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Keys to Protecting Your 401(k) If Your Employer Ends Contribution Matching

Filed under: Investments, Saving
Tags: , — Written by: Simos
June 25, 2010

Photo by: Sanja Gjenero (Stock Exchange)

In a previous post, we introduced 401(k) retirement savings plans. If started early and kept growing with a good rate of contribution from both employee and employer, the 401(k) can be one of the best ways to keep the bills paid after leaving the workforce.

But there’s the catch: the vitality of the 401(k) and its ability to stand up to big post-retirement challenges is built largely on employer contribution matching, where “the boss” chips in a quarter or more for every dollar an employee draws into his or her plan.

What happens when, after years of plugging along on your investment, an employer suddenly withdraws their support for contribution matching? Today, we’ll talk about what to do. (more…)

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Demystifying Finance: What is a 401(k)?

Filed under: Budgeting, Family Finance, Investments, Saving
Tags: , , , — Written by: Simos
May 13, 2010
Retiremnt money

Retirement money
Photo by: Billy Alexander (Stock Exchange)

Every time there’s a dip in the stock market or a big company falls into dire straits, you can hear people fretting about three things: debt, the mortgage, and the value of their 401(k). For many, a 401(k) is a critical part of retirement savings. For others, especially young folk entering the workforce or professionals for whom retirement is a long way away, the 401(k) is something else entirely: a mystery, off in the unforeseeable realm of the future.

But, as with any long-term savings goal, the sooner you start saving for retirement, the sooner you can plan to enjoy it. Since retirement can mean many years of your life – and there’s just no telling what kind of Social Security protections or other government programs will be healthy twenty, thirty, or forty years down the line – it’s important to start thinking about it now. So we begin with an introduction: just what is a 401(k)?

(more…)

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Never Saved Before? “Keep the Change” Might Be The Answer

Filed under: Banks, Saving
Tags: , , , — Written by: Simos
April 9, 2010

Loose change

Photo by: ajajulian (Stock Exchange)

Household savings is one of your first lines of defense against debt, but most people have more experience with credit than they do with saving cash. If you’re having trouble putting money away, use a little psychology and your bank account to help you out. Remember: it takes longer than a day or two to settle into new habits, and though resolving to save more and spend less is a good start, you’ll have to find a way to endure after enthusiasm starts to dry up. That’s where “Keep the Change” comes in. (more…)

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Another Way to Protect Your Budget

Filed under: Budgeting, Debt, Family Finance, Saving
Tags: , , , — Written by: Lyuda
April 1, 2010

Photo By Declan Jewell(flickr)

Here’s another way to protect your budget – take advantage of the free account balance alert feature that many banks now offer. You can request an email you or a text message to your phone letting you know when your account balance falls below a level you specify or when your direct deposit paycheck has posted. They’ll also send reminders of when your bank payments are due, such as credit card debt or other lines of credit.

While there’s no guarantee the alerts will protect you from overdrawing your account or being charged fees you weren’t anticipating, they will let you know where you stand. If you do overdraw or get hit with fees, the alerts will allow you to take immediate steps to get back on track paying your bills if you break your budget.

You can prevent overdrawing your account, which is especially important if you’re still using a debit card. Instruct the bank to remove the ability to overspend from your debit card. Make sure the bank reduces the amount you can overdraw to $0. This is quite an important move for budget protection. It also keeps from getting into debt with the bank by having to worry about having an overdraft line of credit.

Once you’ve run out of funds, banks typically allow you to keep using your debt card as a credit card. Sometimes, they’ll even allow you to withdraw as much as $400 from ATM This allows them to charge you interest on the amount of the overdraft, which can be quite costly.

Probably the best way to limit overdrafts and otherwise spending more than your budget allows by getting rid of the credit and debit card. Just carry the amount of cash you have budgeted.

Similarly, avoid store credit cards. There’s so much advertising and so many incentives for consumers to apply for these cards and keep using them. But these are high interest credit lines that end up offering you no bargains. Not surprisingly, they are a bargain for the credit card company. You shave a few dollars off your purchase, they get hundreds in interest payments. That’s why you need to take only the money you’ve budgeted when you go shopping

These are all great ways to protect your budget and keep it working for you. Remember that it’s an important asset so you need to protect it from the biggest threat is has – your own ability to splurge and take yourself off track. .

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Protecting Your Budget

Filed under: Budgeting, Debt, Family Finance, Saving
Tags: , , , — Written by: Lyuda
March 25, 2010

Photo by: lyudagreen (flickr)

On paper, a budget may not look like much. Just a list of income and expenses. But if you’re doing your job and following that budget, you know what a critical asset it is. Your budget is keeping your finances – and your life – on track. So why not treat your budget like the precious asset it is by protecting it as you do with jewelry, a fine watch or a family heirloom?

Protecting your budget means following it. It means remembering to make payments when they’re due. It means saving and spending and donating according to a carefully crafted plan.

