Many of us feel overwhelmed by investing, partly because there are myths about how difficult it is to invest and partly because we don’t understand all the technical terms and concepts we read about or hear financial professionals use. However, investing doesn’t have to be hard, and you don’t have to be overwhelmed. Here are a few strategies to help you avoid feeling overwhelmed by investing:
Dollar Cost Averaging
One of the best ways to stop feeling overwhelmed by investing is to make use of dollar cost averaging. This is a strategy that involves taking smaller amounts of money and consistently investing. One of the reasons it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by investing is due to the myth that you need to have a large chunk of capital to invest.
Many people think they need to have $10,000 or more to invest effectively. However, investing is easier than that. If you have as little as $100 to invest, you can build a portfolio with a site like Betterment. Many other discount brokerages will allow you to set up automatic investing with as little as $50 a month. Acorns, a new investing platform, will let you get started with as little as $5, and you can invest pocket change if that’s all you have.
While you want to eventually increase the amount that you set aside each month, the reality is that you don’t need to wait until you have a lot of money to invest — and you shouldn’t wait. Use dollar cost averaging to get in the habit of investing consistently, and you can build up your portfolio over time, without it being too difficult.
Index Mutual Funds and ETFs
One of the hard things about investing is overcoming analysis paralysis. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when there is so much information coming your way. The good news, though, is that you don’t need to fall victim to analysis paralysis.
Instead of worrying about stock picking, which requires you to learn a lot of information, as well as setting you up for problems if you pick the “wrong” stocks, consider indexing. Using index mutual funds and ETFs can help you reduce the amount of information you need to absorb. It’s a good way to get beyond analysis paralysis.
If you really want to avoid analysis paralysis in your investing, consider investing in an all-market fund. These funds offer exposure to all the publicly traded securities on indexes. This can give you broad exposure to the market, and reduce the number of decisions you need to make about your investments. When combined with dollar cost averaging, indexing is a powerful way to start investing and build wealth without becoming overwhelmed.
Eventually, you might want to branch out in your investing, but you can learn what you need to learn while you build wealth with the help of an automatic investment plan that involves an index mutual fund or ETF. You’ll have low fees and, as long as you focus on the long term (and remember that over the course of 25 years the stock market as whole hasn’t yet lost), you can get beyond the feelings of being overwhelmed by analysis paralysis.
Invest for the Long Term
Finally, it’s important to remember to invest for the long term. When you look at short term volatility in the markets, it’s easy to become overwhelmed at the thought of investing. However, in the long term, you are likely to come out ahead, especially if you have a consistent investing strategy that is based on asset allocation and dollar cost averaging. The trend line tends to straighten out over time when you look at investing performance. Consider your investing plan as it applies over a course of two or three decades, and you will find more peace of mind.
How can you save money on youth sports? I’ve always loved saving money and the last few years our two young kids have played basketball, baseball, t-ball, and soccer so I guess it makes sense that I’d have a lot to share on the topic of cutting costs for youth sports.
My suggestions will be most helpful to the parents of kids who play a sport for more than one season. If your child has shown an interest in a sport and you think you’ll be paying for them to play it for the next several seasons or even years these tips can save you a lot of money.
The main cost categories of youth sports are equipment and fees. For some families the travel expenses can mount up but I don’t have experience with saving money on youth sports travel so I won’t address it here.
Youth Sports Equipment
I’ll start off talking about equipment because that is pretty universal; the same sport requires the same equipment where ever you play. The fees will vary across sports, parts of the country, and competitive level of play so we’ll get to those later.
The biggest money-saving tip I can give you about youth sports equipment is to plan ahead.
Buy When it’s Cheap
If you are on the ball you can cut your equipment costs by anywhere from 10 to 60 %. On the other hand if you wait until the last minute you may end up paying top dollar.
Since most sports are seasonal the timing is very predictable which makes it pretty easy to plan ahead. Not only does planning ahead save you money it can also help you budget for the costs in advance. As sports go in and out of season you can usually get the best deals at the end or the beginning of the season.
There are a few things you can do to be sure you take advantage of these seasonal price dips:
Signup for Email Alerts
There are a few events that happen every season in most sports that you want to be notified about.
Season Kickoff Sales
Sign up for the email list of your sports organization. Often before the season starts they’ll send out a discount coupon for a nearby sports retailer for anywhere between 5-20% off.
Many times these types of sales only last for a day or weekend so it’s important to jump on them quickly. Often they’ll require you to bring in a special coupon.
Gear Swap Notices
Even better than discounts are the opportunities to trade for free gear. Many larger sporting organizations schedule a gear swap day at the start of the season. You bring in the equipment that your child has outgrown and swap it for a larger size. For example we bought our daughter a pair of soccer cleats when she first started playing. Ever since then we just keep trading that pair up for a larger size.
Be sure you’re signed up for the email notifications from your sporting organization so you can schedule time to attend these swaps and save tons of money.
Sign up for the email list of a local sports retailer or a big sports store like Dicks Sporting Goods. When the season’s over they’ll likely discount some of their equipment. If you see an email for discounts in your kid’s sport click on them and scan the sales. It’s kind of creepy but with technology these days they’ll know what you’re looking at, learn what you’re most interested in, and will notify you when those types of things are on sale.
End of Year Sales
Another great time to save on sports equipment is during Black Friday and all the sales that happen around the holidays. One thing that can make it kind of tricky buying off-season knows what size to get. The biggest savings during this time of the year typically aren’t on regular equipment but on the high dollar items.
If your child has gotten serious about a sport chances are you’ll need to buy equipment other than what they wear in games. For example you might buy a basketball goal for your driveway, a soccer goal for your backyard, or a baseball rebounder. You can save a lot of money on these big ticket items at this time of the year.
These types of things are a little bit harder to spend money on because your kid isn’t required to have them to play and they’re expensive. You can definitely make an argument for not buying them. But as a sports parent I’ve taken the approach of trying to get my kids the best equipment & training I can for a reasonable amount of money.
If you buy the cheapest stuff it won’t last as long. Like all other purchases, it’s a balance between cost and quality. Sales like these give you a chance to get something that won’t fall apart after just one season at a reasonable price. For example GoalRilla specializes in different types of goals (soccer, basketball, etc) – they’re top-quality but also expensive. During the holiday season I saw their soccer rebounder discounted over $100 in an Amazon lightning deal.
