Friday, October 30, 2015

Planning For Your Future - 5 Ways To Save For Retirement

Disclaimer: This post is initiated by Personal Capital; I was not compensated and the opinions, views, and statements given are - unless otherwise declared - exclusively my own!

Here in Germany, one of the demographic groups most endangered by poverty are women 60+; those women, who have oftentimes taken years off their jobs to raise their kids. With the public retirement (and probably Social Security in the U.S.) becoming increasingly unstable, it is up to ourselves to plan for retirement in order to enjoy our lives once we've contributed our part to society.

In general, one can say that it is important to diversify our income once we retire. We cannot solely rely on our retirement we get from the government any more. Private retirement plans, both government-subsidized ones (as available here in Germany) and purely self-funded plans, investment stocks, capital life insurances, and real estate are good pillars to arrange your very own bundle to prepare you for retirement.

When getting started, it is important to analyze how much you are going to need once you're retired; don't forget to factor in inflation, be generous but don't go way over the top. Talking to a personal financial advisor or online tools like Personal Capital's Retirement Planner will help you to determine your financial needs once you hit retirement age.

But even once you determined how much you'd have to save each month to prepare for your retirement, shelling this amount out of your monthly finances every month may be difficult. I remember back in the day when hubby was still in the military and we enjoyed life as DINKs, saving was a piece of cake. This dramatically changed when Lily was born, hubby quit the military, and we were suddenly a family relying on only one income, struggling to make ends meet every month. Saving for retirement was definitely far from my mind while focussing on getting all current bills paid on time. Still, there are ways to shell out some money while staying on top of the monthly bills. Here are some ways you can save money while staying within your budget.

1. Meal planning. I was never much of a planner. I keep my pantry stocked with basics like pasta, rice, potatoes, canned goods, etc. and run out most days to buy the fresh ingredients once I've figured out what we're going to have for dinner. My friend K. is a stark opposite. She carefully plans each week's meals after consulting the weekly ads and sales at the local grocery stores. Adjusting your meal plan buying sale items, using coupons, and buying bulk can definitely save you some dollars off your grocery bill at the end of each week, without you even knowing it.

2. Save the change. The lovely Rachel over at Can't Google Everything had the glorious idea to collect her change in a nicely decorated jar to have spare cash on hand once the holiday season arrives. Why not make a Retirement Fund with the spare change most of us have laying around in odd dishes and nooks all over the house? You may be amazed how much money you collect this way every month if you actually decide to handle more real money rather than swiping your card every time you shop. Handing over bills may also make money more real again, and may make you re-consider whether a second Starbucks of the day is really what you need. Read all about Rachel's great idea here.

3. Don't pay full price. It's always an adventure to go shopping with my friend M. Believe it or not, I rarely see her paying full price on anything - even away from the sales racks. A while ago, we've been out to a store where she was looking for some new cookware. And believe it or not, she talked the salesman into giving her a 10% discount on the skillet if she bought a couple of microwave containers on top of it. I was amazed. Yes, it may take some guts approaching a salesperson with a request like that, and it sure won't work at your general huge retailer, but especially if you make big, necessary purchases you should see if you can get a deal. For example when buying a car, you definitely could negotiate a year's worth of free oil changes or a free inspection. And each dollar saved is a dollar that can go towards your retirement goal.

4. Second-hand bliss. Especially if you have small children, the clothes and toys they outgrow will pile up faster than you think, and most of those are still in very good condition (at least until they hit crawling age, or enjoy ruining every pair of pants they own by sliding down the hallway on their knees). And while donating is definitely a great way of getting rid of the pile all at once, consider sorting out some pieces you could hand it at a second-hand store or sell at a bazaar (very common here in Germany), at a garage sale, or online (Craigslist or special groups on Facebook are good options). And apart from only selling your like-new items, you can also pick up new clothes for your little ones at a fraction of the new price, with the added benefit that most of the chemicals will already have been washed out by the first owner. I admit without shame that most of Calvin's clothes are second-hand, and the girls also frequently get hand-me-downs from a friend of mine who has older twin girls. That way, I have met women who I now regularly trade clothes with, so I also know the homes where the clothes come from. The money earned from these sales plus the money saved from buying second-hand could easily go towards your savings for retirement.

5. Save small but regularly. When we opened our current checking account, we also opened a linked savings account with it and have €25 transferred automatically every month. It's actually our "Oh Crap"-fund, but so far *knock on wood* we didn't have to dig into it, and the small amounts sure add up. Even if you can only shell out $10 every month, that's $120 per year, definitely a start!

Most important, however, is that you start early. Keep retirement in mind, even if it's still 40 years away. Every year you let pass is a year lost. If you have to start small, but start now!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (123)

Ten Things of Thankful

Knitting is keeping me from writing.. But as Ned stark already knew: Winter is coming! - and we expect a pretty harsh one this year. So I'll keep on knitting (also: best and cheapest therapy there is!).

My Thankfuls for this week:

1. Calvin's bronchitis being almost gone. He missed two days of nursery school but has been back since Tuesday and really happy about it.

2. Pumpkin, pumpkin everywhere!!

3. A free Wednesday afternoon. All of Violet's appointments were canceled, and the girls could enjoy an afternoon playing outside.

4. A spontaneous lunch date with two wonderful co-workers.

5. Hubby getting rid of his braces; he feels a lot better now, and Lily is excited that Daddy now, too, has a retainer, just like herself.

