Category Archives: Purchasing

The Best Items to Buy at the Dollar Store

Now more than ever, low-price retailers are locked in a fierce battle to earn your loyalty as a customer. As buyers develop more and more purchasing savvy and shop online even for items like toothpaste, toilet paper, and peanut butter, the stakes are higher than ever. The bottom-line is that shoppers are always on the lookout for the best possible value when making a purchase, even if the local dollar store offers the best value. But it isn’t always easy for buyers to determine the best items to buy at the dollar store.

At the end of the day, the average buyer simply wants a good deal. However,  he or she isn’t interested in spending the time to analyze things like cost per unit, compare manufacturers, and evaluate the effectiveness of a product and its ingredients.

Who has time for that? 

Not every purchase at the dollar store helps you save money. Check out the best items to buy at the dollar store and start spending wisely!

A List of the Best Items to Buy at the Dollar Store

With busy work lives, never-ending house chores and yard work, and shuttling kids to activities, you probably don’t have time to play home economist. If you have three minutes, keep reading and we’ll show you the best items to buy at the dollar store to help you save money and still get maximum value from your purchases.

Cleaning supplies

Marketers know exactly how to hit your pain points and convince you that you need expensive chemicals to keep a clean house and a healthy family. Tapping into your fear and pride allowed them to create a multi-million dollar industry.

The truth is that basic cleaning supplies, such as bleach, ammonia, toilet boil cleaners, toilet cleaning brushes, brooms, mops, dust pans, and dusters are manufactured nearly identically across the board. They are without a doubt some of the best items to buy at the dollar store without sacrificing value.

Related Reading:

Candy

Packaged candy quantities seem to change frequently, but many varieties are among the the best items to buy at the dollar store. Stock up on thin mints, hard candy, and generic favorites to save money on your next at home movie night.

Personal hygiene items

These purchases may require a bit of trial and error, as products come and go, but many personal hygiene items at the dollar store are made with the same ingredients as their more-expensive counterparts. This is especially true of shampoo and deodorant. Just be careful with dollar store toothpastes, as many are not FDA approved.

Dishware and flatware

If you’re in the stage of life in which things inevitably get broken by your kids, pack away the nice dishes and use these for a while instead. The ceramic plates and mugs in particular will last a long time. You can also use them for display purposes if you prefer keeping your dining room table set.

Basic Tools for a Starter Toolbox

You won’t find Craftsman or other elite brands there, but if you’re looking to build a basic starter toolbox, the dollar store is the place to start. You can find small toolboxes, hammers, screw drivers, nails, tape measures, duct tape, bungee cords, zip ties, glue, paint brushes, and more at most dollar stores, and these tools are more than adequate for light household use.

Greeting Cards

If you dislike spending $4.99 on a greeting card and don’t have time to make one yourself, cards rank among the best items to buy at the dollar store. Many stores sell them 2 for $1.00.

Party Supplies

Throwing a party soon? Your local dollar store is the best place to score deals on plates, napkins, cups, decorations, and balloons – and you’ll save money compared to visiting a designated party supply store.

Pregnancy Tests

It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not: dollar store pregnancy tests are usually just as accurate as their more expensive counterparts when used correctly. Since it takes the average couple several months to one year to conceive, the enormous money saving potential makes pregnancy tests one of the best items to buy at the dollar store by a wide margin.

Hair accessories

Hair clips, scrunchies/ties, bobby pins, combs, and brushes are usually inexpensive no matter where you shop, but if you look carefully and find them in good quantities you can save money at the dollar store.

Home decor

Most dollar stores have taken a cue from their rivals and now offer a selection of home decor items, including vases, decorative plates, mugs, mirrors, and picture frames. Wise shoppers will scrutinize the quality of some items, but they are there to be found.

Similarly, most dollar stores offer a great selection of seasonal holiday decor, from window decals to traditional Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter decorations.

Wrapping paper and gift supplies

While picking up greeting cards, grab wrapping paper and/or gift bags while you’re at it. These items won’t be as fancy as their counterparts at more expensive stores, but they’re just going to be ripped and discarded anyway.

Reading glasses

Many dollar stores offer specialized reading glasses. They are a great value at only $1.

Disposable containers

If you’re planning to prepare a meal to take on the go or bring to a pot luck, pick up disposal containers at the dollar store first. You’ll save a ton of cash by avoiding higher prices at the local grocery store.

Books

Finding good books at the dollar store isn’t easy, but it’s not out of the question to find several best-sellers waiting on the shelves.


What are your favorite items to buy at the dollar store? Tell us in the comments section below.

Buying More Stuff Won’t Make You Happy

Do more. Work harder. Jump higher. Go faster. Phrases like these illustrate just how obsessed with increase our culture has become. Holiday spending, Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and overall consumption in general prove that we are a culture primarily focused on material possessions. If you’ve bought into the hype and spend your time and money striving to accumulate more and more, you need to know the truth: Buying more stuff won’t make you happy.

I’ll be the first to admit that happiness is one of the greatest mysterious of life. It comes and goes seemingly as it pleases, often without any obvious reason. And when it inevitably goes, human nature leads me to medicate the pain with stuff. But I’ll also be quick to admit that my human nature has led me down the wrong path many times in life, so it probably shouldn’t be trusted.

In a culture obsessed with increase, everyone wants more and thinks it will make them happier. But the truth is buying more stuff won't make you happy. Real happiness and contentment is deeper and lasting. When it comes down to it, each of us has a choice to make: will we live a life focused on accumulating more possessions with the goal of increasing our happiness, or will we learn to find authentic happiness in other places?

Take a moment and think back on some of the birthday gifts you desperately wanted as a kid. I’m talking about the gifts that you truly thought would change your life forever, like a new bike, video game system, or special toy.

Do you still have that item today? I didn’t think so.

Logically, it follows that your happiness wasn’t really dependent on that one special thing after all.

So why do we buy more and more even though stuff won’t us happy?

The short answer: we’re looking for the quick fix of adrenaline that buying things provides.

The long answer: we don’t understand the true nature of what makes us happy.

When you buy that new car, trendy pair of imported shoes, or new house, it is often for the wrong reasons: making a statement, impressing others, trying to fill an emotional void, or suppressing other feelings.

On the other hand, if you’ve planned ahead, spent within your budget and means, and truly value the items you’ve purchased, then that is a wise purchase. The difference lies in self-understanding and developing an accurate picture of what you value most.

Why Buying More Stuff Won’t Make You Happy

The bottom line is that more often than not buying more stuff won’t make you happy. Check out the following reasons to see for yourself why this is true.

More stuff leads to more responsibility

Sometimes my wife and I like to walk our dogs along a trail near some of the largest homes in our neighborhood. It usually leads to a discussion about what it must be like to live in such a large home.

Not everyone will share our viewpoint, but it is undeniable that living in a larger home and having more possessions leads to more responsibility. Psychology shows us that people thrive when their responsibilities provide them with purpose in life, but the opposite is true when too many responsibilities make people overwhelmed.

Buying more stuff can lead to debt

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m so happy to be drowning in so much credit card and student loan debt! At least I’ve got this sweet pair of Jimmy Choos!”?

No? I haven’t either.

The truth is that many people buy stuff they can’t afford to buy and end up deep in debt. Once the adrenaline rush of that new purchases feds, stress and regret move in quickly.

I like to think that it’s not a coincidence that debt and regret rhyme so nicely.

You are not your possessions

My wife and I watch Friends re-runs now and then, and one of my favorite show moments involves a conversation between Monica and Roger, a psychiatrist. After a long conversation, Roger leaves Monica and Ross, who are sitting at the table eating cookies.

