How to Balance Parenting Expenses and Saving for Retirement

How to Balance Parenting Expenses and Saving for Retirement Catalyst Academy Charlotte North Carolina Financial Literacy

Raising children is a financial challenge for most people, and you make sacrifices every day to ensure your kids have everything they need. But what happens when it’s time to think about saving for retirement and you are forced to choose between setting up your future and handling parenting expenses? It can be tempting to assume that it is impossible to do both, but with careful planning, you can take care of both your children’s needs and your own future.

The first step is to assess what kind of lifestyle you are leading and consider downsizing. Do you absolutely need to have two car payments every month? Are four flat screen televisions necessary? Maybe even considering going from the five bedroom big mortgage home, down to a three bedroom affordable option will make all of the difference. Many of us live above our means and cutting down on the things we think we need, but really don’t, could free up just enough retirement investment money without forcing the kids to go without.

Speaking of investing, consider putting extra money into a Roth IRA, where you can allow it to grow for your retirement fund, but also utilize the capital for general expenses or even college for your children; the principal funds in this type of account are taxed up front and can be withdrawn for anything without being charged fees. Be careful when withdrawing from a traditional IRA as this can trigger income tax fees, though typically it will not be subject to an early withdrawal penalty if you are using it only to pay for college. While this is not always the best option for everyone, it can really help balance the budget when it comes to paying for kids and saving for retirement.

If your employer offers a 401(k) plan but you didn’t take advantage of it because you weren’t sure how it would benefit you, get ahold of your human resources department right away and sign up! Here’s how it works, a 401(k) plan is literally a plan set up by your employer to help you retire; this allows you to invest some of your paycheck before taxes are taken out, and many employers will match the amount. You can set it up so that it doesn’t impact your overall finances in a negative way, and is rather an “out of sight, out of mind” deduction that will greatly benefit you in the future. In this sense, you can continue to pay for your children’s expenses without feeling like you are having to choose between what they need and what your future holds.

Another important step is asking family and friends for help! Not as a handout, but let them know that when birthdays and holidays come around, you would rather they donate to your kid’s college fund or toward the cost of day care, rather than buying your little one another toy that will soon be ignored. If your children need certain items to get by, you could set up an Amazon wishlist and send it out to your loved ones so they can contribute in that way as well; virtually anything can be added such as snacks, school supplies, clothing, and even gift cards. Asking for help can allow you to put a little more away toward your retirement savings.

As you can see, there are a ton of creative ideas that may allow you to free up money for retirement, all while balancing the expenses needed to raise children. Sitting down and making a plan for what you can actually do to ease the burden is a much better plan than worrying about what you think you cannot do. There is always a way to find balance, sometimes you just need to assess the situation and make changes in your life.


The Dollar Store vs Big Box Stores: Which is the Better Deal?

The Dollar Store vs Big Box Stores for a Better Deal Grocery School Supplies Shopping Party Kitchen Storage Paper Goods Food

When money is tight it’s enticing to do your shopping at a store where everything is just a dollar! But is that really the best deal, or are you better off shopping at big box stores? Sometimes $1 is a bargain, and sometimes it’s not. We have taken the guess work out of searching for the best savings (prices may vary by date, location or online vs in-store):

School Supplies:

Back-to-school shopping sneaks up just as fast as the holidays, and while you may assume those cheap, $1 notebooks are a steal, the truth is that you are more than likely overpaying. While you can get a 50 sheet notebook for $1, the better option is to grab an 80 sheet notebook for $.50 at Walmart. Some dollar stores are offering a 5-count pack of Bic mechanical pencils for $1, but Target is offering the same kind at 26-count for $3.99. And while it may be a few dollars more up front, you are saving in the long run. To compare, it would cost you $5 if you bought five packs at the dollar store, and you would still be one pencil short. Both Walmart and Target had other affordable school supplies like $0.29 rulers and $0.50 glue sticks; these items were $1 each at the dollar store. Though the best deal at the dollar store is for composition notebooks, which on average cost $0.50 more at the big box shops.

Kitchen Storage:

Whether we give them away, leave them in the work refrigerator for too long, or wear them out…kitchen storage containers are a necessity that often need to be replaced. The quality of plastic container options that are offered at the dollar store are questionable; plus stores like this will sometimes get sneaky with these kinds of items and add an extra dollar onto the price tag, so double check that you are only paying $1. That being said, Walmart has trusted brand name food storage containers like, Rubbermaid and Ziploc, for less than $3 for a 4-count package. Compare that to the off-brand that the dollar store is offering where you get a 3-count package for $1 and may need to replace them sooner due to improperly fitting lids and cracks in the plastic. So you are paying a little more upfront for the brand and quality at big box, but they last longer and there are many options with BPA-free plastics. It’s hard to know where some of the dollar store plastics stand on toxicity. However, the dollar store won out on glass food storage. The big box stores didn’t offer any glass container options, including Mason jars, for less than $1.80 each.

