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The Best Couple Money Posts of 2013

I hope you and your family are doing well this week. With 2013 closing and 2014 coming in, I wanted to reflect on some of the most popular and useful posts on Couple Money and say thank you for all your support and feedback. Many times I’ve written based on what you’ve shared in the comments or with me in email.

It’s made writing here a true joy. I hope 2014 will be even better, so please let me know what you want to know about family and finances.

Building Your Net Worth Together

Two heads or better than one, but in some cases having two very different opinions about money can make things harder. We had some great discussions on the site about how couples tackle family and finances.

Optimize Your Money Quickly

Even though most of us have an idea of what we should be doing, human nature has a funny way of getting in the way. Some of my favorite posts in 2013 dealt with getting over the barriers and just getting things done.

Life Happens

What’s a personal finance blog without some personal stuff? 2013 had its ups and downs - we some unexpected expenses (one of them rather large), but by working together we managed to finish this year with a slight increase with our finances.

  • Shopping for a Car: Did having my husband’s car break down bum us and out set us back on our money goals for the year? Yes it most certainly did, but we had enough in our financial cushion to buy a replacement. Score one for emergency funds that work in an emergencies!
  • How Much is Our Toddler Costing Us?: Happy to say that our little had a fantastic year. As part of our baby expenses series, we’ve updated what we’ve been spending to keep our little one happy.

Thank you for taking the time to not only read and use these money tips, but also sharing what you love with your friends. It’s my hope that 2014 will help more couples build their net worth by living on one income and having fun with the send.

Your Couple Money Favorites in 2013

Thank you again for a fantastic year! Reviewing some of the posts from this year was so much fun. I’d love to hear from you. Which are your favorite Couple Money posts from 2013 and why? Any topics you’d like to see tackled here in 2014?

Photo Credit:  woodleywonderworks

Looking to Make 2014 The Year of Simplicity

This year has overall been a good year for us, while we have had some setbacks and challenges, we’re grateful for what 2013 has brought us. Now it’s time to set our sights for this upcoming year.

Before we get into 2014 (next week!), I want to share our financial goals with you. Over the years I’ve found that writing them down and publishing them here have helped us stick with our financial plans. We’ve managed to get our wills done, updated our life insurance plans, bought a family car (with no car loan), and saved for a baby. It’s been wonderful reading your encouraging comments and seeing your own progress with building your net worth as couples.

Here is our short list of  how we plan on building wealth in 2014:

  • Pay off the student loan. I was happy that we chopped about 30%  off the balance this past year, even with the hiccup of having to replace a car, but it’s time to get rid of this debt.
  • Optimize our savings and investing by simplifying. We’re not just looking at consolidating our accounts, but we are focusing on making our money work for us even when we’re busy with other things (I’ll explain more below).

That’s it. Those are goals for the upcoming year. If we accomplish anything else, it will be icing on the cake.

Paying Off the Student Loan

As of today the balance stands $13,839.79 and we want to get rid of it by December 31, 2014. Looking at the numbers, we’re looking at a little more than $1,100/month that has to be directed towards it if we want to get rid of it next year. While we have wiggle room in our budget we do not have a grand laying around so we’re going to have make some changes which will include both cutting expenses while earning some more. The two of us will sit down some time this weekend to figure that

First order of business – setting up extra payments scheduled and automated. I’m starting off with payments every other week. At end of every month, we’ll review to see if we can increase the amount.

You may wonder why I didn’t make digging through our budget the first step. We certainly will do some searching through the numbers this weekend when we go over the details of our 2014 budget, but for now, I want to get the system into place. It’s much easier to adjust the amount after you have already started than agonize on getting  the perfect amount and then setting up a system. We don’t want to waste time, we want to build momentum.

I’m hoping that blogging about our progress on a monthly basis will help motivate us and keep us focused with getting rid of the student loan.

Simplifying Our Financial System

Basically the goal is to make it so that whatever kind of day we’re having, we’ll have money automatically allocated towards our goals. That means setting up and updating our automated deposits, payments, and transfers. With some of our monthly expenses decreasing or being eliminated, we can allocate the small difference for paying down the student loan.

Besides consolidating how many accounts we have, I’m also making some switches with how we bank, invest, and save. Earlier this month I closed down my Wells Fargo personal checking and made the leap over to Simple. Living up to their name, they’ve created a checking account that can help you easily save for some short term goals. I’m really happy with their service so far and I look forward seeing the numbers grow in my checking account.

Thoughts on Financial Goals for 2014

We’ve shared some of our goals for next year; I’d love to hear of some of your financial goals. What is the biggest goal you’d like to achieve?

