A Financial Education Event
 

Lean Body, Fat Wallet – The 3D Habit for Financial Success

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In my book, Lean Body, Fat Wallet, we learn that the habits that lead to health also lead to wealth. Let’s look at one of those habits today.

The 3D Habit: 3 Basic Principles to Overcome Temptation

In ages past, it was much more difficult to satisfy our cravings and urges. There were no fast-food restaurants or all-night minimarts to which we could sneak out at any hour and load ourselves up with junk food galore. There were no shopping malls or endless selection of specialty shops where we could shop to our heart’s content. And there certainly was not television to tempt us with tantalizing commercials or access to the worldwide web where we could exercise our need for retail therapy 24/7. Yes, in simpler times it was much easier to avoid temptation.

The 3D Habit: Determine—Distract—Delay

 

This habit is an excellent temptation deterrent strategy to help you navigate the frequent impulses we all encounter from time to time. This habit is described with three Ds that are easy to remember. Each stands for an important and effective strategy for changing your bad habits into healthy ones: determine—distract—delay.

Whenever you realize that you are going to be in a situation that may challenge your resolve to stick to your new financial plan, determine beforehand how you are going to handle it. Rather than just respond to situations as they emerge, give some forethought to common and occasional circumstances that may test you. You can practice new strategies to distract yourself from the temptation and to delay gratification until the time you decide is appropriate in light of your desired goal.

WEALTH AND THE 3D HABIT

Samantha was a chronic shopaholic who was a sucker for a bargain even when those bargains threw her off budget. Since she was single and didn’t have the accountability of a husband who shared the debt and frustration of a growing credit card bill, it was easy to live for the moment and worry about the money later. After attending one of Ellie’s financial seminars, she decided to apply the 3D Habit to her spending practices. Here is what her process looked like:

Determine to Be Accountable

Samantha decided that making herself accountable to her best friend, Katherine, would help her stop impulse shopping. Her friend agreed to call her once a week and ask her what bargains she bought online, at the mall, or on her phone. She also began to track her spending on Mint in order to be accountable.

Distract from Impulse Buying

When Samantha encountered an irresistible bargain, red sale tag, or 20-percent-off savings, she took a few seconds to text her friend: “I’m being tempted.” She also chose to focus her mind on her new goal of paying off her debt and thought, If I don’t spend twenty dollars on this bargain, that’s twenty dollars I can put toward my Visa bill. These tactics were effective enough to distract her from the impulse to spend.

Delay before Purchasing

If the item really was a bargain, she truly needed it, and it was within her budget, she took a photo of the item, noted the day the sale ended, and sent herself a calendar alert to reconsider the purchase before that date. She said that nine times out of ten, this final habit of delay was sufficient enough to help her see that even though the item was a bargain and within her budget, she didn’t really need it and could pass on it when she had the benefit of time and space away from the impulse urge.

The Payoff of the 3D Habit

When Samantha first began the 3D Habit, it felt awkward and cumbersome. After all, she felt a little odd making herself accountable and texting her friend when she was tempted to make a purchase. But she was determined to pay off her consumer debt and build a cash reserve. She said, “The temporary discomfort involved in breaking a bad habit was replaced by the permanent joy of reaching my financial goal.” In fact, her accountability friend noticed the transformation in Samantha’s spending habits and decided to apply this effective new habit to her desire to become more physically active. Katherine developed a new habit of walking three times a week in the process. Both friends are happier, healthier, and wealthier due to the mutual accountability they applied to the 3D Habit.

It is easy to apply this habit to all aspects of your financial life, from learning to be content with the money you currently make, to being able to stick to your family budget. By practicing what the late Stephen Covey taught in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleand “beginning with the end in mind,” you can go a long way toward recognizing the value of implementing the 3D Habit into your daily life every time a temptation arises that veers you off course.1

The 3D Habit Applied to Long-Term Financial Goals

One of our family’s traditions was to eat on “happy plates” when something good happened to one of our family members. Financial success helps us follow the three 3D habit as we determine that our overriding goal is more important than an optional item that isn’t going to get you to that debt-free vacation. We choose to distract ourselves  by saying, “It’s not in the budget” and delay the urge by saving for that item instead of charging it on a credit card.

