Free From Broke http://freefrombroke.com A Personal Finance Blog for Regular Folks Tue, 20 Feb 2018 18:11:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 Tools to Help Organize Your Taxes http://freefrombroke.com/tools-to-help-organize-your-taxes/ http://freefrombroke.com/tools-to-help-organize-your-taxes/#comments Tue, 20 Feb 2018 18:00:33 +0000 http://freefrombroke.com/?p=21960 When you’re down to the wire at tax time, organization is your best friend. Your best option is to stay organized year round so that you aren’t scrambling at tax time. There’s not much worse than trying to find a tax document right before you file your taxes or head to the accountant. Whether you are […]

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Tools to Help Organize Your Taxes

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When you’re down to the wire at tax time, organization is your best friend.

Your best option is to stay organized year round so that you aren’t scrambling at tax time. There’s not much worse than trying to find a tax document right before you file your taxes or head to the accountant.

Whether you are trying to get organized at the last minute, or whether you are looking to stay on top of your taxes the whole year, there are tools to help you.

Read on and you’ll see how easy it can be to keep track of your tax documents throughout the year. Looking for misplaced tax docs is not a stress you need to have!

Here are 5 Great Tools to Help You Organize Your Taxes

Tools to help you organize your taxes.

Catch-all Folder

This first tool is low-tech, but it’s a time-tested way to keep all of your tax documents properly organized.

This tool is a simple manilla folder that you keep someplace easily accessed (yes, the physical kind that can give you one heck of a paper cut if you’re unlucky). Anytime you get a tax-related document, you simply place it in the folder. As the year moves forward, everything related to your taxes, from business receipts to 1098 forms from your mortgage lender, goes into the folder. No need to hunt everything down when it’s time to do your taxes because everything is right there.

You can also create a digital version of the catch-all folder.

Use your scanner to make copies of your paperwork and then save them in a file on your computer. This is great if you try to keep a paperless office, or if you e-file. All of that information will need to be scanned anyway for the e-filing, so it makes sense to go ahead and digitize it, to begin with. Encrypt the folder so that others can’t get into it, and be sure to back the folder up to an external disk and/or to the cloud, just in case.

The catch-all folder works especially well if you have a professional prepare your taxes. Everything is there, and it just takes a few minutes to sort it out. If you aren’t kind enough to sort out the documents for your accountant, at least the catch-all folder makes it a simple matter to just march into the office with everything you need for your tax return.

Shoeboxed

Shoeboxed is a handy storage app to help you organize your documents. You can take pictures of receipts and other documents, and then easily categorize everything so that you can find it during tax time.

Another great feature of Shoeboxed is the fact that you can use it to track your mileage. If you drive in the name of business or charity, you can deduct your mileage on your taxes. Use Shoeboxed to track your mileage so that it’s easy to keep up with the way you drive your car in a tax-deductible manner.

Shoeboxed also helps you create expense reports and other easy-to-read documentation. Plus, it’s fully searchable, so you can pinpoint something if you need to.

Check out Shoeboxed

Evernote

One of the most useful apps out there is Evernote. (I love Evernote, BTW!)

With Evernote, you can organize just about everything that has to do with taxes. You can snap images of your receipts and other documents, and easily store them. Not only that, but you can also add notes to your images. If you plan to deduct the portion of the cost of a business dinner, you can create a quick note to go with the receipt, describing who you met with, and what you talked about. It’s a perfect way to stay on top of your business expenses, and document everything that happens.

Evernote also helps you by allowing you to highlight items and search your saved information. You can also use Evernote to annotate information so that you can go back to it later. This can be a good way to make note of relevant portions of the tax code if you need to refer back to something later.

You can also group notebooks under one umbrella. This lets you create different notebooks for different tax needs, like personal and business.

Another way to use Evernote is to keep a running list of all tax documents you need. It can be tricky keeping track of every form you need. Create a note titled “Tax Documents.” Every time you receive a new tax document or download one, write the name of the document in your Evernote page. If it’s a digital document then put the URL for the page you need in your Evernote page. This is a helpful way to make sure you have everything you need to cover your tax filing!

Dropbox

If you need to share documents with your accountant or others, or if you are just hoping to move your digital catch-all folder easily from one place to another, Dropbox can be a great tool.

Keep track of all of your documentation in digital format using Dropbox. At the very least, Dropbox can serve as an excellent backup for your documents. Plus, you can access Dropbox from just about anywhere, even your phone. Create a folder in Dropbox, and then you can immediately take pictures of receipts with your phone and use the app to add the image to your tax folder on Dropbox. This is a good way to sync up your efforts, and allow you to store tax-related receipts without the need to manage paper.

Check out Dropbox (and get 500mb extra space)

Freshbooks

If you have your own business, one of the best tools for organizing your billing systems and making sure everything is squared away at tax time is Freshbooks. You can use this great tool to help you keep track of what you’ve been paid, and even what you’ve spent. If you have employees you can manage billed hours and other items.

Other payroll and accounting software that can help you stay organized year-round, including for tax time, include Zen Payroll, Quickbooks, and Xero. These types of applications can be a big help come tax time — as long as you use them throughout the year to stay organized.

Finally

You might be surprised at how easy it can be to organize your taxes, no matter the time of year. It doesn’t make it any more comforting to pay your taxes, but at least it reduces some of the stress involved in the preparation process.

What tools do you use to organize your taxes?

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Tools to Help Organize Your Taxes

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What is a Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL) and is it Worth It? http://freefrombroke.com/what-is-a-refund-anticipation-loan-ral-and-is-it-worth-it/ http://freefrombroke.com/what-is-a-refund-anticipation-loan-ral-and-is-it-worth-it/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 11:02:41 +0000 http://freefrombroke.com/?p=11608 It’s tax season again, and if you’re expecting a tax refund you’ll probably want to get your hands on it as soon as possible. In the past, taxpayers had to wait weeks upon weeks to receive a paper refund check from the IRS, but people sought a faster alternative. The answer for millions has been […]

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What is a Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL) and is it Worth It?

