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How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806 – 1861

(Updated and financialized by Tana Gildea)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee enough to live within our means

So we shall never face the collections fiends

And we can be debt-free at the end of our days.

My 401k can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of our being at an ideal pace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, without going into debt and causing us to fight.

I love thee freely, with all my spending in plain sight.

I love thee purely, with my assets protecting us each night.

I love thee with the passion to invest our assets with good use

Without my old fears, and with a conservative faith.

I love thee without needing jewels,

Or endless stuff like some fools. I love thee with the bonds,

stocks, and security of a good financial life; and, if God choose,

I shall save and invest until we part in death.

Who do you love enough to create financial security for? Hopefully yourself!

To your financial (and Valentine) success!  Tana

1% Better

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out ~ Robert Collier

 

Indeed it is! As we consider our money, small efforts add up over time (and small drips do too!) Rather than consider a major rework of your spending or saving, try the 1% better approach.

  • Cut back your spending by 1% this month or
  • Increase your savings by 1% this month or
  • Increase your debt payments by 1% this month

Then keep doing that! Next month 1% more. Inch your way to success.

This is the season of benefits enrollment and updates for many companies. Take a look at your 401k or other retirement plan and increase the contribution by 1%. In 6 months, maybe you increase it by 1%.

Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still. ~ Chinese Proverb

Let’s not stand still with those money habits; let’s consistently grow slowly.

To your financial success (1% at a time)!

Tana

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the personal views of Tana Gildea and are not to be construed as individual advice or the advice or opinions of Homrich Berg; They should not be considered recommendations as each person’s financial situation is unique to her; they may or may not apply to your situation. If you believe that something communicated may be relevant to your situation, Tana strongly encourages you to consult with your individual tax or financial advisor prior to taking action so that the totality of your unique situation is considered.










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Reward Yourself – Fuel Rewards

As competition among retailers becomes more and more intense, it makes sense to maximize the rewards that they offer us as consumers. While not new, fuel rewards are an expanding area to review if you are not already taking advantage of them.

My husband and kids have long taken advantage of the Kroger fuel rewards program (until recently, I had an electric car). By using your Kroger Plus card (which you should definitely use if you shop at Kroger!), you can get cents off gas purchases at Kroger fuel centers as well as at Shell stations. My near-adult children who pay for their own gas race each other to the fuel center after dad’s weekly grocery shopping trip to snag the discount!

According to the Penny Hoarder website, there are many grocery stores across the country that offer similar programs. Check their article, 21 Grocery Stores That Help You Save Money on Gas, for information and to find out the best deals for your situation.

The newest member of the “extended” fuel rewards program is Shell. Not only do they have a traditional rewards program (buy more, be tracked, save more), but they have moved to a “Upromise-esque” model where you can link credit cards for additional points, go to your account on their website and “click through” for online shopping, travel, and dining. (I have long touted the benefits of Upromise if you have kids and are saving for tuition or paying Sallie Mae student loans.) Of course, you get extra points for referring people, taking advantage of special offers, etc. If Shell is your station of choice, sign up for their rewards program and maximize your discounts. Go to: https://www.fuelrewards.com/GOLD

Time or money? Yes, it takes time to sign up, learn the program, and try to consistently follow the rules to maximize points and rewards, but the spoils go to those who do it. If you drive a lot, that means you spend a lot on gas and cents per gallon discounts can add up to real money over time.

To your financial success (and rewards!),

Tana

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the personal views of Tana Gildea and are not to be construed as individual advice or the advice or opinions of Homrich Berg. They should not be considered recommendations as each person’s financial situation is unique to her; recommendations may or may not apply to your situation. If you believe that something communicated may be relevant to your situation, Tana strongly encourages you to consult with your individual tax or financial advisor prior to acting so that the totality of your unique situation is considered.

