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How to Make Better Financial Decisions

Woman learning how to make better financial decisions

A key financial decision people struggle to make is how to allocate savings for multiple financial goals. Do you save for several goals at the same time or fund them one-by-one in a series of steps? Basically, there are two ways to approach financial goal-setting:

Concurrently: Saving for two or more financial goals at the same time.

Sequentially: Saving for one financial goal at a time in a series of steps.

Each method has its pros and cons. Here’s how to decide which method is best for you.

Sequential goal-setting

Pros

You can focus intensely on one goal at a time and feel a sense of completion when each goal is achieved. It’s also simpler to set up and manage single-goal savings than plans for multiple goals. You only need to set up and manage one account.

Cons

Compound interest is not retroactive. If it takes up to a decade to get around to long-term savings goals (e.g., funding a retirement savings plan), that’s time that interest is not earned.

Concurrent goal-setting

Pros

Compound interest is not delayed on savings for goals that come later in life. The earlier money is set aside, the longer it can grow. Based on the Rule of 72, you can double a sum of money in nine years with an 8 percent average return. The earliest years of savings toward long-term goals are the most powerful ones.

Cons

Funding multiple financial goals is more complex than single-tasking. Income needs to be earmarked separately for each goal and often placed in different accounts. In addition, it will probably take longer to complete any one goal because savings is being placed in multiple locations.

Research findings

Working with Wise Bread to recruit respondents, I conducted a study of financial goal-setting decisions with four colleagues that was recently published in the Journal of Personal Finance. The target audience was young adults with 69 percent of the sample under age 45. Four key financial decisions were explored: financial goals, homeownership, retirement planning, and student loans.

Results indicated that many respondents were sequencing financial priorities, instead of funding them simultaneously, and delaying homeownership and retirement savings. Three-word phrases like “once I have…,", “after I [action],” and “as soon as…,” were noted frequently, indicating a hesitancy to fund certain financial goals until achieving others.

The top three financial goals reported by 1,538 respondents were saving for something, buying something, and reducing debt. About a third (32 percent) of the sample had outstanding student loan balances at the time of data collection and student loan debt had a major impact on respondents’ financial decisions. About three-quarters of the sample said loan debt affected both housing choices and retirement savings.

Actionable steps

Based on the findings from the study mentioned above, here are five ways to make better financial decisions.

1. Consider concurrent financial planning

Rethink the practice of completing financial goals one at a time. Concurrent goal-setting will maximize the awesome power of compound interest and prevent the frequently-reported survey result of having the completion date for one goal determine the start date to save for others.

2. Increase positive financial actions

Do more of anything positive that you’re already doing to better your personal finances. For example, if you’re saving 3 percent of your income in a SEP-IRA (if self-employed) or 401(k) or 403(b) employer retirement savings plan, decide to increase savings to 4 percent or 5 percent.

3. Decrease negative financial habits

Decide to stop (or at least reduce) costly actions that are counterproductive to building financial security. Everyone has their own culprits. Key criteria for consideration are potential cost savings, health impacts, and personal enjoyment.

4. Save something for retirement

Almost 40 percent of the respondents were saving nothing for retirement, which is sobering. The actions that people take (or do not take) today affect their future selves. Any savings is better than no savings and even modest amounts like $100 a month add up over time.

5. Run some financial calculations

Use an online calculator to set financial goals and make plans to achieve them. Planning increases people’s sense of control over their finances and motivation to save. Useful tools are available from FINRA and Practical Money Skills.

What’s the best way to save money for financial goals? It depends. In the end, the most important thing is that you’re taking positive action. Weigh the pros and cons of concurrent and sequential goal-setting strategies and personal preferences, and follow a regular savings strategy that works for you. Every small step matters!

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What Are Mutual Funds? Understanding The Basics

If you’re one of those investors with very little time to research and invest in individual stocks, it might be a good idea to look into investing in mutual funds.

Whether your goal is to save money for retirement, or for a down payment to buy a house, mutual funds are low-cost and effective way to invest your money.

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What is a mutual fund?

A mutual fund is an investment vehicle in which investors, like you ad me, pool their money together. They use the money to invest in securities such as stocks and bonds. A professional manages the funds.

In addition, mutual funds are cost efficient. They offer diversification to your portfolio. They have low minimum investment requirements.

