Can You Save $200 a Month on $36,000 a Year?

Saving money is a challenge for the 99 percent.

Once you get your take-home pay, and then pay all your bills, is there anything left for savings.

Hey, I know. I get paid twice a month on the first and fifthteenth. I pay my rent and student loan on the first, and on the fifthteenth I pay my credit cards and health insurance premium. That’s about half of my take-home pay for each paycheck.

I worked with a Certified Financial Planner and we used one popular budgeting plan which is called the 50/20/30 guideline. Instead of tracking every expense, it puts your expenses into one of three groups:

  1. Fixed Costs, or bills that don’t change from month to month. Rent, Car payment, Utility bills. You can also include your spa membership or Hulu — anything that stays the same from month to month.
  2. Financial targets, or setting aside money to paying off your credit card liabilities, retirement and emergency account.
  3. Variable spending, which includes grocery shopping, eating out, movies, gas, etc.

Let’s take a look at how I should be spending my $36,000 a year salary, which comes to about $2,250 a month:

  1. Fixed costs:
    1. Rent: $495
    2. Transportation: $0 (I just paid off my car loan)
    3. Utilities: $0 (My utilities are included in my rent)
    4. Gym: $20 (I should stop this payment because I never go)
    5. Health insurance. $400 a month
    6. Car Insurance: $85
    7. Netflix, Amazon Prime & Hulu: $30
  2. Financial targets:
    1. Student loan: $350 a month (I have just under $5,000 left)
    2. Roth IRA: $0
    3. Emergency Fund: $0
    4. Credit cards: $300 (my goal is to pay off my credit card debt next year)
  3. Flexible spending total:
    1. Groceries: $300
    2. Gas: $80
    3. Entertainment (Movies and Eating Out): $300

Here is how the percentages break down. I am spending about $1,030 on my fixed costs or 46% of my take-home pay. My financial goals, which right now does not include contributing to a Roth IRA or emergency fund, totals $650 a month or 29 percent of my monthly income, which is almost 10 percent more than what I should be spending on my financial needs.

After using 46% and 29% of money for fixed costs and financial goals, I have 25% left for flexible spending, which is 5% less than what the formula calls for.

Right now, I am estimating my flexible spending at $680 a month, which is just $5 more

than the $675 I should be spending in this category.

However, every month I am spending $110 more than I make, and I am not contributing to retirement or emergency fund.

I can decrease my credit card payments to $200 and I can look for other ways to save on my flexible spending, such as going to fewer movie each week or eating out less.

Next time, we will take another look at how I can meet the 50/20/30 formula.

Why Do You Need a Certified Financial Planner

Americans spend. They don’t save.

That’s been a problem for Americans for a long time now.

CNN reported on a survey in 2013 that only 50 percent of 1,000 people surveyed had a good saving habits.

The CNN report said, according to projections by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, “more than half of all Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers will be able to retire with enough money to cover basic retirement needs, including health care costs, a significant number are at risk of running short.”

The recession was still having a continuing effect on Americans’ saving habits.

“Of those surveyed, 38% said they were saving less than last year, compared to 30% who said they were saving more than last year. Only 41% of all respondents said that they save outside of work through automatic transfers from checking to savings or investments. About two-thirds said they had sufficient emergency savings to cover unexpected expenses like car repairs or a doctor visit,” CNN reported.

However, Bankrate in 2013 reported that 55 percent of Americans
have saved more money for emergencies than they owe on their credit cards. That’s good, according to CNN, because it helps families save for a home or retirement if they have enough money for emergencies.

Saving money is the best way to prepare for retirement. And, the earlier you start saving, the better.

If a family of four saves $50 a month for 30 years how much money will they have? provides the answer: “If you stashed $50 a month under your mattress for 30 years, you would end up with $18,000, but if you invested it and earned just 5 percent, you would end up with almost $40,000 – at 8 percent, that figure becomes $68,000.”

Imagine if you saved $100 a month or $200 a month.

That’s the power of compound interest. Money, as a rule of thumb, can double every seven years.

Let’s take a look at that $68,000 you saved from the time you were 20 to age 50. When you are 57, you could have $136,000 — not including any additional money you saved during those seven years. At age 64, you could have $272,000 for retirement — once again, not including any money you continued to save.

Saving, however, takes a lot of discipline. You can’t deviate. It has to be a constant habit.