It’s Half-Time

Just like that, in what seems the blink of eye, 2018 is half over. We’ve hit halftime of our year and like any good football fan knows, halftime can make or break the game. There are those teams who can come together at halftime, assess what has worked, what has not worked, and make just the right adjustments to close out the game with a win. The big question for each of us: can we assess what is working in our financial lives and what is not? Of course, we can so the real question is will we? We each have to make the choice to come into honesty, invest the time to reflect, to confirm our feelings by looking at the numbers, and to chart a course to get us moving toward our goals.

Ask yourself:

  1. Am I meeting my savings goals?
    1. If not, what is one thing that I can do now to move myself toward my goal?
    2. If I am, can I inch up my goal a bit?
      1. Can I increase my 401k savings by 1%?
      2. Can I increase my monthly transfer to savings by $25/50/100?
    3. Is my debt situation better or worse than on January 1?
      1. If it is better, what is one thing that I can do to speed up the rate of debt reduction? Can I add $25/50/100 to my planned payment?
      2. If it is worse, what is one thing I can do to refocus on my goal of reducing debt?
    4. Is my insurance correct for my situation?
      1. Have I reviewed my home/auto/umbrella to make sure it is appropriate, and I am paying the least amount possible?
      2. Is my life insurance (and my spouse’s) enough to meet the needs if one of us dies prematurely? Do I know when the terms end on my term policies and have I planned to replace it? Are my beneficiaries correct?
      3. Is it time to investigate long-term care insurance?
      4. Is my disability coverage appropriate?
    5. Are my estate documents up-to-date and accurate?
      1. Wills
      2. Financial Power of Attorney
      3. Medical directive/Health Care Power of Attorney
      4. HIPAA privacy release

2018 is half over. AND there is still time for you to meet your goals. Getting yourself on track is a gift to your January 1 self. Think about her and what she needs. Think about how proud she will be if she can answer these questions positively on January 1st. If you want your life to change, your actions must change. It’s halftime. It’s time to make things happen.

To your financial (and 2nd half) success,

Tana

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the personal views of Tana Gildea and are not to be construed as individual advice or as the advice or opinions of Homrich Berg; They should not be considered recommendations as each person’s financial situation is unique to her; they may or may not apply to your situation. If you believe that something communicated may be relevant to your situation, Tana strongly encourages you to consult with your individual tax or financial advisor prior to taking action so that the totality of your unique situation is considered.

Change is in the Air


Tax change, that is. My last post went through the basics of your tax return. I want to stick with the tax topic for one more week to give you a quick guide to understanding how the new tax laws will impact your 2018 tax return. Remember, knowledge is power! (Note: this is a very high-level overview. As with all things tax, there are “if, and’s, and but’s” to everything. This is simply to help you identify questions you should be discussing with your tax advisor.)
Rates – for married filing joint taxpayers, the rates are lower for 2018 than for 2017 at all but the lowest (10%) bracket. The amount of the rate decrease varies by income level so take a look at the rate tables to see what has happened to your rate.
Income – yep it’s still taxable – no change to the “normal” items like wages, dividends, capital gains, etc. The only “common” change is in relation to alimony received so make sure you talk to your tax advisor if you are divorcing. This provision relates to divorce agreements after 2018.
Adjustments – there were not a lot of changes in this area but a couple worth noting:
• Alimony paid will no longer be an adjustment for agreements after 2018.
• Domestic production activities deduction is no longer available. See line 35 of your 1040 to

Area 2017 & Prior 2018 to 2025
Medical Expenses > 10% of AGI is deductible > 7.5% of AGI is deductible (for 2018-2019)
SALT – State & Local Taxes Unlimited Limited to $10k total (that’s state taxes + property taxes)
Mortgage Interest Acquisition debt limited to $1.1 million in order for interest to be deductible Acquisition debt limited to $750k – HELOC interest not deductible
Gifts to Charity Limited to 50% of AGI Increased to 60% of AGI
Casualty & Theft Losses > 10% of income deductible No deduction
Job & Misc Deductions > 2% of AGI is deductible No deduction (this is your tax prep fee & investment management fee and well as unreimbursed job expenses)
Limitation on itemized deductions Itemized deductions limited for higher income levels Repealed – no limitation

