“Real World” Personal Strategy Blog

Roger Menden’s Useful Financial Guardrails for College Families

09.08.14 PersIt’s FOOTBALL SEASON (apparently). And, of course, colleges are getting back into the swing of things.

For better or worse, often our college-aged children haven’t been “burned” enough by the real world (I mean, of course, as opposed to the weird social media world many of them inhabit) for them to understand how financial complacency can lead to ruin.

So this week’s post is a public service for families in the Shakopee, MN area with children starting college — or those with children already there. I put it together because I’ve seen too many kids get underwater, and too many parents unknowingly enable them.

Before I get there, a couple of tax reminders:

1) Monday, September 15th is the estimated tax payment deadline for the third quarter.Our existing clients were given coupons to make it easy (albeit never fun), so let us know if you need any quick input there…

2) Corporate extensions are also due that Monday. This really only applies to you if we handle your S- or C-corp returns (which, of course, we do for a variety of our individual clients and friends). We’re on top of this on your behalf, if that’s you.

Now … onto my Animal House advice…

Roger Menden’s Useful Financial Guardrails for College Families
“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” – Ivan Turgenev

Financial independence training is a short-term pain, for a long term gain. But it’s terribly important because “untrained” college students are sitting ducks for unscrupulous financial service companies and their own lack of financial sense.

So, with that in mind, here are some off-the-cuff guardrails to consider for your son or daughter who is entering or continuing on through college…

1. Make a definite plan to leave college with no consumer debt. And I’m talking a realPLAN. Credit cards, car loans — college kids are ripe for the plucking. Consumer debt is a killer, simply because it depreciates so much. In a short matter of time, these items lose their value, but the payments and interest continue to inexorably pile up.

So set up a clear budget for travel, late-night snacks, and other miscellaneous lifestyle expenses (heck, going through the process might even prompt some lifestyle evaluation!). Tell your child: “You should have an exact answer if I ask about your weekly spending limit.” And have them try to earn enough over the summer that they can afford to skip the part-time job during the fall and spring semesters.

2. ATM bank fees are killer. Moving to a new city often means the local debit card will be charged from $1.50 to $3.00 for every withdrawal from a foreign ATM. Consider an online bank account that reimburses all ATM fees or a local bank with easy ATM access, or moving accounts to a bank local to the school, or a mega-national bank.

3. Overdraft fees are as common as hangovers for the college kid — avoid both. A recent Pew Foundation study found that the median overdraft penalty fee is $35; an additional $25 accrues if this overdraft is not repaid in seven business days. The average bank allows up to four of these overdrafts to occur in one day for a total fee of $140 or more per day. However, if you open a savings account in addition to your checking account, you can use the overdraft transfer protection. You might even set up a situation where the college student controls the checking account — but you control the savings.

4. One cell phone bill gone awry can swamp you. New routines in college will likely mean that data habits will change. If your child doesn’t have an unlimited plan, have them make it a habit in the middle of each billing cycle to review their account’s data usage for the month. By the way, this is a very good expense to NOT pay for as a parent.

5. Avoid gimmicky credit card offers. Often the first credit card is awarded at a football game where so-called “free” T-shirts are being handed out. Again, college kids are ripe targets. Shop online for the best rates and terms and purchase a dozen dress shirts with the money saved by finding a card with less onerous terms for interest rates and late fees. Focusing on the so-called “rewards” which credit card companies give you is a distraction in your financial life. Like a casino, credit card companies win most of the time — which is why they stay in business.

And, of course, having children enter into adulthood sometimes changes your tax considerations. Let us know if this applies to you — we’re here to help!

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Shakopee, MN Tax Expert on Making Sure Your 2014 Taxes Are Done Right

09.01.14 PersLabor day comes at me like a rush, every year. There’s a corporate tax deadline on the 15th of September to keep me busy and focused … but the truth of the matter is that the beginning of fall means that my team and I start to get real focused now.

Winter is coming. (Which means tax season.)

We’ve been working all summer, getting ready for the ACA implementation, analyzing potential tax law changes, and preparing for ones already in the books.

So it was nice to have the recent long weekend — and, despite the current place of controversy that unions seem to occupy, we’re well-served if we remember the great contribution they’ve provided to our culture.

The entire concept of a “weekend” (and not just one Sabbath/”day of rest”) was brought to us from organized labor. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workweek_and_weekend#History )

And, of course, we have “Labor Day” — the perfect transition into fall. This one started during the time of 7-day workweeks of 12-hour days, in the late 1800’s, as our country was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution. Times have certainly changed since then–and our economy is no longer driven by the manufacturing jobs of the past.

Our economy is now about *knowledge* … and that’s why I take the time each week to inform YOU about the “real world” steps you should be taking with your family’s finances, and how to be prepared for any circumstance.

Including the upcoming tax season — which, as I’m beginning to realize, will be here sooner than any of us think.

So I’ve put together a simple primer on what you should be pulling together, but the BEST way to be prepared is to have a conversation now about proactive strategy to minimize your burden. January through April may be “tax season”, but September-October is “tax planning season”–and to that end, I suggest you call us (952-445-8753) and set up a time for a tax planning session.

