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How Money Works Educator - Bill Mitchell

Bill Mitchell

HowMoneyWorks Educator

November 23, 2021

The Scandal of the American Financial Education System

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Two Strategies To Destroy Debt

Two Strategies To Destroy Debt

Lugging around, on average, $38,000 of personal debt is exhausting.¹

It can deplete the power of your personal income until you barely have enough left to cover the monthly bills. You know it’s not a matter of IF you should eliminate debt. It’s a matter of HOW.

You have two basic debt destroying strategies at your disposal, each with different strengths and weaknesses. They’re called the Debt Avalanche and the Debt Snowball.

The Debt Avalanche. The Debt Avalanche starts with a bang. Identify the debt with the highest interest rate and immediately begin to pay it down. Make the minimum payments on all your other loans, but direct everything you can at eliminating the largest financial threat you’re facing. Once it’s paid off, take that extra money you’ve freed up and move on to the next highest interest rate debt. You’ll kickstart an unstoppable force of tumbling debt that will carry you all the way down to your smallest payment—and then zero debt.

Technically speaking, the debt avalanche is the most effective way to become debt-free. The math speaks for itself; paying off that high interest loan should free up a significant chunk of cash that can then be used to even more rapidly wipe out the next debt. The smaller rates won’t stand a chance against your newly freed up cash flow and will be swept away in your debt-removal path.

The Debt Snowball. But following the math isn’t always the best strategy. High interest debts can appear overwhelming and it’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t quickly see a dent. All the number-crunching in the world won’t help if you abandon your debt management strategy before you make any significant progress! That’s why the debt snowball leverages the power of psychology. Find your smallest debt on the list (regardless of the interest rate) and pay it down as quickly as possible. You’ll feel good about your accomplishment, as you get the ball rolling. Use whatever cash you freed up from eliminating the smallest debt to go towards the next smallest. Start working your way up until you’re ready to confront your largest loan. By that time you can use the free cash at your disposal to dispatch the final debt boss as quickly as possible!

The debt snowball uses your brain’s wiring to respond to rapid rewards. Crushing a goal feels good! Knocking out that first loan, as little as it may be, motivates you to move on. Is the Debt Snowball a slower process than the Debt Avalanche? Maybe. But it might be a more successful, manageable strategy if you’re intimidated by the largest debt that towers over your personal finances.

It’s always wise to seek guidance from a licensed and qualified financial professional when drawing out your debt reduction battle plans. They’ll help you prepare an emergency fund, identify the best strategy for you, and refine your budget to free up as much cash as possible!

Then suit up with your mittens, coat, and beanie—it’s time to trigger an avalanche or get the snowball rolling!

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¹ “Planning And Progress Study 2018,” Northwestern Mutual, https://news.northwesternmutual.com/planning-and-progress-2018

Your Emergency Fund: What you need to know.

Your Emergency Fund: What you need to know.

It really isn’t a question on whether or not you need an emergency fund.

(You do.) It’s the first line of defense when unexpected expenses show up (and they will—have kids?). Unforeseen emergencies threaten to undo your hard work and careful financial planning.

But what exactly is an emergency fund? What should it look like? And how do you start building one if you don’t have a sack of cash lying around?

What’s an emergency fund… and why do you need one? <br> An emergency fund is a dedicated amount of money to cover unplanned, unavoidable expenses. Establishing one is an important milestone on your journey to achieving financial independence! But why is it such a big deal?

Emergencies are a part of life. Nobody schedules a busted transmission or a broken arm, but you’ll need a way to pay for them when they happen. Who would have guessed that a global pandemic would force most of us to stay at home and cost millions of Americans their jobs? So it’s not a question of if you’ll need to cover something unexpected but how you’ll cover it. Without an emergency fund, you’ll be forced to either dip into your long-term savings (assuming you have them) or go into debt. For most people, either option can seriously throw off long-term financial plans. An emergency fund gives you the power to overcome sudden obstacles without sacrificing your retirement or piling up credit card bills.

