Break Bad Financial Habits and Make Your Money Work for You in 2020

Even those of us who have the best intentions with our money can fall victim to bad financial habits, which can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. Some of the most common bad habits we fall into include:

  • Impulse spending
  • Not budgeting (or not sticking to a budget)
  • Spending more than you earn
  • Relying on credit cards
  • Falling into the trap of convenience

Breaking bad financial habits takes time, intention, and effort. Below are some ideas for starting better habits to get your money to work for you.

Start an Emergency Savings Account

This isn’t anything you haven’t been told before, but if you want to quit the cycle of credit card debt, you’re going to need a savings account to fall back on in times of financial hardship or unforeseen costs. Start with a goal of saving $1,000 specifically for emergencies, so next time your car needs work, for example, you’ll have the funds to pay for it rather than sinking farther into credit card debt.

Budget

Nothing says “taking control of my money” like creating a budget that works for you. When you assign a purpose to every dollar, not only are you actively monitoring your income and spending habits, but you’re avoiding debt and reaching your financial goals more quickly. The trick is sticking to it. It’s important to track your spending monthly, and revisit your budget at the beginning of each month, adjusting as needed with the goal of spending less than you bring in. If you know you have a bigger expense coming up later that month, or even in a few months, you’ll have a big picture of your finances and you can begin to make a plan for saving. You can also decide what your priorities will be for that month, and start saving toward your goals.

Make a Plan to Get Out of Debt

Credit cards, student loans, and car payments eat into your budget, and limit the amount of money you can put toward retirement and other financial goals. In short, debt limits your choices.

One popular and time-tested method of getting out of debt is often referred to as the snowball method. You start by paying off the smallest debt, then once that’s paid off, you add that monthly payment toward the next smallest debt until that one’s paid off. For example, if your smallest debt is a doctor bill for $200 and you make arrangements to pay $50 per month until it’s paid off, for the next four months you’ll pay that $50 to your doctor’s office while paying the minimum on every other debt. Once the doctor bill is paid in full, you add that $50 to the monthly payment of your next smallest debt while continuing to pay the minimum on your other larger debts. As each debt is paid off, you’re adding more to the next debt and building momentum until even your largest debt is paid off.

Save for the Future and Start Investing

Once you set up an emergency savings account and pay off your debt, you can begin to save more aggressively. The first step is to bulk up your emergency savings fund to the equivalent of six months of living expenses so you’ll have something to fall back on in case of a major unexpected life event, such as a job loss. Once this is accomplished, you can grow your wealth by investing your money. You’ll need to work with a financial planner to help advise you in investments and diversify your portfolio.

Stay Focused

It’s easy to get off track and lose focus when paying off debt, keeping on track with your budget, and saving for the future, so it helps to have some goals in mind. Whether your goals include a vacation home on a tropical island, paying for you child’s college education, or achieving early retirement (or maybe all three), keep these goals at the forefront of your mind whenever you lose steam. You can even create a vision board and put it someplace where you’ll see it every day, reminding you that good financial habits will pay off in the end.

If you have questions on setting healthy financial goals or would like to discuss your 2019 tax return, please feel free to email me at pmcallister@mkrcpas.com or call 317.549.3091.

Tips for Year-End Business Tax Planning

With additional guidance and regulations released consistently since President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 into law, one thing remains clear: strategic tax planning is key to lowering a business’s total tax liability. Read on for some moves on lowering your 2019 business tax bill.

Establish Tax-Favored Retirement Plan

Current tax rules allow for significant deductible contributions, so if your business doesn’t already have a retirement plan in place, it’s worth considering. Small business retirement plan options include 401(k), SEP-IRA, SIMPLE-IRA, and the defined benefit pension plan. Some of these plans can be established up until December 31 and allow for a deductible contribution for the 2019 tax year, except for the SEP-IRA and SIMPLE-IRA, which mandate a set-up deadline of October in order to make a contribution for the same year.

Review Your Reports

The end of the year is typically a time for businesses to begin goal setting for the next year, so it’s crucial to have a firm grasp on how your business performed financially this year. Make sure your books are up to date and accurate so you have a clear picture before diving into next year’s plan.

