Insurance: The Safety Net

What sad news this week with passing of legend Kobe Bryant. Then we hear about all the deaths from the new coronavirus. If you haven’t already, take time to cherish your loved ones. Life is precious.

Events like this make us stop and think: What would happen if something devastating occurred to you or one of your family members? How do you keep up with living expenses? Would you be able to keep your home? Your car? These are all valid concerns, but they don’t have to be concerns at all — with the help of insurance.

You work so hard to build all this wealth, but what’s your safety net to protect it? Especially if you’re still dependent on a paycheck (or Mom’s & Dad’s paychecks), what would you have to give up if you lost that income? Luckily, insurance allows us to buy a safety net for everything we depend on or value, at a fraction of the cost.

There are many types of insurance, but they fall in three main categories, followed by some examples:

  • Family – Life, Travel, Pet
  • Self – Medical, Dental, Vision, Disability Income, Long-Term Care
  • Assets – Homeowners/Renters, Auto/Car, Umbrella

We’ll eventually take a deeper dive into the different examples, but the point is to consider what you need to protect, and make sure you have insurance to cover it. Best case scenario, you never have to use it. But you’ll have peace of mind, knowing that you are taking care of what you love and who you love.

Homework: Take some time to list everything that is important to you, and don’t forget your family members! Do you or does your family have insurance to cover all of the things you value? How does your family protect itself in the event of losing a source of income?

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Do You Need A Rainy Day Fund?

Rainy day fund. Emergency fund. Cash reserve. Call it what you prefer, but the important thing is to have one. What is a rainy day fund? It’s money set aside to weather unexpected “storms” in your life. For instance, did your car break down, and you need money for a repair? Lost your job and need money to survive until you find another job? Have a big medical expense that came out of the blue? When you suddenly need money, you’ll be thankful that you have a rainy day fund.

To build your own rainy day fund, you need to save towards it. Make it one of your savings goals, just like any other big purchase you wish to make. As you accumulate money in your rainy day fund, you may decide to cap it after a certain amount. If you earn steady income, you may find that an amount equivalent to 3 months’ expenses is a sufficient target goal for your rainy day fund. If your income fluctuates from month to month, you may feel more comfortable with covering up to 6 months of expenses through your rainy day fund. Some people choose to continue saving towards their rainy day fund even after they reach a comfortable amount. That way, if they ever need to break into the rainy day fund, they already built in a way to replenish what was spent.

Young savers probably don’t have a reason to save for a rainy day fund. After all, Mom or Dad is the rainy day fund. Kids can break from this mentality by having something to be responsible for. What is a possible sudden expense that can hit? Maybe it’s a vet bill for your pet. Or perhaps a replacement for a broken cell phone. It might even be new cleats for soccer. If kids are given the responsibility, they will more likely build a habit of saving for that rainy day fund.

Why make a rainy day fund a savings priority? Let’s play out the scenario without a rainy day fund. You could tap into savings for other goals to pay for this expense. But that means giving up or delaying those other goals. Some goals, like college or retirement, don’t have much room to postpone. If no savings exists, you would need to borrow money. Borrowing money requires that you pay back the loan, with additional interest, and that payback eats away at the money you earn. Not to mention if another unexpected expense occurs, even more money goes into paying debt. To prevent debt from taking control, put that rainy day fund first!

Regardless of what other financial goals you have, a rainy day fund should be at the top of your list. If it suddenly rained, wouldn’t you rather have an umbrella? That is exactly how a rainy day fund works!

Homework: What is the right amount for your rainy day fund? If you do not have one already, how much can you devote from monthly savings to build your rainy day fund?

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The Case For Non-Qualified Accounts

If you have money in an account, chances are that you have at least one non-qualified account. What does it mean to be “non-qualified?” Don’t let the name fool you into thinking it’s a bad thing. Being non-qualified simply refers to “not qualifying” for any tax benefits. Any money you place into a non-qualified account has already been taxed, and any growth on your money is taxed too. While there are no tax advantages, there are good reasons to use non-qualified accounts.

