Archives For Budgeting

       This is the final article in a ten part series on how to get out of debt. If you haven’t already, you should check out the previous articles:


Step 10 – Don’t Get Trapped Again!

       You’ve finally paid off the debts that have been dragging you down. You’ve topped off your emergency fund so you don’t have to rely on credit cards when things go wrong. You feel like you can rest easy. But your journey isn’t quite over.

       It’s taken a lot of work to get here. The last thing you want to do is go back to the patterns that got you into debt in the first place! I’ll be the first to congratulate you for reaching your goal, but the true measure of your success will be your ability to continue using the skills you’ve learned in this process. If you get back into overspending and not preparing for emergencies, you’ll have to do this all over again. I don’t think you want to go there.

       So to make sure you don’t get trapped by debt again, let’s take a few moments to consider what you’ll need to do to retain this success. My hope is that the process of paying off your debt has changed your habits so that you’ll maintain them for the rest of your life. But you’ll have to keep your eyes open so you never fall into the pits of debt again.

  • Limit Your Use of Debt – Debt can be useful for some situations, but using a credit card because you don’t have the money isn’t one of them. Limit your use of debt so that you only consider it as an option when it is wise. Buying a home, getting an education, or starting/expanding a business can be good reasons for using debt (but not always). There may be times when debt appears to be your only option, but make sure it’s your choice of last resort and that you absolutely need whatever it is you’re paying for.
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  • Continue to Track and Optimize Your Spending – The single best way to make sure you prevent overspending is to keep an eye on what you’re spending and review it regularly. The simple action of tracking your spending will naturally lead you to spend less because you’re consciously thinking about every dollar that leaves your hands. You can also use the information you collect to find the areas where you can cut back on things that aren’t important to you.
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  • Look for Ways to Earn More – If you’ve been in debt for a while, it’s likely you’re a bit behind on saving for retirement and other financial goals. To catch up you not only need to decrease your spending but you also need to increase your earnings. Combining those strategies will leave you with the money you need to save and reach your goals. Advance your career, earn some money on the side, or start your own business – there are many ways to increase your income.
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  • Keep Your Emergency Fund Stocked Up – If you have to use your emergency fund, be sure to replenish those savings as soon as possible so you’ll be ready for the next Murphy’s Law event. Also, don’t look at that money as your “spend on anything” fund. It’s there for a purpose. Only use it for that purpose!
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  • Have a Plan and Save for the Future – You got into debt because you didn’t have a plan. Fail to make a plan now and you’ll probably end up in debt again. Make a plan, choose your goals, and figure out how you’ll get there. Save for those goals so you won’t be tempted to use debt on a whim.
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  • Learn to Find Contentment – Finally, seek contentment in all things. Comparing ourselves to others, wanting what “they” have, and not being happy with our situation all lead us to living beyond our means. And living beyond our means leads to debt. Discover what’s truly important in your life, eliminate what isn’t, and set your own standards for success and happiness rather than letting others do it for you.



       That’s it for this series! As I mentioned in the last part of this series, my plan is to combine these ten steps with some valuable resources to help make getting out of debt achievable and easier. Make sure you’ve signed up for free updates to Provident Planning so you don’t miss out when I release this invaluable package! If you’ve signed up for free updates, you’ll be sure to see it as soon as it’s available.

       Have you gotten out of debt and stayed out of debt? How did you do it? What has been key to your success? Let me know in the comments below!

The Secret to a Successful Budget eBook
 
       Welcome to the Carnival of Personal Finance #271 – The Secret to a Successful Budget eBook Edition! My friend Craig Ford at Money Help for Christians is launching a new eBook today. It’s designed to help you discover the secrets to successful budgeting.

       I think it’s a great resource for anyone who’s ever struggled with budgeting, so I’ve included some quotes from his eBook throughout this carnival. You can get the book for 30% off if you buy before midnight (EDT) August 31st, 2010. Be sure to read through to the end of this carnival because I’ll be giving away two FREE copies to two lucky winners!

