New Years Resolution Time – Start Saving Money With These Easy Steps!

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Saving a lot of money is like trying to run a marathon.

If you dwell on how long the race is, you might not even get off the couch. But if, instead, you focus on putting one foot in front of the other and running one mile, and then two miles, and so on, suddenly a marathon doesn’t seem quite as intimidating.

Try to think about your finances in the same way.

Minor changes that you make right now can have a major impact on your long-term financial security.  Here are eight quick and relatively easy tips to help you save money.

1. Open a separate savings account: If you can open a separate savings account with a different bank it will help you to not dip into your savings so easily.  It works kind of like an “outta sight outta mind” experience.

Erica Zidel, 31, of Boston, Mass., who runs the babysitting startup SittingAround.com, says that this is the single best thing she’s done to save money. “I kind of forget that I have the savings account, so I’m not tempted to dip into it,” she says. “Since doing this five years ago, my savings have grown 400%.”

The out-of-sight/out-of-mind mentality is helpful—plus, it usually takes two to three days to access money from a separate savings account, so you probably can’t spend it as impulsively.

2. Set up an automated transfer: It’s easy to promise yourself that you’re going to transfer a certain amount of money into savings each week or month, but following through takes an awful lot of time, energy and discipline. Take the process out of your own hands by either asking your company to regularly deposit a portion of your paycheck directly into your savings account (that’s ideal, because you never even see the money) or asking your bank to regularly transfer a certain amount of money from your checking account to your savings account.  If you do online banking you can generally set up automated transfers each week, that is what my wife and I do.

By doing it this way we generally don’t miss the money and then we have an emergency fund set up in case we need to pay for unexpected expenses, repairs etc.

3. Bring your lunch to work: Did you know that the average American who eats their lunch out during the week spends nearly $1,000 a year? Stuart L. Cantor, Ph.D., a 49-year-old pharmaceutical scientist in Mt. Airy, Md., used to be tempted to go to a Chinese or Indian restaurant with co-workers for lunch on occasion and drop $12 to $15 each time.

“Now I bring my lunch to work every day. Either my wife and I will cook something or I’ll microwave a frozen Indian dish that costs $1.99 for 14 ounces. I always eat something healthy and delicious, so I don’t feel cheated,” he says.

There is nothing wrong with splurging on a lunch every so often but make an attempt to at least bring something from home 3 or 4 days a week.  Ask your co-workers if they want try this strategy too and eat with you, so you’ll get the same sense of camaraderie that you would at a restaurant and they’ll help hold you accountable.

4. Just add 1% … of your gross income to your retirement savings every six months. The idea is to keep doing this gradually until you reach the maximum amount that you’re allowed to contribute. Maximums can change year to year. For traditional or Roth IRAs, for example, the current limit is $5,500 (and $6,500 for those 50 or older). For 401(k)s, it’s $17,500 for those under age 50 and $23,000 for those age 50 or older.  Truth is just like with the weekly account transfers once you do this you will hardly miss the money.  It also will have positive tax implications for you and your family each year because it lowers your taxable income.  My wife and I already contribute our full 10% of our income to our respective 401(k) but if you don’t feel you are in a place to do that than just commit to the increase every 6 months.vacations-photo1

5. Track your spending for one month: Before you can spend less, you need to figure out exactly where your money goes. You might think you have a good idea, but many people are surprised by what they find.

Hudson Valley, N.Y. writer Virginia Sole-Smith, 32, certainly was when she used a spreadsheet to track what she and her husband spent on groceries in May and June of this year. But the exercise helped her pinpoint areas where she could slash costs. “We were spending $75 a month on individual, 6-ounce Chobani yogurts at a fancy grocery store! Now we buy four-packs and 32-ounce tubs from Stop & Shop,” she says. Tricks like this have enabled her to cut her yogurt bill nearly in half and spend 37% less on all her groceries.

