Personal Finance Tasks That Aren’t as Hard as You Think

May 15, 2018

Paying bills makes me sadThe thought of making a budget or preparing your own taxes makes you want to collapse on the couch and binge watch your favorite TV show. It’s understandable: Most people don’t consider personal finance to be a fun way to pass an afternoon.

But the truth is, most personal finance tasks aren’t nearly as difficult or time-consuming as you think they are. And if you muster up the courage to finally take them on, you can generate a nice financial boost for yourself.

These personal finance tasks aren’t as tricky as you think. Give them a go. You’ll feel a lot less guilty when you waste three hours streaming old episodes of Battlestar Galactica.

  1. Writing a household budget

Drafting a budget is the first step toward making good financial choices. The problem? Making a budget sounds dull and difficult.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t take nearly as much time or effort as many people assume it does. Simply list your monthly expenses that never change — everything from your mortgage or rent payment, to your car payment and insurance costs. Next, list those costs that change each month — such as your utility bill, transportation costs, and grocery spending. Put down an estimate for how much you think you’ll spend on these items every month.

From there, list the expenses that are more discretionary, such as eating out or going to the movies. Create a maximum spend for these items each month.

Finally, list the money that comes into your household from salaries, overtime, bonuses, settlements, investments, and any other source that pays out each month. Compare your expenses to your income. Now you know how much leeway you have in your monthly budget and how much you can devote to savings. Best of all? Doing this doesn’t have to take more than an hour. (See also: Build Your First Budget in 5 Easy Steps)

  1. Building an emergency fund

Financial experts recommend that you have six months’ to a year’s worth of daily living expenses saved in an emergency fund. That way, if you face an unexpected financial emergency — anything from a $1,000 car repair bill to a job loss — you’ll have money set aside and won’t have to resort to credit cards.

Building such a large emergency fund sounds intimidating. But if you take it in small steps, you’ll find that building this fund isn’t nearly as hard as you think.

Start with whatever you can spare each month. If you can only devote $100 a month to your emergency fund, start with that. After a year, you’ll have $1,200 saved. If you can save $200 a month, you’ll have $2,400 at the end of a year.

The key is to continue depositing whatever you can in your emergency fund. If you do, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it grows. (See also: 5-Minute Finance: Start an Emergency Fund)

  1. Making a will

Drafting a will not only sounds complicated, it’s also not much fun to think about. No one wants to consider their own death. But if you own property and assets, you absolutely need a will to make sure those assets are passed on to your loved ones according to your wishes after you die.

How to do it? Start by titling a blank document with the words “Last will and testament.” Then, state your name and write that you are of sound mind and legal age (this is usually 18).

Name the executor of your will — the person who will carry out what your will states after you die — and name a legal guardian to take care of your children if you should pass away.

Your will should include the names of any beneficiaries, the people whom you want to inherit your assets. Usually, this will be your children or spouse. But you can also name friends, charities, other relatives, or organizations.

Finally, list your assets and whom they should go to. This can include your home, your savings, your car, or any other possessions.

Sign the will in front of at least two witnesses. Check with your state; in some, your witnesses can’t be beneficiaries. Write down these witnesses’ names and addresses. Make sure they sign your will, too.

  1. Paying your taxes

It can be tempting to hire an accountant or tax pro to do your taxes for you. The truth, though, is that most of us can do our taxes on our own.

Taxes for most people aren’t overly complicated. Things only get messy if you rely heavily on freelance income, write off part of your home as an office, or have plenty of deductions that you want to claim. Most taxpayers don’t fall into that category. They can file their taxes on their own, especially with the help of easy-to-follow tax preparation software.

So before you spend $600, $700, or more on a professional tax filer, consider doing this on your own. It’ll usually take you less than an afternoon.


Source: WiseBread

Getting a New Car? 5 Financial Factors You Need to Know

May 8, 2018

Maybe you just graduated college, or you scored your first “grown-up” job, and now you’re looking for a car that suits your transportation needs. Whatever your situation is, there are a lot of factors to think about before purchasing your first car — the most important one being your budget. Be sure to consider these five things to help you decide whether you can fit the cost of a car into your new monthly budget.