Because non-qualified accounts do not receive tax benefits, there is no limit to how much you can place in these accounts. You also have the freedom to withdraw money as you please, when you please. On the other hand, qualified accounts, such as 401(k) plans or IRAs or 529 Plans, trade tax advantages for restrictions.

There are many non-qualified accounts, but the most common ones are checking or savings accounts at the bank. If you prefer to invest your money, you can use a non-qualified brokerage account to place all your investments (i.e. stocks, bonds, mutual funds). These are just a few examples of non-qualified accounts.

When it comes to qualified vs. non-qualified accounts, it really depends on how you plan to use that money in order to decide which account is right for you. If you need flexibility to withdraw money at any time, non-qualified accounts offer that flexibility. If you have time to allow your money to grow tax-deferred, then a qualified account might be more appropriate. Neither is good nor bad, and you can even use both at the same time!

Homework: Non-Qualified or Qualified? Take a look at your own accounts, and determine which is which. If you have non-qualified accounts, does it make sense for your money to stay in those accounts? What about your qualified accounts?

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The Secret To Smart Investing

The old adage “Buy Low, Sell High” works great … if you have a crystal ball for every investment you make. In reality, no one can predict with absolute certainty the best time to buy or sell an investment. How do you know that a stock is at its lowest price when you buy? How can you tell that a stock price won’t climb higher after you sell? Stop stressing over things you cannot control. That is why you should remove one word from your investment vocabulary: timing.

Now replace that word with something else: dollar-cost averaging.

Dollar-cost averaging is a method of investing the same amount of money on a consistent basis, so that your overall price tag ends up an average rather than the highest point or the lowest point on the scale. Why does this work in your favor? Because you are investing the same amount of money each time, you’re buying more shares when the price is low. That’s smart! You managed to scoop up a good deal. And when the investment price goes up? You naturally buy less shares with the same amount of money.

Think of it like your favorite pair of pants. When they’re on sale, maybe you buy more than one pair. But when they go back to retail price, you stick to just buying one pair. The difference between investing and buying clothes is that with investments, nothing will advertise that they are on sale. That’s where dollar-cost averaging helps you out. This method automatically buys more at a low price.

How do you get started? Chances are if you have a 401(k), you’re already dollar-cost averaging. That is because you already apply the same amount on a regular basis to an investment. But you can do the same without a 401(k). If you have a sum of money, rather than investing it all at one time, consider dollar-cost averaging instead. Let’s use a sample stock purchase to illustrate this strategy.

Dollar-Cost Averaging Example

Investment Amount: $300 per month

Shares of Stock Purchased:

  • January @ $10 / share = 30 shares
    • Average price @ $10.00 / share ($300 paid for 30 shares)
  • February @ $15 / share = 20 shares
    • Average price @ $12.00 / share ($600 paid for 50 shares)
  • March @ $20 / share = 15 shares
    • Average price @ $13.85 / share ($900 paid for 65 shares)
  • April @ $16 / share = 18.75 shares
    • Average price @ $14.33 / share ($1,200 paid for 83.75 shares)
  • May @ $15 / share = 20 shares
    • Average price @ $14.46 / share ($1,500 paid for 103.75 shares)
  • June @ $20 / share = 15 shares
    • Average price @ $15.16 / share ($1,800 paid for 118.75 shares)

Remember when we talked about timing? Can you predict what the price of the stock will be next? You can try to guess, but would you bet all your money on it? Now you understand why timing the market is not such a great idea.

As you notice in the example, the actual price of the stock took a bumpy ride, sometimes jumping $5 up or down between months. But thanks to dollar-cost averaging, you enjoyed a much smoother ride, with the biggest swing being a $2 difference in average price between January and February. Most people cannot pay every second of attention to investing, let alone stomach the bumpy ride. Dollar-cost averaging makes for a much smoother ride. If you were on a roller coaster, wouldn’t you want one with smooth turns, rather than jagged cliffs? That is why smart investors choose dollar-cost averaging!

Homework: Make dollar-cost averaging a new year’s resolution, whether it be through a 401(k) or an investment account. Consider tracking the average price paid per share every month for the next 6 months to see how dollar-cost averaging works.

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