2/2/2011 4:59 PM ET|
Fix your finances -- for good
To really get on track, take the longer view. Below, 4 people open up about their money challenges. Maybe you see yourself in one of them.
So it's barely February, and you're already slipping on your financial resolutions. So what? Forget despair and self-loathing. Here's a better idea: Make New Year's resolutions for 2021.
Ask yourself, "What do I need to do with my money now in order to be on track in 10 years?"
We found four people willing to get the tough answers to that question -- people whose situations mirror those of millions of Americans. The advice financial counselors gave them may very well also help you ring in a financially healthy 2021.
Good income but an impulse buyer
Tiffany Black, 30, who is single, earns $80,000 to $100,000 a year as a website producer in New York City. She's had a decent income since college but now faces her third round of credit card debt. This time it's $25,000, thanks in large part to a three-day birthday bash she threw for herself in March.
"I want to get married someday. I want to have kids. And I'm in no position to do that," Black says.
If her goal for 2021 is to be financially stable, then she first needs to tackle the psychology behind her behavior, advisers say. Though blowing 15 grand on a birthday party may not be common, incurring a debt hangover is, and it derails plenty of 10-year plans.
"It's compensatory consumption," says Tema L. Steele, the founder and president of Steele Financial Solutions, a Philadelphia-area advisory firm. "She's compensating for a lack of a relationship with all this other spending."
Less than a month after charging her party, Black learned that her mother, 71 and living on Social Security, had breast cancer. Though Black has $35,000 tucked away in retirement, her other savings, in case of emergency, would be only enough to cover two months' mortgage on an Atlanta house (where she used to live) that's worth less than she owes. Any cash left at the end of the month goes to her mom.
"Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have thrown the party," Black says.
The good news for Black's 2021 portfolio is that she may have already learned the first, most crucial lesson, says Keith Newcomb, the owner of Full Life Financial in Nashville, Tenn.: "Stop everything. Think about what's important to you.
"If you take the time to think through your values and what's important to you, it's easier to resist what feels good now," Newcomb says. With every expense, stop and think, "How does this align with what's important?"
After Black stops the bleeding -- arranging a short sale of the house and reducing monthly bills -- she should spend time with a financial counselor, says Steele, with an emphasis on the word counselor.
"There are more people than we would probably choose to think that are like this, with credit card debt and going along and thinking everything's fine," Steele says. "Unless she deals with her psychological issues, nothing's going to change."
Middle income but supporting relatives
Erin, a 27-year-old administrative assistant in Cape Coral, Fla., has been responsible almost to a fault.
Erin, who asked that her last name not be used, earns $45,000 a year with overtime and each month puts $50 into a Roth IRA (she has $18,000 in private retirement accounts), deposits $150 into an emergency fund (it now totals $1,500) and gives $140 to charity. She's taking advantage of her company's tuition reimbursement to chip away at a bachelor's degree.
But in 2008, right after Erin bought a house, her mother and brother lost their jobs and moved in. Stuck in one of the weakest job markets in the country, her mother gets variable hours as a grocery clerk and helps with electricity and food. Her brother's unemployment benefits ran out more than a year ago.
Erin's credit cards now show a $13,000 tab. She's willing to make sacrifices, but where?
"Every month I look and say, 'Is this the month that I'm not going to be able to give to charity? Or is this the month that I'm not going to make a 401k contribution?'" she says.
It's the question nagging families everywhere as the economy chugs into a slow recovery and unemployment remains high. How do you save for the future when the present is so taxing?
"Bless Erin's heart; she's got the heart of a saint," says Newcomb. But to reach her goal for 2021 -- to be solvent and securely provide for her mother -- she'll need to dramatically alter course now.
Perhaps paradoxically, that means cutting out the money for retirement, savings and charity, and nixing that consumer debt.
"She's obviously a person who's motivated to save money, but it's an illusory benefit, because she's running up credit card debt to do that," says Eric Tyson, a financial planner and the author of "Personal Finance for Dummies."
It also means tough change at home.
"If that debt's been accumulated because of the brother and mother, then they can help pay," Tyson says. "This is not to blame anybody, but they've got to sit down and have a candid discussion."
