Defining Unexpected Expenses

Life is full of surprises and events that sometimes shatter our daily routines and our finances. 

Conventional wisdom says that the money in an emergency fund would be earmarked for “unexpected expenses.”  That is true.  However, let’s think about what expenses actually are (and are not) unexpected.

Expenses that are not unexpected: monthly and annual bills

  • Regular annual or semi-annual expenses are not unexpected: these include property taxes, car insurance premiums,  annual life insurance premium, eye exams and other once-a year expenses.  You can plan and prepare for these expenses by setting aside a fixed amount each month.  Since you know these expenses are coming, they cannot truly be considered emergencies.
  • Occasional maintenance or repairs, such as a leaky roof or a dishwasher breakdown are not fully unexpected. either.  The same is true for other ordinary home repair, care repair, and moderate medical bills.  You may not know exactly what expenses will come up, but if you have a body, a car or a home, you need to expect to spend money on maintaining them. Setting aside money each month will build a fund for home repair and maintenance, car repairs, and  ordinary medical bills.

What expenses are truly unexpected?

An emergency fund is intended for expenses that fall outside the categories of “annual bills” or ordinary maintenance of home, car, and health.  Unexpected expenses are events like losing your job or being struck by a massive, out-of-the-norm health-related bill beyond what insurance will cover.  Emergency funds are designed for expenses that are highly unusual, not for common occurrences.

Bottom Line: It is possible that the savings account you were labeling as an “Emergency Fund” is actually your “Yearly Expense and Maintenance Fund.” That’s a good fund to have. But perhaps you also need an emergency fund.

 

 

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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A Book to Read

How’s your New Year’s resolution going?  Maybe I can help. Add a short term goal to read one book about money or personal management by the end of January and use the content to improve your original plan to improve your well being. Here are few I recommend:

The Millionaire Next Door identifies seven common traits that show up again and again among those who have accumulated wealth. If your resolution was to slow down the purchase of stuff, adopt a minimalist approach to life, or start recycling/reusing what you have, the book could give additional reasons to stick with it.  Authors are  Thomas Stanley, PhD and William Danko, PhD

 

 

Loaded by Sarah Newcomb, PhD, introduces you to behavioral finance. The book explains how our experiences with money have a psychological basis and can often run counter to what we’d like to accomplish. She explains that money is just a tool and how we use it is entirely a matter of personal choice.  The book offers advice about overcoming negative behaviors, so if you are concerned that you might fail to follow through with plans to change your use of money in 2019, this book offers tips that could help you change your goal and make it more achievable.

 

Charles Duhigg is a business reporter. The Power of Habit describes why habits exist and how they can be changed. Your resolution might be failing because you haven’t really examined why you are repeating the same behavior loop over and over again. Taking advantage of his tips to find your weak links and embrace change could lead to success.

 

Finally if you use this suggestion and read one book before the end of January, don’t forget to celebrate.   One short term resolution accomplished!!!

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Auto-Pilot vs Mindlessness

Two cardboard boxes delivered to a residential home wait outside a black metal front door on a brick patio, Midwest, USA

We have frequently talked about strategies for making good financial habits. One strategies is to “make it automatic”. For example, if I want to save 10% of my monthly paycheck, I would have a greater chance of making it happen if I were to set it up with my employer. Each month, a portion of my paycheck could be auto-deposited in a savings account while the remainder of my check would go directly into my checking account. Basically, I made the decision once and it happens monthly without me having to remember to transfer money from my checking account to my savings account.

For the last couple of years, I have done a lot of on-line purchasing, including a large portion of my gifts and a few household consumables. Within the online shopping platform, I have always compared prices, companies, and options. I would also check Consumer Reports to compare brands and quality reviews. I considered myself to be a good shopper. When this online platform first arrived on the scene, I was diligent in comparing prices with our local stores to make sure I am getting the best deal.  In recent months, though, I haven’t done much comparison shopping;  …I just assumed…which I am sure is what online “stores” were counting on.  They hook consumers with the price, convenience & variety, and then later, when the prices rise, we either don’t notice or don’t care because we are hooked on the convenience.

This past week, a new study revealed that when compared to local store chains, this online shopping platform (the one I had gotten used to using) was not always a less expensive way to shop. This is NOT what I wanted to hear! I LOVE the convenience and the speed at which things arrive at my home. I WANT (but I don’t need) more brands to pick from.

So I have a mixed scorecard as an effective consumer. On the plus side, I have been effective in putting my savings account deposits on auto-pilot; but on the minus side, my desire to save money while shopping has slipped as it became a bit mindless. Now the I have to decide if the convenience is worth a slightly higher price.

Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Five Minutes to Make Your Home Healthier

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:

  1. Test your smoke alarm and replace the battery. Using smoke alarms in your home cuts your risk of dying in a fire in half.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Check your locks. Make sure locks function correctly and that a child can operate them in an emergency.

 

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Cost-Cutting vs. Saving: Not the same thing!

Most of us have dozens of ways we “save money:”

  • We “save” by using coupons and shopping sales.
  • We “save” by saying NO to ourselves and others when temptation arises.
  • We “save” by cooking at home instead of eating out.

Are you wondering why I put the word “save” in quotation marks in all those examples? Here’s why: even if we did all those things every single week, there is no certainty that our savings account balance will increase.

All those steps are ways we reduce costs, but do they automatically lead to deposits to savings accounts? No. Take me, for example: I have never once taken the money I did not spend at a restaurant or grocery store and deposited it into a savings account as a direct result of the decision not to spend. Instead, the money I “saved” would usually just get spent on something else!

A decision not to spend is a key step in saving. But by itself, that decision is not enough; it only turns into saving when we actually move the money into a savings account (or to a dedicated savings location such as a piggy bank).  When I come to a coffee shop or an ice cream store and I go on by without stopping because I want to save that money, I should probably just stop right there and transfer money from one account to another. Or I could carry a “saving” envelope in my purse and move cash into the envelope every time I resist temptation. That would be the way to make sure the actual saving occurred.

Saving is a two-step process. It involves deciding not to spend and  putting money in a designated location. Either step can come first. I can decide not to buy something and then save the money; OR I can put the money away first and then (out of necessity) spend less than I otherwise would have spent.
Note: many of us do better if we put the money in savings first!.When there’s no money in your billfold or your account, it’s easier to resist temptation to spend! 

Do you sometimes wonder why you aren’t getting ahead, despite your efforts? It may be because you’re skipping one of the steps.  How can you turn your cost-cutting into true savings progress?

 

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Stocking the Grocery Pantry

I threw a list of Pantry items together in 2004 and went shopping. My goal was to confirm or dispel what participants in my budgeting classes would argue: that it was cheaper to purchase groceries at larger markets, especially those in larger towns where there is more than one grocery store.

What I challenged them to consider was the cost of transportation and the added time it took to make a 1 hour round trip each week for groceries; especially if the sale items were the same price in a local store.  Did they save enough to off-set those costs? Even though the cash register receipt is lower for the same items, it wasn’t enough savings to cover the cost of transportation.

I took my list shopping to the local grocery in 2007 and again today.   Here’s what I’ve learned from the comparison:

  • The cost for store brands, 2004-2018, increased 54.7%, the national brands increased 34.3%.
  • The margin between the cost of buying a store brand and buying a national label continues to erode. In 2004 the difference was 30%, in 2018 the difference is 24%. Store brands still cost less, but not as much.  Quality becomes more important.
  • The changes in package sizes has slowed. I found several items in smaller packages between 2004 and 2007; but only Oat Cereal was found in a smaller package in 2018.
  • Some items are lower priced. Brand name stick margarine is priced lower than the 2004 cost and the store brand is equivalent to the brand name price. Oat Cereal, when broken down into price per ounce, is 27 cents today. In 2004 it was 26 cents an ounce.  Brand name green beans have declined slightly since 2007, with store brands getting close to equivalent price.
  • Items on my pantry list with a larger than average increase in price are: a 2 lb. block of processed cheese food – the national brand increased 100%; a 5 lb. bag of national brand flour increased 61%.

A new player in the pantry shopping list is a local dollar store.  My grocery sack included a combination of store brands and national brands. The sizes were equivalent. Not everything on the list was available. Some items were lower, but others were higher in price. In the end my combination sack cost the same as the store brands at the local grocery.   If you have the time and pay attention to prices you could lower your total grocery costs by shopping at both stores if they are close to each other.

Visit the Spend Smart, Eat Smart website for low cost recipes and other tools to manage your grocery dollars.

 

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Rechargables Make Cents

In a kitchen cupboard, we have a box full of rechargeable batteries of every size. My husband uses them in the sound-cancelling ear protection he wears in the barns. I have several small, battery-operated motion-sensitive lights I use in the rooms where grand kids sleep. I also have a digital camera, Christmas lights, a battery operated pencil sharpener and other electronics, keeping our battery charger busy.

