Not too long ago, I read an article on CNN Money reporting on a survey from Charles Schwab. The results indicate that most workers spend more time researching vacations and car purchases than they do retirement.
It’s true that researching the investment options for a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan can be a daunting task. However, since your retirement is something that is likely to last two or three decades, it makes sense that you should spend more time researching it than you do your next vacation.
According to the survey, though, 39 percent of respondents spent five hours or more researching vacation options. More than half of those surveyed had spent five hours or more researching their car purchases. Only 11 percent of those surveyed indicated that they had spent at least five hours researching their investment options.
Have You Performed a Retirement Needs Assessment?
This information isn’t that surprising when you consider that less than half of Americans have performed a retirement needs assessment, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Since many Americans don’t even know how much they will need during retirement, it’s not a stretch to believe that most Americans probably spend more time researching their vacations than their retirement investments.
However, this is not the best way to go about things if you want a successful retirement. Your first step is to sit down and figure out what it will take for you to have the retirement you want. Think about what you want to do during retirement, whether you are interested in travel, working on a hobby, or some other activity.
You should also estimate how much you will spend during retirement, using your current expenses as a starting point. Think about what it will cost to live your preferred retirement lifestyle, as well as think about how much you might have to pay when it comes to healthcare costs and other living expenses. A good, fee-only financial planner can help you figure out what to expect, and there are a number of online calculators that can also help.
Where Should You Put Your Money?
Once you know how much it will take for you to meet your retirement goals, you can then figure out where to put your money. Most employer-sponsored retirement plans allow you to choose from a number of index funds and ETFs, and other investments. You can look over these investments to figure out which are likely to help you reach your goals.
If you aren’t sure what to expect, you can get guidance from someone in the HR department, or consult with a knowledgeable and trustworthy fee-only financial planner. While it can be daunting, especially for the beginner, there is no reason to avoid it. Start out by learning about your options, and then figuring out what is appropriate for your situation. You might be surprised to discover that, if you give the same amount of thought to your retirement situation as you do to your vacation planning, that you will be in a better place with your long-term finances.
So, are you spending enough time planning your retirement? Leave a comment with your thoughts!
The loss of a job can be one of the most challenging events you will face. A job loss affects your finances on every level. And, due to the fact that the economy is making a significant shift, it’s important to realize that a job loss is an increasing possibility.
Gone are the days when you could get a job and expect to have it for two or three decades before retiring. These days, the new economy focuses on jobs that are much more temporary. You are likely to change jobs several times throughout your life, and some of those changes may not be voluntary.
In order to prepare for these types of difficulties, it’s important to develop income diversity. Income diversity reduces your financial risk, and can help you during a job loss.
Income from Multiple Sources
When the bulk of your income is from a day job, you are putting your finances at risk. The reality is that relying heavily on your day job for your financial well-being can be extremely risky. Once you lose your job, your entire livelihood is gone. If you develop multiple sources for your income, some of that risk is alleviated.
If you have a little bit of income coming from a side business, or if your partner works part-time, you aren’t quite as devastated when you lose your job. After all, there’s still some income trickling in. It might not be that much, but it’s better than nothing. And, since unemployment benefits won’t replace your income, it’s good to have these other sources to help supplement your unemployment benefits. It will mean that you won’t draw down your emergency fund as quickly.
How to Use Income Diversity to Prepare for Possible Job Loss
As with all things personal finance, it’s best to prepare for difficulties ahead of time. You can use income diversity to your advantage before you even lose your job. The best approach is to live on what you get from your main day job and put the extra income from your diverse sources to work ahead of time.
Some of the things that you can do with your supplemental income include:
- Pay down debt: If you have debt obligations, use your supplemental income to get rid of high-interest debt. The fewer obligations you have if you lose your job, the better off you’ll be. That way, you don’t have to worry about the credit and income consequences that come when you end up missing debt payments.
- Build your emergency fund: Your extra income can be a great way to pad your emergency fund. Whether you keep your emergency assets in a high-yield account, or whether you look for better yield with the help of a taxable investment account, using your extra income to build up for an emergency can be smart since it will help you get through a job loss.
