Saturday, December 21, 2013

Save Automatically

I just set up my 52 Week Savings Challenge to fund automatically. The original challenge has changing deposit amounts every week, $12 for week 12 for example. That doesn't lend itself to be set up automatically, unless your bank would let you set up multiple transfers. I suppose that is worth checking. Since my modified 52 Week Savings Challenge is the same amount twice per month on payday, it is perfect for an automatic transfer.

I am saving these funds in my Capital One 360 Savings account. Capital One 360 has a place to input goals, so you can track your progress. I put this new savings goal in there. Since I have $67 of the $1378 I expect to save, the tool shows I have saved 4% of my goal. And there is a nifty little chart to see the progress too! Such fun for a money geek like me.

After I set up the goal, it asked me about setting up an automatic transfer to help meet my goal. Why, yes, yes, I would like to do that! My transfer will be $57 on the 1st & 15th of the month beginning in January. When payday comes around, I will simply record the transfer in primary checking account. That is it, everything else is automatic.

We have been saving automatically for retirement and college for many, many years. We have never stopped our retirement savings, and one time, for less than a year, we stopped the college funding. When the funds come out automatically, you don't need to stop to evaluate if that is how you want to allocate your money. It just happens, and you record it. And the even bigger beauty of automatic savings is that you always meet the goal you set out to accomplish. It feels good to meet your savings goal, so why not set yourself up for success. At least that is how I look at it.

I also plan to set up an extra principal payment to our mortgage on an automatic basis. Our housing allowance is increasing by $102 per month. Since one of our biggest goals is to reduce our mortgage balance, I have the $102 applied to the principal balance automatically each month. If I set this up when the increase is effective, we won't get used to that extra money. That means in the next year, I know for sure we will pay an additional $1224 in principal. Love that!!

Do you save for anything automatically? What other benefits do you think automatic savings provide?

The above link to Capital One 360 is my referral link. You are eligible to earn up to $75 in bonus cash if you open a new account. I receive $20 for referring you, and do not receive any information about you or the type of account you have opened.

Friday, December 20, 2013

52 Weeks Of Saving

If you are a saver, like me, you may have heard about the 52 Week Savings Challenge that has been making the rounds of the internet in the last year. I did not participate last year. But this year I am!!

The link above explains the challenge in detail, but by the end of the year if you follow the plan you will have saved $1378. I know we could be saving more, thus the reason I am participating and adding this as another way to save during the year. I will still be on the lookout for small (or large) amounts of money that don't come from income, which I call snowflakes, and be saving those to help pay down our mortgage.

I have already started. Some of you may not start until January. I have $67 saved so far.  That does seems like quite a bit for the beginning doesn't it? Well, I'm tweaking the challenge to work with how we get paid, which is twice monthly. I made an initial $10 deposit, since I had that much cash in my wallet earlier this month. That left me with $1,368 to save. Twice per month paydays, means 24 pay periods. Thus I will save $57 per pay period 24 times in the coming year to save that $1,368. One has already been completed, so really 23 left to go, and $1,311 left to save.

Interested in participating in the challenge? Click on that link above for a way to track your savings challenge for the year, or tweak it to make it work for you. Sometimes having a goal for savings and a way to track it is very first step in making it happen.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Opportunity for You to Earn $50

Earlier this month, I opened a Capital One 360 checking and savings account for some bonus money. $176 to be exact. They are still offering a bonus for opening accounts. Right now the 360 Checking is $50 cash (taxable) for making 3 debit transactions within 45 days. No minimum deposit and no fees.

If you want to sign up for some free cash to pay down debt or save for a goal, I'd be honored if you use my referral link. I do get $20 if you open the account. And if you read my blog often enough you know that I will put that money to good use!!

The link will take you to a page like this, which shows they are offering various bonuses for different accounts.

I think a separate bank account is key if you are looking to save money and not dip into it. I recently mentioned this to a friend and she seemed intrigued at the idea that this would be helpful. Do you have savings or checking accounts at more than one bank? Why or why not? What do you do with your second (and third) accounts?

Friday, July 5, 2013

An Update and Explanation

I have two blogs. This one is newer. The other blog is over at I'm a regular over there. I'm not sure why I haven't kept this one going as well. I think it's because you, the reader, aren't commenting here!! Of course, you aren't commenting, because I'm not writing anything. It's a circular problem!!

