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Declaration of Independence

We traditionally celebrate the 4th of July with barbeques and firework displays, but this year why not celebrate by declaring your financial independence. A day in which you take charge of eliminating debt and expand your wealth.

Get that budget in line and start tracking your expenses. Your budget is the key to finding where all your money goes each month. A good budget can fix any money leaks and save you money each month. Adjust your spending in categories where you know that you are spending too much. It’s not easy and keeping a budget takes a lot of dedication but it is worth it in the end.

Now that you are saving some money, use it to pay down your high interest debt. If you have any credit card debt you will want to aggressively pay it off in order of highest interest first. If you have a good budget you should also be able to quit using your credit cards for purchases. Other debts are a little more generous with their interest and are expected to take a longer time frame to pay off, such as your mortgage or student loans.

After you get your credit cards taken care of you will then be able to start putting money away into a savings account. As that money grows you can use it to buy big purchases or to bail you out of any emergencies you may have where previously you would have had to use the credit card. Using cash helps you avoid falling back into the debt cycle and keeps you free from owing.

Once you have your savings account healthy you can start growing your money through investments. This will help secure your future when you are ready to retire or perhaps put your children through school. How aggressive you want to be with investing is up to you and you may want to consult with a professional to help ease you into it. It's just important that you are doing something to help your money grow.

Financial freedom takes a lot of work but a good plan and motivation can go a long way in helping you down the path. So, on the day of our country's independence stand up and declare your march towards Financial Freedom!

    

 


 

   
 
 

I'm sure it won't come as a surprise when I tell you that babies are expensive. Consider some of these money saving tips before the stork arrives at your door.

There is some information you should find out before you plan on getting pregnant. You will need a well-planned budget to see if you can afford the extra costs. If you are employed you will want to discuss and review your company's “maternity leave” policy. Examine your health insurance to see what will be covered. If you feel that your current policy doesn't cover enough, you may want to shop around for a policy that fits more of your needs.

Questions about your Health Insurance plan:
Does it cover prenatal care?
Does it cover laboratory tests,
medications, and sonograms?
What hospital costs are covered?
Is there a deductible? How much?
Is newborn health care included?
What is covered if there are
complications from pregnancy,
delivery, and post-delivery?
Does it cover nursery costs?

Expecting mothers generally need to change their eating habits and wardrobe. There are certain nutritional needs which can include foods or even vitamins that you generally don't buy. Prepare to increase your monthly food budget to accommodate for the specific foods. Your doctor can help you determine your specific nutritional needs. It is important to stick to those guidelines for the health of the baby.

Another good idea before you are expecting is to start a baby fund. Open up a savings account especially for baby expenses. Commit a certain amount of each paycheck and any extra income. You can then use the baby account for expenses that come up during pregnancy and stock up on baby supplies if they are on sale before the baby is born.

Maternity clothes will also have to be considered. You can always borrow maternity clothes from a friend. You should buy gradually, what fits at four months may not fit at eight months. Buy sale items and check out resale stores for good deals. Don't limit yourself to only looking in the maternity store or department. Chances are you can find a good deal on loose fitting clothes in other departments.

For items like cribs and car seats it is important to buy or register for quality and you may need to look for a sale on a new one instead of buying an older one, second hand. Make sure they meet safety guidelines. Baby clothes can be fun to buy but it can definitely add up. You'll be surprised how many outfits that the baby will never get a chance to wear before they have grown out of it. Friends and second hand stores are the best sources for used baby clothes or toys. Summer time rummage sales can be a gold mine for baby and maternity clothes, and toys.

Having a child is a wonderful thing and with smart planning and budgeting it can be less stressful which is important for you and your new addition.

 

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Helpful Tips

We have probably all heard of the roller coaster housing market of the past couple years. Right now is a good time if you are in the market of buying a home. There are some things to consider and be aware of to ensure that you find the right home and a mortgage you can comfortably afford.

Buying a home is a big step; in fact it's probably the biggest financial purchase you will ever make, so it's important that you do it right.

