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Category Archives: personal finance

4 Reasons Why Renting Is Better than Buying

Have you ever felt pressured to buy a house? Maybe from your friends, your family, your co-workers, or even yourself? Like you haven’t actually made it as an adult until you own your home?

It’s a common feeling, but the truth is that buying a house ISN’T always the right decision. In some cases renting is a smarter move, both for your wallet and your lifestyle. Here are four reasons why.

1. Flexibility

Life changes fast. That great new job you just started might turn into an exciting opportunity in a different city. That big family you planned on having might turn into a smaller one.

Renting gives you the ability to quickly change your living situation to best match the new realities of your life. That flexibility can be the difference between seizing an opportunity and having to pass on it.

2. Cost

Proponents of buying like to say that when you’re renting, you’re essentially paying off someone else’s mortgage. So why not buy and make sure that money is going towards yourself?

There is some truth to that, if you stay in one place for an extended period of time (typically 5-7 years or longer), then buying often results in the lower long-term cost.

In the meantime buying can be really expensive. There’s the upfront cost of the down payment. There’s the cost of handling the fixes and improvements that come with any new purchase. There’s the cost of new furniture. There are the ongoing costs of insurance, taxes, and maintenance.

Renting has costs too, but they’re often much smaller and more predictable, at least in those first few years. And in many markets where housing prices are high, renting can actually be a better long-term financial decision.

You can use this calculator from The New York Times to figure out just how long you would have to live in one place before buying became cheaper than renting.

3. Adjustment

Renting is often a great idea any time you move to a new place.

It gives you the opportunity to figure out which neighborhoods you like and which you don’t so that you can eventually make a buying decision you’ll be happy with for the long-term. There’s no sense in being stuck somewhere you don’t like simply because you felt rushed into buying a house.

4. Stress

Owning a home has plenty of benefits, but it can also come with a lot of stress.

Any time something needs to be fixed, it’s on you to either do it yourself or pay for it to be done by someone else. And of course there’s that big mortgage that can feel like a weight on your shoulders.

Renting comes with fewer commitments and fewer responsibilities, which can lead to lower day-to-day stress.

Money Lessons from a Non-Frugal Purchase

I’m usually pretty frugal. I’ll often do without something I want but don’t need, or I’ll find a cheaper alternative. It’s just my nature.

But just after the holidays, I decided to indulge. I bought a navy blue Brooks Brothers blazer I’ve had my eyes on for years, the kind of thing that never goes out of style and that I can wear in all kinds of situations.

As silly as it might sound, I’m really excited about it! It’s something I’ve wanted for a while and I can’t wait to wear it. But I’m also excited about the deal I got. Instead of paying the full $558.49 price tag, I was able to get it for $260.47.

Here’s how I saved the money, and how you could do the same on your next big purchase.

Step 1: I Waited

I didn’t buy the blazer as soon as I saw it. It probably sat on my wish list for a few years before I actually pulled the trigger. And that waiting did a couple of things for me.

First, it allowed me to find an opportunity to buy it for less. Instead of paying full price, I was able to get it for 50% off during the Brooks Brothers annual sale. That saved me $249 on the price of the blazer, and another $22.81 on sales tax.

Second, I benefited from delayed gratification. I got to spend a long time anticipating the purchase, which is actually a key part of enjoying something. And when I finally did buy it, it felt like a gift. I appreciated it more because I had been waiting for it.

Waiting helped me save money AND enjoy the experience more than if I had bought it immediately.

Step 2: I Looked for Alternative Savings Opportunities

With a little digging, I found that I could buy a $250 Brooks Brothers gift card for just $225. So I bought the gift card, used the card to buy the blazer, and saved myself another $25.

Whether it’s a gift card, a coupon code, or something else, it never hurts to look for alternative ways to save money before buying.

Step 3: I Used a Cash Back Credit Card

When I bought the gift card I used a credit card that earns 1% cash back, which saved me an extra $2.25. Certainly not a life-changing amount, but every little bit counts!

Step 4: I Bought Quality

This is a high-quality blazer I expect to use in many situations for many years to come.

When I spread the cost out over a number of years, it becomes a lot less expensive. Especially when compared to cheaper alternatives that might fall apart, or go out of style, a lot sooner.

Lessons Learned

Now let’s be clear: this was still NOT a frugal purchase. I spent a lot of money on something Iwanted, but didn’t really need.

