Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

Tania CookI think the idea of buying property is like eating spicy food: it tastes good, it’s a bit of a challenge, and in this economy, you can’t be sure if it is worthwhile in the long term.

Ok, that is oversimplifying a commitment perhaps as large as the one to get married in the first place. 

Is buying property the perfect investment? The worst? You have to consider your income, job security, school district, re-sell value, neighborhood, not to mention the size of the property, heating or air conditioning costs, etc. … the list goes on and on. You could give yourself an ulcer just thinking about it.

I recently had lunch with Tania Cook of Capital Funding Mortgage and she offered some practical advice for first time home buyers. Of course, every state, couple, etc. is different, but these general suggestions should help get you started. 

The first thing Tania emphasized was the importance of setting a budget and keeping track of your money, both as individuals and as a couple. She recommended the budgeting website Mint. This is a free and secure website that that can help you set budgets, tag items for tax deductions, etc. If you are looking for a conversation and community dedicated to saving money, you might want to join the social networking site Wesabe. Two other useful sites are Finicity and Smartypig. They help you save by earmarking money for various expenses and savings.

To those of you in the midst of not only saving for a wedding, but also buying a home, you can help fulfill your savings for a a home by setting up a registry to which wedding guests can contribute. This helps to avoid registering for things that you don’t need or won’t fit in your current, rented apartment. 

Tania’s favorite thing is to help people to buy their first home. She remembers that when she bought her first home, she didn’t quite know what she was doing. She sees clients become intimidated and confused by the process, as she once was. She works hard to help explain what all of the documents mean and to untangle any confusion.

It can be a stress point in a relationship to locate the perfect first home – that is, something that fulfills your expectations and is still within your budget. To help limit that stress, Tania suggests sitting down with your partner before you start house hunting. Make two lists: a wish list and needs list. What would you love your house to have, but you might be willing to give up? What is necessary (handicap accessible, baby’s room, etc.) This exercise, done individually and as a team, will help you to set priorities and determine what your bottom line really is. 

Then, look to partner with a buyer’s agent and a trusted lender. The lender can be either a bank or broker. In this way, the fees will be charged to the seller, not the buyer. You should look for someone who is an empathetic and experienced realtor.

Remember, you want to determine if your lender is a broker or a banker (brokers can take your loan application to a number of banks whereas a banker works with only one bank.) 

There are a number of financial advantages to being a first time home buyer. Look into what might be available to you.

To consider how much you can afford to pay on your mortgage, try using Capital Funding Mortgage Company’s payment calculator. 

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to ask a lot of questions. For example, the cost of the new home isn’t limited to the mortgage. You will also have to consider repairs, utility bills, insurance, possible condo association fees, etc. You might want to look for an energy efficient home in order to save on some of the utility bills.

You are eligible for an annual free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. A good trick is to order one report from a different one of the three major consumer credit reporting companies every fourth month. 

Tania Cook specializes in creative financing for first time homebuyers, including low down payment  financing, no closing cost options and tax rebate programs.  She and her company, Capital Funding, offer a variety of programs to make your home purchase and refinance affordable and easy. Tania is an experienced, reliable, mortgage consultant with a referral based practice. She practiced law for several years, specializing in employment issues and was a manager at American Express Financial Advisors for 5 years. Check out her company’s website.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Susan FrankeI was impressed when I saw Susan Franke at the Brides-to-Be bridal show at Weber’s this winter. Among the tanning salons and DJs, here was someone interested in helping a couple plan for a healthy financial future. She shared her table with mortgage broker Emily Elliot.

 

Most of us bristle when we hear the words “financial” or “wealth.” We don’t want to talk about money, seem greedy or cheap. Susan helps couples to break down these barriers and make financial discussions simply practical and useful. Especially in this financial environment, who can afford not to plan for the immediate and distant future?

 

Susan reaches out to couples in many ways. For example, she works with social worker Mary Stevens from Life Cycles, to offer premarital financial counseling. Susan will help the couple to coordinate their assets and goals. Each couple has a unique situation. For example, some couples might be starting a second marriage and will have to consider the financial needs not only of each other, but also their children.

 

Susan asks couples to begin the financial conversation by asking them to share, in front of each other, how money was handled in their family when they were growing up (if there was a joint account, separate accounts, pooled money, etc.) Usually, this varies with each person and family. In this non-threatening approach, each person can describe what his or her expectations and experiences might have been. Since Susan is neutral in these situations, she can help them to understand how their financial decisions might be based on their early socializations. Transparency is really the key.

