How to Start Planning for Your Holiday Spending Now

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According to the National Retail Federation, “Holiday sales in 2015 increased 3 percent to $626.1 billion.” This was after research predicted people would spend, on average, $830 on holiday shopping.

This year, in 2016, I expect these numbers to rise as they typically have year after year. Even during the 2009 Recession, Gallup predicted that Americans would spend $740 on average on Christmas, so there’s no telling how much the average American will spend this year in 2016.

Since $800 is a pretty high number to spend on shopping, especially for the average family making around $50,000 per year, I wanted to talk about how to plan for holiday spending.

I personally have $800 in a separate high yield savings account earmarked for Christmas. It’s something I started saving for in January, and it reached the $800 mark in mid-summer. I don’t expect to spend $800 on gifts specifically. In fact, I’ve already purchased a few second-hand gifts for my kids for the holidays. Plus, we typically do a pretty tame four gift Christmas for them anyway. Rather, that $800 will go towards food for the holidays, a big Christmas dinner, gifts for family members, holiday decorations and more. Some of it might be used for a new gift or two for the kiddos and maybe something for my husband.

Once we get closer to the Christmas season, I’ll move the $800 I saved to my regular checking account, and then I’ll go about my grocery shopping and holiday shopping knowing I have a buffer to get what I need.

As a recovering Scrooge, I am always anxious when the holiday season rolls around. However, I’m going to try to enjoy it this year and make it special for my kids. Making it special, though, doesn’t mean I need to spend a ton of money on them. They are only two-years-old after all.

So, if you want to have a happy holiday season, one of the best ways you can do that is by lowering your stress. Since one of the best ways to lower stress is to plan, plan and plan some more (especially when it comes to what you will actually spend) step one is to decide what you want to buy and who you want to buy it for.

1. Plan What You Will Buy

The easiest way to develop a Christmas spending plan is to make a list. You can even make an Excel spreadsheet if you want to get fancy. Write down the names of your family members along with a ballpark price range and some gift ideas to help establish your plan.

If you feel like you have too many people on your list, talk to your family members about doing a Secret Santa gift exchange instead. Once you know who you want to buy for and how much you want to spend, you then know the ballpark financial figure you need to have on hand before the holidays get here. When you do start buying look for ways to save on your shopping. Check out Amazon.com as they usually have good deals or use the Carthwheel App when you shop at a store like Target to save money.

2. Set Aside Money Each Month

Ideally, it’s best to set aside money each month for Christmas starting in January of each year. However, even if you haven’t been saving all year, now is still a great time to begin. If you saved $200 in September, October, November and early December, you’d have $800.00 to spend on Christmas.

Two hundred dollars might seem like a lot to save each month, but you can easily find ways to save money each month by choosing not to go out to eat, selling something of value in your home or simply working a few extra odd jobs every month for the next few months.

Remember, it’s much more fun to go Christmas shopping with cash in your pocket than to charge it on a credit card and hope for the best.

Don't have a holiday spending plan for the upcoming Christmas season. Here are 3 ways to establish a plan so you can save money on gifts this year.

3. Stick to the Plan

What’s most important in all of this is that you stick to the plan. Having a holiday spending budget is just like any other budget; it’s easy to go over. However, I can tell you from experience that it feels amazing to go into the New Year without having a debt hangover from Christmas.

The best way to stick to the plan is to prepare for extras and work that into your Christmas budget. So, if you think you might be invited to a few holiday parties, make sure you add a few bottles of wine to your list for hostess gifts. If you’re worried someone at the office will give you a gift but you won’t have one to give them in return, factor in the cost of extra Christmas cards and a few holiday candles.

Planning, above anything, is your friend when it comes to this upcoming holiday season. It’s coming fast, but since it’s September you still have time to make this holiday season a financial success.

Do you have any tips for staying on budget this holiday season? What are some unexpected holiday expenses people should look out for? How much do you plan to spend this holiday season?

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Do You Really Need That? How to Stop Making Impulse Purchases

Stopping impulse purchases is a great way to better manage your finances. Here are ways I've found to stop impulse buying and be free of worry.

Most impulse purchases eat away at your financial progress. I’m a budgeter, so I regularly set a plan for my spending, saving and debt payments each month. Back when I used to make a lot of impulse purchases, I’d feel defeated at the end of the month when I looked at how much money I spent on nonsense that could have been put to better use elsewhere.

There’s really no point in beating yourself up over impulse purchases though. They’ll happen from time to time, and sometimes you won’t regret them because either you have the money on hand or you scored an unbeatable deal.

For the most part, impulse buying can hold you back financially and that’s why it’s important to control spending by curbing it altogether or keeping it to a minimum.

Here are a few things you can do to stop making impulse purchases each month.

Avoid Shopping as a Hobby

I can’t remember the last time I went shopping or to the mall just to look around. I usually go with a cold hard mission to get in, get what I need and get out before I spend too much money.

While this strategy can help you stay focused, it might not always stop you from picking up that extra item for your home that is on sale. If you find add-on items irresistible, it’s best to avoid shopping as a leisure activity, minimize your trips to the store and find a few cheap or free hobbies.

When you do go shopping, know what your weak spot stores are and try to avoid them. My favorite store is Target and if someone were to hand me a gift card I could do some serious damage in there (especially when you factor in their money-saving Cartwheel app and Target REDCard options).

In reality, I’m not going to have a Target gift card all the time or be given free money to shop so I will usually just stay away from the store unless I need something important.

