Tag Archives: militaryfamiliespersonalfinance

Financial Preparation for the Holidays

Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

When the leaves continue to fall and the nightly temperature drops, we know that the holiday season will soon be upon us. This season is often a special time for families as loved ones gather near and far to celebrate. However, holiday expenses can sometimes threaten the joy that we experience during this season. Getting an early start will reduce holiday stress and your after-holiday bills, often known as the holiday financial hangover.

Before the holiday season moves into high gear, take the time to get prepared. Review your

Photo of shoppers on street with holiday decorations
Grafton Street Christmas Shopping Dublin by Ben and Kaz Askins

current financial situation and determine a holiday spending limit that works for your family budget. To make certain you are not tempted to increase that limit as the season progresses, develop a budget for gift-giving, food, travel and entertainment expenses. Additional expenses that are often left out of a holiday budget include gasoline, babysitting fees, and eating out more often.

As you work on the budget, start by making a list of everyone you plan to give a gift, including children, loved ones, teachers, babysitters, hair stylists, etc. Identify a realistic spending limit and a possible gift for each person on your list. It is important that you do not feel pressured to give anyone a gift. If your finances are right this year, consider a hand-written note expressing thanks or appreciation. Continue to work your way through your holiday budget by estimating other anticipated expenses. If you have receipts or credit card statements from last year, you may be able to use them as a guide in developing a realistic estimate for travel, entertainment, and food expenses.

As you are preparing for your budget for the upcoming holidays, think about how you will pay for holiday shopping and expenses. You are less likely to overspend if you pay with cash, as opposed to using a credit card. If you are using cash, once all of your cash is gone, you are finished with your holiday shopping. Another option to consider is that many stores now offer store layaway plans. If you decide to use store layaway options, be certain to check their return policy and keep track of all payments.

Plan holiday shopping trips ahead of time, review store ads, and know exactly who and what you are shopping for prior to entering the store. Impromptu shopping trips and wandering around a store looking for gift ideas can lead to impulsive purchases, which were not part of your original budget. Do your window-shopping at home online, or with catalogs so that you know exactly what you want when you are at the store. Finally, remember that holiday sales can be tempting, so once you are in the store, stick with your original budget.

Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu 

Measuring Your Financial Health

By Kristyn Jackson, LMFT and Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Have you ever heard someone discussing their “financial health?” Financial health refers to how well you are doing financially and is based on a number of factors. Much like you go to your family doctor for yearly check-ups, it is a good idea to perform a financial check-up from time to time.

Unfortunately, many families often find it overwhelming to measure their financial health because of all of the factors included. What further complicates measuring your financial health is the fact that financial advisors and firms often recommend different ways of doing so. You can use more subjective measures of financial health such as your personal satisfaction with your financial status, the amount of financial stress you experience, and how financially independent you feel. However, you can also measure your financial health through more concrete measures.

Capt. Pedro Rodriguez gives two thumbs up while running the 26.2 mile course of the Marine Corps Marathon Forward at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan Oct. 27. Rodriguez finished second with a personal record time of 2:47:11. This was Rodriguez's second marathon. (Photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)
Capt. Pedro Rodriguez gives two thumbs up while running the 26.2 mile course of the Marine Corps Marathon Forward. Photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough

Provided below is an overview of the various measures that a financial advisor may suggest calculating in order to measure your financial health. It is a good idea to calculate these values on a fairly regular basis, such as the beginning of a new year. If you have questions, do not be afraid to reach out to a professional advisor who can answer them.

  • Liquidity ratio. Liquidity ratio refers to your ability to meet your necessary expenses when you are faced with an emergency such as an unexpected home repair or medical bill. It is recommended that you keep a 3 to 6 month emergency fund, meaning that an ideal ratio is between 3 and 6. To calculate this ratio: LIQUIDITY RATIO = CASH OR CASH EQUIVALENTS ON HAND / MONTHLY COMMITTED EXPENSES
  • Asset-to-debt ratio. This ratio compares your assets to your total existing liabilities. Liabilities include home loans, car loans, credit card debt, etc. It is always desirable to possess more assets than debt. To calculate this ratio: ASSET-TO-DEBT RATIO = TOTAL ASSETS / TOTAL LIABILITIES
  • Current ratio. The current ratio refers to your ability to meet short-term liabilities which include all of your debt repayments to be made in the current year. CURRENT RATIO = CASH OR CASH EQUIVALENTS/SHORT TERM LIABILITIES
  • Debt-service ratio. This ratio refers to the percentage of your income that is designated to debt repayment and the percentage of income remaining for other mandatory household expenses and savings. Lower ratios represent better financial management. DEBT SERVICE RATIO = SHORT TERM LIABILITIES / TOTAL INCOME
  • Saving ratio. The saving ratio is perhaps the easiest to calculate and will provide you with insight as to how well your finances are managed and how likely it is that you can achieve your saving goals. SAVING RATIO = MONTHLY SURPLUS / MONTHLY INCOME
  • Solvency ratio. This ratio refers to your ability to repay all existing debts using your assets in the case of an emergency. You may wish to use a net worth calculator prior to calculating this ratio. SOLVENCY RATIO = NET WORTH/TOTAL ASSETS

