How to Guard Your ‘Yes’ (and Own Your ‘No’)

This post originally appeared on Shine, a free daily text to help you thrive.

A year ago, my wife signed me up for a drop-in improv workshop. After just one class, I was hooked. Soon, I was taking weekly classes, going to shows, and pretty much out of the house several nights a week.

At the same time, I began hosting monthly dinners with my friends at different local restaurants, I was in the gym each morning, and I was writing on the weekends. On top of it all, I was getting more tasks to do at work.

Life was busy… a little too busy. I couldn’t remember the last time my wife and I just sat on the couch to watch TV or share a laugh together. When she’d ask, “What’s your plan for the week?” I didn’t hear what she really meant: How are we scheduling each other in this week? My relationship was suffering.

Something had to give.

I took an honest inventory of how I was spending my waking hours, and I accepted that I was doing too much. Sure, I enjoyed everything I was doing—but I wasn’t carving out enough time to help the most important parts of my life flourish.

Eventually, my wife and I added intentional us time. We planned trips, weekend getaways and staycations months in advance. We both have stressful and busy jobs, so we were intentional about getting the important dates on the calendar ahead of time. As I began to prioritize my relationship more, I told my wife that I valued her and what we were working to build. I found that I was no longer just busy; I was productive and feeling fulfilled in my personal relationships.

What I learned from all this: We simply can’t do it all. Every time we say yes to something, we’re saying no to something else. If we’re not careful, our relationships might suffer, our health might decline and we might end up way off our center. What’s helped me, and what continues to help me, is considering what I want to say heck yes to.

Whenever I’m doing date night with my wife, I say heck yes by turning off my phone and being completely present. I say heck yes to my health by committing to going to the gym each weekday morning. When we fully put ourselves into the things we care about, we reap greater rewards. We’re more efficient, effective, and we get to enjoy the experience. And even though it might sound counterintuitive, when we take time to focus on one thing at a time, we can be more productive.

Here are some things that help me optimize (and appreciate) my time:

1. Guard your yes and own your no.

If you commit to something, be present and show up for it. But remember: You get to say no. People respect you when you’re honest about what you want to do and know where you’d rather not put your time. You get to be selfish and pour into your own life. Give yourself permission to say no to protect your time.


2. Carve out time for mindfulness and reflection each day.

I get up early so that I have enough time to journal, meditate and write down things I’m thankful for. What time of the day would work best for you to do this? I suggest starting small and putting 10-15 minutes of you time on your calendar.


3. Protect your calendar like it’s the last bite of dessert.

It’s imperative that we establish healthy boundaries with others and make sure we’re keeping track of everything we’re planning to do. I challenge you to take a peek at your calendar right now and ask yourself, Does my schedule for the week reflect my values?


4. Be here now.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our three-page long to-do lists. We are responsible individuals who want to get it all done—as we’re crossing things off our list. I challenge myself to be present during staff meetings and one-on-one meetings. I’ll silence my phone, take notes in a notebook and practice active listening.

Being more productive doesn’t simply mean just doing more. It means doing more of what we care about. You already have everything you need to shift where you’re putting your energy and time, and to say yes to yourself more.

6 Worries You’ll Always Have No Matter How Much Money You Have

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Do not worry about trouble, or what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” In other words, don’t fret.

But it’s not always easy to follow Ben’s advice. Worrying is a normal, natural thing, and it happens to the poorest and wealthiest among us. Money can help ease some fears, but there are ultimately things that will cause us to worry no matter how financially secure we are.

Here are things that we all worry about, regardless of our income. What else keeps you up at night?


1. Your health

One of the sad ironies about building wealth is that once you actually have accumulated enough to achieve financial freedom, you may not be young enough to enjoy it for very long. As much as older Americans worry about having enough saved, they also worry about whether they’ll remain healthy enough to have the active and happy retirement they dreamed of.

Financial wealth can help you get access to good medical care, but aging can win over even the richest among us. And even young people with money worry about falling ill or getting injured. The good news is that this worry can motivate us to do those things necessary to maintain good health, like eat well and exercise. 


2. Your loved ones

Having money may ease your worries a bit, as you can help protect your loved ones from financial hardship.

