Archives for Christine

Should You Go Back to School or Back to Work?

Middle aged woman in school

For long-term parents who are either stay-at home parents, or else work very rarely, there can be a bit of a shock that comes when your kids finally reach the age where they all move out and start living their own lives. This time will probably be a mixture of sadness and relief, but the part that surprises most people is how much it shocks their sense of purpose. When you’ve spent the better part of 2 decades, at least, with raising children as your primary goal, then the sudden absence of that purpose can leave one feeling empty.

Typically, when considering where to go next with their lives, people consider two major possibilities: should I go back to school? Or back to work? This is a dilemma that honestly depends on the specific person’s situation, but there are some things to consider that make this decision a little easier…

Consider career happiness

First of all, if you are considering going back to work full-time, then you want to make sure that you will be able to do something that you somewhat enjoy, or at least something that you don’t absolutely hate! Because of this, it can make your choice rather easy if you find that you don’t necessarily have the qualifications to do something in a field that interests you. Oftentimes, people will find a way to get a position around something that they are in to, but other times they will need to go back to school for a period of time to put themselves in a position to do so.

Is it financially viable?

Obviously, the big question about going back to school is how much it is going to cost. It’s no secret that the price of higher education continues to climb, year after year. Do you really want to add that enormous expense to your pocketbook this late in life? Maybe you do. But the financial viability of going back to school is something you always need to consider. The good news is that there are many ways to get a secondary education for a relatively minute cost, such as applying for scholarships or taking classes at a community college.

Check out online school

Aside from cost, the practicalities of going back to college are easier than they’ve ever been for a lot of people. That’s because the landscape of higher education continues to change, particularly with how it interacts with the internet. Online classes have enabled countless people to get an education from a remote location, or take classes at a completely different institution than they go to, physically. It’s entirely possible that you’ll be able to work towards your education with online schooling, while at the same time going back into the workforce.

Consider a tech school

Higher education is a gigantic commitment of time and money. Sure, you may love the idea of going back and getting a degree, but several years of college is something that can be harder to justify later in life. For some people, though, with specific career interests, tech schools are a perfectly viable option. Tech schools tend to be very low cost, and can be completed within a matter of months, rather than years. Tech schools nowadays offer all kinds of programs, from metalworking, to cosmetology, to graphic design.

Look for an accommodating job

Again, there are a lot of different ways that you might be able to have your cake and eat it to, as it pertains to working while getting an education. Lots of the companies that are actually worth working for will have some degree of flexibility, in terms of letting you go to school while working there. If you are able to schedule your classes on one or two days a week, then it’s entirely possible that you will be able to find a job that is willing to work with that schedule while you are going to school.

The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit

Confident fashion designerAs of 2015, there were reportedly 27 million working-age Americans who were running or starting their own small business. According to the same survey, over half of the population thinks that entrepreneurship looks like a good option, with great opportunities for growth and reliable income. Are you one of that number, equipping yourself with an education now that will help you to build a new company?

Well, if that’s the case, then there are some important things that you need to understand going in. Entrepreneurship is a risky path, which is half of the appeal. After all, no risk, no reward, right? However, you can greatly increase your chances of success by having a comprehensive understanding of different aspects of business. Here are a few areas that are worth some extra study:
Startup meeting

Marketing

Often, the early marketing efforts of a new company will be the responsibility of owners and entrepreneurs. Thanks to the rise of new marketing, this responsibility often continues past the early phases. Now, when we say “new marketing,” we’re referring to the way that marketing has moved away from the days of Mad Men, when the whole goal was to have a hook, and to increase mass marketing exposure. Instead, marketing today is much more focused on hitting a specifically designated audience in order to get the most bang for your buck. It’s about catering your message to those who are most likely to become followers, customers, and clients. Furthermore, it’s less about manipulation and pandering, and much more about sharing stories, being genuine, and giving value. For example, if you’re familiar with the term “content marketing” you know that many companies are choosing to offer useful information for free–whether that’s in the form of how-to videos like these, shopping comparison guides, or tips for expansion–to help customers and potential customers to (1) get more effective use from their service, and to (2) build relationships of trust before someone even enters a professional relationships with the company. To learn more about how marketing has moved away from mass media, you can read this informative article.

