Beware of These College Savings Plan Pitfalls

When saving for a child’s education there are a few options available. Every family has different needs and a different situation so it is important to research what is best for you given the age of your child, your financial means and needs. A very popular option is the college savings plan which was created for the purpose of education costs savings plans. There are many benefits to this type of plan (i.e.; tax advantages, parental controls) but there are some drawbacks and pitfalls to college savings plans that aren’t always discussed. Here’s a closer look at some of these advantages and disadvantages:

Taxes

Most people are attracted to college savings plans because of their tax benefits. There are definitely tax benefits which include earnings grow on the tax-deferred basis and qualifying educational expenses are tax-free, but it is important that you are careful. If you do withdrawal earnings it is important that they are being used for qualified expenses at a qualified institution. If you don’t do this than the earnings are taxable plus a 10% penalty is applied. This can lead to some hefty bills, so it is imperative that you keep track and are following the rules on qualified expenses for your plan.

There is an application out there that can save you time, and help kickstart your college savings plan. U-Nest.com can take what used to take hours of expensive meetings with financial advisors, and involved faxing, copying, and emailing paperwork, etc – now can be done from your phone in about 5 minutes – and the process is entirely secure and paperless. Download their app to get started today!

Flexibility

College Savings Plans are not very flexible when it comes to changes in your investment. The frequency of changes to your selections are often limited. Sometimes an additional charge may be applied or you may be forced to change plans.

Complexity

Since college savings plans are very beneficial for saving for college, there are many particulars when it comes to certain aspects of the plans that can lead to mistakes. There are often rules about what are eligible expense, rules regarding gifting, rollovers to family, financial aid and tax quirks that are unique to these type of plans. As with the tax benefits, it is important to stay on top of these particulars.

Diversify

You may find that diversifying your educational savings is the way to go. Use the 529 for their benefits, but also use the other instruments to save as well. By spreading your savings around, you’ll give yourself the most financial flexibility for that day when your kid becomes a university freshman.

Consider the items mentioned above to make sure you are making the best decisions about your college and educational savings.

Tips to Build an Engaging Email List

Building an email list is important for most online and even offline businesses. I am actually shocked how many business owners do not take advantage of being able to reach me. In the past people would spend countless hours calling people’s homes, when an email blast sent from a warm or hot lead will reach the person at their home, their business or even on their cell phone.  With sophisticated email blasts you can customize messages to test which have a better conversion ratio (a/b testing).  In addition, and as important, the customer’s interaction with the email can tell you about your customers. For example, do they open the email late at night? Did they so many things and obtain

A bad email blast will cause people to unsubscribe or even look poorly on your core business so it is important to follow the tips below for a successful email list.

7 Tips for Building an Engaged Email List - Infographic by Campaign Monitor

Source: 7 Tips for Building an Engaged Email List by Campaign Monitor

Vacation Investments and Destinations for North American Holiday Travel

For the savvy European vacationer, North America can be a holiday destination for years to come.

Whether you’re planning the great American getaway or planning a longer stay in the states, there are plenty of options to consider as well as money pits to avoid. While many vacationers aim for a big city stay, there are better ways to stretch the Euro–and plan for returns in the coming years.

Avoid the money pits

High-cost AirBnBs, too-expensive hotel stays, and timeshare properties offer the allure of security for having a place for more than a week but can drain your resources sooner than you think. If you’re looking at the cost of a timeshare, you should know timeshare properties alone cost almost $1,000 a year. If you’re not visiting the states yearly, then it’s a hassle to sell off your week share, and you’d rather visit other places anyway, right? If you want to save on overt holiday costs as to make a North American vacation a yearly getaway, there are plenty of home exchange (house swapping) options as well as more affordable packages that allow for longer stays in central locations that provide travel to surrounding vacation sites.

Where to visit?

