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Sensationalism is everywhere and it's hard to know what's real, anymore. The economy is tanking, the marketing noise is deafening, and you just don't know what tomorrow will hold. This site is dedicated to a no-hype retelling of what's working for me in real estate, business, and life. Welcome.

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Archive for financial planning

Apr
04

Tax Time – Do you understand your tax return?

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Whoa – I was amazed to see that my husband and I were getting a giant tax refund this year.  Good as it feels to get that nice check from the government, mathematically it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to get a lot of money back.  You’ve just loaned that money, interest free to the government for a year.

This year, though, that rate of return definitely beats out the performance of my portfolio in the stock market… wonder if I should think of it as diversification?

Part of the reason our refund was so big is that we had a baby this year and my husband didn’t adjust his withholding at work.  Also, we have a number of real estate investments in our portfolio, and we have the ability to write off the “depreciation” on these because I am a full time real estate professional.  That’s a special tax status that lets you have unlimited depreciation loss, rather than capping the loss at $25,000 each year.

The more involved in real estate and business you get, the more opportunities you have to save money on your taxes.  However, you’ll also be getting more and more complicated tax returns to fill out.

I discovered a few years ago that I could not efficiently and accurately complete my own tax returns and I started using a CPA which was a great decision for me.  They do it much faster and cheaper than I could do it myself.  That’s another form of leverage, freeing up my time to focus on revenue generating activities.

If you’ve started using a tax preparation software or other tax professional to prepare your taxes, it’s still important to review your return.  It would have been easy for me to skip to the bottom line, see I wasn’t going to have to write a check for my taxes, and sign and mail my returns after my accountant sent them back to me.

 

Instead, I decided to sit down and review them and I found several items I had questions about.  Whether you find errors and inaccuracies, or just notice items that show you’re saving money or have the opportunity to pay less tax, it’s important to know what you’re doing with your finances, and your annual tax filing is a good time to sit down and review things when the numbers are all in one place.

Look at how much you’re spending on taxes, medical insurance, interest on your home mortgage, and your retirement savings.  These are some of our biggest expenses and it’s good to know where the money’s going.

Financial reviews more often are even better, but at tax time, they are a must!

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Mar
04

Are You Getting Out of The Market?

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I promised I’d keep you up to date on the stock market insights passed along from my Father who spend a good deal of his time immersed in the financial news of the day.  And there is some heated political commentary here which I don’t apologize for since I think the misguided “fairness” policies of the Obama regime are in large part responsible for a lot of the pessimism in the stock market now.

My parents are so upset that my Dad really shocked me when he told me last night that he was stabilizing his financial position by getting SIGNIFICANTLY out of the stock market, selling shares at a loss, and going into secure assets like cash and treasury bonds.

OUCH!

He suggested that he is concerned that the stock market will continue to do badly for the next 2-5 years or more and that the recession that we’re currently in will turn to a depression shortly.

This might be a good time for you to review one of my most popular posts – What to invest in during a recession.

Given that Ben and I are much earlier in our investing careers and not approaching a retirement horizon as my baby-boomer parents are, he admitted that it might make more sense for Ben and me to not SELL in order to increase our cash position, but to continue to stock pile cash, rather than dollar-cost-averaging into the market as it continues the Obama-fueled free fall.

Assuming the market has another few bad years ahead of it, we don’t need to be in a rush to continue buying in.

Take away lesson – look for security in cash, government bonds, and precious metals.

Inflation and Deflation

Also, he mentioned that we face both inflationary and deflationary risk.

Deflation will come in the short term – this is caused by economic contractions in which people lose their jobs and can not afford to pay as much for things like houses, cars, food, recreation, etc.  Deflation will cause the cost of goods to go down.  This is bad for businesses and people who hold real estate, as the prices they can charge for goods and services will decrease.

Inflation will come over a longer period and Dad thinks it is somewhat inevitable at this point.  Inflation means that the currency loses it’s value and spending power.  Milk used to cost $3 a gallon and now it costs $4.  This erosion of the dollar will massacre baby boomers’ retirement funds.  (This is unfortunate for Obama’s so-called “Investor Class” since it punishes the people who have worked hard and saved and done the responsible thing all their lives…)  Anyway, inflation will be one of the few “tools” that the government has to dig us out of this mess with.

When inflation strikes, leverage can be your friend (the opposite is true during Deflationary economies).

Bottom Line: Cash Now, Buy Later

It’s an ugly time in the US economy right now.  The smart money is on storing up cash until “the bottom” – whenever that might be – and keeping an eye out for a turn around, both in stocks and real estate.

For the stock market, the news today said that we’d know we were close to the bottom when the market didn’t keep having these giant downward slides like it has for the last couple days, and we started to see stronger interest in buying into the market.

The real estate market is a little slower moving and even easier to time the bottoms on.  There’s some great information about knowing when to buy, sell and hold real estate here.

 

Family Budget Best Bets:  Keep your job, look for extra ways to earn income – such as babysitting, lawn mowing, delivering pizza, starting a business, etc.  Then sock it away!  According to my friends in MLMs, network marketing or “direct selling” as it’s called now, does well during a recession because people are willing to put the time and energy into making a second stream of income during lean times.

 

Good luck!

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Although I’m not the biggest fan of Suze Orman, it’s hard for me to pass up the opportunity to read some well thought-out financial tips from a nationally recognized advisor.   If you haven’t heard, you can download Suze’s latest 2009 book for free from Oprah’s website until Thursday, January 15 at midnight.  You can also buy it for $10 at Amazon.com

Suze Orman’s Advice on Saving For College

Since I have been working on setting up baby Blake’s college savings recently, I skipped to page 160 to read her chapter about college savings.  It was focused primarily on “What to do about college now that your college savings tanked when the stock market took a dive…” There was a lot of discussion about loan options and financial aid that didn’t really interest me.

