5 Reasons Car Loans Are A Bad Deal

For most of the country outside of a few major metropolitan areas, cars are the primary mode of transportation. The car we choose and how we pay for it, however, can make a world of difference financially. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 107 million Americans had car loan debt in 2017. That’s about 43% of the US adult population. That’s complete insanity! While there are instances where taking out a car loan makes sense, it’s generally a bad deal.

Why Car Loans Are A Bad Deal

1. Depreciation

Most people don’t understand how costly depreciation is. Depreciation just a fancy way of saying that something is losing value over time. Depreciation for cars is steep. For example, the average new car cost about $30K, but the second you drive it off the lot, when that odometer goes from 0 to 1, the car lost 10% of its value. Imagine taking $3,000 out of your bank account, cash, spreading 300 Benjamins on the floor, pouring gas on it and lighting it on fire.
[bctt tweet=”Some people love the new car smell, to me, it smells like burnt money.” username=”moneyspeakeasy”]
 
Now that was just the first minute. The average car loses about 25% of its value in its 1st year, and nearly 50% of its value in the first 3 years. So that $30K car is worth about $15K three years later. Now, different cars depreciate at different rates, but the point is borrowing money for a depreciating asset is almost always a bad deal.
Let’s say you went to the store and saw an item you wanted that was $100, but the box was damaged, and it was the last one. Even though the box was damaged, you thought it was still good and wanted to buy it. Typically, they would take 10% off because the box was damaged and offered it to you for $90. What if I told you instead of paying $90, you actually paid $110? That’s what borrowing for a depreciating asset looks like.
When you borrow money, there’s a cost (interest). So not only are you paying the retail cost of the car, but you’re also paying interest while the value is rapidly decreasing.

2. Lengthy Loans

Now that you understand depreciation, you can see why having a long loan term loan is a bad idea. The average car loan in the US is now over 69 months, that’s nearly 7 years. The longer the car loan, the more interest you pay and the more likely it is that you’ll be upside down on your loan, meaning that you owe more on the loan than the car is worth. Trust me, you do NOT want to be upside down on a car loan. That is truly the sunken place. I hate car loans in general, but if you can’t afford to pay it off in 3 years, you honestly can’t afford it.

3. Credit Risk

It’s also a credit risk to have car loans. Within a 5-year span, it’s very likely that you’re going to have at least one major financial emergency. It could be a job loss, a health emergency, home repairs, car repairs or even a combination. If you’ve ever been in that situation, where money is tight because of an emergency, the last thing you want is a bulky monthly car payment. It makes dealing with a financial emergency much more difficult. When you’re in a cash crunch during those times of emergency, it’s much more likely that you’ll damage your credit by missing or being late on payments. One missed or late payment can affect your credit for 7 years.

4. Killing Wealth

The truth is car loans are killing wealth. We have somehow normalized going from car loan to car loan. That’s a recipe for staying broke. The average car payment today is $523/month. Over 30 years, that’s $188,280 worth of car payments. Imagine if we invested it instead.
$523/mo. invested over 30 years is $611,624 with a 7% annual return.
So you can either give $188K away to banks and car companies or earn yourself $611K. You choose.

5. Borrowing Money To Get To Work?

For many people, the majority of their mileage and the primary reason for their car is transportation to and from work. Think about how insane it is to pay over $6000 a year just to get to work. On an average income of $50K, that’s 12-15% of your income before you even start working. That’s not even including gas or maintenance! If you want to really blow your mind, calculate the number of hours you would have to work to pay your car payment for the year.
 

What to Do instead

Chances are you likely already have a car. Personally, I drive my cars until the wheels fall off because I would rather invest my money than pay car companies.
[bctt tweet=”Most people want to impress others with their purchases. I would rather impress myself with my bank account.” username=”moneyspeakeasy”]
Let’s say you just finished paying off your car loan. Instead of rushing out to finance a new car with a 5+ year loan. Be your own bank and buy a used car cash. You’re probably saying to yourself, “I don’t think I can save up that much money.” Think again. Let’s use round numbers to make this simple. Let’s say you want to buy a car in 3 years, the average new car is about $30K.

