Monthly Archives: July 2017

Steps to Budget Based on Your Values

Are you finding yourself struggling to stick to a budget? Many clients and Millennials that I talk to are always excited once we are done talking about how to budget. I’ve realized that, like myself, we missed out on not just financial literacy but how to view our money. I have four ways that will help you start to think of your money as a tool to create a better life where you spend your money according to what you value. Here are my four steps to start.

What Are Your Values?

Often I’ve found myself in the past spending money on items that I didn’t use for very long or were poor quality. I’ve learned over time that if we develop an understanding of our values we can learn to spend money with a wiser purpose. When we spend wisely, our budgets become easier to manage and we start to control our finances without them controlling us. (For more from this author, see: 5 Ways to Improve Your Finances Throughout Life.)

From Values to Goals

Our values will lead to our goals in life. If you value family, I am guessing you may have a goal of starting a family or spending more time with your family. If you value travel, you may have a dream travel goal. Aligning our spending according to our values will help us reach our goals because we’ll be spending according to the values that help us reach our goals.

Work on Filtering Out Distractions

Every minute we are being advertised to – whether online, in Starbucks, on our drive or even during the podcast we are listening to. Ads are everywhere trying to get us to buy something that we probably don’t value and won’t help us reach our goals. Learn to look past these ads and stay focused on items that bring long-term value and move you closer to your goals.

Give Time to Major Purchases

Most goals are large purchases or expenditures of some sort. I encourage you to think through the purchase. Purchasing plane tickets because they are cheap for a trip that wasn’t even on your radar may be filled with regret. Just because an item is on sale doesn’t mean it is the right time. Save for what you expect but you can be ready to take advantage of discounted items if it’s the right time and you’ve been planning on the purchase. Impulse buying is what gets most people into trouble, even myself.

Our everyday decisions cause ripple effects. Make smart purchases that are aligned with your values and you’ll be on your way to achieving your goals in no time. My favorite budgeting tool, YNAB, is based on a budgeting philosophy that most people can resonate with. My wife and I love the tool because it creates better communication in regards to our finances.

U.S. City With High Pay and Low Cost of Living

Many factors influence where we choose to live. While our home’s proximity to friends and family is a crucial deciding factor, ultimately where we decide to live is influenced by our finances. The two major factors influencing where we live are the cost of living and the income potential in a given region. The problem with looking at these two factors individually, however, is that they often are highly influenced by one another and have a strong positive correlation. Fat paychecks in New York City and San Francisco translate into $20 salads, exorbitant rents, and surge-priced Uber rides. (To learn more, read: How the Cost of Living Affects Your Income.)

When we dissect the data, it’s apparent that the most affordable cities to live in while earning an excellent living are in the middle of the country, rather than along the expensive coasts. We’ve compiled a list of the best cities in the U.S. that combine a low cost of living with relatively high per capita income compared with the rest of the nation.

Houston, Texas

The city of Houston benefits from a high domestic migration rate and a high economic growth rate. According to the Census Bureau’s 2015 population estimates, Texas saw the biggest increase in population. The suburb of Harris Country in Houston grew more than any other in the country, increasing by 89,000 people, as opposed to the more than 500,000 people that fled New York City during the same period. (For related content, see: How Much Money Do You Need to Live in NYC?). According to the Department of Numbers, Houston’s median household nominal income was $60,072 last year and real income was $65,910. Houston’s residents income levels typically outpace the cost of living, with a fabulous transportation system, relatively affordable housing and low prices of common consumer goods.

Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

The Dallas-Forth Worth hub also lies in the Sunbelt. The city benefits from high net domestic migration and a nonexistent state income tax. According to Numbeo’s cost of living comparison between Dallas and Los Angeles, “you would need around $5,066.81 in Los Angeles, CA to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with $4,200 in Dallas, TX.” When the numbers are scaled out, the differences are drastic. The most significant differences between the two cities are rent prices, which are 55.58% lower in Dallas than in Los Angeles.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina may seem off the beaten path to some, but to North Carolinians and southerners who’ve grown up loving the city, the move seems like a no-brainer. Charlotte is home to many big companies and is the headquarters of Bank of America. The city also now boasts its own football team, the Carolina Panthers. According to the Charlotte Chamber, earning an after-tax income of $100,000 in Manhattan, New York is equivalent to the after-tax income of $43,224.93 in Charlotte, North Carolina. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, workers in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill Metropolitan Statistical Area had an average hourly wage of 2% above the national average ($23.22 in May of 2014). Although this may seem small, the difference is amplified by the low cost of living.

Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado is a gorgeous, relatively quiet city situated in the mountains. Downtown is a short half hour drive to the University of Colorado at Boulder. Many beautiful, smaller towns are in the region, where people can hike with their dogs and families free of charge. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, typical annual salaries in Denver for management jobs are $103,690, whereas business and financial operations typically earn a salary of $67,170. The calculated “living wage” that individuals must earn to support themselves working full time was $10.79 as opposed to $14.37 in San Francisco. In addition to high wages and low costs, Colorado offers a high quality of life which continues to attract lovers of nature and adventure. (For related content, see: World Cities With The Highest Quality Of Life.)

Austin, Texas

Dubbed “The Live Music Capital of the World” and the capital of the Lone Star State, Austin has a population growth of about 3%-4%, which is the highest growth rate of metropolitan areas with a population over one million. The knowledge hub of Austin is home to a new wave of workers who vary from “hippy types” to tech-savvy Millennials and corporate employees. The influence of the University of Texas has turned the city into a tech hub with a lively downtown full of theaters, art galleries, and restaurants. According to PayScale, a software engineer in Austin will earn a medium salary of $76,998, and a senior software engineer will earn $106,434.

The Bottom Line

Career mobility rises due to the advent of technology, transportation and communication systems, allowing the U.S. population to move from city to city quite easily. Often, high salaries coincide with a relatively high cost of living. This list of cities highlights a few of the outliers. Cities in the middle of the country, particularly in Texas, place workers in an optimal financial situation. This is due to the net migration, economic boom, and high salary growth rates in these particular hubs. These cities offer a high quality of life due to low prices and decreased financial stresses while providing an opportunity to find a lucrative career. (Read more on the topic

 

How to Find a Cheap, Last-Minute Vacation

Maybe you’ve been extra busy this year, but suddenly you look up from the computer screen and notice summer slipping away. Can you still find a cheap (OK, cheapish) last-minute vacation? You can and it won’t take all that much work on your end. What will help: flexibility.

1. First, Find a Cheap Itinerary

There are cheaper days and cheaper dates to fly. Experiment with itineraries as you shop to find the best prices. Not surprisingly, you’ll notice that sometimes the more inconvenient the travel days and times are, the cheaper the airfare.

  • Fly these days: Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are usually the cheapest days for domestic travel. Weekdays are usually cheaper than weekends for international travel.
  • Fly this date: Delay your vacation or getaway trip until around Aug. 22 (or beyond) and you will likely see prices drop from peak summer pricing to cheaper fall fares.
  • Suggested itineraries: For week-long vacations, try flying Saturday to Saturday. For a shorter break, try Wednesday to Saturday or Saturday to Tuesday. As you shop, move the dates around, plus/minus three days and see what works best.

2. Look at Cheaper Destinations

One of the biggest reasons one destination is cheaper than another? Competition, competition, competition.

Cheap cities: These cities are famous for the number of airlines vying for your business and they include a significant discount airline presence: Boston, Denver, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami and Seattle.

Cheap routes: You can often find a deal on hub-to-hub flights that last about 90 minutes (give or take). These routes are also immune to the big price swings during expensive holiday periods. Some examples: Los Angeles/San Francisco; Dallas/Houston; Boston/New York.

3. Use a Cheap Destination-Finder Tool

If you’re not sure what’s cheap from your hometown, use an interactive deal finder; there’s one on my site but there are plenty of others out there and they’re easy to use. Just type in your hometown and the month or time of year you want to fly and – voilà – a bunch of cites and prices pop up, from nearby tourist magnets to Caribbean beaches and even global destinations. I’m confident you’ll find something cheap and charming. Here are some round-trip fares for travel in August, found July 11: Boston-Baltimore, $95; Los Angeles-Orlando, $183; New York-London, $456.

By the way, all those nice prices are for non-stop flights – but connecting flights can sometimes be cheaper, another instance of inconvenience making a trip cost a little less. Compare non-stops to flights with one or more stops and see if the savings are worth it to you. The Cheapest Way to Buy Two or More Airline Tickets will also help you save if you’re booking the family.

