Syed, Author at The Broke Professional

Plan Out Your Paycheck

The key to getting ahead financially is to spend less than you earn.  There is literally no other way to achieve financial freedom.  This applies to billionaires and regular old working people.

But it’s not easy.  We hear about the athletes and actors who are in debt because of overspending despite making millions of dollars over their careers. If you make $10 million but spend $11 million, you are not in good shape.

However, this is a problem for people of all income levels.  Things like credit cards, mortgages and other personal loans have made it super easy to spend more than you earn.  Easy access to credit makes people more greedy for things like fancy cars and big houses which can create more debt.

A big reason why Americans find it difficult to save our hard earned, and highly taxed (federal tax, state tax AND sales tax!) money is that very little planning is done when receiving that bi-weekly paycheck.  Everyone looks forward to Friday payday but for most people the money hits their checking account with no thought to where it’s going next.

And this is where the trouble begins.  Most of the time that money just gets spent on various bills.  And nothing is left over for savings.  Rinse lather and repeat every 2 weeks.

Now it’s easy to see why lack of planning is a big reason people have a hard time saving.  So what’s the solution?

Checking is the Central Hub

I like to think of my checking account as the control center of my finances.  Money goes in and is then distributed to where it needs to go.  It’s not a place where I like to park money since I like to have my money either invested or paying off debt.

This requires a mindset shift since most people, including my past self, just park their money in checking and paid bills as they came in and tried to save if possible.  Not a real financial strategy since most of the time you’re just trying to keep your head above water.

I consider this a very REACTIVE way to handle your paycheck.  You just kind of pay bills as they show up and have no real savings strategy.  Worse, any extra money that happens to be sitting in checking usually just gets spent.

A more PROACTIVE way to handle your paycheck is to have multiple destinations set up before the money arrives.  That way you can be sure money gets where it needs to be according to your financial goals.

Pay Yourself First Every time

Most people have heard the financial cliche “pay yourself first”.  It’s another core financial concept just like “spend less than you earn”.  While both of these sayings sound fun and useful, they can be difficult to implement.  While most people WANT to save, it just doesn’t end up happening (evidenced by the fact that the average American saves less than 5% of their income).

So if you can’t will your way to save, the next best thing is to get out of your own way and let robots do the work.  This is done through automatic saving and investment plans which are very easy to set up.

Want to save $500 a month in your emergency savings plan?  Set up an automatic monthly deposit.  Finally want to max out your Roth IRA?  Just start a monthly transfer from your brokers website for a $458.33 monthly transfer from your checking account (That’s the $5,500 IRA max divided by 12 months).

You can also set up automatic payments for your credit cards.  This way you’ll never have a late payment and you can use the full grace period the card issuer gives.

It might take a few months to get all of your major goals and bills set up but once you do, money will be moving in and out like clockwork.  You’ll be able to meet your financial goals with a minimal amount of maintenance needed.

And that’s the best way to pay yourself first.  Set up automatic transfers into all of the different accounts you want to save into.  Those transactions should shape how much you spend.  Unfortunately, most people just save whatever they can AFTER they have spent to their heart’s content.

There’s usually not much left for savings after that.


“Spend less than you earn” and “pay yourself first” are two common personal finance phrases that are difficult to put into action.  But these are the two things you have to do in order to meet your financial goals.

The best way I’ve found to do both of these things is to have a plan for any money that hits your checking account.  With technology today it takes a few clicks or smartphone taps to set up automatic transfers from your checking account into your savings account of choice (emergency savings, IRA, brokerage account, student loan accounts to name a few).

Once you get all of these transfers set up, managing your money becomes a breeze.  And you can meet your financial goals with minimal ongoing effort.

Treating your checking account like your money managing robot will make sure your spending less than you earn and paying yourself first month after month.


Disability Insurance: Yes, You Need It

Insurance is one thing that everyone needs but very few want to sign up for.  And people who sell insurance aren’t exactly the most beloved people on the planet.  But the fact remains, we all need insurance.

There are many different types of insurance.  Everyone is familiar with car insurance and health insurance.  Life insurance is another important one.  (I previously wrote about my life insurance experience here.  Hopefully we’ll never have to use it but I’m glad it’s there.)

The thing with insurance is that we only need it when we need it.  But those times of need can be highly stressful on your family and finances.  Just think of the last time you or your family member got into a car accident.  Insurance was the last thing on your mind, but if you had good coverage, it really gave you piece of mind when the dust settled.

Which is why I highly advocate that everyone, especially high income professionals, get disability insurance.  Not only does it insure against the main engine of your life (your income), but the chances of becoming disabled are much higher than most people think.

Don’t Take A Chance

I’m an optometrist.  Anyone who has been to the optometrist knows that optometrists don’t have one of the more dangerous occupations out there.  It’s a pretty safe environment to practice.  I also am currently devoid of any major health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.  And I don’t do skydiving.  So it would seem my chances of a disability are pretty low.

But according to the calculator from the Council of Disability Awareness, I have a 13% chance of being disabled for 3 months or longer at some point in my life.  And the average length of a long term disability for someone with my profile is 78 months.

That’s 6 and a half years of no money being made.  I don’t think there are many families out there that could live off of savings for that amount of time.  This is why disability insurance is so important.  Not having it is putting you and your family at a very great and very real risk.

