8 Ways The Economic Crisis Can Be Good For You

tiny frog

Times are tough out there.  The economy is at the forefront of the news every day.  Companies that were believed to be stalwarts are turning out to be broke.  Many are saying this is the worst the economy as been since the Great Depression.  Is there a silver lining to this economy?!? Yes.

8 Ways The Economic Crisis Can Be Good For You:

  • Lower House Prices and Lower Mortgage Rates – If you don’t already own a home now may be a great time to buy one!  Housing prices have been dropping.  The bloated home prices of the past few years are finally reversing.  If your finances are sound and you can make the payments you might find yourself with a house bargain.  Add to that dropping mortgage rates and this might be the time to buy if you’ve been waiting but couldn’t afford it before.  If you have a variable rate mortgage it could be the right time to lock in your rate.  Mortgages are already low so you figure they have to go up eventually!
  • Buying A New Car – If you have been in the market for a new car then now is a great time to buy!  The big three American car makers are hurting and are basically giving their cars away at cost just to keep their inventory moving.  To compete, foreign car makers are offering deals as well.  Most companies are offering 0% interest for qualified buyers.  That’s a free loan o buy their car.
  • Sales – Just like the car manufacturers many other companies and stores are hurting and are doing whatever they can to sell their products.  Forecast are already low on consumer spending for the holidays.  This means we’re going to see some great sales coming up.  Don’t go out spending just because prices are low but if there was something you were going to get anyway this coming season may be the time to buy it.
  • Low Credit Card RatesLower credit card rates doesn’t mean you should go on a spending spree!  But if you are carrying debt ad making your payments you may be able to negotiate a lower rate with your credit card company.  If your rate is already low you still might be able to find a card offering 0% to transfer your balance to.  Remember, the point is to shrink your debt not increase it!
  • Change Bad Spending Habits – What does it take to break out of the cycle of spending and debt?!?  If this bad economy doesn’t convince you that carrying a lot of debt is bad then what will?  Cash is king in any economy but wen you have a cushion for yourself then bad economies are less stressful.  Let what you see in the news be an eye opener for you if your spending habits aren’t so great.  Make a commitment to put yourself in charge of your finances!
  • Cut the Corporate Fat – Only the strong will survive in this economy (well, except for those that get bailed out).  The companies that come through this will end up with a stronger presence in their industries.  Also, as inefficient companies close up shop they leave open room for newer, smaller companies to take up the market void left over.
  • Cheap Gas – I just filled up the tank on our mini van and it cost us $35.  That would have given us a half tank earlier in the Summer.  Man does it feel good to not pay so much for gas!  One way to take advantage of this is take what the gas would have cost you in the summer and put the difference in what you pay now into a savings account every time you fill up.  Home fuel costs will also be lower this Winter than last Winter.
  • Stocks Are Cheaper – Prices have dropped to where if you invested at the turn of the century you might just have the same amount now; basically a zero return.  Not so good if you’ve lost a lot in stocks but if your starting out investing you could be getting stocks and funds near the bottom when prices are low.  You still need to do your research to find good funds and companies.  If you’re dollar cost averaging your investments you’re getting more stock for your dollar these days.

It’s scary to hear economic news these days.  But if your finances are in good shape then now can be a good time for you!  If your finances aren’t then get working on it now!

What do you think?  What other ways could this bad economy be good for you?

photo credit: kekremsi

Never Mind A New Economic Stimulus Package – Save Yourself!

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about a new economic stimulus package.  Some are talking about a new one being approved this year while others speculate that it won’t happen until President-Elect Obama takes office.  There’s been talk that a new economic stimulus package would be more infrastructure and not checks as the last package was.  And there definitely has been a lot of talk of whether we even need a new economic stimulus package; questioning if it even makes a difference.  Here’s what I say:

Never mind a new economic stimulus package – Save yourself!

Don’t count on the government to come through with legislation to help you make ends meet.   That attitude will never get you ahead.  You need to take matters into your own hands.  If you are in a bad financial situation you need take control and ownership of the problem and fix it yourself.