- Continue to invest in your future: Diverting some of your income toward the future can also be a good idea. You can build your retirement nest egg or start an income portfolio. It can take time to build an income portfolio, but it can be worth it in the end if you manage to get some passive income. This passive income can, in turn, become another income stream that can help during a job loss.
It’s never fun to think about the possibility of a job loss. However, it’s important to be on top of the situation, and make sure that you are prepared for the possibilities. Cultivating income diversity is a good way to get a little extra money to better your situation now, and protect you against problems in the future.
Do you have multiple sources of income? If not, what are you going to do to achieve it? Leave a comment!
If you’ve been laid off, but you were working with your previous employer for number of years, you probably accumulated a good chunk of money in your employer-sponsored retirement plan. And hopefully, you’ve also got some promising investments outside of your retirement plan. When you lose your job, and the search for ways to pay the bills is on, all options are on the table – including your investments.
There’s no question about it, a layoff forces some tough choices when it comes to your investments. You have to make choices about current needs versus long-term savings plans. In light of that, what should you do with your investments after a layoff?
1. Leave Tax-Sheltered Plans Alone!
Tax-sheltered retirement plans are often tapped following a layoff. And if there is very little in the way of savings outside of a retirement plan, this usually happens pretty early in the process. But this is fundamentally one of the worst post-layoff moves you can make.
Consider the complications of withdrawing money from your retirement plan:
- You will be using money that is invested for long-term needs to pay current bills
- You will be reducing the money that will be available for retirement – and the investment income it will earn
- By making an early withrawal, you will not only have to pay income tax on the money – both federal and state – but you will also be subject to the IRS 10% penalty tax on early withdrawals; this will increase your income tax bill at a time of reduced income
- Like everything else in life, success in retirement saving is largely about momentum; by withdrawing money from your plan well before retirement, you may lose that momentum – maybe even forever!
Tax-sheltered retirement plans should be the last piggybank that you break open in the event of a layoff. And even then, it should be done only in emergency situations.
2. Shift to More Conservative Assets
A layoff is an excellent time to shift your investments into more conservative assets. Sure, you may be giving up potential investment income, but the potential losses you could face will more than compensate for it.
Here’s the thing – when you don’t have a steady paycheck, you can’t afford to take big losses in your investments. You won’t be in a position to put more money into your investments to cover for the losses. What income you do have will need to be used to pay bills for survival.
You’ve heard the saying when it rains, it pours; the loss of your income makes you vulnerable to other catastrophes. By shifting your investments into more conservative assets, you reduce the likelihood of a sudden, substantial drop in value.
Having a solid income is one of the best ways to diversify against investment market risk. If you don’t have that income anymore, you need to get as close to a risk-free position as possible in your portfolio. This is true in your retirement portfolio, but even more so for your non-retirement portfolio. You’ll need to keep that money available for whatever might come up.
3. Resist the Urge to Gamble with Your Money
A layoff sometimes creates the desire to “make up for lost income” through your investments. That might include taking a chance in the stock market, or even with commodities, in an attempt to make up for the investment and retirement contributions that you’re not making as a result of your job loss.
For all the reasons stated above, you need to avoid taking chances with your savings and investments. It’s almost a cosmic reality, but when you lose a job you are more vulnerable to other financial setbacks. By avoiding high-risk investments, you can at least eliminate one potential source of financial trouble.
4. Keep Your Liquid Assets Handy
Conservation of liquid assets will be absolutely essential in dealing with life after a layoff. You’ll have to resign yourself to the fact that any liquid assets that you have will be fair game in paying for basic living expenses.
Liquid assets include cash-type investments, including certificates of deposit, treasury bills, money market accounts, and savings and checking accounts. In fact they can include any investment asset that is not either sitting in a retirement plan, or invested in equities or mutual funds through a non-retirement account.
You need to do the best that you can to preserve these assets, but you’ll also have to create a budget. The worst thing you can do is to draw down your liquid assets within a couple of months after your layoff. You have to do your best to parcel them out, a little bit at a time, so that they can act as a supplement to whatever reduced income you have for as long as possible.
One of the worst uses for liquid assets is using them to pay off debt. The intention is good – by paying off the debt, you also eliminate a monthly payment. The problem comes in that the loan balance you’re paying off is usually many times higher than the monthly payment you’re taking out. For this reason, a layoff is not a good time to begin paying off debt. Sure, it will enable you to lower your monthly expenses, but it will also deny you the use much-needed liquid assets, and often force you to borrow more money at a later date.
