Quarter One Update: 2014 Financial Goals

Every year, I share my family’s Financial Goals, then update them each quarter, both to hold us accountable and to inspire you to write out and achieve your own goals.

2014 Financial Goals: Quarter One Update | MoneywiseMoms

As I mentioned over the New Year, our 2014 Financial Goals are focused on savings–both emergency and retirement. So of course we’re being challenged already! Our beater car, a 15-year old Nissan, finally hit the tipping point where the repairs were way more than it was worth. Sigh. So we donated the car for a tax-deduction next year, and we’re living with one car. So far, it hasn’t been too much of an issue, though we will have to talk about how long we can last and balance that with the fact that we weren’t budgeted to buy a new-to-us used car this year. But back to the original plan and a Quarter One update:

1) Create an emergency fund with 6 months’ worth of expenses by March 31st. ONGOING

We were getting close, but now several big expenses are about to hit us. We owe income tax for the first time in over ten years, a combination of losing deductions with earning more and paying off debt (good problem, I keep telling myself) and forgetting to adjust our withholdings to reflect the changes. So that’s a good chunk of cash that we did not budget for when we wrote these goals up at the end of 2013. We also spent a lot on medical bills from when my husband broke his leg on the ice in December, including surgery, and we have a major plumbing problem we’re trying to resolve. I’m trying to focus on the fact that all of these things happen, whether or not you have the money, so at least we’re not also balancing all of our debt along with them!

2) Max out husband’s retirement contribution at work (ASAP) and open an IRA for me (by December). DONE

Now that I’m reviewing these goals, I’m not sure why I jumped ahead and did this. I think I wanted something to be done, permanent, and positive with all the upheaval we’ve been through the past few months. So I used some of the savings in #1 to open a 2013 IRA for me, which reduced our taxes greatly, and we went ahead and maxed out my husband’s retirement starting in January because we had been missing out on the matching funds. I know I need to accept that there will be ups & downs with unexpected expenses, and I can do my best to earn more to cover them, but there was no way to go back and get this earned money in retirement.

3) Work with a lawyer to get our will, trust and guardianship done by April 1st.  STARTED

We had our phone appointment with our lawyer last week and are working on the paperwork now. It is hard for most families to tackle because you’re discussing some unpleasant possibilities, but it’s really important! Learn more at 5 Myths about Writing a Will. This won’t be done by tomorrow but will be done soon!

4) Stick to our monthly budget to stay debt-free while covering expenses like taxes, a new couch, and trips.

Grrr–this is what bugged me last year when we couldn’t “do it all.” This was the year to do it all! But it’s already not happening. No “extra” expenses, like planning a summer vacation, can happen until we settle out #1 and the house repairs and other surprises get done. I’ve lamented about our couch before, and of course that’s not as important as financial stability and long-term savings and all, but it’s where we sit every single day, so it’s important in its own way. I’m going back to my penny-pinching ways to find more money in our budget each month to make these fun things happen.

How are you doing on your 2014 Financial Goals?

Original image by Carly Jane1 at Flickr

Free State Tax Filing 2014

Good news! You may be eligible for FREE State Tax Filing through your state’s website. For some states, all residents are eligible. For others, you may need to meet a requirement, so read carefully when you reach your state’s tax website. This is a great way to save a little money during this stressful time of year–tax season! Even if you’re using an online program for your federal filing, you can stop at the federal filing, print out your return, then use that information to complete your FREE state tax filing through your state website below.

You may be eligible for FREE State Tax Filing through your state's website | MoneywiseMoms

States with FREE state income tax e-filing for for ALL filers:

States offering FREE state tax filing with income, age or other requirements:

And finally, states that do not require individual income tax filing (like Tennessee) do offer free e-filing of interest income and other taxable income.

 

Original image from normanbleventhalmapcenter at Flickr.

Disclosure: I am not a financial advisor or CPA and am not offering advice as such. My tax posts are informational and contain links for reference and verification.

The Geller Law Group $250 GC Giveaway {Get your Family’s Will done!}

As I mentioned in my 2014 Financial Goals, one of first tasks this year is getting our will, trust and guardianship taken care of for our family. It’s so important, and I want to encourage you to do this too–with a little help! If you haven’t yet, read about Writing a Will to see how you can take care of both your money and your children. If you have a child or other relative with special needs, learn how a special needs trust can help protect them. If you already have estate planning documents done, you may find that you need a Family Lawyer for another reason, such as incorporating your home business or drafting legal documents (for a nanny or rental).

