Category Archives: Technology

Take Control of Your Financial Future By Paying Yourself First

One of my most memorable lessons from my childhood was when I learned the importance of “paying yourself first.” Many of my peers and friends have complained about their money problems; bills weigh on their mind and they become stressed living paycheck to paycheck. While it is important to stay cognizant of costs and expenditures, too many people make paying their bills their number one priority.This leaves them treading water just to keep their nose out of the water. This is definitely not detrimental, but it will not leave you on top or help you reach your more long term financial goals. I’m here to tell you why it is more important to pay yourself first before paying any bills.

The common routine for many millennials is to set aside money every month for costs, such as rent, transportation, etc. and then treat the leftover money as free spending to blow. Instead, I am suggesting that you first set aside an amount, “personal bill” and then using the rest to supplement bills and other costs. Creating this kind of system will change your mindset about your money. First and foremost you will be saving and secondly, you will be more calculated and thoughtful about how you spend your earrnings. Putting your money in a personal account will prevent you from spending carelessy.

An easy way to start this spending transformation is to go to the bank and open up an account specifically for your savings goal, whether it be a car a house, business or your future. These accounts can be set up so a percentage of your weekly paycheck is directly deposited. This can also be accomplished by setting up a a pre-tax or Roth 401K account. With these types of programs, some of your “extra” money will go directly towards yoru retirement fund that you will be able to acess around the age of 65. As I’ve written about in previous blog posts, a 401k adds a percentage of your paycheck and in many situations your employer will also match your contribution up to as high as 5%.

By focusing on long term financial goals and redesigning your spending/ saving schedule, you can really improve your financial standing. Having a personal account can also bring more security and allow you agency to act on larger investment opportunities that could present themselves in the future. With this mindset, budgeting becomes a crucial component to your life. You should always be adding your savings or “profit” into your weekly and monthly budgets. You want your personal account to be a guaranteed resource you can draw on, so maintenance and continual deposits are crucial. Your other finances will naturally accommodate and adjust for this extra profit and you will in-turn become more intune and financially savvy.

A further benefit to “paying yourself first” is the secondary psychological effects from having saved money. It can be a great feeling to know that you are now controlling your own financial security and this can in-turn guide even more smart choices for how to save and invest money that comes your way in the future.

Why You Need To Look Into Tax-Free Spending Accounts Now

 If you are currently employed, you should at least take a look and see if your employer can offer you  these spending accounts and you could save more money for yourself and give less to Sam.

Flexible Spending Accounts

“Approximately thirty-five million Americans are covered by a flexible spending account (FSA).* FSAs are employer-based programs that allow consumers to set aside tax-free dollars to purchase medical products and services – from bandaids to smoking cessation programs and tens of thousands of products and services in between (FSAStore.com)”.

This is yet another program offered by your employer so you can make them work for you. Sites like FSAstore.com let users purchase everyday items such as glasses, contacts, thermometers, bandaids, sunscreen etc. basically all out-of pocket health care costs with tax-free money.

Your employer will front you up to $2,550 from your annual salary in the beginning of your plan year. The amount can be up to $2,550, but the one trick here is that you have to use all that money you set aside by the end of the year or else it will be returned to the employer. So, you have to hedge your bet that you will use the allotted money within the year time period. (FSA Calculator)

If you normally buy the many products approved for flexible spending accounts, then this is a great program and can save you lots of money (up to $1009.80). Depending on your employer, they may offer you one of two options:

  1. You may receive a “grace period” where you can get up to 2.5 extra months to use the money in your flexible spending account, or
  2. You may be allowed to carry over up to $500 per year to use in the following year (healthcare.gov).

Commuter Benefits Accounts

If you are a millennial living in the city, flexible spending accounts also have good commuter benefits. I know that many New York companies have transportation reimbursement program where they will reimburse you for public transportation (this also applies to all major cities). This can be a great way to use tax-free money for your daily commute. This year, New York City increased subway fare. Even more reason to save as much as $550 (39.6% tax bracket and 116.5/month for MTA subway pass) using your commuter benefit options with your employer. Look into Wageworks.com for more information.