If you’ve already explored the Canary Islands, Catalonia, Paris, and Italy, then you have to experience America’s Great Lakes, Quebec’s Ice Hotel, Massachusetts’ Capes, California’s beaches, and Montreal’s botanical gardens, among hundreds of destinations that not every adventurer has explored. A week in Mexico, ten days in the states, and a tour across the upper Northeast of Canada’s coast makes for the perfect holiday–and next year you can explore the west coast version of the same trip!

Stretch that Euro!

Traveling to and through the states can be as affordable–or even more so–than European cross-country holiday. New York, for example, is a state (or “country”) unto itself! Most Americans can spend a whole two-week holiday exploring New York and not even scratch the surface when it comes to its beaches or upstate. No traveler can capture all of New York, Zihuatanejo, Mexico City, Quebec, Nova Scotia, or California’s attractions in one holiday, so why should you? Each year provides enough cheap flights and affordable travel packages for you and the family to explore a foreign–but familiar–country.

Whether you’re hungry to travel on holiday or looking to get away to somewhere new but farther away, Europeans of all types and classes are making North America their vacation destination, whether they’re planning years of exploration and future holiday getaways or just looking to find somewhere off-continent that might cost the same or less.

Distinguishing Wants from Needs

One of the most difficult aspects of living in a market-driven, consumption-oriented society is knowing when what you already have is good enough. After all, you’re bombarded with messages everyday telling you the thing with which you thought you were satisfied has been replaced by something ending with the suffix “-er”.

Whether bigger, better, faster, prettier or even smaller, we’re continually being told what we have isn’t good enough. This can make distinguishing wants from needs tough to do.

Needs and Wants Defined

On the face of it, the difference between needs and wants is pretty simple.

A need is something you must have to survive, while a want only makes your existence more pleasant. For example, you might well need a car to get back and forth to work to earn an income to help you survive. But you want that car to be a Porsche or a Cadillac—even though a Volkswagen or a Chevrolet will do.

When it comes right down to it, all you need to survive is nutritious food and water, competent health care, clothes, shelter, and an income to help you acquire those things. Desiring anything beyond the basic version of those things transforms the need into a want.

Mind the Questions You Ask

Marketers routinely plant thoughts in our heads to elevate wants into needs.

“Why throw good money after bad? Rather than fixing that toaster, just get a new one with more modern features.” (Because it will cost more.)

“Why settle for a HDTV, when Ultra HDTV is coming soon and will make HDTV obsolete?” (It doesn’t.)

“I’m already spending $20,000 to get the car, why not spend another thousand to get it in silver?” (Even though white is included in the base price.)

Succumbing to these rationalizations inevitably cause us to spend more money than we really should, just to satisfy an artificial “need”.

Stop and Take a Good Look

Getting caught up in delusional “needs” is very easy to do. In order to break the cycle, we have to step back, take a look at what we have and realize it’s so much better than good enough. When our brains convince us, we need something outside of our price range, we tend to focus on that thing to the detriment of the similar item we already have.

If we aren’t careful, this desire can become an obsession, rendering us incapable of appreciating the things we already own. This can push us to a relentless pursuit of “new and better.” In a society like ours, it’s all too easy to convince ourselves we’re being deprived, when the fact of the matter is we’re light-years away from deprivation.

Breaking the Cycle

With all of that said though, how much fun would life be if we just fulfilled our needs and never indulged our wants?

Pretty dull—right?

Maybe, but we must also be careful to avoid overindulging.

This is one of the reasons most Americans are in debt. To break the cycle, stop living from paycheck to paycheck and get out of debt, taking note of these impulses is a good first step.

Meanwhile, if the situation has progressed past your ability to make ends meet, it might be useful to contract the services of a company like Freedom Debt Relief. Firms like this can help you reduce your debts to a more manageable level, so you can pay them off and get back on solid financial footing.

Keep in mind; nobody’s saying you shouldn’t have nice things. We’re put on this earth to thrive, not merely to survive. However, learning to distinguish your wants from your needs will make it easier to enjoy those wants when you get them. Otherwise, you’ll always be seeking the next new thing, when the reality is what you already have is good enough.

