Your Holiday Emergency Preparedness Plan

 

defocused image of illuminated christmas lights

Lights and Cheer and Credit Card Charges are Coming! Wait, what . . . ?!?

Every year, millions of Americans prepare to celebrate the holidays with their families. From decorating our homes to preparing delicious food, making sure travel plans are solid and that everyone’s gifts are covered, we want to make sure everyone has a happy holiday season.
And then January comes. And perhaps the bill that is associated with all that “cheer” hits like a Mack truck, and maybe the better part of a quarter or even half a year is spent paying off those expenses. That’s a lot of money in interest charges, a lot of money being pulled away from things that are likely more important, like retirement, like the emergency fund, things that we know we need in case something bad happens, because bad things can happen to everyone. For the average American, it takes until March or April of the following year to pay off holiday charges. That’s a quarter of a year gobbled up with holiday spending.
The thing is, the holidays mean different things to different people, be it a time for reflection, for celebration, or looking ahead to a better year, but they all share one quality. The holidays draw out our emotions, and that often includes how we spend and save money during that time of year. Want proof? According to Deloitte’s “Holiday Season” survey, between 2000 and 2017 there was only one year, ONE YEAR where more than half of Americans said they would spend less than previous years during the holidays.
That year was 2009. One year.
I want you to think carefully about about the financial impact the Great Recession had on wages, on the economy, on jobs, on families. Does that statistic make any sense at all? Financially speaking, no, it’s pretty illogical. This galvanizes the point that our spending decisions, many times, are not based on strategy or logic, but based very much on how we feel.
Here’s a little more evidence: According to VisaNet’s Business and Economic Insights, over 9% of holiday purchases happened during between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, with 27.1% of spending occurring in the two weeks before Christmas, the heaviest days between 12/22-12/24. In each of these cases, urgency, either caused by the sales being promoted or by the time left before the holiday, caused an emotional reaction and spending reflected that.
That’s why right now, when I meet with clients I am talking with them about what I call their Holiday Preparedness Plan. Akin to an emergency preparedness plan, where you make sure to have non-perishable goods and medical supplies and flashlights and know where to go in the event of a natural disaster, the Holiday Preparedness Plan is made to help make sure my clients know what money is planned to be spent, in what way, on whom during the holiday season. We work together to budget food costs, travel costs, extras that may come up, and make sure that those expenses are addressed so there is no “surprise” come January. It’s not an effort to be stingy, but it is an effort to be intentional about what you spend.  I want you to enjoy the holidays the way you mean to, but not dread the bills in January wondering why you spent so much and worrying about dipping into savings or spending several months paying money back to Visa and American Express.
During this month, either for yourself with your partner, take some time to relax, enjoy a beverage, and spend a half hour drafting your Holiday Preparedness Plan. Make your list of people you’re getting gifts for, set a dollar amount for each, and check it twice. With the average shopper potentially spending upwards of $1,000 this holiday season, having a detailed plan of attack and sticking to it could make a big difference in how much “cheer” you have when the holidays are over and 2019 has begun.

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21 Things You Borrow, Not Buy

green and white press drill on table

Tool Shed or Money Pit? Invest wisely.

 

