Top Ten Ways to Improve Credit Scores

Top Ten Ways to Improve Credit Scores

Having a great credit score will not only save you thousands of dollars on interest over time, but it also gives you the flexibility to be creative on how you achieve your financial goals. The great news about credit is that anything you do can be undone over time, you just have to commit the time and energy to fix it. If you have gotten into trouble with credit or you are still working on building your credit profile, here are the top ten ways to improve your credit score.

MythBuster: I’ll Lose Money When I Invest

MythBuster: I’ll Lose Money When I Invest

I think the number one fear keeping most of our clients on the sidelines is the fear of losing their money if they invest it. We work hard for every dollar we make, so it would make sense that you’d want to protect it; however, being overly cautious with your money also means that your money is actually losing value more by not investing than investing.

Don't Be a Salary Hostage

Don't Be a Salary Hostage

From an early age, I was always good at making money, whether it was babysitting, or working at various jobs through high school and college, I always had money. In fact, even recently, my mom had my cards read (it’s a weird thing she’s into right now), and apparently, I am a Two of Diamonds, which means I’m good at making money. The pursuit of making money, led me to major in business and finance when I went to college, and despite the fact that I knew a career in this profession would lead to money down the road, I actually also really enjoyed the classes in my major.

Top Ten Money Saving Moves

Top Ten Money Saving Moves

One of the first steps to getting financially fit is to find ways to save money. I work with my clients every day to identify ways to save money and I practice what I preach. Here are my top ten money saving moves.

Financial Gym Client Happy Hour

Financial Gym Client Happy Hour

As more and more people become interested in the Financial Gym, they want to know about the experience of what it's like to actually join and what they can expect. Here's a very special Martinis & Your Money Happy Hour episode with three current members of the Financial Gym talking about their personal experiences and what the Financial Gym has done for their financial lives. Their stories are honest and inspiring in giving a look at what it means to work with a dedicated financial trainer. 

Mythbusting:        Too Many Credit Cards is Bad

Mythbusting:  Too Many Credit Cards is Bad

There is a general fear of credit cards from most of our clients because most people think of credit cards as a form of debt; however, they’re only debt if you don’t pay them off regularly. Because of this fear, though, many clients don’t use credit cards at all or only use one or two. They believe the myth that too many credit cards are bad for your credit score.

Budgeting for Success

Budgeting for Success

Hearing the word budget is about as fun as hearing the words “diet” or “root canal.” And yet a budget is one of the necessary keys to financial health. What is the point of setting goals for ourselves if we don’t know if they are achievable or not? The only way we can truly determine the attainability of our goals is by setting a budget.

Mythbusting: Student Loans

Mythbusting: Student Loans

Let’s talk about repaying student loans as soon as possible. In an ideal world, you would pay down your student loans as soon as possible to avoid paying interest over a greater period of time. The problem with student loan debt, though versus other debt like credit cards or mortgages, is that once you pay it down, you cannot borrow from it again unless you go back to school. So the cash that you use to pay down the loans is gone and no longer available to you for your other life goals.

The Power of Investing in Yourself

The Power of Investing in Yourself

When I was a financial advisor, I met with people and knew they expected to be sitting across from the next Oracle of Omaha or at least the Oracle of Westchester County.  They had the assumption that because I was “in the business,” I had special insight into the markets and how to make them lots of money.  

Truthfully, I thought that when I became a financial advisor, I would acquire that very knowledge. Then I became a financial advisor, and I liken the journey to that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I was hoping to reach the end of the training and meet the Wizard, who would grant my ragtag friends and me everything we ever wanted. And similar to Dorothy, what I learned when I pulled back the curtain is..

Music Monday - You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Music Monday - You Can’t Always Get What You Want

At The Financial Gym, we like to find inspiration for our client’s financial fitness journeys from all sources, and music is one of them. If you become a client of the gym, when you receive your financial plan, you’ll also receive your musical playlist, just as you’d have a physical workout playlist, we provide financial workout playlists for our clients. 

For the most part, the playlists are unique to our clients; however, the first song on everyone’s playlist is “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” by the Rolling Stones.

Tips for Surviving Wedding Season

Tips for Surviving Wedding Season

The warm weather is finally here!  And with it, wedding season.  As if summer wasn’t enough of a budget killer, it seems like everyone is trying to sabotage your summer vacation plans and fill your weekend with their own wedding celebrations.  These expenses can get completely out of control, between the engagement parties, bridal showers, bachelor(ette) parties, and the wedding itself, we are spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on other people’s big day.  And this doesn’t even address the additional cost of being a part of the wedding.

