Tag Archives: personal finance

Spending Less, Barbecuing More

Fun with statistics: Independence Day edition!

According to a survey by Visa credit cards:

  • 21% of Americans didn’t celebrate the 4th of July this year, up from 18% last year.
  • Of those who celebrated, we spent an average of $191, versus $216 last year.
  • Midwesterners spent the most, $211; Northeasterners spent the least at $171.

Analysts who watch the economy, looking for any clue as to the state of our finances, wonder why. Is the decrease in spending results from tighter family budgets, or is it because the holiday fell on Wednesday this year?

Either way, spending might be down, but celebrating with family and friends at a barbecue is actually up. A different survey shows that 68% of us either hosted or attended a BBQ…the highest number in a decade.

“The Fourth of July is all about community, and that’s a white-hot want right now for many Americans who feel increasingly disconnected (due to) divisive politics … and less-nourishing techno-fueled relationships.”   USA Today

So, what did you do? Spend less, BBQ more? No change in habits? Did the economy factor into your plans? We want to know !

Anyway, we hope you had a nice 4th…and a great weekend ahead!

Financial Compatibility in Marriage?

Shadow-people have problems just like the rest of us.

How well do you and your spouse sync when it comes to handling money? Do you agree, or agree to disagree – or just plain disagree? Did you and your honey have to come to an understanding when you tied the knot? Did you manage to do it before you got into trouble?

Maybe that’s all in the rear view mirror, but what about your kids? Are they grown and ready to get hitched? Do you worry about them or their prospective mates? Well, you might have good reason to be but, fortunately, there are some steps you can take to avoid disaster.

Even though research suggests that married couples are more likely to accumulate wealth and meet certain financial goals than their single peers, disagreements over money can derail those plans. Before tying the knot, experts recommend that couples have a series of talks about money to prevent conflicts later.   USNews Money

Here are the bullets, but be warned: some of them are not terribly romantic!

  • Know each other’s credit histories. An uncomfortable discussion now avoids surprises later. Trust me, a friend got a big surprise when she learned her new husband had previously failed to pay child support and was having his wages garnisheed FOR THE REST OF TIME.
  • Separate or joint accounts? There are good arguments for either one.
  • Long-term goals. Save for a house or retirement – or party like it’s 1999?
  • Spending styles. More often than not, you will be opposites. But that can be a good thing! You can learn from each other… or just fight a lot.
  • Who does what? Somebody has to take charge of writing the checks, licking the stamps, etc. Thankfully, it’s not me.
  • Dealing with relatives. What happens when your broke sister-in-law’s car breaks down? That could get really hairy if you don’t plan ahead.

Personally, my wife and I get along fine in this area because we pretty much addressed each of these items early on. How about you?

Anyway, it’s a good article, so check it out.

(photo: stefangauciscicluna.com)

Hitting the Glass Ceiling of Income?

Did you know that, statistically speaking, we hit a “glass ceiling” of income at around age 40? Age 45 for men, 37 for women.  Why is that? What can we do about it?

USNews.com has an article about a recent Payscale.com survey that tracks our earnings across the years:

Click to embiggen. That's a word, right?

As you can see, there’s a steady climb, you hit 37 or 45, and then it stays flat for the rest of your career. Why is that? The article has a few suggestions. For one thing, when you take a job, they give you a list of responsibilities and a salary range. The longer you stay at the same job, doing the same things, the closer you get to the top of the range.

What to do about it? It’s no big secret… take classes, get more training, take on extra responsibilities, angle for that promotion, use your skills to do consulting work on the side, get paid to do surveys online from MindField, etc. None of this is as easy as it sounds (except MindField Online) but the solutions are out there.

How about you? Are you stalling out? Have you already? What did you do about it? Seriously, if you have figured it out, let ME know! Anyway, there is a lot more at the original article, so check it out!

Does Money Equal Happiness?

That’s a good question. The short answer is No. But using money wisely and creatively to brighten up your life can improve your outlook considerably, according to Laura Vanderkam, the author of “All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending.”