“Mon, um, easy on those cookies, okay? Remember they’ re just food. They’re not love,” Roger says.

We laugh, but the same can be said of the stuff we buy. Remember, they’re just things.

They’re not happiness.

And they certainly don’t define you in any way.

Your stuff won’t make you happy because happiness is deeper.

Your stuff is costly

While a lot of items we buy are expensive, that’s not what I mean by the heading above. Your stuff is truly costing you in more ways than you realize.

For example, if you bought a boat and financed the purchase, the cost goes beyond just the principle and interest payments you make each month. Your time spent earning money to make the payments, missed opportunities to do other things because you have a boat that needs to be used every weekend, and lost time and money to maintenance and repairs are additional costs.

Stuff ties us down

The above example of the boat also illustrates another way stuff won’t make you happy: it leads to obligations and limitations on your life.

I’ve watched friends and family buy campers, motor homes, recreational vehicles, bigger houses, new cars, and yes, boats, only to see the initial euphoria replaced by the sinking feeling of a boat anchor firmly resting at the bottom of a lake.

Put simply, if you buy the wrong stuff, your still will have you.

Emotions change

It is true even for the most-stoic of people – emotions change.

All. The. Time.

This is precisely why it is dangerous to allow your emotions to be dependent on the presence of physical items. Every time the initial rush of a new purchase wears off, you’ll be desperate to replace that feeling.

Too many possessions are not healthy

When you have too many possessions, you cannot possibly use them all. Even if you’re not a hoarder, keeping too many things around starts to affect their utilitarian value.

Many experts recommend getting rid of one or two items for every new item purchased. My wife and I follow this guideline when buying new clothing. We also clean out our closets a few times each year and purge clothes that we haven’t worn in over a year. This decision has made both laundry and planning our clothing choices much easier.

Focusing on possessions leads us to miss out on what is most important

At the end your life, do you think you’ll rest in your final moments and recall the experiences you had with your favorite possessions? Or will you cling to your loved ones, recall special memories with them, and cherish your relationships?

Personally, I don’t fear death, but I do fear reaching the finish line of life and realizing that I lived by the wrong values and priorities. Living a life that worships stuff is a sure-fire way to one day end up old, tired, and full of regret.

If you take away one thing from this article, it should be this: stuff won’t make you happy. 

Please don’t wait until your deathbed to discover that this is true.

What choice will you make?

When it comes down to it, each of us has a choice to make: will we live a life focused on accumulating more possessions with the goal of increasing our happiness, or will we learn to find authentic happiness in other places?

In a culture obsessed with increase, everyone wants more and thinks it will make them happier. But the truth is buying more stuff won't make you happy. Real happiness and contentment is deeper and lasting. When it comes down to it, each of us has a choice to make: will we live a life focused on accumulating more possessions with the goal of increasing our happiness, or will we learn to find authentic happiness in other places?

9 Things Your Realtor Won’t Tell You – But I Will!

According to the National Association of Realtors, there are approximately 2 million active real estate professionals in the United States. Real estate is a multi-billion dollar business, and buying a home is an important transaction. The pressure understandably gives pause to both buyers and sellers. In fact, a reported 68% of Americans surveyed do not trust their realtor, according to a 2013 survey by Choice Home Warranty.  Why? The average buyer or seller has been led to believe that there are things your realtor won’t tell you.

While this is somewhat true – for example, there are certain things that your realtor cannot legally tell you – your typical realtor is an honest, hard-working individual who is trained and committed to look out for their client’s best interests. In fact, in any real estate transaction, a realtor is responsible to provide superior service by following the Code of Ethics. The Code, as it is often called, requires the following:

  • Realtors must promote their clients’ interests while treating all parties fairly
  • Realtors must not discriminate based upon race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, or sexual orientation
  • Realtors must remain truthful in all advertising and marketing, including when listing a home for sale

There are things your realtor won't tell you - even if you have a great one! These home buying and selling tips will help you have a smooth transaction.

SPILLING THE TRUTH – The Top 9 Things Your Realtor Won’t Tell You

The Code has done wonders to tame the previous Wild-Wild-West nature of real estate, but as previous statistics showed, people still have their doubts. Can you really trust your realtor? Or is he or she just looking to collect a commission check and head for the hills?

As a part-time realtor who loves serving buyers, sellers, and renters, I will outline 9 things your realtor won’t tell you – but I will!

1. You Should Interview Your Realtor

Before you choose a realtor, whether as a buyer or seller, It is important to know the following about a realtor:

  • How many buyers and sellers with which they typically work at a given time
  • Whether they work as a part of a team
  • How well they personally know and understand the areas you have targeted (if you’re a buyer)

To be transparent, no realtor wants to be interviewed by their potential clients! It can be intimidating and even feel a bit unnatural, but it is vital to ask the right questions. The purchase or sale of a home is one of the largest financial transactions you will ever make, and it is important to have a knowledgeable, committed, and available adviser in your corner.

2. Zillow Is Actually Useful

Inevitably, if you gather a group of realtors together, it’s only a matter of time before they start complaining about clients who rely on Zillow as if it were The Gospel. Truthfully, though most realtors tend to pour out hate on Zillow, it can be helpful.

For example, when I begin working with a buyer who has spent time searching on Zillow, I know that they have likely developed an idea of what they are looking for in a new home. By looking at hundreds of homes and thousands of pictures, it becomes easier to create a wish list, even if it may not be 100% realistic at this stage.

Zillow is also a good tool for casual buyers who are just interested in window shopping. However, Zillow data should not be trusted in most cases. It is often outdated (in some cases by nearly two weeks), inaccurate, and sometimes hilarious, as any realtor who has viewed an absurd “Zestimate” can tell you.

So keep using Zillow for window shopping, but when you get serious about buying, don’t bother. The data your agent pulls from the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is the only data you can trust.

3. Pre-approval Is Everything

If you’re a buyer and one of the first questions your agent asks is “Do you have pre-approval?” you have found yourself a winner! By asking this question, your agent is protecting his time and best interests, but he is also doing the same for you.

Written and signed notice of pre-approval from your lender is must if you want to be taken seriously, especially in a hot market. Without pre-approval in place, you could waste your time viewing homes which you cannot afford, find a home only to have another buyer’s offer accepted because they were pre-approved and you were not, or worse – you could discover that your credit history or debt to income ratio makes you ineligible for a mortgage!

Before you seek pre-approval, it is important to review your credit history. I recommend that you pull a free credit report to be sure no surprises or errors ruin your chances for a timely pre-approval. I recommend MyFreeScoreNow.com for this purpose, and they are – you guessed it – FREE!

Your 2017 Credit Score May Have Changed. See Your FREE Credit Score – $0 from MyFreeScoreNow.com. Sign up Now!

When you are ready to seek pre-approval, it is advisable to gather multiple quotes from a variety of lenders. Don’t worry – this will not damage your credit! I recommend Lending Tree as an option for my buyers because they provide personalized rates with a variety of options to meet a buyer’s lending needs. They have facilitated over 55 million loan requests, and they work quickly to get buyers pre-approved.

I have also had buyers who had good luck with SoFi. If you have good credit (700+ credit score), you may be able to save money with them. Contrary to what many realtors will tell you, SoFi works with buyers who have down payments as small as 10%.

4. This isn’t HGTV – it’s Real Life!

Touring a home like people do on HGTV doesn’t cut it. Most of those people are actors! Even if they’re not pros, they are being coached to say certain things and ask certain questions.

I like HGTV as much as anyone, but you must remember that it is all about entertainment value. When you are a serious buyer, you aren’t looking at houses to be entertained – this is important, so act like it!