Halloween candy is already adorning store shelves. The Pumpkin Spice Latte is in full force at a coffee vendor nearest you. Kids are (finally) going back to school. This is a signal that the holiday season is rapidly approaching. With retail more cutthroat each passing year, you can expect more sales, more deals, for more things you may think you need or wanted over the past few months.
Before we get caught up in all the excitement of the deals and sales and holiday bustle, while we are still our rational selves, let’s think for a moment about our wants. I love to cook and I’ll admit, a fancy espresso machine or a panini press look really cool. And in the moment when it is 50% or more off, I could likely convince myself that I’ll eat paninis every day or make fancy espresso drinks for after supper. But in that moment, would I think about the maintenance of hand washing components, of the space these devices take up, and how boring panini sandwiches would likely get after the third day. And I already drink my favorite coffee every morning from my French press. So are these devices, as cool as they are, really a quality of life improvement I would get full value from? Or am I going to fulfill a rush, a high from purchasing these items only to briefly enjoy, then be irritated by, and eventually discard years later with little remorse these trinkets, these toys?
Now I want you to think about something you’ve wanted, but up to this point haven’t purchased already. What does your lifestyle look like with that item? Would you really get full use out of it? Is it a need? And what would you need to do to maintain it?
Now, before you crawl away from this blog article with your holiday hopes dashed and your spirit ruined by your favorite financial adviser once more, I do not come to you writing this article without bearing gifts. For I have an idea that could give you access to these wonderful devices and items without the expense of buying them or the labor of storing/maintaining them long-term.
Borrow them.
Here is a list of 21 different things you should borrow instead of buy. Save yourself some money, and then share this post with a friend so they can save some money borrowing and sharing things with you. For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!
Extension ladder, Chainsaw, Power Washer, Rug Cleaner (and most specialized tools)
You clean the gutters a couple of times a year. The tree can only be cut down one time. You may keep a clean house, but how often do you (honestly) clear furniture out of each room to suds the carpet? If you aren’t regularly building things in your shed or garage, do you really need a full workshop of Snap-On tools? Have a screwdriver set. Keep a hammer handy. Borrow the jigsaw from a neighbor or rent it – yes, you can rent power tools – from your local hardware/supply store. Alternatively, you could ask your neighbors to keep a community shed of accessories for communal use, with everyone contributing to maintain the equipment. If you don’t regularly need these tools, it’s not good for the tool or for your wallet to buy equipment you won’t regularly use.
Camping Gear/Sports Equipment/Bikes/Kayaks
There are people who truly live an active lifestyle, and then there are those of us who wish, dream, or think we are outdoorsy when really we go camping and hiking a couple of times a year at the most. You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on gear you plan to use a handful of times. Save the money and the wishful thinking – borrow the gear from your friends instead.
Books
Libraries have found the 21st century in good form, because your public library is likely no longer a repository for old World Book encyclopedias. Many libraries are multimedia centers, hubs for borrowing movies, music, electronic books for any e-reader, as well as traditional print media. If you haven’t checked it out in a while (see what I did there?) consider taking a look at what your local library offers.
Baby Gear
What do the people with babies before you do when their child no longer fits their crib? Do they hang onto it forever, for sentimental value? Doubtful. Someone has all sorts of baby stuff and trust me, you are doing them a favor by taking it off their hands.
Luggage
If you travel often, multiple trips a year, and you plan to do that for several years, having sturdy, warranty-guaranteed luggage is absolutely worth the money. Been there, done that, no regrets. But if you are a 1-3 trips a year traveler, find a friend who travels and borrow their gear. The warranty doesn’t track who is traveling, and you shouldn’t being paying the cost of an overseas trip for a set you’ll likely collect more dust than miles with.
Trucks
Got a big heavy thing you need moved? If you don’t have a friend willing to help out for pizza and beer (the currency of choice for the five friends I polled who own trucks), rent one for the day from your local hardware store. It’s very inexpensive and far better for the limited times you’ll use it for heavy duty truck stuff.
Kitchen Gadgets and Serving Dishes
You cannot use all the devices at the same time, so unless you are a professional chef and/or opening a professional kitchen in your home, think about what you actually use most and stick to that. Trust me, someone on your Facebook or Instagram feed is going to buy that really sweet sous vide system and will love to show you just awesome a cook they are with it with you.
Board Games and Video Games
Yours truly is a recovering board game buying addict. Games are awesome, and having a collection of terrific games to play with friends feels great. But akin to the kitchen gadget argument, you cannot play all of them at once, and there will be games that you just never quite have time to get to. Consider dedicating a limited amount of space to your board games and only buy a game that you think is so good, you can let go of one you don’t play as much.
Similarly, with multiplayer video games it is typically not required that every single player have a copy of the game. Four people can play one copy of Super Smash Brothers, so share accordingly – maybe everyone pitches in a few dollars for the shared experience instead of buying four copies.
Textbooks
There are so many ways to buy/borrow copies of textbooks for school. You never need a brand new copy. The right edition, perhaps, but let someone else bite the bullet on the new book purchase if at all possible. Sometimes it’s not, but every little bit helps – especially in college! That’s more cheap pizza and beer . . . I mean, money saved in your bank account.
Table Decor/Altar Arch for Wedding
You can pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to have this done for you, or you can get creative and in an afternoon with friends create the decorations for your big day. Since you’re only planning to do this one time, buy your altar arch online – we got ours from Craigslist, and sold it to another happy couple a few weeks later.
Extra Tables/Chairs for Parties
If you host parties regularly, storing extra tables and chairs makes sense. Consider looking for bowling alleys, restaurants, and other businesses closing as an opportunity to buy sturdy party tables and chairs at a major discount – you can even take my idea of renting a truck to pick them up! If you plan on infrequently needing these items, check your local community social media outlet or rent the chairs and tables for that big graduation party or afterparty.

