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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.

The Most Advantaged Retirement Account

When it comes to picking a place to keep your retirement savings, there are two basic types of accounts to be aware of. The first is what is called a taxable account. This simply means the growth is taxed like most other investments. The second type of account is what is called tax-advantaged. In other words, this account has tax advantages like either  tax free or tax deferred growth.

In the category of tax advantaged accounts, there are a few popular names. Names like 401K and IRA are often used. When setting up a retirement account you can either set one up through your employer, or independently through a broker.

The types of accounts usually provided through an employer are 401K’s and 403B’s. Essentially these accounts are the same, but talk to your tax advisor about the differences and what applies to your specific situation.

If you decide to take the route of setting up a retirement account on your own, you can set up what’s called an IRA  (individual retirement account). IRA rules, for this current year, allow you to put up to $5500 of income away, tax deferred. In other words, you can avoid paying taxes on $5500 of income this year.

So the major employer-sponsored plans are 401K’s and 403B’s. The major independently funded retirement accounts are IRA’s. Within these options there is what’s know as a Roth. Whether it is a Roth 401K or a Roth IRA, the Roth has a few characteristics:

  1. Instead of deferring taxes upfront (and deducting the contribution from your taxable income) you pay taxes from the start.
  2. Instead of paying taxes on the growth, you avoid paying taxes in the future if it is taken out after 59.5.

In other words, Roth accounts are different in the fact that you pay taxes up front, but avoid paying it in the future if all the requirements are met. In recent years, the Roth has become more popular for these reasons.

Generally speaking, the Roth is better than the conventional account because of the power of “tax free” withdraws”. There are a few other types of accounts, but for most people, some form of IRA or 401K is the best option. I hope this helps on your retirement journey, whether you’re starting out, or in the midst of major changes.

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.

Reading: Things That Will Change Your Life

As simple as it sounds, reading will change your life.

As I have lived on campus I have seen many different views when it comes to reading. Most students prefer to avoid it altogether if possible. A few people enjoying reading fiction, and then there are the true readers.

As part of this “club” of true readers I have seen firsthand how the books we read can change our life. And I don’t mean just any books, I mean nonfiction. Why nonfiction? There are two reasons nonfiction is more beneficial in our life over fiction:

1. Fact-based learning

When it comes to reading in general you are uncovering stories, facts and emotions. With nonfiction specifically, the base of your reading is centered around actual facts, not something made up.

2. Nonfiction books are often more relatable to real life

Whether it’s a nonfictional story, or a self-help book, reading nonfiction has a much greater footing in reality, and therefore more relevancy in our lives, than simply another story out of someone’s head. And often, depending on if it’s a self-improvement book, you’ll receive applicable steps for your life as well.

Other benefits to reading in general:

a. Learning and experiencing human emotion

This is by far the most dynamic and variable part about reading. As soon as you dive past the writing structure and all the mechanical, necessary aspects of the text, you are left with the “meat on the bone” so to speak. This gives us exposure to real or conjured human emotion, whether you’re reading fiction or nonfiction.

b. Inspiration

When you open the pages to a book, you are often met with unanticipated emotional boosts of energy, or inspiration. It is these sparks that can make all the difference in either our professional or business lives. Mark Cuban, Billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is quoted as saying, “I’ll read hours every day because all it takes is one little thing to propel you to the next level.”

c. Literacy

The last major benefit to reading is the learning and literacy is brings to a person’s life. Learning new words, exposure to new ideas, and learning in general all enhance the reader’s perspective and knowledge about the world. The benefits apply whether you’re reading a nonfiction book or not.

Conclusion:

Frankly I don’t dislike fiction either. I certainly have enjoyed many bestsellers over the years like Harry Potter and others, that have inspired and entertained me. However I believe while reading fiction is good, reading nonfiction is better.

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.

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.

3 Ways to Limit Your Spending and Pursue Your Financial Goals

Most people who grew up middle class know the value of cutting spending. In fact, when you’re starting out in either business or with your personal finances, the only way to move up financially is to take control of spending.

Because of this fact, I want to cover three of the simplest ways I have cut spending in my personal life and ways you can implement these techniques in your own life.

Prioritizing expenses

This by far is the most direct way to begin controlling your spending. As soon as you have a clear vision and are able to align your purchases with your values, your financial journey becomes a lot clearer.