 

She offers suggestions rather than recommendations. For example, usually one person makes more than the other. A couple can decide to split costs 50/50 or based on percentages. They can decide to have money on the side, or not. Susan helps the couple to tease out what each scenario would look like and come up with their own plan.

 

More marriages dissolve because of financial problems rather than infidelity. Susan’s goal is to make sure couples share goals and that they don’t break up over money. There is no right way to manage your money, she stressed. Every couple has to find their own answers.

 

Couples should consider scenarios before they arise. For example, she helps the couple to consider current or future children’s needs and a family’s religious beliefs that might affect their financial decisions.

 

Unfortunately, many of us have debt. She reminds couples that education loans are your own responsibility. Other debt, such as credit card debt, can be more haunting after someone passes, and she suggested life insurance to help pay off debt to protect the partner in that situation.

 

A wedding can place a considerable financial strain on a couple. She helps a couple consider cost-effective options, in the event that they don’t want to plan an elaborate wedding. There are traditions, but no rules, regarding how a wedding should be.

 

Sometimes family members or friends will offer to help with a wedding or other bills. She noted that if people help you, sometimes they think they are entitled in some way to have a say in what you’ve done or how you will pay them back. She suggests that if you borrow money from a friend or family member, that you do so in the most professional of ways. Create a promissory note (you can find them easily online) and make a plan about how the money will be repaid and used.

 

I asked Susan if men and women have different financial needs. Women tend to live longer than men and still, in some situations, make less than their male counterparts. Therefore, women should generally be more aggressive in saving for retirement. For example, men are encouraged to put 10% of their income towards savings and women are encouraged to put 15% of their income towards savings.

 

Not everyone has a financial advisor like Susan. When someone should consider finding one? Susan said that it really depends on your comfort level. You can do it yourself by reading available documents in print and online, but often time and expertise is an issue. This is the same with almost anything. For example, you could learn how to change the oil in your car or you could hire someone to do it. It depends on how much time you have to devote to learning about it.

 

If you do decide to do it yourself, she suggests reading Smart Money Magazine. She is a member of AAII, the American Association of Individual Investors, and they produce great magazines and have online non-trade resources.

 

She is national and offers a complementary consultation to couples. Her goal is to help people build their wealth in a planned way. She does financial advising, taxes, budgeting, insurances, estates, etc. A comprehensive planner will encourage you to address all aspects of your planning.

 

In a booklet that Susan shared with me, entitled, “Getting Married” produced by Mainstay Investments, there is a list of “Post Weddings To-Do’s”. Here are some highlights:

 

*Update beneficiaries on your insurance policies, bank accounts, 401(k) plan, and other retirement plans.

*Name changes on credit cards, Social Security, driver’s license, passports, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc.

*Get on the same financial page about budgeting, debt, and your financial goals.

*Do you need life insurance or more life insurance?

*Do you want to consolidate bank accounts?
*Whose health care provides better coverage?

*Do you need to update your auto insurance? What about your homeowners insurance?

*What additional expenses do you need to budget for? (mortgage, student loans, credit card debt, etc.)

 

Phew. That’s a lot to think about. If you are interested in having a free consultation, contact Susan Franke here.

 

 

 

For more information on Susan, here is a quick bio that highlights only a few of her many experiences:

 

Raymond James & Associates, at 350 South Main Street, in Ann Arbor, has been Susan’s employer since September of 2003.  Susan participates in the Calvert Funds Advisor Finder program for socially responsible investors as well as the Savingforcollege.com website as an area resource in college funding through the use of 529 plans.

 

After receiving an AB degree in Speech Science from the University of Michigan Susan furthered her education with graduate level coursework in the MBA program at Eastern Michigan University. 

 

Her community involvement includes volunteering as a financial education counselor at The Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan, among a long list of other things.

 

A quick summary of what Susan does for her clients:

Retirement and Distribution Planning

Understand your strategy for building financial independence

Understand your strategy for drawing down on it/spending it,

And making it last!

 

Investment/Portfolio Strategies

                        Careful Planning and investment decisions

                        Invest assets in a diversified portfolio

 

Estate Planning

Plan the distribution of wealth during your life so you gain better control over your assets while living

Plan the distribution of wealth at death so you have peace of mind that after your death your assets are properly distributed and cared for

 

Tax Strategies

                        Reduction of taxes during earning years

                        More income during retirement years

 

Long-term Care Planning

                        Protecting your wealth and lifestyle

Ensure that you have a plan in place to fund the best available care if you need to stay in a nursing home or require care in your home

 

Life Insurance Planning

                        Taking care of your family if you lose your life prematurely

 

Disability Insurance Planning

                        Taking care of your family if you are unable to work

 

Accumulation Goals

                        Emergency cash reserves

                        Travel

                        Education funding

 

Cash Flow

                        Spending plan

                       

 

Read Full Post »

BravoBrideI first came across BravoBride in a New York Times article . It is an online marketplace *just* for weddings. Perfect. I’ve been scouring the website weekly since I learned about it. Everything from dresses and diamond rings to favors are for sale, used and new.

