In many states, the driver’s license and car registration expire on your birthday. The not so gentle reminder that you are a year older, and they want money. When you stop and really think about it, there are probably a few things that are renewed annually. My Microsoft 365 for example, some insurance types, etc. These are not necessarily discretionary items- many of us need computer programs and certain insurances to work and protect our property. So, because I am a nerd, I started to think about the annual fees we pay, and when they are due.

Lawyering bar fees and practice related fees aside (which are also annual) our family pays roughly $468.00 a year for various things. Our computer programs, including virus and malware stuff, state registration renewal on two vehicles, and yes, I have Amazon Prime (I can explain, but I don’t want to). The due dates are sprinkled throughout the year, with some due in November, March, July… you get the idea. Since we know these fees are coming every year, we should plan for them. Lots of people plan for Christmas, birthdays, holidays and may save a bit aside, but not for our expected, routine, boring annual commitments.

If we round up our annual commitments to $500.00 a year, and divide that by twelve, I have to save roughly $42.00 a month to cover these fees. If I receive 26 paychecks a year (paid bi-weekly) I have to save about $19.25 each payday to meet our commitments. This is the basic idea of a “sinking fund,” aptly named because businesses deposit money into these accounts to “sink the debt” (fun fact)**.

Placing the estimated amount of money into a “holding” type account or reserving them separately in your checking account will allow you to have the funds available when the payments are due. Here are a few things to consider when you decide to start a sinking fund, and save a little each payday for your expected annual expenses:

1. Make sure IF you open a separate CHECKING account at the bank, you have a FREE account. Service fees will eat up what you put aside and cause you to go a bit backwards. I recommend a small(ish) regional bank or credit union for these accounts.

2. Do NOT open a SAVINGS type account if you will make frequent withdrawals to pay these bills as they come due. “Regulation D” is a federal rule that limits the amount to free transfers or withdrawals to six, afterward, you can be charged a fee for each additional .

3. Have that baby emergency fund,$500-$1000.00 saved, BEFORE you start a sinking fund. Those pesky little emergencies, such as the need to buy a tire or repair a leaking faucet, can quickly eat up the money you allocated for other expenses.

4. In the beginning, you may have a bit of overlap with what’s due and what is saved, so you may have to pay a bit more and continue saving. I know if you are living paycheck to paycheck this doesn’t always allow much room, but if you don’t start soon enough before the next expense, you may have to stretch. Example: You have $85.00 due in three months. You typically put away $21.00/ month. In three months, you have $63.00 saved, but are $21.00 short. Pay the $85.00, but still try to put away the $21.00 so you are on track for the next expense due.

It’s so easy to get frustrated we forget when the annual bills come due, and of course they still come due. Consider the sinking fund as a way to put a little away each check to cover what you will need. The stress is really reduced when the amount you need for an expected expense isn’t squeezed 100% from the same paycheck.

**And for all of you bond asset types, yes, there is a sinking fund term meaning to pay a trustee an amount to retire bond debts before they come due… though most of us have no idea what that even means. I just don’t want angry email.

 

This post is primarily for rising seniors and their parents. First and foremost, congratulations, you are almost done! This is that big year with lots to do and lots to plan. This is THAT year of Senior Prom, Yearbook quote, and ditch day (but not by YOU of course.) You have worked hard, and graduation is right around the corner. With school starting again in a few, it’s getting real. This fall you will likely start the application process for your next step. But before you race off to the exotic out of state private school, I want to talk a moment about the one thing often overlooked at this time in your life: College is a business decision.

Every investment requires thoughtful consideration, and education is an investment. With the student loan debt in America approaching $1.5 Trillion, and graduates being saddled with college debts as long as 25 years, your selection should take some real cost-benefit examination. A quality education does not only come from the expensive private schools. I hear all about the “College Experience” students “should” have,however, student loan debt is currently being blamed for 1 in 8 divorces in the United States. Turns out high student loan debt gets in the way of buying cars, homes, and starting families.

Know the Cost of Attendance Vs the Cost of Tuition (per Credit Hour)

The high education figures we all see thrown around in the news are typically the amounts published in the estimated Cost of Attendance. Each school publishes the cost estimate per year for parents and students, but primarily because, “This estimation may also be used by financial aid offices and loan companies to evaluate how much money they should loan a prospective student based on how much money they will actually need to attend. Each year, the average cost of attendance typically increases.” The cost of attendance estimates room and board, fees, transportation, tuition, and books and materials.