What this means for you, of course, is that it’s your time to think like a marketer. Learn how to frame and share your story in order to effectively grow.

Hiring and Firing

One of the most difficult transitions for entrepreneurs comes when it’s time to hire new people to join your efforts. Transitioning from an entrepreneur to a manager isn’t for everyone, and sometimes you’ll have to hire someone from outside to do the heavy lifting and use their expertise in personnel management. However, knowing who to trust is really difficult. How can you be sure that they’ll catch and carry your original vision? Even worse, how do you know that they won’t take advantage of your trust?

Well, the first concern is addressed when you effectively grasp marketing. When you’re able to tell your own story, your purpose and mission, then new employees and managers are also able to reflect that story and purpose. The second concern can be mitigated when you take precautions to prevent fraud in your business. Although it might feel uncomfortable to put up measures that reflect mistrust, the truth is that many small businesses lose significant revenue because of internal fraud. Learn more about the precautions that you can take here.

Data and Reporting

Very few people like to spend their time looking closely at numbers. However, it’s an essential part of any business plan, big or small. Although you might prefer to spend your time on big picture things, you need to be able to quantify success in order to grow. This allows you to identify the areas of your business that are the most profitable, and whether the return on investment on many of your choices (i.e. purchasing new materials, hiring on someone to handle different tasks, investing in a marketing campaign, etc.) is enough to justify doing it again in the future.
People in office looking at charts
Additionally, getting effective data on your business will help you to grow and advertise it. It will help you to wisely scale as you grow, and to better reach the audience that you need to support expansion.

Scaling

Speaking of growth, scaling is one of the most common impediments for small businesses. Either they hit a wall and they just don’t know how to transition from a small-scale operation, or they expand their production too fast, and it’s not properly sustained by revenue. Getting effective data will help you to know a thing or two about how and when to expand. The other key to scaling wisely is to work in some good wiggle room. That means that instead of investing a lot from the beginning, you’re making money decisions that can bridge the gap between small and large. This might mean getting a storage unit for extra equipment instead of moving to a huge office downtown, until you really have the revenue that can support that big office. It might mean hiring on part-time employees and interns rather than taking on a large crew of full-time employees, until you understand what the actual workload will be.

5 Skills You Should Know Before Living On Your Own

Family gatheredBy Aurora McCausland

Moving out and living on your own, especially for the very first time, can be an intimidating experience. Most of the skills you need to survive on your own, aren’t things that you were taught in high school. You don’t really need to know anything about mitochondria, how to find the square root of most numbers, or how to format a paper in MLA format. For everyday existence, there’s an entirely different set of skills you should attain before living on your own.

How to take care of your car

A surprising amount of people have no idea how to change a tire. If they find themselves with a flat, they call roadside assistance, or wait and hope someone friendly will stop and help them change it. Avoid this situation altogether, by simply learning how to change a tire. And while you’re at it, learning a few of the ins and outs of simple car repairs for your car, isn’t a bad idea. Learning how to change the oil in your car will save you money every few months when it comes time to get it changed. It’s a job that you can do yourself, takes less than twenty minutes, and is incredibly easy to do. Learning how to take care of your car will help you save money and help you feel more secure when you drive your car.

How to budget and manage your finances

Unless your parents were really good at teaching you how to manage your finances, it’s very possible that you’ll find yourself lost and stressed about paying your bills on time, when you move out. Balancing a budget isn’t nearly as a difficult of a job as many people think it is, but it’s an intimidating task if you have no idea what you’re doing. One of the easiest things to do, is set up an allotted budget per month for different expense categories. Things such as eating out, groceries, gas, utilities, rent, etc. There are a lot of great apps, such as Mint, that will help you keep track of your spending habits. Just make sure that you pay your bills on time, and your income is always higher than your expenses.