 Get that will/trust done! Enter to win a $250 GC for legal services from The Geller Law Group (good in DC, MD, NC or VA) | MoneywiseMoms

The Geller Law Group is giving away fifty gift certificates each worth $250 toward legal services, and they can work with families in DC, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. {Please share this giveaway with your friends, family and neighbors in those states!} This is not the full amount needed to set up estate planning documents, but it should help quite a bit. Also, remember that you can work over the phone in order to make the task easier for you and your spouse.

 

If you are reading this in email, please click over to the blog to see the Rafflecopter widget. This giveaway ends Thursday, March 20th at midnight EST. This offer is only available to new clients of The Geller Law Group and residents of VA, MD, DC and NC. The gift certificates are valid for 60 days following the giveaway. Only one gift certificate per family.

 

Disclosure: The Geller Law Group is providing the prizes for this giveaway. I received a discount on my estate planning documents for the Family Lawyer Series, including this giveaway.

Protecting Family with a Special Needs Trust

Previously I shared some Myths about Writing a Will, including the reasons you might consider creating a trust to protect your children and your assets after you pass. If you have a child or relative with special needs, it’s even more important that you set up a special needs trust; it allows you to provide for the special needs individual who requires long-term medical needs or other support. Rebecca Geller, president of The Geller Law Group, shares her recommendations, shares her expertise below.

Protect your Child with a Special Needs Trust | MoneywiseMoms

How a Special Needs Trust Protects your Money

With a trust as a safe place to leave funds for a disabled or special needs child or relative, it also protects your money. If you are sued or get divorced, the funds inside a special needs trust cannot be part of those proceedings (as long as you create an irrevocable special needs trust).

 

How a Special Needs Trust Protects your Child/Relative

With a trust in place, any money your child or relative receives (such as an inheritance from a relative) that is placed in the trust will not be counted as a financial asset. This allows for government assistance and medical services to continue without disruption. Be sure to let your family members know about the trust so they do not give money directly to the child or relative with special needs.

Rebecca shared a case of a young man who received a surprise inheritance when his great aunt passed away; because there was no special needs trust set up to receive the funds, they became his, which pushed him over the limit of financial assets and reduced his social security benefits. The limit is usually quite low, frequently as low as $2,500. Basically, this means that if an individual with special needs inherits more than a certain amount (such as that $2,500), he/she will lose their benefits that provide services to help with their special needs.

Statutes say that as long as a special needs trust meet the U.S. Code requirement, it is not a countable resource for Social Security or Medicaid qualification purposes. State statutes vary, but special needs trusts are needed in most states to ensure that the individual’s special needs benefits are not jeopardized. Should you pass away without a will, your estate would go directly to your child and they would likely lose their eligibility for services.

 

When should I set up a Special Needs trust?

At any time that you realize your child or relative may not be capable of supporting him/herself or needs services to help with special needs, Rebecca recommends that you include a special needs trust in your estate planning. In this case, the recipient may be aged up to 65. If, in the future, the individual’s condition improves and is able to live independently, there is always the option to dissolve the trust. Because special needs trust laws vary from state-to-state, it is important to work with a qualified attorney to set up your trust.

 

How will my child use the Special Needs Trust?

Just as with any trust, the funds are designated to a trustee of your choosing (either the same person who becomes the child’s legal guardian or someone else). Even when a child or individual does not need federal or state public benefits/services, quality of life can be improved with the funds from a special needs trust.

Rebecca shares the story about her brother-in-law who has cerebral palsy. He is a quadriplegic and lives in a group home. Because he receives public benefits, Rebecca and her husband have created a special needs trust to distribute money to him so that he can have funds for some travel, entertainment, and his hobbies but ensuring that he continues to receive public benefits for his housing, health care, and aide.

To schedule your free initial phone consult to create your family’s legal documents, please contact The Geller Law Group via email at Office@TheGellerLawGroup.com.
rebeccagellerThe Family Lawyer Series is underwritten by The Geller Law Group, which is licensed to practice in Maryland, DC, Virginia and North Carolina. In exchange for the series, I am receiving discounted services to complete my own estate planning documents.

6 Ways to Fit a Tutor into your Family Budget

This is a guest post from Katie Bugbee, the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert of Care.com. A busy working mother of two, she’s an expert on many parenting dilemmas, from appeasing picky eaters to finding the perfect babysitter.

 

There are many reasons your child could use a tutor: slumping grades, concept struggles, big test-prep, or fighting too much when you try to teach her. These are all excellent reasons to outsource extra help. But tutoring can be expensive, and if you haven’t budgeted the average $40 a session (about $15 for a college student, $20-50 for online, $75 for a certified teacher), into your family budget, we have some suggestions for working around the fees.