  1. Your income

The most important factor that affects your bottom line when it comes to purchasing your first car is your monthly income — especially if you’re buying a brand-new ride. Car payments can be pretty hefty, and if you’re not sure about what you can foot out of pocket each month, it can spell trouble down the line.

It’s a good idea to pay as large a down payment as you can comfortably afford so that you can score lower monthly payments. Experts recommend a down payment of at least 20 percent of the vehicle’s total cost.

Before you head to the dealership, think hard about how much you can realistically budget for your car payment each month, in addition to how much you can set aside for routine maintenance and repairs. Even if you’re buying an older, inexpensive car without a monthly payment, it’s still imperative to have some savings in case issues crop up.

  1. Your credit score

If you’re new to this whole “being an adult” thing, you might not have much credit. But establishing a solid credit score is crucial to your car budget, since it directly affects your interest rates when financing your first vehicle. Scoring a good interest rate can save you hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars.

If you don’t have any credit, or you have a credit score that needs some improvement, be wary of dealership salespeople who may try to talk you into a longer financing term. You’ll end up paying significantly more interest over the course of the term, which can negatively impact your future finances.

  1. Your financing options

If you’re not purchasing your first car outright, you’ll have to finance it in some way. It might seem strange to shop for loans before you go car shopping, but it’ll give you a better idea of what kind of interest rate and loan amount you can expect once the time comes to secure a financing option.

Compare rates from your bank or credit union to other lenders to see who offers the best option for you. If possible, it’s smart to get pre-approved for financing before you walk into the dealership — that way, you know the cards are stacked in your favor.

If you have little or no credit, you may find that it’s best to wait on your car purchase until you’ve improved your score so that you can get a better interest rate. You’ll be able to better afford your vehicle in the long-term.

  1. Your research

While researching cars that you’d like to take a look at and test drive, it’s wise to focus on practicality versus the latest sports car. In other words, prioritize what you absolutely need out of a vehicle rather than what you want. This keeps your car payments lower and helps reduce other ownership costs, such as routine maintenance, repairs and fuel expenses.

Look for vehicles that have a solid track record of safety, reliability and inexpensive maintenance. Reference trustworthy sources, such as, Kelley Blue Book, J.D. Power and Consumer Reports, to find honest reviews and helpful information.

Make sure you also compare prices across multiple dealerships for each vehicle you’ve got your eye on to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

  1. Insurance rates

Once you’ve narrowed down a list of vehicles to shop around for, call around or go online to compare car insurance quotes for each one. It’s key to incorporate your monthly insurance cost into your budget. Not only is liability insurance required in the vast majority of states, but most lenders also require that you carry comprehensive and collision coverages (a.k.a. “full coverage”) for the life of the loan.

To get the most accurate auto insurance quotes, there are a few pieces of information you should have handy:

  • Year, make and model of each vehicle you’re getting quotes for
  • Your social security number, which allows insurers to pull your credit-based insurance score
  • Your driving record and insurance history (if you have one)
  • Your coverage and deductible needs, plus any optional coverages you’d like to carry
  • Purpose of the purchase — whether you’ll be using the car for business, commuting or pleasure
  • Safety and security features on each vehicle, which can score you discounts
  • Vehicle identification numbers (VINs), if possible
  • Address where you’ll be garaging the car (usually your home address)

Though this may seem like a lot to consider when deciding how to include your new car purchase in your monthly budget, it’s best to think about these things ahead of time. You’ll be sound in your purchasing decision and sound with your finances — a win-win!

Let Argent help you with your vehicle buying needs >>  

9 Ways to Reverse Lifestyle Creep 

April 10, 2018

As time goes on, you may find that you are earning more money than you were previously. Congratulations! That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, new income often means new spending. You use higher paychecks to boost your standard of living with a bigger house, pricier cars, more costly meals, and luxury items. This is called lifestyle creep.