But regardless, here’s what you need to be making sure you have ready for 2015…

Shakopee, MN Tax Expert on Making Sure Your 2014 Taxes Are Done Right
“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” – John C. Maxwell

Believe it or not, now is the time to start making sure that you’ll be ready for a few months from now, when tax time is upon us.

Generally speaking, you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return. Individual taxpayers should usually keep the following records and supporting items on their tax returns for at least three years:

• Bills, Credit card and other receipts
• Invoices, Mileage logs
• Canceled, imaged or substitute checks or any other proof of payment
• Any other records to support deductions or credits you claim on your return.

You should normally keep records relating to property until at least three years after you sell or otherwise dispose of the property. Examples include…
*A home purchase or improvement
*Stocks and other investments
*IRA transactions
*Rental property records

New for 2014 taxes: We will need to verify our health insurance during the tax process. I’ll be in touch further, in the future, about what that will require.

If you are a small business owner, you must keep all your employment tax records for at least four years after the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.

Examples of important documents business owners should keep include:

• Gross receipts: Cash register tapes, bank deposit slips, receipt books, invoices, credit card charge slips and Forms 1099-MISC
• Proof of purchases: Canceled checks, cash register tape receipts, credit card sales slips and invoices
• Expense documents: Canceled checks, cash register tapes, account statements, credit card sales slips, invoices and petty cash slips for small cash payments
• Documents to verify your assets: Purchase and sales invoices, real estate closing statements and canceled checks

Here’s the best part of all of this: By pulling together this information NOW, we can really work our “magic” and ensure that we aren’t simply playing catch-up for you after the fact. That’s what tax planning is all about.

So give us a call this week, and let’s plan out the rest of 2014 and beyond.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Roger Menden’s Strategy for Writing Off Almost Anything

08.25.14 PersBeing a Shakopee, MN tax professional, I get all kinds of questions throughout the year when it comes to taxes.

But whether at social gatherings, sporting events or even business networking functions, one of the most common ones I receive is: Can I write this off?

Well, allow me, today, to set the record straight on all this for you.

In my experience, there are 3 primary mindsets of people out there:

Mindset 1: These are the people who want to write off everything, whether it’s legal or not, and figure the cost of an IRS audit won’t be “that bad”. Or else they think they can’t ever get caught. They are invisible, or so they think. That’s more common than you would ever want to know.

Mindset 2: These folks don’t want to write ANYTHING off. In fact, I’ve known some who will tell me that they want to purposely overpay their taxes. If the tax due is $10,000, they’ll write a check for $11,000. They figure that will keep the IRS away.

But the IRS doesn’t take bribes. This plan doesn’t work.

Mindset 3: These are the people who want to pay less in tax, but they are cautious. They still want to sleep at night.

Well, I’m going to help you if you fall within that category today, with an illustration at the end …

Roger Menden’s Strategy for Writing Off Almost Anything
“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” – George Bernard Shaw

I’ve got good news and bad news. First the good: this is easier than you might think. But the bad: you really have to do it right.

There are four primary steps for this, and you have to follow them all…

#1: You must have a business. If you’ve been running a tax loss in your business after you take all of your deductions, you could run the risk of the IRS calling your business a hobby. If you have a hobby, you can’t take the deductions.

There are actually 9 factors that the IRS uses to determine if you have a business.

These 9 factors break down into 4 categories:

Are you running your business in a business-like manner?
Are you putting in enough time and effort to reasonably expect success in your business?
Do you have past success in a business like this? Or, if not, do you have a mentor, coach or advisor who does have past success?
And finally, the big one, do you have a true profit motive for your business? You might be losing money now, but do you have a plan that will get you to the cash?

This first step is the hardest. It trips all kinds of people up. BUT, at the end I’ll give you an example for how it may not be as hard as you think…

#2: The expense must have a business purpose. The expense must be “ordinary and necessary to the production of income”. But, that’s about all the guidance you’re going to get. And that’s the reason why so many people get stuck, especially in the beginning. What’s deductible?It depends!

If you can prove that this expense helps your business, you’ve covered #2. I’m going to go over the next two steps and then, again, an illustration for how you can write off almost anything (provided you follow the steps, of course).

#3: You have proof you paid the expense. This is pretty much a no-brainer. No receipt = no deduction. When you’re out, use your smartphone to take a picture of receipts. It’s a whole lot easier to keep track of pictures than it is loose slips of paper. Then, if you paid for the deduction with cash, check or credit, you’ve got the deduction.

#4: Make sure you properly report on your tax return. There are three steps to a successful tax strategy.

Strategy + Implementation + Reporting.

The tax return is the final part of a strategy. That’s where we come in, of course.

Now for my illustration…

Let’s say your spouse has a thing for eating organically.

Well, here’s a plan that would get this spouse writing off some of that food.

(And how about you? Do you have something you really wish you could take a write-off for? Consider that through the lens of this illustration.)

