Monthly Archives: September 2018

Save More Money Can Reduce Financial Stress

I’ve long held the position that even though we live in one of the wealthiest, most financially blessed countries ever, as a society, we also live a life of serious financial stress. I often joke that it’s probably less stressful to live in the rainforests of South America, hunting and gathering, than to live in our modern, tech-savvy society, paycheck to paycheck. A lot of this stress stems from the fact that, as a society, we just don’t save money very well. According to a past Marketwatch article, almost 69% of Americans have less than $1000 saved. That is an astonishing amount of us that are basically one paycheck away from homelessness, or at least raiding our retirement funds in case of an emergency.

Why Americans Have a Hard Time Saving Money

There is a plethora of reasons behind our insufficient savings habits, such as a lack of discipline and making bad financial decisions. Maybe, it is simply that good jobs and hourly rates just don’t exist anymore for the lower and middle class (which I would argue as a legitimate factor). We can even rationalize that the value of the dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to, therefore, neither will our paychecks. Regardless of the validity of these arguments, our financial habits have a direct impact on our ability to save and our overall financial well-being, regardless of the inflation rate or our income level.

How to Alleviate Financial Stress

If you find yourself significantly stressed out over money, there are several adjustments that can be made to alleviate that pressure and simplify your life. But it does require discipline and sacrifice, and a willingness to live with less. For example:

  1. Flip the “whip” – Many of us cannot legitimately afford the car parked in our garage; it’s possible we can’t afford the house it’s parked in either. If your car payment exceeds 15% of your monthly net income, not gross (we live off the net), then it’s time to consider downsizing or getting rid of your vehicle. I have done this before myself, and although it’s unpleasant, it’s better than living in stress and worry. Maybe 15% doesn’t sound like much, but if your mortgage or rent is near the recommended limit of 28-30% per month, almost half of your net income is being consumed by rent and a vehicle. The change is worth it. Alternative transportation could be used for the short term if available, such as public transportation, occasional ride-sharing with Uber or Lyft, and even carpooling to work. Assuming your car is not upside-down in value and you are diligent in saving in other areas, it shouldn’t take too long to buy a used, older car outright, completely eliminating a car payment. (For related reading, see: Options for When You Can No Longer Afford Your Car.)
  2. No cable – In my opinion, cable service is one of the biggest wastes of money. In the average household of three to four TVs, cable and internet services can run $200 per month or more. I recommend having only internet and purchasing a streaming device with no recurring monthly cost. These “sticks” allow you to stream movies or purchase programs or apps. I have recently done this myself, and eliminating cable alone is saving me close to $1500 per year. (For related reading, see: Alternatives to Cable TV.)
  3. Gym membership – these can easily cost $600-800 per year, depending upon how swanky the establishment and package that was chosen. With YouTube and DVDs, it’s so easy to get a quality workout at home without having a ton of money worked out of your wallet. Eliminate the membership, not the exercise.
  4. Side hustle – I have always been a huge proponent of a side hustle, or part-time gig. During my transition of leaving corporate America to go independent, I also had a part-time job while I built my practice. Even if you have a stable job or career and feel you could save more, find a good side hustle. Do something you enjoy and make some extra cash while doing it.

If you are feeling the monetary strain, downsizing your car, getting rid of cable and the gym membership, and finding a side hustle can have a dramatic impact on your budget. It takes a bit of courage, but one can transition from living check-to-check to having a net surplus per month, depending upon your situation. If you are having debt and/or budgetary concerns and you want to make some positive changes but are not sure where to start, reach out to a qualified financial advisor. If you change nothing, then nothing changes!

How Much Money Do You Need to Live in Los Angeles?

As the second-largest city in the United States, Los Angeles attracts residents from across the country and around the globe. As the epicenter of the multibillion-dollar entertainment industry, the city is a magnet for aspiring actors, directors and screenwriters. With idyllic weather year-round, beautiful beaches and a diversity of scenery, it is possible, during some months, for an Angeleno to snow ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon.

Los Angeles is a perfect study in how the demand curve works. When demand for something is high, prices rise. There is plenty of demand to live in Los Angeles. As a result, everything including rent, food, gas, and utilities is expensive. When considering a move to LA, the first order of business is understanding how much money it is going to take to pay the bills.

The following information is detailed in averages, but keep in mind Los Angeles is a huge, sprawling city. Prices vary wildly depending on where you plant roots. Rents in Santa Monica are not comparable to rents in South Central LA. By understanding the average cost of rent, utilities, food and transportation in Los Angeles, and then making adjustments based on your unique circumstances, you can narrow down the range of how much money you need to live there.

Average Rent in Los Angeles

As of March 2017, based on figures from Numbeo.com, the average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center sits at approximately $1900 per month. If you are looking to get roommates, a three-bedroom apartment averages slightly over $3,420. The good news is that while these averages may seem scary to a new resident, they are skewed upward by the presence of extravagant luxury rentals in the wealthy areas of town. You can find plenty of Los Angeles rentals for under $1,500 per month if you go outside of the city center, though it is advisable when you find something that seems cheap for the area, to investigate the neighborhood and the apartment to ensure it is somewhere you are willing to live.