Emergency fund ins and outs <br> One critical thing to grasp is that an emergency fund isn’t the same as your savings. Establishing a solid emergency fund is not a long-term goal that’s built over years or decades. Once the emergency fund is full, then you move on to other money milestones like conquering debt and saving for the future.

So how do you know you have enough in your fund? That depends on how much you make. A good rule of thumb is that an emergency fund should cover 3 to 6 months of income. That provides a buffer if you have an unexpected car repair, medical emergency, or if you’re temporarily unemployed due to an unprecedented global pandemic!

But what if you don’t have that much cash just lying around? <br> 3 to 6 months of income might seem like a lot of money to set aside, especially if you’re currently living paycheck to paycheck. Building an emergency fund will take time and budgeting. Start with a goal of saving 2 weeks of pay. Then shoot for 1 month, then 2 months, etc., until you reach your goal.

The 2 Rules of Emergency Funds

Rule 1: An emergency fund is only, ONLY to be used in case of actual emergencies. It’s not for last minute getaways, much needed spa days, or killer video game sales. If those kinds of things come along, you can use a “fun fund”, which of course is part of your regular budget!

Rule 2: The emergency fund needs to be easily accessible. Make sure it’s in an account where you won’t incur fees for withdrawals when your car breaks down or you suddenly need a new AC unit. That’s why it’s there. Just remember to refill it as soon as the emergency has passed.

Once you’ve built your emergency fund and you know the rules, you’re ready to move on to the next stages of building wealth. Congratulations!You’re officially not broke and in the perfect position to chase your financial future!

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Closing The Gap

Closing The Gap

Women earn 82¢ for every $1 earned by men.(1)

The median annual salary for men is around $50,000. At 82¢ for every $1 earned by a man, the median annual salary for women is around $40,000.(2) For someone taking care of a family, how significant do you think that extra $10,000 would be?

By the time a woman reaches age 65, she will have earned $1 million less than a man who stayed continuously in the work force.(3) Consequently, retired women receive only 80% of what retired men receive in Social Security benefits.(4)

Women tend to be the primary caregivers for their children, parents and partners.(1) So women end up taking time away from their careers to care for loved ones. These career interruptions can significantly impact women’s chances to climb the corporate ladder – promotions, raises, bonuses and full retirement benefits.(3)

Since women earn less, we have less money to set aside for our financial goals. Of the Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, is it a surprise that 85% are women?(5) As a result, women own just 32¢ for every $1 owned by men. We accumulate only a third of the wealth accumulated by men.(6)

We may not see the gender pay gap or the gender wealth gap close in our generation. But women can change the financial trajectory of their lives by learning how money works and applying the 7 Money Milestones. By understanding and paying attention to all of the things that make up our financial picture – Financial Education, Proper Protection, Emergency Fund, Debt Management, Cash Flow, Build Wealth, and Protect Wealth, we have the power to take control over our financial future and create equal wealth for ourselves.

And, women need to think about their career decisions. We should consider choosing a career that pays more to women and men equally. With a company that doesn’t penalize women for time spent taking care of loved ones. A place where women can create equal pay for ourselves.

Women have made a lot of progress in pursuing higher education and professional careers, but we’ve only made incremental progress in our finances. If we want to bring about profound change, we have to make it happen for ourselves. We have the power to close the gap in our lives for ourselves and our families.

— Kim Scouller

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Sources:

  1. “The narrowing, but persistent, gender gap in pay,” Pew Research Center, April 2018
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan 2019
  3. “Women & Financial Wellness: Beyond The Bottom Line,” Merrill Lynch and Agewave, March 2018
  4. “Fast Facts and Figures about Social Security,” SSA, 2019
  5. “Women Live Paycheck to Paycheck Roughly 5 Times as Often as Men – Here’s Why,” CNBC Make It, Oct 2019.
  6. “America doesn’t just have a gender pay gap. It has a gender wealth gap.,” The Washington Post, April 2019

Is Your Cash Flowing?

February 12, 2021

Is Your Cash Flowing?

