"What to do when the market crashes"

A market Crash is coming

We all know that a crash is coming. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) just came out with a warning that the world economy could be on the verge of another recession, housing is becoming unaffordable in many cities, and wages have been stagnant. We also know that everything is cyclical, and the market can’t go up forever. So what should we do when it all hits the fan again?  What should you do when the market crashes?

When the Market Crashes

When the market crashes, there is going to be a lot of turmoil. Investments will definitely lose value, and people may lose their jobs. Companies may shut their doors for good, and the economy may move back into a recession. With all this uncertainty surrounding jobs, the economy, and the market, what should you do?

Job Loss

I get that losing your job really sucks, especially when you depend on the income. Therefore, if you lose your job when the market crashes your first priority is finding income. Hopefully, you have a decent emergency fund that will get you through for the first few months at least (If you don’t, now is the time to start saving!).

Even if you don’t have an emergency fund, there are lots of things you can do to start getting some income in: you could take a part time job, start a side hustle, sell some stuff, or even switch industries.

You could also apply for unemployment insurance to get you through the rough patch. I know that everyone hates the idea of applying for unemployment, but seriously folks, you pay into this system and that’s what it’s here for. There is no shame in getting a little help to see yourself through.

 The point is, a job loss is not the end of the world. You will get through it and you will find better opportunities. Who knows, maybe it will give you the chance to build that side hustle into a full-time gig!

What not to Do

When you lose your job, it’s super tempting to cash out of any employee sponsored retirement plan you might have held with them. Bonus money when you need it the most, right?

Wrong!

Don’t do it! I get that you might need money, but taking it out of your retirement should be the very last of all the last resorts. You’ll hurt yourself in the long run when it comes to retirement income, and you will lose out on any investment gains that result from this investment cycle.

What to do instead

 Instead, try some of the options that I mentioned above to get some money coming in, and roll over your employee sponsored plan to an individual plan (IRA). You’ll get to keep your hard-earned investments growing and you won’t have to pay any early withdrawal fees or taxes. You also won’t be stealing from your future self.

Investments

When the market crashes, your investments are going to lose value. That’s the nature of the economy. And it’s going to be rough!  You’re going to watch your investments loose 20%, 30%, maybe even 50% of their values! It’s definitely going to be hard to watch that.

What Not to Do

 Emotions are running high, and you may think that the most prudent thing to do is to pull out of the market to hold onto whatever money you have left.

Wrong!

Please check out the difference between realized and unrealized losses before you make any rash decisions on pulling out of your investments. As long as you are diversified, staying in the market is your best chance at recouping your losses and making huge gains. According to a CBS article in 2011, investors who stayed the course with their investments throughout the crash were the biggest winners.

Don’t let your emotions prevent you from winning big during the next downturn.


 

What to do instead

Instead of pulling out of the market, you should be investing more!  I know, it seems counterproductive, but if you don’t want to listen to me, listen to the number one investor of our time, Warren Buffet:

“Be greedy when everyone else is fearful, and be fearful when everyone else is greedy”

A market downturn is the best time to be greedy. It’s basically a huge sale on stocks. The one thing I would advise is to be careful with individual stocks. You don’t want to put all of your eggs into the next Circuit City’s basket. In my opinion, its best to buy index funds, because they are automatically diversified and you have the best bet of recouping any losses with them.

If you have your heart set on individual stocks, do your research. Buy strong dividend paying companies that you know aren’t going to go under. During the last recession, I bought 200 shares of BOA when the stock plummeted to ten bucks a share. It’s now trading at thirty dollars a share, and my reinvested dividends have purchases 15 more shares. I plan to hold the stock through the next bear market (and possibly buy more!) because although their business practices are sometimes shady, they do have strong fundamentals.

But I am also aware that banks took a huge hit during the last downturn, and many of them went out of business. I know that owning individual BOA stock is a much larger risk than owning index funds. Fortunately, the majority of my eggs are in Vanguards total market fund.

If you are retired/near retirement

A lot of this advice applies mostly to people with at least ten years until retirement. If you are closer, your options may be a bit different. Hopefully, if retirement is on the horizon, you have a good portion of your nest egg in safer investments, such as bonds CDS and even cash. If not, the prudent advice is still to maintain your investments. A good option would be to work for a few extra years during the downturn and keep investing.

If you can’t work (or really don’t want to, I get it!) try to rely on Social Security and or other sources of income before tapping into your investments. If you can stay invested during the worst times, your portfolio will bounce back with huge gains.