Then analyze your habits and find at least one area where you’re overspending. Pay attention to recurring costs, like cable TV bills and gym memberships. Ask yourself if you’re getting your money’s worth. If you’re not, it might be time to buy an HDTV antenna (a one-time fee) or pay for Hulu or Netflix (which are recurring fees but are less expensive than cable). Or you may want to watch free exercise videos on YouTube instead of taking gym classes.

If your weak spot isn’t a recurring cost, try putting yourself on a cash diet, says Kirkpatrick. For instance, if you can’t enter a shoe store without purchasing three pairs, don’t go in there with a debit or credit card—take only a certain amount of cash, so you can’t go crazy.

6. Use a rewards card wisely: “For the past 17 years, my husband and I and our five children have saved by charging everything on my Southwest Airlines card and paying off the balance in full each month. We rack up free miles so we can visit family in Raleigh and take vacations, like a trip to San Francisco, at much lower costs,” says Andi Wrenn, a 46-year-old financial counselor in Arlington, Va.“Over the past four years, we’ve earned anywhere from 3,000 to 12,000 miles per month.” This tactic can be advantageous, but only if you spend within your means and pay off the balance in full every month.  Thus it requires you to stay disciplined.

7. Set reminders: One big money drain can be forgetting to pay a bill—and then getting slapped with a late fee and/or having to pay interest on a credit card payment. This can be easily avoided by getting organized.

“I started using a hard copy planner (and then a few years ago, I switched to using a Google digital calendar) to record reminders throughout the year for different money deadlines, such as paying monthly bills, contacting my tax professional, reviewing insurance policies, getting a credit report and more,” says Ray Advani, 42, of Chicago, who founded the blog Squirrelers.com.

“Over the past 10 years, this has saved me about $1,000 and prevents a lot of stress!” he adds. You can also schedule alerts via email or text. Also ask vendors, like your cable company or electric company, if they can reset your payment due date. You might prefer to have all your due dates on the same day for convenience or it might help your cash flow to spread them out over the month.

8. Move your savings to an online bank: Consider putting your savings into an online bank, as opposed to a brick-and-mortar bank, because the interest rates tend to be higher, so your money will grow faster.  For example, if your emergency fund sits in Citibank’s savings account, it’ll earn .01% interest. If it sits in Ally online bank’s savings account, it’ll earn .87% interest. And, as this story shows, even little differences can add up.

Well that is it for today!  Until tomorrow make it a better day!

@ACSloss

@BetterMenNow

Devotional Tuesday – Don’t Let Worry Hold You Back

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“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Worry-it’s what we do.  No matter how brave a face we put on in certain situations, worry still nags at our hearts.  I wasn’t sure what college to attend and then, when that was finished, where I would get a chance to play quarterback.  Worry.  Would Lauren marry me?  Worry.  Raising our children.  Worry. It seems like a day doesn’t go by without it.

Worry, or trust God and reside in the peace He provides?

This issue of worry is mentioned in numerous places in the Bible, so obviously it is important to God.  And for good reason.  Worry not only saps us of passion and energy, but it also drains us dry of our hope and trust in the God who created us.

In Matthew 6:25-26, Jesus says, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life-whether you have enough food or drink, or enough clothes to wear.  Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds.  They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.”

What’s a good antidote for worry?  The apostle Paul reminds us to stop and thank God for all He has done for us.  It’s the “count your blessings” perspective.  If we remember what God has already done for us, we can hold on to the assurance that He will continue to provide and make a way through the uncertainty of tomorrow.  It’s lying back in the strong arms of God and basking in the peace that time with Him provides.fear-is-a-liar1

Worry.  we all do it.  But we need to stop.

God will relieve you of worry if you ask Him.  It doesn’t always mean that instead of worry He will give you success or the outcome you think is best.  When He does promise to give seems unfathomable to the world: peace.

Uncommon Key –> How has God shown His faithfulness to you?  Reflect on that for a moment, maybe even jotting down some specifics.  That exercise each day is a sure cure for worry.