Also if your kid’s team needs equipment this is a good time to buy it. Whether you’re helping coach a team and buying equipment you need or if you’re just pitching in to help cover the coach’s costs buying things like cones, pinnies, whiteboards, etc. during these sales can lower the cost.
Stock Up On Easily Lost Items
In any sport that uses a ball chances are it will get lost or ruined during the course of the season. When you see these types of things on sale buy multiple at once and keep them in your basement or attic. That way when your son or daughter loses a ball you don’t have to go buy another one at full price.
One item that always seems to be disappearing is water bottles. It’s probably because a lot of them look the same, over half the kids on the team have the same Gatorade squeeze bottle . Don’t spend a lot of money on water bottles because your child will probably lose a few of them. We wrap ours in red duct tape so no one will confuse the bottle for theirs & walk away with it. It’s also smart to write your kid’s name & your phone number on their equipment.
One of the reasons that we don’t plan ahead is because we’re busy parents. Shopping online can help make things a little bit easier for you to think ahead.
If you are buying online one of the common strategies you can use is to bundle your purchases to save on shipping. Many places will give you free shipping if you spend over a certain amount of money. Some places, like Dicks Sporting Goods, offer free shipping and free returns on shoes.
Of course the tricky thing about shopping online (and also about buying off-season in general) is knowing what size to get your kid.
Buy Multiple Sizes
One of the strategies we’ve adopted is to buy multiple sizes of the same item when it’s on sale. This not only makes it easier for you to hit the minimum spend to get the free shipping. It also has you covered in terms of having the right size when the season starts.
If something is too small you should return it right away. But for the sizes that are too big often we’ll just hang onto it & have it ready when they outgrow the current size.
Buying multiple sizes can be important during the beginning of season sales I mentioned earlier.
Take my experience with baseball pants as an example. At the start of the season there was a range of youth baseball pants available and most parents just opted for the cheapest brand. I was in the store but didn’t have my son with me so I took a best guess on the size. Turns out I guessed too small and when we came back for a bigger size all the cheapest types of pants were completely sold out.
To add insult to injury, the 20% off pre-season sale had ended so I not only had to buy the $20 more expensive brand but also at full price. So you can probably guess what I did the next year during the baseball pre-season sale. That’s right; I bought 3 different sizes of pants and brought back the 2 that didn’t fit.
Know what You Need
It’s a good idea to ask other parents or coaches for advice on what equipment you really need for that age range. If you don’t ask ahead of time it could be that you buy equipment that you don’t actually need b/c it’s not used or can be shared at that particular age. Or there may be things you hadn’t thought of and if you wait until later to buy them you miss out on early season sales and the option of free shipping bundles.
This doesn’t happen as often if your son or daughter is playing a sport that you know well. But if they’re into a sport you never played yourself there are definitely things you can overlook. For example, last season I didn’t think to get my son batting gloves for baseball during the pre-season sale so I had to pay full price a week later, yuck!
Beware the Markup
I don’t know if it’s the same in every sport but in soccer one item I’ve seen that has high markups are the shoes. You can find a $30 pair of Adidas soccer cleats on sale for a decent price for a 9 year old and they’ll last you all year. But you can also go out and buy a $90 or $100 dollar pair of cleats for the same kid.
In my opinion, those $100 shoes aren’t going to make them play any better. The older they get the more conscious kids seem to be about having the top of the line shoes. You can find pairs of soccer cleats for over $200 dollars for teenagers. I haven’t had to deal with those prices yet because my kids are still young but when the time comes if they want shoes that expensive they’ll be paying for that big markup themselves.
One good way to find used sports shoes for kids is big consignment sales, like Just Between Friends. We’ve found several good pairs of Adidas cleats for cheap at these sales in the past. There are also stores that specialize in reselling used sporting equipment, like Play It Again Sports. In the past I actually looked into buying a franchise because the demand (and potential savings for customers) for used sports goods is so high.
If you have several children in your family that all end up playing the same sport one trick is to buy neutral colored gear. That way when you hand it down the little brother won’t refuse to wear his older sister’s pink cleats. It can also help if you try and sell your equipment in a consignment sale, a gender neutral color means you can interest parents of both boys and girls in your items for sale.
One thing you don’t have a lot of control of when you play sports is the uniform itself. For recreational teams it’s often just a t-shirt with a team sponsor on the front so it doesn’t make much difference.
However once you get into more competitive teams you’re suddenly buying Nike Dri-Fit uniforms or Adidas jerseys for your kid and the club usually dictates where you buy them from. Theoretically they should be able to get a reduced rate because they’re making a bigger purchase, particularly if you’re part of a larger sports organization. But regardless you don’t have any ability to shop around or find discounts on the team uniform.
One thing you do have control over is what size to purchase. When we buy a uniform like this I always try and buy one size up. That way you can get an extra season of use out of it. Another annoying thing for me is that I’ve never had a club negotiate free or reduced shipping from the vendor so you still have to pay to ship the uniform. So if you think you’ll need any extra pairs of socks or a backup jersey order it up front otherwise you’ll have to pay for shipping twice.
That pretty much covers my tips for saving money on sports equipment. The next big cost category for youth sports are the fees.
Youth Sports Fees
The amount of fees you will pay will depend on the level and intensity of games and training your child participates in. If they’re playing in a recreational league the main fee will be the cost of playing in the league. Depending on where you live and how hard it is to get a place to practice you may have to pay some fees to use the practice facilities. From a cost perspective recreational leagues are your cheapest option.
Rec Sports Fees
There are a few things you can do to lower your fees a little. Many organizations give you a slightly discounted rate if you sign up for the league before certain deadline. It may only be a $10 discount but if you’re paying $100 to play in a recreational league that still a savings of 10%.
Many recreational leagues are run in large part by volunteers. In some cases if you volunteer to be a coach or administrator the League or organization might give you a price break on the fees. Some teams and leagues do run fundraisers to help pay for the cost of the team.
Competitive Sports Fees
Where you start running into bigger fees in youth sports is when your kid starts playing at a competitive level. At that point your child probably plays in more games/leagues and plays in tournaments which all have registration fees. If you’re playing through a competitive club then you may be paying coaching fees and other fees to the club.
