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Archive for April, 2008

529 Plan Series: Pennsylvania’s “PA 529 Investment Plan”

April 30th, 2008 at 06:49 am

Today, I will review Pennsylvania's 529 plan - the PA "529 Investment Plan".



This 529 program is managed by Upromise Investments and the investments are managed by Vanguard [I have reviewed Vanguard HERE].

What I Like About The PA 529 Investment Plan
* Investment Management By Vanguard. I really like Vanguard's performance and low expense ratios.
* Upromise Linked. You can link your Upromise qualifying purchases to this 529 which can help boost your savings.
* Tax Deduction For PA Taxpayers. From the PA 529 Investment Plan website: "For each beneficiary, PA residents may deduct up to $12,000 in contributions annually from their Pennsylvania state taxable income ($24,000 if married filing jointly, provided that each spouse has taxable income of $12,000)." If you have two children and have established two separate 529 accounts, then you can take an even larger deduction!
* Investment Options. There are three age-based options and ten individual investment portfolio options available. I like choices!

What I Would Like To See Improved
* This is a general improvement that I would like to see with all 529 plans, not just the PA 529 Investment Plan. I would like to see an option that allows one to withdraw money from the 529 plan penalty-free if one has paid for a child's college and there is no need for the college savings plan any longer. Right now, there is a 10% federal penalty tax if one pulls the money out of any 529 plan for anything other than qualified educational expenses. I would like to at least have the option to roll any extra money over to a Roth IRA - free of penalties.

Read reviews of other state 529 college savings plans HERE.

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Money Won’t Solve All Of Life’s Problems

April 29th, 2008 at 11:14 am

Money is incredibly important. It has the ability to impact many areas of my life. Yet, I clearly understand that money will not solve all of life's problems. Friends will still get sick. Loved ones will still pass on. Friendships can get complicated. Misunderstandings will happen.

Sound money management will not solve all of life's problems, BUT it can really reduce them.

I have found that the lack of money has caused simple problems to become HUGE interruptions to my life. When I was broke, a car repair had the ability to completely derail the family finances. When I was mismanaging all of our money, a sickness would crush the family economy and introduce a pile of stress into my life.

On the other hand, I have found that having money has enabled me to help others in times of need. I have found that having money has reduced a transmission failure into a mere nuisance. I have found that it has removed a lot of fierce discussions between Jenn and me. We now just fiercely debate really cool topics like house projects!

Sound money management has not solved all of my life's problems, but it has really made me aware of just how blessed I am! I am NEVER going back to my old way of mismanaging money and running with an average bank balance of $4.13!

NEVER.

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My book, I Was Broke. Now I'm Not, which tells my story and teaches the tools I used to win financially was released in January. It is available via AMAZON.COM, BORDERS.COM, and PAYPAL. You can read the Introduction HERE.

529 Plan Series: South Carolina Future Scholar

April 28th, 2008 at 11:49 am

In this series, I will be reviewing 529 college saving plans offered by different states.

It might be helpful to first review what a 529 plan is. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged college savings plan that is named for the section of tax code that outlines how they may operate - Section 529.

Today's 529 Plan is South Carolina's plan - Future Scholar.



The South Carolina Future Scholar 529 College Savings Plan is managed by Columbia Management (a division of Bank of America).

What I Like About The Future Scholar Plan
* Columbia Management. I like some of the funds that are offered by Columbia Management.
* Tax Deduction. Although there are some restrictions, most South Carolina residents can deduct their Future Scholar contributions from their SC state tax return!
* Self-Directed Option. Through the "Direct Program" SC residents can manage their own investments, and if one chooses to do so the "load" (sales charge) is $0! If one chooses to invest in the Future Scholar plan with the help of an advisor, there will be a sales charge of around 5%. The sales charge should not deter someone from investing for college however! If you are really intimidated by investing and mutual funds, it would be worth the sales charge to ensure you are getting good advice!
* Learning Center. The Future Scholar plan offers a great site to help one understand and plan for education costs. It is located HERE.
* Investment Options. The Future Scholar plan offers three investment options.
1. Automatic Allocation Choice - This option allows one to "set it and forget it" in regard to adjusting the portfolio. It is really aggressive when the beneficiary is very young and moves steadily to become more stable as the child approaches college time.
2. Asset Allocation Choice - This option allows one to make a more specific decision on how one's investments are allocated. This requires a more hands-on approach if one wants to adjust the portfolio.
3. Single Fund Portfolio - This option allows one to invest in specific mutual funds offered via Columbia Funds.