6. A fun evening out with friends. The dinner place wasn't as good as the Mongolian buffet we usually go to, but the kids had fun nevertheless, and we adults shared some good conversation - as far as the noise level permitted.

7. Being able to take the kids to a charity event this afternoon. Two professional soccer players from a major club have been in signing autographs to support the cause, and the two lads have been just so kind to little Calvin and the other kids.

8. New books to read with hubby.

9. More good nights with Calvin sleeping through.

10. Patient friends.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (122)

Ten Things of Thankful

This is Stephanie, writing from somewhere between "I didn't know I could be so tired" and "How does pain-free feel like again???". You have to do better to keep me from being thankful, dear body!

My Thankfuls for this week:

1. My husband. After almost 10 years together, he still goes out of his way to spend a few more seconds with me during a hectic work day.

2. Hot spiced wine. We're having pretty bleak weather here the last few days; this makes everything a little better.

3. Our wonderful paediatrician staying a little longer on Friday afternoon to see Calvin, who managed to contract his first bronchitis of the season.

4. The proverbial village. Our neighbor brought both Lily and Violet to our door this afternoon. They'd been playing with said neighbor's kids and all 5 of them had at some point the glorious idea to throw mud at our neighbors' garages. Our neighbor found them, made all of the clean whatever they could and then brought them back. It definitely is a huge plus having great neighbors like that!

5. Soup. Nothing warms better on a cruddy day than soup.

6. Those few rays of sunshine shining through solid gray skies.

7.Autumn in Franconia.

8. Finishing the Harry Potter series, and having lively discussions with hubby about it now!

9. Calvin truly enjoying nursery school now. The last day he went this week he didn't even cry when hubby left but went right for the toys and started playing when he was dropped off.

10. Apples from my colleagues garden. Yum!!!

Hope to do better next week!  Have a great time, everyone!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (121)

Ten Things of Thankful

No introduction today, just some quick Thankfuls for last week:

1. Nice bus drivers. One stopped again after having already left the bus stop to let me out one morning, because I was so engrossed in my book that I missed my stop, another saw me running towards the stop while passing me and waited until I had caught up. Those two definitely made my day right then!

2. A fun outing with people from my work and a client. We had perfect fall weather and took a hike through some vineyards with a little wine tasting at the end. Later, we had a nice dinner and more good conversation.

3. Violet's new speech therapist being absolutely sweet. I'm sure Violet will have tons of fun and learn a lot with her.

4. Calvin sleeping through the night twice this week!!

5. A shopping trip with a friend and delicious dinner afterwards with both of our families.

6. Calvin finally accepting his nursery school teacher. Hubby could leave him at school every day this week, and next week we're slowly starting to increase the time he spends there.

7. Fun with the entire family at the medieval market in our town today.

8. Vanilla-flavored rooibos tea.

9. Finally a good work week again. Slowly getting over the mess and being able again on focussing on the actual work.

10. Sunday naps.

Good night, everyone!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things of Thankful (120)

Ten Things of Thankful

TToT 119 is missing from my list. I am sorely aware of this fact, but have to admit that last week, I was physically unable to even get up and switch on my laptop. I was so exhausted to my very core, physically and mentally, and that even though Calvin was sleeping good compared to the months before. I never thought that one person at work could paralyze an entire team; there was one day last week I spent most of my day staring at my computer screen, unable to concentrate on a single email before me. A meeting that was meant to improve things within our team made everything just so much worse, to the point where I am actually carefully looking to move on to another position, should the chance present itself. I just don't have time nor nerves to spare for games like that.

This being said, let's dive into the best of 2 weeks of Thankfuls:

1. Getting to celebrate my Dad's birthday on his actual birthday. With his birthday being close to fiscal year end, it's a time I simply cannot get off, preparing a year-end financial statement for an international corporation. This year, his birthday happened to be on the weekend, and in we dived for a day of happy chaos with tons of kids, friends, neighbors, ...

2. It's officially fall, and it has been for over a week. I celebrated the beginning of my favorite season by making a PSL for one of my colleagues and myself at the office, yum.

3. Very simple pumpkin soup, topped with goat cheese crostinis.

4. The first pumpkin bread of the season. (there seems to be a pattern..)

5. Calvin's MUCH improved sleep pattern. For the last week or two, he's only waking up once or twice a night and falls back to sleep fairly quickly again. I actually get to spend most of the night in my own bed!!!

6. Time at the playground with all three kids at perfect weather. I soaked up the fall sun in the late afternoon, watching the girls play and Calvin marvel at the different leaves and the acorns on the ground.

7. My backpain.. Does that sound weird now?  Well, I see it that way: at least I know I have a backbone that does not cave in under the pressure right now.

8. Watching or listening to Lily reading to her Daddy. Her continuous homework assignment is to read aloud for 10 - 15 minutes every day. So she's reading a German book to her Daddy chapter by chapter, and it's the sweetest thing in the world!

9. The girls taking care of each other. Violet was offered candy twice at stores during the last two weeks, and each time she made a point to mention that she had a sister at home who'd appreciate a piece of candy as well. Love that sweet little girl!

10. Calvin telling jokes. Imagine the little guy looking at you all serious, babbling away and suddenly cracking up in giggles. Cuteness extraordinaire!

I hope you all have a great weekend!