If you haven’t heard of a these spending accounts and are interested in saving money on things you would end up purchasing anyways I strongly recommend you look into a tax-free.

Sources:

https://www.healthcare.gov/flexible-spending-accounts/

https://www.fsastore.com

Why you don’t have to be Gordon Gekko to Invest in the Stock Market

Before I really understood the stock market, I always assumed investing was reserved for highly intelligent finance geeks, who read textbooks on the in’s and out’s of trading. As if they specialized in a secret science, an opportunity only available for the privileged that had the wealth needed to invest and grow. Like my unrealistic, childhood dream of becoming a celebrity, the thought of trading stocks was always desirable, but always seemed unattainable. However, after attending Bentley University and living amongst many other finance majors for the first time, I started to understand what it actually meant to trade different securities in the marketplace.

One of the biggest game changers was when I realized that I didn’t have to be a chic trader on Wall Street, finance professional or an economics professor to trade stocks. Really anyone can do it, and I mean everyone. Even you! All you really need is a computer, access to the Internet and about $200 dollars to invest. I was very unaware of just how accessible the stock market was. My classmates were pouring money into these brokerage accounts, buying and selling stocks in the dorms, during class and even on their smart phones walking around campus. My intrigue spiked one day, when my friend told me he had been paying off his college tuition by trading securities. He was very successful in his endeavors and had even bought a car with some of his yearly proceeds (not everyone is this successful). After that I knew I had to start putting money aside so I could finally take a chance of my own, and invest myself in the market. I told myself that even if I completely failed and lost everything, it would be a great learning experience. The decision proved to be worthwhile.

My first step, which was a very important one, was to choose the right brokerage online. Obviously I had seen various commercials and advertisements for brokerages of these types, but I wanted to do some comparison before I settled. It is important to choose a company that caters to your exact personal investment needs. This is especially important because every time you trade, you have to pay a percent fee known as commission. Commission is a rate fee that is tacked on to the cost of purchasing or selling stock, and every company has a different commission rate. This rate also tends to vary depending on stock type and/or amount invested. Investors also have to pay for the options in addition to the account, such as consultations, personal attention, branch locations, etc. These additional costs can add up, so it is important to keep all of this in mind when figuring out a brokerage to use. there are many sites that can give you a breakdown of pros and cons for each site.

As a millennial we aren’t the most trusting people when it comes to other people handling our money so I skipped out on a brokerage house that offered expensive advice. I wanted to learn about the market myself. We have an endless heap of knowledge known as the internet at our fingertips. I just figured I would research all the stocks myself and this would help me understand the market better and further my knowledge. Also with such low commission rates it makes sense for us millennials because we don’t have all this extra money to just toss around, the fees do tend to add up if you trade a lot.

What I learned after my first few weeks of trading was that once you put some skin in the game, you are more motivated to learn and understand where your money is going and how the system works. It was definitely one of the big motivating factors. You tend to watch the news more and pay attention to worldly events and the market. I always wanted to know what the market was doing. You will quickly learn that stock prices are more heavily influenced by the news rather than how the company may actually be doing according to numbers. So if you pay attention you can make predictions on when you may want to buy a certain security or sell, sell, sell.

The first $200 I ACH’d into the platform bought me a learning experience that I really don’t think I could’ve gotten anywhere else. It was worth every penny. This blurb of an article is just a little piece of insight to get anyone who is thinking about trading stocks or learning more about the process to consider the benefits and the knowledge that you can gain from learning to invest and what I wish someone told me before I knew anything about investing. Good Luck!