Bank of America recommends 8 simple ways to save money:

  1. Record your expenses
  2. Make a budget
  3. Plan on saving money
  4. Set saving goals
  5. Decide on your priorities
  6. Different savings and investment strategies for different goals.
  7. Make saving money easier with automatic transfers
  8. Watch your savings grow

Let’s take a look at some of these suggestions. First, if you don’t know what you are spending your money on, how can you set priorities? Did I really spend that much money on movies, popcorn and soda this month?

You also need to set a budget based on what you take in. Factor in 10-15 percent of your net income for savings and take that off the top.

As we move into the later savings methods it might be time to consider hiring a certified financial planner.

“Professional advisors say there is no magic asset number that pushes an investor to seek advice. Rather, it is more likely an event that spooks a person and sends him scurrying through an advisor’s door. The event could be something that requires the individual to manage an asset himself,” according to Investopedia.

The challenge for many Americans is that we don’t do a good job teaching our children how to handle money. This lack of financial education has been a constant for generations.

That is why hiring a certified financial planner is something for you to consider.

“It’s natural to feel a little nervous about handing your hard-earned money over to a stranger to manage–especially in the wake of scandals involving high-profile names like New York financier Bernard Madoff and Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford, who’ve been accused of losing billions of their clients’ dollars,” according to a Forbes article.

Forbes says a good financial advisor is worth the expense.

Here are Forbes recommendations on how to hire the right financial adviser:

  • Look for Certified Financial Planner designations, which require three years of experience, comprehensive testing and several hours of coursework.
  • Vet your advisers by requesting their “Form ADV” which tell you if they have had trouble with regulators or clients and also which outlines their services, fees and investment strategies.
  • Not all advisors take commissions. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors is comprised of fee-only members “also have a fiduciary duty to put your needs first, above their own or their firm’s stockholders.”
  • Advisers should do more than come up with an investment plan which would include retirement, taxes, estate planning, insurance and risk management.
  • The softer skills matter too. Find someone who you comfortable talking to.

There you have it.

You now know you need to start saving money and that a certified financial planner can you accomplish this goal.

The stock market is crazy

I lost $5,000 when China’s economy — half-way around the world from — crashed the world’s market.

No longer do we live in an isolated economy. What happens in Greece can wipe out last week’s gains? Everything is interconnected.

Remember back when the U.S. government bailed out GM. Many people opposed that. Mitt Romney said we should have let GM go through bankruptcy and reorganize.

I don’t agree. Not at all. Perhaps it is the too big to fail argument. And it is impossible to prove what would have happened if GM went bankrupt. But I believe that if that had happened the ripple effect would have been an economic tsunami that we still might be recovering from.

Thus, we know today that a crisis anywhere in the world could spike the price of oil up or down and cause the world’s stock markets to teeter and crash.

With this backdrop, what should we do now that the Dow is down 2,000+ points from its height.

“Resist the urge to panic on down days. Yes, this is easier said than done when a look at your 401(k) makes you want to run around like Chicken Little. (The market is falling! The market is falling!),” is the advice you will find on CNNMoney.

“There are now better opportunities for longer-term investors. This correction is not without precedent. You typically get one every few years,” said Bill Northey, chief investment officer of the Private Client Group of U.S. Bank.

Here are some action steps, according to the Today Show, that you should take:

  1. Review your portfolio
  2. Don’t panic
  3. Look into a Roth conversion for your IRA
  4. Save on your tax bill by using losses to offset gains
  5. Speak with a financial professional

All good suggestions. As you can see, “don’t panic” is a mantra today. We are told that the millionaires see a market correction as a time of opportunity to make more money. WE peons who are worrying about making next month’s mortgage payment have a tendency to panic.

I have $5,000 a cash and am considering investing it in some solid stocks that have tumbled 20 percent.

Now is also a good time to review your portfolio. Too many times people see a stock broker 10 years ago when they were 45 and set up their portfolio. Just as the economy is different today than it was 10 years ago so are your financial needs.
“(Diversify) is a word we say in the markets that always helps people: Make sure you have a little bit of everything, and that will help you when stocks start to slide,” Sharon Epperson of CNBC said. “Make sure you review what you have. You may want to re-balance your portfolio.”

A certified financial planner can help you review your portfolio and all your financial options.

There are two types of certified financial planners — one who is fee based and one who works on commission. Although I prefer fee-based, there are many excellent commission-based certified financial planners from which to choose.