We are currently saving over 15% of our gross income for retirement. Two thirds goes to max out our Roth IRA accounts. The remaining is automatically saved in my husband's TSP account. We are saving $334 per month towards our girls college educations. We have our mortgage which was taken out a year ago this July. It is at 2.75% interest, so you won't see us refinancing anytime soon.

With interest rates at an all time low, I have recently begun opening credit cards to take advantage of the bonus offers and rewards. I realize that this may seem odd based on my blog name of Creditcardfree. That name was established five years ago when we had eliminated credit card debt from our lives, including all credit cards. It was the right thing to do at that time in our lives. We lived on $40K per year, and didn't save much of anything for retirement. We now live on just under $100K per year and save significantly more money. We have more disposable income as well. The goal in opening the credit cards is to increase income in a way that just can't be done with low interest rates.

Opening credit cards is serious business and is only for those of us responsible to pay them off in full each month. I definitely don't look at the credit as extra money waiting to be spent. That is a dangerous line of thinking. We will activate the cards, spend the minimum, pay off the balance in full, redeem the reward and close the account. And repeat until there are no cards to open or bonuses to obtain. I currently have three cards open in my name. Those cards will provide $250 in cash and $250 in gift cards. We will then open three or four cards in my husband's name and repeat the process. He likely will get an additional card offering $100, that I wasn't able open. Thus between the two of us, we will 'earn' $600 in cash and $500 in gift cards, simply by spending money on things we already do everyday. That is way more than we would earn in a year on our money market savings account.

We have cash from the sale of our home last year equal to over $24,000. We have paid down $4315.30 on the principal since our first payment on September 2012. The loan is a VA loan with zero down. We were eligible, rates were and are still low, and we wanted to get into the house as soon as possible and were not sure if we would have the cash from the sale of the original house at the time of closing on the current house. We would have had it, but again we didn't know then. For now we are holding the cash. We may decide different later.

So it right now we are just looking at increasing cash and paying down the mortgage even if only in small amounts. I made my first EXTRA principal mortgage payment at the beginning of this month in the amount of $56. It's not little, but not a big amount either. It all adds up.

Do you pay extra on your mortgage? Do you have a set amount? How do you determine how much to send in to your mortgage? Are you taking advantage of credit card bonuses? 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Low Spend Weeks

I have decided to make the first two weeks of this month low spend. Low spend for us will mean keeping our variable expenses down to $450. This is half than we normally allow for this same period of time. This set of time will be a little easier with my husband working out of town. All his expenses will be covered there. Our regular bills and investments have already been accounted for.

I started this self challenge on May 2. So far we have spent $55.72, this included a small grocery trip and a $1 vending machine purchase. I feel fine with that amount so far. I hope it doesn't get too hard, but just tight enough to have the difference applied to some overspending we have done in the last few weeks.

I expect I will need to put gas in my van. There will be one more trip to the grocery store. My daughter came home with an order form to her yearbook, due this Friday. I will pay that out of this spending amount. It is twenty dollars.

I will spend tomorrow making a meal plan for the three of us. I will shop our freezer, fridge, and cupboards first in order to keep as much money as possible in our pocket. I will also make our meals out of inexpensive and healthy ingredients. I will not buy in bulk, stock up, or buy extras while on this challenge.

I think it is a good idea to take a spending break for several weeks a year at times that make it the easiest. Do you think you could take on a low spend week or some type of other challenge to make up for your overspending? Have you done a no spend challenge? How did it work for you? Do you have any advice or tips to share?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Time to Consolidate Investments

I recently realized that I really would like most of our money at Vanguard. You really can't beat their low fees for investing. Right now, we have money in four different places, between college funds and retirement. I would like to get it down to two. Vanguard and my husband's TSP.

The first one I will be dealing with is Fidelity. We only have Fidelity because that is where my husband's previous 401k was and we simply rolled it into an IRA and even moved most of it to a Roth IRA. Currently, Fidelity holds 15% of our total portfolio. And sadly, about 31% of that amount is in cash (which is 5% of our entire retirement portfolio).