Standard Deduction – doubled. Look at line 40 of your 2017 tax return. If it is less than $24,000 for married filing jointly, you won’t need to itemize for 2018 (assuming no changes in these areas). That makes some of the Itemized deduction changes/limitations mentioned above meaningless. This is the big area to consider as you are looking at your tax situation for 2018.
20% Deduction for “qualified business income” from certain “flow-through” entities and sole proprietorships – this relates to certain K-1 income from S-Corps and partnerships but also potentially from Schedule C businesses. This is an area that is quite complex and has a lot of exclusions so if you have K-1 income, definitely discuss this with your tax advisor to see if you will qualify, and if so, what the impact will be.
Personal Exemptions – gone. Ouch, the $4,050 per dependent reduction in AGI to get to taxable income has been repealed. Look at line 42 of your 2017 tax return to see the impact. At high income levels, these phased out anyway, so it may not impact you.
There are many, many more components to this tax legislation, but I wanted to hit the high points so that you have some idea of the new rules for the tax game. It’s your money so make sure you understand the rules you are forced to play by!

To your financial (and tax) success!
Tana

Information is taken from sources believed to be accurate, but you should not rely on this information except as the basis for discussion with a knowledgeable tax professional.
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the personal views of Tana Gildea and are not to be construed as individual advice or as the advice or opinions of Homrich Berg; They should not be considered recommendations as each person’s financial situation is unique to her; they may or may not apply to your situation. If you believe that something communicated may be relevant to your situation, Tana strongly encourages you to consult with your individual tax or financial advisor prior to taking action so that the totality of your unique situation is considered.

Are You a Financial Olympian?

Did you watch the Olympics? Sadly, I did not see nearly as much as I would have liked, but I popped in here and there. The level of discipline, dedication, single-mindedness, and commitment that these athletes have is so incredible! I saw the ski jumpers who train and train for years, and they get just a minute or two to perform. Years of commitment and sacrifice for 2 minutes on the hill. A split-second on the landing might mean a medal or a face full of snow.
That is a crazy level of dedication for a brief shining moment. I know there are other events during the year, but the input seems much greater than the results on the other side. Yet they do it. Hundreds of athletes, thousands really when you consider all of those who came up a bit short in their quests to make Olympic teams around the world, give their all, pour everything they have into one single goal.
What if we were able to do just a hundredth of what they do? What if we could sacrifice just a bit more for the goals that are really important to us? What if we could stay focused on one really important financial goal and not allow ourselves to be distracted by lots of other competing goals? We might just be financial champions in our own little game of life.
I saw Lindsay Vonn in an interview about her come-back – “it’s all I think about” was her comment. What if paying off that nagging debt was “all we thought about.” It’s not quite as fun as imagining ourselves on the podium getting a gold medal, but it will give the same sense of accomplishment! Sadly, there are no cheering fans, no endorsements or interviews for us non-athletes who are striving for our personal goals, but that doesn’t make them any less important.
So, let’s use that Olympic spirit to create and focus on our own financial goals. Let’s apply that Olympic discipline, perseverance, and single-minded stubbornness to defeating debt or going after that promotion or building that 401k balance. It’s never fun in the trenches, not for athletes during the workouts and drills, and not for us making sacrifices and saying no to things we’d like to do, but the payoff can bring gold to both.

To your financial success!

Tana

 

 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the personal views of Tana Gildea and are not to be construed as individual advice or the advice or opinions of Homrich Berg. They should not be considered recommendations as each person’s financial situation is unique to her; they may or may not apply to your situation. If you believe that something communicated may be relevant to your situation, Tana strongly encourages you to consult with your individual tax or financial advisor prior to taking action so that the totality of your unique situation is considered.

Be Where You Are

2018 is two months behind us and many of our new year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. The luster of the new year and the anticipation of the possibilities in front of us may have been washed away with the rain, snow and gloom of the winter months. The gray days drain away our drive.