Prepare Now

Thankfully, the market hasn’t crashed yet, so you don’t really have to worry about these things. But I’m writing this because we all know that it’s coming, so we need to be prepared. We need to be thinking about what we are going to do when the market crashes, if we lose our jobs, if our investments tank. We need to be preparing now for the next market crash so it doesn’t destroy our financial security.

Have you been preparing for a crash? What will you do if you lose your job or if you lose half of your portfolio?  Lets talk about it!

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"prepare for a market crash"

Last week, we wrote about the impending stock market crash; so this week we thought it would be a great idea to tell you how to prepare for it! Because like I said, it’s definitely coming. We just don’t know when.

Being prepared for a stock marked crash is definitely not a one size fits all type of thing.  The steps you should take to prepare yourself vary wildly depending on your individual situation. Because of that, we are only going to give general instructions for three basic scenarios. Obviously, everyone’s individual situation is different, so there are people who don’t fit into any of these categories. If that’s you, check out the category that’s the best fit, and drop a comment if you still need some advice. The general categories are:

 

 Lots of time to invest with a secure job

Lots of time to invest with a not-so secure job

 Not so much time to invest/retired

 

How to Prepare for a market Crash

Lots of time to Invest with a secure Job

You are in a great position to handle a market crash. If you know your job is secure even in the harshest of economies, you have a lot less to worry about if the stock market crashes. You also have a lot of time to recoup any investment losses

My best advice for you folks is to ensure that any individual stock holdings you have are solid enough to survive a downturn. If they aren’t, you may want to consider reallocating some into index funds (I recommend investing in index funds over stocks in general though!). You should also be putting some cash reserves aside so that you are ready for the big fire sale on stocks!

To be clear, you still want to make sure that your financial house is in order. You should be establishing an emergency fund and investing in a retirement account. But these are things that you should be doing whether a crash is coming or not.

Related: Realized vs. Unrealized Gains & Losses

Lots of time to invest with a not-so secure job

Unfortunately, a market crash and recession could lead to job losses in a variety of industries. If you work at an industry that is at risk for job losses and lay-offs, you need to be preparing now for a stock market crash.

There are a few things you can start doing to make sure you are ok if your industry suffers in the next recession. First, you can make yourself indispensable at work. Continue increasing your skills so that if downsizing comes, you will be spared. Update your resume to ensure that if you do lose your job,  you will be able to find a new one quickly.

Next, you need to shore up your emergency fund. If you are at high risk for a layoff, you should try to fund your emergency fund with six months of living expenses. Not only will this get your through a job loss, but it will also help keep you afloat if the first job you find pays less (which happens a lot in recessions!).

Related: Beginner’s Guide to Investing 

A third thing you can do is create additional income streams. A side hustle is a great way to turn a hobby into extra income. That extra income will be super handy if you lose your main job. The point is the time to make these preparations is now, before the market crashes and before your job is at risk.

As far as investments go, if you have a lot of time to invest, you shouldn’t worry much about your losses. You should continue contributing to your retirement accounts as you normally would, and only adjust your holdings if you are invested in individual stocks that are at risk during a downturn. If you stay invested, you will most likely recoup any losses.

Not so much time

Your preparations are going to look a lot different if you don’t have a lot of time to recoup any investment losses. If you are at or near retirement, you may want to look at transitioning some riskier holdings like stocks into safer investments, such as bonds. This is especially important for money that you may need in the next five to ten years, because it may take that long for the market to recover from a crash.

The downside to reallocating is that if you do it too soon, you could miss out on some gains. The market is still experiencing record highs, and we don’t know where the peak will be. This isn’t an easy decision.  It’s impossible to time the market, impossible to pull your money into the safety of bonds and CDS right before the market crashes.  If I were just a few years from retirement, I’d definitely start safeguarding about fifty percent of my nest egg against a crash. I’d want to make sure that I had enough safety money to survive until the market recovers. I’d keep the rest invested though (in index funds!), to reap the benefits of the current economy and to reap the benefits of buying on sale during a downturn.

Not One Size Fits All

Obviously, it is impossible to give specific financial advice to everyone in a blog post. That’s not my goal here. My goal is to give you general guidelines so that you can prepare for the pending crash. We don’t know when it’s coming (currently, economists are predicting a recession around 2020) but that doesn’t really matter. We know that it’s out there, waiting, and it’s best to start preparing for it.

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A market crash is definitely coming. It’s lurking in the dark corners of this seemingly robust economy, biding its time before swooping in for the kill. Warren Buffet famously said “be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful” and if others aren’t greedy at the moment I don’t know what greed is. The crash is coming.

the Market Crash of Yore

The market could crash this fall. After all, the most famous stock market crashes in history happened in the fall. Black Thursday, which started the Great Depression, was on October 29. Black Monday, which started the 1987 recession, was on October 19. Lehmen Brothers collapsed on September 15. Apparently, Autumn isn’t the market’s best season.