Welcome to the Real World

Welcome to the Real World

College seniors often experience many different emotions upon graduation.  There’s the relief that they made it through, the sense of pride in all they’ve accomplished, the happiness found in the friendships they made, the sadness that the party is over, and the fear of everything that is about to happen…Welcome to the real world. 

Toning up Your Finances

Toning up Your Finances

Summer is a season of spending for most people, and just like we spend the spring months getting toned and ready for summer, we should be getting financially prepared as well.

What Happened to Your Free Money?

What Happened to Your Free Money?

What happened to your free money? Every year, at the end of the winter, I stick a $20 bill in my coat pocket. I put my coat away, and forget about the money and my coat all winter long. When December comes howling around, I pull my coat back out and to my delight, I find FREE MONEY! 

5 Ways to Earn an Extra $1,000 A Month

5 Ways to Earn an Extra $1,000 A Month

What would an extra $1000 per month mean to you? Would it mean an early retirement? More Travel? The ability to save for a house or pay for your kids college expenses? No matter what your lifestyle goals are, earning extra money is a great way to reach them, but earning extra money can be a daunting task. However, if you’re willing to put in a little extra work, you can earn an extra $1000 per month. These are five money making strategies to consider.

Negotiate a raise

If you’re a great employee, the best way to make an extra money each month is to negotiate a raise. To do this, write down your accomplishments, and research salary data on Glassdoor.com. Then schedule time with your manager to discuss a raise. Your manager may make it seem like it’s not possible to get a raise outside of the annual schedule, but that is not true. Great companies want to retain their best employees, and if you’re one of the best, leverage your value to earn more money.

Most people avoid asking for a raise because they do not like confrontation, but a few minutes of discomfort can yield a substantial income boost. If you utilize data and tact to request a raise, most companies will offer a raise if they’re able.

Change Companies

If you’re an excellent employee, but you can’t negotiate a raise, consider searching for new jobs. The easiest time to earn extra money is when you switch companies; you have more leverage because you know that the potential employer wants you on board. In general, when you switch companies, you can expect a 10-20% raise in base salary whereas annual raises tends to be around 2-5%. Job searching might stress you out, but a few weeks of effort can allow you to earn an extra $1000 per month.

Take on a Weekend Job

If you’ve maxed out your earnings in your day job, consider taking on a weekend job. Because you’re trading time off for money, you want to be sure that the job is worth it, so target jobs that will allow you to earn $25 per hour. You may be surprised how many weekend jobs yield that type of pay. For example, waiting tables or tending bar on busy nights should yield at least $25 per hour, and some car dealerships hire weekend employees to be salespeople. Taking a low wage jobs like Pizza Delivery or childcare isn’t necessarily a bad idea either. Although those jobs won’t allow you to earn an extra $1000 per month (unless you work a ton), they may lead to other opportunities.

Start a Side Business

If you want to earn an extra $1000 per month, but you want to do it on your own terms, consider starting a side business. If you’ve got house repair skills, you can start a handyman business; if you’re an accountant, you can take on some bookkeeping clients on the side. Consider starting a lawncare service, or teaching music or tennis lessons. If you’re price conscious, you can find items to flip on Ebay, or you can start a business selling products via Fulfilled By Amazon.

If you’ve got a business idea, bring it to life on the nights and weekends. Although starting a business tends to be a slow path to extra income, the upside potential is tremendous. In time, a successful side business can allow you to earn well in excess of $1000 per month.

Freelance

If you work in an in demand field, you can earn an extra $1000 per month by freelancing. Becoming a freelance consultant will allow you to charge a premium rate for your services while you take on just one or two extra projects a month. Small businesses who don’t need full time services may pay two or three times your typical rate if you produce results for them.

Switching from a traditional employment situation to  freelancing may also yield a big income boost, but before you make the jump be sure your extra income isn’t eaten up by paying for your own benefits.

Investing for Millennials

Investing for Millennials

The word investing often triggers visions of hedge fund managers and big bank executives. It reminds us of countless stories of corruption and fraud. Or of the epic collapse of the stock market in 2009, of lost pensions and depleted retirement funds. It’s an activity reserved for the privileged, the wealthy, and the powerful. All of these misconceptions have made many people skeptical of investing, especially Millennials.