Devotional courtesy of Tony Dungy’s Uncommon Life

Man Essentials – Having Courage

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One of the things that defines masculinity and real manhood is courage.  Some of you might roll your eyes thinking such a statement is outdated or maybe even sexist.  It is not.  Having courage is a key trait for women as well but this blog isn’t about women.  As men, we are called to be leaders over our lives and our families.  At times this is going to require us to make courageous decisions.  Stepping out and making a decision without knowing the ultimate outcome of that decision is the very foundation of courage.

Those of you who take offense to the notion that being courageous is a masculine trait or is required of you to be a “real man” likely don’t possess much courage.  You probably often find yourself afraid when confronted with difficult choices or scary situations and paralyzed when making decisions.  There is nothing wrong with this.  However, you need to understand this is a weakness in character that needs to be addressed before it destroys you and your family.

Courage is often defined as doing what is right rather than what is popular.  This can come in many forms.  At times it may involve you taking a stand in your workplace or school.  Other times it will simply mean taking the unpopular path because doing so is consistent with your personal belief system.  Courage can also take the form of not giving up on a family member or friend after all other people have forsaken them.

The good news is that courage is not a skill, ability or talent that we are born with.  In other words, courage is a learned pattern of behavior.  This means as men we can actually learn to be courageous and can develop courage over our lifetime.  When I was a young child I pretty much lacked courage – all the time.  I was (or actually still am) an only child and as such my mother was terribly overprotective of me as a small boy.  She is a constant worrier and as a young boy it made me afraid of everything.  I refused to engage in many activities that were normal for boys because I was afraid I would get injured or wouldn’t be able to do a particular activity and then be embarrassed etc.  It wasn’t until I reached my teenage years that I began to understand I shouldn’t be so afraid of things.

In their book “I Call Shotgun” Tommy Newberry and Curt Beavers state “Both cowards and heroes face fear.  Their responses to fear and uncertainty, however, define who they become.”   Everyone faces fear, uncertainty, stress and difficult choices.  Yet it is how we choose to deal with our fear and uncertainty that will ultimately define us as men.  Learning to be courageous is no different from learning any other skill.  You must practice being courageous and as you do so the braver you will become.  The most difficult part is you often have to act courageous at moments when you aren’t feeling particularly full of courage.

Just like with working out and building muscle, as you develop courage you will be presented with more and more opportunities to exercise this newly found character trait.  As you build your “courage muscles” you will be developing other areas of your life and deepening your character.  Most importantly your courage and bravery will be contagious to those around you.  Your acts of courage for your family will help them to trust you and inspire them to be courageous in return.courage_edited-2

Being courageous shows what we, as men, are made of.  It is the “table setter” for almost every other area in your life.  As you grow in courage you will see an exponential growth in just about every other area.  Being and acting in a courageous manner is like an incubator for your life.  Make a pledge today to have more courage.  Take that risk you have always been afraid to take.  Finally ask that cute girl at the coffee shop out on a date.  Ask your boss for a raise.  Confront that “thing” that is causing the most fear in your life.  Regardless of the outcome, you will have begun to develop courage and you will notice a difference.

One last thought before I leave you.  It is important to understand what requires courage for your neighbor might not need much or any courage from you.  For example, if your parents had a bad marriage and it caused a lot of pain for you and your family it might take a great deal of courage for you to even want to be married, let alone get engaged to a women.  Making the choice to date, get engaged or get married might be the most courageous thing you have done.  That doesn’t mean your courage is any less valued than a soldier who must go off to fight in a war.  The stakes might be higher (i.e. death) but that doesn’t mean it takes any less courage.  My point is this: whatever you need courage for can be very subjective from one man to another and you should never allow someone to look down on you because of it.  We all have trauma in our lives and much of it was beyond our control.  It is this trauma that can often shape and influence those things that cause fear, uncertainty and even terror in our own lives.  Don’t let others tell you what you should or shouldn’t be courageous about.