Comparing Club Fees
If your child is thinking about playing on a competitive team be sure to compare the costs between clubs. They should give you a breakdown of all the costs for a year. Competitive sports often run for 9-11 months out of the year, which means the overall costs will be higher.
The breakdown may vary from club to club but you should still be able to compare line items to get a general cost comparison. The cost categories may vary from sport to sport but this is how we’ve seen them broken out for competitive soccer clubs:
- Coaching fees
- League fees
- Tournament fees
- Uniform fees
- Club fees (for administration)
- Facility fees
In our metro area there’s a pretty big range between clubs in the total cost of playing. So if your child really loves a sport and is really good at it be sure to price all your options before saying no due to cost.
Reducing Club Fees
In many cases the coaching fees will make up the biggest percentage of the costs, maybe half or more. There are some organizations that have competitive teams that are coached by volunteer coaches which can significantly cut down on the costs. As with anything in life you get what you pay for but don’t discount the ability of these volunteer coaches outright.
Many times these teams are coached by a parent whose child is on the team. In some cases that parent may have a lot of experience playing the sport and perhaps even coaching it as well. If your son or daughter is just getting started playing at a competitive level an organization like this could be a good place to start.
Similarly to some rec leagues, if you volunteer for a position like team manager many clubs will give you a discount on the fees.
Extra Training Fees
If your son or daughter is really into a sport and wants to keep getting better their coach may suggest additional training to help improve their skills or their speed and agility – which means more fees.
There are a few ways to lower those fees. There’s a really good speed & agility program in our area that does a great job getting results for youth athletes but it can also be pricey. I’ll use them as an example.
The most expensive option is to get one-on-one training for your child. I don’t know of a way to get a discount on this option other than asking the organization your child plays with if they have a partnership discount with the company that does the training.
If the organization is big enough it might hire some of those coaches to offer training sessions of their own. For example, a local soccer club hires one of these speed & agility coaches to hold a training session every Friday night and it’s much more affordable than a one-on-one session.
The other option is to look into group training sessions. The individual training is unaffordable for many but on two different nights a week they also offer group sessions at a greatly reduced cost. They hold multiple sessions a year and are always looking to fill them up. I know this because I’m on their email list and they’re always sending out emails right until the day it begins to try and get enough kids to fill up the group. So if you want to sign up for multiple sessions at once you can probably negotiate a discount.
We’ve sent our kids to a few different sports camps. These are usually held off-season, to give kids a chance to keep their skills fresh, frequently this is over the summer. I was in charge of finding a good camp to recommend for my son’s soccer team this summer.
My research turned up a ton of options and they’re not easy to compare because of the variety of camps. The camp duration, training frequency, quality of coaches, facilities, & training approach all made it tough to come up with a simple comparison.
The best way I found to narrow them down was to ask around and get feedback from people that had attended them in the past. The best way to get a discount is to register early, many camps charge more if you register closer to the camp date.
Another good option for getting a good camp for less money is to attend a camp that’s affiliated with a competitive club. These camps aren’t usually setup as money makers for the teams.
Many of these clubs will run camps to give their current players a chance to play in the off season and they also use them to recruit kids for future seasons. Since the main goals of these club camps are training of their players and recruiting they often offer them for pretty reasonable rates. For example, kids may get 3 hours of training a week for a month for around $100.
The combination of sports and technology has really exploded over the last several years. Technology in the form of websites and phone apps has made some things easier and faster and also created new opportunities for youth athletes and coaches.
Earlier I mentioned that some teams offer a discount if you volunteer to be a team manager. There are a few free online tools you can use to manage your sports team.
For managing a team roster, publishing and sharing game & practice schedules, and sending team notifications you can use Shutterfly Team sites or TeamSnap.
Shutterfly Team Site
We started off using Shutterfly, it offers the benefit of not only team management but also allows all the parents to share photos of their kids.
We’ve used Shutterfly for one of my son’s teams for a few years and one neat thing is going back through the pictures from past seasons and seeing how they’ve grown & progressed over the years. I setup one of these sites and had to administer it and although it was free a few of the features were tricky to figure out. It’s free so you get what you pay for.
One of my son’s new teams is using TeamSnap and so far it seems to be pretty slick online team management software. The benefit of TeamSnap is that it’s built from the ground up to manage teams so it’s pretty straightforward and has tons of features. It has a free option but also offers other plans that offer more functionality but charge a monthly fee.
One of the biggest challenges when managing a team is keeping track of who has paid all the necessary team dues. This is relatively simple for recreational teams where the main fee is league registration. However for competitive teams using a free online spreadsheet like Google Docs is really helpful to keep track of which players have paid their fees for league registration, tournaments, etc. An online spreadsheet is nice because you can share it with coaches and team parents.
Team Training Tools
Some of the coolest uses of technology in youth sports I’ve seen are ways to motivate kids to keep improving their skills. I’ve been using one of these tools called iSoccer with my son. It’s both an app and a website that helps players measure their skills and keep track of their improvements. The company that makes the software is expanding into other sports as well so keep an eye out for it.
Like many apps these days, you can get a free iSoccer account for a single player. The free version doesn’t come with full functionality, for a monthly fee you can access all the features. I tried out the free trial and decided it was definitely worth the money, both for my son and for his whole team. I did find two ways to save money on the tool. If you sign up for a full year, rather than a month or a quarter at a time you get a pretty significant discount. You can also use an iSoccer promo code to save an additional percentage.
Many online subscription based tools offer similar types of discounts through referrals. Coaches or players that currently use the tool are given a special referral code that when shared with others will get them a discount. So when you’re signing up for an online tool be sure to look for a referral or promotion code.
Set a Sports Budget
If you’re a sports parent it’s important to set an annual budget for what you’re willing/able to spend. Just like any other type of spending it’s easy to nickel and dime yourself when it comes to youth sports costs. There’s always another tournament they could play in, another piece of gear or you could buy, or more training you could sign them up for. Constrain your cost by setting a cap on your spending.
This is particularly important when you have multiple kids and they all play one or more sports. I know several families who were really surprised when they started keeping track and added up how much they spent on youth sports in the last year.
Are Youth Sports Worth the Investment?
Every season we spend more time and money on soccer, basketball, and baseball and I find myself asking whether it’s a good idea to be putting so much emphasis into youth sports? After my wife and I mull it over we keep coming back to the same reasons why we feel like their teams are worth the time and money we put into them:
– The most obvious is that it gives them great exercise. I could never get our kids to go into the back yard and sprint back and forth over and over but you put a ball at their feet and they’ll run much faster and much longer than they ever would in gym class.
