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Mergers & Acquisitions as a Pathway to Growth

When it comes to growth strategies, there are many directions a broker or owner can take to elevate their business to the next level. While…

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What Should Your Net Worth Be?

I recently received a voicemail question from an anonymous caller who says:

“Hi, Laura. I’ve really been enjoying the Money Girl podcast! I have a question about net worth and couples. I heard on a previous episode a guideline for comparing net worth to see how you’re doing as an individual. But how should I compare me and my husband together?”

This is a great question that I’ve never been asked. (And by the way, if you have a money question or comment, I’d love to hear from you. Just call our voicemail at (302) 364-0308 to leave your message.)

In this episode, you’ll find out what net worth is and if you’ve accumulated enough wealth as an individual or as a couple. Plus, I’ll give you a free tool that makes it easy to figure your net worth and track it over time.

What Is Net Worth?

You probably heard the term “net worth” as it relates to super-rich celebrities or famous CEOs. Like Beyonce has a net worth of $500 million or Jeff Bezos is worth $133 billion. But what you may not realize is that even for the rest of us non-famous folks, it’s important to calculate and monitor your net worth.

Here’s an excerpt from my new book and audiobook, Debt-Free Blueprint: How to Get Out of Debt and Build a Financial Life You Love, that explains net worth and how to determine yours:

The first step on any journey is to assess the situation. You have to be clear about where you are right now and where you want to go. So, we’re going to really assess where your finances are right now.

Being clear about your current financial situation can be difficult and even a little scary, especially if you’re struggling with debt and don’t want to face it. However, embracing reality makes you better able to make positive changes.

The first priority in assessing your financial situation is getting organized so you understand your level of financial fitness. I’ll explain how to easily create an important tool to track the state of your finances throughout your life.

I call it your Personal Financial Statement, or PFS. It’s critical for gauging your financial health because each time you update it, you calculate your net worth. What exactly is net worth? 

The definition of net worth is summed up in a very simple formula: Net worth equals assets minus liabilities.

The definition of net worth is summed up in a very simple formula: Net worth equals assets minus liabilities.

Let me define what that means.


Your assets are things you own that have real value. Your liabilities, on the other hand, are the opposite of your assets.  Liabilities are your financial obligations to others. When you subtract your total liabilities from your total assets, you’ve figured your net worth. It’s really that simple.

Here’s an example: If you own $200,000 in assets, but have $175,000 in debts, your net worth is $25,000. If you have $200,000 in assets and $200,000 in liabilities, your net worth is zero. And if you owe more than you own, such as $200,000 in assets and $250,000 in liabilities, your net worth is negative $50,000.

Since everyone’s financial situation is unique, there’s not a magic net worth number that you should have, but obviously the higher the better.

Net worth is an important number because it reveals your bona fide financial resources at a given point in time. Tracking your net worth keeps you focused on increasing your assets and shrinking your liabilities, which is the key to building wealth. Click here for the free Personal Financial Statement. Use this workbook to keep tabs on your net worth and make better financial decisions.

I recommend updating it on a regular basis, perhaps annually or quarterly. It’s the best way to get a complete view of your current situation and should be your financial “reality check”—something like stepping on the scale if you’re watching your weight.

As you update your PFS in the future, you’ll be able to track whether your net worth is increasing, flat, or decreasing. The goal is to slowly raise your net worth by reducing and eventually eliminating your non-essential debts. When you see your net worth increase slowly over time, pat yourself on the back and know that you’re making the right financial decisions.

How Much Net Worth Should You Have?

Once you calculate your net worth, you’ll probably wonder what it should be. We typically compare wealth across age groups. Older folks generally have more economic advantages, such as more job experience, higher pay rates, or a spouse or partner who contributes to household wealth.

But the Federal Reserve regularly publishes net worth statistics by many factors including, age, education, homeownership, and race. So, you can analyze net worth through a variety of lenses.

While age can be a useful way to think about a net worth goal, don’t get upset if you’re behind the U.S. average for your age. You can’t change your past financial life. Your job is to stay focused on what you accomplish with your money going forward.

On average, a household in the U.S. has a net worth of $692,100. That’s a pretty high number because it’s skewed by the super-rich with sky-high net worth.

A better measure is the median net worth. That’s the number found in the middle, where half the households have higher net worth and half have less. The U.S. median net worth is $97,300. Let’s break it down by several age groups.

What Should Your Net Worth Be in Your 30s?

Your thirties are an important time in your financial life. You might be getting married or starting a family and seeing expenses rise. If you can rein in costs while your income goes up, you can build significant net worth. Likewise, if you go deep into debt and live beyond your means, your net worth will stay flat or go down.

According to the Federal Reserve for 2016, the average net worth for U.S. households under the age of 35 is $76,200. And the median net worth is $11,000.

For those in the age range of 35 to 44, your average net worth is $288,700 and the median is $59,800. Again, remember that the average is skewed by a small number of very wealthy households. If you’re like most, you have student loans or a home with little equity that’s dragging down your net worth.

While you may not be able to eliminate much debt in your thirties, you can make a savings goal to build wealth. A good target is to accumulate the equivalent of your annual salary by age 30 or 35.

For example, if you earn $50,000 a year, try to have at least that much in your bank savings and retirement accounts before your 30s come to an end. Make it a habit to save money on a regular basis, even if you can only save small amounts. It will really add up and lay a rewarding foundation for your future.


What Should Your Net Worth Be in Your 40s?