But that’s okay from time to time. Nobody should feel like they always have to stick to the bare necessities or like they can never indulge.

I couldn’t make a purchase like this all of the time, but I’m happy to spend money on a high-quality product that I’ll use a lot and enjoy wearing, especially when I’m able to stack savings for a great deal.

Financial Planner as Consultant

On my blog, one of the topics I like to cover is explaining how the personal financial advice industry works. Most people get financial advice from someone who is a salesman of insurance, annuities, mutual funds, and other products. You can also get help from someone whose main profession is something related like a CPA or lawyer who offer advice as a side business. The best way to get advice however, is from someone who functions as a consultant.

There are financial advisors out there that charge by the hour for financial advice. They often call themselves financial planners to distinguish themselves from financial advisors. You can find these financial planners through industry associations like the Garrett Planning Network and NAPFA.org.

I say it’s best to work with a consultant style of advisor because the consultant works only for you. Ask yourself what someone’s motivation is. A financial advisor employed by an insurance company or investment company (like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Fidelity, Vanguard, etc.) has sales managers above them making sure they sell a certain number of contracts every month. You don’t want to be one of those sales targets. It may work out for you, and there are representatives who do look out for their clients, but ask yourself what their motivation is before signing anything.

By hiring a financial planner that charges fees only and no commissions, you are going to get an advisor who puts your best interest ahead of their own. Ask the advisor to sign the fiduciary oath. Advisors out to meet sales performance targets won’t put their fiduciary duty in writing. By going with a consultant style of advisor, not only will you get sound financial advice, you won’t wonder if the advisor recommended a product because his sales manager told him to.

3 ways to give your children a financial head-start

Many parents find it very difficult to talk to their children about money. Either the topic is seen as too sensitive or they just feel that they don’t know enough to give good advice.

However, the worst lesson that any parent could ever give a child about money is not talking about it. Children learn the most from the example that they are set, and that is why it is so important to show that money is not something to be scared of or anxious about it. It is something that should be made to work for you.

This is why it is best to expose children to the idea of saving sooner rather than later. From a young age they should see that they can have control over their money.

Here are three easy ways to get them thinking the right way about saving:

Give presents that mean something

Of course children love toys and having something to play with, but not every present they receive has to give them instant gratification. Putting money in a unit trust or stock broking account might not sound like the most exciting gift in the world, but it can be very rewarding.

For a start, it gives them some sense of having their own savings and some money of their own to look after. Over time, it’s also the best way to teach them about different savings products, asset classes, and things like interest and dividends, as they can see for themselves how they work.

A low-cost online stock broking account could even allow them to make their own decisions about what stocks to invest in. At an early age their decisions are not likely to be influenced by rigorous analysis, but they can still invest in companies that they know something about.

For instance, if they like eating at Spur, why not show them that they can actually buy a part of that company? Or if you always do your shopping at Pick n Pay, let them buy the stock. Over time, the likelihood is that their interest will grow in how these businesses work, how they generate earnings, and what being a shareholder means. This will eventually lead them to making more informed decisions about their investments.

Involve them in their own savings

If you are saving for your child’s education, are they aware of it? Do they know that you are putting away money every month, where it is going, and what it is for?

Explaining to your children that you are saving for their future allows for you to have a discussion around why it’s important to do this and how it works. Not only will this give them some sense that they can’t just take things for granted, but it also gets them thinking about the importance of financial planning.

Think of their future before they do

The earlier your children start saving for retirement, the less they will need to save. One of the biggest impacts you can make on their future financial well-being is therefore to start for them.

Plan to present your child with a lump sum on their 18th or 21st birthdays, either in their own tax-free account or placed in a retirement funding vehicle. You may not think you are contributing much, but just R10 000 will grow to nearly R1 million over 45 years at a compound growth rate of 10% per year. That is a worthwhile boost to their future retirement, and will also get them thinking about their financial future as soon as they enter the working world.

If you do this in a retirement annuity (RA), they will not be able to access the money until they are at least 55, which will ensure that it is kept for what it is meant for. However, if you believe that they will be disciplined it makes more sense to use a tax-free savings account. This is because over such a long period the benefits of a tax-free savings account will likely be greater, and you can also invest fully in growth assets like equities, while an RA will have to meet the restrictions of Regulation 28.