Why You Need The App Venmo Now

So if you haven’t heard of Venmo, stop reading and look it up right now. What do you think? Every one of us millennials should be using Venmo all the time. Venmo is a practical smart phone app that allows for friend groups to keep track of finances and pay each other back instantly. Venmo is linked directly to a bank account of choice, allowing for rapid money transfers from account to account with a click of a button. Just think about how much easier this will make your life. An app like this takes the awkwardness out of IOU’s and the ‘you owe me this from god knows how long ago’ situations. With Venmo, you can split bill with your buddies, break up grocery costs with your roommates, taxi fare, drinks, dinners, shopping etc. There is even a part of the app that lets you request money owed. This is like a virtual IOU reminder for your friends letting them know how much they owe. Having Venmo is like having electronic cash right in your pocket, and the best part, payments can be accurate, down to the exact cent.

Although Venmo may not directly save you any money, considering the fact that being a mooch is no longer an option, it does allow you to be more responsible with your finances. Another benefit to the electronic component of the payment system is that all transactions are listed on your online banking account website, making spending tracking easy, especially when using mint.com as well or other budgeting resources.

Another great feature of the app is it links to your Facebook account as well. This means that there is a social component to your account as well. With every transaction you are able to send a message or details of the payment that can be posted publicly or kept private. Usually my roommates and I try and one-up each other with how ridiculous and funny we can make our comments. Facebook also makes it easy to find the people you need to pay back because your Facebook are also your Venmo friends.

Venmo will save money in the long run and allow you and your friends to be more stringent. You can keep tabs on your electronic finances. When everyone has the app, paying the bill is only as hard as drunk-texting. And we millennials have gotten very good at that. So go, download this app if you don’t already have it. You won’t regret it.

Stepping Up Your Budget Game

Recently, while attempting to tackle a vast amount of credit card debt, I came across the much-needed concept of Budgeting. Budgeting is an unusual verb that is not often used in this generation, I too was a little lost. Especially after spending way too much last year on bars, food, beer, lunch, dating and anything else that drains your wallet. I felt like I hit rock bottom financially. I realized I had spent way too much money on too many perishable goods and services. This was a sign I needed to take better control of my financial habits soon or else this terrible pattern was bound to continue.

When it comes down to it budgeting means control, and control is a product of knowledge. Back when I was spending too much, I was lacking knowledge. Financial knowledge about where I was and what I was doing with my money. That was my biggest problem. I wasn’t thinking about how all of my expenditures were adding up. I would always think I had more money in my account than what was actually there, forgetting about the small things that I had bought for lunch or at the stores after work. Note: Small amounts add up the quickest!  So after my card declined a few times I finally forced myself to take control. My first attempt to regain control was an approach any millennial would do in this day—turn to technology. Technology in the form of Mint.com

Mint.com is a budgeting website and application that you can easily download onto your phone, laptop, or other smart devices for free! Mint.com provides personal budgeting tools that allow users (your futures selves) to add all of your financial accounts and display all of your balances simultaneously. This is done in a similar way to an instantaneous balance sheet showing your personal assets and liabilities. I was able to add all of my loans (school and car), bank accounts (checking and savings), credit cards, 401K, and even my brokerage account on Mint.com. At any given time you can view your exact net-worth down to the penny. With Mint.com I am able to see my balances and account activity anywhere I go. This application provides an accessible display of my spending habits in the form of helpful visualizations.

The best part about this service is the categorization tool and the budget planning aspects. Within the site I am able to see all of the purchases that I make on my various credit cards and withdrawals from my accounts in real time. I also have the ability to put these purchases into specific categories to see where my money is going every month. Using these categories I am able to customize personal budget plans. I therefore am able to manage the amount of money I am going to spend on certain necessities such as alcohol, fast food, work lunch, breakfast etc. Mint.com service will even send my cell phone alerts when I am spending too much or have gone over my set budget. These budget limits also tell me if I am saving the appropriate amount so that I am able to pay my loans and credit card bills on time.

This service helped me tremendously with my spending habits and keeping my debt under control. I highly recommend this service to anyone and everyone who wants to be proactive about their financial budgets! See Mint.com for more information and remember, knowledge is power when it comes to taking control of your finances.

Below are some relevant screenshots of Mint.com.

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