As your career progresses and you build experience, you typically have the opportunity to earn more in your forties. Plus, you may own real estate that you’re paying down and that also appreciates in value. That can turbocharge your wealth accumulation.

However, this is also a decade when you may launch kids out on their own or to college. Be sure that you protect your wealth and don’t overcommit to education loans and expenses. Your children have the opportunity to apply for scholarships, take student loans, and work while they’re in school.

The Federal Reserve reported that the average net worth of households between the age of 45 and 54 is $727,500 and the median is $124,200. A good savings goal during your 40s is two times your annual income.  

See also: IRA or 529 Plan–Which Is Better for College Savings?

What Should Your Net Worth Be in Your 50s?

By the time you’re in your 50s, you’ve had three decades to make contributions to your retirement accounts and savings. Starting at age 50 you qualify to make additional “catch up” contributions to most types of retirement accounts, such as a 401(k), 403(b) and IRA.

This decade is also when many people enjoy their peak earning years. You may also have mortgages and other debt finally paid off. Therefore, this is the time to really step up your savings to four times your annual income.

The Federal Reserve shows that the average net worth for households in the age range of 55 to 64 is $1,167,400 and the median is $187,300.

What Should Your Net Worth Be in Your 60s?

Most people in their 60s are seriously considering when and how to retire or semi-retire with a second career. You may not have dependents counting on you for financial support or much debt to speak of at this point.

Your 60s is a good time to downsize your lifestyle to reduce your overall cost of living as you glide into retirement. If you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, you must decide whether to take them early at age 62 or to wait for a higher benefit at your full retirement age of 66, 67 or beyond.

The amount you can save in your 60s depends on whether you’re still working and whether you’ve accumulated a nest egg that’s large enough to last the rest of your life. A wise savings goal is to have accumulated at least 8-10 times your salary during this decade.

The Federal Reserve data shows that the average net worth for Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 is $1,066,000 and the median is $224,100. By this time, your net worth is an indicator of the type of lifestyle you can enjoy in retirement. In fact, the average and median are nearly the same for those over age 74.


How Much Do You Need to Save for Retirement?

Now that you understand what net worth is and how it relates to your financial future, let’s get back to the anonymous caller’s question. She wants to know a good way to measure her net worth and her husband’s together.

The Federal Reserve statistics that I’ve reviewed are by household. Couples who plan to share their financial lives and eventually retire together should plan together. Start by completing the Personal Financial Statement for everything you both own and owe and compare your combined net worth to the median data for your age.

It’s no surprise that wealth is correlated with family structure, such as being married, single, or having children. Having more earners or lower living expenses allows a household to attain higher levels of net worth.

If you and your spouse or partner have a household income of $150,000, you might aim for a combined nest egg of $1.5 million.

Most couples need to accumulate about 10 times their household income to generate enough retirement income. So, if you’re married and have one breadwinner who earns $100,000, having $1 million is a wise goal to maintain your lifestyle in retirement. If you and your spouse or partner have a household income of $150,000, you might aim for a combined nest egg of $1.5 million.

However, if you plan to significantly increase your spending in retirement by traveling or owning a second home, you may need more. Likewise, if your dream is to simplify your life and downsize your lifestyle, you may need a smaller nest egg to be comfortable.

It’s reasonable to assume that you could get a 5% return on your wealth in retirement. That comes to investment earnings of $50,000 a year from $1 million or $75,000 from $1.5 million.

Remember that once you or your spouse collect Social Security benefits, you’ll have that additional income to count on. But the longer you delay taking it, the bigger your monthly retirement check from the government will be.

There are many unknowns in retirement planning but using these savings goals and basic income calculations give you a target to shoot for. You can also use a good retirement calculator to figure out if you and your spouse or partner are saving enough each month to hit your savings goal.

You’ll find a link to my favorite online retirement planning calculator in the free Personal Financial Statement. If you’re not on pace to have what you’ll need, you may need to delay your retirement age, radically decrease your cost of living, or step up your savings rate.

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Got Cash? What to Do with Extra Money

I received a great email from Magen L., who says:

I no longer have any retirement savings because I cashed it all out to pay my debt. We also sold our home and moved into an apartment just as the pandemic was hitting. With the sale of our house, the fact that my husband is working overtime, and the stimulus money, we've saved nearly $10,000 and should have more by the end of the year. My primary question is, what should we do with it?

Right now, I have our extra money in a low-interest bank savings [account], and I'm considering moving it to a high-yield savings [account] as our emergency fund. Is that a good idea? For additional money we save, I intend to use it as a down payment on a new house. However, should I be investing in Roth IRAs instead? What is the best option?

Another question comes from Bianca G., who says:

I have zero credit card debt, but I have a car loan and a student loan. I will be receiving a large amount of money sometime next year. If my fiancé and I want to buy a home, is it better to pay off my car first and then my student loan, or should I just pay down a big portion of my student loan?

Thanks Megan and Bianca for your questions. I'll answer them and give you a three-step plan to prioritize your extra money and make your finances more secure. No matter if you're a good saver or you get a cash windfall from a tax refund, an inheritance, or the sale of a home, extra money should never be squandered.

What to do with extra cash

Maybe you're like Magen and have extra cash that could be working harder for you, but you're not sure what to do with it. You may even be paralyzed and do nothing because you have a deep-seated fear of making a big mistake with your cash.

