Financial Planning

The Year of the Snake & Money: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

February 13, 2013

Year of the SnakeMarin Mommies presents another great article by Marin mom and financial planner Katy Song, CFP®.

The Year of the Dragon is coming to an end. Last year I wrote that it was to be a year of excitement, unpredictability and intensity. It was supposed to be a great year for innovative businesses and ideas. However, the Dragon could also cause you to spend more money than you should. Some astrologers even warned that HP would not do well in 2012; I think a 40% drop in stock price indicates that they were right! How did you do in the Year of the Dragon?

The Snake is considered to be lucky and means that your family will not starve. Those born in the sign of the Snake are supposed to be wise, intuitive, cunning and modest. So, what will the Year of the Snake and 2013 mean for your finances?

Here is some advice based on Chinese interpretations of the year to come:

  1. Pay attention to detail. The Snake is able to read very complicated situations quickly and in a controlled manner, which can be good for business. When signing any kind of documents, pay very close attention to the details. The Snake is cunning, and you can use this to your advantage by looking for loop holes that sway terms in your favor.
  2. Be focused and disciplined to accomplish your goals. A new-found ambition to greatness will inspire you to be all you can be and provide you with the follow through to actually achieve your goals. Steady progress is what the Snake is all about. The 2013 year of the Snake also supports added responsibility. (New baby? Promotion at work?)
  3. Watch your spending. This year you need to watch spending even more diligently since Snakes are inclined to spend money more quickly than earned. The Snake is materialistic and likes the best of everything. The Snake sees it, likes it and buys it. This can create tensions in personal relationships.
  4. Create a safe place from which to work. The Snake likes protection and needs to feel safe and secure to use its special analytical skills. This is the year to make headway in slow and methodical ways. As you focus, you will definitely accomplish things this year.

The Best Savings Account for Kids

August 13, 2012

Marin Mommies presents a guest article by financial planner and mom Tanya Steinhofer.

Once my son’s savings piggy bank accumulated a fair amount, it had been my plan to take him to a local bank to open a passbook savings account, so he could experience opening an account, have tangible evidence of his money and watch it grow. I recently began the search for a passbook savings account and came to the realization that this type of account has gone the way of the Dodo bird. For those unfamiliar with this type of account, it’s a savings account that comes with a physical booklet that gets stamped with the amount of deposits and withdrawals (similar to a check register). So I broadened my search to see what type of savings accounts (not investment accounts) are available for kids. I called a few local banks and some national ones with large footprints locally, as well as one online-only bank (ING Direct).

Time to Buy Real Estate in Marin?

March 28, 2012

Buy or rent?Marin Mommies presents another great guest article by Marin mom and financial planner Katy Song, CFP®.

Market uncertainty, record low interest rates, lack of housing inventory, signs of economic recovery, increasing rents… When you put all of these together, what do you get? A lot of questions about whether this is the “perfect” time to buy or keep renting.

I speak with a lot of people looking for houses and there seems to be a little frenzy developing for those looking to buy a 3+ bedroom home for less than $1million. If you are in this position or are contemplating getting in the market, first, take a deep breath and know one thing for sure: You will likely not time the market perfectly. Second, do not get caught up in the frenzy. Know exactly what is right for your financial situation and family (price, down payment size, mortgage terms, location, etc.). This is going to be one of your biggest investment decisions and you should not compromise on too many items.

Marin is a special market. The supply of housing is limited and the demand is high given its proximity to San Francisco, good public schools and family environment. The excess of demand over supply means that values tend to remain high and long-term growth prospects for this investment are strong. So, is housing a safe investment again?

Look Out! Year of the Dragon and Your Money

January 18, 2012

dragonMarin Mommies presents another great article by Marin mom and financial planner Katy Song, CFP®.

For most of my clients, 2011 proved to be a year of getting on more solid ground (paying down debts, getting out of underwater homes, building up an emergency fund, and even taking a vacation). This was predicted for the Year of the Rabbit (2011), in which you were able to rest and have a little peace. Well, I hope you took the time to get prepared for the Year of the Dragon (2012)!

The Dragon is said to create excitement, unpredictability and intensity. This can bring out some wonderful behaviors like enthusiasm, but throwing caution to the wind can lead to unnecessary risks. Personally, I am ready for some excitement but want to steer clear of drama. So, what does this Year of the Water Dragon mean for your financial future over the next year?  Here is some advice based on Chinese interpretations of the year to come:

What Now? Preparing for the Long Road Ahead

August 16, 2011

Marin Mommies is presents another great guest article by Marin mom and financial planner Katy Song, CFP®.

