How to Invest in Your Future When You’re Broke

If you find yourself “barely” living paycheck to paycheck, the worry of not having any money saved can eat away at you. The concept of planning for future events like sending your kid(s) to college, helping them get married, and enjoying your own retirement can feel impossible when you can hardly afford your current lifestyle.

Although it may seem completely unimaginable, you can make a plan for your future; in fact, strategic financial planning may be the one thing that also helps you live better now as well.

The main reason most people don’t have a real savings plan in place is because they simply feel they don’t have enough money to do so. The change that needs to happen isn’t in making more money (although that is obviously not a bad thing) but in getting a new mindset.

The first step in getting a new money mindset is to change your inner dialogue from “I’m broke! I can barely even pay my bills!” to “Let’s see if I can find ways to improve how I spend money.”

While you may feel that you are barely able to meet the financial demands of your life, most people find that they’re spending too much in at least one area that can be cut back. Take a good, hard look at where all of your money goes for at least one complete month. Write down each and every cent that’s spent, organized into three categories:

  •  Necessary/survival: Housing (mortgage payment or rent), utility bills (electric, gas, water/sewer, trash removal), all forms of necessary insurance (homeowners/renters, car, health, life), food (for eat-at-home meals only), vehicle payment(s), vehicle maintenance, gas.
  • Debt: College/student loans, credit cards, personal loans, and any other forms of debt.
  • Luxury: These are things that, while dearly beloved by many of us, can be eradicated without causing you extreme hardship. Examples include: cable/satellite tv packages, streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Now), high speed internet connection, Xbox Live membership, restaurant meals, magazine/newspaper subscriptions, cell phone(s) and their service plans, gym memberships, satellite radio, hair/nail services, frivolous (unnecessary) purchases like new electronics, expensive clothing/shoes, and other items that you simply don’t need.

Once you have a clear picture of exactly what you’re spending all of your money on, you will be able to create a plan to start saving money – it’s that simple!

Your mindset must remain steadfastly dedicated to saving money in order for this to work, however. See that list of luxury items? You are going to have to decide which of them you can either cut out entirely, or scale back. You will likely be surprised at how many companies will be happy to work with you to lower your monthly bill when you explain your situation. They’d rather keep your business at a lower profit than lose you altogether.

Instead of having your nails painted professionally, invest in the supplies needed to do your nails at home. Listen to the (free) radio in your car or pop in a CD rather than paying for satellite radio. Cut out your cable tv and keep your streaming services. Cancel your gym membership and get outside to exercise or start an indoor workout program – there are a multitude of free exercise videos on Youtube.

Even something as simple as not stopping before work to get a coffee and breakfast on-the-go can make a difference. If you spend $5 every day for a breakfast to-go, you can put that money directly into your savings account by eating breakfast at home. This habit can save you over $1,000 a year!

Another potential way to save money every month is to negotiate your interest rates with any lenders or credit card companies. You may also qualify for a loan modification (even for your mortgage loan) wherein the terms of your loan would be adjusted in order to make your monthly payments lower.

After you have found several good ways to save money each month – be sure to put the money saved into the right place! The best way to make sure this happens is to put a set amount into your savings account before you pay any bills or spend any money. That way you will train yourself to live on the money you have left after you’ve already invested in your future.

 

How to Achieve Financial Success with a Criminal Record

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A staggering 25% of Americans have a mark on their background check that is preventing them from being gainfully employed. In fact, for those with a criminal record, finding any kind of work has become next to impossible.

We’re not talking about murderers or bank robbers, either. Naturally, those more serious offenders are busy spending many years in prison. Meanwhile, one in four Americans is dealing with a criminal record from many years ago – sometimes even decades. These dings on their background checks were often petty crimes that took place when they were young and immature. Many who are affected by their past crime(s) say they haven’t been in trouble with the law since, having learned their lesson and lived a clean and honest life after a run-in with the the police. Regardless, they are still repeatedly turned away from job openings, have lost their homes, and many can’t even rent an apartment.

