In the last month, the stock market as a whole has fallen over 11%. Since the plunge, everyone has been on pins and needles, wondering if the market will recover or whether it will dive even deeper into the abyss. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer – nobody does – but it has long since been speculated that 2016 would be a disastrous year for stock investing, and that’s looking more and more true every day.
Where to Invest Your Money in 2016

If the stock market is going to crash again in 2016, where should you be putting your hard-earned money? At this point, I’m certainly not jumping at the opportunity to buy up shares of the Dow or the S&P 500. Each day, the value of these indexes swing wildly up and down and show no solid ground. An investment here seems more like a gamble than it does a wise choice for the future.

If the “smart thing” is no longer the way to go, where on earth should be we be investing our money? This is what Liz and I have been asking ourselves since our engagement early in the year.

1) Real Estate

This one shouldn’t be a big shocker to you. If investing in the stock market isn’t safe, then putting your money into a tangible asset should be the way to go. The only problem is, the real estate market is incredibly hot right now and houses are selling over list price just a few days after going up for sale.

Ideally, Liz and I would like to buy a house that has a solid structure, but some ugly wallpaper and paint. We’ll spend a month or two to fix it up, and then we’ll rent it out for a passive monthly income. We’ve been looking for a single family home for about 3 weeks and have found absolutely nothing that we consider a deal. While real estate has always been a solid investment, if the upfront costs are too high, then the overall investment picture just doesn’t make sense.

If you can’t buy into real estate at the right price, where else could you invest your money?
where to invest your money

2) In Yourself

Sitting in bed last night I asked Liz, “What if we can’t find a deal on a rental property? Should we just keep building up cash and wait?” It seems strange that when we finally have the money to invest heavily, there really isn’t anything worthwhile to invest in. What we could do in the meantime though is invest in ourselves. In other words, while we wait for that steal of a deal on a house, we could be investing in real estate seminars, into books and CDs, and taking a few gurus out to breakfast. This way, we’ll be ready when the right moment presents itself.

Investing in yourself could also mean improving your formal education. Have you considered going back to school to finish your degree, but you just haven’t pulled the trigger yet? If, by spending $20,000 today, you could potentially earn yourself $10,000 more dollars each year for the rest of your life, that would be a good thing to do, right? So why not dive in and finish that education? When the typical investments aren’t ripe for the picking, then at least invest in your future earning power!

Finally, investing in yourself could include starting your own business. I currently earn a few pennies with this website, but it hasn’t been very scale-able. In other words, if I put in double the efforts, would I experience double the income? Nope, I haven’t seen it yet. If Liz and I want to earn a return on our money, it would be wise for us to explore a wide variety of at-home businesses. Maybe we could build a greenhouse today to earn future profits on flowers and produce, or perhaps we could build onto our garage and create our very own rental suite? There are so many possibilities out there – you just have to alter your investment mentality a bit and consider investing in yourself.

3) High-Yield Savings

Cash does absolutely no good when it just sits there earning nothing. Every year, the cost of living goes up, so if you don’t earn any money with your existing savings, then you’re actually going backwards. In other words, stuffing money under the mattress is just a flat-out bad idea. So, if you can’t invest your money in the stock market, you can’t find any real estate buys, and you’re not interested in investing in yourself, then what should you do?

Some put their money into government treasury bonds that earn 2% annually, but that definitely isn’t without risk either (note the recent government shut-downs when they hit their debt ceiling). So what seems to be safe, but still earns a decent return? Believe it or not, I point people to high-yield checking accounts at their local credit unions. About four years ago, I found a credit union near my home that paid out 3% interest on my checking account. They’ve never missed a payment and I pretty much do nothing to earn it. It’s a beautiful thing.
where to invest your money

4) Collectibles

Collectibles are another way to go if you’re looking to invest your money somewhere other than the stock market. This could range anywhere from a baseball signed by Babe Ruth to a painting crafted by Picasso. Pretty much anything that can be authenticated and is one of a kind would be labeled as a collectible in my book. If you foresee a rise in popularity for a particular item, then seek out that item and buy it! If you’re right, then you can sell it years later for a hefty profit. This category definitely isn’t for everyone (including me!), but there are definitely advantages to investing in collectibles.

5) Precious Metals

In theory, there is a finite amount of precious metals in this world today (after all, no one has yet figured out the exact science behind alchemy), which means that their value can be based on the rarity of the metal, it’s usefulness, and it’s demand among the masses. Today, some of the most popular metals are silver and gold, and these items are revalued every minute of every day.

