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New Tools for the New Year: Money

New Tools for the New Year: Money

    Money can be a tricky issue for many people, especially in the last few years when we have had record high unemployment rates and difficulty making ends meet. As you get ready for the new year, you can prepare yourself with some new tools that can make 2012 one of the best years for managing your money.

    YNAB

    I started to get serious about my money situation about halfway through 2011 when I stumbled on one of the single best money management / budgeting apps around: You Need a Budget. We have actually had the founder and creator of YNAB featured here at Lifehack in the past.

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    YNAB is a piece of software (that works on Mac or Windows) where you setup your accounts and start to budget the money that you have during the month. It’s sort of like making buckets for things that you have to pay during the month and then sticking to them.

    The whole idea though with YNAB, rather than just following a simple budget, is to build up your “YNAB Buffer” where you will use it to eventually pay next month’s bills with this month’s money. This “Buffer” allows you to not get into the “not-enough-money-at-the-end-of-the-month” phenomena and helps relieve a bunch of tension in your life, especially if you have been struggling with keeping track of your money. It took me about 4 months to get my “YNAB Buffer” setup, and I will tell you, the stress and pain of worrying about where my money for this month’s bills is going to be is gone because they were payed with last month’s money.

    YNAB also has apps for iOS and Android to track what you have spent on the go.

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    Credit Cards with rewards

    I wouldn’t say that I am a credit card connoisseur by any means, as I do believe that credit cards can get you into some serious trouble if you are not responsible with them, but they can be appealing if you pay them off every month and use them appropriately. The three cards that I can recommend from personal experience are:

    The APR on these cards are pretty darn high, but as long as you pay off your balance before you get hit with the rates at the end of your month cycle, you can get some great cash back rewards when purchasing a good amount of gas or even ordering things on Amazon during certain times. Keep a look out for other cards that offer some sort of reward that is applicable to you to help you save a little bit of money here and there on things you already purchase.

    Envelope System

    If YNAB is a little too technical for you, there is also a tried-and-true-system that is a lot like it. I have seen this technique in many different places, and I’m not exactly sure who to credit it too, but the-get-out-of-debt guru Dave Ramsey has surely made it popular on his radio broadcast: The Envelope System.

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    At it’s core, The Envelope System requires you to take your paycheck, figure out how much money need to goes to what category (to food, clothing, rent, cable, etc.), create a separate envelope for each category, put the cash in the envelope, and only spend that cash. Sounds simple, hmm? Think again.

    The Envelope System is truly powerful, but only if you can stick to it which is tough to do because budgeting is tough to do. I much prefer the YNAB system to this one, but if you can only live paycheck to paycheck until you get out of debt or make more money, then The Envelope System is probably your best bet.

    Common sense

    Ahh, yes. A little common sense can go a long way when it comes to money. Here are some things to follow. Some of them were new to me this year while some are things that I need to be aware this coming year:

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    • Don’t spend more than you make
    • Create a budget and stick to it
    • Try to find a way to make more money rather than cut out every last expense that you have
    • Try giving money away to charity or a cause every month
    • Start saving money for the future today
    • Read a good money book like I Will Teach You to Be Rich
    • Don’t use a credit cards unless you can pay off the entire balance by the end of the month

    Conclusion

    Like I said above, managing your money comes down to making smart decisions (saving for the future) and avoiding bad ones (like not paying off your credit cards). If this year you budget your money correctly, save, and make smart decisions with how you spend, hopefully your money will be controlled by you rather than you controlled by it.

    (Photo credit: 3D illustration of dollar from Shutterstock

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on June 6, 2019

    The Average Retirement Savings and How to Save Wisely

    The Average Retirement Savings and How to Save Wisely

    Are you on track for retirement?

    If not, don’t worry, I’m not sure either. I save each month and hope for the best.

    Fortunately, I’m at an age where most people don’t save so I’m ahead of the curve.

    But, what if you aren’t in your 20s? What if you’re near retirement and are looking to gauge where you stand?

    If so, keep reading. Here’s how to prepare for retirement and save wisely during the process.

    What Does the Average American Have Saved for Retirement?

    Saving for retirement is tricky.

    Tell someone straight out of college to save $10k a year for retirement and it’ll be next to impossible.

    Make the same request to someone decades older and they’d be more likely to be able to save this amount. But, a 20-year old college student can be “financially ahead” of someone saving more than them. Why?

    Age matters in your financial journey. The younger you are, the more time you have to save and put compound interest to work. As you get older and have more saving power, you’d have less time to put compound interest to work.

    Here are the average savings Americans hold by age bracket:

    20’s – $16,000

    During this stage, most people are paying loans and moving up the corporate ladder. Your best bet during this stage is to focus on eliminating debt and increasing your income. Don’t focus only on getting a high-paying job neither.

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    Instead, focus on learning via Podcasts, reading books, and taking specialized courses. Doing this will make you more valuable and give you more career options.

    30’s – $45,000

    At this stage, you’ve hopefully escaped your entry-level salary and work at a career you enjoy. Your earning power has increased but you now have more obligations. For example, marriage, kids, and a mortgage.