6 Ways to FIt a Tutor into your Family Budget | Tips from MoneywiseMoms and Care.com on how to manage when your child needs help

1) Use After-School Help

Teachers are often required to stay at the school after the day has ended to grade assignments or be available for students who need extra help. If this is the case, use this time to help your child catch up. This is a free way for your child to get one-on-one help and form a better relationship with her teacher. If possible, ask if you can join a few study sessions as well. If you learn the content with your child, you’ll become a valuable resource at home.

2) Find a Tutoring Center

Kaplan, Sylvan, and Kumon are some of the largest national companies that offer monthly tutoring packages. Buy a bundle that breaks down to under $30 a session. This option might be your best choice if you see that your child has struggled consistently with a specific subject like reading or math. Just check in on the curriculum to make sure it can be customized to your child’s needs, as much as possible.

3) Find a Combination Caregiver

Many babysitters and nannies would be more than happy to help your child with homework, as long as you emphasize this in the job description. You may have to pay the caregiver more, depending on the level of commitment necessary for the job, but it will still be cheaper than hiring a certified tutor. If your child is having organizational issues or trouble understanding the assignments, this could be the perfect option.

4) Choose Every Other Week

Maybe your child doesn’t need help every single day after school. They may only need help before a test to review their notes and fill in the gaps. If this is the case, you should schedule a tutor on a bi-weekly basis or just call to schedule a session when you need them. Be sure to communicate with your child’s teacher(s) to get all the upcoming tests and projects on your calendar in advance.

5) Name Your Rate

Use a tutor job posting site like Care.com to name your rate. That way, tutors with only the qualifications you specified who are comfortable with the price will apply. Be sure to look at resumes, references and background checks. Look for experience as well as a personality fit. High school students who charge $12/hr and are enthusiastic and relatable might be a better match than the $75/hr PhD certified instructor with 30+ years of experience. Try to gauge your child’s learning style and match them with a tutor who fits.

6) Form a Study Group

For many kids, small-group instruction can be a very beneficial form of learning. They can feel comfortable asking questions and have more of a hands-on learning experience with friends. Gather your child’s group together for a play date and invite the parents to stay and chat. You might be surprised at how many parents are concerned with their child’s success in school and would be open to forming a study group together. Although tutors will charge more for a group, it still may be cheaper to split the total between a few families.

What suggestions do you have for finding the perfect tutoring relationship?

Linked up to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less

2014 Financial Goals (from Debt to Savings)

Every year, I have shared my family’s Financial Goals, then updated them each quarter, both to hold us accountable and also to inspire you to write out and achieve your own goals.

2014 Financial Goals  | MoneywiseMoms

With our big accomplishment last year (paying off all debt except our mortgage), we’re focusing our 2014 Financial Goals on savings–both emergency and retirement. Since we were socking away so much towards debt all last year (over 40% of my husband’s take-home pay), we are optimistic that we can achieve all of this year’s goals. Just keep that in mind the next time Murphy hits my house! Because you know it’s coming…

1) Create an emergency fund with 6 months’ worth of expenses by March 31st.

Between the scrambling over no-cash-flow we did after our debt payoff and the government shutdown last October, this emergency fund is first-and-foremost in our minds. It’s very hard to set aside this much money and not be working towards our other goals yet, but we know how important it is. Since there’s a third paycheck in January, it can go directly to this goal, and our only known obstacle right now is a huge tax bill (we didn’t change our withholdings and with the debt paid off, we don’t have as many deductions–oops).

2) Max out husband’s retirement contribution at work (ASAP) and open an IRA for me (by December).

While we know that putting money into husband’s retirement account at work keeps us from accomplishing goal #1 as quickly, we have been losing out on the matching funds that it offers, so we went ahead and signed him up to start with the first paycheck of the year. Since opening an IRA for me is less time-dependent (we can deposit the maximum of $5,500/yr anytime between now and March of 2015 for it to count for 2014), we’ll start that later in the year and just work our way up to that maximum.

We did make the decision NOT to put any money into a 2013 IRA for me (which can be done up until Tax Day this April), because we just don’t have the cash for it.

3) Work with a lawyer to get our will, trust and guardianship done by April 1st.

We did our will and guardianship right after we had the twins, but now we’d like to set up a trust for our children  per the suggestions in this post about writing a will. Now that our kids are older, we have a lot of thoughts about how we’d prefer they use our money, should we not be here during that time of their lives. If you haven’t done a will yet, I strongly recommend you make it a 2014 goal!
4) Stick to our monthly budget to stay debt-free while covering expenses like taxes, a new couch, and trips.

