Reader 911: I Need Help With My Budget!

Okay guys, I have a reader who needs our help. I received an email from Missy (who may or may not be a mega hot model) asking for ways to save for retirement on a budget that’s already stretched pretty thin. I have my own thoughts about what she can do, but what fun is that? You guys listen to me yap all the time; I want to hear what YOU think!

Some rules before we play: Remember, this is a real human being asking for information and advice. Don’t be mean. If you can’t form a comment without being rude, email it to me and I’ll help you. Also, if you want to help, make sure you read all the information so you don’t offer useless advice.

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How Much is $20?

Yesterday my son asked me for $20 extra in allowance “because I’ve been really stressed lately and I want to buy something.”

Sirens went off in my head as I flashed back to all the emotional spending I’ve done in my lifetime. I’m pretty sure my brain stopped working for a minute. When I finally realized he was waiting for a response, I asked, “Why in the world do you deserve $20 extra when you normally only get $10 a week? I haven’t noticed you washing down the walls or shining my shoes lately.”

“Come on, Mom! It’s only $20!”

Only $20. Just twenty bucks. Can you really even buy stuff for that amount of money anymore? Part of me felt like I should just give it to him because it’s not a big deal. Another part, though, started thinking about all the times $20 felt like a life preserver.

How Far Can $20 Take You?

$20 can be the tipping point for an overdraft fee. Spend $20 when you only have $17.48 in the bank, and you’ll overdraw your account. My bank charges $37 per overdraft, plus $4 a day for every day you’re in the red. So that $20 could easily cost $50 (or more if you have other pending checks or transactions).

$20 can feed you for a week in a pinch. One time I was so broke I couldn’t even come up with enough change to buy a $1 drink at McDonald’s. Luckily, a friend stopped by that day to repay $20 she owed me. I was able to buy enough cheap staples (milk, pasta, bread, etc.) to last until payday that Friday.

$20 can pay the water bill. Ever had a utility cut off for nonpayment? My check for the water bill bounced one time and I had to pay $144 to get it turned back on. Plus the associated fees from my bank (see the part about overdraft fees above). I literally stole a bucketful of water from my neighbor’s hose so I could flush the toilet until my service was reconnected. Pathetic.

$20 can keep you from losing your job. I’ve only called off work one time because I didn’t have enough gas to make it there and back. Actually, I called in sick because I was too embarrassed to tell the truth. I hated lying to my boss, and I was terrified that somehow she would find out. Had that been a regular occurrence, I probably would have been disciplined or fired.

$20 can protect everything you own. If you rent your home, you need renter’s insurance. Period. Without it, a fire or other disaster could destroy your belongings, and your landlord’s policy will only cover the home itself. You can get a decent renter’s insurance policy for around $20 a month.

But it’s ONLY $20!

These days, my spending is under control and I don’t have to deal with close calls like I mentioned above. If I want something that costs $20, I can pretty much just go get it without thinking about it. For many people, that may be a laughable milestone to be proud of - I know people who could spend hundreds without thinking twice. But for me, given my history, being able to spend ANYTHING is amazing.

I could have transferred $20 to Jay’s account in a matter of seconds when he asked for it yesterday. It wouldn’t have prevented me from paying my bills or buying food; I probably wouldn’t have even noticed that it was gone. But I decided I don’t want him to get into the “IT’S ONLY ___” mindset. Thinking “It’s just $10″ or “It’s only $35″ is what got me into debt in the first place.

Instead, I talked to him about why he feels so stressed (school as usual) and whether buying something new would fix the problem (it wouldn’t). We talked about all the things he already owns that could distract him for awhile or help him feel better. In the long run, that moment will be worth far more than $20 could ever buy.

How much is $20 for you? Could it make a real difference in your life, good or bad? How do you deal when you start thinking in terms of “IT’S ONLY ___”?

Should You Choose an IRA?

The following is a guest post.