– Team sports do teach lessons about working hard, interacting with the others (whether they like them or not), setting goals, making & keeping commitments of practices/games, and overcoming disappointment when they don’t play their best or lose a game. At the end of one season I wrote about 15 youth sports lessons kids can use in their career someday. Working hard and getting good at a sport has also helped our kids build up their confidence and self-esteem.
– If your child plays a sport that you know and enjoy it can give the two of you a common interest and something to build a relationship around as they get older and turn into grouchy teenagers who never want to speak to you : )
– The most important reason we continue supporting youth sports is that they have fun practicing and playing sports with their friends. I ended up playing team sports through high school and college and some of the people that I met in those years are still some of my closest friends.
One trap I know some parents fall into is thinking of the money they put into youth sports as an investment towards getting college scholarships or even a professional career. It may be that your kid develops into an amazing player who someday will benefit from college tuition breaks or professional contracts but the odds are against it. As a youth sports parent it’s better off if you view the money you spend as an investment in some combination of the bullet points I mentioned right above. If college and pro sports end up following then that’s a bonus.
Youth Sports Success
The organization that you play with, the team you belong to, and your child’s coach will make a big difference as to whether it’s a positive experience for them or not. So it’s worth the time to investigate all of these before getting your kid involved. If you are going to invest the time and money into the sport you want to make sure they have a good experience and get something positive out of it.
Every kid responds differently to various types of motivation and teaching. Try to find a coach who’s approach matches the style that is best suited for your child. It also helps if you can find a coach that is open to parent input. Obviously the coach has to make the ultimate decisions but if you’re spending time and money on the sport it would be nice to have a coach who takes parent input and feedback into account.
The Right Team
On a recreational team you can often sign up your son or daughter on the same team with many of their friends. It’s more challenging on a competitive team because players have to try-out and earn a spot on those teams. What many teams will do is play in a recreational league in their earlier years and then when the kids get older and more skilled they all try out for the same competitive team.
Whichever team you choose you want to try and set your kid up for success. It’s not a lot of fun for your child if they play on a team that’s so good that they never get to play in a game. It’s also no fun to play on a team that loses all of their games.
Choosing a Club
Finding the right team and league means looking for a place where your son or daughter will be challenged but not overwhelmed. One way you can help with this is by choosing a club or organization that focuses heavily on player development.
These types of clubs typically will have multiple teams at the same age level and they organize them by skill level. The emphasis isn’t on winning but rather on developing each player. As a kid progresses in their skills they can move up to higher skill level teams. This approach is preferred because your child gets to play against other kids at their own level, which builds their confidence and helps them develop faster. So, in addition to the cost comparisons I mentioned earlier this is something else to consider when choosing which organization to play with.
Basically it comes down to setting your child kid up for success. As I mentioned, if you’re going to spend the time and money on the sport you’d like it to be a good experience for your kid. If they’re going to put in the work at practice and in games it would be nice to see them rewarded for their hard work and finding the right environment will go a long way towards making that happen.
It turns out that this article ended up being a lot longer than I originally intended. It actually started out as a list of tips I put together for a phone interview I did about ways to save money on youth sports. I couldn’t find the list when I got on the phone so I figured I should publish all the things I didn’t share. The more I added to the list, the more tips I remembered. If you have tips of your own that I didn’t cover, please add them in the comments below.
As I mentioned, I didn’t talk at all about the costs of travel because we haven’t had to deal with that. If you have tips or suggestions on how to reduce the costs of traveling for kids sports definitely share them in the comments below and I’ll add them as well.
Lastly if you have questions about what you’ve read please ask it in the comments and we’ll get it answered if we can.
If you had to pick between an easy option and a hard one, which would you be more likely to choose? The easy path isn’t always the wisest one. However, the fact that it’s easier can sometimes explain why we get ourselves into a mess in life.
People my age place an emphasis on convenience. If there’s a fast & easy approach that’s the one we prefer. Taking the easy route isn’t necessarily bad but sometimes it means you’re giving up something in return for speed or convenience.
Because we love fast and easy so much, it’s good to remember that there are times when the easy approach has side effects or consequences. In fact, sometimes the problems we get ourselves into exist because the alternatives to them are difficult.
For example, take getting out of debt and saving money.
No one likes being in debt but the things required to dig out of debt can be tough. No one like being broke but saving money can be difficult and spending it seems to get easier every day.
That’s why we put together a series of articles on why some things are easy because the alternatives are hard. We look at spending money, borrowing money, advancing your career, and saving for retirement.
- Spending Money is Easy Because Saving Money is Hard
- Being in Debt is Easy Because Getting Out of Debt is Hard
- Coasting at Work is Easy Because Working For a Promotion is Hard
- Keeping Up With the Joneses is Easy Because Being Different is Hard
- It’s Easy to Fall Behind on Retirement Because It’s Hard to Choose a Plan
As unpleasant as it may be sometimes we have to make hard decisions. Delaying those decisions and sticking with the easy route may work for today and next week but chances are it won’t work forever.
Don’t feel badly about wanting to go with the easier choice, I think most of us do. Just be aware of any long term effects and consider your alternatives.
If you don’t want to take my word for it then take a lesson from the world famous motivational speaker, Matt Foley. He always chose the easy path and ended up living in a van down by the river….
What often causes people to not invest money is the perception that you need a lot of money just to get started. That’s actually not true. Even if you don’t have much money, there are still places that you can invest with very little.
This is important because the first obstacle to investing at all is just getting started. If you go through your entire life thinking that you can’t invest because you don’t have a lot of money, then you will never start.
Here are ways that you can begin investing, even with very little money.
An Employer Sponsored Retirement Plan
If you are covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, this is the first place you should begin investing. One of the advantages to these plans is that they don’t require any minimum upfront investment. You can simply start by making payroll deductions, having the money transferred over to the retirement plan.
And since the money is taken directly out of your pay, you’ll never see the transfer occur, and you can set it up so that you barely notice the missing money from your pay. For example, you can begin funding an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan with a contribution of just 1% of your pay. You probably won’t even notice that!
