How The American Recovery And Reinvesment Act Of 2009 Can Help You

Money Money

Last week President Obama signed into law the American Recovery And Reinvestment Bill, otherwise known as the 2009 Economic Stimulus. A big question in the minds of the average American is How can it help me?!?

Here are some ways the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 can help you:

  • Unemployment – In 2009 you will not have to pay pay taxes on the first $2400 in benefits you receive.
  • Social Security – Some social security recipients will receive a $250 refundable tax credit mailed to them within 120 days of the bill’s signing.
  • Pell Grant – The maximum benefit for Pell Grants will rise to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010.
  • More Liberal 529 Plan – In 2009 and 2010 students can withdraw money or computers and related technology such as educational software or internet service for students living at home.
  • Transportation Accounts – Your employers are able to increase transportation spending accounts up to $230 a month.  This is money you can have set aside from your paycheck tax free. (Check with your employer to see if they participate and raised their limits.)
  • New Car Buyer Tax Deduction – In 2009 you, if you purchase a new car you can deduct the state, local, and excise taxes off of your federal return.
  • Higher Tax Credit For Education – A credit of up to $2500 of college tuition and related expenses in 2009 and 2010.  You need to spend at least $4000 in the year for the credit and 40% is refundable (which means you can qualify for 40% if you don’t have taxable income).
  • First Time Home Buyer Credit - A first-time home buyer credit of 10% of the purchase price of the home up to $8,000 for homes bought in 2009.
  • Health Insurance Help for Laid Off Workers – If you were laid off between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 the government will subsidize 65% of your COBRA premiums.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going to be expensive for the country but at least people get to see some of it.

What do you think?  Is it enough for the average person?

Source: NY Times

Creative Commons License photo credit: pfala

Excuse Busters For Not Having A Budget

Watch Over Your Money With A Budget

Yesterday I wrote about 9 common excuses why you don’t have a budget. Today I’m going to bust those excuses and show you why you need a budget.

Excuse Busters For Not Having A Budget:

  • You Don’t Want To Be Told What To Do – Really?  You don’t want something to tell you how to spend your money.  Well how do you like the bills you pay every month?  Or looking at your bank account and being told you don’t have funds to cover an expense?  Truth is, when you have an effective budget you are in control of your money and you can see what you are doing.  The only one doing the telling is you with a budget.
  • You Feel Constrained - Yes, a budget tells you how much money you may have for different expenses.  And you may not be able to spend indiscriminately.  But the truth is a budget can be liberating!  You know exactly what you can afford and you know where your money is going.  When you know your expenses you can re-allocate your spending to fit your needs and wants.  Without a budget it’s more like a high wire without a net.
  • You Can’t Do What you Want – Not the case.  A budget will tell you what you can afford.  With a good budget you can change your spending to allocate more money for things that are important to you.  You cut out the frivolous spending for things with more purpose.
  • Can’t Give up Your Ego And Admit You Need to Control Your Spending – Get over yourself and take a good look at the bills you have and the stress you go through every month to pay them.  Look at how quickly your paycheck disappears and how your bank account dwindles.  You want the best stuff, I get it.  But you have to reign in your spending.  The lifestyle you are trying to live is an illusion and it’s much healthier for you to truly live your life instead.  Don’t worry so much about appearances because appearances lie.  Be!
  • Your Expenses Are Too Big To Get your Head Around – It can be a daunting task to start a budget if you haven’t done one before.  Start small.  Gather up your bills.  If you don’t have them then as they come in write down their totals in a spreadsheet (or a notebook).  After you have put together your expenses, compare that to your income (for most that’s you paycheck stubs over the month).  Once you can see you expenses and income you can start to go more into the details.  Start holding on to receipts as you spend and mark them down.  Track down the little expenses.  Take a look at those bills and see what they are made up of.  The point is, if you want to start a budget you can.  Don’t think you have to do it all at once.  For most a budget is  work in process.
  • You’re Afraid – Liberate yourself from this fear.  If you are afraid then you probably think your expenses/spending are out of control.  It may not be as bad as you think.  Even if it is, once you can put a definite figure on it you’ve taken a step to start attacking it.  It’s not going to get better until you decide to do something about it and a big first step is starting a budget!
  • It Takes Too Much Energy And Time – Maybe at first it takes some time.  But once you know your recurring bills it gets a lot quicker.  Get yourself organized and you’ll find it doesn’t take much time at all (personal finance software like Mint, Mvelopes, or Moneydance – review can help).  And you will also find that tracking things like your taxes expenses will be easier since you’ve been keeping track of spending all year.
  • It’s Depressing – It doesn’t make me happy all the time to see what money I have left for the month.  Or to see how much I pay out.  But a budget is empowering.  With you budget you are in control and you see exactly what you spend.  What makes me happy (not depressed) is knowing that I have a handle on my money.  It’s a powerful feeling in fact!
  • You Manage To Get By Without One – That’s great if you get all of your bills paid and still have money left over without a budget.  You might even have money going into savings and a retirement account.  Some people are naturally good at keeping track.  But if you put together a budget you may find lots of small “money leaks” that you weren’t aware of previously.  You may find that your savings and such will grow considerably when you see exactly what your spending is.  From personal experience, my wife and I were surprised to see how much we spent on the weekends on little things.  Had we known then what we know now we’d have much nicer savings!
  • Your Spouse Isn’t On the Same Page As You – You need to sit down and talk to your spouse and have a serious money talk.  A budget doesn’t mean you can’t use money any more it just means you know where that money is going and why.  A budget allows you to align your goals for your family.