How to check your furnace and AC units

There is little worse than being in the dead of summer in the middle of a heat wave, and your air conditioning not functioning. Just as bad, being in the middle of a snowstorm and your furnace breaking. Some things are really big jobs and will require a handyman who knows what they’re doing. But it’s worth your time to learn a few of the basic functions of how to work and fix your furnace and air conditioning units, as well as your water heater, so if something goes awry, you can make temporary repairs until a professional is available to come take a look at it.

How to do basic household maintenance

Some parents require a lot from their children, while others, require very little. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, it’s important that you know how to manage and take care of your household. Things like, how to wash dishes by hand, basic cooking skills, how to do laundry, and the most efficient ways to sweep and mop, are necessary to know if you’ll be living on your own. Some of these may seem basic, but if they’re things you’ve only ever witnessed your parents doing, and have never had to do for yourself, you may want to pay a little more attention and lend a hand next time your parents are making dinner.

How to manage stress

Living on your own is stressful. Whether you live completely alone, with roommates, or with a significant other, moving out of the comfort of your parents’ home is a stressful transition. No matter how prepared you are, and how many necessary skills you already know, you’ll feel stressed out during this time. That’s normal! Learn healthy coping skills so you can maintain your sanity and manage your stress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Things such as self-care, breathing exercises, and time management, will help tremendously when you find yourself overwhelmed and stressed out.

Considerations If You’re Moving to Another Country

Moving visaMoving to another country can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling adventures of a lifetime. Going to a place that is strange and vastly different from your own home shouldn’t be a life goal for the faint of heart, but it can be a radically potent chapter of personal development. If you are considering moving to a new country, then it is important to sit down and go over some key aspects of what this will mean for your life. Here are some considerations you should make, if you are thinking of moving to another country…

Language barriers

First of all, for many places, language could be something that makes it difficult to integrate, for a while. Perhaps you already speak the language of the country (hence you planning to move there), or maybe many people there speak your native tongue. But if this isn’t the case, then you should plan on having this be a major hurdle for at least several months. However, the benefit of going somewhere that speaks a different language is that it forces you to learn a new language at a rapid rate. Honestly, this sort of trial-by-fire is the best way to adapt a new language.

Moving across the world

Tax and insurance implications

If you are a United States citizen, then moving to another country and making that your residence is going to have implications on your taxes, every year. Depending on the country, and if your work is located within that country, then you might have to pay taxes to two different places, which can put on more of a financial strain. In addition to this, some insurance companies won’t offer insurance for expats in another country, or will charge high premiums for those that do. Truth be told, a lot of this has to do with which country you are planning to move to, so you’ll need to do some in-depth research on your own.

Moving will be difficult

Many people envision the glamour of actually living in a new country, but it’s also important to think pragmatically about how you would go about moving there. If you have a lot of things that you’ll want to take with you, then the moving process is going to be quite a headache. Moving is already difficult when you move between states, but going to a new country adds a whole layer of complications. For this reason, many people opt to get rid of most of their things when they move to a new country. However, if you do want to move with your things, there are some comprehensive moving service companies that can assist in this.

Purchasing large-ticket items

If you do move to a new country, one thing to consider is whether or not you should purchase any large-ticket items, such as a home or a vehicle. Usually, you would only want to purchase these things if you are planning on staying in the country for an indefinite period of time. Sometimes, depending on the country, turning around and selling these things can take quite a bit of time and paperwork. This means that you should probably avoid purchasing these commodities if you aren’t certain that you’ll be there for a number of years, if you can help it.

Can you make money there?

Shaking hands with realtorSure, you might’ve always envisioned living in France, or in Japan, but the thing that is going to make or break these dreams is if you can really make a living there. Look at how each country treats foreign work visas, and then consider if you can actually find a way to make money in the country that you want to live in. The alternative to working within those countries is to have a job in the United States that you don’t have to be at, and can work for remotely. No matter how much cheaper it is to live in a certain country, you’re not really saving any money if you aren’t also making it.

