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Money Management

Does your New Year usually start with a resolution to pay off all that debt you racked up during the holiday shopping season? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Holiday retail sales increased 3% in 2015, and many consumers carried that extra spending into the new year in the form of new debt.

The key to avoiding debt during the holiday season is pre-planning. Even now, with the holiday gifting rush approaching like a freight train, you’ve got time to prepare for the pinch. Here’s how:

1. Look at last year’s spending

To keep spending under control, you’ll need to make a budget. It can be hard to make a realistic holiday budget, though, unless you know what you’ve spent in the past. Without at least some idea of what you’ve spent in previous years, you’re stuck flying blind. So, now is a great time to pull out last year’s bank account statements and see what you spent on various holiday expenditures.

Write down a few of the major categories, such as decorations, food, party supplies, and gifts. Then, total up your approximate spending last year in each of these areas. These numbers will give you a realistic starting point for this year’s budget.

2. Make a Budget

Once you know what you spent last year, work on creating a budget for this year. Your budget can be as detailed or as vague as you prefer. That’s really a style issue.

For instance, you can budget a total amount for all gifts, or assign different budgets to your children, spouse, extended family members, friends, etc.

The key here is to leave some room for flexibility, and to be realistic. If you love giving gifts, don’t restrict yourself so much that you wind up just blowing your budget in the end. Instead, find other areas where you can cut back. Host one less party, or have a pitch-in so you spend less on food. That way, you can spend more on gifts.

Of course, part of keeping the budget realistic is to not budget more than you can actually afford. So you may need to look forward at your probable income and other expenses in the coming months. Figure out what you can free up, and create a budget that reflects what you can actually afford to spend.

For more guidance, check out our guide to creating a budget that works.

3. Set aside money each month

It’s never too early to start setting aside money for holiday spending. In fact, the earlier you start squirreling away, the easier it’ll be to save.

One option is to open a free checking or savings account. Then, have money automatically transferred into it each month from your paycheck. This makes savings painless and easier to handle.

Another route is to just create a budget category for holiday spending each month. You can let the money build up in your regular checking account (if you’re disciplined enough). Or you can start shopping early using this budget line item.

4. Start putting together wish lists

If you just started making gift lists (now that we’re in November), you’ve missed out on some serious potential savings. Next year, I would definitely recommend starting in October, or even September. Heck, you could even have your kids put together their wish lists as a summertime activity.

This is helpful for a couple of reasons. For one, starting early helps those you’re gifting — especially your kids — think more in-depth about what they’d actually like to receive for the holidays. It eliminates a lot of the whim ideas and temporary wants. Plus, it gives you more time to think about great (and affordable) gifts to give.

But if you are just getting started, no fear. Have your kids make a list today, and then make them revisit their ideas in a week or two. See if anything has changed. Ask family members to set up Amazon wish lists, so they can pick out various things as they think of them. And you can buy online, instead of trotting from store to store in the middle of the holiday rush.

Plus, with Amazon, you can wait until closer to Christmas to buy and then utilize free Prime two-day shipping. My favorite part? I buy and Prime ship everything to my parents’ house, so I don’t have to fly with all of the presents in my luggage. It saves me a LOT of money on baggage fees.

5. Shop early, shop often

Making gift lists early gives you more time to shop, as well, which means more time to take advantage of sales and specials. Start shopping as early as you can, and you’ll be able to take advantage of online and in-person sales for items on your wish lists.

One easy way to do this is to create your own lists for each person you’re gifting on Amazon. You can create private lists, too, but check them often to see if there are price changes on the items. When you see a decent price drop, snag that one right away.

If you shop using credit cards, you could also take advantage of the price change guarantees that many have. With some credit card companies, such as Discover and Chase, you get a price protection guarantee. This basically means that if you find the same item for a lower price after you purchase it on your credit card (within a certain timeframe), the company will reimburse you for the difference.

6. Order ahead for free shipping

Loads of online retailers offer free shipping these days, which can save you a lot of money. However, not all retailers’ “basic” free shipping includes a two-day transit time, like Amazon. With many retailers, you’ll need to allow for longer-term shipping of a few days or even a few weeks.