What advice do you have on how to handle your investments after a layoff? Leave a comment!
One of the scariest things about losing your job is trying to figure out what you will do about your living arrangements. After all, if you have a mortgage and lose your job, it might make it difficult to keep up with your payments. Whether or not it is practical to keep your home after a job loss depends on your situation, and what you can expect going forward.
Can Your Emergency Fund Make the Payments?
The first thing to consider is whether or not your emergency fund can handle your mortgage payments. Do you have enough assets to keep making payments?
If you can handle payments, with the help of your emergency fund, for six months or so, you might be able to tough it out – as long as you can get some income quickly.
When you are determined to keep your house, and keep making mortgage payments, you will need to make sure that you are prepared with income. Your partner might need to get a job, and you might need to accept work that you wouldn’t normally do. You might need to tap into investments, although you should be very, very wary of depleting your retirement account just to make your mortgage payments.
Be realistic about whether or not you can handle making your mortgage payments with your job loss. If you can’t expect to make the payments, it’s time to take action and move on as quickly as you can before things get worse.
Getting Rid of the House
“Borrowers finding it difficult to pay their mortgages should first communicate their difficulties to their mortgage companies,” says financial advisor Richard Sturm. “Mortgage companies are experienced with borrowers who run into difficult times and may have solutions that would equally benefit both the borrower and the lender.”
However, when it gets right down to it, realize that your lender will do what’s best for the bank before worrying about what’s best for you. But it’s a good idea to understand your options as quickly as possible, and work to find a solution before things get too desperate.
Sturm suggests that a short sale can be a reasonable option. “Borrowers with negative equity and no ability to make future payments might consider a short sale,” he says. “A short sale is an agreement made between the borrower and the lender whereby the lender may agree to take less than what is owed upon the sale of the property.”
This is a shorter process than foreclosure, and you might be able to avoid some of the problems that come with a foreclosure. However, it’s important to understand that the amount you are forgiven is considered income by the IRS. So, if you owe $150,000 on your home, and the bank agrees to allow you to sell for $135,000, the difference of $15,000 is considered income and you will be taxed on it. If your unemployment goes on long enough that this doesn’t matter, it’s not a problem. But if you find a job, or if you made good money before you lost your job, this loan forgiveness can result in higher taxes.
In some cases, foreclosure is the only option. As bad as it sounds, the reality is that you can often live in your home for months while you look for a suitable rental or other arrangement before the foreclosure process is completed.
It’s never fun to contemplate the realities of a job loss, but they must be faced. Consider your options when it comes to your home, and make sure you do what’s necessary for your finances in this difficult time.
So, if you were to lose your job, do you think you’d be able to keep your house? Leave a comment and tell us why or why not!
Your career is likely to take up a large amount of time. A “traditional” job often accounts for eight hours of your day, which means that you spend up to 1/3 of your life with your career. When you think about how much time you spend with your career, it makes sense to consider a career that you are likely to enjoy — or at least tolerate.
As you consider a career path, whether you are looking for your first-time career, or whether you are trying to reinvent yourself for a better life experience, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
1. What Do I Like to Do?
I remember watching Office Space years ago and chuckling at the conversations about what to do with a million dollars. You talk about what you would do if you didn’t have to work. The first thing you should ask yourself is what you like to do, and pinpoint some of your interests. The reality is that you can’t always do exactly what you want when it comes to your career, but you can examine what you like to do, and look for something that might be compatible with some of your interests and preferences.
Start with what you like to do, and figure out if there is a way to take that and turn it into a career – or incorporate it a little bit into your work life.
2. What Am I Good At?
Sometimes, it helps to start with what you are good at. It might not be exactly what you are looking for, but if you are good at it, it might make a good career choice. In some cases, knowing that you are good at what you do is its own reward (other than the money, of course). Take stock of your skills, and recognize that it can make sense to consider your talents and abilities as you choose a career path.
In some cases, what you’re good at may also coincide with what you enjoy. If this isn’t the case, you can look to enjoy some aspects of the work, or, if you enjoy something that you aren’t good at, you can attempt to learn to become proficient.