Party Supplies:

It’s so much fun celebrating a big event, but it can get expensive fast! Decorative paper plates, cups, and tablecloths come in at a $0.80-1.00 more at big box stores. Wrapping paper was sold for around $3-5 per roll at Walmart, and though it’s double the size of what is offered at the $0.99 store, it’s still not the best deal - you are better off getting two regular rolls for a dollar each. Same goes for gift bags, bows, and greeting cards; these items are overpriced at Walmart and Target, so it’s better to pay $1 for them. Steer clear of purchasing these items at party supply stores where the prices are marked up even higher.

Paper Goods:

Walmart is currently offering 12 double rolls of Angel Soft toilet paper for $5.99 in-store. The dollar store is offering the same brand at $1 for 4 single rolls. You can get 24 regular rolls (six 4 roll packs) at the dollar store for $6 or 12 double rolls for $5.99. Same thing? If you don’t have a lot of room to store 24 regular rolls, go for the Walmart deal. The dollar store is selling regular rolls of off-brand paper towels for $1 a piece. Walmart is offering a comparable generic brand of 8-count regular rolls of paper towels for $4.97. That’s just $0.62 a piece. The dollar store has economy 50-count paper plates for $1, and premium 25-count plates for the same price. Compare that to Walmart which is offering the same economy paper plates at $2.42 for a 90-count package, and premium 45-count for $1.84. Walmart wins out on paper plates. Target was offering toilet paper, paper towels, and paper plates for $0.90-1.00 more than the other stores.

Food:

You can get some really good deals at the dollar store when it comes to food, but be careful of the ingredients and sell-by-dates. Something as simple as a container of honey may be filled with high-fructose corn syrup and sugar instead of the real thing if purchased at the dollar store; the best way to avoid this is by avoiding off-brands and checking labels. Also, $0.99 cans of vegetables and sauces sound great, but these items are usually sold at regular grocery stores for much less. Walmart and Target had higher prices for produce compared to the dollar store, but the quality was much better at the big box stores.

You just have to do a little math and shop around to find the savings. Prices change every day depending on where you shop, or whether or not you shop in-store or online. But those appealing “$1 for everything” deals are not always the best. Sometimes paying a few dollars more up front, or for items in bulk, is the best bargain. So whether you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, or just trying to save a buck, taking the time to make sense of how much you are spending can go a long way.

Savings for Teachers all Summer

Teachers Teach

Did you know that 94% of teachers report they spend their own money on school supplies? And on average, a teacher will spend $479 a year, but 7% spent more than $1,000!

Some stores across the nation have decided to give teachers a break with a discount for early back to school savings. Target is offering 15% off from now until July 20th!

And at Staples, teachers can earn up to $250 through the new Classroom Rewards program that allows parents to contribute 5% of their purchases to a teacher or school of their choice. Teachers and schools who enroll at www.staples.com/classroomrewards earn $5.

A.C. Moore:
The craft store offers teachers with an ID, pay stub or certificate, 15% off their entire sale and regular-price purchase everyday. Learn more at www.acmoore.com/teachers-discount.

Dollar General: From now through Sept. 7, Dollar General is offering teachers 20% off stationary when they show a valid school ID at more than 15,500 locations across 44 states.

Michaels: Now through July 20, teachers get 20% off their entire purchase and a special gift with purchase that will be available while supplies last. The craft store's usual discount is 15% off an entire purchase including sale items with a valid school ID. Learn more at www.michaels.com/teachers.

Barnes & Noble: The retailer offers educators a 20% discount on qualifying purchases year-round with its free discount program. But on weekends this summer starting July 20 and through Sept. 15, the bookseller is holding Back-to-School Educator Appreciation Days and is offering public, private and homeschool teachers and administrators 25% off most merchandise in stores and online. To get the discounts, teachers need a Barnes & Noble Educator Discount Card. Sign up in the store or at www.bn.com/educators.

When a Store Line of Credit is a Bad Idea

Credit card line of store shopping purchases buying financial freedom financial literacy

It’s hard to resist a discount offered to you upon checking out at the store - but you only qualify if you open a new line of credit; there are some occasions when this isn’t a bad idea, however, the following list lays out the details of when you should avoid it:

  1. Like the saying goes, “if you can’t afford to buy it with cash, you definitely can’t afford to buy it on credit.” You should always try to use cash or your debit card when making a purchase. When you buy items on credit, you are paying interest which means it costs more than the ticket price in the long run, and sometimes that means paying more than it is worth. Unless you really need something, it’s best to wait until your financial situation allows you to buy the item outright.

  2. If you can get a better financing option and lower interest rate with a standard credit card, then it’s best to choose that, which will save you in the long run versus getting a discount. While it’s always smart to buy it with cash or your debit card, if you absolutely must finance the item, seeking out a deal with zero-percent interest is your best bet.

  3. If you have a credit card for almost every store under the sun, and you are thinking “what’s one more?” Walk away from the counter! Putting yourself further into debt isn’t good for your finances or your credit score. Constantly being stuck in a cycle of paying off credit cards could make it more difficult for you to achieve financial freedom. What’s more, every time you apply for a new credit card, including the one’s you’ve opened in the past two years, there will be an inquiry placed onto your credit report, which in turn dings your credit score.

