When it comes to money, Mother may not necessarily know best, but she’s more willing to talk about it: Fidelity
I remember when my first son was three years old, and in the “why” stage of development, we had a lengthy conversation about ATMs.
“Why do we need to go to the bank?”
“Why do you put money in the bank?”
“Why do you need to save?”
Why, why, why, and before I knew it I was trying to explain to this tot the concept of interest, paying for a mortgage, budgeting – and yes, asking myself the whole time why I was trying to answer these questions with any depth when he was only 3.
Since then we’ve had a lot of follow-up conversations as his little mind tried to grasp through repetition these financial concepts, and I tried to impart financial lessons to keep in check the also-growing consumerism that seems to accelerate when kids enter kindergarten.
But what I’ve come to realize is that having simple conversations about even complex ideas on money has built a foundation for us talking about these issues that I hope will carry into his adult years. Because in addition to wanting to raise a responsible adult, I recognize that the time will come when I will need him, and his siblings, to understand my finances and estate, and execute them on my behalf. I want them to know my values and feelings about these matters, and to be able to take care of them for me if I need assistance.
Charles Schwab & Co. financial consultant Kimberly Segal says she recommends her clients save enough to meet 80 percent of their current expenditures when planning for retirement. But a recent survey by her firm finds that Bostonians with means aren’t necessarily hearing the message. Most are expecting to only need about half the income they earn now when they retire, even amidst concerns about healthcare and other rising costs.
It’s not as if Segal’s clientele can’t afford to save. The demographic polled by Charles Schwab are technically well off, with at least $250,000 in “investable assets and retirement funds.” On average they earn $113,000 a year, yet in retirement they expect to only need $63,000.
The disconnect is particularly striking given that the majority of survey respondents plan to continue living in the Boston area in their golden years. Only one in four said they will move to a new area, seeking a better quality of life and lower living costs when they stop working.
“We’re urging people at a younger age to look at retirement planning, prioritize current and future expenses, and take action on the plan to make them financially secure for retirement,” Segal said. “Doing it early on can alleviate concerns, especially unforeseen expenses in medical and healthcare costs.”
Several analysts have reported that car sales are expected to rise this year, in part because there’s a sizeable group of people who need to replace their older vehicles. But how much is the “right” amount to spend?
If you’re looking to finance, you might consider the 20-4-10 rule: 20 percent down; financing that lasts no longer than four years; and principal, interest and insurance that doesn’t exceed 10 percent of your gross household income.
It’s a formula that can help change the way we think about how we define the affordability of a car, and potentially start to free up some extra cash for other, more important financial needs such as retirement or even the more basic emergency savings fund.
“How that change in thinking lowers your stress level is just amazing,” says Mike Sante, a managing editor at Interest.com, which recently completed a study that looked at car affordability. “It can make a tremendous change in your quality of life. This is where the money is for your savings.”
Americans are largely spending too much on cars, an asset that is often our second-largest household expense after rent or a mortgage and offers no potential for increasing net worth. For example, taking into account car insurance costs and the Boston area’s median income of almost $70,000 a year, Interest.com calculated that a typical Boston household can afford to spend up to $26,025 on a car. It would take a pretty good amount of self-control to avoid spending more than that, since the average new car with bells and whistles costs $30,550.
The rally in the markets this week probably has a lot of people checking their 401(k) balances to see what kind of bump they may have gotten in their portfolios. Mary Mullin, a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management here in Boston, says that there are some pretty solid reasons to be optimistic about a rebound in growth, not just in the U.S., but worldwide this year.
“The macroeconomic challenges still exist, but we’re talking to individuals about re-evaluating their portfolios because there are a lot of good companies out there doing good things,” Mullin said in an interview.
Mullin said research published by her firm examines the “great rotation,” referring to a move in the markets from cash and bonds into areas of potential growth, including housing, and back into equities.
If you look at individual companies, you’ll find several with strong balance sheets and profitability, she said. “A lot of companies have cash on their balance sheets and are paying strong dividends or are increasing their dividends,” Mullin said. “We’re also seeing signs of life in the housing market, which brings consumption that goes around that.”
So what are some investment themes that Mullin is looking at as she advises her clients?
I feel like every January, most personal finance columns encourage us to kick off the New Year with a fresh set of financial resolutions that involve finding ways to streamline our budget and save more. At the top of almost every list: give up that daily Starbucks latte.
I’m kind of tired of hearing that same tip, and feel that if at this point people haven’t gotten the message then writing it one more time isn’t going to persuade them to change their habits.
So let’s assume that we all know it’s not the smartest move to spend several dollars on that higher-priced cup of Joe every day when you can brew a less expensive version at home and put it in a go cup. This year, what else can we do to get our financial house in shape?