New Jersey, along with many other states, have recently passed legislation that prohibits employers from asking potential employees up-front about their criminal history. This Ban the Box law is aimed at reducing discrimination against applicants based on the fact that they have a criminal record. Employers are still allowed to inquire about criminal history, but only after the initial application and interview stage has passed. Even with the Ban the Box law in place, many employers will simply drop an applicant the second they find out that they have a criminal record.

What is a person to do if they’re dealing with an event from their past that they can’t seem to get out from under?

If the crime took place a long time ago and the applicant has maintained a clean criminal history since, it might be best for them to be up front about the event with potential employers. This is especially true if the crime was relatively minor, and most importantly, non-violent.

A good example of this is a man who fell behind on child support payments due to a cost of living increase. He was not made aware of the increase and was subsequently arrested. Upon arrival at his front door, the officers attempted to detain him, but the man had no idea what he had done wrong so he resisted. Now he is dealing with a count of Resisting Arrest on his criminal record. Employers who hear the whole story will be more inclined to understand rather than discriminate.

For those who still struggle to get work even when taking the honest approach, try applying at a temporary work agency. It may not be your ideal job, and it may not provide work every day, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s important to get some work history under your belt after the date of the criminal event so that when you do apply for a steady job, employers can call your reference person (your temp agency coordinator or someone you worked for through the agency) to find out that you’re a hard worker who stays out of trouble these days.

If your financial situation has become dire due to being unable to find work, you might benefit from filing for NJ bankruptcy. This can give you a fresh start by eradicating your debts so that when you do finally land the right job, you’ll already be on the path to financial success.

 

Image credit: Jobs for Felons

When to Break Up With Your Financial Advisor

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An important indicator of your overall financial wellness is how well you balance spending with saving and investing. You should always keep the end game (retirement) in view while simultaneously being able to enjoy life while saving for your children’s college education, if applicable. In order to coordinate all of the pieces of your financial puzzle most effectively, many people choose to work with a financial advisor.

Unlike many other professional partnerships you may form, your relationship with your financial advisor or financial planner can become more like a friendship. Because many people stay with the same financial planner for years, you can easily feel connected on more than a professional level. This feeling increases if you are also in the same circle of friends or live in the same town.

No matter how much you enjoy the company of your financial planner, if your needs simply aren’t being met, you have some decisions to make. You’ll either have to explain to your advisor exactly how he’s letting you down and what he can change to retain your business, or you can start looking around for someone new.

Reasons to consider leaving your financial planner:

  • Distrust – Being able to trust your financial advisor with your money is extremely important. If you’re asking questions and not getting answers that feel authentic, that’s a red flag.
  • Poor communication – While it’s true that financial planners are often very busy, if your phone calls and emails go unanswered for lengthy time periods, you’re paying for a service that’s sub-par.
  • Unclear expectations – The best financial advisors will lay out a plan when you first team up with them. The plan should include input from you regarding your specific goals for your assets and what you’d like to see happen. If your advisor never created an investment policy statement for you – it could signal that he’s skimping on his other duties as well.
  • No contract – As with any professional who provides you with a service that you will be paying for, your financial planner should present you with a clear contract at the beginning of your relationship that outlines his duties to you and what he needs from you as well. Without a contract, you have no way of knowing what to expect.
  • Distance – If you’ve been working with a financial advisor from afar and have recently decided to take a more active role in your finances, letting go may be your only option.
  • No fiduciary standard of care – In other words, if your advisor (or his firm) doesn’t put your interests ahead of their own, you have a very good reason for finding a new firm.
  • Fees – If you’re currently unhappy with your advisor’s fee structure and this is set by his firm, you may not be able to get the arrangement you’re looking for without finding someone new.
  • Additional services – Many people today are interested in working with a financial advisor who goes above and beyond making sound investments for them. Tax planning and basic budgeting advice are two services cited by clients who were unhappy with their current financial planning firm.

At Veitengruber Law, we pride ourselves on our vast network of professionals and we attend networking meetings every month to stay immersed in the financial, legal and real estate markets. We are more than happy to assist you in finding the NJ financial advisor that meets your needs. Give us a quick call [(732) 852-7295], or fill out the contact request form on our website. We’re always here to help!