  4. Store lines of credit seem like a great deal in the heat of the moment - though you must ask yourself “is the discount worth it when the interest rate is high?” Never. So unless the store is offering you very low interest with the new card, you should just pay full price and look for a coupon for next time. Stores expect most consumers to be unaware of the card’s interest rate, which is good for them, but bad for you.

Catalyst Academy Connects with Personal Finance and Investment Author

 
John Wooten Nine Noon Secret Workday Uber-Wealthy Americans Lake Norman Charter School Georgia Tech finance investing
 

Catalyst Academy is excited to connect with recent Lake Norman Charter School graduate, John Wooten; he recently enrolled as a freshman at Georgia Tech.

John is a published author on personal finance and investing; his book entitled, “Nine to Noon: The Secret Workday of Uber-Wealthy Americans” is available at Amazon.

He has a great message to get teens starting out YOUNG with saving, controlling spending, and learning to invest money to benefit from decades of compound interest.

You can connect with John at: contact@johnfwooten4.com

What to do When You Obtain a Large Amount of Money

Windfalls may seem few and far between but when they happen, many people make rash decisions and spend unwisely. Just think, now you can score those fancy sneakers, or flashy car you’ve had your eye on. Right? Sure, everyone loves to have nice things, but if you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, the last thing you should do is waste your cash on impulsive purchases. This doesn’t mean you should never treat yourself, but the timing could very well determine your future wealth. Not everyone is thinking about what will happen years from now, but life goes by fast, and tons of retirees admit they wish they’d managed their money better. Here are a few things you can do to ensure you don’t make serious financial mistakes:

  1. Take Your Time - Jumping into a big purchase could eat up your entire pot of gold, or worse, put you further into debt than when you started; especially if it requires a downpayment on the new item that gets paid off later. Give yourself a few days to cool down from the excitement and then weigh your options with a pros and cons list…or a financial advisor if you’ve come into some serious money.

  2. Consider the Tax Implications - Find out whether or not taxes have already been taken out of your lump sum, or if you are going to owe. Investment options have different tax penalties so take your time and research what works best. And keep in mind that some debt is tax-deductible which can save you when it’s time to file.

  3. Emergency Fund: Do you have one? If not, now is the best time to start one. This is the fund you will turn to when you find yourself in an emergency situation that calls for quick cash; some of these could be an accident, sudden illness, layoff, or unexpected fine. So be sure and set up an emergency fund before you spend or invest.

  4. Pay off Debts: You may want to use some of your newfound riches to pay off credit cards or car loans, but be careful not to spend it all in one place. And take a look at your current debt-to-income ratio (DTI) to see if it is over 25% to 33% of your pretax income. If this is the case, it may be wise to make some payments on the debt that has the highest interest, or pay off a small debt completely. Otherwise, move onto the next step.

  5. Invest: This is the smartest option you can select when deciding what to do with your unexpected funds. While it requires you to think longterm, there is a possibility that this type of money management will make you even wealthier than you could imagine. Investment income can free up cash outside of your paycheck so you can eventually get your hands on things like those expensive shoes and other exciting purchases without worry. And it could help you to someday retire.

    Investments pay you back in dividends, interest or appreciation, depending on where you place the money. While some investments like stocks, bonds, exchange traded funds (ETFs) , mutual funds and certificate of deposit (CDs) come with risk, some are safer than others. The best thing to do is to connect with an investment advisor who can help you choose what’s right for you.

No matter what you decide, this is a time to celebrate and accept it as a second chance of getting ahead in life. Especially if you are stuck in a cycle of financial struggle.

How to Get Past 3 Types of Demotivation

We see tips for motivation everywhere - seems simple enough to read something and get pumped up for jumping over the next big obstacle. What happens when you’re stuck in a rut, and feeling incredibly slowed down by demotivation? And no amount of positive memes in the world seem to help… You work through it and come out on top! Here are 3 types of demotivation and how to overcome them:

1. Burnout: We’ve all been there before! You have zero energy for being social, even online! The feeling of sleepiness overrides everything else, and all you want to do is take a nap. Interesting stuff doesn’t feel as exciting anymore. While these symptoms can sometimes be an indicator of a more serious problem such as depression, there’s a good chance that you are just dealing with plain ole burnout.

The Fix: Sleep! Rest! Take a day off! Go away for the weekend to a place that is quiet and doesn’t require you to do anything! It’s okay to take a break. If your body is tired, it is telling you just that. If you’ve worked hard all week and your friends are begging you to go out Friday night, and you’re just not feeling up to it, politely tell them no. Then grab a tub of ice cream, watch the first thing you see on Netflix. And just chill!