Defer Income If It Makes Sense

Depending on where your income level is, you can potentially cut your tax bill by postponing any end-of-the-year income until January 1 or later. Ask your accountant if shifting receivable income to the new year makes sense for your business.

Purchase Business Essentials to Take Advantage of Deductions

Upgrade equipment and furniture, stock up on office supplies, take care of repairs, and make vendor payments in advance in order to maximize deductions. And thanks to the TCJA, you can claim 100% bonus depreciation for qualified asset additions that were acquired and put in place in 2019.

Make Charitable Contributions

Tis the season for giving…and claiming a deduction for the fair market value of your donations. In addition to money, think outside the box and contact a program that sponsors families for the holidays. They often need food, bedding, toys, cookware, and clothing. It’s a great way for employees to feel like they’re making a difference too. Just don’t forget to get the necessary documentation and receipts to keep with your records.

Start Preparing for Next Year

If you put these tips into action, you’ll be better prepared at this time next year. For instance, you’ll already have a retirement plan in place. By going through the process of tax preparation this year, you have the opportunity to create systems for organization that will expedite the process next year.

How to Estimate Retirement Income Needs

Depending on where you are in life, trying to anticipate your financial needs in retirement and determining how exactly to get to that point could feel like a daunting task, or even a task that doesn’t need tackling yet. In fact, according to a study completed by The Alliance for Lifetime Income, only 28% of non-retired Americans have attempted to estimate their retirement income. Not as intimidating as it sounds, read on to learn how to estimate those needs.

Start with Your Current Income

If you’re living within your means and not depending on credit cards to maintain your lifestyle, using your paycheck as a benchmark is a sufficient starting point. This, of course, excludes contributions to a traditional 401(k) account as well as health insurance premiums that are deducted from your gross pay. A common and simple approach, then, is to set your desired annual retirement income at 60% to 90% of your current income. However, it doesn’t take a financial expert to note potential flaws with this approach. What if, for example, you plan to travel extensively during retirement? Planning for 60% to 90% of your current income might not be enough to fulfill your jet setting goals.

Forecast Retirement Expenses

Your annual retirement income should be more than enough to meet your daily living expenses. Keep in mind that the cost of living will increase over time, and insurance and health care could fluctuate. Having said that, some common retirement expenses to estimate include:

  • Food and clothing
  • Housing (mortgage, homeowners insurance, rent, property updates, repairs, etc.)
  • Utilities
  • Transportation (car payments, insurance, maintenance, gas, repairs, public transportation)
  • Insurance (medical, dental, life, etc.)
  • Health care costs not covered by insurance (deductibles, copayments, etc.)
  • Taxes
  • Debts and loans
  • Recreation such as travel, hobbies, and dining out

What to Do with Your Projected Retirement Income Needs?

A standard rule of thumb when talking about estimating retirement income needs is to have 25 times your anticipated annual expenses saved up by the time you retire. This is assuming you’re planning for a 30-year retirement. Theoretically, you could then withdraw 3% to 4% of your nest egg each year.

If you’re lacking additional sources of protected lifetime income, such as pensions or annuities, you may need to tap into savings in order to bridge the gap between social security checks and what you’ll need to live on. You could also buy a simple income annuity to cover part of that funding gap. These payments continue for life, thereby removing some of the guesswork of estimating retirement income needs and providing peace of mind.

How Your Small Business Could Be Wasting Money

Most small businesses have limited financial resources, so managing funds wisely and intentionally is crucial to the success of the business. Below are ways in which your small business may be throwing away money that could be needed elsewhere.

Having Overheads that Exceed Profit

It might be common sense, but if you’re not making enough profit to cover your expenses, trouble is on the horizon. Even entrepreneurs can be financially-challenged, so it might be worth it to enlist the help of an accounting professional. Additionally, you should identify the most profitable aspects of your business as well as the ones that are draining resources, and make adjustments however needed.

Staffing Issues

Consider whether your full-time staff is absolutely needed. Could some positions be just as effective in part-time, seasonal, or freelance roles? Too, make sure you’re tapping into your employees’ full potentials. Get to know their interests and individual areas of expertise in order to increase productivity, propel your business forward, and offer new ways to motivate employees to take a vested interest in the success of your business.