The Millennial Generation tends to be anti-establishment when it comes to their money, which is why so many tech companies are developing apps to try and reach them. Millennials are facing a unique set of circumstances that make saving, and in turn, investing, very difficult. They’re strapped with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, they live in world of constantly changing technology, they’re skeptical and confused about investing, and they think they need large sums of cash to start.

An Easy Way to Start Investing

While each of these obstacles can be overcome, I think the need for cash is most easily debunked. The first and most simple way to begin investing is to make sure you are enrolled in your employers’ retirement plan. People don’t always associate their retirement account with investing; however, it’s an easy way to have your money automatically taken from your paycheck and invested in the market. Another great part of investing with your employer is that they will pick your investment options for you so you don’t have to do much thinking or stressing out about what to pick.

Many Millennials are abstaining from these contributions in order to make payments on student loans, as they are crippled by their immediate need for cash and feel like they can’t afford even small contributions to their retirement funds, and as a result are missing out on a huge opportunity to get invested early.

Size Doesn’t Matter with Investing

While the advent of new technology does have many downsides, it has also made the investing landscape much more competitive, forcing minimum cash requirements down. There are a multitude of apps dedicated to simplifying investing for Millennials, and each has its own unique requirements. For example, it is possible to begin investing with as little as $5 using Stash. Like other investing apps, Stash uses a questionnaire to determine your risk preferences and time horizon. Stash then provides a list of recommendations, but the users do the actual investing.

Drive Wealth is a site that requires no minimums to start investing and even allows you to purchase fractional shares of stocks so that you don’t have to worry about not having enough money to own one company in particular. Another great feature to Drive Wealth is that they allow you to open a free practice account so you can test drive the investing process on your own without jumping in with real money.

For those who follow the stock market more closely and want to make their own decisions, Robinhood, is a good option. As long as you have the money to purchase one share of stock, you can join, and there are no fees or commissions. Acorns uses a system called “round-ups.” If you spend $8.50 on breakfast, the app would round this to $9, and 50 cents would be contributed to your investment account.

Size Still Doesn’t Matter

If an app is not your cup of tea for investment options, you can still use just about any traditional firm, like Vanguard or Fidelity to start investing on your own. If you are using your investments for short or medium term goals, you should consider a brokerage account for your investments or if you have a longer term goal, then you would want to invest in a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. You can open up any of these for free with most investment firms and get started with a simple transfer from a bank account.

You could buy individual stocks for the price of a share of stock or you could buy numerous stocks or bonds when you buy one share of an ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) or Mutual Fund. Many of these are available for around $10 to $20 a share, and in many cases you can automate your transfers to these accounts or these investment options so you don’t even have to think about your investments on a daily basis.

It’s Never Too Early or Too Late to Start

Investing is an important aspect of any healthy financial plan, and not starting early can hurt you in the long run. However, just because you may have skipped the 401k contributions for a few years, or you’ve been putting all your cash towards paying down debt, doesn’t mean you can’t make a small change to get you on your way!

First and foremost, have an emergency fund. I would encourage everyone to make sure they have some cash to fall back on before investing. If you have an emergency fund (6-8 months of expenses in cash), then it’s time to get to work! It doesn’t take $50,000, or $10,000, or even $1,000. You can start today with next to nothing. By committing to making small contributions your investments will grow each year, and help you achieve your goals! You work hard to earn your money, when you invest it, you make your money work hard for you.

Do you use any personal finance apps for investing? Which do you recommend? What are your tips for first-time investors?

17 Ways to Get Financially Fit in 2017

17 Ways to Get Financially Fit in 2017

Rebuild Your Emergency Fund

The Holidays tend to wreak havoc on our bank accounts.  Between the gifts, the parties, and the inevitable self-indulging, most people blow through their holiday budgets in no time.  To rebuild your savings in the New Year, try setting up automatic transfers.  Typically, we advise clients to save a minimum of 10% of their gross monthly income.  They set-up automatic transfers to move the money from their checking account to their savings account on the days they get paid.  Just set it and forget it, you’ll be amazed how quickly your savings grow!

Set-up Goals Based Budgets

Another tool we use to help our clients get organize is goals based budgeting.  Make a list of the goals you hope to accomplish in 2017, then figure out how much you need to save to make them a reality. Planning a vacation for June that will cost you $1,000?  Transfer $200 to a travel savings account each month and you will save that money in just 5 months! You can have a different account for each goal and make contributions on a weekly or monthly basis.

