PAYING OFF DEBT IN THE AGE OF COVID

Everyone wants to be debt free.

Who in their right mind wants to send thousands of dollars to banks due to debts racked up on high-interest credit cards?  Or, God forbid, Payday loans?

And in normal circumstances, I would tell you to stick to the following debt snowball script:

  1. Save a thousand dollar beginner emergency fund.
  2. List ALL your debts, smallest to largest.
  3. Pay the minimum payment on each EXCEPT the smallest one.  Take any EXTRA cash (including any cash you have over your $1,000) you can scrape together and pound on that debt until it’s gone.
  4. Once that smallest one is gone, take all the money you were paying toward it and roll it over to the next smallest one and repeat the process.
  5. Keep repeating until you get to the last (and largest) one.
  6. Once you are debt free, go back and build your $1,000 emergency fund up to 3-6 months of expenses.

Yes, that is what I normally would advise.

But that was then and this is now and these are NOT normal times.  So, I now advise you make some adjustments to your debt repayment plan.

First, $1,000 is no longer enough of a beginner emergency fund in the age of Covid.  So, STOP your debt snowball if you are currently in it, meaning no more extra payments above and beyond any minimum payments, and pour that cash into your emergency fund until you reach 3-months worth of expenses, minimum.  And certainly, do not start your debt snowball until this is done.

Just to be clear, I define living expenses as all your fixed expenses: Mortgage/Rent, Utilities, Debt Obligations, Food, Transportation.  In other words, if it has a due date on it each month, it’s a fixed expense.

This is now the new minimum standard for your BEGINNER EMERGENCY FUND.  Do not start your debt snowball until you have this minimum amount.  And if things look shaky, go for 6 months’ worth of expenses.

Once you have 3-6 months’ worth of LIVING EXPENSES (Notice I do NOT mean income) AND you have a stable income for the foreseeable future, you can restart your debt snowball.

I know it aches to have cash and the ability to knock a debt out.  I feel you.  I’m looking at one particular debt I have right now that I could click and be done with.  But I have to control my urges.  There is simply no replacement for cash in this critical time.  Cash is king.  Let me explain my reasoning.

Say you take your savings down to $1,000 and you get to work paying off that nagging credit card.  If you don’t lose your job in the course of this and you make it to the end of the debt, good for you.  But banks have a pesky habit of “limiting exposure.”  That’s a fancy term for seeing you as too risky to give credit to. They did this on a large scale in the last downturn in 2008, and they will do it again, mark my words.  So as soon as you pay off that debt they shut down your line of credit. 

You are now 1) Out of all the cash you just sent them and 2) Without the line of credit that you might desperately need if you lose your job or something else comes up.  That’s a double punch to the gut.  If you had held onto that cash, when they shut down your credit, you would still have the cash.  They can’t take that away from you.

So, if you follow the new rules, once you pay off your debts, your immediate next step is to save ONE YEAR of living expenses.  This is now the new standard for your fully-funded emergency fund.

We can get through to the other side of this intact.  It just means making some adjustments, tightening our belts and looking for ways to increase our income, particularly developing multiple streams of income.  That way, in case Covid takes out one stream, you still have the others coming in.

For more reasons for starting a side hustle now, check out my article here.

If you want tips on how to start and run a business, or handle your money more wisely, follow my blog at www.Org4LifeSolutions.com.  You can also schedule a free discovery coaching session with me there. 

In the meantime, stay safe and love the ones closest to you without reservation or regret. I wish you all the best!   And remember, Own It, Be It, Achieve It.

5 REASONS WHY STARTING A SIDE HUSTLE NOW IS A GOOD IDEA

It’s pretty obvious that today’s job market is shaky at best and downright scary at worst.  In fact, the situation reminds me of the book “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson, M.D. 

In it, Johnson tells the story of 4 characters: two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two little people (Hem and Haw).  It is a parable on how we react to change.  You see, they went out every day in a maze to find cheese that always seemed to be there and would never run out. 

But one day Sniff and Scurry noticed the cheese was disappearing.  The handwriting was on the wall: the cheese would soon run out!  They had a choice to make.  They could trust that miraculously the cheese would be replenished by a benevolent and unseen person, or take matters into their own hands and find another source of cheese.

Long story short, Sniff and Scurry got uncomfortable and ventured out into the maze to find a new source of cheese.  Hem and Haw chose to stay put in their comfort zone.  I don’t have to tell you that Sniff and Scurry continued to eat, while Hem and Haw went hungry.

Well folks, the cheese has moved on all of us, whether we realize it or not.  The job terrain has shifted beneath our feet and it won’t be going back to normal.  Up to 40% of lost jobs will not be coming back.  And the jobs that remain will not be as secure, being more prone to furlough when another pandemic swings our way again.  And the medical experts all agree that another pandemic is bound to be in our future.  More of us will be working from home, and social distancing looks like it’s here to stay, more or less.  That begs the question: What are you going to do to safeguard your income?

Well, it is obvious to me and a lot of other folks that having more than one stream of income is a safer bet because it insulates you if the other one dries up.  And if you are still working, how secure is your job and do you have a plan for maintaining your income if your job were to go away tomorrow?  If you’re looking for work, how secure is the field you are trying to get into?  Wouldn’t you like to have more control over your financial future?

The good news is you have options!  You can lay the groundwork for a more stable income by starting a home-based business.  I’m talking about a side-hustle that you can start up in your spare time and build until it replaces your current income.  Or ramp up if your day job goes bye-bye.  You can choose from distance learning, a cleaning service or maybe even a mobile dog washing business.  Heck, you name it!

Sadly, though, people give all kinds of excuses for not starting a business of their own ranging from fear and uncertainty over loss of income and benefits, to being comfortable in their current situation.  If you are still wondering whether or not starting a side gig is a good idea for you, let me share with you 5 reasons why it just might be the right thing for you to do now.

REASON #1- GREATER CONTROL OVER YOUR INCOME

As an employee, your boss controls how much money you make and when you will make it.  When you call your own shots, you decide your salary and you can give yourself a raise by working harder, raising rates or cutting expenses.  In short, you decide how much you get paid, not some dweeb with a pocket protector and calculator, or ungrateful boss, who has no clue what you do or how much value you bring to the table!

And if you had a side hustle in addition to your full-time gig, when the boss tells you your services are no longer needed, well, you have another stream of income to fall back on.  Sounds like a pretty good reason to me.

REASON #2- GREATER CONTROL OVER YOUR TIME

How many times have you had to go to your boss, hat in hand, to grovel for some time off?  I’m guessing more times than you’d like to remember.  The good thing when you run the show is you decide when to come into work, when to leave and when to take time off.  You can also rearrange your schedule at will to have greater quality of life when, say, your kid’s recital comes up or you have a doctor’s appointment.