Editor’s Choice

       Here are my top picks from the submissions this week:

  • Mike Piper from Oblivious Investor presents Dealing with Investment Confusion, and says, “What’s the best approach to dealing with the confusion that comes from being a new investor?” – [Mike shares some good advice for people who are confused about investing. It won't immediately cure your confusion, but applying this strategy over and over will help you make informed decisions you can stick to.]
  • Briana Ford from Go Banking Rates presents Why Americans Can’t Afford to Die [Infographic], and says, “If you never thought about this problem before, take a look at how expensive funerals really are. You may discover you, like many Americans, simply can’t afford to die.” – [What can I say? I'm a sucker for infographics.]
  • Len from Len Penzo dot Com presents A Simple Trick to Get Your Credit Card Interest Charges Waived. – [I wish more people realized the power of Len's simple trick!]
  • Lauren from Richly Reasonable presents 4 Bad Deals, and says, “The term “Bad Deal” is relative. Not only is Necessity the mother of Invention, she is also the mother of many a Bad Deal. Necessity has a TON of children.” – [Funny, smart, and witty - and likely to open a few eyes at least!]
  • Jacob A. Irwin from My Personal Finance Journey presents Adjusting My Monthly Budget to Account for Home Ownership, and says, “A look at the steps I have recently taken to adjust my personal budget to account for the various elements of home ownership.” – [At our current rent rate owning a home just doesn't make sense. Just look at all the costs involved!]

       Congratulations to the editor’s choice picks! Here are the rest of the articles from this week’s submissions.

Money Management

  • MD from Studenomics presents Quick College Students Guide To Personal Finance.
  • Jason from One Money Design presents How Do You Live Well on Less Pay?, and says, “There are plenty of people that don’t make a lot of money and have trouble covering basic expenses each month. There are 5 essential tips to follow to live well on less pay.”
  • Revanche from A Gai Shan Life presents Shopping for the single life .
  • ispf from Grad Money Matters presents The American Dream of Home Ownership: 10 Things You Can Do as a Student.
  • Jim from Wanderlust Journey presents Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Shareholder Benefits.
  • Jason from Live Real, Now presents Check Your Bills, and says, “Can you automate your finances too far?”
  • Elle from Couple Money presents Financial Tips for College Success, and says, “Many college students are surprised to see how easy it is to build a financial foundation for themselves. Learn how to set up bank accounts, pay your bills, and start a graduation fund.”
  • DE(a)BTh from Murder Your Debt presents Your Wasted Life, and says, “You thought financing a house and a fast car meant freedom. That an expensive education would lead you to a rewarding career where you could earn lots of money. You were wrong, weren’t you? You hate your career but you’re stuck. You’re stuck because you swallowed the lies you were sold. The lies that material possessions bring success. The lies that more money means more happiness. And now what? You’ve got it all; the cars, the house with the huge yard, the sexy outfits and shiny shoes. But you’re STILL not happy!”
  • vh from Funny about Money presents Social Security’s Bizarre Rules, and says, “Social Security’s restrictive rules make it impossible to get out of poverty when unemployment forces one into early retirement and stock-market losses militate against retirement fund drawdowns.”
  • J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy presents What would you do with an extra $1,000?, and says, “Montel Williams wants to know ;)”
  • Bob from Christian Finances presents How to spend unexpected income: 3 questions to ask, and says, “It can be tough to know what to do when you receive a large sum of cash – this article will give you some questions to help you figure out what to do with it…”
  • Mr. GoTo from Go To Retirement presents How Much Long Term Care Insurance Should You Have?, and says, “Insuring against a long term care event is part of personal risk management. Estimating the amount of long term care coverage to obtain requires careful consideration of several factors.”


If you are working 40 or more hours a week to earn your money, don’t you think it is worth an hour or two to set up a budget?

Isn’t it worth spending about an hour every week to manage the money you work so hard to earn? It is always better to manage what you have than to work yourself crazy trying to get more money.

