This week, I’m curious to find out what financial issues people have the most trouble with. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, but by identifying some key areas can help guide further topics of discussion on the site.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.
Choosing the right investments has been hard for me. I make a good living and save almost 50% of my salary. I put almost all my savings into the market, this has been since 2003 or so and as of now I've barely made a profit. My total return is less than 10% over the past 5 years. That is horrible beyond belief. But to be fair the market is pretty much less than that. Right now the market is just about where it was when Bush took office.
Chosing the best investments is quite a challenge. We've done well with low-risk stuff but the one foray we made into stocks was a miserable failure.
Like others, We're trying hard to cut back on food expenses. We've been focusing on cooking more at home and packing lunches for work in the past couple of months. Sure, in the short term, the grocery store receipts are considerably higher, but we're making real long-term headway on reducing the amount we'd been spending on eating out.
We're generally very frugal folks and really weigh the options thoroughly before making larger purchases. And it helps that my wife & I have a policy to not spend more than around $50-75 on something without checking with the other person first. At first, this felt confining, but after 11 years, it's not even something I think about - just fits naturally with us.
I wanted to pick a few of them. In my current situation, the hardest thing for me is paying down debt when I also need to save for an impending move. I need to find a good balance between the two.
I am with Leroy Brown...
"No problems increasing income, paying the bills, or making basic investments. My biggest single financial difficulty is one that many overlook - food. I spend far too much money on food - money that could be saved or invested."
I too waste too much money on food - I suspect that most americans have no idea how much money they waste, even if they don't go out to eat much. I used to throw away over $100 a month in food that spoiled, got stale, or expired. I am sure that I was not the worst one out there...
My big problem is deciding how to invest. I'm just about out of credit card debt, and looking to start putting away as much as possible, but I don't really have much of an idea where to start.
None of my parents or friends have been involved in investing, so I haven't picked up any knowledge. There's a lot of resources on the web, but it's difficult to tell which mutual fund to invest in (for example) as there are a million of them.
Saving for retirement has proven most difficult for me because after paying bills, rent, and taking out some minor leisure cash, I have scraps for savings - which is making the process move along so much slower.
Worrying TOO much about it. I've got an emergency fund, have a 401k and filled Roth IRA in indexed funds, live frugally and am able to increase my income.
But sometimes I harp on money too much -- it isn't worth constantly thinking about it.
Keeping up with bills has always been my biggest problem. I've never had a collection drawn, and I have an excellent credit score - but I have a terrible memory when it comes to which bill is due when.
I've been using that auto bill pay as much as possible and it's been a huge help.
Paying down debt - Every time I start to make progress, something comes up. This summer it was the suspension in my car and a roofing problem that were both larger than I feel comfortable paying for out of my emergency fund. So it went on the credit cards.
My 'other' is being patient. That's difficult because I want to be done with debt, saved up for retirement and just adding to that stash and giving.
I make far less than the average for my age and education level. We do well at spending, saving, and budgeting, and actually manage to stretch our income so that we have a lot without spending a lot.
I said increasing income, although it's more complex than that. I really need to learn to spend less than I earn & save. I could do okay in day-to-day stuff if I didn't need to save for major expenses (I will need a "new" car someday, so I'm saving for that. I need to pay insurance every six months, so I need to save for that. I need to have an emergency fund, so I need to save for that. I need new clothes every once in a while, so I should plan for that.)
Other: balancing spending and saving. I am really good at saving money...making it automatic, using what I have, meeting the budget while still being generous with others, etc. But there are times when I am bulimic with money, usually once every two years...it is like the stock market taking back some or all of its gains. I am better at it than I used to be, (it was not out of the ordinary for me to save thousands during the year and then spend a grand on purses for myself at Christmas),but it is still an issue to maintain the balance.
I have no trouble with spending, saving, or paying down debt. Those are all very clear, obvious financial transactions.
Investing and saving for retirement, though, are confusing. So many choices, so much jargon, so much paperwork, so little actual money for me to invest anyway. When every article I read says that I should've started investing 10 years ago, I figure it's too late to do anything worthwhile now.
The biggest problems would be trying to keep our spending under control when we want to give our children a lot!
Saving money in general. Retirement is not too hard with 401K and making it automatic.
I get tempted by food, entertainment, and various geegaws I really don't need.
Based on that info I think the obvious solution is I should increase the amount put into automatic savings monthly - but it's just kinda hard to up that number. A total psychological thing because it's not like the money is really going away :)
Leroy and Steve, those are both two that I also struggle with. My wife and I never eat out, so we don't spend money on that type of food, but I cook meals every night. No packaged food, it is always fresh and that can get costly for sure. I love food and I love cooking, but it can add up fast!
And I do a lot of over-optimizing myself. Any purchase I make, I can spend weeks or even months researching before making a decision. A perfect example is with satellite TV. Our cable is outrageous and doesn't offer HD channels in our area so we are switching to a dish. This has been on the table for a few months, and just last week dish network changed their promotion. It used to be 10 months at the promotional price plus free HD DVR. Well last week I was ready to sign up and now it is only 4 months! All that time searching for the best possible deal and when to make the switch just cost me $120 in discounts.
Other: over-optimizing (spending too much time getting the best deal, the lowest fees, the most timely transaction, etc.)
No problems increasing income, paying the bills, or making basic investments. My biggest single financial difficulty is one that many overlook - food. I spend far too much money on food - money that could be saved or invested.