2. Not Enough Challenge: Having a lack of challenge is a huge factor in demotivation! And being motivated requires a figurative mountain to climb, or maybe even a real one if that’s your thing. Maybe you feel as though you’ve reached all of your goals, and are unsure of what to tackle next. Or maybe you don’t have enough clarity about what you should be doing with your time.

The Fix: Find the sweet spot! If a challenge is too big, it can be difficult to even imagine overcoming it, no less doing it. And if it is too easy, there may not be much motivation to deal with it at all. Create challenges that are both stimulating and require you to use your skills. Make a list of new goals ranging from most difficult to easiest, and start attacking them based on how you feel that day. If you’re having a good day where you’re super motivated and ready to take on the world, go for the hardest challenge. And if you’re suffering from burnout, take the easy road and check off the goals that are a breeze.

3. Fear: This is a tough one, because everyone deals with it constantly. You will be hard pressed to find a human being that isn’t afraid of one thing or another. Maybe there is a certain thing you really want to do but the possibility of failure really scares you. Even worse, you are afraid that even if you don’t fail, you won’t be good enough. We’ve all been there, and there are definite ways to overcome this type of demotivation.

The Fix: Make a list of all of your fears but divide them onto two pieces of paper based on which ones are rational vs irrational. Then do some research to see if your fears are placed in the proper category, because you may find that some of your “rational” fears are, in fact, irrational. Next, tear up the list of irrational fears and throw it in the trash! Because you don’t need that type of negativity in your life. If it’s irrational, it’s unnecessary for it to be taking up any space. Now that you have a list of real fears, write down a solution that will turn the fear into confidence. For instance, if one of your fears is starting a blog because you’re afraid your grammar won’t be up to par…write down a solution of taking a writing course or reading up on how to sharpen your skills; this will make you feel much better about starting a blog. Bam! Fear gone!

You’ve got this! Now go out there and show the world how motivated you are!


Memorial Day Tips and Savings

Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. It's also a time when retailers will bombard you with sales events. If you are serious about getting on track with financial wellness, it may be best to stick your head in the sand when it comes to advertisements this May. However, sometimes if you really need something, Memorial Day sales may be just the thing to get a great deal. Being cautious about what to buy can be the difference between saving money and wasting it.

  • It's a good rule of thumb that if you can't buy it with cash, you don't really need it. Watch out for predatory credit deals going around on Memorial Day weekend. If you truly need something like replacing an appliance that recently broke, and you simply cannot wait, then make sure to shop around and get the best deal. Don't just go for the first sale you find! 

  • Be sure to read the fine print! Some deals aren't what they seem, and and mail-in rebates could be a lot more trouble than they're worth. Not to mention that sometimes they have strict requirements that you might not realize you don't even meet until it's too late and you've already spent the money. Also, watch out on items that cannot be returned.

  • The best time to buy a car is usually between July and October because dealerships are trying to make room for the newer models that are heading into the showroom at the end of the year. Better savings can be found during Independence Day and Labor Day sales.

  • Older and slower electronics are usually unloaded around Memorial Day. While you may be getting the item for cheap, it may not be the best model. In the case of a new laptop or a television, back-to-school sales and Black Friday may offer better deals.

  • Clothing and swimwear are almost always on sale, so gimmicks like 20% or even 30% off aren't always your best bet. These same sales will happen all year round, so don't go and spend your entire savings on new clothes if you don't need to.

  • Jewelry is a luxury that is best purchased right after Valentine's Day when retailers are looking to get rid of anything they didn't sell. It's much like buying candy the day after Halloween or Easter. Treat jewelry no differently, and you will score some discounted pieces. 

Host an Epic Backyard Shindig on a Tight Budget

The pools are starting to open, the sun is shining, and Memorial Day is right around the corner. You really want to throw a BBQ for your friends and family, but you’ve been faithfully sticking to your new budget and feel guilty spending any extra money. No need to worry! Hosting a backyard shindig can be one of the cheapest ways to celebrate the summer if you follow these tips:

BYOE:

It stands for “Bring Your Own Everything” and is the best way to party on a budget. Send out e-invites and let everyone know that your BBQ is going to be a potluck event. Ask your guests to each bring their favorite dish plus a dessert, and let them know they will be responsible for their own adult beverages. You provide the space, the music, and the bottled water (plenty of stores sell a 48 pack of water for under $5).

Go Green:

Forget putting out plastic utensils that are expensive and bad for the environment, instead, you can place your everyday forks, knives and spoons in baskets or cups on the picnic table. Give everyone one non-disposable cup from your cupboard and let them know where they can rinse it off if they need to. Kids cups are the most fun! And you can purchase recycled paper goods like plates and napkins at the dollar store for pennies on the dollar.

Back to Basics:

Sure it’s fun to provide a massive bouncy house or ball pit to keep the kids busy, but the rental prices on those types of things are outrageous. Instead, grab a few bottles of cheap bubbles, a handful of squirt guns, and a package of water balloons from the dollar store and let the kids go to town the old fashion way. You can even offer them a few of your Mason jars for collecting fireflies. And don’t forget to have them look for sticks around the yard to use for roasted marshmallows later in the evening!