- from page 21 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford


Finance


Investing

  • Dividend Growth Investor from Dividend Growth Investor presents 33 Dividend Champions to Consider, and says, “Dividend investor David Fish has created a list of dividend stocks which have raised distributions for 25 consecutive years and has named it the dividend champions list. His list includes 100 companies, which is more than twice the size of the Dividend Aristocrats. I ran a screen on the list in order to identify stocks for further research.”
  • Mike from The Financial Blogger presents Use the Loonie’s Strength to Invest in the Eagle Market, and says, “Canadian dollar is strong compared to the US dollar at this time. Use this as an opportunity to invest in US stocks.”
  • Div Guy from The Dividend Guy Blog presents Dividend Investing with Less Than $1,000 Part 3: How to Pick Your ETFs and/or Dividend Funds, and says, “Starting to invest is quite motivating but as a young investor, you must put greed and hype aside and start by looking for sound investments.”
  • Squirrelers presents Small Stocks = High Return and High Volatility, and says, “Small stocks, particularly those in the lowest deciles, have performed very well over the long-term. They can be an important part of your asset allocation, provided you can stomach the associated risks.”
  • D4L from Dividends Value presents My Top 6 Performing Dividend Stocks Just Might Surprise You, and says, “As I have stated many times, my goal is to create an ever growing income stream from dividend stocks. Secondarily, it is my desire to beat the S&P 500 over time. With that said, I rarely look at the capital performance of individual stocks. However, I recently sorted my portfolio by Total Gain % (total gain/basis) and was mildly surprised at the top performers.”
  • ElizabethG (Modern Gal) from Modern Gal presents Investing for Inflation in 2010.
  • DSO from High Dividend Stocks presents Big GE and it’s big dividend, and says, “One of America’s oldest and most prestigious companies has become an accidental high yielder.”


Budgeting in and of itself is useless.

Budgeting is part of a larger financial plan.

- from page 9 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford


Budgeting


Saving


Frugality


You need to focus your finances on accomplishing one major task at a time.

If you don’t, the danger is that every dollar will be diluted to a point that it makes little impact helping you reach your goals.

- from page 9 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford


Debt


Credit


The goal of the budget is to help you spend less than you earn.

Therefore, this becomes the single criteria for an effective budget – does it help you spend less than you earn?

- from page 12 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford


Reviews

  • PT from PT Money presents Free Prepaid Credit Cards, and says, “A thorough, original review of the best free prepaid credit cards, including those that are free of activation and monthly fees. These cards are great for those who need to avoid debt, or those that can’t get a traditional bank account.”
  • Silicon Valley Blogger from The Digerati Life presents Citi Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard Review, and says, “Here’s a review of a credit card I actually like.”


Real Estate

  • FMF from Free Money Finance presents How to Hire a Home Inspector, and says, “When you buy a home, you need to be sure you hire a good home inspector to identify any potential problems. This post gives tips on how to do this.”
  • Jeff Rose from Good Financial Cents presents Should You Upgrade to a Larger Home”, and says, ”
    In many markets, home owners are looking at homes in the next price range up as good buys, since foreclosures and a slow market are resulting in good deals. But, as tempting as it is to upgrade to a larger home, is it really a good idea? Here are some things to consider before upgrading to a larger home.”
  • Rob from Two Wise Acres presents 3 Things to Avoid When Buying a Home, and says, “When buying a home, it’s critical that you avoid these three credit mistakes.”
  • ctreit from Money Obedience presents Do renters really save money in the end?.


Taxes

  • pkamp3 from Don’t Quit Your Day Job… presents Tax Incidence, and says, “Who really pays for a tax when it is enacted? If the government enacts a new tax on washing machines, is the entire tax on Maytag? The consumer? Cameron Daniels breaks down the details.”


A budget lets your spouse see your values and priorities in a tangible way.

A budget forces you to communicate not just about your life goals, but also about your daily financial preferences.

- from page 16 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford


Career

  • Kristina from Dinks Finance presents A DINK in The Office, and says, “As a married or unmarried employee with no children, are you treated differently than your colleagues with kids?”
  • Nicole from Nicole and Maggie: Grumpy Rumblings presents Why did you go to graduate school?, and says, “Nicole and Maggie discuss reasons for graduate school and how sometimes we’re directed into a career for the right reasons and sometimes we fall into it for the wrong reasons. But it turns out OK anyway (or maybe it doesn’t, but you can always change your mind).”


Economy

  • Bret from Hope to Prosper presents Trillion Dollar Public Pension Shortfall, and says, “An article in the New York Times stated that there is a $1 Trillion dollar public pension shortfall. Despite repeated denials from PERS and public employee unions, public pensions are in big trouble.”
  • JLP from AllFinancialMatters.com presents Democrats, Republicans, and the Federal Debt Since 1979, and says, “Though the title may suggest it, this is not a “political” post.”


Budgeting is a process, not an event.