As a general practice, if one believes that the stock market will soon take a dive, then an investor will move the majority of his/her money into precious metals, believing that when the market goes down, the demand for precious metals will go up, thus increasing the price. It definitely not a bad plan. I will likely invest in precious metals in the near future. But, instead of investing in a silver stock or gold stock, I’m going to invest in the real deal. It’s just a safer way to invest when you’re actually holding onto real property.

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Every time I look at Facebook, there’s another cute newborn baby picture on my feed. And as my husband and I come up on eight years together, it’s something we’ve begun to discuss as well. When should we try to have a baby? And how can you prepare your finances for a baby?

We know there will never be a perfect time. But as financially savvy people, we want to do what we can to make sure we are financially sound before we start a family. Raising a child is expensive! According to the USDA’s “Cost of Raising A Child” Report, a child born in 2013 will cost about $245,340 in today’s dollars by age eighteen.

So I asked a few of the financially astute parents I know about how to prepare your finances for a baby. Here are the top four things they suggest to prepare your finances for a baby.
prepare your finances for a baby1. Prepare for the Unexpected with Savings

An emergency fund is an important part of the financial picture for any family. But when anticipating a major life and medical event like having a baby, having savings on hand becomes even more important. There are many possible expenses, so it’s hard to know what it’s going to be, but you’ll be glad you had money available. It can take time to put so much away, so start now.

Catherine Alford, financial writer and mom to toddler twins, tells parents to expect the unexpected. “We definitely planned on only having one baby, but we got twins! Then, our twins had NICU time, and our daughter had health issues that required her to wear a breathing and heart rate monitor for 12 weeks after she was born. It was so, so important that we had a $10,000 baby fund, but we blew right through it. I hate to think of what would have happened had we not saved anything at all.”

When establishing your baby fund, think beyond the deductible and co-pays. Michelle, freelance writer and mom to a 3-month old, recommends that parents “add extra padding to your baby fund for any emergency you may or may not have during the first month of their lives. When we ended up delivering 2 months early, we were prepared to pay for the birth, but not for the hidden expenses like driving back and forth from the hospital, the loss of work time, or the eating out we needed to do to stay sane.”
prepare your finances for a baby2. Consider Childcare and Live on Less Now

If you think you want to have a child, prepare in advance for the costs. Do you want to have a parent stay at home? If so, start living off one salary now to make sure you can do it. Are you planning to send your child to daycare? If so, start setting aside future daycare costs into a savings account. Daycare can often cost as much as a mortgage. Prepare your finances for a baby by simply living on less today.

Sarah Mizell, financial advisor at Valued Retirements and mom to a toddler, advises parents to make important long-term decisions like quitting a job in advance instead of in the last few sleep-deprived hours of maternity leave. “Whether you want one parent to be the primary caretaker, or you decide daycare is your route, living on significantly less than you make now leaves the margin to take a pay cut or add daycare costs.”
3. Understand Your Employer Benefits

When you think to prepare your finances for a baby, you don’t immediately consider your employer benefits, but it is incredibly important! Before the delivery date, you’ll want to make sure you understand three aspects of your benefit plan:

the parental leave policy
health insurance
and disability insurance.

If you’ve worked for your company for over a year, and your company has 50 or more employees, you qualify for parental benefits according to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Both parents are allowed to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave after the birth of a child. Your employer might provide additional parental leave beyond this minimum.

You’ll also want to review your health insurance options to make sure you’re on the best healthcare plan for pregnancy and childbirth. Consider prenatal care, birth options, and neonatal care. How expensive are the co-pays and deductibles? Do you like the available childbirth options?

By knowing the details of your health insurance plans, you’ll be prepared to create the birth you want. Kirsten, a freelance financial writer and mom of two, wanted to work with a midwife at a particular birth center in town, but found it wasn’t covered under her health insurance. “I didn’t let it go. I asked where the closest approved center was, and it was 200 miles away! Armed with that, I filed for an exemption and it was granted. Don’t take no!”

If you decide to switch, you’ll have to wait for the open enrollment period to change plans. At a minimum, you’ll be able to switch plans when the child is born, as having a baby qualifies you for a specific enrollment period outside of traditional open enrollment.

Also, prepare your finances for a baby by looking at your short-term disability insurance options. The FMLA does allow birth mothers to receive some amount of disability income if the company pays disability benefits in other circumstances. Some employers also offer separate short-term disability policies, which can be a great deal if you plan to get pregnant within the next few years. You’ll need to plan ahead for this one; pre-existing conditions like pregnancies are often not covered within the first few months of the policy.
prepare your finances for a baby4. Protect Your Baby’s Future with Estate Planning

If you want to start a family, make sure you protect your newborn by having your affairs in order. With a family depending on you financially, life insurance is now a must. You’ll also want a will if you don’t already have one. When you prepare your finances for a baby, don’t forget that you need to consider the present, the near future, and the distant future.