Saving for retirement is one of the most crucial steps that an individual can take in his or her life, as it can ensure a happy and financially sound future. There are numerous types of retirement savings plans to choose from, and one of the most popular types is an individual retirement account, known as an IRA. In order to contribute into an IRA, an individual needs to have some form of taxable income. This income can be from regular employment, self-employment or even alimony payments. The government has specific limits for how much any individual can put into an IRA in any given year. Individuals can choose one type of IRA or split their yearly contributions between several kinds of IRAs.

A traditional IRA is very common; as the only requirements are that the individual opening the account is under the age of 70 and has some form of taxable income. Funds that are allocated into a traditional IRA are considered pre-tax dollars, as they reduce the total amount of money that an individual will pay taxes for when they file their federal tax return. For example, an individual earning $50,000 and placing $5,000 in a traditional IRA will only have to pay taxes on $45,000 in income.

One specific type of IRA that is gaining popularity is a gold IRA. In this type of account, physical gold coins, bullion or bars are used to fund the account. This type of investment account is a bit more complicated, as there must be a third party involved that mitigates the account between the individual holding the account and a precious metals dealer. This person is referred to as the trustee of the retirement account. Given the high price of gold and other precious metals, this style of IRA is becoming more commonplace, but major brokerage firms still do not handle these accounts. Almost every trustee that handles this type of account arranges for storage of the precious metal at the Delaware Depository Service Company that is located in Wilmington, Delaware. There are several basic fees associated with this type of IRA, including a set-up fee for the initial transfer, a managing fee that is paid yearly for handling the paperwork related to the account and a yearly fee for the storage of the metals used in the account. Typical yearly fees range from $200-$500 on an IRA that is funded by gold or another precious metal. These fees are essential to compare when choosing the best IRA.

Another common type of IRA is the Roth IRA, which is similar to a traditional IRA, but the funds that are added to the account do not reduce an individual’s tax burden. For example, an individual earning $50,000 and contributing $5,000 to a Roth IRA will pay federal taxes on the entire $50,000 of income. The advantage to a Roth IRA is when the money is withdrawn during retirement; there is no tax liability for that income. This tax exclusion applies to both the principle amount that was put into the Roth IRA, as well as any and all money that has been earned by the account. Where a traditional IRA can save an individual money on their income taxes as they make contributions, a Roth IRA provides savings for the individual as they withdraw the money from the account.

An individual retirement account can provide extra money to contribute to living expenses during retirement. The different options available in IRA accounts allow individuals looking to save for retirement many options to compare. This lets each person choose the plan that best fits their needs, whether it is the immediate savings of a traditional IRA, the potential earnings of a gold IRA, or the long term savings of a Roth IRA.

What My Son Taught Me About Life

Last Monday, my son wrote a post about what I’ve taught him regarding finances and his future. It’s hard to express how proud it made me to see him come up with such a mature, articulate view of how to use money responsibly. Today, I decided I would share with you just a few of the life lessons he has taught me.

As most of you know, I haven’t always been the most responsible person on the planet. I got pregnant when I was still in high school. I’ve made horrible choices when it comes to money. (See here, here, and here. And here. And lots of other places, too.) And then, of course, there are all the stories I haven’t gotten around to telling yet. Overall, I’ve spent most of my adult life recovering from mistakes.

That said, one thing I will never describe as a mistake is my 13 year-old son, Jayden. I didn’t set out to get pregnant, but that doesn’t mean the life that resulted wasn’t meant to be. From the day he was born, Jayden has been my universe. I don’t think I could ever love another human as much as I love him and, through some miracle, I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual.

One of the astounding things about parenthood is discovering that you’re a student FAR more often than you’re the teacher. While Jay posted about some great lessons he has learned from my (less than fabulous) example, there’s no contest when it comes to who has learned the most. This is a mere glimpse into thousands of experiences, all of which educated me beyond what I thought possible.

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