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Here are some thoughts for you to consider

  1. How do you define courage?
  2. What is the most courageous thing you have witnessed?  How did this inspire you in your own life to be courageous?  If it didn’t, why not?
  3. What is the most (or one of the most) courageous things you have done?  How did it feel when you were doing it?  Were you confident?  Reluctant?  What was the end result?  Did you feel like you had more courage after the fact?
  4. If your example didn’t go well or if you didn’t get the result you were looking for, what could you have done differently?  What did you learn from your experience that could help you have courage in a future situation?
  5. What area of your life do you need to show more courage?  How are you going go about overcoming this fear and developing courage in this area?

Hope you are feeling challenged and inspired!  Until tomorrow, make it a better day!

Andrew

Devotional Tuesday – Cash Isn’t Always King

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Once again today’s devotional comes from Coach Dungy.  I hope you enjoy!

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:6, 9-10 (NIV)

When I was an assistance coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, I received an offer to take a job with another club.  I was making around $25,000 at the time, and they were going to offer me a salary in the neighborhood of $30,000.  It doesn’t seem like such a big amount to some people, I’m sure, but that $5,000 was a 20% increase over what I was making in Pittsburgh and a big difference to me at the time.

I asked Coach Noll if I could talk to him about it.  I really wanted to stay in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t want to pass up a chance to make more money.  I was secretly hoping he would encourage me to stay by matching the offer.  He did encourage me to stay, but told me he would support my decision either way.

The one piece of advice he gave me was to not make my decision based solely on money.  Coach Noll urged me to consider who I would be working with, what I could learn from them, what type of environment it would be, and how much responsibility I would be given.  He felt those were the important things to weigh, and if I became a good enough coach, eventually my salary would reflect that.

Through my years as a coach, and especially as a head coach, I tried to impress that on players.  At times guys became eligible for free agency, and I would have to have an “it’s not just about the money” talk with them.  Certainly they had to weigh the differences of financial offers that they received, but as several of them learned, taking more money and moving to a different team sometimes resulted either in an unhappy, disrupted family or with their careers heading in a different direction than they enjoyed with our team.  In a couple of instances, guys ended up out of the league more quickly than they would have if they had stayed with us.  For them, the short-term financial gain wasn’t worth the long-term results.

Does money have an unhealthy hold on you?  Remember, it’s not money itself that is the problem.  It’s the love of money that will spin everything out of control..

Uncommon Key – The decision you make in your life are based on your priorities.  Write down your top five priorities.  Where does money rank on that list?  If it is high in your priorities, make a concerted effort to lower its importance in your life.

Man Essentials – Shopping for Insurance

The holidays are right around the corner and I hope as the year is coming to an end you are feeling good about the progress, growth and success you have had in 2014.  I am especially excited about 2015 as we are expecting our first child at the end of February!  My wife and I cannot wait to finally meet her and she her face.  Sharlay has been a real warrior during the pregnancy and has done a great job keeping everything together while making bones, brains and body parts inside her stomach (yes I know, I know.)  I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.  We will still be here at Be A Better Man but the posts may be spotty during the last two weeks of the month.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you guys a recent experience I had when shopping for insurance and I hope you will consider shopping around for better insurance rates after hearing my story.  Some of you may feel like you owe some kind of loyalty to your current insurance company.  I had that initial thought as well but when I found out how much I was getting ripped off by All State I decided it was time to switch!  Loyalty be damned!

During my 8 years in New York I didn’t carry auto insurance because I didn’t owe a car.  The only insurance outside of life insurance I purchased was renters insurance.  My policy was through the aforementioned purveyor of insurance.  During my 8 years in NYC I never filed a claim or had an issue.  I also didn’t own a lot of things so my coverage was around $20k for all my stuff. On average my monthly premium was $15 or $180 a year.

