Do You Compare Your Finances to Others?

I belong to several Facebook groups, and recently, a woman in one group asked the seemingly innocent question, “What do you pay for cell phones and car insurance?”  She added, “We pay $180 a month for our cell phones and $345 a month for our car insurance.”

Say what?

When you read that number, you automatically think one of two things–“Wow, she’s paying a fortune for cell phones and car insurance!” (that was my initial thought), or, you think, “Sounds about right.”

Comparing FinancesA few of you may even think she’s getting a good deal.

My husband and I each carry a cheap cell phone from Tracfone that is for emergencies or occasionally checking in with one another.  We don’t spend any more than $10 to $20 a month on them.  Our car insurance is about $55 per month.  (We only have one vehicle.)

After reading how much this woman spent, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  But why?  I really don’t know her situation.  Her cell phone plan might include cell phones for the whole family.  Her car insurance is likely for multiple cars.  Maybe she has teenage drivers, or maybe she or her spouse has gotten a ticket recently.

Besides, I have no idea how much money she makes.  These bills might not be that extravagant in relationship to her income.

There’s really no point comparing my situation to hers.  To do so would invite complacency toward my own budget at best, and a loosening of the purse strings at worst because, hey, other people are spending a lot more than me.

The Only Time You Should Compare Your Spending to Others

Generally, I try not to compare my spending or budget to others.  Circumstances vary widely, and knowing another person’s exact financial situation is difficult.  Too often, especially online, we get a snapshot of someone’s finances and think we see the whole picture when we don’t.

We make assumptions of our own financial situations based on others.

Ultimately, we need to strive to do the best we can do with our own budgets.  To beat ourselves by spending less and/or saving more than we did the month before or the year before.

The only time it makes sense to look at someone else’s finances and spending is when they are doing considerably better than you, and you want to learn from and emulate them.  For instance, I knew my husband and I were spending too much for groceries.  One blogger I read has grown a large garden and planted fruit trees so that she can feed her family of 9 for less than $300 per month.  (Yes, you read that right.)

I know I won’t  ever have a grocery budget of $300 per month, but reading her techniques and strategies has encouraged me to cut my grocery budget and try to spend less.  It’s even inspired me to try out once a month shopping to reduce costs.

Ultimately, we shouldn’t compare our finances to others, but if we’re going to, we should only compare to those we wish to emulate.

Do you look at other people’s spending to make you feel better about your own or to motivate you to improve your finances?

5 Tips to Make Black Friday Shopping Work for You

I’m not a big shopper.  Never have been, never will be.

However, I do love scoring a great bargain, which is why I do some shopping on Black Friday.  However, I always remind myself that even the best deal isn’t a deal if I’m buying something I don’t need.

If you want to snag some great Black Friday deals, but you want to be mindful of your money (and your spending), trying using these strategies.

Make Black Friday shopping Work For YouMake a List of What You Need

Notice I didn’t say, make a list of what you “want.”  There are lots of things you might want looking through the Black Friday ads.  You might want the electric blanket that will keep you toasty all night long, but do you really need it?  Your son might want the latest gizmo toy, but does he already have so many toys that he doesn’t have room to put them all away?  Move on.

Make a list of things that you truly need.  Last year, my  husband and I noticed that our kitchen pots and pans were getting scraped up at the bottom and the non-stick coating was coming off.  We bought a set from Kohl’s on Black Friday, and after the sale and rebate, we got the pans for less than 50% of the retail price.  I was also tempted by the deal on a Kitchen Aid mixer, but I didn’t need the Kitchen Aid mixer, I just wanted it, so I passed that deal up.

Think Beyond Toys and Electronics

Many people think of toys and electronics when they think of Black Friday deals, but expand your horizons.  If you need new towels because yours are ragged, Black Friday is the perfect time to look.  Look around your house at anything you think you may need to replace in the next year and consider taking advantage of the Black Friday sales.