The problem with lifestyle creep is that things can crash down on you if your income drops. And it’s not particularly easy to dial back your cost of living quickly.

If you find that you are spending more than you have in the past, it may be time to evaluate whether you are the victim of lifestyle creep. Here are some tips on getting that “creep” headed in the other direction.

  1. Track your spending

Sometimes we just don’t realize how much we are spending. We spend unconsciously, assuming that we’re not doing anything different from what we’ve done in the past. We pay our credit card bills without reviewing them, barely glancing at the record of what we purchased in the previous month. This lack of attention can gradually lead to lifestyle creep.

If you begin a practice of tracking every dollar and reviewing that record on a regular basis, you’ll recognize where you’re making careless spending choices, and you can do something about it.

Reviewing credit card bills and bank statements is a good way to start. There are also online tools such as and Personal Capital that allow you to aggregate accounts and see all your income and spending in one view.

  1. Practice mindful spending

This goes hand-in-hand with tracking your spending. It’s important to be aware of how you are spending your money. Try to get in the habit of making purchases deliberately rather than impulsively. When you intend to buy an item, ask yourself questions like, “Do I really need this?” and, “Can I get this for a better price?” Do extensive research before buying any large items. In this day and age, there’s plenty of information available online about any product.

Mindful spending may even involve switching from credit cards to cash, so that when you buy something, you actually feel money going out of your hands. That sting alone can make you less likely to spend. (See also: How One Nice Thing Can Ruin Your Whole Budget)

  1. Identify wants and needs

Lifestyle creep happens when you start spending money on things you want rather than things you truly can’t live without. You need food and shelter. You need school books for the kids. You don’t need cable television, designer clothes, or vacations in Bali. You don’t need Netflix, no matter how much you’ve convinced yourself that you do.

If you focus on spending money on things you need and ridding yourself of things you don’t, you’ll find your lifestyle creeping back down. (See also: How to Resist Lifestyle Creep and Still Have Everything You Want)

  1. Seek value over luxury

Reducing lifestyle creep is not about bringing spending down to zero, or even purchasing the cheapest version of any item you buy. It’s about spending money in the most efficient way possible. When you seek to make purchases that are a good “value,” it means you are trying to find the perfect balance between quality and price.

Let’s say you need a new refrigerator. You found one at the store with the lowest price, but the reviews suggest it has poor reliability and uses too much energy. Meanwhile, you may have found a fridge that’s highly-rated in terms of quality, but its price is three times higher and has features and components you don’t need. The best value fridge for you is somewhere in the middle.

Finding value can come into play with any purchase, from homes, to cars, and even college educations.

  1. Focus on maxing out retirement contributions

If you have a 401(k) plan, you are allowed to contribute up to $18,500 each year to help you save for retirement. If you have an IRA, you can contribute up to $5,500 annually. In both cases, you can contribute even more if you are over 50. It should be your goal to hit these maximum contributions.

It’s hard to hit these limits when you are young and perhaps not making a lot of money. But as you earn more, it becomes possible. If you set a goal of maxing out these contributions, you are more likely to put any new money you get into retirement accounts than spend it.

Bottom line: Don’t expand your lifestyle until you’ve put as much into retirement accounts as you can. If you are not maximizing the potential of your retirement accounts, you should not be upgrading your car, buying a bigger house, or doing other things that make your life more expensive.

  1. Don’t go after more credit than you need

One of the ironic things about being financially responsible is that companies will make it easier for you to spend more. Credit card companies will keep your interest rate low, thus making it easier for you to borrow. They will raise your credit limits so you can more easily buy big-ticket items. If this happens, you must avoid the temptation to spend more just because you can.

It’s also just as important to avoid any special efforts to expand your purchasing power, unless you have a dire need to do so. If you have a couple of credit cards with reasonable credit limits, be content with what you have. If you have a $5,000 credit limit on one card, there’s no need to request a $10,000 limit just because you can. That extra $5,000 will simply serve as a temptation to spend money on items you don’t need.