You won’t wake up tomorrow with an effective budget. Instead, you will start with a decent budget that later becomes a good budget. Eventually, it is a great budget.

- from page 16 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford


Other


The Secret to a Successful Budget eBook Giveaway!

       As promised, I’m giving away two free copies of The Secret to a Successful Budget courtesy of Craig. To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling me how budgeting has helped you OR your biggest struggle with budgeting. I’ll use random.org to select two winners tomorrow evening (August 24, 2010) at 5:00 PM EDT so be sure to enter by then!!! I’ll update this post to announce the winners, but use a valid email address when you comment so I can reach you if you win. Good luck!

[Update: Laura has won a free copy of The Secret to a Successful Budget! Congratulations!!!]


The Secret to a Successful Budget eBook

       On Monday, I wrote about the three methods of making money. Tuesday, I talked about three reasons why Christians should not think about earning more money. And today, we’re continuing the discussion by looking at two reasons why Christians should think about earning more money.

       While I had three reasons why we shouldn’t think about making more money, I’ve only thought of two reasons why we should be thinking about how we can earn more. The lack of a third reason does not mean much though. I think these are two powerful reasons why Christians should be looking for ways to make more money.

1. You Want to Meet Your Needs and Your Family’s Needs

       As I wrote in my Bible study on work, God uses the results of diligent work to bless us and meet our needs. I recommend you read the article in that last link to learn more about this aspect of work.

       God is certainly able to meet our needs by any means He chooses, but we have a clear call in the Bible to work diligently. God uses our work as a means of blessing us and meeting our needs. The fact that this requires action on our part does not take away from the divine blessings that follow – for everything was created by God and all that we have comes from Him. Our working is simply a fulfillment of our responsibility.

       If you’re doing what you can to lower your expenses but still find yourself lacking what is needed to care for yourself or your family, then thinking about ways you can earn more money can certainly honor God. However, if you simply desire to spend more on your wants and desires, please go back and read my post about reasons why Christians shouldn’t think about earning more.

2. You Want to Be More Generous

       One of the ways we can witness to the power of God’s love working in us is through irrational generosity. God can give us such a heart for the poor that we give far more than anyone could reasonably expect. When extreme generosity is evident in our lives (not through our boasting, but through our choices), non-Christians have no easy way to explain it. This gives us an opportunity to testify to the love of God and the teachings Jesus gave us.

       If you want to be more generous, I commend you! There are two ways you can give more. You can either spend less on yourself, or you can earn more and give it away. Spending less works up to a point, but you can’t spend less than $0. And getting to that point would be extremely difficult!

       On the other hand, you can always look for ways to earn more money. And theoretically, there’s no limit on how much you can make. That also means there’s no limit on how much you can give away either. For someone who wants to be more generous, that’s great news!

       Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28:

       Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need.

Ephesians 4:28 (WEB)



       This isn’t just a call to a change of heart and actions for those who used to steal. It’s a call for all Christians to use their abilities to work and earn money so we may give to those in need. While we can certainly have the wrong motives for earning more money, increasing our generosity is certainly not one of them. I can’t think of any better reason for wanting to increase your income!

Your Thoughts

       I really tried to come up with three reasons for this article. I thought it would be nice to have an equal number of reasons why we should or shouldn’t think about earning more money. As I said before, it doesn’t matter that I didn’t come up with a third reason because these two are quite powerful.

       But maybe you can think of a third reason why Christians should think about earning more. You can let me know what you think by sharing your thoughts in the comments below!

       Yesterday, I posted an article called “The Three Methods of Making Money“. Kevin from Christian Simplicity shared his thoughts in the first comment:

Conceptually, I agree with the ways of earning money. I have done all of the above. I’ve got 20+ years of experience chasing the answer to “expanding my opportunities” to earn more. I have lived too long in the world of trying to figure out ways to earn more money.

Now I am trying to keep my focus on asking how can I take part in what God is doing? How can I love God and my neighbor more? How can I know God better and be content trusting him to provide what is right?

It was a lot easier coming up with answers to the questions I was asking about ways to earn money. But the joy and moments of rest when “I get it” are a lot more peaceful with the new questions I’m asking.