But you can’t protect them from the consequences of their own bad choices. You can’t cure their illnesses. You can’t prevent them from having their hearts broken. Their health and happiness will be a perpetual source of worry. Even when we’re old and gray, we’ll still worry about our kids and other relatives. We’ll always worry about our spouses. But that’s OK. What kind of monsters would we be if we felt differently?


3. The health of our institutions

We can do a lot on our own to ensure financial security, but much of it also depends on outside entities to function properly. We need the federal government to operate smoothly and play a role in keeping our economy stable. We need a banking system that works. We need stock markets that operate effectively and in the best interests of investors. We need education systems that are working to make America stronger and smarter.

At various times in recent years, these institutions have had shaky moments. No matter how wealthy you are, you’ll always be keeping an eye on our governmental and financial systems to see if they are working the way they should.


4. Global conflict

There’s a reason the stock market took a major dive after the events of September 11, 2001. That’s because as a nation, there was genuine fear that we’d be roped into a major conflict or war that might have hurt our nation’s economy. We worry about war and global instability due to the potential impact on our finances.

But we also worry about global conflict because we are human. Having money in the bank means nothing when you’re worried about terrorism, or concerned about a friend or loved one serving overseas. We worry when we hear about global tensions that might turn into something worse. We actually live in one of the most peaceful times in human history, but until there’s peace on earth we will worry, regardless of how wealthy we are.


5. Change

Fear of change is so prevalent that it actually has a name: metathesiophobia. It is natural for people to worry about changes in their lives, particularly those they can’t control. Having wealth can help mitigate some negative impacts of change, but there is some change that is inevitable no matter how financially prepared you are.

In fact, some of our biggest life changes — retirement, kids moving out, new living situations due to health declines — come later in life when we have achieved financial security. Consider that many older workers choose to remain in their jobs for no other reason than they fear the lifestyle changes that retirement might bring.

Change is inevitable, no matter how rich you are. Do you have the ability to embrace it when it comes?


6. Money

Yes, you’ll worry about money even when you have a lot of money. That’s because there’s a good chance you’ve spent all your life worrying about having enough. So even when you reach a point when you’re financially comfortable, your brain defaults to worrying. Even when you’re rich, there may be things that happen to throw you financially off track.

The stock market can take a dive. Your family may be faced with a string of bad events. You never know what’s around the corner. We all want to reach a point when we don’t have to worry about money, but perhaps worrying about having enough money may be the very thing that ensures we have enough. 

This article originally appeared on WiseBread and was written by Tim Lemke

What Being a Millionaire Means Today

Who wants to be a millionaire? Who doesn’t? The high net worth status has long been considered a prime target for the aspiring rich. And an increasing number of Americans are achieving that goal.

In 2017, there were 9.4 million American millionaire households, according to the annual Market Insights Report from investor research firm the Spectrem Group. That’s up from 9.1 million in 2016.

If you look at different sources, however, you’ll find drastically different counts. In the annual World Wealth Report from consulting firm Capgemini, the number of U.S. millionaires reached 4.8 million in 2016, up 7.6 percent from 4.5 million in 2015. (The tally for 2017 data was not available at the time of reporting.) The annual report from financial services company Credit Suisse estimates there were 15.4 million U.S. millionaires in 2017, up from 14.3 million in 2016.

The differences arise due to how net worth is defined. Spectrem asks individuals to estimate the net worth of all their assets, excluding their primary residence. Capgemini counts all investable assets, excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables and consumer durables. Credit Suisse includes both financial and nonfinancial assets.

Plus, all three firms rely, at least in part, on self-reporting by individuals – making human error a factor. For example, whether and how to include the value of your pension or whole life insurance policy might vary from person to person. Typically, however, when you estimate your net worth, you’d count such assets’ current cash value, i.e., the amount you could get if you were to tap them today.

Technicalities aside, what does it even mean to be a millionaire? “Attaining millionaire status doesn’t mean much anymore,” says financial planner Vid Ponnapalli, founder of financial planning firm Unique Financial Advisors in Holmdel, New Jersey. “Net worth doesn’t mean how much cash I have. My home, stocks, cars might be in there. And in the last decade especially, asset fluctuations have been much greater than in the 30 or 40 years before that, so someone who was a millionaire three years ago might suddenly not be anymore or vice versa. It’s all on paper.” 