Now that we’re debt-free, it has been challenging getting used to it. We’ve both been fighting the urge to splurge, instead sitting down frequently to talk about our monthly expenses and how we’re using the money that went towards debt this year in a different way. Unfortunately, we’re still not “seeing” it; the money now goes to savings instead of to our wallets, so it’s still no fun. However, having those large debts gone makes a difference to us psychologically, and they let us move ahead with our family goals.

Since I budget our months on two bi-weekly paychecks, the two “extra” checks each year are truly extra–January’s will go towards the emergency fund while August’s will be for a family vacation (barring major house repairs or other disaster, obviously). My husband and I are attending a wedding in California in September, too, so we have some unusual things happening this year to plan for financially. And we never did get a new couch last year; our 12-year-old hunk-o-junk is still bursting springs and smells pretty funky. Not sure what month that will happen, but it does need to happen. It’s goals like the couch that make skipping meals out and entertainment in the short term worth it in the long run.

What are your 2014 Financial Goals?

Original image by Carly Jane1 at Flickr

Financial Goals Update: Quarter 4

Financial Goals Update: Quarter 4 Review | MoneywiseMoms

Here we are at the end of 2013, with probably the best financial goals update in all the years I’ve been doing this! I actually went back and looked at our goals since 2009, and I want you to know that the whole becoming debt-free thing really started back then. It started with the very first time we sat down together to set big-picture goals instead of just looking at our month-to-month spending. Even though we didn’t start paying our debt down until late 2011, it wouldn’t have happened without those years of working together, struggling together, and reviewing our progress. You can do it, too!

Here is the final Financial Goals update for 2013:

  1. Pay off student loan debt by the end of July. DONE!
    This was huge, and it took a long time and a lot of hard work, but it was SO worth it. We paid off the remaining $24,000 by mid-August.
  2. Fully fund our emergency fund with 3 months of salary by the end of December. ONGOING
    The money we were aggresively paying towards debt is now going towards our emergency fund. We won’t fully-fund it by the end of the year, but I’m counting the January 3rd paycheck towards it since January is a 3-check month (remember that I plan our monthly budget around two checks, not monthly salary).
  3. Learn about our retirement options by the end of March. DONE!
    As soon as that emergency fund is done, we’ll start maximizing our retirement savings. Since we’re just started at 40 (sigh), we have a lot of catch-up to do. This will be a big topic for our 2014 goals.
  4. Set and utilize budgets for four quarterly expenses: new tires, a new couch, a beach trip, and Christmas (we are traveling this year). HALF-WAY!
    I was foolish to think we could make these extra expenditures while every extra cent was going towards debt. We did buy 6 tires this year and take the beach trip (very frugally) as our celebration of becoming debt-free. We didn’t end up traveling for the holiday, and we’re still sitting on our 13-year-old, falling-apart couch.
  5. Meet more often to go over monthly expenditures and quarterly/yearly progress. DONE!
    We did a lot better this year to chat briefly each week about little expenses, plan ahead for monthly expenses, and celebrate our big progress. Last night, we sat down and did our 2014 Financial Goals, so you’ll see those soon.

What’s your financial goals update for 2013?

 Original image from Calsidyrose at Flickr

Do You Need a Family Lawyer? 11 Reasons You Just Might

11 Reasons you might need a Family Lawyer | MoneywiseMoms

Usually the term “family lawyer” only comes up in family court, when a couple is divorcing or when custody is at stake. But yes, other people use lawyers, too.

Why would I need a family lawyer?

If you have kids and a house, a lot of issues may occur where you find you need a lawyer. And while most of us think of lawyers as expensive, in many situations, having a lawyer’s help can save you money. Here are 11 reasons you might need a family lawyer:

Educational Rights

Is your child being refused IEP accommodations in your school district? Have you exhausted your own knowledge of how to advocate for them? It may be time to get a lawyer involved. Especially if you have a child with a disability, it’s important to stay on top of the legal rights of your child.

Adopting a Child

A family lawyer can work with you on your adoption journey, especially as State and Federal laws change over the timeline that you’re waiting.

Legal Protections for your Child

Planning to go on vacation and leave your child with a friend/relative while you are away? Proper legal documents are needed to ensure a relative can obtain medical treatment for a child while you’re on vacation.   Is your 18-year-old heading off to college? Parents of an adult child (like a college student) need legal documents to retain the ability to make medical  and legal decisions for an adult child.

Hiring a Nanny

If you’re not going through a nanny agency, you must create your own contract with a nanny under your employ. Use a family lawyer to help you set up a legal contract and counsel you on your tax obligations.