Ah, this is where we are as March is underway. The sun is starting to shine, but that cold wind pushes us back inside. And how about your relationship with your money? How is it holding up after the flurry of holiday spending and the arrival of the bills? How are you feeling about the way that 2017 wrapped up? Let’s take a moment and think back through the year and note a couple of things that you wish had gone a bit differently financially. Where do you want a do-over?

List two things that weigh on you from last year. Own them – “ya, wish I hadn’t done that.” Now, list what you wish you would have done differently. That is the lesson learned! The feeling of regret is not there to weigh you down; it is there to guide you to something better. Sure, you had to pay a little tuition to get one of life’s lessons, but that’s ok – this is where you are. Now you know better. Now you can set yourself up for success in 2018! Use that regret to fuel your journey to success.

Now, list two or three or four or more things that you are really proud of. “Ya, I totally rocked that!” Let’s take a minute to bask in the awesomeness of financial control and acuity. Wow, that feels so much better. We definitely want to feel more of this.
So what steps can you take to stand firmly where you are, full of the knowledge of past successes and opportunities for do-overs this year, and plan for your 2018 success?

Ready, set, shake off the gray, embrace your goals and make 2018 your year of financial prowess.
To your financial success!

Tana

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the personal views of Tana Gildea and are not to be construed as individual advice or the advice or opinions of Homrich Berg. They should not be considered recommendations as each person’s financial situation is unique to her; they may or may not apply to your situation. If you believe that something communicated may be relevant to your situation, Tana strongly encourages you to consult with your individual tax or financial advisor prior to taking action so that the totality of your unique situation is considered.

What’s Your Story?

I just finished reading a lovely book about the magical Waverley women*. If you are a Waverley, you are odd but have a talent that borders on the magical. The Matteson men in the story are prominent business leaders while the Young’s are known for their physical strength. It is a source of pride for some, rebellion for others, but the stories about these families are long-lived and well-known. It makes it easy to know where everyone stands.
Of course, not everyone is ever any one thing all the time and certainly all members of a family aren’t the same. It is interesting the myths that can surround people or families, and it reminded me of a woman who approached me after one of my presentations. She told me how her father always talked about the “Smith family money curse.” The curse being that every time they got a little ahead, something came along to wipe out the reserves. The woman had heard the stories so often that she, and everyone, just believed that their family couldn’t get ahead. (Of course, the other way to view this is that they are fortunate to have extra resources in a time of trouble, but that’s a different blog!)
The interesting thing is the stories. The stories hold the power and can shape our beliefs. What stories are told about your family, both your immediate family and your family of origin? In particular, what money stories surround you and your people? Was grandpa known as someone “with the Midas touch” or maybe someone who had “a hole in his pocket?” Maybe great-grandma was a financial whiz who was ahead of her time (and hopefully handed down this great skill to her kids and grandkids.)
Stories can be powerful because they create beliefs. Those beliefs will take on a life of their own if our faith in them is strong enough. The big question is whether those beliefs are serving you and moving you in a positive direction. If they are, facts don’t really matter. Cling to those stories: “yes, I have grandpa’s Midas touch.” Go with it! If the beliefs are not so great and are holding you back, let’s dig for facts and start dispelling the myth. Even if grandpa had a “hole in his pocket,” you can carefully examine your own pockets and shore up all those seams! It is your choice. Just as the Smith daughter made the choice not to participate in the Smith family money curse, you can choose which part of the family lore you’d like to own and which you can leave to the mists of time.

To your financial stories and the success they may bring,

Tana

*First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen (but read Garden Spells first as you’ll want to meet the Waverley’s properly.) These are perfect books for a cold day when curling up with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a great book are a perfect escape from the drudgery of your to-do list.

Savings FAQs

I get asked a lot of questions about savings so I thought I would answer them for everyone.
The number one question I am asked when I speak to groups – both from the group and as people come up to me afterward is “how much should I be saving?” My stock answer of “it depends” still applies! Everything always depends on your situation but here are some ideas.
Think about the 50/30/20 plan.