Forget Fancy:

Even if you’re doing a potluck, you may still want to have some food available, in case people don’t get the message or don’t bring enough. Forget providing meats like fish, shrimp, or steak! You’re on a budget, so it’s perfectly acceptable to find the cheapest hot dogs and hamburgers that are on sale. And don’t forget to grill some tofu for the vegans! It’s almost always less than $2.00 per pound, and a one pound block is usually enough to go around. No frills chips and pretzels come in large bags that can be presented in bowls you already own, so no one has to know they’re not the brand name kind. And you could provide homemade iced tea in your personal pitcher so you don’t have to buy expensive soft drinks.

The Cycle of Financial Struggle

In the United States, it is expensive to struggle with finances, and poverty keeps people trapped in a cycle. Those who do not have access to a lot of money are forced to pay many penalties, including a bank fee for keeping less than a certain amount in a checking account. And minimum balances are just the beginning - people experiencing poverty are also faced with higher interest rates, and are the victim of predatory lending practices which include many rent-to-own type of offers. Living paycheck to paycheck is often the start of the cycle, but with wages standing still in a world of skyrocketing inflation, it can feel like it’s next to impossible to get out of the perpetual trap.

Sometimes people depend on tips to help get by financially, or their work hours fluctuate, so it can be hard to balance the constant payment of bills and avoid the overdraft of a bank account; when this happens, many people get so frustrated by the fees that are charged in order to bring the account to good standing that they instead opt to just close down the account. Then they are forced to cash employment checks at the local check-cashing establishment which takes a hefty percentage for their cut. These types of businesses are predominantly found in low-income neighborhoods and are literally banking on people who are in a financial struggle.

Buy-here-pay-her car dealerships are also taking advantage of people who are suffering in poverty. Many people have no credit, or bad credit, and find it is difficult to secure a car loan. But a car is necessary for most people, especially in low-public transportation areas, in order to get to work or school. So those who are struggling financially see the “deals” offered at predatory car lots that offer a loan to everyone regardless of financial hardship. Unfortunately, the buyer ends up paying amounts well over twenty five percent in interest making the final cost of the car well over blue book value. In some instances, the dealer won’t even accept cash, and will only agree to large payments made over several years which can make the buyer pay triple, even quadruple for a car that’s not worth it and ends up breaking down while they are still on the hook for the loan.

Often times, impoverished citizens find it difficult to make ends meet, so they must rely on a credit card in the case of falling short on the bills, or for an emergency. However, because they have a lower income than average, and possibly a subpar credit score, the credit cards they are using have a higher interest rate which makes it harder to pay off the balance. And when those who are struggling financially need things like appliances, or furniture, they often turn to rent-to-own centers, who also charge ridiculously high fees and interest, so the item that is purchased ends up costing hundreds to thousands of dollars more than what it is worth. The alternative is to take in used items which run the risk of being roach or bedbug infested; this very serious pest problem can run into the thousands to eradicate.

These are just a few examples of how people get trapped in a cycle and find it difficult to get ahead. It is not as simple as working harder or moving to a new location, as the fees constantly add up just keeping people below the line of success. The answer is to educate everyone in the area of financial literacy and stop allowing corporations to punish those who are in poverty.

Spring Clean Your Finances

It’s almost springtime and warmer weather is on the way! Which is a great opportunity to wash away the dust bunnies that have collected in the cold of winter, and it is a fantastic time to assess the state of your finances.


Start With Your Tax Refund:

If you anticipate receiving a refund this year, you may be tempted to treat yourself and your family to a bunch of stuff that you couldn’t afford all year long.. The problem with “stuff” is that it usually doesn’t make you more money along the way…once it’s spent, that’s it. And life goes back to not being able to afford the extras for the rest of the year. Why not invest most or all of your tax refund so that you can make more money in the future? Index funds are an easy way to do this, and can come with a high return. Clicking on this simple guide will help you get started!

Take a Quick Look at Your Credit Report:

Many people are scared to see what is going on with their credit score, but a tiny peek can be just the push you need toward making necessary repairs. It may take several months, or even a year, to get your credit report in tip top shape, but it CAN be done. Starting this task in the spring will give you a better outlook for the rest of 2019 and help you meet your future goals of owning real estate, or another big purchase. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report per calendar year, and you can get it here.

Create a Budget That Makes Sense:

Sticking to a new budget is about as difficult as adhering to a new diet; you know it has to be done, but sometimes it’s just too hard to do. That being said, budgeting is important because it can allow you to free up money for all kinds of things such as an emergency fund, which will help you to avoid the pitfalls of financial fragility. Learning how to allocate your income is the best first step to budgeting successfully. After you have a smart flow occurring with your income, you can move onto daily and monthly expenses. Get started today!