In subsequent years, you can begin increasing the contribution each year. For example, at the beginning of your second year of participation, you can increase your contribution to 2% of your pay. At the beginning of the third year, you can increase it to 3%. If you time increases in your contributions with annual pay raises, you won’t even feel the effects of higher contributions. This is also made easier by the fact that the contributions themselves are tax-deductible so in effect the federal and state governments will be subsidizing your contributions.
If your employer offers a company match on your contributions, you should make it a goal to get your contributions to the point where that match is maximized. For example, if your company does a 50% match up to 6% of your pay (meaning they add 3% to your account), you should get to a 6% contribution rate as soon as you are able.
Under this scenario, even if you don’t invest any of the money, you would still be getting a 50% return on your contributions. That’s just too much money to pass up!
Traditional or Roth IRA
If your employer does not provide a retirement plan for you to participate in, you can start your own using either a traditional or Roth IRA. TD Ameritrade will allow you to open an IRA, and they have no up front account minimums. You can simply fund the account at whatever level you feel comfortable.
You can set up a payroll contribution through your employer as well. Most employers will allow you to allocate direct deposits into three or more accounts. You can simply start moving a small percentage of your pay to the IRA account, and that way you will gradually and automatically build up your account over time.
Once again, these contributions are tax-deductible (for a traditional IRA, not the Roth), so you won’t feel the full effect of your contribution. And you can contribute up to $5,500 per year ($6,500 if you’re 50 or older) to either a traditional or Roth IRA.
TD Ameritrade Brokerage Account
TD Ameritrade will also allow you to open up a non-retirement brokerage account with no upfront minimum, called the TD Ameritrade Standard Account. You can also fund such an account using payroll deductions, or you can simply use the account as a place to put windfalls as become available (tax refunds, bonuses, gifts, etc.).
You don’t have to begin trading in the account until you have enough money to begin investing, and you feel comfortable doing so.
These are small denomination US Treasury securities that you can purchase through Treasury Direct. You can purchase them in denominations of as little as $25.
These are actually US government bonds with terms running between one year to as long as 30 years. And not only do they provide annual interest income, but they also make semi annual adjustments for inflation. Interest and inflation adjustments are added to the face amount of the bond and payable when you redeem the bonds.
Bonus: I Bonds are tax-exempt for state income tax purposes.
Betterment is what is often referred to as a robo advisor, and that can be the perfect investment account if you’re completely new to investing. When you sign up for a Betterment account, they have you complete the short questionnaire which determines your risk tolerance. From that risk tolerance they will establish a portfolio of exchange traded funds (ETFs) that will represent the allocation of your portfolio going forward.
This will enable you to take advantage of professional investment management but without the high upfront investment, or the high annual fees that normally come with it.
Betterment has no upfront minimum investment requirement. You can sign-up for an account, and commit to contributing a minimum of $100 per month – which you can do through payroll deductions. So you can simply begin funding your account, and never have to worry about getting involved in the technicalities of investing.
A Bank Savings Account
Failing all else, you can simply open up a bank savings account, and fund it through direct payroll deposits. Technically speaking, this is not an investment. However, it is an account that you can use to begin accumulating money until you have enough that you can move it into either mutual funds, ETFs, or an investment brokerage account that have upfront minimum account balances of say, $1,000 or more.
When it comes to investing, the single most important step is to get started. The fact that you don’t have much money should never be an obstacle. If you can carve a few dollars extra out of your budget each month, then you will have all that you need to start investing. But you have to take that first step.
Last weekend I was working on an upcoming article that highlights the fun and affordability of some of the best regional summer events like festivals and events around the country.
I found myself wishing I had a solid month of vacation saved up so I could visit all of these festivals when the Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere” came up on Spotify – followed by an appropriately timed ad for a travel credit card. With travel on my brain I was enticed to click on the picture of the Discover it ®Miles card superimposed on the wing of an airplane flying into the sunset.
With a trip to my sister’s wedding coming up and a family summer road trip to plan I thought maybe I should re-visit a travel rewards card. We don’t currently use one card because with little kids we don’t really travel that much.
Ever since we started a family I’ve stuck with a cash back rewards card but now that the kids are getting older and a little more “travel friendly” our chances for venturing out are increasing. I do feel a little guilty because we’re leaving our youngest at home with the grandparents when we travel out East.
We took her on a “trial” trip a few weekends back when we traveled to a tournament for my son’s soccer team. Her first experience staying in a hotel without a pack and play was a blast for her but pretty exhausting for us. Perhaps a travel card could be a way to relieve some of the guilt, we’ll earn rewards travelling without her that we can use when she’s a little older and travel ready : )
I haven’t done a lot of research lately on all that’s available in terms of travel rewards but what I learned about the Discover it ® Miles card was interesting.
You earn 1.5x Miles for every dollar you spend on the card. It would be good to use it a lot when you first get it because you earn double the Miles in your first year – with no spending cap. Looks like you don’t earn double as you go, they award them to you at the end of your first year. I know other rewards cards offer you a bonus when you spend a certain amount in the first 3 or 6 months. This approach isn’t tied to an amount, just a period of time.
One of the things I like about the card is that there’s no annual fee. This would be good for us since we don’t travel a ton. We do have a lot of things planned for this year but who knows what next year will bring. I would hate to pay an annual fee for a travel card in years where we never leave the state.
Along the same lines, the Miles don’t expire over time. If you don’t use the card for a year and a half or if you close it then they just credit your account with the current rewards balance. Although I don’t travel much internationally I did take a trip to Lithuania for a week last year and seeing the foreign transaction fees on my statement when I got back was rather unpleasant. One benefit of this card is that it doesn’t charge that pesky fee.
Since it’s a travel card it makes sense that you can redeem your miles as a statement credit towards travel costs you’ve charged on the card. So for example if you put a $450 plane ticket on your card you’d earn 675 Miles that you can apply towards the ticket charge.
Obviously, planning & saving for a trip is what makes it financially feasible. The travel rewards we earn on any credit card aren’t going to fund our travels. But if we’re going to be spending the money anyways I’ve always been a fan of earning rewards while we spend. I don’t know if we’re ready to make the jump from a cash back card to travel rewards but it’s something we’ll consider as we feel the bite of the travel bug this summer.