       He makes a good point in questioning how much Christians should be focused on making more money. There are good motives for wanting to earn more and there are bad motives. I thought it would be interesting to look at this idea in a little more depth than comments on a blog post allow. So today, I’m going to look at why Christians shouldn’t think about earning more money. On Thursday, we’ll talk about why Christians should think about earning more.

       Here are three reasons why Christians should not think about earning more money:

1. You Love Money More Than God

       If you’re currently struggling with the love of money, it would be unhealthy to spend your time thinking about how you can earn more. You should treat money (and the things that make you love it) like a drug addict would treat drugs during rehabilitation. You’ve got to stay away from the snares that can pull you back into the habit. Clearly, thinking about how you can earn more isn’t going to help you break free from the love of money.

       There are two very clear passages in Scripture that warn against loving and serving money. First, Jesus warns us in Luke 16:13-15 that serving money prevents you from serving God:

       13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You aren’t able to serve God and mammon (Money).” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they scoffed at him. 15 He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts. For that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Luke 16:13-15 (WEB)



       Then the apostle Paul warns against greed and the love of money in 1 Timothy 6:6-12:

       6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. 8 But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11 But you, man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you confessed the good confession in the sight of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:6-12 (WEB)



       Finally, James admonishes those who ask for wealth simply because they want to spend it on themselves:

       You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

James 4:3 (WEB)



       Taken together, along with numerous other verses that teach against greed, hoarding, and selfishness, we see that it would be wrong for Christians to think about how to make more money if:

  1. They’re not concerned with loving & serving God.
  2. They love money and simply want to hoard it up for themselves.
  3. They desire only to spend it on themselves.

       All of these indicate a clear love of money. If you have these symptoms, seek God and follow Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 6:11-12 instead of thinking about how you can make more money.

2. You Think More Money Will Make You Happy/Secure

       Satan loves to feed us lies, and I think this is one of the most common lies we face. More money will not bring you security. And more money will only bring you more “happiness” if you’re living at or below the poverty line. As Christians, we must understand that God is our fortress and security and we must trust only in Him. We also need to realize that we can only have true joy in Christ and the salvation and eternal life He gives. Money can never satisfy that need or provide eternal security.

       Proverbs 11:4 and 18:10-11 warn against thinking of our wealth as our security:

       Riches don’t profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.

Proverbs 11:4 (WEB)

       10 The name of Yahweh is a strong tower: the righteous run to him, and are safe. 11 The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, like an unscalable wall in his own imagination.

Proverbs 18:10-11 (WEB)



       And Jesus asks in Matthew 16:26:

       For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?

Matthew 16:26 (WEB)



       Then Jesus admonishes the church in Laodicea:

       17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich; and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

Revelation 3:17-18 (WEB)



       Thinking about how you can make more money is dangerous if you believe it will bring you security or happiness. As Christians, we must learn to let God transform us and our mindset so we can understand the fleeting nature of wealth and the imaginary security it boasts.

3. You Want to Impress People

       Worrying about how others value you with the world’s standards ignores the value you have in Christ. It also perpetuates socioeconomical discrimination, which does not honor God. God does not respect people based on their wealth, power, or success in this world and neither should we. We should avoid thinking in those terms as well. Consider these passages from the Bible:

       17 If you call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judges according to each man’s work, pass the time of your living as foreigners here in reverent fear: 18 knowing that you were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from the useless way of life handed down from your fathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a faultless and pure lamb, the blood of Christ;

1 Peter 1:17-19 (WEB)

       9 But let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his high position; 10 and the rich, in that he is made humble, because like the flower in the grass, he will pass away. 11 For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and the flower in it falls, and the beauty of its appearance perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in his pursuits.

James 1:9-11 (WEB)

       1 My brothers, don’t hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. 2 For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; 3 and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, “Sit here in a good place”; and you tell the poor man, “Stand there,” or “Sit by my footstool”; 4 haven’t you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn’t God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him?

James 2:1-5 (WEB)



       And if you’re concerned about keeping up with the Joneses, consider this verse from Proverbs:

       There are some who pretend to be rich, yet have nothing. There are some who pretend to be poor, yet have great wealth.

Proverbs 13:7 (WEB)



       Instead of being concerned about what others think of us, let’s focus on what God thinks of us. Rather than looking to impress people, let us honor and glorify God by seeking to serve Him in all things.

