Category Archives: Personal Finance

What is Personal Finance

What is personal finance? And Why does it matter?

Those are two very interesting and important questions to ask as one either begins their life as adults, or begins asking questions they’ve never approached before. For the past five months or so, this blog has predominantly been centered around personal finance, both the investing side, as well as the money management side.

I didn’t realize that before I choose to continue this journey with you all, I should probably take a moment to explain what Personal finance actually is. Personal finance clearly deals with how individuals manage their money.

While the topic briefly touches on the analysis and performance of businesses and organizations for investment purposes, it predominantly centers around the individuals’ approach to managing each dollar in and each dollar out.

Personal finance answers questions like:

What are my financial goals? What use do I have for money? What should my investment approach be? How much do I need to be saving? How large should my house purchase be? Should I buy this trinket or save the money?

Many of these questions are simply answered through quiet reflection or by asking your friends and family for feedback. However, some of these more complex questions like how to invest your money, or how to craft a financial plan can often be better answered by a financial advisor.

Why does personal finance matter? 

There are three basic reasons why you should pay attention to your finances:

1. Money has impact

2. Money can be complicated

3. Money is emotional

While we of course don’t have the time to go into the details of Personal Finance in one blog post, I hope this gives you a great picture of what this topic is all about.

Renting Vs Buying – 4 Factors to Look At

Most people will spend the largest percentage of their income on housing. Deciding what kind of housing, and how much can be the most crucial financial decision you’ll make. Choosing between renting or buying can literally be the difference between retiring in the next decade or not.

I am going to cover the largest factors that determine which option is better. In a later post I will outline what my math and research has shown, and which options work best for which situations.

Time-frame

For the vast majority of cases, the rent vs buy scenario comes down to timing. If, for example, you plan on moving in the next few years, renting is almost always better because of the closing costs associated with buying. However as we begin to look at longer time horizons, renting generally becomes more and more expensive, relatively speaking.

Location

In certain locations, like San Fransisco for example, it makes proportionally more sense to rent than it does to buy over shorter periods of time. This is due to the fact that there lies what I call a “Cali Premium” for people who buy real estate in any of the large metropolitan areas along the California coast. Because of this higher pricing, the cost to rent is comparatively lower than most areas of the country.

Discipline

The numbers only make sense if the person doing the renting is investing the difference (assuming there is a difference between renting and owning) consistently. If someone simply rents over buying, the numbers skew back in favor of the homebuyer, who has automatically enrolled in a “forced savings plan.”

The Numbers

The last major factor to look at is the actual numbers and data. These are questions like, what is the interest rate on the loan, what is my rate of return on my investments, how fast does my property increase in value, and how fast does the rent rise year-over-year? These four questions are some of the most impactful when it comes to analyzing the numbers, but there are a host of others to ask as well.

Hopefully these insights are beneficial when making these important decisions. I looking forward to seeing how the actual numbers pan out in real life in the years to come.

3 Factors to Look at When Determining Where to Live

As a financial blog, I have dealt a lot with individual personal finance issues, like what to invest in, how to budget, and what to do in different areas financially. Here I want to step back and cover 3 financial factors that you should think about when considering a city to live in. While these three aren’t the only things to think about, they certainly will cover the broad range of financial determining factors:

Job and Career Potential

Here you’re just trying to get an idea as to how easy or hard it will be to have employment, and sustain employment in your chosen career field. Two of the things to consider are the unemployment rate, which is a good indicator of how many people who want jobs have them, and job growth. With job growth you want to look at the number of new jobs being created, specifically in your career field, over the last decade.

Cost of Living

Housing costs will be broken down into to two big areas: housing and everything else. When looking at housing, there are usually two broad options available. You can either rent or you can buy. You are going to want to compare the costs of rent vs the rest of the country. Pay special attention to the rent increases. For example maybe your area currently has slightly higher rents than the national average, but over the last couple years the rents have been skyrocketing. You want to be mindful of areas in which the costs of living, including rents are rising quickly.

The second housing option to look at is homeownership. What is the average costs of a home in the area. This can vary greatly from one neighborhood to another. For example one neighborhood might costs $300,000 but just across the road might be $250,000 for a similar house. Find the area you’re thinking about and start comparing prices.

After paying for housing there are the rest of the general costs associated with living and breathing. These costs can include food, insurance, transportation, recreation, and especially taxes. Taxes are a huge part of your yearly expenses. There are income taxes (both federal, state and sometimes city), as well as sales tax and property tax. Look at these rates for you area.