Your spouse is familiar with social media like Twitter and Facebook and had been talking about starting a blog. Perfect! You set up a blog about eating organically. Then, you set up an arrangement with an “affiliate marketer” for a variety of organic food and supplement suppliers.

On the blog, your spouse highlights various foods, and talks about things like taste, price, how to cook them, what to pair them with, downsides to eating too much of them — essentially all the things that fellow organic food lovers would care about.

The spouse now has a business. Commissions are coming in as food is purchased from the site. And your spouse necessarily must purchase, prepare and eat organic food, in order to write about it for her readers — that is, in order to deliver her business’ fundamental service.

Is that all it took? No, the spouse has to meet the 4 steps above as well.

But here’s the thing: Sometimes the best way to get the answer is to change your question. 

If you’ve been asking, “What can I deduct?” Change it to “How can I deduct THIS?”

The answers may surprise you.

And, as always, we here at R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service are here to help. Now is a GREAT time to still affect your tax strategy for the rest of this year and take some nice deductions. Let us help you.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Roger Menden’s Big Idea: Pay For College AND Build Wealth?

08.18.14 PersIn light of events happening all over the place (but particularly in Ferguson, MO), I’ve been reminded of an eternal truth: The mind is like a parachute; it functions best when open.

Pretty sure Abraham Lincoln said that.

I’m kidding, of course — “source unknown”, but the truth is that while the social media activists, the media and those fueling the fire of argument on either side are increasing the volume of outcry, it’s difficult to say how much actual benefit that is ultimately bringing. Certainly there are evident problems there, here in Shakopee, MN, and all over our nation. Perhaps, in fact, some good may eventually come out of this terrible tragedy of a lost life.

But we must also avoid drawing pat conclusions (again, on either side) where facts are murky.

In their excellent recent book, Think Like a Freak, best-selling “Freakonomics” authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner write of the rising phenomenon of dogmatism — and how it significantly hampers our ability to see solutions to problems very clearly.

Although I may only be a tax professional, in my humble opinion, there are some serious problems in our culture. There really is racism. And there also really is danger for honest policemen and women.

But shouting, lecturing, militarizing and browbeating won’t achieve the healing and improvements for which we all wish. While social media can certainly play an important hand in bringing attention to, and opening dialogue on, some of these situations and issues, let’s be careful to maintain a tone with one another that is respectful and open to the validities in others’ thoughts.

In other words, let’s all pour a small bucket of ice water over our heads, regarding some of our cultural hot topics — and be sure we’re listening first and speaking last, shall we?

Now, speaking of open minds … let’s talk about college education. Specifically, how to pay for it.

Roger Menden’s Big Idea: Pay For College AND Build Wealth?
“He that can have patience can have what he will.” -Benjamin Franklin

The average Shakopee, MN college student graduates with almost $20,000 in student loans. While this is a daunting sum, it is still possible to build wealth even while paying off student debt. But earning the degree and paying for the degree require two different kinds of smarts. In fact, some students may be better off not taking their parents’ advice on how to get out of debt.

Unlike most types of debt, student loans are usually best when paid as slowly as possible.

Almost all debt is bad debt. But, there are two areas in which this general rule is not as hard-and-fast: home mortgages and student loans. Diligent savers can use these types of debt to their advantage.

Students often assume the best thing to do is to pay off student loans as quickly as possible. The sooner you pay off your loans, the sooner you can start building wealth, or so the thinking goes. But, given the opportunity, which answer should you choose: A) Make extra principal payments on your loan each month, or B) Pay the minimum amount due and save and invest the difference?

The real answer is: it depends. However, as a rule of thumb, the lower the interest rate on your loans, the better off you’ll be just paying the minimum monthly payment and nothing more. Take the extra money you were going to pay on your loan and invest it instead.

The lower the rate of interest on your loan and the higher the average market return, the more it makes sense to invest your extra dollars instead of paying down on your loan. The difference between these two rates is known as the “spread.” If market rate of return is 11% and the interest on your student loan is 4%, then, the “spread” is 7% (11% minus 4%).

Let’s look at two examples. Sally and Brian each have $20,000 in student loans which are to be paid over 10 years at 4% interest. Brian pays his monthly payments of $202 plus $100 extra to retire his debt as quickly as possible. By paying making bigger payments, Brian is able to pay off his debt in just over 6 years. Now, with his debt out of the way, Brian invests the full $302 per month that he had been putting towards his debt. Ten years after graduating, Brian has paid off his school debt and his investments have grown to $16,728.

Sally decides to adopt a different loan repayment strategy. Instead of paying extra on her loans, Sally pays only the minimum amount of $202. She takes the extra $100 per month that she could have been paying toward her debt and invests it. She continues this simple plan for the full life of her loan. Because she makes no extra payments on her loan, she takes the full 10 years to pay off her loan. Now, ten years later, Sally’s loan is finally paid. However, her investments have grown to $21,700, beating Brian’s return by $4,972!