Home Business

If you have a home business, consider using a lawyer to incorporate or form an LLC (limited liability company) to protect your personal assets, such as your home. Did you know that most counties require a home based business to apply for a zoning permit to conduct a business from your home – even if it is just you in front of a computer? Lawyers can help you navigate these issues.

Protecting Your Blog

Many bloggers monetize their blogs to help supplement the family income.  Have you trademarked and copyrighted your blog to prevent a competitor from stealing your content or your brand? A lawyer can help ensure that your blog material is protected before you have a problem, rather than waiting until a problem arises.

Employment Issues

Have you or your spouse been offered a new job? Are you signing a job contract? Your employer has a team of lawyers drafting your job contract.  Over the course of a career, hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake, so it’s important to have a lawyer review your employment contract and possibly help negotiate salary, benefits, and rights.

Renting a Home

Whether you are the landlord or the tenant, it is critical to have an attorney review your lease before you sign it to protect your rights. Too many tenants get stuck with slumlords because they agreed to unfortunate terms in a lease. Many landlords experience deadbeat tenants because they downloaded a template lease from the Internet that does not protect the landlord’s rights. A family lawyer should be consulted before signing a lease.

Contractor Dispute

If you end up in a dispute with a contractor over home construction or repairs, it may be worth it to hire a family lawyer to represent you in getting your money back or to keep you from being sued.

Neighbor/HOA Dispute

It’s awful when it happens, but it does happen. Living here in Northern Virginia, the HOAs (homeowners’ associations) in neighborhoods can be quite strict and fight over the smallest issues. Having a family lawyer, even to just write a letter, may take care of the problem before it gets into fines or goes to court.

Writing a Will

As I’ve shared before, you can protect your kids and your money by writing a will (and perhaps a trust). A family lawyer walks you through the legal process of setting up these documents and can also help with a medical directive, where you make decisions about your health now or give that power to someone else you trust.  As your own parents age, have you talked to them about their will? Adult children need to help parents ensure their wishes are reflected in a proper will and medical directive (not downloaded from the Internet).

 

So how do you find a family lawyer? Ask around in your social groups for a referral. If you live here in the MD/DC/VA area, you can contact The Geller Law Group for a free initial phone consult (send an email to Office@thegellerlawgroup.com). And keep an eye out for a giveaway from The Geller Law Group this January, here on MoneywiseMoms.

Our goal with the Family Lawyer Series is to make law services less scary/more accessible to moms.

What questions do you have about working with a lawyer?

Writing a Will | Rebecca Geller | The Geller Law GroupThe Family Lawyer Series is underwritten by The Geller Law Group, which is licensed to practice in Maryland, DC, Virginia and North Carolina. Learn more at Geller Law Group. In exchange for the series, I am receiving discounted services to complete my own estate planning documents.

Holiday Shopping with Chase Ultimate Rewards

Bogged down with your holiday budget? I’m sticking to mine, because we have big travel plans in 2014, so we’ll need every extra penny. We’re excited about attending a wedding in California, but since it wasn’t part of next year’s budget plan…we’re figuring out how to pay for it. We signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card since it offers additional rewards points when using the card to pay for travel.

If travel isn’t your thing, Chase Ultimate Rewards can also be redeemed for gift cards, merchandise, and even cash back (then you can spend it on whatever you want!). Chase Freedom, Chase Sapphire, and Ink from Chase come with Ultimate Rewards. Since we’ve never done a frequent flier program before, I’m glad that I can purchase travel through Ultimate Rewards using multiple airlines. If you are a member elsewhere and a Chase Sapphire cardholder, you can transfer other airline points to the program.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

While I was browsing Ultimate Rewards, I saw something else I loved–bonuses for doing your holiday shopping online (extra reward points or cash back!) plus discounts that let you stretch your dollars on items like gift cards (for Freedom cardholders).  Think about buying some gift cards at Ultimate Rewards to use on regular shopping, too, just for the discount! Chase Freedom offers a great cash bonus after you spend $500  in the first three months, and business owners can get Ink from Chase, which includes tools for tracking expenses.

Chase Ultimate Rewards | MoneywiseMoms

 

$100 Gift Card Giveaway

Want to save even more on your holiday shopping? Share your top tip for holiday shopping on a budget in the comments below, and you could win a $100 Gift Card. If you’re reading this in an email, just click over to the blog so you can comment. One entry per person, please. This giveaway ends December 15, 2013, at midnight EST. Good luck!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Chase Ultimate Rewards. I received compensation for this post, however all opinions stated are my own.