In some cases, having your money sit idle is precisely the right financial move. But it depends on whether or not you've accomplished three fundamental financial goals, which we'll cover.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life. Consider what you're doing right and where you're vulnerable.

Try using a three-pronged approach that I call the PIP plan, which stands for:

  1. Prepare for the unexpected
  2. Invest for the future
  3. Pay off high-interest debt

Let's examine each one to understand how to use the PIP (prepare, invest, and pay off) approach for your situation.

How to prepare for the unexpected

The first fundamental goal you should have is to prepare for the unexpected. As you know, life is full of surprises. Some of them bring happiness, but there's an infinite number of devastating events that could hurt you financially.

In an instant, you could get fired from your job, experience a natural disaster, get a severe illness, or lose a spouse. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we have to be as mentally, physically, and financially prepared as possible for what may be around the corner. 

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Getting equipped for the unexpected is an ongoing challenge. Your approach should change over time because it depends on your income, debt, number of dependents, and breadwinners in a family.

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets—such as an emergency fund and various types of insurance—can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Everyone should accumulate an emergency fund equal to at least three to six months' worth of their living expenses. For instance, if you spend $3,000 a month on essentials—such as housing, utilities, food, and debt payments—make a goal to keep at least $9,000 in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

While keeping that much in savings may sound boring, the goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth. The idea is to have immediate access to your cash when you need it. That's why I don't recommend investing your emergency money unless you have more than a six-month reserve.

The goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth.

If you don't have enough saved, aim to bridge the gap over a reasonable period. For instance, you could save one half of your target over two years or one third over three years. You can put your goal on autopilot by creating an automatic monthly transfer from your checking into your savings account.

Megan mentioned using high-yield savings, which can be a good option because it pays a bit more interest for large balances. However, the higher rate typically comes with limitations, such as applying only to a threshold balance, so be sure to understand the account terms.

Insurance protects your finances

Another critical aspect of preparing for the unexpected is having enough of the right kinds of insurance. Here are some policies you may need:

  • Auto insurance if you drive your own or someone else's vehicle
  • Homeowners insurance, which is typically required when you have a mortgage
  • Renters insurance if you rent a home or apartment
  • Health insurance, which pays a portion of your medical bills
  • Disability insurance replaces a percentage of income if you get sick or injured and can no longer work
  • Life insurance if you have dependents or debt co-signers who would suffer financial hardship if you died

RELATED: How to Create Foolproof Safety Nets

How to invest for your future

Once you get as prepared as possible for the unexpected by building an emergency fund and getting the right kinds of insurance, the next goal I mentioned is investing for retirement. That’s the “I” in PIP, right behind prepare for the unexpected.

Investments can go down in value—you should never invest money you can’t live without.

While many people use the terms saving and investing interchangeably, they’re not the same. Let’s clarify the difference between investing and saving so you can think strategically about them:

Saving is for the money you expect to spend within the next few years and don’t want to risk losing it. In other words, you save money that you want to keep 100% safe because you know you’ll need it or because you could need it. While it won’t earn much interest, you’ll be able to tap it in an instant.

Investing is for the money you expect to spend in the future, such as in five or more years. Purchasing an investment means you’re exposing money to some amount of risk to make it grow. Investments can go down in value; therefore, you should never invest money you can’t live without.

In general, I recommend that you invest through a qualified retirement account, such as a workplace plan or an IRA, which come with tax benefits to boost your growth. My recommendation is to contribute no less than 10% to 15% of your pre-tax income for retirement.

Magen mentioned Roth IRAs, and it may be a good option for her to rebuild her retirement savings. For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over age 50, to a traditional or a Roth IRA. You typically must have income to qualify for an IRA. However, if you’re married and file taxes jointly, a non-working spouse can max out an IRA based on household income.

For workplace retirement plans, such as a 401(k), you can contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over 50 for 2020. Some employers match a certain percent of contributions, which turbocharges your account. That’s why it’s wise to invest enough to max out any free retirement matching at work. If your employer kicks in matching funds, you can exceed the annual contribution limits that I mentioned.

RELATED: A 5-Point Checklist for How to Invest Money Wisely

How to pay off high-interest debt

Once you're working on the first two parts of my PIP plan by preparing for the unexpected and investing for the future, you're in a perfect position also to pay off high-interest debt, the final "P."

Always tackle your high-interest debts before any other debts because they cost you the most. They usually include credit cards, car loans, personal loans, and payday loans with double-digit interest rates. Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Typical low-interest loans include student loans, mortgages, and home equity lines of credit. These types of debt also come with tax breaks for some of the interest you pay, making them cost even less. So, don't even think about paying them down before implementing your PIP plan.

Getting back to Bianca's situation, she didn't mention having emergency savings or regularly investing for retirement. I recommend using her upcoming cash windfall to set these up before paying off a low-rate student loan.

Let's say Bianca sets aside enough for her emergency fund, purchases any missing insurance, and still has cash left over. She could use some or all of it to pay down her auto loan. Since the auto loan probably has a higher interest rate than her student loan and doesn't come with any tax advantages, it's wise to pay it down first. 

Once you've put your PIP plan into motion, you can work on other goals, such as saving for a house, vacation, college, or any other dream you have. 

Questions to ask when you have extra money

Here are five questions to ask yourself when you have a cash windfall or accumulate savings and aren’t sure what to do with it.

1. Do I have emergency savings?

Having some emergency money is critical for a healthy financial life because no one can predict the future. You might have a considerable unexpected expense or lose income.  