  1. Set up a savings account for your car and rename it to the car you want.
  2. Continue to pay a monthly car payment to yourself (i.e. $500/mo.) in that savings account.
  3. Three years from now, buy the car that you wanted 3 years ago. Buy it used with < 50K miles, CASH ($500/mo. x 36 months = $18K + interest). Remember that 50% depreciation? That same car you wanted 3 years ago costs $15K now.
  4. Sell your old car, and put the proceeds in the savings account for maintenance, repairs and/or your next car.
  5. Continue paying yourself the payment, but now invest it (401k, IRA)
  6. Drive it car note free, maintain it well, and when you’re ready for a different car (hopefully not for a long time) rinse and repeat.

Most Americans (76%) are living paycheck to paycheck, and the vast majority of people that buy cars finance them. If you want to be different, you have to do different! Get Out! Car loans are generally a bad deal. Think of the irony of going broke just trying to get to work! Be your own bank, pay cash for used cars, maintain them well and keep building wealth for yourself and your family, not car companies.

What You Need to Know About Credit Scores: Part 2

Credit scores are an important piece of your overall financial puzzle. In Part 1, we demystified credit scores by discussing what they are, who uses them and where to find them. Now we’ll describe the best ways to improve your credit score.
In order to improve your score, you need to understand the rules of the game, so you can play it effectively. First, let’s review the five elements of a credit score and then we’ll discuss the best ways to improve your score.

  1. Payment History (35% of the total score) – This element measures whether you have paid your past accounts on time (e.g credit cards, retail store cards, car loans, mortgage loans, student loans)
  2. Amounts Owed/Credit Utilization (30% of the total score) – This element measures the total amount of debt owed on all of your accounts. It looks at different types of debt like installment accounts with a fixed payment schedule (e.g. car, mortgage) as well as revolving accounts (i.e. credit cards).
  3. Length of Credit History (15% of the total score) – This element measures the time since your credit accounts have been established. The longer the credit history, the better. It will consider an average length of your credit accounts.
  4. New Credit (10% of the total score) – This element measures the number of recent credit inquiries in the prior 12 months.
  5. Credit Mix (10% of the total score) – This element simply measures the different types of credit accounts you have.

Note that the first two elements represent nearly two-thirds of your overall credit score. This is where you get the biggest bang for your buck. So let’s get right to it. Here are five tips to improve your credit score.

  1. Review Your Credit Report and Dispute Errors

This may be obvious, but you don’t want to be held responsible for transactions that aren’t yours. Reporting errors happen with regularity, so you should check your credit reports from all three bureaus every few months. By law, you are allowed one report per year from each of the three credit bureaus from annualcreditreport.com, so you can stagger them and check one every four months.
If you see an error (e.g. accounts that don’t belong to you, paid off collection accounts showing as unpaid, incorrect name or address listed) you are able to dispute it online and it is the obligation of the creditor to prove to the bureau that the report is valid 30-45 days from receipt.
 

  1. Pay Bills on Time (Payment History)

    Late payments can significantly impact your credit score, particularly if you do not have much credit history. Even if you can only make the minimum payment, always try to stay current. This includes bills like rent, utilities, medical bills and student loans. If you can’t make the minimum payment, notify your creditor beforehand and see if you can work out a payment plan. Communication in advance is preferable to simply not paying and ignoring them. Creditors will typically report late payments to credit bureaus for balances that are 30+ days past due (180+ days for medical bills).
    Bonus Tip: Recent late payments affect your score more that older late payments, so if you have multiple accounts that you’re behind on, consider getting current on the more recent one first. Also, note that you have a longer window (180 days vs. 30 days) with medical bills before they are reported to get current.

