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Love Your Money

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People are willing to do a lot for someone they love such as try new things, change their style, and even relocate.  However, what are they willing to do for their money?  Sometimes it can be misplaced, torn up, abandoned, left unprotected, and even thrown away on insignificant things.  What if you treated your money as special as you would treat someone you love?  Things you may do are…

Make Time For It

When you love someone, you may hang out more and more and structure your day around him or her.  How much time do you take for your finances though?  Try carving out some time in your day or week to:

Just like relationships, your money can flourish if you put in the time to get to know it and make a point to include it in your everyday living.

Show It What It’s Worth

You may buy flowers or gifts, go out to a nice dinner, and even spoil each other to outwardly show your love and communicate your significant others’ worth to you.  However, the cumulative cost of junk food, drinks at the bar, bank fees, and other spending that will seem insignificant further down the road when you’re going to purchase a new car, have a child, or retire.  Instead, show money its worth through:

  • Smart shopping (i.e. sales, coupons, and discounts)
  • Memorable spending (i.e. experiences in place of material goods)2
  • Mindful prioritization (i.e. saving for a coffee maker later instead of a cup of coffee now)

Prioritize It

As relationships progress, your significant other becomes a bigger and more important part of your life.  This may lead to changes in how you structure your day, the traditions you create, and the sacrifices you make for the betterment of the relationship.  Likewise, your financial priorities change throughout life and become more and more necessary in order for you to accomplish your financial goals.  Some current wants may need to be cut back in to make room for saving up for more special wants (i.e. vacation) and future needs (i.e. house payment).  Steps to prioritizing your spending to enhance your financial relationship:

  1. Brainstorm financial goals
  2. Make your goals SMART3
    1. Specific (what why and how)
    2. Measurable (set dollar amounts)
    3. Attainable (realistic)
    4. Relevant (fits with bigger picture and your other goals)
    5. Timely (set dates)
  3. Calculate how to achieve your goals
  4. Tweak current budget and spending accordingly
  5. Find an accountability partner

Protect It

We want to do everything to protect the one we love both physically as well as emotionally from any pain.  Sometimes, life happens and we do the best we can to build back up and heal.  There are many ways to protect your money such as having an emergency savings to cover unexpected expenses and prevent debt or outrageous interest costs as well as consistently monitoring for identity theft and bank fraud.  Emergency savings should have 3-6 months’ worth of money in a relatively easily-accessible account to cover such things as medical bills, car repairs, or a loss of job.  You can monitor your credit through pulling a credit report at least every 4 months (https://www.annualcreditreport.com) and can protect from bank fraud by review your bank statements and utilizing credit card EMV technology when you can4.

Be Patient With It

Rushing into things can sometimes end up bad and sometimes the best things in life take time and hard work.  Your money probably won’t grow overnight (barring lottery winnings and surprise inheritance), so you’ll need to be patient with it and continue to nurture it.  Interest rates are most beneficial over time and frequent changes in investments may not pay off.  The market changes every minute, but despite dips and turns, a lot of investments pay off if you are patient and wait out the lows.

Commit

So you’ve spent some time together, you’ve gotten to know him or her more, and you’ve decided that he or she is worth prioritizing.  The next natural step is to decide whether you want to stay together in the future and beyond.  Rather than staying focused on the present, you may make a commitment for the long-haul.  Similarly, this may be something beneficial to do with your finances.  Picture your life with it in the future and what you want that to look like.  You’ve mastered saving for emergencies and upcoming trips, now what about for retirement or future children’s educational expenses?  These decisions come with more of a commitment due to the limitations on their spending, but can be truly beneficial in the future should you follow through on the commitment.  Time is your greatest ally in the realm of saving and investing.

Resources

  1. http://www.k-state.edu/pfc/planning/Financial%20Goals%20Worksheet%20-%20Specific.pdf
  2. http://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2013/08/05/want-to-buy-happiness-purchase-an-experience/#34522db1704d
  3. http://freefrombroke.com/guide-setting-smart-goals-finances/
  4. http://blogs.k-state.edu/pfc/2015/10/05/credit-cards-are-changing-are-you-ready/

Christyne Stephenson
Peer Counselor III
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

Importance of an Emergency Fund

Along with making goals, creating a budget, and managing debt, it is very important to establish and maintain an emergency fund. Most people at some point in their life, have heard from their grandmother or some other person “save it for a rainy day.” This may seem cliché because it is said very frequently, however, in the world of finance and money management, there is a 100% chance, at some given time in life, it will rain. By having an established emergency fund you can save yourself a lot of pain and hardship when faced with a financial or life emergency.