Open closets and cupboards, check out the unfinished basement and look for cracks, and go walk around the yard. You’re not a professional home inspector, but you can save yourself a lot of stress, heartache, and money if you perform a DIY mini-home inspection prior to the true inspection.

5. You Can Request Multiple Showings of a Home

Yes, it is true: you can ask to see a home a second, third, or fourth, time. And, yes, it is equally true: your agent won’t like this. But you should do it if you’re at all on the fence. The additional 15-30 minutes of time are worthwhile for everyone, so don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and tell your realtor what you want.

Among the things your realtor won’t tell you, this item is fairly inconsequential, but it is good to know that you’re not out of line in this request.

6. There Are No Stupid Questions

In real estate and in life, there are no stupid questions – other than the ones you don’t ask.

In short: ASK QUESTIONS! Your realtor is an expert on the home buying and selling processes. If you don’t ask questions, you won’t receive the best possible service.

No, realtors don’t always have all of the answers. If you are asking good questions, most of the time we will have to get back to you.

7. You Will Learn As You Go

The process of buying a home is a learning experience. While you should determine needs vs. wants before your first home tour, we know that you will probably still be feeling out this process during the first several tours. It is a good practice to keep a check list of features that you desire and review it while touring homes.

8. It’s OK to Buy the First House You See – Sometimes

A good buyer agent shouldn’t push you into a quick offer, but if the home meets your expectations, is priced right, and is in a hot market with lots of competition, you should move fast.

Our team hates to see clients walk into the house of their dreams and decide to “wait it out” for more options because it often leads to disappointment. It happens far too often all because buyers haven’t reached a point of emotional readiness needed to buy.

9. Your Attorney is More Important Than Your Realtor

In most states, your attorney is more important than your realtor. While your realtor is there to advise your search process, complete offers using fillable form contracts provided by their local professional associations, and negotiate on your behalf, your attorney holds far more power. He or she is your last line of defense in protecting your legal options, modifying transaction documents, and in some cases, facilitating the closing process.

Your realtor is always happy to recommend a quality attorney who will facilitate a smooth closing, but virtually any experienced real estate attorney would be a wise choice.

YOUR NEXT MOVE

If you’re planning to buy or sell a home, you need a committed, available, and connected realtor on your side. With nearly 2 million real estate professionals currently working in the United States, you’re sure to have your choice among many quality realtors. With pre-approval in hand and in the guidance of a good realtor, the home search can be a pleasant process.

Throughout the process of hiring a realtor and buying or selling, put your trust in your realtor. Though there are things your realtor won’t tell you, he or she has your best interests in mind and wants to make the process as smooth as possible.


Readers, do you have a realtor you can trust? Have you had any poor experiences with a realtor?

Stop Money Fights With This Simple Solution

This post, “Stop Money Fights With This Simple Solution,” was updated on February 16, 2017.

Over 70 percent of couples report fighting about money over anything else. You can stop money fights by following this one simple recommendation!

Like many people, I lived in the dorms back in my college days. After surviving one semester with The World’s Worst Roommate™, I was fortunate to be granted a housing change. My new roommate, Erik, was everything one could hope for in a roommate: he picked up after himself, showered daily, loved to play table tennis until all hours of the night, and could binge watch TV like a pro.

Among the many shows Erik and I binged on, Married With Children was our favorite. Can you blame us? Ed O’Neill played the role of Al Bundy, a henpecked husband, broke shoe salesman, and father of two, to perfection.

Over 70 percent of couples report fighting about money over anything else. You can stop money fights by following this one simple recommendation.Brief digression: It is a crime that O’Neill never won a Golden Globe for his performance as Al Bundy, though his career has been unquestionably validated by countless nominations and awards for his performance as Jay Pritchett in Modern Family.

In one memorable scene, Al’s wife, Peggy, has just returned home from a lavish shopping spree. Al takes a look at the bills and delivers a typical, priceless line:

I hope one of these bills is for a coffin, because your shopping is killing me.

While MWC was a slapstick, controversial comedy which often crossed the line, this particular money fight between Al and Peggy hit the nail on the head in terms of its value as a social commentary.

Research supports my assertion. According to a Huffington Post article from 2014, a survey showed “that 70 percent of couples argued about money more than household chores, togetherness, sex, snoring and what’s for dinner.” Furthermore, survey records that the focus of 46% of all money fights was “frivolous purchases.”

I suspect that 54% of surveyed couples were not being entirely honest.

Over 70 percent of couples report fighting about money over anything else. You can stop money fights by following this one simple recommendation.
Graph credits to Huffington Post and Money.com

Mission: Stop Money Fights in Marriage

Last fall, I volunteered as a co-facilitator for a popular personal finance course. I have always enjoyed engaging in financial discussions with others, despite the general unwillingness to do so in most people, and serving as a group leader satisfied that urge while also providing a platform to help people and sharpen my own knowledge.

During our session on purchasing, a student in my group shared that she and her husband had previously been through several fights about spending over the years. I braced myself for a plea for advice, but what she said next surprised me.

“We found a solution that has stopped most of our money fights.”

Chatter among the group instantly ceased. Each group member, including me, was eager to learn this couple’s secret to stop money fights?

Solution: The Thirty Day List

In the moments which followed, we learned a lot about this couple’s experiences. Throughout their marriage and subsequent ushering of two children into the world, this couple had fought about many purchases: vehicles, clothing, electronics, and even groceries. Matters were not made any easier when the couple encountered financial hardships. In order to reduce and stop money fights specifically related to purchases, this couple implemented a procedure that they called “The Thirty Day List.”

They outlined the rules as follows:

  1. When considering a purchase over $50, write the item and cost down on the list and date the entry.

  2. Provide a brief rationale regarding the item’s utility and importance.

  3. Revisit the rationale in 30 days. If it still sounds like a good idea at that time, purchase the item.

Naturally, many students (budget nerds) were in favor of this approach, while other students (free spirit spenders) were against the restriction associated with this process. However, as the couple explained how it worked for them, the tone of the room shifted toward acceptance of this uncommon procedure. Some people even expressed hope that use of The List could stop money fights in their marriage.

Why The List Works

Among the benefits of the list which were described that day include the following:

  • The List often prevents unnecessary purchases. Sometimes you don’t buy the item because you realize don’t really need it.
  • The List eliminates susceptibility to high-pressure sales techniques. When a smooth talking salesman is rolling out every tactic in his arsenal to get you to purchase that new refrigerator with built-in social media access, you don’t even have to feel bad saying “no” because you are acting on a matter of principle.
  • The List causes you to wait, and sometimes this nets you a better deal. Patience puts you in a position to negotiate a great price. This extra time also allows you to thoroughly research a product, weigh the pros and cons of the purchase, and make a careful evaluation.
  • Similarly, after waiting 30 days, you retain the willpower to reject a bad deal. What is a few more days? You are in control and have the power to walk away.

Why The List Works

The Thirty Day List works in many situations because it leads to communication. When a couple collaborates to generate a unified position, a meeting of the minds and melding of ideas is often the result. However, this does not always happen quickly.

In such cases, a couple must take a step back and view the possible purchase from a wider perspective. By considering the purpose of the purchase from a variety of perspectives, the tone of communication shifts from one which is adversarial to one which is inclusive of both partners’ values.

Related Posts: See Values and Budgeting Part One and Values and Budgeting Part Two

Finally, the List provides accountability for larger purchases. It provides a framework and protocol which eliminates one partner from “going rogue.”