Shopping earlier gives you time to save on shipping because you can opt for slower, cheaper options. Waiting until the last minute could cost you big bucks in expedited shipping costs!

7. Choose the best rewards credit card

The goal, of course, is to keep from going into credit card debt that you can’t pay off during the holiday season. However, credit cards with great rewards can give you cash back, points, or retailer bonuses when you use them. Before you start serious holiday shopping, check out which credit cards have the rewards that will best suit your shopping habits.

For instance, the Discover it card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases from Amazon each October through December. This can amount to some serious cash-back savings, if you do lots of your holiday shopping on Amazon.

Check out a variety of cash back cards to see which one will net you the biggest rewards on your holiday spending. Then, be sure to pay off the balance each month with that money you’ve been saving. Then, you don’t have to worry about carrying your debt into the new year.

8. Do some DIYing

Giving yourself time to gather up gifts can help you save in other ways. For instance, you can use that extra time to whip up some DIY gifts. Even if you’re not incredibly crafty, you can make presents for at least some of the people on your list. DIY projects are great options for saving money on gifts for extended family members, friends, and your kids’ teachers.

If you’re a more experienced DIYer, Pinterest is full of excellent ideas for in-depth projects. You can get ideas for all sorts of gifts, from clothes to quilts to woodworking projects. You’re sure to find something for everyone on your list. Many of these gifts are super thoughtful and time-consuming, but could also save you from holiday overspending.

9. Book travel at the right time

November and December can be the most expensive times to travel, since so many others have the same idea of being home for the holidays. When you book your travel can make a difference, though.

According to one news article, the best time to book Thanksgiving travel is a surprisingly-late October 31st. The best time to book Christmas travel? Near the end of November. You can also save up your travel rewards card points throughout the year to offset some of your travel expenses at the holiday season.

10. Buy decor, gift wrap, etc. ahead of time

Don’t wait until you’re wandering the aisles of Target midway through December to buy wrapping paper and tree trimmings. You can often get these items much cheaper before the holidays, at discount shops and local dollar stores. Another option is to check out craft stores. Large chains like Michael’s and Joann will start running sales on holiday decor and wrapping paper months before you’re ready to decorate.

While you’re at it, put a note in your calendar to shop for next year’s decor and gift wrap at end-of-season sales this year. It’s amazing how much you can save on Christmas tree decorations when you buy them just after the first of the year.

11. Cut back on your budget

If you utilize all of these tips, but are still having trouble meeting the holiday pinch, you may need to find ways to temporarily cut back on your budget. Consider instituting a meatless Monday, and kick your grocery savings into your holiday budget. Or give up your morning latte in favor of coffee brewed at home.

Cutting back on these small expenses for a few months can give you more wiggle room. You can then use that money to give back to those you love during the holiday season.

No matter how much, or how little, you plan to spend this holiday season, the keyword indeed seems to be that: plan. Putting a budget in place, making lists early, and shopping as far in advance as you can, will be a big difference in how much you spend. And, they can give you a leg up in your efforts to start 2017 in the black.

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Looking for a way to simplify how you manage your finances, from your spending to your credit cards to your investments? Personal Capital’s financial dashboard may be just the tool for you.

This all-around financial management tool is easy to use, tracks all of your financial information, and offers investment advising, to boot. The free version of Personal Capital doesn’t come with personal advising, but the financial dashboard does offer a robust array of tools you can use to figure out your retirement plan on your own.

Here’s what you can expect when you use the free version of Personal Capital:

Link Up and Analyze All Your Financial Accounts

One of Personal Capital’s strengths is that you can use it to manage more than just your investments. It securely hooks up to your bank accounts, percapcredit card accounts, mortgage account, and other loan accounts. This allows you to track your total net worth, taking all of your accounts into consideration. Oh, and they also have an app, available on both Apple and Android devices.

The process of linking up accounts is really simple. Just type in the web address you use to access those accounts. When prompted, enter your usual login information and you’re good to go. Some accounts will ask additional security questions, which match those that you use when logging directly into that account.

I found it easy to link up my bank account, credit card accounts, and 401(k). However, I had trouble linking up my mortgage account, because my mortgage is with a smaller lender. As with many other financial tracking tools, Personal Capital doesn’t connect with every financial service or provider online.