You can protect your budget in several ways. Here are some suggestions for the technically inclined and the not-so-technically inclined.

I use technology myself. I put my family’s budget into my computer’s Calendar. Then I sync it up with my digital organizer, which, in my case, is my cell phone. This way, I get automatic updates right on my cell phone every month when bills are due.

There are several software programs that do this too. You don’t even need a computer because even cheap cell phones usually include calendars which allow you to input recurring events.

On my cell phone, I get 2 notifications, the first one comes two days before a bill is due and the second one comes on the day the bill must be paid. This makes it very hard to forget when expenses need to be paid.

By due date, I mean the date I need to send a payment for it to get there in time. Some payments are mailed and others I handle online through my checking account.

For those who prefer not to deal with gadgets, paper calendars can work just fine. It’s best to put in expenses at least one month in advance and to check the calendar every day. Put it someplace that you’re sure to see it. And don’t forget to schedule the day to input your expenses for the next month or the next several months right in the budget calendar.

You can also use a personal date book. The important thing is whatever helps you to remember when expenses are due with enough time to make sure the funds are available for them.

Have you got a great method for staying on track with your budget? Tell us what’s working for you!

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Cash or Credit?

Filed under: Banks, Debt, Saving
Tags: , , , — Written by: Lyuda
March 22, 2010

Photo by: mangpages (flikr)

Since living through the 1990s economic collapse back home in Russia, I have always preferred using cash instead of credit cards – or even debit cards. I think I just got used to cash.

Since there was no equivalent of the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), many people lost all their savings when banks crashed. Forget credit – almost no one could obtain that.

The result? Most of us just came to accept that cash was the only option. The upside is that using cash made it very difficult to run up excessive debt.

Without getting into a discussion about the complexities of post-Soviet banking, I’m feeling a bit of dé ja vu these days. Bank collapses and difficulty getting credit and economic hardships..it’s all so familiar. The time has come to take a closer look at the merits of using cash.

It’s not just the parallels between Russia’s collapse and the one we’re living through now. There are also timeless reasons to use cash instead of a credit or debit card.

The first advantage of using cash is that you know where you stand financially. You don’t have to look at a bank ledger or a checkbook balance or a web page. When you need money, you know right where it is and how much you have. You also don’t have to write down how much you’ve spent in order to know much is left because it’s right there to count. You don’t have to worry about any fees caused by usage, as you might with credit or debit cards. Cash is also pretty much universally accepted; you don’t have to worry what bank’s name is written on it.

The second advantage of cash is that it can help keep you out of debt. There are so many ways that credit and debit cards encourage you to rack up fees, and I’ve seen people get into trouble with too much debt or with overdraft fees. With banks seeing lower profits on their traditional services, they are coming up with new and more complicated ways to recoup those loses through some rather creative fee strategies.

You can avoid those new tricks of the trade by sticking to cash. It reduces the need to consult the fine print in the latest correspondence from your credit card company. And watch out for new rules on checking accounts and debit cards. Cash also keeps you from overdrawing your account, avoiding interest charges and possibly other hidden fees.

Another smart move is to have an emergency fund in cash. While it is not a bad idea to have an emergency credit card, keeping out of debt if you can is a better idea. In Russia, we called cash emergency money “black day’ funds.” A black day is a day when everything seems to go wrong at once. One Sunday morning, a tire blows out and the fridge breaks down. With an emergency cash fund you don’t have to reach for a credit card or worry about whether the bank is open or if you have enough money in your account. Your can pay the car mechanic and the appliance repair person from your emergency fund.

There are some drawbacks to cash. Recovering stolen cash is very difficult so you have to worry a lot more about security. You also can’t do much shopping over the internet. And you need to budget your expenditures well as the only amount you have is the amount that’s in your pocket. If you can’t cover the groceries with what you have, you need to make another trip to the bank and then to the store. But these are obstacles that be overcome. After all, people used cash for centuries, when there was no such thing as a credit or debit card. And, as I said, I’ve gotten used to it myself. And the benefits of using cash for most transactions, having an emergency cash fund, and tossing out the credit or debit card except in case of emergencies.

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Should I Pool My Finances?

Filed under: Debt, Family Finance, Saving
Tags: , , — Written by: Lyuda
March 16, 2010

Teamwork
Photo By Scott Maxwell (Flickr)

Recently I was discussing with a gentleman who had a bad experience with his former spouse involving pooling their finances. Specifically his spouse quit her job ran up a bunch of credit card bills on his credit and left. He was obviously unhappy about this situation but still committed to what I’d call financial teamwork. Even as a single parent now, he was absolutely convinced that pooling finances is responsible and did not blame his misfortune on having done so.

The root of any financial relationship is trust. The financial industry often uses the word fiduciary. This word is derived from a Latin word meaning trust. While it is true that trust is at the root of any relationship it’s especially true with regard to finances. Many people are rightfully concerned when considering pooling finances with a spouse or partner because of the huge impact this could have on a person’s credit rating. I think the real way to consider this is a sober look at trust not only between individuals but also within themselves.

