The Discount Myth: Dispelling the idea that spending money is saving money

The “savings” pumped out by our culture are all but unavoidable. Everywhere we go we’re being offered a sale on something, whether it’s the necessities of our lives such as food or the less necessary, such as an extra pair of shoes. It’s easy to get caught up in these sales, look at the original price of the products we’re buying and look at the sale price and think ‘Hey, if I buy this now while it’s on sale, I won’t be spending that extra money when I need to purchase it later.’ In many cases, we begin to tell ourselves (as it’s something we’re told, time and time again by advertisers) that we’re saving money by making these purchases.


There are some cases where this actually is a means of saving money. We’ve all heard stories about the coupon queens and kings, who manage to cut their shopping prices down by such a drastic amount that it’s almost unbelievable, but more often than not we’re buying on an impulse. It’s a pervasive, hard to change mindset, but it’s important to take a closer look at just what these “savings” are netting you, and most importantly, to address the language that’s being used to get you hooked.


“Saving” is a misnomer—nothing, ultimately, is being saved by spending money. If you buy an item on sale, you’re still buying that item, you’re still spending the money to purchase it—the only actual saving taking place would be refusing to buy it at all. Rather, it’s important to convince yourself that sales aren’t means of “saving” money, they’re a means of spending slightly less money where you would otherwise be spending more. While spending money on sale items will help cut back on your spending habits, it’s still spending, regardless of how little you’re paying for the objects in question.

Not only is this important in our personal lives, it’s an important distinction to make for our investments.  While with investing we’re expecting a return, it’s still always a good question to ask yourself, ‘if I’m buying something at a lower price, will it still bring a return?’ Am I still gaining money by spending money? As much as something like a fixer-upper house or cheap stock with a good history will seem like a steal, it’s still money being spent, and it will still require a lot of follow-through to make it anything else.

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Lessons for College Kids: Three Lessons to give your children before college

One of the most stressful moments of a parent’s life is letting go, allowing your children to walk on their own two feet and hoping they don’t stumble and fall. This is true for all stages, from their first steps to their first bike ride, from their first time driving to their move out of the house into college. Yet the move to college comes with a level of financial freedom that the other stages rarely, if ever, experience, and it’s important to equip your children with the knowledge and tools they need to make the most of their finances once they don’t have their parents to rely on for groceries and other necessities. Here are a few ways to teach them the value of their money, and a few general things kids should know about before leaving the nest for school or work.


1.  Credit Cards aren’t free money.


Racking up credit card debt is easy for a fresh face who’s just starting to experience purchasing freedom. It becomes easy for students recently enrolled to overestimate (and underestimate) all that they’ll need to thrive in their new environment, and even easier to end up spending more money on food and fun than they otherwise should. Teaching your children the goals and benefits of credit (improving your credit score, expanding your line of credit) as well as the pitfalls one can encounter when using a credit card (crippling, unexpected debt) is important for ensuring their financial freedom well into the future.


2.  Work experience is also finance experience.


The moment a new worker gets their first paycheck is always a particularly special one, in that it teaches them both the value of their labor and just how easy it is to burn through the paycheck and have to wait two weeks to a month for the next one. Providing your children with small examples of hourly efforts and what those efforts translate into can help diminish the shock that comes with realizing just how much their work is worth once they actually find a job. Working through college can also help with this, but making sure your children know how to translate the money they spend into the effort it’ll take to recoup it is an important lesson.


3.  Budget!


Nobody likes budgeting right away. It’s daunting to try to figure out how you’ll be spending your money on a weekly to monthly basis. But like all good habits, if started early, teaching your future college student how to effectively budget their finances will provide them with a skill that will help them for the rest of their lives. Give them small budgets at first, let them join you in budgeting groceries, and encourage them to start budgeting when away at school and they’ll be finance-savvy in no time.


Giving your child the right skills for managing their money is both important and overlooked in a lot of families sending their children off to college. Being financially responsible is a full-time job, and the more work experience they get in earlier, the better they’ll be at it later in life. Make sure to make your children aware of when it is and when it isn’t appropriate to use credit, give them a bit of work experience to teach them the value of their money, and most importantly of all teach them how to budget themselves and they’ll be on a solid path to financial freedom.