Sally has made more than Brian even though she only paid the minimum balance due on her loan. Instead of making extra payments as Brian did, she invested her money for a longer period of time. And even though Brian was able to retire his debt sooner than Sally, his big monthly investments were unable to catch up with Sally’s early saving. Sally was able to boost her savings by starting early and harnessing the power of compounding interest. In the investing world, this principle is called the ‘time-value’ of money.

However, this model is not ideal for everyone facing student loans. The smaller the spread between your loan interest rate and the average market return, the less appealing this strategy becomes.

Plus, there are other important cases to be made, of course, for working to be debt-free as quickly as possible, as I’ve written about before.

Still, there is one additional reason students should consider paying just the minimum monthly payment on student loans. Student loan interest, like home mortgage interest, is tax deductible (which of course, you KNOW I love!). By allowing you a tax deduction of up to $2,500 for student loan interest, Uncle Sam is, in effect, helping to subsidize the cost of your loan. The faster you pay down principle, the faster you lose your tax deduction, which is one more reason that paying just the minimum may be the best option for some. And, with the savings from your tax deduction, you have more money to invest at higher rates of return.

In order to benefit from this loan repayment strategy, you must save and invest your money. If you don’t invest the extra money (and you simply spend it), you would have been better off putting your extra dollars toward the repayment of your loan. But before deciding on a loan repayment strategy that’s right for you, be sure to take care of the following basics first.

Learn about your loans. Many student loans allow for a 6-9 month grace period before loan repayment begins. During this time, your loans may be charged a lower rate of interest. Consider consolidating your loans and locking in your interest rate while your loans are at a lower rate. This may not only help keep the cost of borrowing lower, but it will mean you only have to write one check per month.

Establish an emergency fund. You should have enough money in your emergency fund to cover three months of expenses. This money should be used only in the case of emergencies, and not for those late-night runs to Taco Bell.

Pay off your credit card. It’s estimated that college graduates carry an average of $2,500 in credit card debt. Most credit cards have very high interest costs. Be sure that you are not numbered amongst that statistical class. You cannot build wealth while paying 19% interest on your credit card purchases. Do not begin investing until you have an emergency fund and have eliminated your credit card debt.

Sign up for free money. If you have just started a new job, check to see what type of retirement benefits your company offers. Many companies will match your contributions dollar-for-dollar up to a certain percent of your pay. In other words, you get free money if you invest in the company retirement plan. Make every effort to contribute enough to get the full match. By doing so, you are, in essence, receiving a 100% return on your money. And, don’t assume you are too young to save for retirement. By saving now, and harnessing the power of compounding interest, you’ll have enough to retire long before most of your friends. Remember the time-value of money!

Contribute to a Roth IRA. Once you’ve built up an emergency fund, paid off your credit cards, and taken advantage of any free money available through your employer, make every effort to invest any remaining dollars in a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is the ideal place to put those extra dollars you were otherwise going to apply to your student loan principle.

Building wealth takes time. But by starting early, you’ll be sure to make the grade.

And, as always, we here at R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service are here to help. Thanks for listening.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Re: A salve for all this chaos

08.11.14 PersIf you’ve been paying attention to the news the last few weeks, it seems that we’ve been reeling a bit as a nation, and on the world stage. However, it looks like the Ebola mess may be a little more contained than was initially feared (though still very terrible). The mess in the Middle East is no less hairy, but the Dow is recovering a little from last week’s low.

So, after the cool light of a week’s news has passed, businesses and families seem to be adjusting to a new normal. Consumer confidence still remains tepid and the political future seems murky — will these serious problems be addressed with any kind of certainty?

It remains to be seen.

But, I’ll blush a little to say that this humble tax professional’s advice from last week seems to have proven wise. I’ll rehash my thoughts here with a few expanded comments:

Menden’s Key Reminder #1: What you choose to “ingest” over these next few days will greatly impact your state-of-mind.

If you chose to ignore this advice, it’s likely your blood pressure felt the consequences. Truly — the “mass” media do better (financially) when there is chaos, so there is a very real, monetary at least, incentive for them to highlight turmoil. If you’re wise, you steer clear. I’m not suggesting that you stick your head in the sand, just … use a strong filter.

Menden’s Key Reminder #2: The only thing certain about the stock market is that it’svolatile. I believe you saw the truth in this statement?

As I mentioned previously, the market is rising … but though this is NOT “investment advice”, I will remind you that it’s always a good idea to hold fast — sure, the short-termers may have profited from gyrations, but what’s most important, for your family’s financial future, is that you keep the loooong view.

Which, of course, leads me to my last reminder…

Menden’s Key Reminder #3: The only thing you can truly control is yourself. With every passing week, I see the growing truth of this statement. The economy, your job situation, your retirement — it’s all out of your hands, in a very real sense.

That said, we met with families and clients in the Shakopee, MN area last week who were taking positive action. With our advice, just a few small tweaks can realize six figures of true savings over the course of years.

You CAN control your tax strategy … and we can help.

Until then…

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

A salve for all this chaos

08.04.14 PersIsrael and Palestine.

The Ukraine and Russia.