Image credit: Nicolas Raymond

Raising Money Conscious Children is Easier Than You Think

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Some parents find it uncomfortable or unnecessary to speak frankly with their children about money; however, quite the opposite is true. The younger children are when they learn the importance of money and how it’s made, the better.

Think back on your experiences with money as a child and how they helped form your current “money mentality.” Are there things that you wish your parents had done differently with you? Perhaps your parents led by a great example and gave you a head start on the successful way you handle money today. Either way, it’s important to note that, as parents (or other significant adults in a child’s life) you can teach your children some very important financial lessons.

It’s easy to see by simply taking quick stock of the number of foreclosures and bankruptcies in recent years, that many adults don’t have a good handle on managing their money. That fact makes it all the more important to ensure that the next generation of children don’t make the same mistakes their parents did.

Although it may be tempting to want to give your child everything that you didn’t have, it’s crucial to tamp down that urge. Your influence over your child’s financial choices is powerful, and children will learn by the example that you lead and by the lessons that you teach.

How Can I Teach a Child the Value of Money?

As early as age 4-5, children have the ability to learn to wait. At this age range, the money lessons taught should be simple, and focused on the importance of waiting for things in life. Children this young won’t have a secure grasp on how money works yet, but they can and do learn quickly that they can’t always get what they want. In order to teach your child this lesson, reinforce the skills of patience and understanding that “good things come to those who wait.”

Around age 6-7, children gain the ability to manage their own money. It is at this age that you can begin giving your child an age-appropriate weekly allowance (in the amount of your choice) in exchange for work done around the house. At the same time, discuss the concept of saving and include your child in some of the financial choices you make for your household. School age children can learn a lot from a routine shopping trip with you. Lead by example as you shop for your family’s necessities. Practice thinking out loud as you make purchases so that your child can hear your inner dialogue and can begin to learn how you make wise purchasing decisions.

Once children reach the age of 9-10 and older, they will have the cognitive ability to grasp the concept of how banking works, including simple and compounded interest. While up to now they may have had difficulty with the idea of “off-site” savings (i.e. not in the piggy bank on the kitchen table) – early adolescence is an ideal time to introduce children to their own bank account.

Leading your children toward good financial futures will benefit you, as well. By attempting to set a good example, you’ll be more inclined to make better money decisions. Naturally, we all make poor purchasing choices from time to time, but your mistakes can also be teachable moments about warranties, saving receipts, and returning defective items.

 

 

Image credit: Carissa Rogers

Achieve Your Money Goals in 2015 With These Tips

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If you’re a New Year’s resolution maker – the time has arrived. As 2015 rolls closer and closer into view, you may be thinking about dropping the extra weight that you resolve to wave goodbye to every year. Weight loss, eating better, quitting smoking and generally getting into better physical health are popular goals that many people set for themselves year after year, only to end up making similar promises the following January without making much (or any) progress. Getting physically healthy is so important that it should become a year-round goal for everyone.

Another area that deserves some serious commitment is financial health. It may be true that money can’t buy happiness, but it definitely buys peace of mind. And as far as we’re concerned, happiness and peace of mind go hand in hand.

Start this new year out with the determination and positive mindset necessary to commit to getting fit financially. Try some (or all) of these tips to help you achieve the monetary triumph you deserve.