What I Wish I’d Known as a Freshman

College student smiling
By Christine H.

College is exciting. It’s the time when you decide who you’re going to be and what you’re going to do. It’s the first time that you’re away from your family and able to do things completely independently. It can also be completely and utterly overwhelming.

Here are a few things that I wish I’d known my first year of college, to get the most out of my experience:

1: Take classes that will challenge you

Don’t go for the easy A. This college thing is expensive, and you want to really make the most of the opportunities you have here. Sure, don’t overload yourself. But don’t slide through, either. Take classes that pique your interest at the beginning, even if they’re not perfectly on the path of your graduation plan. Take time to try new things, and challenge yourself.

2: Get involved in the fun side

It’s easy to get bogged down with the pressure of grades and finals. But the majority of your treasured college memories are going to come from outside of the classroom. Show some school spirit in your dress and activity, go to games, and join in on rivalries in good-natured fun. Make time for extracurricular activities, and practice saying yes to things that you’re nervous about.

3: Take the opportunity to travel

College guys at football game Student visas are pretty much the easiest method of traveling, and traveling deeply. I mean, the kind of travel where you’re not just a tourist, but a participant in the country that you visit. It gets a lot more difficult when you’re done with school. So, even though you don’t have money for it right now, seize opportunities to study abroad, or to backpack Europe during summer vacation.

4: Be friends with people from different backgrounds

Something about being away from home will make you gravitate towards anything familiar. That’s fine, at first, but the truth is that here at college is one of your biggest opportunities to understand people from completely different walks of life. Embrace that! Don’t think that you have to agree on everything in order to get along. In order to understand who you are and who you want to be, you’ll probably want to be exposed to a lot of different ways of living.

5: There are cheap grocery options besides ramen!

Seriously, if you can live off of rice, bananas, and potatoes, you can eat for under 100$ per month, easily. Your thriving young body might be able to run off of red bull and nothing else for right now, but you’ll see a marked improvement if you differentiate your diet with something a little more substantial. So learn how to cook for yourself. It really is possible to eat well without sacrificing too much money or time.

6: Your major doesn’t matter as much as you think

Girl who fell asleep studyingThere’s a lot of pressure attached to finding your major. It’s terrifying! But what’s important to remember is that in the long run, WHAT your degree is in won’t matter near as much as the fact that you actually have one. Which major you pick right now doesn’t necessarily have to dictate the rest of your life. It can just be career #1 in a world where people change careers (yes, careers, not jobs) three times or more in their lifetime. You can still change your mind later down the road, and you’re guaranteed to learn and evolve a lot while you’re out there in the workforce. Remember, it doesn’t all have to happen right now.

7: Work

A lot of people are critical of working while studying, thinking that it will compromise your focus on academics. But the truth is, you’re going to learn just as much in the jobs that you find as you do in your classes. Taking full-time jobs during the off-semester can help you gain more direction about where you want to work and what you want to learn while you’re in school. Working a part-time job during the semester can help you be exposed to fascinating experiences, since work-study programs often give you a chance to work in different areas, with different mentors. In my personal experience, it also forces you to manage your time better.

8: Friends come and go

You probably hear that “during college you make friends that you’ll keep with you your whole life!” Well, that’s true. But it’s also true that you meet a LOT of people during college. Some will become great friends, others won’t. You might feel like you’re a rotating door of friend-groups and relationships sometimes. Don’t get too discouraged by this. The reason that college friends last is because you find people who truly share your values and interests, and because you share experiences that bond you together forever. Those friends and relationships with shine through over time, and even over moves. Don’t get anxious because someone gets wrapped up in a relationship for a little while, or because another friend transfers to another school. Learn to roll with the fluctuations and keep in touch where you can.

What’s Your Millennial Financial Style?

Kid acting like office workerThere’s a lot that’s been said about Millennials, and there’s going to be a lot more. We’re the biggest workforce to date, and a generation who has seen huge changes come and go in a short amount of time. There are a lot of unique characteristics that social analysts are trying to watch, reading the augurs for a glimpse of what the future holds for societal change.