Before you can even start looking for a home you need to make sure your credit report is healthy and accurate. You can get a free copy of your credit report from any of the 3 credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com. Review it thoroughly, make sure everything is correct and dispute or fix any problems that you find.

Many people can get pre-qualified but you will want to make sure that you get pre-approved. Pre-qualification is based on a quick interview to find out if you have a full time job and that there are no problems with your credit. When you get pre-approved from a qualified lender they give you a number that you can be approved for based on your actual income and your credit history.

It is important that you take a look at your budget and find a number that you can comfortably afford to pay each month without spreading yourself thin. Often times the lender will approve you for a larger amount than you would be comfortable with and you do not want to find out that the home you just bought is too much for your budget. So have a solid number that you do not want to go over and make sure you only look for homes that stay under that figure so you do not find a house that you really like but can not afford.

You may leave yourself a little leeway with price only if you know there is something you can reduce in your budget, but you are better with going with a lower number than going over.

Once you start looking for a home you may need some help so you may want to implore the help of a real-estate agent. Make sure you find an exclusive buyer agent who is in the market to help you and not the seller. Discuss the agent's fees and how they will be compensated. A professional can help many first time buyers with the negotiating process which can help you save a lot of money in the long run.

Make sure you research the mortgage lenders. There are a lot of fly-by-night lenders who promise the best rates but can bury fees and stipulations in piles of legal jargon that may never get read. Start with nationally recognized lenders and then use their numbers to compare to other lenders. If the other lenders are offering you a substantially better offer you may need to ask yourself why.

Explore your options as a first time homebuyer. There are many programs that are meant to help people get into their first home. It used to be standard that you needed 20% for a down payment on a home. There are many programs that only require a minimal down payment. However, most lenders will require that you get private mortgage insurance (PMI) that will add towards your monthly bill and be required until you have made enough payments equivalent to a 20% down payment.

Pay attention to all the homes for sale in a particular neighborhood. If you find a house that you like you will be able to make a better offer by knowing what other homes in the area have been selling for. If other homes have been selling for less than their asking price you will be able to negotiate for a lower price.

Another good tip is to pay attention to the schools that are nearby. A good school district will raise the value of the homes in that neighborhood. So even if you don't have kids or are not planning on having kids look for homes in a good school district, because when it comes time to try and sell your home, many folks will take school district into account when buying.

You will want to make sure that average utility costs are supplied to you so you can know what your other house related expenses will be.

Hiring your own home inspector to walk through a home will help ensure that there are no serious problems and that minor problems will be addressed before your offer will be honored.

Follow some of these steps, continue to do your own research to help ease some of the stress, don't be afraid to ask questions and soon you will be kicking back in a place you can call your own.

 

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Tips for Renters

Maybe you aren't ready to settle down and buy a house. There could be many reasons why you might not be ready yet. Here are some tips on finding an ideal rental for your needs.

No matter what everyone else tells you about not wasting your money with renting there are many legitimate reasons for doing so. If you are still career focused and are open to the option of moving anywhere for that perfect job then buying a home would not be a good idea. That holds true now more than ever since selling a home has been more difficult recently. Unless you know that you plan on staying put for at least five years or so it will be easier to rent.

I know that there are some folks who live in parts of the country where home prices are so high that it makes it difficult to buy a home and want to live in a cheaper place in order to save some money for a large down payment.

You should also wait to buy a house if you need some time to repair your credit or pay down high interest debt. You will be better off trying to improve your credit score than trying to get a mortgage on poor credit. Better interest rates are offered to better credit scores so why not rent while you fix it. Eliminating your high interest debt will open up your budget to allow for a better mortgage.

Before you get started applying for applications it's a good idea to get some things together to help you save some time. You will need a list of your previous addresses and any phone numbers of the landlords, employer information and length of employment, current income, personal references, and a copy of your credit report would be a good idea as well. You can have this information available or you can put it together like an résumé that you can give to potential rental agencies.