Try a No Spend Day or Week

I used to have no spend weeks all the time when I wanted to reset my finances or stretch my budget a little longer. You can also have no spend weeks when you are trying to eliminate impulse purchases.

You can eat through your cabinets, find free ways to entertain yourself and avoid non-necessity purchases of any kind at all costs. What I like most about no spend weeks is that it challenges you to get creative and work with what you have.

You might find some items in your home that you forgot to use, try out a new recipe that is a hit with your family or establish a unique way to do something which can help you avoid spending more money in the future.

Reduce or Eliminate What Might Be Stressing You Out

Sometimes we make purchases we don’t really want or need to fill a void or relieve stress. My one horrible impulse purchase was picking up candy from the gas station or store whenever I was feeling restless or stressed (especially when at work).

Eating candy helped me feel better temporarily but then I felt like crap afterward because it’s really bad for my skin, my sugar levels and my health in general.

Since I couldn’t just ditch work at the time, I tried to manage my stress levels by pacing myself, asking for help with my workload, getting enough sleep at night and trying other alternatives like going for a short walk in the middle of the day to decompress or listening to music with my headphones.

Ask If You Really Need the Item

Like the title of this post suggests, sometimes you need to ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?’ Impulse purchases are made quickly and often without thought. If you take a moment to determine whether the item you are considering purchasing is truly something you need or will add value to your life and help you meet your goals, you might not even want to head to the checkout lane with it after all.

Another good tip I’ve heard is to sleep on it, literally. Leave the item at the store for the next 24-48 hours and see if you regret not bringing it home. If you forgot about it in that time or don’t remember why you wanted it in the first place, the answer is simple.

Stopping impulse purchases is a great way to better manage your finances. Here are ways I've found to stop impulse buying and be free of worry.

Try to Stick to It For At Least a Month

Controlling or even eliminating impulse purchases is not easy and can take some time. Think of it as getting rid of a bad habit. Research shows it takes around 21 days to get rid of a bad habit or adopt a new one.

Stick to these strategies for at least 30 days and try to prioritize your goals and values as well.

  • If it’s not broken, no need to buy a new one.
  • If you feel like you have too much clutter in your home already, you probably don’t need more stuff.
  • If it’s just a fad, you might have some regrets later when the item doesn’t satisfy you any more or you can’t even get rid of it by selling it.

Stopping impulse buys is an ongoing process so it’s best to take it week-by-week and month-by-month. Be patient with yourself and keep your long-term financial goals in mind.

Have you ever struggled with making impulse purchases? How do you control that urge to spend money on certain things? What was the last thing you bought on impulse? If you could go back in time, would you return it – or are you glad you grabbed it?

How to Boost Your Income and Find New Sources of Revenue


How to Boost Your Income and Find New Sources of Revenue

There are two ways you can attack your debts faster; you can cut your expenses and allocate more towards repaying those debts, or you can boost your income (or find new sources of income) in order to do the same. You can also do both, which will definitely make regaining your financial freedom that much easier to do.

Boosting your income and benefiting from additional sources of income are the two things you can do right now. Here are some of the tips and tricks that will help you get started in no time.

Sell Unused Stuff

One of the best, and easiest, ways to make money is by selling old items you no longer need or use. eBay and various other marketplaces allow you to sell your items directly to buyers. As a result, you can get more for your belongings; the money you make can go straight into reducing the principal amounts of your debts.

Start with smaller items. Walk around your house and list all items you can sell without sacrificing comfort or losing the things you really need. Be a bit mean to yourself. It is difficult to let go of even the most mundane items, but you’ll thank yourself later once you start seeing your debts reduced by a substantial amount.

Get a Master’s Degree

I know it seems counterintuitive to get a master’s degree when you’re in debt, but a master’s degree can actually help you boost your pay by a substantial margin. More importantly, you can now pursue a master’s degree online.

Online courses are better for many reasons. First, they are hosted by the same top universities across the country. You can, for instance, get a master of science in nursing from Bradley University. Yes, THE Bradley University.

Online courses are also very affordable – much more so than offline master’s programs – and you can list the fact that you’re pursuing a master’s degree as soon as you start the course. That extra item on your CV will help you find new opportunities for a raise.

Start an Online Business

If selling your items online hasn’t give you an idea yet, then you’re missing out on another opportunity to make money: an online business. An online business doesn’t have to be all that complicated. You can sell crafts on Instagram and make money almost immediately. Facebook is a great social network to use for selling items like t-shirts and accessories.

You can go a step further and monetize your hobby. If you love taking pictures, there are plenty of opportunities to do stock photography, weddings and even travel photos. You can get paid to do the things you already love; nothing is better than that, I promise!

Still not sure how to get started? Check out freelance sites and $5-jobs listings. These may not seem like much at first, but you’ll be surprised by how much you can actually make doing simple tasks for a small fee. Once you get started, you can expand and begin to charge more for your services.

There are lots of ways to boost your income. Just make sure you put all of your extra income toward debt so you can pay it off as quickly as possible.

Photo courtesy of: TheDigitalWay


3 Reasons Why Target Might Be the Best Place to Buy Groceries

Target is the best place to buy groceries. Here are 3 reasons why I love to buy my groceries at Target and how they can help save you money.

Since I moved to Michigan about five weeks ago, I’ve gotten in the habit of going to Target to buy groceries.

Maybe it’s just something about moving to a new place, but I tried a few other grocery stores and all of them seemed so overwhelming.

