Should I Consolidate My Student Loans?

shj100416_student_loan_consolidation_blog_imageAs we enter the back-to-school season, many college students may have applied and been approved for a student loan for the upcoming academic year. While students and parents alike welcome the additional assistance in paying for their tuition, the appeal starts to wear off upon graduation when the responsibility to pay back the loan begins. Recent reports show that “the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year” and that the average monthly student loan payment is $351 (source). Often times loans are accumulated from various sources and consolidated down to one loan with the lowest interest rate or most favorable repayment option. However, depending on the type of loans you have outstanding, it may not be in your best interest to consolidate. Continue reading

10 Habits to Help Increase Your Productivity

shj092616_increase_productivity_blog_imageWe often feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day because we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. But how much of our precious time is spent on activities that distract us from our goals? The key to maximizing your time and productivity is to be proactive, not reactive. Staying ahead of your tasks, schedules, and goals can give you more control over your time and increase your productivity.

Here are 10 habits you can adopt to boost your productivity:

1. Make Lists
Lists help organize upcoming projects and tasks. Create a list the night before with tasks for the following day. This will help you focus on the highest priority items of the day without wasting time in the morning trying to figure out which tasks should be tackled first.

2. Bundle Your Tasks
Tackle tasks in batches to make a long to-do list feel much smaller. Set aside time at the beginning of the day (or the night before) for certain tasks, for example: email catch-up and phone calls. Scheduling time for these allows you to continue focusing on the task at hand without constant interruptions. Also make sure to block off time for your most dreaded tasks, it’s best to take care of these in the morning so you don’t think about them all day. Continue reading

To Stay or to Go: Should You Downsize or Renovate as an Empty Nester?

project of construction and renovation houseThe last kid has left for college or to start their career. As the past few years have gone by perhaps you have wandered from room to room wondering why you are paying for all this space or wishing your space was better used. It could be time for you to consider downsizing or maybe your home is in need of a few simple renovations.

Before you make the decision to stay or go, here are a few things to consider:

Have they really flown the coop?

It is becoming more common for college graduates to move back in with their parents for a while as they find a job and establish a career. Do you want to stay in your home and wait to see if they need their space again? Before making the decision to move, think through the possible scenarios with your children to determine if it makes sense to hold onto the family home for a while longer.

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10 Beneficial Budgeting Tips

Taschenrechner und StatistkA 2013 Gallup poll found only 30% of American households prepare a detailed household budget (source). While budgeting can feel daunting at first, it can make a tremendous difference on your path to long-term financial success. With that in mind, here are 10 useful tips for budgeting.

10. Start with the Big 3
When building your budget, it’s important to look at your largest expenses first. For most people those are food, housing and transportation. Make sure to account for all aspects of your Big 3 from groceries to eating out and car payments to fuel costs. Starting with your largest expenses first will help you to get a more accurate view of what’s left to play with in your budget.

9. Bring Your Lunch
It seems so simple, but it’s amazing how much you can save in your budget by packing a lunch every day. In her article, “Buying Your Lunch Is A Terrible Idea. The End. No More Debates” (source), Jillian Berman figured she saves over $1,500.00 per year by bringing her lunch to work. If you are a household, multiply the savings for each person who packs a lunch. It adds up! Plus, you have the added benefit of controlling your portions and making healthier choices.

8. Shop Alone
Sometimes when we go shopping with a friend, we are tempted to buy items we don’t need. Or think about going to the grocery store with kids in tow. How often are items added to the cart based on their requests? Shopping alone may not be as fun, but it can help to control unnecessary purchases and keep you on budget.

7. Look at the Year, Not Just the Month
“Budgeting for the year is better largely because we feel less confident in our estimates, so add more of a buffer for unexpected expenses, according to University of Southern California’s Gulden Ulkumen, Cornell’s Manoj Thomas, and New York University’s Vicki Morwitz.” (source) Looking at a single month doesn’t account for holiday expenses, vacations, etc. Taking a longer view can help budgets be more accurate.

6. Start a Spending Diary
When starting a diet, people are often asked to track what they eat. The same idea applies to starting a budget. Your diary can be as simple as a small notepad or a note on your smartphone. Start with a week and write down everything you spend. After you analyze your first week, try to continue for the whole month to get a good view of your spending habits. Do you eat out more than you thought? Did you spend less on gas than you expected? Use the information to make adjustments to your budget.

5. Earn Extra Money
Bringing in more income doesn’t mean picking up another job. Rather, aggressively paying down debt such as credit cards, mortgages and student loans will free up more of your cash flow for other line items. If possible, avoid making minimum payments and consider adding an additional payment occasionally to help pay down your principal. Adding more money to your budget can be as simple as smart debt payment strategies.

4. Use Separate Accounts
Instead of having a single checking and savings account, consider opening multiple accounts for varied purposes. For example, create an emergency account and set up your checking account to automatically transfer funds each time you receive a pay check. Then create an account just for ‘fun savings.’ Add to your fun savings only when you have extra funds. Using separate accounts can help prevent spending just because the money is there.

3. Don’t Count Dollars until They Are There
Sure, you usually get a pretty hefty year-end bonus, but what if this is the year you don’t? Counting money based on what you expect to come in can be one of the easiest ways to blow your budget. Focus on the income you know is coming in, then if you receive extra, have a plan in place to use it wisely.

2. Save Room for Fun
As you plan your budget, make room for fun. Allowing yourself room for special treats or nights out can make all the difference in keeping you on track to achieve your goals. Be sure you are specific with your fun expenses as you plan your budget and stick to your allotment.

1. Don’t Give Up
Budgeting isn’t fun for most of us, but it can make all the difference in achieving our financial goals. Stick to it and it will get easier with time. Meet with a financial planner to discuss your long-term goals and gain even more encouragement to stay the course.

What other tips would you add to the list? Share them with us below!