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It’s tax season again, and if you’re expecting a tax refund you’ll probably want to get your hands on it as soon as possible.

In the past, taxpayers had to wait weeks upon weeks to receive a paper refund check from the IRS, but people sought a faster alternative.

The answer for millions has been the refund anticipation loan.

This option is offered by some tax preparation firms and is essentially a short-term loan taken out against your anticipated tax refund.

How a Refund Anticipation Loan Works

What is a refund anticipation loan?

The most common reason people are drawn to refund anticipation loans is that they want to receive their refunds quickly.

Basically, a person would go to a tax preparation firm, a tax professional would do the work and the preparer would receive a code from the IRS indicating whether the taxpayer would be getting the full refund or if something such as back taxes would decrease the amount.  The tax prep firm then could offer the customer a loan based on that expected refund.

For people with financial difficulties, mounting bills, medical issues or anything of the like, a quick turnaround time can make a world of difference.

However, this “convenient” option comes with a price.

Consumer advocacy groups have been decrying refund loans for years now because in addition to the administrative fees that accompany them, the loans come with APR rates that can run as high as 50% to upward of 200%.

Are Refund Anticipation Loans Worth It?

tax refund anticipation loan

A refund anticipation loan may seem like a good idea, but they are loaded with fees.

Refund anticipation loans are increasingly losing favor for many reasons.

First, the fees are steep.  Refund anticipation loans in 2009 had an average APR rate of 169%.  A study by the Consumer Federation of America showed that during that same time, more than 7 million taxpayers paid over $600 million to borrow against their own money.

These loans are often regarded as predatory because they target low-to moderate-income citizens.  Since the exorbitant fees are taken out of the refund and not straight out of the taxpayer’s pocket per se, many people look past them in order to get the remaining money faster.

Additionally, the loans are no longer as readily available because the government has stopped providing the comprehensive taxpayer information to tax preparation firms that it once did.  The government also has placed restrictions on some lenders affiliated with these loans, prohibiting them from offering the loans at all.

In fact, 2012 will be the last year you see refund anticipation loans, as the last bank that offers them, Republic Bancorp, will end their RAL program due to FDIC restrictions (they back the loans of Jackson Hewitt and Liberty Tax).  The FDIC believes that by not having the IRS code that tells the tax prep firm whether the filer has any actions against them (that would limit their refund), the loan would be too risky and unsafe.

Options to a Refund Anticipation Loan

Some tax preparation firms now offer the option of getting your refund on their prepaid debit card, but it might not be as beneficial as you’d think.  Make sure to find out if the prepaid debit card has any ATM or other fees and how quickly you’ll receive your refund.

You may also have the option to get your refund on a prepaid debit card you already own.  There are some out there that have minimal fees.  [It doesn’t take much to open up a checking account, especially online checking accounts which tend to have few fees.]

The IRS is continually streamlining its processing system, which has led to a much faster refund turnaround and further minimizes the need for a refund loan.

If you submit your return electronically, instead of mailing a traditional paper version, it will considerably shorten the amount of time it takes to get your refund.

In addition, selecting direct deposit will speed the process even more.  According to the IRS, those who combine an electronic submission with direct deposit could see their tax refund in their bank accounts in as little as 8 to 10 days after they file as opposed to 4 to 6 weeks for a traditional paper return.

To Summarize Refund Anticipation Loans

Refund Anticipation Loans provide tax filers a quick way to get access to their refund.  But there are usually relatively high fees involved.  These days you can expect a quick refund return if you file electronically and choose to have your refund direct-deposited to your checking account, essentially eliminating the need for a refund anticipation loan.

Emergencies happen, and you may need your refund now.  But realize the fees you are paying for the refund anticipation loan.  Work to find ways to avoid needing a loan like this, such as building up an emergency fund.

Sources:
http://www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=205563,00.html
http://www.nclc.org/images/pdf/pr-reports/ral-pr-2012.pdf
http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/after-this-year-no-more-tax-refund-loans/
http://www.responsiblelending.org/other-consumer-loans/refund-anticipation-loans/

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What is a Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL) and is it Worth It?

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Paying Taxes with a Credit Card: Pros and Cons http://freefrombroke.com/paying-taxes-with-a-credit-card-pros-and-cons/ http://freefrombroke.com/paying-taxes-with-a-credit-card-pros-and-cons/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:52:02 +0000 http://freefrombroke.com/?p=7853 Are you thinking of paying taxes with a credit card? The thought of clearing a debt with the IRS in one fell swoop is certainly appealing, and if your credit rating is not in good standing in order to obtain a bank loan, that credit card can sure look good. But is using a credit […]

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Paying Taxes with a Credit Card: Pros and Cons

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Are you thinking of paying taxes with a credit card?

The thought of clearing a debt with the IRS in one fell swoop is certainly appealing, and if your credit rating is not in good standing in order to obtain a bank loan, that credit card can sure look good.

But is using a credit card to pay taxes a wise decision?

Before we explore the pros and cons of paying taxes with a credit card, let’s examine paying taxes through an installment agreement with the IRS.

First things first, contacting the IRS and working out an installment agreement is one possible option to manage your debt.  Complete the IRS Installment Agreement Request Form 9465.  If you owe $25,000 or less this process can be completed online.  The IRS may allow you up to 60 months to pay your tax debt.  Within 30 days, the IRS should let you know if your request has been approved and what you will be required to pay.

Installment plans come with a price tag.

There is set-up fee in which you will be charged interest (the Federal Short-Term Rate plus 3 percent) and penalties of .5 percent on the unpaid balance each month or part of a month until it’s all paid.  The monthly cost of this arrangement could be looking scary.

So – what about paying taxes with a credit card?

Pros of Paying Taxes with a Credit Card

 

Should you pay your taxes with a credit card?