Deciding on When is the Best Time to Sell Your House

There are many homeowners who are anxiously waiting to put their homes for sale on the market, but who don’t aren’t sure if the timing is right. For those who are selling their homes for the first time, it can be stressful. No one can predict what will happen, but there are definitely times, when you can get a significant advantage with selling your house.

And no, I’m not going to say list your house to sell on a Thursday in the spring. I’m talking about how to analyze YOUR situation and YOUR house. Selling your house is more than using a few simple tricks to get the money you want. It’s really a mix of right and left brain thinking (with more focus on objective analysis than emotions).

Start with Why

One of the first things you can do to help you determine when is the best time to sell is going over exactly why you want to sell your house in the first place. Besides giving your an idea of what to look for in your next home, you can also get a better idea of the type of person or family that would find your house the perfect fit.

Perhaps you bought your house years ago, excited to be at a location where you could walk over to any number of community events. However as your situation changes and your family expands, you find your space a bit small for your needs and it’s too far from the schools you like.

You now have something to add to your buying checklist (good schools, bigger space), but you also have a selling point and a possible niche – singles and couples without kids looking to be in the middle of the action. When you get ready to stage the house, you know that’s what you’ll be highlighting to potential buyers.

Looking at the Numbers That Matter

I know most of us have emotional ties to our homes. After all, it’s more than a shelter for us, it’s a place where we’ve made many happy memories. BUT…. Selling a house is not about your sentimental feelings.

Now is the fun part – looking at the numbers. After all, selling a house is best handled as financial decision instead of simply an emotionally one. There will be plenty of numbers flying around, most of them noise and of no real help for you as you decide whether or not to sell.  However there are a few important ones you should have an idea on before you sell your house.

  • How much growth is your city having with real estate? What you’re basically looking for is whether or not people are moving into your city. Growth can mean more potential buyers (though not a slam dunk as your specific location in the city plays a huge role) which can mean more money for you when you sell.  If people are fleeing your city, don’t expect to get top dollar for it.
  • How much are comps selling for? I’m not a fan of keeping up with the Joneses, but being aware of what homes have sold for in your area is extremely handy. Look at the most recent comps (comparable homes) that have been sold in your neighborhood. If buyers seem to think homes in your neighborhood are worth a certain amount, then you have to have some fantastic features to convince them to pay more for your house (or more than likely, lower your expectations).
  •  What’s the minimum you need this how to sell for? While you may be flexible to some degree on how much you want to sell it for, you have an amount in mind as a minimum. If you’re planning on buying on another house, it does help to have a large down payment to avoid private mortgage insurance. Selling your house at the right price can make it much easier to get the dream house you want without going broke.

As you can probably guess from what I’ve shared, selling a house isn’t for the faint of heart or the sentimental (not if you want to maximize how much you get). It takes time and planning even before you put the house on the market.

Thoughts on the Right Time to Sell Your House

I’d love to hear your story on selling your house. What convinced you it was a good time to sell? How did you prepare your place to be sold? For those thinking about selling their homes in the next year, what are some of your concerns or thoughts? Why do you want to sell your home?

Photo Credit: roarofthefour

Repair It Yourself and Get Rich

Is there a way you can keep your electronics lasting longer, give you something fun to do (while helping you learn something new), and save you a ton of money? I think there is – fixing your own electronics.

Getting Back to Repairing Things

Back in my high school and college days, I learned how to assembly a desktop and handle basic repairs not because I was particularly savvy with technology, but because I was broke.

After I graduated and was working full-time, I found myself too tired (aka lazy) to do all those projects I had to do. Basically it was more complicated then popping the case and inserting a battery or chip, I passed on fixing it.

One reason is definitely laziness and the other reason was I was afraid of breaking it. Some devices (looking at your iPod!) are pretty much designed not to be opened by users.

As we’ve been tackling projects around the house, I’ve gain some confidence and I’ve started to do some more repairs and upgrades. I’ve helped some friends get some more life out of their laptops. It feels great and as an added bonus it saves money.

The Joys of Fixing Your Own Electronics

If you’re on the fence about getting into repairing your electronics, I want to just point out a few big benefits.

  • Saves you money. Since this is a personal finance site, I’m going to start it off with the financial benefits.
  • Learn a skill. With every repair, you can new skills and appreciation for how things aren’t built.
  • Help the environment. The better you maintain what you buy, the less you have to consume.
  • Makes you money. As you get more skilled, you may find yourself with a nice relatively easy way to earn some extra money by fixing your friend’s and neighbors’ electronics.