It takes time to figure out where everything is in a new store. Plus, everyone in Michigan is so nice. Every five seconds someone asked me if I needed help finding something, and I honestly wanted to just yell in the middle of the store that I needed help finding everything (but that would have caused a scene so I didn’t.)

So, I find myself at Target more often than not to buy my groceries. Most Targets look the same, and I know how to navigate them. It sounds silly, but when you’ve been completely uprooted, sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere familiar. Plus, I’ve realized Target is a phenomenal place to buy groceries.

Here’s why:

The Cartwheel App

Target has a great app called Cartwheel, which is free on either an iPhone or Android based smartphone. All you need is a Target account and a smartphone, and you’re good to go. Hold up your phone and scan any barcode as you go through the store. It’ll either give you an excited “Ta da!” noise or a “Bonk Try Again” noise. The “Ta da!” noise means that there is a coupon that matches what you’ve scanned.

I know there are people out there who use other apps to save money on groceries, but the Cartwheel app is the easiest way that I’ve found to do this. I don’t have to sit down for hours and clip coupons for products I know I don’t want. I literally just scan the organic milk and sometimes it tells me it’s five percent off. It’s hard to find a coupon in the paper for blueberries or yogurt or milk, but with Cartwheel, more often than not there’s a deal.

On a recent grocery trip earlier this week, there was organic yogurt on sale for my kids. Then, there was a five percent off cartwheel on top of it. I ended up getting really nice organic yogurt that my kids have been enjoying for breakfast for far less than the generic brand. This is something that I would have passed on before, thinking it was too much of a luxury, but because it was on sale already, I decided to scan it, which brought the price down even more due to the coupon.

The only main issue with the Target app is that it commands the use of my phone so my son, who hates shopping, is always grumpy that he can’t hold my phone to watch YouTube (or videos of himself) while we shop. Still, it’s a super easy way to make sure that I use coupons every time I go to Target, including ones that are specific only to Target.

The Target Red Card

Because I’ve been doing all of my shopping at Target lately, I finally got a Target Red Card. I opted for the Target debit card vs. the Target credit card mostly because I’ve been simplifying my finances and my accounts lately.

Regardless of which one you get, though, the application process was relatively painless and the best part is that you save five percent on every order. Plus you get free shipping online with every order. It’s a great perk for a free card.

There’s nothing quite like saving money using the Cartwheel app throughout the store and then seeing the numbers fall at the end because you used the Red Card.

Target is the best place to buy groceries. Here are 3 reasons why I love to buy my groceries at Target and how they can help save you money.

Great Options, Small Space

In my previous life, I really didn’t do the grocery shopping at all. My husband is a great cook and loves to go to the grocery store. Every weekend, he’d switch off taking one twin with him and then the next weekend taking the other. It became a sort of Daddy date for the kids, and they loved it.

Unfortunately, due to his new and intense residency schedule, I’ve taken on doing the weekly grocery shopping in addition to several of his other chores (hellloooo grass cutting.)

Because I really, truly hate grocery shopping especially with two little kids, Target is my place since it’s relatively small. Sure, they don’t have as many options when it comes to food but the options they do have are really pretty nice. They have a lot of nice packaged items, nice meat and nice produce and plenty of healthy, whole food options that accommodate a healthy lifestyle. In fact, just recently the meat was on sale so much that my whole freezer is stocked with different types of meat that should last us a few weeks.

The fact that there is less selection has actually been pretty nice for me. As I said, I tend to get overwhelmed at the grocery store when there are just too many options, and shopping at Target has allowed me to get what I need without being tempted to throw a million more food items in the basket. Plus, I love the savings I get, and I feel as though the prices really do rival other grocery stores.

Do you do your grocery shopping at Target? How do the prices compare in your neighborhood? Have you tried the Cartwheel app yet? If so, what’s been one of your biggest savings? How do you feel about grocery store loyalty programs?

Which Markets Are Best For Trading?


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Trading innovation is ongoing and we constantly see expansions in trading instruments used. Markets that seem to be separate constantly interact and we have access to so many interesting opportunities for traders of basically all types, ranging from online CFD trading to simply buying gold.

Based on experience and education the individual needs to be aware of trading vehicles and investments available. In most situations we have transactions that will happen through the use of online platforms. Let’s take a look at available options and see how you can choose the best options for you.

Different Markets To Consider Investing In

  • Stock Market – The most well-known market, involving shorting or buying company shares.
  • ETF Market – Funds represent different industries, commodities, currencies and sectors.
  • Forex Market – This is by far the largest of all investment markets and it facilities currency exchanges in favor of other currencies. You normally trade the currencies in pairs.
  • Options Market – An option is underlying asset ownership, with prices fluctuating based on value provided.
  • CFD – Normally used as online CFD trading, this is a hybrid of the options, Forex and stock markets. Participants trade in derivative products based on different underlying assets.

Other markets do exist but in most cases the ones mentioned above are those that should be considered. Obviously, all have advantages and disadvantages you should learn as much as possible about.

What Market Should You Trade In?

In order to decide what market is the best for you, it is important to think about trading style used, location, when you can trade and financial resources available. There are many markets that can be considered and there is a huge possibility that you do not know much about many of them. Out of all the factors that are really important in trading, knowledge stands out as the vital aspect nobody should neglect.

Generally speaking, the choice is mainly dependent on how much risk you are comfortable taking. Long-term investments normally bring in a lower possible income but trading is more secure in terms of risks. With the short-term investment opportunities, like binary options trading, the risks are so much higher. You want to think about how much you would be willing to risk.