What I Would Like To See Improved
* Expense Ratios. I would love to see the expense ratio of the funds reduced. The average expense ratio is around 1.40% to 1.50%. This is an every year fee and erodes the growth of the investment.

My daughter's college savings is in the SC 529 Future Scholar plan. The tax benefit was the final straw for me to move the investment from another state's plan to the SC plan.

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The Mutual Fund Series: American Funds

April 27th, 2008 at 02:26 pm

The is the latest installment in the weekly series - The Mutual Fund Series.

During each part of this weekly series, I will be looking at a specific mutual fund company.

Today's company is American Funds.



American Funds has been around since 1931 and is one of the largest mutual fund companies in the world with over $900 Billion in investments and over 40,000,000 shareholder accounts. American Funds is owned by a larger company - The Capital Group Companies.

What I Like About American Funds
* Great performance long-term. The track record of American Funds has been terrific!
* Long-Term Approach. They use a team-approach to manage their mutual funds. They manage money extremely well in down markets. They have absorbed hits like the 1987 crash and the bear market of the early 70s and have performed well.
* Experience. Their advisors have an average of 22 years of experience with American Funds. That is unheard of in today's world!
* Low Initial Investment Requirement. Most American Fund mutual fund investments can be started with just $250 and a commitment to invest at least $25/month. That is great! It allows anyone to start investing!
* Low Expense Ratios. They have low expense ratios when compared to most mutual funds. They are higher than Vanguard, but are about half of comparable mutual funds.
* Tools. They have a nice retirement planning website HERE. I really like their "quick analysis" retirement planning calculator HERE. It told me good news - that they believe I can retire someday! What does it tell you? You can also check out my "retirement nest-egg required" calculator (located HERE).

What I Would Like To See Improved At American Funds
* Sales Charges. To purchase American Funds directly, one has to be savvy with on-line trading websites or else one will have to work through an advisor. This means that there will be a "load" when one purchases American Fund mutual funds through a broker. If one is just starting out, it could mean that one will have to pay up to 5.75% for all new money invested. This load drops as more money is held in one's account, but the lower charges start after one achieves six figures in their account.

American Fund Mutual Funds I Own
I currently own six American Fund mutual funds.

* AMCAP Fund A [Ticker: AMCPX]
* Capital World Growth and Income Fund [Ticker: CWGIX]
* Fundamental Investors A [Ticker: ANCFX]
* New World Fund [Ticker: NEWFX]
* The Growth Fund of America [Ticker: AGTHX]
* The Investment Company of America [Ticker: AIVSX]

American Fund Mutual Funds That I Am Considering Purchasing
* The New Economy Fund [Ticker: ANEFX] I like the growth potential of the markets this fund will be investing in.
* EuroPacific Growth Fund [Ticker: AEPGX] Same as The New Economy Fund - I really like the potential of the markets this fund will be investing in.

What American Fund mutual funds do you own? Do you have any American Fund mutual funds that you really like? Any you really dislike?

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This Is About Right!

April 24th, 2008 at 10:34 am

Someone sent this picture to me, and I thought it was very appropriate!



I am ready for gas prices to go DOWN for once!

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Life Happens: The Transmission Edition

April 23rd, 2008 at 06:51 am

You may have caught in yesterday's post that I absorbed a major expense like the transmission going on my GMC truck. Well, that happened this month.

So here is the story.

I bought this truck from my brother nearly seven years ago. He had purchased it new. Early on, I noticed that the automatic transmission would shift hard whenever I drove the truck over long distances. Once it had cooled, it would go back to shiftly nice and smooth.

So way back in 2002, I took it in to my trusted car repair guy, and he said that I should just drive it until it broke.

So I did. It took nearly seven years for it to fail. I won that gamble!

I took it in to my new trusted car repair guy, and he diagnosed it as "Dead On Arrival". Upon opening the transmission, he could not believe that I was able to even put the car in reverse.

The cost? $1,953.35. That included replacing a broken door handle, an oil change, and some other small stuff.