Do not worry if these ratios seem complicated. There are numerous resources available to you that can help you to understand what each of these ratios mean. What is important is that you are aware of what you need to be considering when measuring your financial health!

Being aware of your financial health will help you to meet your short-term and long-term financial goals while avoiding unreasonable amounts of debt. Financial experts recommend calculating your financial ratios on a yearly basis and making any adjustments to your spending and saving patterns that you deem necessary.

Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu


Personal Finance Ethics Webinar

Dr. Michael Gutter and financial practitioner Jerry Buchko are presently a highly-anticipated webinar on ethical issues for financial professionals on Tuesday, August 2. Register now for Personal Finance Professional Ethics & Standards of Practice  – A Professional Dialogue.

Image by Mark Morgan
Image by Mark Morgan

This webinar training will be offered and conducted as a facilitated professional discussion and participation in the discussion will be encouraged. Participants will be expected to review the professional ethics and standards of practice for their respective certification bodies ahead of the discussion session. A high level introduction to the subject of ethics will be offered as a primer for understanding the basics of ethics (for those who may not have had any previous formal education or training in ethics) and this will, along with the pre-session readings, help to serve as a framework for approaching the discussion of case studies. A number of brief case studies will be presented, and participants will be given an opportunity to respond in text to questions posed about each case study, including how they might respond in these situations. We will then consider and discuss the case study scenario and our various responses.

This webinar is approved for 1.5 CEUs for AFC-credentialed and CPFC-credentialed participants.

From our evaluation surveys, we know many of you have been requesting a session on ethics we anticipate a highly engaged audience for this webinar. Join us on Aug. 2 for this great session.

Cybershopping Saving Strategies

 By Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Online shopping has a lot of appeal because it is fast, easy, and convenient. Last year, consumers spent $2 billion online on Cyber Monday, the Monday following Thanksgiving. As more and more purchases are made online, consider these tips to score the best deals:

  • Before you buy, look for coupon codes. Coupon codes are normally a series of letters or numbers that you enter when checking out online. If you are a member of the website’s mailing list, you probably regularly receive coupon codes via email. If not, simply type the name of the online merchant and the words “coupon code” into an internet search engine. Typically, the coupon code will be for free shipping, upgraded shipping, or a percent off merchandise purchased. Be certain to check the expiration date and details of the coupon code; you may be required to spend a certain dollar amount to receive the benefit.
  • When checking out at the mall, are you consistently asked to provide your email
    Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.
    Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.

    address after the purchase? Although the idea of receiving extra coupons to stores where you shop is appealing, the idea of filling up your in-box with spam is often enough to make you pass. Consider setting up a free email account that you can use only for retailers. You will not need to check the account often, but when you are ready to make an online purchase, you can search the account for recent coupons.

  • If you are not in a hurry for your purchase, consider leaving your virtual shopping cart hanging for a few days. If you have created an online account with a merchant, place your items in the shopping cart but do not complete the purchase. After a day or two in limbo, a merchant will often email a coupon to encourage you to complete the transaction.
  • Daily deal websites are growing in popularity. Daily deal sites offer products and/or services at discounted prices, often 50% or more off retail. Typically someone who has signed up for daily deals will receive either email or social media alerts to the “deal of the day.” There is no doubt that daily deals offer the opportunity to grab some great items at significant discounts; however, you may also be tempted to buy an item or service that you don’t really need or hadn’t planned on purchasing. Normally, daily deals are offered for a limited amount of time and have limited quantities available, often encouraging the buyer to make an impulsive decision in an attempt to avoid missing the big savings. If the daily deal is for a product or service that you use often, it may make sense to snatch the item quickly, but be cautious not to just click buy because it is such a great deal. Be certain that it is an item or service that you need and will use.
  • Remember to safeguard your personal information when online shopping. You are entering a tremendous amount of personal information (your name, phone number, address, etc., not to mention your credit card information). Always make certain that you are using a personal/home computer for online shopping. Public computers, such as those at work or the public library, may store your information that someone could access later. Be certain that the website you are using is secure. Once you enter into the shopping cart phase of a website, the web address should have a “s” after the http. The “s” indicates that your data will be transmitted securely. Also, be certain that you are on a legitimate retailer’s site. Knock-off websites do exist and at times it may be difficult to tell the difference from the real thing.
  • Use a credit card, as opposed to a debit card, when shopping online. When you pay with a credit card there is a period of time between when you make the purchase and when you pay your credit card bill. This gives you time to dispute a charge if something goes wrong with the transaction. When you pay with a debit card, you are authorizing the retailer to go ahead and debit your account. Most likely you will still be able to successfully dispute a charge, but the money will be missing from your account until the dispute is settled.

Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu



Clip and Save: Stretching Your Grocery Dollar

By Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Regardless of the reason, whether it’s to save a few extra dollars or the thrill of scoring a good deal, couponing has become very popular. Have you seen TLC’s popular television show, Extreme Couponing, highlighting families who save hundreds of dollars at the register by using coupons? Do you ever wonder how someone can actually save that much at the grocery? Although most of us will not be able to reduce our grocery bill to a few dollars, there are a few simple couponing strategies that you can use to stretch your military family’s grocery dollars.

The first step before even setting foot in the store is to get organized. Planning ahead for meal time can help you save both time and money, whether you use store ads or coupons. At the beginning of every week, spend a few minutes planning the meals you will need for the week. It is often helpful to look at a calendar, keeping in mind which nights your daughter has softball practice or your son has guitar lessons.

Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.
Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.

Planning ahead will prevent the last-minute panic of trying to figure out what to serve for dinner or turning to fast food from the drive-through. As you prepare your list, don’t just think about the evening meal, but also think of all meals that you will be serving for the week, including breakfast and lunches for both school and work. Also, consider meal options that include items you already have at home, especially perishables such as meat and dairy products.

Once you have your meal plan for the week, search your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, making a list of the items to pick up at the store to complete your menu. You will also want to add any kitchen staples that you may need. After your list is complete, search your local stores’ weekly sale ads and coupons to find the best price. Sale ads, as well as coupons, can normally be found online, at the store, or in the Sunday edition of your local newspaper. You may also request coupons directly from manufacturers, although there is no guarantee that they will respond. Be flexible with your meal plan; if you see a great bargain on an item, such as beef or chicken, consider rearranging your list to incorporate it into your menu. However, once you are at the store, stick to your list. A last-minute change at the store could leave you without key ingredients to complete your meal plan.

As you review weekly sales ads and coupons, keep in mind that if you are able to purchase the item for 50% off or more it is a good deal. For example, let’s assume macaroni and cheese normally costs $1.20 per box, but is on sale this week for $1.00, and you have a $0.50 coupon. If the store doubles coupons, your mac and cheese will be free, but if not, it would only cost you $0.50, a savings of nearly 60%. This is an item that you would definitely want to grab, but only if your family likes mac and cheese. Do not buy a bargain, just because it is a bargain. If no one at home likes a particular food item, but it is a good deal, either pass on it at the store or purchase it and donate it to a local food bank or charity. Also, you will need to become an informed consumer to know whether a sale is really a good deal. Maintaining a spending diary is a good financial practice to monitor monthly expenses. A detailed grocery-spending diary will help you quickly recognize a bargain price. Track the prices you typically pay for common household goods. You can reference your grocery diary to see whether an advertised sale price is really a good deal and if you should stock up on it or wait for a better price.

Scanning weekly grocery ads and coupon circulars can seem like a time-consuming task for a busy person. Consider using internet search engines, social media, and both store and coupon websites to make the process faster. There are several websites that can help you locate the best deals and coupons quickly. Be cautious of fee-based websites; there are several reputable free sites available. Talk with friends and other couponers to find the best online resources. If you are considering a fee-based site, make certain you understand the fees and services provided. Be cautious about coupons on the Internet. Coupons can be counterfeited the same as money, and it is illegal to use fake coupons. Make certain that you are printing coupons from a legitimate source, such as www.redplum.com or www.smartsource.com. You might recognize the names RedPlum and SmartSource from the coupon circulars that are normally in the Sunday paper. These are examples only and there are many other sources of Internet coupons.