As with all savings, the earlier you start planning for this, the better. If you put away just R100 every month from the day your child is born, you would have saved R21 600 by the time they reach 18. If this portfolio grows at 10% per year, you could present them with over R60 000.

It is possible to do this through a tax-free savings account from the start, as you can open an account in your child’s name. It doesn’t, however, make as much sense to open an RA for them while they are still children, as nobody will gain any benefit from the tax deductible contributions. If you want to give them money in an RA, invest in a unit trust until the point where you want to give them the lump sum, and then transfer it into an RA once they are income-earning adults and will benefit from the tax deduction.

How to get the best deal on your personal cheque account

Bank charges are the bane of many customers.

The latest report by the Solidarity Research Institute shows that increased competition among the nation’s banks appears to be driving fees down. But increased financial pressure on consumers means charges, albeit lower, can still be a significant burden.

So, how do you get the best possible deal on your personal cheque account?

Negotiate your bank charges

There is no law or code regulating the negotiation of bank charges. But Advocate Clive Pillay, the Ombudsman for Banking Services, says the charges levied on ordinary cheque accounts can be fully negotiated.

“In the case of a ‘big account’ with much activity and a reasonable balance, a bank would be more likely to negotiate a reduced rate, to retain the customer, than it would in the case of ‘a small account’, with little activity, such as a salary deposit each month and a number of withdrawals during the course of the month with a very low balance,” he told Moneyweb.

However, it is important to note that the bank can refuse to negotiate lower rates by “exercising their commercial discretion,” says Pillay. In which cases, customers can do little but switch banks, provided the new bank offers lower rates.

If that fails, there are other relatively simple ways to save money on bank charges.

Make sure your account suits your needs

Some banks offer two types of basic cheque accounts: bundles and pay-as you-transact accounts. Depending on the amount of activity on your account, one option may prove more cost-effective than the other.

Bundles, offered by the big four banks, comprise fixed monthly fees for a package of transactions including finite cash deposits and withdrawals, and oftentimes unlimited electronic transactions and notifications. Any transactions which breach the bundle limits are typically charged on as pay-as-you-transact (PAYT) basis.

The PAYT charges – offered by Absa and Standard Bank – include a minimum monthly service and additional fees per transaction. Capitec’s sole account option, the Global One Account is a PAYT account.

Ditch ATM withdrawals

Multiple ATM withdrawals, especially those over and above bundle limits can, significantly increase your bank charges. Instead opt to withdraw cash at a point of sale (POS) from a participating retailer, such as a major supermarket. If you really must get cash from an ATM, ensure you use your own bank’s machine as a cash withdrawal at another bank’s ATM, a Saswitch withdrawal, is considerably more expensive.

Honour your debit orders

Ensure that you have sufficient funds in your account to avoid high fees. Fees can be incurred for dishonoured payments due to insufficient funds, or for payments that have been honoured (direct debits) before the bank systems realise you don’t have sufficient funds in your account.

Take advantage of online banking

Performing a wide range of functions online is often free and if not cheaper than seeking help over the telephone or visiting a branch. Opt for a bank with free online banking and take advantage of this service.

Review your statements

“Check your charges monthly to make sure you are not being charged for services you are not using and if there is something on your statement you do not understand ask your bank about it,” advises Pillay.

Adapting your banking behaviour and taking heed of your bank’s attempts to incentivise lower-cost channels, can result in savings.

Tips to reduce the costs in an estate

The death of a spouse, friend or relative is often an emotional time even before estate matters are addressed.

And truth be told, death can be an expensive and cumbersome affair, particularly if estate planning was neglected, the claims against the estate start accumulating and there isn’t sufficient cash to settle outstanding debts.

People generally underestimate the costs related to death, says Ronel Williams, chairperson of the Fiduciary Institute of Southern African (Fisa). Most individuals have a fairly good grasp of significant expenses like a mortgage bond that would have to be settled, but the smaller fees can also add up.

To avoid a situation where valuable assets have to be sold to settle outstanding debts, it is important to do proper planning and take out life and/or bond insurance to ensure sufficient cash is available, she notes.

Costs

The costs involved in an estate can broadly be classified as administration costs and claims against the estate. The administration costs are incurred after death as a result of the death. Claims against the estate are those the deceased was liable for at the time of death, the notable exception being tax, Williams explains.