Focusing On Bigger Things: Firing Your Business to Success

The biggest obstacle that holds back most enterprises from hitting the anticipated success is the inability to focus big.

Well, it is a bridge that can be frightening, but you need to cross it to succeed in business. It is time to stop focusing on small things and engage the gear towards the big things. Therefore, how do you focus on the bigger things?

Go for business coaching

Though you might have a great business idea or even started, it is the leadership skills that you have that will steer it to success. Do not feel too comfortable. This is the moment to make that great move. Business coaching is designed to help you look at the business from a different angle and craft better strategies.

Though your marketing strategy worked well and the sales are edging up. Good leadership skills leant through coaching will help to map more steps and cruise to success. Think of it this way. Beating the local competitors is not enough. You need to start competing with international firms.

Working with experts to make the big move

While it is true that your business product such as an app was only conceptualized for the local financial sector, it could bring evolution to the industry globally. All that you need is getting the right experts around you.

The professionals will help to amplify your idea and introduce another viewpoint to redefine success. The focus is on rethinking the product and positioning it at the global level.

Restructuring and working with strategic partners

When entrepreneurs think big, it can get very scaring because of the large financial implication.

Where will the money for expanding offshore come from? Your business only needs to restructure with the target to move to the next level.

For example, it is possible to hit the one million mark in sales by adopting a different marketing strategy. You could even save a lot of funds by using online marketing as opposed to the brick and mortar models such as television and billboards.

To grow abroad, things do not have to be as complicated as many people often put it. For example, you could work with strategic partners in an offshore destination before moving a business there. Do not let anything stand between your dream and the ability to achieve it.

How to Start Saving for Retirement in Your 20’s

You’ve just left university and a half just embarked on your [first] career, the last thing you want to do is think about retirement – after all, you’ll spend the next decade or so paying off your student loans.

But if you really want to pursue a sustainable life, then you’ll need to start thinking about important financial milestones including retirement. The reasons are simple, costs keep going up, careers are becoming shorter, and we are expected to live longer, more active lives. As such, here are some tips on how to start saving for retirement in your 20’s.

1. There is no Time Like the Present

You only live once but this also means that you only have one chance to be prepared for your golden years. While it is difficult to comprehend what your life will look like 50 years from now, the reality is that you need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

One way to be prepared is to start saving – now. It doesn’t matter if it is only $50 per week, every penny counts and over time that modest contribution will grow into a sum which will help secure your future.

Still not convinced? Think of it this way, if you started with zero today and were able to put away $50 per week for 35 years, you’d end up with close to $170,000 and that’s only at an interest rate of 3 percent. Now, imagine you were able to average 8 percent over the same period? Then, you’d end up with close to $600,000 – that is some serious money.

2.  Sign up for Your 401(k)

While the odds are that you won’t be working for the same company in 40 years that you are working for today, you should start participating in your 401(k) program at work. In fact, you shouldn’t just participate, you should maximize your employer’s matching contribution as this is free money.

If you are self-employed, then you should make the maximum contribution as this money will help to lower your tax bill and the contribution of the two will help your money to start working for you instead of the other way around. Beyond this, try to stay away from direct investments in stock, bonds, and mutual funds through your 401(k).

Instead, focus on putting your cash in an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). Not only will the fees be lower, but your returns will be higher over the long run. Not convinced? Then check out this retirement advice from Warren Buffett.

One last thought, don’t turn your 401(k) investments into 40-years of torture as it shouldn’t be. Instead, try to find a balance between maximizing your savings and having enough money to live sustainably. Doing so will help you to reach your retirement savings goals while giving you the money you need for life.

3.  Set up an Emergency Fund

Into every life, some rain must fall and while this might be difficult to comprehend, just look at what your parents or grandparents had to do to survive previous economic downturns. Sure, the economy is strong, but it has also been growing for nearly 10 years and as such we are probably due for a recession – even though unemployment is at a 50-year low.