In any case, being able to do something well is a good start in a career.
3. Is There a Demand for My Skill Set?
One of the hardest lessons I learned when I began writing is that not everyone wants what I’m offering. Look at your skill set, and see if there is a demand for it. There are always positions for people with marketable skills. Make it a point to develop marketable skills, or to figure out a niche in which you can use your skills. I eventually had to give up my dreams of writing on certain topics — at least writing on them for money. Instead, I gravitated toward finance-related topics. It turned out to be a great choice, and I still get to write (which I love), and I’ve learned a how to adapt my skills to a marketable niche.
If you don’t have marketable skills, make it a point to discover what is marketable. If you can line that up with your preferences and talents, so much the better.
4. Do I Have Much Choice?
In some cases, you might feel backed against a wall. There are times when you just don’t have a choice with your career. You need the job and the money, so you take it. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Ask yourself if there is a way to change the equation, and develop new skills and abilities, and you can create more choices for yourself.
What career path are you considering? Leave a comment!
One of the biggest problems I have in my freelance career is selling myself. First of all, I have a problem with impostor syndrome. But the other issue is that I’m unsure of how to talk myself up without sounding like an arrogant braggart.
No one likes a braggart, but, at the same time, when you’re trying to advance in your career, you are often required to toot your own horn. You need to show that you are a valuable addition to the team. It’s especially important to be able to show your value when you are asking for a pay raise. If you want to sell yourself, you need to be ready to say good things about what you’ve done. At the same time, though, you need to be able to temper your recital so that you don’t come across as arrogant.
1. Use Facts to Quantify Your Accomplishments
Rather than talking about yourself in a subjective manner, such as telling someone that you are the “best” at what you do, offer concrete examples of successes. In my case, I can point to high-profile publications that I’ve written for to demonstrate my experience and skill as a freelancer.
If you are a salesperson, your numbers are important. You can show how much revenue you’ve brought to the company. Consider your career accomplishments and how you can quantify them in a way that sounds like you are simply stating basic facts, rather than bragging about how awesome you are. Point out that you worked on a large project that received a great response. Point to a successful campaign you managed that brought in thousands of extra pageviews for a client’s website. Whenever possible, show numbers and concrete examples. This makes you appear more objective, and provides hard data for a decision-maker to consider.
2. Ask Someone to Speak on Your Behalf
Recently, during a conversation I was having online about a job opportunity, my business partner saw that I was back-pedaling and not selling myself at all. I was worried about sounding arrogant and over-selling myself. He jumped in and made a few comments about the quality of my work, and where I appear.
Sometimes, it works better to have someone else speak up on your behalf. If a co-worker compliments you on how helpful you were with a certain project, you can ask them to email the boss. When a client is satisfied with the work you’ve done, ask if they would be willing to provide a written testimonial that you can publish or include with your promotional materials.
Getting someone else to sing your praises not only allows you to be a little more modest about your accomplishments, but it is really attention-grabbing when you can show that others are so satisfied with you that they will go out of their way to express that satisfaction.
However, you can’t rely on the person to just do this on their own. Often, they don’t even think about the possibility of sharing the experience. Since it probably won’t occur to them, you can just say something like, “I’m glad you are happy with what I’ve provided. Would you mind providing a testimonial, or sending a quick email to my boss?”
With the right approach, you can prove your value without sounding like you’re bragging. And that’s something you can usually take to the bank.
How do you feel about selling yourself? Leave a comment!
Many of us like the idea of early retirement. We have visions of relaxing on a beach somewhere, enjoying our money. However, this might not be the case when you retire early. In fact, early retirement could actually result in higher medical bills.
According to a recent study reported on CNN Money, retiring at age 62 instead of age 65 means an additional $51,000 in medical expenses.
Of course, most of us don’t consider retiring at age 62 as early retirement. Most of us think of early retirement as something that happens between the ages of 45 and 55. So the problem is even bigger, because the $51,000 figure comes because Medicare coverage doesn’t kick in until age 65. So if you plan to retire 10 or 20 years before you are eligible for Medicare, your healthcare expenses could be a very big deal.
