Jump Start Your Finances in 2016

grop-profile-picYep, the holidays are a busy time of year full of distractions that can easily draw you away from your financial game plan.  You do have one, right?  Here is a basket of tips from my colleagues to give you a head start on your finances for 2016.  There’s even an opportunity for you to share your own financial tips with our readers in my column next week and win a prize.

Do meal plans; save money.  Write down a weekly/monthly meal plan before you go grocery shop.  Only buy what’s on your list, and then stick to what you planned for lunch/dinner.  It will also make you feel less stressed to be able to easily answer the looming “what’s for dinner?” question.  This will save you lots of money!  Use part of your savings to start a savings plan.  If you saved $5 per week for one year, your total savings for the year would be over $250 and you won’t even miss $5.00 per week!  – Andrea Messick

Be a smart shopper.  Challenge yourself to not make any unnecessary purchases.  Before buying an item ask yourself if the purchase will be worth it a year from now.  – Ramona Boehm

Leverage your pay raise.  Set aside a portion of any compensation adjustment to help fund your 401K or IRA / Roth.  – Greg Weyandt, CPA

Change a habit.  Stop a bad habit that negatively affects your health and your wallet i.e. smoking cigarettes and eating fattening foods.  – Marshall Clay, JD, CFP

Invest in yourself by getting in shape.  Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, make you more productive at work, reduce sick days and improve self-esteem.  Plus you might meet your next client, referral source or employer while working out.  Accountability is the key to success.  Find a friend who has similar goals and commit to work out together as ‘accountability partners’.  You’ll be more likely to reach your goal and develop a special bond with the person as they reach their goal too.  – Michael Wagner, CPA, CFP

Leverage your year-end bonus.  Use your Christmas bonus to pay off credit card debt, start an emergency fund, or fund a Roth IRA.  – Callie Jowers, CFP

Rebalance your portfolio.  Take a moment to rebalance your company retirement account’s asset allocation to your target allocations.  This insures that you are not taking more risk than you intended.  Also, given a possible rising interest rate environment, consider paying down loan balances in advance?  – Woodard Peay, CFP, MBA

Build an emergency reserve…the easy way.  If you set aside just $5 every couple of days (price of a Starbucks), you’d have about $1,000 for an emergency reserve fund.  – Wendy Weber

Use the “back door” Roth IRA strategy.  If your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the Roth Contribution Limits for 2015 make a nondeductible IRA contribution (no income limitations) then convert to Roth (also no limitations).  CAUTION: if you have other IRAs you will have to prorate for taxes.  To avoid this tax problem, see if your company 401k plan will allow you to roll-up your existing IRA into your plan.  Be sure to discuss this strategy with your tax advisor before implementing.  – Hugh Smith, CPA, CFA, CFP

Track your money.  Try uploading all of your accounts into a website like www.Mint.com.  If you are really diligent, you may track spending and create a budget.  If not, you can at least track your net worth to see if you are trending up, treading water or spending down your assets.  – Foster Hyde, CFA, CFP

 

My Challenge to You! 

  1. Take action now.  Choose two or three of these ideas to implement now.  Creating financial success is about doing the little things right, consistently, over a long period of time.
  2. Join the game.  Email me (Stewart@welchgroup.com) your own ideas to share with my readers.  If I use your recommendation, I’ll send you a signed copy of my soon-to-be-released book, “THINK Like a Self-Made Millionaire”.  Be sure to include your mailing address.

Caution!  Do you own an inherited IRA?  Michael Wagner, CPA and partner in The Welch Group, reminded me that those of you who have inherited IRAs must also take a Required Minimum Distribution from that account before December 31st, 2015 or face a potential 50% federal penalty.  I’ve made numerous references to RMD requirements for those of you who are age 70 ½ or older but had never mentioned the requirement for those of you with inherited IRAs no matter what your age.  While most brokerage firms automatically notify age 70 ½ or older customers of both the requirement and the amount of the RMD, most provide no notice (or amounts) for inherited IRA customers.  You’ll have to figure the amount due…typically based on your life expectancy using the IRS tables

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Holiday Giving without Breaking the Bank!

Low Cost Holiday Gift Ideas

It’s easy to spend a small fortune giving gifts over the upcoming holidays even if you find great deals on sale.  Last week, I asked readers to share their best low-cost gift giving ideas, and here are some of my favorites:

  • Bake and Freeze. My mom always made biscuits at least 2-3 times per week. Several years ago she made the comment that she wasn’t able to make them anymore. The biscuit board was too heavy. It took more effort and stamina than she had. It made my heart sad to hear it. For the last several Christmases, I have made homemade biscuits for her to keep in her freezer. She was able to take out and enjoy however many she needed. I did the same with cornbread. This was a gift, from the heart, that she always enjoyed. Sometimes gifts aren’t about the money spent; but about meeting the needs of others and giving from the heart.  Donna B.
  • Personal Gift Card. Make up an original and clever gift card that offer 1-2 hours of personal service.  Use your imagination for the services you’d offer but here are some to get you started: Cut the grass; rake leaves; buy groceries (labor not cash); drive car pool for a week; walk the dog for a week; wash dishes for a week (family gift); do laundry for a week (family gift); wash car.  Don T.
  • Use Travel Points. If you travel a lot, the hotel chain you use will give you points, which can be redeemed for several items — INCLUDING gift cards.  You are likely being reimbursed on your expense account for the rooms anyway, so your cost is ZERO.  Redeem points for gift cards.  A stack of $50 gift cards will allow you to complete your “shopping” from your computer, let everyone on your list shop for something they REALLY want, and you are now the “favorite uncle.”   Perry G.
  • DIY Picture Frames. If you are a crafty individual there are plenty of tutorials on how to make picture frames. That is usually a go to of mine. That way it is homemade. You can’t beat something built with you in mind!
  • BOGO Grocery Shop. Treat co-workers, teacher, etc. with doughnuts or bagels for a breakfast treat when your local grocery store has a buy one get one free (BOGO) deal going on.  Kelly D.
  • Gift Family Heirlooms. People in my family have always given special heirlooms on Christmas. My grandmother gives each of the girls in the family a piece of jewelry she already has. It makes her happy to see us enjoy something that meant a lot to her. My mother has copied cherished family photos and given them as gifts to us, so that we can have those memories in our own home. (An example is a picture of my grandparents at age 17 and 18, a few months after they were married).  Callie J.
  • Personal Services (revisited). Offer to babysit so the parents can enjoy a night out without worrying about their children.  Wash their car…this is a job most people do not enjoy doing!  Run errands for people who are short on time.  Ramona B.
  • Give Time with Friends. Instead of buying gifts, spend time together with friends or family volunteering for a charity. There are plenty of opportunities and giving back will help you appreciate what the holiday season is really about.  Maggie E.
  • Make your own ornaments: Crafting stores usually have plain, clear glass or plastic ornaments which are fairly inexpensive.  You can paint or even “stuff” the ornament ball with old pictures, a quote, glitter, or something specific to the person you are gifting to and create a one of a kind ornament for them.   Andrea M.

All Great Ideas!  If you have a group of money-saving-oriented friends that typically exchange gifts, consider declaring this season a ‘re-gift’ season.    Agree to gift something of a certain estimated value that you own as a re-gift.  Be careful it’s not something they gave you!

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Christmas Shopping Strategies

Michael Wagner appearing on Fox News discussing Successful Spending Strategies for Christmas Shopping.

 

 

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Five Tips for Budgeting for Holiday Gifts

Holiday Money-Saving Tips

This past weekend, I dropped in at a retailer and they were playing Christmas music!  The holiday season seems to begin just a bit earlier each year but it is a good reminder of how important it is to have a holiday spending plan in place so that you don’t start the new year in a financial hole.  Coming up with holiday gifts for the people you care about doesn’t have to cost you a fortune.  You just need to be creative.

Here are four tips you can use to budget for holiday gift giving:

  1. Set a goal. Let’s start with your number one overarching goal: Create no new debt!  The last thing you want to do is to start 2016 with credit card charges you can’t pay off in full.  Take a moment to review your current financial situation and set a ‘dollar amount’ goal.  How much can you afford to spend (paying cash) this holiday season?  It’s ok to use credit cards as long as you have the cash to pay off the new purchases in full once the bill arrives.
  2. Start saving now. Hopefully, you’ve already saved up some money for gift-giving this holiday season but you still have a few paychecks before the deadline.  Think of other ways to raise cash such as holding a garage sale, selling that boat that’s been sitting in the back yard, or selling unwanted items on eBay.  It’s a great time to clean house because what you no longer want may be on someone else’s Christmas list!
  3. Make a list. Make a list of the people you plan to give a gift and keep the list with you.  This will give you a head start on your shopping as you never know when you’ll run into a great deal!  Having the list readily available will allow you to ‘match’ a great bargain to someone on your list right there on the spot.
  4. Shop with purpose! Whether you go ‘brick and mortar’ or on-line, you now know how much you’re going to spend and who you’re going to spend it on.  As with year’s past, I expect to see lots of bargains.
  5. Pool your resources.  “Consider pooling your money with someone else to give a gift with a big impact while keeping your cash outlay relatively small. Examples include planning with your siblings for a gift for your parents or planning with your coworkers for a gift for the boss”, says Beth Moody, CFP®.  I particularly like the ‘boss’ idea!

Bonus Tip: Give something back.  The economic turmoil of the past few years has spawned financial hardship on many families.  Use this holiday season to teach your children the importance of giving to others who are in need.  There are many ways to accomplish this:  donate clothing, food, money or you can spend some time working in one of the many shelters located in your home town.

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Christmas Shopping Strategies

Michael Wagner appearing on Fox News discussing Successful Spending Strategy for Christmas Shopping.Michael Wagner appearing on Fox News discussing Successful Spending Strategy for Christmas Shopping.