A DELAY A DAY KEEPS POOR DECISIONS AT BAY

Make a life decision to practice the delay step of the 3D Habit as part of your normal way of life. Commit to delaying emotional indulgences even if only for a few minutes in order to ask yourself some defining questions before taking action. For example, “Does this purchase move me closer to my goal?” “Will I feel good about this decision an hour or day from now?”

Practiced over and over, this strategy will become an ingrained habit that protects you from regret and helps you find creative ways of designing a lifestyle that is closely aligned with your core values and interests. It’s wise to remember this simple statement: “When in doubt, don’t . . .” Instead of taking immediate action, delay what you’ve decided (in advance) in a wise time frame. Then, once that time has passed, decide if taking action is a wise choice.

 How can you apply the 3D habit to your life? 

Spring Savings – Five Ways to Save $500 or More

When I was a gangly seven year old with braids that were too tight and freckles that looked better on a cheetah, I used to dislike the spring. In my Latino family, spring meant two things: 1) my mom would dress us in flamenco dresses to go to the fair and 2) I would have to participate in spring cleaning.

My Spanish mother and my Abuela would put on their work clothes, tie their hair in a scarf and attack the house with a vengeance that would make the mighty 300 run in sheer panic all the way back to Sparta. Never get between a Latina woman and her spring cleaning. I was conscripted into forced servitude while all my freckleless girlfriends got to go play kick the can in our street circle.

Now that I’m an adult, every spring, I engage in a different type of practice that gets our finances in tip top shape. Instead of a broom, I use a smart phone. Instead of a vacuum cleaner, I have a computer. I like to engage in spring savings. The bonus for this formerly freckled girl is that I usually save more than enough money to hire someone else to do my spring cleaning.  Here are some ways that you can get out of spring cleaning and into spring savings:

Property Tax Challenge – As many as 30% of homeowners may be overtaxed, according to the National Taxpayers Union. First, study your property card for errors in your home’s specs. Next, compare your home’s value and taxes with other nearby homes (go to Valueappeal.com). Third, go to ntu.org/tax-basics to learn how to build your case before the tax assessor. Fourth, challenge the amount and win and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars!

Prepare for Warm Weather – Invest in a thermal leak detector to find and fix drafts around windows, outlets and walls to save as much as 20% on cooling bills. Also invest in a programmable thermostat to adjust your home about 10 degrees while you’re at work and at night to save another 15%.


Pull the Plug on Entertainment
– There’s no need to pay for pricey cable or satellite when you have less expensive options. Before we had Apple TV, we invested in a streaming player called Roku that cost about $100 and connected the internet to our TV. We currently use Netflix ($8/month) for movies and TV shows and then Hulu Plus ($8/month) for new TV episodes that we can watch right after they’ve aired. Plus, I’m a Prime member on Amazon, so I get to watch scores of shows for free on Amazon Instant Video. I’ve discovered all kinds of Downton-like British TV shows that are delightful (I’m currently hooked on Lark Rise to Candleford).  These options save $750 a year over cable.

Put off the Oil Change – My girlfriend Audrey has a fairly new Lincoln and the dealership told her to only go 3000 miles between oil changes. But her car light comes on at 7800 miles, so she listens to the car instead. Actually, the newest studies indicate that my girlfriend is right! The quality of oil has improved dramatically over the last 25 years. Follow the owners manual and the car’s oil-life-monitoring system instead of the dealer who wants that extra service fee. I change the oil in my car once a year!

Put it on Ice – To save on food and spoilage, freeze hard cheeses, most fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, bread and other baked goods. You can use ice trays to freeze baby food, sauce or stock, and chopped fresh herbs in water. Not only will you never have to dig a moldy hunk of something you don’t recognize out of the back of the fridge, you’ll also find dinner prep is quicker and easier by using these kinds of frozen items.

Once you’ve finished your spring savings, then sit back, pour a cool glass of tea (with mint infused ice cubes) and watch Lark Rise to Candleford—you deserve the rest!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R) 

Savvy Saver Quiz – part 4 – Transportation

 

Transportation

 When I was a teen, I always wanted a little roadster. It only took 30 years of clipping coupons, but I (finally) got mine after years of driving mini vans and suburbans. But  even though my “baby” is small, it loves to guzzle the gas, so I have to be careful. How well do do when it comes to saving on transportation?