Her research says that:

People who are “happiest about money” feel like they have enough (even if they aren’t wealthy), could get more if they needed it, and that they have full control over how to earn and spend their cash.

Some tips to “get happy” include:

Sweating the big stuff and splurging on little things: Yes, definitely pay your bills. But spend a few bucks on something nice like a bouquet of flowers for your dining room table.

Travel: It’s a triple-treat! You plan and anticipate your trip, then you enjoy your trip, and then you have the memories afterwards.

Take a class: Anything that stretches your mind is worth the money.

In short, spend to buy experiences. Spend to expand your social network, and spend to buy time.

What are your suggestions? Read the article here.

A New Wrinkle in Personal Finance

In our youth-and-beauty-obsessed culture, we don’t even want to THINK about being old, gray and wrinkled. That avoidance has another big consequence: we neglect to plan for our financial futures.

But a researcher has forced his test subjects to imagine themselves in their old age and found:

The more connected we feel to our future selves, the more likely we are to save. In one study, participants looked at digitally-altered (aged) photos of themselves and then answered questions about how they would allocate $1,000 if they were to suddenly receive it. They allocated twice as much to a long-term savings account if they saw an older version of themselves versus just seeing themselves now. USNews.com

Basically, we see our future selves as strangers. But seeing ourselves bald, with wrinkles and liver spots, is apparently a big reality check!

There are apps that allow you to perform this exercise, including AgingBooth.com. But the article also suggests you get in touch with the concept of aging by visiting MeMaw and PapPap, and also asking yourself what the older you would say about the various big-ticket purchases you make – will the old you regret buying a jet-ski versus a municipal bond?

Anyway, it’s pretty interesting. Check it out here!

Saving Enough for Retirement?

Actually, financial planners prefer stocks and mutuals over gold eggs in a nest of twigs.

People aren’t saving enough. They are going to find out that they have totally inadequate amounts once they stop working. People need to change how much they are saving, when they start saving, and when then retire. If they don’t change, people will not be able to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.   USNews.com

Yeah, so, Happy Friday everybody… The nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute says only about 25% of us are confident we have enough money for retirement (or are on the right path to saving it.)

We will need something like 80% of our salary after we retire, and most of us aren’t going to get there just with the 5 to 7% we are putting in our 401k’s.

This article has some interesting things to say about how much to save, when to start, when to retire and everything in between. Check it out!

Sorry to be brief. Flu season!  Have a good weekend!

Smart Shopping Habits for the New Year

January rolls around and we think about all the ways we can get our acts together when it comes to money. Speaking for myself, I tend to think big, about saving more or paying down debts, and I sometimes neglect the little things like my daily shopping habits.

On that note, here are some smart new shopping habits we can nurture in 2012, courtesy of the money page at US News.com:

Comparison Shopping Apps: Comparison shopping has never been easier with your smartphone. Comparison apps can help you choose which store to buy from or, in the case of Amazon, you may find a better deal online.

Facebook Deals: Every retailer and manufacturer these days tells you to “Like us on Facebook!” When you do, you often find Friends-only deals. Yes, it’s all a plot to get demographic info about you, but you might save a few bucks!

Local Daily Deal Sites: We are all familiar with the big deal sites like Groupon. Now, smaller local deal sites are becoming popular. Instead of a fancy meal or spa treatments, you might find deals more specific to your needs.

Become a Hoarder! Not really, but when you find a coupon for toilet paper or toothpaste or ketchup – stuff you use every day – max that sucker out and buy in bulk. You could save a bunch!

Read the Reviews: I don’t buy anything I tend to have for a while, like a camera or vacuum cleaner, without doing a bunch of research online.  Amazon is a good place to find reviews.

Be a receipt hawk: Usually, I can’t get out of Wal-Mart quickly enough. But if you have the patience, take a moment to check your receipt for mistakes or missed discounts before you leave. Sure beats having to make a return trip into the madness!

There are more details in the article, so check it out!

How about you? Any wise shopping habits you care to share?

2012 Prices: the Flip Side

That Art-school Education is Really Paying Off!