Like most insurances, disability insurance is a complex product with a lot of moving parts.  Most people would do well to talk to an independent agent and get as much information as they can.  There are also many online providers out there that will help you sign up for disability insurance.  I signed up with Quotacy, who I also used for life insurance.  The process was easy and the agent was very helpful every step of the way.

But two very important aspects of disability insurance, especially for high income earners, is knowing how much insurance you need and making sure you have a policy which gives you the most specific definition of being disabled, namely an “Own Occupation” policy.

How Much Should You Buy

Once you decide to sign up for any type of insurance, the next big question is to decide how much insurance you need.  Disability insurance is no different.

If you’re deemed disabled by the insurance company, they will pay out a monthly amount for the amount of time you remain disabled.  The question to answer is exactly how much of a benefit to sign up for.

Most people would assume that you should apply for a monthly amount similar to what you get paid while working.  This is not a good idea for a number of reasons.  One, insurance companies usually won’t even let you sign up for a monthly amount that meets 100% of your income.  They may come close, but that would make your monthly premiums very high.  Most insurers will limit you to 70 or 80% of your income.

Secondly, you probably won’t be spending as much money when you’re disabled as you do when you’re uh, abled.  Things like eating out and traveling probably won’t be on the top of your list as a disabled person.

Instead, you should focus on what you spend.  Tally up your fixed and necessary expenses like rent, food, electricity etc.  Add some for retirement savings if you would like as well.  This is how you should find an appropriate amount of insurance to sign up for.  Being overinsured will just lead to much higher monthly premiums and more money than you could possibly need while disabled.

Own Occupation FTW

Finally, a key aspect of disability insurance is the specific definition of disability by the insurance company.  The worst case scenario is that you become unable to do your job for some reason and the insurance company doesn’t pay out any benefits because you don’t meet their definition of a disability.

The way to avoid this is to look for an Own Occupation plan.  This is especially important for high income professionals like doctors and lawyers.  While they can come in slightly different flavors, an Own Occupation plan in general states that you are disabled if you can’t perform the duties of your specific occupation.  It is a strict definition and this is what you want in a disability plan.

For example, if a doctor and is disabled and can’t perform his duties, an own occupation policy would consider this a full disability and start making monthly payments.  But if the doctor didn’t have a specific Own Occupation policy, the insurance company could contend that he could do another job like a grocery store cashier or a suit salesman, and would refuse to make the monthly payments.  That sounds like a bad situation.

So it’s in your best interest to get a policy that has a definition of disability that is specific for your profession.  Specialists like surgeons should look for even more specific Specialty Own Occupation policies.


Disability insurance is a vital part to any working professionals insurance portfolio.  Becoming disabled is actually more common than people think.  Something as simple as a fall can cause a total disability.  It is essentially income protection in case the unthinkable happens and you aren’t able to work for an extended period of time.

Pay attention to your expenses when deciding how much insurance you’ll need.  You probably won’t be spending as much money while disabled.  Also, it’s important to sign up for an Own Occupation policy to ensure you will get the proper payout.

Finding disability insurance isn’t as easy as car or life insurance.  But it’s not that hard.  I used Quotacy and it was pretty easy to do it online.  You can also look for an independent agent that will shop policies for you as well.  A good policy isn’t as cheap as life insurance, but it is not too expensive and is definitely worth it for peace of mind for you and your family.


An Easy and Inexpensive Way to File Your Taxes

Most people file their taxes online nowadays.  I have for the past 4 years.  The fact that I actually enjoy doing my own taxes is icing on the cake.

If you have a fairly simple tax return that has a low chance of being audited, filing online is a lot cheaper and easier than going to an accountant.  All you have to do is wait for all of your paperwork to come in, prepare your beverage of choice and take an hour or so to complete your return.

And if you are owed a refund or owe Uncle Sam some money, you can usually take care of that right away online.  In today’s streamlined and app friendly world, filing online is just the most convenient option for most people.

And when there are so many people filing online, competition will increase.  Everyone knows the big players like TurboTax and H&R Block.  How can you not know them since they are advertised everywhere?  I’ve used both TurboTax and H&R Block and both do a great job.  But they are also both on the pricier end of the tax software spectrum.

As technology and software becomes more sophisticated, more players have been appearing on the tax software scene.  Some are pretty bare bones but can offer very competitive pricing (sometimes even free!).  While others are just TurboTax clones that fizzle out after a while.  Time has filtered out some of the weaker companies, so there are a number of good options out there.

This year, I did my taxes with a company called FreeTaxUSA.  It sounds like a spammy company name, but they’ve actually been around for a while and this year they have taken their tax software to the next level.  And their pricing is incredible.

Federal returns are free.  State returns are $12.95.  And this is the case no matter how simple or complex your tax situation is (though if I had a full fledged business as my main income source, I would probably use an accountant.)

Here’s my review of my experience with FreeTaxUSA

Disclaimer:  I have no financial affiliation with FreeTaxUSA (FTU).  I wish I did but maybe next year.  This will actually be one of the few non-biased tax software reviews you will see on the internet.  


TurboTax is known for its easy to navigate menus and streamlined interface.  They ask you tax questions interview style and you enter your numbers as you go along.  Ease of navigation is one of the big reasons TurboTax is the most popular tax software out there.  But FTU is very close behind.