Here are 12 ways you can take matters in your own hands and save yourself:

  • Make sure you excel at your job.  Unemployment is the highest it’s been in quite a while and I’m sure there will be many more layoffs to come.  Don’t be the robot at work that does just enough to get by.  Get yourself interested and make yourself valuable to your company.  Don’t just get your job done – get it done well!  If layoffs are coming you may be able to save yourself from the chopping block.  Hey, maybe you could even get a promotion?
  • Build networking relationships with friends and co-workers.  Sometimes, as unfair as it seems, it’s not what you know but who you know.  Keep up with co-workers when they move to other jobs.  They can be your foot in the door if you leave your current job.  Stay in contact with friends as well.  Even if they don’t work in your industry they could prove to be a valuable contact.  Network!
  • Pay your bills on time.  Lenders are getting shy about giving out their money these days.  If you pay late you may find your interest skyrocketing.  Universal default allows one credit company to raise your interest rate if you’re late on a different company’s card.  A late payment can make all of your credit cards have high rates.  If you aren’t paying off your balances every month you can find yourself sinking faster into debt.
  • Put money away for emergency savings.  Really you don’t know what the future holds and as the saying goes: “when it rains it pours!”  What happens if you find yourself out of a job?  Then the car breaks?  Then you need a doctor’s appointment?  Hopefully you don’t need your savings but put yourself in good shape by having savings in place.
  • Make sure your credit report is clean.  Errors on your credit report can be costing you in higher interest rates on your credit cards and loans.  Make sure your credit report is accurate.
  • Check you credit score.  Your credit score is like your code of honor among credit agencies.  A low score means higher interest rates and could also mean you won’t get a needed loan or credit.  Credit scores are also used in housing and in job hunting.  Get that score up!
  • Cut costs.  Remember that emergency savings?  A way to help build that up is to cut costs.  Cut a few corners here and there and you can find yourself with significant savings!
  • Analyze your tax withholding.  Are you paying too much?  Pay what you need to and no more.  Many like to get a big tax refund but you’re better off having that money in each of your paychecks instead.  You don’t earn any interest when the government is holding your money!  Adjust your tax withholding so you maximize your paycheck.
  • Re-evaluate your holiday spending.  The holiday spending frenzy is starting.  Don’t get caught up in the current!  You don’t need to spend exorbitant amounts on every person you know this holiday season (here’s a challenge: see if you can keep a $100 holiday).  What really the point in spending so much if it puts you in a bad financial situation?  Budget what you can spend on gifts and don’t go over.  Make sure your budget is within reason of your financial situation (don’t spend more than you have!).
  • Go to school.  Yes, school is an expense.  But taking some extra courses or pursuing/finishing up a degree can help make yourself more marketable to employers.  This can be as simple as taking an advanced Excel course to working on a higher degree.
  • Work on building alternate sources of income.  Try your hand at blogging.  Work on developing a hobby that could earn money such as photography.  Other streams of income are a good thing, especially when money is tight.  And you never know, what you start could develop into something bigger.

It always sounds nice when the government offers to give us money back but we have to remember there’s a price to this.  It could mean less services somewhere else or more taxes down the line.  Remember the money has to come from somewhere!

Don’t hope the government will do something to ease your situation.  Get a hold of your finances and take care of it yourself!

What other ways could we take financial matters in our own hands?

Best Financial Advice You’ve Received

Father and son surf lesson in Morro Bay, CA 12 of 12

There’s a meme going around that I saw at The Digerati Life who got it from Sound Money Matters.  It’s basically asking everyone to answer:

What’s the best financial advice you ever received?

Probably one of the best pieces of advice I received was from my dad.  When I go my forst credit card he told me to be careful and not go into debt with the cards.  “Pay off your balances every month,” he said.  Unfortunately I was young and headstrong and had to learn mistakes the hard way.  I’d go onto opening numerous credit cards – Macy’s, Bloomindale’s, two CitiBank cards, and others.

At first I was real good with my cards and paid them off.  But as I got older with more responsibilities the balances started to grow (that and I couldn’t keep my hands off buying “stuff”).  In the end I had debt in the thousands.  I was able to slowly pay everything off with a little help from my family as I moved back in with them for a while.

