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Ways to Save Big on the Big Three: Car, House, and Education

Ways to Save Big on the Big Three: Car, House, and Education

There are three big-ticket items that most people need to pay for in life: a car, a home, and a good education. However, doing your due diligence can help make these purchases a bit less painful to your paycheck.

Car

Everyone remembers their first car. Turning those keys and hearing the engine roar feels like a graduation to adulthood. Unfortunately, part of being an adult is dealing with the payments along with the thrill of the open road. Here are some ways to make sure to save.

1. Buy at the Right Time

As far as car dealerships go, it pays to do your homework. The end of the month, end of the summer, and end of the year are all great times to snap up some deals. At the end of the month, dealerships may be close to qualifying for sale bonuses from manufacturers. If they are nearing their quota, they make be more ready to make a deal.

At the end of the summer, dealerships are trying to clear out inventory to make room for next year’s models. And, at the end of the year, customers are thinking about Christmas shopping and not car shopping. It’s a lean time for car dealerships, which means they will be very happy to make you happy. This concept also works during periods of inclement weather. If there has been a longer period of ice and snow or an unusually hot spell, many people may not feel like car shopping. Yet, dealerships still need to report good sales numbers. If you can brave the elements, you may find a reward in a much better deal because you visited the dealership when others stayed home.

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2. Increase Your Loan Payments to Save Interest

Of course, the best scenario is to save over time to pay cash for a vehicle. However, realistically most people need to take out some sort of financing. With any loan, you never want to pay the minimum payments if you can help it. Always remember, a loan is set up to benefit the lender, not you. You can easily pay multiple times your original purchase price in interest if you simply follow your lender’s payment timeline.

There are several great sites that can motivate you to pay off your debt faster by showing how much you save over time by just increasing your payments. One fun trick if you can’t afford a lot of money for extra payments is to just round up. So, for example, if your payment is $360 per month, you pay $400. When paying off loans every little bit helps, and that $40 extra per month put toward your principle will equal big savings over time.

3. Buy Used

You pay a price for that new car smell. The minute you drive your new car off the lot, it loses about 9% of its value. During the first year, you lose a total of 19% in depreciation. The following year, you lose another 12%. After this, your car depreciation holds steady at 9% per year. Therefore, it makes sense to look for well-maintained cars that are over two years old. When buying, make sure to take it to a mechanic whom you trust for a full inspection. Also do a background check to verify that it hasn’t been in an accident. If you really just have to have the smell of a new car, save yourself some serious money and get the fragrance spray.

House Savings

When buying a house, the amount of time you take to educate yourself can mean thousands of dollars in savings. You can passively buy a house through normal channels, but you will spend more for the convenience. Remember, many real estate investors don’t have a realtor license. They just took the time to become educated on the process.

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1. Know Your Spending Power – Get Approved for a Loan

Meet with a loan officer, review your credit, and determine your buying potential. You don’t want to waste your time looking at homes that you can’t afford. You can also see if there are any blemishes on your credit report that are easy to fix so you can qualify for a better interest rate. Make sure you research the costs involved with buying a home in your area. You need to know how much you will need for a down payment based on your credit score and debt-to-income ratio. If your credit is strong enough, you may not have to put any money down for the loan. You will still need to pay closing costs and other fees (unless you can get your seller to pay them), so make sure you have enough extra cash on hand before signing the mortgage.

2. Know your market

Knowing the housing market is crucial to making educated real estate purchases. There are several sites you can use to research public records online. Mortgage records are public information. You can easily see how much someone still owes on their property vs. their asking price. This is useful to know when negotiating on a home.

You can see when someone has the breathing room to negotiate down and when someone is trapped in a mortgage and must stick to a certain price. The more equity someone has in their home, the better the chance they will drop their asking price if they need to sell quickly. Also, get comp reports of home sales in the area either through a site or a realtor. See if home sales are rising or falling. Location is key when buying real estate. Look for homes in areas with good schools, strong infrastructure, pleasant neighborhoods, and other amenities that would increase resale value.

