Life Packs
Winding Up

Made for anyone who is starting a career, is gaining more financial flexibility, or is starting to plan for bigger life decisions.

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July 3, 2022

Introduction

Got a few years experience under your belt? Starting to think about bigger life decisions like getting married, buying a home or car? Then you’re in the right place!

Maybe now that you’ve been working for a few years, your income is starting to increase and you need some help knowing what to do with those extra funds. Saving, retirement, taxes… there’s so many places that income can go. Re-examining your budget to make sure those extra funds don’t go to the wayside is vital to achieving your financial goals.

You also may be feeling more stable in your career and this is a perfect time to start addressing longer term goals. Paying off debt (student loans, credit cards, etc.) will give you more financial freedom. You may feel overwhelmed thinking about tackling it, but remaining steadfast in payments will pay off in the long run. Budgeting can help you see where you may be able to trim expenses to pay off debt even faster.

Budgeting can also help you save for larger goals like a wedding, new car or home down payment. It’s important to define those goals and their time frames to avoid unnecessary debt and know the best place to keep those funds.

If you’ve been renting and are thinking about buying a home, you may be wondering which is better. There are a lot of things to consider when deciding whether to rent or buy a home, but we can help you think through the process.

There are a lot of exciting opportunities you will face in this stage. Increased opportunity will provide some financial flexibility that you may have not experienced before. We can help you think smartly about those decisions to set you up successfully for the future.

Growing in Your Career

I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.” – Michael Scott

Ever feel like you’re stuck on your current rung of the corporate ladder? Maybe you’ve been in the same position for a while and are looking to increase your skills, responsibilities, experience, or salary…. Maybe you’re ready for a change, or maybe just a change in approach? What moves can you make? Let’s look at some options that can get you movin’ on up.

Woman sitting at a desk surrounded by books
This doesn’t have to be you!

Set Your Goals

What does success look like to you? For some it means the C-Suite, reaching the executive level or earning clear recognition in their field. For others, it is making a meaningful difference in others’ lives, working towards mission driven initiatives, achieving a specific target, or crafting a certain lifestyle. Whatever it looks like for you, the first step toward success involves defining your goals and setting out on a  path to get there.

Sharpen Your Skills as an Employee

A powerful approach to broadening your options and likelihood of achieving your goals can include taking the time to further develop the qualities valued by employers. Working on improving your “soft skills,” such as communication, writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities will help you advance in your role. Making progress in these areas can be as simple as looking at the leaders in your organization and observing how they handle conflict, management and prioritization of tasks.

Recognizing the skills you want to improve and observing the behaviors of those around you can provide valuable insights. If you’re looking to become better at communication, pay attention to the format and style of emails you receive from your co-workers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! People will often be pleased that you recognized their strengths and will be happy to help you increase your own.

Nurture Your Network

It takes an army, as they say. No matter what your goals, you need the support of those around you to help you along the way. Whether you’re reaching out for a mentor, for feedback, for recommendations, you can utilize your existing network and find ways to connect with others and expand your reach. Seek out contacts that work in your target field or position and talk to them about their roles. The more you can find out and learn from others now, the better you can prepare yourself for pursuing your chosen path.

Advance Your Education

Choosing to go back to school could have a significant impact on your career. Whether it’s completing your degree, pursuing an advanced degree, or taking career-specific courses, advancing your education can help you advance. Workers across industries are noticing that in order to stay on top of changing trends, they need to continue learning and developing new skills throughout their careers. Fifty-four percent of adults say they will need to pursue future training in their fields to “keep up with the changes in the workplace.”

Man working at a desk

There are financial factors to consider when deciding to pursue educational goals. Time, costs, potential earnings are all things to keep in mind when deciding which route is best for you. If you determine you are ready, advancing your education can be a powerful way to show that you are taking ownership of your career and are a lifelong learner, all signals to employers that investing further in you will likely reap positive returns for their business.

Kudos to you for taking the initiative to expand your skills and experience! Some of these steps are simple and you can start on them tomorrow. Others you’ll consider over the coming months and years. Either way, taking small steps over time will result in big changes and progression towards your goals.

Making the Most of Your Raise

First of all, congratulations! Getting a raise is a big accomplishment- it’s a validation of the hard work you’ve put in at your job. Depending on your personality, you may just go on with life as usual, or you may want to go on a spending spree. But wait! Let’s run through a few things before making any decisions. Small increases to your current (good) habits will help you reach your financial goals. Following the steps below will help you put those extra funds to work.

Calculate Your New Take-Home Pay

First, calculate your new take-home pay. A $10,000 a year raise doesn’t equate to an increase in take-home pay of $10,000. The raise could put you in a higher income bracket, which means you’ll have more taxes and deductions. If you’re contributing a percentage to your employer retirement plan, that amount will also increase with your raise. Once you get your first paycheck after your raise, subtract your pre-raise take-home pay from your new take-home pay. This will help you determine the amount that will affect your monthly budget.