Work on an Emergency Fund:

It is so easy to say, “I’m going to start an emergency fund this year,” and even easier to not actually do so unless you commit to a “begin date.” Why not begin on the first day of spring? Wednesday, March 20th is great date to begin putting aside funds in case an emergency occurs throughout the year. People get laid off, or fired, accidents happen, health can take a turn for the worse at a moment’s notice; being financially prepared for these scenarios takes a lot of burden off you and allows you to deal with the issue at hand. There are plenty of ways to free up cash to stash away for an emergency, and NOW is the best time to get it figured out: Start an Emergency Fund Now.

Really Get Some Cleaning Done by Going Paperless:

Clutter makes most people unhappy, so sweeping away the paper that is occupying unnecessary space in your home or office will help boost your efforts to also clean up your accounts. Scan and save all of those statements you have been collecting; you can store them on a hard drive if you are worried about trashing them completely. Next, visit the website of each one of your accounts and search for, and select, the option to receive electronic statements only. Set up “online bill pay” to reduce the amount of checks or money orders you have been writing out. And ask your job to direct deposit all of your paychecks into your bank account. Going paperless will not only help to keep your life organized, it is also much better for the environment.


Making sure that your finances are cleaned up for the spring will give you peace of mind throughout the rest of the year, and allow you to better prepare for when summer activities and holiday expenses roll back around.







The Important Lesson We Should All Learn From the Government Shutdown

The discussion about creating an emergency fund is ongoing and very important…yet all too often, preparation for a financial disaster is dismissed as a non-essential action; it’s something to consider for later on when we are ready to set aside the cash to spare. And for those who have stable employment with great benefits, it almost seems ridiculous to worry about all the “what ifs.” That was until the recent government shutdown taught us an important lesson about financial fragility and how easy it is for any of us to fall victim at a moment’s notice.

It is critical to understand that a shutdown that results in employees being separated from their paychecks is not about job performance. It is not about reprimanding the employee who always shows up late for work, or who surfs the web on the job. An employee could be the best worker in the office, on time every day, never calling out sick…maybe even next in line for a big promotion, then suddenly, he or she, finds themselves holding the new title of the “unemployed.” For 35 days, over 800,000 American government workers were in that exact position and had their paychecks frozen. Some were even required to continue working without pay. One minute they were happily enjoying what was assumed to be financial stability, and the next, they were panicking about how to come up with money to pay for basic living expenses such as rent, mortgages, car payments and even food. Average, tax-paying citizens were on the brink of homelessness and dealing with the possibility of losing everything they had worked so hard for; these people had little warning, and most were not prepared for the long haul - this is something that should frighten everyone, because it can happen to any of us, for any reason.

Being financially fragile means that a person is unable to access and spend $2,000 within one month of being faced with an emergency; and a recent study has shown that one in three people are unable to do so. Humans are not immune from emergencies, regardless of how much money one makes, or how stable a job appears, so it stands to reason that being prepared should be on the top list of priorities. However, it is easy to become complacent when a steady paycheck feels like it will last forever. And the idea of setting up an emergency fund gets shifted over to something that is taken care of “next time.” But the recent government shutdown, and the one that might be following if certain political demands are not met, proves to us all that now is the time to prepare for the worst.

Another alarming element about a government shutdown is that the catastrophic effects eventually trickle down into non-government sectors. If transportation security agents were to go on strike for lack of pay, employees of civilian corporations may be prevented from conducting business because flights could become grounded; this could also negatively impact airline workers and their families. Contractors might lose wages and experience project delays. Small businesses may be impacted harshly, as was discussed with a shutdown that occurred in 2013. Low income people, whose very survival depends on benefits such as food and housing assistance, could eventually have nowhere to turn. Highly anticipated tax refunds could be put on hold until further notice. Our economy could crash and its effects would be felt for years to come; these examples are just a few of the many possibilities that indicate a shutdown would not only hurt federal employees, but may harm us all as a society.

The best way to prepare for a financial disaster, whether it is caused by a government shutdown, corporate lay off, medical emergency, or something else…is to start working on a separate fund that is tucked away just in case. Cutting out unnecessary spending is a great way to free up extra money to stash away in an emergency fund. And learning to allocate all sources of income appropriately is a great way to experience the overall benefits of financial wellness.

Please watch our video to see why multiple sources of income may be just what is needed for making ends meet while having enough left over for savings:







Learn How to Allocate Your Income For Success

We have all read about how important it is to save money for an emergency fund, monthly expenses, or investments - though it sounds easier said than done, and many of us have been unable to successfully manage our income in a way that allows us to create all of these funds. It is very easy to overspend or forget about starting a savings that will help our financial situations in the long run.

Following a structured plan is a helpful way to break bad spending habits and to do away with financial fragility once and for all; to do this appropriately, you will need to set up at least two savings accounts and one checking account. You will also need to come up with an investment plan such as a Roth IRA, 401K, or dividend portfolio.

Once you have several bank accounts set up to store away your money, you will need to save at least $2,000 to get started with this plan. We have plenty of tips on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages to help you find extra money for saving. But if you already have more than enough coming in every month to start, get going by placing at least $2,000 into your new emergency fund now.