Your Thoughts

       What are some other reasons why Christians should not think about making more money? Are you struggling with any of these reasons right now? How are you dealing with it? How can we encourage you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       Today’s Personal Finance Bible Scripture comes from Proverbs 21:20.






   20 In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil,
       but a foolish man devours all he has.

Proverbs 21:20 (NIV)



       Same verse but in the New Living Translation:

   20 The wise have wealth and luxury,
       but fools spend whatever they get.

Proverbs 21:20 (NLT)



       I chose two translations because I think together they clearly tell us what this verse is saying. The wise save up some of their earnings, but fools spend everything they get.

       When talking about contentment and giving in the Bible, I’ve had people ask me if Christians should even save up money for emergencies or retirement. If we save, aren’t we relying on ourselves or our money instead of God? But, as with many things, it really depends on the motives in our hearts.

       If we’re saving up because we don’t think God can provide or we don’t trust in God’s provision, then we’re obviously serving money and not God. But God clearly tells us several times in the Bible that the wise save up some of their money. The wise do not spend everything they get, and the wise prepare for trouble they see coming ahead.

       God can take care of us in any situation, but He teaches us that it is wise to save up when we see that we’ll have a need in the future. This is why I don’t think God is against us having emergency funds or saving for a time in our lives when we won’t be able to work for pay. I’m not sure God wants us saving for things that don’t glorify Him, like a retirement where we golf every day or travel around the world purely for pleasure. It’s the same with anything really. If it doesn’t glorify God, there’s probably a good chance we should rethink it.

       The next time you want to spend all of your paycheck or when the money in your pocket catches fire, remember that the wise person saves but the foolish person spends everything.

       This is a guest post from the people at Lender 411.

       The largest investment many of us will ever make is the purchase of a home. Many people purchase this “product” at least once during their lifetime. This “product”, however, is often so expensive that only a small fraction of potential buyers can actually afford to buy it in full at any given time. Few future homeowners have $300,000 in cash in their hands. Most of us will likely earn far more money than this over our lifetime, but we don’t have access to it all at once. In the meantime, we need a place to live.

       A mortgage helps solve this problem. Banks, with access to large sums of money, agree to give you the $300,000 you need right now at a price. This price is what we call interest, and you may have heard it said that “interest is the price of money”. This is true in one sense, but in reality what you’re paying for is time. Remember, you will undoubtedly earn far more than $300,000 over the course of your career. The interest, the “price” that the bank charges you, is not buying you the actual $300,000 itself. You will eventually earn that either way. What you get is time. The bank gives you $300,000 and time, often 30 years or so, in which to earn this money. You ultimately give the bank $300,000 back plus the price of the time.

       Different banks charge different rates for their time, and of course, the amount of time you’re buying will differ from bank to bank as well and will depend on your personal situation. But at the core, this is how mortgages work.

       What’s the value of a mortgage refinance? Simply put, a refinance allows you to repurchase the time that you’ve bought from your bank at a different interest rate, one that is lower and more favorable to you. You can also extend the life of your loan, buying you additional time at this decreased rate. A refinance, then, is like purchasing additional time at a lower price. If you can find or arrange such a deal, a mortgage refinance can be immensely valuable.

       There’s the logic behind it. As you consider whether this financial step would benefit you, remember one thing. Time is a commodity. You can buy it from any financial institution. Educate yourself and learn what your options are. Find the lowest mortgage rates that are available to you, because the lowest rate will get you the best price on the time that you’ve purchased.

       Negotiation skills are a powerful asset in life. Understanding how to negotiate will help you get raises and promotions, get a better deal, and get out of paying stupid fees. These five steps will help you learn how to negotiate better and smarter.

1. Prepare

       Before you begin negotiating (meeting with your boss or calling a company), take time to prepare for the negotiation. Think about what you want to accomplish and make it a concrete goal. “I want a 10% raise” is better than “I want more money”.

       Then, take some time to look at it from the other person’s point of view. Why should they be willing to give you what you want? In the case of getting a raise, have you proven yourself to be a valuable asset to the company? If you’re dealing with a business you buy from, have you been a customer for a long time or is it difficult to get new customers?

       The key is to list your accomplishments and reasons why you should get what you want. If you’ve saved your company money or taken on new responsibilities, write down exactly what you have done. Good examples would be “saved the company $20,000 a year by reducing waste in …” or “supervising ten more employees than last year”. Be ready to justify your request with reasons that will appeal to the other person.

