The Higher Education Path Not Taken

I’m not sure about you, but I have a hard time with keeping myself from constantly over-analyzing everything.  You name it, and I’ve analyzed it.  Even things that I cannot change, like my choice in Colleges.  Should I have gone to a different college?  Perhaps.

If I look at it from a strictly financial perspective, the answer is a definitive yes.  I went to Jamestown College, which is a private school.  While it isn’t the most expensive private school you can choose, it’s not nearly as affordable as a state school would have been.  Instead of the student loan debt that I am paying on now, I would have only about half of it had I gone to a state school.  Maybe less.

If I had gone to a school closer to home, I could have saved money over the summers by moving back in with my parents.  Traveling home would have been a far cheaper endeavor, and certainly would have been a shorter endeavor.  It’s over 950 miles from Jamestown to Hamilton, MT, where my parents live.  Even with the best car I had, mileage wise, it cost at least $200 to drive home and back.  And that’s without stopping along the way at a hotel.   And don’t even get me started on the money I could have saved on laundry by bringing it home and using the washer and dryer at home!

Of course, not every decision in life can be judged solely by it’s financial merits.  (Not that I was all that adept at anything financial back then anyways.)  Something as important as college has many factors that go into it’s choosing.  For me, the money did come into play simply because my family didn’t have much of it, and I needed to be able to get enough financial assistance to go to the college I chose.  I also wanted to play football, so the college had to have a team.  I’m not a big fan of lots and lots of people, so the school needed to be smaller.

Having had pretty good grades in high school, I was able to get scholarships and financial assistance to go to all of the schools that I applied to.  I had ruled out the main state schools as being too big.  They also got ruled out because I wouldn’t be able to play football.  In the end, the choice came down to a smaller state school, a private school closer to home, and Jamestown College.  All offered everything that I was looking for.  All were good schools.  What it finally came down to was friendliness.  Of the three schools I had narrowed it down to, only JC took the time have a enrollment counselor call me.  The football coach at JC was the only one to call me and personally invite me.

Sorry, I’ve gotten off on a tangent, and it’s turned into a bit of a love fest.  But, there’s a reason for that too.  It’s the funny thing about college.  No matter where a person goes to college, the college they went to was the awesomest college ever!  It’s not about the money.  It’s not about the education.  It’s not about the faculty, or even the sports teams.  Those all play a part in the choosing of the school, but, really, play very little part, if any, in how you feel about the school.  No, the college you attend is the best school because of the people you meet, the adventures you have, and the growing up (hopefully) that you do while you’re there.

When I think back on my higher education, I can say that I got a good education, but I can also say that I could have just as easily gone anywhere and gotten a good education.  I was able to play a couple of years of football, and that was cool.  I could have played at several other schools too.  I certainly could have gone to a cheaper school and had less student loan debt when I was done.  But, what really made college, college was the people I met.  Either directly, or indirectly, through college, I met my wife, and made so many friends.  We had so many shenanigans!  And that is what made college worth every penny.

Let’s do something fun.  Tell us all what college you attended in the comments below.  Maybe we’ll find some fellow alumni!  (Also, I’m curious how many of you are Ivy League-ers. :) )
img credit:pwbaker, on Flickr

Motif Investing

How much do you know about investing?  If you needed to build a balanced, diversified portfolio of investments, would you even know where to begin?  What if you wanted to take advantage of a certain trend by investing in the companies behind that trend?  Could you do the research necessary to find those companies and pick the ones that are best suited to taking advantage of the trend?  Yeah, me either.

That’s where Motif Investing comes in.  They’ve done the research for us.  They know how to build a portfolio of investments that is poised to take advantage of a new trend.  And, they’re sharing that knowledge.  They’ve created motifs that you can invest in.  In their own words: “A motif is a carefully researched and balanced grouping of up to 30 stocks that combine to give investors diverse exposure to a single big idea.”  But, what does that mean?  Well, let’s say you think the economy is going to continue to stink for the next several years.  You know that as the economy goes down, places where you can buy stuff cheaply do well.  How about a motif called “Discount Nation” that is an array of discount retail stocks?  What if you also think that when the economy goes down, things like gambling, alcohol, and tobacco pick up, and the companies that produce those things do well too?  The “Seven Deadly Sins” motif might be for you.  Check out the description they’ve given it.

