How data breaches go beyond financial theft

Security breaches are nothing new. We learned this back in 2013 when Target lost data, again in 2014 when the White House was hacked, and back in 2017 when Equifax fell victim to a cyberattack. And here we are again, years later, with Capital One acknowledging their security breach of personal information.  

Should I pay off my mortgage loan if I have it in the bank?

“I have $93,000 left on my mortgage and I just hit $93,000 that was saved in my bank account. Should I pay off my mortgage?”

We receive financial questions all of the time. I thought it may be helpful to others to share some of the more common ones we see-

There are a lot of armchair financial advisors out there willing to tell you what their second cousin’s neighbor’s best friend’s dog groomer did ten-years ago that worked great for them. You truly have no way of knowing whether it was a financial strategy that worked, whether it was sheer luck, or whether or not it will work now.

Heck, scrolling through Facebook while standing in line at the grocery store I get at least three good eye rolls in from completely ludicrous suggestions and recommendations. (BTW, when talking about big money issues, ask someone that’s the real thing, like with credentials and all- We have a lot of credentials-)

Without having more information, there’s really no way to answer this question with any certainty. Sure, you can run the numbers and figure out the dollar amount you may save by paying the loan off early, but there are other things to consider.

Is this $93k ALL you have saved? Do you have anything stashed away for emergencies? What will you do if your AC unit, dishwasher, stove, microwave, washer, and dryer go out…all at the same time? What if it all of these items go out at the same time you need new tires or a new engine for your vehicle? The odds are astronomically high these will all happen at the same time, but is still possible. These are all things to consider.

What is your mortgage interest rate, and how aggressive of an investor are you? Is your “risk tolerance” based on more than just your gut or intuition? Will the bank account make you more or less than the interest rate of the mortgage? Could you make more if you placed this money into an investment account? Will your stomach allow you to place the money into an investment account? 

What are your intentions with the house? Do you plan on selling it soon or living in it until you die? Why do you want to pay the pay off the mortgage? Is this an emotional decision? Is this a personal goal you have set for yourself? Or is it simply for bragging rights towards your buddies? By the way, these are all really valid reasons.

There are many things to consider when deciding to make a big financial move, and all things being considered are just as important as the next. However, if you want a general rule of thumb (or in this case multiple thumbs), I would likely recommend if your mortgage interest rate is less than 4.5%, then investing the funds and allowing them to grow, while making the payment directly from the investment account may be your best bet in the long run. An advisor can come up with strategies to “ladder’ the money into various investment vehicles, not only making sure the payment needed for the next 12-months is available but also gaining some growth on the assets not needed for a bit longer.

However, if you have a low-risk tolerance and investing is not your cup of tea, the odds of your bank (checking or savings) earning you more than the interest rate you're paying is rather slim, so paying off the note will likely work in your favor. Just cross your fingers and hope your appliances remain in good shape for a while longer.

In any case, I suggest talking with a financial advisor. The few hundred dollars it costs to run an analysis may save you thousands in the long run-

Summer fun on a budget

As the summer months approach, many may already be contemplating what to do with the little ones while school is out.

We know that being cooped up in the house all day every day probably isn't the best option, but what choices do you have while trying to stick to your budget? Consider these options:

Technology can improve a loved ones independence

What options do you have if an aging parent or loved one needs assistance but is not quite ready to move? Technology can be a great personal assistant.
With products like Samsung's wireless security cameras with two-way audio, you can periodically check in, and even talk with them, remotely. Alerts can be established and send notifications when activity happens based on set criteria. 

Doorbells like Ring come equipped with cameras and two-way audio as well. In fact, Ring now offers smart lighting, video doorbells, stick -up cameras, and whole-home security kits, all with the ability to be monitored remotely. Even better, with integrated systems, you can remotely monitor whether a door opens between certain hours, and call for assistance if needed. This works great for someone suffering from dementia that has a tendency to wander off.

Worried about food shopping? Services like Plated, Home Fresh, and Blue Apron can handle that for you too. You can have food delivered right to their door. Here is a list of some of the options out there. 

The Hartford Funds provided some additional insight on how technology can assist caregivers. Check out their suggestions here.
Caregivers can ease their schedule a bit by using technology and food delivery services to help manage care remotely.  These services also allow loved ones to remain more independent for a longer period of time.