But it might not crash until Spring. The Dot-Com bubble burst on March 10 and there were “flash crashes” in May of both 1962 and 2010.  There was also a huge three-year panic that started in May of 1901. Maybe spring isn’t so good for the market either.

The market crash may not be about the season though. World events can easily trigger a recession, as they have numerous times in the past. In July of 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait let to nine-month recession. The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center also led to a huge decrease in stock prices. Daily speculation about what the president or fed will do also leads to sell-offs (and sometimes gains!).

Its almost as though a recession can happen at any time during the year, for a variety of reasons.

 

Indicators

Economists generally use indicators to try to predict what the market is going to do, or when the next market crash will be. They use the big three stock indexes (the Dow, the S&P, and the Nasdaq) to predict the health of the market itself, but predicting an economic crash isn’t just about the stock market, it’s about the economy as whole. Some common economic indicators are the employment rate, the inflation rate, and the consumer confidence level. However, there are so many different indicators that at any given point, at least one can point to a looming crash. An economist or a journalist can easily find data to support the theory that a market crash is coming.

I know what you are thinking. Why would a journalist or an economist want to find data to support bad news? Unfortunately, that’s easy: sweet sweet page views. When you see an article with a catchy title warning of a pending crash, you click on it, right? I mean, you clicked on this one, didn’t you?

A market crash would be a horribly disruptive event, and we all want to be prepared for it. We all want to be able to predict it so we can protect our assets. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work that way.

By now I hope you have realized the point of this post. Is a crash coming? Of course. Nothing goes up forever. Is it coming tomorrow? Probably not. Is it coming this year? Who knows. No one can predict when the next crash is coming. It could be this year or it could also be five years from now.

what should we do?

What should you do to protect yourself from the next big market crash? The answer largely depends on your age and risk tolerance. If you are near retirement, you should be moving some of your assets into low risk funds – bonds, CDs, and maybe even cash. But if you are young the best way to protect yourself is through diversification. You should still be investing, because you don’t want to miss out on any of the gains of these good days. Diversify your investments. Buy index funds instead of individual stocks. The crash will come, but it’s impossible to time. If you stick with your investment strategy, you will be fine.

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Ok, so I missed one very important reason for being childfree in my last post, and that’s the insane cost of having children. It’s alright though, I did it on purpose! The exorbitant cost of having children deserves it’s own post.

Kids are expensive!

I mean like, really, really super expensive!  According to the latest data, the cost of raising a kid is approximately $233,610. And that doesn’t even include college! That breaks down to a little less than $14000 per year. That’s a lot of money, especially when you have other financial obligations.

Childcare

The bulk of this outrageous cost of having kids is childcare. This cost can vary wildly by state and by metropolitan area, but the variation tends to follow variations in minimum wage and income, so families everywhere are feeling the crunch. Childcare costs around $500 per month in Alabama, and almost $1000 in California, on average. In a lot of places, childcare is more expensive than rent!

No wonder so many families opt to have one parent stay home with the children while the other works. A second income would barely cover the cost of childcare in many cases. Some families are lucky in that they have a grandparent other family member that can help with the childcare while both parents work, but I always knew I would never be able to depend on my family for that. If I had a kid, I’d have to figure out how to balance working with caring for her. This is something that my boyfriend and I will need to discuss when the time comes.

Hospital Bills

Birthing children is expensive too, and apparently hospitals even charge you to hold your own baby! All jokes aside though, the physical act of having a baby can cost anywhere from $6000 to $70,000!!  That doesn’t even include caring for the infant after birth! I have decent insurance through my work, so this shouldn’t be too much of a burden for me, but not everyone is as fortunate as I am. And they wonder why so many people are turning to mid wives and home births.

But hospital expenses don’t end with the birth. Kids get sick. A lot. They run into stuff and bang their heads open. The eat things they shouldn’t be eating. They fall down. And most parents would rather be safe than sorry, so they bite the bullet and take their kids to the hospital when these things happen. Hello hospital bills. 

"cost of having children"

Stuff and Things

Kids need stuff too. Lots of stuff. First, they are going to need the basics: food, clothing, diapers etc. But they are also going to need furniture and cribs and bottles and bibs and toys and educational stuff and probably a million other things that I haven’t even thought of. And they grow so quickly!  I haven’t bought myself new clothes in years, but I’d have to buy a baby new clothes every few months!  That can really add up.