These factors make mutual funds among the best investment vehicles to use. If you’re a beginner investor, you should consider investing in mutual funds or index funds.

Investing in the stock market in general, can be intimidating. If you are just starting out and don’t feel confident in your investing knowledge, you may value the advice of a financial advisor.

Types of mutual funds

There are different types of mutual funds. They are stock funds, bond funds, and money market funds.

Which funds you choose depends on your risk tolerance. While mutual funds in general are less risky than investing in individual stocks, some funds are riskier than others.

However, you can choose a combination of these three types of funds to diversify your portfolio.

  • Stock funds: a stock fund is a fund that invests heavily in stocks. However, that does not mean stock funds do not have other securities, i.e., bonds. It’s just that the majority of the money invested is in stocks.
  • Bond funds: if you don’t want your portfolio to fluctuate in value as stocks do, then you should consider bond funds.
  • Money market funds: money market funds are funds that you invest in if you tend to tap into your investment in the short term.
  • Sector funds. As the name suggests, sector funds are funds that invests in one particular sector or industry. For example, a fund that invests only in the health care industry is a sector fund. These mutual funds lack diversification. Therefore, you should avoid them or use them in conjunction to another mutual fund.

Additional funds

  • Index funds. Index funds seek to track the performance of a particular index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of 500 large U.S. company stocks or the CRSP US Small Cap Index. When you invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund, you’re essentially buying a piece of the 500 largest publicly traded US companies. Index funds don’t jump around. They stay invested in the market. 
  • Income funds: These funds focus invest primarily in corporate bonds. They also invest in some high-dividend stocks.
  • Balance funds: The portfolio of these funds have a mixed of stocks and bonds. Those funds enjoy capital growth and income dividend.

Related Article: 3 Ways to Protect Your Portfolio from the Volatile Stock Market

The advantages of mutual funds

Diversification. You’ve probably heard the popular saying “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Well, it applies to mutual funds. Mutual funds invest in stocks or bonds from dozens of companies in several industries.

Thus, your risk is spread. If a stock of a company is not doing well, a stock from another company can balance it out. While most funds are diversified, some are not.

For example, sector funds which invest in a specific industry such as real estate can be risky if that industry is not doing well.

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Professional Management.

Mutual funds are professionally managed. These fund managers are well educated and experienced. Their job is to analyze data, research companies and find the best investments for the fund.

Thus, investing in mutual funds can be a huge time saver for those who have very little time and those who lack expertise in the matter.

Cost Efficiency. The operating expenses and the cost that you pay to sell or buy a fund are cheaper than trading in individual securities on your own. For example, the best Vanguard mutual funds have operating expenses as low as 0.04%. So by keeping expenses low, these funds can help boost your returns.

Low or Reasonable Minimum Investment. The majority of mutual funds, Vanguard mutual funds, for example, have a reasonable minimum requirement. Some funds even have a minimum of $1,000 and provide a monthly investment plan where you can start with as little as $50 a month.

Related Article: 7 Secrets Smart Professionals Use to Choose Financial Advisors

The disadvantage of mutual funds.

While there are several benefits to investing in mutual funds, there are some disadvantages as well. 

Active Fund Management. Mutual funds are actively managed. That means fund mangers are always on the look out for the best securities to purchase. That also means they can easily make mistakes.

Cost/expenses. While cost and expenses of investing in individual stocks are significantly higher than mutual funds, cost of a mutual fund can nonetheless be significant.

High cost can have a negative effect on your investment return. These fees are deducted from your mutual fund’s balance every year. Other fees can apply as well. So always find a company with a low cost. 

How you make money with mutual funds.

You make money with mutual funds the same way you would with individual stocks: dividend, capital gain and appreciation.

Dividend: Dividends are cash distributions from a company to its shareholders. Some companies offer dividends; others do not. And those who do pay out dividends are not obligated to do so. And the amount of dividends can vary from year to year.

As a mutual fund investor, you may receive dividend income on a regular basis.

Mutual funds offer dividend reinvestment plans. This means that instead of receiving a cash payment, you can reinvest your dividend income into buying more shares in the fund.

Capital gain distribution: in addition to receiving dividend income from the fund, you make money with mutual funds when you make a profit by selling a stock. This is called “capital gain.”