4. Find Ways to Shed Fees

Remember, you don’t know the total cost of your airfare until you add in all the fees and for most folks that means baggage. In most cases, you’ll avoid the $50 round-trip checked bag fee by using a carry-on. And since you’re the one hanging on to it, the airline won’t be able to lose it. Before you ding your credit card, figure out all fees you might need to pay and add them to the airfare; only then can you tell which carrier truly has the right deal for you. Airline Baggage Policies: What’s New, How to Save has more tips.

Now that you’ve got your deal, make the most of it. And don’t bring the laptop.

Great Ideas for Your Summer Staycation

As the kids finish school and the weather heats up, many people are getting excited about long-awaited summer vacations. Summer vacations are a time to relax, unwind and spend some quality time with loved ones. Big vacations, however, do require quite a bit of planning and, of course, can end up costing some serious cash, especially with a whole family in tow.

If you haven’t gotten around to making summer vacation plans, or it’s just not in the cards this year, you might be the perfect candidate for a summer staycation. (A staycation can be just as enjoyable as a vacation, and can enrich your life for the whole year. Check out Affordable Staycation Ideas for Families.)

A staycation is like a vacation, only you spend it at home. Instead of spending lots of money on airfare and expensive hotels, you can take advantage of the attractions your area has to offer that you never get a chance to enjoy. This includes your house – when was the last time you relaxed at home? A few ground rules will help ensure you have a successful staycation:

  • Put it on the calendar  with a start date and an end date – so everyone knows when you’re on staycation.
  • Get a visitor’s guide. Check out your local Chamber of Commerce’s website or stop by for a visitor’s guide. You might be surprised to find great activities that you didn’t know about. (Keep the kids out of your hair and wallet by saving on summer camps, sports leagues, day trips and more. Learn how in Budget-Friendly Summer Fun.)
  • Limit the chores. Plan ahead and try to get as many chores out of the way so that you don’t spend your staycation doing laundry and mopping the floor.
  • Write it down. Your staycation doesn’t have to be scripted, but it is helpful to write down the things you want to do, and then have fun crossing the activities off the list.

Whether you live in a bustling city or off the beaten path, you should be able to find plenty of activities to keep you busy. To get you started, here are eight great ideas for your summer staycation.

Get Out

Outside, that is. National parks, state parks, county parks, metro parks and nature centers all provide a place to run around and enjoy nature. As an added bonus, many are free. You can easily spend a day hiking, swimming and picnicking in your local park. Visit http://www.nps.gov/ to find a national park or http://www.stateparks.com/ to find a state park.

Stay In

A rainy day during your staycation is a terrific opportunity to visit a local museum or two. Art museums, aquariums, planetariums, science museums and natural history museums can be enjoyable and interesting. You can search for museums at the American Association of Museum’s website at http://www.aam-us.org/ (click “Museum Resources” tab”); or search the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ website at http://www.aza.org/.

Get Active

Take advantage of the local swimming pool, tennis courts, golf course or skating rink. Go for a bike ride, a walk, or try a new sport. Dust off the old baseball mitts, soccer balls and Frisbees and have fun.

Get Festive

Summertime is usually ripe with festivals in one form or another. Your local newspaper or Chamber of Commerce can keep you up to date with goings on. In addition to daytime festivals, many locales host free music nights during the summer months.

Learn Something New

Have you always wanted to learn how to throw pottery or paint with watercolors? How about cooking Cuban food or home-brewing beer? Your local recreation department or community college probably has a great choice of classes to get you started. Many of them will be one-day introductory classes that won’t require a huge investment.

Be Pampered

With all the money you’re saving on your staycation, you just might be entitled to a trip to the local spa for a massage and facial. Most spas do require advance reservations, and many offer specials and packages so be sure to ask. Try http://www.spafinder.com/ to find a spa in your area.

Tell Ghost Stories

Pitch the tent and build a small fire – in your back yard. Camping in the backyard is a fun and easy way to camp. You can chase fireflies, sing songs, look at the stars and roast marshmallows (or make s’mores: roast a marshmallow until golden brown, place between two graham crackers with a piece of chocolate and squeeze together).