Ways to be a better saver of money


save money

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According to Rand Corp. economists, in a study on money saving behavior from August 2012 to March 2013, people who wrote their money saving goals down saved 64%. People who did not write down their goals saved 53%. In this study, savers were given money and some of the savers were asked to write the following: “I am a good saver. I will commit myself to achieving my savings goals.” A third group in the study were those assigned to an account where they could not withdrawal any money over the next six months. That group saved even more than the other two.

If you want to save more, write it down, or share it with a trusted friend or family member. It seems to be the act of pledging to be a better saver that makes a person better at saving. People want to have their words and deeds match, especially if others know about a goal. Another sure way to set you up for success is to have some of your savings hard to get to.

Savings? Words matching deeds? Accountability? There’s an app for that! Yep. If you can’t come up with your own motivation to save, there’s an app and website Stickk.com by Yale behavioral-finance experts. With this app you can create a contract and share it with others. You can even include a penalty if you slack off. The penalty can be something like authorizing a credit card payment to a charity. Stickk.com has found that users who do share their goal with supportive people and chose to elect the penalty, have a success rate of 80%, while those who keep their goal of savings private succeed nearly 40% of the time.

You point the direction with your personal budget


arrowrightpngkey-benefits-from-three-budget-stages-30357 image credit: Good Search

Some people avoid having a budget out of fear it will rule them. No! YOU have far more control by having a budget, than without one. YOU direct how much, when, and where to allocate the money. Just put aside money and point your mind and actions in the direction you desire.

I’ve been called The Budget Queen for years. I recently learned that Margaret King of Philadelphia, PA reins as Queen Budget with a net worth of $850,000.

It began when she was a graduate student. Her budgeting formula? maximize money for investing. She lived within her means. Her life necessities (needs, not wants—things like utilities, food, housing) fit into 57% of her income. She set aside 10% for travel, and 3% to gift family and friends. That’s a total of 70%. The other 30% was for savings, investments, and paying down the principle on her mortgage.

Ten years ago, King paid off her home loan. Each month, her minimum payment was 15% more than what she owed. Once that money was freed up, she put that 15% into investments.

Don’t get caught up on her net worth. Don’t play the “yeah, but—” game. She did it! Awesome!

So can you! You can take budgeting seriously. You can save money. If you really don’t have extra money, don’t start with a goal of paying down 15% over your debt. If you say you don’t have the money, but are spending it elsewhere, then it’s time to look in the mirror and do some soul searching. The only way to manage something is to track it. By watching your spending, you’ll know where it’s going and that means you’ll know how much you have to spend or save.

King’s budget formula is basically the standard 70-10-10-10. Living on 70% of your net. Investing 10% to long term savings. Investing 10% to short term savings. And 10% for fun. This is where I encourage charity, and pull funds for fun from the short term savings. If someone’s in debt, they can use this last 10% for paying debt down. How you break it up doesn’t matter at all. What’s important is that you begin.

Every once in a while, I grab an envelop and for a month I keep track of all my receipts. If I spend money and forget a receipt, I write down the cost and what it was for on the envelop, or piece of paper and put that piece of paper in the envelop. At the end of the month I take a look at where my money’s going. I also check in with myself at a “real” level. Were there a bunch of things I could really do without? It’s not to punish, it’s to cross check desires and actions. If you say you want to save more money, or have more money—but you spend on immediate gratification, it’s not a match. Something has to give.

I am steeped in New Thought (law of attraction, act as if, affirmations, etc.) You cannot pray for money (or anything) and do nothing to draw it to you. Prayer or meditation may be part of that action, but at some point there will be a message for you to “treat and move your feet.” This is a metaphysical saying meaning, pray (sometimes called prayer treatment) and take action. Action begets action. Not action begets wishful thinking.

You can do it! Be the Budget Queen. Be the King within. As within, so without. It’s all about cause and effect. As our beliefs change, so do our experiences.

Fear or Dreams. What Motivates You to Save Money?


find money image credit: Good Search

I had a statistics professor in college who brought out the state lottery in class. “I don’t even mess with it until it’s over ten million.” Let’s remove some of the zeros from that. . . . What if you found ten dollars—what would you do with the money? What if fifty dollars was automatically deposited into your bank account every month? What would you do with that money?

What motivates you to save money? Is it fear of being without? Or, is it your dreams of  “one day” and “what if”? Do these aspects of motivation help you set goals, or pass through you thoughts until the next time.