REASON #3- MORE FAVORABLE TAX CONSIDERATIONS

When you work for someone else, you pay taxes at a set rate and there is little you can do to change it.  But when you own a business, even a part-time, home-based one, you open the door to all sorts of legal write-offs.  Like for travel, office/electronic equipment, food and cell phone bills.  You can even write off a portion of your mortgage and utilities for any dedicated space you use as your home office! 

Those savings can really start to add up and they are the things rich people use to avoid paying as little in tax as possible, thus holding onto more of their wealth than the everyday working stiff.

REASON #4- GREATER CAREER SATISFACTION

How many times has the alarm clock gone off and you dreaded prying yourself out of the bed to go to a place you don’t want to go, to do work you don’t like and to work with people who get on your last nerve?  I know it has happened to me more times than I can count.

When you own your own business, you can decide to work from home, doing work you love while only working with people who you actually like.  How’s that for job satisfaction?

REASON #5- YOU CONTROL HOW YOU INTERACT WITH THE PUBLIC

In today’s climate your employer may require you to place yourself at risk by coming into contact with people in high-risk situations that can expose you to Covid-19 or any other infectious disease.  And you have very little say in the matter.

When you work for yourself, you get to pick work that is done entirely online or in such a way that your exposure to the public is kept at a minimum.  That didn’t matter too much in the past, but now it matters a great deal!

Those are just 5 reasons to start your own side hustle, and I could give you many more.  The point is, isn’t it time you took a greater look at starting your own business so that you own your job rather than your job owning you?

Thanks for reading!  If you want tips on how to start and run a business, or handle your money more wisely, follow my blog at www.Org4LifeSolutions.com.  You can also schedule a free discovery coaching session with me there.  In the meantime, stay safe out there and enjoy life and your loved ones more than ever, because both can be taken away in an instant.  All the best!

Mayo, Childhood “Trauma” And Money

We are all a product of our experiences and environment.

For instance, I don’t like mayonnaise because once when I was a little kid on a boat trip to Bear Mountain (remember the Dayliner?) I was eating a baloney and mayo sandwich when a kid ran out in front of me, put his head over the rail, and threw up.

What came out of his mouth looked white.

I looked at him, looked at my sandwich, and threw it away.

I have not eaten mayonnaise since that day nor can you ever convince me to in life, ever!

Maybe you had a similar experience that seared itself into your consciousness and affects you to this day, for good or bad.

For instance, if you repeatedly had a bad experience with a particular group, race or gender, you might be inclined to form a judgment (prejudice) against them, even though it’s most likely wrong.

Meanwhile, we conveniently overlook what we may have done to bring the problem on ourselves.

We are humans and we tend to live in our feelings, hold grudges and remember the bad times more than the good, so prejudices can come easily and we have to fight them.

Also, it’s easy to blame someone else for a bad experience rather than look at ourselves and how bad decisions on our part may have led to the problem.

It’s no different with money. If we had great experiences with money in the past, we might be inclined to have very positive views about money.

But if we’ve overall had bad experiences with money, we might form very negative views about money (prejudices) that affect how we interact with, and use, money.

Either way, we can form predetermined responses when it comes to making, having and spending money.

These can have positive or negative affects on our finances.

For instance, if you heard your parents always say “The game is rigged and the little man can’t get ahead,” you might resolve yourself to being broke, taking on a victim mentality, because you believe the game is rigged against you, so whats the point in even trying?

Or say you made a series of uninformed and unfortunate mistakes when handling money (like I did big time!) then when you think of money that might also bring on negative feelings and unhealthy money habits.

But say your parents had healthy discussions around money in the home while you were growing up, or, you have overall made good decisions with your own finances, you probably in general have very positive feelings and habits when it comes to handling your money.

Understanding why we do what we do with our money is key to developing the habits and views regarding it that lead to a financially healthy and stable cash flow and net worth.

No one ends up in thousands of dollars of credit card debt with barely any cash on hand because they tripped and fell into it.

Likewise, no one ends up with thousands of dollars in an emergency fund and zero debt because they slipped, tripped and fell into it!

Whatever your experience, owning your part in it is the only way to move forward and grow toward a healthier financial situation.

Look, kids blame others for their problems rather than accept responsibility.

But adults suck it up and accept responsibility where responsibility lies and that is with the person in the mirror.

Financially unfit people share the following in common:

They play the blame game, spend blindly without a budget, have no regular system of saving and investing and they use credit cards to make up for failures in the first three areas.

Financially fit people, on the other hand, share the following in common:

They take personal responsibility for their financial situation, use a monthly budget to manage their money, regularly save and invest and they have very little to no credit card debt.

You see, it’s all about habits, and habits are shaped by experiences and the views formed by them.

What habits have you developed when it comes to money?

Do you have a life-shaping “financial mayo story” in your past that shapes how you view money today?

Mine was a bankruptcy in my mid 20’s.

We all have our own unique experience, but what has your experience with money been like overall?

Comment below or email us at info@org4lifesolutions.com and tell me in 3 WORDS OR LESS how you would describe your relationship with money.

In my next post in this series I will let you know the results. Thanks and have a great day!

DEBUNKING 5 COMMON MYTHS THAT KEEP PEOPLE FROM STARTING A BUSINESS

Starting a business can be scary.  When you choose the road of self-reliance, you give up a lot of what people consider “security” in exchange for taking on all the responsibility of providing for yourself.

But is being self-employed really more risky than working for someone else?  Is the employee more secure than the entrepreneur?  The answers may surprise you.  So, in this article, I’m going to debunk 5 myths about starting a business, using facts and my own experience, and show you how you can overcome them and start reaping the rich rewards that come from being your own boss.

MYTH #1- WORKING FOR SOMEONE PROVIDES GREATER SECURITY

It is true that when you work for someone, you can generally count on getting ‘x’ at the end of a week or two for working your assigned hours.  And people often assume that having a job means that job will be there tomorrow and the day after, and on and on, until they decide to leave.

But that’s not necessarily the case.  First of all, your employer can fire you and replace you with his nephew (or niece).  Second, your company could go out of business.  In today’s climate, many businesses have already folded and experts say 40% of those jobs will not be coming back.  Try talking about job security to the 40 million Americans (and counting) who have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began.

TRUTH: Yes, your business could fail.  But remember, so could your employer’s.  When you work for yourself you can take measures to increase your chances of success.  You can stay on top of your marketing to expose yourself to a broad base of clientele so you are not impacted by the loss of one, or even a few.  You can provide outstanding service so your customers become loyal clients who won’t want to leave you.  When the economy shifts, you can pivot and adjust with the winds to follow economic demand.  Also, no one can fire you from your business.  You are the boss! 