The actual cost of your education, the Cost of Tuition, can be determined by looking at the cost per credit hour, which is a very different number. Published in an article by Student Loan Hero last January, here are the current national averages of costs per credit hour:

• Four-year, public: $324.70
• Two-year, public: $135.09
• Less than two years, public: $281.17
• Four Year Private: $1039.00

Keep in mind, these are the national average, and your state or private school credit hour cost may be higher or lower. But let’s do a little math here. A four-year bachelor’s degree is around 120 hours or so. A four-year public school at $324.70 is about $38,964.00 for all four years. That’s under $10,000.00 per year. Compare that to the four-year private school average, the same 120 hours will run approximately $124,680.00. Before you buy a book, get a sandwich, or go to your science lab. In many parts of the country, that is the cost of a starter home. Still, $10,000 a year for a four-year public school is a lot of money.

Another option is to get your pre-requisites, such as English, Social Sciences, Western Civ and Math courses done at a two-year college. Let’s math again. If you complete 60 hours at Community college, you’ll pay an average of $135.09 a credit and $8,105.40 total. A little over $4,000.00 a year, and a savings of 60% off the four-year public university option. For many families, this is a wise decision.

Even more wise, is to “cash flow” or pay for tuition in cash each semester. With a full-load averaging 15-16 credits, each semester would cost about $2,161.44. Add books and fees, and you are still probably coming in at about $2,800.00 a semester or $5,600.00 a year. If you start working this fall, you need to save about $467.00 a month to fund your first full year at a two-year public school.

So, Why Cash?

Using Loans increases that cost per credit once interest is added! Looking again at the cost per credit hour, each credit costs more, when you take out a loan to pay for it. As of the article published in January 2018, the Department of Education has interest on federal Direct Loans at 3.76% APR. That is an effective rate of about 20 percent over 10 years. Adding that interest to each credit changes the cost:

• A two-year public-school credit at $135.09 would cost $162 over 10 years ($27 in interest)
• A four-year public-school credit at $324.70 would cost $390 over 10 years ($65 in interest)

Mathing again, the 60 hours at Community College can grow to $9,720.00. An increase of $1,614.60, then interest is also added on the books and fees if you have a loan for each semester to cover those as well! Think how great it would be to finish college without debt. To make that investment in yourself in cash, it takes planning. A combination of work and saving, living cheaply or at home, and getting any shortfall through scholarships (try My Scholly) should all be part of your smart education investment. Enjoy your senior year!

 

The federal government stopped mailing annual Social Security statements to everyone back in 2011. They are still available, but you have to use the internet.  I don’t mention this earnings statement because I believe the Social Security program is solvent, or have a prediction whether it will be fixed, or even necessarily believe any “projected benefits” will ever be received by the time I am ready to retire. What the statement will tell you is how much you have earned each year, as reported to the Social Security Administration, since you started working and reporting income to the SSA.

We can go back (waaaay back) to 1990 and look at the average net income earned by average Americans over the last 26 years. The SSA reports $20,172.11 in 1990 and $46,640.94 in 2016. Meaning that for average Americans, we take home more than double each year now than we did in 1990. On the bottom of the SSA statement there is a number- your total earnings to date. In other words what you have earned over your working life.

If you worked and earned an average income from 1990-1999 you would have brought home about $209,056.00. From 2000-2009 about $351,192.00. And from 2010-2016 about $304,037.00.  So, if we added the average net income earned and taken home by average Americans from 1990-2016, we get a mind blowing $864,289.00.  Well over three quarters of a million dollars. And many people earn well above that annual average.

So, what do we KEEP? According to the latest statistics? Not much. Some of us have a 401k with auto withdrawal and a match at work. But, around 20% of those with a 401k have loans against the accounts taken to cover financial emergencies!  Savings accounts are in bad shape as well, in 2017 about 57% of Americans have less than $1,000.00 in savings.

Where is it all going? To service debt. At various interest rates, for various reasons. Average Americans are paying their dollars to cars, homes, student loans, credit cards and personal loans. Excluding a mortgage payment, we send creditors a whopping $1181.00 per MONTH or $14,172.00 a year. Many Americans send much more than that to others.

It’s eye-opening, or at least it was for us. Debt is taking our income, payments that we can do other things with. Like save. Or pay cash for cool things. Or support organizations we feel strongly about. If you are ready to take back your income, you can start anytime. Even if you are still paying oodles of interest and have $1.87 in an IRA right now, its never too late to start. Its never too late to grab a hold of your hard-earned income with a plan to take back your earnings from the current situation.

If your income is flying away the moment after payday, it’s time to make it behave. Make a monthly budget and write down where each dollar goes. Give it a job. Be the smart boss over your hard-working money. Your money likes to have a job. “This month you little dollar, yes YOU, will pay the water bill! YAY!”. If you want an easy to use, free online budgeting tool, I recommend Every Dollar.  Money stress really begins when you run out of dollars before you run out of jobs for them to do. Run out of jobs and reassign your money where you want it to work!

graphic from www.indianapublicmedia.org