Find out what motivates you. Fear or Desire. Decide to take a stand. If it’s fear and you’re not saving, then some may say you’re fooling yourself.  If your fear is not having enough, begin by putting aside money every single paycheck. You say you don’t have enough to do that. Do it anyway. Put aside even one dollar every paycheck. Do not label it “rainy day”; label it “savings”. You may scoff that one dollar isn’t enough. Hmmm… Funny. A second ago you didn’t have “enough” to save anything. You’ve got to prove to yourself there IS enough. Change your thinking, and change your life. Yes, even one dollar at a time.

If it’s desire and you take no action, you’ll never draw it to you. Sure, you may be gifted a car, or marry someone in “that” neighborhood, but that only goes so far. If you take action (and action begets action) you’ll change your consciousness, and by doing so, you’ll prove to yourself you don’t need someone else to save you —which opens the door for that good to come without strings, and enables you to share your good with others, too.

The on-line bank ING Direct (now Capitol One) allows customers to set up several savings accounts, and customers can name them. (Car, Travel, Financial Freedom, Life…) Happy saving!

Creative Gifting on a Budget


I recently traveled to a friend’s mid-summer wedding. The ceremony was in a gorgeous meadow that had a labyrinth. The path was as wide as a lawn mower. When we arrived to the meadow, I picked wild daisies to make the bride a wreath for her head. Then I took photos of the surrounding area. Next thing I knew, it was time to sage and bless each guest before their entering the labyrinth.

IMG_5600This wedding got me thinking of gifts that can be given from the heart. First, there was the opportunity for every guest (17) to bring organic, non-GMO fruit, vegetable, or flower seeds for the couple to plant and act as a reminder for them to nurture their friendships. The couple also asked each guest to bring  something from nature. In addition to seeds and nature, guests were asked to write a poem or message about, or to the Summer Solstice and read it to the group.IMG_5589

Up until the point of finding an item of nature, I had confidence that as usual, I packed light, and smart. But then I found two rocks—each in the shape of a heart. Why couldn’t I be happy with a leaf or feather! Sticking to my original plan, I was also giving the couple a great chef knife. My friend loves to cook and entertain. So, this meant I had to plan ahead and ship off the knife, and pack the rocks along with wrapping paper (only to get scolded by the bride for using paper.) One guest gifted the couple with catering the simple but beautiful hors d’oeuvres. Another guest made a six foot wine bottle holder out of wood he’d found, adding shape and holes to the piece of wood.

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I’m on the good side of cancer—rebuilding strength. This was my first big trip, and I was determined to carry-on my bag rather than pay $25 for the same weight as some women’s purses. It wasn’t pretty and I ached from doing it, but I did it. It reminded me of a story I was told by a man years ago.

This man was staying in Africa for several months. He made friends with the locals. On his birthday, one of his new friends gifted him with a sea shell. This man knew his friend couldn’t have bought the shell, and they lived hundreds of miles from the coast. He said, “The ocean is far away. How did you get this shell?” His friend replied. “Long journey part of gift.” He’d walked a few days to honor his friend with a sea shell.

How can your journey gift someone? What can you do differently, or go out of your way to honor someone without a big expense on your part? I think my friend was more grateful for the head wreath, photography, and space clearing I did than the chef knife. For me, the big gift was the travel itself.IMG_5590

What is dollar-cost averaging?


investing 401 kimage credit: Good Search

What is dollar-cost averaging? Are you someone who wants to invest money, but doesn’t make a move until you’re “too late”—so, you don’t invest at all? If so, then maybe dollar-cost averaging is for you. It’s one option to get you saving.

Let’s say you have $5,000 available for investing. You could either invest it all one time and let it be, or, you could ease into the market over time in equal installments at regular intervals (every month, or every quarter.) The index price may move from $100 to $75 to $55 to $75 to $100. Let’s say you buy at $1,000 installments. You’ll buy more shares when the price is low, and fewer shares when the price is higher. You’ll have an average-cost per share $81. If you put the entire $5,000 in at one time, your average-cost per share is $100.

History favors putting in a lump sum of money because over the (very) long haul, markets have gone up.

However, with dollar-cost averaging, which is basically what you’re doing if you have a 401(k), or other employer sponsored retirement plan, if you put some of the money in at the wrong time, you’re bound to put some of the money in at the right time. If you put a lump sum in at the wrong time—it’s gone. With dollar-cost averaging, you’re buying stocks when they’re low. That goes against everything our emotions tell us to do. Buy more when prices are low, and buy less when prices go up. The advice, “Buy low, sell high” is fine until we’re sitting in the driver seat.

During the strongest markets, dollar-cost averaging came up short with 19.2 percent less wealth than lump-sum investing. During average or weak markets, dollar-cost averaging will cost you 3.6 percent of your holdings. However, the strategy of dollar-cost averaging may help you sleep at night rather than fearing you’ve dumped $5000 into a black hole. It minimizes regret.