Many of us – maybe most of us – spend a lot of money trying to match the lifestyles and spending patterns of the community around us. We even have a name for it – keeping up with the Joneses. Why do we feel compelled to do that? I suspect that in most instances, it isn’t a conscious decision. We do it mostly because keeping up with the Joneses is easy, because being different is hard.
Here’s what I mean:
In reality, “normal” is a subjective concept. No one is truly normal if normal means being exactly and precisely like everyone else in society. But there is a range as to what’s considered to be normal, and it’s mostly defined by society. For this reason, we’ll pattern our behavior off that of the majority. We’ll also adopt their preferences and spending patterns.
That last item is a big one as it relates to personal finance. If we adjust our spending patterns to match those around us, we can easily get caught up in a game of trying to match our neighbors – the theoretical Joneses – purchase for purchase.
Resisting that trend is difficult at best.
Being different – even “good” different – is hard. If your social circle is comprised largely of free spenders, you may find yourself on the outside looking in – socially speaking. Should you decide that you want to be conservative with your money, avoid debt, and invest for the future, you might become socially isolated.
Blending with the crowd is easy. Allowing others to define “normal”, then following their lead, can allow us to fit in neatly. Even if that normal doesn’t fit with your own definition deep on the inside, you may get a large measure of emotional satisfaction – and validation – by being a certified member of the group.
Your Source of Goals and Motivation
If most of your family and friends live in McMansions, you may decide that owing one yourself is an important goal. Life can be easier if your goals and motivations match those of the group around you.
Setting unique goals is hard. If you decide that owning a McMansion isn’t something you aspire to, that you’d rather live in a cracker box in a working class neighborhood and stay out of debt, you may lose your friends soon enough. After all, since your goals aren’t aligned with theirs, there’s a real possibility of geographic isolation, as well as economic and social.
Letting the crowd define your goals is easy. Once you’re in a certain social circle, one of the best ways to stay there is by having compatible goals and motivations. Even if you can’t really afford to keep up with everyone, you may drain yourself financially in order to retain your membership in the group for as long as you can.
If you don’t have a concrete idea as to what success is, it’s very easy to let it be defined for you by your social circle. This is more common than we think. Since most people have only a vague idea of what success is, they kind of tool along, moving forward, hoping to bump into it one day. Along the way they may adopt the attitudes of the group as a way to give the journey some meaning.
But it still won’t be your true version of success, but one you borrowed from others. In short, you’ll willingly allow others to define success for you.
Why would anyone do that?
Creating your own definition of success is hard. This means creating a definition of success that may be at odds with the group. If you define success as being out of debt, having a comfortable savings account, a promising investment portfolio and a very real prospect of early retirement, but most in your social circle define it as always having a late model car, taking expensive vacations, and always having the latest gizmo, you may not fit in.
Accepting cultural notions of success is easy. This gets back to not having your own concept of success, or perhaps lacking the confidence that you can ever achieve it. As such, you may default to the conventional norms of your social orbit, and spend your life pursuing a success defined by others. One of the benefits of doing this is greater acceptance by the group. They’ll even be there to reinforce your journey – after all, they‘re on the same journey you‘re on.
Living Life Your Way
This gets down to how you live your life every day. If you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, how you live your life will even be defined by the group. This can affect what you do with your time, the type of work you do, the people you keep company with, and even your hobbies and forms of entertainment.
That’s a whole lot of your life being effectively controlled by others. How could anyone let that happen?
Living a life that’s unique is hard. If in the pursuit of financial independence you live a pretty basic life – a modest home, an older car, shopping in thrift stores, etc. – you may find yourself having little common ground with your more opulent neighbors. It will be hard to resist the free spending lifestyles they lead, at least until your bank account is large enough that you don’t care.
Living a life that looks like everyone else’s is easy. Keeping up with the Joneses is first and foremost the pursuit of conformity. It’s often easier to go along with the crowd than it is to chart your own course. It might be that most people are conformists and prefer to be with other conformists. What ever the reason, it’s much easier to go along with the crowd, than it is to be different.
How Keeping Up With the Joneses Affects Your Money
Keeping up with the Joneses might be amusing were it not for the fact that it involves a very real financial cost. After all, people who spend a lot and have a lot are perceived to be winners, and we all want to be winners. So we follow their lead, and hope that it all works out in the end.
But what if those leaders who “have it all” also have empty bank accounts? They could lead us right off the financial cliff with them.
Why don’t we try harder to resist?
Not spending money like everyone else does is hard. Even if people are heading for a financial disaster, their lives can look compelling before they get there. Blocking that out and pursuing your own financial goals is hard while it’s happening. You can’t help but get the feeling that you’re doing something wrong – at least until you reach early retirement, or one of the social leaders ends up in bankruptcy court.
Following social spending patterns is easy. In the modern world, so much of how we’re perceived is measured in money. Even if you don’t have much money, you still want to be perceived as having it by the people you’re trying to impress. Playing the game can be fun while it lasts.
As the saying goes, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” That’s what happens when you take the “easy” route and try keeping up with the Joneses.
Try the harder route of ignoring the Joneses – and you’ll like yourself and your life much better one day.
Study after study about retirement indicates that Americans are worried about their ability to live comfortably later in life. Savings statistics also indicate that we aren’t saving enough for retirement.
One of the problems is that it’s easy to fall behind on retirement because it can be hard to choose the right retirement plan for you. The good news is that there are tools and strategies you can use to reduce the difficulty associated with saving for retirement.
Employer Retirement Plans
Choosing a retirement plan with your employer can be a daunting task, depending on what’s available. Some plans are limited, with only a few options available, while others have a long list. Having too many choices can intimidate us, since we don’t like the idea of choosing “wrong.”
First of all, realize that, while you can usually do better in your choice, the reality is that almost nothing is worse than not saving at all. So any fund that you choose from your employer’s list of funds is likely going to be better than doing nothing at all. This is especially true if your employer offers a match. When possible, contribute the amount necessary to get the maximum employer match.
Once you have calmed your nerves about choosing a plan, you can make matters easier by simply choosing something with broad market exposure. Most employer plans are going to have index funds that reflect the performance of major indexes, such as the S&P 500 or the Dow. You can also find index funds that reflect the performance of the market as a whole — including all publicly traded companies. This type of broad exposure to the market means that all you have to do is be along for the ride. Stocks, as a collective, have yet to lose over a 25-year period. This means that if you start now, and keep investing (especially with an employer match) for the next 30 years, there is a very good chance you will come out ahead.