I was foolish for not taking my dad’s advice to heart.  I’m sure many people out there have a similar story.  They know what the right thing to do is but somehow their credit card debt got out of hand anyway.

If you’re one of these people – You can get out of debt! It may take a while but small steps will lead to big changes over time in paying back your cards.  Start now!

If you’re not in credit card debt then make sure you stay that way!  Be responsible with your charges and make sure you can pay back everything once the bill arrives.

I’m not one of those who thinks that credit cards are evil. The mistakes I’ve made with them I take full responsibility for.  They can be very useful in fact.  But you have to be responsible with them.

I’m tagging the other members of the Money Life Network to answer the question: What is the best financial advice you ever received?  (MiB Smarter Money, Bible Money Matters, Sense To Save, Remodeling This Life, Prime Time Money, and Milk Your Money).

If you’re reading this then consider yourself tagged too!  Write about it or drop a comment here.

What’s the best financial advice you ever received?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

What We’re Doing To Adjust To One Income

Contando Dinheiro

As I told you yesterday we’re moving from a two income family to one income. This will take some adjusting on our part.  If you’re considering moving from two incomes to one you should check out 9 Tips For Going To One Income from PT Money.

Among the things we have done so far to adjust:

  • Changed my 401(k) contributions – I was contributing more than the company match for my 401(k).  I’ve now lowered it to the company match.  Anything lower than the company match and I would be missing out on free money.
  • Roth IRA contributions – We lowered our monthly contribution to our Roth IRA’s.  Yes it’s important to save for retirement but for right now we need to make sure we can handle our new budget constraints.  If we find we have enough left over we’ll up the amount.
  • 529 Plans - Again, it’s important that our kids are able to go to college but having money now is more important.  We didn’t eliminate contributions, just lowered them.
  • Tax Withholding – With my wife not working I plan to change my tax withholding so I can keep more of my paycheck.  We’re waiting to hear back from our accountant for advice on what we should set my withholding for.
  • Health Care – Our health care was through my wife’s job.  I’ll have to switch it over to my company’s once my wife’s coverage officially ends.  This will cost us as my wife had free coverage and I don’t.  We had to keep this in mind when we worked out our budget.
  • Look for ways to trim expenses – The Starbucks days are coming to an end.  And now when we go to Target or BJ’s we’ll go in with a set list of things we need and not buy things we want.
  • Work on finding alternate sources of income – We’re keeping an eye out to see if there are any ways to earn some extra money.  I’d love to say this site would help support us but blogging isn’t as lucrative as some make it out to be.
  • Go through all of our monthly bills/expenses – We made sure to see where our money was going monthly.  We didn’t want to build a budget then find out we skipped something that would make us go over.  Make sure you check for any automatic contributions or payments you may have set up!

This will be a big adjustment for us but it will be worth it.  We’ve saved and planned and budgeted and I think we’ll be fine.  A little tighter than we used to be but fine.

Do you have any other ideas?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Jeff Belmonte

What Is Raising A Child Worth – We’re Going To One Income

island hopping

What is it worth to raise your child? Is it worth giving up an income?  For us the answer will be yes.  First the first time in a long while my wife will not be heading back to work this September (she works in education).  Instead she will be staying home to raise our little guy and our princess (19 months and 8 yrs old respectively).  This wasn’t an easy decision for us.  Giving up her income will require us to be a lot more frugal and we’ll really have to watch our spending now.  Our future savings will also decrease as we won’t have as much to put away.  We have  a nice cushion already and I think we can do this; it just requires us to change our lifestyle.

Here is why we’re moving to one income:

  • Child Care Cost – We were paying a LOT in child care.  And yet for all we were paying our son was getting sick way too often, catching bugs from the other kids at day care.  Not that the day care was bad; it’s just inevitable that a child gets sick and spreads it around.
  • Sick Days – My wife took a lot of sick days during the last school year.  As I mentioned the little guy was getting sick a lot.  Day care is supposed to help us go to work but it was causing a lot of stress instead.  Let’s face it, it’s painful seeing your child sick and not be able to do much about it.  And my wife was getting to a point where her sick days were going to start costing her.
  • Stress of getting around and making arrangements - Mornings were hectic to say the least in our home.  Getting two kids ready and getting to work on time s a big deal.  The evening before we had to make sure everything was prepared and laid out for the next day.  Then there’s actually dropping the little guy off and picking him up (sitting in traffic, finding a spot, etc…).  Ever leave you child with someone else and have him cry for you?  It will break your heart!  We also had to find arrangements for our daughter after school for a good part of the year.  And because I was dropping her off in the morning I was getting to work and leaving later.
  • Enjoying raising our children – Last on this list but first in our hearts, the main reason for my wife staying home to raise the kids is because we feel it’s the right thing to do.  We feel strongly about being there for our children in their formative years.  My wife originally intended to take more time out when the little guy was born but she ended up going back anyway.  Now she will take the time off to be there for them.

It’s a shame that in today’s economy having a parent stay at home to raise the kids has to be a difficult decision.  When did it switch from a second income being gravy to it being just about necessary?

Stay tuned to see what we have done so far to adjust to one income!

Have you moved from two incomes to one?  How is it working for you?

Creative Commons License photo credit: quarxdmz

Five Things Indiana Jones Can Teach Us About Personal Finance

Indiana Jones Lego

I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (among all the prior movies).

Was it as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark?  How many movies are?

Was it a lot of fun to watch? Absolutely!

I got to thinking about ‘ole Indy.  What makes him successful in his movies?  What is it about him that keeps him coming out ahead?  And can those qualities be translated to personal finance?

Here are five things I think Indiana Jones can teach us about personal finance:

Indiana Jones doesn’t need a lot of stuff

When he goes off on an adventure he has a few items: His whip, hat, jacket, side bag, boots, pants, shirt, gun holster, and notebook.  This is basically his adventure “uniform” and it doesn’t change.  Indy makes do with what he has and makes his stuff last.  Ever see him buy a new hat?  How about shiny new boots?

How this translates for us: Find out what you need in your life.  Note the word “need” and not want.  Don’t clutter your life with stuff.  Stuff takes up space and uses up money. Also it usually pays to buy quality when you can. If you take care of a good item it can last many years (like a trusty fedora hat).

Indiana Jones has focus and persistence

When he has a goal he goes after it with all of his focus until he can’t continue any more.  Do Nazis stop him?  Angry cult member?  Communists?  Even his enemies recognize this quality in Indy.  Think of the times he’s been caught, kidnapped, or blackmailed into helping the enemy.  Indiana Jones is the go-to guy if you want an artifact found.

How this translates for us: Create personal finance goals and stick to them.  Are your goals worth fighting for?  Will you retire?  Will you be financially independent?  Develop persistence and focus to stay on track with your goals and complete them.

He’s daring, brave, and well educated

There’s times where Indy is doing some crazy things (climbing into an archaeological dig surrounded by Nazis anyone?).   What keeps Indy afloat when he goes off on a daring adventure?  Luck has a bit to do with it.  But it’s his education that tempers bravado. R emember, not only is Indiana Jones an adventurer he’s also a doctor of archeology that teaches at the university level (and a Boy Scout).  A big part of why he’s successful in his adventures is because he’s already done extensive research on what he’s going after.  As wild as he sometimes seems he doesn’t blindly go off looking for adventure.  He’s put years into learning his subject.

How this translates for us: Don’t blindly make investments or make purchases without out doing your homework first.  Educate yourself about personal finance.  Keep learning.  Know why you are putting money into an investment and understand what the risks are going in.  When making a major purchase study up on different brands and their reliability and consumer responses.  Try to find the best value and price (maybe you can pick up a really good hat).

He carries a notebook full of information

We see Indy go back to small notebooks all the time.  Whether it’s looking up a map or deciphering a language, he keeps notes on all his research.

How this translates for us: Keep your own notebook.  Track your expenses to see where your money is going.  Keep notes of things you did that saved money.  Make to do lists to stay on top of your life.  Write out grocery lists so you only buy what you planned on.  And these days there are so many apps out there for notes that you can’t use not wanting to carry a notebook as an excuse.