Start Saving for the 2017 Holiday Season

To avoid the usual holiday spending trap, start saving for next year now. Putting just $50 away each month will help you save $600 for next year. Can you afford $75 each month? That will get you to $900!

Track Spending and Cut Wasteful Spending

The New Year is a great time to review your spending from the previous year. Take some time to look over bank statements/credit card bills and discover your problem areas (some credit card companies even provide year end summaries showing what you spent on the most).  This can help you identify areas where you are overspending or wasting money. You should also review the subscription services you and your family utilize. Are you using them?  If not, cancel them now!

Clean Out Your Closet and Declutter Your Home

The New Year is the perfect time to clean out your closet and get rid of items you no longer need or want.  You may find that there are clothes you forgot you owned, some of which have never been worn. You might be able to save yourself a shopping trip just by organizing your closet and seeing what you already own! Clean out junk drawers, hall closets, and kitchen cabinets. Take inventory of everything you find and use it all before you go out shopping.

Sell Unwanted Gift cards, Clothes, Electronics, etc.

Did you get a gift card you’ll never use? Are you holding on to clothes that you will never wear? Do yourself a favor and take advantage of sites like RaiseCardPool, and GiftCardGranny that allow you to sell unused gift cards for cash. Once you’ve cleaned out your closet and decluttered your home, use thredUPPoshmark, or Tradesy to sell clothes and shoes. For electronics try GazelleNextworth, or Ebay.  Amazon and Best Buy also have trade in programs that allow you to exchange electronics for store credit.

Save up Your Spare Change

This is probably the easiest thing you can do to save money this year. I keep a mason jar on my windowsill and empty the change from my wallet into it every couple weeks.  Some people take this a step further and put dollar or five dollar bills into a jar every time they clean out their wallet. Either way it adds up over time, and once you’ve filled the jar you can use this money to treat yourself to something special!

Make a Change

Are you eating too many meals out?  Do you have a bad (and expensive) habit you’ve been meaning to kick? Make a point to tackle these problems in the New Year.  Not only will it help you save, but you will also make strides to improving your personal well-being too!

Do the (Side) Hustle

Sometimes cost cutting just isn’t enough. Figure out a side hustle that can help you bring in more income. A side hustle doesn’t have to be starting your own business, it can be something simple like babysitting or dog waking. Have experience in hospitality?  Waitron is revolutionizing staffing in the NYC area. You can become an employee and work as often (or as little) as you want!

Start Investing

Investing doesn’t have to be scary! And you can start small! The easiest way to get invested is to make sure you are enrolled in your employers’ retirement savings plan. Ready to take the next step? Try using one of these apps to help you get started, StashRobinhood, or Acorns. For those a bit more comfortable with the stock market, you can buy shares of an ETF or enroll in Dividend Reinvestment Plans (DRIPs).

Try a No Spending Challenge

Sometimes we get off track and need to refocus. When this happens, I recommend trying a no spending challenge. Whether it be for a month, a week, or just a few days, it is beneficial to reset and find a way to recommit to your savings goals.

Cash Only Days

Like the No Spending Challenge, cash only days give you the opportunity to be more mindful of your spending. Using cash instead of credit cards will help you identity areas where you’re being wasteful. Typically, people have a harder time shelling out cash than they do swiping a card. You will notice that you are less likely to make impulse purchases and end up spending less when you shop.

Automate Payments

Monthly credit card payments should be automated to avoid missed payments and the resulting late fees. In addition, you can automate your cable, utility, cell phone, and pretty much every other monthly charge to be automatically deducted from your bank account or automatically charged to a credit card. If you are deducting from a bank account make sure you have enough funds to cover the payment and that you are enrolled in overdraft protection, just in case.

Credit Score Maintenance

Everyone should use CreditKarma to check their credit score. There are always opportunities to increase your score, and doing so will help you in the long run when you apply for things like personal loans, mortgages, or additional cards. For those who have a high credit score and are responsible card users, there are many opportunities to earn rewards points. CreditCards.com is a great reference for finding cards that best fit your needs and help you build the rewards that will be most useful to you.

Daily Deals and Comparison Shopping

Groupon, Living Social, and other daily deals sites can help you save money on everything from household items to vacations. You should do research and shop around, but don’t write off these sites. When shopping for more expensive items, make sure you shop around compare prices before making a purchase.