After you hit $2,000 in your emergency fund, the rest of your income goes into your checking account. After you hit $4,000 in your checking account, all of the money left over goes into your savings account. Finally after you hit $4,000 in your savings account, the rest goes into your investments.

You can continue to repeat this method in order to build your wealth. Your checking account is used for bills coming in and other expenses, while the other accounts ensure that you will avoid the pitfalls of financial fragility. As soon as you have a good stash of cash, it would also be wise to incorporate a “pay off debt” account into the flow so that you can chip away at anything that is continuing to hold you back.

Amazon Donates While You Shop

AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon with the same products, prices, and shopping features as Amazon.com. The difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember to type in the link for AmazonSmile each time you shop. Now it’s easy to install AmazonSmile in your web browser so you don’t have to remember to use it every time you shop at Amazon. The extension will simply redirect you to AmazonSmile so every purchase you make allows Amazon to make a donation.

Install the AmazonSmile extension for Google Chrome

Install the AmazonSmile extension for Mozilla Firefox

Install the AmazonSmile extension for Apple Safari

If you shop from your iPhone or iPad, you will need to do the following once on each device:

  1. Open Safari and type smile.amazon.com in the web address field at the top. AmazonSmile will open.

  2. Touch the share button (looks like a box with an arrow) to the left of the website address.

  3. Touch Add to Home Screen. Touch Add.

  4. Remove the old Amazon app from your iPhone and iPad so that you will always shop at Amazon through AmazonSmile.

  5. Hold your finger on the original Amazon app until it wiggles.

  6. Touch the black ‘X’ to delete the app from your iPhone/iPad.

  7. You will see an alert that your Amazon data will be deleted. This will not delete your Amazon account or any of your wish lists or order history. It’s simply the data the app saved on your device.

If you would rather use the link instead, every time you shop, AmazonSmile donates 0.5% to Catalyst Academy. 

You Could Give Up a Luxury This Giving Tuesday and Give Back Instead!

Giving Tuesday is entering its seventh year, and has become a great way to kickoff the charitable season. People tend to get overwhelmed by the holidays and Black Friday, so the hashtag #GivingTuesday was created as a reminder to support the idea of “giving back” and philanthropy in general. The power of social media has been the driving force behind Giving Tuesday, and has connected nonprofit organizations to giving people all over the world.

Nonprofit organizations rely on the kindness of the community in order to operate and help others. For instance, in 2018, because of your generosity, Catalyst Academy has spoken to over 1,200 individuals in group presentations. And we’ve provided over 50 families with individual coaching. Some of the groups that we’ve supported include career center training, social service organizations, churches, library programs, park and recreation departments, as well as various companies and their employees.

A lot of people think that one must have a large savings account or a bonus in their paycheck in order to donate to a cause; it’s simply not true. If you want to make an impact on the world by giving a little extra to someone who needs it, you could give up a luxury for a day and donate instead! Luxuries are things that make us comfortable and happy, but are unnecessary for survival. Parting with a luxury for a day is easy and giving back could make you feel even happier than enjoying the luxury!

This year, Giving Tuesday is on November 27th, and Catalyst Academy is asking that you give up a luxury for a day by selecting an option from our menu. Your kindness and thoughtful decision to donate will make it possible for us to help an individual, family, or group in need. We teach people to steer clear of things like becoming financial fragile or how to bounce back from it, avoiding bankruptcy, eviction, or overcoming something like an expensive health emergency. We’ve helped many people because you, and we’d like to continue helping many more. We are proud of our testimonials from real people who have utilized our services, and we can’t thank you enough for making it possible.

A Lesson in Financial Fragility

A recent study by the National Endowment For Financial Education (NEFE), conducted by the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC) at the George Washington University, has discovered a serious financial related problem affecting millions of American citizens; it has found that in a sudden emergency, one in three people are unable to financially handle the situation. The term that has been coined to describe this dire situation is “financially fragile.”

Respondents to the survey were asked questions regarding financial preparedness and whether or not they were able to access and spend $2,000 within one month of being faced with an emergency. The analysis was conducted by using survey data along with discussion group findings. Billy Hensley, Ph.D., the senior director of of education at NEFE, said “if you’re getting money back from Uncle Sam this tax season, consider investing this windfall toward starting or growing an emergency savings fund.”

Researchers found three main reasons why financial fragility occurs in the first place:

  1. High Debt

  2. Lack of Assets

  3. Low Financial Literacy

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One may think that a higher income may shield an individual from becoming a victim of financial fragility, but this is not the case. According to the study, thirty percent of people who are suffering from financial fragility are in the middle class income bracket, and twenty percent had an annual income of $75-100k. And according to Annamaria Lusardi, Ph.D., academic director of GFLEC, “financial fragility does not mean simply lack of precautionary savings. Heavy indebtedness can also make individuals financially fragile.” If an individual has high debt, avoiding financial fragility is not as simple as increasing income or working on savings. An important goal toward becoming financially strong is to dodge uncontrollable debt, which can be done through financial literacy.

