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Developing a better budgeting process may be the biggest step toward that goal.

Where does your money go? If you find yourself asking that question from time to time, it may relate to cash flow within your household. Having a cash flow management system may be instrumental in restoring some financial control.

   

It is harder for a middle-class household to maintain financial control these days. If you find yourself too often living on margin (i.e., charging everything) and too infrequently with adequate cash in hand, you aren’t the only household feeling that way. Some major economic trends really have made it more challenging for households with mid-five-figure incomes.

 

By many economic standards, today’s middle class has it harder than the middle class of generations past. Some telling statistics point to this...

 

*In 81% of U.S. counties, the median income is lower today than it was in 1999. Even though we are in a recovery, much of the job growth in the past few years has occurred within the service and retail sectors. (The average full-time U.S. retail worker earns less than $25,000 annually.)

*Between 1989 and 2014, the American economy grew by 83% (adjusting for inflation) with no real wage growth for middle-class households.

*In the early 1960s, General Motors was America’s largest employer. Its average full-time worker at that time earned the (inflation-adjusted) equivalent of $50 an hour, plus benefits. Wal-Mart now has America’s largest workforce; it pays its average sales associate less than $10 per hour, sometimes without benefits.1,2 

 

Essentially, the middle class must manage to do more with less – less inflation-adjusted income, that is. The need for budgeting is as essential as ever.

 

Much has been written about the growing “wealth gap” in the U.S., and that gap is very real. Less covered, but just as real, is an Achilles-heel financial habit injuring middle-class stability: a growing reliance on expensive money. As Money-Zine.com noted not long ago, U.S. consumer debt amounted to 7.3% of average household income in 1980 but 13.4% of average household income in 2013.3

 

So how can you make life more affordable? Budgeting is an important step. It promotes reliance on cash instead of plastic. It defines expenses, underlining where your money goes (and where it shouldn’t be going). It clears up what is hazy about your finances. It demonstrates that you can be in command of your money, rather than letting your money command you.

 

Budget for that vacation. Save up for it by spending much less on the “optionals”: coffee, cable, eating out, memberships, movies, outfits.

  

Buy the right kind of car & do your cash flow a favor. Many middle-class families yearn to buy a new car (a depreciating asset) or lease a new car (because they want to be seen driving a better car than they can actually afford). The better option is to buy a lightly used car and drive it for several years, maybe even a decade. Unglamorous? Maybe, but it should leave you less indebted. It may be a factor that can help you to ...

 

Plan to set some cash aside for an emergency fund. According to a recent Bankrate survey, about a quarter of U.S. households lack one. Imagine how much better you would feel knowing you have the equivalent of a few months of salary in reserve in case of a crisis. Again, you can budget to build it – a little at a time, if necessary. The key is to recognize that a crisis will come someday; none of us are fully shielded from the whims of fate.3

 

Don’t risk living without medical & dental coverage. You probably have both, but some middle-class households don’t. According to the Department of Health & Human Services, 108 million Americans lack dental insurance. Workers for even the largest firms may find premiums, out-of-pocket costs and coinsurance excessive. This isn’t something you can go without. If your employer gives you the option of buying your own insurance, it could be a cheaper solution. At any rate, some serious household financial changes may need to occur so that you are adequately insured.3

 

Budgeting for the future is also important. A recent Gallup poll found that about 20% of Americans have no retirement savings. You have to wonder: how many of these people might have accumulated a nest egg over the years by steadily directing just $50 or $100 a month into a retirement plan? Budgeting just a little at a time toward that very important priority could promote profound growth of retirement savings thanks to investment yields and tax deferral.3

Equity investing has helped many middle-class Americans attain wealth. Increasingly, it looks like the long-term difference between being consigned to the middle class and escaping it. Doing it knowledgeably is vital.  

Turning to the financial professional you know and trust for input may help you to develop a better budgeting process – and beyond the present, the saving and investing you do today and tomorrow may help you to one day become the (multi-)millionaire next door.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.   

Citations.

1 - washingtonpost.com/sf/business/2014/12/12/why-americas-middle-class-is-lost/ [12/12/14]

2 - tinyurl.com/knr3e78 [11/27/12]

3 - wallstcheatsheet.com/personal-finance/7-things-the-middle-class-cant-afford-anymore.html/?a=viewall [12/15/14]

Wednesday, 17 December 2014 00:00

Keeping Holiday Spending Under Control

Written by

What little steps can you take to keep from getting carried away?

You’ve seen the footage on the news. You’ve been in the middle of it. You’ve stood in the vexing lines. You’ve circled for the elusive parking spots. Holiday shopping can be downright frenzied – and impulsive.

You don’t necessarily need to go to the mall to feel the pressure and the urges – a half-hour with your laptop or tablet can put you in the same frame of mind.

But how do you keep your spending under control, whether in a brick and mortar store or at home? Here are some tips.

Make a plan. Most people do their holiday shopping without one. Set a dollar limit that you can spend per week – and try to spend less than that. As you plan your financial life – and check on your plan every few days – you may feel a little less stressed this holiday season. In fact, you might want to make two budgets – one for shopping, the other for entertaining.

Recognize the hidden costs. Holiday shopping isn’t just a matter of price tags. When you don’t visit brick-and-mortar retailers, you don’t eat at the food court or coffee shop and you don’t spend money for gas. Carpooling to the mall or taking public transit can help you save some cash.

On the other hand, when you shop online, there’s always shipping to consider. It can make what is seemingly a bargain less so. Free or discounted shipping feels like you’re getting a gift.  Online retailers can also be very finicky about returns. Miss a deadline to return something to an online retailer (who hasn’t?) and you may end up paying sizable return fees or just getting stuck with what you purchased. 

Counteract those holiday expenses elsewhere in your budget. Maybe you spent a couple hundred more than you anticipated on that flat-screen. To offset that extra spending, pinpoint some areas where you can save elsewhere in your budget. Could you find cheaper auto insurance? Could you eat in more this month? Could you drive less or cancel that gym membership or premium cable subscription?  

If you do go overboard, strategize to attack that excess debt. You may want to pay off the smallest debt first, then the next smallest and so forth onto the largest. That’s the debt snowball approach advocated by Dave Ramsey. Or you may want to take the debt stacking approach favored by Suze Orman, whereby you pay down the debt with the highest interest rate first, then the one with the second highest interest rate, and so on. 

With the latter method, you can potentially realize greater savings on interest charges, but you lose the accomplishment of quickly erasing a debt. In the debt snowball strategy, you make minimum payments on all your debts (just as in the debt stacking approach), but you devote all your extra cash to the debt with the smallest balance. The upside there is the psychological high of (quickly) paying off a debt; the downside is the lingering, larger interest charges that come with the larger debts.

If you aren’t vigilant, the holiday season could leave you with a “debt hangover,” or contribute to a severe debt load you may be burdened with. According to the Federal Reserve, the average indebted U.S. household suffered with $15,593 in credit card debt in August. That was a 2.36% increase from a year before.1 

If you feel like indulging yourself, indulge sensibly. Some people do give themselves holiday gifts, and the same logic applies – whether it is a meal, a motorcycle, or a spa package, don’t break the bank with it.

Lastly, think about setting aside some “holiday money” for 2015. If your finances allow, how about putting $100 or $200 aside for next season? Invested in interest-bearing accounts (or elsewhere), that sum could even grow larger. 

 

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

    

Citations.

1 - nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/ [11/26/14]

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