Next, after you’ve decided on getting an index fund that covers a broad market, you can look at fees. Many index funds have very low management fees, and that means a better return for you. You might also have to pay plan administration fees. These should be fairly transparent now, thanks to recent regulations. As long as your fees are reasonably low, your employer’s plan is probably a fine choice.
Retirement Plans Beyond Employer Offerings
Not everyone has access to retirement investment plans at work. If you don’t have access to a plan, or if the cost is too high to justify investing more than what you need to get a match (you should also go for a match, since it’s free money), you might need to set up your own plan.
If you are looking to get started, don’t be put off by all of the choices available to you. Instead, start simple. Almost any online discount brokerage offers an IRA option. You can open an IRA with a brokerage and start investing. Most brokerages offer low-cost index funds and index ETFs. Get a broad, all-market index fund or ETF and you can save money. Many brokerages even offer their own ETFs with no transaction costs. It’s possible to find an index ETF with costs of between 0.05 percent and 0.25 percent without too much trouble. Use the brokerages proprietary ETF, and you won’t even have to pay transaction costs.
The important thing is to get started. Put in as much as you can to begin. Over time, as your resources improve, and as you learn more about investing and the opportunities open to you, it’s possible to look into other types of retirement accounts. The self-employed can use SEP and SIMPLE plans, as well as solo 401(k) plans. But the easiest thing to do is start with an IRA. Once you get started, and see how easy it is, then you can branch out.
Spending money and saving money are like natural enemies. The more of one that you do, the less of the other that you’re able to do. If money were unlimited, you’d be able to do both without any stress. But that’s why the spending/saving balance is so complicated – most people have to make hard choices between the two. Unfortunately, saving money often comes up the loser in the conflict, which helps to explain why relatively few people in America ever save a substantial amount of money, and reach a place that looks even remotely like financial freedom.
Saving loses out because spending money is easy. And it’s easy for all the same reasons that saving money is so hard.
Let’s consider the areas of contention.
Controlling Natural Impulses
Spending money is something like our natural default setting. It’s largely impulse driven, which is to say that we’ll do it without even thinking. Overcoming this natural bias toward spending is a challenge, and no small one at that.
Self-denial is hard. Kids usually want everything they see, which is largely why TV is such an effective advertising medium (it’s visual). If we’re honest, then we have to admit that there’s more than a little bit of kid in all of us. When we see something we like, we want it. Denying ourselves goes against our emotions. Resisting only gets easier after you’ve been doing it for a while, which is exactly why most people never get that far. If it was easy, more people would have a lot more savings.
Giving in to your every whim is easy. Giving in to natural impulses is so easy. It takes no thought on our part, and it’s exactly what you’ll do unless you have the discipline to see what’s happening and stop it before it does.
Resisting “Everybody’s Doing It”
At least part of the bias in favor of spending money is cultural. Let’s face it, everyone wants the good life, and so do we. If we simply follow the cultural flow, we’ll spend money constantly. After all, if everybody’s doing it, we should be able to do it too, right?
Being different is hard. Emphasizing saving money over spending can make you seem a little bit odd. While everyone else is out buying new cars and wide screen TV’s on the latest holiday weekend, you’ll be resisting, and hoping to commit your extra money to savings. No following the herd to the mall for you.
Following the crowd is easy. To varying degrees, we all want to conform to the society around us. If everyone is buying the latest new-fangled gadget, we want it too. If you take your cues from the crowd, you’ll mostly be spending your money on what society considers to be important. And that’s actually easier than resisting the trend.
Embracing Delayed Gratification
Delayed gratification has become something of a novel concept that’s seen as a throwback to a less prosperous time. But it’s also the basic philosophy that saving money is built on. In order to save for later, you have to be willing to give up some comforts and luxuries now in favor of a more secure future.
Not everyone gets the concept of delay gratification. Here’s why:
Doing without now is hard. It seems counter-intuitive to do without something, especially if you can actually afford it. It takes discipline and courage of conviction to do without in favor of building a better future. And if we’re honest, we also need to acknowledge that the delayed gratification process is not as much fun as living in the moment.
Living in the moment is easy. It can be easy to throw caution to the wind and focus solely on living for the moment. It’s also an abdication of responsibility – and responsibility is another of those traits that we humans like to rebel against. And there’s no doubt either that living in the moment eliminates some of those annoying burdens, like planning for retirement or saving to send our kids to school. Life is easier when you don’t concern yourself with future obligations.
Until the future actually arrives…
Have you ever seen one of those prayers that says, Lord grant me patience – but hurry? I think it frames the problem well. Patience is another of those qualities that’s hard to come by.
And it’s also a fundamental part of saving money – one that‘s anything but easy.
Trusting your money to the future is hard. You have to be willing to save relatively small amounts of money – on a continuous basis – and be fully prepared to let it grow for many years. Reaching financial independence is never a short-term plan. It may take 10, 20, or 30 years to reach the point where all that saving finally puts you in a comfortable position. Not nearly everyone has that kind of patience.
Instant gratification is easy. It’s easy precisely because all the benefits are had right up front. It may even be a form of compensation – you buy little slices of the good life because you’re never certain that you’ll ever have the real thing. It’s another example of the inner-child running the financial show. It’s an emotionally satisfying short-term strategy, but one that can put you in the poor house permanently.
Embracing Financial Freedom
Virtually everyone wants financial freedom – but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to achieve it. Embracing financial freedom is having a plan, then committing to making the plan a reality. Wanting financial freedom is just a wish because it has no action behind it.
Why don’t more people see that? They do, and that’s part of the obstacle.
Working toward financial freedom is hard. Embracing financial freedom is about a whole lot more than cutting back on spending (though that is an important part of it). It often also involves working more hours (to increase income), taking risks, getting serious about an investment plan, and living a life that looks very different from everyone else’s. That’s more than most people are willing to commit to.
Wanting financial freedom is easy. Wanting financial freedom is “free”. You can talk about it, dream about it, watch it on TV and even read books about it. But until you commit time, effort and money to it, it’s just a feel-good adventure.
So there you have it – spending money is easy because saving money is hard. Are you willing to take some hard steps to secure a better future?
A lot of people wonder why they get passed over promotions – why the promotion always seems to go to someone else. Sometimes the reason is office politics. But most times it’s because most people coast at work. They do that – often unconsciously – because coasting at work is easy. But working for a promotion is hard – which is why most people avoid it at all costs.