One of the most noticeable changes that Millennials are ushering in is money management. There are a few key differences between the way that youth between 18 and 35 are handling their money, as opposed to how their parents did. Some people see these changes and welcome them as a good thing; others worry about what it will do for the future economy. It seems quite clear that in a group of people even bigger than the baby boomers, there are going to be a lot of different styles and approaches to money. Here are four major personas that we’ve observed in millennial money management trends. You might be just one persona from the list below, or you might see a lot of yourself in several different identities. Wherever you feel like you fit, remember that there’s a smart way to do it, and a dumb one.

The Perpetual Student

There are quite a few of us out there who, for one reason or another, decided to get not just one degree (which is enough to put us over $100k in debt) but another one. Some of us chose this route because we were postponing entering the workforce, hoping for a better time. Others started working, but couldn’t find the passion that they wanted in the drone-jobs that made themselves available and so went back to school with a more focused goal. Others of us are simply getting a degree the first time around. In any case, there’s one sentiment we all pretty much share: we can’t really afford this! At first we tried to save up, working side jobs and putting money away, looking for scholarships and awards. But the truth is that once you see a statement telling you that you’re $100k in debt, and it’ll take you about 40 years to pay it off… well, that’s when you feel like giving up. You start to wonder, when does loan forgiveness kick in? And you don’t mind blowing another $1,000 on an indulgence because, psh, it’s nothing more than a month of student loan payments. If you’re in this boat, here are just a few gems of advice:
Man with new diploma

  • Prioritize the loans! It might feel like the interest payments will never let up, but if you can target the ones with the worst rates first, you’re going to start seeing significant changes in a year or two.
  • Set a plan. I know it feels like you’re not making much progress with those loans yet. But make sure that you set a plan and stick to it. It’s the only way to make progress, and it’s discipline that will serve you long after the loans are paid.
  • If you’re still a student, be strategic. The biggest advice post-grads can give is to consider whether your extra, expensive degrees will actually serve your career goals. Will it actually qualify you for a position that will help you pay off those loans reasonably?

Mr. Cautious and Conservative

You’ve seen what unwise management and rampant consumerism did to your parents because here they are postponing retirement. Whether that’s due to the recession or something else, you don’t want to fall into the same trap that your parents did. So you tend to go easy on your finances. You get by on less because you learned those skills during college and you don’t see the need to change just yet. You’ve built up your nest egg, and now you need to think about the next financial step, but you’re still gun-shy of risk, and so you don’t know how to trust your money to investment. You probably also don’t make all that much money, and studies show that millennials are working for tiny wages, much less than our parents were paid at our age when we adjust for inflation. What to do?

  • First of all, get comfortable with a little bit of risk. It’s part of the process of investment, and it’s really not as risky as you think. Although the market goes through peaks and valleys, it will climb up steadily over longer amounts of time. Even in the wake of the financial crisis, rates recovered and climbed. Eventually, it all evens out. Besides, you’re young! Now is the time for you to not worry about the fluctuations too much.
  • Your savings account is losing money. That’s right, even if you’re getting a few cents in interest (really, banks? That’s the best you can do?) every month, your money sitting there is depreciating, and not growing along with the rest of the market. So think seriously about investing, even if your approach is going to be mega-cautious. There are many conservative investment strategies out there that yield a whole lot more than a savings account.