There is actually very little difference between TurboTax and FTU when it comes to navigation.  FTU asks very similar style interview questions and will flag you when something doesn’t seem right.  It’s easy to find what number should go into what box on each form and then move on to the next section.

The menu is very clean and easy to navigate as well.  Income, deductions and filing options are clearly separated.  The only restriction I found is that you can’t jump ahead to the next section before completing your current section.  I didn’t find this as a big problem though since it helps keep you on track.  You can jump back to previous sections you have completed of course.

I actually found the interface a little easier and cleaner than TurboTax.  So ease of navigation is a huge plus.


Having customer support is an important part of doing taxes.  When you have your own personal accountant, you can pepper them with as many questions as they have time for.  This support is what causes many people to hesitate doing their taxes with software.

Nowadays, online tax programs really excel in customer support.  You can always email an expert and get an answer, but many companies even have live chat or the option to have your return reviewed by a CPA.  So you’re never alone.

FTU has email support, but unfortunately no live support options.  I can’t comment too much on this because I didn’t really use the support services.  Our return is easy enough and I live and breathe this stuff anyway so I can find my answer pretty quickly if I needed too.  But for those that really value someone being available to help you throughout the filing process, TurboTax and HR Block are better options than FTU.


Where FTU really shines among the competition is the pricing.  It’s a flat rate of $0 for your federal return and $12.95 for state.  No matter how complicated your return may be.  If you have out of the ordinary things like foreign accounts or large investment income in your kids name, you may be out of luck.  In cases like that I would want to see an accountant anyway.

But for the vast majority of Americans, the pricing would stand.  And it makes a huge difference.  Since we own a home and have some stock sales, the total with TurboTax would have been $59.99 for federal and about $35 for state.  That’s a total of $94.99 for TurboTax compared to $12.95 with FTU.  That’s a no brainer of a decision to me.

There is one totally free filing service I know of with Credit Karma.  But their interface seems clunky and they haven’t gotten very good reviews.  FTU is a very good product that has gotten great reviews, so $12.95 is an absolute steal.


With technology getting more and more sophisticated and streamlined, filing taxes online has never been easier.  While the big boys like TurboTax and H&R Block are always a great option, it’s worth it to see what other companies are up and coming in the tax software world.

FreeTaxUSA is definitely one of those companies.  I was able to do my taxes with no problem and it was a great experience all around.  I was able to get my refund direct deposited into my checking account very easily as well.  It’s not much different than TurboTax but it is much cheaper.  Very hard to beat $0 for a federal return and $12.95 for a state return.

It may not be the ideal solution for people who need live support or have very complicated returns.  But I believe the vast majority of people could save a lot of money having their taxes done with FTU.

Again, I have no financial affiliation with the company.  Just giving my honest review.  Click here to go to their home page and check it out.


Easy Ways to Winterize Your Home and Save Money

This is another guest post from my friend Anum Yoon who blogs over at Current on Currency.

Today’s practical post will discuss ways to save money by making your home more efficient in the cold weather.  Floridians and Texans, find another article!

The winter chill has set in. There aren’t too many parts of the country that have escaped the bitter cold and snow. You don’t want to go outside unless you absolutely have to — maybe a quick run to and from the car.

If you’re not a fan of winter, this is going to be a long three months or so. You’ll be inside more, and the only good news is that you’ll have more time to do some the things around the house you may have been putting off.

Also, winter isn’t a booming season for construction, so you might be able to get some discounted prices on materials or projects. Take a look around the house and see which rooms need your attention most.

Winter is a good time of year to attend to your DIY projects or hire out the ones that require professional help. Here are a few investments you can make in your home this winter to improve your living space and add value to your home.

Have Your Furnace Serviced

If your furnace is going to die, it’s probably going to happen on a weekend in the middle of the coldest part of winter. That’s just the way it goes. Better to pay to have it checked now than to pay a lot more later.

Hire a reliable, trusted professional to service your furnace and hot water tank yearly or as recommended. They will make sure both are in good working order and that the filters have been changed for optimum performance.

A professional service can identify any potential problems or maintenance issue before they cause you problems in the winter. If they recommend replacement, feel free to seek a second opinion, but don’t delay too long.

You don’t want to risk being without heat and all the problems that can cause. A new furnace will increase your home’s value and may generate some return on your investment at the time of sale.

Update or Replace Insulation

Your furnace is working hard to heat your home. What a waste of energy and money if the heat is escaping through your roof, wall spaces, or cracks and crevices throughout your home.

If you are confident in your abilities, it might be simple enough to add a few rolls of insulation in places where there is an apparent need. Another idea is to have a professional come out and inspect your insulation.

They may discover leaks you weren’t aware of. Some companies use tiny pieces of insulation that they can spray into your attic. These pieces fill in all the open cracks and areas where leaks can occur.

Other spots you can attend to yourself include the electrical outlets, hot water tank and hot water pipes. You can purchase DIY insulation kits for these areas and accomplish your goals with minimal effort. You can also caulk windows and doors and add weather stripping to stop cold drafts and leaks. The less cold air coming in, the less money going out.

Buy an Energy-Efficient Garage Door

While you are insulating the rest of your house, you might want to consider your garage as well, particularly the door. When that garage door comes open, it’s the biggest open space into your home. All that cold air comes rushing in and hits the outside walls of the interior.