Getting Started

The first step in establishing an emergency fund is calculation and saving. Many experts agree that a well-established emergency fund should be between three to six months living expenses. This is because many financial emergencies involve loss of income in some form. By having three to six months saved, this will give you ample time to find a new source of income while still paying all of the bills you may normally have to. Similar to budgeting you must calculate your monthly living expenses including mortgage or rent, vehicle or other loan payments, utility bills, groceries, gas, or other expenses essential to living month to month. Once you know the amount you will need monthly you can multiply it by three to six and start saving. This money needs to be somewhere safe but it must also be liquid, meaning it can be converted to cash quickly should you have an emergency and need it. Saving accounts are safe, however, once you begin to have a bigger savings you may want to think about putting that money where it has a better chance of making money through interest such as a money market account or a short-term certificate of deposit (CD).

It Takes Time

Your emergency fund does not need to be established overnight; in fact, it is very unrealistic to establish one overnight. Although, if you have the ability to establish one overnight, such as an inheritance or bonus, it is important to put that money away in savings and do not look back. If you have a hard time putting away or saving money, do not be afraid to start smaller and work up to a larger amount. Start with $10 per month, or per paycheck, and do this for a couple months. It will not be a lot of money, but you will develop a habit and eventually will not miss the $10 you have been putting away. Once this happens you can think about bumping the number up to $15 or $20. These small numbers will eventually turn into big numbers as long as you keep working hard toward reaching your goals.  You can set up automatic transfers or direct deposit so that the money is put aside before you even see it!  Remember:  always pay yourself first.

Emergency Means Emergency!

It is important to remember why you have this emergency fund and define what it should be used for. There will be times when it is tempting to use this money for expenses such as vacation, down-payments, going shopping for seasonal clothing, getting a new game system, paying down other debts, or other things along those lines, but try to abstain from this activity. Your emergency fund is for financial emergencies, which can come in many forms.:  you can make a list of acceptable emergencies and only use the money on the things on that list. Everyone’s list will look a little different, however, here are some of the common things emergency funds may be used for: unemployment expenses, medical emergencies, unexpected repairs such as vehicle or household (due to unforeseen causes), unexpected tax bills, emergency veterinary bills, to name a few. It is important to remember the purpose of this account is to keep you from adding debt as a result of trying to come up with money quickly. Plan for worst case scenario so when smaller emergencies arise they are easily covered.

Revise and Maintain

It is essential you maintain your emergency account. There will be times you draw money from the account because emergencies happen, but remember that the money you use on emergencies is money that can no longer be used on other emergencies. This goes back to starting small, if it has been a while since you have contributed a portion of your paycheck to saving, you may have to go back to saving $10-$20 per paycheck until you get your emergency fund balance replenished. You will also have to reevaluate your emergency fund throughout life to adjust to life changes such as marriage, children, etc. Choosing a number that will give you three to six months of living straight out of college could be significantly smaller than three to six months of living expenses when you are married with children. If in doubt, save more.

This concludes the Financial Literacy Month series on money management.  Look for other posts for more tips on both saving and spending money wisely.

Resources

http://financialplan.about.com/od/savingmoney/a/emergencyfund.htm

http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0812/why-an-emergency-fund-is-important.aspx

 

Shannon Vaughan
Peer Counselor I
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

Debt Management

Over the last two weeks, Powercat Financial Counseling has been providing you with some useful financial tips on how to better manage your money. So far, we have discussed the importance of having financial goals and why people should integrate budgeting into their everyday lives. This time, we are going to talk about debt management as a necessary step for your overall financial success.

Borrowing money and having debt are a part of life. And, for the most part, debt is unavoidable. For many people, obtaining a quality education and purchasing your first house would be a daunting task without some kind of debt. In fact, capitalism was built on the extension of credit. Responsible borrowing to a very large extent is what drives the economy; higher spending leads to the creation of more jobs and higher incomes, which in turn is correlated with higher spending.

As you can see, debt can be our friend, but it can also get us in trouble. As of December 2014, total consumer debt in the U.S. is $11.7 trillion. (eg. mortgages, credit card debt, student loans, etc.).  Debt can be problematic when it used to buy unnecessary things we don’t really need, and especially when we don’t have enough income to cover our debt expenses. Debt requires a degree of self-control to avoid getting caught in the debt cycle that can last a lifetime if you are not careful.

