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 (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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Starting to save for retirement at 40

couple with kids

There's something about reaching the big 4-0 that often causes you to re-evaluate your direction in life. And when you do, it's hard to escape the fact that your day of retirement is indeed approaching faster than you ever thought possible.

If you're one of those who eliminated debt and made investing for retirement a habit since your 20s, there's very little to do other than enjoy your 40th birthday and continue on with what you're doing. But if you're heading into your 40s having done nothing to prepare for retirement, the prospects can be downright scary.

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3 ways to beat McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast menu on speed and price

Are there seasons in your life where you're more likely to swing through the drive-thru because you're tired, stressed, or overwhelmed?

Fall is like that for me. My friends start talking boots and flannel. Pumpkin Spice Lattes start showing up in my Instagram feed. And the corn mazes and pumpkin farms open for business.

And me? While I love colorful leaves and impossibly blue autumn skies as much as the next person, I cringe when fall arrives.

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Great small cities for millennials (or anyone seeking affordable urban spaces)

Millennials are weird. I should know; I am one. For years, our unorthodox lifestyle choices and money habits have been confusing to our elders. And perhaps the most unprecedented millennial-ish move we've been making is the avoidance of home ownership.

With home-buying at an all-time low according to the Census Bureau, the finger is easily pointed at us as a likely cause. But instead of leveling the typical charges that we're lazy and stuck in wanderlust as the root of why we still live at home, perhaps it's because we're just trying to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Consider what we've witnessed: As millennials, we lived through the late '90s and early '00s, we've seen our parents go through tech bubbles bursting and the entire housing market crashing. We saw firsthand what can happen if you buy a home when you can't afford it or if your job just suddenly vanishes.

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