Man, am I glad I have a savings account for just this sort of stuff! In the old days, I would have been pulling out the credit card.

Maybe I should ask you the question. Do you have money saved up for a car repair?

I am not a prophet, but I can guarantee you that your car WILL break down. It may be today. It may be ten years from now. But something is going to break. When it does, will it crush your finances or will it just be an annoyance that you have saved for?

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My book about how Jenn and I broke free of being broke with $4.13 in the bank was released January 20. It is titled, I Was Broke. Now I'm Not, and it is available via AMAZON.COM, BORDERS.COM, and PAYPAL. You can read the Introduction HERE.

SAVE for the UNKNOWN emergency

April 22nd, 2008 at 07:52 am

There was a day that I was completely broke and had an average bank balance of $4.13. It was awful living with no margin. Anytime an issue cropped up, we had a problem AND a money problem.

One of the best things that Jenn and I did was save money into an emergency fund. What can the money be spent on? I am not sure … I have NEVER spent the money! Seriously, in over five years of having an emergency fund, we have never spent the money.

Did I have an emergency? Well, others might have called them emergencies, but the Sangl household did not. Let me list just a few of the events that have occurred.

* Jenn had major surgery that blew up the $2,300 insurance deductible.
* Ten months later, Jenn had to have the surgery AGAIN. AND it was in another deductible year.
* Power steering went out on the car.
* Transmission went out on the truck.
* The dryer died.
* Huge leaky roof problem.
* I had hernia surgery that blew up the $3,000 insurance deductible.

The Sangl household did not use the emergency fund for ANY of the above expenses. Why? Because they are not really emergencies!!!

Think about it this way.

* Is it a surprise that humans get sick and need surgery? NOPE.
* Is it a surprise that cars break down? NOPE.
* Is it a surprise that an appliance breaks? NOPE.
* Is it a surprise that roofs will leak? NOPE.

When I really think about it, I am not sure we will ever use the emergency fund but it is incredible knowing that it is there!

I wonder if HAVING an emergency fund in place scares off emergencies?

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Choosing To Ignore It …

April 21st, 2008 at 07:41 am

Observed today on a sticker - “I know the difference between right and wrong, but I choose to ignore it.

When it comes to finances, I have learned a lot about what is right and wrong. I hope I do not EVER choose to ignore it!

I have learned that:

* Saving money is right and that spending all of my money is wrong
* Having an emergency fund for emergencies is right and using a credit card for emergencies is wrong
* Giving to worthy causes and individuals is right and not giving at all is dead wrong
* Paying cash for purchases is right and paying on payments is wrong
* Including your spouse in the budgeting process is right and not including them is wrong
* Calling our money “ours” is right and our money “mine” and “yours” is wrong
* Working together as husband and wife toward common financial goals is right and working separately is wrong
* Having medical and life insurance is right and not having this insurance is wrong
* Dealing with one's financial situation is right and just throwing up one's hands and declaring bankruptcy is wrong
* Developing a plan and following it is right and handing one's financial mess over to rip-off credit counseling without changing one's spending behavior is wrong
* Facing one's finances is right and choosing to ignore it is plain wrong

I would love to hear some other truths you have learned as you have dealt with your finances!

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FIRED UP!

April 17th, 2008 at 01:16 pm

I had a blast teaching the Financial Learning Experience at Oak Leaf Church last night in Cartersville, GA!



Mike L… (You try to spell it!), pastor of Oak Leaf, was there. Lots of people were there.

I went without a microphone which allowed me to completely yell as loud as I wanted to. It was awesome!

I get so FIRED UP about teaching these classes because the stuff I teach is EXACTLY what Jenn and I used to win financially! Every single tool that is available via the "TOOLS" page are tools that we use TO THIS DAY to manage our money. Guess what? It works!!!! And the great thing about teaching it to others is that it is so simple, that ANYONE can do this! If I could figure it out, I KNOW you can do this!

So, Cartersville crew, THANK YOU for attending the FLE last night. I can't wait to hear the stories of saved money, debt freedom, and having a written plan that works. But more than anything, I can't wait to hear your stories of being able to fire yourself from your J.O.B. and being able to go do EXACTLY what you have been put on this earth to do - regardless of the income potential!

If you have any questions, remember you can click on the "Email Joe HERE" link on the sidebar. Thanks!

