In much of Iowa, our recent winter weeks have held lots of days suitable only for staying indoors. We’ve canceled or postponed many plans, and some of our dogs have missed lots of walks because some days were just too cold or windy.
So what can we do with those snow days? I have an idea!
No, it’s not binge-watching your favorite shows or movies, nor does it involve baking. You don’t need ME to suggest those!
My idea is less recreational, but much more valuable in the long term: go through your files!
Cleaning and organizing files is a task we tend to procrastinate. But in an emergency, and even in many non-emergency situations, we sure would like to turn to our files and immediately put our hands on the document(s) we need. When need arises, we’ll be glad we invested some time in getting organized.
Here’s the good news: it’s a task that can be broken up into small doses.
- If you already have a filing system, you can just go through one or two files a day, to pull out old materials that are no longer needed, and make sure the most current information is in front.
- If you do not have a filing system in place, start with a small stack of papers from wherever you’ve been storing them. Create file folders or envelopes for each category of papers you run across. For example, if the first paper you come to is about your car insurance, then create a car insurance file. Perhaps the next item will be college transcript – if so, create an education file.
Well-organized files have three characteristics: 1) they are clearly labeled; 2) the newest and most important information is in front; and 3) out-of-date and unimportant documents are removed. Determining what is important can be a challenge. Some tips for starters:
- Insurance – keep the most recent summary of coverage (declarations page). In addition, keep the full policy booklet if you have one, and any updates you receive about coverage details.
- Mutual fund accounts – keep your quarterly statements until the year-end statement arrives; that should include all activity for the year, so you can discard the quarterly statements. Keep all year-end statements, with the most recent in front. Keep the most recent prospectus. There is no need to keep annual reports.
- Monthly bills – once you get the next statement showing that your payment was received, you can safely discard the previous statement, unless you need it for tax purposes.
- Warranties and purchase records for warrantied items – keep as long as you own the item. Keep the purchase information longer if the item affects your taxes.
- Taxes – after six years, they can be discarded.
Personally, my biggest filing problem is old folders with labels that have fallen off – I need to go through and re-label files. Which filing task most needs your attention?
With the upcoming time change (from Daylight Savings back to Standard Time), take a few minutes this week to make your home healthier for your family. Here are six tips:
- Test your smoke alarm and replace the battery. Using smoke alarms in your home cuts your risk of dying in a fire in half.
- Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds – enough time to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Each year about 48 million Americans get sick from eating contaminated or improperly prepared foods.
- Make your home smoke free. Never let anyone smoke anywhere in or near your home. Parents are responsible for 90% of their children’s exposure to smoke.
- Program the number for poison control into your cell phone: 1-800-222-1222. If you use a land line, post the number near the phone. Each day in the United States over 300 children (ages 0-19) are in emergency rooms for poisonings.
- Do a 3-minute “clean sweep” Pick one small area of your home- like your junk drawer or stairs and take 3 minutes to sort the items. Get rid of what you do not need. Clutter can collect dust, mold, and other allergens and gives pests a place to hide. If clutter is on the floor or stairs, it can cause you to trip and fall.
- Check your locks. Make sure locks function correctly and that a child can operate them in an emergency.
If I retire today, I have access to accumulated funds in an employer managed retirement fund. I can transfer the money to a private IRA and put it under the management of a financial advisor I select. I could also purchase an annuity; a contract that is offered by an insurance company that operates similar to a pension and would pay me regular monthly income.
I won’t be given a detailed sheet explaining the commissions or fees collected as a result of my choices. I’ll have to trust the guidance provided by the financial advisors I consult and accept that there will be fair compensation for their knowledge and work completed on my behalf.
Today, financial advisors who sell “retirement” classified products must follow the “suitability” standard. They can recommend financial products they reasonably believe are appropriate based on the client’s financial needs, objectives and unique circumstances. A key distinction in terms of loyalty is also important, they can place the interests of their employer and themselves first, not necessarily the client served. It can result in recommendations for products that have higher commissions and fees.
In June, these same financial advisors will be placed under a stricter “fiduciary” standard. The Department of Labor’s definition of a fiduciary demands that advisors act in the best interests of their clients, and to put their clients’ interests above their own. It states that all fees and commissions must be clearly disclosed in dollar form to clients. The advisors are bound legally and ethically to the standard.