Michelle Kuehner is a Registered Investment Advisor Representative and President of Personal Money Planning. She is also a Certified Credit Counselor and Certified Financial Health Counselor, writes Fix Your Budget blog, and has over 25 years of experience in the financial industry.

Make a list, and check it twice

If you've waited until the last few days before Santa comes to town to finish your Christmas shopping, here are some ideas to get you through the holidays on a tight budget.

What do you need?

First, take a closer look at what you're dealing with. How much do you still have allocated in your budget for gift-giving? Who do you still need to buy a gift for? It's important to make a list to ensure you aren't forgetting someone. Having to make an unplanned purchase later may throw you over budget.

Check your list twice

Santa was on to something when he made his list and checked it twice. Maybe consider doing the same. Do you really need to buy a gift for everyone on your list, or did they make the cut simply because you're in the Christmas spirit? It's easy to get overzealous and want to give a gift to each friend, colleague, and teacher your child has. However, that can get super expensive. Review your list and narrow it down to only those that are truly necessary. This will give you a better idea of how much you can spend on each gift.

Don't overindulge

There will be plenty of cakes, pies, cookies, and other treats to overindulge with this season. Make sure you're checking account isn't included on that list. Consider purchasing your gifts using only cash or gift cards. It's easy to spend an extra few dollars here and there to upgrade a gift, but it's not necessary. Trust me, your friends and family would not want you in a financial bind over a Christmas ornament or candle box set. As Jim Carrey says, "No holiday should manipulate you to the point where you're going into debt just to show someone you love them."

Bust up the boxes

Speaking of box sets, consider splitting up a gift set. Yes, you heard me correctly. Bust the set apart to create multiple gifts. For example, I recently purchased a two-candle set, each with a different scent. Although it was boxed together, separating them could provide me with two gifts instead of one. This allows you to spread the joy to more recipients.

Boutique antique

Remember, it is "Tis the season to give", not "Tis the season to buy". Consider making something to give as a gift. Are you good at baking? How about crafts? Oftentimes you can find clearance items at discount stores or even a thrift shop. Dust it off, spray it with some Windex, and slap an initial on it. Now, instead of something used or boring, you have a boutique style one-of-a-kind gift.

Consider donations

If you're the type that burns your cookie, or your finger on a hot glue gun, you can always take a different route. Consider making a donation to a favorite charity. Some shy away from this, out of embarrassment for the size of the donation they can afford. Believe me, the charity will be happy to receive any amount. You won't even have to let the recipient know how much was given. Simply give them a card that says "Merry Christmas! A donation to (fill in the blank) was made on your behalf."

If you would rather take a more hands-on approach when making a donation, you can always check with the charity and see if volunteer help is needed. Your card can then include something like "5 hours of work was donated on your behalf". 

Gifting it forward

It's also important to remember that gift-giving issues are truly a first world problem. Some would care less about the scent of a candle versus the warm that it can provide. Consider creating gift bags with socks, gloves, toiletries, and snacks to hand out to those less fortunate. For the amount of money you plan on spending for one gift, you could make multiple gift bags. I assure you, it will truly be appreciated.

If you're really short on cash, consider giving the gift of time. No, I'm not talking about a watch, but your actual time. Set up a meeting for now or in the future to get together simply to hang out. It may be over lunch or even a cup of coffee.

Whatever you choose to do, just make sure not to overdo it, with the cookies or the gift spending.

Merry Christmas! 

Michelle Kuehner is a Registered Investment Advisor Representative and President of Personal Money Planning. She is also a Certified Credit Counselor and Certified Financial Health Counselor, writes Fix Our Budget blog, and has over 25 years of experience in the financial industry.

Santa sprinkled with a bit of Scrooge

It's the holidays! Everywhere you look there are decorated trees, mesmerizing lights, and the smells of cinnamon and pine. For many individuals, this time of year is not as exciting as it is for others though... It also means buying gifts and spending money they may not have. While it may not seem like a large amount, an extra $20 here and there can add up quickly.

As the holidays approach you may find yourself in a bit of a bind: Consumers are in a spending mood this year, with plans to hand over 4.1% more than they did during the last holiday season. That puts the average of $1,000 per shopper, according to the National Retail Federation. Everyone wants to be a Santa, but it pays to throw in a bit of Scrooge. Here are some tips to help make sure your holiday spending doesn't go from "Ho, Ho, Ho" to "Ho, Ho, Holy cow I spent how much?"