Pay off Debt

Assuming your Emergency Fund is in place (if not, do that first), if you have any debt- student loans, credit card, car loans- using your extra funds to accelerate the pay down of debts will not only help your financial and psychological health, but can improve your credit and increase your personal net worth. It’s not the instant-gratification that a splurge would be, but remember you’re in this for the long haul. The satisfaction of being debt free is a big victory. There are a few different ways you can approach debt pay down. The right choice for you will be the one that you feel comfortable with and can commit to.

Increase Savings

If you’re not already saving 20% of your income, use your extra income to try to hit that target. If you’re there, amazing! Now you can think about some savings goals you have coming up. It could be something smaller like a vacation, or something large like a wedding or home down payment. Defining those goals and saving specifically for them will increase your chances of achieving them.

If your savings goals are longer term, consider investing your excess savings. It’s important to consider your risk tolerance and time frame when choosing the allocations for your portfolio. Shorter time frames should lean more conservatively, while longer ones can be more aggressive. Once you settle on an appropriate risk allocation, find the investment method you feel comfortable with.

Boost Your Retirement

Now take a look at your retirement contributions. More income will allow you to save more towards retirement. Even a small amount can equate to a big difference. According to MarketWatch, boosting monthly retirement savings by just 1%, or roughly $50 a month for a 35-year-old making $60,000, could lead to an additional $270 in monthly income in retirement (The study assumes a 7% rate of return and a retirement age of 67).

The graphic below shows the interest earnings of three people – Michael, Jennifer and Sam. Michael saved $1,000 per month from the time he turned 25 until he turned 35. Then he stopped saving but left his money in his investment account where it continued to accrue at a 7% rate until he retired at age 65. Jennifer started saving $1,000 a month from age 35 until she turned 45. Then she also left the balance in her investment account, where it continued to accrue at a rate of 7% until age 65. Sam didn’t start investing until age 45. He invested $1,000 per month for 10 years, halting his savings at age 55 and left his money to accrue at a 7% rate until his 65th birthday.

Each of them saved the same amount over the same period of time at the same rate. But the amount of time the money was invested made all the difference. Michael’s ending balance was just under $1.5 million, while Jennifer’s was around $735,000 and Sam ended at around $373,000.

Graph of the power of interest compounding

If your employer offers a match, increase your contribution percentage to max out the match. If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan (or if you’re already reaching your yearly 401k contribution limit), you can contribute up to $6,000 a year to a Roth IRA ($7,000 if you’re over 50). You will pay taxes on the contributions, but the withdrawals in retirement will be tax free.

Do Something for Yourself

It is ok to treat yourself! Maybe there’s a new pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on. Or a massage/spa day. Or setting aside that money in a savings account toward your travel goal. Whatever it is, reward yourself for your hard work!

Keep these steps in mind each time you get an increase, no matter how small. Following these guidelines will help achieve your financial goals and reap long-term benefits. And ensure your income boost doesn’t disappear each paycheck!

Buying a Home

Preparing to purchase a home can be a time filled with excitement as well as uncertainty.  For many, it will be the most expensive purchase they have ever made. In addition to the typical concerns such as “am I in the right neighborhood?” or “is the home I am going to purchase in good condition,” there are also a number of financial considerations.

Where Are You Financially?

First and foremost, you need to look at your current financial situation. Is your emergency fund in place? Do you have excessive debt? Are you living comfortably within your means? Do you have enough saved outside your emergency fund for a down payment? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you should probably hold off on the home purchase. If you’ve checked all these off, read on my friend!

Buy or Rent?

One of the first considerations that you should explore is whether or not a home purchase is a good choice for you and your family.  Understanding the costs associated with homeownership compared to renting a home, how long you plan to live there, whether you’re ready to commit to the responsibilities of home ownership, the current market, etc. can help you figure out if homeownership is even something that you need to pursue.

Map showing places in the United States where it's cheaper to own a home by percentage

How Much Home Can I Afford?

The million dollar question (get it?). Aim for total housing costs to be 28% or less of your gross income. The additional costs you’ll incur when owning a home besides your mortgage are homeowners insurance, maintenance and property taxes. Lenders sometimes approve you for a higher amount than what actually fits comfortably in your budget, so it is important to understand the effect a mortgage payment may have on your other financial goals.

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Selling Your Existing Home

If you are already a homeowner looking to purchase a different home, you may need to sell your current one. Selling a home doesn’t have to be stressful. You can get help from a real estate agent if you don’t feel comfortable with the process. If you feel like you have a good handle on how to sell, you can do it yourself or some hybrid between the two. There are some sites that walk you through the process, which can save you some money on real estate commissions.

Financing Your New Home

Likely the most challenging part of the home buying process and the one that is critical to get right is your home financing. Remember, you may have this loan for a couple of decades. There are many types of loans and ways to customize them. Get a knowledgeable loan officer who can explain all the terms of each loan type. Understanding loan terms and what that means for your monthly payment can be tricky but we have some great tips to consider as you are navigating this process.

Homeowners Insurance

The decisions don’t stop once you are ready to close on a home. You need to protect your investment. Homeowners insurance will be a requirement from your lender. You’ll need to  understand how to select a carrier and some of the important factors to consider when selecting coverage.