What did interest me was the following few points – my personal takeaways from the chapter:

  1. Keep your child’s college savings 100% invested in stocks until your child is 14 years old.  Between the ages of 14 and 17, gradually divest until none of the portfolio is in stocks.  – My husband and I have talked about this one, he feels that 100% in stocks is still too risky.  My rule of thumb is: Don’t put anything in the stock market that you can’t afford to keep there for at least 5 years.  With that in mind, I might start shifting the portfolio balance toward bonds/cash a little earlier than this.
  2. Use a 529 Plan.  She mentioned Coverdell plans, but 529’s were the emphasis.
  3. Don’t get a private loan for college under any circumstances.
  4. Save for your retirement first and THEN put away an appropriate amount for your child’s savings.  Don’t put your child’s college savings ahead of your own retirement, in terms of saving priority.
  5. Visit www.saveforcollege.com to get more information on saving for college.

I actually did visit this website, which had a handy-dandy college-savings calculator.  It told me that I should be putting away $602/month for my child’s college savings.  Not far off from the $641/month I calculated on my recent article on financial planning for college.

 

A lot of the advice in the book seems to be working under the assumption that you have been negatively affected by the recent stock market crash and are experiencing job loss, panic selling, getting behind on your house payments, going through a personal credit crunch, or experiencing other problems with your finances right now.  It’s pretty much a back-to-basics tome coming from a conservative, “the sky’s not falling, but you do need to be safe” perspective, encouraging you to pay off your credit cards and make sure you have health insurance.

This may be timely for some families, but I did not find it especially relevant or inspirational.  However, it’s free, so I can’t complain.  Thanks, Suze!  Be sure to pick up your free copy and let me know what you think!

 

Emily

Jan
08

Vulnerable Time For Charities, Donate Time and Money to the Ones You Support

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When the economy’s down, non-profits suffer. 

When we talk about wealth building, our money, our spending plans, and retirement savings, we very often forget to mention a tiny little thing called CHARITABLE GIVING.  For some, this is really a small or non-existent part of their budget.  For others, it’s a lynch pin.  Many people believe that they should give 10% of their income to their church in the form of a tithe.  Many who don’t believe that feel that they are “off the hook” and not “required” to give, so they don’t.

Overall, though, Americans are fairly generous givers, and many of us enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes from supporting groups that we believe in, religious or not, with our time, talents and money.

However, when the economy is down, giving suffers, too.  Many of us take the position that charity begins at home, and when we’re forced to pare down discretionary spending, spending on our charities is often one of the line items found on the cutting room floor.

I recently had the opportunity to mastermind with the pastor at my church about this phenomenon and what could be done about it.  I warned her ahead of time that as a business owner, I was coming in with my “sales and marketing” hat on and looking at this thing as an entrepreneur.  She concluded that was an entirely appropriate approach, since the church really is a small independent enterprise very much like a business.  It just doesn’t happen to sell a product or service.

Ways For Churches To Make and Save Money In A Down Economy

We decided that the church could do a couple of things to increase its bottom line:

  1. Increase income by increasing membership
  2. Increase income by increasing donations contributed by each member
  3. Decrease expenses by cutting programs
  4. Decrease expenses by using “sweat equity” and volunteer labor from people who would be in a better position to donate time than money.

In the course of our discussion, I was also able to draw upon research I had done on fundraising for a speech to college students I delivered in Chicago last year.  In my research I discovered that many people become involved in charities through their friends and associates (personal invitation/referral) and that many people chose to volunteer their time first, before contributing significant amount of money to a cause.

Therefore, in our situation, we decided that action steps would include:

  1. Surveying members to see how the church was meeting their needs and how it could improve it’s service offerings to members and participants.  (This would let us see which programs were most and least valued, as we decide whether anything would need to be expanded or cut).
  2. Educating members to the financial challenges facing the church and asking them if they are personally willing to do anything (volunteering, giving more money) to help ameliorate the problem.  This will help us get a better sense of what resources will or will not be available to us in the upcoming year (Revenue forecasting).
  3. Adjusting our social events to incorporate more education about church programs and educational activities.  This will allow us to consistently draw uninvolved members more deeply and consistently into church activities, and help visiting members and friends become aware of what type of programs they will be able to take part in, should they become a member of the church.

At our church it is very important to us that people not feel hounded for money or that they are being “sold” on giving cash whenever they come.  This probably applies to most business customers too.  If you say you want to have a relationship with your customers, you need to find ways to have conversations with them that don’t involve pushing them into buying your next product or service.  Instead, focus on providing good old-fashioned value, human interest, referrals FOR THEM, etc. when you talk to them, and they will be much more likely to view you as a friend than a salesman.  People enjoy doing business with friends, they only do business with salesmen when they have to.

Re-Visit Your Value Proposition

So, we are re-embracing our mission of providing meaningful spiritual experiences, community support, and family-friendly activities to make sure that our congregation continues to have its needs met in full without being pressured to give financially.  In this way, we hope to re-inspire and re-excite people about the idea of giving, as they always do, in a way that is respectful and appropriate for them.

 

Emily

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About Emily Cressey

Emily Cressey is a real estate investor and licensed real estate agent living in Seattle, Washington. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa with an Economics degree from UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Tarheels!) her focus has been on building business for cash flow and investing in real estate for wealth. If you have questions about real estate investing, personal finance, or would like some flat-rate, affordable advice on one of these topics. Please fill in the Contact form.