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Getting Your Financial House in Order

/// Posted by Evan Macedo

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Since many of us are stuck at home with our fiscal future full of bumps and potholes, I’ve found it to be a good opportunity to assess my relationship with personal finances. Full disclosure, I am a bit of an “Excel geek,” so expense tracking and spreadsheets are definitely in my wheelhouse. Nevertheless, this process need not be a burden, even for those of you who hate looking at numbers or facing the realities of your own spending habits. Getting your financial house in order may just be one of the most productive and important things you do this year. As someone who has just gone through the process, here are my favorite strategies that have worked well for me.

Analyze Last Year’s Income vs. Expenses

I, like so many others, spent the better part of a month not spending much money because we were told to only go out if we had to.  When I saw how much my credit card bill went down, I decided to analyze what I had been spending money on. For me, the easiest way to start this process was to export digital copies of online credit card “year-end summary” statements, and input those numbers, broken out by category, into an Excel spreadsheet. Since your credit cards conveniently categorize everything for you, pulling this together should be a cinch. Next, I added in any expenses that came out directly from my bank accounts, and when all else fails, I estimated the rest. The objective of this exercise is to scrutinize where all my spending went, how much I saved at the end of the year, and whether those numbers fell in line with my wealth building goals. I learned that I didn’t save nearly as much as I had planned to. It became painfully apparent that my Amazon purchases and fine dining habits would be the areas where I need to show more willpower in the coming year!

Forecast Out A Roadmap

Again, that “Excel geek” is jumping out in excitement at this one! By looking at where I spent my money last year and how much I was able to save, I paved the way for a better future. For this exercise, I spreadsheeted all my estimated income and expenses for the year, broken out for each month. I know this sounds like a daunting task but, trust me, you will feel the satisfaction when it’s complete. I listed out every reoccurring expenses line by line, like my housing expenses, insurances, media, subscriptions, etc., and then created variable expense lines for dining, groceries, shopping, and entertainment costs. I also factored in travel, vacations, and any other personal hobbies I plan to enjoy. Once finished, I was able to better visualize how much I can save for the year and the lifestyle that comes with it.

I bet you will come to the same realization as I did—without a huge sacrifice, I could save an extra 10%-20%. This conscientious adjustment to spending will put me in a much better position to build my wealth more diligently than ever before.

Pay Down Your Debts

Debt can be terrifying and crippling. I personally prefer to live with less today than feel beholden to a credit card company or bank with never ending payments for something I couldn’t realistically afford in the first place. However, for the vast majority of Americans, debt is unavoidable and something most everyone will have to deal with at some point, regardless of best laid out plans. If you find yourself in debt, what can you do?

The first thing I did was pull together all my outstanding loans, and list them from highest interest rate to the lowest. This gave me a plan of attack. I work diligently every month to pay off my highest interest rate loans first—until, one by one, I have eliminated each of them. It is incredibly satisfying each time I remove an item from my list. It can be a hard-fought battle, but once I am done, I will be able to direct those payments toward building my wealth, rather than worrying about putting money in other people’s pockets. As a rule of thumb, I tend to focus my attention on paying off any debts with interest rates over 5%.

Refinance Your Mortgage, Student Loans or Car Loans

With interest rates as low as I have ever seen them in my lifetime, refinancing debt is an opportunity you do not want to overlook. As of today, www.bankrate.com shows that you can refinance your mortgage with a 3.5% APR for a 30-year fixed loan. You could also take out a personal loan of up to $100,000 for 2-7 years for as low as 5.99% APR1. For those of you who have high interest rate debts and are looking to lessen the burden of interest payments you carry, this could be a great solution. Credit card payments can also be negotiated at lower rates.

Cancel Unnecessary Subscriptions

Having too many unnecessary or frivolous subscriptions can add up over time and have a negative effect on your bottom line. I took a hard look at all my subscription services: music, cable, gym memberships, diet programs, media services, periodicals, etc., to evaluate whether my usage is worth the cost. In the end, I could save hundreds or even thousands of extra dollars per year by cutting out unused or underused services.

Create an Emergency Fund

At any stage of life, it’s important to have a financial nest egg for unforeseen events or difficulties that may arise. Whether it be a health woe, a lost job, damage to the house, or a dead car, at some point trouble can and does come for all of us. If you are reading this and have no emergency funds, then work hard to put away that first $1,000. It’s a good idea to save enough to cover 3 to 6 months’ worth of your average expenses. A smart place to keep these funds is in an interest-bearing Money Market Account, where it will stay safe and grow for when trouble seeks you out.