  1. Ignore everyone else

You’ve heard the term keeping up with the Joneses. You may have a neighbor or friend who always seems to be getting the newest thing: a new house, a new car, expensive camps, and top-of-the-line sporting equipment for the kids. It is common for people to expand their lifestyle to keep up with friends and neighbors, and they may not even realize they are doing it.

Never forget that your money is yours alone. You must make financial decisions that make sense for you and your family. Paying attention to the spending habits of others accomplishes very little. Keep in mind, too, that while other people may appear to be living the high life, they may actually be deeply in debt with no focus on saving for retirement or other goals.

  1. Become more aware of marketing

Whether we realize it or not, there are billions of dollars being spent every day in an effort to get you to part with your money. Commercials on television and radio, ads on the internet, and even social media posts are all working to get us to buy products and services. Granted, this is part of how capitalism and free markets work. But we don’t need to fall victim to it.

It’s possible to avoid making unneeded purchases simply by become more cognizant of when companies are advertising. Your buying decisions should be based on your needs, and timed according to when you are most comfortable. It’s important to be stoic, even cynical, in the face of marketing efforts.

  1. Change your thinking when it comes to trade-offs

As our life circumstances change, we are often forced to accept trade-offs. But we often make the wrong trade-off from a financial standpoint. We purchase a larger, more expensive house and are willing to forgo retirement savings to make it work. We accept high monthly payments and credit card debt as a trade-off for driving two brand-new cars.

Life is about trade-offs, but financial freedom is about making trade-offs that benefit your wallet rather than your ego. You desire to maximize your retirement accounts, so you are willing to avoid the $5 daily coffees to help make it happen. You don’t want your children saddled with student loans, so you’re happy driving the Honda Civic with 200,000 miles on it. You don’t want to increase your mortgage payment, so you invest in bunk beds instead of a new house when your second kid is born. These kinds of trade-offs prevent lifestyle inflation from creeping in and taking control.


Source: WiseBread

Don’t trust family members with your credit card

March 19, 2018

Credit CardsDid you know that:

  • Half of current or former credit card holders allowed someone else to use their card.
  • Overspending was the most common problem reported by those who let others borrow their cards.
  • Half of cardholders would permit an immediate family member to charge more than $100 on their card.

Here’s a test of trust: Let your best friend borrow your credit card.

Or maybe not.

About half of all current or former cardholders allowed someone else to use their plastic. Of these, nearly a third of those individuals said that they had a bad experience, according to new data from

The personal finance site polled 2,253 adults online in February.

Six out of 10 people said that they would allow an immediate family member borrow their credit card. Nine percent said they have let friends use their cards.

“When it comes down to it, if you lend someone your card, you have a 1 in 3 chance of getting burned,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at

The site estimated that 36 million individuals have had negative results when allowing a third party to use their credit card. The most common problem reported was overspending, followed by not getting paid back and not having the card returned.

Here’s why your friends and family have the best opportunity to misuse your plastic.

The devil you know

In 2014, about 550,000 fraud and identity theft victims said that someone they knew had compromised their information, according to Javelin Strategy & Research data pulled for CNBC.

Federal law limits your liability on unauthorized charges if your credit or debit card is stolen and if you act quickly.

Which law applies depends on the kind of card in question. For instance, your liability for fraudulent charges on your debit card is limited to $50 if you report the card stolen or lost within two business days of finding out about the theft.

But these protections don’t apply if you gave your card to another person and he or she misuses it. In that case, the friend or family member is considered an authorized user — and you’re on the hook for the charges.

Nearly half of the individuals polled by said that they were comfortable with an immediate family member charging more than $100 on a borrowed card.

“Ultimately, you’re better off just saying no,” said Schulz. “It may make for an awkward conversation, but it’s better than finding yourself in a financial mess.”

Be suspicious

It’s one thing to let your spouse borrow your credit card, but an entirely different matter to give it to your child or anyone else.

Here are some suggestions from Javelin and Experian on how to safeguard your information from people closest to home.