How much cash do you have left at the end of the month after you’ve covered the essentials AND treated yourself? (I’m guessing not much.)

Wish your paycheck went a little further? You’re not alone—not by a long shot. Most Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck and saving little to nothing. So how do you increase your cash flow so you can stop living in the Sucker Cycle and start saving and investing more?

In the book, HowMoneyWorks, Stop Being a Sucker, we attack this challenge head on in Milestone 5 of the 7 Money Milestones.

Here are a few tips to get your cash flowing towards your future…

Redirect your cash flow <br> There are a million little things that siphon away your paycheck. Credit card debt, monthly subscriptions, and your fast food habit all chip away at your income. This “death by a thousand cuts” is a foolish spending cycle that prevents you—and countless other suckers—from creating an emergency fund, protecting your income, and building wealth for the future.

That’s why it’s so important to make and maintain a budget. It’s like a map of where your cash is going. Once you have that knowledge, you can figure out where you need to dial down your spending and start redirecting your cash. Don’t get too detailed. You don’t need to get overwhelmed by spreadsheets. Try creating a one-page list of expenses, freeing up as much cash as possible. Take your budget to your financial professional and discuss how best to use this available cash.

Open up new income streams <br> Budgeting and cutting back on spending might not be enough. Life throws plenty of unexpected (and expensive) problems at us that might not have a budgeting solution. You may need to look for new income streams to maintain the lifestyle you want while also saving for the future.

You’d be surprised by how many possibilities there are to create additional income streams—many of which offer the chance to make money from home. Maybe now is the time to discover that your favorite hobby or area of interest is actually a way to earn some cash. That could look like a side hustle or weekend gig, but you might find that your skills and ideas are full-time business opportunities just waiting to happen! Research which of your ideas and skills are in demand, figure out how much time and effort it will take to get started, and decide how much time you’re willing to commit. (It could be easier than you think!)

Increasing your cash flow can open up a whole new world of opportunities. That extra money you have from cutting back on takeout and streaming services could be how you fuel the power of compound interest and finally start saving for retirement. That several hundred dollars you bring in from teaching guitar lessons each month could be how you pay off your credit cards and free up even more cash. There’s no doubt your options can really open up once your cash starts flowing!

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3 Painful Consequences of Minimum Payments

January 19, 2021

3 Painful Consequences of Minimum Payments

Do you send in more than the minimum payments on your credit cards each month? (The correct answer is ‘yes.’)

If you are making more than the minimum payments now—you’re thinking like the wealthy!

A minimum payment is the lowest amount you can pay on your credit card bill without suffering a late payment penalty. We all know making minimum payments may be necessary for a short period if you’re freeing up cash flow to pay down a bigger, more urgent bill. However, paying just the minimum for the long haul can lead to long-term negative consequences.

Just like any time you have to deal with challenges in life, considering long-term consequences is vital to success. It can wake you up from thinking and acting like a sucker with your money. It can give you the laser focus needed to pay off debts so you can start building wealth. What’s at stake? You know, just your future.

So what are those looming, long-term consequences of making only the minimum payments on your credit cards?

Consequence #1: You end up paying mostly interest forever. OK, maybe not forever, but it will feel like it. By making only the minimum payments over a long period of time, you’re basically giving the credit card company free money—your money. You’re not even paying down the principal for the item you originally purchased with your credit card. You’re basically paying a subscription to the credit card company for holding your debt—a monthly service for which you get nothing.

Here’s an all-too-common example:

Let’s say that an unexpected expense tightens your budget. As it stands, you owe $10,000 in credit card debt at a 20% interest rate with a minimum payment of 2%. In order to cover the basics like housing, food, and medicine, you drop your credit card payments to the minimum amount of $200 monthly.