So you may have to put in a support ticket to ask the company to connect with your smaller bank, credit union, or lender. The other option is to input the account information manually. I was able to add my home as an asset, and then add my mortgage as a manual account.

The home estimate comes automatically from Zillow, though you can override it manually if you’d like. The manual mortgage account only allows you to track the current mortgage balance, so it doesn’t track payments or amortization.

The bottom line here is that accounts with bigger-name institutions are easy to link to your financial dashboard. And Personal Capital pulls tons of helpful data from those accounts. The manual accounts feature leaves something to be desired, though.

Track Your Cash Flow

The main dashboard shows your overall cash flow for the last 30 days, broken down into categories. The categories are automatically assigned, and may not be completely accurate. But they give you a good at-a-glance estimation of your income and spending for the past month.

You can click into the cash flow tab to see a more detailed breakdown of your spending. This tab also allows you to toggle your tracker to 30 days, 90 days, six months, this year, or last year. This can be a helpful view if you’ve been trying to change spending habits and want to see general trends.

You can also toggle the view to show all of your accounts or just certain accounts, which can be helpful if you’re tracking just credit card spending, for instance.

Personal Capital will give you a list of the transactions it’s pulling in from all of your accounts. You can then re-categorize those transactions as needed. Taking time to do this can give you a better overall idea of your spending and income.

If you’re the type of person who prefers a more streamlined budget process and doesn’t need to track every dime, the financial dashboard may be perfect for your needs. However, keep in mind that this dashboard is only tracking actual spending. It doesn’t let you pre-set budget categories and then see how your actual spending matches up with your budget. For that type of detail, you need a tool like YNAB or Mint.com.

Learn More: You Need a Budget and a Pocketsmith

Track Your Net Worth

Along with basic budget tracking, Personal Capital allows you to track your net worth. In fact, net worth is one of the first things you see when you pull up the financial dashboard. The net worth chart looks pretty blank when you first start your account. But as you stick with Personal Capital, it’ll continue to graph out over time.

Again, you can click into the net worth tab to find out more about your overall net worth, cash on hand, investments, loans, and other aspects of your net worth. If you have specific goals for raising your savings or decreasing your debt, this is a helpful, visual way to keep track of those goals.

Retirement Planning and Investment Allocation

Of course, one of the main reasons to choose Personal Capital over other financial tracking tools is that it pulls in your retirement savings. The dashboard is compatible with a variety of retirement savings vehicles, including 401(k)s, IRAs, and more. And it will automatically pull in data from your retirement account, as long as that account is with a compatible provider.

I hooked up Personal Capital to my work-related retirement account with Charles Schwab. Again, the process of connecting the accounts was quite simple, and the dashboard pulled in a wealth of information. On the main financial dashboard page, you’ll see your portfolio balances for the last 30 days. You’ll also see your portfolio allocation.

You’ll also see a list of your current holdings, which highlights the holdings that have recently increased in value.

As with the rest of the financial dashboard, you can click any of these options to see more detail. The holdings detail will show you gains and losses in your investments over time, and will compare those gains and losses with the S&P 500.

The Allocation tab will visually break down your account allocations into cash, international bonds, U.S. bonds, international stocks, U.S. stocks, and alternatives. The breakdown tells you exactly what percentage of your total savings is in each of these vehicles. It also tells you the dollar amount you have invested in each option.

I really like the at-a-glance overview of portfolio allocation, as it makes things easy to understand. If you have multiple retirement accounts connected to Personal Capital, you can toggle between accounts to see the allocation breakdown for each individual account.

Overall, the retirement and investing aspects of Personal Capital’s financial dashboard are its strong suit, which isn’t surprising. This, after all, is what the platform is all about. But being able to see what’s going on with your retirement accounts isn’t even the best part about the free version of Personal Capital. You can, in fact, get some pretty solid retirement and investing advice without paying a dime.

Advisor Tools for Free

The three most helpful free tools Personal Capital offers are the Investment Checkup, Retirement Planner, and 401(k) Fee Analyzer tools.