MYTH #2- I’LL MAKE MORE MONEY AS AN EMPLOYEE

This is the reason so many of our parents from my generation said “get a real job.”  They firmly believed that you can make more and steadier income working for someone else.  But is that true?

When I first took the dive into being self-employed my constant worry was making at least as much as I made when I had a 9 to 5.  Well, to my utter surprise, I was able to increase my hourly rate 5 x’s and double my annual income in my first year.  That meant I made more, while working less! 

Consultants and coaches routinely charge double, triple, or more of what they earned in their former jobs.  And companies accept that as the cost of doing business because they value their expertise and  recognize that you have to pay your own benefits and other expenses. 

TRUTH:  Too many people sabotage their income by charging too little, when the truth is people often judge your value by what you charge.  That means if you work for peanuts, they won’t perceive too much value in your services.  But if you charge a premium, mentally they often assume you must be worth it.  Here’s a simple trick to deciding how much to charge.  Figure out how much you want to earn annually.  Then drop three zeroes.  You now have your hourly rate.  For example, say you want to earn $100,000 per year.  You would drop three zeroes from that and end up with an hourly rate of $100!

MYTH #3- IT’S TOO LATE FOR ME TO START A BUSINESS AT MY AGE

This is a common belief and nothing could be further from the truth.  Vera Wang didn’t start designing clothes until she was 39.  Ray Kroc was 51 when he started the company that would become the mega-success named McDonalds.  And  Colonel Sanders started KFC at the ripe old age of 65!

TRUTH:  You’re never too old to start over.  All it takes is the vision, a belief in yourself and the work ethic needed to make it happen.  The cases I mentioned above, and so many others you can Google for yourself, prove that point.  So, wherever you are in life, just get started.  It truly is never too late!

MYTH #4- I DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO BUSINESS FUNDING

So many people actually believe you need to raise a ton of money and go into debt to start a profitable business.  That wasn’t true back in the day, and it’s even less true now.  With the internet and other technology, the playing field has been leveled.  Now you can reach not only your neighbor, but customers in Bangladesh who want and need your product or service.

TRUTH:  Technology makes your reach global.  Also, you don’t need to sign a lease for an expensive space for your business.  Endless numbers of successful businesses have started from kitchen tables or garages.  Dave Ramsey, noted financial guru, is fond of stating that he started his business from a card table in his living room.  That business is now generating over $200 million dollars per year.  And I started my business using a desk in my bedroom, a laptop computer, printer and business cards.  Total investment: Less than $100 since I already had the desk and computer!  And most of us already have that going for us.

MYTH #5- I NEED TO WAIT UNTIL THE RIGHT TIME

Listen.  There is no more mythical thing than “the right time.”  There will always be a problem or obstacle in your life.  You’ll be stressed out.  Your money will be funny.  Your kids will be driving you crazy.  Your boss will make unreasonable demands on your time.  Your health may be suffering.  Blah-blah-blah…  Life sucks.  The list can go on and on.  We live in an imperfect world full of imperfect people.  So, there will never be a perfect time.

TRUTH:  The perfect time will never come.  If you wait for it, you’ll be lying on your death bed regretting all the things you never tried or did.  So, just start.  Kids stressing you out?  Start.  Job devouring your time?  Start.  It’s raining?  Start.  It’s cloudy?  Start.  Putin’s acting up?  Just start.  I was broke and unemployed when I started.  Wherever you are with whatever you have… just start from there.  And when you start, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to keep going.

I hope you benefited from breaking down those 5 common myths that keep people from starting a business.  Really, all of these can come under one heading:  Fear.  And fear is, at the end of the day, a lie.  It is False Evidence Appearing Real.  So, kick it to the curb and just do it.  The rewards are well worth it, as I and so many other entrepreneurs can attest.

If you want more info on starting a side hustle, growing a business or managing your income, check out my blog at www.Org4LifeSolutions.com.  There you can also schedule a free discovery coaching session with me.  I wish you all the best and a healthy, happy life!

WHERE ARE YOU AT ON THE JOURNEY TO WEALTH?

Wealth.  Financial, that is.  Everyone says they want it, yet very few seem to have it.  That is proven by the fact that 78% of our fellow Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.  And that includes the kid flipping burgers at the local eatery all the way through to the local cop, nurse, secretary AND trader pulling down 7 figures on Wall Street.  Because it’s not about how much money you make on the journey to building wealth, it’s about how much you keep in addition to the habits you cultivate along the way. 

Most people like to daydream about having wealth.  They play the lottery and talk about what they would do IF they hit it big.  They fantasize about what they would do IF they could start this business or invent that product.  The problem is “IF” is just a wish without a plan and action attached to it.  It’s the same as with physical fitness.  If you want to have a killer body, you need to begin with a good fitness routine.  So too, if you want to have a killer bank account, you have to have a good financial routine.  The problem is, very few are willing to put in the long-term effort it takes to walk the path of wealth.  Folks, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  And that marathon has 5 clearly defined stages that you need to be aware of and prepared for if you intend to finish the race to wealth.  This article will identify those stages, explain what they look like in practical terms and help you see what you can expect along the way.

STAGE 1- FINANCIAL INSTABILITY

This is where most people find themselves and this is what it looks like: 

  • You are living paycheck-to-paycheck
  • You are borrowing from Peter to pay Paul
  • You have no savings
  • The smallest unexpected expense becomes a major financial obstacle to you
  • You are constantly late and stressed out over monthly bills
  • There is always too much month left at the end of your money and you can’t figure out where your money is going

If any of this sounds like you, then you are in this first stage.  You have no control over your finances and it’s no fun.  I’ve been there and it can be scary as heck.  But as painful and scary as it is, it’s just not scary enough or painful enough to make some people get off their butts and get out of this mess.  It has become more comfortable for them to stay here and do nothing than to get uncomfortable and take action to change their situation.  The great motivational speaker Les Brown once said, “People will never change until they get sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  And you too will wallow in this miserable state unless and until you get sick and tired of being sick and tired.

STAGE 2- FINANCIAL STABILITY

If you got sick and tired of being sick and tired, you might be here.  In this stage you have a starter emergency fund of $1,000.  You are not charging “emergencies” to credit cards and you are living within your means by sticking to a written budget every month while tracking your spending.  Here is where you have actually begun to assert control over your finances and are growing in confidence that you can actually get to that destination you have defined as wealth in your mind.  In review, this is what your life looks like if you are at this stage:

  • You have $1,000 stashed away for emergencies
  • You are living by a written budget and every dollar you make has an assignment every month
  • You have stopped borrowing money to live on
  • You are current and on time with all your bills

If you are here, congratulations!  You have finally taken ownership of your finances and taken control over this most important aspect of your life.  But no time to rest, because there is still much work to do in order to advance to the next stage of wealth building.