Q.  How many individual trips do you make to the grocery store, department store, discount store, electronic store, the mall, or other shopping venues each week? (Count each individual trip as one and count combined trips as one.)

a) 0-3

b) 4-6

c) 7-9

d) 10 or more

 Q.  If the speed limit is 65 mph, how fast do you normally drive?

a) 60 mph to 65 mph – I’m a cautious driver

b) 66 mph to 70 mph – I push it just a little

c) 71 mph to 75 mph – I like to keep up with traffic

d) 75 mph or more – I like to live in the fast lane, baby!

 Q.  How often do you have the air pressure checked in your tires?

a) at least every other week

b) once a month or once every two months

c) once every three to six months

d) Am I suppose to check the air?

 Q.  How often, per week, do you carpool to work, to the kids school or to other events with friends (meetings, out of town trips, shopping, etc.)?

a)  5 or more – I regularly carpool

b)  3 to 4 – I try to make the driving count

c)  1 to 2 – I’m a taxi mom

d)  never – I like to drive!

 

Q.  How often do you shop around for the best price on gas (using an app like TripTik or gasbuddy or going to www.gaspricewatch.com)  before you fill up?

a) every time – Gas is too expensive to pay top price!

b) frequently – I pay attention to who has the best prices

c) occasionally – When I can remember

d) never – Who has the time?

Welcome to the scoring section of the Transportation category – Give yourself the following points: every “A” answer = 4 points, every “B” answer – 3 points, every “C” answer – 2 points and every “D” answer – 1 point

 16-20 points  Thrifty Taylor – Well done, you’re a SUPER SMART DRIVER! When it comes to making sure you get the most bang for your driving buck, you are routinely aware of gas prices, make sure your tire pressure is accurate, carpool to work or school and check out sites like www.gaspricewatch.com or www.gasbuddy.com to get the best prices! You’re not only saving on fuel costs, you’re saving our environment with your conscientious ways—well done! 

 11-15 points:  Low Cost Logan – Good Job, you’re a SMART DRIVER! – You are doing a good job at keeping driving costs down by combining trips on errands. You probably have also figured out that you don’t have to go to five different stores when you can come to your local Walmart Superstore and get everything you need in one place, this saves time and money. There is slight room to improve, but you are in a nice place when it comes to wisely using transportation dollars.

 6-10 points:  Moderate Morgan – Nice Work, you are a DRIVER! – You might be good at combining errands to save on time and expense and you might shop around for the best gas prices when you have the time. However, there’s always room to improve. By minimizing your trips to a lot of different stores, trying to carpool when you can, making sure your vehicle is well maintained and driving the speed limit, you can save more and become a smart driver!

 5 points:  Extravagant Emerson – You must love to DRIVE! – If you don’t drive for a living, you might just live to drive! Transportation may be an expensive area because you may be a “taxi mom” whether you like it or not! By slowing down your speed, becoming more strategic in trip planning and checking the air pressure in your tires, you could cut fuel costs by 25% or more!  Since gas prices may be on the rise again, now is a good time to make some modifications to your transportation habits to set yourself up to be a one who drives and saves! 

Let me know how you save on transportation!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Savvy Saver Quiz – part 1 – Caring for The Environment

Do you consider yourself a savvy saver? Are you smart when it comes to buying food, caring for the environment, living on a budget, stretching your entertainment dollar and getting more bang for your transportation buck?

This is the first of a series of quizzes I’ve developed to help you target areas where you excel and categories where you can improve as a savvy saver. Let me know how you score and have fun!

