Administrative

Thank You

To all of my readers, supporters, and friends:

As of 2014, this blog is no longer active. Thank you for a wonderful 5 years, where I got to share anything and everything that came to mind about money. Ultimately, my life and my priorities changed, and this blog is no longer a part of that.

The site will stay online indefinitely as a resource to those of you still making use of the articles posted here. You can also contact me at anytime with questions.

With appreciation,

Wojo

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Planning

Short and Long-Term Financial Planning

Planning for the future may be seem like a daunting task for many hard-working individuals. At some point, it becomes important to make long-term plans for personal finances. Insurance companies offer financial services that are just as diverse and viable as those offered by banks and other institutions, such as credit unions.

Retirement plans in the United States of America are available in unique packages that cater to workers in different public and private sectors. For instance, 401(k) plans are ideally designed for people who work for businesses. 403(b) retirement plans are made for school and hospital workers. Last but not least, 457 plans give government and non-profit employees some long-term financial security after retirement.

In addition to setting up common retirement plans, there are other financial tools available for such long-term planning. Buying treasury bonds is considered one of the safest investments that could be made in a volatile economy. For example, EE notes come with fixed interest rate growth that matures after 20 or 30 years. Young professionals could purchase several thousands of dollars in treasury bonds that are guaranteed to double in value upon maturation.

Life insurance policies could also be integrated into a retirement plan. For example, some plans can be set up to provide compensation for major unexpected costs such as hospitalization in nursing homes or rehabilitation centers.

Another great way to plan for the future is to transfer a retirement plan to the hands of a financial firm. Such an enterprise could use mutual funds to generate high yields on retirement plans. Customers could receive quarterly reports on the performance of investments that directly use money from retirement reserves. At any time, it is possible to withdraw a retirement plan from any mutual fund affiliation.

In addition to planning for the future, savvy consumers look for ways to save some money on recurring expenses. For example, automobile insurance premiums are part of fixed expenses for vehicle owners. Insurance agencies often have websites with “Get a Quote Here” links that provide instant estimates on rates for auto, life, home, RV, motorcycle and other insurance. By bundling up several insurance plans, consumers could get significant discounts. When life insurance is added to a portfolio that features an existing auto insurance policy, hundreds of dollars per year can be saved on the combined premiums.

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Cars

Tips When Shopping for Tires at Costco and Sam’s Club

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I recently bought a new set of tires at Costco, and bought my last set at Sam’s about 3 years ago (for another car), so today’s post is simply a quick overview on how to get the most out of your tire purchase if you decide to buy at a “warehouse”-style store.

There are a number of reasons why you might want to buy at a warehouse. My own personal reasons included:

  • Cheaper price for tires, and installation.
  • Even cheaper price if you include the ongoing tire sale that is almost always going on.
  • The staff won’t bother you about dirty fluid or other things that need replacement–these are strictly tire stores.
  • I shopped and paid online and only dealt with the store for installation.
  • Deals on flat repairs, balancing and rotation for the life of the tires (free, in most cases, for all of these).

If you find that some or all of these reasons ring true for you, here are my tips on how to make the experience the best it can be:

  1. Find your tire size by researching your car model or simply checking your existing tires. Then, find out what brands and makes of tire are available at the various warehouses where you have a membership, for the exact size you need.
  2. At this point, I recommend reading the reviews, researching sites like Consumer Reports, and many of the other available websites, for feedback about the quality of each available tire. I’ve found that the value sweet spot is usually somewhere between the least expensive and the most expensive tire, and often toward the less expensive side.
  3. Once you’ve picked the tire you want, wait for a sale of that brand. Sales at each warehouse typically rotate throughout the year, with many of the popular brands going on sale for a month or more, often several times per year. You’ll save $70 or more this way, and easily cover the cost of the installation (typically around $15 per tire, plus minor disposal fees).
  4. Order the tires online for maximum convenience. In this way, you can also pre-pay for the tires and installation and avoid the hassle at the club.
  5. Appointments are not necessary when getting your tires installed. As a result, I recommend arriving as soon as the club opens on a weekday. I walked into my club at 10:05, and by the time I walked out of the tire center, there were already 4 people in line behind me.
  6. Expect at least one to two hours for installation. These shops are often busy and service multiple cars simultaneously. The later you arrive, and the busier the store is, adjust the waiting estimate accordingly.
  7. Finally, avoid getting your tires rotated at the club. While this is a free service, you’ll save a ton of time if you just have your local mechanic do this during an oil change (most don’t charge for the service anyway). If you ask your warehouse to do it for you, expect to wait accordingly.

Overall, I’m very happy with my warehouse tire experience and would definitely buy from them again. Happy shopping!