Learning to coupon takes time and patience. Try not to become overwhelmed in the beginning. Remember, small savings are still savings, and they provide you with additional

Contact Jennifer at  jhunter@uky.edu

Resisting the Urge to Splurge

By Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Marketing has made it both appealing and easy to want “more bang for our buck,” such as when we size up a meal at a fast-food restaurant or upgrade to a premium cell phone or cable package. Often, it can be very tempting to receive “more” for what appears to be a relatively small amount of additional cost. The extras, however, can definitely add up!

Due to fast-paced lifestyles, many families are tempted to eat fast-food meals, which can be both unhealthy and expensive. We all make decisions every day about the type and quantity of food we eat. The average meal deal at fast-food restaurants costs between $5.00 and $7.00. If a family of four eats out three days per week, the family will spend nearly $4,000/year on fast food!

Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.
Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.

Food choice is just one example of how families are tempted to spend more in an effort to get more for their money. Cable television providers and cell phone carriers are examples of companies that commonly “bundle” services into larger, more expensive plans.

Like many of our household bills, communication services, such as cable, phone, and Internet, should be reviewed on an annual basis. Compare your use of the services to the price you are paying. Consumers often do not fully utilize their contracted services.

  • Do you pay extra for an unlimited data plan, but only use a small amount of data every month?
  • Do you send a large number of texts every month, but only have a small number of monthly texts included in your plan?
  • Do you have premium movie packages on your cable or satellite plan but find that you do not watch any movies?
  • Do you have a land line telephone with unlimited long distance and have a cell phone with unlimited minutes?

Bundling packages can be beneficial, if you need and use all of the services provided in the package. Although additional features and options can be tempting, review the terms and conditions of bundle offers. Evaluate each component of the bundle-deal separately. For example, if you are considering a home cable, internet, and land line phone bundle, price each option separately for the exact service or product that would best fit your needs.

Reviewing each option individually allows you the opportunity to determine the service that best fits your lifestyle and budget.

  • If you have an unlimited cell phone plan, you may decide to completely cut your land line or only need a very basic land line.
  • If you like to watch movies, compare the price of adding on premium movie channels to online movie streaming services.
  • Higher internet speeds are often very tempting, but do your research. How do you use the internet? If you are surfing the web and sending emails, a lower bandwidth may be sufficient. If you stream high volumes of content or online gaming, you may want a higher bandwidth.
  • If you choose to bundle services with promotional pricing, be aware of long-term costs of the services and how to change your plan when the promotional period ends. Be certain to mark the date in your calendar so that you remember to take action.

Families have many options for household expenses such as cable, satellite, phone, and Internet services. Shopping for different providers can help you find the service that best fits the needs of your family. If you find a plan with a different carrier at a lower cost, check with your current provider before switching. Many providers will have customer retention departments. Customer service agents will often work with you to offer a better plan to retain current customers.

Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu

Plug Your Spending Leaks

By Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

You may have noticed that your family may have developed poor spending habits. Your shopping habits are learned behaviors, just like any other good or bad habit. A bad habit can be broken by becoming aware of the choices that have most likely become part of your spending routine. Are you tempted to spend when you have a few extra dollars in your pocket? It is important to realize that stores arrange goods and merchandise to tempt you into making a purchase; stores use sales signs, displays, and salespeople to attract your attention to specific items. The next time you are at the store, try to identify the stimulus that attracts your attention and encourages you to buy, then try to avoid these areas in the future.

Other tips for breaking bad spending habits include: limiting the number of trips you make to the store (the less often you shop the less likely you will be tempted to make unnecessary purchases); make certain you have a plan prior to entering the store, know what you want and stick to your shopping list; if you see an item that you would really like to purchase, identify any less expensive alternatives first.

Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.
Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.

To gain spending self-control, identify your spending leaks. Spending leaks are those purchases that provide some type of immediate gratification but do not help you reach your financial goals. Identifying short and long-term financial goals can help you plug your spending leaks. Before making your next purchase, take a minute to ask yourself three simple questions:

  • Is this the best use of my money?
  • Am I buying this to satisfy an immediate need?
  • Will buying this keep me from reaching my financial goals?

Sometimes you may recognize the purchase is important; however, you may also realize that you are just being tempted by a sale or the latest gadget, and decide to pass on the purchase.

Are you an impulse shopper? Try to never purchase expensive items on impulse. Instead, consider each expensive purchase for at least 24 hours. Acting on this principle will help you have far fewer regrets about impulse purchases, which can put a dent in your finances. One way to establish a savings discipline is save a matching amount in a cookie jar each time you splurge on an item, such as designer coffee. If you can’t afford to save the matching amount, you can’t afford the $4 mocha low-fat latte.