The mess at the border (and in Congress).

Ebola.

And in the middle of it all, we’re all facing our own private fears, struggles and frustrations.

So … may I remind you of a few things?

Menden’s Key Reminder #1: What you choose to “ingest” over these next few days will greatly impact your state-of-mind. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say. And, of course, the opposite is true — when you surround yourself with excellence and clear-eyed determination, you find that your heart and mind carry much greater strength.

Temper your media intake this week, as most of those outlets are (quite literally) merchants of fear.

Oh, and as I write this, it’s no surprise that the stock market is “reacting” a bit. (The Dow Jones is down about 500 points since Tuesday, 7/29.) So, this leads to my second reminder:

Menden’s Key Reminder #2: The only thing certain about the stock market is that it’s volatileSo those of you with many assets resting there, don’t make moves out of panic. Sit down to discuss atax-advantaged strategy … not a knee-jerk fear response.

Menden’s Key Reminder #3: The only thing you can truly control is yourself. You can’t control the market, you can’t control our foreign affairs (unless, of course, Messrs. Kerry or Hagel are somehow reading this — perhaps you guys can!), and there’s a real sense in which you can’t even, really, control your salary and income.

So, with those key reminders in mind, here’s what I suggest:

You CAN control your tax strategy… and we can help.

Until then…

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

 

Roger Menden Asks: Your Money or Your Heart?

07.28.14 PersSo the last few weeks, I’ve been offering my help as it concerns setting up family budgets, watching out for those unexpected things that bust ‘em … and, well, ensuring that our independence is never threatened by poor planning.

As usual there’s a bigger picture.

Money has no moral value — it is simply the revealer of what is already true within us.

We see the headlines from over this past weekend that household net worth has dropped by over 30% over the last decade (http://nyti.ms/1nHeXDv), there seems to be major chaos brewing all over the world, in Israel, in Russia/Ukraine, at the US Borders, in Congress (as usual) … but yet, for most of us, what is most pertinent to our daily existence is how we use, handle, and think about … money.

As we look around — using our financial lenses — a common temptation is to judge our well-being not by what *we* have — but by how much we have compared to others. However, many families at today’s poverty level live as well as the upper middle class did a few decades ago. Yet, they still feel deprived.

And for those on the upper end of the spectrum, they often find that even big luxuries ultimately disappoint, as we steadily become accustomed to a higher standard of living. An indulgent purchase loses its luster, and the satisfaction it brings is fleeting.

So how can we fix this? How can we keep our peace as we approach our money?

I believe it starts by re-aligning our hearts a bit. And that’s what I’m writing to you about today.

[By the way, it may seem unusual for a tax professional to write about this sort of thing -- but since money is a great revealer, it often expresses our passions. And, as such, it's worth protecting fiercely. So, let us help you sit down and PLAN for that protection this week. Give us a call to set up one of our Shakopee, MN tax planning sessions: 952-445-8753]

Roger Menden Asks: Your Money or Your Heart?
“We do not need more of the things that are seen. We need more of the things that are unseen.” – Calvin Coolidge

It’s a cliche, but it’s oh-so-true: Money doesn’t buy happiness. Families earning $50,000 a year overspend trying to keep up with those making $100,000 — who, in turn, attempt to live like those making $200,000. For many families, even in the Shakopee, MN area, the lure of consumerism wins out over qualities like foresight and the patience which saving requires.

The Beatles were right too: “Money can’t buy you love.” You can’t pay someone a million dollars to love you more than a million dollars. Money can’t buy integrity or friendship either. You can often purchase a cheap imitation of these values, but not the genuine article.

But money can be used to clarify and encourage the things already most important to you. It can be used to show your love for someone, keep your integrity or help a friend in need.

So, here is a simple exercise which can help you determine what you value most in life. Look at this list of 15 values:

Achievement
Adventure
Aesthetics and culture
Authority/Power
Financial security
Friendship/Love
Health
Independence
Integrity
Philanthropy
Recreation
Service
Spiritual growth
Wisdom
Work

Cross off 10, and keep the five most important to you. Then rank those five in order of importance. Look at your list and answer this question: Are you living your life and using your money in sync with your values? If you are married, ask your spouse to do the same exercise independently, and then compare your answers.

Now, take these values and give a hard look at where you are spending your money. Does it fit?

Surveys have found that people regret what they didn’t do more often than what they did. Our lives can change course dramatically (and serendipitously) all because of some small decision on our part. How many times have we heard the story of how a happily married couple met, only to be surprised it almost didn’t happen?

And, often, these decisions are expressed through how we spend our money.

We each long to participate in something significant and realize our greater passions. But that doesn’t just “happen”! It requires foresight, planning and forgoing our momentary desires. The choices we make, every day, determine the ones we will have the opportunity to make in the future. Without those hesitant, often stumbling first steps, we can’t even begin the journey. And, of course, the first step is the hardest.

Voicing what we are passionate about can be scary. Beginning to act on our ideas can feel overwhelming. But courage isn’t a lack of fear; it’s action in spite of fear. And our fear may indicate we are on the quest of our lives.