Investment Checkup

For the Investment Checkup, the tools is mostly looking at your investment profile to see if your allocation is appropriate for your age, projected retirement age, and risk tolerance. The breakdown looks like this:

percap1

Once you run the Investment Checkup, you can look at the historical performance of your target allocation versus your current allocation. It will show future projections for your target and current allocations. You can also gauge your level of risk and return at this target allocation.

You can also compare your current allocation to Personal Capital’s target allocation, like this:

percap2

It’s always wise to take any investment advice with a grain of salt. You should also do your own research before moving your investments around. But if you’re new to balancing your investment portfolio, Personal Capital’s Investment Checkup could be a great place to get started.

Retirement Planner

With the Retirement Planner tool, you’ll be able to see how your current savings and savings rate stacks up against your overall retirement goals. You can include how much you plan to spend in retirement, and even how many kids you plan to put through college.

Again, the visual aspect of this tool is really helpful. It includes a graph of the most likely scenarios for your retirement savings, age, and spending goals. You can include both yourself and your spouse, as well.

One helpful aspect of the Retirement Planner tool is that it’ll automatically pull information from your dashboard, if you’d prefer. For instance, it can base your retirement spending goals on your current spending information, and your retirement savings goals on how much you’re currently saving for retirement each year.

You can then play with each piece of information, from annual retirement savings to annual Social Security income, and see how that changes the outcome. The eventual outcome will look like this:

percap3

The retirement planner adjusts for inflation. It will also show you the assumptions for annual rate of return and volatility. These are based on your current portfolio asset allocation.

This tool is far from perfect. It doesn’t, for instance, account for rebalancing your asset allocation as you near retirement age. However, it can give you a good idea of whether you’re on track to retire when you want with plenty in savings. It can also allow you to see different ways to meet your retirement goals, from saving more each year to decreasing your retirement spending needs.

401(k) Fee Analyzer

Sneaky hidden fees are one way to wreck your retirement savings. It’s astounding how much these hidden fees can eat away at your hard-earned savings. That’s where Personal Capital’s 401(k) Fee Analyzer tool comes in.

This tool will dig into your 401(k) to find both up-front and hidden fees, such as custodial fees, inactivity fees, and 12b-1 fees. It will then tell you about how much you’re paying each year in fund fees, and how much those fees will cost you over time.

The fee analyzer will also dig into any mutual fund holdings you have and will show the expense ratios for these mutual funds. This can help you decide where to invest your mutual fund holdings for the lowest cost.

The Bottom Line: Is it Right for You?

So, what if you’re not ready to pay for Personal Capital’s financial advising services? The free financial dashboard could still be a great tool to help you manage your money. Again, if you’re looking for a detailed budgeting tool, this isn’t it. But it could be used in conjunction with a budgeting tool like YNAB or Mint to get a better overall picture of your finances.

Since it’s primarily an investing platform, Personal Capital’s strengths are certainly in the investing arena. Whether you’re just starting out investing for retirement or you’re ready to take more control of your investments, the Retirement Planner and Investment Checkup tools are great. They’ll give you insight in your allocation and savings plan. It can be a really good place to begin in your DIY investing journey.

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Certain expenses can sneak up on you, especially if you don’t run into them too often. For example, a new passport costs $110, but renewal only comes around once every 10 years. Other recurring bills like property taxes, car registration, and insurance payments can also make an unexpected dent in your wallet when they pop up. Do you really even consider these types of things when configuring your budget?

There are many ways to budget for these kinds of costs and make sure that you’re financially prepared. The central idea is to assess all of your potential expenses that occur less frequently than a month, do some simple math, and put away enough money each month to cover them when they pop up.

Getting Organized

When it comes to financial planning, attention to detail is key. And the first step to planning for annual expenses is to have a detailed budget in place.

I prefer to use a spreadsheet for mine, but there are many tools that can help you build a budget. I pair my spreadsheet with Mint to help me automatically track my spending and compare my monthly spending against the budgets I’ve set for myself.

I strongly recommend that you use an automated tool like Mint or the new YNAB if you’re concerned about recurring costs (which you should be!). No amount of planning can fully prepare you for all of the different expenses that come about in a year. It’s especially easy to forget something small or things that come around every 2+ years.