Then they need to go to school, so you have to buy them all their school supplies. And you don’t want your kid to be an outcast, so you have to buy them decent clothing by the time they are school-aged. They will probably also join a few after school clubs and activities, so they will need all the appropriate equipment and gear for that.  I’m hoping my kids join the chess club; a chess board is way cheaper than sports equipment or musical instruments.

Travel/Vacations

As you all know, I love to travel, especially to exotic locations. Airfare for one is bad enough, could you imagine having to pay for three seats on an international flight?  My travel budget wouldn’t be able to handle it! I know a lot of people don’t take this into consideration when thinking about the cost of having children, but honestly it was one of my reasons for remaining child free. But I decided to really look into the feasibility of traveling with children and read a bunch of blogs from family travel bloggers who are doing just that. If they can find a way I’m sure I can too!

Related: The Exorbitant Cost of Having Adventures

College

I know I don’t technically have to help my kids out with college expenses; student loans and grants exist for a reason. But do I really want to saddle my kid with outrageous debt when they are just starting out in life?  College is crazy expensive, and the cost seems to increase exponentially year after year. By the time my non-existent kids go to college it may be upwards of 100K on average!  I’d definitely encourage my children to explore non-4-year-university options, but if they are hard working with an aptitude for academics, I’d want them to be able to study wherever they chose. Therefore, I’d feel obligated to start a college savings plan for them when they are born, to ensure that they have those options. It’s going to be expensive though.

The exorbitant cost of having children

I know I didn’t cover everything. Random expenses crop up everywhere. Kids need a lot of stuff, and some kids need special attention – tutoring, therapy, private schools, medication, whatever the case may be. But there is no doubt in my mind that having children is insanely expensive. The advantage I have is knowing that and having a stable job to pay for some of it prior to having them. And hopefully, it will be 100% worth the cost.

What did I miss about the cost of having children?  I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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Making the Decision to Cut the Cable Cord

Making the decision to cut the cable cord was a long time coming. We hardly ever watch anything on cable (ok, we had Direct TV satellite, but it’s basically the same thing). The only two shows we religiously watched on cable were Supernatural and The Walking Dead. We’d sometimes throw on reruns of the Big Bang Theory or Family Guy, but that was really just background noise. Is it worth one hundred dollars a month to watch two shows and occasionally have some background noise? I don’t think it is.

I want to Quit the Gym

Of course, like any good company, Direct TV wouldn’t let me off the hook so easily. They tried to offer me discounts or offer me a package change. At one point they even tried to take off the additional movie package that I was paying for (even though I had already called two months ago to get it taken off; somehow it was still on there). They used high pressure sales tactics to try to convince me to stay and to bundle my phone with them for even more savings! But I declined all these offers. I wanted to quit cable (or satellite, same thing) and I did! 

(Bonus points if you get the “I want to quit the gym” reference!)

CANCELLATION Fee

Of course, nothing is ever free. Apparently, I had entered into a two-year agreement with Direct TV, so I couldn’t just cancel. I had to pay a $150 cancellation fee. I did the math, and as it turns out, $150 is much cheaper than $100 per month for 12 months (which most likely would have increased after the first 12 months to who knows how much!) So, although I’m not a fan of paying stupid cancellation fees, I sucked this one up and paid.

Related: Bad Investments for Beginners

What will we do now?

I’ve had some type of cable for my entire life. I’ve never envisioned life without it. That’s why, although I rarely use it, I struggled with the decision to cut the cord for good. My biggest worry is finding a way to watch Supernatural when it returns in the fall. It’s on a network, so I should be able to get one of those converter kits and I should be able to watch it for free (like before we had cable when I was a kid!). But if I have to wait a year for the season to get to Netflix, I can do that. It will suck, but I can manage.

My other reason for keeping Direct TV was NFL season ticket. I love my Chicago Bears, and I live in Falcons Country. That means the networks will rarely be showing Bears games. But the Bears have been pretty terrible lately, and I can always go to Buffalo Wild Wings or Chili’s to watch any important games (which will probably be cheaper than paying for Direct TV all year anyway!)

Other Options

We already have Netflix, Hulu, HBO on the Go, and Amazon Prime. We can watch pretty much everything we want on these four platforms. And, these four platforms combined are cheaper each month than our direct tv was!

                                                              

It’s Done

The cable (satellite) cord is cut. I’m done paying $100 for a service I don’t ever use. I’m going to put that extra $1200 per year in my savings/investment accounts and watch it grow rather than squander it!  Talk about an easy way to increase your savings!

Have you cut the cable cord yet? What was your experience with it?  And if not, what’s holding you back? 