Newcomb agrees: Mom and brother need to step up. To prepare for next decade, Erin needs to switch tacks and concentrate on her current bills.
"As life unfolds, circumstances change, and it's OK to change our financial plan," Newcomb says. "That's something that's important for people to do, and it's not hard to do."
Good income but no savings
John Geyer is a typical, post-housing-crash baby boomer: Despite years of good income and 12 years of house payments, he now finds himself divorced, without equity and with less than $15,000 to his name -- and that's in 401k's.
"In 2021, I'd like to be talking about retiring in five years," he says. "The obvious thing now is to put more in the 401k." But how?
Geyer, 55, grosses $94,000 a year as a project engineer in Phoenix. But after paying the mortgage ($1,600), alimony ($1,500), a car loan ($200) and typical household bills and insurance, his $5,000 monthly take-home pay is whittled down to $400 for gas and food. He has no savings and owes $3,300 on a credit card.
"This is an emergency situation because he's 55 years old, and he has to get serious about retirement," Tyson says. "He's obviously behind in where he should be."
Geyer is representative of a growing segment of Americans ages 55 to 64: He and his ex-wife always worked, but they refinanced their home to help pay graduate school bills, raise two kids and cover medical procedures. They also lived comfortably. After the bust, any remaining equity vanished.
Studies by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College indicate that more than half of Americans in this age group will have to work longer or lower their living standards in retirement.
That's likely the prescription for Geyer, says Tyson.
"He should do some basic retirement analysis so he can get a sense of where he's going to be in 10 years, and I'm sure it's going to be somewhat disappointing," Tyson says.
Anyone who's curious about what their income will look like can punch their data into a retirement calculator, such as this one at Vanguard. A rough estimate for Geyer indicates that if he added 6% a year to his 401k for the next 15 years, he would draw a $3,263 monthly income in retirement, most of it from Social Security. That's less than half what he grosses now.
To be better set in 2021, Geyer needs to drastically cut his spending. First, eliminate the credit card and car debt. Then track every dollar.
"He's got to look at each category of spending and say, 'Is this a category I'm willing to reduce?'" Tyson says.
The good news? He has paid handsomely into Social Security. "He should have accumulated a benefit of at least $2,000 a month, and that's a nice asset," Tyson says. "He's going to get paid."
Unemployed and recently divorced
Jennifer Schmits is 41 and in good financial shape, with up to $110,500 in retirement, savings and pending home-sale profits. But that's now. And it was her husband who always did all the finances.
Schmits was divorced late last year and has a 3-year-old at home. Her goals for 2021 amount to a list of "I wants": a single-family home with a yard, a nice neighborhood, a private school, an annual vacation.
Currently unemployed, Schmits is on the job hunt and hoping to pin down $50,000 to $75,000 annually in the marketing field.
The lesson for Schmits (and for anyone else in transition), advisers say: Get personalized financial guidance sooner rather than later. Sure, explore getting settled (In Schmits' case, that means renting an apartment), but don't commit to any major payments before mapping out a long-term plan with an expert.
"I frequently hear people say, 'I wish I had looked into this earlier. I wish I had tended to this earlier,'" Steele says.
"Money is the fuel of our lives, and many people don't ever think of it like that," Steele adds. "She could technically take all her IRA money and throw it down on the house and then have nothing left. She needs someone to guide her."
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
Yes, Jimbo--perfect!--that is the real problem!
Instead of sitting there with a laptop (Image/culture as being taught), and somehow giving your last Dollar to those investment companies, so they can work on your money, when just being 30 or less years old. Also if your kid IQ is 100 (average) or less, why do you think about college for them? other western countries do not allow less intelligent people to downgrade the real college education by letting stupid people enter the colleges!--this is why now we seem to need a college degree to become a sanitation engineer!
Simply slow down, and put all you credit cards away, in order not to support those people with 1-2 % skimming off all business transactions in the US, and then in some cases later the interest far above prime rate.--If your savings are not there, try for a hous first as an ivestment, nut at the very least you get interest and property tax deductions, and then you live for free--that is you top priority!
The people who write the columns, are not very realistic, but writes rather like a college degree, without having even one foot on the ground!
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