While you have to open and close your garage door, you can cut down on energy costs by purchasing an insulated, energy-efficient garage door. You can keep the inside of your garage at a more consistent, comfortable temperature. It will make any garage projects more tolerable, even in the winter. Your furnace won’t have to work as hard to compensate for the cold air seeping in. It makes sense to have an insulated garage door even if it isn’t attached to your house.

Purchase Energy-Efficient Windows

You know if you have good windows or not. If your rooms stay relatively warm in the winter, they are quality windows. If it feels like the wind is blowing through your living room, your windows are either in poor condition or you left one open.

Investing in Energy Star rated windows will cost a lot of money, but it will save you an average of 12 percent on energy costs. You also may qualify for an energy rebate from your local utility company or state government for making the investment and saving energy. In time, they will pay for themselves. Rotting, drafty single pane windows will continue to deteriorate and, at some point, you will be forced to replace them.

If you think you might be selling your house soon, consider new windows a wise investment and selling point. There is no guarantee you will recoup your money, but your house will be more saleable than your similar neighbor’s house with old windows. Regardless of your intentions, it’s money well spent. It would just be nice if all that money could buy you a better view, too.

Hook up to Smart Thermostat

Instead of wasting money and energy heating your house while you’re at work, hook it up to a smart thermostat you can control online. You can set up a schedule so your thermostat lowers the temperature while you’re gone but starts heating back up before you come home. If you encounter a change in your schedule, you can just log in and make adjustments from your desk at work.

A smart thermostat potentially will save you money, but more importantly, it will give you the ability to control your energy use. You need to look no further than a family member to realize we all have a different idea of what a comfortable temperature is. You’ll still fight over the thermostat.

Improve Your Home This Winter

Things break down, and they don’t always work the way you want them to. But generally speaking, money invested in your house will make it more appealing, more comfortable and more valuable. Plus it’s your home. What better place is there to spend your hard-earned money? Winter will pass before you know it. Wouldn’t it be nice to go into spring already having accomplished some household projects for the year?


Big Tax Changes You Need to Know About

On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) into law.  This was one of his pet projects and something he has promising since his campaign.  He also promised that this law would give middle class families a huge tax break.  That remains to be seen.

The TCJA went into effect on January 1, 2018 and it comes with many big changes.  For some people, the effect will be large and there will be lots of planning that needs to get done.  For others, there might be a small change here and there but nothing that would require any real behavior change.

The TCJA provides the first sweeping tax change since the Reagan era.  So it’s important to know how it will effect you.  In this post, I’m going to go over some of the biggest changes in the tax law and what changes you need to make, if any.

If you want to read the bill in its entirety, be my guest.  Otherwise, here are the biggest changes you need to know about.

Much Bigger Standard Deduction

When you file your taxes at the beginning of the year, you have the option of taking the standard deduction or itemizing your deductions.  I’ve written about this before here, but the most common itemized deductions are mortgage interest, property taxes and charitable contributions.  If you have a high amount of these types of payments during the year, chances are you will save more on taxes by itemizing.

This will change for a lot of people this year.  For 2017, the standard deduction amount for single filers was $6,500 ($13,000 married).  The new standard deduction for 2018 will be $12,000 ($24,000 married).  Meaning there will be many more people choosing to take the standard deduction.  This simplifies the tax code in general, but it comes at the expense of other favorable tax treatment as I will explain below.

Behavior change: Most homeowners choose to itemize based on their mortgage interest deduction.  If you won’t be able to do that for 2018 because of the new standard deduction amounts, then the popular mortgage interest deduction doesn’t really provide any benefit.  Depending on your financial plan, it might be time to consider paying your mortgage off early.

State Income and Property Tax Limits Imposed

In 2017, you could itemize your deductions by writing off your state income tax and property tax.  This was an unlimited deduction for the most part.  Helpful for everyone, but especially for those with high state and property taxes.  But change is afoot.

For 2018, you can only deduct a maximum of $10,000 combined state income and property tax.  This is a huge change and will hit those who live in big coastal cities the hardest.  Homeowners in high tax states can easily pay $20K in state income tax and property tax combined.  This rule puts them in a real bind.

Behavior change:  Move or start renting.  For those who live in states like California or New York and have been contemplating a move to a cheaper part of the country, this will give you a little more motivation.

Elimination of Personal Exemptions

This is a key change that will hurt many working professionals with kids.  In 2017, for every member of your family (including yourself), you could take a tax deduction just for being alive.  The value was $4,050 for each family member.

So a family of 4 could take a deduction of $16,200.  This deduction is completely eliminated for 2018.  This is one reason the standard deduction for 2018 will be higher.  It will make the tax code simpler, but will hit couples with children the hardest.  It is slightly offset by the next change I will discuss.

Behavior change:  Not really much you can do here.

New and Improved Child Tax Credit

Tax credits are much better than deductions.  They provide a dollar for dollar reduction in the tax you owe, while a deduction simply adjusts your income a little lower.  The Child Tax Credit has been a nice one that has been around for about 20 years.  It provided families a $1,000 credit for each eligible child.

The problem was, the income phaseout limits were pretty restrictive for many professionals.  For married couples, once their income hit $110,000 the credit was reduced.  For high income professionals, the Child Tax Credit was a pipe dream.

