75 Personal Finance Rules of Thumb

A “rule of thumb” is a mental shortcut. It’s a heuristic. It’s not always true, but it’s usually true. It saves you time and brainpower. Rather than re-inventing the wheel for every money problem you face, personal finance rules of thumb let you apply wisdom from the past to reach quick solutions.

I’m going to do my best Buzzfeed impression today and give you a list of 75 personal finance rules of thumb. Some are efficient packets of advice while others are mathematical shortcuts to save brain space. Either way, I bet you’ll learn a thing or two—quickly—from this list.

The Basics

These basic personal finance rules of thumb apply to everybody. They’re simple and universal.

1. The Order of Operations (since this is one of the bedrocks of personal finance, I wrote a PDF explaining all the details. Since you’re a reader here, it’s free.)

2. Insurance protects wealth. It doesn’t build wealth.

3. Cash is good for current expenses and emergencies, but nothing more. Holding too much cash means you’re losing long-term value.

4. Time is money. Wealth is a measure of how much time your money can buy.

5. Set specific financial goals. Specific numbers, specific dates. Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.

6. Keep an eye on your credit score. Check-in at least once a year.

7. Converting wages to salary: $1/per hour = $2000 per year.

8. Don’t mess with City Hall. Don’t cheat on your taxes.

9. You can afford anything. You can’t afford everything.

10. Money saved is money earned. When you look at your bottom line, saving a dollar has the equivalent effect as earning a dollar. Saving and earning are equally important.

Budgeting

I love budgeting, but not everyone is as zealous as me. Still, if you’re looking to budget (or even if you’re not), I think these budgeting rules of thumb are worth following.

11. You need a budget. The key to getting your financial life under control is making a budget and sticking to it. That is the first step for every financial decision.

12. The 50-30-20 rule of budgeting. After taxes, 50% of your money should cover needs, 30% should cover wants, and 20% should repay debts or invest.

13. Use “sinking funds” to save for rainy days. You know it’ll rain eventually.

14. Don’t mix savings and checking. One saves, the other spends.

15. Children cost about $10,000 per kid, per year. Family planning = financial planning.

16. Spend less than you earn. You might say, “Duh!” But if you’re not measuring your spending (e.g. with a budget), are you sure you meet this rule?

Investing & Retirement

Basic investing, in my opinion, is a ‘must know’ for future financial success. The following rules of thumb will help you dip your toe in those waters.

17. Don’t handpick stocks. Choose index funds instead. Very simple, very effective.

18. People who invest full-time are smarter than you. You can’t beat them.

19. The Rule of 72 (it’s doctor-approved). An investment annual growth rate multiplied by its doubling time equals (roughly) 72. A 4% investment will double in 18 years (4*18 = 72). A 12% investment will double in 6 years (12*6 = 72).

20. “Don’t do something, just sit there.” -Jack Bogle, on how bad it is to worry about your investments and act on those emotions.

21. Get the employer match. If your employer has a retirement program (e.g. 401k, pension), make sure you get all the free money you can.

22. Balance pre-tax and post-tax investments. It’s hard to know what tax rates will be like when you retire, so balancing between pre-tax and post-tax investing now will also keep your tax bill balanced later.

23. Keep costs low. Investing fees and expense ratios can eat up your profits. So keep those fees as low as possible.

24. Don’t touch your retirement money. It can be tempting to dip into long-term savings for an important current need. But fight that urge. You’ll thank yourself later.

25. Rebalancing should be part of your investing plan. Portfolios that start diversified can become concentrated some one asset does well and others do poorly. Rebalancing helps you rest your diversification and low er your risk.

26. The 4% Rule for retirement. Save enough money for retirement so that your first year of expenses equals 4% (or less) of your total nest egg.

27. Save for your retirement first, your kids’ college second. Retirees don’t get scholarships.

28. $1 invested in stocks today = $10 in 30 years.