Without emergency money to fall back on, you're living on the edge, financially speaking. So never turn down the opportunity to build a cash reserve before spending money on anything else.

2. Do I contribute to a retirement account at work?

Getting a windfall could be the ticket to getting started with a retirement plan or increasing contributions. It's wise to invest at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement.

Investing in a workplace retirement plan is an excellent way to set aside small amounts of money regularly. You'll build wealth for the future, cut your taxes, and maybe even get some employer matching.

3. Do I have an IRA?

Don't have a job with a retirement plan? Not a problem. If you (or a spouse when you file taxes jointly) have some amount of earned income, you can contribute to a traditional or a Roth IRA. Even if you contribute to a retirement plan at work, you can still max out an IRA in the same year—which is a great way to use a cash windfall.

4. Do I have high-interest debt?

If you have expensive debt, such as credit cards or payday loans, paying them down is the next best way to spend extra money. Take the opportunity to use a windfall to get rid of high-interest debt and stay out of debt in the future. 

5. Do I have other financial goals?

After you’ve built up your emergency fund, have money flowing into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and are whittling down high-interest debt, start thinking about other financial goals. Do you want to buy a house? Go to graduate school? Send your kids to college?

How to manage a cash windfall

Review your financial situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track.

When it comes to managing extra money, always consider the big picture of your financial life and choose strategies that follow my PIP plan in order: prepare for the unexpected, invest for the future, and pay off high-interest debt.

Review your situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track. As your life changes, you may need more or less emergency money or insurance coverage.

When your income increases, take the opportunity to bump up your retirement contribution—even increasing it one percent per year can make a huge difference.

And here's another important quick and dirty tip: when you make more money, don't let your cost of living increase as well. If you earn more but maintain or even decrease your expenses, you'll be able to reach your financial goals faster.

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How Much You Should Have In Your 401(k)

According to a retirement study released by Stanford University, only about 50% of American workers have access to a 401(k) or equivalent employer-sponsored retirement plan. And many who have a retirement account, aren’t making sufficient contributions to meet their targeted retirement goals. Retirement savings is a life venture where the stronger you start — and […]

The post How Much You Should Have In Your 401(k) appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

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5 Tips for Building a Side Business

You’ve probably noticed that people are embracing entrepreneurship like never before. Due to the widespread availability of technological business tools, there’s never been a better time to become your own boss. With an internet connection and a smart-phone or laptop, you can work from just about anywhere on the planet.

If you’ve been dreaming of quitting your day job to start a business, you might be wondering if taking such a big leap is worth it.

While there’s nothing wrong with holding down a W-2 job and getting a steady paycheck, having income from your own business comes with many upsides. But if you’ve been dreaming of quitting your day job to start a business, you might be wondering if taking such a big leap is worth it.

The good news is that there are incremental ways to become self-employed that are stable and reduce your risk, instead of plunging abruptly into a precarious financial position. In this chapter excerpt from Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers, you’ll learn practical strategies for building a solo business while keeping the security of a regular job.

Tips for building a business on the side

Becoming your own boss may seem glamorous from the outside, but it can have stressful pitfalls, such as little pay, no insurance benefits, and unpredictable clients. However, you can avoid or minimize some of the downsides by maintaining a reliable day job while you grow your solo business.

Having the security of a job and the excitement of becoming a solopreneur gives you lots of upside with much less risk. A steady paycheck may give you the confidence you need to take business risks—such as buying more advertising, equipment, or software—that will make your venture more profitable.

Having the security of a job and the excitement of becoming a solopreneur gives you lots of upside with much less risk.

Aside from maintaining a reliable income stream, being both an employee and an entrepreneur can make you a better worker. In my experience, growing a side business also builds skills and experiences that make you more effective at your regular job. You may even find your side hustle revives an appreciation for your day job. There’s a lot to like about having a salary, benefits, and other perks, after all.

Whether you decide to be both an employee and your own boss for weeks or years, it will take some juggling to manage successfully. Here are five tips to face your career fears responsibly and prepare for the future by adding entrepreneurship to your resume on the side.

Define your vision for success

Before changing your job or making the transition from employee to self-employed solopreneur, take the time to define what you truly want to achieve in your career. Sometimes your ideas about success come from other people, and they can cause you to follow a career path that never truly fulfills you.

Maybe your boss thinks you should regularly work late so you can climb the corporate ladder, or a parent says you should go to graduate school. You might take a lucrative job in a field you’re not crazy about because that’s what your friends are doing. But if that job requires frequent travel when all you truly want is to start a family, care for aging parents, or spend time enjoying where you live, you’ll never be happy.

Never let external markers of success, such as a big paycheck or a fancy job title, become more important than your heartfelt calling and goals for your life.

If you don’t pause periodically to reflect on what success means to you, it becomes easier to follow other people’s priorities when it comes to your work. If your decisions aren’t purposefully leading you toward a life that excites you, you’ll likely wander away from what you genuinely want.

Never let external markers of success, such as a big paycheck or a fancy job title, become more important than your heartfelt calling and goals for your life.

That said, getting in touch with your real desires isn’t always easy, and you might have to listen carefully to hear your inner voice. Try incorporating some quiet time into your daily routine. When you first wake up or when you’re settling down at bedtime, think about what you’re grateful for—but also what you’d like your life to be. Consider your definition of success and any changes you’d like to make to your life in the near and distant future.