Make sure you check out your certified financial planners. Do a background check. Get references. Find out what their investment strategy is. Are you comfortable with their approach. Check out their credentials. Meet with them in their office to learn more about the person (You can learn a lot about someone by visiting their office).

Make sure your certified financial planner has a fiduciary responsibility to put your best interests first and foremost.

A good certified financial planner, who has to have at least three years of experience before he/she can get certified, will take a holistic approach to you and your family needs. A young couple with children has different goals than a family with two kids in college or empty-nesters who have just retired.

An approach used for a young family may not be appropriate for retirees.

You and your financial professional should sit and discuss your needs, your goals and your life. You should not just be a set of numbers. You make this. You need that.

If you are close to retirement take the time to decide what is important to you. Travel? Reading? Broadway shows. Do you like to buy new cars every few years?

Everyone’s needs and goals are different and a certified financial planner should develop a custom financial plan just for you.

Think of today as an opportunity, not the harbinger of bad things to come.

With the help of a certified financial planner, you can turn the China economic crisis into your personal financial salvation.

Dental Trends Today!

IMG_1312The dental industry has come a long way since laughing gas, pliers, string and a door knob.

The ancient origins of dental awareness date back to 5000 BC when a Sumerian text mentioned “tooth worms.”

Since then, archaeologists have found references to teeth disease , such as an Egyptian artifact that mentions toothache remedies. Egyptian Hesy-Re is often referred to as the first dentist. His tomb has the words “the greatest of those who deal with teeth, and of physicians.”

Let’s fast forward to the 20th century. According to the American Dental Association these are some of the dental innovations that occurred:

  • 1903, the porcelain jacket crown is created
  • 1905, Novocain is developed
  • 1907, casting machine invented to let dentists create precision cast fillings
  • 1910, first organized training program for dental nurses in Ohio
  • 1911, U.S. Army Dental Corps is authorized
  • 1937, first dental implant developed
  • 1938, nylon toothbrush introduced

One of the most significant invention and controversial is the introduction of fluoride into the public water supply of five cities, including Grand Rapids and New York. Water fluoridation is considered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one of the ten greatest public health innovations in the 20th century.

Water fluoridation is controversial because many people consider fluoridation a health problem. They call water fluoridation an unethical form of mass medication without our consent. The Fluoride Action Network says studies shows fluoridation is linked to bone fractures, thyroid problems and brain development impairment. The CDC, however, says 1 ppm of fluoride in the drinking water is safe.

Let’s jump to 2015 to see what trends exist in the dental industry. Although we may remember the sole dental practitioner, more and more group practices are popping up. There are economic reasons why the solo dental practice of the past 100 years is dwindling.  The dental industry is just following the group trend in the medical community. Also, costs keep increasing and this is a way to defray the costs.

Technology is also continuing to play a significant role in dentistry. More and more practices use tablets to keep e-records and CAD/CAM technology is on the rise. Wikipedia says Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing is being used to improve the design and development of crowns, veneers, implants, etc.

From pliers and string with a door knob, the dental industry has come a long way.

The major challenge facing the dental industry is getting 50 percent of the population in this country that does not come regularly to see a dentist.  This is surprising to me since I go to the dentist two to three times a year for cleanings. My mother did it, and now I do.

Whether it is fear or phobias or financial constraints 50 percent of Americans are putting their oral health at risk. Cavities, gum disease, dry mouth and oral cancer are health issues that can be prevented and/or minimized by regular visits to the dentist.

If the dental industry targeted these people it would be a boom for individual oral health.


Dental Problems to Avoid

IMG_1366Cavities and gum disease are the major problems you want to avoid. You want to avoid all dental procedures that you can.

Now, I have genetically strong teeth. I never had a cavity until I was in my fifth decade. The lack of cavities was certainly not because of all the cookies, cake, candy and soda that I did not eat or drink while growing up. That’s because I drank several colas a day and ate way too many Entenmann’s chocolate cookies, cakes and candy than I needed. My waistline was proof of it.

Not everyone will be as lucky as I am in regards to their teeth.

Some kids when I was growing up had cavities every time they visited the dentist. That’s probably why so many people have fear and phobias of visiting the dentist. They remember the drilling and braces they endured as a child.

I also did not have braces so I kind of skipped all the dental problem checklist that many kids have to deal with.

Does anyone remember the movie, “The Marathon Man,” with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. There is a dental torture scene in the movie. The producers have acknowledged they lost box office dollars because of that scene. Many people refused to see the movie because of it.  I saw the movie. Didn’t like the scene but I still saw the movie.