29. Inflation is about 3% per year. If you want to be conservative, use 3.5% in your money math.

30. Stocks earn 7% per year, after adjusting for inflation.

31. Own your age in bonds. Or, own 120 minus your age in bonds. The heuristic used to be that a 30-year old should have a portfolio that’s 30% bonds, 40-year old 40% bonds, etc. More recently, the “120 minus your age” rule has become more prevalent. 30-year old should own 10% bonds, 40-year old 20% bonds, etc.

32. Don’t invest in the unknown. Or as Warren Buffett suggests, “Invest in what you know.”

Home & Auto

For many of you, home and car ownership contribute to your everyday finances. The following personal finance rules of thumb will be especially helpful for you.

33. Your house’s sticker price should be less than 3x your family’s combined income. Being “house poor”—or having too expensive of a house compared to your income—is one of the most common financial pitfalls. Avoid it if you can.

34. Broken appliance? Replace it if 1) the appliance is 8+ years old or 2) the repair would cost more than half of a new appliance.

35. Used car or new car? The cost difference isn’t what it used to be. The choice is even.

36. A car’s total lifetime cost is about 3x its sticker price. Choose wisely!

37. 20-4-10 rule of buying a vehicle. Put 20% of the vehicle down in cash, with a loan of 4 years or less, with a monthly payment that is less than 10% of your monthly income.

38. Re-financing a mortgage makes sense once interest rates drop by 1% (or more) from your current rate.

39. Don’t pre-pay your mortgage (unless your other bases are fully covered). Mortgages interest is deductible, and current interest rates are low. While pre-paying your mortgage saves you that little bit of interest, there’s likely a better use for you extra cash.

40. Set aside 1% of your home’s value each year for future maintenance and repairs.

41. The average car costs about 50 cents per mile over the course of its life.

42. Paying interest on a depreciating asset (e.g. a car) is losing twice.

43. Your main home isn’t an investment. You shouldn’t plan on both living in your house forever and selling it for profit. The logic doesn’t work.

44. Pay cash for cars, if you can. Paying interest on a car is a losing move.

45. If you’re buying a fixer-upper, consider the 70% rule to sort out worthy properties.

46. If you’re buying a rental property, the 1% rule easily evaluates if you’ll get a positive cash flow.

Spending & Debt

Do you spend money? (“What kind of question is that?”) Then these personal finance rules of thumb will apply to you.

47. Pay off your credit card every month.

48. In debt? Use psychology to help yourself. Consider the debt snowball or debt avalanche.

49. When making a purchase, consider cost-per-use.

50. Make your spending tangible with a ‘cash diet.’

51. Never pay full price. Shop around and do your research to get the best deals. You can earn cash back when you shop online, score a discount with a coupon code, or a voucher for free shipping.

52. Buying experiences makes you happier than buying things.

53. Shop by yourself. Peer pressure increases spending.

54. Shop with a list, and stick to it. Stores are designed to pull you into purchases you weren’t expecting.

55. Spend on the person you are, not the person you want to be. I love cooking, but I can’t justify $1000 of professional-grade kitchenware.

56. The bigger the purchase, the more time it deserves. Organic vs. normal peanut butter? Don’t spend 10 minutes thinking about it. $100K on a timeshare? Don’t pull the trigger when you’re three margaritas deep.

57. Use less than 30% of your available credit. Credit usage plays a major role in your credit score. Consistently maxing out your credit hurts your credit score. Aim to keep your usage low (paying off every month, preferably).

58. Unexpected windfall? Use 5% or less to treat yourself, but use the rest wisely (e.g. invest for later).

59. Aim to keep your student loans less than one year’s salary in your field.

The Mental Side of Personal Finance

At the end of the day, you are what you do. Psychology and behavior play an essential role in personal finance. That’s why these behavioral rules of thumb are vital.

60. Consider peace of mind. Paying off your mortgage isn’t always the optimum use of extra money. But the peace of mind that comes with eliminating debt—it’s huge.