Fast forward to our move several weeks ago.  I needed a new policy once our items were delivered (our New York insurance policy covered the move) to our new place here in Missouri.  At first I didn’t bother to shop around for a better deal.  All State had been good to me in New York and it didn’t seem like there was a reason to switch (again the loyalty thing.)  However, when I received my new premium ($580/yr) I was flabergasted! Why was my insurance more than 3x what it was in New York?

I asked my insurance agent why this was the case and to my surprise he said he didn’t know.  How the hell can you be an insurance agent and not be able to tell your customer why their insurance is so much higher in St. Louis versus New York?  At least make something up for crying out loud!  I was perplexed and a bit angry that he didn’t make much of an effort to help.  Even then I didn’t shop for a better rate. In my mind I figured it would likely be the same or close to the same cost to switch to Progressive, Farmers or Nationwide etc.

Of course the next thing we had to do was buy a car.  This would require car insurance.  Thinking I would save myself money by “bundling” my insurance together, I of course went to All State to get my auto policy.  After spending several minutes on the phone with Allstate-logo-not-in-good-handsan All State representative she informed me that my new 6 month premium would be $1,912 or $3,824 a year.  Yes that is correct: THREE THOUSAND EIGHT HUNDRED and TWENTY FOUR dollars a year!  What the hell?!

Now I knew because I hadn’t had car insurance in 8 years I would have to pay more in the short term for insurance.  Having worked for insurance companies in the past I understood that is just how it goes. Yet I had no no idea that it would be costing me $300+ a month.

Back to the call.

I agreed to pay the highway robbery that was my new premium, if for no other reason than they were delivering my car in two days and I needed the proof of insurance to pick it up.  I paid something like $369 as my initial payment which included some kind of $40 administration fee (i.e. bullshit.)  I just about passed out! We had budgeted between $150 and $200 a month for our insurance.  This was going to really put an unexpected dent in our finances especially when you added the additional premium for the renters insurance.  I wasn’t happy but at the same time I was in a tough place and needed insurance.

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Over the next several days I stressed about the additional outflow of cash we weren’t expecting.  It got so bad one day at work I decided it wouldn’t hurt me to get a quote from another insurance company (sometimes it can hurt though as many insurance companies run a credit check and frequent credit checks can drop your scores a little.)  I was surprised at what I found.

I got renters quotes from both Geico and Progressive.  Both companies were going to save me about $200 a year on renters insurance, so I was pretty stoked about that.  It even had all the same coverage as my All State policy.  I still wasn’t sure I wanted to switch and have one insurance company for renters and another company for auto.  It was only natural that I would check and get a quote for that coverage as well.

Having worked for Geico a long time ago (it wasn’t a great experience) I decided to just get a quote from Progressive.  Using the same coverage amounts I had with All State I plugged in my information and waited for my quote.  I was blown away when the screen popped up showing a 6 month premium of $615.  This means my yearly premium would be about $1,230, saving myself almost $2,600 over All State.

Hell yes I switched my auto and renters to Progressive!  Saving almost $3,000 (did I mention this was $3k A YEAR?) was more important to me than any kind of “loyalty” I owed to All State (I am not a complete idiot.)  I mean it was pretty clear I wasn’t getting any kind of “loyalty discount” from them.

The point to all of this is to encourage any of you who are looking for ways to save some money to look at your insurance coverage and carrier as a way to get back some of that hard earned cash.  Maybe you have really great rates on your insurance coverage.  However, maybe you only “think” you have really great rates.  If I were you, I would set some time aside in the next few weeks before the calendar hits 2015 and see about getting some quotes on all your insurance needs. Maybe you can put some of that cash back into your Man Cave or into a upcoming vacation.  Either way there is really no downside to looking into it.

Have any horrible insurance stories you want to share?  Put them in the comments section or e-mail us at BetterMenNow@gmail.com  If you have a truly great story we will feature it on an upcoming blog!

Until tomorrow, make it a better day!

Andrew