The first benefit that comes to mind is all the possible rewards.  If you have a rewards card then taking advantage of your credit card to build those rewards can look very appealing.  Don’t go visioning yourself flying off to some exotic destination on all those air miles just yet; be sure you know exactly what your credit card offersIs the reward worth putting a large debt onto your credit card?

You can deduct your convenience fee as an itemized business or personal deduction.  Although this may not seem like much, depending on your personal situation, every little bit adds up.

Convenience – sending an electronic payment by credit card is simply convenient.  The IRS accepts credit cards and the system they use is protected by anti-fraud measures.

Cons of Paying Taxes with a Credit Card

First of all, you need to be fully aware of the credit card you have before you can determine if this is going to be a good or bad thing for you.  Remember, if your credit card comes with a very high-interest rate then your tax bill will end up costing you a fortune.  Be sure you use a low-interest credit card.

Paying taxes with a credit card is good so long as you are financially disciplined.  Paying only the minimum monthly payment on your credit card statement can potentially end up costing you hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars more than the tax debt itself.

Your credit score may take a nose dive if you pay the IRS with a credit card.  Financial experts say that consumers should try to keep the balance on their credit card accounts no higher than 35 percent of their credit limit.  For example, if you have $10,000 credit limit on your card, try to keep the balance no higher than $3500.  The higher you go over that limit, the lower your credit rating sinks.

Here is one last point to keep in mind.

While the IRS will accept credit card payments for taxes owed, the actual payment is often made to one of several ‘third-party service providers’ contracted by the IRS.  These service providers charge a fee, sometimes up to 2.50 percent for processing the transaction.

Bottom line, paying your taxes is a must and choosing the right way to make good on that debt must not be a hasty decision. Explore all possible options and if you have no choice but to use a credit card, be sure your use a card in which you can get some form of reward out of it.

And remember; pay as much as you can every month on your credit card (preferably the whole thing), not just the minimum.

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Paying Taxes with a Credit Card: Pros and Cons

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What Do You Think of New Year’s Resolutions? http://freefrombroke.com/what-do-you-think-of-new-years-resolutions/ http://freefrombroke.com/what-do-you-think-of-new-years-resolutions/#comments Sat, 31 Dec 2016 10:36:04 +0000 http://freefrombroke.com/?p=11359 This is the time of year where you come up with a list of resolutions for the New Year. Some want to exercise more.  Others simply want to lose weight.  Some want to save more money, while others want to get out of debt. What do you think of New Year’s resolutions? I’m not sure […]

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What Do You Think of New Year’s Resolutions?

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This is the time of year where you come up with a list of resolutions for the New Year.

Some want to exercise more.  Others simply want to lose weight.  Some want to save more money, while others want to get out of debt.

What do you think of New Year’s resolutions?

I’m not sure what to think, to be honest.

On the one hand, I think it’s important to have goals.  A great goal that you follow through on give you guidance and something to aim your energies towards.

But I think setting a resolution or a goal just because the calendar changed is a bit odd.

Why not set goals throughout the year?

My Problem with Most Resolutions


If you look up some studies and statistics on New Year’s resolutions then you quickly see how dismal the success rates are.  Many don’t even keep their resolutions through February, no less the entire year!

And most who create a resolution make it way too general, like “I want to lose weight,” or ” I want to save more money,” or “I want to get out of debt.”

But do you see the problem with these resolutions?!?

They sound great but they are too general.  The goals have no focus and as a result, they are difficult to follow through on.

So what happens after you fail to keep your resolutions?

I’ll tell you.  You feel like crap.  You failed and you feel like a failure.  You feel guilty for not keeping your resolution.  You lose confidence in yourself for not completing what you said you would.

How is that healthy?

Make Your Goals S.M.A.R.T.

If you truly want to make a change in your life and set a goal, make it SMART — Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

The idea is to really get your head around what your goal is and figure out how you are actually going to achieve the goal.

You need to know exactly what is is you want.  Figure out what satisfies your goal (for example, if you want to lose weight, how much weight do you consider a success?).  Make sure you can actual work towards your goal and you can act on what you want.  Give yourself a limit to when parts of your goal must be done by.  Break your goal out into smaller pieces that will be steps towards the larger goal.

Try it for 30 Days (or 60 Days)

Another method to use is to try something for 30 days.  Well actually about 66 days.

Some research has shown it takes about 21 days or so for an action to become a habit, where we no longer have to fight our willpower in order to do something.

In 2009, researchers from the UK Health Behaviour Research Centre found that it takes, on average, 66 days to form a new habit.

No wonder most people fail at their resolutions!  You need about 2 months of practice towards your habit or goal in order for it to come automatically.

But it still can be done.

Starting with one week, one month, or 66 days is a start and a step in the right direction.  Use with SMART and you give yourself a better guide to make sure you will follow your resolution.

Always Look to Improve

happy new year

What are your thoughts on New Year’s resolutions? Do they work?

I mentioned earlier that I don’t think a calendar change into the New Year should trigger a flux of goals in people.  Honestly, I think we should always be looking to improve ourselves.

If you find there is an area in your life that could use improvement or change, take the steps to do it.  Don’t wait on the New Year, or any other time, to start.

Don’t let the calendar be an excuse to wait.

And don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect right away.  Life changes and we aren’t perfect.  Work towards your goals and make adjustments as you go along.

Change is Good

I think a big part of us being human beings is that we can make changes in what we are.  We don’t have to sit back and resign ourselves to being the same all the time.

Bad habits can be hard to break, but they can be broken.  I don’t believe in the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Maybe it’s because I’m still relatively young.  But to me, if we can’t change then that’s truly sad and we lose out on a big part of our humanity.

We are ALL awesome!  Really, I mean that.  There is something incredible inside each of us, we just have to find out how to make it show.

I’m going off on a bit of a tangent.