Average Home Cost in Los Angeles

If you can afford to buy in Los Angeles, prepare yourself for stiff competition and sky-high prices. According to real estate website Trulia, the average price of a home per square feet in Los Angeles is $554 as of March 2017, and current trends indicate this number will soar this year. Currently, the average cost of an LA home is hovering at $699,000. If you’re considering buying in the LA area, it is beneficial to get pre-approved for a mortgage as this will assist you tremendously when closing a deal with the seller. You can research current mortgages available for a home in LA using a tool like a mortgage calculator.

Average Utilities in Los Angeles

Like many parts of California, the Los Angeles region does not have a monolithic climate. Several micro-climates comprise the area. For example, the San Fernando Valley regularly reaches the triple-digits during the summer and can be quite cold for Southern California during the winter. Malibu, by contrast, rarely exceeds 80 degrees and has only dipped into the 30s a handful of times. Your utility bill can vary greatly based on the specific climate in your neighborhood. Citywide, the average utility bill is $133.50 per month for an 85m2 apartment. This figure fluctuates throughout the year and will vary according to the size of your home, but you can use it as a benchmark.

Average Food Costs in Los Angeles

Food in Los Angeles is significantly more expensive than the national average. A gallon of milk costs $3.79, and a loaf of bread costs $2.50. A dozen large eggs is $3.62. For a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the cost is $4.54. Even a frugal consumer, to be safe, should build $500 into his monthly budget for food costs in Los Angeles.

 

Best Budgeting Software of 2017

The best budgeting software helps you manage your money in a way that is organized, provides the detail you require and displays the information that you need in a way that allows for quick comprehension and analysis.

Here are four budgeting software systems that meet those criteria. Each system is distinguished by how it could best fit your personal approach to managing your finances.

Best for Fans of Zero-Based Budgeting

You Need A Budget (YNAB for short) is built on the zero-based budgeting principle that calls for you to “give every dollar a job.” With YNAB you need to be involved in your finances and willing to change old habits to make the system work.

According to YNAB, following those four rules will help you pay off debts, save money and stop living paycheck to paycheck. It’s a tall order, but YNAB users say it works.

This browser-based subscription system runs on both Windows and Mac computers. Android and iPhone apps are available and are able to sync data back to your desktop. YNAB also connects to bank and credit card accounts to download transactions, but it does not offer a way to track investments. Following a 34-day free trial, YNAB costs $50, billed annually.

Best for Envelope Budgeters Anxious to Go Digital

Mvelopes is based on the familiar (pre-computer) budgeting system of putting cash in envelopes each pay period. Each envelope is labeled for an individual bill or discretionary expense. For discretionary expenses, when an envelope is empty, spending in that category is done for that pay period.

At it’s core Mvelopes provides you with a familiar system of using envelopes on a digital platform, but that is not all the software service provides. It is also able to link to bank and credit card accounts, allowing you to see past spending and assign money to future “mvelopes.” You can set up the system to move money out of your spending envelope into a credit card payment envelope so that you don’t run up your credit card balance.

Mvelopes Basic is the simplest offering from the budgeting site and costs only $4 per month. Pricing ranges as high as $79 per month for Mvelopes Complete, the software’s premier service. The system is online and works with both Macs and PCs. Android and iPhone apps let you manage your accounts, add and edit transactions, adjust your budget and monitor expenses on the go.

 

The Beauty of Budgeting

Can you name a Fortune 500 company that doesn’t have a budget? Don’t spend too much time thinking about it – there aren’t any. Successful businesses around the world have one thing in common: they budget their money. And they do it because it works.

But although making money and making a budget appear to go hand-in-hand, a 2013 Gallup poll found that only one in three Americans prepared a detailed written or computerized household budget. Things may be improving somewhat: A Bankrate.com survey in 2015 found a much higher number said they budgeted (36% on paper and 26% on a computer or smartphone app). On the other hand, another 18% didn’t budget and a matching number answered “yes” to keeping the information “all in your head.”

If you’re one of the non-budgeters (or sketchy budgeters), we’ll show you how to get a better idea of how you spend your money by putting together – and sticking to – a personal budget.

Get Over the Terminology

Part of America’s aversion to budgeting may be rooted in language. The word “budget” – much like the word “diet” – has negative connotations. Budgets and diets are viewed as restrictive reminders of things we cannot have. This is linguistic nonsense. A budget and a diet are both tools. If the tools are used properly, they lead to a desired outcome. Nobody dislikes the word “shovel,” even though the use of the shovel requires effort. People use a shovel to dig a hole; they use a diet to develop a healthy body; and they use a budget to develop a fiscally responsible lifestyle. If it makes you feel better about the process, drop the word “budget” and call it a “spending plan.” Instead of viewing the plan as restrictive, think about the things it allows you to buy. After all, a budget is nothing more than a plan for how you will spend your money.

Start with Your Bills

Many people complain that they can’t create a budget because they don’t know exactly how much money they will earn in a given week. While it is true that workers earning an hourly wage or working on commission might not get the exact same dollar figure in each paycheck, the amount that you earn has much less to do with the basics of budgeting than the amount you spend. Instead of focusing on whether you earn enough each month, focus on your monthly spending. The question is simple: where does your money go?