You also don’t have to jump into the complicated repairs and upgrades, like finances, starting with the small stuff tasks can encourage you to move to the bigger projects.

Learning to Fix Your Own Electronics

Maybe you’re excited to learn and have the perfect project to take on, but you don’t know where to start. I got that covered ! I have some suggestions on which sites can help you learn some handy new skills.

  • IFixIt: I first heard about them on a CBS Sunday Morning piece. It is fantastically handy site with some of the best guides I’ve seen on some common repairs on popular devices including Apple products. It’s community based, so some guides are made by regular people like you and me.
  • YouTube: This is my next stop as there is usually some video tutorial created. The quality varies, but most of the time, those who post try to get clear shots of how to preform the fixes. There was a good video on replacing the  broken lens on our old flip cam.
  • WikiHow: You can sometimes find some tutorials on fixing electronics, but the quality varies greatly and for some, pictures aren’t enough. Still, it can be a useful resource.

And of course, when you’re in doubt you can always google it. One note, some sites that offer the free guides make their money selling the replacement parts which is fine by me, provided the prices are competitive. So take a little bit of time to make sure you’re getting a good deal on the parts.

Most times, I’ve found really good deals and saved quite a bit since I don’t have to buy a new computer, just a new part.

 Thoughts on Getting Handy with Gadgets

I’m curious – do any of you repair your own gadgets? What hobbies to you enjoy that also saves or makes you a bit of money? Where did you pick up that skill? What hobby do you wish to pick up?

Photo Credit:  Janitors

Unconventional Guides


Staying on Top of Your Finances (Without Losing Your Mind)

Even just five years ago, there were only a few options that you had when it came to keeping an eye out for your money. Now, though, there are dozens of ways where you can track your finances without stressing out and sweating over the details. We’ve tried a bunch of them, so I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites in case you’re looking at making your finances simpler to manage.

Spreadsheets

I’m starting this off with the classic, low tech option – spreadsheets. I love them. We’ve been using a Google Docs spreadsheet that we share with each other for our family budget. There are plenty of fantastic and free templates that you can use with your finances. Right now my favorite is J’s family budget one - it can juggle two paychecks, bills, savings, and credit cards.

Quicken

When I was started to get interested with personal finances, many bloggers at the time were using Quicken. If you’re not familiar with with it, Quicken is personal management software that not only allows you to import your banking and investment transactions, but it can help you create a plan to pay down debt and give you a highly detailed financial snapshot.

I liked having the option of simply importing my bank information into it, but I discovered that the bank I was using at the time charged a monthly fee. (That was motivation for me to start looking for another bank – I hated the idea that I was getting a fee because I wanted to have an easy way to view MY money.)

Mint

One of my current favorites is Mint. I’m going to be honest – I think being free and easy are the biggest reasons we use it to keep tabs on our finances. It took about 10, maybe 15 minutes to get all of our accounts imported and organized. Now I can log on and get a financial snapshot without any hassle.

With a few clicks we can check our month to month spending habits, getting an idea of where we may want to cut back on. Two features that I love are goals and budget (no, not the boring kind!). With goals, I can create a game plan on paying down a debt, building up savings, or investing more in less than 5 minutes. Mint updates me on a monthly basis on how I’m doing. I can also use their budget feature to help me keep some of my non-essential spending in check (like coffee runs and eating out). I just set the target and I’ll get a text if I’m getting too close to my goal.

If you want to use Mint to manage your budget, I’d say it’s a handy tool to use.

Personal Capital

To me, Personal Capital is like Mint (easy to set up and use), but on steroids (more features).  I believe Mint is more suited for general purposes and Personal Capital is focused on investments and growing your portfolio. While it does not have a budgeting feature like Mint has, Personal Capital does have cash flow report and there are some wonderfully useful ones that can help you optimize your investments (all free):

  • 401(k) Fee Analyzer
  • Asset Allocation Target
  • Investment Check Up

The only cost is if you want Personal Capital to actually manage your investments (less than 1% of your portfolio). I’ve used to it get a second opinion about my retirement accounts’ asset allocation and to get a check-up. I found the advice very timely and handy. If you are fairly comfortable with your finances and you’re looking at optimizing your investments, you should definitely check out Personal Capital.

Thoughts on Managing Your Money

What do you use to keep and maintain your family’s budget? What do you find to be the easiest to use and what do you find to be the most effective for your family? Besides the options I mentioned, what are your thoughts on other budgeting tools?

PHOTO CREDIT: STOPNLOOK