It’s just that it bugs me when I see people saying they want something different and I know they won’t really do what it takes to make the change.

Maybe it’s because I’m afraid of change too.

I don’t want other people to feel the same way I have (and sometimes still do).  There have been plenty of times I’ve felt lost or stuck and didn’t think I could really change my circumstances.

Other times change has just been plain scary.  Hell, it still is.

But as I’ve aged I’ve realized that I’m the one who controls my fate.  If I don’t take control then who will?

Change can happen if you really want to make it real.

That’s All Nice but What Does that Have to do With Personal Finance?

What’s among the most common New Year’s resolutions you hear?

Lose weight and exercise more.

How many times have you heard someone say that as a resolution?

So what happens?  People go out in droves and gobble up gym memberships.  They set up monthly fees that get pulled from either their checking accounts or their credit cards.

Now imagine this — For many people, they’ve just set up a gym membership in January, one of the coldest months of the year, full of short days.  It’s freezing out and all you want to do is get home after work.  Are you going to the gym to sweat?  And come home in the freezing dark, wet?

Do you see why the whole gym membership in January just might not work?  We’re set up for failure!

And it’s a drain on your finances!

Other common resolutions are to save more and eliminate debt.

These after a holiday season of buying gifts.  You get that first credit card bill in January and you wonder how you will ever pay off the prior month.

Failure again.

Not that you shouldn’t set goals.  Just that you have to set them up in a way that you can achieve them, which I don’t think most people do.

What are your thoughts on New Year’s resolutions?

Do you make them?  Do they work for you?  How do you follow through?

Or do you just not bother with them?

Let’s get a conversation going in the comments!

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What Do You Think of New Year’s Resolutions?

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Don’t Let Your Goals Fizzle Out! – 5 Reasons Goals Fail, and What You Can Do To Make Yours Succeed http://freefrombroke.com/5-reasons-goals-fail-and-what-you-can-do-to-make-yours-succeed/ http://freefrombroke.com/5-reasons-goals-fail-and-what-you-can-do-to-make-yours-succeed/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 10:31:28 +0000 http://freefrombroke.com/?p=20725 It’s become a yearly ritual for many: Set ambitious goals for the New Year, tackle them enthusiastically for a few weeks, and then give up on them completely by March. This is a vicious cycle that encourages you to feel bad about yourself, and feel as though you’ll never get out of your rut. Whether […]

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Don’t Let Your Goals Fizzle Out! – 5 Reasons Goals Fail, and What You Can Do To Make Yours Succeed

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It’s become a yearly ritual for many: Set ambitious goals for the New Year, tackle them enthusiastically for a few weeks, and then give up on them completely by March.

This is a vicious cycle that encourages you to feel bad about yourself, and feel as though you’ll never get out of your rut.

Whether you are setting goals for your finances, or whether you are attempting to substantially improve your life, the yearly attempt (and subsequent failure) associated with resolutions can be frustrating.

If you’re ready to break the cycle, it helps to understand why you fail, and what you can do to create success in your life.

Here are 5 Reasons Goals Fail — and What You Can Do to Overcome the Pitfalls of Resolution-Setting and Succeed This Year:

1. Your Goal Ignores Reality

Too often, we have high-flown ideas of what we can become with just the right goal.

Unfortunately, this often leads to setting unrealistic goals.

While it would be great to pay off $35,000 in debt this year, the reality is that you aren’t likely to accomplish that goal if you make $40,000 a year.  You’re going to need to make major sacrifices in terms of what you spend on, and you’re going to have to come up with ways to make more money.

The same is true of losing weight, going back to school, or any number of goals that you might set.

Your goals need to be grounded in the reality of where you are right now and what you can reasonably hope to accomplish by the end of the year.  Honestly evaluate the situation, and figure out what you can actually do.  You can still set stretch goals that require you to push yourself a little bit, but you still need to be realistic.

Your resolutions need to be achievable.

Without achievable goals, you eventually give up when you realize the futility of your efforts.  You don’t want that to happen, so create realistic goals, and set realistic benchmarks that you can use to measure progress throughout the year.  You’ll be more likely to stay motivated to reach your goal.

2. Your Goal Focuses on a Process, Rather than a Result

In the past, my fitness goals have included things like, “swim for 30 minutes three times a week” or “kickbox for 20 minutes a day.”  While those are specific goals that are, in fact, achievable, they focus on a process instead of a result.

What if I don’t feel like kickboxing today?  What if my son is sick and I have to stay home instead of driving to the pool?

It’s easy to be defeated by the process, whether I stop swimming after 15 minutes, I only go twice a week, or I don’t go at all.  The same is true of money goals or any other goals.

If you focus too much on some sort of process that you have to complete to be successful, you are less likely to follow through with your resolution for a sustained period of time.

Instead of focusing on the process, focus on the end result.

What result are you trying to achieve?  Maybe I want to reduce my waist size by three inches or lose 10 pounds.  That result doesn’t rely on a specific process.  Maybe I change my eating habits so that I have less junk food in my diet.  Or, instead of getting hung up on whether or not I made it to the pool, I ride the stationary bike if I can’t get out of the house.

When you focus on a result, and what it takes to achieved that desired objective, you are more likely to stick with your resolutions.  You can substitute different actions and behaviors that can offer the same result over time.

This works with money, as well.

Instead of saying that you want to put $458.33 each month into your retirement account, you can say that you want to be in a position to max out your IRA by the end of the year.  This doesn’t require that you put $458.33 each month without fail from the beginning; it means that you build up to that over the course of the year.  At the end of the year, you’ll have a result: You’ll be set up to max out your IRA.  However, you do this by making gradual changes, either spending less or earning more (or doing both) and gradually increasing what you set aside.

Focus on the end result, and break it down so that you are looking at the big picture, rather fretting about the process.

Instead of focusing on the process, focus on the end result.