How to Deal with Medical Expenses in Early Retirement
If you are serious about retiring early, you have to consider the medical aspect of the situation. You are likely to be surprised how much health insurance costs, and how much you pay in medical expenses, once you no longer have access to your employer-subsidized plan.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
If you are in good health, you might be able to get an affordable health insurance plan on one of the state-run healthcare exchanges set up after the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA – also called “Obamacare”).
You can also look into COBRA coverage from your former workplace, but the reality is that COBRA insurance is often quite expensive. It’s probably not a bad idea to visit your state’s health exchange for more information and possible coverage.
Another possibility is to make use of a Health Savings Account (HSA). Now, before you decide to retire, set aside money in one of these accounts.
For 2014, the contribution for an individual is $3,300 and for a family the limit is $6,550.
If you have a high-deductible health plan right now, and you qualify for the HSA, it can make sense. Your contribution is tax-deductible, providing you with an immediate tax benefit. On top of that, you also have the advantage of tax-free growth. As long as you withdraw the money for qualified healthcare expenses, you don’t have to pay taxes on it.
If you are contemplating early retirement, the use of the HSA is a great way to prepare for future expenses. It’s one of the best accounts out there when it comes to saving up for medical costs.
“Working” During Retirement
You might also consider working during retirement. This doesn’t have to be a “traditional” job. Consider consulting, freelancing, or starting a business. This can provide you with a little extra cash flow to help you cover healthcare costs, and you can choose to do something you love that also keeps you busy.
Saving Money During Retirement
And, of course, you need to save money as much as you can. If you plan on an early retirement, you will need to factor increased medical costs on top of your other expense calculations. It makes sense to set aside an extra amount of money in an effort to boost your nest egg.
If you haven’t consider the extra health care costs that come with early retirement, there’s a good chance you aren’t saving enough.
So there you have it. Are you still considering an early retirement? Leave a comment and tell us why or why not!
Many of us don’t want a career that is “just” a job. Instead, many of us like the idea of fitting a career into a lifestyle. If you are tired of taking whatever job comes your way, here is what you can do to change things up and figure out which career is best for your lifestyle:
1. Pinpoint Your Values
The first thing you need to do is get down to some serious introspection. What do you value? What are your strengths? What do you want out of life? The reality is that you won’t ever get a job you enjoy – and that fits with your lifestyle – unless you understand what you want.
Take a look at what’s important to you, and then look for careers that match your values. If you like helping people, there are a number of careers – from teaching to healthcare – that allow you to do that. Figure out what makes you “tick” and then focus on a career that fits into that mindset.
This is also the step that requires you to take a look at your desired lifestyle, including the hours you work each week. If you don’t want to work 70 hours a week because spending time with your family is more important to you, then you’ll need to factor that in.
You’ll also need to consider the lifestyle changes you are willing to make as a result of these values. If you are willing to accept less money for more flexibility and more time to yourself, you might need to change the way you spend money.
2. Discover Training You Need
In some cases, you might already have some of the training you need to begin a career that appeals to you. In other cases, you might need additional training.
Find out what qualifications are required for your desired career, and then figure out how you will make that training happen.
You might need to take a few classes to get a specific certification, or you may need to get a degree. Be realistic about what’s possible, though. There are times when you might need to rethink your specific career path and figure out if another career path can help you reach your goals and live according to your values without spending too much money.
Another possibility is to look for ways to pay for your training. An employer might be willing to reimburse your costs, or you might be able to get student aid to help you along.
3. Start Your Own Business
There are times when the answer is simple: Start your own business. You can do your best to start a business that allows you to live your desired lifestyle while having the career you want.
While you don’t want to put your current income stream in jeopardy, you can still, during your free time, research different business ideas and figure out what you might be able to do in order to make it work. Sometimes, the perfect career is the one you create for yourself.
No matter what path you decide to take, though, it makes sense to pay attention to what’s available, and then make a plan to get into the career you want.
What are some steps you’re taking to find the right career for you? Leave a comment!
One of the most stressful aspects of the job search is the salary negotiation. However, it is often a necessary part of the job search. Trying to come to an equitable agreement with a company is important.
On the one hand, you don’t want a company to decide you’re too expensive and decide not to hire you after all. On the other hand, you don’t want to sell yourself short and end up underpaid and unhappy at your new job. Nothing hastens burnout like feeling as though you aren’t getting paid enough.