The Energetic Entrepreneur

Woman posing at PisaAlright, you’ve gotten over the fear of risk. So, people sometimes lose their money in the market. At least they took a shot, right? Young adults today are more likely than ever to wish to go into business for themselves. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a whole generation of kids hoping to get stinking rich off selling an app, and then sitting in a pool floatie for the rest of their days. Most millennials are eager to think outside the box, start something new, make a name for themselves, and actually be free to do something they’re proud of, rather than being a cog in a bigger machine that’s probably owned by evil fat cats. I applaud you for taking risks. After all, you’re young and the time is now! However, there are plenty of ways that that idea can backfire on you. Here are some tips to keep your dreams in line:

  • Remember you have to put in the time. The entrepreneurial spirit is a beautiful thing, but it often takes a while to pay off. You might have to weather a few failures, and learn from your mistakes. Take trusted advice whenever you get it, and take precautions to make sure that a business bust doesn’t cripple you financially. Understand how business loans and investor relations work before you get tied up in them.
  • A good idea isn’t enough. The world is full of brilliant ideas that can’t get off the ground. It’s going to take a large amount of grit, savvy, and luck to create a successful business. So educate yourself all you can, and team up with people who offer strengths that answer your weaknesses.

The Free Spirit

Numerous surveys on buying trends show that millennials far prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than items. Perhaps that’s why travel is at an all-time high, and some traditional markets, like housing, are lower. This doesn’t mean that millennials don’t spend! They’re likely to spend more money on a unique experience, in order to support a brand they love, and even to support a cause that they believe in. These individuals are likely to blow their savings on an impromptu trip to the Caribbean, and also to shell out their spending money from the week to help with a humanitarian cause. What’s important to remember here is that these are not irresponsible spenders, although it might look like it to an older generation who valued very different things. Instead, they’re putting their money towards things that are most important to them. Here are some tips to make sure that your money is serving you, instead of vice versa.

  • Remember a balance between practicality and indulgence. Measures you take today to invest can support continuing the lifestyle you love even as financial responsibilities stack up.
  • Do your research. Because companies know that millennials are drawn to philanthropic causes, they’re likely to play up this idea without an actual passion for it. Conversely, some organizations are passionate about their cause, but they can also do more harm than help for some. As an example, look into the buy-one-give-one model of Tom’s shoes and what it does for local economies.

 

The American Dream and the American Reality

More books and films have been dedicated to the American Dream than I can count. It is inspiring and exciting to witness someone achieve greatness. This nation is special because built into its very core is the notion that anyone can rise above their own station in life and take hold of their destiny. The American mythos is one of self determination and worthwhile endeavor. The question is this: why do so few people actually achieve the American Dream? While the Dream remains in place, reality presents a jarring disconnect. The distribution of American wealth over the last several decades has been one of increasing division between the wealthy and the poor.

Wealth Distribution

I remember hearing about the occupy Wall Street protests that had taken root in the country a few years ago. I didn’t exactly know what it was all about, but I remember it being a big deal. Basically, people were angry that the vast majority of wealth in the U.S. is controlled by an increasingly smaller group of people. As it turns out, the average yearly income for people in the bottom 90% is around $35,000. The upper 10% make around $300,000, the top 5% about $470,000, and the top 1% bring in around $1,300,000. Then there is the top .1% of people in the country who earn approximately $6,700,000 every year.

Basically, .1% of the population earns 20% of the collective income earned in the United States every year. To put things in perspective, this income percentage has not been this high since the roaring 20’s. After the Great Depression, the income share of the .1% dropped by about half and hovered there until around the 1970’s. Since then, the amount of wealth controlled by this narrow margin of individuals has been on the rise.

What to make of this?

Based off of this evidence, the majority of people striving for the American Dream rarely ever achieve the goal. In fact, a solid 20% of the American population only earns about $25,500 before taxes. According to the U.S. government, single person households that earn around $12,000 a year are considered to be living in poverty while four person households earning $24,500 are also considered in that distinction. This constitutes a substantial amount of people unable to escape poverty.

While this kind of disparity certainly causes economic hardships, these lower income individuals have several other concerns as well. For example, housing for people in this income bracket is often outdated and can even be dangerous due to instability, crowding, or mold. However, without money to spare, people delay getting these potentially dangerous problems solved. People making this much money also typically have higher health risks, and when their health does take a hit, they can’t afford the bills. This is especially the case for individuals with substance abuse problems. While anyone from any income bracket can become addicted, typically only those with higher salaries are capable of affording treatment. In general, individuals living in poverty have a far more difficult time coping with physical and mental illness.