Katie Brewer, CFP(R) of Your Richest Life and mom to a five-year old daughter, advises clients to review their life insurance and estate planning every time they have a change in their family. “You usually need more life insurance after the birth of a child. If you already have a will in place, it may not include provisions that address who will raise your child.”

By planning for the arrival of your new child, you can focus on the things that matter most.

Fall isn’t here yet but I’ve already made a few dozen of my healthy pumpkin pancakes to store in the freezer for a quick meal for my toddler as we prepare for baby #2′s arrival. Pinterest is blowing up with fall comfort food, pumpkin everything, and comfy clothing. Bathing suits, tank tops, and shorts will soon be stored away while hoodies, jeans, and sweatpants will once again make an appearance on the retail shelves. Maybe you don’t live in a location that has 4 distinct seasons like we do here in Michigan, but there’s still no doubt that, regardless of where you live, a different set of temptations accompany the arrival of fall. I’m a dietitian so talking food is what comes naturally for me, but I want to talk about a different kind of weight gain that may come with the fall season- financial weight gain.
What is Financial Weight Gain?

I’m not talking about a good type of financial weight gain like your wallet getting thicker from making more money. I’m talking about financial weight gain in the sense in that we get more and more relaxed with our spending and spontaneous purchases are likely to be a reoccurrence. Here are 3 quick tips that will help you enter the fall season prepared so you can stay on track with your goals and not let money slip away:

1. Plan for the holidays

I hate to tell you this, but after fall comes winter. It happens every year. With winter comes holiday shopping. It may seem too early to be talking about the holidays but if you plan to buy gifts for anyone then it would be wise to make sure you actually have money so you can buy those gifts. Say no to credit card debt and crazy-high interest rates; it’s not too late to set aside a chunk of your income each month so that you have gift money upfront and aren’t hoping you can pay it off once the new year starts. I say this often: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
financial weight gain

2. Find free & cheap entertainment

Michigan is the place to be in the summer. We’ve literally got Great Lakes all around with so much to see and much of it for free. However, once the cooler weather rolls in everyone longs to be somewhere South and most of us only go outside when necessary. Don’t let the cooler weather blow your entertainment budget; find cheap ways to stay entertained. Need ideas where to start? Check out a cider mill, host a sweater party, rent a movie from RedBox or your library, go for a walk, host a freezer meal party, check out free events on your community calendar, read that book you’ve been wanting to dig into, or have someone over for a cup of coffee that costs $0.25 to make yourself rather than buying a $4 latte from Starbucks.

3. Seek out end-of-season deals

Stores are releasing their new fall clothing lines with “great” deals and styles. It can be tempting to jump on the latest trend. Does anyone really not enjoy adding new clothes to their wardrobe? However, the deals usually aren’t that great and the temptation to buy more than what you really planned for is very enticing. Instead of dropping your hard-earned money on new trends, use some of your clothing fund (note: NOT a spontaneous purchase) to grab real deals on summer clearance items. Maybe your shorts are getting a little worn out; you could restock on a few pairs for next year while only paying a fraction of the price they initially were at the beginning of summer when that season was the hot trend.

Other options are to browse consignment shops like ThredUP or host a clothing swap to find what you are looking for. The same can apply to other summer-y items like picnic utensils, beach towels, and patio furniture since stores are drastically dropping the prices in order to make room for fall items. Avoid the temptation to have the newest thing for the sake of your wallet.

It can be challenging not to spend money as the hype of a new season approaches. You don’t have to be a stickler about everything, but like I said, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Most of you who follow this blog have set financial goals for yourselves and desire accountability so you can reach them. Let this be a little nudge that sets you on the right track financially as we welcome fall while avoiding financial weight gain.

You blame it on your parents, your educators, your employers, your children…but these responses have very little to do with answering the question, “How Come I’m Not Wealthy?” Sure, your parents might have been dysfunctional, your formal education might have ranked poorly when compared to the average, your employer might not have the best progression plan, and your children do certainly cost money, but are any of these “reasons” really keeping you from being wealthy? I don’t think so. The only thing that’s keeping you from being wealthy is you.
How Come I’m Not Wealthy?

It sounds kind of like a cliche message – something like, “Only you can prevent forest fires…” but it’s absolutely true. The only thing keeping you from being wealthy is you. If you don’t intentionally work to become wealthy, then you will never be wealthy. What will you do instead? Naturally, you’ll do exactly the opposite of what The Millionaire Next Door teaches and instinctively do what the rest of the nation does – which is to pretty much be below average and broke.