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"Destroying my credit"

I’ve been nostalgic lately, thinking about my past, my upbringing, and some of the wonderful financial decisions I made when I was a teenager. I’ve written about my middle class upbringing and about my stellar education on taxes. But there was one more area of my financial life that I really messed up in when I was young, and it took me a very long time to dig my way out.

Destroying My Credit

My parents never really taught us about the dangers of credit card debt. When I turned 18 and started getting offers for free money, I took them. I don’t know why it was so easy to get credit as an eighteen-year old with no credit history, but man, it was.

I had three regular credit cards and three store cards before I turned 19. Why wouldn’t I get an Express credit card? I even signed up for an Abercrombie card despite never ever shopping in an Abercrombie in my life!  Free money is free money, right?

Not All Impulsive

Yes, I was a stupid teenager buying all the things with fake money. But I did actually make one legitimate purchase that I couldn’t afford!  My dog, Shadow (I miss him!) had a problem with his nose. It always looked like the skin was peeling off. Since he seemed healthy outside of that, my parents didn’t take him to the vet. Well, I wasn’t going to let my lack of money prevent me from taking care of my pup, so I took him myself and charged it. I think it cost around 500 bucks if I remember correctly (this was a long long time ago). Either way, I didn’t have the money to pay. That was future Melanie’s problem.

Related: Managing Your Money All-In-One For Dummies – Get it on Amazon! 

But Mostly Bad Purchases

The rest of my purchases were stupid. The hottest trends in clothing, stupid toys, long distance phone calls, things I can’t remember. I had a lot of fun destroying my credit!  Unfortunately, I was thousands of dollars in debt by the time I turned 20. And I had no money to pay it. I did manage to make the minimum payments for the first few years, but that barely covered interest, and before long all the cards were maxed out. Even the minimum payments became overwhelming for a poor college student. Most of the debt went to collections, and I effectively destroyed my credit.

Digging Out

I finished college and realized that if I ever wanted to have a decent job and a decent life, I needed to fix my credit issues. I was able to settle with a few of the collections agency for less than owed, and I payed off other balances in full. It took a lot of saving, budgeting, and negotiating to dig my way out, but I made it.

Having numerous charged off credit accounts had lots of negative repercussions for many years though. It takes about seen years for those things to fall off your credit report, and life was hard for those years. It was hard to rent a nice place with such a poor credit history. I had to pay higher interest rates on any loans I tried to take out.  I couldn’t even consider buying a home.

 

Helping Future Melanie

I’m glad that I finally dug my way out and that all those negative statements are off of my report.  I currently have a healthy credit report, and a much healthier relationship with future Melanie. Instead of thinking “well that’s future Melanie’s problem”, I think “How can I help future Melanie?” and life has been much better.

Have you had problems with credit in the past? I’d love to hear your stories!

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my mom taught me about finance

Last week, I came across an amazing post by Lean Fire ATL called “A Man is NOT a Retirement Plan”. This post really resonated with me for a lot of reasons, but the number one reason is my mom.

Mom’ s retirement plan

I love my mom. She’s sweet, she’s caring, and she taught me to be kind to animals and those less fortunate then us. She didn’t have any real goals outside of motherhood, but she was a great mother.

My mom did what a lot of young women in the late seventies/early eighties did. She got married and stayed home to take care of the children. Unfortunately for her, being a mother doesn’t pay anything, and her story is one of the main reasons why I decided to strive for financial independence.

Mom’s story

My parents got married and had their first child at relatively young ages. My dad was 19 and my mom was 22 when they had my sister.  They had my brother and I shortly after, so they had three young children before they turned thirty.

They did alright for themselves despite having kids so young and not having college degrees. My mom was a stay at home mom while my dad sold insurance, and when they started their own flyer delivery service my mom chipped in with that. Things weren’t perfect, but we were a family, and that’s all my mom ever wanted.

Related: From Lower Middle Class to Financially Literate

Divorce

Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, it all fell apart. My father had an affair. He moved out of the house when my mom found out. He stopped paying the mortgage and focused on running the business (which was in his name). My mom wasn’t able to keep up with the mortgage. She was a stay at home mom the majority of her life, and she had no marketable skills. She got a job cleaning out kennels at a pet store, but that paid barely enough to keep the lights on.

 

My mom was able to stay in the family home for quite a while the bank went through the foreclosure process. She tried to find a way to stay close to us kids in Illinois, but it was too expensive (Before anyone tries to chastise my mom for not staying with her kids, my sister was 20, my brother was 18 and just started college, and I was about to be a senior in high school by the time she moved. She knew I was going away to college after senior year). Her parents lived in Northern Wisconsin and offered to help her buy a home if she moved up there. With no other options, she packed up and moved up North closer to her parents.