Story by Numbers: Lessons to be gained from the latest unemployment poll

By all accounts, the fact that unemployment numbers are at their lowest in four years should be cause for celebration—with an unemployment at 7.6%, we’re led to infer that means there are more people with jobs, an implication built into the words and numbers. But the numbers aren’t everything, and they can easily present an optimistic view that, at its source, doesn’t actually signify an improvement in the economy. Rather, particularly in this case, these numbers instead highlight the fact that more people are leaving the workforce entirely, effectively not looking for work anymore, unemployment decreasing alongside employer hiring. (


This is no reason to panic of course, the economy has been growing slowly for the last few years and this is hardly a major shift off course. What’s more important to gleam from it is the lesson that the numbers aren’t always what matter the most, whether they are percentages meant to illustrate how well the economy is doing or how the stock market is faring or are simply financial goals as you plan for the future. Just as in this situation, where a number that we expect to be a good omen isn’t necessarily so, it’s always important to have an understanding of exactly what the numbers you’re working with will translate into in real goods and effects.


Whenever working with money and planning for future finances, it’s always a valuable exercise to attempt to understand and plan out just what that money you’re saving up will turn into once you have it; if you have a financial goal, know what it is you’re going to be putting that money towards. Doing so will make it easier to make assessments of how close you are to getting what you need from your financial portfolio, and it similarly acts as a means of focusing your buying power towards towards your long-term goals and any necessities, rather than allowing the money to fall prey to impulses. Much like with unemployment, recklessly hurdling towards an abstract goal will often cause some things to fall by the wayside, and you may run into some unintended consequences that you completely overlook because all of your focus is on whether or not you’re at the place financially (or otherwise) that you want to be.

Numbers are just that—twice removed from the reality of goods, properties, and services, they’re meant to allow us to keep track of our finances more easily. But as with any additional layer of complexity, it can at times be easier to see them and want more for the sake of more, rather than more for the sake of a tangible return. Even if you’re just looking to establish some financial security, giving yourself goals and making sure to approach not only the numbers but the realities of your finances critically will ensure that your money gets you where you need to go.
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Deep Cuts: How the budget changes could directly affect you and your family

As incredible as it seems, the automatic budget cuts did indeed go through on March 1st, leaving the government with a lot of work to do as far as reining in its spending goes. While there are many of us without government jobs going about our daily lives, assuming that we won’t be hit too hard by the changes that will be continually rolling out over the next several months, the effects of the budget cuts promise to be surprisingly far-reaching. Not only will there be government layoffs to help cover the new budgets, as well as a potential exodus of skilled government employees searching for more profitable work due to furloughs, there will also be a reduction of consumer spending as those furloughs and layoffs take full effect. This promises to affect your portfolio, particularly if you’re invested in commodities and equities. It will also affect both your taxes and, for families, the educational future of your children through college.


The IRS has stated that individuals filing won’t see any extra time tacked onto their expected date of receiving a refund, but for anyone with additional gripes or issues with taxes after tax season is over may find themselves having to wait a good deal longer than normal, as the IRS’ furloughs will begin to take effect once the big crunch is done with ( If you’re anticipating any taxation troubles in your future, now is the best time to get in touch with a financial professional to have your appeals or adjustments moving through the IRS as quickly as possible. While the slowdown shouldn’t be too dramatic, it will still be significant, and if time is of the essence for your returns then don’t wait until those furloughs take effect.


For families with children, the cuts to education promise to be remarkable. Students will be finding themselves in more crowded classrooms as teachers will be cut from the government payroll en-masse, and education stipends for college students will be cut across the board, generally leading to a more expensive college education and less personalized K-12 for students at all levels. If you were banking on your child to take on a work-study program or something similar, you may have to reassess the likelihood of it, as they’ll be needing more money and have fewer opportunities to get it during their college years.


Most importantly in all of this, it’s necessary to keep an eye on what sort of trends may be shifting as a result of the government spending cuts. Alongside the slowdown of post-tax season assistance and student aid, there will be a lot of people leaving the workforce, having their wages cut, and even those on unemployment will find themselves with less financial agency than before. Get in touch with an advisor to help navigate the undoubtedly tricky waters ahead to help make sure that you and your family manage to stay afloat—even if you don’t expect yourself to be affected by the cuts, looking for ways that you may be is the most important thing you can do to ensure the viability of your finances and portfolios well into the future.


Fast Forward: How Retirement is Changing

Predicting the future is a rough sort of business to find yourself in, particularly with a world that’s begun changing more and more rapidly with every passing day. Unfortunately a lot of people on all sides of retirement find themselves having to do this very thing, having to try and figure out what directions the world will be taking them in once they’re ready to stop working. Luckily you’re not alone, and most of us are trying to maximize our options for our post-career years. Here are just a few of the ways in which retirement is changing in the next decades, to help you stay ahead of the curve:


A: Retirees are living longer than ever before.
Advancements in medical technology have increased the average life expectancy of individuals in developing nations; retirement planning is becoming more and more troublesome for both actuaries and future retirees (Smart Money, 2012). This increased longevity comes with a need to set up a matching retirement plan, particularly when some retirements are expected to last longer than the amount of time the retirees spent working. Rather than trying to predict how long your retirement is slated to last, be prepared for the longer estimate in response to these treatments and technologies.