Generally speaking, when employers look to promote someone, they are looking for an impact person – that person who stands above the rest in making a difference in the organization. Unless you are that person, the chance of you getting a promotion is slim.
Employers have expectations for all employees, but promotions usually go to the people who exceed those expectations.
Embracing Company Goals
Every employer, every department, has goals. They have to “make their (sales and net income) numbers”, and establish a set of goals that they believe to be the best way to accomplish it. Naturally, employees who are the most aligned with those goals are typically the ones who are most likely to be promoted when the opportunity comes around.
Embracing company goals is hard. It often means putting your own goals second. It can also mean carrying out a set of objectives that you don’t necessarily agree with – and doing it with enthusiasm. Though that may seem unnatural on an individual level, it’s an indication to the employer that the employee is able to subordinate their own interests for the good of the whole organization.
Going along for the ride is easy. Most employees don’t so much embrace company goals, as much as they ride them out. That is to say that they aren’t necessarily willing participants. They’re mostly going with the flow, recognizing it as a requirement for their paychecks.
Which quality is an employer most likely to favor in a promotion?
Being the Go-To Guy/Girl
In almost every department and every organization, there is a small percentage of the staff who represent key players. They are the people who step up and do the better job each and every day. Most people in the organization readily recognize this; the go-to guy or girl will be the first person they’ll go to when they need help.
Being the go-to person is hard. It means taking time out of your own schedule, and away from your own responsibilities, to either help someone else, or to troubleshoot a problem.
Relying on the go-to guy/girl is easy. It’s easy because you never need to worry about anything but your own work, and if you get into a tough spot, you can simply go to the go-to guy or girl for help.
Is an employer more likely to promote someone who only does their own work, or are they going to promote someone who others have come to rely on?
Taking Ownership of Projects or Tasks
One of the very best ways to position yourself for a promotion is to take ownership of important projects or tasks. Employers see people who do as management material.
Taking ownership is hard. The downside of taking ownership is that you are responsible for the success or failure of the project. Failure is an obvious risk, but success is not without its burdens either. In order to make sure that the project is completed properly and in a timely fashion, you have to put out extra effort, and generally more of it than your coworkers.
Letting others take ownership is easy. This is a low risk strategy for any employee. By avoiding putting yourself in a position to have responsibility, you eliminate the risk of failure.
But you also take yourself out of the running for a promotion. Moving into management, or into higher management, is all about taking ownership.
Learning New Skills
Learning new skills is a way to increase both your importance and your visibility in an organization. Acquiring new skills not only gives you the inside track with new techniques and applications, but it also puts you in a position to teach others. Since training is an important part of management, companies look for people who embrace new skills on a consistent basis when they need to fill higher positions.
Learning new skills is hard. Learning new skills requires extra effort. It also requires extra time, and time is often found in non-working hours. In order to learn the skills that will get you promoted, you may have to invest a significant amount of private time, and even some of your own money.
Stagnating is easy. Not only does this enable you to avoid the time and possible expense involved in learning new skills, but it also lowers the possibility that you will be given additional responsibilities.
By improving your own abilities, you increase your value to your employer. That makes you more likely to be promoted.
Helping Management and Co-workers
In any job situation, there are many employees who do no more than the required minimum. But there are others who make themselves available to help their coworkers and even management when those people are particularly busy and in need of assistance. Such an employee not only demonstrates a willingness to help others, but also the ability to manage their own workload in a way that enables them to have the time to do it. This is an attractive quality for promotion purposes.
Helping others is hard. In order to be in a position to help others, you have to have the willingness and ability to work harder, faster, and more efficiently than others. It may also require working additional hours, such as coming in early, working through lunch, or leaving the office late.
Letting others help you is easy. By not helping others, you’re able to devote 100% of your time and attention to completing your own workload. And you’re virtually assured that you’ll get out of work on time.
Getting a promotion only looks easy on the day it’s handed out. But the work needed to get you to that point – that’s not so easy.
One of the things that always strikes me when I look for good advice on career networking is that a lot of the suggestions people make revolve around the idea that you need to be a giver first. This was also a theme I saw when helping put together a video about career networking using advice from attendees to the recent FinCon Expo in New Orleans.
This got me thinking about the way I network for my career, and wondering whether or not I’m a giver.
Why You Should Be a Giver First
It’s tempting to go into a networking situation with the idea that you will look for people and ideas that you can use, rather than worry too much about what you’re offering others. However, no matter how desperate you are to get something out of a networking experience, you can actually come out ahead when you start from the position that you will see what you have to offer others. Here are some of the reasons that being a giver first can benefit you in the long run:
- Develop real relationships: If you want to develop a real relationship that goes beyond quid pro quo, it makes sense to be a giver. When you open yourself a little bit, and offer to help someone out, you open the door for a more meaningful relationship. In the long run, this could lead to a good relationship that has more benefits (not all of them directly related to a bottom line) than you originally thought.
- Establish a good reputation: When people see that you are willing to give, they have a more favorable impression of you, and you can establish a good reputation. Do what you can to be helpful to others, and it will come back around as others enjoy working with you, and say good things about you.
- You understand what others need more: One of the best ways to succeed in business and in your career is to understand what others need, and be able to provide it to them. This works in networking as well. If you make it a point to give your attention to others, and find out what problems they need help with, you can better show how your strengths can help out.
By giving first, and worrying about taking later, you can set up your networking experiences to provide you with lasting, long-term benefits.
How to Be a Giver in Career Networking Situations
When you attend your next career networking experience, make sure that you understand what you need to do in order to be a giver. One of the best things you can do as a giver is to ask questions about the other person. Find out what makes him or her tick, and ask questions about what they need.
You can also offer your help and experience. This can be difficult, since you don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of offering too much time and energy and “freebies” to the point that you can’t work on your own goals. However, giving a little time and attention to answer questions and offer your insights can be one way to be a giver. Let someone “pick your brain” for 10 minutes or so.
Don’t forget to look for deeper connections that can turn into partnerships later. When you give of yourself a little bit, and open yourself up to be a little bit vulnerable and establish good friendships beyond just career networking, you have the potential to reap great rewards down the road, through business partnerships, as well as through worthwhile personal relationships.