Let’s take a close a look at the dental problems you may have to face.

Cavities are caused by bacteria which consumes simple sugars which converts them into acid plaque which attacks the enamel and dentin in your teeth. Gum disease is caused by bacteria  which inflames your gums.

The best way to prevent cavities and gum disease is to brush regularly using the correct technique, floss after each meal, wash with an oral rinse and visit your dentist at least twice a year.

Let’s take a look at dental problems you may face as you grow older:

  • Gum disease, which is also referred to as gingivitis, which we all know from every mouthwash and toothpaste commercial we have ever watched. You have to take gum disease very seriously. You could have perfect teeth, but still lose them because of gum disease, which can become the more serious periodontitis.
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold foods. If you are experience sensitivity with any of your teeth, it can be caused by cavities, gum disease, missing fillings, lack of tooth enamel, to name just a few.
  • Oral cancer. If you have any sores that bleed or a lump in your mouth it could be  symptoms of cancer. Other symptoms are numbness and changes to the alignment of your teeth,
  • Dry mouth. Although we all experience dry mouth one time or another — I get it if I sleep with my mouth open.  But if you are experiencing it too often, your dentist will need to check it out. Dry mouth can be caused by different medications and illnesses.

Most likely you will need to visit your dentist just to keep cavities and gum disease at bay. You are the first line of defense against cavities and gum disease. Remember to brush, floss, rinse and see you dentist at least twice a year.


How to Choose a Dentist

IMG_1410.jpgFor the 50 percent of the population that don’t go to dentists because of fear and phobia, I guess you can skip this post.

For the 50 percent who know they need to see the dentist at least twice a year, please read on.

Having lived in a half-dozen cities as an adult, I always have to find a new dentist. Perhaps, the most common way is to ask your new friends or coworkers. That’s what I usually did, and I have to say I’ve been happy with my dentists throughout the years.

In recent years, I have taken out dental insurance, which I think is very good bargain. My policies have always paid for two dental cleanings a year. That practically pays for the annual premium which is about $240 a year. Dental visits today can cost at least $75 per cleaning, if not more. By having the dental insurance, I also have protection if I need more costly procedures which, as I get older, seems to be a good bet to occur.

Because of the dental insurance, I have to make sure my dentist is in the insurance company’s dental network. I have not been disappointed. Of course, when you check out the dental plans they offer different benefits. You will want to choose the plan that meets your needs. I always make sure I get two visits a year. That’s my main concern.

Once you have a list of dentists you can still check with your friends and coworkers to see if their dentists are on your plan. If you have moved to a new city you can ask your old, trusted dentist for a referral. Just a thought,

As in real estate, location also matters. You should choose a dentist who is convenient to where you live or work. It makes getting to and from your appointment that much easier. You also want to check out the office hours. Do they have evening hours once or twice a week? Saturdays? If you work, evening and Saturday office hours is a major plus.

I will say that I have noticed an increase in sanitary precautions since I was child. Now, most dentists and hygienists wear protective eyewear and latex gloves. If they don’t, you might want to find another dental office.
You will also want to make sure you understand how the dentist’s office handles after hours emergencies. If you don’t have dental insurance, you will want to know the costs for cleanings, X-rays and filling a cavity. If you have financial problems, check to see your area has dental clinics for low-income families.
Now, I have never done this, but you can check the dentist out on the phone and in person. I usually just go for the visit and I haven’t had a problem. These questions you will have to answer yourself.
Since I have never had a cavity until I turned 50, going to the dentist for me has been easy and painless.
I did have my wisdom teeth pulled when my mother was still alive. She came with me. She also took me back to my office afterwards for 10 minutes because I had to make sure I met a deadline.
I don’t remember much about the recuperation period. I can’t remember if ice cream or warm soup was my food of choice. Since I also had my tonsils out they blur together. I remember ice cream bothered me for one procedure. Just can’t remember which one.
I also had an interesting side effect, albeit 15 years later, from my wisdom teeth procedure. I was now living in St. Louis when I started feeling a bump in the side of my mouth. I went to the dentist, but she could find anything. A few weeks later I felt something that had broken the gums.
This time the dentist saw it and took an X-ray. It is a piece of my wisdom teeth that had not been removed years earlier. It took all those years to for that bit of tooth to grow and break the gum, but it did. It was a rather painless procedure, but the dentist pulled it out. Voila, no more wisdom.
The next time I really needed dental care was when I cracked my back molar. I always thought back pain was bad, but tooth pain easily topped it. The dentist had to pull the tooth.
I will say that, except for the shiny titanium-like instruments the dentist’s now use, it still looks like the pliers the Three Stooges would use in their movies. Better pain drugs, however.
I am not trying to scare you. I have had nothing but good experiences with my dentists. If you take the time to search for a good dentist, so will you.

