How to Make Better Decisions

It's been a busy two weeks in the Rothwards household!

Last Monday, Kim and I had inspections on the home we want to buy. The results weren't good. The inspector concluded that, overall, the house shows evidence of deferred maintenance. Needed repairs have been left undone. Translation: Nearly everything related to the exterior of the home needs work. The roof needs to be replaced, as does the siding. The deck and fence are beginning to fail. And, worst of all, the foundation may be severely damaged.

The country cottage we'd like to buy

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Your Personal Board of Directors

Real life has been a whirlwind recently. It sometimes takes me and Kim a while to make a decision, but once we do decide, we shift into high gear. So, after nine months of discussing the idea and another month of actual planning, we've spent the past ten days in a mad rush to prep our home for sale.

This morning, the listing for our condo went live.

View from our condo

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How to manage your personal finances like a business

Lots of people find dealing with personal finances to be a tough task. For some, money wasn't a topic of family discussions growing up. There was no place in the curriculum for it at any level of schooling. So, how then, if people aren't exposed to it in their youth, will they be prepared to deal with it as adults?

You can read Dummies Books. You can read magazines like Money and Kiplinger. You can pay for courses from financial "gurus". You can read blogs like Money Boss. But maybe the best way to master your money is to start treating your personal finances like a business.

This idea might seem strange at first, but it makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Businesses require structure. Building a business takes planning. It requires patience. The people who run successful businesses have to be accountable to shareholders, partners and investors. And sometimes they have to call on outsiders to help them with specific problems.

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How to Set Goals and Resolutions You’ll Actually Keep

Because it's a new year, a lot of people are making lists of resolutions. I used to be one of these folks, carefully cataloging the faults I wanted to fix every winter. Not anymore.

It's not that I'm perfect -- as Kim could attest, I'm far from it! -- but I learned a long time ago that making a bunch of resolutions was a sure path to failure for me. There's a reason you see stories every April about how most people aren't meeting the goals they set at the first of the year.

Nowadays, I do something different, something that actually works for me. Instead of tackling several resolutions each year, I only tackle one.

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How (and where) to donate unwanted Christmas presents

If you give (or receive) a gift that misses the mark, returning the item is the natural thing to do. After all, return policies are pretty awesome these days.

However, if you decide to make a bigger impact with your gift -- an item that you've probably survived without just fine for the last year anyway -- why not donate it?

Why You Should Think About Donating an Unwanted Christmas Gift

  • If you donate your unwanted gifts, you'll decrease clutter. Cutting clutter has emotional benefits that I don't understand, but I feel better when my life and environment are clear.
  • Your item might be useful to someone else. Many times, I have kept items I didn't really need because I might need them sometime. But I find it easier to donate or sell items if I imagine those items making someone else's life easier or better ... you know, instead of taking up space in my spare closet.
  • Improve your community. Along with being useful to someone else or an organization, your donation may improve your community. How? By giving your fellow community members something they really need or letting a community organization raise money with your gift that could help them operate other community-boosting programs.
  • You may be able to deduct donations on your taxes. According to the IRS, you may deduct certain donations if you've given to qualified organizations. You must maintain documentation of this donation, however.
  • You're giving something. If you weren't able to donate as much as you wanted to in 2015, this is an opportunity to give a little something without, shall I say, much of an investment from you. If the gift had been given to you, you didn't invest anything at all. But, I still think it counts as giving because you could have returned the item for cash or returned it for another item.

Woman gathering toys to donate after Christmas

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Inheritance disputes: Avoiding the war when there’s a will

Unhappy couple meeting with attorney

The holidays are upon us. It's the time of the year when family moves from the shadows of a busy life to the foreground. That probably makes it as good a time as any to consider one of the most difficult topics to discuss pertaining to family and finances -- the subject of inheritances. Nobody wants to talk about it because it is inextricably linked with, well, death. Someone has to die for an inheritance to come about, and none of us enjoys looking a loved one in the eye and saying, "Hey loved one, you are going to go the way of all flesh soon, so can we talk about what you are going to leave behind?"

How Family Disputes Over Inheritances Arise

When a dispute arises over an inheritance, it can help to recognize some of the issues that might be contributing to the problem developing between family members -- and there are a number of things to consider:

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What is an apprenticeship?

Given that student loan debt in the U.S. tops $1.2 trillion and the average graduate owed over $30,000 in 2015, it's no surprise topics like how to start paying student loans are necessary.

However, if you're still in school or are still saving for college (or you have kids or grandkids in that category), there's an option for reducing or eliminating the amount of student loans you take out: apprenticeship programs.

What is an Apprenticeship Program?

Apprentice in construction with mentor

The basic idea behind apprenticeships is that students/apprentices learn by doing. While apprenticeships used to be a very common way for people to train for a wide variety of professions, as higher education became ubiquitous, the apprenticeship model fell out of fashion.

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Year-end tax planning checklist

Know your taxes! I am a big fan of the philosophy: No one cares more about your money than you do. Even if a professional prepares your taxes every year, learn to do it yourself. Aside from what you'll save in fees, here are two benefits of learning to prepare your taxes yourself:

  1. By doing your taxes on your own, you can learn quite a bit about your finances and get a lot of ideas on how to make your money work more for you.
  2. Sometimes a professional might not ask the right question because they don't know everything that went on in your life this year. If you learn to prepare your taxes yourself, you will become more aware if a professional is missing any deductions.

Educate yourself. This is an excellent place to start — IRS tax tips.

If a professional prepares your taxes…

Set up a meeting with your accountant/tax adviser.

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Why investing can be better than repaying debt

Young man scratching his head

It's a difficult choice: On the one hand, you understand the need to begin investing early to make the miracle of compounding work for you; on the other hand, you know that, when you have debt, making those payments hampers the ability to harness the miracle of compounding.

So, what should you do with that $500 you have -- invest it or pay down the debt? The answer is not as simple as some make it out to be.

Reasons to repay debt first

1. Risk of disaster

As I mentioned in the article about starting to save for retirement, life is not always fair or kind. Most of us depend on a paycheck for everything: rent or mortgage, food, gas, utilities and so forth. When something happens, like losing your job, divorce or severe illness, those checks get smaller, or may even disappear temporarily. We can cut back some of our expenses like gas, clothing, etc. But some things are impossible to cut back. That list is usually headed by rent or mortgage payments and those monthly payments all other forms of debt require. You can't cut those back in times of trial.

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Brown bag lunch strategies for grown-ups

Eating out for lunch. For many of us, it's one of the biggest temptations we face at work every day because it's a tasty, convenient excuse to get out of the office and socialize (or not!) with our coworkers. But there are good reasons not to eat out for lunch too -- like how long it takes, how bad it can be for the waistline, how much it costs (not to mention that it just makes it harder to reach your financial goals).

A couple years ago, Visa's 2013 Lunch Survey pegged the expense at about $10 per outing and "an average of $18 per week or $936 per year." (The national average is 1.8 times per week according to the survey.) It might be even more today.

Young women out to lunch

So if you're looking for ways to whittle down debt or boost your online high-yield savings account, packing a brown-bag lunch could be the frugal hack that does the trick.

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More about...Frugality, Food, Import, Planning