3. Your Goals are Too Vague

One of the main pieces of advice that goal-setting gurus offer is that you should be specific.

If your goal is to “get healthy” or “save money,” chances are that you are going to fail at some point.

What, specifically, would make you healthier?  Do you want to bring your cholesterol down to a certain (realistic) level?  Would you like to increase your lean muscle mass by a specific amount?  What are you saving money for?  Do you want to save up $5,000 for a family vacation?  Are you planning to save up $15,000 for a down payment on a house?

Really think about what you want to accomplish with your goals.  Be specific.

Without some sort of specific goal, you have no way of knowing how much progress you have made, or how to tell when you’ve accomplished your objective.  Don’t forget, though, that you do want to keep the overall result in mind.  If you haven’t quite reached the exact and specific goal you have set, but you are still in line with the general result you want by the end of the year, that’s still a win.  You can keep working on it moving forward.

Set realistically specific goals, and make sure to break your goals down into smaller, bite-sized chunks that can be digested by you as you move forward.  That way, you can measure your progress along the way and stay excited about what you’ve achieved.  Being able to see your progress can create good feelings that encourage you to do even more to reach your goals in the future.

4. You Get Hung Up on Time Limits for Your Goals

One of the big reasons that your New Year’s resolutions are likely to fail is that you get too hung up on time limits.

While a brand new year is a great time for reflection, and a good time to set goals, the reality is that you don’t have to limit yourself to a year to reach your goals.  The idea behind setting goals is to make a true improvement in your life, not create some mad dash to a finish line.

If you get hung up on time limits for the accomplishment of your goals, you are more likely to make sweeping changes that last for only a short time before you revert.

In order for goals to truly improve your life, you have to be able to assimilate them into your lifestyle.  Even if your goal is to run a half-marathon in a certain period of time, the reality is that, as you work toward achieving that goal, you make changes in your life that are likely to “stick,” as long as you approach it as a long-term journey, rather than something you have to accomplish by a certain date.

Once you achieve a goal like that, you can tweak it for the next goal.

Your goal-setting should be more about improving your life so that you create long-term habits, rather than encouraging you to do something and then stop once the goal is reached.  Don’t get hung up on having something done by the end of the year.  Instead, focus on the result, and work toward it consistently.  It might take you two years to save up your desired down payment for a home, but that’s ok.

And, once you do reach your specific goal, make sure you have another goal to replace it with and take advantage of the good habits you have been building up.

Once you have enough for a down payment, you can set a new goal to build up your emergency fund, contribute to a retirement account, or set up a college fund for your children.

The idea is to keep improving, so you want to build on your successes for the next big goal.

5. You Set Too Many Goals

One of the biggest reasons that you fail at your goals is that you set too many.

Just as you aren’t likely to see solid results from multi-tasking, you are unlikely to see the results you want if you set too many goals at once.

This ties into number four.  Instead of setting a whole bunch of goals, pick one or two major goals to be working toward at a time.  Once you have achieved one of your goals, have something else to be working toward.  You should be focusing on bigger goals that can be broken down into manageable and measurable steps.  That way, you are actually improving your life and creating habits that result in long-term life success and satisfaction.

Don’t overwhelm yourself with all of the things you should be doing.

Instead, think of the most important one or two things you want to accomplish first, and then create plans to tackle those items.  Then, move on to a new goal.  Don’t limit yourself by time, either.  If you finish a goal in August, start working on a new goal — even though it isn’t a new year.  View it as a journey, and you’ll be more likely to make steady progress.

Here’s what Leo Babauta, author of the popular blog zenhabits.net says about forming one habit at a time:

Habit change is difficult, even with just one habit. If you do more than one habit at a time, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Keep it simple, allow yourself to focus, and give yourself the best chance for success. Btw, this is why New Year’s resolutions often fail — people try to tackle more than one change at a time.

Other Tips for Succeeding with Your Goals

As you work on overcoming the stumbling blocks often associated with goal setting, there are a few other tips to keep in mind.  Staying motivated can be difficult, even if you can see the positive changes and progress that you are making in your life.

Here are some other strategies you can employ to help you succeed at your goals:

  • Make it public: Sharing your goal with others can create an incentive to succeed.  It adds a layer of accountability to your efforts.  Even if you just share it with two or three people who can be your “accountability buddies” and check up on you from time to time, the fact that you know that others are watching to see your progress can keep you motivated.
  • Join a group: It can help to join a community with similar goals.  You can receive support and encouragement from those who are taking the journey with you.  It can also be a good way to get insight into tricks and tips that can help you with your specific goal.  Having that support system can keep you motivated, even during the toughest of times.
  • Put your money where your mouth is: Make a bet.  Studies conducted by the founders of the goal-setting web site Stickk.com found that when money is on the line, people were more likely to stick with their goals.  If you have a financial consequence associated with your failure, you are more likely to succeed, if just to avoid the financial hit you’ll take.  Of course, this is counterproductive if you can’t afford the consequence.  It should be something that’s painful, but not devastating to you.
  • Work with someone: This is similar to making it public and joining a group.  Find a buddy who has the same goal as you.  This works especially well if you have a significant other or a family.  You can all work together, encouraging each other.  And when you reach your joint goal, you can all celebrate together.  Any journey is more fun and fulfilling when you have others to come with you, and celebrate with you.

Glen’s note on Goals: One thing I find critical in setting successful goals is to make doing the goal as easy as possible.  Back in 2007 I set a goal to run the NYC Marathon.  As part of my training I had to do one long run every week.  This meant waking up early on the weekends to get my run in.  There was no way I was going to wake up early and start bumbling around getting ready to run.  I had to have a plan before-hand or I’d be lazy and not go.  So by Friday afternoon every week I made sure to map out my miles for my long run.  I’d chart a course to make sure I’d get the required distance in.  This gave me a specific direction for my runs and it eliminated the decision of where to run when I woke up.  To further help me in my groggy morning state I also made sure to have my running clothes set aside as well as my water bottle(s) for the run.  This way I could wake up, get ready, and get out of the house.  If I left myself with too much thinking and preparation in the morning I KNOW I would have gotten too lazy to head out.