What to do?

There are many potential solutions to this problem. Politicians and pundits argue and discuss them on a regular basis. Some suggest raising the minimum wage, while others see this as damaging to the economy. Improving and making education more accessible is also seen as viable way to help address this issue. By improving–and expanding–education we would give individuals a better chance at better paying jobs and careers.

But how can you become engaged with the issue? Sometimes, it is easy to feel powerless or out of the conversation. You don’t have to be a member of congress to make a difference. You can always become better informed. Conduct good and responsible research, learn to understand the problem, and develop your own opinion. Vote for individuals who you feel will enact policies to help shift this trend. Finally, have open conversations with as many people as you can. Your awareness, and involvement, is the best path forward. Together, we can restore the American Dream and begin to make it a reality.

Housing: Sell, Buy, Rent?

For sale sign upMaking the decision of whether or not it’s time to buy a home can be very difficult. Most students wind up renting property, but for those savvy and interested in investing, you can often buy a house with monthly payments adding up to less than you’d have spent on rent. Of course, starting this journey means learning more about buyer’s and seller’s markets, when the right time is to buy, and when it’s best to hold off. For those times when you and your family are not sure as to whether it is a good time to sell your house, here is a look at the top indicators that it’s a good time for you to sell your home.

You recently updated some key aspects of your home.

By recent, I’m talking within the past two years or so. There will always be those standard home upgrades that homebuyers look for when shopping around for a home. The top upgrades that homebuyers look for include:

  • Kitchen appliances
  • Kitchen countertops (especially granite or quartz)
  • Bathroom remodel
  • Garage door (especially one that increases curb appeal)
  • Windows
  • Siding
  • Roofing
  • Plumbing upgrades (as needed)
  • Electrical upgrades (as needed)
  • Fresh paint

Family at homeIf you’ve recently upgraded your home in those areas, then your home is, in many ways, already ready for the market. If some of these things are upgrades that you are already planning to make in the near future, consider waiting until these upgrades are finished to put your home on the market.

Your home no longer suits your lifestyle.

How well does your current home serve your lifestyle? Maybe your family is growing out of your current home, for example, with three kids all sharing one bedroom and all of you sharing one bathroom. Alternatively, maybe you and your spouse are empty nesters now that the kids have moved out, meaning that you would be completely ready to downsize. If your current home no longer suits your lifestyle, that’s often reason enough (assuming your finances will allow it) to consider putting a for sale sign in your yard.

The housing market favors the seller.

New key and stacked penniesSometimes the housing market is a “buyer’s market,” and sometimes it is a “seller’s market.” How do you know which one it is currently? Well, in a buyer’s market, the number of homes listed for sale exceeds demand. In a seller’s market, there aren’t enough homes being listed for sale to keep up with the current buyers’ demand. One easy way to assess the current market in your area is to look at the average duration of a house market listing. The shorter the average duration of a listing, the more the market favors the seller.

You have the resources to buy a new home.

Before listing your home on the market, it’s essential to take an inventory of your finances and to determine if you truly have the resources to move to a new location. Are you prepared to take on a more expensive mortgage? Do the homes in your desired new area fall within your budget? Will you be able to pay a mover to help you take all of your possessions with you? Even if all of the other “stars” are aligned as you consider putting your house on the market, none of it will matter if moving will be a major detriment to your finances. If you’ve paid off all non-mortgage debt and have three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund, then you’re probably ready to start looking at a new home.

Your current equity would help you put 20% down on a new home.

Okay, so there’s one more thing that you would want to seriously consider when assessing your finances before a major move—and that thing is equity. Ask a real estate agent to run a comparative market analysis (CMA) for you to determine your home’s approximate value. Then, subtract your outstanding loan balances from this number to determine how much home equity you hold. The number you end up with is the portion of your property that you truly own, or your equity. If your equity is high enough to afford you a 20% down payment on your next home—something that is highly advantageous as it allows you to forego paying for mortgage insurance—then you can rest assured that you are in good financial shape for buying a new home.