A Focus On Online CFD Trading

Most beginner investors will be drawn in by online CFD trading. This is totally understandable because of the many different opportunities that become available. Based on how markets develop, the investor can choose out of so many different opportunities presenting themselves. One day you can buy stocks. In the second day you can speculate the Forex market. During day 3 you can sell stocks while you invest in some options. Flexibility is really high so it should come as no surprise to see that many see CFD trading as the best option for traders.

Conclusions

You could invest in basically all markets but you want to focus on one. CFD will eventually be considered but you may want to experience with the options available at an individual level first. That would be much more beneficial.

Find more information, help and courses about online CFD trading at https://www.xtrade.com/.

Photo courtesy of: geralt


How to Stress Less About Money: 6 Simple Steps

Want to stress less about money, but don't know how to start? Here are 6 ways to simplify your finances and enjoy life more.

Being busy all the time and having a complex life is not all it’s cracked up to be especially when it comes to your finances. I know quite a few people who shy away from making an effort to manage their money properly because it seems like it adds a lot of stress.

You have to track your spending, create a budget, stick to that budget and adjust it periodically; set financial goals; find a way to be more frugal; monitor your credit; remember to pay all your bills; keep an eye on your investments; the list can go on and on and it can get quite stressful when it really should be simple.

Believe it or not, managing your money can be fun and motivating, not stressful and something you dread doing. If managing your finances has become a tedious and mundane task, here six ways to simplify and take the stress out of this responsibility.

Link Your Accounts Together

Most accounts can be managed online these days whether it’s personal bills or a checking account with your bank, which is great because I can’t stand holding onto paper. When you have different credit cards, a few savings accounts, a business account and a regular checking account plus other accounts for debt like student loans, things can get a little confusing.

This is why I recommend using a free app or online tool like Personal Capital to link all your accounts together and streamline the entire process of checking up on your accounts and staying organized.

Personal Capital not only allows you to see all your accounts in one place, it also helps you track your net worth and provides full advisory services to users with at least $25,000 in investable assets. It analyzes certain fees you pay so you can consider reducing them, provides timely reminders for when bills are due and more. You can read a full review of the app here.

Get Rid of Any Services, Offers or Expenses You Don’t Really Need

When was the last time you did a clean sweep of all the services and expenses you no longer use? The last time I did this, I found out I was paying a fee to a credit card company practically for nothing. Granted it was small, it was a hassle to remember each month so I asked about getting rid of it. When you have less expenses, you often have less things to worry about paying.

When it comes to receiving offers in the mail and emails, sometimes I just can’t stand it. One thing I found helpful was unsubscribing from email offers from financial companies I wasn’t interested in and banks who were trying to offer me credit cards I didn’t want. If you have a ton of email like me and don’t know where to start, you can sign up for a free service like Unroll.me.

This app helps clean out your inbox and it unsubscribes you from junk email lists and organizes the emails you do want, which can be a good option if you’ve gone paperless with most of your financial accounts.

Set Up Automatic Payments

If you are already financially stable, you should be able to free yourself from the anxiety of wondering if you’ve paid all the bills on time or if you forgot about something. I keep a spreadsheet of my entire monthly budget and list of expenses along with when certain bills are due as a back up, but I chose to set up automatic payments for a lot of my expenses.

With my student loan payment, setting up automatic payments actually helped lower my interest rate. Setting up recurring monthly payments can often be done via your online banking platform or directly with a biller.

Consolidate Retirement Accounts

Many people change employers throughout their careers which can leave them with numerous 401(k) plans. You can actually consolidate your retirement plans from previous employers and roll them into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or to your current employer’s retirement plan.

That way, you can manage your existing retirement fund in one place and continue to reap the benefits of your current 401(k) if you have a traditional employer that offers one. If you need an online broker to roll an old 401(k) to, check out our list of best online brokerages.

set fewer goals to relieve stress

I used to be a big goal-setter. I would set several overarching financial goals and either celebrate when I reached them or beat myself up when I failed. Regardless of the outcome, working toward the financial goals was a stressful process.

I learned that there’s nothing wrong with setting impressive goals, but setting too many can become harmful because you can’t achieve everything at once.

Since then, I’ve limited the amount of strict goals I set for myself each year. I still set smaller short and long-term goals all the time, but I don’t feel the pressure as much. Either way, don’t stress yourself out about it. As long as you’re moving forward, that’s what matters.

Want to stress less about money, but don't know how to start? Here are 6 ways to simplify your finances and enjoy life more.

Pay Off Debt

Paying off your debt is easier said than done. It can be an intense process but the less debt you have, the simpler your financial situation will be.

There is more than one way to pay off debt. First, clarify what your priorities are and whether you should aggressively pay off your debt or focus on other areas of your finances first. Then, stick to a strategy and specify which debt you will attack first in order to dig yourself out of the hole.

Even if you have a mixture of student loans, credit card debt and a car loan, if you work on paying down your credit card debt within a few months for example, that will be one less thing you have to worry about. If you have multiple outstanding debts, it can pay to consolidate them into one loan to simplify repayment and save money. This can be done through online lenders like Lightstream, which help you consolidate debt into one loan and shave 10 percent or more off your current interest rates.

As you can see, managing your finances doesn’t have to be a stressful hassle if you put some convenient systems and processes in place. Feel free to automate as much as you can, but don’t forget to check in periodically to make sure everything is going well.