If you want to avoid some of thorniest issues related to salary negotiation, it makes sense to remember the soft benefits when negotiating salary. Rather than looking at your salary only as the number describing your income, consider the total compensation package, and focus on soft benefits when you feel as though you are stalling during your negotiations. Considering soft benefits is an important part of your negotiations, especially if you are having a hard time agreeing on an actual salary.
What Are Soft Benefits?
Soft benefits are those benefits that aren’t readily apparent when it comes to salary. They are sometimes considered perks. Even so, they can be quite valuable and worth having. Some of the items that qualify as soft benefits include:
- Flex time
- Daycare for your children
- Unpaid leave
- Vacation days
- Gym membership or access
- Discounted services
- Ability to telecommute for part of the week
- Health benefits
For some, a good health plan is worth lower pay. Also, would you be willing to work for $5,000 less per year if you could telecommute three times a week? It would save you money on gas and clothing costs. Not only that, but you wouldn’t have the same commute, and you could spend more time at home. Other workers value a flexible schedule. If you can work your schedule so that you come in or leave a little earlier or later, depending on what you need to do that day, it might be worth it to accept a lower salary.
Rather than getting too hung up on hitting a specific number, look at the entire picture. Are there special perks for working at the company? I know a couple who works for a company that has an on-site gym and offers one free meal a day in the cafeteria (the food is good). Another friend works for a company that provides daycare. My friend can check in on his child on break, and there is no worry about what is happening during the day. These types of benefits and perks can be worth more than a little more money each year.
It’s never fun to negotiate pay, but see if you can find some common ground by negotiating soft benefits. You can enjoy life more, provide for your needs, and end up more satisfied with your job – even if it doesn’t pay what you originally thought it would.
What are some other soft benefits that would attract you to a job? Leave a comment!
One of the essentials when it comes to finding a new job or advancing your career is the connections you make. Networking is an important part of career advancement, no matter what stage you are at. In fact, even when you are self-employed, it’s important to learn how to effectively network and connect with others.
If you want to connect quickly with others, and let them know what you do – and how you do it – it’s a good idea to develop a short personal statement or an elevator pitch. This is something that you can tell people who ask you what you do, or who ask you who you are.
The idea is to convey your competence, and quickly be able to show the person you are talking with that you are the right person for the job – or at least that you are the right person for someone else. When you have a good elevator pitch, it’s easy for others to see where you might fit. It’s a great networking tool that allows others to see if you might work for a friend of a friend, even if you aren’t quite right for the organization at hand.
Create Your Elevator Pitch
Think about how to briefly describe who you are or what you do. When I’m not talking with bloggers, I use an elevator pitch that basically boils down to: “I’m a freelance journalist. I provide content to a variety of financial sites.”
Keeping your elevator pitch short is key. My description of myself and what I do keeps things simple, but it tells others what I do. The fact that I use a keyword like journalist automatically implies certain things about me, and confers a bit of credibility. I sometimes follow up with specific sites that I’ve written for, or that my work has appeared in. Being able to say, “I provide content to financial sites like MSN Money and US News and World Report” is a helpful variation on my elevator pitch. I can also say something like, “My work has been linked to from The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.”
Consider how you can keep things short and simple, while at the same time conveying useful information that others will find attractive. Develop different versions of your elevator pitch so that you can adapt to different situations. What I tell a blogger, who understands the world of personal finance blogging, is slightly different to what I tell someone who isn’t steeped in the world of online publishing.
Think about various audiences, and develop three or four different pitches that can be used. Also, take the time to think of ways you can elaborate once the conversation gets going. While you don’t want to sound like a robot, you do want to be prepared.
Your Online Elevator Pitch
Don’t forget that, in the job hunt, how you present yourself online matters as well. Your social media profiles act as a sort of online elevator pitch. You should keep the description of what you do short and to the point. Someone coming across your LinkedIn profile, Google Plus profile, or your Twitter account should be able to quickly see what you do.
With so many recruiters and employers looking online, it makes sense to consider how you look in these situations. Crafting your online description should take into account the purpose of your profile, and what you hope to accomplish. Spend some time tweaking your online elevator pitch as well as what you intend to deliver in person, and you’ll make better career connections.