B: Children are staying with their families longer, even after college.
According to a new study released by Oregon State University, young adults in the 18-30 age bracket are having a harder time than ever becoming financially independent from their parents (Journal of Aging Studies, 2012). This greatly affects those looking to retire while their children are still young adults, and can cause a domino effect that starts to influence generations to come. There’s no guarantee of the job market recovering or this trend changing in the next few years, so when looking at your retirement make sure to factor in all of your current familial expenses.


C: Social Security may not be around in the future.
Social Security has always been a problem politically since it has a foreseeable end; between longer life expectancies and the large baby boomer population, social security is anticipated to “face funding shortfalls in about two decades if nothing changes” (CNBC 2012). While it’s quite possible that the government will come to a viable solution to salvage social security benefits, it’s a good idea to plan for the ‘what ifs’ regardless. Plan for social security as less of a guarantee and more as a pleasant possibility so there are no unpleasant surprises down the road. Don’t have your retirement plan hinge on social security as it may crumble within the next few decades.


Retirement is changing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still build a healthy, strong retirement plan even with a moderately uncertain future. Your retirement is something that needs to be made to last a long time and you’re allowed to take your time putting the right amount of money into it. As long as you avoid the unnecessary risks in relying on social security, plan for a slightly longer nesting period for your children and plan for your own longevity, you can avoid a few of the major pitfalls that your retirement plans may otherwise succumb to.–much-longer-1328897162395/


Checkout fees on Credit Cards may Greet Consumers in the New Year

As of January 27th, 2013, savvy shoppers have one more variable to consider when deciding where to buy their goods. This marked the first day that retailers had the right to pass the cost of using credit cards on to their customers directly using what is called a checkout or swipe fee.


The fee, which may begin popping up at registers near you, is the result of a 2012 settlement reached between retailers and credit card networks. For years those networks have charged a swipe fee of between 1.5 and 3.5% per credit card purchase, used to cover processing fees and fraud. Merchants have long been against the fees, saying that they are a hidden cost that they are forced to pass along to the consumer in the form of higher prices. This settlement is the second victory for retailers in their struggle to come to grips with swipe fees. The first was the Durbin Amendment, which set a limit on debit card fees of 21 cents per transaction. The settlement regarding credit cards didn’t cap the fees, but it did give retailers the option of passing the cost on to their customers.


Even though it’s legal now, it is an option that many experts don’t expect big retailers to exercise. It’s tough, especially for large retailers, to get away with a two-tiered price structure. Do you advertise the lower, cash price, and then explain the higher one at the register, or do you assume your customers will put their purchase on plastic and advertise the higher price? Not to mention, the studies that say consumers spend more money when they use a credit card. So, if you try to encourage all cash transactions you may actually be teaching your customers to be more frugal.


These are questions that will have to be answered by individual retailers. Here are the facts that consumers need to know:

  • Brick and mortar stores will display their swipe fee policy at the door, or the register
  • Online retailers must declare their inclusion of a checkout fee on their homepage
  • Checkout fees are banned in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas.
  • Checkout fees don’t apply when using a debit card
  • Stores can charge the equivalent of what they pay for the exchange fee, 1.5 – 3.5%


Many small business owners use company credit cards for the ease of invoicing purchases, fraud protection and to accrue rewards points. The question is, if retailers do begin passing the cost of each swipe on to consumers, will those advantages be seen as big enough to pay an extra 1.5 – 3%?


Depending on the level of adoption of these new fees by the retailers important to your household or business, they could add up to a substantial amount of your budget. Speaking with your accountant, financial planner, or banker about these fees, and their impact on your bottom line, is one way to make sure that you are truly on top of your finances in the New Year.


Electronic Payments Coalition

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If You are Worried About Your Retirement, You Are Not Alone

Retirement might be years away for you, but you have this persistent nagging feeling inside. You might even be comparing your financial situation to specific friends, coworkers, or peers around you. You observe that you are the less financially prepared for your retirement than the others.  You are not as relaxed about retirement; in fact, you are downright worried and ill prepared for this stage in your life.