We can make financial goals easier too.

Tools like Quicken can help you plan out goals and track them.  Setting up automatic savings and investing takes the thought out of putting money away for your goals.

Know your tendencies and build plans into your goals to make sure you stay on top of your intentions.

Final Word On Making Your Goals Succeed

There’s no reason to let goal-setting get you down.   Change the way you approach your resolutions, and there is a good chance that you will see more success this year — and in the years to come.

Where have you failed at goals?  Where have you succeeded?  Share your stories in the comments!

Bonus to help you with your goals and habits: Here’s Google’s Matt Cutts talking about trying new things for 30 days.

And here’s Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t break the chain” motivation and productivity technique (via Lifehacker): Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret

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Don’t Let Your Goals Fizzle Out! – 5 Reasons Goals Fail, and What You Can Do To Make Yours Succeed

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10 Tricks to Get Textbooks For Less Money (Because Tuition is Expensive Enough!) http://freefrombroke.com/textbooks-for-less/ http://freefrombroke.com/textbooks-for-less/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 09:49:50 +0000 http://freefrombroke.com/?p=4924 Textbooks for less money. Now that would be helpful! When I went back to school some years ago I expected tuition to be higher, and it was.   That wasn’t a shock, though.  I know that tuition goes up every year and how expensive it is.  I was prepared for that. Know what shocked me? […]

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10 Tricks to Get Textbooks For Less Money (Because Tuition is Expensive Enough!)

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Textbooks for less money. Now that would be helpful!

When I went back to school some years ago I expected tuition to be higher, and it was.  

That wasn’t a shock, though.  I know that tuition goes up every year and how expensive it is.  I was prepared for that.

Know what shocked me?  I was shocked at how expensive textbooks had become! Let me tell you, textbooks are not cheap! Well, not for those that don’t know the tricks for cheaper textbooks.

I found that some textbooks were easily $100+, some lots more.  I quickly realized I had to figure out how to get cheaper textbooks!  Read on and you’ll see 10 tricks that can save you a LOT on your college textbooks.

Here are some great ways to save on your college textbooks and get textbooks for less:

How to save money on college textbooks

1. Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble

I check these places first to get an idea of what used copies of the textbook is going for (used textbooks are the way to go since new ones tend to be full price).  I like the interfaces on these sites and since I’ve already been using them for years I trust them.  I’ve bought books from both and have never had any problems.  The books were clean and showed up on time.  With Amazon you get to search third-party sellers and you can see their review ratings to get an idea about a company’s or individual’s business.

2. Online used textbook company

In recent years a ton of used textbook companies have emerged, offering up used copies of textbooks at significant discounts.  It’s worth checking out these sites for both the discounts and because sometimes an edition can be hard to find and only these companies have a copy.

For sure this is similar to getting a book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble but I separate them out here since they strictly deal in textbooks.  When you research your book make sure you have the ISBN code so you get a correct match.

Some reputable used textbook sellers to check out are: Bookbyte and eCampus.

3. Rent the textbook

A new type of textbook company has sprung up – the textbook rental company. (OK, it’s not really that new these days, but I still come from the days of paper books.)

The idea here is you rent the textbook for one semester then return it.  This way you don’t have to concern yourself with selling a book after the class ends or being stuck with the book if the edition changes before the next semester.  Make sure you return the book or you could be charged full price for it. Sometimes you have the option to extend your rental for a period of time as well.  Some textbook rental companies to check out are: Chegg, College Book Renter, BookRenter, and Campus Book Rentals.

Another company I have used is CengageBrain.  I had an economics class that required the book from them and I had to do the homework through their portal.

4. Get the Online Edition

Many publishers are taking advantage of advances in technology, what with the growing tablet and laptop market, and are offering up online editions of their books.

This could be great if you’d rather not deal with carrying another 15-pound textbook around with you.  Pull up your book on your iPad, or other device, and you have your textbook at your fingertips.

I’ve seen publishers do different things with online editions.  Some give you a copy of the book that’s yours to keep while others give you access to the book for the semester (you’re basically renting the book online).  There may be instances where you need a certain program to use the book or you need to access it through the publisher’s site.

Usually, the online edition ends up cheaper than the hardcopy.

Lately, I’ve been renting ebook editions on Amazon. I own a Kindle and have the Kindle app on my iPhone as well as on my Mac. I always have a copy of the textbook with me to read! The drawback is some editions don’t work as well across different formats. Still, I’ve found this to be a cheaper way to get a textbook in many cases!

Take a look on Amazon.com.

5. Notices in School

I always see notices up on boards in the hallways from students selling their books from last semester.  Keep an eye out and you can snag a textbook at a deep discount and you can also pick the seller’s brain about how the class was!

6. Library

Most teachers will have at least one copy of the textbook on reserve in the school library.  If you have the time to get to the library, this can be a great way to save on the textbook.  Keep in mind though that there may be other people looking for the book too and you can only study from the book while at the library (you usually can’t take them out).

I’ve also had success with e-editions of literature books I was able to borrow from libraries.

save_textbooks

7. Go Half With Another Student

Have a friend in class?  Make one!

An option for students is to go half on the textbook and share it.  This can easily cut your book expense in half on an already discounted used book.  Benefit here is expense but the drawback is sharing the book and coming up with a schedule.  This plan can also give you a study partner for the semester too!

8. Buy an Older Edition

Sometimes a publisher releases a new edition because the material becomes outdated (imagine a book on the economy the past 30 years!).  Other times, though, a publisher releases a new book just to get people to buy more new books.

Publishers know that students buy used textbooks and after some time the publisher isn’t selling new books anymore.  Enter the new edition.

But you know what?