Handling Finances as Newly-Weds

Just MarriedBy Christine H.

Lots of life changes happen when you’re a student. Often, there’s a move involved. You learn how to become financially and practically independent. And for many of us, it’s also a time when we’re looking for a partner to spend the rest of our lives with. All of these factors can complicate finances. When you get engaged, future finances are probably the last thing on your mind. Few couples think about how they’ll handle a budget as a team. Instead, we just assume that things will work out.

Financial difficulties are the most common marital stress, according to a study by SunTrust Bank. And further research from Kansas State University shows that arguments about finances early on in a relationship are the single biggest danger sign of divorce. This is true whatever the couple’s income is, whether they’re struggling with minimum-wage jobs, or living comfortably with 100k/year.

If you don’t make a financial plan with your spouse early on, you could be setting yourself up for failure. It’s not uncommon for financial and relationship counselors to hear about a husband hiding the fact that he was laid off and is going into serious debt to pay for the house. Or think about these other common conflicts:

  • The wife spending the couple’s savings on a fancy television instead of continuing to save for the vacation that the husband wanted.
  • One person insisting on a house or apartment that’s outside of the income range right now, while the other wants to avoid going into too much debt.
  • Spending years paying off early debt from an elaborate wedding.
  • A new husband needing to borrow money from parents in order to make ends meet, while the wife doesn’t want to be in debt to her in-laws.

Some of these scenarios may feel all too familiar. However, we don’t consider how dangerous these arguments can actually be, or take action to correct it.

Money and Stress

There are a few things to consider while you’re looking at your approach as a couple to finances. For one thing, it’s important to realize that a disconnect in how you both prefer to handle money and what your spending and saving habits are can put major strain on the relationship. It may be hard to imagine right now, but it’s true.

Having fun in new houseFor another thing, it’s important to acknowledge that you’re in it together. If just one person is taking the helm on finances, it’s important for the other party to at least understand what’s going on. Far too many new grooms are, by default, assuming all financial responsibility and cracking under the strain when things don’t go quite as planned.

That’s why it’s important to have a plan, whatever that plan may be. This should be an open discussion between the two of you.

A Few Different Approaches

There’s no one “right” way for couples to handle finances. For some, merging bank accounts and streamlining the finances that way is the best approach. Others want to maintain their separate accounts, and that doesn’t mean that they’re any less committed as a couple. Some couples want both parties highly involved in the day-to-day operations, whereas others designate one person to handle most of it. Set it up however you’d like, but have a plan.

Some Questions to Get the Discussion Started

  1. Are you in debt? Do you ever plan to be? What do you believe is worth going into debt for?
  2. How many credit cards do you have and how do you use them?
  3. Do you set a monthly budget? Have you ever? Are you good at sticking to it?
  4. When’s the last time you incurred a late fee for nonpayment?
  5. Financially, where do you imagine we’ll be in 5 years? 10? 20?
  6. How do you think we should pay for our children’s expenses and college?
  7. If we suddenly had $3,000 surplus right now, how would you want to spend it?

Some Money-Smart Tips for Newlyweds

Couple stressed over money

  • Live somewhere that reflects your actual income. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you have to move into a big house like what your parents have. It took them a while to get to that point. As newlyweds, and people just starting out in life, you might need to carefully consider the cost of an extra bedroom. This post has a really helpful price-comparison.
  • Discuss whether you want to have kids, and whether one of you will be a stay-at-home caretaker when that time comes.
  • Speaking of your home, you might be excited to nest, but keep costs low at first. Nice furniture and decor can quickly drain your savings. Instead, save on decorating your new home with some great tips from this article.
  • Always err on the side of caution, and save for the future instead. Life WILL get more expensive, even though all you see now is how you’ll make better money in the future.
  • Don’t eat out too much. Instead, cook together at home whenever possible.
  • Always communicate! As this post states, it’s very easy for people to have a different vision for the future, and never know. Talk about finances before it becomes a taboo subject between the two of you.