Ask yourself the following questions to better understand your values and get clarity on your unique vision for success:

  • What type of work makes me happiest? 
  • Where do I want to live? 
  • What types of people do I want in my work life?
  • What does a good life mean to me?

This exercise isn’t something you do once to figure out the arc of your entire life. You need to come back to these fundamental questions during different seasons of your life and career, because the answers may change, sometimes repeatedly.

Over time, your working life is sure to change, in both good and bad ways. When you find yourself getting restless or feeling like you want more from your job, slow down and become more introspective. It can reveal a lot about what your next career or business move should be.

RELATED: How to Create Your Own Self-Employed Benefits Package 

Create a side gig

Even when you’re clear about what you want, one of the fastest ways to ruin your financial future is to take a flying leap from a steady paycheck. Jumping from a day job into an uncertain, full-time venture too early could mean trouble. You might face significant financial struggles and even get into debt. Many businesses take years of hard work before they’re profitable enough to support you.

If you slowly add entrepreneurial experience to your career, you’re likely to gain a variety of skills that will make you more valuable to employers.

Hanging on to your day job gives you the financial security you need to try out new business ideas, especially if you have a spouse, partner, or kids who depend on your income.

The best side gigs combine work that you’re excited about with something that you’re uniquely positioned to provide. These businesses may also come with a large existing customer base or appeal to customers who are willing to pay you well for the skills and experience you offer.

I was a part-time entrepreneur for a decade before I said goodbye to my employer. I enjoyed having a mix of job stability and entrepreneurial upside. Plus, I found that expanding my career by adding self-employment to a W-2 job made me much better at both.

If you slowly add entrepreneurial experience to your career, you’re likely to gain a variety of skills that will make you more valuable to employers. It may be easier to experiment with business-formation ideas when you have less financial stress or know a side gig could actually complement your existing career.

The bottom line is that creating a business on the side protects your income, diversifies your network, and improves your skills, instead of leaving you financially vulnerable. If you enjoy your entrepreneurial work and find that it pairs well with your day job, the benefits and personal growth can really pay off.

Negotiate your job flexibility

If you plan to start a business on the side, or you already have, you know you’ll be working more, perhaps a lot more. You might need to work early in the morning, late at night, or on weekends to fit it all in. That could stress your relationships or cause you to burn out if you don’t take some precautions.

Consider some different ways that you can tailor your business for your day job, and vice versa.

Once you’re confident about your business idea or begin seeing increasing revenues, you may find that you need more flexibility in your schedule. At that point, consider some different ways that you can tailor your business for your day job, and vice versa.

In 2008, my employer began feeling the financial pinch of the Great Recession. My podcasting and blogging career had started to take off by that point, so instead of allowing my position to get downsized, I proposed a solution that my boss liked. I’d work four days a week for a couple of months and then go down to three days a week for the rest of the year. Then we’d reevaluate where the company stood and discuss whether he could still afford to keep me on as an employee.

My employer would save money by paying me less, and I’d have more time to work on creating content, partnering with brands, and writing my first book, while still having a regular paycheck coming in. If I hadn’t suggested that solution, my company wouldn’t have known that I was willing to cut my hours. I didn’t offer to tell my boss what my plans were for my newfound free time, and he didn’t ask.

You may be able to negotiate with your employer for more schedule flexibility.

You too may be able to negotiate with your employer for more flexibility. You might ask to work fewer hours, to maintain the same total number of hours but work fewer days per week, or to work from home a day or two each week.

If you have a long commute or spend a significant amount of time getting ready, packing a lunch, and getting out the door in the morning, working remotely could save a lot more time than you think. Then you can invest that saved time in your side business.

Find more time in your day

If you can’t get more flexibility or you worry that even asking for it could put your day job in jeopardy, there are other options. One is to structure non-negotiable time for your business into your day. For instance, make a rule that you’ll step away from your desk for a solid hour (or longer if possible) during lunch to accomplish something meaningful for your business.

Find a nearby cafe or reserve a conference room in your office where you can work and eat undisturbed. I did that for many years, and it’s incredible how much you can accomplish in 45 minutes if you truly focus. If you can’t find enough quiet or privacy in your office, you could even work in your car.

It’s incredible how much you can accomplish in 45 minutes if you truly focus.

If working on your business during your lunch hour isn’t possible with your day job, consider coming to the office an hour earlier or staying later. You could also work on your business in a nearby coffee shop or a co-working space (where drop-in memberships can often be had for the same price as joining a gym) before or after your job. The idea is to create a routine that builds in regular time to focus entirely on your venture and to complete essential tasks.

Another option is to outsource a portion of your work. If you can afford to delegate tasks to freelancers, that can help you balance your to-do lists.

When your day job is so unpredictable that it prevents you from working on your side gig for long periods, consider getting a different job with a more reliable schedule. If you’re truly committed to getting your business off the ground, you may need a position with more flexibility so you can do both more easily.

Have a solid exit strategy

Having an exit strategy is a common concept in the business world. Partners and investors want to know what will happen after clearly defined milestones are reached, such as taking a company public or selling it after a certain profit margin is achieved.

But employees should create exit strategies, too. It’s a great way to force yourself to think about the future and what you would or should do next. With a W-2 job, you never know what’s around the corner.

It’s wise to start every professional relationship with an idea of how it could end.

Your company could suddenly downsize after a merger or an unexpected loss of market share. Your department could be reorganized after new leadership begins. All these scenarios have happened to me at some point in my career.