He tries to do the right thing

There are many times Indy can get quick cash by obtaining an artifact and selling it.  But he doesn’t.  He tries to do the right thing.  Whether it’s saving children from slavery or keeping biblical artifacts from Nazis, Indy does the right thing.

How this translates for us: Act right in your life.  Don’t lie to your spouse about finances however small the lie may be.  Don’t take part in get rich quick scams – they don’t work.

There you have it. Five ways we can learn about personal finance from Indiana Jones.

Can you think of any more?

photo by Gaetan Lee

15 Things To Do With Your Economic Stimulus Check

The government Stimulus checks started going out on April 28th. If you are expecting one you should start looking for it in May (here’s a post listing the dates).

So what are you going to do with the extra money? Here are a list of ideas for using your stimulus check:

  • Pay off credit cards – If you have any credit card debt the stimulus check will be a great way knock some of that out! Paying off the debt gives you an instant return in savings of whatever you would have paid in interest fees. Psychologically, you will help in getting the debt monkey off your back.
  • Contribute to a Roth IRA – You can take your money and put it into your Roth IRA. For 2008 the contribution limit is $5000.
  • Start an emergency fund – If you don’t already have some sort of emergency fund (three to six months expenses seems to be the conventional wisdom) then your stimulus check is a good way to start one. Even if you have one you can use the money to increase your fund. A great place to start one is with ING Direct (you can even get a $25 bonus by opening your account with $250).
  • Contribute to a 529 college savings plan – You can use the money to help save for your kid’s education by putting the money in a 529 plan. Not only do you help save for college but you might get a tax break as well depending on your home state’s plan.
  • Pre-pay your mortgage – Take the money and make additional payments to your mortgage. By making additional payments you will own your home faster and pay less in interest. Just make sure the payments go towards the loan principle and not next month’s payment (also check that your lender will accept pre-payments without fees or penalties).
  • Go on vacation – You may have been planning to do this anyway so here is a good way to fund the vacation. Go and do something that will be a great experience for the family that you will all remember.
  • Improve the house – If there’s something you’ve needed to improve on your home, such as a furnace, you can use your stimulus check to pay for it (or at least help). Other options could be new paint job, carpet, furniture, appliances, etc…
  • Car maintenance – Have you been putting off a car repair? Need new brakes? New tires? Your stimulus money can fund it. If your car is about to go kaput your stimulus check could help pay for a new car (or a good new used car).
  • Learn to invest – Do some research and take the money and start investing. Companies such as Sharebuilder and Zecco offer low-fee investing. You have to do your homework with this option but it might be just enough money to start investing but not so much that you will be crazy worrying if you lose it. If you invest through Sharebuilder you can buy partial shares of Berkshire Hathaway B class shares. I hear that Warren Buffett is pretty good at investing.
  • Pay off student loans – If you have high interest student loans then your stimulus check can be a great way to help pay your student loans off. Just like with credit cards paying off your high interest student loans give you the instant return in savings of what you would have paid in interest.
  • Have a nice evening out – Take your spouse out to a really great meal. Get babysitting and go to that great restaurant you wanted to try. Go see that new show that everyone’s talking about. Make an experience you will always remember.
  • Get physically fit – The stimulus check should be enough to pay for a year’s gym membership (or more than a year). Use the stimulus check as a catalyst to get in shape and make your life healthier. Not sure about a gym? Find a class such as yoga or martial arts to join. Not into that? Buy a new bike and go riding. Or get yourself some good running sneakers and running attire. Join your local running club and enter a few small races. You never know, you may one day run a marathon.
  • Go to school – Use your stimulus check to enroll in a college course or two. This can be toward a degree or just continuing education. Hey, you can take a personal finance course. Maybe learn a second language?
  • Do nothing – This is the easiest of them all. Put the money in your savings account and forget about it. You don’t have to spend it or find any particular purpose for it. It doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. One day you might find a good use for it but for now it adds to your savings.

Personally, we’re closer to the Do Nothing suggestion. Our stimulus check will come via direct deposit right into our ING account. We have no specific plans for the money so it will be added into our savings. Our check may pay parts of many of the suggestions or for none of them. Either way it will earn interest until it finds a home somewhere else.

Do you have any other ideas for using the economic stimulus check?

photo by Argenberg