Today’s photo is brought to you by Julian Povey

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Investing

Avoid These Mistakes With Inherited IRAs

As with many retirement and savings options, there are clauses located in the small print which relate to many aspects of how the money is handled. This can include anything from how and when it’s appropriate to withdraw money, and what happens if someone inherits your IRA. Very often, inheritors of IRAs are unaware of the rules in place around IRAs, and what it means for them and the account once it has been inherited.

To start off at the beginning, an IRA is an Individual Retirement Account, which a person may elect to pay into to save for retirement, instead of a 401k option. A person can elect to save in a number of different ways, using different IRA options. For instance one of these options would be an IRA gold account, which is based on saving against the value of gold, which is known for increasing dramatically over time to give a much higher return on investment. For more information about this style of IRA account, visit www.goldiranavigator.com.

Whichever IRA option you or your loved one chooses to adopt, you should be aware (and also make them aware) of the clauses in the IRA contracts around inheritances, and the rules and regulations you’ll need to comply with.

The biggest and most obvious first mistake we make is regarding the beneficiary forms received when opening an IRA. The biggest mistake is not filling one of these in. The second biggest mistake is not keeping it up to date. Such is life that people get married and divorce, they may have had children or not, and will often meet another life partner in the future. However, the last thing on our minds when thinking about whether or not to get married for a second time, is to update our IRA accounts with this new life partner’s details. However, it’s hugely important to do this, to ensure the correct beneficiary receives your IRA. Not only that, but it’s important to ensure all details are correct, even when the beneficiary remains the same. For example you may move and have incorrect address and contact information on the form, causing problems further down the line.

Another mistake people make is failing to realize that if that minimum required distributions have already begun when the IRA owner dies, the 5-year rule does not apply at all. The 5-year rule states that there should be complete distribution by 31st December on the fifth year after death. However this doesn’t apply here, and unfortunately there is no loophole or cure if money is paid out incorrectly.

There’s another mistake which has only applied very recently, due to the changes in law made by the Supreme Court. On June 12th, the Supreme Court eliminated asset protection benefits of an Inherited IRA. The mistake people make today is failing to take that into account when considering who their IRA will go to. For example, naming a trust as beneficiary could be the ideal way to combat this, and should at least be considered as an option for creditor protection. On top of this, using a trust as beneficiary can help to ensure that IRA distributions are made as slowly as possible, therefore increasing potential return by maximizing the overall value of the account.

It’s important to seek professional financial help when considering this option as all trusts must be drawn up and written to comply with the state’s trust law. It must also include specific details like effective creditor protection aspects, as well as complex rules which apply only to trusts which hold inherited IRAs. It’s also worth taking into consideration that IRAs must be worth a certain amount in order to qualify for setting up a trust. As well as having to be worth a certain amount, there are other costs associated with creating a trust, and on-going administration costs to consider.

There may be more factors which develop as laws change, but the above are the main mistakes associated with inherited IRAs. We hope this article enlightens you enough so that you don’t fall victim to or lose out because of these issues which people often overlook or misinterpret.

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Links

My Favorite Podcasts

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I don’t have a whole lot of “free” time on my hands lately, but I do one thing every single day that is required and consistent—I commute. Every single day, I’m afforded the gift of 20 minutes each way in my car with no distractions, except those I choose to create for myself by listening to music or talk radio.

Over the last 6 months, I changed my approach to this time with one simple tool—podcasts, and I’m spreading the message to as many people as I can. The longer someone’s commute, in fact, the more they stand to gain from leveraging their time in the car.

Podcasts, for the uninitiated, are simply recorded audio broadcasts available online. They range from amateur to professional, informal to highly structured, a few short minutes to several hours long, daily to yearly. Each podcast is essentially a channel you subscribe to (just like a blog), and get updates whenever something new is posted. A single app on my Android (or your iTunes account for the Mac people), manages every podcast I want to listen to effortlessly.

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Beyond the To Do List: Erik Fisher interviews a wide variety of guests on productivity and life skills. Check out this interview with Rachel Cruze on teaching kids about money.
  2. Simple Life Together: Beyond the awesome advice on how to simplify my life, I think I enjoy Dan and Vanessa’s playful dynamic far more than any other “duo” podcast.
  3. The Smart Passive Income Blog: Pat Flynn is well-known for his online business experiments, but his podcast goes far beyond that with practical advice for many business and personal issues.
  4. The Tim Ferris Show: From the author of the Four Hour Workweek and other books, this casual, R-rated, dense, and intensely practical podcast takes some warming up to, but is a recent favorite of mine.
  5. You Need a Budget: Jesse Mecham discusses the YNAB philosophy and how to apply the four rules in your daily life for financial success.
  6. Life in the Woods Podcast: Blake Stratton interviews some of the most interesting creative people in the world, with a focus on music. More than anything, I love his tone of voice and delivery of the message.