It’s wise to start every professional relationship with an idea of how it could end. This ensures that you’re never caught entirely off-guard. Knowing that you’ve thought about the end of a job or a business partnership can make you feel more secure about a potential split.

If you’re unprepared for an interruption in work or business income, it can be devastating to your emotional and financial life. So whether you’re laid off or you voluntarily quit, prepare for it now.

If you have a financial runway to find new opportunities or you’ve built an income from a side business, quitting or getting fired can be a positive experience. Having a good exit strategy can make the difference between feeling crushed by a job loss or becoming empowered by it.

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What Is a Serial Entrepreneur?

A serial entrepreneur starts several businesses one after another rather than beginning one venture and staying focused on it for many years like a more typical entrepreneur. Serial entrepreneurs may sell their businesses after they reach a certain level of … Continue reading →

The post What Is a Serial Entrepreneur? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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6 Tips to Find Affordable Health Insurance When You Become Self-Employed

If you're dreaming about leaving a corporate job to work for yourself, getting affordable health insurance is probably one of your top concerns. Fortunately, there are more protections now than ever for those who leave the safety of a group health plan.

This post will cover six tips to find affordable health insurance when you become self-employed or leave a job for any reason, so you and your family get the coverage you need.

Major benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare, became law in 2010, with significant provisions taking effect in 2014. One critical ACA benefit is that you can't be denied coverage or charged sky-high premiums when you have a preexisting medical condition. However, insurers can charge different rates based on where you live, your age, tobacco use, and family size.

One critical ACA benefit is that you can't be denied coverage or charged sky-high premiums when you have a preexisting medical condition.

The ACA also removes annual and lifetime caps on your health coverage. And no matter how much care you receive, the law caps how much you have to pay for it.

Out-of-pocket annual maximums vary depending on your health plan, but if you get in-network care, you'll never have to pay more than $8,150 as an individual, or $16,300 as a family, for the 2020 plan year. For 2021, these amounts increase to $8,550 and $17,100. Note that these limits don't include your monthly premiums.

What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Subsidy?

The ACA also offers many low- and middle-income Americans a health subsidy, which cuts the cost of premiums depending on your income and family size. It's a tax credit paid to your health insurance provider every month, which allows you to pay a lower premium.

For 2020, an individual earning approximately less than $51,000 or a family of four making under $104,000 per year may qualify for an insurance subsidy.

The ACA subsidy applies when your household income is between 100% and 400% of your state's federal poverty level. For 2020, an individual earning approximately less than $51,000 or a family of four making under $104,000 per year may qualify for an insurance subsidy. 

One challenge to using a subsidy is that it's based on your estimated earnings in the year when you'll get coverage, not on your last year's income. Since self-employment incomes can vary dramatically from month to month, the chances of knowing exactly how much you'll earn in the current or future year may be difficult. 

If you underestimate your income for a health subsidy, you may have to return a portion of the tax credit already spent on your insurance during the previous year. In other words, you may owe additional taxes that you weren't expecting.

When you enroll in an ACA plan, you'll have access to a marketplace account. That's where you can update changes to your expected income or family size that affect your tax credit so you can correct it as quickly as possible.

What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Mandate?

The ACA mandated that individuals be covered by a qualified health plan or pay a tax penalty if you're uninsured for more than two consecutive months. The mandate applies no matter if you're employed, self-employed, unemployed, a child, an adult, or where you live. 

Technically, it's still illegal to be uninsured, but the federal government won't penalize you for it.

However, starting in 2019, due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the mandate penalty for not having health insurance no longer applies. Technically, it's still illegal to be uninsured, but the federal government won't penalize you for it. 

But several states have their own insurance mandates, requiring you to have a qualifying health plan. You may have to pay the penalty for being uninsured if you live in:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

For example, California residents without ACA coverage in 2020 face a penalty up to 2.5% of household income, or $696 per adult, and $375.50 per child, whichever is greater. So, even if the federal government won't penalize you for being uninsured, you could have to pay a hefty state penalty, depending on where you live. More states will likely adopt penalties to keep the cost of coverage for residents as low as possible.

The ACA established health insurance exchanges, primarily as online marketplaces, administered by either federal or state governments. That's where individuals, the self-employed, and small businesses can shop and purchase qualified insurance plans and find other options, depending on your income.

How to get affordable health insurance

When you go out on your own, the cost of a health plan can be shocking—especially if you just left a company that paid a big chunk of the insurance bill on your behalf.

Remember that the high cost of health insurance pales when compared to the alternative. Having a medical emergency or being diagnosed with a severe illness that you can't afford to treat could be devastating. 

Remember that the high cost of health insurance pales when compared to the alternative.

Here are six tips for finding affordable health insurance when you become self-employed or no longer have job-based coverage for any reason:

1. Join a spouse or partner's plan

If your spouse or partner has employer-sponsored health insurance, joining their plan could be your most affordable option. Group insurance generally costs much less than individual coverage. Plus, some employers subsidize a portion of your premium as a benefit. 

However, some employer plans may not offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried couples. So, find out from the benefits administrator what's allowed. 

If you're under age 26, another option is to join or remain on a parent's health plan if they're willing to have you. Even if you're married, not living with your parents, and not financially dependent on them, the ACA allows you to get health insurance using a parent's plan. However, once you're over age 26, you'll have to use another option covered here.