If I were to buy a four-pack of Duracell AA batteries each week (which sells for $6) to keep my husband’s hearing protection working, I would easily spend $312 a year. For $10, I can buy a four pack of rechargeable batteries. These batteries will last between 2 and 3 years. By using rechargeable batteries, we are keeping between 400 to 600 batteries out of a landfill…and that is just for the AA batteries my husband is using.

It used to be that rechargeable didn’t work well with some technology.  Today,  I do not find any difference and I greatly appreciate the savings. What has been your experience with rechargeable batteries?

Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Coins can add up!

I just completed a pilot series online for a financial class called Small Change.  How many of you pick up coins off the ground or from pockets in the laundry?  With each dime or quarter, money starts to add up!  Starting with small change can pay off a small debt or help you save for one of your goals like a vacation, a down payment for a vehicle or your child’s higher education.

These small coins can make a big difference.  Twelve years ago my friends found out their daughter-in-law was expecting twins and during the six months, they saved their coins from purchases and emptied out their pockets: they were able to buy a piece of furniture – a dresser -for the grandsons.

I have participated in a group where part of our fund raising for scholarships is to save the coins.  We each have a nifty little box with a lid to transport our coins.  During a month’s time, the treasurer collects between $50-$60 dollars. When an I-Pass, (prepaid electronic toll collection system) was needed because of daily travel on the tollway, my coin collection started to flourish. When I moved to Iowa, I am in a community that has parking meters where I now use many a quarter.

What are you doing with your small change?

 

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Sales Tax Holiday: Use Wisely

In Iowa, this coming Friday and Saturday (Aug 3-4 2018) offers a chance to buy qualifying clothing items without paying any sales tax. For most Iowans, (depending on local sales tax), that’s a savings of 7% — not a huge windfall, but still an advantage.  That savings is magnified by the many retailers who offer clothing sales on the same weekend.

Sounds like a winning proposition, right? It can be. But like anything else, it requires consumers to use good judgment! Why?

Well, if you’re like me, you’ve had experience with the risks involved in shopping simply because there’s a sale. Who among us hasn’t made a purchase because it was such a “great deal” and then never (or rarely) used it? Hopefully we learn from those experiences, but it always pays to exercise caution when shopping sales.  Here are some ideas to help us avoid regrets:

  • Have a list and prioritize.
  • Plan a dollar limit that lets you fit your purchases into your budget without borrowing. When purchases are paid off over months of credit card payments, the benefit of the sale price quickly disappears.
  • Know what the “regular” prices are, and consider whether items will be on a bigger sale later in the fall. In other words, ask yourself “Are they just giving a small discount to tempt me to buy now rather than waiting for later when bigger discounts will be offered?”
  • Keep all receipts. If you pick something up and later decide it wasn’t that important or that great of a bargain, you’ll simply be able to return it!  Be sure to have the self-discipline to follow through on that… it may be “only” $10 or $20, but that adds up over time.
  • If you are buying for people other than yourself (especially growing children) check out their current clothing stock before you make your list — find out what fits and what doesn’t. This will help you make sure that the items on your list are the most important items.

Iowa’s Sales Tax Holiday applies to most clothing and footwear items priced below $100. Most accessories are not exempt (such as jewelry or watches), but some items do qualify for the exemption (such as scarves).  Certain specialty clothing items, such as clothing specific to a particular sport, are excluded as well. For a full list of items that are taxable vs. exempt, go to https://tax.iowa.gov/iowas-annual-sales-tax-holiday.

Happy shopping! Good planning means no regrets!

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Worried about retirement funds?

I read an article last week in the popular press (based on a legitimate research brief) that offered encouragement for those who are worried they haven’t saved enough for retirement. The research project demonstrated that if you delay retirement 3-6 months, it provides the same benefit as if you had saved an additional 1% of your income for 30 years.

If you are: a) wishing you could save more, but really can’t; or b) wishing you could go back in time and start saving more, sooner, this research is encouraging because it says you can partly make up for a savings shortfall by delaying your retirement date.  To be clear, delaying a few months doesn’t “magically” double the balance in your 401(k) or IRA account.  The delay affects your retirement income security in several ways:

  • It means additional months of contributions to your retirement account.
  • It gives your money more time to grow.
  • It reduces the number of months you’ll need to support yourself in retirement.
  • Delaying Social Security benefits beyond full retirement age results in a larger monthly benefit. (under current law).
    The fourth benefit accounts for most of the mathematical advantage of delaying retirement, but all four factors contribute. The first two actually DO increase the size of your nest egg; the third one means your money doesn’t need to be stretched so thin.

Wherever you are in your pre-retirement saving journey, it always pays to save more starting now if you can. But even a modest delay of retirement can provide a retirement lifestyle as if you’d saved more all along.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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