But it is getting a big face lift for 2018.  The Child Tax Credit will now be worth $2,000 per eligible child.  Also, the income limit increases from $110,000 for married couples to $400,000.  

This will make the Child Tax Credit a reality for many couples.  It will also lessen the sting of the personal exemption elimination.  This change is a nice win for all.

Behavior change:  Have more kids!

Tax Bracket Adjustments

The tax bracket changes are another big one.  Essentially all the tax brackets (except the 10%) will be reduced.  And the 35% bracket is widened considerably, which will help high income couples.  Here is the old 2017 bracket:

Here is the new 2018 bracket:

So most people will see a slight decrease in their taxable income.  Not too bad.  This will be the way most people will see some tax savings.

Behavior change:  Employers should be adjusting paychecks to reflect the new tax changes by February.  Just take any extra money you find and add it to your savings and investment plan.  There is no use to have savings if you don’t use the money right?

Student Loan Interest Deduction

Just kidding!  No changes here thankfully.  The deduction maximum of $2,500 remains the same.  Though it would be nice if it was a little higher since tuition rates, and thus student loan balances, are constantly increasing.


The big winners of this tax reform seem to be large corporations, who saw their maximum tax rate changed from 35% to 21%.  Whether this will translate into more cash for employees and a healthier economy, only time will tell.  Families who can take advantage of the Child Tax Credit will also win.

The big losers are high income single filers who own homes in a high cost of living area.  They get hit on so many levels, but especially the state and property tax limit.  Another thing to consider is that these changes are not permanent for the most part.  Many of the big changes will “sunset” in 2027, which will then revert back to the old tax laws.  Nothing in politics is permanent after all.

These changes will affect our returns we do in 2019, so we still have some time to see what the effect on the country as a whole will be.  But it’s important to know the big changes and how you will have to change the way you approach money.  Stay tuned!

(Micheal Kitces CFP provides a great and detailed overview of the tax changes here.  If you want to dig in a little more, this is a great resource.)


Start Tracking Your Net Worth in the New Year

This post contains affiliate links

Everyone has heard the stat about the high failure rate of New Year’s resolutions:

8% of New Year’s resolutions fail

80% fail by February

Greater than 90% failure rate

So if you’ve made a New Year’s resolution for 2018, your chances of achieving it look grim.

The two most common New Year’s resolution goals are health and money.  Which means that there are a lot of failed financial New Year’s resolutions year after year.

My thought is that many people make very vague resolutions.  Goals like “I need to save more” and “We need to spend less on eating out” sound very nice in theory.  But are very hard to put into practice.

Along with being too vague, many resolutions fail because we don’t have an understanding of where we are.  It’s a cliched example, but you need a destination and a starting point in order to have accurate directions.

Making vague resolutions is like picking out a destination without knowing where the starting point is.  So you have no way of knowing if the direction you’re taking is going towards your goal or completely away from it.

You need to know where you stand financially before you can make an effective goal, let alone reach that goal.  I feel the best way to find your financial starting point is not by seeing how much you have in your checking or savings account.  It’s not the equity you have in your home.  And it’s definitely not how flashy your car is.

The best way is finding your net worth.  With the technology available today, calculating your net worth is very simple.  If this is the only financial resolution you make this year, you will be much better off than you were last year.

Why Net Worth Matters

The net worth calculation is very simple:

Assets-Liabilities=Net Worth

There is always discussion about what is considered a liability or an asset.  Some people consider home value an asset.  Some people don’t consider home value since it takes a lot of work to get money out of a home.  The details are endless.

But in general, as asset is something that adds to your wealth while a liability is something that takes away from it.  Common assets include your checking and savings accounts and retirement accounts.  Liabilities include credit card debt and student loans.

So net worth is basically a snapshot of your financial health.  But just like any snapshot, one picture doesn’t tell the story.

A new medical school graduate has little in savings and hundreds of thousands in student loan debt.  That will give him a large negative net worth.  A high school student probably has some spending money but very few liabilities since he lives with his parents.  So he would have a slightly positive net worth.

Does that mean the high school student is more wealthy than the new doctor?  The answer is no because net worth should be used to measure your financial GROWTH rather than a static number that looks at your wealth.  In 10 years time, the new doctor will likely have a net worth light years ahead of the high school kid.

So the key to wealth creation is to grow your net worth over time and grow it quickly.

My Net Worth Tracking Strategy

There are so many different opinions about how often you should track your net worth.  Some say every month (some people even track it every day!).  While others say once a year is enough.  The key is to find a pace you’re comfortable with and keep it consistent.

Personally, I check my net worth every quarter.  I actually enjoy checking up on my accounts and seeing how they’ve changed.  It also allow me to make sure there’s no fraud or any funny business going on in any of my accounts.

And doing it quarterly is enough time to see if new strategies I’ve implemented are actually making a difference.  Plus, most companies operate in quarterly statements so there must be some wisdom in it.

As far as what high tech tools I use, an Excel spreadsheet and a Word document are my weapons of choice.  I use the Excel document to help me calculate my net worth and I record the values over time in my Word document.  Easy peasy.

But one piece of technology that helps check my work and give me more insight into my net worth and retirement is Personal Capital.  I’ve been using it for years to view my net worth and they have been getting better over time.