Downsides to The List

While the Thirty Day List may seem faultless in theory, it can be more difficult to implement in actual practice. After all, we live in a society in which it is easier and (often preferred) to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than seek permission in advance. Many people would agree that this is a terrible way to act within your marriage or other committed relationship, yet that doesn’t stop some people. If this is your preferred practice, the List won’t work well for you.

The List is also not a good idea when you find yourself in a housing search, especially in a seller’s market. Often times, you will need to be poised to make quick decisions. This shouldn’t be a surprise, however, as when you are in the midst of such a search, you know the rationale and utility for the purchase.

Make the List Work For You

Perhaps the greatest feature of the List is that it can be modified to fit your circumstances. A high school student with a part-time job and an annual income of $1,200 and a married couple with a combined annual income of $500,000 can successfully use the List to their respective advantages. The figures may need to be modified, but at the end of the day, the principles remain the same whether zeros are added or removed.

If thirty days is too cumbersome for you, modify the procedure to fit your needs. You know yourself better than anyone, and using this knowledge is the best course of action when designing a List which will work for you to stop money fights and support wise purchases.

Further Recommended Reading: 

Money and Marriage: How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

Want To Be Rich? Maintain Great Relationships


Readers, do you have a procedure similar to The List in place to assist when making significant purchases? Do you and your spouse or significant other routinely fight about purchases? What do you do to stop money fights?

How to Stop Fighting Over Money With Your Spouse

 

According to a Huffington Post article from 2014, a survey showed “that 70 percent of couples argued about money more than household chores, togetherness, sex, snoring and what’s for dinner.” Furthermore, survey records that the focus of 46% of all money fights was “frivolous purchases.” In my opinion, 54% of surveyed couples were not being entirely honest. And I bet 100% of couples would love to stop fighting over money with each other!

Even my wife and I find ourselves fighting over money more than anything else. Of the top five money arguments listed in the graphic below, we tend to argue most about our monthly budget allocations. In the grand scheme of things, we’re fortunate to be arguing about spending on things like dining out, clothing, and gifts to others. Though we mostly have our act together in this area, I’ll be honest – it still bugs me that these money fights pop up from time to time.

Research shows that over 70 percent of couples fight about money. This simple solution will help you stop fighting over money with your spouse or partner.
Graph credits to Huffington Post and Money.com

Mission: Stop Fighting Over Money With Your Spouse

I recently wrapped up another session of Financial Peace University at my church. I enjoyed engaging in financial discussions with others, despite the general unwillingness to do so in most people, and serving as a group leader satisfied my urge to help others while also helping me sharpen my own knowledge.

During our session on purchasing with last year’s group, a student in my group shared that she and her husband had previously been fighting over money repeatedly over the years. I braced myself for a plea for advice, but what she said next surprised me.

“We found a solution that has stopped most of our money fights.”

Chatter among the group instantly ceased. Each group member, including me, was eager to learn this couple’s secret.

Solution: The Thirty Day List

In the moments which followed, we learned a lot about this couple’s experiences. Throughout their marriage and subsequent ushering of two children into the world, this couple had fought about many purchases: vehicles, clothing, electronics, and even groceries. Matters were not made any easier when the couple encountered financial hardships. In order to stop fighting over money, purchases, this couple implemented a procedure that they called “The Thirty Day List.”

They outlined the rules as follows:

  1. When considering a purchase over $50, write the item and cost down on the list and date the entry.

  2. Provide a brief rationale regarding the item’s utility and importance.

  3. Revisit the rationale in 30 days. If it still sounds like a good idea at that time, purchase the item.

Naturally, many students (budget nerds) were in favor of this approach, while other students (free spirit spenders) were against the restriction associated with this process. However, as the couple explained how it worked for them, the tone of the room shifted toward acceptance of this uncommon procedure. Some people even expressed hope that use of The List could help them to stop fighting over money.

Why The List Works

Among the benefits of the list which were described that day include the following:

  • The List often prevents unnecessary purchases. Sometimes you don’t buy the item because you realize don’t really need it.
  • The List eliminates susceptibility to high-pressure sales techniques. When a smooth talking salesman is rolling out every tactic in his arsenal to get you to purchase that new refrigerator with built-in social media access, you don’t even have to feel bad saying “no” because you are acting on a matter of principle.
  • The List causes you to wait, and sometimes this nets you a better deal. Patience puts you in a position to negotiate a great price. This extra time also allows you to thoroughly research a product, weigh the pros and cons of the purchase, and make a careful evaluation.
  • Similarly, after waiting 30 days, you retain the willpower to reject a bad deal. What is a few more days? You are in control and have the power to walk away.

Why The List Works

Research shows that over 70 percent of couples fight about money. This simple solution will help you stop fighting over money with your spouse or partner.The Thirty Day List works in many situations because it leads to communication. When a couple collaborates to generate a unified position, a meeting of the minds and melding of ideas is often the result. However, this does not always happen quickly. Simply starting the conversation can often be the hardest part!

In such cases, a couple must take a step back and view the possible purchase from a wider perspective. By considering the purpose of the purchase from a variety of perspectives, the tone of communication shifts from one which is adversarial to one which is inclusive of both partners’ values.

Related Posts: See Values and Budgeting Part One and Values and Budgeting Part Two

Finally, the List provides accountability for larger purchases. It provides a framework and protocol which eliminates one partner from “going rogue.”

Downsides to The List

While the Thirty Day List may seem fail-proof in theory, it can be more difficult to implement in actual practice. After all, we live in a society in which it is easier and (often preferred) to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than seek permission in advance. Many people would agree that this is a terrible way to act within your marriage or other committed relationship, yet that doesn’t stop some people. If this is your preferred practice, the List won’t work well for you.

The List is also not a good idea when you find yourself in a housing search, especially in a seller’s market. Often times, you will need to be poised to make quick decisions. This shouldn’t be a surprise, however, as when you are in the midst of such a search, you know the rationale and utility for the purchase.

Make the List Work For You

Perhaps the best feature of the List is that it can be modified to fit your circumstances. A high school student with a part-time job and an annual income of $1,200 and a married couple with a combined annual income of $500,000 can successfully use the List to their respective advantages. The figures may need to be modified, but at the end of the day, the ideas remain the same whether zeros are added or removed.

If thirty days is too long for you, modify the procedure to fit your needs. You know yourself better than anyone, and using this knowledge is the best course of action when designing a List which will work for you to stop fighting over money and support wise purchases.

Further Recommended Reading: 

Money and Marriage: How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

Want To Be Rich? Maintain Great Relationships


Readers, do you have a procedure similar to The List in place to assist when making significant purchases? Do you and your spouse or partner routinely fight about purchases? How have you been able to stop fighting over money?

How to Make the Most of Your Tax Refund

Tax refund: Next to the words “pay day” and “debt free,” these are my two favorite finance-related words. Whether my annual tax refund is a modest sum or a mid-size windfall, I am always happy to see my refund directly-deposited into my checking account. Admittedly, knowing how to make the most of your tax refund can be a daunting task.

Still haven’t submitted your 2016 tax returns? If you have a simple return, such as a 1040-EZ, I recommend completing your simple return with E-File.com today. You can complete your Federal return for FREE and receive free support along the way. And FinanceSuperhero readers can receive a discount on state returns by using this link – $6 Off State Filings With Coupon Code “6OFFSTATE”.

If you’re planning to complete a 1040A or require additional schedules, the team at Liberty Tax has local offices in your area to help you every step of the way. Other tax preparation services come and go, but LibertyTax has been helping people file their taxes the easy way since 1997.

Receiving a tax refund is a great opportunity to improve your financial outlook. Follow these 9 pro tips to make the most of your tax refund!