STAGE 3- FINANCIAL GROWTH

At this stage of the journey you are really rolling up your sleeves and putting in the work needed to dig yourself out of debt and grow your income.  You are keeping your spending under control.  You are also using the debt snowball method to repay everything you owe. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘debt snowball’ let me explain.  The debt snowball is when you line up all your debts smallest to largest and pay the minimums on each except the smallest.  Any extra money you have you throw at that smallest one until it is gone from your life.  After that debt is gone, you now take all the money you were paying on that smallest one and throw it at the next one in line until that one is paid off.  You keep doing this, rolling your payments downhill from one debt to the next, growing them larger and larger until the last debt is finally paid off.

In this stage you are also looking for ways to grow your monthly income.  That may mean selling stuff, taking on second and third jobs or starting a side business that generates extra income to use in your war on debt.  See, your income is your greatest wealth building tool and the bigger it is, the faster you will get out of debt and build wealth.  To review, here’s a snapshot of STAGE 3:

  • You are working your debt snowball with intensity, paying them off one after the other
  • You are laser-focused on growing your income
  • You are keeping tight control over your spending

STAGE 4- FINANCIAL SECURITY

Now, when I say financial security, I am not speaking in absolute terms.  Rather, I am speaking in a relative sense.  I’ll illustrate this with a home security system.  No one can claim that a home security system will guarantee their families’ safety and keep all burglars away.  But it will serve as a deterrent to any would-be intruders and as a defense against any that actually do try to break in by sounding the alarm, alerting you to the danger and dispatching the authorities to the scene. 

Likewise, in this stage you have relative financial security because you have paid off all your consumer debts so the only payment you have is your mortgage.  Now all that money that was going to payments can now go to building up your emergency fund until it amounts to 6 months to one year of expenses.  So now, if you or your spouse loses a job, if a medical expense hits or the car explodes, it’s no longer a major disaster.  No, at this point it only becomes a minor inconvenience.  Why?  Because the security that the emergency fund gives you means that life will go on as it has without putting your financial life on hold or in jeopardy.  And by the way, a this stage you have also protected your family by getting and keeping all the forms of insurance you need.  Stage 4 is a great place to be so keep in mind what it looks like:

  • You are debt-free excluding your mortgage
  • You have funded or are funding your emergency savings stash to 6-12 months of expenses
  • You have put in place all the forms of insurance you need to protect your family

Stage 4 is where your financial machine is really humming and you are lining yourself up to launch yourself into the final stage of wealth building.  Hold on, because here it comes!

STAGE 5- FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE

I want to clarify again that when I refer to financial independence, I only mean this in relative terms, not in the absolute.  No one is completely immune to the unforeseen occurrences of life.  Wars, runaway inflation and environmental disasters can devastate entire national economic systems.  At that point, everyone is in the same boat.

So, here is how I define financial independence:  The ability to generate all the money you need to cover your living expenses and then some, without working, solely from any business, savings and/or investments you might own.  You are independent in the sense that you don’t rely on any outside sources of income to live.

Yes, here is where you don’t have to take crap from a boss.  When your boss starts acting up you can tell him where to put his job and walk out.  When you want to take the family on an extended vacation, you don’t have to beg for time off from work.  And when you see someone in need, you can reach into your accrued wealth and give like no one else and effect meaningful change in that needy person’s life.  How would you like to have a financial situation that looks like this:

  • Your home is paid off
  • You have absolutely no payments due to anyone
  • Your business and/or investments generate enough income to live a life of comfort
  • You can give generously to causes, institutions or individuals who are truly in need
  • You have time to pursue your heart’s desire
  • You can leave a legacy for the generations that will follow you

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  You bet it does!  In fact, this is where most of us would like to be.  So, I now have two questions for you.  One, what stage are you on in your journey to wealth?  And two, how much work are you willing to put in to get to that final stage of wealth building?  Only you can answer these questions.  I can’t and neither can your mommy or spouse.  Only you. 

So, now is the time to look deep within yourself, figure out where you are, where you want to go and why, and how you intend to get there.  A financial coach might be the thing you need to help you reach your goals.  A financial coach will be your guide and your encourager on this long journey.  A financial coach can help you shave years off your journey and save you thousands upon thousands of dollars in wasted time, effort and personal fortune. 

Then if you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, take decisive, massive action now and make the changes necessary to live the life of your dreams.  Through private, one-on-one coaching sessions, I can teach you how to build your own personalized wealth action plan.  Contact me at www.org4lifesolutions.com and schedule a free discovery session.  I look forward to helping you on your journey to wealth, no matter what stage you may currently be at.  In the meantime, remember:  Own it, Be it, Achieve it!

7 SERIOUS SIGNS YOU ARE HEADED FOR A FINANCIAL TRAGEDY

Tragedy can strike suddenly, as recent high-profile deaths have highlighted.  Just think of the sudden deaths in the news of late:  Luke Perry, of 90210 fame, dead at 52 from a stroke.  John Singleton, visionary director of “Boyz N The Hood,” dead at 51 from a stroke.  And who can forget Bill Paxton, who most recently starred in the series “Training Day,” dead at 63 from a stroke. 

Tragedy can strike at any time in any place.  But usually, as in the case of strokes or other heart-related conditions, there are warning signs like hypertension, diabetes or a sedentary lifestyle, among others.  And it can be the same with your finances.  It may seem that Murphy has set up permanent residence in your spare bedroom, but is it really Murphy, or something else?  Could it be that we are simply ignoring the warning signs of impending financial tragedy?

True, life happens, and there are some things that you cannot anticipate or plan for.  But, like health problems, there are usually warning signs that something bad is about to happen.  When we ignore those signs, it usually doesn’t end well for us.  But when we heed them, we can most times ward off or at the very least, mitigate, the effects of a sudden financial storm.  With that in mind, this article will look at 7 signs that let you know that you are walking a financial tightrope and are probably headed for a financial tragedy very soon.

SIGN #1- You frequently overdraft your account.

Ah, overdraft protection.  That safety net that banks so gladly offer to save you from miscalculation.  “Go ahead,” they say, “write that check and use that debit card.  Don’t worry about keeping track of your balance.  We got you covered for just a teensy, weensy little fee.”  Yup, banks make a mint off fees and overdraft fees are among the top money makers for them.  But if you are constantly falling back on overdraft protection, it’s a sign of something else more serious.  It’s a sign that you are not paying attention to your spending.  And if you’re not paying proper attention to your spending, eventually you will run out of money to spend.  Then comes the tragedy.  So, get on a budget and track your spending before you become another broke statistic.

SIGN #2- You have to resort to credit cards frequently for “emergencies.”