 

  1. Keep Balances Low on Revolving Debt (Amounts Owed)

    A credit utilization ratio (Amount Owed/Credit Available) above 30% will begin to negatively affect your score. Even if you’re paying minimum payments, if your credit cards are maxed out, your credit score will be impacted. Also, trying to reduce your credit card balances while still using the credit card is a losing game. Stop using the card if you are trying to significantly reduce your balance.
    Bonus Tip #1: If your credit card is in good standing and you’ve made on time payments for 12 consecutive months, contact the creditor to see if they will increase your credit limit without a hard pull credit inquiry. If they are willing to increase your limit, you can improve your utilization ratio with little effort.
    Bonus Tip #2: If you have a spouse or close family member you trust who has a credit card in good standing, they can add you as an authorized user on their credit card. They don’t have to give you the card (it’s preferable if they didn’t), but they are simply extending their credit to you, which increases Credit Available and decreases the Utilization Ratio.
    Caution: Being an authorized user goes both ways, so any negative behavior (late payments, collections, etc.) on that account (by either party) can negatively impact your credit just like your individual account.

 

  1. Don’t Close Old Credit Card Accounts (Length of Credit History)

You may have heard advice in the past that if you have old credit cards on your credit report, you should call them and close them out to keep your credit report “clean.” That’s likely bad advice for two reasons. First, even if you don’t use the card, the credit limit adds to your Available Credit and helps your Credit Utilization. Second, the Length of Credit History takes an average of all of your open accounts. The more old accounts you have the longer that average will be. Closing the account simply eliminates the history from benefitting your score.
Bonus Tip:  You can request creditors remove negative incidents from your report. For example, if you had a late payment a year ago or more and you’ve been current, you can contact the creditor and request they remove that incident. They are not obligated to (until after 7 years), but they may oblige as a courtesy for customer satisfaction and to keep your business.
 

  1. Don’t Apply for New Credit Cards Solely to Increase your Available Credit (New Credit)

    Even though New Credit is only 10% of your score, credit inquiries (also called hard credit pulls) stay on your credit for a full year. So applying for a new credit card solely to increase your available credit is counterproductive. You get dinged for the hard credit pull and you’ve reduced the average length of your credit history. If you’re looking more long-term and not concerned about the short-term impact on your score, this is less of a concern.
    Bonus Tip: Checking your own credit is not considered a hard pull credit inquiry (it’s called a soft pull inquiry). Soft pulls are typically for background checks, opening utility accounts, and open a checking or savings accounts. Soft pull inquiries will not affect your credit score.

 
Those are some of the best ways to improve your credit score. Remember to be patient as scores don’t shift dramatically overnight and account changes often lagged by 30 days or more. If you’re looking to make dramatic changes to your score (100+ points) it may take 6 months or more depending on your situation. Credit scores are much easier to pull down than to bring up, so it’s important that you stay diligent. Finally, remember your credit score is just a number, a debt management score. It doesn’t measure your overall financial health and it is a point-in-time metric that can be improved.

What You Need to Know About Credit Scores: Part 1

Credit scores are an important aspect of your financial life and unfortunately, there is quite a bit of confusion about what credit scores are, how they work and who uses them. There’s also a ton of shaming involved with credit that is unjustified. In this two-part series, we will clear up some confusion about credit scores and help you improve your scores.
 

What is a Credit Score?

A credit score is a three-digit number (typically from 300-850) calculated to assess an individual’s credit-worthiness. Said another way, a credit score is based on multiple factors which allow a lender to determine how risky it may be to lend to an individual. The lower the credit score, the riskier (theoretically) to lend.
Remember when you were a kid and you lent your friend a few dollars for lunch or you let them borrow one of your video games. You may actually still remember some of your “ex-friends” that didn’t pay you back or return your possessions! What if you had a way to determine the likelihood of your friend paying you back or returning your item in advance based on their history of borrowing from others in the past? THAT’S the goal of credit scores and while it is flawed, it is important to understand how you are being measured.
There are many companies involved in the business of measuring credit-worthiness. The most widely known and used score in the U.S. is called a FICO Score and there are three major credit bureaus which the majority of lenders access to obtain individual FICO credit scores. TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian are the three major credit bureaus that hold your credit data and calculate your credit score.

Why is a Credit Score Important?