The FinanceSuperhero Guide to Making the Most of Your Tax Refund

Assuming you have a tax refund coming your way, you could be on the verge of changing your financial picture.  With great opportunity comes great responsibility! The following advice will help you to make the most of your tax refund and make significant progress on your financial journey. I recommend following the steps in numerical order.

1. Give a Portion of Your Tax Refund to a Charitable Organization

Longtime readers will not be surprised that I am suggesting giving as the first step to make the most of your tax refund. As previously mentioned, Mrs. Superhero and I have placed Giving at the top of our monthly budget. Giving aligns with our values, and helping others provides us with much more satisfaction and enjoyment than buying more stuff or eating delicious food.

I strongly believe that giving 10% is the best way that we can make a charitable contribution prior to reaching financial independence (at which time we will significantly increase our giving). We have always done this, dating back to the time when we faced a mountain of debt, and we continue to do so today, even though we are only a few months away from carrying no debt other than our mortgage.

Why? As I mentioned, we believe helping others is both a calling and the most satisfying use of our money. Giving is also a strong reminder that money is not something to be hoarded out of greed. We want to value money and practice good stewardship, but we also want to remain far removed from the love of money.

Many people reject giving in favor of keeping their money strictly to themselves. Ironically, it is usually these same people who senselessly give their money to big banks and other financiers in the form of outlandish interest payments on cars, boats, and other stuff.

Personally, I would rather give in a meaningful way. Even if you give 1% of your tax refund, you will help others and begin to change the way you view money.

2. Increase Your Savings and/or Emergency Fund

When looking to make the most of your tax return, simply saving money can be a wise choice.
When looking to make the most of your tax return, simply saving money can be a wise choice.

After supporting societal progress by giving, use your tax refund proceeds to improve your liquid savings. Unless you are an extremely high income earner or have a stable passive income stream, you absolutely must have an Emergency Fund. If you do not have one, consider this a full-blown, alarm-sounding crisis that must be addressed immediately! Statistically-speaking, there is close to a 100% chance that you will experience some form of an emergency within the next decade, so be ready!

While I recommend maintaining an Emergency Fund of at least 3-6 months of minimum living expenses, you may also wish to establish an additional Opportunity Fund. I do not specifically recommend amounts or figures for this fund, and you may wish to skip it entirely in favor of moving onto Step 3. However, an Opportunity Fund could allow you to make a fun, somewhat impulsive decision without any accompanying feelings of guilt or regret.

3. Get out of Debt – Once and For All!

After you have given and increased your security via your Emergency Fund, you are fully-prepared to take on the primary barrier standing in the way of Financial Independence: Debt.

The sooner you eliminate your non-mortgage debts, the sooner you free a significant portion of your monthly income and simultaneously gain the freedom to invest in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Both the Snowball and Avalanche methods are valid means to achieve debt freedom. For the purposes of this post, I am less-concerned with the method you implement to eliminate your debt; just get it done. You may get the push you need if you make the most of your tax refund in this way!

 

4. Invest in Tax-Advantaged Investments

The real fun begins when you no longer have non-mortgage debt. If you are free from the shackles of debt, the next optimal use for your tax refund is to maximize your retirement contributions. For the purposes of this limited space, ensure you are maximizing employer-offered plans, specifically if they offer a match, and then move onto your Roth IRA.

Want to make the most of your tax refund? Opening an IRA or taxable brokerage account with Betterment is a smart way to maximize the impact of your refund.
Betterment returns vs. US Market and Typical Investor Returns (Credit: Betterment)

If you’re looking for an easy to use platform for investing, Betterment could be the solution for you. Their Tax-Coordinated Portfolio works to maximize your earnings and minimize tax burdens across all types of accounts, including taxable accounts, Roth IRAs, and traditional IRAs. It is simple to sign-up or rollover an account, select a portfolio of ETFs, and be on your way toward earning better returns right away.

Compared to other platforms, the Betterment portfolio is designed to achieve optimal returns at every level of risk. Through diversification, automated rebalancing, better behavior, and lower fees, the Betterment approach to investing can help you generate 2.9% higher returns than a typical DIY investor.

Make the most of your tax refund and start investing with Betterment by signing up today!

5. Contribute to Your Children’s College Funds

If you do not have children, skip ahead to Step 6. If you have children, you need to learn the nuances of the Coverdell ESA (Education Savings Account, also nicknamed the Education IRA) and 429 plan. The ESA has income and contribution limits (currently $2,000 per year), but I recommend you start with the ESA in most circumstances, if eligible.

The important thing to understand is that minimal contributions to these vehicles will place you in a position to send your children to college without the burden of student loans if you begin early.

Related PostEscape From Student Loans: How Two Educators Paid Off $17,831.65 in 54 Days

6. Destroy Your Mortgage Debt

Pause with me for a moment and imagine a life without a mortgage payment. If you can’t imagine it, check out the FREE E-book, How to Hack Your Mortgage and Save Thousands, written by my friend Andrew at FamilyMoneyPlan. This is the plan he and his wife used to wipe out their $320,000 mortgage in 6 years.

What could you do with an extra $1,000 per month? $2,500? $5,000? I just felt an overwhelming sense of excitement  and peace typing these words. The next time I visit my doctor and have my blood-pressure checked, I am going to visualize the wonders of a mortgage-free life to improve my numbers.

For the average family, mortgage interest represents the second-largest expense that they will pay in their entire lifetime. In some cases, total mortgage interest paid on a 30 year mortgage can be approximately 75-80% of total principal, even at today’s advantageous interest rates! Make the most of your tax refund to accomplish progress on an annual basis and you could shave several years off your mortgage, especially if you are already paying extra on principal on a monthly basis.

7. Invest in Non-Retirement Funds and/or Real Estate

If you have made it to Step 7, please allow me to offer my congratulations. With no debt whatsoever, healthy savings, and kids’ college covered, you are poised to generate significant wealth. At this stage, you may have achieved Financial Independence, depending upon your lifestyle.

I recommend using tax refund money to invest in simple index funds at this stage. A modest tax refund sum is enough to get you started with many index funds. Adopt a long-term approach, relax, and watch your money grow.

Similarly, this is the time to invest in real estate, if interested. Becoming a landlord isn’t for everyone, and paying a property manager could eat into your net profit from owning a rental property. However, a rental property can yield some of the highest annual investment returns if managed well and purchased at prices below market value.

Want to make the most of your tax refund? Investing in real estate with Fundrise is an exciting option for investors in 2017.Fortunately, today’s investors can invest in real estate without the hassle of becoming a landlord or hiring a property manager. Fundrise offers real estate investment options with low entry costs.. As of February 2017, they offer three eREITs for new investors: the West Cost eREIT, the Heartland eREIT, and the East Cost eREIT. It is amazing that technology has brought common investors like you and me the opportunity to invest in multi-million dollar buildings half way around the country!

Even if you’re on the fence about real estate investing or just not quite ready to dip your toe in the water, I recommend signing-up with Fundrise today – it is 100% FREE, with no obligation, and in doing so, you’ll position yourself to learn more and possibly avoid wait lists.

8. Improve the Value of Your Primary Home

At this stage, true fun begins. When you are financially well-poised for the future, a tax refund represents an opportunity to both invest and add joy to your life simultaneously. This is the time to make improvements around your home which increase your happiness and feature a high return on investment.

Good Investments: new front door, landscaping, deck or patio, kitchen or bath remodel, walkway lighting

Bad Investments: swimming pools, utility sheds

9. Build Sinking Funds for Bucket List Items

Last, but not least, comes additional saving for specific purchases. If you make it down to Step 9 when determining how to implement your tax refund, you are an authentic Superhero. I recommend establishing separate sinking funds for a variety of priorities, such as vacations, new car purchases, secondary homes, or major home additions.