All you need to do is connect your various accounts and Personal Capital will monitor them.  They can’t make any transactions so there is no need to worry about security.  They simply monitor your account value and have your net worth displayed nicely in graph form.

Which is great since net worth growth is the true measure of financial wellness.  Physically seeing it as a graph really drives it home.

Other cool features of Personal Capital are the Investment Checkup and Retirement Fee analyzer tools.  They can analyze the holdings in your investment accounts and tell you where you may be over or underweight.  And they will also check the fees in your accounts so you can make sure you’re not paying too much.

And it’s all free.  There is an option to talk to a real financial adviser for a fee but that’s completely up to you.  Most of the powerful features of the program are no cost.


Deciding to grow your net worth is the best thing you can do to turn your financial life around.  Thinking in terms of net worth rather than just making and spending more money will allow you to see your finances in a whole new way.

Suddenly, paying a huge monthly bill for that fancy luxury car when a regular old Toyota will do just fine doesn’t seem that enticing.  A decision like that can keep your net worth from growing the way you would like.  Thinking in terms of net worth rather than just focusing on your checking account is the real way to get wealthy.

Tracking your net worth consistently with Personal Capital is an excellent way to start the journey towards real wealth.


Do Some Charity Before It’s Too Late

For most people, the end of the year is usually a time to take it slow and spend your days with family and friends.  Work takes a backseat until the start of the new year.

Working in the optical world is the complete opposite.  It’s a madhouse!  Appointment books are full and patience is thin as everyone and their mother (literally) is scrambling to get eye exams, glasses and contacts before their insurance benefits and flex spending dollars reset.

(This is one reason I favor Health Savings Accounts over FSA money.  HSA accounts are portable and never expires.)

But there is one other thing people should be rushing to do during the last week of the year…GIVE!  Give away to charity that is.

Giving to charity is something we should do anyways if we have the means.  The rich hoarding wealth is one of the main problems in the world today.  But if you’re eligible for a tax deduction, it can save you some money come tax time along with that warm and fuzzy feeling.

And with the next tax law coming into effect in 2018, many people should be looking to maximize charitable contributions this year.

Standard or Itemize?

Here is the official IRS statement on charitable contributions:

You can only deduct charitable contributions if you itemize deductions on Form 1040, Schedule A (PDF)Itemized Deductions.

To be deductible, you must make charitable contributions to qualified organizations. Contributions to individuals are never deductible. To determine if the organization that you contributed to qualifies as a charitable organization for income tax deduction purposes, refer to our Exempt Organizations Select Check tool. For more information, see Publication 526Charitable Contributions and Can I Deduct My Charitable Contributions?

What this means is that if you want your charitable contributions to be tax deductible, you need to be able to itemize your deductions.  Common itemized deduction expenses include mortgage interest, state and local income taxes, property taxes, medical expenses and, of course, charitable contributions.

If the total of these expenses is greater than the standard deduction, than you would save more money on taxes by choosing to itemize your deductions.  If itemized deductions don’t exceed the standard deduction amount, you should go with the standard deduction.

For tax year 2017, the standard deduction for single filers is $6,350 and for married filers it is $12,700.  With the new tax plan that takes into effect in 2018 (thanks Trump), single filers will see a standard deduction of $12,000 and married filers will jump up to $24,000.

Contribute to Charity…Now!

Meaning that those people who normally take the standard deduction and don’t come close to meeting the necessary expenses in order to itemize…rejoice!  Your deduction will almost double with no effort on your part.  For these filers, the charitable contribution deduction never applied anyway.

But there will be many people who can itemize deductions in 2017 but won’t be able to in 2018.  For these people charitable contributions will be deductible for 2017 but not 2018.  That means they can deduct charity to their heart’s content for the last week of the year since they won’t be able to next year.

There are many things that can count as charitable contributions.  Cash is the easiest thing to donate, but you can also donate clothing, furniture, stocks and even your time.  Make a list of a few charities that resonate with you and contact them to see what is deductible.

All charitable contributions must be made in 2017 to be considered deductible when you do your taxes in April.  So take advantage of this last week to get that charity money in.  Just like FSA dollars, this time it’s use it or lose it!


In-Credible Student Loan Refinancing

Everybody with student loans should consider refinancing.  It might not be the right choice for everybody, but you’ll never know unless you take a look.

At worst, you get some quotes and realize it’s not worth the effort or you don’t want to give up Federal loan perks.  But at best, you can potentially save tens of thousands of dollars worth of interest payments and pay your loans off years earlier.

When you look at it that way, it doesn’t hurt to try now does it?

I’ve written before that my two favorite refinance companies are SoFi and Earnest.  That still stands.  I’ve personally refinanced loans with these companies and had a great experience.  People I’ve referred for refinancing have had great experiences as well.

But as with any industry, new players continue to pop up.  It would be a disservice not to mention quality companies in the student loan refinance arena.

One such company is Credible.  We used them to refinance my wife’s student loans and had a great customer service experience along with a great interest rate.  Plus they gave us a nice little sign up bonus.

If you’re already convinced, sign up here to get some quotes.  If you end up applying for a loan before December 31, you get a sweet $200 bonus sent your way.

Need a little more convincing?  Read on about how Credible provides a fantastic student loan refinance experience.

Choices.  So Many Choices

The thing I like about Credible is that they give you so many more loan choices than other companies.  You can essentially find any combination of interest rate, loan payoff time in a fixed or variable loan product.