  1. Ba-ba-ba-Budget!  Ok, ok, we know you’ve heard this one a million times before, but there’s a reason for that. Much like avoiding the scale because you’re too afraid of what it will say, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and run the numbers. How else will you know how much is really coming in and going out? Paying off debt, putting money aside for retirement, saving for your kids’ education – all of these are impossible if you don’t have a realistic budget in place.
  2. Check yourself.  Once a year, be sure to take a detailed look at your credit report to check for any mistakes or surprises. Since your credit score affects so many different parts of your life, (getting a loan, renting an apartment, landing a job, approval for insurance, etc) it’s imperative that you stay aware of your score. Checking your score every year in early January will turn it into a very valuable habit.
  3. Buy a darn coffee pot. If coffee isn’t your thing, figure out a way to give up, or at least significantly modify, your most expensive habit. Millions of Americans spend $4-$5 every day on a beverage that they could be making at home for around 20 CENTS. By taking a closer look at your daily expenditures, you’ll definitely be able to find something you can cut out. By putting that $5 a day into a savings account, you could rack up nearly $2,000 by New Year’s Day 2016.
  4. Get EXTREME.  Or maybe not extreme, but at least familiar. With couponing, that is. We’re not talking about acquiring a stockpile that takes over an entire room of your house – usually filled with things like condiments, shaving gel and toothpaste. That’s not useful to anyone! However, learning to shop strategically can save you 50% or more on your grocery bill! Never pay full price without checking for coupons, promo codes, or sales ever again.
  5. Be Mindful. We wholly support being mindful in every aspect of your life, and making mindful donations can be a win/win situation for everyone involved. Research charities before donating in order to make informed decisions about where your money will go. If an organization qualifies, your donation may be tax deductible.

Finally, if your financial situation is in dire straits, you may need to seek professional help from a financial advisor or an attorney experienced in debt negotiation, loan modifications and/or bankruptcy.

Do you have a financial improvement plan for 2015? Share your tips with us in the comments!

 

Image credit: Clement127

Friday Five: Personal Finance Books Worth Reading

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If you’ve ever strolled down the ‘Self-Help’ section of any bookstore, or scrolled through an Amazon book search, you were probably overwhelmed by all of the titles just begging to be read. Here, we’ve hand-picked 5 critically acclaimed works that will help you take the steps necessary to get your financial life in order.

  1.  Small Move, Big Change: Using Micro-Resolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently; Caroline Arnold
    This book assists you in taking long-reaching goals and turning them into small, manageable changes that can ultimately lead to a huge shift in your life, both in the present and in the future. By using “micro-resolutions,” you reward yourself instantly, which creates new habits that will ultimately change how you think and act regarding money, food, productivity and organization.
  2. The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition; Dave Ramsey
    “Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business.”¹ The Total Money Makeover helps you create a plan to get out of debt in 7 easy steps. It also teaches you how to build up that nest egg you’ve been wishing you had. The success stories (included in this book) alone ensure that this read will really grab your attention, regardless of your age, job status, or income level.
  3. Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money that the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!; Richard Kiyosaki
    This book held a top spot on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 6 years. Kiyosaki grew up with a very educated, yet financially unstable father. Conversely, the father of his best friend dropped out of school in 8th grade only to become a multimillionaire. Throughout his childhood and young adulthood, Kiyosaki learned that “the poor and middle class work for money,” but “the rich have money work for them.” He internalized this message and was retired by the age of 47. In Rich Dad Poor Dad, he teaches you a type of financial literacy that goes against conventional wisdom.
  4. Get Rich Carefully; Jim Cramer
    There are no get-rich-quick schemes that actually work, and Jim Cramer knows it. In Get Rich Carefully, you’ll learn how to plan for long-lasting wealth using a low risk plan. The “personal finance book of 2013,” is a very readable guide that will show you how to turn your savings into long-lasting wealth.
  5. Your Money or Your Life: Nine Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Revised Edition); Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez
    This international bestseller was originally written in 1992 and has been printed in 11 languages. It has been dubbed “the seminal guide to the new morality of personal money management” by the Los Angeles Times. Now, it’s been updated for the new millennium and our wavering economy. You’ll learn how to: get yourself out of debt and start saving, live better for less money, deal with any inner struggles regarding your values and lifestyle, live green while spending less, and ultimately take charge of your money. You’ll start living rather than just “making a living.”

When deciding which book(s) to use as financial guides, it’s important to remember that just about anybody can write a book these days. We’ve recommended the above 5 to you because they’ve been proven successful, and are written by actual finance/money experts. If you have a book you’d like to recommend to our readers and clients, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Image credit: R Cocks

¹Editorial Review; Amazon.com

Does Your Money Mindset Need a Makeover?