My first step is to determine where at Vanguard I want to move the money. Since this is a small portion and we do not have any international investments, I think I will suggest to my husband we put it into the International Stock Index. Most of that will be in a Roth IRA, but about $5K is in a traditional IRA. The nice thing about moving retirement money around, is there is no tax implications...unless we convert the money from the IRA to the Roth. I don't think that is currently in the cards.

I will end up doing most of the work for this change, hopefully online. I will likely need a signature from my husband. And if he can agree to the change tonight or tomorrow than I can get any paperwork done this week, otherwise, I will need to wait until his annual training is over.

We have about $10K at American Funds. This is a loaded fund, which means you pay the broker/dealer every time you make a purchase into the fund...usually 5.75% of your purchase. The fund has to be doing pretty well to offset those kinds of fees! Luckily, we did not pay the fee on these, since at the time my father in law was the broker and he was able to invest us at NAV (Net Asset Value). We have a UTMA account for each of the girls and a Roth for my husband there. We haven't been adding to these accounts, so I think it is time to get them moved, too. I will work on these once Fidelity is completed. I need to think about any tax implications on the UTMA, each of them has less than $1500 there.

A new goal to work on, I'm excited!! Oh, and right now I'm thinking half of our down payment in a CD paying 1.2% for 15 months, and the other half in Vanguard Dividend Growth Fund (VDIGX). If we put less in the fund, we have less exposure to market risk, but still an opportunity to benefit from the market. If we lose money, it could change our plans for housing, but it isn't a huge deal at this point for us. We will be accumulating more cash in the mean time too!

Do you have your investments in one place? If not, how many different companies do you do your investing with?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Blue Chip Down Payment

I've been looking into high yield dividend mutual funds as a possibility for investing our down payment money for the next house. This would be an alternative to keeping the money in our money market account paying 0.85%.

Blue Chip stocks are those companies that are generally worth billions, thus established in their field, often a household name, and pay steady or rising dividends each year (paraphrased from Investopedia). The mutual funds I'm looking at invest in these blue chip stocks, like Coca Cola, IBM, UPS, and Exxon.

The returns on these funds the last few years are definitely better than the 0.85% we are getting on our money market. Of course, the money market account is less risky than stocks. Stocks do fluctuate, thus that risk scares me a little bit given this is a short term investment of 2 years...maybe 3.

I do need to convince my husband it is the right thing to do. I think he will trust my judgement. Thus I really need to convince myself!!

Generally, this isn't something I would advise anyone to do because of the risk, but with additional risk, often comes additional reward. Does anyone reading this know of anything that should keep me from taking the risk of investing in a Dividend Growth fund?

I'm looking at VDIGX and VDAIX, which are both held at Vanguard. Both have 5 star ratings from Morningstar. If we had held VDIGX two years ago, our money would have increased by nearly $7K by now. However, if our two year period was April 2007 to today, we would have lost $6,700 from our initial investment.

The dividends that are paid would be reinvested to buy more shares, and would be taxed just like ordinary income, which is no different than if we earned interest. If someone were to hold this fund in a retirement account, those reinvested dividends are tax deferred until retirement.

I feel positive about the over all outlook, so I think it should be a buy. What do you think? Anything else I should look at?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thoughts on Debt Consolidation

Debt is a common struggle. Particularly here in the United States. It is readily available to nearly everyone. Some of us get great rates because we pay our bills on time, take out reasonable amounts and pay them back. Others have a hard time repaying their debts for various reasons, which range from unexpected expenses, low income, lack of organization and so forth. Those individuals are usually charged much higher interest rates. This can make paying back debt even slower, or harder depending on your point of view.

You might be reading this because you want to consolidate your debt. You might be searching for a miracle to solve all your financial problems. The truth. Do you want to know? The truth is there is no miracle. Sure a few people have won the lottery and a few people received an inheritance. Lucky them, right?

Lucky you, I say. I think you were brought here to read this blog post, because you are looking for a way to fix where you are. That is smart. That is a sign of someone ready to face the fact of where you are financially, and make a plan to change your finances for the better. You are strong, you are determined. You can make the changes you need to fix your financial situation.