  • Lock up your paper: Stash your bank and credit card statements, tax returns, checkbooks and other sensitive information in a locked filing cabinet or safe.
  • Don’t tell your kids everything: Keep your teenagers away from sensitive information, including your Social Security number and credit card account numbers.
  • Maintain good web hygiene: Turn off your computer when you aren’t using it, and avoid maintaining sensitive information on your hard drive. Steer clear of public Wi-Fi, and be sure to encrypt any data that you store on your devices.
  • Use account alerts: Your bank may give you the option of receiving a heads up if there’s suspicious activity on your accounts, like a new bill payee or a large transaction. Sign up for this service if it’s available.
  • Strengthen your credentials: Avoid obvious passwords that people close to you can easily guess. Use two-factor authentication where you can. This will require you to take an extra step beyond providing a login and password in order to sign into an account.



How we save money on summer camp programs

Pull!Believe it or not, summer vacation is not that far away. Finding a way to save money on summer camp for your children can be a daunting task. If you don’t have friends or family to help supervise your children, summer fun for kids can put a big dent in your budget.

If your child is old enough to attend summer camp, you may be able find an inexpensive, fun, hands-on, and educational program. But a full-time day camp (five days a week, for at least five hours a day) can cost hundreds of dollars. The latter is not an option if you need an affordable summer camp.

Enrolling my son in a quality summer camp program is a must. Even though I usually work from home, I’m unable to supervise him effectively and finish all my tasks. I want to complete my work without feeling guilty about sticking him in front of a television or video game all day.

Yet my husband and I try not to spend excessively on summer camp for our son. Here’s how we save money on summer camp expenses.


Starting your search early is one of the most effective ways to save money on summer camp costs. Most camp programs will offer an early-bird discount if you register your child before a certain deadline. These deadlines tend to start in March or April.

The YMCA already offers affordable and accredited summer days camps and they tend to offer early-bird savings when you register by a specific date in April. When you enroll multiple kids, you may be able to save more.

Registering your child early doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to pay the whole amount in full at that time. You may have to pay an initial deposit upfront, but getting started early can help you budget for the remaining costs and have enough time to save the rest.

It’s also important to start saving money for summer camp costs as soon as possible. You might even want to create a savings account devoted specifically for this need.

Barclays Savings is a great option for this, paying 1.50 percent on your balance and there’s no minimum balance requirement.


If you’re struggling to figure out how to pay for summer camp, scholarship funding, grants, or other financial assistance may be available.

Usually, camps offered by local park districts and the YMCA or YWCA will offer lower-income families the opportunity to receive assistance.

You will most likely have to provide information on your current employment and income but this might vary by area. Be sure to check out the options and specific requirements where you live. If you think you qualify, this can be a great way to make summer camp more affordable.


Your community may offer discount summer camp programs and you may not even know about it! That’s why it’s important to be involved in your community. It’ll help alert you to these announcements.

Last year, I went to a family resource fair and found out about a free summer camp and a free baseball league for my son to join. The baseball league ran through a local church and the camp was run through an organization called Communities in Schools.

Spots were available on first come, first serve basis to any child in grades 1-5, regardless of household size or income level, living in the school district. It wasn’t some one-star experience either. It provided lunch, weekly field trips and activities for several weeks during the summer.

Finding that free camp not only saved us so much money but my son had blast and met new friends.

Communities in Schools (CIS) is an organization that serves children all over the U.S. by providing quality resources and programs. CIS is active in 25 states and has 155 affiliations throughout the U.S.

If you can’t find an organization in your area like Communities in Schools, consider checking with local churches and nonprofit organizations that might offer summer camps or other cheap summer activities for you and your family.

Even if you aren’t a member of a church, you can still register your kids for camp. You’ll pay a fraction of what you would for most other summer camps.

This year, we’re sending my son to a Cub Scouts day camp in the area. It’s significantly cheaper than other summer camps and, if you pay weekly, you get a discount for each week you return. It’s also co-ed and you don’t have to be a Cub Scout to register.


Source: Frugal Rules