Moving on

After about 20 years of being miserable and lonely in Northern Wisconsin, my mom decided she had enough. My sister helped her move to California. She currently lives in the Mojave Desert and works part time. She likes that it doesn’t snow, and my sister is able to visit her about once per month and help her with things around the house. She’s planning on moving to the East Coast with my sister next year.

What my mom taught me about Finance

My mom didn’t directly teach me anything about finance, but her story served a valuable lesson. I learned that the only person I could ever depend on is myself. My mom thought her marriage would last forever. She depended on my dad to handle the finances. She didn’t realize that he sucked with money, or that he had a more fleeting view of marriage than she did.

I know it’s a cynical view to take, but I learned that even if I get married, I have to look out for myself first. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t gotten married yet. I have a hard time trusting a guy to do small things to take care of me, like cooking me dinner (which probably stems from this, now that I think about it). I can’t even imagine putting my financial security and my entire future into someone else’s hands. My mom got screwed because she trusted the wrong person with these things. I learned from her example to do not the same.

What valuable money lessons did your parents teach you?

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In my last post, I described my lower middle-class upbringing. I mentioned that my parents were terrible with saving money, and that we weren’t really taught to save either. That isn’t entirely true. We did have one person that tried to help us save money. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out the way she wanted it to. 

Grandma’s Help

We got a small bit of help in learning to save from our Grandmother on our mom’s side. When we were born, she convinced my parents to open a savings account for us. She gave us a check on every birthday and Christmas with “for deposit only” written on it, so we would be forced to deposit it into our savings accounts. We had the option to deposit the rest of our birthday money as well, but we rarely did.

My grandma didn’t have a lot of money, so she was only able to give us each $25 on special occasions. Over time, that does add up, and by the time I started working for my parents, I had about $800 saved up. That’s a lot for a fifteen-year-old!

I Learned about taxes the hard way

Unfortunately, the savings account didn’t work out the way my Grandmother intended. You see, when my parents started paying us for delivering papers, they set us up as independent contractors rather than wage employees. That meant that no taxes would be taken out of our paychecks. We didn’t make a lot of money, but as we all know, that doesn’t matter. The IRS still needs to get their share.

When tax season rolled around that first year, my father did our taxes for us. We each ended up owing the man around $700. My parents took us to the bank and drained our savings accounts so we could pay our taxes. They said we should have known better. We should have been putting money aside each pay check to pay. How we were supposed to know the subtleties of the complicated tax code at age 15, I’ll never know!

 

Making it worse

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson. I continued working for my parents as an independent contractor, and continued spending all of each pay check. When tax season rolled around, I just ignored it. I did the same thing the following year. Eventually, I stopped working for my parents and got a normal part time job. Unfortunately, by this time, I already owed the IRS almost two thousand dollars. Even worse, my father accidentally switched mine and my brother’s social security numbers on our tax returns, so we didn’t even know who owed what!

Digging out of the hole

I was a senior in high school when I realized how big my problem with the IRS was. That’s when I decided to take steps to dig my way out. Surprisingly, it was super easy to get the mess with the social security numbers straightened out. But what was even more shocking was that they were really nice about helping me set up a payment plan and get the tax debt straightened out. They are super willing to work with people who are trying to do the right thing!  It took me about a year to fully pay off my debt to the IRS, but it felt good to make that last payment.

 

Lessons learned

Learning about taxes the hard way had some advantages. I learned to always think about how taxes will work with any job, so I don’t get surprised with a giant bill at the end of the year. I also learned that the IRS isn’t as terrible as everyone thinks they are. One of the reasons I waited so long to call and get it taken care of is that I was terrified of calling them!  All I ever heard was horror stories about going to jail for tax fraud and IRS agents being super rude to people. Maybe it was my age that helped, or maybe it was the fact that I was actually trying, but every time I called, the agent was super nice and helpful. I never had a bad experience.

One final thing I learned is to always check over all the important forms.  One little mistake can cause huge complications down the road (on the plus side, I still have my brother’s SSN memorized, because I thought it was mine for so long…devious, I know!).

What lessons did you learn the hard way?  I’d love to hear your stories!

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"cosigning"

Today I’m writing a cautionary tale for all my readers (because it’s too late for me!). As you know from reading about the Worst Financial Decision of my Life, I cosigned on a car for someone when I probably shouldn’t have. But unfortunately for me (and please learn from my mistakes!) this wasn’t the only time I’ve cosigned. I haven’t even only done it twice. I’ve cosigned for stuff on three separate occasions!  And to be honest, I’m probably going to do it again (because obviously I don’t learn).