1) You Live Above Your Means

If you are making payments on a car, have credit card debt, or have a 30 year mortgage, then you are living above your means. Some of you might be upset by this, but think about it for a minute. If you have a car payment, what are you really doing? You took a car from the dealership, promising to pay them with your future money that you’ll hopefully earn (and not get fired before it’s paid off)! Does this sound like living within your means? Certainly not!

The same thing goes for that credit card and the 30 year mortgage. You couldn’t afford what you bought, so you’re making future payments on all of it, just so you can have it today. In my opinion, if you have any debt or have a mortgage with repayment terms greater than 15 years, then you’re living above your means and will likely never be wealthy.
how come i’m not wealthy

2) You Waste Time, Energy, and Money

People pose the question, “How come I’m not wealthy?” and then they watch TV, play every rec league under the sun, and spend like there’s no tomorrow. If you want to be wealthy, then you’re going to have to start thinking like the wealthy do. Instead of watching TV in the afternoons, start a side-business. Rather than pretending you’re having fun in life on those rec leagues, go to a Young Professionals meeting or Toastmasters. And, when you’ve actually got some money, learn to hold onto it and invest it instead of spending it on material goods that will eventually find their way into the garbage.

3) You Enjoy Flashing Cash

I work with so many people that like to flash their cash. Of course, they aren’t literally running up to me, swooshing benjamins in my face, but they’re wearing designer clothing, sporting an expensive watch, and talking about the boat that they love taking out on the weekends.

Understand, these things aren’t bad or evil, but the more of them that they have, the farther away from wealth they get.

4) Your Parents Help You Get Out of Jambs

Have you ever read the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” Basically, there were two test mice that went through the same routine each day. They got up, went through their maze, and then found a tasty dinner of cheese in the same spot each day. Life was simple, life was easy, and the cheese was always there to fill their bellies.

For many people, they are the mice and their parents are the cheese. Whenever life gets tough and resources are slim, they head over to their parents house, explain their sad story, and then their parents satisfy their “hunger” by shelling out some cash. It might only be a hundred bucks or it could be thousands. Either way, if you depend on your parents’ help once in a while, the cycle will likely never change. You’ll keep making the same dumb choices, and they’ll keep bailing you out – keeping you far away from knocking at wealth’s door.

5) Your Kids Can’t Make it on Their Own

Sadly, the shoe can move to the other foot as well. If you raise your children poorly and don’t teach them about the difficulties of life in the real world, then they’ll probably keep wrapping at your door looking for cheese. The more you help them financially, the worse off you become. If you fail as a parent, you’ll likely be sucked dry financially in the long run.
build wealth

6) You Are Oblivious to Opportunities

“How come I’m not wealthy?” you might ask. And I’ll probably pose the question, “What has been your most recent opportunity?” More than likely, you’ll tell me that there haven’t been any. And, of course, you’d be wrong. I certainly wouldn’t point my finger in your face and call you a liar. You legitimately think that life’s not presenting opportunities, but truthfully you just aren’t looking for them.

These opportunities could be free education, an invitation to a seminar, or a simple conversation with a wealthy gentleman at church. All of these things could lead to that next big opportunity, which then may lead to another huge opportunity.

Approximately 4 years ago, I was working in a dead-end job that was going nowhere. I was doing it well, and was helping the company with my work, but I knew that if I stayed in that department, my position on the corporate ladder had no chance of moving. During that time, my coworker signed up for a mentorship program and coaxed me to put my name into the hat as well. I was hesitant, but I realized that this might just be my opportunity to move up in the company. Sure enough, within just 3 months of starting that mentorship program, I had an opportunity to take on a new role. Then, just three years later, I accepted another promotion within the same company. Taking hold of that one opportunity has changed my life tremendously.

7) You Chose a Dumb Occupation

It’s great for kids to follow their dreams, but sometimes those dreams are irrational and will likely end in failure. Instead of just sitting back and cheering them on, let them know that the real world is a tough place and that they should have a plan B in place.

For instance, if I had a son that really wanted to be an actor in Hollywood, I wouldn’t tell him that he’s an idiot and he’ll never make it. That would be pretty lousy parenting. But, I also shouldn’t add to his delusions and feed his imagination with visions of future stardom. Based on the probabilities, becoming a movie star just isn’t going to happen. Instead, I would suggest that he pursue his dream, but to also train himself in a useful life skill as well – perhaps to get a degree in accounting, marketing, or engineering – something solid that could land him a steady job if his dreams don’t work out.

