If only our financial lives had glaring guiding stars in our daily journey. My grocery store is advertising that they are helping us eat better with the guiding stars. Between one and three stars appear below items to tell shoppers the nutritional value of a product (www.hannaford.com). Why shouldn’t my financial life have guiding stars? For the record, Hostess cupcakes and Ben and Jerry’s receive no stars. I thought dairy was good for me!

So here are my guiding stars on scale of 1-3 for your financial evolution, with 3 stars being things that will be the best for your financial evolution. It’s just a taste of stars, I’m sure I’ll add more at some point.

Aim for the stars.

3 stars

  • Understand your sustainable lifestyle expense. What do you need to live each month?
  • Laid off – rollover your 401k into an IRA with more investment options.
  • Determine how much you will need to retire and how the market turmoil impacts your retirement date.
  • Hold a state of your finances meeting with your spouse and write down your goals for the remainder of 2009.

2 stars

  • Determine if you need long-term care insurance.
  • Max out your 401k or retirement plan.
  • Go to work for a college so your kids tuition is free.

1 star

  • Refinance your mortgage to a lower rate.
  • Make an extra mortgage payment.
  • Consolidate credit card debt and work towards paying it off (read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover for another star.)
  • Work together as a family to reduce two ongoing monthly expenses .
  • Make one better financial choice each week. (Keep morning coffee and bring lunch!)

Advisory Services offered through Axiom Advisors, LLC. A registered Investment Advisor Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. a Broker/Dealer member FINRA/SIPC Axiom Advisors, LLC and Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. are not affiliated.

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Yes, I said windfall. First it was daycare expenses, then traveling sports teams, tutors, computers and clothes. Finally it was time for the big expense. College. Wondering if you will ever retire? You are not alone.

The Baby Boomers are in a different place than previous generations. Families are attempting to save for retirement while dealing with exorbitant college costs, as well as the challenges (sometimes financial) of aging parents. This is coupled with trying to save for their own retirement, which unlike previous generations does not include a pension.

While this is a big dilemma for most couples, I focus on the absolutes.

Where you cannot impact change:

  • Cost of college and that you did or didn’t save enough for the expenses.
  • Developing issues with aging parents.
  • The downturn in the financial markets.
  • How much you have saved previously for retirement.

What you can impact:

  • How much debt you will personally take on to pay for college.
  • Children’s college choice.
  • What you can afford to do for take care of parents.
  • How you can load up your retirement savings once college is over.

These items, taken one by one are manageable. I am going to focus on the last one. How you can capture the true windfall available when the kids are out of college.

In order to put junior through college you’ve paired down on your own expenses, creating a lower sustainable living expense or developing a reduced budget. Once college is over if you continue to live at this lower sustainable living expense you can put all the savings you were putting towards college into your retirement savings.

  •  Junior’s college cost – $40,000
  • Junior’s financial aide – $20,000
  • Your contribution – $20,000

 Post college add this extra $20,000 to your existing retirement savings and suddenly you have a windfall. In five years you will have put away an extra $100,000. If you were contributing $30,000 a year that number jumps to $150,000. 

This opportunity for extra savings works because you are taking the discipline utilized to pay for college expenses to pay yourself for retirement. If you are not maximizing your 401(k), 403(b) or other employer-sponsored tax-deferred retirement accounts you have another bonus awaiting you. Now you can afford to maximize your 401(k) at a$16,500 maximum this year for those under age 50 and $22,000 for those over 50. This will reduce your overall taxable income and lower your taxes. 

If your 401(k) contribution is now $10,000 larger for your family in the 28% tax bracket, this represents a $2,800 reduction in taxes.  

Saving more and reducing your taxes. It’s a win-win windfall. 

Advisory Services offered through Axiom Advisors, LLC. A registered Investment Advisor Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. a Broker/Dealer member FINRA/SIPC Axiom Advisors, LLC and Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. are not affiliated. 

The spending trend of the country is changing to a saving trend. It is a core reaction to tough economic times. Cutting back is now all the rage.

 A large group of families and individuals do not understand where they spend money. With juggling family responsibilities who has the time? The people that make progress on savings goals and establish wealth, they make the time. 

It is all about choices

When helping clients understand expenses the discussion often starts with “We don’t know where the money goes or where we can find more to save?”  When they really assess how money is spent, opportunities for savings appear.  This enables progress on financial goals or a bridge through a tough financial time.  

 Making better choices  – It is not about giving up everything. Choices are daily decisions and compromises on where to spend money. Changing your language to “making choices” will help change your attitude towards reducing expenses.

Reducing expenses is choosing to keep your morning Dunkin Donuts coffee, but bringing your lunch. It is the choice between keeping snacks in the car or emergency stops at McDonald’s.

  •  Eating out – Make better choices of when and where you eat. Bistros to chain restaurants are offering deals, especially during the week.
  • Google  – Search for coupons codes before online shopping. www.retailmenot.com or www.momsview.com.
  • Mortgage– If you haven’t taken advantage of low mortgage rates, check out refinancing to save each month and thousands over the life of the mortgage.
  • Cars – Keep your car 1, 2 or 3 more years than planned.
  • Insurance – Shop around for auto, home and umbrella insurance with a broker. Brokers work with multiple companies and are paid to shop around for you.
  • Entertainment, Memberships, Subscriptions & Lessons – These small items add up. Select what your family really enjoys.

Advisory Services offered through Axiom Advisors, LLC. A registered Investment Advisor Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. a Broker/Dealer member FINRA/SIPC Axiom Advisors, LLC and Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. are not affiliated. 

It is hard to attend any function whether a school play or cocktail party without running into someone who has lost their job or worried about losing their job. Reducing financial and emotional stress will assist your family in getting through the situation.

Financial Preparation

  • Assess spending
  • Develop monthly cash flow and budget for a potential layoff situation.
  • Increase emergency reserves
  • Determine where to rollover your 401(k)

Professional Preparation

Gather your data

  • Ensure you have examples of your major accomplishments.
  • Have the numbers behind your accomplishments for resume, such as years of growth, revenue and growth percentages.
  • Understand your company and unemployment benefits.

Arm yourself for the search

  • Start your resume now!
  • Contact a resume writer or use online service (www.resumeedge.com)
  • Take advantage of every outplacement service you are offered.
  • Line up references.
  • Network, network, network
  • Call former managers; let them know you are looking.
  • Find your cheerleaders!

Networking 101

  • Get comfortable speaking about your job situation. Being able to easily discuss your situation and briefly tell someone what you are looking for will be a key to success.
  • Be as positive as possible in all social situations so contacts will want to help you.
  • Utilize networking tools such as Linked.com In to keep track of contacts.
  • Print business cards for job search (Available free at vistaprint.com, you just pay shipping )

New job – Financial Recovery & Success

  • Maximize 401(k) contribution to boost savings and reduce taxes.
  • Establish/re-establish emergency fund
  • Utilize new budget and cost-cutting skills to determine sustainable lifestyle expense.
  • New savings can be invested.

Advisory Services offered through Axiom Advisors, LLC. A registered Investment Advisor Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. a Broker/Dealer member FINRA/SIPC Axiom Advisors, LLC and Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. are not affiliated.