For example, I recently had to renew a few internet domains that I keep as a hobby. While checking out online, I realized I hadn’t budgeted for them at all this year. They just hadn’t come to mind when I was logging things like insurance premiums and membership dues. Once I implemented Mint, though, the app showed me these charges and, in a sense, forced me to rebudget.

My budget spreadsheet has two sections. The upper section has categories like rent, clothing, car payments, and other monthly expenses, along with their associated monthly cost. I’ve then made another column to extrapolate those numbers to show how much I pay annually. This is just to give me a better sense of where my money is going as a whole.

The second section flips this model. Instead of categories, I call out explicit purchases. These include things like new eyeglasses, and I estimate how much I expect to spend on them annually. I then divide that number by 12 to see how much I should be socking away each month to cover their cost. At the bottom of that section, I can simply total the monthly estimates. That way, I know much I need to budget each month to cover all of these costs for a year.

Some expenses don’t happen once a year, so you may need to do some simple math to properly estimate them. For example, your insurance may be charged biannually. Just make sure to do the right math to treat these costs like other annual expenses.

The same goes for purchases that happen every few years, like the passport example mentioned at the start of this article. Saving for a passport renewal at $110 every 10 years costs you a whopping $0.92 per month. Which would you rather prepare for: an unplanned $100+ expense hitting your account, or simply putting less than a dollar away each month?

Getting Disciplined

Once you understand how much you should be saving each month, it’s time to start putting it away. I made a second savings account with my bank, just for this purpose. On the first day of each month, I transfer my magic monthly number from checking into that account. It’s no different than how one might transfer a few hundred dollars into a primary savings account, an IRA, or another taxable account. Instead of a second savings account, you can keep track of this through a spreadsheet or other document you’d prefer. However, I find having a discrete account to be really beneficial.

Of course, one hurdle here will be that when these expenses come up for the first time, you won’t have saved enough yet to cover them. Think carefully about what kinds of expenses those are, and make sure to properly save for them as an aside to this process. I also prefer to inflate my monthly number by a bit (~10%) just in case. It never hurts to be overprepared, and that can really help when something you hadn’t thought of (like that pesky passport renewal) catches up to you.

Once you’ve calculated your annual costs, you might be surprised at how much you need to be saving each month. For some of you, it might be hundreds of dollars that you hadn’t previously budgeted. You need to be disciplined in saving that money each month, or you risk putting yourself into potential debt. Stick to transferring that money on the first of each month! I like to make mine an automatic transfer so I don’t have to remember it. And throughout each month, carefully track which costs hit you that aren’t in your normal monthly budget, so you can recoup that money to pay your bills.

My way of tracking recurring costs is by creating a new unique category in Mint called “Annual Expense,” or something similar. I then tag things like eyeglasses or my Amazon Prime membership with this different category. At the end of each month, Mint easily tells me how much I spent on these kinds of expenses, and then I transfer that amount from the second savings account back into my checking.

This allows me to then have enough to make the credit card payments for those charges. It’s a surprisingly simple system (just like most things when it comes to budgeting), but it takes discipline and organization.

Finally, don’t get complacent. This system only works as well as you maintain it. That means that when an unexpected cost comes up, it’s time to get to work. Appropriately budget for it, change your monthly magic number, and plan ahead for what comes next. Yes, it’s work, but that’s what good financial planning is all about. And let’s be fair here: the “work” is actually quite easy.

Your Plan

The method I’ve outlined here works great for me, but I’m curious what works for you. The fundamental strategy of planning for annual costs is to determine what you need to save each month, and put that money somewhere. These expenses will be different for everyone, but you should certainly know where yours stand.

Please chime in if you have a different system for planning, as we’d all like to hear about what’s been effective for you. It’s often hard to think about these kinds of recurring costs, causing people to disregard or fail to save for them. A system that’s easy to understand can go a long way to protecting your financial future.

For reference, here are all the annual costs for which I currently budget: Amazon Prime, license and passport renewal, internet domains, new eyeglasses, vacations and travel, car registration, property tax, gym membership, Xbox Live, veterinary costs, a new cell phone, car maintenance, holiday and birthday gifts, and a local film festival.