Even if you’re looking at just retirement savings, $1 million might not be as cool as it once was. “It’s a milestone and an accomplishment to be proud of,” says financial planner Marguerita M. Cheng, chief executive officer of wealth management firm Blue Ocean Global Wealth, based in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “However, a million-dollar portfolio in 2018 isn’t as valuable as a million-dollar portfolio in 1998 because of inflation.”

And while it’s a popular savings target, with people thinking that accumulating $1 million will allow them to rest easy, hitting that mark does not guarantee relief from all financial concerns – or even that you’d consider yourself wealthy. According to Spectrem Group, 30 percent of millionaires still worry that they might not be able to retire when they want. And when asked to rate whether they are wealthy on a scale of 0 to 100, millionaires gave themselves a score of about 66.

“It’s always kind of surprising how these people assess their situation and the level of financial concern that still exists among people that we would consider to be wealthy,” says Kent McDill, editor for Spectrem. “So much of it has to do with your emotional makeup, as it does with anything else. It’s about your ability to feel secure, no matter what your financial situation is like.”

The fact is, the amount of savings you need to achieve financial security or feel ready for retirement depends on your unique situation. “Setting an arbitrary target such as $1 million for retirement simply isn’t sufficient to ensure that you will have enough money to live out the remainder of your life comfortably,” says Natalie Colley, an analyst with financial planning firm Francis Financial in New York City. “This is not to say that $1 million isn’t enough, just that there are several variables that need to be considered when determining how much you actually need.”

Among those variables is the kind of lifestyle you hope to have in retirement. Ponnapalli notes that if you want to be able to afford luxury vacations and generous gifts for the grandkids, $1 million might not be enough. On the other hand, that sum might be too much if you plan a more frugal retirement. “It is not one-size-fits-all,” he says.

That’s why he recommends planning a retirement budget – two, in fact. The first should detail your planned expenses for your active early retirement; the second should account for your later retirement years. You also need to estimate how long that second part might last, or how long you expect to live. It may be a morbid consideration, but it’s important that you venture a guess as to how long you’ll need your money to last. You can estimate your longevity using online calculators, such as the ones from the Social Security Administration (which simply asks your gender and date of birth), Living to 100 and financial services firm Blueprint Income (which factors in other details including your weight and how much you exercise and drink alcohol).

Plus, you need to plan for long-term care expenses, as well as health care costs, both of which Ponnapalli says are big expenses that are often “not given as much importance as they deserve.” With all that in mind, you can calculate your unique retirement savings target.

For people in their 20s and 30s, Ponnapalli concedes that rules of thumb and general targets are a good place to start since it might be hard to gauge a detailed retirement budget from that many years away. (Still, even those more loosely defined goals should be unique. For example, most pros recommend you aim to save 20 percent of your current income, as opposed to any set dollar amount.) Then, as you get older, you can adjust your plans and savings goals. “Retirement planning isn’t something we do one time and drop it,” Ponnapalli says. “We have to revisit it every year.”

Most importantly, you need to remember that the million-dollar marker is just a number – albeit a seven-figure one. Your financial goals should be about affording the life you want rather than hitting high dollar amounts. And Ponnapalli notes that this thinking is a growing trend among young people. “It is not money the younger generations are focusing on,” he says. “For them, it’s less about what you have and more about what makes you happy.”

This article was written by Stacy Rapacon and originally appeared on U.S. News

When It Comes to Financial Solutions, There’s No Place Like Home.

Homeownership: more than just the cornerstone of the American Dream, it can be a powerful tool for improving your financial future. While renting can be a smart financial choice for someone starting out or starting over, owning your own home offers a multitude of benefits—not the least of which is the ability to build equity.

For practical purposes, equity can be defined as the difference between your home’s value and the balance owed on your mortgage. Since most mortgage installments are comprised of interest and principal amounts, each payment chips away at mortgage’s remaining balance, resulting in a larger difference between the property’s value and what you still owe. That difference is your equity. And while equity is reassuring in theory, it can be even better when you make that equity work for you.

Loan vs. Line: Find the right home equity option for you.

Because your house’s value offers relatively stable collateral, equity lenders assume lower risk than creditors offering unsecured loans or credit lines. Less risk for the lender means better rates for you. Traditionally, home equity loans and lines of credit feature more attractive interest rates than credit cards, making them ideal for larger purchases. But before you decide to put your equity to work for you, it’s important to know the difference between a Home Equity Loan and a Home Equity Line of Credit. Understanding the benefits of each can help you determine which is best for you.