Long-Term Stability

The last thing you want to look at after job potential and cost of living is the general stability in the area. The stability of the area is both the economic factors and the political factors.

For example look at one of the leading factors of growth for cities: population growth. Take a look at the recent trend in population. For example are massive amounts of people entering or leaving the area? This might be a sign that things are changing. With the change in demographics and population comes changes in political preferences.

Maybe these changes will lead to political leadership upheaval in the local government. Think about how these changes could potentially impact your life in terms of local taxes, regulations, social programs, and building projects in the future. Are you okay with these potential changes and the uncertainty that comes with them?

Conclusion:

Overall, these three factors can paint a pretty clear picture of the financial concerns about one area over another. After going through them, you should know whether this area is something you would want to consider moving to. Naturally though, there will be others things of concern, like climate, education, health and other issues. While these concerns might not directly impact your finances, most of them should be looked at closely for the effects they could have down the road.

3 Things to Have in Your Wallet

While most Americans are saddled with credit card debt, student loans, and monthly car payments, the underlying issued usually relates to how we view money in general. Most people would like to say they are responsible with their finances, but their actions tell a different truth.

Out of this basic mentality toward money often comes many damaging habits we see today. For example the uncontrollable, erratic spending that characterizes consumers can go back to the root cause of lack of responsibility.

Responsibility over every area of your financial life, especially what is in your wallet, comes from an understanding that personal finances are a crucial area to match with your values.

When someone takes responsibility over their wallet they should be aware of three items:

1. Cash

Most have heard the saying “cash is king” whether on the Dave Ramsey show or elsewhere. But is cash really that powerful? The truth is that sometimes yes and sometimes not so much.

For example if you’re buying a table on craigslist, cold, hard cash will probably be the most powerful negotiator. However if you’re buying a home, pulling out cash might make you look a lot like a drug lord…

Make sure to always have a good amount of cash in case an expense comes up that you can’t use your cards for.

2. Debit cards

Even more important than the credit card is the debit card. A debit card gives you access to your bank checking account and can often be the most popular means of payment. While you certainly don’t need to have multiple debit cards and different banks, there is certainly a case to having at least one.

3. Credit cards (maybe)

Some of the most daunting debt in the US is the credit card loans. According to the NY post, credit card debt in the US is approaching $1 Trillion. Why would you want to have a credit card?

When it comes to credit cards I believe that about half of people should not have them because of lack of discipline. The other half of people should have a few quality cards that are used regularly but sparingly to build credit. There might be some points or cash back in there, but that’s just icing on the cake.

Ultimately your use of credit cards should depend on your discipline and self-control. Everyone should have debit cards. And everyone should carry an adequate amount of cash in both fives, ones and a ten (maybe $50 total?).

Besides the payment-related items there are of course things like ID and insurance cards but I hope you have enough common sense in those areas. I hope this helps your spending habits on your financial journey for many years to come.

2 Things I learned from Ray Dalio’s Book

While often seen on TV and financial journals, Ray Dalio is somewhat of an unheard of figure outside of the financial world. He started broke, developed his skills, knowledge and habits, and today is the billionaire funder of the largest Hedge fund in the world.

In his new book, Principles, Dalio focuses on the principles or set of beliefs that have been the baseline of his success in both life and business. Throughout the chapters he illustrates just how crucial principles are, not matter the principles, to how you perform in each area of your life.

From his book I have taken 2 main points:

1. The things we do know are much smaller than the things we don’t know

While everyone would say they believe this idea in theory, when it comes to the actions we take, many of us, including myself, will puff up our egos higher than is actually the case.

Dailo states that people who have more knowledge, success and experience on a topic, should carry more weight in our decision-making.

2. Set up systems, or processes that help make decisions and see around emotions

While emotions are a natural and good part of life and human interactions, when it comes to making the best decisions, especially the business decisions, logic should be the ultimate decision maker.

Two of the greatest roadblocks to making quality decisions are the ego and the blind-spot barriers, which are both covered by the entrepreneur’s planet in their post: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/150799291/posts/16

Ultimately being committed to integrity, open-mindedness, and self-improvement, are the largest factors that have contributed to Ray Dalio’s success and the principles he teaches.

 

3 Different Ways to Look at Your Money

Often part of the natural inclination towards money is to view it as something that just pays the bills. While this perspective is certainly valuable in certain context, I want to share 3 different ways you can look at money that will change the way you see your financial life.