Shop Online

Thanks to the Internet, there’s no need to go shopping on Thanksgiving to score the deals or to fight with the hordes of people flocking to the store.  Most of the time, the stores only stock a limited supply of an item that will likely be sold out before you get to the right aisle.

Shop online from the comfort of your home, and you’ll find almost  everything you want in stock.  Better yet, many retailers offer free shipping, so it can be delivered right to your door.

Capture Additional Savings

If you’re shopping online, make sure to take advantage of additional savings.  Use a site like Ebates to get cash back for some of your purchases.  You can also shop online codes to get free shipping if the store doesn’t already offer it.

Learn When the Sale Starts

Now that Black Friday sales are so popular, retails are trying to extend the Black Friday shopping season.  First, they began opening their stores late on Thanksgiving night.  Last year, many retailers offered their Black Friday sales online during the entire week of Thanksgiving.  I think we scored our pots and pan deal on Monday, four days before Black Friday.

Find a deal blogger to follow, if you don’t already, to get the latest scoop on when the sales will start.

Use these tips to score the best Black Friday deals, keep your budget intact, and enjoy your time with family on Thanksgiving.

Do you shop on Black Friday?  What other tips would you add to this list?

 

How to Find the Best Financial Planner for You

My husband and I were on the hunt for a financial planner for years.  We started out using one at our local credit union, but that one seemed to talk (and talk, and talk) more than he liked to invest.  Every time we saw him, the visit would last well over an hour as he chatted about everything under the sun, except investing.  When our investments with him remained stagnant over a two year period, we decided to move on.

Over several years, we interviewed several different financial planners and received either terrible advice (like investing all of our rollover retirement money in an annuity despite our relative youth) or didn’t feel comfortable with the planner.  Finally, last summer, we found a financial planner who gave his advice based on our unique situation and the goals that we have.  All our hard work searching for a planner finally paid off!

If you’re searching for a good financial planner, here are some things you might want to ask yourself:

Best financial plannerDoes the planner come recommended? Stumbling upon a good financial advisor independently may be possible, but our planner came highly recommended from several people in our neighborhood.  In fact, one had been working with him for over 10 years!

Does the planner give advice based on your own financial situation? Some planners have stock and trade investment advice that they never deviate from regardless of your situation.  (Think of how Dave Ramsey always gives the same advice regardless of the caller’s unique situation.)

Ironically, one thing that made us go with our current financial advisor is that he disregarded the traditional advice that one should NEVER take money out of a retirement account to pay off debt.  Because we couldn’t seem to get out from under our debt no matter how gazelle intense we were, our advisor recommended that we pull out enough to pay off the debt in full.

Doing so was scary, but he was right–the tax implications were not as terrible as we had thought and being free of that debt gave us energy and confidence to achieve our financial goals including adding to our retirement every month and creating a good size emergency fund.

Is the financial advisor a teacher? Of course, I don’t mean teacher in the traditional sense, but does he take the time to explain why he is recommending specific actions?  Does he want you to understand basic investments so you feel more comfortable with his advice?

Our first planner never did this, and we were quite clueless about why he made the financial investments he did.  Our current planner will take the time to explain, and if necessary, explain again until we understand why he is suggesting the investments he is suggesting.

What are the planner’s credentials? Every planner should have some initials after his or her name.  Look these up on the web to see what obtaining them entails.  CNN Money suggests, “The ones you want to look for are the ones that take a significant amount of time and expertise to master before the designation is awarded.  These include the CFP (certified financial planner), the PFS (personal financial specialist) and the CFA (chartered financial analyst).”

How is the planner paid? There are several ways planners can be paid, but in general, be cautious with those who are paid on commission based on what products they sell to you.  While there are honest planners paid on commission that care about you and your interests, many are interested in selling the product with the fattest commission regardless of whether that product benefits you or not.

Do you use a financial planner?  If so, what criteria did you use to find the planner?