    Set a plan to pay off all your debt and focus on eliminating unnecessary expenses. Leverage financial tools like Personal Capital to ensure you’re on track for retirement.

    40’s – $63,000

    This is the stage where you’re at the prime of your career. Top financial institutions recommend you have at least 2 to 4 times your salary saved up. If you’re falling behind, start maxing out your 401K and Roth IRA accounts.

    50’s – $115,000

    During your fifties, you’re close to retirement but still, have time to save. You may be helping your kids pay college tuition and other expenses. Since you’re at the peak of your earning power, max out all your retirement accounts.

    60’s – $172,000

    By this point, you should have about eight times your salary saved up. If not, you’ll depend primarily on social security benefits averaging $1400 per month. Max out all your retirement options as much as possible before retiring.

    Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

    The sad reality is that most Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement.

    Even high-earning power isn’t enough to secure one’s financial future. You need to have the discipline to save for retirement while time is in your favor. Don’t wait for you to have a high salary to save, start with having a small budget.

    First, get a clear picture of where you stand. Write down a list of “needs” and “wants.” For example, Netflix and Amazon Prime are “wants” and a “cell-phone” is a need.

    Use tools like Personal Capital to analyze your spending patterns. Personal Capital allows you to add all your financial data in one place–making it a powerful option to gauge where you stand.

    Once you know all your expenses, organize them from highest to lowest expense. When you can’t cut more expenses, call your service providers to negotiate a lower price. If you’re not good at negotiating, use services like Trimm to lower your monthly expenses.

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    How to Save Money Each Month

    By this point, you know the average amount of money you should have saved for retirement based on your age.

    But, breaking this down into monthly goals can be challenging. Here are some rule of thumbs to follow:

    Aim to contribute 10%–15% of your salary each paycheck. Review your progress each week.

    Why so often? The reality is that life gets in our way and you will have many financial setbacks. Your goal isn’t to be perfect but to get back on track instead.

    Reviewing your finances weekly lets you know where you stand with your retirement. This doesn’t have to be a long process either. All it takes is login in Personal Capital to view your net worth and check how much you have saved for retirement.

    Turn saving into a game and aim to save more each month. It will get challenging but you’ll get creative and find more ways to save.

    Top Money Saving Challenge Tips

    To prepare for your financial future and not be another statistic you need to be different.

    How?

    By adopting new habits that’ll help you become a saving machine. Here are some ways you can save more:

    Automatically Contribute Towards Retirement

    If you’re working for a company, you can automatically contribute towards your 401k. If you’re not currently contributing more than 10%, make this your goal. Contribute 1% more today and automatically increase this amount a year from now.

    Odds are that you’re not going to be negatively affected by contributing 1% more. Many times we spend our money on things we don’t need. Contributing more towards retirement is a great way to secure your financial future.

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    Use the Right Tools to Know Where You Stand

    Once you’re contributing more towards your retirement accounts, gauge your progress. Make use of finance tracking apps to help you view the big picture of your retirement.

    When I’d first signed up for the app Personal Capital, I didn’t know I had a negative net worth. Despite saving thousands of dollars, my debt brought my net worth to the negative. Knowing this motivated me to save more and spend less.

    Now, I have a positive net worth. But, it was because I was able to view the big picture using the app. Find out what your net worth is using a finance tracking app and you may surprise yourself.

    Bring in Experts to View Your Blind Spots

    If you have too little or too much money saved, you should consider hiring financial experts.

    Why?

    You may need someone to hold you accountable to help you reach your financial goals. Or, you may need help managing your money as effective as possible.

    Regardless of the reason, getting help may help improve your financial situation.

    Before you hire an expert, find out which areas you need help the most. For example, if you’re constantly overspending, find a debt counselor. If you’re struggling with choosing the best investment options, hire a financial advisor.

    Speed up Your Retirement Contribution

    After learning how to manage your money well, the next best thing is to earn a higher income.

    You’re capped at how much you can save but not much you can earn. Even if your employer isn’t giving you a promotion, you can still take charge of your financial future. How?

    By starting a side-business.

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    This will be something you’d work on after you’ve finished your day job. Once you start earning income from your side-business, you’ll be financially better off.

    The best part is the more work you put into your side-business,[1] the more potential it has to earn more money.

    So start a side-business in an area you’re familiar with. For example, if you enjoy writing, do freelance writing for small e-commerce businesses.

    Once you’re earning a higher income, you can contribute more towards your retirement. Don’t wait for the right opportunity to secure your financial future, create one.

    Reach Financial Freedom with Confidence

    What if you were able to retire tomorrow with no problem, all because you’d have enough money saved up and little to no debt left to pay off? How would you feel?

    My guess is that you’d feel happy and relieved.

    Most Americans are falling behind their retirement goals for many reasons. They’re not prepared, they carry bad money-habits and are thinking short-term.

    For you to retire successfully, you need to work backward and adopt better habits. Contribute more towards your 401K and focus on growing your income.

    If you do, you’ll save money and pay debt faster.

    Don’t beat yourself up if you’re behind your retirement goals. Take the first step today towards a brighter financial future. Isn’t retirement worth the hard work and sacrifice to be at peace?

    Featured photo credit: Huy Phan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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