61. Small habits build up to big impacts. It feels like a baby step now, but give yourself time.

62. Give your brain some time. Humans might rule the animal kingdom, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t impulsive. Give your brain some time to think before making big financial decisions.

63. The 30 Day Rule. Wait 30 days before you make a purchase of a “want” above a certain dollar amount. If you still want it after waiting and you can afford it, then buy it.  

64. Pay yourself first. Put money away (into savings or investment accounts) before you ever have a chance to spend it.

65. As a family, don’t fall into the two-income trap. If you can, try to support your lifestyle off of only one income. Should one spouse lose their job, the family finances will still be stable.

66. Every dollar counts. Money is fungible. There are plenty of ways to supplement your income stream.

67. Savor what you have before buying new stuff. Consider the fulfillment curve.

68. Negotiating your salary can be one of the most important financial moves you make. Increasing your income might be more important than anything else on this list.

69. Direct deposit is the nudge you need. If you don’t see your paycheck, you’re less likely to spend it.

70. Don’t let comparison steal your joy. Instead, use comparisons to set goals. (net worth).

71. Learning is earning. Education is 5x more impactful to work-life earnings than other demographics.

72. If you wouldn’t pay in cash, then don’t pay in credit. Swiping a credit card feels so easy compared to handing over a stack of cash. Don’t let your brain fool itself.

73. Envision a leaky bucket. Water leaking from the bottom is just as consequential as water entering the top. We often ignore financial leaks (e.g. fees), since they’re not as glamorous—but we shouldn’t.

74. Forget the Joneses. Use comparisons to motivate healthier habits, not useless spending.

75. Talk about money! I know it’s sometimes frowned upon (like politics or religion), but you can learn a ton from talking to your peers about money. Unsure where to start? You can talk to me!

The Last Personal Finance Rule of Thumb

Last but not least, an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

Boom! Got ’em again! Ben Franklin streaks in for another meta appearance. Thanks Ben!

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Why UGMA/UTMA Accounts Are the Perfect Holiday Gift

If you have a special child in your life, you may be wondering what to put under the tree this year. One long-lasting and truly meaningful way to show the child in your life that you care is by taking a few minutes to set up a UGMA/UTMA account and give them a leg up in life.

The earlier you open a UGMA or UTMA account for a child, the longer your initial gift has to grow, thanks to the magic of compound interest. For example, investing just $5 a day from birth at an 8% return could make that child a millionaire by the age of 50. By setting up a UGMA/UTMA account, you’re really giving your beneficiary a present that grows all year round. Now, that’s a gift they’re sure to remember!

What is a UGMA/UTMA account?

UGMA is an abbreviation for the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act. And UTMA stands for Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. Both UGMA and UTMA accounts are custodial accounts created for the benefit of a minor (or beneficiary).

The money in a UGMA/UTMA account can be used for educational expenses (like college tuition), along with anything that benefits the child – including housing, transportation, technology, and more. On the other hand, 529 plans can only be used for qualified educational expenses, like summer camps, school uniforms, or private school tuition and fees.

 

It’s important to keep in mind that you cannot use UGMA/UTMA funds to provide the child with items that parents or guardians would be reasonably expected to provide, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Another important point is that when you set up a UGMA/UTMA account, the money is irrevocably transferred to the child, meaning it cannot be returned to the donor.

 

Tax advantages of a UGMA/UTMA account

The contributions you make to a UGMA/UTMA account are not tax-deductible in the year that you make the contribution, and they are subject to gift tax limits. The income that you receive each year from the UGMA/UTMA account does have special tax advantages when compared to income that you would get in a traditional investment account, making it a great tax-advantaged option for you to invest in the child you love.

 

Here’s how that works. In 2020, the first $1,100 of investment income earned in a UGMA/UTMA account may be claimed on the custodian’s’ tax return, tax free. The next $1,100 is then taxed at the child’s (usually much lower) tax rate. Any income in excess of those amounts must be claimed at the custodian’s regular tax rate.