This flexibility is amazing because not everyone wants or is able to go with the lowest possible interest rate with the shortest payoff term.  Many people have other goals such as investing for retirement, buying a house or funding a business.

These goals take money, so it’s a good idea to find the most manageable payment you can without sacrificing your other goals.

The dashboard neatly lays out all the different offers available to you.  After checking your credit and asking for some pieces of information, you will quickly be able to see what offers are available and find the best one for you.

Since Credible is more of a clearinghouse than a bank, you will see multiple offers from different institutions.  Most refinance companies will just give you their own rates.  So it’s nice to be able to compare rates from a number of companies.

Once you find the offer that works for you, Credible will do a little more background work and in a week or two the process should be complete.

Potentially huge interest savings and a nice $200 bonus to boot.

The Offer

If you sign up with this link and are approved for a loan by December 31, you will get a $200 bonus.  The normal bonus is $100, so it’s a great opportunity to look into refinancing if you’ve been on the fence.

Like I said before, there is no downside in looking into refinancing your student loans.  You can even get your quotes before your actual credit report is pulled.  So no need to worry about your credit score being dinged.

So check out your rates before the year is up.  There could be huge savings and a $200 bonus waiting for you.


Dollar Cost Averaging is the Best Way to Invest

Ask the average American or young professional what things SHOULD be doing with their finances.  You’ll get the usual answers like budgeting and saving.  They will also talk about how they need to spend less on things like eating out and clothes.

One other thing you’ll almost always hear about is the desire to invest.  Most people know they need to invest for things like retirement or a future house down payment.

The problem isn’t that we aren’t interested in investing.  Or that we don’t want to invest.

The main problem is that people don’t know HOW to invest their money.  They want to know which types of accounts to open and how to transfer money to keep investments growing.

This post will outline what I think is the most efficient and effective way to invest: Dollar Cost Averaging.

Dollar Cost Averaging: Slow and Steady Wins

There are essentially three ways to invest your hard earned money:

1.  Invest a lump sum all at once:  Mathematically, this is the most efficient way to invest.  Having a large amount of money invested in things like stocks or mutual funds will give your investment growth a turbo boost.

And studies have shown this.  Lump sum investing will give you the highest return over any other method of deploying your money.    And I would agree if you have a large sum of money, put it to work all at once if you intend to invest it.  No need having cash on the sidelines not working for you.

While this is the best way to invest, it’s only applicable a few times in life.  If you get a large sum from an inheritance, selling a business or a large bonus, then you should employ this strategy.

But most people get paid their salary in small intervals throughout the year.  So lump sum investing is not really in the discussion.

2.  Dollar Cost Average (DCA):  We live in a monthly payment kind of world.  Almost all of our bills including mortgage, auto loans and cell phones are debited once a month.  We’re used to being dinged monthly for the services we use.  Why not use that same mindset when it comes to investing our money?

This is why I love DCA and why it is my own preferred investing strategy.  Instead of investing haphazardly or when we hear a hot stock tip from a co-worker, DCA takes the emotion out of investing and lets you stick to your investing plan for the long term.

How does it work?  Let’s use a Roth IRA for example.  You know you need to save a little more for retirement beyond your company 401k, so you would like to set up a Roth IRA to be invested in the stock market.

Once you set up the account and select your investments (my favorite is VTSAX but that’s a story for another post), you will be asked to link your checking account.  Then you select how much you want taken out monthly and set your withdrawal date.  And that’s all there is to it!

You will be dinged monthly just like you would for any other bill.  But this is a good ding since that money will be invested for you retirement instead of being spent on the latest iPhone insurance.

3.  Don’t invest at all:  This is not recommended.  But it seems like it’s the American way since 1 in 3 Americans have no money at all saved for retirement.

Buy Low and Sell High

The best way to make money selling things is buying at a low price and selling at a high price.  That’s the logic behind dumpster diving and being a garage sale vulture.  And that’s also the logic behind making money as an investor.

Being invested in the stock market can literally be a roller coaster ride.  There are going to be ups and downs.  Sometimes really big ups and downs.  But as long as the price of your investments is more than what you paid for it initially, you will make more money.

Buying your investments at a low price and selling at a higher price is what makes investors money.  Many people get spooked and sell their investments when the stock market takes a sharp dive, like it did in 2008.  As a result, they lose a lot of money by buying high and selling low.  This is bad.

The beauty of investing via DCA is that it FORCES you to buy low.  If you decide to invest $100 a month into a mutual fund that costs $10 a share, that $100 investment will get you 10 shares.  If the mutual fund doubles to $20 a share next month, you will end up with only 5 shares.

While that is still more expensive than last month’s investment, DCA allows you to scoop up more investments while the shares are cheap.  Most people will actually do the opposite.  They will put a large amount of money into a “hot” stock or mutual fund while it is expensive.  This is not the way to invest.

DCA keeps the emotion out of investing.  By investing in regular intervals, you will keep your accounts growing while ensuring you are not buying too many shares at inflated prices.  This will set you up for nice investment gains when it comes time to sell.


DCA is the preferred way to invest for young professionals.  Early in your career, you will probably not have a lump sum to invest immediately in the stock market.  So investing as you get your paycheck is the most efficient way to deploy your capital.