Now, I am generalizing, but I really do think everyone can get out of debt. I am not a fan, nor a promoter of bankruptcy. However, if you are determined to make things better, I am a promoter of consolidating debt. If you can, especially if it will save you money AND you won't turn around and rack up more debt.

Hopefully, you have already cut back your lifestyle to make room to pay off some debt. I hope you only have a cell phone or a land line, and not both. I hope you buy used when you can. I hope that your priorities are food, utilities and shelter before all else. You don't need a new lipstick, a new shirt, movie, golf club, or another beer. You don't. You will survive without all the extras. You are on  a new path, one that will lead you to a secure and less stressful future. Sounds nice doesn't it?

So if you have many, many, many bills and they are coming in the mail every day or every other day your financial life is chaos. You need to do some consolidating. Don't use a company to do this. You can do this on your own for free. You need to look at what you owe. You need to know the minimum payment for each debt. You need to know what interest rate you are being charged.

Next, you need to think about what your options are for getting additional credit. This could be the equity in your house. A credit card you already own, or a new one. Student loan organizations often put loans together under a special consolidation plan. You may be eligible for a private loan from your bank or credit union. I am going to ask that you do not borrow from your 401(k), also known as a 401(k) loan. There are many, many problems there. Also, please DO NOT go to a payday loan lender. This is too expensive for ANYONE and in my opinion should be illegal.

I would guess that your highest debt balance, and likely your highest interest balance are the debts that are freaking you out the most. Am I right? I would look into getting this one refinanced or moved in some way to a less expensive option. Tell any lender that you may be speaking with what you are trying to do. You are going to use their loan to pay off another one of your debts. Tell them which one and why. If you can get this most scariest of debts into a lower interest loan, most likely your payment will be less, or you will be paying it off over a smaller period of time. Do not accept the terms of any loan if you will not be able to meet the payment. This consolidation is probably not worth it in that case.

Some of you probably have lots of little debts. A $100 for the dentist, another $55 to the vet, $120 to a department store, make that four department stores. Oh, and that credit card you got to buy new tires. And there are several more too, right? It's can be hard to make payments on ALL of them all of the time. This is where another loan could be opened for an amount equal to all of these debts, so that the cash from it can be used to pay all the little debts off in full. What a relief right? Yes. But you have to find a loan, again, where you can make the payment. If any of the little debt amounts you pay off are on any type of credit must close and cancel the card. You don't want that card to tempt you again. Of course, it won't because you have stepped back your lifestyle and you don't need new shoes, right?

I will tell you that when we had some credit card debt, I was always looking for a new card. Any card with zero interest was a possibility, even if I only had that rate for a few months. It was that much less money that I had to pay to someone else. I wanted every dollar I could squeeze to go to pay off debt. I know that my husband had multiple student loans at one point. I know that we did opt to consolidate them for what was a very low rate at that time. I kept making the same payments, even though the minimum was much lower. That put us paying it off long before the loan ended.

Consolidate your debt if you have to, especially if it helps with your cash flow, but do it smart. And don't ever get yourself into so much debt again that you are worried about making the payments.  And if you can't find any better credit offers, that is okay. Just take it one debt at a time. Pay off the vet today. Next paycheck find another debt you can pay. If there is some you can't pay, then so be it. Take it one debt at a time. If you can send $5, do it. Even small amounts indicate to the lender you are willing to make payments. Make a plan and keep moving forward!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Financial Tip: Check Credit Report

Since we are currently debt free, except our mortgage, we don't have much need for credit. However, I still think it is important to check it with some frequency simply because of identity theft. And it is also far better to find out about any errors before you need credit. Before the need arises you have the time to take care of any disputes or items in need of correction.

I spent about 10 minutes last night checking our credit reports online at That is the free site where you can get a copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies. You can get one free from each of them every 12 months. I actually check just one of them every four months, so that I'm checking with some frequency, but still just getting one from each agency per year.

It had been awhile since I checked. To get back on track, I decided to put reminders on email calendar for April, August and December. I also indicated in the reminder which agency to check with.

All was good with this check at Experian, with a small exception. I noticed that my husband's report showed a previous employer that he never worked for. He did apply there years ago. I asked that it be deleted and as of this morning that report no longer shows that employer. Easy!!