How do you simplify the way you manage your finances? When you find yourself stressing over money, how do you relieve the pressure? Do too many goals lead you to inaction? How do you motivate yourself to reach your financial goals?

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How to Invest in the Stock Market With Little Money

You can invest in the stock market with little money if that is your situation. I share ways and brokers to use to invest in the market with little cash.

Do you want to know how to invest in stocks with little money, but don’t know where to start? I spoke with many investors in the same situation in my days as a stockbroker and help people everyday with the very same issue. Many believe they can’t invest in the stock market with little money and they allow that to keep them from investing. I love helping people who are just starting to invest with little money as they’re taking the first steps to grow their wealth. The challenge many often face though is the belief they can’t afford to start investing in the stock market.

We all come from different situations. Some may be working to pay off debt and have very little money to spare. Others may have more resources but spend it foolishly on things that bring little value and, as a result, they feel like they can’t afford to invest. It’s my opinion that nearly anyone can invest in the stock market with little money, they just need to know the available options to invest. That’s not to mention the fact they also need to see the need to start investing and that even with little money that it’ll make a difference for their future.

As this is a part of my how to invest in stocks series, please feel free to check out some of the other posts in that series as each one builds on previous articles:

With that out of the way, let’s discuss how to invest in stocks with little money.

You Can Invest in the Stock Market With Little money

A common misconception among many is that they need to have thousands upon thousands of dollars to invest in the stock market. While more is certainly better, big bucks is not a requirement in order to invest in the stock market. Opening an online brokerage account is often the best way to get started if you’re investing with $500 or less, especially if you do not have access to a 401(k) through your employer.

If you’re looking for an online broker, you can check out my online brokerage page to find brokerages that I either personally use or have extensive experience with. Many online brokers start out with a minimum opening balance of as little as $500, or nothing at all, which is tough to beat. Below are some of the brokers that allow you to open accounts with $500 or less – with the minimums to open an account to each:

  • Betterment – no minimum deposit required (they manage your investments for you)
  • E*TRADE – $500 minimum balance required, $0 for IRA accounts
  • Motif Investing – $250 minimum balance required
  • Scottrade – $500 minimum required for an IRA, $2,500 for non-IRAs
  • TradeKing – no minimum deposit required
  • Wealthfront – $500 minimum deposit required (they manage your investments for you)

As you can see, there are quite a number of options to trade stocks with little money – some that will even do the investing for you. You can also invest directly with specific mutual fund families, but you may be held back to many thanks to the minimum they require to open an account. That being said, there are many ways to invest in the stock market with little money, you just have to find the best fit for your situation.

Automation Can Be Your Best Friend

One of the most common excuses I heard from those saying they couldn’t afford to invest in the stock market during my stockbroker days was that they commonly forgot to deposit money into their account. I understand that, life is busy and it’s easy to forget things, especially if it’s not a priority. This is where automation can be such a huge asset to those just starting out and those who have been investing for years alike.

Many online brokerages, like Scottrade, allow you to set up an electronic transfer between your account with them and your bank account. You can either transfer money in individual situations, or set up a regular transfer at an interval of your choosing. Using this feature allows you to build a pile of cash that you can invest in the stock market. Unless you’re transferring a large amount over, try to avoid buying stocks with each transfer as it’ll only cause you to spend more money in fees and commission. To avoid this, you can focus on investing the money once a month or quarter to cut down on costs.

A Quantifiable Goal Can Be Your Best Friend

A common issue I see with those saying they can’t afford to invest in the stock market is they have no ownership of it. They have no skin in the game and thus don’t see the need to begin investing. Regardless of what it is in life, if you don’t truly want it, it’s going to be difficult to work towards. Investing in the stock market is no different. Saving for retirement can be such a nebulous thing to those three to four decades away that they can easily put investing in the back of their mind and lose sight of time. The risk is loss of time which means you lose out on growth.

This is why I find it so helpful to have something to work towards to help incentivize myself to push me to reach whatever goal I have. I did this several years ago when my wife and I wanted to go on a cruise for our tenth anniversary. We wanted to spare no expense and thus needed to save like crazy for it. It may sound silly, but I put a picture of the ship we’d be on at my desk. Whenever I wanted to give up or not work to get a bigger bonus I’d look at the picture and I’d be motivated to start working for it again because I wanted it.

If you’re struggling with wanting to invest in the stock market because a lack of funds, look for ways to not only motivate yourself but push yourself to find ways to find the cash to invest.

Don’t Give Into the Excuse of Lack of Funds

I purposely left this issue to the end of the post. Too many times to count, I ask individuals why they are not investing in the stock market and am often told they feel like they have too little money to get started. I’ll cede the point that there are some who find themselves in that case and I do not bemoan that by any means. That being said, many are professionals who make a very decent salary but choose (I am largely guessing here) to not make investing in the stock market a priority. Worse yet, they use the belief that they have no money to spare as an excuse to not invest in the stock market.

You can invest in the stock market with little money if that is your situation. I share ways and brokers to use to invest in the market with little cash.

Ultimately, I think it comes down generally to a lack of priorities and not thinking about saving for retirement and instead only thinking of the present. If you’re in this situation, I ask you to look at your spending habits and look for ways to cut your expenses. I’ll spare the list, as it has been rehashed here many times before, but look for ways you can trim the fat from your spending and put that money to work for you as opposed to being enslaved to it.

It may seem like a small amount, but finding something as simple as even $40-50 per month to invest in the stock market will do you wonders in the long run. If you want or need help to locate those areas to trim, my favorite tracking tool is Personal Capital. Not only is Personal Capital free, but it also allows you to track your expenses, offers a free portfolio review and so much more in order to stay on top of your finances.