Clearly, credit scores are important for financial lenders because it helps them make decisions on whether or not to lend money and how much to charge. However, even if you are debt free and don’t borrow money, your credit score can still impact you. Increasingly more companies are using credit scores to make decisions including landlords for renting apartments, home and auto insurance companies, and utilities such as cell phone and cable companies.
The ranges on the credit score allow lenders charge you more (i.e. higher interest rates) for the same products. Of course, these ranges can vary by lender, but here’s an example:

  • 720 – 850: Excellent ‘A’ Credit – This score range typically qualifies the best rates on mortgages, credit cards, and car loans.
  • 680 – 719: Good ‘B’ Credit – This score range will qualify for different types of credit, but may not always get the advertised or premium rates
  • 630 – 679: Fair ‘C’ Credit – This score range may or may not qualify for different types of credit and will have higher interest rates.
  • Under 629: Poor ‘F’ Credit – This score range will typically not qualify for different types of credit and may require a cosigner or collateral (i.e. a secured deposit). This is also referred to as ‘subprime’ credit.

For a benchmark, the average credit score in the U.S. is about 690. What is important to understand is not to personalize or internalize your credit score. You are not wonderful and successful if you have an 800 score and you are not a failure if you have a sub 600 score. It is simply a point-in-time metric of your past interactions with credit and fortunately, you have some level of control to significantly impact that score over time which we will discuss in Part 2.

What Credit Scores Do NOT Consider

As mentioned, credit scores are flawed. They can be based on inaccurate or even fraudulent data and there are also important factors that are not taken into consideration. Credit reports (different from credit scores) list the details of financial accounts upon which the credit score is based. Personally, I have found errors on my credit report simply because I share a name with my father. In a separate instance, my father discovered identity theft when checking his credit report and found a $20,000 loan for dentistry school taken out in his name that he had no connection to. These errors are YOUR responsibility to correct which is why you should check your credit score and credit reports regularly.
Credit scores neither take income nor savings into account and credit scores are not a complete measure of how well you are doing financially. Many refer to the credit score as a ‘debt management score’ because it simply measures how well you borrowed money and paid it back. Net Worth is a much better measure of financial success. For example, two individuals (Person A & B) could have the same credit history and the same credit score even though person A makes $1 million in income per year and has $1 million in savings and Person B makes $30,000 per year and has $0 in savings. As a lender, I would likely prefer to lend to Person A, but the scores will show the exact same number. Keep in mind lenders can ask about income and savings before lending, but it is not a factor in your credit score. Also, for those coming out of high school or college that do not have a credit card and have not borrowed money in the past, they may not even have a credit score. So if you diligently manage your finances with cash and don’t rely on credit, you may find that you do not have a credit score.

What are the Elements of a Credit Score?

Let’s talk about what is actually included in the credit score and in Part 2 we’ll discuss tips on how to improve that score. There are five elements in the calculation of a credit score and they have different weights of importance.

  1. Payment History (35% of the total score) – This element measures whether you have paid your past accounts on time (e.g credit cards, retail store cards, car loans, mortgage loans, student loans)
  2. Amounts Owed/Credit Utilization (30% of the total score) – This element measures the total amount of debt owed on all of your accounts. It looks at different types of debt like installment accounts with a fixed payment schedule (e.g. car, mortgage) as well as revolving accounts (i.e. credit cards). For installment accounts, it looks at the remaining balance versus the total amount borrowed, so if you have a $10,000 balance on your car loan and you originally borrowed $20,000, it would show that you still owe 50% of the balance of the loan. For revolving accounts, a credit utilization ratio is used to determine the percentage of your overall credit limit is being used. For example, if you have three credit cards with a total credit limit of $10,000 and you owe a total of $2,000, your credit utilization ratio would be 20%.
  3. Length of Credit History (15% of the total score) – This element measures the time since your credit accounts have been established. The longer the credit history, the better. It will consider an average length of your credit accounts.
    Tip: This is why you should reconsider before closing or canceling your oldest credit card accounts, even if you no longer use them.
  4. New Credit (10% of the total score) – This element measures the number of recent credit inquiries in the prior 12 months. The idea is if you are signing up for several credit cards in a short span of time, it increases the risk to lenders. In other words, people who open up several accounts in a short span of time typically plan to use them and use them heavily.
  5. Credit Mix (10% of the total score) – This element simply measures the different types of credit accounts you have. This is biased toward having credit cards, but also includes installment loans like car loans or mortgages as well as retail card accounts.