Advertising and Marketing Expenses

As a small business owner, you likely don’t have money to waste on untargeted marketing or costly advertising campaigns. Your best bet is probably content marketing, a.k.a. blogging on your website. Brush up on SEO – or tap into the unidentified skills of your employees – to make sure your posts are keyword-optimized and pop up in search engines. Not a writer? Again, tap into the skillset of your employees, or hire a freelance writer. Lastly, think about finding someone to manage your company’s social media accounts and Google ad campaigns.

Trade Shows and Conferences

Though they’re a great way to network while promoting your products or services, they’re often expensive. When funds are tight it’s wise to be choosy about which ones you attend. If one or two specific trade shows or conferences have proven to produce sales and benefit business, just concentrate on having a presence at those venues and forgo the ones that might not be worth the cost.

The Latest Technology

In most instances you really don’t need the latest and greatest that technology has to offer. For example, if you buy a sophisticated software program that requires outsourced labor at a significant cost just to maintain simple records, you might want to rethink whether such a costly program is worth it. Cloud-based services are available to small businesses at low to no cost.

Weak Expense Tracking

If your love as an entrepreneur is building new products, or networking and finding new clients, tracking expenses is likely something that falls on the back burner. Finding a detail-oriented and trustworthy employee to handle this task will benefit your company’s bottom line – and free you up to focus on your strengths. And on your employees’ end, if they know someone is keeping tabs on their spending, they’re likely to be more frugal with company expenses.

Credit Cards and Insurance

Routinely keeping credit card balances in check might seem like a menial housekeeping task, but with interest rates almost always greater than 20 percent, failing to pay your credit cards in full each month is a costly mistake for a small business. Likewise, be sure you’re getting the lowest possible insurance rate for your company to avoid excessive costs. You might also benefit from an independent insurance agent who can go to bat for you when you’re hit with a claim.

Anyone Can Save More for Retirement: Here’s How

You don’t need a high-bracket income when it comes to saving more for retirement. What you need, regardless of income level, is discipline. The following tips can help average workers save more and build the kind of wealth that will support them after leaving the workforce.

Automate the Process

A lot of employers offer the option of diverting a percentage of your paycheck directly into your 401(k) account. This takes the guesswork and mental energy out of saving for retirement and puts the process on autopilot. And employers will often match your contribution up to a certain percentage.

Contribute to an IRA

If you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored account, or want something in addition to your 401(k) account, you might think about opening an individual retirement account. You can contribute up to $6,000 per year ($7,000 for those 50 years and older) to an IRA. Keep in mind, while single employees are able to contribute the maximum to a 401(k) and an IRA in the same year, married couples may have some limitations if both participate in a work-sponsored plan. The rules may also be slightly different for a Roth IRA account.

Be Resourceful

Part-time gigs and side hustles are more popular than ever thanks to the internet and smart phones. If you’re diligent with saving the earnings from a secondary income, it can grow over time. You can also use the funds from side gigs to pay off debt, which will open up your budget to allocate more for retirement savings. For example, bringing in an extra $100 a week equals out to $5,200 a year. From selling your possessions on eBay or Facebook Marketplace to offering a service such as dog walking, car detailing, or tutoring, the possibilities of earning extra income are dependent upon your time, talents, and abilities, but the monetary results have real potential to make an impact on your financial future.

Take Control

According to a 2016 study by U.S. Bank, nearly three out of five American families don’t utilize a budget, but a planned budget can cut down on excessive spending and keep your finances in check on a weekly or monthly basis. Impulse buys (no matter how large or small), add up, as do regular dinners out, pressure to keep up with the Joneses, and unforeseen expenses that crop up here and there. Without a budget and a plan for dealing with the unexpected, it won’t take long for your financial grip to unhitch, sometimes leading to seemingly unsurmountable debt. And debt has the power to undermine your retirement savings potential, either temporarily or for much longer.

With free online budgeting plans, myriad ways to earn some extra income, and a commitment to saving, almost anyone can make saving for retirement an attainable goal.