It might not even be a recession which pushes you over the edge, something as simple a major car repair could through a monkey wrench into your financial plans. As such, you also want to start setting up a separate account which will serve as your “Emergency Fund”.

While this account does not need to grow to $50,000, you might want to set a goal of having at least two-to-three month’s salary available as this will help to you to overcome any setbacks which might come your way over the years.

4.  Talk to Your Parent’s About Their Plans

This is something which none of us want to do, but the reality is that there will come a point in time when you will need to have this discussion with your parents. Given how important the topic is and the fact that they are already 20 or 30 years further down the road towards retirement, there is no time like the present.

If your parents aren’t completely prepared, then the key is not to panic. In fact, they still might have options including a reverse mortgage. Granted, your parents will need to be over 62, to begin with but they should also check the eligibility for seniors as required by reverse mortgage lenders.

Keep in mind, this is not the only option for the parents, but the key is to look at what they have done to this date and then find out what their long-term plans are. While you might face some pushback, keep in mind that you might end up having to take care of them down the road and this is all the more reason to make sure they are prepared.

If not, then you might have to adjust your retirement savings plan to for the possibility of caring for your parents in the future.

The Importance of a Vision and Strategy to Reach Your Goals

One of the most satisfying moments as a human being is when you have a clear vision and a goal, and you then achieve it. It is a wholesome, addictive experience, but remarkably few people actually complete what they want to achieve.

There can be a million excuses as to why people don’t reach their goals, but, essentially, there are three reasons why people miss out. The first is that the vision is not clear enough, which is a massive problem as it’s almost impossible to find your way somewhere if you don’t know where it is in the first place. The second problem is that they don’t have a clear strategy, they might know where the place is, but they don’t route there. And the third issue – and most common – is that they may be on there way, but they don’t have any definable targets to ensure that they keep up the pace and get to where they want before it’s too late.

Your Vision

Everybody has visions. It could be scoring the winning goal in the World Cup, wooing the person of your dreams, becoming a rockstar, getting fit, or creating your own business.

The trouble is, visions are often vague and, if no action is taken, they’re nothing more than a pipedream. But that’s not to say visions are bad. On the contrary, they’re invaluable. But the important thing isn’t to merely have a vision, it is to have clear vision. The clearer the vision, the more likely you are to make it a reality.

If you’re serious about your vision, you need to think about it in such detail that it is effectively reality. Nothing should be inexplicable in your vision. How did you reach your vision? What steps did you take get there?

Detail is key, and the best way to create detail is with numbers. How much, how many, when.

Your Strategy

If you have a clear, definable vision in place, you next need a strategy. How do you make your vision a reality?

 

Again, just as was the case with your vision, your strategy needs to have as much detail as possible. A strategy without detail just won’t succeed.
Say, for example, you want to buy your first house. Merely imagining the house won’t land you the house. But it’s a start, as you can picture what type of house you want. So, with this image in mind, you need to calculate how much this house will cost. Let’s say it costs 500,000. Now you know the cost, you need to figure out how to get the money. Let’s say you earn 50,000 per year and can save 10,000. That means it will take you 50 long years to pay off the house, forgetting the interest. So how can you gather the money you need? Maybe you get a second job, maybe you start a business on the side. But what is important is that you start thinking about the how – and exactly how – your strategy can make your vision a reality.

A vision, goal and a strategy is the key basis for achievement, but in order to make them a reality, you need clearly defined targets.

Your Targets

Once you have a vision, and strategy to achieve it, you need to set some targets in order to keep you on track.

One major mistake that people make when they set targets is that they are too big, too vague and too distant. Ideally, your targets should impact your daily life. You should wake up with them in your mind, ready to make happen, and go to bed thinking about how the next day can go another step to achieving your overall vision.

You should see your targets as a ladder, and the only way to reach your overall goal is to go up your ladder step-by-step. Make the steps to far apart or too high and you won’t reach them, so make sure you’re comfortable with every target you set and that you fully understand how you will reach that goal. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

Your targets are key to implementing your strategy, which, itself, is key to realising your goals.