Where Do I Find My Credit Score?

Finally, let’s talk about where to get both our credit scores and reports. For the official FICO scores and credit reports, you can purchase them from FICO for a one-time purchase of $60 or different monthly plans. A better option, in our view, is to use FREE sites like Mint, Credit Karma, or Credit Sesame that are not the ‘official’ FICO score but do a decent job getting a close approximation. You can use one or all three and it will not affect your credit score. They can also provide you with the details of your credit report which you can view and check for erroneous information.
So we have demystified the credit score, discussed why it’s important and the elements considered and not considered. Again, your credit score is not a measure of personal value or personal success much like a GPA is not a measure of intelligence, but rather the combination of course grades. Also much like a GPA, your credit score is much easier to bring down than it is to pull up, so we have to be diligent about our finances. The purpose isn’t to have an 850 score, but to monitor your score and know how you can improve it to save money if you borrow in the future.

7 Do’s and Don’ts of Managing Your Finances

Money management can be difficult. There are lots of opinions on how to manage your money successfully, but sifting through all that can be a challenge. We have boiled down our 7 top recommendations for managing your finances.

1. Do: Plan Your Spending Before the Money Arrives

You are the CEO and CFO of You, Inc. Think about running your personal finances like a business. Companies plan their revenues and expenses well in advance. Budgeting gets a bad rep, but successful, profitable businesses formally plan their finances and make decisions in advance of their spending.

Money is like a toddler. If you don’t monitor it carefully, it will wander off and disappear quickly!

2. Do: Aggregate Your Accounts and Track Your Spending

Aggregating your accounts, allows you to see the big picture and a number we highly recommend you track regularly – your net worth. It can be difficult to make tough choices if you don’t have the bigger picture in mind. Tracking is also important. You cannot change what you do not measure. In order to make meaningful change, know exactly how much you spent last month versus the month prior. Guessing doesn’t work well with personal finances. Once you build a habit of tracking your finances, making smart decisions about your money becomes much easier.

3. Do: Understand and Deal with Your Impulse Purchases.

For some it’s the mall, for others it may be online shopping. Have you ever gone into a store planning to spend $50 and come out spending $300? Evaluate how and why that happened. Keep in mind; it is a marketer’s job to turn a “want” into a “need.” Notice on television commercials, often the product or company isn’t revealed until the very end of the commercial. Instead of selling a can of soda, they are selling happiness. Instead of a gym shoe, they are selling peak athletic performance. Instead of selling their own product, they may have a celebrity endorse it as if it is heaven-sent. Companies hire social scientists who study how to influence human behavior, emotions and decision-making to get an edge in selling their products and services. Here are some examples to protect yourself and your wallet:

  1. 24-hour rule – Wait at least 24 hours before making purchases over a certain amount
  2. Do not go grocery shopping on an empty stomach
  3. Deconstruct advertisements: what are they really selling?
  4. Use cash for non-regular expenses
  5. Don’t fall for terrible excuses (“I deserve it”, “it’s on sale”, “I’ll pay it off next month”)

4. Do: Develop a Habit of Saving and Automate It.

Even if you start small (i.e. $25/week), put systems in place that force you to save. The government understands this very well, which is why employee payroll taxes come out of your paycheck even before you are able to touch it. Apply the same strategy for your savings. Some employers will allow splitting your paycheck to different bank accounts (i.e. 75% checking, 25% savings). Another idea is to set a recurring transfer from your checking account to your savings on the same schedule as your paycheck. There are other automatic features to consider such as:

  1. Auto escalating your 401k contributions – some employers with a 401(k) offer an option to automatically increase your retirement savings by a certain percentage on a regular basis (i.e. increase 1% annually)
  2. Keep the change features in checking accounts – Some checking accounts will round up your purchases and put the change in your savings account. It is the e-version of the piggy bank. If you purchase an item for $5.60, it will round up to $6.00 and $0.40 will be deposited in your linked savings account.