Know How Much and Know Who You Owe

Start off by making a list of all of your debts. This list needs to include all of the creditors, total amount of the debt, due dates, and what your monthly payments are. One easy way to confirm the debts on your list is to get free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com. You can select a free credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus once a year (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian).  Pulling free credit reports periodically will also ensure that there aren’t any unknown debt charges under your name.

When To Stay Away From Debt

Stay away from compulsive buying. Avoid financing a long term asset, such as a home or even a car, with a short term loan from your credit card company. The value of your home or your car will not benefit you when paying your monthly credit card bill. Moreover, borrowing long-term for a short term asset such as a home appliance can get you in trouble as well. If you take a 10-year loan to buy a brand new computer with extremely low monthly payments, you will still be paying long after the computer is obsolete.

Timely Payments

The crucial step is to pay all of your bills on time. Late payments make it harder to pay off your debt and you will be charged with a late fee. If you miss multiple payments in a row, your interest rate and finance charges will increase while your credit score will be negatively affected for up to 7 years. To make sure you are not missing payments, use a calendar system on your computer or smartphone. You can also set an alert several days before your payment is due or you can even have automatic payments withdrawn from your account so that you are never late on payments (but be sure to have enough in the bank to cover the payment). In case you miss a payment, don’t wait to pay outstanding charges until the next due date; rather, pay as soon as possible to avoid ‘missing payment’ reports to the credit bureaus. As a matter of fact, 35% of your credit score is determined by your ability to pay bills on time.

Pay More and Know Which Debt to Target First

Logically, your goal is to pay off all of your debts as quickly as possible. In order to speed up the debt repayment process, you can pay more than the minimum payment every month! Time value of money is a very powerful concept. Paying just the minimum payment on your credit card won’t get you very far and you will be mostly paying your interest cost while the loan balance won’t change much. For example, if you have a $1,000 credit card balance at 18% interest rate and you pay just the minimum each month (assuming minimum is 2% of your credit balance), it will take you over 7 year to pay off $1000 credit card balance and you will end up paying $1865 ($1000 balance and $865 in interest). If you have multiple loans, paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first would be your priority, while the rest of your debt would be paid in descending order in terms of interest rates. Paying off the loan or credit card with the higher interest rate would be a wise choice because you will be paying less in total interest on your debt. Some financial gurus even suggest to pay off smaller debts first which will drive your motivation to take care of any other outstanding debts you might have.

Understand Interest Rate Risk

Every time you borrow money, the bank will charge you an interest rate. In simple terms, interest is the cost of using someone else’s money. If you are a borrower, it is in your own best interest to get the lowest interest rate possible.  Every time you are borrowing, it is crucial to understand the interest rate risk associated with the borrowing and to understand the interest rate environment. There are variable interest rates and fixed interest rates. Variable interest rates will change and its movement will depend on market forces while fixed interest rates will stay put for the life of the loan. If you are borrowing at a variable interest rate right now and you are expecting interest rates to rise in the near future, the cost of your debt will rise as well. As  of right now, interest rates are at an all-time low, but this trend will most likely reverse in the near future as the Federal Reserve is looking to raise interest rates which will force the overall cost of borrowing to increase for consumers.

Don’t Forget To Save Money Along the Way

Paying off your credit card balance or your student loans is great, but if you are cutting debt at the expense of your retirement portfolio, you will end up disappointed in the future. A lot of employers are offering 401(k)s and they are willing to match a certain percentage of your salary if you are committed to contribute into your 401(k). In a sense, this is free money that you should not pass on.

Available Debt Help

If you have been struggling to pay your bills on time for a long period of time, there is help available. The first step would be to talk to your creditors and try to work out a modified payment plan that can possibly trim down your payments to a more controllable level. The second step would be to contact a debt relief company, like a credit counseling agency.  HCCI is such an agency that can help you get a debt management plan together that works for you.  They can also advise you on other options.  The other debt relief options include debt consolidation, debt settlement, and bankruptcy. These options have advantages and disadvantages so make sure to proceed very carefully.

Be on the lookout next week for more helpful tips about personal financial management during Financial Literacy Month.  If you have any questions about debt management or other financially related questions, Powercat Financial Counseling is here to help. You can make an appointment at our website: www.k-state.edu/pfc.  We provide free and confidential counseling to all K-State students.

Elvis Hodzic
Graduate Assistant
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

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