The purpose of a sinking fund is to plan for future purchases which are far off in the future. At this stage, you do not want to be fooled into getting back into debt or be caught off guard by large, necessary expenses. With a sinking fund, you won’t be financially caught off guard when your house needs a new roof, your furnace fails, or your vehicle sputters and dies.

Are You Ready to Make the Most of Your Tax Refund?

A tax refund is a great opportunity to get ahead in your finances. I am confident that you will not fail to cover all of your bases by following these steps. Depending upon where you are in your journey toward Restoring Order to Your World of Finances, you may wish to skip steps or modify the order. For example, renters may wish to place saving for a home down payment in the Steps.

If you haven’t yet filed your 2016 tax returns, be sure to check out E-File.com or LibertyTax today. Either way, careful consideration of your circumstances will put you on the path to make the most of your tax refund this year!

 

Note: This post was last updated on February 14, 2017.


Readers, did you receive a tax refund this year? Are you currently awaiting a refund? How do you plan to make the most of your tax refund?

Stop Wasting Money With These 5 Tips

Looking to stop wasting money on things you don't really need? These 5 tips will help you spend wisely and quit spending money on stupid things!How often do you catch yourself wasting money on absolutely stupid things? Do you want to stop wasting money? Some things – like speeding tickets, broken dishes, and extra trips to the doctor caused by illness – are just plain bad luck. Many other things are self-inflicted wounds caused by laziness, not planning ahead, or ignorance.

No matter the cause, these expenses cost you and me hundreds of dollars every month! If you want to stop wasting money on these stupid, unnecessary purchases and expenses, there is hope!

 

5 Tips to Stop Wasting Money in 2017

The following 5 tips to stop wasting money are easy to implement and will get you on track to stop wasting money and Take Back Control of Your Life and Money!

1. Brew Your Own Coffee

Coffee is inexpensive to purchase yourself, yet its price skyrockets when you pay Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, or the local coffeehouse to brew it for you. At minimum, a cuppa Joe on the go will cost over $1, while the same cup brewed at home will cost pennies.

No, brewing your own coffee won’t make in you a millionaire, but if you’re in the habit of dropping $5-10 per day at Starbucks, that’s nonsense!

2. Minimize Shipping Costs When Shopping Online

Recently, I ordered a complete set of seven Star Wars movie posters for our home theater room. I shopped for the best deal I could find online, and when it came time to checkout, I was faced with many shipping options. I chose free shipping because I thought ahead in advance and ordered my items before I actually needed them.

While online shopping is simple and time efficient, it is often more costly because many people elect to pay a fortune in shipping costs in order to receive their items within 1-3 days. By shopping in advance, or taking advantage of Amazon Prime which comes with free two-day shipping on thousands of items, you can stop wasting money on sky-high shipping costs.

3. Skip Expensive, High-Calorie Appetizers

I enjoy greasy appetizer platters just as much as the next guy, but at $8 and nearly 3000 calories, I nearly always regret my indulgence. Sure, $8 won’t make me significantly richer; no, I won’t likely nickle-and-dime my way into developing a million dollar investment portfolio.

But I can stop wasting money on appetizers by acknowledging that I have better options. And besides, appetizers generally leave me unable to finish my meal without overeating.

4. Cancel Your Newspaper Subscription

Currently, my wife and I pay for a Sunday subscription to The Chicago Tribune. Shameful confession time: the edition from last Sunday is still sitting at the end of our driveway as I write this on a Wednesday. I may as well just burn my subscription fee every month, as I’m clearly not reading the paper.

Like any good American, I find my news from the most trustworthy source: my Facebook News Feed. In all seriousness, you and I need to stop wasting money on a newspaper that we do not read, especially when free news is available online.

My sources of choice have long been The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press, both of which are available via mobile app. Your local paper is probably available free of charge.

5. Stop Buying Lottery Tickets and Betting

My thoughts on the lottery system are very divided. On one hand, proceeds from the lottery in my home state of Illinois support education and indirectly pay my teacher salary. On the other, I know that dozens of my dear friends are wasting their money on a daily or weekly basis.

I myself have only indulged in NCAA basketball tournament pools, which is admittedly different than the lottery (I also won the entire tournament and collected $900, but I digress. . .), but I plan to stop that this year, as well.

While a potential big payday is theoretically always just one ticket purchase or bet away, the odds of winning are microscopically small. In my opinion, the lottery system offers false hope to the hopeless; it is essentially a tax on the poor. Stop wasting money on lottery tickets and use the money saved to invest in index funds, real estate, or just toss the money into your savings account.

Saving Money Can Be Easy

If you’re ready stop the madness and looking for a helpful, easy way to ensure that you save the money you are no longer wasting, you can do it for FREE!

I use Digit to save money automatically each month towards upcoming purchases. In the fall, we used our savings to travel to Las Vegas for a much needed vacation! I can’t recommend the app enough, particularly for those who are prone to overspending.

Opening a Digit savings account is easy and only takes a few minutes. Digit uses secure encryption technology to link to your checking account and analyzes your spending. After it has gotten to know you and your habits, it automatically saves money for you every so often by moving money into a secure Digit savings account. Some days, it moves $5 into my savings account, and other days it may move $15 – it all depends upon my spending patterns. And I don’t agree with Digits savings plan, I can always pause savings or transfer money back into my checking account with a simple text command.

If you are not a natural saver and want to stop wasting money, I can’t stress this enough – Open your own Digit savings account for free today!


What are the primary ways you need to stop wasting money? How have you wasted money in the past?

 

Looking to stop wasting money on things you don't really need? These 5 tips will help you spend wisely and quit spending money on stupid things!

13 Simple DIY Home Inspection Tips

In today’s internet-driven world, home buyers have become more savvy than previous generations. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and a dozen or so other websites have made the process of window shopping for homes much easier. Pictures, virtual tours, and a wealth of data are available with the click of a mouse. And the average buyer can net plenty of experience living vicariously through other buyers’ experiences as showcased on the DIY Network and HGTV. Shows like Holmes Inspection have even inspired buyers to conduct their own DIY home inspection.

Yet the average realtor, myself included, can share countless stories of buyers who look at all of the wrong things when touring a home the first (or second . . . or even third!) time. I have had clients tell me that they were not interested in a home due to objections over carpet, basic landscaping, and even paint color. Other clients have happily fallen in love with homes once they mark off the “non-negotiables” on their list: granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, and an open concept. I understand exactly what it must be like to host House Hunters or Property Virgins.

No home buyer should skip a professional home inspection. But you can save time and money by following these 13 DIY home inspection tips ahead of time.As a realtor, I am bound by a code of ethics which was designed long ago to protect consumers. I do my best to educate them regarding what to look for when touring a home, and I am quick to point out both obvious and subtle defects, as well as signs of possible latent defects. Most realtors who wish to protect their clients will do the same, especially if they want to keep a job long-term. However, not all realtors are so honest, as selling you a home as quickly as possible may determine whether or not they are able to pay their mortgage premium next month.

For the buyer who is represented by this kind of realtor, the process often goes something like this:

-Tour home, fall in love with aesthetic properties, develop emotional attachment to the home.
-Discuss pricing and comparable sales, make an offer, conclude negotiations and sign the contract.
-Schedule a home inspection with a professional home inspector.
-Begin picking out furniture, paint colors, carpet, etc., for the new home.
-Attend (sometimes) the home inspection with inspector, discover a lengthy list of problems which must be addressed.
-Enter state of sadness/depression/panic, question why the realtor did not notice or disclose all of the problems diagnosed by the home inspector.
-Either A) negotiate with the seller regarding necessary repairs or price concessions or B) cancel the transaction.