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When you’re feeling “stuck” financially, you may very likely not be able to see beyond the bridge of your nose. Financial floundering can feel a little bit like swimming with ten pound dumbbells attached to both feet – it seems you’ll never see the surface again. Most of you wouldn’t give up the struggle and let yourself plummet to the bottom of the swimming pool, so why stop trying to break free from your financial burdens?

Just like anything else you’ve ever tried to improve upon, this situation calls for a shift in mindset. So many of you probably have antiquated ideas about money without even realizing it. Want to make a change? Try implementing some of these thought-shifts into your life:

  1. Retirement isn’t just for “old” people. In fact, as soon as you have the financial resources, you can retire at any age! Retirement can happen in your 40s if you can manage to break down that mental roadblock that says retired = nearly dead. Not only can it come at any age, but retirement can look like whatever you want it to!
  2. Align your values with your financial goals. This is a big one! So many people are plodding along in life, working a dead-end job they hate and spending money completely wrong!  Your income and spending should reflect your family’s values and ultimate goals; otherwise, you’re going nowhere fast.
  3. Focus on opportunity. Millions of Americans are walking around frustrated and angry about what they don’t have, what they can’t get. This mindset is a huge hindrance on your future earning potential. Simply “thinking” about what you could do to get out of your current money rut won’t get you anything but a headache. You need to move beyond thinking, and start doing. Put your money where your mind is.
  4. Forget about the Joneses. Instead of taking a lavish vacation or updating your home every time you get a promotion, consider continuing to live your current lifestyle and investing the dollar amount of your raise in a much brighter financial future.
  5. Keep your eye on the prize. It’s so easy to swipe, swipe, swipe your money away these days. Online shopping and banking means consumers can shop anywhere, anytime, and check their balance here and there as well. And, although going paperless may be great for the environment, it doesn’t mean you have permission to stop keeping track of your spending. Frivolous shopping/spending is happening at a mind-boggling rate, right now, and every second of every day. While you’re working on shifting your money mindset, you’ll need to work on watching where your money actually goes, too. Mint is a fantastic mobile app that gives you the big-picture view as well as dollars and cents details about your money.

Your money mindset may very likely be keeping your from reaching your full financial potential. Becoming more aware of your bad money habits and how you can change them is a huge first step in the right direction!

Last Minute (Legitimate) Tax Hacks

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As Tax Day 2014 creeps closer and closer, there are still many people who have not filed their tax returns. As a matter of fact, plenty of people wait as long as humanly possible to either e-file or “snail mail” the necessary paperwork every year. Whether it’s due to fear, being too busy or procrastination, if you are one of the “later filers” – we’ve got some tips that you can still take advantage of this year.

And, while less than 1% of tax returns end up being audited, it’s always best to do everything possible to avoid being selected for “further review.” So, even if your filing right at the deadline (or if you’re thinking of requesting an extension), take our word for it when we say that these are definitely things to pay close attention to:

Get the most out of your health savings accounts – In 2013, individuals with high deductible insurance plans were able to contribute up to $3250 of tax-deferred money into their account (individual). In addition, they were able to contribute up to $6450 (family plan). Healthcare savings contributions have a deadline of April 15, 2014.

Be on the lookout for illegitimate tax preparers – The best way to have the most control over your tax return is by preparing it yourself. This is a good idea for individuals who make less than $52,000 a year and don’t have a lot of deductions. However, if you are planning to hire a tax preparer, choose carefully. Plenty of tax preparers make false claims and in order to come through on those false claims, they may indeed falsify your taxes. Steer clear of anyone who states that they can obtain a larger refund than anyone else. It’s also a good idea to walk away if a preparer charges you a percentage of your tax refund. Always do a little snooping about the preparer’s credentials – asking your friends for a referral to someone they trust is a good way to ensure that you’ll be working with someone above board.

If you are married, file jointly – Filing together with your spouse is a great way to take advantage of tax savings such as more exemptions, dependents, IRA contributions, child tax credits, earned income tax credits, and itemizing deductions. Additionally, any health insurance policy that you have purchased for your spouse through your place of employment gives you tax-deductible premiums. What’s really cool is that if you were already legally married in the years 2010 through 2012, you can actually go back and make amendments to those tax returns based on new tax laws that have come into play since then.