Home Equity Loan
By allowing you to borrow a lump sum at once, these loans let you lock in an interest rate and payment terms for the length of the loan. While interest is charged on the total amount from the beginning, the security of a fixed rate makes home equity loans a reliable choice for larger projects that involve one-time expenses. Popular uses for home equity loans include:

  • Home renovation projects
  • Consolidation of high-interest debt
  • Establishing an emergency fund

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

Essentially a credit account that allows you to borrow against the equity in your home, a HELOC gives you a cost-effective way to access the funds you need only when you need them. While you can borrow smaller amounts at a time, a HELOC usually features an adjustable interest rate tied to the standard market rate. Depending on the current financial climate, this could lead to fluctuating interest rates and payment amounts over time. However, since you can borrow smaller amounts and pay interest on the amount borrowed as opposed to the full credit limit, this option is ideal for gaining access to funds while maximizing your cash flow. Common uses for a Home Equity Line of Credit include:

  • Smaller home improvements
  • Funding a small business venture
  • Higher education expenses

As with any major financial decision, it pays to discuss all the details with a financial expert. So, before you decide which home equity option is right for you, schedule an appointment with a Scient representative mortgage specialist to determine the best solution for your financial needs.

8 Valuable Freebies at Your Local Library

To many people, public libraries represent buildings full of books, nothing more. Libraries are where a person goes to look up information or borrow a novel, but if you’re not interested in reading, there’s no reason to visit one.

Many modern libraries buck this trend. They provide books, to be sure. They also offer many other types of resources and entertainment items and provide a central place for varied activities and services, almost all for free.

Here are eight valuable, free resources offered by many public libraries in America.



Like they do with books, many libraries now offer movies for checkout. The selection often matches that of a video store, with the difference being that you can check out movies for multiple nights for free. 

The selection isn’t limited to dry documentaries. Libraries often acquire copies of newly released blockbusters, comedies, romances, dramas – anything you would find at your local Redbox or on Netflix – minus the cost.



Most libraries have a robust audiobook selection, which is a great option if you’re about to depart on a long road trip. They provide entertainment while allowing you to keep your eyes on the road.

As with their book selection, most libraries offer a wide variety of audiobooks of all kinds. You’ll find exciting fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, literary fiction, mystery and romance. You’ll find nonfiction in all flavors, including biographies, military histories, business books, personal finance books and many others. If you have an interest, the library likely has an audiobook to match.


Community groups. 

Libraries often provide a meeting place for community groups of all types, not just book clubs. While the selection might be limited at smaller libraries, larger libraries typically offer meetings for many kinds of groups, from political groups and discussion forums to youth groups and special-interest groups.

Many libraries have a number of meeting rooms set aside for just this purpose, closed off from the rest of the library, so people can converse without disturbing quiet spaces. You don’t have to keep your voice down at these meetings.


Public presentations. 

Libraries often have an auditorium in which public presentations are given on all kinds of topics. Visiting authors will present on the topic of their book. Politicians will hold public question-and-answer sessions. Local experts will talk about their specific area of expertise.

Most libraries keep a schedule of their free presentations on their websites. You can also stop in and pick up a printed copy if you prefer.


Attraction passes. 

Many libraries have arrangements with local attractions, such as zoos, museums and theaters, to provide passes that can be “checked out” from the library. You simply stop by the library, check out a pass, just as you would with a book, then use that pass to visit the local attraction for free.

This is a great way for your family to visit a nearby museum, zoo, aquarium or other attraction of interest without the expense.


Internet access. 

If you ever need to access the internet while traveling or when internet access is unavailable at home, check the local library. Almost all libraries offer free high-speed internet access to the community with little restriction on usage. Many libraries have computers available for use as well, which is perfect for checking a website or two. 

Many larger libraries even offer an “internet help desk” service where they will answer questions and help people with internet-related difficulties.



A new feature in many libraries is tool and machine rental. Libraries offer patrons the ability to check out items that can be used to build or repair things at home.

Many larger libraries even have small “maker spaces” where volunteers offer classes on how to use various tools for making and repairing items.



Libraries are stepping into the digital era by offering the ability to check out e-books that you can read on your phone, tablet or home computer. Often, you can check these out without even visiting the library, as the checkout process is handled by an app or a website.