A few things to be aware of with UGMA/UTMA accounts

While there’s no doubt that UGMA/UTMA accounts have several advantages and a place in your overall financial portfolio, there are a few things to consider before you open up a UGMA/UTMA account:

 

  • When the child reaches the age of majority (usually 18 or 21, depending on the specifics of the plan), the money is theirs, without restriction.
  • When the UGMA/UTMA funds are released, they are factored into the minor’s assets.
  • The value of these assets will factor into the minor’s financial aid calculations, and may play a big role in determining if they qualify for certain programs, such as SSDI and Medicaid.

Where you can open a UGMA/UTMA account

Many financial services companies and brokerages offer UGMA or UTMA accounts. One option is the Acorns Early program from Acorns. Acorns Early is a UGMA/UTMA account that is included with the Acorns Family plan, which costs $5 / month. Acorns Early takes 5 minutes to set up, and you can add multiple kids at no extra charge. The Acorns Family plan also includes  Acorns Invest, Later, and Spend so you can manage all of the family’s finances, from one easy app.

 

During a time where many of us are laying low this holiday season due to COVID-19, remember that presents don’t just need to be a material possession your loved one unwraps, and then often forgets about. Give the gift of lasting impact through a UGMA/UTMA account.

The post Why UGMA/UTMA Accounts Are the Perfect Holiday Gift appeared first on MintLife Blog.

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Guide to Managing Finances for Deploying Service Members

Life in the military offers some distinct experiences compared to civilian life, and that includes your budget and finances. The pre-deployment process can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re organizing your money and bills. 

It’s important you provide your family with everything they need to keep you and any dependents comfortable and stable. This means gathering paperwork, making phone calls to service providers, creating new budgets, and organizing your estate. The more you prepare ahead of time, the less you have to worry about the state of your investments and finances when you return home. 

To help make the process easier, we’ve gathered everything you need to know for deployment finances. Read on or jump to a specific category below:

Pre-Deployment Needs

  • Review Your Estate
  • Reassign Financial Responsibilities
  • Update Your Services
  • Build a Budget
  • Prepare a Deployment Binder

Deployment Needs

  • Protect Yourself From Fraud
  • Adjust Your Savings
  • Financial Assistance

Post-Deployment Needs

  • Update Your Budget
  • Pay Off Debt
  • Review Legal Documents

Before Your Deployment

There’s a lot of paperwork and emotions involved in preparing for deployment. Make sure you take plenty of time for yourself and your loved ones, then schedule time to organize your finances for some peace of mind. 
investments, and dependents. It’s an important conversation to have with your partner and establishes:

  • Power of attorney
  • Living will
  • Last will and testament
  • Long-term care
  • Life insurance
  • Survivor benefits
  • Funeral arrangements

Anyone with property, wealth, or dependents should have some estate planning basics secured. These documents will protect your wishes and your family in the event you suffer serious injury. There are several military resources to help you prepare your estate:

  • Defense Finance And Accounting Services’ Survivor Benefit Plan and Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan
  • Department Of Defense’s Military Funeral Honors Pre-arrangement 
  • Service Member’s Group Life Insurance
  • Veterans Affairs Survivor’s Benefits
  • The Importance Of Estate Planning In The Military
  • Survivor Benefits Calculator

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows you to cancel a housing or auto lease, cancel your phone service, and avoid foreclosure on a home you own without penalties. Additionally, you can reduce your debt interest rates while you’re deployed, giving you a leg up on debt repayment or savings goals. Learn more about the SCRA benefits below:

  • Terminating Your Lease For Deployment
  • SCRA Interest Rate Limits
  • SCRA Benefits And Legal Guidance

 

Build a Deployment Budget

Your pay may change during and after deployment, which means it’s time to update your budget. Use a deployment calculator to estimate how your pay will change to get a foundation for your budget. 