So again — I refer you to your list of values, held up against how you are currently spending your money: Are there small changes you can make–which would translate into BIG, passionate goals? Going through this exercise may not result in a dramatic career change, but it will help you see ways to align your actions to your goals.

And that, my friend, WILL bring you true happiness.

And, as always, we here at team Roger Menden are here to help! If you need someone, even just to run ideas and budgets by … we’re here for you.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

Roger Menden’s Financial Independence 3: Realistic Numbers

07.21.14 PersThere are too many scolds in this world, in my opinion. (Perhaps that statement even qualifies.)

Turn on the Facebook and there they all are. Eat this, don’t eat that, don’t exercise like this, THIS is killing your children! THIS is destroying your marriage … yada, yada, yada, ad infinitum.

So, as I’ve written the last couple weeks, I’ve sought to be a *resource* — one that you can turn to in the Shakopee, MN area, again and again. We prepare taxes and cut through the financial clutter — and we do it for a living. But that doesn’t mean we can’t speak to the larger issues at play.

Which brings us here, again, to financial independence.

We ALL know that impulse spending and unexpected emergencies can wreak havoc on a budget.

I am NOT here to scold. But sometimes we make the mistake of deliberately budgeting the impossible.

If you purposefully set the required spending in one category too high, you won’t be able to trim other categories to bring your overall spending into harmony — which is where it needs to be.

I want to see all of us make it a point about our money to be thoughtful, industrious, *content* — and thrifty.

So let’s not set ourselves up for failure, right at the jump.

Roger Menden’s Financial Independence 3: Realistic Numbers
“You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong.” – Warren Buffett

This is my third, and final, installment in a continuing series on real financial independence. Now is when I help us see when we may be inadvertently planning for failure…

Too much house
You can’t afford more house than your budget will allow. If you spend 50% of your lifestyle expenses on housing, you will not be able to live proportionally on the rest of your budget. Too much house is one of the most common mistakes a young family can make.

Try to keep your rent under 20% of your take-home pay after you graduate from college. Aim for all associated expenses (mortgage, insurance, taxes, etc.) to be less than 30% if you own property and some of the payments go toward the principal. And by no means let your housing costs exceed 38%, or your budget will be doomed before it even begins.

Most of us never saw our parents and grandparents in their younger days when they were struggling financially and lived in tight accommodations. It is as though we can’t feel successful without immediately enjoying the lifestyle of our parents at the height of their careers. To decide how much house is enough, calculate how much house you can buy for 30% of your standard of living.

Transportation
Transportation costs should be under 15% of your lifestyle spending and include insurance and maintenance as well as saving for your next purchase. If you want to actually be smart, only buy a car you can pay for with cash. 

As a result, your first car may be a clunker! Immediately start saving for your next car and the inevitable costly repairs. This strategy will limit the number and quality of cars you can afford. Remember, there are families earning more than you who take public transportation or share rides to work.

Eating out and prepared foods
Starbucks has become the poster child for budget busters. Buying a $4.50 cappuccino when you are young costs you $450 in your retirement account. And spending $4.50 a day costs you $450,000 in your retirement!

It doesn’t have to be a latte. You can generate amazing savings from any expense. But a pricey latte illustrates the huge markup on a dollar coffee. Aim for food to be under 15% of your lifestyle spending. You would like your food to be inexpensive, healthy and convenient, but it can’t be all three. You can usually only pick two.

Healthy food tends to be more expensive per calorie. So do convenience foods. One person eating out can often fund the entire family eating at home. And even when you purchase food in the grocery store, prepared foods can cost more than twice what you would pay for the individual ingredients.

By learning to cook with common staples such as rice, beans, flour, oats, potatoes, and chicken, you can drastically reduce the percentage of your budget spent on food. Save even more by brewing your own gourmet coffee at home.

Other regular expenses
Review monthly, quarterly or annual recurring charges. Research the cheapest basic service for your phone, cable, Internet, and insurance. Often, these really are “commodities” (i.e. those things which it hardly matters who provides them). Compare that to what you are paying now, and ask yourself if those seductive extra features are really worth the cost.

A gym membership used regularly might be a wise choice, but if you haven’t shown up there for weeks, it isn’t. For each expense ask yourself, “Is this really a necessity?” Any way you can reduce your regular bills saves money every year.

In summary, every category of your total budget must stay within a limited percentage. Careful planning and a courageous look at your lifestyle can help you identify those budget busters. Adjusting a few spending excesses could solve all of your spending problems.

And, as always, we here at team Roger Menden are here to help! If you need someone, even just to run ideas and budgets by … we’re here for you.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

Roger Menden’s Financial Independence 2: No More Surprises

07.14.14 PersLast week, we talked about having a sure hand.

Even if your take-home income is very high — we all need controls on our spending so our spending doesn’t control us.

And I want to be clear: I have NOTHING against becoming very rich, but I am much more interested that all of us (myself very much included) attend to the soul factors connected to money.