If you are often tempted at the store, make a list before you begin shopping. Typically, people who shop with a list, and stick to it, spend much less money than those who decide what to buy once they get to the store. Pre-planning can save hundreds of dollars per year.


Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu

30 Days of Saving Media Kit

The MFLN Personal Finance Team will be launching a 30-day savings challenge in July. The 30 Days of Saving encourages participants to make small savings deposits each day, July 1-30 to save $100 in just 30 days.


To participate in the challenge, simply share your savings goal, success or motivators on Facebook and Twitter with #MFLNPF. We’d love to hear how you’re planning to use your $100!

Interested in partnering with us to share the savings message? Download the materials from our media kit here:

Naive Realism: Thinking About How We & Our Clients Think We Know What We Know

Graphic for Practitioners CornerBy Jerry Buchko,  MA, AFC®

Another insight from the social sciences and the study of cognition and decision-making is one that I’ve found especially interesting, because it seems so ingrained in our experience that it’s hardly noticed at all. It’s called naive realism.

Naive realism is a strong general bias we seem to have in our day to day interpretation of the world. Specifically, we commonly behave in ways that suggest we believe that we see the world objectively, and, further, that people who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased. This tendency seems to be founded on three fundamental, interrelated assumptions or beliefs about our experience of the world around us:

  • The belief that we see the world objectively and without bias.
  • The belief (and expectation) that others will come to the same conclusions and views as we do, so long as they are exposed to the same information and interpret it in a rational manner.
  • The belief (or assumption) that those who do not come to the same conclusions and do not share our same views must be ignorant, irrational, or biased.

Like most studies of cognitive biases, there’s a body of serious study and experimentation that methodically shows how these commonly held and comforting beliefs don’t hold up under closer scrutiny.

So what has this meant for me as a practitioner? Basically it drew my attention to how easy it is to fall into this way of thinking, even now when I’ve learned about all of this and should know better. It’s made me realize how seldom I have all the relevant facts, that much of what I can get ahold of is filtered through the lens of my own personal set of biases, and that others can filter the same limited set of facts and come to very different conclusions.

Understanding this has also reinforced the importance of dialogue and assessment throughout my time working with my clients. My knowledge of the subject matter of personal finance doesn’t give me awareness of the circumstances of my clients, and it doesn’t give me awareness of their subjective views and understanding of themselves and their circumstances. And both are important for me to understand clearly in order to be more effective supporting my clients.

So what do you think about this? Is naive realism something you’ve experienced or seen at work in your clients? Are there other ways in which this insight that naive realism offers is relevant in our work?


Further Study:

Wikipedia (2015). Naïve realism (psychology). Retrieved 10 December 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Na%C3%AFve_realism_(psychology)

Youarenotsosmart.com (2015). YANSS 062 – Why you often believe people who see the world differently are wrong. Retrieved 10 December 2015, from http://youarenotsosmart.com/2015/11/09/yanss-062-why-you-often-believe-people-who-see-the-world-differently-are-wrong/

How Do We Continue to Grow and Develop as Professionals?

Graphic for Practitioners Corner By Jerry Buchko, MA, AFC®

As a profession, it seems we spend a lot of time talking and writing about the technical fundamentals of personal finance how-tos, like the mechanics of budgeting, debt management, credit, etc. And why not? These are important topics that help lay the foundation for financial literacy and efficacy, and there always seems to be a steady stream of people who are new to the topic and benefit from learning it. And there are even new and interesting twists in these areas over time, like new budgeting tools, as well as changes in the credit, lending and debt landscape, etc.  

The thing is, after a few years of practice, I think most of us usually master these technical fundamentals and they can, on their own, lose much of their ability to hold our fascination and to continue serving as rich ground for nurturing further professional growth.

Photo by Alan Levine
Photo by Alan Levine

In my own case, much of my interest these days has shifted towards more closely exploring and studying the “soft” side of our craft. And for me, what’s ultimately kept these foundational topics and tools interesting and meaningful has been about how clients come to learn them, and with a bit of goal setting and the application of some basic math, can use them to transform their financial lives.

And the benefit in exploring these living aspects of the work, like cognition, learning, decision making, and behavior isn’t just in expanding my understanding of how my clients learn and make sense of the world; I expand my understanding of these aspects of myself as a practitioner at the very same time. Continuing to learn about learning and about how I also make sense of the world around me is a piece of continuing to evolve and grow in my work.

So how do you feel about this? Is it important to continue to grow meaningfully as a practitioner? Why? And how are you going about it, if you are? What part do other practitioners and professional colleagues play in this process of growth?