One of the biggest issues I have seen with finances is that sometimes one cannot trust themselves to always make the right decision. There are tons of options in finance designed specifically to protect an individual from poor decisions they might inadvertently make. One of the options I have seen used is not pooling finances because either person involved may not simply be concerned how the other handles theirs but also concern about their ability to handle their own. I truly believe that teamwork is involved in any situation in which the finances of multiple individuals is at stake but this can be a good first step to being more aware of a partners habits and engaging any concerns before committing to tying ones financial future with that of another individual.

Sometimes the best solution CAN be to simply not pool finances at all, but I do believe this is an extreme. With respect, transparency, and a team minded approach that is respectful of all involved, or impacted by any negatives, pooling finances can be a useful financial strategy, and an expression of trust. That said this should take place when all involved are not simply doing so out of a perceived obligation but rather taking a rational step forward. To take this step it really helps if both parties are aware both of the others spending habits as well as their budgeting weaknesses. One of the leading causes of divorce is financial concerns. Many times this does not involve any sort of intentional deception but really a failure to communicate ones financial strengths and weaknesses.

In general handling of finances comes down to understanding one’s ability for self-restraint and protecting their finances from the potential downfalls of a lack thereof. When more than one person becomes involved this is double important. If you are considering pooling finances what is critical is to make sure you are honest about your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to money, and to ensure the others involved are as well. This is the true measure of fiduciary responsibility but it is the only way to answer the question of whether mixing ones financial situation with others is justified, appropriate, and beneficial to all parties.

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Three Little Piggy Banks

Filed under: Banks, Children, Debt, Saving
Tags: , , — Written by: Lyuda
March 9, 2010

Piggy BankPhoto by: Marcelo Moura (Stock Exchange)

Piggy Bank #1: The Three Little Piggy Banks

Piggy Bank is a UWSA blog series discussing ways to save small amounts on a regular basis and how the savings add up surprisingly quickly. Please feel free to share your ideas and your stories about how saving “pocket change” added up and helped you and your family reach a meaningful financial goal.

In the grocery store check-out line the other day, I watched a mom struggling to say “no” to her two sons who were begging her to buy them each a little car that the store had strategically placed at their eye level. There were a whole bunch of toys and trinkets there – meant to encourage impulse purchasing in kids – and in parents who instantly decide that a couple of extra bucks is an easy way to make their child happy. Parents beware! These are NOT cheap toys; impulse purchases add up to big bucks very quickly, especially for parents on a budget. Worse, they encourage terrible spending habits in children from the very earliest of ages. We want to teach our kids how to save, not just spend.

The approach I took with my son, who’s two, is the “three piggy banks” system.” The idea is simple and you can make your “three little pigs” system easier or more complex, depending on your child’s age.

The first step is to get three piggy banks for each child. You can purchase inexpensive ones or make your own out of jars or plastic containers. Perhaps you want to let your child pick out the piggy banks or do a craft with them to turn used containers into piggies.

Next, label the piggy banks as follows: “Savings,” “Spending,” and “Sharing.”

The “Savings” piggy bank is for collecting money that your child will keep on adding to over time. One idea is to have the child periodically deposit the money from the “Savings” piggy bank into their very own passbook savings account. This lets them get used to going to the bank and watching the total in their account go up and up — and they’ll see how their money earns interest.

The “Spending” piggy bank is to help your child save for a long-term goal. This depends on age, but with prices nowadays, it’s probably not hard to imagine that even a younger child wants something that will require accumulating enough money. If they choose to purchase something else with this money, like an impulse toy, it means you have a chance to remind them of their other goal and that it will take longer for them to get “the big thing” they’re saving for. This helps children begin to understand the concept of “cost” as opposed to “price.” Their decisions will have real consequences for them – positive and negative. To reach the long-term goal, they will learn to be more patient and not give in to impulse buying and other diversions.

The “Sharing” piggy bank is for donations to a charity that is important to the child or to your family. The satisfaction of helping those in need it is a wonderful feeling to experience at any age. Charitable giving is as American as apple pie. We have the highest level of individual donations in the world year after year after year.

Once the piggy banks are set up, whenever your child receives money, whether it’s allowance, a birthday gift, payment for shoveling the neighbor’s driveway etc., it gets divided evenly among the three piggy banks.

The three piggy banks can teach children to see money in many ways, not just in terms of what it can buy them. They also see that money can grow into more money and that it can help them help other people. It’s never too soon to start.

The three piggy banks is also a way to encourage your child to spend from the “Spending” piggy bank, rather than your wallet. It might not stop a child from asking you to buy them a trinket they spot at the check out counter, but it will give them an understanding of why you say “no” and a true sense of appreciation on the rare occasion that you say “yes.”

Got a great story about saving money? Please share your inspiration! Write to me at: staff@uwsa.com

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