Some of us in Shakopee, MN need to break out of a poverty-driven mindset, based on our history (i.e., how money was used and discussed around our original family), and because of our own poor decisions. Too many have grasped after wealth with a hungry eye, and been burned. And then, well, people give up — they imagine themselves to be poor, and seek after the elusive pot at the end of the rainbow to solve all of their problems.

Sometimes I’ve even seen this among those with seven figures on their asset statements.

I’d much rather all of us make it a point about our money to be thoughtful, industrious, *content* — and thrifty.

A big part of the battle is to rein in our grasping impulses. I wrote about this last week. But this is made even easier when we plan for what we spend — including for those things that, well … many people don’t plan for.

This might hurt a little if you don’t already have these things in your budget, but they will hurt much less when they do come up (and they inevitably will), if you’ve accounted for them.

Here we go…

Roger Menden’s Financial Independence 2: No More Surprises
“Wisdom is learning to let go when you want to hang on. Courage is learning to hang on when you want to let go.” – Mark Amend

This is second in a continuing series on real financial independence, and I’m here to alert you to those items in a family’s financial life that can wreck the well-planned budget…

Interest on debt
There’s no excellent reason to buy anything on credit. If you find yourself considering an expensive purchase and then trying to find the payments in your budget, you are planning for failure. The only two loans you should even consider are a home mortgage loan and a student loan for an education or training that increases your earning potential. Money makes money. Credit does the opposite. Debt breeds poverty.

The average American family carries close to $10,000 in commercial credit. At 18% interest, that’s $1,800 a year or an unnecessary $150 every month per household. If you put that payment into the markets every month over your working years, earning an average 10% return (for calculating our example here), you would retire with an additional $1.5 million.

Unknown unknowns
None of us can anticipate all our expenses. Every stage of life brings a whole new set. Perhaps extensive study and research could help you prepare. But it is easier simply to budget 10% for unknown unknowns.

Insurance deductibles
Review the insurance coverage for your car and home (if you own). A deductible and perhaps a 20% copay often apply. Out-of-pocket expenses could run several thousand dollars. It is more important to limit the maximum expense than to make sure the deductible is low. Budget for the deductible and copay expenses.

Medical costs
Medical expenses are rarely planned. To prepare your budget, have some insurance in place that will limit your catastrophic loss. Second, set up an emergency fund that will cover your expenses if they reach that limit.

Car repairs and replacement
Your car won’t last forever. It will need major repair at some point and ultimately replacement. Decide how much you are willing to spend for the lifestyle you want, and then budget for it. Don’t buy a new $30,000 car and think you won’t have any car expenses for the next five years. Even if you plan on driving your new car for the next decade, you have to start budgeting for repairs and your next new car now.

Don’t borrow to buy a car and then start making payments. That’s nearly always a bad idea and simply ensures you won’t save, invest or grow rich. If you can’t afford to save the payments in advance, you are stretching too much. Buy used or wait.

House repairs
Owning a home in Shakopee, MN and surprise expenses are practically synonymous. The roof might leak. The plumbing could need replacing. A tree may need to be taken down before it falls. The heating or cooling system could need repairs. The carpet will need to be replaced.

So I recommend you set aside at least 1% of the value of your house for repairs, not enhancements, each year. If you have an older home, increase the minimum to at least 2% of its value.

Emergency travel
Another unexpected category is emergency travel. Family illnesses, weddings or funerals impose themselves on a family’s budget with some regularity. Sometimes even family vacations, graduations or other gatherings can strain finances. If you are both of humble means and have a large extended family, your budget could break under the strain. These are not easy decisions.

If you really get strained, I suggest you swallow some pride and ask for help with travel or accommodations. I know that family expectations can seem unreasonable, but speaking the truth in love is always a good response.

Here’s my bottom line: No budget can anticipate every major expense. Life serves up surprises with some regularity. So if we can all put some healthy margin in our daily living expenses, it will give us the stored resources to weather these major bills and then better plan for them going forward.

And, as always, the Roger Menden team is here to help! If you need someone, even just to run ideas and budgets by … we’re here for you.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

Roger Menden’s Financial Independence 1: Avoiding Budget Busters

07.07.14 PersonalIf my inbox over the past holiday weekend is any barometer, there is a LOT of talk about independence. And rightly so, of course, given what we celebrated.

But too much of the talk around financial independence surrounds GETTING … when it should be about “keeping”.

You see, in my opinion as a tax professional, frugality is the new status symbol — or at least it ought to be. It is green. It is compassionate. And it brings with it a financial margin for when life colors outside the lines. It helps bring us the priceless gift of serenity and contentment.

I’ve seen Proverbs 10:4 translated as “A poor person is made with a slack palm.” Which means — in order to be wise financially, our hands must remain steady. Extend your hand toward an impulse purchase and with one weak flick of your credit card, all thoughtful budget planning can be hopelessly broken.

And for many Shakopee, MN families, it’s “once on the charge, forever on the card”. Excess spending slows our accumulation of capital to invest. When we are drowning in excess purchases, getting ahead is like trying to sprint through deep water.