Sometimes the new edition doesn’t have much different from the older editions.  Maybe the page numbers are off or there are wording differences, but the content is the same.

Talk with your professor and see if the older edition is usable.  You can really save significantly here.  An older edition can make for one cheap textbook.  (I had a professor that gave out homework assignments that included the question numbers from the old edition!)

Do keep in mind that some new editions really do have new content!

9. Buy the International Edition

Did you know that some textbooks have an international edition?  And did you know that some of these editions are EXACTLY the same as the U.S. edition in content?

Yup, it’s true.

The only differences may be cosmetic.  In my experience, the international edition may have a soft cover rather than a hard cover, which to me is a bonus since the book won’t be as heavy.  These books come at a nice discount to the U.S. editions. I mean like pennies on the dollar in some cases!

Make sure that the international edition is, in fact, the same, though.  You don’t want to be stuck with a book that is different.  Also keep in mind that it could be a little more difficult to sell the book but it may be worth it for the initial discount!

One semester I had to buy a calculus book.  I don’t know if it’s true everywhere but it seems calculus books are always expensive.  Anyway, I was able to get an international copy of the book I needed that was close to half off.  Except for the cover, the book was identical to the U.S. edition.

10. Don’t Buy the Textbook

Talk to your professor.  Most times a professor is required to assign a book to the class even though it won’t be used much.

Many times I’ve taken a class and barely cracked open the book. What a waste!

See from the professor how much the book will be used.  You may be surprised to find out you don’t need the book.  That is significant savings!  (I had one professor who told us which textbook we’d use, then basically gave the ole “wink, wink, nod, nod” and inferred that the book wouldn’t really be used.)

Talking to students who took the class before could be useful if the professor won’t give a definite answer (sometimes they have a financial interest in a book).  You may be able to get by without the book, go to the library to study, or borrow the book from a fellow student when needed (be nice and chum up to a few students in class).

Finally

Sometimes you have to suck it up and buy a new textbook.  (One new twist I’ve seen is that you need a code, CD, or online access for additional work that only comes with a new book.)  But most times you can save significantly and get your college textbooks for less with a little bit of research and by shopping around!

Do you have any other tips for getting textbooks for less?  What has worked for you?

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Your Guide to Setting SMART Goals For Your Finances and More http://freefrombroke.com/guide-setting-smart-goals-finances/ http://freefrombroke.com/guide-setting-smart-goals-finances/#comments Mon, 04 Jan 2016 10:56:21 +0000 http://freefrombroke.com/?p=21789 It’s that time of the year where people start fresh and make new goals, many of those are financial. But are they smart goals? Did you know that according to a 2007 survey by British psychologist Richard Wiseman, 88% of resolutions end in failure? We tend to try to do too much with little willpower to achieve […]

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Your Guide to Setting SMART Goals For Your Finances and More

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It’s that time of the year where people start fresh and make new goals, many of those are financial. But are they smart goals?

Did you know that according to a 2007 survey by British psychologist Richard Wiseman, 88% of resolutions end in failure?

We tend to try to do too much with little willpower to achieve our resolutions.  We need systems to help us along.

SMART Goals is one such system.

One way we can help ourselves to success in our resolutions and goals is to make them S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

The following guide will walk you through SMART goals so you’re not one of those whose goals fizzle out by March (if not much earlier).

Everything You Need to Know About S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Setting SMART goals for your finances.

S is For Specific

To start, let’s focus on Specific.

To achieve your goal, it helps to make it specific.  Often we make our goals too general, which makes a goal difficult to follow through on.

How many times have you heard a goal like “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to get out of debt” or “I’m going to take control of my finances?”

These just don’t work!

Why?

You need to make your goal specific to give you a concrete goal to go after.  You need to know exactly what it is you are trying to achieve.

Be as specific as you can when you create your goal.  Write down what it is that you want to do.  Tell your friends about it and have them help keep you accountable.

Think of a goal like “I am going to get out of debt.”

Most of us have more than one type of debt.  We have credit cards, student loans, car loans, home mortgages, second home mortgages, that twenty spot we borrowed from Bob last week…

It’s too much to tackle all at once.  We end up failing our goal.

And what happens when we fail?  We go back to the way we were before the resolution but now we’re disheartened.  We feel beat down, thinking we can’t do it.

So break the goal down and make it specific.

Want to get out of debt?

Pick what kind of debt you want to attack.  Let’s say credit card debt.  Now we’re getting better.

But how many of us have more than one credit card?

Yup, a lot of us. Let’s get more specific.  Pick one particular card that you are going to eliminate the debt on.  Other cards are other goals that you can look at once you have achieved your first, specific goal.

Can you see how this can help your confidence and help you achieve your goal?

Picking even the smallest debt balance and paying it off can give you the courage to move on, knowing that it IS possible to achieve your goal.

So as you make your resolutions, make sure you make it specific!  Ask yourself exactly what you want to achieve and how you will go about achieving it.

M is for Measurable

Let’s talk about the next step – making your SMART financial goal Measurable.

You need to make a goal measurable; you need to know exactly how much you are going to achieve.

Without a way to measure your goal, how can you track your financial progress?  How will you know if you are making headway towards the financial goal?  You need to have a way to measure your success with the goal (and you are going to succeed!).

Think, for example, about a goal of running a marathon.

You know the end distance, 26.2 miles, but how do you know you are progressing week to week?

I’ll tell you.

You keep a log of exactly how many miles you run every week and what type of running you are doing (distance runs, sprint runs, etc…).  You also build a plan before-hand that tells you exactly how many miles you need to shoot for every week.

In this way you can measure your progress and you can tell how close you are to achieving your end goal of running a marathon.

Let’s talk about a goal of eliminating credit card debt.

You have made your financial goal specific and you are going to attack one particular card and pay off the debt.

How do you measure it?

Do you just “put a little extra in every month when I have it?”  Let me tell you that won’t work very well.  You need to be specific (remember to first rule?) and you need to be able to measure it.