2. Enroll in a federal or state marketplace plan

As I mentioned, the ACA established federal and state marketplaces for consumers who don't have access to employer-sponsored health insurance. The following states have health insurance exchanges:

  • California
  • Colorado 
  • Connecticut 
  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho 
  • Maryland 
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New York 
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

No matter where you live, you can begin shopping for an ACA-qualified health plan at healthcare.gov. However, you can only apply for a policy during the annual open enrollment period—November 1 to December 15, for coverage that will begin on January 1 of the following year. Some states with healthcare exchanges have an extended enrollment period

In general, if you miss the enrollment window, you can't get an ACA health plan until the following year unless you qualify for a special enrollment. That allows you to purchase or change coverage any time of the year if you have a major qualifying life event, such as losing insurance at work, getting married or divorced, having a child, or relocating. However, you typically only have 60 days after the event occurs to enroll.

If your income is too high to qualify for a healthcare subsidy, you can still buy health insurance through the federal or your state's exchange. You can also get an ACA-qualified health plan directly from an insurance company, a health insurance agent or broker, or an online insurance aggregator.

3. Consider a high-deductible health plan (HDHP)

One way to reduce the cost of health insurance premiums is to choose a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). You enjoy lower monthly premiums but have higher out-of-pocket costs. If you're in relatively good health, an HDHP can make sense; however, if you get sick, it can end up costing you more. 

Paying for a broad range of HSA-eligible medical, dental, mental, and vision costs on a tax-free basis can add up to massive savings!

Another benefit of having an HDHP is that you qualify for a health savings account (HSA). Contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible and can be withdrawn at any time to pay for qualified medical expenses, such as doctor co-pays, prescription drugs, dental care, chiropractic, prescription eyeglasses, and mental health care. 

Paying for a broad range of HSA-eligible medical, dental, mental, and vision costs on a tax-free basis can add up to massive savings!

4. Get a short-term plan

If you miss the deadline to enroll in an ACA health plan and don't qualify for special enrollment, are you simply out of luck? Fortunately, no. You can purchase a short-term health plan until the next enrollment period comes around.

The problem is, short-term plans don't have to meet ACA standards and only offer temporary coverage, such as for a few months or up to a year. You may be eligible to renew a plan for up to three years in some states, depending on the insurer. 

You won't find short-term plans on the federal or state exchange, and therefore can't get a subsidy when you purchase one. However, they can be less expensive than an ACA-qualified plan.

Short-term plans can charge more if you have preexisting conditions, put caps on benefits, or not cover essential services like prescriptions and preventive care. Because they fall short of ACA requirements, you can have one and still be subject to a state-mandated health penalty. 

You won't find short-term plans on the federal or state exchange, and therefore can't get a subsidy when you purchase one. However, they can be less expensive than an ACA-qualified plan. 

Having short-term coverage is certainly better than being uninsured, but I recommend replacing it with qualified health coverage as soon as possible. That's the best way to have the protection you need against the enormous financial risk of medical costs. 

5. Enroll in Medicaid and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program)

If you can't afford health insurance, you may be eligible for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or CHIP at any time of year, depending on your income, family size, and the state where you live. In general, if you earn less than the poverty level, which is currently $12,760 for an individual or $26,200 for a family of four, you may qualify for these programs. They may have different names depending on where you live. 

Unlike ACA health plans, state-run health programs don't have set open enrollment periods, so if you qualify, coverage can begin any time of year. 

When you complete an application at the federal or state health insurance exchange, you can also determine if you qualify for coverage through Medicaid and CHIP programs. You can learn more about both programs at medicaid.gov

6. Get COBRA coverage

If you leave a job with group health insurance, you can enroll in COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) coverage. It isn't an insurance company or a health plan, but a regulation that gives you the option to continue your employer-sponsored health insurance after you're no longer employed. 

Instead of having your plan canceled the month you leave a job, you can use COBRA to continue getting the same benefits and choices you had before you left the company. In most cases, you can get COBRA benefits for up to 18 months.

The problem with COBRA coverage is that it's temporary and can be expensive. Unlike other federal benefits, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers don't have to pay for COBRA. You typically have to pay the full cost of premiums, plus a 2 percent administrative charge, to the insurer. 

If you're not eligible for regular, federal COBRA, many states offer similar programs, called Mini COBRA. To learn more, check with your state's department of insurance.

Health insurance shopping tips

After you become self-employed and purchase health insurance, it's crucial to shop for plans every open enrollment period. Your or your family's medical needs or income may change.

Additionally, new health insurers come in and go out of the health insurance marketplace. Carriers that offered plans in your ZIP code last year may not be the same set of players this year. In other words, a competitor could offer a similar or better plan than yours, for a lower price. So, if you don't shop annually, you could leave money on the table.

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7 Ways to Make Frugality a Joyful Choice, Not a Burden

Frugality is quite popular these days, but it’s hardly a novel concept. Frugality kept many families going during wartime and the Great Depression, and it has the power to improve our homes and lives today.

While circumstances can force us into frugality, and that’s not much fun, you can also enjoy life while being frugal. Here are some great ways to make a thrifty lifestyle a joyful choice and not a burden.

First, clarify your why

Why do you want to be a frugal person? What benefits will a frugal lifestyle bring that you can’t find any other way? To make your frugality a joyful choice, you need to have a solid reason for it.

Most of us don’t live frugally for the sheer fun of it—at least not at first. You probably have a reason to be frugal. Perhaps you’re saving for a downpayment on a home, paying off student loan debt, or reducing your budget to enjoy greater career freedom.