 Eco/Energy

 Q.  How many products do you purchase weekly that are specified as Eco-Friendly? (Some examples of the hundreds of available products include organic coffee, milk, CDs, baby products, home furnishings, apparel, and even Eco-Friendly Garden Mulch)

a) 10 or more items

b) 6 to 9 items

c)  3 to 5 items

d) 2 items or less

 Q. How often do you bring your own reuseable bags when shopping?

a) every time I shop, it’s a new habit

b) frequently, I’m trying to get into the habit

c) occasionally, when I think about it!

d) never, I just don’t think about it

 Q.  How many Energy Efficient, Star Rated Appliances do you own?

a) 3

b) 2

c) 1

d) I have no idea what you’re talking about—or none

Q.  How many CFL bulbs (compact fluorescent light bulbs) do you use in your home?

a) 8 or more

b) 4 to 7

c) 1 to 3

d) none

 Q.  How often have you purchased from “site to store?” (This is where you have products shipped from Walmart.com or another site  directly to a local store)

a) 3 or more

b) 2

c) 1

d) never

 Welcome to the scoring section of the Eco/Energy category – Give yourself the following points: every “A” answer = 4 points,  every “B” answer – 3 points, every “C” answer – 2 points and every “D” answer – 1 point

 If you scored 16-20 points:

Thrifty Taylor – Well done, you’re a SUPER SMART SHOPPER and ECO-FRIENDLY! You are not only saving money by shopping smart, you are all about saving the environment by buying responsibly as well. You probably already know that shopping site to store at walmart.com saves fuel costs by 1,000 gallons per work and saves 20,000 boxes per month. You bring your own bags, buy organic cotton clothing and really try to do your part to keep our planet green. 

If you scored 11-15 points:

Low Cost Logan – Good Job, you’re SMART SHOPPER and ECO-FRIENDLY! – You are doing a good job using your green dollars in a green way! There is an awareness level on your part of what it takes to save energy, fuel and money by making key choices that help you and your world. You can go a bit further in this area by learning to shop more organically and looking for energy star ratings on products.

If you scored 6 to 10 points:

Moderate Morgan – Nice Work, you are somewhat ECO-FRIENDLY! – There are some areas where you have learned to recycle and conserve. But you are probably still learning what it means to buy green. You want to help, but are still in the figuring out how you can make it work for you and your family. It’s great that you have the will to help, now it’s just finding the way that works best for you!

If you scored 5 points:

Extravagant Emerson – You are a one who NEEDS AN ECO BUDDY! –It might be that you’ve never really considered the environment or buying eco friendly products that can help our green earth. But did you know that using a CFL light bulb versus a standard light bulb will save $59 in energy costs over the life of the bulb? Sometimes saving money and saving energy go hand in hand. Why not make a few eco-friendly choices today? You could start as simply as using reuseable bags or replacing a few light bulbs. It’s good for you and it’s good for our environment!

 Look for more quizzes soon!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

 

Invest Now and Save Later! What’s worth it and What’s Not?


I was recently on ABC News, Good Money Show, talking about whether you should buy a hybrid, that extended warranty or a programmable thermostat–are they really worth it?

Consumers in a post recession economy are constantly looking for ways to save money. In some cases, there’s an upfront investment required in order to save more in the long run. Should you ante up now on the promise that the investment will pay off later? Today, I’m going to answer your questions about when to invest now in order to save later and when you should pass or just say “no.”

Q. When consumers consider purchasing a product that carries a good faith promise of “invest a little money now and save big money down the road” how can you tell which investments are worth the cash and which are scams?

ELLIE: Whenever there is a post recession economy, there is also going to be a proliferation of those unscrupulous individuals who will try to take advantage of a consumer who is out to save money and cut expenses. There is a difference between fraud, which is illegal and punishable by law and the empty promise, which a salesman might make to close the deal. Before you sign the dotted line with a solar panel sales company, check them out on the Better Business Bureau site. But just because there are no complaints doesn’t mean it’s a legitimate business. Ask for references, don’t give into pressure sales, never respond to an email inquiry, and guard your personal information.

Q. Let’s go down the list of common purchases that promise to save us money in the long run if we invest a little money now. Let’s start with a simple programmable thermostat that costs around $50. Is it worth it?

ELLIE: The average family spends $2700 a year on home energy and nearly half of that goes to heat or cool their home. A programmable thermostat is easy to install and should save you around $180 a year, so you’ll recover that investment in about four months. This is a “must have” purchase for every home.

Q. What about a hybrid car? The promise is that we will save enough on gas to recoup the extra cost of purchasing the car. How much more do these cars costs and do you think that it’s worth the additional expense?