I’ve written about this before.  Credit cards are no substitute for an emergency savings account.  Resorting to credit cards for “emergencies” or worse, every day expenses, means you are spending beyond your means.  This slow creep will eventually max out your credit card limit and then what are you going to do?  It also means you are not planning properly for the future.  Things like car maintenance, household maintenance items and sickness can be expected and planned for.  The car is going to need new tires.  The boiler will break.  The roof will leak and someone in your home will need to visit the doctor at least annually.  These things can be planned for by putting a line item in your monthly budget for each and stashing away cash for those expected expenses.  Then when they come, they are not “emergencies” but planned-for events that you already have the money set aside for.  The second thing you can do is build a starter emergency fund of at least $1,000.  That catches most of the little stuff and keeps you from giving into the temptation to charge it.  Once you get out of debt you can go ahead and build that up to a 3-6 months of living expenses.

SIGN #3- Your 401k is not ok.

Have you, like me, neglected in your youth to recognize the value of contributing to your 401k or other retirement plan?  It can hurt you dearly in terms of lost savings and income growth which can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.  Failure to pay attention to this warning sign can mean spending your golden years working right up to the day you die or living on the Alpo plan.  Get my drift?  But have no fear.  No matter where you are in life it’s not too late.  Start taking advantage of employer 401k matches and max out all your retirement account options now and you’ll be surprised at how market growth and compound interest combine to make you breathe a lot easier in retirement even if you have as little as 10 years to go.

SIGN #4- You regularly run out of money before your next paycheck comes.

Find yourself having too much month at the end of your money?  That’s a sign of one or two things.  Either you are spending beyond your means or you are just not making enough to cover your basic living expenses.  If the first is the case, sell stuff, lose the car payment, slash your spending and put a halt to retail therapy.  If the second is the case, look for ways to boost your income with a side hustle, overtime, job change or second job.  If not, tragedy will come when you miss as little as one paycheck.

SIGN #5- You have maxed out all your credit cards.

This is a flashing red light with alarm bells ringing!  At this point you’ve run out of the means to support your lifestyle and the creditors are knocking at your door and blowing up your phone.  Repo’s, hits to your credit and eviction are marching towards you over the horizon.  Get a hold of the situation now.  Cut up the credit cards, get on a written budget and get your outgo in line with your income.  Or, you could just ignore the signs and suffer any number of the things I mentioned.  Your choice.

SIGN #6- You are consistently late paying most bills.

If this is you, then you already know the pain of late fees.  Add all those up in the course of a month or year and they can cost you dearly.  Worse, like in sign #5, stuff will start getting repossessed and turned off, like your lights and gas.  Get on a written budget, put alerts on your calendar as to when certain bills are due and set up automatic payments if you are just finding that you are being forgetful and it’s not really a money issue.  If you do, you will find life to be a lot less stressful and considerably more enjoyable.

SIGN #7- You would rather shop than save.

I’m not going to soft soap this one.  This one right here is a sign of lack of self-control and maturity.  Children want what they want when they want it.  They don’t understand the concept of the word “no.”  Adults, on the other hand, know the value of delaying gratification in return for something greater later on.  Things like no stress, no debt, fat bank and retirement accounts and the joys of being able to give to help others in need.  If this is you, stop it right now.  Track your spending and see what your carefree lifestyle is costing you.  Calculate what that money would be worth in 10, 20 or 30 years if invested in good mutual funds.  Realize that it is costing you and your family your future.  And look to other ways to boost your mood like volunteering, having family game nights, connecting with friends or enjoying a wide range of free activities in your area.  

Yes, life happens.  But it doesn’t have to happen to you more than it has to.  Instead, happen to your life.  Take control of your finances.  Pay attention to the warning signs.  If any of these apply to you, take action now!  Educate yourself on personal finance.  You don’t have the luxury of being neglectful of this important area of your life.  Get a financial coach if you feel the need.  Sometimes we truly lack knowledge of the actions we need to take.  Other times we know what we need to do but we just need someone to remind us of why we need to do it.  A financial coach can help in either case.  If you choose to take control of your life today, you can avoid being another tragic statistic tomorrow.  All the best to you and remember, own it, be it, achieve it!

5 COMMON MONEY MISTAKES TO AVOID

I remember being 19, fresh out of school and having my first REAL job.  I was actually running a computer network for a famous food company in SoHo, Dean & DeLuca.  That was back when knowing DOS actually paid off.  (Did I just give away my age?)  Anyway, I was driving my parent’s rust-orange Chrysler Imperial and as I rode past the Chevy dealer I wondered to myself just how much respect would they give a young, black kid in the car dealership?  What they ended up giving me was more than I bargained for.  Over $10,000 in new car debt!  On a car that was not what I really wanted and I paid full sticker at that!  I came to hate that car.  Every time I made the payment on it I kicked myself.  In the pantheon of epic dumb money moves that one stands out as probably in the top 3 for me.  I’m sure you have your own stories.

The point is, we all have those money moments we wish we could undo.  Money is an integral part of our lives and in life, we will all make mistakes.  The thing is to learn from them and not repeat them ever again.  And when the mistake is big enough that it leaves a mark (Like my $11,000 Chevy Spectrum), we don’t soon forget the pain.  People still love and buy new cars.  But there are a lot of other costly mistakes we make.  We rationalize these by saying everyone else is doing it.  That’s simply no excuse.  These easily turn into a money drain that can sap you of literally millions in future investment earnings. 

In this article we will discuss some of these more common money mistakes and how and why you need to take action to fix them NOW.  They may not seem big at the time, but they will eventually lead to death by a thousand small cuts.  So, let’s see how we can stop the bleeding.

1. BUYING A NEW CAR

I just had to lead with this one, since the sting of my teen blunder still haunts me to this day.  Everyone loves that new car smell.  But what you’re really smelling as you drive off the lot is the odor of your hard-earned dollars going up in smoke.  See, the typical new car can lose up to half it’s value in the first 2-3 years.  That is why the typical neighborhood millionaire doesn’t even buy them.  Oh, but what about the warranty?  You can still get a used car with much of its manufacturer warranty still intact.  In fact, some certified used cars have a stronger warranty on them than when they were new!

The smarter alternative:  Buy a quality used car that’s about 2-3 years old.  At that point it has done the vast majority of its depreciation and you are paying pretty much dead on what it’s actually going to be worth for some time to come.  It will still continue to depreciate, but at a much slower, less-scarier, rate.  And it still looks practically brand new.  In fact, most people will not even be able to tell the difference.  But your pockets will be able to tell the difference!  And that’s what really counts.