Do you check your credit report on a regular basis? Do you have a system to remember to do this simple task?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Goals: Quarter One Update

Time to update you on our status of our 2013 financial goals since the first quarter of the year is now behind us. The goals are listed below, and I've indicated where we are next to each one.

1) Make maximum contribution to both of our Roth IRA's. And contribute 7% to husband's TSP. This goal is on track. We are contributing $458.33 each month to each of our Roth IRA accounts. The contributions are set up to withdrawal from our checking account automatically. Therefore, we never forget! And of course, the TSP is automatic from my husband's paycheck, too!

2) Pay off truck loan. This was completed March 5. Yippee!

3) Snowflake a Free Christmas, goal again is $750. As of March 31, I have saved $419.02...all from sources outside of our income.

4) Save $4,000 ($2000 each daughter) for college. This goal is on track as well because we automatically invest $167 monthly from our checking account for each daughter.

5) Pay for new intermediate flute with cash, about $1500. The flute was purchased in late January. We put it on a credit card to reap the rewards. I paid the flute off in full at the beginning of March. No interest was charged. We have paid our saving account back $1000. Just another $500 to go.

6) Save $2K for vacation. Not sure where we might go, so that is a pretty vague goal at this point! Eek. No plans and no money right now.

7) Landscaping and furniture purchases. Pay with cash and decide on a limit! No plans here yet. We will purchase when we find what we are looking for and will pay cash. We are not interested any zero interest offers either!

There is where we are. Obviously, we are doing well with retirement and college savings. We also have zero non mortgage debt and it will remain that way! Clearly, I'm working on some other savings goals that are more pay as we go. I do feel a little vague on those. Very hard to meet a goal when the target is not in focus. I'll work on getting those goals nailed down soon.

How are you doing on your 2013 financial goals? Share here or post your own update on your blog.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Retirement: Thoughts on Mutual Funds

Mutual Funds. You have heard of them right? But maybe you don't know what they are, or what to do with them or how to pick one? Breathe a sigh or relief because I'm going to explain a little bit about them. I will not be giving specific suggestions, as I am not professionally qualified to tell you where to invest your money.

According to, a mutual fund is a pool of funds collected by many investors for the purpose of investing in securities. Securities can be stocks, bonds or other assets. To make it even more simple, it is similar to my family, your family, and your neighbors family all putting some cash together to go out and buy a little stock in McDonald's, some of Taco Bell, and maybe a little of Walmart. Together we are shareholders of this fund we have created. When the prices of these stocks we purchased increase are investment increases, the opposite is true when the prices go down. The nice thing about owning a mutual fund of stocks is that you are not putting all your money into one company. The mutual fund may be invested in hundreds or thousands of different companies. Some do well, some do average, a few do poorly. Lucky for you, you didn't put all your money into that one stock that did poorly. Spreading your investments over many companies reduces your risk of losing your investment.

Maybe that is what concerns you about investing in mutual funds. It seems risky. It seems like you could lose your money. While that is true, it is not the norm. First you should not be investing in anything risky if you are going to need that money soon. Soon in my opinion is five years or more. If you have money to put away for retirement that is 10, 20, even 30 or 40 years away then a mutual fund is not very risky. You have time on your side. You have time to recoup any losses you might incur. And technically, you can only really lose that money if you sell the investment. If you hold on to it for the time period I mentioned, you are likely to see the value of your investment fluctuate, but it isn't a real loss or gain until you cash the investment out.

When you purchase a mutual fund, you are purchasing shares. You shares will never decrease unless you sell them. You will see your shares increase when you buy more shares, and if your fund company passes earnings from those stocks back to you in the form of dividends and capital gains. Dividends are kind of like interest, but different.

The value of each share you own in the mutual fund will change every day the market is open. On the days the share value is up, value of your total shares are also up. And that is exciting! On the days that shares are lower than before, the value of your account will also be down. Of course, not a big deal if you didn't sell anything that day. You still have those same shares. Now if you bought shares of your mutual fund on a day when the share price fell, it simply means those shares were on sale. We like a sale right? A sale on shares allows you to buy more shares with the same dollar amount.