Many libraries use the OverDrive platform as a checkout service for e-books. Simply go to the app, choose the book you want and “check it out” for a number of days. It’s then available on your phone or tablet for your reading convenience.

Your local public library offers far more than just piles of dusty books. The next time you’re near the library, stop in for a while and see what it has on offer. You might just find yourself leaving with a new movie in hand or a new addition to your social calendar.

This article originally appeared on U.S. News and was written by Trent Hamm.

Plan a Blockbuster Valentine Date on a Budget

From picking the right card to choosing the perfect flowers to selecting the best chocolates, planning for Valentine’s Day can be daunting. When you get it right, the smile on your Valentine’s face is priceless. If you miss the mark, well, so does Cupid’s arrow. The risk/reward scenario is the stuff romantic comedies are made of. But there’s a big difference between Hollywood hijinks and real life. The difference? Budgets.


Movie Magic vs. Real Life

While cinematic screenplays portray extravagant splurges that make audiences swoon, most of us don’t have the unlimited finances required to take a hot air balloon ride over Central Park while a string symphony serenades us from below. So, is it possible to plan a successful Valentine’s date without breaking the bank? Absolutely.

Creating a budget-friendly Valentine’s Day that’s memorable for all the right reasons requires purposeful thought and advanced planning—just like your budget itself. This is not the time to keep up with the proverbial Joneses; don’t waste energy comparing your ideas with anyone else’s. When it comes to making February 14th something special, individuality wins. If you’re looking for a few tips to spark your frugal creativity, we’ve got you covered.


4 Ways to Enjoy Valentine’s Day on a Budget

  • Cook at home. Go out for dessert.
    Whether you decide to cook dinner for your date or prepare a meal together, staying in lets you plan the menu around your budget and enjoy the experience of crafting your own culinary adventure. After leisurely dining at home, you can venture out for a delicious dessert knowing you’ve missed the overcrowded restaurants and overpriced entrees.
  • Coupons can be your friend.
    Can we get real for a minute? Free food tastes better. It just does. And if you’re looking to counter the unfair stigma attached to coupons, consider the following scenario: If you have $50 to spend on dinner, that means you can get two meals that cost $25 each. If you have $50 and a Buy-One-Get-One coupon from sites like or Living Social, you can each enjoy a $50 meal. Doesn’t sound like a difficult decision, does it?
  • Pick a plant instead of flowers.
    With many florists inflating prices by as much as 100% for Valentine’s Day, buying traditional flower arrangements can an expensive proposition. Instead of giving your date a bundle of flowers that will be gone in a couple weeks, plan a date that includes selecting a plant that will provide beauty for years to come. The shared experience provides an excellent chance to learn each other’s tastes and preferences, which may prove helpful for future Valentine’s Days.
  • Visit museums and art galleries.
    If you live in an area that has a museum or art gallery, many of these venues offer free or low-cost admission. In addition to giving your date a touch of culture, the subjective nature of art and exhibits offers endless opportunities for conversation, lessening the chances of awkward silence throughout the evening.

Sticking to a budget can be tough, especially when you’re trying to impress your date. But if our favorite rom-coms have taught us anything, it’s the fact that over-the-top spending may seem fun, but it rarely leads to happily ever after. Whether you use the tips above or come up with creative ideas of your own, being smart with your Valentine’s Day spending is a great way to craft a feel-good story that will leave you cheering when the credits roll. And who knows, if all goes well, there might even be a sequel!


3 Best Ways to Give Your Grown Kids Financial Gifts

This article originally appeared on Next Avenue and was written by Trey Smith.

Many parents believe it’s better to give their grown kids money when their children could use the cash rather than leaving it to them as an inheritance. But making such financial gifts can involve a distinct psychological downside: the potential for encouraging dependency that can develop if your adult children come to expect your help.

Even if you can afford to make regular cash infusions, you may be concerned about the potential for sapping your kids’ motivation to succeed financially. Regular checks engender regular expectations. If you write your kids a check annually three consecutive years, your generosity may become habit-forming for them.

I call this the Rule of Three. The first check is greatly appreciated, the second one is appreciated, but less of a surprise and the third is still appreciated. but no surprise at all. After the third time, they may come to expect a check every year.