On August 8, 2011, the S&P lost 6.7% of its value, and most investors are still suffering from whiplash caused by the market’s ups and downs last week. Whether you watched your portfolio plummet, saw the drop as a good time to buy, or sat on the sidelines stunned, I have some advice… take a deep breath and exhale slowly. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

It seems like every time a piece of economic data shows positive signs of a recovery, there is updated “official” economic data saying that the previous quarter is revised downward. Just like the market, if you drop 600 points and go up 400 points the next day, you are still down! So what can you do to better handle this volatility and prepare yourself for a long road ahead? Here are some simple steps:

Know what your money is for. Every account or pot of money you have needs a purpose. If you need it within the next three years, make sure it is liquid. Liquid means that you can quickly and cheaply convert it to cash. While stocks are “liquid”, you run the risk of needing to sell when the market is down.

Tax Time Financial Resolutions

April 5, 2011

Mill Valley mom and Certified Financial Planner™ Katy Song offers some tax time tips to help you achieve your financial goals in 2011.

Between 40–45% of adults make New Year’s resolutions each year, and less than 50% of those resolutions are kept after six months. Even though this statistic sounds pretty bad, studies show that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to reach their goals than people who do not explicitly make resolutions.

For 2010 (like most years), the most popular New Year’s resolutions were: losing weight, quitting smoking and improving finances (save money, reduce debt).  While over indulging in holiday festivities may help motivate people to focus on health in the New Year, there is nothing like “tax time” to motivate us to do something positive about our finances.

Taxes are backward looking. By the time you have all your paperwork together and a good idea of how 2010 turned out, it’s too late to do anything about it. However, it is not too late to make meaningful changes in your financial behaviors for 2011.

How to Find the Best 529 Plan for You

February 1, 2011

Piggy bank savingsThis guest article is by Marin mom and financial planner Tanya Steinhofer, CFA, CFP®.

I recently conducted some research on 529 plans while deciding which plan to open for my daughter. I had chosen Utah’s 529 plan a few years back for my son, but wanted to make sure it was still one of the best choices given the market challenges of the past couple of years. Several states’ plans struggled during the financial crisis due to too-aggressive asset allocations or poor performance of some of the investment options. In fact, one of the age-based options in my son’s Utah plan suffered because it keeps 65% of a college-enrolled student’s assets in stocks, which is aggressive given the short time horizon of those savings, particularly in a bear market. Fortunately, the age-based option I chose for him is all in cash by the time of college enrollment.

My criteria for choosing a plan are low fees, good selection of investment options (particularly age-based options using index funds) and sensible asset allocation. My rationale for these criteria is as follows:

  1. Low fees. Research shows that low fund expenses are one of the highest predictors of superior long-term performance. As one of the few things you can control, why pay more in fees in the hopes that you’ll outperform the market? The three states with the lowest all-in fees are New York, Utah and Nevada.

"Bikini Ready" for Summer—Exercises to Tone your Finances

March 24, 2010

Toning your financesJust like your body, your personal finances can be toned and shaped with some planning and steady work. In this guest article, Mill Valley mom and Certified Financial Planner™ Katy Song offers some workout tips to help you get your financial life in shape.

Okay, so I have never actually worn a bikini and probably won’t make it past wearing a tankini in this lifetime, which is fine with me. But I still continue to exercise and tone my body. Just because you feel like you may have no money these days does not mean that you can’t exercise to tone your family’s finances. Here are some simple toning exercises (for your money) that do not require a gym or personal trainer.

Focus on your larger muscle groups. By this I mean, take a look at your largest expenses and see how you can reduce them. For most people, this is your house, childcare, and food. Can you refinance to lower your monthly payment? Are there creative ways to lower your childcare expenses, like swapping with a fellow mom instead of paying a sitter? Is your pantry full of food you have never used or do you end up throwing away food that goes bad in your frig? Think creatively. By lowering your biggest expenses, you can make a significant impact on how much money goes out each month.

Financial Security for the Stay-at-Home Mom

March 15, 2010

Just because you're a stay-at-home mom doesn't mean you can't take charge of you and your family's financial security. In this guest article, Mill Valley mom and Certified Financial Planner™ Katy Song offers some financial tips to help stay-at-home moms take action and make a difference.

Women have different reasons for choosing to stay at home to take care of their children. Some mothers have always envisioned staying at home with the kids, while others might not make enough to cover the cost of childcare. No matter the reason, there are five important steps that every stay-at-home mom (SAHM) can take to protect her and her family’s financial security.

  1. Value Yourself—Most moms would argue that staying home to raise the kids is the toughest job in the world. According to Salary.com, the average SAHM works 96 hours per week; if you valued this work as a care provider, teacher, driver, housekeeper and psychologist, it would add up to over $145,000 per year in Marin. So do not underestimate your value just because you’re not bringing in a paycheck each week. Valuing your role in the family should translate into having an equal say in financial matters.
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