The First Time I Cosigned

My first experience cosigning came about 11 years ago. I cosigned on a type of student loan for my then boyfriend. We were getting ready to move from Illinois to California, and we didn’t have a lot of money. He was just getting ready to start college, and we found a student loan program that would give us cash for tuition and expenses. He couldn’t qualify on his own, so I cosigned.

I actually don’t regret this one. We were together and we needed the money. Having this loan really helped us survive during our first year in California. I am a bit annoyed that it’s been 11 years and we’ve only paid about 6K on the loan, but it is what it is. On the plus side, we still get along well and we are working together to pay it off.

Cosigning my life away for family

I don’t really regret the second time I cosigned either, even though I had to pay a bit more than I intended. I helped my brother buy his house. He is terrible with finances (most of my family is) and has horrible credit, but he makes decent money.  His wife has decent credit but works a low paying job. He could afford the mortgage, but with his credit he couldn’t qualify.

I have a little niece and nephew who mean the world to me. They are adorable little kids and I wanted them to have a house to grow up in. I also love my brother, he was my best friend for the first 16 years of my life. I want him and his family to be happy. So, I agreed to cosign. However, I only agreed under the stipulation that I would be co-owner, not just cosigner. This is a very important distinction, as it means I have ownership stake in the house; whereas if I was just a cosigner I would be financially liable but I wouldn’t be part owner.

My brother swore up and down that he would always pay on time and he wouldn’t do anything to hurt my credit. He promised not to screw me over. My brother may be a jerk sometimes (aren’t all brothers?) but he’s loyal to a fault and takes pride in keeping his word. So, I believed him.

How it screwed me

Unfortunately, his family fell a bit on hard times last summer, and he didn’t want to tell me that he missed a payment because he was planning on making it up in the coming months. It would only be behind by one month each month, so he didn’t think I would ever know. He didn’t want me to know because he didn’t want me to be disappointed in him.

Unfortunately for him, this was around the time when I got the job offer for Savannah. That meant I was selling my house and buying a new one, yay!

 

Imagine my surprise when I applied for a mortgage and was told that my other mortgage was thirty days behind. That’s not something you want to hear!  I was livid!  I called my brother and cursed him out like crazy. My sister had my back, she did the same.  He apologized and promised it wouldn’t happen again. I had to pay the one month that he was behind; because I wouldn’t be able to get a mortgage if I waited for him to pay it. I told my brother not to pay me back, but also to not let it happen again.

So of course, it happened again. I checked my credit score in January, and the mortgage was late again. He gave me some lame excuse about the homeowner’s insurance being wrong so they weren’t paying because they were trying to get it fixed. To his credit, he paid right after I called him out, so I guess he was telling me the truth (at least about having the money). It’s been a few months and I haven’t seen a late notice yet, so hopefully he will keep up with it.

The Third (and Worst Time) I Cosigned

I’ve told this story before (remember, the worst financial decision?). The third time I cosigned was on a car for Jonathan. Yeah, lets’ sign my life away to someone who I know is an alcoholic with absolutely no financial literacy. Great Plan Melanie! The good news is that I’m actually the primary on the account, and he’s the secondary so I do have some legal rights to the car.  He’s supposed to take over the payments starting in May, and if he doesn’t I’ll have to “recover” the car from him. I’ll let you all know how that one goes!

Why I’ll Cosign Again

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now. But alas, I probably haven’t. My sister really wants to leave California for cheaper pastures. She’s also planning on taking my mom with her. They want to move someplace on the East Coast with a much lower cost of living. Great idea, right? Unfortunately, they suck with money too. My sister has terrible credit and owns her own business, so has very little income to show. My mom gets by. There is no way that they are going to be able to get a house on their own.

They are family. My sister has stood by me when pretty much everyone else I’ve known in my life turned their backs on me. My mom is my mom. I have to help them if I can. So, although I know cosigning is a terrible mistake, it’s probably one I’ll make again. On the plus side, at least cosigning for a house gives me assets. I’ve got that going for me, right?

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"hidden costs"

Houses are expensive! The median home price in the United States is about $200,000 (Median is a better number to use than average, because it takes away the crazy expensive outliers). That’s a lot of money! But unfortunately, that’s only the upfront cost of buying a home. Make sure you factor these 10 hidden costs of buying a house into your budget!

Hidden Costs of Buying a House

Moving

Do you remember when everything you owned fit into your small two door sedan? I remember that too. I don’t know how I acquired so much stuff, but it most definitely did not fit in a sedan (or an SUV for that matter!). I did downsize a whole lot, so I just used a small pod to move everything that I didn’t want to throw away. The small pod cost me nearly three thousand dollars! Granted, I did move to the opposite side of the country, so that gets a bit pricey, but even moving across town will cost you.