Don't be afraid of the fluctuating value of your mutual fund investment. Yes, there is some risk, but generally those who don't take on some risk do not reap the the rewards. I hope you feel a little better about what a mutual fund is and maybe a little more open to investing in them.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Retirement: 2012 Deadline

You still have time to put money into your IRA or Roth IRA for 2012. Yes, you read that right. You can still make a contribution to your retirement account for last year. The deadline is April 15, 2013. This is the same deadline the IRS gives you to file your taxes.

It isn't too late to open an account either. Many mutual fund companies allow you to open an account online and have your contribution withdrawn from your bank account. You could even put the initial investment into a cash reserves or money market account, until you decide where you really want to invest the money.

Time to get your retirement investment started. You can do this!!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Retirement: What is Compound Interest?

The joy of saving and investing for long periods of time is most exciting because of the concept of compound interest. And I'm not the first to think so. Even Benjamin Franklin was keen on compound interest!

Definition. According to, compound interest is interest which is calculation not only on the initial principal but also the accumulated interest of prior periods. For example, you initially invest $100, and earn 10% per year in interest. The interest in the first year is $10. In the second year, you actually have $110 invested, which again earns 10%. The interest for the second year is $11. This is a very simple example. Most investments do not currently pay 10% interest, nor do they only pay you once per year.

Calculator. I found a really good compound interest calculator that allows you to put in your specific particulars, including initial investment, additional investments, length of investment and interest rate. The calculator shows you the results as a final dollar figure, a graph, and a list of each years investments, interest and final value accumulated. When you use the calculator, I would highly suggest using the monthly compounding option as it is the most common. Of course, try all the different options to see the major difference in the frequency of compounding.

The opposite is true. This same interest calculation is done for money you borrow as well. You are probably most familiar with it in terms of the interest you may pay on your credit cards. This is why you hear about the high numbers of years it can take to pay off credit card balances. Those really high interest rates just keep adding to the balance and often your next payment doesn't even cover all of the interest you were just charged. It is a never ending cycle and very hard to get ahead.

Earn. My preference is to earn interest on our money, than to pay a dime of interest. We do pay interest on our mortgage, so I do know how it feels to pay for the luxury of borrowing. My advice is to pay as little interest as possible, so the money that you might be paying in interest can actually be saved. Saved to earn interest over time.

Currently, we only earn 0.90% interest on the money in our money market account. Do you have any money set aside now that you are earning interest on? What rate are you earning?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Retirement: Where to Start

Since I convinced you yesterday that the time to start saving for retirement is NOW, I'm glad you are back.  First, any dollar you save today and don't start spending until you retire from employment is retirement savings in my book. Once you have decided you are ready, you want to know where to begin right?

Simple. You can stash your beginning retirement savings in some very simple places to start with. An envelope. A jar. A savings account. Yes, you can really start this basic. Sometimes it is the best place to start, as some types of accounts have minimum first time deposits. The most important thing about starting this simple is to make sure you know that it is for retirement and you don't mix it in with your spending money. Mark your envelope 'Retirement' in big red letters if need. I'm not kidding here. You have to hang on to this money for quite awhile. You need to remember what it is for.

Easy. Many, many employers have a retirement savings plan available for their employees. It usually requires filling out a form. This is likely with your human resources department, but could be the owner or manager of the business, too. The form is you directing your employer to hold part of your earnings from your paycheck to be deposited in some form of retirement investment. These savings plans are called many different names, often taken from the part of the tax code that authorizes them. You might hear it referred to as a 401(k), a 403(b), TSP (Thrift Savings Plan), or even a 457 plan. Yikes. Those all sound a little scary, right? Don't be afraid of the names.

Yes, your paycheck will be smaller or lower than if you didn't have some taken out for retirement. Darn. That part is disappointing, but it has to be done. It is for your future retirement! There is some good news though. Once you fill out that form, it is automatic. Every paycheck you earn from now on with this employer has you saving a little bit for retirement. You don't have to do much of anything else. You can do more, but it is not necessary. In fact, you could turn a blind eye to the whole thing after that, and then at age 65 open up your retirement statement and be amazed at how much money you saved. See? Easy!