The self-deprecating thoughts in your head might be chanting, “Just like the highly educated Mr. Jones over there with a very successful career and a fantastic financial plan, I could have, I would have, I should have…”  I could have strived for a better job with a higher pay.  If I had known foreseen tough times later on, I would have started saving for my retirement earlier.  I should have contributed more money to my 401’k through the years.  Stop with this negative self-talk. Don’t feel like you are alone on your own island of retirement worry.  Although individuals around you might not voice any concern about their financial security in these “Golden Years”, new studies indicate that many Americans also feel insecure about their own retirement.

Despite a slow economic recovery, worries about retirement still exist today among Americans.  A strong correlation exists between retirement concern and education/income levels.  These retirement worries appear to be greater among those individuals with less education and a low income.  On the other hand, the more educated higher paid individuals experience less worry about these retirement years.  A strong correlation also holds true for retirement concerns among certain age groups.  Contrary to previous years, new research indicates that the baby boomers and those individuals closer to retirement are not the most concerned about their retirement security.  Instead, the younger and middle aged adults win the award for the age group most concerned about these retirement years.

So, why is retirement stress so prevalent in the younger generation now? According the Pew Research Center, a recent analysis of Federal Reserve data reveals that the reason “retirement concerns have surged among adults in their late 30s and early 40s is that the average wealth of this group has fallen at a far greater rate than for any other age group over the past 10 years.”  Furthermore, this analysis suggests that the dwindling wealth among individuals in their 30s and 40s is due to this age group’s inability to benefit from recovering stock prices since the recession.  Much of this age group abandoned the stock market entirely during the recession, and remained out of the market as prices began to increase.

With this awareness that many other Americans also worry about retirement, what can you do with it?  Well, first of all, share your concerns with a financial advisor/planner if you don’t already have one.  It is never too late to modify a spending/saving behavior, make a difference in your retirement future, and what better way to be guided through the retirement planning process than by an expert. Second of all, find solace in the fact that you are not the only person with retirement worries.  Despite a slowly improving economy, many other Americans also share your concerns about your retirement especially now. Lastly, focus on yourself, and not on other people’s retirement situations around you.  Stop negatively comparing yourself to others, and beating yourself up for not being as prepared as you want to be for this stage of life.  You can drain so much of your energy out on negative thoughts about comparing yourself to others that you have no energy left to better yourself and proactively plan for a better retirement future.  So, it’s time to focus on you now.

Brooks, Chad. “Retirement Concerns Plague Americans.” BusinessNewsDaily. 22 October 2012. <>


Fixed Rate vs. Adjustable Rate Mortgages: Which one is right for you?

With the American economy making a slow but steady recovery, it may be a good time to look at getting back into the housing market, be it finding a new home for your family or solid ground to retire on. For many, whether it be a first home or a new home, the decision between choosing a fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgage is an uncertain one at best. Here are a couple examples of prospective homeowners to get you started thinking about what kind of mortgage would be right for you.
The Traveler:
Never to be bound in one place, you find a new town to settle in once every few years. If variety is the spice of life then nobody can ever fault yours for being bland. If you don’t see yourself staying where you are for more than 5-10 years, and adjustable rate may be the best idea for you, as you’ll be paying at a lower interest rate at the beginning of the mortgage and can then sell it off to move elsewhere without getting too high up. A fixed rate mortgage may not be the best for you, because you may end up paying more at the start of the mortgage than you would with an adjustable, but won’t take advantage of the fixed interest for the life of the mortgage plan.
The Tree:
You want a place your children and grandchildren can grow up in and look forward to having around, always. While the lower initial interest rate of the adjustable may seem like a good idea at first, you run the risk of that interest rate going through the roof fifteen or twenty years down the road, when a fixed rate would provide a stable, predictable mortgage.
Ultimately, regardless of which path you take, it’s always a good idea to sit down and discuss the decision with a financial advisor. Whether you want to try and take advantage of an adjustable-rate because you can see yourself moving around a lot, or want the stability of a fixed-rate since you’re comfortable with where you’re at in life, the first and most important step in choosing the right mortgage plan is figuring out how the numbers will pan out in the long run. Know yourself, and know how your plan works for you; after you have solid figures on the table, the decision becomes a lot easier than you’d think.
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Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

You have worked hard all of your life. You have raised a beautiful family that you are proud of, and you and your spouse are finally ready to enjoy your golden years together. And yes, you have also planned and saved for these future retirement years. Maybe you planned many years ago or maybe you planned just recently; but either way, you probably factored in the boost offered from your future Social Security benefits. Whatever the boost might be, wouldn’t you rather maximize those benefits if possible? If the answer is a resounding “YES”, then you want to learn about the various claiming strategies, and fully discuss them with your financial adviser/financial planner. The proper strategy can amplify your lifetime Social Security benefits significantly.