Whatever your situation is, please take action to get started today as you don’t want to look back years from now wishing you would’ve started earlier.

Additional resource: If you’re looking for somewhere to invest with little money, you can open a Motif Investing account for as little as $250. I personally use Motif as they offer a great way to get started as well as allowing for instant diversification, not to mention promotions when you open a new account with them.

Open a Motif Investing account today and get up to $150 cash back!

How to Budget for a House Remodel Project

Have a house remodel project but don't know how to pay for it? Here are 3 ways to save for it so you don't go into debt to remodel your home.

Americans will spend $310 billion on house remodel projects this year, according to a recent Harvard study. This is an increase from prior years and a good indication that the economy will benefit in many ways from this home remodeling trend.

It’s no secret that remodeling homes can be expensive, and as many homeowners know, the ‘to do’ list never really ends. There are always new trends, new ideas and new chips and cracks to repair!

My First Big House remodel Project

Before we even moved into our home a few weeks ago, we spent $1,300 refinishing our wood floors. It’s not exactly something I wanted to spend right away, but I knew that while the house was empty and we had not moved in yet, it was the perfect time to tackle this kind of house remodel project.

Our house had a lot of mismatched wood floors. Some were an old orange-y type of hardwood and other parts had wide planked maple that was stained black. I wanted the house to feel cohesive so we stained it all black. It looks awesome and is a nice modern upgrade for my 1940’s bungalow.

If I’m being honest though, the $1,300 hurt to spend, especially because we had so many moving costs and other unexpected house expenses. Usually I save for a long time for big purchases in my high yield savings account, but this one was something we decided to do last minute. The reason is because I realized if I wanted it done in the future, we’d have to move all the furniture out and possibly our kids so we wouldn’t be around all the smells and chemicals that it takes to refinish floors. It was a “now or never” type of decision.

Budgeting for a house remodel project

Because I had to tighten my cash flow to get our floors refinished, I wanted to encourage others to actually budget and plan for a big purchase like this. It definitely feels better to save up for something over time and have the cash to pay for it. So, here’s how things really should be done when it comes to making a budget for a home remodeling job:

1. Research the Cost

We have a lot of smaller projects on our list like getting curtains and painting the kitchen, but a big-ticket item that we’ll have to save for is finishing our basement. This will involve getting new windows, refinishing the floor and putting up some sheetrock. If we decide to get fancy, we might put a half bath down there since our home only has one bathroom total. (I know future buyers with older kids might need/want a second bathroom.)

As part of this process, we’ve researched the cost of the materials and labor. We’ve thought about what we can do ourselves and what we should hire out. For example I might take a stab at painting a concrete basement floor but I’m definitely going to hire an electrician when we need one!

When it comes time to actually finish the basement, we will get quotes from several people and we’ll go with the person or company who we think would be the best fit for us. Doing research is important because it helps you to approximate the cost of a house remodel project so you can save ahead of time.

2. Save in a Separate Account

It’s too easy to use the money that you save in your regular savings account. When you want to do a big house remodel project, you need to send the money away to live in another spot. This way, you won’t be tempted to touch it when Christmas rolls around or when you’re dying to go to the Caribbean in the dead of Michigan winter (or maybe that’ll just be me.)

I use Smarty Pig and I have for years, but there are other high yield savings accounts or money market accounts like Discover Bank and American Express who are now beating their rates so I might switch. You can also sign up for Digit as they analyze your spending trends and put small amounts of money for you in a savings account as every little bit helps.

All that said, if you schedule an automatic withdrawal and send it to your house remodel fund every month, you’ll have enough money in there before you know it to complete your project.

Have a house remodel project but don't know how to pay for it? Here are 3 ways to save for it so you don't go into debt to remodel your home.

3. Save More Than You Think

You have to be prepared for things to go wrong when it comes to big home renovations. It might sound negative, but it’s also wise. You’ll work hard to save your money and budget for your project. It’ll take time to make a plan, speak with contractors, get recommendations and more.

So because you’ll spend all that time and effort making it happen, go ahead and save about 20 percent more than you will think you need.

In the worst-case scenario you’ll have to dip into your extra savings. In the best-case scenario, you can roll that money into the budget for your next project…because you know you’re not done with your house yet!

What’s the biggest house remodel project you’ve ever done? Do you have any tips for someone who might be considering a remodel or big project in their home?

5 Investing Lies We Believe That Rob Us Blind

Investing lies keep us from investing like we should. Here are 5 lies about investing, how to overcome them and invest in the stock market.

We’ve all heard the numbers about investing in the stock market – over half aren’t even investing and Millennials supposedly like the stock market even less. There are many reasons for this, but chief among them are a poor economy and a lack of basic financial literacy among the population. In many cases though, the decision to not invest in the stock market boils down to believing lies about investing.

I heard these lies everyday as a stockbroker. A client I was speaking with would make a statement that was absolutely false. That’s not a criticism; it’s to point out that there are many investing lies and falsehoods we believe and, in too many instances, they hold us back from growing wealth the way we should.

One of the biggest financial mistakes I regret was giving into the lie that you shouldn’t invest when paying off debt. It made sense not to invest at the very beginning of my debt payoff journey as I had very little to throw at my debt; but the last 3+ years, I could’ve thrown something at retirement. Not investing then because I believed I shouldn’t put me that much further behind saving what I need for retirement. Following are five other costly investing lies far too many of us believe.