5. Don’t: Ignore Your Credit Score and Credit Report

A credit score is very important to be aware of and to know how to improve. Credit scores have traditionally been used to evaluate credit-worthiness for extending loans (e.g. personal loans, mortgage, car loans, credit cards) and the higher the credit score, the more financially credit-worthy one is. The reality now is that both credit scores and credit reports are being used beyond financial transactions. Credit scores and reports are being used for employment decisions, housing, insurance premiums, and even utilities such as cell phones and cable. The challenge is credit reports often have mistakes which can negatively impact your credit. Check out our Resources Page for resources on checking both your credit report and credit score.

6. Don’t: Ignore Your Workplace Benefits

If you work for a company and do not understand the full scope of your employee benefits, it may be time to check out your HR Benefits website or set up a meeting. Particularly with larger companies, there are often benefits that go underutilized that can save you hundreds if not thousands annually. One of the largest ones is the 401k match. For most people, this is a no-brainer to at least invest as much to maximize the match as it is a 100% return on your investment. Wellness Initiatives can often mean big savings as well. Many companies are offering rebates on health insurance premiums for wellness activities, such as physicals or wearing fitness trackers. Let’s think about that for a second, companies are paying additional cash to employees to be healthier. There are several other types of benefits, and we’ve created a FREE Guide to help you maximize benefits that are offered to you.

7. Don’t: Keep up With the Joneses

Most people are familiar with the term ‘Keeping up with the Joneses,’ but just so we are all on the same page, it refers to making material comparisons to your social circle. The idea that if your neighbors or friends buy a new car, you should too. We call this the comparison trap and its one of the lessons we learned paying off our student loan debt. Part of the problem with comparing your financial status with others is that it is very difficult to know someone’s complete financial picture. Money is still a private topic and everyone has different income, expenses, debt obligations and assets. The people you are comparing yourself to could be completely up to their eyeballs in debt or fund their lifestyle through an inheritance. Making comparisons, not only could be comparing apples and oranges, but it also casts your own possessions in a negative light.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Mark Twain

A few reasons why keeping up with the Joneses is a bad idea:

  1. The Joneses are broke! According to a recent Bankrate survey, 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with little to no emergency savings. Why keep pace with people that are one emergency away from financial catastrophe?
  2. When you compare yourself to others, it’s much easier for wants to become needs. Wanting a car becomes needing a brand new SUV. Technology like smart phones, that didn’t exist 10 years ago, are a now a need. We have a desire to show off and have our success validated by others.
  3. Companies are spending billions of dollars to market their products and services to you. Many luxury brands are selling a temporary feeling of exclusivity in exchange for premium pricing. For example, a luxury shoe could be made in the same factory as an off brand shoe, but once they slap the logo on, they can charge five or ten times more. Luxury and quality are not the same. It is easy to get sucked into the consumerism culture. Happiness from possessions is always temporary and fleeting.

This leads us to the fundamental challenge of managing your finances. We live in a consumerism culture and an economy fueled by consumer spending. On one hand, we have many of the influences we described (social, corporate, psychological, economic) with a clear mission to separate you from your income. Those influences contend with our own goals to keep our income and grow it for the future. These recommendations will help you be better equipped to keep more of your income to reach your financial goals.

Yes, It’s Your Parents’ Fault You’re Broke!

 
If you were born after 1980, you are likely the children of one of two generations that were absolutely lousy with money. Baby Boomers and Generation X are two of the most indebted generations in the history of the U.S. The 1970’s – 1990’s saw a massive expansion of consumer credit and innovations in financial products that fundamentally changed what the middle class could ‘afford.’
Their parents (many born in the 30’s and 40’s) were children of the Great Depression. They did not have credit cards, car leases, home equity loans, adjustable rate mortgages, 0% financing, payday loans, etc. They had to save cash for what they wanted and if they couldn’t afford it, they simply went without it.
Unfortunately, we do not typically develop our money habits and behaviors from our grandparents; we typically learn money management from our parents. Whether our parents talked to us about managing money or not, we learned from their behaviors. Some studies have shown that many of our financial habits are formed by the age of seven and parents have the greatest influence. What were your early childhood experiences with money?