Administration costs as well as most claims against the estate will generally need to be paid in cash, although there are exceptions, for example the bond on the property. If the bank that holds the bond is satisfied and the heir to the property agrees to it, the bank may replace the heir as the new debtor.

Williams says quite often estates are solvent, but there is insufficient cash to settle administration costs and claims against the estate. In the event of a cash shortfall the executor will approach the heirs to the balance of the estate to see if they would be willing to pay the required cash into the estate to avoid the sale of assets.

If the heirs are not willing to do this, the executor may have no choice but to sell estate assets to raise the necessary cash.

“This is far from ideal as the executor may be forced to sell a valuable asset to generate a small amount of cash.”

If there is a bond on the property and not sufficient cash in the estate, it is not a good idea to leave the property to someone specific as the costs of the estate would have to be settled from the residue. Where a particular item is bequeathed to a beneficiary, the person would normally receive it free from any liabilities. This could result in a situation where the beneficiaries of the residue of the estate may be asked to pay cash into the estate even though they wouldn’t receive any benefit from the property, Williams says.

The most significant administration costs are generally the executor’s and conveyancing fees.

If the will does not explicitly specify the executor’s remuneration, it will be calculated according to a prescribed tariff, currently 3.5% of the gross value of the assets subject to a minimum remuneration of R350. The executor is also entitled to a fee on all income earned after the date of death, currently 6%. If the executor is a VAT vendor, another 14% must be added.

Assuming an estate value of R2 million comprising of a fixed property of R1 million, shares, furniture, vehicles and cash, the executor’s fee at a tariff of 3.5% would amount to R70 000 (plus VAT if the executor is a VAT vendor). Conveyancing fees will be an estimated R18 000 plus VAT. Depending on the situation, funeral costs may be another R20 000, while other fees (Master’s Office fees, advertising costs, mortgage bond cancellation and tax fees) can easily add another R10 000. By law advertisements have to be placed in a local newspaper and the Government Gazette, with estimated costs of between R400 and R700 and R40 respectively. Master’s fees are payable to the South African Revenue Service (Sars) in all estates where an executor is appointed with a gross value of R15 000 or more. The maximum fee is R600.

Where applicable mortgage bond cancellation costs, appraisement costs, costs of realisation of assets, transfer costs of fixed property or shares, bank charges, maintenance of assets and tax fees will also have to be paid. The executor is also allowed to claim an amount for postage and sundry costs, while funeral expenses, short-term insurance, maintenance of assets and the cost of a duplicate motor vehicle registration certificate may also have to be taken into account.

Luckily, there are ways to reduce the costs involved

Williams says the first step is to try and negotiate the executor’s fee with the appointed executor when the will is drafted. The fee could then be stipulated in the will or the executor could give a written undertaking confirming the agreed fee. But even if the deceased did not negotiate it at the time of drafting, the family or heirs can still approach the nominated executor and negotiate a competitive fee when they report the estate to the executor.

“Depending on who the executor is and what the composition of your estate is, you can probably negotiate up to a 50% discount.”

The composition of assets will generally be a good indicator of the amount of work that needs to be done and the executor will quote a fee against this background. The sale of a fixed property and business or offshore interests may complicate the process of winding up the estate.

If the surviving spouse is the sole heir, and/or there are no business interests and sufficient cash is available to cover the costs, the executor will generally offer a larger discount. Ultimately, the executor is responsible for signing off the liquidation and distribution account, confirming that all the costs are correct and that it will be settled.

Social Security Survivors Benefits

Social Security Survivors benefits are paid to widows, children, parents and ex-spouses of covered workers.

The Social Security program actually consists of three benefit programs that make payments for various reasons. They are:

  1. Retirement benefits,
  2. Disability benefits,
  3. Survivors benefits.

This post covers number 3, Survivors benefits. These are not the same as the benefits commonly referred to as spousal benefits.

If a worker, who is covered by Social Security, dies and leaves family members behind, they are the “survivors” and are covered under the Survivors benefits program. Social Security will use the deceased worker’s record to calculate payments for his / her family.

There are four eligible parties that may receive payments after the worker’s death. They are the widow (or widower if the wife dies first), children, parent, and ex-spouse. Each has detailed rules for eligibility.

A widow(er) will get benefit payments if:

  • They are age 60+, or
  • Age 50+ and disabled, or
  • Any age and caring for a worker’s child under 16 or disabled and entitled to benefits on worker’s record.