Last time we looked at the products and services that will be coming down in price this year, according to DealNews.com. Now, the less-good news. They also took a look at a few prices expected to go up in 2012. Here is a (sarcastic) peek:

  • Airfare: Increased demand, fewer seats and new fees and taxes here and in Europe. And don’t count on getting the “whole can” of Sprite anymore, either!
  • New cameras: Specifically, the fully loaded high-end ones. The basic models are being crowded out by smartphones, so the manufacturers are looking elsewhere.
  • Food at home: While eating in is almost always cheaper, the rate of food inflation is higher at home than in the restaurant – because the restaurant can offset inflation with liquor sales without passing the cost on to you. Moral: get a liquor license for your home! J/k
  • Local Fees: Don’t you wish that when you were broke, you could tax everybody around you? Well, the city can!!
  • Gasoline: Here in SC, it was $3.85 in the spring, down to $2.95 before the Holidays. Now, $3.29 and heading higher! Good thing I filled all my milk jugs when it was cheap!
  • Shipping: USPS, FedEx and UPS are all going up, in case you thought you could beat gas prices by mailing yourself to Hawaii.

There are MANY more examples in the article. Check it out! Then, do yourself a favor and re-read about the prices that will go down, just to brighten your mood.

Anyway, how about you? How are these affecting your family? What ways are you cutting back?


Clever Ways to Cut Back in 2012

Looking to cut back? Time Magazine has compiled a list of items and services “You Should Just Stop Buying.” Take a look!

  1. Homeopathic Flu Remedies: the CDC says they don’t work.
  2. Credit-Card Payment Insurance: expensive and with a bunch of restrictions and exclusions.
  3. Dirt-Cheap Paper Towels: they don’t work and you end up using more of them
  4. Bottled Water: expensive and often misleading, i.e., it’s NOT real spring water.
  5. Premium Gasoline: unless you drive a really high-performance car, it’s a waste of money.
  6. Super-High SPF Sunscreen: unless you are prone to skin cancer. SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays.
  7. Auto Service Warranties: Again, expensive and contain many restrictions and exclusions.
  8. 100-Calorie Packs of Snack Foods: Portion control is a great idea, but buy the big box and some baggies, and save a bunch of money!
  9. Lottery Tickets: you are 3 times more likely to be hit by a meteor than to win the lottery.
  10. Unlimited Cell Phone Minutes: these plans are one reason why our cell bills have gone up $20 in the past 5 years, even though we aren’t really talking any longer.
  11. Brand New College Textbooks: Grrr! I am still resentful about this one after 20 years!
  12. Extended Warranties: A lot of the time, these are redundant, and you can get similar coverage from your credit card for free.  Exception: your laptop. Every one I ever owned broke down after the warranty expired!

Much more info in the article…check it out!

New Year’s (financial) Resolutions

Making New Year’s resolutions is unavoidable. Even if you vow not to make resolutions this year, THAT is a resolution! You can’t win. So you pledge to get in shape, call your mother more often and get your finances in order.

So here are a few tips, courtesy of CBS MoneyWatch, to help you get your wallet in fighting shape, even in these uncertain times.

Pay down Debt: The thing to know is that all debt is not created equally. Ideally, you want to attck the debt with the highest interest rate first.

Pay bills online: Set up automatic pay so you’re never late, because creditors are tougher than ever on delinquency.

Start investing: The sooner the better. Ideally you have a 401k at work. Wait, ideally you have a JOB (no small thing these days) and that job offers a 401k with matching funds.

Close unused financial accounts: I am guilty of this one myself. You pay down a credit card and, instead of closing it, you think it may come in handy someday. Well, creditors are ramping up dormancy fees now. And those “forgotten” accounts are particularly vulnerable to identity theft.

Personal finance software: Like Quicken, etc. Ever gone on a diet where you start writing down every calorie? What a rude awakening about your eating habits! Same idea here.

There are more ideas and details in the article. So READ IT.

Thanks again for supporting MindField Online Internet Panels throughout the year. You guys are the best! Have a safe, happy and PROSPEROUS New Year!!