Capital gain occurs when the fund manager sells stocks for more he bought them for. The resulting profits can be paid out to the fund’s shareholders. Just as dividend income, you have the choice to reinvest your gains in the fund.

Appreciation: If stocks in your fund have appreciated in value, the price per share of the fund will increase as well. So whether you hold your shares for a short term or long term, you stand to make a profit when the shares rise. 

Best mutual funds.

Now that you know mutual funds make excellent investments, finding the best mutual funds can be overwhelming. 

Vanguard mutual funds.

Vanguard mutual funds are the best out there, because they are relatively cheaper; they are of high quality; a professional manage them; and their operating expenses are relative low. 

Here is a list of the best Vanguard mutual funds that you should invest in:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Funds
  • Vanguard 500 Index (VFIAX)
  • Total International Stock index Fund
  • Vanguard Health Care Investor

Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund 

If you’re looking for a diversified mutual fund, this Vanguard mutual fund is for you. The Vanguard’s VTSAX provides exposure to the entire U.S. stock market which includes stocks from large, medium and small U.S companies.

The top companies include Microsoft, Apple, Amazon. In addition, the expenses are relatively (0.04%). It has a minimum initial investment of $3,000, making it one of the best vanguard stock funds out there.

Vanguard S&P 500 (VFIAX)

The Vanguard 500 Index fund may be appropriate for you if you prefer a mutual fund that focuses on U.S. equities. This fund tracks the performance of the S&P 500, which means it holds about 500 of the largest U.S. stocks.

The largest U.S. companies included in this fund are Facebook, Alphabet/Google, Apple, and Amazon. This index fund has an expense ration of 0.04% and a reasonable minimum initial investment of $3,000.

Vanguard Total International Stock Market

You should consider the Vanguard International Stock Market fund of you prefer a mutual fund that invests in foreign stocks.

This international stock fund exposes its shareholders to over 6,000 non-U.S. stocks from several countries in both developed markets and emerging markets. The minimum investment is also $3,000 with an expense ratio of 0.11%.

Vanguard Health Care Investor

Sector funds are not usually a good idea, because the lack diversification. Sector funds are funds that invest in a specific industry like real estate or health care. However, if you want a fund to complement your portfolio, the Vanguard Health Care Investor is a good choice.

This Vanguard mutual fund offers investors exposure to U.S. and foreign equities focusing in the health care industry. The expense ration is a little bit higher, 0.34%. However, the minimum initial investment is $3,000, making it one of the cheapest Vanguard mutual funds.

Bottom Line

Mutual funds are great options for beginner investors or investors who have little time to research and invest in individual stocks. When you buy into these low cost investments, you’re essentially buying shares from companies.

Your money are pooled together with those of other investors. If you intend to invest in low cost investment funds, you must know which ones are the best. When it comes to saving money on fees and getting a good return on your investment, Vanguard mutual funds are among the best funds out there.

They provide professional management, diversity, low cost, income and price appreciation.

What’s Next: 5 Mistakes People Make When Hiring A Financial Advisor

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions beyond knowing which of the best Vanguard mutual funds to invest, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
  • Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.
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Watch Your Wallet: 7 Hidden Costs of Self-Isolating at Home During Coronavirus

Coronavirus Is Costing You Cash at Home: 7 Hidden Expenses of Self-IsolatingYuttachai Saechan/Getty Images; realtor.com

Those who are fortunate enough to still be collecting a paycheck while quarantined or sheltering in place might expect to build up some serious savings. While you work from home, you’re avoiding your usual commuting expenses, and you’re probably saving money by not going to bars, restaurants, and movies, or skipping that vacation to Fiji.

But as spending decreases in some areas during self-isolation, it can creep up in others. To brace yourself and your budget, keep an eye on these expenses while you’re self-isolating at home.

1. Utilities

If you’ve gone from office life to Zoom life, you’re spending more time at home than usual, which could ramp up your household expenses.

“Your utility spending might be considerably higher if you’re spending more time at home cooking, charging devices, using lights and appliances,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com.

To keep your utility bills down, turn off lights when you leave the room, open windows during the day to let in cool air, unplug devices that you’re not using, and consider turning down your water heater by a few degrees.