Hey, you know what? A budget isn’t that tough!  Stop making excuses and get started on one.  You just might find things are easier once you see where your money is going.

Bonus: I just discovered these templates to help manage your finances in Google Docs!  They’re free and there’s a whole bunch of them!

No More Excuses!

See Part I: 9 Excuses Why You Haven’t Started A Budget
Creative Commons License photo credit: peasap

9 Excuses Why You Haven’t Started A Budget Yet

Budget Spreadsheet
I was thinking about why more people and families don’t have a budget.

It’s really the thing to do to keep track of your expenses and income and make sure you don’t go over with your spending.  I thought about all the different excuses I’ve heard and seen from people.

So why haven’t you started a budget? Here are some common reasons:

You Don’t Want To Be Told What To Do

A budget can tell you how much you actually have to spend and what you can afford every month.  You don’t want to be told where your money has to go and you don’t want to hear that you can’t spend when you want.

A Budget Constrains You

You feel choked by the limitations of a budget.  Can’t spend what I want on clothes.  {Cough, cough.}  Can’t go out for coffee drinks every day.  {Choke.}  The mere thought of a budget starts to make you feel walled in.

You Can’t Do What You Want

What fun is it to know you can’t afford to go out to eat four times a week?  Who wants that.  You want to be able to spend freely and do what you feel at the moment.  That’s what freedom is, isn’t it?

Can’t Give Up Your Ego And Admit You Need To Control Your Spending

You refuse to believe that you have a spending problem.  You’re living an illusion.  Even though it causes stress you always find a way out of your financial messes without learning the lessons.  When there’s a will there’s a way and you can spend what you want.  Everything’s ok.

Your Expenses Are Too Big To Get Your Head Around

You want to have a budget but you don’t know where to start.  You’ve tried to get a few bills together but the task seems too big so you end up giving up.  You’re not organized enough to get everything together.  You may not even know all of the bills you pay every month.  It’s too much.

You’re Afraid

You don’t even want to see what your finances are!  To actually put a number to your expenses would give you a heart attack (not literally but close enough).  You know it’s bad but you really can’t stand to see the actual figures.

It Takes Too Much Energy And Time

You don’t have the time to put all of your receipts and bills together.  You work a 9 to 5 five that’s rarely just that and when you come home the last thing you want to do is more work.

It’s Depressing

It just doesn’t make you feel good to see your finances in a budget.  You would rather not put yourself into a funk so you ignore the idea of a budget.

You Manage To Get By Without One

Your bills get paid.  Money goes into savings.  You invest.  What do you need a budget for? (I’ll answer that one in another post).

That’s nine excuses a person might not have a budget.  Does one of these resemble you?  Can you think of others?

See Part II: Excuse Busters For Not Having A Budget!

Creative Commons License photo credit: sarae

Why Economic Stimulus Handouts Are Bad – It Kills Innovation

Technology

The economic stimulus has been a hot topic in the news in recent months.  Banks and investment firms are getting bailed out.  Auto makers are getting bailed out.  Even the adult entertainment industry is asking for money.  But there’s a big problem with handing out money to try to help the economy – It Kills Innovation!

Here’s my take on why handing out stimulus money hurts innovation:

  • Companies ask for money rather than innovate – This is a bit of social Darwinism here.  Companies that can’t hack it should fail.  A company has to keep growing or it gets eaten up by competitors.  Look at Apple for instance – Imagine they only stuck to computers?  Without the iPod, iTunes, or the iPhone the company would be severely hurting.  But they moved beyond just making computers and now their computers are gaining a stronger market hold.  They innovated!  When a company gets a hand out it makes them lazy.
  • People follow the lead of companies – When companies get handouts individuals expect the same.  I’ve heard it many times already that the government should give people money because the economy is bad.  But that doesn’t really help.  Just like a company people have to grow and innovate.  They need to create new income streams, become better at their jobs, and increase their knowledge.  When they don’t others come up and pass them by.  Or new technology comes along to make their jobs obsolete.  Or they get their jobs outsourced.
  • It shifts blame – When a company sees that money is being handed out they have the temptation to blame the economy for their troubles in order to get a handout.  This shifts the blame to the “economy” rather than their own business model.  When blame is shifted a company is basically saying outside forces are causing their issues.  Instead a company needs to look at what they can do to improve their process and products to grow stronger and avoid economic problems.
  • Some companies would be bad anyway – If a company isn’t already looking to be ahead of the curve and succeeding in some way then what would throwing more money at them accomplish?  For example:  The auto makers have been in trouble for some time.  Rather than find a way to be ahead of the curve they have continued their old models with not much success.  When you think of a “green” car what do you think of?  Hummer?  No, you think of the Toyota Prius.  Toyota continues to innovate and re-define themselves and that’s why for the first time they are the largest auto maker in the world, taking over GM.  Throwing money at a bad company doesn’t help it; it just extends it’s expiration date and wastes money.