Certain purchases that are typically both unnecessary and unplanned are budget busters. Avoiding these financial slips requires hedging some of our worst impulses and constraining our desire for instant gratification. Only by saving enough in discretionary spending can we afford to put 10% of our budget toward those true and unavoidable emergencies.

So, here’s to REAL independence … and how we can all get there.

Roger Menden’s Financial Independence 1: Avoiding Budget Busters
“Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.” – Spanish Proverb

This will be the first in a series on TRUE financial independence … and, the first step, really, is getting your spending under control.

In that vein, here are three rules that will help you and your spouse limit impulse buying and better align your spending with your thoughtful values…

First, limit the dollar amount you can spend unless you and your spouse both agree. You owe it to your partner not to undo months of frugality and sacrifice by acting on a whim. Honoring each other in this way helps avoid resentment and alienation that can bust your marriage as well as your budget.

Negotiate the dollar amount. I suggest setting a limit of 1% of your monthly budget. If your annual spending is $60,000 and your monthly budget is $5,000, you would need to confer on any purchase over $50.

The idea of setting a limit may seem more acceptable if you consider the millionaire mindset. Millionaires recognize that saving and investing just $100 a month over the course of your working career produces a million dollars at retirement. They watch their spending carefully. They recognize that frugality is just another way to describe deferred consumption, which is the definition of capital. And capital, once invested, is what produces an ongoing income stream.

Put another way, if the average budget should include 5% taxable savings each month, every time you mindlessly spend over 1% of your budget, you lose more than a fifth of what you should be saving and investing outside of retirement accounts. I’ve seen many financial affairs ruined by the repeated spending of amounts much less than $50 at a time.

If you are struggling financially and having trouble agreeing on your goals, you may want to set the limit lower. As you both begin to feel your spending is under control and your savings exceeds your targets, you can readjust the limit higher. Exceptions can be made for regular bills and necessary purchases such as utilities and groceries.

Talking with someone else about a possible purchase can clarify your thinking not just about the item but also about your other competing financial priorities. It changes the question from “Do I want to buy that?” to “What do I want to give up to buy that?”

The second rule limits the frequency of mistakes. Practically speaking, you can learn to postpone spending one purchase at a time. This is taken from what many parents do with their children: when they are young, they have to wait a week before spending money on a toy. After the seven days, they often want a different toy instead. Then they have to postpone the purchase again.

In my opinion, children should be required to wait as many days as they are years old before being allowed to make a large purchase (that is, more than a week’s allowance). You can use the same technique to strengthen your own slack palm.

When you’re tempted to buy something, wait a week before acting. If you still aren’t sure, wait another week. There is always tomorrow, and most of the time you won’t remember what attracted you to it in the first place. Simply learning to delay and avoid impulse buying can cut your spending in half.

The goal here isn’t to be rich, per se, but instead to be thoughtful, industrious, content and thrifty. If you struggle with Madison Avenue’s mantra of personal fulfillment through excessive spending, turn the image around. Nearly all of our spending is discretionary, and every spending delay can be a way to bring peace into your life.

The third rule is to recognize the categories where you make mistakes. Dieting works because you are forced to observe what you are eating and learn which foods tempt you to break your calorie budget. Creating a financial diet works similarly. It creates a system that makes spending money more painful. For example, simply keeping track of all your purchases in a small spiral notebook makes you more mindful.

Refrain from discretionary spending in any budget category that is under pressure. It might be eating out. It might be clothes. It might be household items. If you keep your budget in mind, it will help you not to spend more money than you intended.

Whatever your lifestyle, you probably think everything would be just fine if you had $10,000 more a year. That is the deceptive seduction of wealth. We don’t realize there are people living off $10,000 less than we have who are saying the exact same thing.

Ask yourself, “What will I do when I run out of money?” Whatever you would do then, you should do now to keep your spending under control and live within your means. The best way to learn to be content is by taking money out of our spending categories and saving it. The less we spend, the better we will learn to be satisfied. Just as the harder we train, the better our endurance.

If you must satisfy frivolous spending, limit the amount and budget for it. Set aside a half of a percent each for husband and wife. For a family with a budget of $60,000 a year, this would be $25 a month each. If you wanted to buy a $300 item, you might have to save up for it for an entire year. But only put this in the budget if you are saving adequately for all your other big goals.

An even better way is to lovingly meet each other’s desires through the portion of the budget allocated to giving gifts. Too often family members don’t know what to purchase. Consequently, unwanted or inappropriate gifts represent a great deadweight loss of value. But when we leave our desires in the hands of others by offering, say, a gift certificate from the Shakopee, MN area we can afford, we build family bonds rather than resentments.

Summing up this message, to avoid impulse buying: set limits, wait a week, and watch out for those categories that entice you to break your budget. And when you must spend frivolously, limit those purchases to a small fraction of your budget.

And, as always, the Roger Menden team is here to help! If you need someone, even just to run ideas and budgets by … we’re here for you.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

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