Check Your Credit Report


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Unless you’ve had reoccurring issues with your credit file, it better serves you to avoid credit monitoring services, which can cost $180 a year. Even though many of  these services are owned by the credit bureaus themselves, they’ll do the same thing you do (for free) —discover the error on your record after it’s there. For free, you can get the same info monitoring services get. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com. You are entitled one free report from each of the three bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you’re applying for credit, a loan, or competing for a job soon, get all three reports now so you can look them over to ensure the information is correct. Otherwise, spread out the three yearly reports, requesting one report every three months: Maybe in January you request one from TransUnion. In May you request one from Equifax and in September, Experian.

Review the on-time payments listed on accounts you know you have. Check for addresses listed as yours, and spelling of your name as well as variations of your name. Most importantly, check for records of debt that aren’t yours, and for inquires for loans you haven’t applied for. This could be a sign of identity theft, or a legitimate mistake, perhaps a mix-up with similar Social Security numbers. Either way, according to Money magazine and SmartCredit.com, this issue is the most difficult to get fixed.

If it’s your issue, call the bureau with the incorrect information immediately. Ask them to put fraud alert on your file. Also, go to Consumer.ftc.gov.

If you find an error on your credit report, let the appropriate bureau know. You can do this online, or by mail. If you have documentation, mail may be best. Make copies, highlight the relevant, correct information, and briefly and clearly explain (type if your writing isn’t really easy to read) what the error and correction are. Make sure you have copies of what you’re sending before you send it certified mail, requesting a return receipt.

Again, check your three credit reports regularly. AnnualCreditReport.com is the official site and is free. If you want your credit score, go to MyFico.com. There is a fee for the score. It’s good once in a while to check in on your score. It’s about $20.

Ground Rules for Vacationing with Friends


splitting cost on vacation image credit: Good Search

Taking a vacation with friends can be fun—or not. Time together is all fun and games until squabbles over costs come into the vacation and memories. It’t hard for some people to talk about money, but it’s often harder to repair friendship over money issues that arise while traveling.

Before you go:

Discuss where you’ll go, who is going, and when. If you want to go to Italy in the Summer, and they want to go to  Ireland in the Fall, make sure no one feels “You always get your way.” If there’s a since of that from the start, suggest another trip, another time, but let it be known you’re going to Italy in the Summer—and you’re going to have a wonderful time!

If everyone decides to move forward from there, begin to put your plans in writing. Everyone going on the trip can get together and share ideas of what their ideal vacation looks like. Are you a four-star hotel type? Or do you like hosteling? If you earn points from hotel stays, and your friend earns them with a different hotel, what do you do? What if you have different frequent flyer airlines? These are the things that need to come up early in the planning stage. Maybe you’re both okay with not earning miles, and grabbing the least expensive flight, but if one of the two of you has enough miles for a trip on an expensive airline, you may not be traveling together.

What’s your vacation budget? Know it before you leave home and stick to it. Talk this stuff through with your friend. If you’re with someone who wants to experience high end restaurants but you plan to buy food from the local grocery shop, eat from food stands, or patronize the local mom and pop restaurant— You’ll want to have that discussion before the trip. Maybe you agree to one expensive night on the town. Get an idea of that means. I had an experience in Lapland, Sweden. A puny scoop of ice cream, a tiny piece of brie cheese, and a small vodka came to $75.00. Are you both on the same budget? Even if you are, it may not impact you the same. Maybe you say to your friend, “If you want to go to that restaurant, are you willing to without me, even if that means going alone?” Or have some days and evenings where you each do your own thing.

Once you have an idea of what the trip looks like, put it in writing. Include (researched) estimates of costs, timelines and budgets. If you can, either each pay for your airfare separately, and each send in half of the accommodations on your own—or try to have only a few bills and split all of them in half. (I don’t like to do this at restaurants, because my bill is usually much lower than others’.) If you’re eating meals at the beach house rental, equally pitch in for food, or totally do it separately. If they drink wine and you don’t, that’s not on your bill. If you insist on drinking soy milk and they can get by with less expensive cow’s milk, it sounds like a menu review may be needed before you get too far.

It’s really important to know your travel partner is saving for the vacation. If you save money and book your trip, and they don’t save, and decide they have to back out, you may find yourself in hot water (and I don’t mean at a spa in Hawaii.) I’ve had this happen to me twice. Once, there was a double occupancy requirement. My friend who hadn’t saved and backed out did pay the difference for me to go alone. Nothing was going to stop me from my trip.

Traveling together is a lesson in budgeting, communication, compromise and friendship. Go! Have fun!