Get ready. We’re about to get deep. Have you ever thought about what means, means? Yes, you can think about it for a moment…back now? Good. As a noun, it can be two things. It can refer to an action or system by which a result is achieved, or it can refer to income. Now, taking it a layer deeper, you need a means (a system) to live within your means (income). See how that works? Well, that’s what we call a budget and we’re going to show you how to set one up for step two of our 12-part series on living with greater financial and emotional confidence. Sounds basic? Well, 2/3 of Americans claim that they are not good at living within their means yet they prioritize building savings for long-term goals.* How do we close that gap? Let’s get back to the basics.
1. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FUD**
First, you have to overcome the big three psychological barriers that keep many people from setting up a budget: Fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
- Fear what you’ll discover when you examine your finances
- Uncertainty about how to set up a budget
- Doubt whether you can stick to a budget
2. TRACK YOUR INCOME AND EXPENSES
Don’t guesstimate how much money you have coming in and going out each month. Write it down. There are lots of tools to help you, including this great worksheet and—bonus—it’s free. Keep track of all your expenses and sources of income. Some experts suggest doing this for a few months to get a real picture of your financial situation, but starting to track for just a month will help you get some clarity. Even easier, scan your bank and credit card statements to see where it’s all going. Add up the expenses and subtract them from your income. This will tell you, at the most basic level, whether you are operating in the black or red.
3. BEGIN TO BUILD YOUR BUDGET
A successful budget enables you to meet your financial obligations and grow your bank balances to achieve those magic life goals. A useful concept is the idea of paying yourself first. Make sure to pay your mortgage or rent, insurance, loans, and credit card bills to avoid penalties and increased rates.
As part of the paying yourself first philosophy, also begin to build your emergency fund with regular contributions to protect yourself and anticipate unexpected costs, such as car repairs, medical bills, and emergencies. The rest of your monthly income can then be put toward regular living expenses.
Next, record your actual income and spending, and spot the areas that need attention. If you need to cut expenses, it may be helpful to:
- Rethink your digs: We often think of housing as a non-negotiable but, the truth is, you have options on how much you’re spending here
- Examine current bills: See where the money is going and think of cutting out extras and finding cheaper alternatives
- Pay with cash: There’s something about the tactile quality of cash that makes it hard to part with
- Adjust your habits: All of us have habits that we fall into that can be revised and made more financially healthy
At this point, some people find it helpful to consult with a financial representative. He or she can look at your numbers and help you put together a balanced budget that addresses all your needs, from meeting monthly obligations and saving for retirement to occasionally splurging.
4. INTEGRATE YOUR BUDGET
More and more people are using mobile budgeting tools on their smartphones and tablets. According to a USA Today report, individuals who use budget apps frequently, at least once a day, say the tools make them less likely to overspend.
Lastly, review your budget regularly to make sure it continues to fit your life. Best-case scenario? You’re accumulating so much money you can begin putting more aside to reach your life goals. It can happen. Really. Greater confidence is just around the corner. But first, you need to cast FUD aside and get down to the business of creating the means to live within your means.
2021-119793 Exp. 5/2023
SOURCES:* Guardian’s Living Confidently survey, 2017.
** FUD tends to creep up a lot on those who lack financial confidence. To find your level of financial confidence, we encourage you to take our quiz here.
Raising a child is expensive and can cost about a quarter of a million dollars, not including college. For a child with special needs, that cost can more than double. If you’re the parent of a special needs child, it’s vital to ensure your child will continue to be provided for after you’re gone. It can be difficult to contemplate, but with patience, love, and perseverance, a long-term strategy may be attainable.1,2
Envisioning a Life After You
Just as every child with special needs is unique, so too are the challenges facing their families when preparing for the long term. Think about the potential needs of your child. Will they require daily custodial care? Ongoing medical treatments? Will your child live alone or in a group home? Can family members assume some of the care? Answers to these and other questions can help form the vision of what may need to be done to plan for your child’s care.
Preparing Your Estate
Without proper preparation, your child’s lifetime needs can quickly outstrip your funds. One resource is government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, which your child may qualify for depending on their situation. Because such government programs have low-asset thresholds for qualification, you may want to consider whether to make property transfers to your special needs child.
You should also make sure you have an up-to-date Will that reflects your wishes. Consider creating a special needs trust, the assets of which can be structured to fund your child’s care without disqualifying them from government assistance. Using a trust involves a complex set of tax rules and regulations. Before moving forward with a trust, consider working with a professional who is familiar with the rules and regulations.
Involve the Family
All affected family members should be involved in the decision-making process. If at all possible, it’s best to have a united front of surviving family members to care for your child after you’ve passed on.
Identify a Caregiver
In order for a caregiver to make financial and health care decisions after your child reaches adulthood, the caregiver must be appointed as a guardian. This can take time, so start setting this in motion as soon as you can.