Typically, we recommend you put 50 percent of your pay towards needs, like rent and groceries. If you don’t have anyone relying on your income, then you should consider splitting this chunk of change between your savings accounts and debt. 

Make sure you continue to deposit at least 20 percent of your pay into savings, too. Send some of this towards an emergency fund, while the rest can go towards your larger savings goals, like buying a house and retirement. 

Use these resources to help calculate your goals and budgets, as well as planning for your taxes:

  • My Army Benefits Deployment Calculator
  • My Army Benefits Retirement Calculator
  • Mint Budget Calculator
  • IRS Deployed Veteran Tax Extension
  • IRS Military Tax Resources
  • Combat Zone Tax Exclusions

 

Prepare a Deployment Binder

Mockup of someone completing the deployment checklist.

Illustrated button to download our printable depployment binder checklist.

It’s best to organize and arrange all of your documents, information, and needs into a deployment binder for your family. This will hold copies of your estate planning documents, budget information, and additional contacts and documents. 

Make copies of your personal documents, like birth certificates, contracts, bank information, and more. You also want to list important contacts like family doctors, your pet’s veterinarian, household contacts, and your power of attorney. 

Once you have your book ready, give it to your most trusted friend or family member. Again, this point of contact will have a lot of information about you that needs to stay secure. Finish it off with any instructions or to-dos for while you’re gone, and your finances should be secure for your leave. 

While You’re Deployed

Though most of your needs are taken care of before you deploy, there are a few things to settle while you’re away from home. 
Romance and identity scams are especially popular and can cost you thousands. 

  • Social Media Scams To Watch For
  • Romance Scam Red Flags
  • Military Scam Warning Signs

 

Adjust Your Savings 

Since you won’t be responsible for as many bills, and you may have reduced debt interest rates, deployment is the perfect time to build your savings.

While you’re deployed, you may be eligible for the Department of Defense’s Savings Deposit Program (SDP), which offers up to 10 percent interest. This is available to service members deployed to designated combat zones and those receiving hostile fire pay.

Military and federal government employees are also eligible for the Thrift Savings Plan. This is a supplementary retirement savings to your Civil Service Retirement System plan.

  • Savings Deposit Program
  • Thrift Savings Plan Calculator
  • Civil Service Retirement System
  • Military Saves Resources

 

Additional Resources for Financial Assistance

Deployment can be a financially and emotionally difficult time for families of service members. Make sure you and your family have easy access to financial aid in case they find themselves in need. 

Each individual branch of the military offers its own family and financial resources. You can find additional care through local support systems and national organizations, like Military OneSource and the American Legion. 

  • Family Readiness System
  • Navy-marine Corps Relief Society
  • Air Force Aid Society
  • Army Emergency Relief
  • Coast Guard Mutual Assistance
  • Military Onesource’s Financial Live Chat
  • Find Your Military And Family Support Center
  • Emergency Loans Through Military Heroes Fund Foundation Programs
  • The American Legion Family Support Network

After You Return Home

Coming home after deployment may be a rush of emotions. Relief, exhaustion, excitement, and lots of celebration are sure to come with it. There’s a lot to consider with reintegration after deployment, and that includes taking another look at your finances. 

 

Update Your Budget

Just like before deployment, you should update your budget to account for your new spending needs and pay. It’s time to reinstate your car insurance, find housing, and plan your monthly grocery budget. 

After a boost in savings while deployed, you may want to treat yourself to something nice — which is totally okay! The key is to decide what you want for yourself or your family, figure if it’s reasonable while maintaining other savings goals, like your rainy day fund, and limit other frivolous purchases. Now is not the time to go on a spending spree — it’s best to invest this money into education savings, retirement, and other long-term plans.

In addition to your savings goals, make sure you’re prepared to take care of yours and your family’s health. Prioritize your mental health after deployment and speak with a counselor, join support groups, and prepare for reintegration. Your family and children may also have a hard time adjusting, so consider their needs and seek out resources as well. 
FTC | NFCC 

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