Furniture

Are you going to buy new furniture to go with your new home? If you are moving your furniture, do you have enough to fill the new house? When you go from an apartment or condo to a single-family home, you generally have a lot more space to fill up. And it’s not just furniture! You will need shower curtains (I learned that the hard way!), area rugs, lamps, décor, and all the other items that make a house a home. My first trips to Bed, Bath, and Beyond after buying a new house cost me upwards of a thousand dollars! Granted, I hardly took anything with me when I moved, but it is still something to be aware of and to budget for.

Are you a realtor who wants to provide the best experience for your clients? Check out ClickyHomes!*

Closing Costs

Closing costs aren’t exactly hidden costs, but they are expensive and it’s definitely not something that everyone considers when buying a home. Closing can cost up to 10% of the price of your home!  I paid about ten thousand dollars to close on my house. This includes attorney fees, the first home inspection, escrow fees, and bunch of other miscellaneous things that all the companies involved in closing charge you for. You need to budget for this huge expense at closing so you aren’t caught off guard.

Warranty

Unless you are buying a brand-new home (which usually comes with a warranty) you should definitely look into purchasing a home warranty at closing. In my area, the top- level warranty costs about five hundred dollars. It covers plumbing, electrical, appliances, and anything that goes wrong with the house for the first year. It offers piece of mind.

I’m really glad I got the warranty with my house, because about 3 months after purchasing it, I had a pretty serious leak. I called the warranty company who hooked me up with a plumber; and I was able to fix the problem without having it affect my insurance.

Insurances

Speaking of insurance…homeowner’s insurance is a must have when financing a home. Usually, your lender will discuss the approximate costs of this with you well before you sign the final paperwork. But homeowner’s insurance might not be the only insurance that you need.

Did you know that homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover floods or earthquakes? If you are purchasing a home in a flood zone, you will be required to purchase the FEMA flood insurance. Even if you aren’t in a flood zone, with all the crazy weather we’ve been having these past few years, flood insurance might not be a bad idea. You never know when that freak storm will dump 40 inches of rain on you. If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, you may also want to consider earthquake insurance. 

Renovations

If you are buying your absolute dream house, you may not have to worry about renovations. But most houses have at least some minor cosmetic issues that you will want to improve upon. The house I bought had hideous carpet and paint. These were super easy fixes, but they were definitely something that I needed to include in my budget.

Related: Check out these helpful tips for home buyers!

Inspections

I already mentioned the house inspection when I was talking about closing costs, but did you know that there are numerous other inspections you can get that aren’t included in your closing?  One of the most important additional inspections you should look into getting is a termite inspection. Nobody wants to buy a house only to learn that it’s been eaten away by these voracious pests. It’s much easier to prevent termites than it is to get rid of them when they are established.

HOA

Are you going to live in a community with an HOA?  Sometimes, there is no way around it. Pretty much all of the homes I looked at in Savannah had some sort of HOA. Some of the fees are outrageous! I looked at one house where the HOA fees were almost 300 bucks a month!  To be fair, that neighborhood had amazing amenities, but I wasn’t looking to pay that much. The HOA fee in my current neighborhood is only forty bucks a month, which is way more reasonable.

HOA fees aren’t always bad. Having an HOA helps to maintain the property values. Many of them also offer a club house or a pool. However, be sure to think about the monthly fee before committing to a mortgage payment.

 

Taxes

Ah taxes. One of the few certainties in life. We all know that property taxes are a thing that need to be paid; but the cost can be a surprise. Make sure that you speak to your lender about estimated property taxes before you agree on a purchase. Most lenders will include them in your total monthly bill, but some will only show you the total for the principle and interest. These customers are then shocked when they receive a monthly bill that’s two or three hundred dollars more than they expected.

Related: Check out the one thing I wish my realtor had!

Services

Owning a home is a lot of work. And there are a lot of things that you need to consider once you have one. Do you live in the South? Yeah, you’re gonna need an exterminator. Do you live anywhere near a city?  You’re probably gonna need a security system. You are also going to need to set up your trash, water, sewer, and utility services. And some cities don’t even include fire protection as part of the property taxes, you have to pay for it separately (WTF Savannah??). These are all things you will need to consider and budget for when purchasing a new home.

Bonus!

Miscellaneous expenses – because stuff always comes up. Always! Make sure you have an extra one to two thousand dollars set aside for that one thing that no one warned you about. Because it will come up, eventually.

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