Sometimes the process goes much more smoothly. Sometimes it goes much, much worse, especially if the home buyers foolishly opt to skip a professional home inspection.

Avoid Home Buying Heartbreak and Hassle: Perform a DIY Home Inspection

In any real estate transaction, the most critical parties are typically the home inspector and the attorneys. As a buyer, they are your last lines of legal defense; they serve to protect you from danger and hours of stress and hassle.

To be clear, I would never, ever recommend that a client skip out on an independent, third-party, professional home inspection, even when buying a brand-new home through a builder. With that said, I believe a prospective buyer can save himself a great deal of time and money by looking out for the following problems and defects in advance of the home inspection by performing a DIY home inspection during a home tour.

The following DIY home inspection tips are not an exhaustive list. They may not apply to every home and location, and should be considered on a case by case basis. Again, do not skip a professional, independent home inspection in an effort to save money!

1. Take in the big picture

When Mrs. Superhero and I were searching for our first home, I was still a real estate amateur. We fell in love with a home which we had toured on a weeknight in February, so it was naturally dark during our tour. When we arrived for the inspection a week later, we met the inspector at the edge of the driveway. After introducing himself, the inspector said, “So, you know you’ll need a brand new roof ASAP, right?” Ouch.

Examining the full exterior of the home during daylight hours is an easy DIY home inspection tip. Look for damage to the roof (missing shingles, bowed eaves, rotting soffits, missing gutters), siding (missing or damaged shingles, encroaching landscaping), and the entire yard. Do not neglect to examine the same components in the garage, whether it is attached or detached. Also, examine the driveway for large cracks, potholes, etc. Note concerns on a checklist and document them with pictures on your phone or camera so you can address them during a possible future home inspection.

2. Test the garage door

It can be a bit uncomfortable to operate a garage door which does not belong to you, but this is an easy check that everyone should perform unless explicitly instructed not to do so by your realtor or the homeowner. Yes, your inspector will check it, too, but it is wise to check for problems yourself.

3. Open and close all interior and exterior doors

During your tour, you are naturally going to enter and exit all rooms in the home. While you’re doing so, opening and closing all doors is a simple step that some home inspectors may overlook from time to time. If you catch a malfunctioning door which requires re-hanging, you may save yourself money at the closing table.

4. Inspect the furnace, air conditioner, and water heater

When examining these items, look for evidence of maintenance dates on the exterior of the appliances. Inspect for any signs of leaking or irregular noises. If the furnace or air conditioner are not running during your tour, it is usually acceptable to temporarily adjust the thermostat to evaluate their level of functioning. Note: Do not attempt to turn on an air conditioner unit during the winter.

5. Examine all ceilings and walls for water damage

Admittedly, looking for water damage may be one of the toughest DIY home inspection tasks on this list. However, savvy homeowners are becoming increasingly skilled at hiding signs of water damage rather than rectifying the underlying problems. Any signs of discoloration, sagging, or unexplained lines near joints where dry wall may have been taped should be noted and addressed with the home inspector.

6. Check out the basement

More and more homeowners are searching for basements, in my experience. Yet many of them don’t check out the basement when touring a home if they learn that it is unfinished. You should examine the foundation for any major structural concerns, such as cracks, as well as examine the basement ceiling for obvious issues. If a basement is finished, you should ask your realtor to inquire as to whether the work was performed with permits. This may seem like no big deal to many people, but depending upon your city or village ordinances, a buyer could be on the hook for any un-permitted mechanical, electrical, structural, or plumbing work completed without a permit.

7. Examine the grade around all exterior walls

In the past five years, flooding has occurred in all 50 states, according to FloodSmart.gov. This cannot always be prevented, yet many home floods are caused by improper grading around a home’s exterior. Examine exterior walls to ensure that the soil is graded in an appropriate manner (slopes downward away from the home). Also ensure that downspouts are adequately extended away from the home’s foundation.

8. Test all light switches

This is an easy DIY home inspection item to cross off your list, and you’ll be glad to know if any light switches are wired improperly.

9. Inspect windows for signs of moisture

If you see fogging or condensation on windows, this is a sign that the windows may require replacement or repair. These items can be very costly, so you will want to be sure that your home inspector addresses them in his report.

10. Test all sinks and toilets

Invariably, home buyers feel uncomfortable evaluating the function of sinks and toilets. When you’re preparing to make arguably the largest purchase of your lifetime, pushing past some discomfort is a must! Begin by running all sinks individually for 3-4 minutes; this will reveal any draining problems. Also, check under vanities to ensure that drains are properly vented. Lastly, flush toilets in all washrooms while the sink is still running and listen for any odd sounds in the plumbing.

11. Evaluate Your Surroundings

I have heard countless horror stories from buyers who fell in love with a home only to face some harsh realities on moving day. One buyer discovered unappealing power lines running through their side yard. Another buyer shared that they hadn’t noticed a large water tower in their backyard because it had been digitally removed from all marketing photos online. And another buyer did not notice that a train ran right behind their backyard and shook the entire house several times a day. Be on the lookout for these unsightly hazards and more!

12. Visit Local Schools

While the value of a professional home inspector cannot be emphasized enough, buyers must inspect local schools themselves. Do not simply rely on reputation, recommendations from well-meaning friends, or scores from third party websites. Review state report cards, attend a school board meeting, and arrange for a brief tour of the school. In most areas, your property taxes largely go toward funding local public schools, so you want to be sure your investment is worthwhile.

13. Talk to Potential Neighbors

During your examination of the home’s exterior and yard, aim to strike up a conversation with your potential neighbors if they are also outdoors. Ask about their impressions of the neighborhood, schools, and neighborhood and community amenities. If you’re feeling brave, ask, “Would you buy your home again today if you were given the chance to do so?” Any major red flags revealed during this conversation may lead you to reconsider the home purchase (or seek a closing credit to build a bigger fence!).

Don’t Take the Home Buying Process Lightly!

For most people, a home is the largest purchase they will ever make. Do not enter into such an important decision without careful consideration of the condition of your potential new home! Review your notes from you DIY home inspection and compare them to the report provided by your professional home inspector. With careful consideration, you will avoid hassle and heartbreak and find the home of your dreams.


What additional home inspection tips do you suggest?

 

 

 

Surprising Holiday Spending Trends in 2016

Every December 1, to the dismay of people who plan ahead, the average consumer is startled to realize that Christmas and Hanukkah are in December this year. These consumers quickly form an emergency plan to pay for their must-have gifts: Visa, Discover, and MasterCard to the rescue!

The warm fuzzies of the holiday season provide a perfect buffer against any feelings of remorse or regret over this spending at the time. Face it – it’s hard to feel bad about buying the family the latest curved 4K television when you’re drinking a gingerbread latte as Jose Feliciano belts Feliz Navidad over the mall sound system. Life continues to be good in the lead-up to New Years Eve, but at midnight, as The Ball drops in Times Square, the proverbial ball drops in your stomach, too. You stop and think – I spent HOW MUCH on the holidays?

2016 looks to be a record-setting year for holiday spending. Consider these factors before your plan and complete your holiday shopping.

Average Holiday Spending

A recent survey by the Rubicon Project revealed that Americans plan to spend an average of $1,175 this holiday season. This is a 12% spike over last year’s figure.  Average spending per child, for families with children, is expected to be $495. Rubicon also reports that the largest areas of spending are projected to be technology and experiential gifts.