What other/different expenses do you see each year?

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When your life is out of control, nothing seems to go right. You have the worst luck, and you can’t seem to get ahead with anything, whether a project, a goal, or even simple things like taking care of daily tasks.

Regaining control of your life is imperative. For your finances, you can do that by paying attention, changing your mindset, taking an inventory, tracking changes in your finances, budgeting, and seeking support from family, friends, and even strangers. This was one of the major premises behind Consumerism Commentary.

The same is true in all aspects of your life, especially those in which you’d like to see change or improvement.

Control comes through the practice of making better decisions, those decisions that take your future into consideration. Sure, if you’re struggling to survive, “the future” is a luxury. I understand that. But even small steps towards control can help you move forward towards having the freedom to consider more than just how your family will survive paycheck to paycheck. When the situation is controlling you, you feel helpless. But starting to control the small things in life will offer the confidence to, stamina for, and even luxury of making life better for your future.

Being in control can be a significant achievement. But the work isn’t over once you have control. I realized this while watching a baseball game. It was a subway series, with the New York Mets visiting the Bronx to play crosstown rivals the New York Yankees.

The commentator used the phrase “command and control” in discussing the talents of a pitcher. Every pitcher who makes it to the major league should be in control consistently. That means they should be able to throw fastballs for strikes and get other types of pitches in the strike zone on demand, whenever desired.

Brandon Katz describes in Bleacher Report, a baseball blog, what happens when pitchers do not have control: “Without control, basically all hell breaks loose for the guy on the mound. If you don’t have a good feel for your pitches, then it’s going to be a night of free base runners and a lot of runs due to unintentional walks and undoubtedly a multitude of pitches up in the zone.”

Command is another matter. Having command of the pitch is what separates the great players from the everyday. Katz describes pitching command thusly: “Pitchers with good command have the talent to place their pitches any where they want within the strike zone; they are able to throw not just strikes, but good strikes.”

This is also what happens when pitchers are in sync with their catchers. The two players determine for every pitch the speed, direction, pattern, and target, and a pitcher with perfect command hits that target every time. When the catcher wants a cutter to approach the strike zone from the the top outside corner but land in the catcher’s mitt low and inside, the pitcher with good command makes that happen. When the catcher wants a series of three fastballs starting low and ending high and outside, tricking the batter into swinging at a fastball out of the strike zone, good command is necessary for the plan to result in a strikeout.

Control is just the beginning. I’m in control of my finances. I know I’m spending only what I can afford to spend, less than I earn with enough to save for the future. I am like a major league pitcher. Just my presence in the major league means I’ve outshone hundreds or thousands of others on teams in Little League, high school, college, and the minor league.

But I’m not Matt Harvey (or whoever your favorite superstar pitcher might be). I do not have complete command of my financial performance. Not only do I rely on the stock market to take my net worth higher, but I haven’t determined how to invest in such a way that I can position myself the best for my future.

While many would be satisfied with a diversified portfolio of index stock and bond funds, when your needs involve a regular income, protection of your assets, tax efficiency, and growth for taking advantage of a variety of opportunities, things get more complicated. I can throw my strikes, but I’m still learning about the finer points of money management — the skills that will get me to the point where I can just show up on the mound and batters get nervous.

For example, I’m in the process of moving out of New Jersey. My portfolio until recently included as part of my bond portfolio the Vanguard index fund that’s exempt from New Jersey state income tax. The purpose of that was to keep my overall tax burden lower while being able to (relatively) count on some steady income. But if I’m not a resident of New Jersey and not paying New Jersey income taxes, the tax benefit of the investment is irrelevant to me. And quite possibly a waste of an investment opportunity.

And one might argue that the state of New Jersey is in such a bad condition that it was a bad investment in the first place.

But now I have the full investment previously in the New Jersey bond fund sitting in a sweep account earning a paltry (taxable) 0.01% interest. I need to come up with a plan to invest this amount soon, as opportunity cost — the cost of doing nothing compared to potential results — is a real thing and quite expensive. My initial thought is to stop worrying about tax efficiency, particularly considering I am not sure what my plans for residence will be beyond the fall of this year. A strong suggestion in continuing the income portion of my portfolio is to look at the Vanguard Intermediate Term Corporate Bond Index.