A child will get benefit payments if:

  • They are under age 18, or
  • Between 18 and 19 and still in secondary school, or
  • Over age 18 and severely disabled before age 22.

A parent will get benefit payments if:

  • They are dependent on the deceased worker for greater than 50% of their support

An ex-spouse will get benefit payments if:

  • They fit one of the three requirements for widow(er) above and were married to covered worker for 10 or more years, and
  • They are not entitled to a larger benefit based on their own record, and
  • Not currently married unless marriage was after they turned 60 or 50 and are disabled.

Another aspect of Survivors benefits that comes into the payment amount is that the “full retirement age” (FRA) for Survivors benefits is different from the full retirement age for retirement benefits.

This chart matters because a widow(er) or ex-spouse can start claiming benefits as early as age 60, but the benefit will be reduced. For the full benefit payment, the survivor must wait until their FRA in the center column above. For some people it is several months earlier than the full retirement age for Retirement benefits and they may wait unnecessarily long to receive their benefits if they are unaware of this anomaly in the Social Security benefits.

Tips to be Mindful About Costs When Planning a Wedding

 I’m in the middle of wedding planning right now, and it has opened my eyes to just how incredibly expensive this whole thing can be!

I’m a frugal person at heart so the idea of spending a ton of money on one day seems a little silly to me. But it’s hard not to get caught up in all of it, and I’m finding that the costs are adding up quickly.

So, how do you have a wedding you love without spending more than you can afford? I’ve been thinking about this as I plan my own wedding. I’m fortunate that my parents have been very generous, and here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Plan Ahead

Yeah, I know. Big surprise that the financial planner is encouraging you to plan ahead. But there are two reasons why it’s helpful to make a plan before making any final decisions.

First, it’s amazing how quickly even the little costs add up. There are so many different pieces to a wedding that you can make a lot of seemingly reasonable choices and still end up with a big total bill. By planning ahead, you can see that happen before you’ve actually committed to anything and make decisions accordingly.

Second, it’s easier to get good deals when you’re on top of things early. Venues get booked, DJs aren’t available, and prices go up. The longer you wait, the less likely it is you’ll get your first choice and the more likely it is you’ll have to pay extra.

Get Creative

Your wedding doesn’t have to be like every other wedding. It can not only be cheaper to do things your way, but it can make for a fun and unique experience.

A friend of mine had a fall wedding and served pies instead of a wedding cake. This option was delicious and at least half as expensive; with pie at $2 per slice and wedding cake at $4 or more. Another one enlisted the help of her friends to make their own floral arrangements. I’m making small ornaments for wedding favors, out of paper (not expensive) and supplies I already had on hand.

Music, in particular a live band, is another expense that can be reduced, involve friends who have musical talents or crowd source a playlist from all your guests. There are an infinite number of ways you can get creative, save money, and make the wedding yours in the process.

Consider Your Guests’ Budgets Too

Your friends and family want to come celebrate with you, but for many of them it’s a big financial commitment. Doing what you can to make it easier for them will be much appreciated.

I have a friend who had a camping option, as one of the accommodations for her wedding. Not only was the price right, but it was a memorable experience. Suggesting accommodation options to guests with a range of prices is always appreciated.

For our wedding, we’re trying to make sure that people know how to enjoy themselves during the weekend without having to spend a ton of extra money, so we’re giving them a map of our favorite hiking trails in the area. Little things like that won’t make all the costs go away, but every little bit helps.

4 Steps to Merging Finances with Your Partner

 I work with a lot of new couples who are in the midst of merging their financial lives for the very first time. In fact, my fiance and I are in the process of doing it ourselves too.

It’s not an easy thing to figure out. There are logistics to handle, habits to change, emotions to manage, and often it feels like there is never enough time in the day for any of it.

But successfully managing money together is key to creating a happy partnership, so here are four pieces of advice as you go through this process yourself.

1. Focus on Joint Goals, Not Joint Accounts

It’s tempting to get caught up in the logistics of joining your finances. How do you create joint accounts? Which accounts should you join? What if you want to keep some money for yourself? Does that mean your relationship is in trouble?

Ignore all of that. It doesn’t matter. At least not at the start.

What really matters are your joint goals. What are you working towards? What is your shared vision for the life you’re building together?

Start having conversations about what you each value and want out of life. Listen to each other so you can truly understand what’s important to the other person.