My Friends Are Coming To Town, Now What?

beach sandI’m psyched.

My friends are coming down to Sarasota in a few weeks with their kids for a vacation, and they asked me to spec out the attractions and all the fun things they can do as a family. I have homework to do.

They already have made reservations for the Hyatt Siesta Key Beach.

What’s not to like about this luxury resort. One week there and you will not want to go home. Multi-bedroom condo-style residences, valet parking, daily light breakfast, personalized grocery delivery, poolside cabanas, beachfront fire pit and on-site spa services. That’s just for starters.

As the name implies, the hotel is located on a beach named 2015 Trip Advisor Best Beach, not a Top 10 Beach, but Best Beach. The kids are going to love the seashore here with its 99% pure quartz sand. No need for sandals. This beach doesn’t scorch your feet.

Siesta Key Beach is family-friendly with picnic tables and shaded playgrounds for the kids. Let’s not forget the Gulf of Mexico. They better bring a lot of sun screen.

The surf and sand is a great home base for the family, but the hotel also is perfectly situated just a short distance from the cultural and art center of Sarasota.

They can brunch on Main Street, visit the John and Mable Ringling Ca d’Zan and the Ringling Museum and take a cruise with Siesta Key Watersports Dolphin Watch & Sunset Tours. Sarasota has everything for a family vacation.

For the kids, I’m recommending the following:

  • Mote Marine Aquarium
  • Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
  • Sarasota Jungle Gardens
  • Evie’s Family Fun Center
  • Hunting for Shark Teeth
  • Florida Railroad Museum
  • The Ringling Circus Museum
  • South Florida Museum, Bishop Planetarium & Parker Manatee Aquarium

These recommendations are from my friends with kids who have been to these fun places.

My favorite place is the Mote Marine Aquarium, which I have visited. I’ve met Moonshine the Dolphin, Hugh and Buffett the manatees and sea turtles Caleb, Hang Tough, Harry, Shelley and Montego. The Mote has more than 100 species of marine life, as well two touch tanks and a 135,000-gallon shark habitat. As I always say, “Better to see the sharks at the Mote than watch Jaws!”

The planetarium is a perfect blend of awe, fun and education. The kids will be enthralled

with Perfect Little Planet, Passport to the Universe and Life: A Cosmic Story. My favorite is Passport which is an incredible journey from Earth and the Milky Way galaxy to the edge of the universe. Beam me up, Scott

My friends are lucky. Their oldest is 16 and can take care of the kids while Mom and Dad enjoy some cultural excursions, as well as quality time for themselves. They can choose from a plethora of choices:

  • Shopping at St. Armands Circle which also offers a diverse selection of dining options.
  • The Ringling Museum of Art which houses masterpieces by Rubens, van Dyck and Gainsborough.
  • Marina Jack II Cruises
  • The Dali Museum
  • Cassariano Italian Eatery for its award-winning contemporary Northern Italian cuisine.
  • Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar
  • Mattison’s City Grille
  • Siesta Key Oyster Bar
  • The Gator Club

Now, I have been to most of the dining, shopping and cultural places in Sarasota. There is nothing like a Spring evening eating and listening to live music at Mattison’s City Grille, I’ve also enjoyed sunset cruises on the Marina Jack II.

For Italian food, Cassariano Italian Eatery can’t be beat. Even if you are not an art lover, you will be impressed by the masterpieces at the Dali Museum and Ringling Museum of Art. Sundays at St. Armands Circle is a lovely way to end a weekend.

As a family, there are several day trips my friends and their three kids can take:

Key West, Orlando Theme Parks and Busch Gardens Tampa. Need I say more.

By the time my friends leave Sarasota they are going to need the proverbial vacation from their vacation. There are not many destination spots that offer such a variety of sun and sand, culture, attractions, nightlife, tours and family fun.

As always, I’ve made sure to print out all the discount tickets at, the Gulf Coasts premier visitor’s guide, has to offer. Mustdo also has an app for Android and Apple.

Now, when is their plane landing.