2. EATING OUT EVERY DAY

Face it.  We all have fallen into this poor habit at one time or another.  When I worked in the city as a teen so many years ago, I remember spending $6 each day on lunch.  That’s $30 each week and $120 each month.  My car payment was $180.  I made, at that time, $16k a year.  That puts things into perspective.  Nowadays, the typical daily lunch is well north of $10 per day which easily blows away more than $200 of your income each month.  Can you honestly tell me you couldn’t find a better use for that money?

The smarter alternative:  Brownbag it.  Yep, bring a sandwich from home.  Or, pack some leftovers from the night before and heat them up in the microwave at work.  Chances are it will taste better than the fast fare you will get on the street.  And if you just decided to cut your eating out by just half you could bank $1200 per year in your account in this example.  Or better yet, pay off $1200 in debt!

3. RENTING TO OWN APPLIANCES AND FURNITURE

Rent-to-own spots are popping up everywhere.  Problem is, the everywhere only seems to be in lower income neighborhoods.  There’s a reason for that.  The typical millionaire makes decisions based on 10 years from now.  The average poor person makes decisions based on the next payday.  Have you ever calculated the interest rates these places charge?  If you just banked the weekly payment they want, you could actually pay cash for the thing in just a few short months!  Instead, short-sighted folks end up paying many times what the item actually would have cost if purchased outright.

The smarter alternative:  Stash away what you would have given to those crooks at the rent-to-own spot every week.  Exercise a little self-control and save it up until you have enough to buy the thing for cash.  Then you will keep a lot more money in your pocket and you won’t have to worry about a weekly payment sucking your wallet dry.

4. USING A CREDIT CARD INSTEAD OF CASH

But don’t the points add up?  Do yourself a favor and ask a millionaire if he ever got rich on points.  I don’t think you will find one who did.  Think about it.  Credit card companies are not in the business to lose money.  They aren’t giving away points out of the goodness of their hearts.  They know most folks will not even redeem them and for those who do, they make so much money in interest that it’s a mere bag of shells to them.  In fact, the average person pays more when using a credit card because they don’t actually feel like they are spending cash.  McDonalds is a prime example.  They found that the typical sale is $4.50 when people use cash, versus $7 when they use plastic!  Now you know why those card terminals are so conveniently placed at every register.

The smarter alternative:  Carry cash and ditch those credit cards.  Dunn & Bradstreet did a study which showed that people spend 12-18% more when using credit cards.  That’s because when you use cash you actually feel the pain of the money leaving your hand.  When you use plastic, you don’t, so you’re apt to spend more.  But if carrying cash around isn’t your thing, at least use a debit card.  Then you won’t be paying interest on that burger and fries for months to come!

5. IGNORING YOUR COMPANY’S 401K MATCH

What sane person would tell you they would be willing to pass on a legal and guaranteed, double-your-money investment?  None I’m sure.  But that’s what millions of Americans do when they take a pass on their company’s 401k match.  Dude, that’s FREE MONEY!  An automatic 100% return on your money before it even hits the market.  Don’t miss out on that, please!

The smarter alternative:  Contribute at minimum the percentage that your employer matches.  How many other guaranteed ways are there out there to double your money immediately?  I’m not able to think of any actually.  So, head down to Human Resources and sign up for that match today!

We’ve reviewed 5 common money mistakes the average person makes that ends up crippling their ability to grow wealth.  We’ve also reviewed the alternatives you can take to stop the money bleed.  Now you know.  And knowing is half the battle, as they say.  The other half is actually doing something about it.  In other words, if you know, act like you know!  And if you do, you will rise above the average and put yourself on track to becoming an above-average millionaire next door!

SPRING CLEANING FOR YOUR MONEY

Ah, Spring!  A time of renewal, life and light.  We survived the long, dark winter and now brighter days are ahead.  It’s a good time to take a look at things in your life and give them a buff and shine so they look a little nicer.  So, people generally take the time to clean out the garage, clean the house, put away those warm winter clothes and break out the Spring duds because beach season is coming after all. 

It’s no different with your money.  Over the winter your money may have gotten fat and lazy.  It may have also picked up some dust balls that are making it (and YOU!) look bad.  So here are 11 quick and handy tips you can use to dust off your finances and get them into tip-top shape for the coming season.

1. GET ON A BUDGET

Every winter season the holidays come.  And every winter season the sales come right along with them.  People who have been behaving and living below their means all year to this point suddenly lose their minds and buy a bunch of stuff they don’t really need, with money they don’t really have, to impress people they don’t really like.  If you are part of the masses and you’ve used the holidays as an excuse to blow through your budget like a weed wacker on steroids now is the time to rein it in and stop the madness.  Sit down and review your expenses, compare it with your income and create a budget that makes sense and is more in line with what you really earn.

2. STOP CHARGING UP YOUR CREDIT CARDS

Credit cards.  You can’t live with them…  Let’s leave it at that.  If you are like the average American, you are carrying $8600 in credit card debt.  That’s according to a March 2018 ABC News article.  To put what that’s costing you into perspective imagine you had placed that money into an investment account earning 8% (well below the 30-year average S&P 500 12% return rate).  In 10 years that money would be worth $18,566.  In 20 years it would be worth, wait for it, $40,084.  And in 30 years it would be worth a whopping $86,538!  And that’s if you never even added another dime.  Imagine if instead of sending that monthly payment to the banks it went instead into your investment account?  Now that number begins to take off into the 100’s of thousands or, quite easily, millions of dollars.  Get the point?

3. PAY OFF DEBT

But everyone lives with a payment, right?  It’s the American way after all.  Yeah, it is.  And that’s why 78% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.  Monthly payments eat into your disposable income like a piranha.  If you don’t want to be average stop carrying debt.  The average American carried over $38,000 in non-mortgage debt in 2018.  If you want to know what’s that’s costing you, just look back at item 2.  Still want to be average?

4. BULK UP YOUR EMERGENCY FUND

Emergency, schmergency.  That’s what credit cards are for, right?  Wrong!  40% of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency.  Think about that.  As little as $400 can break 40% of us.  To get out of that danger, quickly build a beginner $1,000 emergency fund.  Sell stuff, work extra, turn a hobby into a business, whatever.  Just do it fast.  It won’t catch every possible emergency, but it will catch most and keep you from resorting to those high-interest credit cards as a crutch.  Again, if you haven’t gotten the point, go back to item 2.

5. FILE YOUR TAXES- ON TIME!

Every year millions of Americans wait until the last second to file and end up missing the deadline and thus incur penalties.  Even if you know you owe and don’t have the money to pay, file anyway.  That way you can at least avoid the hefty failure to file penalties, which are 5% for every month the balance goes unpaid up to a maximum of 25% of the balance owed.  Ouch!  You can set up a payment plan with the Feds later on.  Just get it done now.  And when you file, use a professional.  The form 1040, that 69% of us use, takes 16 hours to prepare on average, according to the IRS.  Think about the value of your time and the money that a savvy tax pro can save you.