1. Have you made a holiday budget? 

Before hitting the checkout lanes, it's a good idea to create a list of people (and pets) you plan to buy gifts for, including a budget for each person. That will help keep the spending within reason. A list also helps wrap your head around how much you are actually spending overall. While $10-$20 gifts for your co-workers doesn't sound like much, it can add up quickly. Make sure to keep a line item for those last-minute gifts you may have forgotten about. Already have your shopping underway? It's not too late! Even doing this after the fact can be a helpful lesson to be mindful of gifts purchases in the future.

2. Have you started shopping? 

Shopping throughout the year is a great way to level out your spending and snag some great deals. If you see the perfect gift for a friend on sale in July, grab it now and stash it away until the right time. This doesn't just apply for Christmas shopping, but for birthdays, anniversaries, or any other gift-worthy mile-stone. I tend to buy things on clearance and stash them in a spare closet. When the time is right, they get a great gift, and I have saved a lot of money.

3. Do you have rewards points to cash in?

Many stores, or cards, have loyalty programs that you can cash in this time of year. For instance, I have an Amazon Visa, and throughout the year I use it for almost all of my purchases. Gas, groceries, household items, items for the office, travel, etc... I allow the points to accumulate, and when the holidays roll around, I have already built up a decent amount of points that convert into dollars on my Amazon purchases. This year I handled almost all of my shopping by cashing in my points. It's a great way to save throughout the year, while still purchasing those much-needed items.

4. Be cautious of the sites you shop on...

When it comes to sales, the old saying "you can go broke saving money" could not be truer. While a merchant can throw a sale sign on just about anything, make sure you can't get a better deal somewhere else. It's important to check bargains against the original site to see if the deal is really a steal. Sites like Ebates or Wikibuy are great resources to check for deals and coupon codes. The run all of the published coupon codes and let you know which apply to your purchase. Even though I'm pretty thorough in my frugal research, I have even been surprised with a better deal a few times. (Side note: By clicking the links above, I may benefit monetarily)

5. Want a fun gift idea?

I've never really understood the whole White Elephant holiday gifting game. I mean, you buy a random gift with no particular person in mind and pass it around a certain number of times until you wind up with something you may or may not like. Yes, there are some laughs to be had, but I think those would probably be had regardless if I were having a gift "stolen" from me. 

How about giving gifts that every recipient will truly appreciate and love? Grab multiple pairs of socks, gloves, toiletries, and snacks to create holiday gift bags to hand out to those less fortunate. You can have those same laughs watching your friends and family decorate the gift bags, or make it a game and divide into teams to see who can bag the most items.  It's a great way to enjoy that gift-giving feeling and helping out someone in a time of need. 

6. Bringing it home...(made)-

Instead of putting your finances in a bind for the next year, consider gifting items you've created on your own. Don't get me started on the number of ideas Pinterest has, and there are plenty that you can involve the kiddos with as well... 

Michelle Kuehner is a Registered Investment Advisor Representative and President of Personal Money Planning. She is also a Certified Credit Counselor and Certified Financial Health Counselor, writes Fix Our Budget blog, and has over 25 years of experience in the financial industry.

Don't start your budgeting journey with a budget

Typically when someone decides it is time to put together a budget, one of the first steps they take is to find the right tool to use. This could be an app they download on their phone, a software program, an excel spreadsheet, a template they’ve found on Google, or even a Big Chief tablet and a crayon. However, none of these are the right first steps in creating a successful starts with the data.

When I provide budgeting assistance through our Financial Coaching program, the first thing
I tell our clients is not to use a budget. Yep, you heard me right. For the first month or so I
want to collect data, not try to plug numbers into a predesigned template that may not be the best option for their lifestyle. That's like trying to force a round peg into a square hole. 

If you Google “budgeting worksheet”, you come up with a little over $4.4 million results. This is because budgeting is not a one size fits all issue. I’m sure the first person that uploaded their budget template onto the internet thought theirs was fantastic. Then someone else came along with a tweaked version, and so on and so forth. It’s important to personalize the tool you plan on using.