Brave. You actually can save in an envelope AND join your employers saving plan at the same time. In fact, at some point you might want to step out and consider opening your own account outside of your employer. This is where you hear about retirement investments like IRA's (Individual Retirement Accounts) or Roth IRA's. This can be easy and tricky at the same time. The more you know and learn about these types of accounts, the better you will feel. But that envelope you are saving your retirement money in can only hold so much cash, so you have to be strong and take care of that money like you would a small child. You want it to be safe and you want it to grow.

The tricky part is deciding where to open this type of account. You can open one at your neighborhood bank or credit union. Online there is a wealth of information that can connect you to thousands of mutual fund companies and brokerage firms. Financial advisors and insurance agents can help you for a price, too. I personally prefer to be in charge of our retirement as we are the only ones that will care the most about the goal and the prices we pay. We look for companies that charge low fees and allow us to do most of our investing online and automatically.

The easy part about opening an account outside of your employer, is that it is once again a form or forms you fill out with your name, address, social security number, type of account, and so forth. The company you have chosen then opens an account, similar to a bank account, and gives you your account number. You can then send in checks or have your money auto invested each month from your checking account. It is up to you. Only you. To make sure you put money into this account. You cannot rely on your employer to do any of the work with this one. I know though you can make it happen. You are that brave and strong.

Three Choices. Three ideas on where to start saving for your retirement. They are available to you right now! Go out there and start saving for's your money you deserve to keep it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Start NOW!!

March is Retirement Savings Month!

Yes, I officially have decided to celebrate saving for retirement. I'm going to shout it's benefits loud and wide. I'm thrilled my husband and I have begun saving so well for retirement. And I'm really not bragging. I'm just that happy.  I wish, pray, and hope that everyone could feel the power and freedom that come with a retirement account that keeps growing.

I would really like to get my hands on every high school senior with a job and sign them up for their first Roth IRA account. I would like to pull the worker at Subway aside and make sure they know they have the option to save for retirement regardless of their income. I dream of pulling up alongside that man mowing the school lawn and explaining that his small business can have a retirement plan.

Sure here in the United States we have Social Security. What a blessing to many. I'm of the belief that we do not need to rely on our government in our old age. It helps that I was told in high school Social Security would likely not exist for me. I still believe that is a possibility. It helps, too, that our retirement account has been flourishing in recent days. I do know that we will be much better off because we have saved for retirement and will not need to rely on Social Security.

Many calculators, financial advisers, and counselors will tell you that starting early is so very important in saving for retirement. They are right. The earlier you start the more you will have given all other factors to be equal. But that doesn't mean you ever miss the boat in starting to save for the glory days of retirement. Any dollar you save today for retirement is one less you have to rely on the government for. Last I heard, they are having a little trouble keeping all their dollars in line. What makes you think they are setting aside even one dollar for you?

If you are already saving for retirement, I'm thrilled and so happy for you. Really, really, happy for you. I'd shake your hand, pat you on the back, or maybe even give you a hug! I'm that excited for you. You made a great choice and you won't regret it.

If you haven't saved one dollar for retirement, then I have a few questions for you. What is holding you back? Do you know the steps you need to take? What are your excuses? Why can't you start now?

I want you to start now! By the end of March, I hope I can convince you to get started saving for your retirement. I hope to explain account types, a little about stocks and mutual funds and a few other things that I think might just help get you started on your path to a blissful and well funded retirement. Are you in?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Emergency Fund Step One: Sacrifice

The establishment and maintaining of our emergency fund is what put us on the path to building wealth and staying out of credit card debt.

We started our marriage without an emergency fund. Although we did get some nice cash gifts, including $1000 from my parents. That is where our emergency fund began. We had already bought and paid for enough furniture to fit in our apartment. We were happy with what we had, so we decided to save it.

I suppose that decision right there comes from somewhere, but we did consciously make that decision to hold on to that money. I'm not sure we even called it an emergency fund then. I didn't know about Suze Orman, Mary Hunt, or Dave Ramsey, all who would have encouraged the emergency fund.

I know many people who do not have an emergency fund and they all struggle in some way financially. For many it means debt in every form, for others it is relying on others for help, and most of them don't even save much, if any, for retirement.

Establishing an emergency fund is the one thing you must start. And it often means sacrifice to do so. In our case, we didn't sacrifice much with the first $1K, but in later years, we went without many things to make sure we had established and maintained a rainy day fund.