3. Look into REOs, Short Sales, FSBOs, and Foreclosure Sales

Not going the traditional route to buy a home can be scary, but if you put some effort into learning the system, the rewards are huge! I want to stress that this is just to an overview of areas you can research. You will need to study these topics in depth to become educated to the point where you can properly evaluate risk vs. return on investment. There are entire books written on these topics, so I will just pique your interest in this article. This is where the investors play. It pays to become educated and comfortable with alternative sources of home purchases.

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FSBO

Our first home we bought was a FSBO (For Sale By Owner). We literally drove through the neighborhood, saw the sign, and knocked on the door. Because the owners didn’t do their homework and comp their home correctly, we saved about $10,000 just in the initial purchase price of the home. Since we didn’t utilize a realtor, the seller didn’t have additional realtor fees to work into the asking price, so we both benefited.

REO

REOs (Real Estate Owned) are properties that are owned by a lender. When a home goes into foreclosure, the bank puts it up for auction. If no one buys it, it clogs up the lender’s inventory. Banks don’t want to hold actual properties and care for their upkeep; they just want mortgages. Many times, a bank will cut a great deal on an REO property just to get it off their books.

Short Sales

Short sales happen when a bank agrees to work with the seller in foreclosure and accept less than the mortgage amount from a qualified buyer. This helps the bank avoid the hassle of going through the foreclosure process. Again, most banks don’t want REOs, and if a buyer shows up with cash to do a deal, the banks may be willing to talk even before the house goes to auction.

Foreclosure

When a home goes into foreclosure, and no short sale deal is made, it is put up by the bank for auction for investors to bid on. If you spend some time understanding this process, you can be right there in the action and pick up a great deal on a nice property. Again, to ensure you aren’t buying a lemon, arraign to visit the house beforehand and get it inspected. Also, make sure there are no additional liens on the title. Since you are representing yourself in this deal, you must do your homework to make sure you are getting a good return on your investment.

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Education Savings

The price tag of a quality education has been steadily increasing in recent years. Student loan debts follow most people well into their career. It pays to limit them as much as possible.

1. Find Free Money

If there is anything more fun that going to college, it has to be finding free money to pay for it! There are so many sites that show you how to find scholarships. You will have to do some digging to see if you qualify. You may also have to write essays explaining your education worthiness over your competition. But, a little bit of work goes a long way if you can decrease the total amount of loans you will need to take out.

2. Choose Federal over Private Loans

Federal loans have a fixed interest rate that is lower than private loans will offer you. Private loans also do not have locked-in interest rates and, therefore, your payments can increase if your interest rates go up. This means you pay more money over a longer period of time. Avoid private loans at all costs unless you have no other option. Also, only borrow what you honestly need and live modestly. You don’t have to take out the full qualification amount. Take a side job for extra income while in school and over summers to make sure you have the smallest possible debt upon graduation.

3. Utilize Community Colleges

You can still have the diploma from the four-year college of your choice without carrying the full amount of debt. Spend your first two years at a community college to get your base credits out of the way. These colleges are usually much less expensive than state or private colleges, which are about triple the price tag. Also, if there is a community college close to your home, you can save additional money on living expenses by staying with family. You can then transfer to the college of your choice for the final two years.

While I’ve given you some ideas on how to save on the three big-ticket items in your life, the work still falls to you. All of these avenues are very doable, you just have to be willing to work harder than the average consumer. This is why most American’s work to pay off huge debts instead of building up their net worth. With some smart planning, research, and applying a bit of knowledge know how, you can spend more time working to build up your nest egg instead of paying off years of unnecessary debt.

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Sarah Hansen

A corporate-sales professional turned entrepreneur

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Last Updated on September 2, 2020

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

2. Keep Goals Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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4. Short Term Vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

  • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
  • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
  • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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5. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

6. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

1. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

Use compound interest when setting financial goals

    Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

    Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

    4. Measure, Measure, Measure

    All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

    If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

    Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

    The Bottom Line

    Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

    and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

    More Tips on Financial Goals

    Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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