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How Often Should I Look?

photo of boy peeking on brown wooden fence
It’s a lot more fun to peek through holes at this age . . . 
The 24-hour news cycle, compounded by social media, can be intimidating and draining. Short of entirely pulling the plug, it is incredibly difficult to avoid being bombarded by news. The headlines are designed to get you to click, and it can be hard to avoid getting engrossed in an article or opinion, whether or not you agree with it, disagree with it . . . or vehemently desire to argue with whomever is commenting on the article.
Mobile push notifications make this even worse. For example, I have notifications back in February from my CNBC application that say the following, one after the other, all in caps.
“DOW DOWN 700 POINTS”
“DOW DOWN 800 POINTS”
“DOW DOWN 900 POINTS”
Now, as this was happening, do you think I felt particularly good about what was going on? No, not at all. Even as a professional in investment management, a space where marketing volatility can (and invariably will) occur at times, it doesn’t feel good to see that. I know what that means that day for client accounts, and I imagine what they might be thinking or feeling if they are getting the same text notifications I am.
What you have to recognize though is that these headlines and articles are designed to create a reaction of some kind, and with that comes a risk. The risk is that no matter how deliberate and contemplative we can behave when emotions are calm, we have the potential to act irrationally, to make emotional decisions and actions that throw that logic entirely out the window when our emotions are not calm. Knowing that these notifications and tweets and news and fake news are designed to arouse emotion, having a process for how you process information becomes really important, because your financial health counts on it.
So the big question I get asked is: How often should I look?
The short answer: Only as often as you can without immediately acting on it.
Longer answer: I think a good way to gauge how often you should evaluate your finances depends on the immediacy of their impact. For example, looking day to day at your mutual funds and stocks that you are holding as a long-term investment, while entertaining on a certain level, doesn’t provide a ton of context for how the fund or company are actually performing. Companies typically report earnings and performance on a quarterly basis, and in many cases offer a narrative of what is transpiring in the business. For many clients, a small quarterly update with more comprehensive review on a semi-annual basis makes sense, with some clients preferring just the semi-annual comprehensive review.
For your daily spending and monthly cash-flow, reviewing more frequently makes sense. Reviewing your spending and saving on a weekly or bi-weekly basis provides several benefits. First, it allows you to assess your buying habits at a time where you still remember what you spent money on and why. If an unusual spending pattern comes up, reviewing regularly will reveal the pattern and can make you aware of emotions you haven’t really thought about in the moment, like eating out for lunch more often because work is really stressful. Second, it helps to make sure that someone else is not fraudulently using your account. As much as card companies proactively try to identify weird spending situations with algorithms, you are still your best line of defense for both identifying and shutting down account fraud.
Just like how what you eat influences your body’s performance, what you digest in terms of information influences how you think, feel, and make decisions. If you eat cookies and drink soda often, you can expect to be overweight and have a low level of energy and performance. If you eat a balanced diet with lots of nutrients, you can expect your body to feel better for it. The same goes for the information you take in, and I think this is where working with a fiduciary financial adviser makes so much sense. That adviser’s job is to keep you informed, asking questions and providing a balanced diet of information, so you can make decisions to improve your financial health.
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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Is Starbucks Sipping Away Your Savings?