As you can see there is a lot to think about when purchasing a home. Proper research and education will help you better understand many of the considerations to make sure you can enjoy your new home and avoid buyer’s remorse.

Getting Married

Getting ready to tie the knot? Congratulations! You may have booked the venue, ordered the flowers, picked the wedding party… but have you had “the talk?” The finances talk, that is. Financial disagreements are often cited as a main contributor to marital discord, and although it doesn’t guarantee a perfect marriage, it’s important to establish open communication about financial matters.

Communication

There may be some things in your financial past you’d rather your significant other not know, but it’s important to be completely transparent. It’s common for one person to be better off financially than the other and keeping important information secret will only lead to issues later on. Address each other’s credit score and financial history. Credit scores will determine if you qualify for credit cards, loans, etc., and the terms of those accounts. Try to clear up any negative marks or incorrect information on your credit report. Make sure you’re comfortable with each other’s financial situations.

Shared or Separate Finances

Decide if you will combine your finances together, keep them separate, or a combination of the two. How you each think of and approach money is very individual, so it’s important to do what works best for you. Is one of you a spender and one a saver? There are pros and cons to combining finances and keeping them separate, ranging from tax implications to qualifying for loans, so make sure you’re aware of all the factors before making your decision.

24% of couples do not share any major financial accounts

Managing Debt

How will you manage debt as a couple? After you get married, your individual debts may become joint debts. Understand your partner’s financial history and know what debts they already have. When you’re married, those debts may legally become your responsibility. Learn about your partner’s financial obligations (and fully disclose your own) and understand what types of financial decisions he or she tends to make now so there are no surprises.

Taxes

Once you’re married, you will need to decide if you will file taxes as “Married, filing jointly” or “Married, filing separately.” Filing jointly means you file one tax return together, while filing separately means each of you will file your own return. The IRS favors married couples filing jointly through tax incentives and deductions. Generally, it is more advantageous from a tax perspective to file jointly, but there are cases where filing separately may make more sense for you.

Long Term Goals

Your life together is just beginning, but where do you see yourselves in 15, 20, 25 years? One of you may want to go back to school, or stay home with your children. You may want to buy a home, a car, travel… and save for retirement. Make sure you both are on the same page regarding saving and spending, that you agree on which goals are the priority or at least come to a common ground when creating your joint financial plan.

Who Will Manage the Money?

Lastly, who will take care of paying the bills, keep track of expenses, and monitor cash flow? Maybe both of you will, but most of the time it falls to one person. Decide who’s willing and able to take on the responsibility, but agree to commit to your goals so that person isn’t the bad guy when sticking to the plan.

Planning for a Baby

As rewarding and life-affirming as it is to have a child, a lot of planning and preparation is required as well. You probably have a million things on your mind from diapers to car seats, but preparing financially will make one less thing you need to worry about. Here’s what you should consider before welcoming your new addition.

  1. Make sure your emergency fund is in place and your debt is under control. Increase your emergency fund amount to cover added costs you’ll have once the baby is here. If a parent will stop working after the baby’s arrival either temporarily or permanently, you will need savings and a revised budget to adjust to your new income. If both parents will continue to work after your parental leave(s), you will need to research child care options. Good facilities may have waiting lists and you don’t want to be caught in a bind when it’s time to return to work. If your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you may be able to use it for child care.
  1. Estimate the medical costs. Research with your current health insurance provider to figure out what is covered (and not) by your plan. A recent study found that the average out of pocket cost of having a baby with employer insurance is around $4,500. You will have regular doctor’s visits and prenatal tests. Health screenings, ultrasounds, prescriptions and other items may also be required. Make sure you’re familiar with what out of pocket expenses could be- copays, deductibles, coinsurance, etc. You’ll also need to consider the delivery costs including hospital stays, anesthesia, delivery and pediatrician care. If you have any questions, contact your health insurance provider to avoid unexpected costs. Remember to add your infant to your health insurance plan after the birth.
The Average out of pocket cost of having a baby with employer insurance is around $4,500
  1. Create a budget for pre-baby items. It will be tempting to buy everything you see, convinced that you’re absolutely going to need it, but ask other new parents what they actually used when you start making your must-have list. Don’t forget to budget for maternity clothes, too! If you outline a budget beforehand (and stick to it), you’ll be able to keep the spending under control.
  1. Consider insurance and estate planning. With a child, you’ll want to make sure they’re taken care of should anything happen to you or your spouse. Term life insurance is an affordable way to cover costs (child care, salary, college, mortgage) should you pass away during child rearing years. You should have a will and estate plan in place for guardian appointment for your child and distribution of your assets.
  1. Start a 529 Account. You’ll probably start getting gifts, and some of those may be cash. Grandparents love nothing more than saving for college so stash those cash gifts! Starting a 529 account is a good way to start saving. As with retirement, time and compounding are your best friends so it’s not too early to start.

Welcoming a new baby is an exciting time! As with most things, preparation is important to minimize the bumps in the road. Addressing these items now before your baby comes will help ensure everything is in order so you can focus on the more exciting things.

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