Even in tough times, consumers continue to partake in things that may not be considered particularly virtuous. From cigarettes to sex, burgers to Botox®—consumer indulgences require products and services from a wide range of publicly traded companies. Some luxuries see reduced demand during tough times. But smokers could keep smoking, drinkers keep drinking, and the lustful keep…lusting. Bad habits are hard to break. And when times are rough, who wants to even try? Nobody can predict the markets, but consumers are only human. And economic conditions may not be able to defeat their appetites for sinful stuff.

Funny! You’ve got to have an account, and be logged in to see the individual stocks for each motif.  I couldn’t resist, so I signed up just to see what was in the “Seven Deadly Sins” motif.  It’s got 25 stocks in it.  I recognize almost all of the names, like Anheuser-Busch under the Gluttony category, and Sturm Ruger & Co. under the Wrath category.

Motif investing might be something to look into.  It looks like they’ve got a pretty low minimum investment of $250 per motif with a fee of only $9.95 for the entire motif.  If you tried to replicate the above motif, you’d have to buy 25 individual stocks, and even at the $4.95 I’ve seen at a few discount investing houses, you’re going to spend a ton more to achieve the same diversification.  In a way, it’s a bit like an ETF or mutual fund, but without the added expenses of either.  Plus, unlike an ETF or mutual fund, you own the shares of the individual stocks, not the shares of the ETF or mutual fund.

The motifs are also customizable.  You can adjust the weighting of the motif to lean a little more heavily on one stock or another, and can even add or remove stocks to the motif to fully customize it to your liking.  Each gives you a simple way to buy a little diversification as is, or you can customize it to fit your liking.  I like that.

I don’t necessarily like that there is a minimum investment, but I’m sure it’s in place to keep their costs as low as they can. They also don’t reinvest dividends, which would be nice to see since they’re already doing fractional shares, but, I do like the fee structure.  $9.95 might seem a bit much, but when you consider that you’re buying up to 30 stocks at a time, it’s really a pretty good deal.  Plus, once you own a motif, you can sell/buy individual stocks within the motif for $4.95 a trade.  They’ve got IRA accounts available which is nice.

If investing seems like a big confusing mess to you, you might want to check out Motif Investing.  I like the idea, and having some knowledge behind the stock picking is always a good thing.  I’m not sure that too many seasoned investors will be picking up the idea, simply because most of them know how to do their research, and usually have a set way they go about investing.  Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the way I see it.  It’s a cool tool for beginners.

Disclaimer: This article was sponsored by Motif investing, an innovative new online investing platform that empowers individuals to easily invest in ideas they see every day. A motif is a carefully researched and balanced grouping of up to 30 stocks that combine to give investors diverse exposure to a single big idea. I still did my own investigation into the service, and came up with my own conclusions on what I thought about the service.


The Life Insurance Movement

Much like the Roth IRA movement that I participated in a while back, Jeff from Good Financial Cents is spearheading a Life Insurance movement today.  The movement is designed to help educate people on the different types of life insurance, the ways to go about getting life insurance, and on how life insurance works, in general.

I’m sure we’ll see lots and lots of excellent articles to help educate the community.  If you want to check them out, Jeff has compiled a list of all the participants and posted them on the Life Insurance Movement homepage.

Where do I stand on life insurance?

I used to be on the fence.  On the one hand, there is a very strong argument for it.  On the other hand, it can be pretty draining on your finances, for something you don’t use (hopefully).

For a young person, struggling with debt and bills, that extra $50-$60 a month to cover my wife and I is a not insignificant chunk of money.  Neither of us is very old, and our probability of dying is pretty small.  So, why spend that money on something that we have no plan on using when it could just as easily go towards paying off some bill?  Maybe when we’re older, we thought, we’ll get ourselves some life insurance.  You know, when we can “afford” it.  I know there are quite a few of you out there who agree with that statement.