I will tell you that every sacrifice you make to establish your emergency fund is worth it. It is worth it to forgo cable, even if the big game is on. It is worth it, to eat simple meals at home. It is worth it to keep your tax refund in your savings account than buying a new big screen television. It is worth doing your own nails, or coloring your own hair. Many here on Saving Advice would agree.

Yes, you will have to give up some things, if you are living paycheck to paycheck. The exercise in sacrifice for this one goal will teach you more than you can know. You will find you can live without many things and still be happy.

Emergencies happen. People get sick, or in accidents. People lose their jobs. The water heater or garage door breaks. Your pet is injured. Many many things come up in life that can not be planned. An emergency fund catches you when those unplanned events come up.

Sacrificing as much as you can for a short time to establish an emergency fund is so worth it. If it sounds like I'm talking to you, I am. You don't need a new car now. The vacation CAN wait. You can watch the big game for free at your friends house or a bar. You can do your own nails and hair coloring. You don't need to buy that new thing, yet. You can wait. You will live. That new thing might be cheaper on Ebay in six months. You need to establish your emergency fund now. You NEED to, no excuses. It has to come first.

Yes, you might have debt and you could pay it off with your tax refund. If your refund covers all your debts then yes, pay it off. And then start on your savings. However, if it will take you many many months to pay off your debt, turn your tax refund into your starter emergency fund. Five hundred to $1000 is a great beginning. Let it sit there in an account. Look at it, but don't touch. It's for emergencies.

No more excuses. It's time to start your emergency fund. Tell me how you started your emergency fund. Any advice to readers on ways to save? Where to save? Join in the discussion, now!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Smart Things To Do With Your Tax Refund

You are getting a tax refund! I bet you are excited. You have a list of things you are going to do with that money, too. Maybe some clothes shopping, a concert, a new flat screen TV, or even a spring break vacation. That all sounds nice. How much of an impact will those items make on your future? You do want a secure future right? I know I do.

There are some very smart things you can do with that tax refund. If you only get a small refund, you can pick one, if you are getting thousands back, you might pick a couple.

Get current with your creditors. Some people get behind in making timely payments to various creditors. Utilities are common, as are rent and mortgage payments. Food, electricity and shelter are are always the first priorities of any family. If you are behind on these types of payments, use your refund to get current with your creditor. Make sure to get a receipt showing you are current for your records. You will feel so much better knowing you have a secure place to call home, and the lights will be on when you return home.

Pay off or pay down debt. You high interest debt is squashing your future. Every time you make a payment to your loan or credit card, you pay interest. A little portion of those hard earned dollars are owed to someone else. Don't you want to keep your money? The quicker you pay down the debt, the sooner those payments are yours to keep. There is a calculator at that can help you figure out how long it will take you to pay off your debt.

Save for an emergency.  A somewhat large percentage of the population does not have any money set aside for an emergency. That means living paycheck to paycheck. You have heard of that right? Another set of the population sets money aside on a regular basis for emergencies. When an emergency happens, the money is there to be put to use. No credit cards or loans from friends are needed. If you don't have an emergency fund at all, start with your tax refund. Add $10 a week or more and don't spend it, unless it is an emergency. Many financial advisers suggest a minimum of 3 months worth of expenses in an emergency fund. I highly suggest it be in a separate bank account than your spending money.

Invest for retirement.  I know way too many young people you don't think about saving for retirement. The power of compound interest is on your side if you start investing when you are young. The money will have so many more years to grow if you invest at age 20, than if you wait until even 30 to start saving. A minimum of 10% of your income is suggest, but if you can only start with 1% then do that! Many mutual fund companies have minimums for investing, which makes large tax refunds a great place to get an account opened. You don't have to add more to it right away, if you can't, but I suggest you do!

Invest for college. This could be your own college fund, or one for your kids or grand kids. The more cash you have for college, the less student loan debt you will have to take out. Investigate different types of college accounts and get started.

Invest in you. You might have some awesome skill that could bring you side income or full time income, but you lack the requirements. This could be equipment, instruction or professional advice. It's time to take your large refund and invest in your abilities.

We are using our refund of $442 to pay down the balance on our truck loan. We are almost to the end, so it feels good to put every last dollar we can find towards that loan. What will you do with your tax refund?