The 30,000 feet approach

When you look at any area of your life, health, emotions, mental health, relationships, spiritual journey, your money, etc… it’s easy to view them up close. But when we step back and view the specific situation through the perspective of our whole life, we can see how much it really matters or doesn’t matter.

Ask yourself, “Does spending $120 on a box of extra wineglasses fit into the overall priorities of my life?” If it does great, but more often than not, the priorities don’t align.

The time perspective

When you look at your finances through this lens, you imagine how your decision will look at the end of your life. For example I am thinking of buying a new vehicle that looks and feels cooler. However this expanse will postpone some of my retirement savings.

When looking at it though the time perspective you imagine how you’ll view this decision 40 years down the road. Ask yourself, “When I’m 80, how will I view this decision?” Often our decisions are based on short-term thinking, so this view can really help us realize the consequences behind our actions.

The business perspective

Imagine your financial life is a business. If your name is John Smith, your finances are managed by John Smith, CFO(Chief Financial Officer) of John Smith Corporation. As CFO you are responsible in allocating capital (money) towards the respective goals of the business.

If your job was to manage money for yourself (which it is) would you be happy with the job you’re doing? Or would you fire yourself?

Base your actions on whether they provide appropriate return on investment (ROI) for John Smith Corporation. While the goal of John Smith Corporation isn’t necessarily to maximize profit, your decisions should be aligned with your priorities in order to fit your values. Sometimes this could mean going on vacation, but other times it could mean increasing retirement contributions.

These perspectives are meant to help improve your decision-making processes with your money. They certainly have helped me in my financial journey. In what other ways can we view our finances?

 

3 Fun Things To Do With Your Money

Give it

If you’re a Christian this can be represented by tithing. However for non-christians generosity can still play a big role. Consider giving to charities, friends, organizations, causes and people in need.

With technology there are now so many ways to connect and give to others. Giving can change the way you see the world around you, make you more compassionate, and just make you feel better about yourself in general.

Enjoy it

Enjoying money can be fun! I remember spending money to go out to eat at a nice restaurant. It felt like such a reward to myself for the work I had done. Enjoying money, specifically money you’ve earned, can feel very, very good.

Stop and thing the ways in which you could enjoy your life and your money today. Prioritize the fun with your long-term goals about investing, giving and leaving a legacy. Often people struggle with spending too much money on things that don’t actually provide enjoyment. That is just stupid.

If you’re buying something or going somewhere to impress someone else you are committing two mistakes: 1) You’re spending money you could be investing or giving (which in and of itself isn’t a crime) and 2) you’re spending money on something that doesn’t really matter to you. Leaving a little money for your future should always be at the back of your mind. Which leads us to the third thing…

Grow it

Not a lot of people in society enjoy investing. The truth is, not many people have really gotten into investing, which hurts them more than they know. When I opened my Roth IRA, I put $5,500 in it. Even in the first half year it grew to almost $6,000, a $500 increase. I was pumped.

Realistically though, investing in a well balanced, thought-through planned investment portfolio isn’t always going to go straight up. Sometimes, even often, the balance is going to go down a little. That’s part of investing.

But as your balance grows steadily over time, you will begin to see why so many people are hooked on investing.

Conclusion:

Prioritizing these three things is both a challenge and a beautiful dilemma. It can feel like a blessing to have resources (money) to mange for your future and for your family’s future. That’s why it’s so important to think about these three things.

7 Things That People Never Spend Enough Money On

1. Paper

That’s a strange thing to lead the list with. However paper represents a mentality in the U.S., and especially in other countries, that puts people in a scarcity mentality. I’ve been personally at fault of doing this. Often I’ll try to save paper by writing on the other side or cramming everything on to one page.

This is particularly true when I am in school. I’ll take notes by putting everything close together. Any learning and memorization expert will tell you that leaving space on the paper gives your brain room to process and compartmentalize concepts and facts in your brain.

You need to be comfortable using up more paper, even if that means spending a minuscule amount more.

2. Seminars

Honestly this type of personal improvement hasn’t been something I’ve looked into in the past. However in recent months and years I’ve begun to see how others have used these as networking, learning, and inspirational events.

3. Health

I hope most people value health over money. The natural outcome of this value priority is that you should be spending the money you need to to keep your health at its prime. Don’t forget about health.

4. Others

Pouring money into others, whether through time and experiences, or generous gifts of items and money, is both a heart-warmer, and a perspective-changer. As soon as you begin to look outside yourself to help others, life becomes a ton more meaningful.