For those that choose dumb occupations that take them nowhere, they will almost certainly never be wealthy.

“How come I’m not wealthy?”, you ask? Basically, you never stopped to think about how you could set yourself up for wealth. If you continually let the breeze of life blow you around, you’ll likely be disgusted with where you land.

In 2015, we’re putting extra emphasis on budgeting since it’s a must for financial success. Each month, we tackle a different category, and by year’s end, we’ll have one big resource for maximizing your entire budget.

Johnny and I just finished purging our closets and drawers of all our unwanted clothing earlier today. So it seems fitting to be writing about clothing spending as bags of clothing sit in our room, just waiting to be thrifted.

Before I list out all our tips and tricks for saving money on clothing, I have to preface this by saying we do about 90% of our clothing spending online. When it comes to buying clothes, I like to put the least amount of time and effort into it while still getting cute clothes for a good price. And we both pretty much hate shopping for clothes, so doing it from the comfort of our laptops is what works best for us.
Know your spending limit in advance.

When it comes to budgeting for clothing, we’ve tried two different methods. The first, which failed miserably for us, was allotting a monthly clothing stipend that rolled over from month to month. We just don’t buy or even look into buying clothes very often, so our clothing stipend never got spent. An alternative method we’ve used is giving ourselves a yearly budget that we break up into two big (a relative term) online shopping sprees (very relative term) a year. In the spring and fall, we stock up on clothing using a predetermined budgeted amount. We don’t decide what we want and then spend whatever’s necessary to get it. Rather, we decide how much we can spend and then we buy what we can with that amount of money.
Make a list.

Because our clothing spending is limited, we make sure to prioritize what we need most before buying any clothing. This also helps to take the emotion out of purchasing decisions, like when you see the cutest oversized cardigan ever that you really want for fall but you know you don’t actually need. Not that this happened recently or anything…

I’m definitely someone who sees something cute and instantly feels like I can’t live without it, so sticking to my list is key. It’s very similar to the mentality I use when I’m grocery shopping, too.
Wait for major sales and sign up for deal alerts.

Stores have sales ALL THE TIME. I think they do this so that if you just stumble on their site, you’ll think, “Ooh, I just happened to come here on a sale day! I need to buy stuff NOW!” But some sales are better than others. And one way to discern between the okay sales and the great sales is to sign up for deal alerts from your go-to stores. I hate getting emails every day telling me about sales, but it keeps me informed for when a really good sale is happening. And I have it all just go to my Promotions tab in Gmail so that my main inbox stays clear. That said, even if a great sale is going on, I don’t buy stuff for the sake of buying it. Even the great sales repeat themselves pretty regularly, so I just bide my time until Sally needs new clothes or when it’s time for Johnny and me to stock up on new stuff.

And as an aside, my go-to stores are Gap/Old Navy (the girls and me), H&M, and ASOS (Johnny) for our family’s clothing. Occasionally, I’ll splurge on something from Zara or J.Crew (still on sale, though), and sometimes I buy stuff from Target. Johnny has a pretty regular stock of American Apparel shirts that he buys every couple years, too. And we get our shoes wherever we can find the best price for what we’re looking for.
Choose conservative items.

Maybe it’s because we’re getting old, but Johnny and I try to avoid super trendy items. We like to stay in style, of course. But we want our clothing to be in style and last for years, rather than months. We also try to only buy items that we completely love. If we don’t love it, we return it, period.
Pay for quality where it matters.

This will be different for everyone, but for Johnny and me, we care most about quality when it comes to our pants and shoes. So we splurge more when it comes to those items. We still buy them on sale, but we’re a bit more choosy. And that’s all relative, of course… for me, it means buying jeans from Gap instead of Old Navy. And Johnny sticks to Levi’s 511s for his jeans. We also spend more on coats since those last several years. For us, it’s been worth it to pay a little extra for items that will last longer and fit better.
Buy at the end of the season.

I don’t actually follow this rule, but so many people have recommended it. To get extra amazing deals, buy winter clothes for the following year at the end of winter. Or buy summer clothes for the following year at the end of summer. I’m much too impatient for this, but I have done it here and there and gotten incredible deals on clothes. Just be careful to buy items that won’t go out of style over the next several months until you can wear them.

Those are our top tips, but obviously there are so many more. Johnny and I used to go thrifting for clothes all the time during our college days, and we probably still would if we had more time. Everyone has different ways they save, so we’d love to hear some of your tips for saving on clothing! Sally’s growing out of everything these days, and I’d love some fresh tips before I do another shopping haul for her!