ELLIE: If you buy a hybrid, you’ll pay 20 to 30% more than a nonhybrid counterpart. The answer to this question is Yes and No. Yes, if you buy a less expensive hybrid like a Toyota Prius (which starts at $22,000) and if you put 20K+ miles on your car every year. You’d also need to do mostly city driving for this to be worth it. No, it wouldn’t be worth it if you buy a more expensive hybrid, don’t put as many miles on it or if gas prices are under $4 a gallon.

Q. I use my laptop computer a lot and I’ve always bought an extended warranty on it because I want to make sure I can save on repairs. I spent about $100 for my laptop warranty for a two year extended warranty. Did I do the right thing?

ELLIE: If you have an expensive laptop ($1000 or more), then you did the right thing because laptops cost more to service than desktop computers. But if you bought a $400 desktop, chances are you can fix a lot of those problems yourself—they are very user friendly. So in the case of an inexpensive desktop, it would probably be best to just pass on buying an extended warranty.

Q. This past week the Mortgage Bankers Association released mixed mortgage rates. An average 30 year mortgage increased to 4.82% and the average 15 year mortgage rate was 4.23%. A big question on homeowner’s minds is: should I pursue a mortgage refinance? Ellie, when the average refi costs anywhere from 2% to 3% of the total loan, when is it a good idea to refinance?

ELLIE: There’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to refinancing your home. If you can get at least a full one percent break from the interest rate you’re now paying and if you do not plan to move for the next 3 to 5 years, then there probably won’t be a better time to refinance. Just make sure that you crunch the numbers, using my mortgage refi tool at elliekay.com and be sure you shop around with different lenders such as INGDirect.com, wellsfargo.com, and bankrate.com. Get a GFE (Good faith estimate) up front and don’t let them add the closing costs to the back end of your loan because you would be paying interest on your closing costs and that negates a good portion of the value of the refi.

Q. Summer is here and I’ve always heard that planting your own garden can not only yield great tasting fresh produce, but you can also save a lot of money. There’s also CSA (community sponsored agriculture) programs that allow members to purchase shares and get weekly produce from specific farms. Are these a good idea?

ELLIE: You’re going to pay around $70 to plant your own garden and it will cost around $450 to purchase a 12 to 15 week CSA share So the answer is “yes” this will save you money if you want to invest 5 hours a week on your own garden. If you go the CSA route, the breakeven point is spending more than $33 a week on produce. One other option is to split your efforts with a friend or neighbor. You can share a local garden or you can each go in on a CSA share (paying $225 each instead of the $450 for the full share). Plus, you’ll get some healthy and super fresh results!

Q. We’re hearing a lot about energy star appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines. They promise to save us 40% on energy and water bills but sometimes cost 70% more than non-Energy Star certified. Is it worth it to replace your existing appliance?

ELLIE: If you have to replace that appliance anyway and you shop around, then yes it can be a great example of spend now and save later. Let’s take the example of a washing machine. You have an older top loading model that costs around $44/ year in energy. An Energy Star rated front loader (such as the Frigidaire Affinity, 3.5 cubic foot model) costs only $18 per year in energy (gas or electricity). But, it also saves 40% on water, you use less detergent, the clothes come out less damp, which means less time in the dryer. All these additional savings, including the savings of around 7,000 gallons for an average sized family means that this is a good purchase. Plus, if you go to www.energysavers.gov , you’ll find a list of appliance rebates and tax credits that are available for Energy Star rated appliances in your state!

Q. What about credit card balance transfers. There are still a lot of offers out there that promise to save consumers money with a lower interest rate. It can cost up to 5% of your credit card balance. Every financial expert has an opinion on this. What’s yours?

ELLIE: I’m not a big fan of credit card balance transfers and it’s not just because of the transfer fee. I’ve seen too many “hoppers” who transfer balances frequently, chasing the lower interest rates when the existing introductory rate expires. I have an online calculator at elliekay.com that can help you determine how much money you would save in a balance transfer. A lot of these offers are for consumers that open a new card and when you’re opening multiple new cards and closing others down, just to chase a lower interest rate, you risk deteriorating your FICO, or credit score. So unless you’re going from an 18+% rate down to a fixed 5% rate (plus the transfer fee) and chances are not good you’re going to find that kind of good deal—then just pass.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
www.elliekay.com