Financial literacy can help individuals focus on the skills and knowledge needed to make resourcefully informed decisions about managing money; it can also help to guide individuals by creating budgeting techniques and encouraging the smart use of funds such as tax returns and bonuses. Instructors of financial literacy courses can help people set realistic goals and act as a cheerleader in support of attaining them. A tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) approved nonprofit organization like Catalyst Academy is a great resource for financial literacy training because classes are offered for low and no cost! With tax season coming up fast and New Year’s resolutions right around the corner, adding financial literacy training to your schedule may be just the thing you need to avoid becoming financially fragile. Click here for more information on services. Financial freedom is right around the corner!





Find Out How You're Doing Financially Compared to Other People

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They say there is an app for everything, and now there is a free one, Status Money, that will allow you to see where you stand financially. The app allows you to track your income and spending, helps you to reduce fees and interest rates...which can potentially increase your net worth. And the best part is it allows you to compare your finances with other people across the U.S. anonymously. You can now see how you stack up against people who have similar age, income, location, and compare it all to the national average. 

The insights will help to ensure that you are making healthy, informed decisions about your finances. Status Money lets you peek in on important financial wellness stats, such as how much rent you are paying compared to other people in your area, whether or not your loan interest rates are higher than normal, and how much money people your age are currently making at their job. As a bonus, the app also allows you to monitor your credit score! 

Apps like Status Money are essential to those who are looking to improve their finances, and who are wondering about where they stand in comparison to others. 

 

People With a Lot of Discipline Are Happier

According to a study in the Journal of Personality, discipline and self-control both correlate with happiness and life satisfaction. In the study, 414 adults completed a survey where they were asked about their habits pertaining to impulse control, overall life satisfaction, and current emotional state. The team of researchers then assessed data from a previous study in which 205 adult participants were asked about their emotions at random moments while using smartphones; they were also asked to make note of any desires or impulsive behaviors they were experiencing and whether or not they acted on them or resisted. The data from both studies was compiled and the conclusion was that self-control dictated more satisfied results in people's lives. 

There is something to be said of those who avoid shortcuts; they execute a set of strict goals and stick to the program. People who have a high measure of self-control do not waste time trying to figuring out quicker ways to complete a task. These people focus on what makes sense, regardless of how much effort is required, thus avoiding conflict as a result. And in turn, are generally happier than their impulsive counterparts. To explain why this is the case, the researchers conducted an additional study. This time, they found out that people with a lot of discipline tend to avoid issues associated with poor planning and problematic behaviors. Those with exceptional impulse control don't waste time finding easy ways to complete tasks and hardly give into desires on a whim. 

The takeaway is that people will likely experience a higher rate of happiness and success if things such as exercise, diet, or even finances were approached with a conditioned state of mind. Failing to plan is essentially planning to fail. A regimented lifestyle with a strict set of habits will lead to a much easier life in the long run. 

Are You Keeping Up With Your New Year's Resolution?

It's only been a few weeks since most of us made promises to become better versions of ourselves in the new year, but are you keeping up with your end of the bargain? 

A recent survey from the Better Sleep Council (BSC) claims that 45% of Americans who made a resolution this year won't make much of an effort to keep it, and another 9 million wont make any effort at all. The top resolutions included people who wanted to work on health and savings: 53% said they wanted to exercise more, while 49% were focusing on getting fit and staying healthy. 46% just wanted to lose weight, and 42% wanted spend less and save more. 

Lissa Coffey, a lifestyle expert and BSC spokesperson, suggested that "adding better sleep to your list of New Year's resolutions can make it easier to reach some of the other goals on your list, whether that's exercise, getting fit, or even losing weight." She also said that "it seems so simple, but getting adequate rest can positively impact every other part of your life. When you're well rested, it's easier to choose healthier foods, and to feel energized to exercise."

What's more, according to a study by Rand Europe, a third of American workers have reported they regularly get fewer than seven hours of sleep per night. And another study from Matthew Gibson of Williams College and Jeffrey Shader of the University of California at San Diego indicated that people who actively increased their sleeping habits by one hour per night saw their wages increase by 5% over time. And a wage increase can mean more savings! 

Here are a few things you can do to ensure that you're receiving enough sleep:

1. Utilize the "Blue Light Filter" on Electronic Devices

Most phones and tablets have an option for turning off the blue light that is keeping you awake at night. If your device doesn't offer a nighttime filter option, there are many downloadable apps available that can help. 

2. Sleep in a Cool Room

Not only will it save money on energy, keeping your room temperature between 65 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit will make it easier for you to sleep more comfortably. 

3. Go to Sleep the Same Time Every Night

A healthy bedtime routine can be the difference between a good night's sleep and a long night of insomnia. Get into the habit of shutting down devices at a certain time to assist with a beneficial sleep schedule. 

4. Exercise Before Bed

This is a great plan especially if staying fit and losing weight are also part of your resolution. And practicing a technique like yoga before bed can relax your muscles which helps you to reach a more restful state of sleep.