2. Groceries

Grocery delivery

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Even if you’re not hoarding (and you shouldn’t be), you might find yourself spending more on groceries while you shelter in place.

For some people, an uptick in grocery spending will be offset by the money saved from not dining at restaurants. But if your local store is picked over—or if you pay fees for grocery delivery—you could spend more on groceries than usual.

“I’ve been to a local grocery store, and the only thing that was available was organic, so I couldn’t buy the generic. I actually had to spend more money,” says Steve Repak, author of the “6 Week Money Challenge for Your Personal Finances.”

If your grocery spending feels out of hand, be flexible and creative with your menu. Cook the food you already have at home before you head back to the store. Sites such as Eater have compiled resources for home cooks, including Pantry Cooking 101 and How to Stock a Pantry.

If you’re using a delivery service, place infrequent, larger orders instead of several small orders. Or consider curbside service; many stores are allowing free pickups where they bring your groceries right to your car, so you can save on delivery fees and tips.

3. Meal delivery and takeout

You may not be able to enjoy a nice meal at a restaurant, but you can order takeout and delivery—and those indulgences can add up quickly. After all, it’s not just the meal you’re paying for.

“There’s probably still a service fee, and on top of that you have to leave a gratuity,” Repak says. (It’s also a good idea to generously tip the workers who are delivering your food in these times.)

If you’re on a budget, reserve takeout and delivery for special occasions or those days when you just can’t muster the motivation to cook.

4. Alcohol and other sources of comfort

Curl up with a good bottle…

Moyo Studio/Getty Images

If you find yourself decompressing with a glass or two (or three) of wine every night, your drinking habit could do a number on your budget. And you wouldn’t be alone—alcohol consumption has shot up nationwide, and in states where recreational marijuana is legal, dispensaries are reporting booming business.

“Social isolation is really strongly linked to physical and mental health problems, and the way we cope with a lot of them is by drinking more,” Repak says. “People are going to smoke more and drink more … and we need to find other healthier coping mechanisms to offset that additional spending.”

You may not want to totally forfeit your evening glass of pinot, but you can make your supply last longer by sipping a mug of (far more affordable) chamomile tea on occasion, or opting for a calming yoga video or breathing exercise.

__________

Watch: Our Chief Economist’s View on the Pandemic, Mortgage Rates, and What’s Ahead

__________

5. Subscriptions

You’ve rewatched all your favorite shows on Netflix and Hulu—so, now’s the time to add a Disney+ subscription, right?

Not so fast, Repak says.

“Save a little bit of money by just picking one of the streaming services,” he suggests, or at least don’t pile on new subscriptions to the ones you already have.

To free up your budget, take inventory of your other monthly subscriptions, services, and other recurring expenses, and see if there’s anything that can be eliminated.

“Ten dollars a month may not sound like a lot, but if you have five of those, that’s $600 annually,” Rossman adds.

6. Online shopping

Online shopping knows no quarantine

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If you turn to retail therapy to soothe your soul, your budget could take a hit. True, many retailers are offering deep discounts in order to move merchandise, but even discount purchases add up.

“Impulse buying is a potential trap,” Rossman says. “Some people fall victim to it more than others.”

Instead of clicking “add to cart” as a coping mechanism, Repak suggests cleaning out your closet instead.

“This is a great time that we can offset our budget by decluttering our house or apartment,” he says.

Use sites like Poshmark to sell your clothes, or Mercari for your household items. Many donation centers such as Goodwill are still accepting donations, too—just call ahead to make sure your local store or donation drop-off location will take your items.

7. New hobbies you’re trying in quarantine

Our spending habits are highly personal, and you might find yourself throwing money at a new habit or hobby to fight cabin fever.

“It’s a worthwhile exercise to track your spending, especially now that so much is different,” Rossman says. “Look through your credit card and bank statements from the past month. Do you see anything surprising? Are there areas where you spent extra but didn’t feel it was worth it? These could be good ways to cut back.”

And remember: Even if quarantine has eliminated some of your old day-to-day expenses, it’s easy to overestimate how much you’re saving.

“Most people don’t have a great handle on their budget and spending habits anyway, and so much has changed of late,” Rossman says. “It’s easy to overlook things.”

The post Watch Your Wallet: 7 Hidden Costs of Self-Isolating at Home During Coronavirus appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

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