6. AVOID BIG REFUNDS

Got a big refund?  Happy?  You shouldn’t be.  You just loaned the Federal Government your money for one year and they used it without paying you a dime of interest.  The average tax payer in 2016 overpaid the government by $260 each month!  You could have been using that money over the course of the year to pay off debt, build savings, invest or take care of a lot of monthly budget items that need immediate attention.  Still excited about that refund?  If not, adjust your W4 accordingly so you have no, or very little, refund come next tax year.  It’s your money, you work hard for it.  Don’t just give it away to congress to blow on some stupid pet pork project.

7. TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR 401K

If you have paid off all your debt and your 401k has been neglected you are leaving  a lot of money on the table.  For instance, if your employer matches up to a certain percentage, that’s a FREE 100% return on that portion of your contribution.  It’s crazy to give that up.  Also, if you have picked some dog funds that should be taken out back and shot, you are missing out on some big returns from the market.  Do some research and look at the range of funds your employer offers.  Take a few minutes to research the average 10-year return.  If it’s tracking close to the average 30-year stock market return of 12% or more, you’ve got a winner.  If not, you’ve got to make some changes.  It’s your future and your potential loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars if you don’t.

8. DUST OFF ANY UNECESSARY FEES

Is your bank fee-happy?  Some banks would charge you for the air you breathe when you walk into one of their branches if they could.  Review your fees.  There are so many options out there now with online banking, credit unions and regional or local banks where you can drastically reduce or even eliminate the fees the big banks charge you.  Many offer no-fee checking, no ATM fees at other machines and no minimum balance requirements.  Shop around and save a buck or two.  Or ten.  Or 30!

9. TRIM THOSE SUBSCRIPTIONS

Do you have a lot of zombie subscriptions sucking the life blood out of your bank account every month?  You know, stuff that you pay for but never use.  Are you really using that streaming service subscription?  Is your gym membership being used or are you keeping it around just so you can say you belong to a gym?  Get out your statements and list all those recurring subscription and membership charges.  If you are not using them, cut them off immediately.  Those savings can quickly add up to be used elsewhere in your financial plan.

10. REVIEW INSURANCE COVERAGES

Every person should have life, disability, renters (if you rent), identity theft and long-term care insurance (if you’re over 60).  I’m assuming you have homeowners and auto.  You’re not crazy, right?  If you are missing any of these key defenses in your financial walls, take care of it now.  And when you shop use a broker, who can shop around at multiple companies for the best rate.  On the other hand, using a captive agent  (one who works for a particular company only), locks you into their costs, which may be excessively high and not as good quality coverage as you can get by shopping on the open market.

11. REVISIT YOUR GOALS FOR THE YEAR

The first quarter is over.  Most people have thrown their goals into the trash bin by the end of February.  But don’t let that be you!  Dust off that list and see how your financial plan stacks up against it.  Make sure your financial plan works with your goals, not against them.  If adjustments need to be made, refocus and recommit.  Get an accountability partner on board.  Write down your action plan for achieving those goals and review it every day to make sure you are making progress on them and not just making excuses.  If you do, you have a 70% better chance at reaching those goals than everyone else who doesn’t do these things has.  So be a winner, not a lame wanter!

Now that you’ve read through this article, do yourself a favor and take the time to actually do the things you’ve learned.  If doing all of them is too daunting for you right at this moment, pick just one and commit to taking some action on it today.  Then pick another one tomorrow and take action on it that day.  Work your way through the list 15 minutes at a time, one day at a time.  Before you know it, your finances will be fit and in fighting shape for the rest of the year.

5 HARD LESSONS FROM THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in Outer Mongolia you know that our government was shut down for over a month until just this last Friday.  What that means is 800,000 Americans were either furloughed or forced to work WITHOUT pay for over a month!  The stories were increasingly painful and we saw them on the news every day.  Thousands of families are still scraping by on next to nothing because backpay will not be received until the end of this week most likely.  If you are a federal contractor, tough cookies on that back pay.  And this ain’t over folks.  Trump has threatened to do it all over again in 3 weeks if he doesn’t get his wall money. 

Selling personal items, going to food pantries and driving Uber are the popular stop-gap measures now.  If you are a federal worker in this predicament, my heart goes out to you.  I’ve been where you are financially, so I know how it feels.  You can never really understand what this feels like until you’re looking down at the bills on your kitchen table trying to decide whether to eat, pay the utilities or the rent.

But as shocking as these scenes are, they should come as no surprise. Wake up America!  A 2017 survey by Career Builder revealed that 78% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.  What that means is 78% of our population (and even more when you add the people who count on them to provide) is just one paycheck away from disaster.  They have NO savings whatsoever.  In fact, USA Today reported as recently as last year that 40% of Americans don’t even have enough in savings to cover a $400 emergency!  Yes folks, this is normal in America today.  In my opinion, that’s the national emergency.

Here’s the thing that’s getting lost in the sauce though.  While any employer, including the government, has an obligation to pay its workers for the work they do, emergencies like sickness, injury, house and auto repairs and job losses can and will happen.  It is only a matter of when.  That becomes your responsibility and yours alone to prepare for.  Imagine how different this scenario would be for these federal workers if they all had 3-6 months of living expenses stashed away, no debt and other sources of income?  Let that sink in for a moment. 

It is possible for you though.  Yes, you can take ownership and control over your life.  You can choose to leave normal behind and become abnormal, ready to face life’s curveballs.  And there are concrete steps you can take to shield yourselves from these inevitable storms.  With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 5 action steps you need to take immediately to protect yourself and your family in the future.  Or the next person standing on line at the food pantry could be YOU.

Actions Step #1- Build an Emergency Fund Now!  I have written extensively on the need to have an emergency fund in the past.  I’ve even given tips on how to build a $1,000 beginner emergency fund in a hurry here.  Suffice to say, an emergency fund is that thing that keeps the wolf away from your door.  Because when you don’t have one, Murphy will come and visit often.  Sometimes it might seem that he even set up a bed in your home.  $1,000 won’t catch every emergency, but I can say that it has caught all of ours including car repairs, furnace breakdowns and plumbing emergencies.  In time you can bump that up to a fully-funded savings of 3-6 months, or more, of living expenses.

Action Step #2- Build Another Stream of Income.  Everyone has heard the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  When you rely on one source of income, that’s what you are in effect doing.  Because when your boss decides he no longer needs your services, or your government decides it’s no longer going to pay you, you need a backup plan.  The time is now to think about side hustles.  Direct sales, selling real estate on the side, turning a hobby into a stream of income or starting a business are just a few choices for diversifying your income.  Pick one, two or several.  The more the better.  When your bank account has multiple sources of income, when one dries up it’s not such a big deal.