3 Strategies for Financial Gifts to Grown Kids

As a financial adviser who has helped many clients make such gifts, I’ve found that these familial strategies work the best for the parents and their grown kids:


1. Keep it irregular. 

Vary the time of year you send checks, and don’t send them every year.

While dependency stems from expectation, breaking things up creates doubt, reducing reliability and dependence.


2. Don’t always give money directly. 

There are various ways to assist your grown kids indirectly. These include paying their uninsured medical expenses, helping out with a purchase by a grandchild (such as a first car), providing cash for a home remodeling contractor’s fees and covering some expenses for a first baby (such as a stroller, a car seat, a crib or a year’s supply of diapers).

Varying the impetus and circumstances of your assistance tends to make gifts unexpected and appreciated windfalls, instead of something recipients come to count on.


3. Confine your help to rare occasions. 

For example, expenses for key anniversaries or birthdays could qualify. After all, how often does your daughter have a 10th wedding anniversary or her son have a 16th birthday? Another irregular impetus would be the need for plane fare and lodging to attend family reunions, assuming these events aren’t annual or bi-annual.

Another example: occasional family vacations for the extended family.

Of course, the Internal Revenue Service puts limits on how much you can give without tax consequences. Under current law, single people may make cash gifts to an individual totaling $14,000 a year without any tax liability for the recipient. Spouses each may give $14,000 a year to the same recipient, meaning a limit of $28,000 on each gift from the couple. (These figures or rules could change with tax reform.)

It doesn’t matter to Uncle Sam whether recipients are relatives; but check your state’s tax rules because they may be different. There are no limits on how many people you can give this amount to annually.

Since estates of $5.4 million and up are currently subject to federal estate tax (states limits vary), for some wealthy individuals, perennially giving away money over the long haul could be part of a plan to reduce the size of their taxable estates.

But even the wealthy may want find ways to keep this assistance unpredictable. That way, they can help their grown children without handicapping their self-reliance.

House Hunters: Learn From My Rookie Mistakes

This article was written by Deborah Meyer and originally appeared on Kiplinger

When I bought my first home in my 20s, I had worked hard and saved for a down payment. But I didn’t do all the homework a buyer should do. Looking back years later, here are seven financial tips for house hunters today.

Is it possible for you to delve into home ownership without all the facts? YES.

One of my three biggest financial mistakes was buying a home just one year out of college without truly considering all financial implications. Read this article if you’re looking to purchase a home and don’t want to make similar missteps.

Here are several places where I went wrong when I bought my first home, years ago. I didn’t do my homework. I failed to investigate historical housing prices to judge whether the asking price was greater than the true value. I saved aggressively as a young adult and managed to scrimp together 10% for a down-payment on a $150,000 starter home in Saint Louis at age 23. Ideally, you should save at least 20% for a down-payment. Otherwise, you must take out an extra loan or pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). I choose PMI and regret it.

The home was old and charming — built in the 1920s — and lacked energy-efficient upgrades. Heating bills easily ran $300 monthly in the winter, and the tiny window air conditioning unit on the second floor did not suffice during hot summers. I poured over $20,000 in renovations to improve my first house and sold it four years later for the same $150,000 purchase price. Ouch! 

When you purchase a home, steer clear of traps and focus on these recommendations instead:


1. Improve your credit score prior to the purchase. allows you to access your credit report for free every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Review the report in detail for errors or issues. Here’s a full list of tips to repair and increase your credit score.


2. Plan to stay in your home at least five years.

The newly proposed House and Senate tax overhaul bills stipulate that you will need to live in your primary residence at least five of the prior eight years to exclude the gain on the subsequent sale of your home. Right now, the law uses two of the prior five years for the gain-exclusion calculation, but legislators are hoping to expand the look-back period to five years. This should curtail flippers, who move from house to house every two years without paying income tax when they sell. Regardless of whether this bill passes, real estate commissions and other closing costs make it very difficult to turn a profit (outside of rehabbed houses) if you spend less than five years in the property.


3. Hire a buyer’s agent who is looking after your best interest.

As a buyer, you don’t pay a commission to your real estate agent; that cost is borne by the seller. However, not all real estate agents are created equal. Some are focused exclusively on acting as a seller’s agent or buyer’s agent. Others run both sides of the table. Exercise caution if your agent is also the listing agent for the home you are most interested in purchasing — there’s an inherent conflict of interest. 