Find the goals you already have in common and make those the priorities. And start talking about how you can find middle ground on the others.

This communication is the real key to successfully merging your finances. All the rest is just logistics.

2 Establish Shared Expenses

Now, about those logistics…

One easy place to start is with your everyday expenses. Things like cable, internet, electricity, and groceries.

Decide which expenses you want to share and how you want to split them up. For example, if one person makes significantly more, maybe they’re responsible for a bigger share of certain expenses. That way each of you is left with some free money at the end of it.

3. Create a System

There are two main ways you can start sharing those expenses.

The first is to create a joint bank account where those bills are paid. Then you each are responsible for transferring money to that account on a regular schedule to cover the bills. This lets you practice managing a joint account without having to join everything.

Another option is to put each person in charge of certain bills. For example, one of you could handle the cable bill while the other handles the electricity bill. This kind of system may be easier to get up and running quickly.

Also, create a system for long term savings. I know someone who gave half their paycheck to their partner to invest for the long term. This might not be the right move for you, but start by discussing each of your current habits and how you might change those or improve on them as a couple.

4. Plan for Extra Money

Here’s something my fiance and I have done that’s helped us a lot.

In addition to our regular expenses and savings, we each have a number of “wants” that our extra money could go towards. For example, I’d like to get curtains and my fiance wants gardening supplies.

So we made a list of these things and put them in priority order. And now any time we have some extra money, we simply refer to this list and put it towards the top item.

This makes these decisions easy, limits the opportunity for arguments, and ensures that we’re both able to indulge a little bit.

Top 5 Financial Mistakes Beginners Make

 There’s a lot of financial advice out there. Enough that your head starts to spin when you try to take it all in, understand it, and figure out which pieces are relevant to you.

I’d like to make it a little easier for you by pointing out some things NOT to do.

Here are five of the biggest mistakes I see people making when they first start trying to improve their financial situation.

1. Obsess Over Investment Strategy

There’s often this feeling that if you can just find the perfect investment strategy, your financial success will be guaranteed.

So you read articles, listen to the experts on TV, and tinker with your investments, all with the hope of finding an edge that puts you over the top.

But here’s the truth: the returns you earn, good or bad, have almost no impact on your bottom line until you’re a decade into the process.

What does matter, a lot, is your savings rate. It may not be sexy, but simply saving enough money is far more important than any other investment decision you can make.

2. Forget About Irregular Expenses

If you’ve tried budgeting before and it hasn’t worked, chances are you’ve been undone by all the unexpected expenses that keep popping up.

Your car needs a new tire. Your daughter has to go to the doctor. Your friend gets married in another state.

Here’s the thing: a good budget knows that these kinds of expenses aren’t unexpected. You may not know when they’re coming, but you do know they’re coming.

And you can make them a part of your regular budget simply by saving ahead for them each month. That way the money will already be there when you need it.

3. View Cutting Back as the Only Option

Cutting spending is often the quickest and easiest way to free up room in your budget for the big financial goals you’d like to achieve. Which is why it’s usually a great first step.

But it’s not the only option.

In fact, the biggest long-term results often come from finding ways to increase your income. So don’t be shy about asking for a raise or starting a side hustle. Those are powerful tools that can expand your world of financial opportunities.

4. Think That Credit Card Debt Is Normal

According to NerdWallet, the average American had $15,310 in credit card debt as of 2015. So I guess debt is normal in the sense that a lot of people have it.

But if you want to be financially healthy, you need to accept that credit card debt cannot be part of your life. It’s actually the biggest obstacle that’s keeping you from reaching your goals.

If you have credit card debt, getting rid of it is almost always a top financial priority. That may mean that other financial goals have to wait, but the sooner you get rid of your debt, the sooner you’ll be able to make real progress towards the things you care about most.

5. Look for Easy Fixes

Unfortunately, there is no easy button when it comes to your finances. The solutions are often fairly simple, but they take time, dedication, and hard work before they truly pay off.

For example, creating an account with mint.com and linking all your bank accounts is a great start to the budgeting process. But the app itself won’t solve all your problems.

You’ll still need to take the time to categorize your expenses, both up front and on a regular ongoing basis. And you’ll need to use that information to take action and make changes in how you use your money.

No single app or tactic is going to fix everything for you. You have to take ownership of your situation and do the hard work to make it better.