Bob Stammers, who heads up investor education for CFA (Chartered Financial Analysts) Institute, offered a few other ideas that I found pretty helpful:
Last year, my New Year’s Resolution was to go paperless. I succeeded, but not in the way that I expected.
I began the year trying several new online applications that aimed to help me organize tasks ranging from setting up a snapshot of all my bills and reminders to pay them, to creating a family system that would allow my kids to track their allowances and chores.
As I often discover (and re-discover) when I embark on an effort to create new habits, starting simple is best. As such, I found that a lot of these applications fell by the wayside, probably because I tried to integrate too many of them into my busy routine at once. Collectively they were too new, and therefore too difficult to master, in an efficient amount of time.
I ended up laying the foundation for my paperless life – and eliminating literally bags upon bags of clutter - with three simple steps:
1. Assign one email address as my contact for reminders from banks and bill companies, and then sign up for paperless statements.
2. Create a filing system on my computer to organize all documents, back it up twice with an external hard drive and a cloud-based storage system, and set quarterly reminders on my calendar to download statements.
3. Buy a desktop scanner that’s also portable for when I travel. As silly as this may sound, having the big all-in-one printer/scanner/fax machine that sits at the opposite end of the room was simply too much effort when I could more easily throw a piece of paper into the scanner to file online while talking on the phone or finishing an email.
2013 is going to be another good year for borrowers, and a lousy year for savers, as interest rates remain low amidst a slow-growth economy, Bankrate Senior Financial Analyst Greg McBride said in an interview.
McBride forecasts that the U.S. economy will expand by about 2 percent this year, tempered by an unemployment rate that will decline very slowly and gains in wages that will be “nothing to write home about.”
Those consumers looking to purchase or improve their homes or upgrade the cars will have a window of opportunity as borrowing costs remain low. Auto loans, for one, are at record lows and are still falling, making 2013 a favorable year from a financial standpoint for anyone looking to buy either a new or used car, McBride said
Excel spreadsheets are once again becoming my best friend.
As I begin preparing my annual Christmas shopping list, instead of my usual paper system tacked onto my bulletin board or stuffed in my wallet, I have decided to lay out my list of people, and purchases, in a few simple columns so that I can easily find and track all of the information.
At the end of last year’s holiday season, I realized that my budget should not only include those items I buy for gifts, but all the other items I end up purchasing because it’s the one time of the year that I actually take time out to shop. It’s the extra things that end up blowing my budget and bloating my credit-card bill come January.
It also helps me reinforce the fairness factor among my kids. We always try to make sure that we split our immediate family budget pretty evenly among them, but having a formula that automatically tallies up the amounts for me as I input each one makes it a lot easier to make sure that I am keeping my word.
Easthampton Savings Bank is one of 88 banks nationwide that is participating in this year’s “Lights, Camera, Save!” video contest for teens that’s organized by the Education Foundation of the American Bankers Association.
The contest asks teens ages 13-18 years old to create a video that educates themselves, and their peers, about the value of saving and using money wisely. The videos can’t be longer than 90 seconds and must be an original work by the student (including all music and images).
Consumer borrowing is up, but not for shopping – The cost of education is going to make this holiday a tough season for retailers
This week the National Retail Federation, the retail industry’s main voicebox, released its annual forecast for holiday spending, and not surprisingly the results indicate that consumers are going to continue to be cautious during the fourth-quarter buying season.
Discount stores will be the biggest beneficiaries of streamlined holiday budgets, with nearly two-thirds of consumers saying they will shop there to seek the best deals, the NRF said. Department stores ranked second. Clothing retailers were a close third, while electronics stores ranked fourth among the almost 8,900 individuals polled. Total budgets are forecast to barely edge up to an average $749.51 on gifts, décor and greeting cards, from the $740.57 they actually spent last year, the NRF said.
Consumers are also showing an interest in controlling the way they spend their money, an adjustment to the “new normal” that is evident in not only their adherence to budgets and avid pursuit of discounts, but their reduced use of credit cards. As a result there is more interest in using layaway programs (hence the already large number of TV commercials airing to promote this practice) with many consumers saying that they plan to begin their shopping this month, even before Halloween, in order to make sure they are able to grab the season’s “must have” items before it’s too late.
“Consumers have more credit available to them, and have more cards in their wallets that they did a year ago, but they have not been willing to take them out and charge up,” said Cristian deRitis, senior director of consumer credit analytics for Moody’s Analytics. “This year’s holiday season will be tough. People are worried about issues such as the fiscal cliff and the impact of Europe on the U.S. economy. Consumers are still quite cautious.”