Investing Lie #1 – You Need A Lot of Money to Start Investing

I realize in certain situations some may not be able to invest in the stock market. They may be in a lower-paying job or worse. That’s not who I’m talking about here. I’m talking about individuals in decent paying jobs who are able to free up money to invest. The worst believers in this lie are those who have access to a 401(k) plan through their employer and yet don’t invest (even with the option of a match – gasp!).

Yes, it does help to have more money when you invest in the stock market, but it is by no means required. There are many ways to invest in stocks with little money; you simply need to start. While some brokerages do require at least $1,000 to invest, many others don’t. Brokerages like Betterment, Motif Investing and TradeKing all allow you to start investing with $250 or less.

If you have access to a 401(k) plan, then most allow you to start with nothing and then begin pulling money out of each paycheck automatically for you to invest. It’s really that simple but, again, you need to start. If coming up with the money to start investing is a challenge, there are many ways to save money every month. Pick a few and throw the savings into a brokerage account. You can go the other route and find ways to make extra money and throw it at a brokerage account. Regardless of your choice, you can invest with little money and do quite well.

Investing Lie #2 – Paying More Means We Get Better Service

John Oliver took on this investing lie recently. You know the argument; you get what you pay for. Thus, when you buy “on the cheap” it’s of poor quality and when you pay more it’s high quality. Investing in the stock market isn’t like going furniture shopping – it’s often the exact opposite.

Far too many times to count in my former day job I would speak with clients who complained about their financial advisor. Nearly every time the number one issue was compensation – they were paying their advisor way too much money and assumed that the hefty price tag or exorbitant fee translated into higher quality financial advice and/or investment performance.

In reality, all they were doing was lining the pockets of their financial advisors, who often had them invested in poor products, which caused them to lose even more money. There are many good financial advisors out there, and they’re worth what you pay them, but in many instances, low-cost index funds can grow your money just as well if not better than an actively managed fund.

Investing Lie #3 – You Need to Be an Expert to Invest in the Stock Market

This is probably the investing lie I understand the most. The stock market is overwhelming to those new to investing. There are tens of thousands of stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, etc. to choose from; it’s like hell’s cereal aisle and new investors can easily become paralyzed by the over-abundance of choices. If you weren’t taught about investing by your parents or in school, then beginning to invest can feel like having a conversation in a foreign language.

That’s how my investing life began. I was completely clueless about investing, and I had no idea where to start. I found ways to learn about investing from reading books on investing and researching things online. After a little while, I became more comfortable with investing and could act with confidence.

The point? You don’t need to be an expert to start investing. You simply need to learn a little so you can be comfortable with it. There are many ways to learn about investing – most 401(k) plans offer educational resources, there are books for beginner investors, free courses taught by online brokerages and more. Find something you like and start teaching yourself.

You can also use a robo-advisor like Wealthfront, or the aforementioned Betterment, to manage the investing for you now while you learn how to take it over yourself.

Investing Lie #4 – I Don’t Want to Retire so I Don’t Need to Invest

The retirement landscape has changed a lot over the past decade or so. It’s no longer expected that you work at the same corporation for three or four decades and then retire with a gold watch and a fat pension. We now have more responsibility and the image of “retiring” to do little holds less value today.

Does this mean you shouldn’t save for retirement? No! Even if you plan to work later in life, it’s still important that you actively invest in the present. You never know what will happen over the next few decades.

You may find that you do want to stop working at a certain age. You may have a health issue that will keep you from working. You may want to travel more or take up residence in a more expensive location. Any of those options, and more will require a sizable amount of money, thus the importance to start investing when you can.

Investing lies keep us from investing like we should. Here are 5 lies about investing, how to overcome them and invest in the stock market.

Investing Lie #5 – Time Doesn’t Matter in Investing

How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ll start ‘X’ next year.” If they genuinely start next year, that’s one thing, but how many times does “next” year turn into two, three, four years, or more? When it comes to investing in the stock market that puts you even further behind where you need to be.

I’ve written about this before, but it’s known that those who put off saving for retirement until age 45 must save three times as much as those who started at age 25. Why is that? Time is arguably the most important facet of investing; it can be your best friend or worst enemy. It’s those who start investing as soon as they’re able that put themselves in the best positions possible.

Yes, they may not be starting with much, but that’s not the point. The point is they started and time will do wonders with what they’re doing with their money. Ultimately, it’s the discipline they’re establishing that matters and the rest will take care of itself.

There are other investing lies out there, but these cover the important points – that you need to start saving as early as possible and educating yourself along the way. As the saying goes, no one will care about your money as much as you – so take yourself seriously and start investing today.

What are some other investing lies you’ve heard? What’s one you’ve been guilty of believing in the past or find yourself believing now? When did you start saving for retirement?

How to Start Investing With $500 or Less

Investing with $500 or less can be a challenge, but it can be done. Here are brokers to consider and ways to start investing with 500 bucks or less.

“How do you start investing with $500 or less?” This is a question I receive nearly every day as well as in my former day job as a stockbroker. Unfortunately, many believe that can’t start investing with 500 or less and allow that to hold them back from growing their wealth.

Yes, investing with little money can be a challenge though it is most certainly possible. You just need to know where to start and what options you have to start investing. I firmly believe that if investing with 500 dollars is the most you can start with that time will do awesome things to it – but…you have to start!