But, here’s the thing.  I buy car insurance to help pay for damages to my car should I get in an accident.  I’ve used that car insurance.  My wife and I are good drivers, and neither of us has been in an accident that has been directly our fault.  The few accidents we have been in have always been someone else’s fault.  We had very little control over whether we got into that accident or not.

Life insurance isn’t all that much unlike car insurance.  If car insurance only paid out if you were at fault in the accident, I’d never buy it.  After all, I have never been in an accident that was my fault.  Likewise, if life insurance only paid out if you died of natural causes, it wouldn’t make much sense, statistically, to purchase any before you were at least 45 years old.  But, we all know that people don’t just die of natural causes.  They die in all manner of accidents too.  And those accidents don’t just happen to people of a certain age.  So, it’s really the accidental, not-your-fault sort of death that you are insuring against.  And you have no control over that.  And, should you die as a result of one of those accidents, will your spouse and family be able to pay the bills?  Or, will they be forced to sell the house to pay for the funeral?  Do you really want them to have to make that decision if you die?

What kind of Life Insurance should I get?

There are basically two kinds of life insurance.  Term life, and whole life.  The difference is in how long the term of the insurance is, and how much the premiums are for the coverage level.  A whole life insurance policy is good for your whole life.  Because it’s good for your whole life, the premiums are usually higher for the coverages.  A term life insurance policy is only good for a set term.  It might be a 10-year term life policy, and be valid for 10 years from the purchase date.  At the end of the 10 years, you have to purchase a new plan.  When you are young, the term life policies have much cheaper premiums because, statistically, you aren’t very likely to die young, and so, the chances of having to pay out on the plan is pretty small.  When you renew after the 10 years, the new plan would be based on your age at the time, and would be slightly more expensive because of a higher probability of death.

I can’t really tell you which is the best for you, though.  It’s something that you, and maybe a good financial planner, should look very hard at.  You need to educate yourself on the different types too!  I encourage you to click that link above, take a look at all the articles that are part of the life insurance movement, and find out as much as you can about life insurance.  Being educated on the subject will make it easier for you to spot bad policies, and find one that will fit your financial needs.

How much life insurance do I need?

Clearly, we’d all like to have a life insurance policy of several million dollars.  Some amount that would set our family up to never have to worry about money again should we die.  In reality, that just isn’t usually possible.  As the amount of the policy goes up, so do the premiums you pay to keep the policy.  What you really want is a policy that will pay out enough to make the transition from a two person led household, to a one person led household.

  • If you’re single, a policy that would pay off your debt, and pay for the funeral is likely enough.
  • If you’re married, with no children, a policy that can pay off the debt, the funeral, and replace your salary for a couple of years is a good policy.
  • If you’re married, with children, a policy that can pay off the debt, the funeral, and replace 5-10 years of your salary with some left over is an excellent idea.

Obviously, all of that is partially determined by what size policy you can afford.  By “afford”, I don’t mean afford in the way you likely do.  I don’t mean, after you’ve eaten out several times in the month, how much money is left over to buy life insurance.  I mean, it should be included in your budget, just like car insurance, your mortgage, and your utility bills.  When all of that, plus your life insurance premium is paid, you still need to be able to keep your bills current, and buy food to stock the refrigerator.  That kind of “afford”.

In the end, when you go and read all the other articles that are part of the life insurance movement, you’ll likely find several viewpoints that clash with mine.  You’ll find people who think that whole life insurance is better than term life insurance.  You’ll even find people who don’t think you need life insurance at all.  I think the important part is that you think about life insurance, learn about life insurance, and then make the decision yourself (preferably with help) on whether you want life insurance, what kind of life insurance you want, and how much you want the policy to be.

Tip: Check with your employer.  Some companies are offering life insurance to their employees.

For me, I think that life insurance of some sort should be mandatory, just like car insurance.  There should be state required minimums that you have to carry.  Far too many people are leaving behind families without any sort of coverage at all.  Even if it’s a small policy that can cover funeral expenses, that’s better than nothing at all, and you can increase it later too!