Be Financially Savvy
Are you as savvy a financial planner as you are a bargain shopper? Read these five planning and budgeting tips from a professional in the field to see if you're on the right path to a confident financial future.
1. DITCH THE KIDS' COLLEGE FUND
Brent Mekosh, president of Scottsdale, AZ-based Mekosh Financial Services, specializes in asset preservation and cash flow management, and steers parents away from investing lots of money in their children's education. "Your kids have a lot more time to accumulate a basket of assets than you do," says Mekosh, so save your retirement money – which requires years to build up – and enjoy your golden years.
He believes the options are limitless for young people to get money for college through grants, student loans and scholarships, and that kids can work to pay for their education while learning some valuable lessons along the way. Mekosh also warns against 529 College Saving Plans because of the limitations in how often you can make changes and the occasionally limited investment choices. Another option? Pay for your children's college tuition through your normal cash flow unless wealthy grandparents can fund a 529 plan and seek an estate planning benefit.
2. PAY YOURSELF FIRST
Pay yourself first doesn't mean giving yourself a built-in shopping spree each month. Quite the contrary! Mekosh advises: "Build into your budget a certain amount every month you want to save for your future." When budgeting, set aside money for your mortgage or rent, car payment, insurance and other necessities (READ: a new purse from Barney's is not a necessity), then pay yourself a set percentage each month that goes directly into savings. If money is left over, go enjoy it!
Mekosh suggests viewing this as a challenge where you can only increase your savings percentage, never decrease it -- even if you have to diminish your lifestyle a bit.
3. DON'T PAY DOWN YOUR MORTGAGE UNLESS YOU CAN PAY IT OFF
Here's a little perspective via Mekosh: "If you over-pay your mortgage, the bank will never remember that. They'll only remember when you miss a payment." As such, he recommends opening a very conservative investment account and contributing the extra money you would have paid on your mortgage to this parallel account. When the account is fully funded, pay off your mortgage entirely. If an emergency were ever to arise – lost job, illness – you could have years' worth of mortgage payments readily available.
4. CONTRIBUTE THE MAX TO YOUR EMPLOYER RETIREMENT PLAN
In the world of 401(k) plans, Mekosh counsels people to continue to invest as much as possible, regardless of how the market is performing. He references the tax holding advantage that comes with such contributions, saying, "It's free money if you have an employer match." He adds, "Be knowledgeable investors. Continue to fund regardless of what's happening in the world or markets.
When switching jobs, Mekosh recommends rolling your 401(k) funds into a self-directed IRA. "Doing so," he says, "will give you maximum flexibility and control over the assets you've earned."
5. KEEP YOUR CREDIT CARD FOR EMERGENCIES, NOT JIMMY CHOOS
It's plain and simple: Don't shop up your credit card. Although this is a common temptation of most women, Mekosh strongly suggests paying cash or using a debit card for all day-to-day purchases. Save the plastic for legitimate emergencies like having to visit an injured out-of-state family member or unforeseen medical bills. "Always have at least one [credit card], and don't be late paying it," he cautions. Your credit score and your bank account will thank you later. And you may even find those Jimmy Choo stilettos on sale after you've saved enough money to buy them!
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