DCA can come in many forms.  It can be an automatic deduction from your paycheck into your 401k account every 2 weeks.  Or a monthly withdrawal from your checking account into an IRA.

No matter what form it takes, DCA will keep your investment accounts growing steadily and will allow you to get the most shares at the lowest price.  No need for market timing since it doesn’t work anyway!


Ways to Decrease Your Utility Bill

This is a guest post from Anum Yoon, who is a prolific and excellent writer in the personal finance sphere.  You can find out more about her at her blog Current on Currency.

Today’s post will feature ideas on how to keep your utility bills low.  With winter around the corner, these tips could save you a lot of money.  Enjoy!

Temperatures are starting to drop. We are closing our windows now and thinking about turning on the heat. Whether you love winter or hate it, you are going to pay more to keep warm when the snow starts to fall and the temperatures drop.

The same is true for those in warm-weather climates. When the heat rises, so do the air conditioning bills. We have no choice but to heat and cool our homes to maintain our comfort, but there are a few things you can do to keep your utility bills from burdening your budget.

Check Your Settings

Are you scalding your hands when you wash them? Are your vegetables freezing in the refrigerator drawer? Check the settings of your appliances to make sure you aren’t overworking them and wasting energy, which results in higher bills.

Your hot water tank doesn’t need to be set any higher than 120 degrees. This is hot enough for dishes and laundry and certainly hot enough to wash your hands. Manufacturers and installers typical set them higher, and you may not have looked at or paid attention to the settings. Consult your manuals for more information.

Your refrigerator should be set around 37 to 40 degrees and your freezer at 5 degrees. Anything colder than that is unnecessary, and you will be wasting energy and potentially freezing your food in the refrigerator. Some refrigerators have known cold spots, but many people just set them too low.

Replace Incandescent Lightbulbs

Old lightbulbs use a lot more energy than new halogen, CFLs and LEDs. Depending on the specific type, these bulbs use anywhere from 25-80 percent less energy. These bulbs are more expensive than their predecessors, but last many years longer and will save you money over the long term.

Purchase Energy-Efficient Appliances

When it is time to get a new refrigerator, freezer, washer or dishwasher, look for those marked Energy Star compliant. These appliances can use up to 75 percent less energy than older models, which can add up to hundreds of dollars in annual savings. Even if your old refrigerator still works well, it might not be a bad idea to consider replacing it for overall savings.

(Note from TBP: Check with your local utility company to see if they provide credits for upgrading your old appliances to Energy Star models.  Many will also haul away the old appliance for you.)

When you use your appliances, make sure they are full before you run them. They will use just as much electricity washing a few items as they will a full load. Be wise and economical with your energy use and save money doing so.

Use Your Garbage Disposal Properly

The garbage disposal is a modern convenience that many take for granted. It’s not a magic hole through which anything can pass. The garbage disposal uses a lot of electricity to grind up wasted food items into tiny bits small enough to pass through the drain. Sometimes they clog, and through misuse, break. You can save money on electric bills and expensive repairs by observing some of these do’s and don’ts


  • Turn on a heavy flow of water before flicking the switch. The garbage disposal needs water to do its work and will overheat without it. Continue to run the water after the grinding stops in order to thoroughly clean out the drain.


  • Every few months, put ice cubes down the drain and grind those up. This will help clean out the inner workings of the disposal. You can also add a lemon peel to help freshen the scent. Disposals often smell bad because they have rotting food stuck inside them.


  • Have your kitchen drain snaked out every few years. This will prevent clogs and possible repairs.




  • Put grease down the drain. The grease will harden in the water and create clogs throughout the drain. Just save grease and fat and discard it in the trash can.


  • Grind up big food items that can be thrown in the trash. It’s a waste of energy and it puts unneeded stress on your disposal.


  • Put rinds, potato peels, rice or pasta in your disposal. These items should be thrown in the garbage and never put into your drain. The garbage disposal doesn’t do well with these items and will usually clog from them.

Add or Replace Insulation

Is the air you are heating or cooling escaping outside through cracks and gaps in your windows or attic? Proper insulation will keep that air inside and prevent your home from feeling drafty. This will save you money, as your furnace or air conditioner won’t have to work as hard to maintain your desired temperature.

Add weather stripping to doors and windows. Caulk up holes and cracks you can reach. If you are comfortable doing so, add another layer of insulation in your attic, or hire a professional to inspect and assess what your house needs.

Check for Leaks

Leaky pipes, toilets which run nonstop and sinks that drip constantly all waste water and cost you money. Fix these leaks yourself or hire a professional if you are uncomfortable doing so. If you aren’t sure you have a leak, you can check your water meter. If all the water is off, there should be no change in the meter after two hours or so. But if there is, you may a have a leak somewhere in the house.

Invest in a Smart Thermostat

If you are going to be gone all day, don’t waste money keeping your home at an ideal temperature when you can’t enjoy it. You can program a smart thermostat to have your home at the temperature you desire by the time you get home and give the furnace a break when you aren’t there. Some can be programmed and accessed online, in case your plans change.

There are lots of little things we can do to save on our energy costs. They don’t have to be major projects like replacing all the windows or installing a new roof — although these will help, too. You just have to properly maintain your appliances and be conscious of the energy you are using. Even making a minimal effort will lower your bills during extreme weather months and keep more of your money in your pocket.