In this scenario, it will likely take more than 30 years and interest payments of over $35,000 to fully eliminate your credit card debt. The credit card company becomes richer, and your financial future is squandered.
 Consequence #2: You can hurt your credit score. When you hold high debt on a credit card for a long period, even if you’re making minimum payments on time, your credit utilization ratio (or the percentage of available credit you’re using) can rise. If it remains above 30% of your credit card limit for long, your credit can take a substantial hit¹—hurting your ability to borrow for a car, education, or home mortgage—and hinder qualifying for lower interest rates on those loans. This all equals financial limitations for your future—less cash flow, higher interest payments, less money to save for the future.

Consequence #3: You never start saving. Today, the responsibility to save and build wealth falls on the consumer—that’s you! Your 401(k) and Social Security check may fall dramatically short of providing the income you need for the lifestyle you want during retirement. The earlier you start saving, the better chance you have of closing the gap on the money you need for the future. Paying minimum payments on your credit cards is a dangerous habit that can prevent you from saving enough.

You don’t have to fall victim to these consequences. You can create a strategy to knock out your credit card debt by paying more than the minimums. How much more? As much as possible—until your credit card debt is gone. That big sigh of relief and your new ability to save will be well worth it!

An important caveat: Paying the minimum on a credit card while you build an emergency fund or pay down another debt can be advantageous, as long as you’re working with a licensed and qualified financial professional to reduce debt methodically.

Learn more about reducing debt in the book, HowMoneyWorks: Stop Being a Sucker. Email, text, or call me to discover how you can get a copy ASAP!

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¹ “What is a Credit Utilization Rate?,” Experian, https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-education/score-basics/credit-utilization-rate/#:~:text=Credit%20scoring%20models%20often%20consider,the%20scoring%20model%20being%20used.

When Crises Collide: 3 Ugly Financial Illiteracy Truths The Pandemic Has Exposed

October 7, 2020

When Crises Collide: 3 Ugly Financial Illiteracy Truths The Pandemic Has Exposed

A crisis will always expose truth.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown us all just how fragile our normal lives can be. But it’s also revealed the ugly reality of another crisis that’s been ravaging the world for years—the economic crisis of financial illiteracy.

The combined consequences of these two plagues will be with us for generations. Here are three truths that Covid-19 and the economic shutdown have revealed about the state of our financial education.

1. We’re not ready for emergencies <br> 26 million people have claimed unemployment over the last 5 weeks. That means 23% of workers currently don’t have jobs (1). Those numbers should stun you. That’s 26 million people with bills to pay, families to feed, and debt collectors to keep at bay with no paycheck coming in from their employers.

But it’s actually worse than it sounds.

44% of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency (2). And that was before the economy shut down! What are millions of newly unemployed workers supposed to do without a financial safety net?

2. We don’t know how to use our money <br> The pandemic has conclusively demonstrated that too many people don’t know what to do even if the government quite literally puts money in their hands.

Given the unemployment numbers, it would make sense for people to use their Economic Impact Payments (i.e., stimulus checks) to cover things like groceries, gas, and rent. And some did. But only 29% of survey respondents planned to put the extra cash into savings and investments (3). While 35% plan to use their stimulus money to pay bills, 16% plan to spend it on non-grocery food, including delivery and takeout, and 5% plan to spend it on video games (4).

Buying groceries and paying bills is essential, but the fact that so few plan to save their stimulus checks exposes the massive numbers who have been living above their means with little to no emergency fund. Without knowing how money works, they live paycheck-to-paycheck—a lifestyle that prevents them from a perfect opportunity to put away a little extra cash for the future.

3. We want to learn more… But where are we looking? <br> The recent economic downturn has been a wake-up call for millions of Americans. 9 out of 10 respondents to a survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) reported financial stress due to the crisis, and 54% feared they hadn’t saved enough (5). 75% are trying to retool their financial strategy in the face of the crisis (6).

People are also reading about money and markets more than ever. Financial sites are seeing traffic soar as people try to keep up with the economy and learn more about preparing for the future (7).

Financial illiteracy is widespread, and it is devastating families across the nation. But people are also sick of it and want to take control of their money. The question then becomes who will step up to give families the resources they need to rebuild? Who has the cure for financial illiteracy and who can distribute it quickly and effectively across the country and eventually the world?

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