Negotiate a Raise

This time of year, many companies are doing their annual performance reviews and giving out raises and promotions. If you anticipate that you will be receiving a raise or promotion you should do your research ahead of your annual review. Find out what people in your position make at other firms using Glassdoor. Make sure you are earning what you’re worth and don’t be afraid to ask for it! Chances are if you are receiving a promotion they value you as an employee and will be open to paying to keep you.

Learn Accountability and Mindfulness

The most important aspect of a financially fit lifestyle is creating accountability and mindfulness around your financial decisions. You should set goals with specific intentions and see them through. Creating a rewards system or doing a monthly review of you spending are two ways to create accountability and mindfulness.

What tips do you have for getting financially fit this year?

Stories from the Financial Gym

I tell all of our clients that they are unique and special; however, Steve and Donna’s situation is one that we’re seeing so frequently in the gym lately, that I feel as though they are more the norm than a one-off scenario.

Steve is a retired cop who works part-time in a few jobs and Donna works for a school district here in NY. With all of their salaries, the combined annual household income is a little over $200,000. When you first hear this, you will probably wonder how they could have any financial challenges, after all, they earn significantly more than the national average annual salary for a couple which is about $140,000. However, they had a number of problems that continued to build over their ten years together that led them to reaching out to the Financial Gym for help.

Problem Number One – Children

As a mother of an 11-year-old son, I can attest that children are a blessing from God, but they are also what my dad likes to say “the death of your net worth.” Steve and Donna have three of these little net worth drainers and while I know they are beautiful and special and bring Steve and Donna great joy, I also know that it’s difficult to make rational decisions where money and kids are concerned.

Over the past eight years, the children have drained the family net worth through childcare, eating out when schedules are crazy, classes and other extracurricular interests, vacations and general maintenance needs like healthcare, clothing and supplie. The net worth drain is bad; however, what’s worse is the fact that Donna and Steve need to exert so much energy to work and take care of their kids that their focus on their money took a backseat.

We’ve seen many couples succeed financially while they’re still DINK’s; however, once kids come into the scenario, the finances start to go sideways and with each year and each kid, they just get worse if you don’t focus on them.

Problem Number Two – Credit Card Debt

While Steve and Donna were focusing on the family and just trying to get through a day, credit card debt began to amass. When we first met, they had around $39,000 in credit card debt with the average interest rate of 14%. The monthly payments alone on these made it difficult for them to save and get ahead.

Problem Number Three – Separate Bank Accounts

I understand why couples come into a relationship and want separate bank accounts; however, the most financially and personally satisfying relationships I see are the couples who have 100% joint finances. When you combine your money, you are truly committing to the team and a natural camaraderie forms.

When couples have separate accounts, especially when they have a number of household expenses and children, resentments begin to build. One person will think they contribute too much to the finances or another person will wonder where all of the other person’s money goes. When you have a joint account system, financial decisions are not only easier to make, but less questions will arise as far as how money is being managed.

Problem Number Four – Poor Previous Financial Advice

Thankfully when I asked Steve and Donna about life insurance, they both had it; however, Steve had the wrong kind. A few years back, Steve had been sold on the idea of a whole life insurance policy. There is a time and place for whole life policies; however, if you need a large death benefit as Steve does because he has a wife, three kids and a home, you won’t get it from whole life. He was paying $300 a month for only $300,000 in a death benefit.

This policy was not only eating into their monthly budget, but it also wasn’t giving them what they primarily needed from life insurance: a high death benefit.

Problem Number Five – Lack of Perspective

At the Financial Gym, we love working with couples like Steve and Donna because we have the opportunity to take puzzle pieces that make no sense and put them together into an actionable plan. As Steve and Donna shared all of their financial information, I could see the growing sense of fear and dread in them as they wondered if they would ever get out of the mess they created and achieve the financial goals they laid out.

Truthfully, while I heard all of the information, I began to panic a little myself. When you throw out puzzle pieces like that, it’s daunting to think about putting them together; however, once I sat down and started to organize the pieces as only a true outsider with perspective could do, I began to see the beauty of their puzzle.

The plan that I put together for Steve and Donna has them paying down their credit card debt in two months, lowering their monthly bills by close to $2,000 a month and shows them achieving their dream of adding onto their home in two years; and all it took was a little perspective.

If you feel stuck in your financial situation and can’t seem to figure out your puzzle pieces, I hope that you’ll reach out to someone or reach out to us. Sometimes an investment in the financial help and guidance you need will save you thousands of dollars and unnecessary stress from your life. Don’t let the problems continue to build, follow Steve and Donna’s lead and tackle them as soon as you can!