The rule change has faced several challenges, but the June 9, 2017 implementation has been announced with a transition period that ends on January 1, 2018. Consumers should see improved disclosure and will have greater control over the fees they pay for retirement-focused financial products.
To learn more visit: http://www.investopedia.com/updates/dol-fiduciary-rule/
Money Smart Week, started 15 years ago by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, is designed as a public awareness campaign to help consumers better manage their personal finances. There are Money Smart Week programs in every state. Here in Iowa, more than 200 partner organizations have joined in the fun to promote financial education and to provide learning opportunities. All Money Smart Week programs are free, and strictly educational (no marketing allowed).
ISU Extension and Outreach has been a MSW partner for many years. Educational programs are offered for all ages, from preschoolers to seniors. Activities like scout nights, shred events, essay and poster contests, geocache for college cash, piggy banks, books, kites, and chances to win prizes make the learning fun. Educational program topics include establishing a budget, protecting financial information, raising money-smart kids, and more.
Check the website www.MoneySmartWeek.org for more details about activities in your communities. Check your local library for a display as well as programming. Spread the knowledge!
We are in the middle of tax season and you may be anticipating a chunk of cash back from Uncle Sam. You may have identified paying some bills, or making an investment. You may want to try a few of these suggestions:
- Donate to a charity, like a local animal shelter, homeless shelter, or another group you would like to donate some funds.
- Update a room – furniture, paint, might be the way to go.
- Pay off a car – If you have enough in your refund – you could free up some cash in the future by paying off your car payments early.
- Take a trip – weekend getaway or a resort spa weekend.
- Clear your Credit Card Debt – take your outstanding balance down to zero and start your financial freedom.
- Tackle a Hobby – What to learn how to play golf, or ride a horse, cooking classes – develop a new hobby.
- Help Someone Out – Gift some money to someone who is down on his or her luck.
- Fill the Pantry – stock up on everyday necessities. Use some digital coupons to save even more.
- Upgrade your Electronics – New cell phone, tablet, TV or laptop – look for refund sales at the store.
- Tuck it away –put some cash in bank for a “rainy” day – The cushion will help you out.
I love the saying, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I would much rather underestimate what it takes to get me where I am going, and over acheive, than end up falling short. That is the philosophy I am taking toward planning for retirement.
On average, men stop working at age 64 and women at 62. According to the employee Benefit Research Institute, nearly half of all retirees end up leaving work earlier than they had planned, often because of layoffs or illness. Only a third exit the workforce early because they can afford to.
To retire early would mean some serious belt-tightening…more than just putting aside the money saved by taking your lunch to work or making your own coffee at home. For most, retiring early would mean living far below your means…putting 30% or more of your income into retirement accounts.
The natural tendency for most is to increase your spending over time. As your income grows…you tend to spend more. If half of each pay increase is automatically diverted to savings, you slow that tendency, and save more aggressively without feeling deprived.
Another strategy to NOT work any longer than you have to, is to put as much as you can each year into a tax deferred savings accounts such as 401(k)s and Roth IRAs. If you are making money on the side, you can also take advantage of a SEP-IRA to save some of that income as well. If you have a qualifying high-deductible health plan, consider pushing money into a Health Savings Account.
For me, the cost of health insurance is what gives me cause to pause…that and the fact that I love working (and spending). What are your thoughts and strategies about retiring or retiring early?
Last weekend, we had thunder, lightning, tornado, high winds and rain. Welcome to living in the Midwest.
One of my colleagues lives on a farm; during the storm, he looked out at his barn to see an orange glow on the west side of the barn, then a moment later it was gone. The next morning he found that the white siding was singed and black, and some of the power supply wiring had melted and frayed. He realized it had been a close call, and that the barn had been spared because of the heavy rain.
He thought about what could have happened – the barn could have been destroyed by fire, which would have been a major loss for his dairy operation. Luckily, the cows were out to pasture.
In addition, a fire would have also destroyed his collection of tools, weight equipment, half basketball court in the barn, musical equipment and many other items that were kept in the barn. When I talked with him today, I asked if he had an inventory — would he have been able to make a list of everything he had lost? Even great insurance coverage only works if you can list everything that needs to be replaced.
He thought maybe he should make a list or take some time to videotape the barn’s contents for insurance purposes. Would you be prepared if something happened?