Enjoy!

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Spending

Spending More to Save More

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I visited the vet’s office this week to pick up the flea & heart worm medication my dog takes on a monthly basis. As always, I was given the option of getting a 6 or 12-month supply.

This particular  brand, which comes in the form of a pill, is both effective and expensive. It’s the only thing that can keep fleas off my dog, and I’ve tested many, many products over the years. I’ve learned to suck it up and pay the cost.

At the vet’s office, I could get the 6-month supply for $110 and receive a $10 mail-in rebate, for a total of $100 over 6 months, or about $16.67 per month.

My other option was a 12-month supply for $220 (double the price), but I would get $12 off instantly, and the mail-in rebate jumped to $50. Suddenly, the cost is $13.17 per month–not a huge difference, but it starts to add up. If my dog lives 15 years, that’s a $630 savings! There’s also a convenience factor–since this particular pill is only available at the vet, I cut my need to drive to the vet’s office to just once a year. Conveniently, that’s the same as my dog’s annual check-up timeframe.

Here are a few points to remember when you face the same decision:

  • Companies are willing to cut you a break for buying in bulk, because they get more of your money up front. If it’s a product you need for the long run, seriously consider it.
  • Consider the ancillary costs of “spending less” — in this case, buying a 6-month supply would also cost me another hour of time and $10 in gas every year to drive to the vet twice as much.
  • Figure out if you have enough storage space, and home systems that are robust enough, to avoid wasting the extra supplies you just invested in. I’ve seen too many things go to waste or get lost over the years to buy certain items in bulk.

Focusing on the little things is normally a sure path to getting distracted from the big things that will make a difference (e.g. clipping coupons vs. negotiating your salary). But when faced with the choice anyway, make the choice that will help you and make the little things add up!

Photo by Alan Cleaver

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Household

The Pros and Cons of Having Roommates

This post is written by Jennifer Riner of Zillow.

Renters looking to save money should consider leasing apartments with friends. College students are notorious for cohabitating with classmates to spend more time together before graduation. Increasing numbers of 20-something’s carry this mentality into their professional lives to save money. Even more experienced renters choose to bunk with old friends for camaraderie. While living with friends can be fun and financially responsible, it can also present certain disadvantages.

Before signing contracts with colleagues, consider the following pros and cons.

Advantages

Saved Money

Half of the rent of a two-bedroom apartment is likely less expensive than the full rent of a one-bedroom in the same building. These price variances mean renters can save money while reaping the benefits of residing in more expensive complexes and communities. Decreased rent per person means a better chance to score the best location, too. Prospective tenants looking at apartments for rent to share with friends can stretch their budgets further than if they were hunting solo.

Split Chores

Two people can clean a lot faster than one. Household chores should be divvied up evenly so both parties complete the same amount of work. Renters may find themselves more organized if they know their roommates are affected by their cleanliness, or lack thereof.

Increased Safety

Living alone can put individuals at risk for break-ins and burglaries. Although having roommates doesn’t guarantee well-being, it certainly helps dissuade criminals. Aside from theft, roommates can assist in cases of medical emergencies, such as heart attacks or concussions. Unsurprisingly, single renters are more at risk when serious emergencies occur than those with roommates who can alert authorities or call ambulance services. Hopefully none of the above occurs, but having someone available for support helps bring peace of mind if nothing else.

Disadvantages

Unreliable Rent Payments

Late portions of total rent payments reflect negatively on all residents. Landlords typically don’t charge separate rents for each roommate. Rather, property managers consider units as a whole, so monetary disregard is attributed to everyone. Aside from irritating landlords, rent negligence can hurt credit ratings or potentially cause evictions. Select roommates who have proven their financial responsibility in the past. Budget-minded friends are likely good potential roommates who won’t harm anyone’s fiscal future.

Personal Disagreements

Being forced to share space with someone can cause immense tension and negatively affect an otherwise great renting experience. What is the point of paying for apartments with gourmet kitchens and luxurious living rooms if roommates make it uncomfortable to venture into common areas? Make sure roommates’ personalities are compatible; close friends are likely better fits than random renters from online classified advertisements.

Differing Lifestyles

Typically, homebodies shouldn’t live with constant partiers. Even if personalities are a match, their differing lifestyles may cause issues. For example, a full-time worker should avoid living with a nightlife-loving undergrad. Find renters with corresponding calendars, so sleep schedules aren’t disrupted. Nothing prompts a fight quite like exhaustion coupled with annoyance.

Whether renting with an old acquaintance or interviewing a friend-of-a-friend, consider the aforementioned pros and cons to decide whether sharing an apartment is the right choice.

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