Clearly, the trickier pieces of my investment game — being able to paint the corners with my strikes — is not where it needs to be yet. My control is on point; my command requires some work before I’ll get my All-Star Game invitation.

Here’s what I need to do.

Dive deeper into investment research. Until now, it’s been enough to know that the stock market index generally returns 8% over long periods of time for those who buy and hold and don’t react to market news. It’s been enough to know that bond indexes can balance stock indexes and prevent some damage in market downturns without a major detrimental effect to overall returns.

I’m still not interested in investing a major portion of my portfolio in individual stocks, but if a unique investment opportunity comes my way, I will need to be able to evaluate the offer and make a decision that is as informed as possible. I have some business opportunities coming my way, and I’d hate to miss something important because I wasn’t able to analyze the situation effectively.

Talk to more people in similar situations. I’ve done a great job of helping people and teaching others what I know. I’m always available for friends who want business advice or would like to take their blogging to the next level.

Because I found myself paving the way and perhaps doing things that haven’t been done on a large scale before, and have been that way for about three decades, I haven’t done the best job of seeking out mentors when what I’ve wanted to learn has all ready been perfected by others. Whether it’s success in business management or investing, I need to spend some time talking to established experts in addition to mentoring others who see my successes as something similar to what they’d like to achieve.

Practice over and over. It’s great to avoid mistakes, but there’s often to better learning substitute than making mistakes and having to deal with the consequences. The mistakes I’ve made throughout my life — and I’ve made many both pertaining to and beyond my finances — have forced me to learn on my feet, adjust, and improve. I’ve made poor decisions regarding working with others, I’ve had to learn to live with hurt in personal relationships, and I’ve misjudged people. Mistakes like these have given me more insight.

As I make more investing decisions, I’m sure I’ll make more mistakes. More opportunities coming my way means more opportunities to fail. But the experience I gain when that does happen will be valuable — and as long as I don’t rely too much on the success of any particular decision, I should be able to whether failures and use the knowledge gained to my advantage later, increasing my command, not just control, of my finances.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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7 Essential Money Ideas for College Freshmen

by Luke Landes
College Tips

It was a long time ago, but I remember my first few weeks of college. Twenty years ago last month, I left my home state of New Jersey to live on campus at a neighboring state and to pursue my education degree. I had been away from home before for extended periods of time, but […]

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Why Some People Can’t Save: A Matter of Urgency

by Luke Landes
Urgency and importance matrix

When I worked for a large corporation, I was around people who liked to operate their business responsibilities with a sense of urgency. Every little task was important, and they ran around the office like the company’s stock price depended on the speed at which they completed their tasks. It’s not a terrible way to […]

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Money Systems That Lead to Success: Make Your Budget Fantastic

by Luke Landes
Make Your Budget Fantastic

You can’t discuss financial systems without addressing the elephant in the room: the budget. As much as everyone hates the process of creating and adhering to a spending plan, the budget is simply the best money system for building wealth over the long term. The underlying principle of a budget is the key to all […]

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Who Needs a Budget?

by Luke Landes
Money Jar

There are a number of excuses for ignoring the concept of budgeting for one’s own personal finances. Budgeting has a poor reputation. It’s not fun, it’s time-consuming, it’s depressing. While budgeting can be one of the most important steps for beginning a journey towards financial independence, there’s a tendency to ignore this in favor of […]

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Damage Control: Taking an Unwarranted Vacation (From My Finances)

by Luke Landes
San Francisco

This week should have been a vacation. It has been, for the most part, but not entirely. While I’ve traveled occasionally over the past few years, and even chosen destinations meant for relaxation and time alone with loved ones, I haven’t had one of those fabled true vacations. My cell phone was still near by. […]

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Three Must-Have Money Talks for Kids – and How to Start Them

by Beth Kobliner
Money As You Grow

This is a guest article by personal finance expert, Beth Kobliner. Beth is a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability and the author of Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties. Drinking, smoking, bullying… talking about them with your kids is hard enough. But a new survey shows […]

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