  • Were you spoiled as a child with seemingly endless amounts of toys?
  • When was the first time you were aware of money? The first time you went to a bank?
  • Were you aware of lack/scarcity in your childhood? Did other kids have things you wanted but your parents couldn’t afford?
  • Were you rewarded with money or toys for good grades or behavior?
  • Did you have an allowance? When did you open your first savings account?
  • When were you aware of how much your parents made and how that was different from your friends and classmates?

When you think back to those experiences, it may highlight some of the subconscious decisions you make with money.  For example, some people resented growing up without material wealth and it is a driving force for how they present themselves to others. They may purchase items to communicate to others that they can afford expensive items (even if it causes them to go into debt). They worked hard and thus they ‘deserve’ nice things. Others may have grown up with material wealth but never learned how to manage it or accumulate it so they may simply go on living the lifestyle they are accustomed to, but their finances are struggling to support it.
So yes, you can blame your parents for not teaching you positive financial habits! However, chances are if you are reading this, you’re way too old to blame your parents for anything, ever. It’s now up to you to break those habits and create better habits for yourself and the next generation.
How can you break the cycle of bad financial habits? I’m glad you asked! Here are some questions to get you started. The more honest you are with yourself, the better.

  1. Do you have memories from your childhood of feeling inadequate when it came to material things (i.e. clothes, shoes, car, home)? How does that affect how you spend money? Are you trying to prove yourself or get validation of being “successful” by spending?
  1. What are your default behaviors, values, and attitudes with money? For example, what did you do the last time you received an unexpected sum of money (bonus, tax return, student loan disbursement, birthday gift)?
  1. What are your current giving and saving habits? Do you save or give with what’s left over or do you prioritize it before spending?

Personal finance is indeed personal. It can be as much or more about your values, experiences, and emotions than dollars and cents. If you want to change your money habits, understand the why behind some of your choices. Once you understand the why you’ll be well on your way to creating better habits.

Why Retirement is Obsolete and the Goal Should Be Financial Independence

When you ask people under the age of 40 when they want to retire, you typically get three common answers:

  1.  ‘Age 50 or as soon as I can afford it’
  2.  ‘I have no idea. I can’t think that far ahead’
  3. ‘If I love what I do, why would I retire?’

The concept of retirement is based on an outdated model that doesn’t quite fit with today’s economy or the values of the millennial generation. In past generations, the corporate contract awarded you a pension if you worked for a company for 30 years that would cover your retirement. Pension plans have all but disappeared and now the corporate contract sounds more like the following:
Cubicle40 years (ages 25-65) of work, from 9 AM – 5 PM, Monday – Friday with two weeks of vacation per year.  Employers can terminate your employment at any time, so you may end up working for multiple companies and have several careers. You are responsible for your own retirement including how much you contribute and your investment selections. Employers can also choose whether or not to contribute to your retirement.
 
There are several issues with this corporate contract, but one of the most important is flexibility. Young professionals place the utmost value on flexibility and control. Flexibility in the hours, days and years they work.

  • If I can do my job effectively from 10 AM – 2 PM, why do I need to be in the office for 8 hours?
  • What if I’m more effective working in the evening than I am in the morning?
  • Of our 16 waking hours, we likely spend 10+, either working or traveling to work, which leaves us less than 6 hours per weekday to spend with family and/or handle any personal affairs.
  • Five days working for every two days off is not ideal for anyone
  • Children are not conducive to 9-5 work schedules; they typically do not get sick on the weekends.
  • The idea that we may not get an opportunity to spend more than one week at a time on vacation until after age 65 is depressing.
  • Unpaid maternity leave is a joke. It makes no sense to have to work harder to afford to pay others to care for a child whose survival is dependent on the mother.