It takes about 20 minutes or less. Take a sheet of paper or a document on your computer. Write out the major categories: taxes, necessary expenses(food, shelter, transportation, insurance), optional expenses/fun (toys, sports cars, Netflix subscription, tv, hobbies etc…), and giving. Now you have the list of types of expenses, begin prioritizing areas or particular expenses that you value more than others. For example, would you rather have a Netflix subscription or put that extra money towards a long-term objective like retirement?

Tracking Expenses

After prioritizing expenses and seeing where you want to be with your spending, you can see where you actually are. This is a major step in establishing and contemplating where you currently are.

Making a Shopping List

After deciding your priorities, tracking your past spending, and setting your trajectory, the last and final step is to make specific spending lists, also called shopping lists. “Why would I write stuff down,” you might ask, “when I know exactly what I want?” The reason for this is because making a list can limit your spending to only things on the list.

An example of this is once I was shopping to buy things for college and as soon as I got to the store I began buying things I thought I needed. The truth was there were a few things on the list that I actually didn’t need. It taught me a lesson: going in with a list is a positive step towards controlling spending.

Ultimately spending money and controlling your expenses doesn’t have to be a boring exercise. In fact, in time as your budget and income expand, you should be able to have a little fun with your spending.

3 Often Overlooked Disadvantages of Going to College

Around this time of year, many of us are heading off to college, anxious to begin the next academic year. However when comparing colleges or even contemplating college altogether, there are a few key disadvantages that many dropouts understand.

Schedule

When you’re in school there are often many activities, events, and even classes themselves that interfere with your ability to do what you’d like with your time. While this can certainly be an advantages because it keeps you busy, it also has drawbacks like committing you to spend your time doing things you don’t necessarily want to do.

Costs

When you enter college you most likely will have a big bill to pay. Unless you are a high athletic or academic achiever, or have worked really hard to get scholarships, you most likely don’t have too much financial relief in the way of expenses. This can make it particularly hard to stock money away for a home, living expenses, or even retirement planning.

Freedom and Mobility

Not only can the college experience place more restrictions on when you can go, it can also place restrictions on where you can go. During college there are usually rules on when you can be back. This, by definition places a time limit on how long you can be gone, and thus how far you can go.

When entering college you will be giving up these freedoms as well as a few others. Please don’t think I’m against college altogether. But it certainly is a good idea to compare these various factors when thinking about going to a specific college or university.

Two Twenty-minute Tasks That Will Boost Your Financial Confidence

Most of the financially successful people we read about in magazines, books or see on social media are often portrayed as charismatic, energized, stage magnets. While a lot of them share many of these characters, what these men and women share more than any other trait is confidence. How did they get this confidence?

Confidence is often portrayed as something you can act or be or do. But while you certainly can “be more confident” simply trying to act this way won’t create the lasting change you’re looking for. When trying to build more personal confidence in yourself you have to be drawing this confidence from somewhere.

For example, while hosting at a sushi restaurant I have often heard fellow employees give me advice to “be more confident.” While I was certainly able to heed their advice and stand up straighter and with more confidence for short periods of time, I never was quite able to stick with it long term.

However the days I found it easy to be confident were the days I was diligently working, succeeding in customer service, and completing restaurant tasks with excellence. In a lot of ways it was a self-feeding cycle. I’d begin my shift with energy and confidence in my abilities and as the shift progressed my confidence would be reinforced by continuous action.

In our financial lives as well confidence can’t come from self-talk alone. Your mind has to feel both the emotional side as well as the logical side telling you to be confident. When you know that you are working hard, and have a plan it becomes easier for your emotional mind to reconcile the feeling of confidence with the logical one. Here are two major tasks you can do that each take about twenty minutes to complete:

1. Make a general (very rough) outline of where you want to be financially.

This doesn’t have to be complicated or long. Just take a piece of scrap paper out or grab your tablet and start brainstorming what kinds of things you really want to get out of your financially life over your lifetime. This task isn’t a one time event. You should be reinforcing this plan as well as refining the details of it, over the course of your life.

However this first basic exercise should catch the gist of where you’d like to be in the next year or two to help you get where you want to be with your long-term goals (5, 10 or more years down the road).

Organize your finances to see where you are

This step is just to catch a brief overview of where you money stands at this point. Get out your bank statements, look at your investment accounts, estimate the rough value of your home and the mortgage you have on it. Once you know your assets, liabilities, and the rough monthly budget you take in (income) and the expense you take out (expenses) you’ll have a very general picture of where you are.

These two, first steps alone will give you a sense of clarity about what really matters to you and where you are financially, thus what is needed to get you to the next step.