Get your deductions in a row

  • In the age of entrepreneurship, freelancing and working from home, deducting your home office just became a whole lot simpler! If you qualify, you can deduct $5 per square foot of the size of your home office, with a maximum of 300 square feet.
  • If you itemize: you’ll have the choice to either deduct your state and local income taxes OR the total amount of state and local income taxes that you paid the previous year.
  • Did you switch jobs last year? If your new job required you to relocate, you may be able to deduct your costs of moving for the job. This includes: the cost of driving your car to your new location, parking fees, tolls, the cost to fly to your new location, and temporary lodging costs during travel.

If you have a lot of questions about the complexity of federal tax codes and how they relate to you, be aware that you do have options regarding who you pay to help you! You want to pay for advice and knowledge rather than a typist. A storefront tax agent will get the job done, but a certified CPA or accountant has more knowledge and will be available to answer your questions at any time throughout the year. You can also have a tax attorney help you file your taxes. Naturally, the more experienced professionals (CPAs and attorneys) are going to be more expensive, but it may very well pay off because of their sweeping knowledge of constantly changing tax trends and tax laws. Oh, and if you itemize, you may be able to deduct any fee that you pay someone to prepare your taxes on next year’s tax return.

Need help deciding who to hire? Send us a message at Veitengruber Law and we’ll put you in touch with a respected and trusted member of our network!

Financing the Future: Teaching Money Mastery to Kids

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More than likely, if you’ve made any resolutions this year, they’ve got nothing to do with teaching your kids about money. At the beginning of each new year, many resolutions are, in fact, directly related to finances: to save more money, make more money, spend less money or make wiser money choices, but hardly anyone gives a lingering thought to involving children in the process.

Why not?

After all, if we don’t teach our children how to successfully manage their money, who will do it for us? Sure, they’ll learn the number value of each coin in grade school, but their parents’ actions and attitudes towards money will have a much greater impact on how they handle their own finances later in life.

Along with your own personal self-improvement goals, set out to make 2014 the year that your kids get a better grasp on the real value of money.

  • First and foremost, remember that talking about money with kids isn’t forbidden. While it’s true that many of our parents (and their parents) felt the topic was off-limits – that doesn’t mean we have to continue that trend. With consistent practice, you’ll get more comfortable with being honest and open about things like the economy, the cost of utilities, debt, investments and making purchases.
  • Constantly swiping your debit or credit card can send kids the message that there’s a never-ending source of money at the other end of that ‘magic’ card. If the concept of a bank account is never explained, it will be many years before they’re able to really understand the value of money. Try to make purchases with cash around your children as much as possible, especially when they are young. The concrete visual of handing dollar bills over to the cashier will help kids in understanding that, once you spend those dollars, they’re gone.
  • It’s common practice to present children with monetary rewards for earning good grades. Most parents believe they’re doing their children a favor by encouraging superior report cards, guaranteeing their entrance into a respected university. Furthermore, that college education will provide the children (now young adults) with impressive job opportunities, leading to an upscale and lavish lifestyle. The problem with this line of thinking is that a reliable or even abundant income alone does not ensure financial success. In recent research performed by Financial Finesse, the results showed that regardless of income bracket, the most important skills for financial success are the ability to maintain a personal budget and having an effective plan for growing their money. So, when you hand out those monetary rewards, go one step further and teach your kids the best ways to manage the money they’ve earned.
  • Put your money where your mouth is. Remember that your kids will learn by watching you, and this includes how you spend. Reinforce the importance of living within your means and not spending more money than you have. Teach your children the difference between a “need” and a “want.” Also resist the urge to give your children everything they ask for to reinforce that “wants” are for special occasions.

It’s always a good idea to remember that, as a parent, you’re priming a little person so that he or she can grow into a successful adult. You teach them the ABCs, the colors of the rainbow, manners…an endless list of things that totals the person they’ll turn out to be. Why not give them a leg up when it comes to money, too?