You Can Start Investing With $500 at Numerous Brokerages

If you need to start investing with $500 or less the first big challenge is going to be finding the right broker for you. In many cases I’d recommend someone like Vanguard, Schwab or Fidelity. The problem is you won’t have enough funds to start with any of those three in most cases. Take a look at their minimum opening balance requirements:

  • Vanguard – you’re subject to their fund minimums, which can go as low as $1,000 for some of their mutual funds. You can get into their standard brokerage accounts with no minimums for stock trading, though their tiered pricing leaves a bit to be desired for someone just starting out.
  • Schwab – you need at least $1,000 to open most accounts, though is waived if you set up a $100 monthly electronic transfer
  • Fidelity – you need to have $2,500 to open an account with Fidelity

Knowing that those options are off the table you will then want to look at other brokerages that will allow you to open an account with $500 or less. Those are:

Each of the above online brokerages allow you to open an account with $500 or less and are ones I have no problem recommending to most investors. Your specific need will dictate which broker you should open an account with. Just one note on Scottrade – you can open an IRA with Scottrade for as little as $500, not non-retirement accounts as those require $2,500 to open an account.

That being said, as you’re investing with $500 or less you typically want to throw out any brokerage that charges too much in fees. This would eliminate Etrade as they charge $9.99, and OptionsXpress as they charge $8.95 per trade and that would cost you too much on a proportionate basis. However, OptionsXpress is a part of Schwab – who has about 100 commission free ETFs which would make them a justifiable one to consider.

Buy Funds for Free

A common option given for those investing with 500 dollars are mutual funds. It makes sense, as they give you the possibility of being diversified for not much money. The problem with this approach is you’ll be running into the risk of higher than desired fees that will eat up too much of your funds.

That being the case, the best option is going to be the route of investing in index funds. If you can find them for free, even better. Index funds are just like mutual funds and give you access to a basket of stocks, but the fees are generally much lower. Thus, more of your money is working for you.

What you really want to find though is an online brokerage that will allow you to trade ETFs for free and thankfully there are a number of options to consider. Those are:

  • OptionsXpress – because of their partnership with Schwab you can get access to their 100 or so free ETFs.
  • Etrade – Etrade has roughly 90 ETFs you can trade for free, though they tend to have higher expense ratios.
  • TD Ameritrade – TD Ameritrade has roughly 100 ETFs you can trade for free

Bigger brokerages like Vanguard, Fidelity and Schwab all offer commission free ETFs but you run into the minimum account issue making most not an option. If you’re new to investing and rather not manage the investing on your own then automated retirement programs like Betterment or Wealthfront will do much of the same with minimal cost.

Buy Fractional Shares

If you’re investing with $500 or less then a challenge is going to be investing in enough stocks to get proper diversification. Meaning, if a stock or ETF you want to buy is trading at $50 then you’re only going to be able to buy ten shares max.

One of the better ways around this is buying fractional shares. This allows you to start investing while also getting some sort of exposure to numerous holdings. The two best options for the fractional share approach are Sharebuilder and Motif Investing.

You can open an account with Sharebuilder with whatever amount you like as there is no minimum balance required. They then allow you to set up what’s called an Automatic Investment Plan which allows you to set up a specific interval for your investing, dollar amount and holdings. You won’t get rich overnight with this, but it’s a good way to start. One other thing to keep in mind is their platform is very limited so that will hold many back.

The other option, Motif Investing, is a bit different. You can open an account with Motif Investing for as little as $250 and invest in up to 30 stocks or ETFs for $9.95. Motif Investing takes a theme based approach that allows you to set up your own index fund. If you need to start investing with $500 or less Motif can be a great option as you get instant diversification and get your feet wet with investing. I’ve had an account with Motif for over two years as a play account and love using their platform.

Get Direct Ownership

The final way to start investing with $500 or less is buying directly from the company. I will say this may not be worth the hassle, and risks having shares of stock in various places but it is still an option to consider especially if you’re a buy and hold type investor.

You can buy directly from the company in one way – through a Transfer Agent. This Transfer Agent is usually a company known as ComputerShare. If you call their investor relations department they should be able to tell you who you can buy directly from. Most will have minimums of either $100 or $500 and some might charge a small fee, but this can be an option.

Investing with $500 or less can be a challenge, but it can be done. Here are brokers to consider and ways to start investing with 500 bucks or less.

It Can Be Done, Just Set A Goal

Investing with $500 or less can be a challenge, however don’t give into the belief that it won’t accomplish anything. You will actually be harming yourself more in the long run by not starting. That’s for one simple reason – compound interest. While it can be a difficult topic for some to understand, it is your most powerful ally in building your wealth. You can educate yourself about compound interest and other investing topics by picking up one of my favorite investing books for beginners.

If you don’t have the funds to start, then set a goal – it’s as simple as that! Make a commitment to set aside $50 or $100 a month and if you can automate it, even better. Before you know it, you’ll have the funds you need to get started in the stock market but you must first set a goal to do it and then act on it. It might not be easy, but it’s most definitely simple!

Additional resource: If you want to start investing in the stock market but feel you have little money to invest, don’t let that hold you back! You can invest in the stock market with little money through the right channel. One option is Wealthfront. Wealthfront allows you to open an online brokerage account with as little as $500 and is one of the cheapest brokers out there. In fact, if you sign up through Frugal Rules you get your first $15,000 managed for free. You open the account, tell them what your goals are and they handle the rest.

Open a Wealthfront account today!

What are your recommendations for people wanting to start investing with $500 or less? Why do you think we make excuses to not start when we have little means to do so?