4. Do your homework.

If you are looking to buy in an area with young families, school districts are very important for resale value. Explore the price history on sites like Zillow to understand when and for how much the home previously sold. Pay attention to how long the home has been on the market and others like it to negotiate purchase price.


5. Consider “hidden” costs of homeownership.

Have at least 20% available in cash for a down-payment. Without that target percentage, you will either pay PMI until the loan value is 80% of the appraised home value, or you might take out a “piggyback” home equity line at a higher interest rate than a traditional mortgage to make up the difference in order to avoid PMI. Closing costs, moving expenses, new furnishings and appliances should also be considered. Contemplate ongoing costs like real estate taxes, homeowners insurance and utility bills as well.


6. Budget for home improvements early.

Make a list, prioritizing the improvements you want to make and the timeline for completion. Don’t focus strictly on aesthetics like new flooring, painting or enhancing an unfinished basement. When will the roof and windows need to be updated? Driveway refinished? Air conditioning unit and furnace replaced? As a woman who spends most of her time inside the house, it’s tempting to focus on the interior. Yet the exterior and home systems are more costly projects that should not be ignored.


7. Get pre-approved.

Pre-approval for a mortgage gives you a better idea of how much house you can afford. Just because you are pre-approved for a $400,000 loan doesn’t mean you need to go and find a home in that price range. Determine your monthly payment and see if it fits into your personal budget. Don’t forget about the hidden costs and home improvement projects discussed above. Give yourself some wiggle room. I encourage many clients to stay under the maximum pre-approval amount to meet other saving and lifestyle goals. 

This list was not intended to scare you. Rather, knowledge is power. Purchasing your first home or moving into a new home is a big decision, one that makes sense to get some expert guidance on. As a comprehensive financial planner, I help clients reach their big-picture financial goals, and homeownership is an important piece of the puzzle.


Ring in the New Year with a Focus on Financial Fitness

When it comes to the most popular New Year’s traditions, making a resolution ranks right up there with countdowns, ball drops, and off-key renditions of Auld Lang Syne.

Year after year, health-related goals top the list of New Year’s resolutions, and 2018 is no exception. Whether it’s getting back in the gym, taking a daily walk, or simply trying to eat better, most of us are familiar with re-focusing on healthy habits when January rolls around.

While the new year may be a great time to improve your physical health, it offers a perfect opportunity to boost your financial health as well.

Determine Your Starting Point

Like any good coach will tell you, it’s impossible to know how far you’ve come unless you know where you started. Before starting you on a new workout program, most trainers would administer a basic fitness test to measure your current strength, conditioning, flexibility, and power. Similarly, an honest assessment of your current checking, savings, investments, cash flow, and credit can provide a snapshot of your financial baseline and help identify areas for improvement.

Five Keys to Financial Fitness

  • Checking: When it comes to your checking account, do you find yourself treating overdraft protection as a lifeline instead of a safety net? Brush up your banking skills by visiting CheckRight, a self-paced, online course designed to help you manage your money with confidence.
  • Savings: It’s almost impossible to predict when car problems or job losses might happen, but setting aside 3-6 months of living expenses in an emergency fund can help smooth out those unexpected bumps in the road. Save early, save often.
  • Investments: The key to long-term financial success is making your money work for you. If you haven’t started planning for the future, there’s no time like the present to begin. Scient members receive a complimentary financial review, so contact our financial advisor for expert advice on college savings accounts, IRA options, 401(k)’s, and more.
  • Cash Flow: When you need to make a big purchase, using credit cards can tie up your money in an endless cycle of interest payments. A personal loan or home equity line of credit can offer the financing you need—often with lower interest rates than most credit cards. That means you can hang onto more of your hard-earned money each month.
  • Credit: Investments are one way to put your money to work, the Visa® Signature Helix card is another. By making purchases with your credit card and paying the balance off each month, you can strengthen your credit rating and earn money-saving rewards on dining, entertainment, and travel.

As you commit to getting financially fit in 2018, remember that progress is better than perfection. Focus on making small, manageable improvements, and when you look back at the end of the year, there’s a good chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how far you’ve come.

What Your Credit Cards Are Really Costing You

This article was written by  and originally appeared on CNN Money.

Credit card debt is costing you nearly $1,000 per year