That is just a small sampling of the challenges that occur with the traditional corporate contract. This means young professionals must be radical about taking control of their finances in order to overcome these challenges and give themselves more flexibility and control in their careers. Financial Independence does not mean saving for retirement isn’t important, quite the contrary, it means you should drastically reduce your debt and expenses so that you can save even more!
Let’s give it a definition and describe what it looks like:
Financial Independence – The state of having sufficient personal wealth to live, without having to work actively for basic necessities.
Let’s take a family whose basic necessities (housing, food, health, transportation) are $2000/mo. Now remember, this family is debt free. Once that family develops enough passive income and/or built enough of a nest egg (interest/dividends from investments) to cover the $2000/mo, they will no longer be dependent on an employer. They canchoose to work, choose to volunteer, or choose to pursue their passions and interests.
People will say, “Easier said than done, I’m barely making it!” How much could you save each month if you didn’t have student loans, a car note, a mortgage, credit card payments, or personal loans? It doesn’t take much to imagine what could happen if you stopped paying banks interest and started paying yourself.
Please understand that if you’re in debt, your financial past is stealing from your financial future! Debt is simply an agreement that ‘Someone will give you money today if you pay them more tomorrow’. The problem is, like the Bond movie title, Tomorrow Never Dies. Credit card debt revolves, people in their 40’s and 50’s are still paying off student loans, and people continue to trade-in or lease new cars.
FlowingAmericanFlagPursuing financial independence is not a get-rich-quick scheme. We’re simply making the argument that if you want flexibility in your job and your life you have to earn it! If you want to renegotiate the traditional corporate contract, you have to have leverage. If you are able to save/invest enough to cover your basic necessities, you have leverage. The best way to accomplish that is to reduce your expenses, eliminate your debt and save radically.
So the next time you consider buying/leasing a new car, getting that new bag or great shoes, or the latest tech gadget, weigh that decision against the potential of moving closer to financial independence.  GM, Coach, and Apple are already wealthy; maybe you should focus more on investing in yourself.

EMERGENCY: Stop What You’re Doing If You Don’t Have an Emergency Fund!

Imagine this: You spend an entire year trying to pay off your credit card debt, just to have your car break down. You don’t have the cash to cover it, so the $2000 repair goes right back on the credit card. You right back where you started, or possibly even worse.
 
One of the biggest personal finance pitfalls is a lack of solid emergency fund. Emergency funds are critical because they can be the difference between an inconvenient bad day and a financial catastrophe that can take years to escape.
Let’s start some facts to get us on the same page.

  • A recent study showed that over 60% of Americans do not have enough cash saved to pay for unexpected emergencies such as a $1000 ER visit or a $500 car repair.1

That means that the majority of us are living so close to the edge of the cliff that even the slightest nudge can tip us over.

  • The average American household has over $15K in credit card debt, over $26K in auto loans, and over $47K in student loans. The average household is paying over $6K per year in interest on their household debt.2

Let me rephrase that last sentence, the average household is paying financial institutions $6,658 just in interest per year. If we don’t financially prepare for emergencies, we end up working harder to pay more in interest to financial institutions. No thanks!

Paying off debt without emergency savings is like running a long distance race in flip flops, you may be able to get to the finish line, but your chances of falling and hurting yourself are pretty high.

Most experts recommend 3-6 months of living expenses in cash savings. The only problem with that recommendation is that can be more than most people have ever saved, so it can be overwhelming. If that’s true for you, start small. Start with a goal of at least $1000 so that if you have an emergency while paying off debt, you don’t run to credit cards and add to the debt pile. However, if you have a house, car and children, $1000 may not go very far in an emergency. Set a goal that’s appropriate for your situation and build upon that.
We’ll discuss specific saving strategies in detail in later posts, but for emergency funds, some people like to use larger sums they receive to put it away quickly. Birthday money, income tax refunds, bonuses are just a few examples of how people can stash away savings quickly.
One of the most important aspects of building savings is your perspective. Many people view saving money as a chore and painful. There’s a common belief that saving money gives us less to spend when we should view saving as giving you more financial control and independence. Change your perspective and view saving as splurging on yourself and investing in your financial goals. Focus on how much better you’ll feel when you reach your savings goal and have confidence that you can tackle debt even harder.