In the absence of an unlikely 12% increase in income, such an increase in spending is alarming. The Consumer Confidence Index increased in September 2016, but this hardly seems like a good reason to drop what would be the equivalent of a mortgage payment for many families on food, decorations, and gifts.

So what gives?

Spend Early, Spend Often

As a child, I remember sitting around with my cousins on Thanksgiving and poring over toy catalogs. I circled items which I wanted on my wish list, and Mom took care of the rest. The next day, before Black Friday was a great day to get assaulted at the local Wal-Mart, Mom went shopping with my aunts and grandma.

Today, Mom would be accused of child abuse by many people for having failed to secure my Christmas gifts prior to December 1. Increasingly, more and more people are beginning and completing their holiday shopping far in advance of the holiday season.

A recent Forbes article features an interview with a millennial which illustrates this trend.

Erin Dunphy, 25, started her holiday shopping this summer. She says it’s better for her wallet, and starting early better accommodates her work schedule.

“It really helps to spread out the spending that I want to do and really start to look at the things or experiences I want to give to others,” says Erin. “Also, August through February is my busiest time at work. So I make sure I try to cross things off my list early in the process.”

Erin also uses shopping early as a way to stick to a budget. She puts away money for the holidays well in advance, which guarantees she isn’t draining her bank account as the holidays approach. It also spaces out her spending, and ensures she’s not paying sizeable holiday markups on her purchases.

“I start saving early so I have a little stash that I know is for others. Buying now means if something goes wrong, I can pay for it all and not feel like I have to choose between [buying] presents or fixing my car if it were to break,” she says.

While it is easy to appreciate the ambition and mindset of goal setters like Dunphy, starting early can have its drawbacks, too. In the absence of discipline, it can be easy to tack on last-minute gifts for the people on your shopping list, especially as retailers slash prices in the final days leading up to December 25.

Starting early may seem very smart, but there is a reason that the spiders, pumpkins and cobwebs come down on November 1 only to be quickly replaced by Christmas trees, white lights, and tinsel:

Retailers look to gain an edge by measuring early shopping trends and adjusting pricing and marketing plans accordingly to maximize their profits.

Often retailers seek to build customer loyalty by providing incentives for your early purchases. After all, if you shopped early for that pair of Beats by Dre headphones for your son, you may be willing to come back for the latest FitBit for your wife, especially if you have a coupon.

‘Tis the Season to be Thrifty

Does this mean you shouldn’t shop early? Maybe, maybe not. It means you should know the market value of the items on your shopping list, do your research, and aim to pay the lowest possible price for those items.

It goes without saying that you should allow your budget to dictate the items on your list, not the other way around. If you’re prone to the temptation to overspend, leave your credit and debit cards at home and carry cash safely in your front pocket. Spend only what you must, not what you can. Don’t allow legalism or petty family traditions to lead you into spending set amounts; spend what you feel is best. Chances are good that your family will appreciate the gesture regardless of how much you spend.

During our marriage, my wife and I have never failed to create a unique budget for our holiday spending. By putting our plan in writing, we have managed to avoid a great of overspending. We haven’t been perfect, as we’ve splurged a bit on each other and certain family members over the years. Yet talking about a plan, writing it down, and acting upon it has helped us to ensure that we don’t engage in reckless holiday spending at the expense of our other financial goals. We know we will never have to sit back in a destitute life of retirement and think, “Well, at least we had good Christmases. . . ”

The holidays have become a vast showcase for American excess over the past several decades, but participation in the game is optional. Stuff may make you happy, but a life of excess is not likely to lead to a life of happiness and lasting fulfillment.


Will your projected holiday spending align with expected holiday spending trends in 2016? How do you plan for your holiday spending?

 

 

 

Want to Treat Yourself? Use This Guilt-Free Financial Method

Greetings from sunny Las Vegas, Nevada! This guest post, “Want to Treat Yourself? Use This Guilt-Free Financial Method,” was contributed by Dave at FinancialJiuJitsu. At FJJ, trainers Dave and Don are constantly learning new things about finance and want to share their stories with you to help you out! They realize that a lot of people interested in getting ahead do not have a huge amount of money just sitting around, nor would they need a huge amount of money to be happy.

When it comes to your finances, the temptation to treat yourself can be fierce. If you want something new, follow this advice and remain guilt-free.

Want to Treat Yourself? Use This Guilt-Free Financial Method

So a few months ago I’m browsing Craigslist looking at classic cars. Or junk cars if you prefer. In California we have a smog system which only allows cars of pre-1975 vintage to be exempt. Reading between the lines here that means that if you like hot-rodding engines or working on anything that you ever want to be fast, it has to be pre-1975. Hence my search criterion. The 200$ minimum eliminates the dealers and people who list their 12,000$ cars for 12$. There should be a law against that type of abusive false advertising but I digress. . .

When it comes to your finances, the temptation to treat yourself can be fierce. If you want something new, follow this advice and remain guilt-free.
My typical search when bored

Long story short I find some killer deals, like I always do. And again like I always do I ask myself the question:

“Do I really need another hot rod project?”

Of course I do! But last time I checked, remember this was from a few months ago, I still had a 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV with a 460 in the driveway. Having another vehicle whose function is even slightly similar to the weekend cruiser/ engine build project in my driveway would be unnecessary end even cumbersome. The amount of time and effort it takes to keep a classic vehicle ready to enjoy and drive is not trivial. So doubling that even if one of them is “complete” at the moment is absurd. And then there is this quote from Jonny Depp which is relevant:

When it comes to your finances, the temptation to treat yourself can be fierce. If you want something new, follow this advice and remain guilt-free.

Of course we car guys know that we are capable of so much love when it comes to cars. We could leave one in the woods to turn into a rust bucket after 20 years and if someone asked us if we loved that car, we would say yes. We will also say we love cars that we see passing in the street or cars that we only just met. Ah the heart is a fickle thing but I digress…

The solution to this dilemma is, of course, coming to terms with your inner desires and understanding yourself in a deeper fashion and blah blah blah whatever leave this site and try to find some more click bait

Here I will stop and say that at Financial Jiu Jitsu (FJJ) we have promised to give you insightful ways on how to actually handle your affairs, and we will not always spout trite garbage in your direction. This isn’t Facebook or Twitter where everybody has advice, but it is rarely unique or even slightly insightful. So let me mansplain this for you in a conclusive fashion:

  1. You want something cool

  2. You already have something cool

  3. What do you do? Go to our site and do some soul searching.

We say: If you want to avoid guilt, get on with your life, and buy something totally savage all at the same time, just sell something first.

In this instance I Immediately posted the following:

When it comes to your finances, the temptation to treat yourself can be fierce. If you want something new, follow this advice and remain guilt-free.

And within a month it was sold. The article is here and it was not a very profitable flip but it was a very educational build for me.

Now – you know what the kicker is? I still haven’t bought another car and that sale happened about a month ago. In my 20’s I would have not had the patience to even wait until this car was sold to buy another and get started all over again. And in the interim my driveway would have been clogged, I would have been fixing 2 cars at the same time (inevitably with the classics,) and I would, of course, have been tempted to lower the price of the car I had for sale to attract more buyers. In this case I avoided all of those problems and more by following some simple advice:

If you want something, sell something first.

When it comes to your finances, the temptation to treat yourself can be fierce. If you want something new, follow this advice and remain guilt-free.

 

 

 

Jiujitsu Financial


Readers, how do you treat yourself within reason? Do you sell something before buying something new? Save and pay cash or leverage credit? What’s your method?