You must have a reason for being frugal that is greater than your desire to spend money.

Clarify why you're planning to be more frugal. (You might have several reasons). Every time you struggle with forgoing a purchase to save money, remind yourself of the purpose behind it. You must have a reason for being frugal that is greater than your desire to spend money.

Your reasons are likely things that will add to your happiness one day. Buying a home, becoming debt-free, or cutting back on work hours may significantly improve your life, so those goals are worth the effort to be frugal.

7 strategies to make frugal living more enjoyable

1. Try a frugality challenge

Join a no-spend challenge where you only spend money on essentials for a month to see how much money you might save. This kind of thing isn’t meant to be a long-term change in habits, although some people might continue after the challenge is over.

The point of a frugality challenge or no-spend month (or year) is to reset your baseline. Change the default of how much money you spend each month. You may struggle at first, but it gets easier the longer you avoid spending.

When the month of extreme frugality is over, don’t automatically resume spending at your former levels.

When the month of extreme frugality is over, don’t automatically resume spending at your former levels. Take some time to evaluate how you felt, what triggers tempted you, and what things you discovered you don’t really need or want anymore.

It’s OK if you start spending a bit more again, but be mindful about what you purchase. It’s like the Konmari method of decluttering your house, except with your finances: Let go of what is no longer serving you, and joyfully spend on the things that matter.

2. Focus on gratitude

Gratitude can make you a happier person. When you think about what you’re grateful for, it’s pretty hard to dwell on what you don’t have. Research has shown people who regularly express gratitude often feel more positive emotions, savor good experiences, and improve their health.

It’s much easier to save your money when you focus on your blessings. Writing a list of things you’re grateful for daily can help you feel more content and less likely to crave the temporary high of buying something new.

You can still have so much without spending a lot.

Frugality doesn’t take away things you enjoy. Yes, it often means shopping around to get a lower price or doing without something you didn’t need. But you can still have so much without spending a lot.

Examples of things that might be on your gratitude list:

  • Running water
  • Internet service
  • Virtual connectivity to friends and family across the globe
  • Food and drink
  • Modern conveniences (electricity, dishwashers, lawnmowers, etc.)
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Nature

3. Notice the benefits of frugality

The longer you follow a frugal lifestyle, the more benefits you’ll observe. As you forgo spending on things that perhaps were luxuries, pay attention to the benefits you experience, whether expected or unexpected. Some of the common benefits you might see include:

  • Feelings of joy for the small things
  • Preferring homemade meals to dining out
  • Appreciation for what you have
  • No more temptation to buy to impress people
  • Learning a new skill
  • Adopting other, healthier habits

The more you appreciate the benefits of your frugality, the easier it will become to keep following frugal principles.

4. Make bargain-hunting a game

When you need or want something, look for low- or no-cost ways to get it. Buy Nothing groups, Facebook Marketplace, local garage sales, or thrift stores may have the item you’re seeking for much less (or even free).

Frugality often means spending a little more time researching the item you need before rushing out and buying it. But you usually don’t need something instantly and can afford to wait a few days, weeks, or months. That time can save you a great deal of money. Plus, you get to enjoy the satisfaction of snagging a great deal.

5. Enjoy learning to DIY

If you’re just starting with frugal living, you may find yourself trying to fix something you usually would have replaced. Do-it-yourself tasks are an opportunity to learn.

Look at frugality as a part of your identity rather than a difficult phase.

When you choose to repair or reuse something rather than replacing it with a new one, think about how cool it is to learn something new. My husband loves YouTube for teaching him a ton of valuable skills, such as how to replace car brakes. Yes, this takes more of his time in a hands-on way, but he enjoys the challenge, saves money, and guess what? Now he knows how to do the same job in the future, saving us money for years to come.6. Make frugality your identity, not a phase

Look at frugality as a part of your identity rather than a difficult phase. Habits expert James Clear writes about this in his bestselling book Atomic Habits: “To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. You need to build identity-based habits.”

For instance, rather than stating your goal as “I want to save $200 this month,” try identifying yourself as someone who is joyfully frugal. Reframing your identity by saying, “I’m a frugal person” can be more effective than thinking, “I can’t wait until I can start spending money again.” All those little spending decisions are more manageable when you view everything as a means of honoring your values rather than temporarily denying yourself something.

7. Cultivate an abundance mindset

Consider how you talk about money in your day-to-day life. Try to pay attention to what you think and say about money throughout a typical week.

You’re making an intentional choice to prioritize what matters.

If you often say things like “I can’t afford that,” you’re negatively framing your frugality. But if you say something like “I choose not to spend money on that,” you put the power in your hands. You’re making an intentional choice to prioritize what matters.

There’s a subtle yet essential difference in these perspectives. If you have a scarcity mindset where you don’t have enough and you always want more, it won’t get you anywhere. But if you cultivate an abundance mindset, you’ll see opportunities for the future and believe in your ability to realize those opportunities.

Frugality is fun … for real!

Honestly, frugality is a fantastic lifestyle that brings me endless joy every day. It’s exciting to look for ways to save money without sacrificing any of the things you love to do. I hope you’ll start finding the joy in frugality too.

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Should We Employ Our Own Kids? (and How Much to Pay Them)

Way back in 2015, I had a nine year old boy. Even back then, I could see him showing some early flashes of adulthood and maturity, and it got me wondering about his future as it relates to money and freedom. So I wrote a post called What I’m Teaching My Son About Money, which shared some […]