       If you’ve been hit with a bogus fee, review your situation and be ready to explain what happened and why you don’t think you should be charged. If you were misinformed by an employee of the company, make that clear when you call. This is also why it’s smart to keep a record of when and to whom you speak when you call a company. You can easily reference the conversation and the person if a problem arises in the future.

2. Choose the Right Time

       Timing can greatly help your changes of negotiating successfully. If you’re asking for a raise, try to do it right after you finished a major accomplishment or as you take on new responsibilities. Your boss will have a difficult time overlooking the current circumstances – making it easier to give you a raise.

       Trying to get a better deal on your cell phone? Wait until your contract is just about to expire. (This works for other bills, too.) Businesses often spend quite a bit of money to get customers, so they’ll often do what they can to keep you. Negotiating when you’ll have the option to cancel gives you more power.

3. Be Firm & Confident but Polite

       Even if you are nervous or unsure, act confident and be firm as you negotiate. Weakness (real or perceived) puts the negotiating power back in the other person’s hands, so avoid it at all costs. This simply means you should not act timid when making your request. If you know you deserve a raise, act like it!

       However, this doesn’t mean you should be rude. Nobody likes a jerk. If you become hostile or impolite, people may refuse your request simply because they don’t like you. Be pleasant, kind, and patient and you will be rewarded.

       Another strategy is to use praise to your advantage. When negotiating a raise, show that you enjoy working there and are aligned with the company’s interest. If you’re trying to get a good deal with a company, comment on how you’ve enjoyed using their product in the past. Let people know you appreciate their time and help and they’ll be happy to help you again.

4. Be Ready to Respond

       You should be ready to respond to any number of reactions you get. If the answer is yes, then express your thanks. If the person needs to get someone else’s approval, let them know you appreciate their support. If the answer is no, things get a little trickier.

       If you’re trying to lower your bills or get rid of bogus fees, don’t give up at the first “no”. Restate one of your reasons for why you should get what you’re asking and follow that up with a leading question. Here’s an example: “Well, I’ve been a customer for 3 years and I’d hate to have to switch to [competitor]. What can you do to help me lower my bill (or get this fee waived)?” Do not follow up with a question that can be easily answered with a “yes” or “no”. Push for a “what else” or “how” type question rather than simply saying “Are you sure?” or “OK”.

       Dealing with your employer is a bit different because you don’t want to be so pushy you lose your job. If you think your boss is being unreasonable in denying your raise (i.e., you actually do deserve it), don’t be afraid to ask for more details and insist on your accomplishments once again. Be polite but firm. “After saving the company $25,000/year and increasing efficiency by 15%, a 10% raise is a reasonable award. In addition, comparable positions pay 20% more than my current salary so it is still good for the company.”

       If your boss still won’t (or can’t) budge, offer some alternatives that might not cost more money but are still beneficial to you. Increased vacation time, flexible hours, or the option to telecommute one day a week are a few examples. If these don’t go over well, ask for concrete goals you can achieve to earn a raise and get an appointment to renegotiate in a few months.

5. Be Ready to Walk Away

       Finally, you must be prepared to walk away if necessary. If a company won’t offer you a discount, let them know you can get a better deal elsewhere (be specific) and thank them for their time. That’s often enough to get what you ask for right away (but you shouldn’t abuse it).

       If you are significantly underpaid, work very hard, and have not been able to get a raise, be ready to leave your employer and go elsewhere. I wouldn’t use this as a negotiation tactic though. Even if your current employer offers to increase your salary, they’ll know you aren’t loyal to the company and they may look to replace you. Your best bet is to start looking for a new job without letting your current boss know. Turn in your resignation after you have a firm offer from a new employer and move on.

These Tips Do Work!

       If you think these tips don’t work, I’m proof that they do. Using these strategies, I’ve gotten 10% raises, lowered several of my bills, and had bogus fees waived several times. Again, preparation and confidence are key. You must know why you deserve to get what you’re asking for and be willing to push for it if necessary. Many times, simply asking will get what you want because so many people fail to take that step.

       Have you successfully negotiated a raise, lower bills, or fee waivers? Share your tips and stories in the comments!