You want to put together a budget to find out how much you can comfortably afford each month. If you don't plan accordingly you may find that your rent is too much for you to handle and you can be evicted if you don't pay regularly. Have a number in mind so you don't waste your time looking at places out of your price range.

There are plenty of places to look for a rental place like local newspaper classified ads, bulletin boards at grocery stores or college campuses, and many online sources that list rentals.

A great way to save money and find a larger place is to take on a roommate or fill a roommate vacancy. There are many other factors that comes with roommates such as determining how utilities will be split, and who will be responsible for specific household duties just to name a few. If you are not comfortable with the person or situation than it may be better to avoid it.

Another way you may be able to save money is to offer your services in exchange for discounts. You may want to live in an apartment complex that has a pool or landscaping that needs maintained. By offering to clean the pool or water the plants you may be able to get a break on your rent.

If you find a place that you like, you will probably have to go complete a walk-through with the landlord. You will want to make sure that any damage or problems are noted and make sure to take your time. This way when you decide to move out you are not penalized for damage that was there before you moved in. If there are serious problems make sure they will be fixed before you agree to sign a lease. If there are many problems you may be better off moving on to the next property.

Find out what amenities are included and what ones may cost extra. Some apartment complexes offer garage or storage units while some include a pool, workout facility, laundry services, playgrounds, or tennis courts. These are just some extra perks used to attract potential tenants but can be more expensive, so make sure you decide what is important to you.

Make sure you read your lease and you understand the length of term that you agree to. You could be responsible for paying out the remaining of your lease if you have to move out early or you may lose your security deposit.

If you are not ready yet to take on the financial responsibility of a mortgage follow some of these tips to finding the right rental for you.

 

 
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June started out as a fantastic month. We began with the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon in which my wife and I had been training for the half marathon since the beginning of the year. Pioneer also participated in the relays and I think that we all had a great time. My wife and I hit our personal goals, which is always a great and rewarding feeling.

I encourage any of our readers whose hobby is running to check out more information about the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon. I may be biased, but I would be hard pressed to find a better race with as nice of scenery or staff as the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon.

Now to tie all of this into finances. Becoming financially independent is hard work and takes a lot of patience and training (just like training and running a long race). It is knowing that all of this hard work will be rewarded with a feeling of great accomplishment.

When you don't have to rely on your credit cards or have to write that monthly check to them each month you begin to feel financially stronger and will be excited and motivated to reach higher goals.

Lately it seems like we have been training for a hurdle race than a distance race, financially speaking that is. Within a span of 2 weeks we have had someone put a healthy ding in our car (and of course was not courteous enough to leave any of their information), our air conditioning will not run, the heating element went out in our oven, and our sump pump went out completely. None of these things are financially devastating on their own but all together within a short timeframe it has been quite the headache for us.

On top of all our little money hiccups has been the fact that we have about half a dozen different home projects that need to get finished or started. I have been trying to stain our deck for two months now (well, it's actually been 2 years but I finally bought the stain 2 months ago) but the weather hasn't been cooperating with us.

I will not complain about all the rain we have received as we need to get out of this drought and I know there are many people out there who are in dire situations due to the rise in severe weather this spring.

Some of the other projects is we are still waiting to install our hardwood floors we bought a couple months ago and there is a bunch of landscaping projects we would like to get done. I never realized how much it could cost to do even the smallest landscaping project.

Who knew that a few wood beams, rocks, and shredded wood chips would be so expensive, and this is without the cost of labor. So it's a snails pace trying to get everything done as we are only buying a few things at a time to finish.

Another thing that I want to touch on quickly is about how important and vital it is that everyone has health insurance. Recently my younger brother was involved in a traffic accident and was seriously hurt. He was struck by a car and broke both of his legs which required major surgery to repair.

He is at the age where he thinks he is invincible and it never occurred to him to get any insurance and his job didn't offer health insurance. It's the kind of thing that you don't think about getting if it's not easily provided for you and when you are trying to stretch your paycheck as far as you can it can be a lot to have to pay for insurance out of pocket. I was in the same boat a few years ago and was lucky enough to not have anything serious happen.