5. Car Maintenance

Changing the oil, replacing break pads, and doing general maintenance on your vehicles is a responsible thing for adults to do. It feels like you’re throwing money away, but in the long-term it can save you money in emergencies, breaks, and issues.

6. High Quality Items

Often it is wise to skip the name-brand items and go with cheaper things. This is especially true with things that don’t matter as much like cereal brands or food in general. However if you find an item is cheaper than another, this doesn’t mean instantly that it’s a deal. It’s possible that down the road you’ll spend money on replacing that cheaper item.

7. Books

Call me old fashioned, but I find books are particularly useful in learning. I have personally read hundreds (yes hundreds) of nonfiction books in my free time. While spending $1,000 on books (both e-books and physical books) can seem like a big waste of money when the library is just down the street, I see books as an investment.

When you see nonfiction books as resources and insightful gems of knowledge, it becomes natural to look at the cost-benefit of each book as a more than worthwhile investment.

I personally find physical books to be easier on my eyes and simply to read than e-books.

Conclusion:

Seeing every purchase as an investment can be a fun game to get your mind racing on ways to save and spend money wisely.

Should You Work on a Tip-based Salary or Hourly?

Do you value security or potential of higher income? That is essentially what it comes down to. Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to work in both the back (the grill line) and the front (as a host and busser) of the restaurant. I’ve had the opportunity to work at higher end restaurants (a sushi restaurant) with positive work atmospheres as well as lower-priced restaurants (Cracker Barrel) with slight less positive work environments.

Which is better?

To me clearly the former. However often because of connections, resume or simply location, starting at a higher end restaurant isn’t always an option. Although to be clear, higher end doesn’t always mean more positive work environment.

So back to the original question, which is better, to work at a tip-based job or something more stable like an hourly job?

If you believe in your abilities to work hard, be personable, sell to customers, and meet the basic requirements of your job, then the tip-based job will pay you much more over the long-term. However if you aren’t sure of you skills then working an hourly job can be better.

There are 2 keys that you need to follow when working a commissioned job verses a regular job:

1) How much you make is ultimately up to you (and the overall business of the restaurant)

Taking responsibility for every aspect of your job, especially when you get paid via tips, is crucial to making money. If you don’t acknowledge and adapt to weaknesses, mistakes and challenges along the way, you won’t be able to make the money you are probably aiming for.

2) Communicate with your supervisor as well as your fellow employees

Without communication, especially when the restaurant is busy, you risk losing your income, confidence, and sanity all at once. When things get busy, it can be especially easy to slack off when it comes to taking to the people around you. However when this happens items get dropped, customers, employees and managers get pissed, and you usually don’t get the type of tip you were striving for.

Ultimately I recommend getting a tip-based job over an hourly job simply for the reason that it can challenge you more and usually brings in more income.

 

Excitement and Saliency: Why Accounting Is Important for Everyone

…Well technically accounting isn’t crucial for everyone. But accounting and the field of financial as well as tax accounting are very useful, valuable, and foundational fields to study for the vast majority of people.

As a business major I might have a slight bias, but the argument still holds for any other career or academic path – accounting is foundational. Why, you might ask, is accounting so important?

Accounting is important for two types of people: Business people (people involved in business decisions, management, and keeping business records) and regular people who make logical financial decisions.

First I will lay out merits of accounting for business people (who I’m sure already know a lot of them). Secondly I will cover reasons for accounting for individuals in their finances.

Accounting, specifically financial accounting is highly useful from a business perspective. Accounting has been known by many as the “language” of business. Accounting is a world of financial terms and figures that mean precise, crucial things to business owners and managers.

The three things useful to “business people” are: 1) Analyzing where the business is at, 2) keeping the business legal for tax purposes, and 3) presenting the business to others in a clear, conscience way.

 

Moving on to personal finances, there is a different use for accounting which lies primarily in the realm of clarity and accountability. Accounting on a personal level with individual or household finances is a fantastic way to get on track with finances.

There are two primary uses for accounting on a personal level: 1) Tracking where you’re at financially and 2) where you want to go. In addition, just like business, accounting on a personal level can prepare you for tax season and take away a lot of the headache. To be clear, business accounting is presented and formatted in a different manner than personal finances, but nonetheless the principles still apply.

Where can you go from here? Begin taking accounting seriously! You don’t have to become a financial major or geek out about it. But you should definitely learn the basics, and as a result set yourself up for many wise decisions to come.