Action Step #3- Get Out Of Debt.  Nothing eats away at your ability to build wealth like carrying debt.  And there has to be a correlation between the fact that so many Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck and the fact that debt levels continue to rise.  Nerdwallet reported that in 2018 the average US household with credit card debt had a balance of $6,929.  So, 40% of us don’t have cash to cover a $400 emergency but we continue to charge burgers, jeans and vacations at a rapid pace.  This is insane.  If you have $1,000 in income, but $200 of it goes out the door to pay debts, that’s $200 less you have to build your emergency fund, save for retirement or pay for monthly household expenses.  The only way to stop that madness is to stop going into debt and set up a plan to pay it all off and become debt free.  It’s not hard.  Millions of Americans are doing it and living like no one else because of it.  You can too.  Just decide to change.  Today.

Action Step #4- Get On a Written Budget.  Oh no!  I said the ‘B’ word!  Most of us don’t like being told what to do.  And most of us don’t like being told no.  And that’s how most of us view a budget.  It’s limiting, it takes away the fun, it’s hard to stick to.  That’s what “normal” people think.  And sadly, most people are wrong.  Listen, a budget is all in how you view it.  You can see it as a thing that limits your spending and takes your joy, or you can view it as a powerful tool for telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.  The truth is, if you have too much month at the end of your money, you need a budget.  If you have no savings, you need a budget.  And if you are scratching your head wondering where your money went before the next payday comes, you sure as heck need to get on a budget.  Guess what?  Millionaires use budgets, broke people don’t.  What would you rather be?  

Action Step #5- Take Ownership of Your Situation.  So many of us have excuses for not doing well with managing our money.  I don’t make enough.  Taxes are too high.  My parents didn’t teach me.  I’m just not good with money.  Blah, blah, blah.  I recently heard something on the subject of excuses by retirement expert Chris Hogan.  He said, “Excuses are lies dressed up as an explanation.”  Nothing could be truer.  Excuses are the lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better or look better to other people.  But I’ve never seen a wealthy or successful person who got where they were by making excuses, putting the blame on someone else and half-stepping through life.  It’s your life.  Not your boss’, not your mom’s, not your spouse’s and darn sure not your government’s.  So, own it!  Be an ownership hero, not an excuse loving zero.

So, what would you rather be?  Normal, living paycheck-to-paycheck?  Or abnormal, financially fit and ready to live like no one else?  Granted, these steps are not the cure-all for your financial problems.  I’m not some pie-in-the-sky positive thinker.  But they are intended as a good start.  And no, it won’t be easy.  But what in life that’s worth it ever is?  If you want the easy life, it’s there for the taking.  But be forewarned.  It comes with money woes, food pantries and eviction notices.  But if you choose to be different, if you dare to choose ownership, you can live like no one else.  You can live a life of extraordinary accomplishment.  All you have to do is decide that you want it. 4

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T GET ALL HAPPY ABOUT YOUR BIG FAT REFUND (Or, Congratulations! You Just Loaned Uncle Sam Your Money Interest-Free For A Year!)

So you’ve got a big refund coming this year, huh?  Whatcha gonna do with it?  Pay a bill?  Save it?  Buy some shiny new toy?  Newsflash!  Whatever it is you plan on doing with it, it doesn’t matter.  Because you’ve already lost a lot of dough in the game of personal finance.    Sorry if I busted some bubbles, but I’m not here to make you feel good.  I’m here to tell the hard truth so you can max out your money.  Let me tell you what I mean.

I remember back to when I was much younger, about 19 years old.  I was working in an investment bank at the time.  As you can imagine, there were a lot of wealthy VP’s and such there.  I used to rub shoulders with them every day in the course of my job function.  Anyway, I’ll never forget what one guy told me one day.  He told me he had to pay the government about $4,000 when he filed his taxes.  I was like “What???  Are you crazy?  Why didn’t you make sure you got a refund?”  It was at that point that he literally sat me down and educated me in the ways of the wealthy and how they view paying taxes.  What I’m about to share with you stems from the lessons I learned that day.

To start, according to IRS.gov the average refund was $3,120 in 2016.  That means the average taxpayer over-paid the government by $260 each month!

What could you do with an extra $260 in your pocket each month?  Get that debt monkey off your back quicker?  Save for a vacation or a used car?  Or maybe you could build a wicked emergency fund so you don’t have to resort to Visa or Mastercard every time some unexpected expense pops up.

Let me show you another thing you could do with it.

If you just took that $3,120, never added another dime, and put it into a mutual fund returning a decent 8% annually, in 30 years you would have $31,395.38.  In 40 years guess how much you would have.  $67,780.27!  Mind you, that’s without adding one more dime to it.

But hold on Wilbur, cuz here’s where it really gets insane.  Let’s say you’re 35 years old.  If you were to take that same $260 each month and invest it in a mutual fund returning, say, 8% annually for 30 years do you know how much money you would have at the age of 65? $381, 719.11.  And if you were to get on the investing bandwagon earlier at the age of 25 and did that for 40 years, by the time you reached age 65 you would have $872,916.87!  Do you think that kind of dough would have a major impact on your retirement?  Darn skippy!

You see, based on a GoBankingRates.com survey from September of 2016, more than half of all Americans don’t have $1,000 saved to deal with an emergency!  And according to a CNBC article from the same time period, the median household retirement savings was just $5,000!  So if you were to make this simple change of putting an end to lending your money interest free to the government, you could beat both those statistics in less than two years.

Now that you know the cost of getting a tax refund from the government, how do you fix it?  March right over to your payroll or human resources department, get a fresh W-4, and fill it out.  First you need to know your average annual refund amount.  Divide that by the number of paychecks you receive.  That will be the golden number you’re trying to get back in your hands each pay period.  What you’re looking to do is tweak your witholding allowances until you get to a point where the amount gained back equals your golden number.

So, in the average refund case of $3120 we used above, if you got paid every other week, you would be looking to adjust your witholding until your take home rose $120.  If you got paid every week, you’d shoot for an extra $60 in your take home.  Don’t worry if you have to try it a few times.  There’s no limit to the number of times you can submit a new W-4.

And once you get that money in hand you could start throwing it at your debts, building your emergency fund or investing it in a mutual fund or index fund.  Set the transfer on autopilot every check so you don’t have to worry about it.  Then just lean back, relax and let time and compound interest work it’s magic.

If you take away only one thing from this lesson, it’s that getting a refund is bad!  If you are getting a fat refund every year, you need to fix that problem.  Be smart, don’t lend Uncle Sam your money and get nothing in return.  Now go forth and max out your money!

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