starbuckswow
Don’t let spending whip you!
I love specialty coffee with a fierce passion. My license plate frame even says “Outta my way, I’m going to Starbucks!” I used to get coffee pretty much every day, which cost me after tip about $5.00 a day, and then I would buy some coffee for home too. I didn’t think much of it until I looked at my spending while doing my taxes, only to find that I spent over $1,600 that year on Starbucks. That is a mountain of beans if I ever saw one!
I started to think about how exactly I got to the point where I was spending $1,600 a year on Starbucks. I knew I didn’t intend to do that. On my phone, I had even gone so far as to set a monthly auto reload for $50 a month, which means that I thought I was spending $600 a year, not an extra $1,000 on top of it. So I did something that’s really difficult – I looked at every single Starbucks transaction, to see where the money went. Well, at first my plan worked – I was spending just the $50 a month. However, when work got stressful and my time was getting crunched, my visit frequency increased. I could see on my credit card where I reloaded – small reloads for $10 at first, but as the year progressed I could see those reloads actually equal the same amount I was depositing each month. I wasn’t just going to Starbucks to fill my stomach or my desire to be more awake. I was using it to cover the fact that emotionally, I was not in a great place at all. My logical spending plan was overwritten by my emotional needs not being met.
Some people are not morning people at all. They hit snooze about a dozen times before getting out of bed. They clumsily fling themselves into the shower, where they resign to the idea that the commute to work is in front of them. But even “not morning people” get hungry, and once again a need strikes – a desire for breakfast and to be more awake. But there’s no time – you have to get out the door and not be late for work! Making breakfast is entirely out of the question; hitting snooze killed any chance of making coffee or scrambling some eggs or nuking a breakfast sandwich. So you dash out the door, hungry and tired, but along your travels you remember that “America Runs on Dunkin'” or you think about the greasy, gooey, sweet and savory McGriddles sandwich and without a second thought you are in line. A few minutes later, breakfast acquired and onward to work you go. And so went your $5-$10 with it, but trading $5 or $10, that isn’t a big deal is it? That one choice, no, but doing it four days a week, along with any other meals you eat out for instead of prepare, and it is no wonder that the average American household will spend well over $4,000 a year on convenience dining.
We can’t keep doing this to ourselves. We are literally eating ourselves out of house and home. Our consumption is literally robbing our future selves of the ability to travel, to retire comfortably, to educate our kids, to start a business, to volunteer for a non-profit, to pay for longer-term medical expenses, to do anything we could want to do with our lives.
I have to ask, is this the life you want to live? Do you want to keep eating away your earnings, accepting as a deposit all those calories and the health problems and costs attached to them? Are you making that trade now and sick of punishing yourself in waist and wallet?
Let’s fix it. Here are some tips for how to avoid breakfast expenses.
1. Set a reminder to eat breakfast at home. Put a reminder on your phone’s calendar, on your refrigerator, on your bathroom mirror, or even a sticky note on the inside of your front door, to eat breakfast at home.
2. Plan ahead! Set the alarm earlier so that even after hitting snooze a dozen times you still have the time you need to make the coffee.
3. Grab and go. Prepare a few breakfast sandwiches, fruit and yogurt cups, or other snacks that you can take on the road with you so that if you wake up late, you can quickly grab one of these to-go items and avoid the drive-thru. You can even store these in the freezer in reusable containers and reheat them at the office.
4. Schedule “reward days.” Instead of going 3-4 days a week, schedule one day a week where instead of packing the breakfast, you get the reward of going out and enjoying that guilty pleasure. Pick a day and time for that – it is not a “cheat” day because you aren’t breaking any rules. It is a reward day, part of your weekly rhythm, and something you can proudly look forward to, not be ashamed out. My Starbucks time is Tuesday mornings – I use the time to meet new people, catch up with the staff, and get some writing done for the blog and the Briggs Financial Facebook page (which you should like for more tips weekly!).
5. Work with a financial coach. Many financial planners are stuffy suit-and-tie guys who want to sell you insurance or some form of product. I approach this very differently. My goal as a planner is to be a coach, to communicate and work together through the successes and the failures of life on a consistent basis, to help you achieve the lifestyle and the financial outcomes you desire. Why do people hire trainers in the gym? Because they are not getting results themselves. Having that professional trainer to hold you accountable and provide a plan to help you reach your goals without injuring yourself, that’s why working with a trainer gets results the gym.
This is also why you should consider working with a coach when it comes to your spending and finances. A professional financial coach will work with you in building a sustainable lifestyle and a plan for the dollars you earn. That coach will hold you accountable so you stay disciplined and support you every step of the journey as you work to achieve your goals. And a professional coach can help you sort out what is driving your decision-making, helping you identify what is actually causing you to spend, and work with you to meet that personal need so you stay on track.
Finally, your emotions drive you to make decisions with financial consequences that you do not necessarily intend. In order to combat this, you need to build a lifestyle that is conducive to living sustainably – to enjoy life, but live within your means and to be conscious of every dollar you are spending. When an emergency crops up or a lack of emotional preparedness hits (like feeling very hungry or being overly stressed), you will tend to make decisions to pacify that immediate concern or need, longer-term consequences be damned. When you make these decisions regularly, you rob yourself of the opportunity to build wealth, to build a stronger future.
You deserve the opportunity to build wealth. It’s time to trade back convenience for cost.
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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