 

Why pay full price in this economy?

 

Founder and recent bride Susan Alexander Shapiro tells us more.

 

 

***

Susan Alexander Shapiro, founder BravoBrideHow did you come up with the idea for Bravobride?

 

I got married this past July 4th and when I was planning the wedding I found it frustrating to pay for expensive wedding items that I’d use once and only for a few hours.  I looked on Craigslist and Ebay but there wasn’t anything focused on just the bridal industry.

 

What is/was the most “out there” item for sale on your site? What is the most common item for sale?

 

We have a pair of ‘wedding boots’ on the site that are really unique. Our most popular items are definitely wedding dresses.

 

How is your site different from Craig’s List or other similar lists?

What sets me apart is that you won’t find fish tanks and bicycles on the site, we only focus on wedding products. Craigslist and Ebay are probably my biggest competitors but you have to search through so many things on Craigslist to find what you are looking for and it’s only for certain regions. Our site is nationwide and we have an advanced search so you can quickly find what you are looking for. The site is also broken down into different categories, such as dresses, jewelry, items for the ceremony and reception and more. Unlike Ebay is completely free to list items and there’s never a sale upon commission. There are a few other sites that that sell used wedding dresses but we are the only site that doesn’t charge a listing fee or take a commission upon sale.

 

What can the “unbride” find on your website?

 

The “unbride” can find everything from non-traditional wedding items, like these blue shoes to a Guide for the Groom book so you’re soon-to-be husband can help with the wedding planning.

 

What guarantee does a bride have that the product advertised is indeed what the seller says it is? In particular, I’m thinking about the rings and the more expensive items?

 

That’s a good question. Like Craigslist, we follow the buyer beware rule. We can not offer a guarantee since we are only connecting the buyers and seller and don’t stock actual merchandise. For more expensive items you may want to deal only locally or use a payment service where your transaction can be protected.

 

It is wonderful that you support the Go Red campaign. How did that relationship begin?

 

I wanted to support a cause that was for women since our site is geared towards brides. The Go Red campaign is near and dear to me because both of my Grandmother’s had heart disease and if effects more woman than cancer.

 

What was the best part of your own wedding?

 

Honestly the whole day was wonderful but I think the ceremony was the most special part. My husband’s aunt married us and they meant a lot to me.

 

 

***

Read a little more about the history of BravoBride here. You’ll get to see Susan’s husband Mark, too.

 

Have you bought something on BravoBride? Tell your story here.

Read Full Post »

Please choose the end of this sentence: Wedding planning is…

 

A.    a blissful time to share great ideas with your beloved and family.

B.     a time to sit in a Brookstone mall massage chair trying to get the knots out of your neck without spending part of your wedding budget on a massage.

 

Of course, it is a bit of both.

 

My parents came to Michigan this weekend to help with wedding planning. We had sunny (although cold) weather while the northeast was hit by a huge snow storm. Luck was on our side. We managed to have fun while plodding through lists, budgets and dresses that had enough ribbing they could get married without me. Here are some tricks to make your wedding planning experience be halfway between the two options.

 

Trick one:

Find stores with free champagne

 

Mom and I drove the hour to the Somerset mall to look at dresses for her and to check out a Crate and Barrel wedding eventThere was a spread that included champagne, mini-quiches and pastries. Before picking up our free gift (a heart shaped candy bowl that now sits by our front door filled with mints) we wandered through the store and admired the various wares.

 

At this point, I had already decided on a dress and it was time for Mom to find a dress. We went into a few boutiques (one of which offered free champagne) and then went to some department stores with large dress selections. She tried on dresses and finally chose one. She also tried on some ridiculous options with feathers and extra parts, mostly for the camera. Sometimes the photographer needs to be photographed.

 

Trick two:

Have a free makeover

 

We stopped by the Aveda counter and I asked about makeup. Robert, the effervescent specialist, sat me right down and started to apply various foundations and eye makeup. It was great fun. We aren’t sure if he was joking about previously working as a wholesale reptile salesman or about his second ex-wife, but we all had a good laugh. Mom even tried a new eye makeup before taking this picture.