A better way to go about eliminating your credit card debt is to figure out exactly how much extra you can pay every month towards your debt.  Now you have a concrete figure.  You know you need this amount every month.  You can now work on ways to make sure you save this much to pay off your debt.

This also breaks your goal of paying off your credit card debt into smaller goals that you can attain on a measurable frame.  Now you aren’t paying off all of your credit card debt, you are paying off a specific, measurable amount every month.

See what happened there?

Not only are we measuring the amount we are putting towards the credit card but we’re also measuring the time frame as well.

As you look at your goals, make sure you can make them measurable so you can tell what you are actually doing and achieving (or what you need to do to get there).

A is for Attainable

Now we’ll talk about your goal being Attainable.

Let me preface by saying that I think a person, any person, is capable of doing many incredible things.  You may be truly amazed at what you can achieve if you earnestly put your mind and resources into reaching your goal.

But there are limits.

As positive as I want to be in helping you attain your goals you need to know that you still need to make a goal Attainable.

I think a big mistake we make with goals, and one of the main reasons why goals fail, is because we shoot for the moon with a goal we can’t reasonably achieve.  Then when we don’t reach our goal, or we find it’s too hard to work towards, we quit and tell ourselves it’s useless.

Ask yourself – “can I actually do this/is it possible?”

If you’ve made your goal specific and measurable it should help deciding whether you goal is attainable.

It’s OK if the goal seems slightly out of reach.

The point is you are working towards something.  Make a goal too easy to attain and you haven’t really changed anything about yourself, you haven’t grown.  Yes, goals can help you to be more of who you can be rather than who you have been.  (Yeah, I’m going there.)

Let’s look at debt.

You may have heard a person say they have a goal to get out of debt in a year.  That’s an awesome goal, but it may not be attainable.  Even when you make your goal specific and measurable you still need to reasonable be able to attain your goal.

Is what you are looking to achieve realistic?

The example we have been using is to eliminate a specific credit card debt.  Is the plan you have in place attainable?  Can you reasonably keep up with the amounts you need to save to pay off your credit card debt?  Have you considered everything that can happen that might throw you off course?  Will you be able to do it?

I don’t want to seem negative.  You just need to make sure what you are looking to do is really within your ability and means.

It’s possible you may need to break your goal down further or change how you measure your progress to make the goal attainable.  It may even take some time and experimentation to see what it takes to make your goal attainable.  You may need to tweak your goal and how you measure it after some time.

That’s OK.  The point is to attain your goal!

So as you set your goal, look at what your plan is and make sure it’s Attainable.

R is for Relevant

We’ve looked at making a goal specific, making sure the goal is measurable, and looking to see if the goal is attainable.

Now we will look at how relevant your goal is.

When looking at the relevancy of a goal, we’re asking ourselves “how important the goal is in the grand scheme of things?”

Is the energy we’re going to put towards this goal the best use of our time and resources or is there something else that may be better?

If your goal is to be healthier then perhaps a goal of doing a hundred sit-ups isn’t as important as eating less fast food?

We’ve been using the example of getting rid of credit card debt.

Certainly a worth-while goal, no?  But is it always the most relevant?  Depends.

What kind of credit card debt is this?  Is it zero interest for a time period?  Is it relatively low interest?  What other debt do you have?  Is there someplace else we can put our energy that may yield better long-term results?

What is the other debt you have?  Do you have private student loans that have a higher interest rate than your credit card(s)?  What is the rate on your home mortgage?  How about any car loans?  Would you do better working on something else first before your credit card debt?

Maybe instead of looking to eliminate your credit card debt you would be better suited to work on your career?  Perhaps a career goal would help you make more money that would make paying off credit card debt easier?

I’m not saying don’t pay off credit card debt you have.

The point here is to look at the goal you have and seeing where it fits into your life and whether it’s the best use of your energy.  Make sure what you want to achieve is relevant.

T is for Time Bound

We’re reaching the end of our SMART goals.  (Hey, great job sticking around so far!)

We’ve gone through making the goal specific, being able to measure it, making sure it’s attainable, and looking at how relevant it is.

Now we’ll ask if your goal is Time-Bound?

A good goal will be time-bound or timely.  What’s that mean?  I’ll tell you.

It will have a starting point, an end point, and measurable time or milestones in-between.  Time adds dimension to specific, measurable, attainable, and relevant.  See how beautifully they all fit together?

By making your goal time-bound you give yourself a framework to focus with.  

Without deadlines for your goals, it’s easy to let your goals drift away and be put off for other things that may seem more pressing.  You need to know when your goal will end.  A finish point can be a big part of whether your goal was a success or not.

Time makes your goal more specific.  “I’ll eliminate this credit card debt in eight months.”  Time adds the “when” to your goal when you are flushing out the specifics.

Time makes your goal more measurable.  “I’ll put away X dollars every Friday then pay of N dollars extra on the 3rd of the month with my bill.”  Time tells you when aspects of your goal need to be done by.  It helps to keep you accountable as you measure your goal.

Time puts a bounds on the attainability of your goal.  Paying off your debt by next week is impractical while giving yourself ten years may be too much time.  Too little time and you may be putting too much stress on yourself while too much time may not have enough of an effect.  It needs to get done in a specific time to make it a real attainable goal.

Time helps answer if the goal is relevant.  Is the time needed the best use of my time?

Time is the final piece of the SMART goal strategy (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound).  In all, this can be an effective way to make sure the goals you set will be achieved.

Final Word on SMART Goals

Make your goals SMART and achieve all that you can!  Really.

SMART Goals give you a framework to help organize your goal and make it a reality.

Now it’s your turn to put it all together.

Take the resolution or goal that’s burning in you and put a little time into applying the SMART goal strategy.  I think you’ll find it helps a lot.

Have you used SMART Goals? How did it work for you?

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