Conduct a Monthly Temperature Check

Finally, and the most important in my opinion, is to maintain your budget with a monthly “temperature check.” For me to follow the roadmap I built, I need to be aware of how my plan is working, where I was still overspending, and what levers I might pull to reach my financial goals. Viewing my personal budget monthly helps me alleviate unnecessary stressors of failed expectations, unforeseen events, and momentary lapses. By actively using and adjusting my monthly budget, I have created a more structured path to building wealth, and with a little extra elbow grease, and am on track to achieving financial freedom!

Sapers & Wallack is Here to Help

If getting your financial house in order seems like a stressful, complicated task, and the notion of building wealth seems like a far-off fantasy, do not bury your head in the sand! Come talk to our financial services team and let us help you find the tools and plan to set up your financial freedom.


References:
[1] Bankrate.com
Other ideas from pay down your debts, creating an emergency funds and reducing your expenses to build your wealth were influenced by the books:
A Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins
Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
All ideas incorporated in this blog have been actual actions I have personally undertaken with my own finances and speaking from my own experiences.     

 

 

/// Posted by Ellen Bohn Gitlitz & Bill Smeltzer

No one would have predicted that we’d all be spending our spring, summer, and possibly beyond working remotely and restructuring how we engage with our coworkers, clients, and lives in general. Unfortunately, this extended period of disruption and uncertainty has also made us all more vulnerable to those who would capitalize on the moment.  As we’ve all turned to online solutions to remain connected, hackers, fraudsters, and thieves across the globe have unleashed their arsenals toward exploiting any weakness. Now more than ever, stringent cybersecurity protocols, backed by a comprehensive insurance policy, are necessary.

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Ellen Bohn Gitlitz, Executive Vice President Property & Casualty, Sapers & Wallack /The Hilb Group of New England answers questions about our May blog, Why Cybersecurity Insurance is More Important than Ever.

 

Tax Efficiency: It’s Not What You Earn; It’s What You Keep

/// Posted by Jeffrey Tomaneng

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As a general rule, the more money you make, whether in work generated income or capital gains, the more you will pay in taxes. But rules are meant to be broken, and there are ways to mitigate tax losses with the right planning and advice.

The after-tax return vs. the pretax return. Everyone wants their investments to perform well. But for many investors it’s their after-tax return that may make all the difference. After all, even if your portfolio is earning double-digit returns, it may not matter if you’re also losing a percent of those earnings to taxes.1

Holding onto assets. One method that may increase tax efficiency is to simply minimize buying and selling in order to manage your capital gains taxes. The idea is to pursue long-term gains, instead of seeking short-term gains through a series of steady transactions. In the words of Warren Buffett, “Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.”2

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Jeff Tomaneng, Director of Financial Planning at Sapers & Wallack, answers questions about our April blog, Tax Efficiency: It’s Not What You Earn; It’s What You Keep.

 

Many people believe in giving back, but under the new tax laws, it may not be as tax advantageous as it used to be. With the steady appreciation in the stock market – the longest bull run in history – some folks have achieved a level of wealth they never imagined. Our Charitable Strategies work is focused on smarter, tax-efficient ways to help people give back a bit of that wealth to various philanthropic causes. But we are often surprised to find even large, well-established, donors who are still not familiar with the benefits of donating appreciated stock and how to use Donor Advised Funds (DAFs).

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How Will the SECURE Act Change the Way You Plan for Retirement?

/// Posted by Rob Simons

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On December 20th, 2019, new legislation was signed into law as part of a larger government spending package that promises to have wide ranging and lasting effect on saving for retirement. Called the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, the legislation includes many long-sought common-sense reforms that could make retirement saving both easier and more attainable for many Americans.

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Rob Simons, Senior Retirement Consultant at Sapers & Wallack, answers questions about our February blog, How Will the SECURE Act Change the Way You Plan for Retirement? 

Student Loan Repayment as Employee Benefit

/// Posted by Hilb Group of New England

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According to recent statistics, there are now more than 44 million unique borrowers who collectively owe $1.6 trillion in student loan debt—making student loans the second largest consumer debt category after mortgages. Those are staggering numbers.

For the considerable Millennials and massive Gen Z workforce to follow, student loan debt is a primary economic concern, often before mortgages and retirement savings can even be considered. Smart businesses have taken notice in a growing trend toward creating student loan repayment assistance programs as a necessary company benefit to attract and retain younger talent.  

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Podcast Q&A: Student Loan Repayment as Employee Benefit

/// Posted by Paula Drozdal Connors

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Paula Drozdal Connors, Senior Vice President, Sapers & Wallack The Hilb Group of New England, answers questions about our January blog: Student Loan Repayment as Employee Benefit.