 

Aveda counter

 

Trick three:

See goofy movies

 

Two friends and I went to see Bride Wars recently with just the right mindset. This goofy, over the top movie will make you laugh and remind you how lucky you are to live a “regular” life. Unlike the characters, you don’t need to develop a “couple’s style” or get a tan before the big day. In fact, it’s safer if you don’t.

 

 

Trick four:

Go dress shopping with someone unexpected

 

My Dad didn’t think he would go dress shopping with us. When I shared the dress store appointments with my parents, he asked if he’d be able to nap at those times.

 

The morning of the first appointment, I asked my Dad to join us. I thought it was “the” place and I wanted him to see the dress. He agreed. (After all, he’d flown into Michigan from New Jersey.) In the end, it wasn’t “the” place, but being the hopeful girl that I am, I thought each successive place might be too and I didn’t want him to miss anything.

 

So, there was my dad sitting in a bit chair built for a king at the foot of the wooden stage in every store. He helped to take pictures, wandered around looking for other dress ideas, and offered very plain advice about what was flattering and what was simply absurd. He made jokes that helped to break the serious tone of the dress stores. Who else would have taken the picture of my mom and me in the same dress in different colors?

 

Towards the end, I was mostly thinking about the dresses and there was less to do. My Dad leaned back in the plush chair and tried to take a nap. Another girl and her mother were chattering away and kept him awake. As they left, we heard one say, “did you see that poor man?” He picked his head up and looked at the saleslady. She said, “I knew you weren’t sleeping!” and we all laughed. Poor man? We couldn’t have had more fun.

 

 

 

 

It is easy to lose a job because you’re spending so much time scouring the web for discounts, proper etiquette, etc.. Resist the urge. Step by step, everything will get done. Embrace your inner engaged self and take advantage of what our commercial culture has available to you for laughs and free drinks. And don’t forget to bring someone along.

Read Full Post »

Gallup Park 2Gallup Park, Ann ArborThere is no question that the economy’s woes are hitting all of us. But that doesn’t mean that we still can’t have some fun and do what we need to do.

 

I have always said that I think a difficulty with American culture is that we don’t talk frankly about money. In Italy, folks would directly ask how much something cost or how much you get paid. It was shocking to me at first, but then I got used to it. It is helpful to have a sense of costs, what other people are paying and if you can do better.

 

I’ve talked about this with Americans and there seems to be a gender difference in the discussion of money. For example, almost everywhere I’ve ever worked, the women bring their lunch in and brag not only about their good cooking, but their cleverness in using the leftovers to create something new. We also talk about the coupons they used to get a bargain when they bought their food. Men don’t seem to be as comfortable doing that and tend to spend more money going out for lunch.

 

These are *huge* generalizations that I would mark down as unsupported claims in an essay I was grading. So prove me wrong. Perhaps the current economy will change how both men and women behave.

 

Here are some things we’ve done lately that were incredibly inexpensive and either useful or just plain relaxing. It helps us with our daily budget and saving for the wedding.

 

Get a haircut at a haircutting school. I went for a haircut at the Douglas J Aveda Institute in Ann Arbor. I made an appointment and paid $16.00 for a great haircut and even a scalp massage. Aveda is a no-tip hair salon, so it was really just $16.00. I love Aveda products and enjoyed the scents of the massage oil and the rosemary conditioner. It took an hour, a little longer than a usual haircut since the instructor checked a few times, but it was worth it. I recommend Stacy, who did my hair with great precision and was fun to chat with.

 

Go to a matinee movie showing. Give up movies? Never. But why not see the new releases at an afternoon show instead of an evening show which may cost a few dollars (or even double) the price of an afternoon show?

 

Sign up for the point programs wherever you go. Sure, it’s tiresome: You don’t want to carry around an extra card or clog up your email account. But, I encourage you to give in and do it. You’ll save and eventually see it as a challenge. For example, we buy bagels at Barry’s Bagels  at the Westgate shopping center in Ann Arbor and we are about to get a free bagel (plus, their “baker’s dozen” isn’t just 13, it is 14! Score.) (Word of advice: some stores have credit cards, not point systems, with their names on them. Be wary of opening up too many credit cards.)

 

Make sure all of your credit cards have a point program. Everything you buy with a credit card should give you points. These points take a LONG time to build up to anything worthwhile, but why not earn a little extra with the money you are already spending?