An example of one strategy is waiting as long as possible to start claiming your Social Security benefits. The earliest age that a retiree can start claiming these benefits is 62 years old. However, did you know that once you reach your full retirement age (between 65 -67), your social security benefits increase by 8% each year plus inflation adjustments? Wow, the money claimed increase considerably just by waiting a little longer.

Are there claiming strategies that can optimize your Social Security benefits even if you need to start collecting at an earlier age? The answer is “Yes”. Advantageous strategies can be applied to this situation as well when you know how to maneuver through the claiming process… you just need the proper expertise to guide you through the rules. Once you know these rules and know how to navigate confidently through the claiming process, you can apply a strategy that works in your favor, and maximizes this money.

Some of these claiming strategies involve the idea of spousal benefits. Here, spousal benefits can be applied to a “Restricted Spousal” strategy as well as a “File and Suspend” strategy. According to Jim Blankenship, CFP, EA of Forbes Advisor Network, “File and Suspend allows for the lower wage earner to increase his or her benefits by adding the Spousal Benefit, while the higher wage earner continues to delay his or her benefit, adding the delay credits.” On the other hand, the Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits “provides one spouse or the other with the option of collecting a Spousal Benefit, while at the same time delaying his or her own retirement benefit.” All and all, any couple must carefully consider the particular rules pertaining to these strategies in order to determine the appropriate strategy that applies to their specific situation.

Overall, these claiming strategies can cushion your retirement years with thousands of dollars. If you are thinking about navigating through your Social Security claiming process alone, it might be very unrealistic because the rules behind these strategies can be complex and meticulous. Even the employees at the national and local Social Security offices cannot give any advice; therefore, it’s best to seek the help of a financial advisor who has an in-depth knowledge of the best Social Security strategies for retirees. The world today is very different… life expectancy has increased, pensions have dwindled, medical costs have increased, and the economy remains uncertain. Especially now, maximizing your Social Security benefits is necessary because these are unfavorable conditions. So, make certain that you fully learn and understand the rules of each strategy before you chose. You can add thousands of dollars to your retirement funds just by applying the right Social Security claiming strategy for you.

Blankenship, Jim. “Are You Leaving Social Security Money on the Table.” Forbes. 26 November 2012. <>

Roberts, Damon. “The Retirement Planning Edge: Maximizing Social Security.” Fox Business. 27 November 2012 <>


The Tax Season Cometh: Putting your refund to work for you.

With tax season just around the corner and the IRS having just released information that it plans to issue refunds about as quickly as it did last year (9 out of 10 refunds released in under 21 days (, now is the time to start considering what you’re going to do with your refund. While the promise of a big check from the government always comes with some temptations (a new grill for the summer, a gift you missed out on over the holiday season) you should always make sure you’re investing that money wisely. While it may seem like a gift, and an easily spent one at that, remember that it’s mostly money from your other sources of income that you were never able to collect on. Your tax return should be treated like any other money put away, safe from withdrawals for a long period of time; take your excitement at getting such a big break in the mail as incentive to be smart and save. Here are a few tips to get you thinking about putting some of your tax refund to work.

Save it! Invest it!: The importance of either putting some of your return into a savings account or investing it cannot be stressed enough. A good rule of thumb, at the bare minimum, is take ~10% of every check you get and put it into a savings account or towards your investments. Before you know it, you’ll have a tax return a few times over waiting for you whenever you need it that can be used anytime throughout the year.

It’s too much and you don’t know what to do with it!: If it seems like you’re getting too much back on your tax return, get in touch with either a tax preparation specialist or financial advisor.  In this case, you can see if there are any changes you can make to your tax documentation in order to get more of that money throughout the year instead of the one big chunk annually. Chances are if you haven’t already done so, you could be seeing a slight rise everywhere else and a reduction in your tax return check.

IRA?: Alongside the 10% rule for saving/investing, it’s also a good idea to look at doing something long-term with some of the money, namely, putting some of it towards an IRA or other form of guaranteed retirement income (annuities, etc). Nothing is more valuable to someone right now than an investment in future stability. Consider asking your advisor, while you’re trying to shrink your tax refund, about recommended retirement investment opportunities.

While it may seem like something of a killjoy at first, making sure that the first thing you do with your tax return is putting some of it in a place that will give you access to it in the future is of utmost importance in tax season. Whether you’re saving, investing, putting it into a retirement fund or contributing to a child or grandchild’s education, just remember that it’s better if your short-term desires wait until your long-term stability is taken care of.  Before you know it, they will have caught up to each-other, and you’ll have made some hefty gains in the meantime.