is also a fellow CFP® Board Ambassador. What’s even more amazing about Shannah is her uber-successful platform dedicated towards financially empowering Millennials. It’s called Your Millennial Money and I can tell you firsthand what an amazing job she is doing to help spread the word and importance of financial literacy to a generation that desperately needs it.
One of the reasons I get along so well with Shannah is because we have eerily similar starts to our careers (in a good way) as financial professionals. We both happen to be CFP®s that have worked with their father and we both obtained our MBAs – because who doesn’t need more letters after their name? Moreover, we both discovered along our respective journeys that our Millennial peers knew nothing about personal finance and that we should do something about it. For Shanna, it led her to create her highly ranked iTunes podcast, #MillennialMoney Podcast, which now has over 2.5 million downloads from 164 countries worldwide! I smell awards in her future. Shannah didn’t stop there, though. She is also a Professor in Finance at California State University Northridge where she actually has her students create a financial plan for themselves. Her work has won her a Golden Apple Award at California State University Northridge for outstanding teaching. This is something we should all admire as we sure could use more classes like hers in higher education!
There is more bragging I could do about her, but do yourself a favor and head on over to her website. While there be sure to check out the two different courses you can take about budgeting which is such an essential piece to understanding your finances. My masters of cash flow get it. She also has a YouTube channel and a Blog! Yes, indeed she does everything and does it well, but most importantly, Shannah is passionate about helping millennials and entrepreneurs empower themselves and get in a better money mindset so they can achieve their lifestyle goals, which is something we all should want for ourselves. By the way, Shannah is also working on a new web series set to launch in 2018 called, Budget Rescue, where he will help couples overcome their money roadblocks and achieve their dreams and goals. You can count on me signing up to watch! Lastly, you can catch us both on her podcast throughout the year discussing a wide array of personal finance topics. Why she’s inviting me back, I have no idea, but I know it’s going to be a lot of fun.