• 50% of your take-home pay goes toward your living expenses.
• 30% goes to wants, and
• 20% goes to savings. (I would break that up to 10% long-term financial freedom (aka your 401k) and 10% to short-term savings).

You can also think about reversing those numbers and doing 20% to wants and 30% to savings. In this model, the other 10% may be going toward a longer-term goal like buying a house, saving for children’s college, or starting a business. Of course, if you are making a very minimal salary, your living cost may be eating up more than 50% of your take-home pay. In that case, you really need to keep your wants small and make sure you are hitting that savings number. One of the best ways to create financial stability is through saving and that takes some short-term sacrifices.

As your income increases, try increasing your percentage to move from 20% to savings up to 30% to savings. Inch the percentage going to your 401k until you are maxing out the contribution. For 2017, it is $18,000 for those under 50 and an additional $6,000 catch-up for those over 50.
How much of my savings should I keep in cash (money market)? A lot of this depends on the number that makes you feel safe. At a minimum, you should keep 3 months of your living expenses in a money market savings account. If you want to take the other 3 months of expenses and put it in a 3 month CD, you can earn a bit more interest but you cannot take investment risk with this part of your savings. Once you have 6 months, you can start a fund for investing the savings above the 6-month level.

Should I pay off debt instead of saving? Generally, I would say no. Saving really needs to be a part of your cash flow plan both for the long-term (401k/IRA) and short-term. This is the area where you can think about that “30% to wants” category and cut that down in the short-term to focus on debt if you have credit cards or student loans. You can never get the time back for missed savings, though, so make savings priority one.

What if I don’t have the ability to save 20% right now? Make a plan! Often the cost of living increases faster than our income. My cell phone bill is more than my first car payment! Insurance is through the roof for everything. Kids are expensive! Look for small ways to save. Small amounts add up. Every time you are ready to click buy or throw something in the cart, ask yourself if you can do without that and put the money in savings instead. (It’s super easy on your bank app!) Five dollars at a time will add up and it’s better than nothing. Go through your expenses and look for ways to trim – can you cut that TV package back one level and send that money to savings? Gym membership? All the little 1.99/mo apps? Even moving the coupon savings from the grocery store each week to your savings is something. Do it right when you leave the store so you make it happen.

I hope these FAQs help answer some of your questions about savings.

To your financial success!

Tana

Freedom Isn’t Free….

As we celebrate Memorial Day this week, I am thinking of all those who have sacrificed so much for me to have the freedom to pursue the American dream. I am so thankful to all of our military families, past and present, for being willing to live a life that seems impossibly hard, filled with discomfort, fear, and danger. They live in unfamiliar parts of the world, in conditions that can be primitive, facing profound danger, doing work that calls on every skill that they have – whose lives depend on using those skills successfully. I know that I could not do what they do. I could not face those weeks, months, and years away from family enduring hardship after hardship. I could not make the split-second decisions, under pressure, that they must make dozens of times a day. Thank you to everyone who bravely goes where most will not; who bravely go where I do not want to go.

It seems ridiculous to make a comparison between the sacrifices our military families face to the sacrifices that we must make to achieve financial freedom. They sacrifice their lives and we have to give up a daily mocha-chino-latte? They live in a tent in the freezing cold/blistering heat for years on end and we cut back our cable package to 100 channels? We. Have. It. So. Easy! They make gigantic sacrifices to secure our individual freedoms and we make teeny tiny sacrifices (can they even be called sacrifices?) to create our financial freedom.

It is easy in comparison. It is easy to go without a shiny object, to wait on the latest and greatest gadget, to drive our amazing driving machine for another year or two. It is easy to pass on eating out in favor of cooking our plentiful supply of food in our fabulous, safe, well-equipped, bomb-free, air-conditioned kitchens. What hardships do we face in the pursuit of our financial freedom?

The next time we are faced with a “sacrifice” to meet our savings goal, let’s let the word sacrifice pierce our hearts and think about those who truly sacrifice. I know it will not feel hard in the least in comparison.

To your financial success (and freedom),

Tana