Yes, the economy is bad.  Yes, it hurts everyone.  But the economy is supposed to move in cycles of growth and contraction.  This is natural.  It’s like nature’s way of getting rid of the dead weight so hungrier companies have a shot.  But when we start handing money out it kills innovation and in turn ruins the whole idea of capitalism.

I hope Obama’s new plan will not keep the fat, fat.  Hopefully it’s used to encourage innovation.  Time will tell.

Creative Commons License photo credit: jared

Are Your New Year’s Resolutions SMART?

Measurable Goal

Kudos to you if you are still keeping up with your New Year’s resolutions! But most people who make New Year’s resolutions aren’t keeping them by month’s end.

Why? They weren’t SMART!

What are SMART goals?

SSpecific

M - Measurable

A - Attainable

RRealistic

TTime-Bound

Specific - Your goals should be as detailed and specific as possible.  It’s not enough to say you have a goal of saving lots of money.  You need to give it a figure like “I will save $3000 this year.”  Without specifics you are just floating out there.  If you only say your goal is to save then did you achieve your goal by putting fifty cents in a jar?  Didn’t accomplish much with that.

Measurable - To continue with the savings example, how will you get that $3000?  In one lump sum?  Or perhaps in measurable terms like “I will save $250 a month.  This will be $125 from each of my pay periods in the monthly.”  Being able to measure your progress will help you move along in your goal.

Attainable - Can you achieve this goal?  Will you be able to break it up into smaller achievements that will add up to the goal?  In our example we save $125 per paycheck in order to attain the big goal of $ 3000 in savings for the year.

Realistic - Do you believe your goal can be reached?  For our example you have to be able to save $250 a month.  If you currently only save about $50 a month then you either have to figure out a way to squeeze out more savings or you might need to make your goal more realistic.  When a goal is unrealistic you’ll become frustrated before long and give up the goal.

Time-Bound – Give yourself a pre-determined time frame for your goal.  Back to out example – It’s great to want to save $3000 but it’s very different to do that in year and to do it in ten years.

The SMART system is a great guideline for you to set goals with.  Ask yourself if your New Year’s resolutions are SMART.  If they are you have a much better chance of accomplishing them!

Sign up with ING Direct and get a $25 bonus

Creative Commons License photo credit: Laineys Repertoire

Ask And Save On Your Cable Bill

Cable

My wife was getting sick of the cable bill.

It’s gone up recently to the point where we had to question whether it was worth keeping or not.

I mean, remember when TV was free? 

Now to get reception you have to pay (at least until the digital boxes take effect in February).

So my wife said it was time to get rid of cable!

Whoa!  I gotta admit, I’m an addict.  I’ve been glued to the TV since I was a wee little pea.  I know that’s not the best thing but I wasn’t ready to go cold turkey just yet.  But I also understand that we’re spending way too much money for the privilege of watching a ton of commercials on shows we mostly don’t care too much about.

I told my wife to let me take a shot at calling the cable company to see what they can do for us.

So I grabbed our latest bill, a pen, and some paper and gave them a call.

I got a friendly woman who asked how she can help me.  I asked her what can be done to lower the bill as the rates have gotten real high and we were ready to drop cable if the rates continued as they were.

Immediately she said they had a 12 month promotion that would save us $25!

Oh yeah!

I checked with the Mrs to see if this was acceptable (we’re cool like that in that we clear money issues with each other).  I got the yes nod and told the woman we’d take it.

Just like that we saved roughly $25 a month on our cable!

I took the person’s name and company number in case any issues arise on the next bill.  I also wrote the details down so I can refer to then when the next bill comes in.

Lesson – If you want something to change you have to ask!  It won’t happen on it’s own.

Some things to keep in mind if you’re calling to change your cable bill:

  • Calmly but firmly state that you want to find out how your bill can be lowered.
  • Always remain friendly when speaking to the customer representative.  If the person you get can’t help you ask to speak to their superior or someone that can.
  • Be nice!  Customer service probably gets hundreds of calls in a day, many of which are not too friendly.  Being nice can go a long way in getting what you need.
  • If needed, state that you are prepared to drop their service or go to another service provider.  Have an example of a competitors lower prices if possible.  Many companies have a customer retention department who are equipped for these kind of calls.  Remember, only go the drop route if you are really prepared to drop their service.
  • You might not get the answer you want the first time through.  Nicely hang up and call back in a few minutes to see if you get another rep.
  • Ask about combination packages.  You might get a lower cable rate if you combine cable service with internet and/or telephone service.
  • Get the rep’s name and customer number or ID.  They should have some sort of ID to trace the call back to them.  Write down the details and repeat them back to make sure you understand correctly.  Watch for deals that require a contracted time.  That might not be an ideal situation for you.

Do you have any other tips?  Let me know what’s worked for you!

Creative Commons License photo credit: jessicafm