 

Double your points. We all order online and you can increase (ok, maybe not double) your points. Start by logging into a credit card website and then shopping through their preferred vendor. For example, let’s say you are going to order online with Staples. Log into your credit card company, look for their preferred shopping vendors, enter into the Staples site and then buy something using that credit card and giving Staples your Staples rewards number. Voila! You’ve gotten extra points. Usually, you get more points by ordering through a credit card website than just using the point system set up on your credit card.

 

Look for coupons and sales. I know, it sounds like advice for your grandmother and who buys a paper anymore? But you can look online for sales. If you’ve already signed up with your favorite companies (for points and just to receive notices), the sales will come right to your email in-box. If not, you can look on company websites. Let’s say you have a big purchase coming up at a store you don’t normally shop at. Look on their website and track it for sales. You can even call the store and ask if they know of any upcoming sales. For example, when we moved to Ann Arbor we had some posters we wanted to frame. We went to Michael’s and were quoted a pretty high price, which was surprising since it seemed like an inexpensive framing store. We talked to the saleslady who assured us that sales come around. We signed up online for their coupons and discovered a 50% off framing sale just a week later.

 

Happy Hour. We all know about happy hour, but sometimes forget. Look to see if your favorite restaurant or bar has happy hour or other deals (free dessert on Tuesdays, for example.)  

 

Girl’s afternoon? Stop by the makeup counter in the mall for a free makeover.

 

Go on a self-directed walking tour. Every town has something to see and do. Look online or in travel books for a self-directed walking tour. You’ll see new things and get yourself out of the house. We like to take weekend adventures (ok, we did more of it in the fall when the weather was better) and drive to nearby towns. It is helpful to have a guide to help direct your tour of the town. The town’s municipal website will usually lead you to the right place.

 

Go on a factory tour. We haven’t gone yet, but we can’t wait to go on a tour of the Jiffy factory  in Chelsea, MI. It is closeby and free. (Who doesn’t love those easy to make corn muffins?)

 

Recycle. Some stores offer coupons or discounts for bringing products back for recycling. For example, if you have a Staples rewards card, you can bring back your used cartridges and receive a $3.00 coupon in the mail for each cartridge. I find that most of these deals are with tech products like cartridges, printers, computers, etc.

 

Supermarket sales and local perks. Know your local market. Hillers, a Michigan supermarket chain, offers a 5% discount to anyone with a University of Michigan ID. If there is a sale on a product you buy a lot, stock up. You can freeze it or store it in the cabinet.

 

AAA or other discount programs. If you belong to AAA, ask if museums, hotels, etc. have AAA discounts. We recently went to the Field Museum in Chicago for a reduced rate with the AAA discount (which wasn’t listed anywhere, you have to ask.)

 

Go out for lunch instead of dinner. The lunch menu is usually the same food for less than the dinner menu. Enough said.

 

Go to the library. Do you need to own every book you read? Probably not.

 

Buy used books on amazon.com, half.com, etc. If you must own the book, you can usually buy a cheaper copy of it somewhere.

 

Go to a museum or gallery. Most galleries are free and most museums are inexpensive or have a free night. The Museum of Modern Art has Target Free Fridays which is much cheaper than the usual $20.00 entrance free.

 

Look for free events. Every university, bookstore, Whole Foods, etc. sponsors free events. Go to a reading, food tasting, lecture, etc. and have a good time. The University of Michigan’s MFA program sponsors readings which are wonderful. They want to get you in the store and you want a night out. They will often sell certain products at a reduced rate for the event that they are sponsoring.

 

Enjoy the outdoors. Everyone who knows me knows I’m more of an indoor girl than an outdoor girl. Still, I enjoy a lovely park for a walk. Who couldn’t use the exercise and fresh air (if you’ve already taken that allergy medicine? J ) Gallup Park in Ann Arbor has a great paved path around a lake and welcomes even the most avid indoor person (see the pics above.) Hans and I went there a few times this fall and look forward to returning this spring.

 

Volunteer. There are lots of organizations that make group volunteer projects fun (they want to entice you in, after all.) Look on http://www.volunteermatch.org/ for something in your area.

 

Make lists. Go shopping with lists of what you need and what you might like if it were on sale (the less necessary items.) This will help to ensure that you don’t buy extra and you keep an eye out for certain sales. No impulse buying here.

 

Go out and explore the world! There are times when you must spend money (medicine, rent, etc.), but you can be smart about your day to day purchases. Continue to tip well and help support fellow human beings. Don’t spend money you don’t have unless it is an emergency.

 

When you do come into a little money, remember those non-profits or local stores you visited without spending any money and give them a donation or buy something full price. It is only fair and will help to keep them afloat. They are hurting, too.  

 

 

Read Full Post »