My brother on the other hand, was not so lucky and required some serious surgery and had to spend some time in the hospital where each day added to an already huge medical bill. The driver of the car involved in the accident had insurance but it will only cover a small percentage of the costs. There are other programs that are available to my brother to help him with his bills but it will be a long process.

So, even though health insurance can be expensive each month, it pales in comparison to what you will have to pay if you are unfortunate enough to have a medical emergency. You may also want to pay attention to this year's presidential race as healthcare is also an important topic among candidates and hopefully our government can come up with a plan for affordable healthcare for everyone (which I think they have been working on for a couple decades now).

On a happier note, I hope that everyone is enjoying their summer and can find some time to enjoy Independence Day and until next month, good luck and have fun.

 

 

 
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Let Your Money Work For You

I'm sure we would all love to be stock experts and be able to turn a little money into a lot. Truth is we may never be Wall St. aces but we also don't have to be intimidated by investing and helping ourselves by building wealth.

Successful investing takes time and patience and there is a lot more to it than what we can fit in a one-page article but you can take this introductory information and use it to proceed on your own.

First thing you may be thinking is why should I even bother to invest at all?

Investing is a way to have your money work for you by growing interest through compounding.

There are many different ways to invest based on how much risk you want to take or how you would like your money to grow. Some have greater rates of return for more risk while others are lower risk with a steady return rate.

Here are some of the lower risk forms of investing and are usually for money that you need quicker access to.

A Savings Account: Many of us have probably had one of these since we were teenagers and unless you put a lot of money in there when you were young and never touched it you probably haven't seen a big profit from the interest. Now, savings accounts are a great place to keep your emergency fund so you can have easy access to it if you need to pay for a car repair or the fridge went out on you. However, they make poor investment vehicles and the interest can be eliminated by random banking fees, like transfers or minimum balance requirements.

Money Market Savings Account: In this account your saved money is invested in special mutual funds which still have a little return but is better than a traditional savings account. The access to the money is fairly easy but you can be hit with withdrawal fees and are better off letting the money sit in there and is not advisable if you are not sure that you won't need the money.

Certificate of Deposit (CD): A CD requires a time commitment from you in order to avoid fees. You invest money for an agreed upon amount of time for a specific interest rate. Interest is paid at regular intervals until the CD matures. After the agreed upon time you receive the original amount of the investment plus any of the interest it accrued during that time frame. There is also the security of knowing that most CDs are insured by the banking institution that distributes them.

These forms of investing are not necessarily a higher risk but more patience is required to see the higher returns on your money.

Stocks: When you purchase a stock you are buying a piece of the company that is issuing the stock. Stocks have generally provided the highest return on your money but buying stocks requires more work and strategy. Generally you will hire a broker who will do most of your stock trading for you. Of course, they will also take some of your profit so you need to find a good brokerage that is also affordable. Stock is determined by the value of the company and can be affected by any public relations situation. This causes a rollercoaster effect that many people can handle while others would rather look at other ways to invest.

Bonds: There are many options when it comes to bonds but they are pretty similar to a CD because the profit that is generated is fixed for each year. Unlike CDs, bonds are sold by the government or by corporations instead of banking institutions so there may not be the same protection for them.

Mutual Funds: Mutual funds provide a way for investors to invest in a collection of different stocks and bonds. This is a way to diversify your money instead of “having all your eggs in one basket”. With mutual funds you are letting someone else invest for you. This can be good as it takes all the hard work out of it for you, but it can also be frustrating because there are many “experts” to choose from and some make better decisions than others. So it's important that you stay involved and learn about what you are investing in.

These are just a few of the ways you can start investing and keep in mind that each type of investment has a variety to choose from and more details that can fit in this article. Hopefully this will spark your interest to further inquire about ways you can turn some of your money into a profit that you can use to improve your lifestyle.



 
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