To do this, you can write a “Letter of Intent” to the caregiver and family to express your wishes along with information about your child’s care. This isn’t a legal document, but it may help to communicate your desires. Store this letter alongside your Will, in a safe place.
Outlining an approach for a child with special needs can be complicated and overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. Working with loved ones and qualified professionals can help you navigate the various facets of this challenge. If we can help, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
1. USDA.gov, 20212.
During difficult economic times, it is even more critical to be smart about where you spend your money. And it is essential to do your homework so you can make informed decisions for a better chance of keeping your finances worry-free. One of the first steps to protect your financial future is to know which money myths can take you off track.
One major budget line item can be your transportation. You must’ve heard your dad say buying is the way to go. Was he right? To buy or not to buy (aka lease), that is the question.
Leasing Goes Mainstream
The rental market has skyrocketed in recent years, for both millennials and beyond—from cell phones to sofas to cocktail dresses. This can help you save money, experiment with what you like (with no long-term commitment), and more. But when it comes to a new vehicle, is this trend right for you?
The typical math is that buying is better, but this may not always be the case depending on the situation. Leasing a car can be appealing as payments are typically less than the monthly payments for ownership of the same vehicle, often with more equipment. You may also have the other following benefits:
- You may be able to change cars more often, so you can go from a car to a truck. In some cases, you can also change manufacturers.
- You pay for mileage upfront. There is usually a mileage cap of 10-15K, but some manufacturers allow high mileage leases up to 20k miles per year. On the flip side, if you go over your mileage you may need to pay 10-25 cents per mile.1 You may not be able to drive on your terms, like you would if you purchased a car.
- You may not always have to wait until the end of your lease to get out. This is especially important if you are on pace to go over on mileage.
- Many dealers and manufacturers offer complimentary oil changes during part or all of the lease.⦁ If the dealer buys your car off lease in order to put it on their lot, you may not have to worry about mileage overage or damage fees in most cases.
- You have the option to buy out your lease in the end. This may be an option to consider if you have a teen in the house. What better-used car than yours?
- You can turn it in at the end of your lease and walk away! You don’t have to purchase from the same dealer or manufacturer.
- Safety and technology features change every few years, and leasing allows for you to have the most up-to-date vehicle.
- Down payments are not always required, unless you do not have good credit. For every $1000 you do put down on a lease it could change your payment by $40/month.2 On the other hand, if you buy car, you may have a bigger down payment but may be able to take advantage of 0% interest offers on an auto loan from the manufacturer.
- Since the average lease is 36 months,3 you’ll also likely be covered by a manufacturer warranty during your lease term, meaning you won’t get hit with an unexpected wear and tear repair bill.
Weigh Your Options Well
Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for you. If you are still unsure, ask yourself these 5 questions.
- How much monthly payment can you afford?
- How much do you drive each year? Do you have a safe record and keep cars well maintained?
- What’s the residual value of the car you want to lease? Can you afford to buy it when the lease is over?
- How frequently do you want a new car?
- Which of these statements describes you better? (a) “There’s nothing like the feeling of driving into the sunset in a brand-new ride.” OR (b) “It is about forming an emotional connection to the car and owning an asset.”
2020-100986 Exp 6/2022
1 The Balance, Is High Mileage Right for Me
How do you picture your future? Some see retirement as a time to start a new career. Others see it as a time to travel. Still others plan to spend more time with family and friends. With that in mind, here are some things to consider.
What do you absolutely need to accomplish? If you could only get four or five things done in retirement, what would they be? Answering this question might lead you to compile a “short list” of life goals, and while they may have nothing to do with money, the financial decisions you make may be integral to pursuing them.
What would revitalize you? Some people retire with no particular goals at all. After weeks or months of respite, ambition may return. They start to think about what pursuits or adventures they could embark on to make these years special. Others have known for decades what dreams they will follow ... and yet, when the time to follow them arrives, those dreams may unfold differently than anticipated and may even be supplanted by new ones.
In retirement, time is really your most valuable asset. With more free time and opportunity for reflection, you might find your old dreams giving way to new ones.
Who should you share your time with? Here is another profound choice you get to make in retirement. The quick answer to this question for many retirees would be “family.” Today, we have nuclear families, blended families, extended families; some people think of their friends or their employees as family.
How much do you anticipate spending? We can’t control all retirement expenses, but we can manage some of them. The thought of downsizing your home may have crossed your mind. One benefit of downsizing is that it can potentially lead to no mortgage or a more manageable mortgage payment.
Could you leave a legacy? Many of us would like to give our kids or grandkids a good start in life, but leaving an inheritance can be trickier than many realize. Tax laws are constantly changing, and the strategies that worked years ago may have more limited benefits today.
Keep in mind this article is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for real-life advice, so make sure to consult your tax or legal professional before modifying any part of your overall estate strategy.
How are you preparing for retirement? This is the most important question of all. If you feel you need to prepare more for the future or reexamine your existing strategy in light of recent changes in your life, conferring with a financial professional experienced in retirement approaches may offer some guidance