COMING UP THIS WEEKEND - I will be at Fusion Church in Suwanee, GA THIS SUNDAY, April 20th, speaking during the morning service and then teaching the Financial Learning Experience at 3:00PM. Childcare is provided. I would love to see you there!


PODCAST: Have you checked out the weekly podcast lately? To subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, click HERE. If you do not have iTunes, you can download a mp3 by clicking HERE.

The Mutual Fund Series: Vanguard

April 16th, 2008 at 07:41 am

During each part of this weekly series, I will be looking at a specific mutual fund company.

Today's company is The Vanguard Group.

Vanguard is one of the largest mutual fund companies in the world. Based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, they currently manage $1.3 TRILLION dollars for their clients and offer 150 domestic funds and additional funds in international markets.

What I Like About Vanguard

* Target Retirement Funds. Vanguard was one of the first companies to offer target retirement funds. It is a fantastic idea to address the complete confusion that some people feel when making retirement mutual fund choices. All one has to do is select their target retirement date and Vanguard will automatically shift the mutual fund to become less risky/volatile as one approaches retirement. It really helps address the need to rebalance one's portfolio.
* Very low annual expense ratios. Vanguard is client-owned. This means that the company is owned by those who invest with the company. This results in Vanguard having the lowest management costs in the mutual fund industry. The average expense ratio for their mutual funds is 0.20% (the industry averages around 1.50%). This means that I get to keep more of the annual growth of my money.
* Lots of mutual fund options. With over 150 domestic funds and additional funds in the international markets, I have a lot of choice. I like choices.
* Full-service investment company. Vanguard offers mutual funds, IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k) rollovers, 529s, ESAs, and brokerage services.

What I Would Like To See Improved At Vanguard
* Lower "initial investment requirement". Most of Vanguard's funds require an initial investment of at least $3,000. This rules out a lot of beginning investors. Of course, this is not a problem when someone is investing within the bounds of their company 401(k), 403(b), or other retirement plan where minimum investment requirements are usually removed.

Vanguard Mutual Funds I Own
* I currently own one Vanguard mutual fund - Vanguard Institutional Index Fund [Ticker: VINIX]. I own this mutual fund as part of a 401(k). You can see other mutual funds that I currently own by clicking HERE.
* This mutual fund has a minimum investment requirement of $5,000,000. The reason that I am able to own shares of this mutual fund is because it is offered as part of the company 401(k) plan.
* It is a large-cap blend fund.

Vanguard Mutual Funds That I Am Considering Purchasing
* Vanguard Target Retirement 2040 Fund [Ticker: VFORX] This fund will automatically rebalance for me as I approach retirement. I chose the 2040 fund because that is a target retirement year for me. Vanguard has Target Retirement funds for every five year period from year 2005 to 2050.
* Vanguard 500 Index Fund Investor Shares [Ticker: VFINX] This fund tracks the performance of the S&P 500. It has very low expense ratios. It does need $3,000 to begin an individual investment.

What Vanguard funds do you own? Do you have any Vanguard funds that you really like? Dislike?

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Who I am learning about finances from right now

April 15th, 2008 at 06:53 am

It is so important to continue learning about personal finances. I thought I would share who I am learning about finances from right now.

* Clark Howard - his daily radio show
* Dave Ramsey - his daily radio show (I've read all of his books)
* CNN Money - I love the web site
* Those I counsel - I learn so much from the people I meet with!
* Mary Hunt - Her website (she has good books too!)
* Those who write in questions/comments through the website - I love helping others work through their financial decisions!

That is how I am learning right now.

Who should I be adding to the list?

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Save Money - Student Loans

April 14th, 2008 at 05:56 am

Student loans. They are so nice to have around. NOT!

I remember inviting this gal named Sallie Mae over to my house and she did not leave for 8.5 years!

After 8.5 years, I decided that it was time to break up with Sallie Mae. She was not really pleased about it.

Anyway, about four years into the pay-off, I received a letter in the mail that said …

"Congratulations. Because you have made 48 consecutive on-time payments, your interest rate has been reduced by 2%!"

That was awesome!

If you have student loans, did you know that YOU could receive the same interest rate deduction?

In fact, I checked out several of the larger Student Loan companies to find out their current policies. Here is what I found.

* Sallie Mae - If you make your first 33 monthly payments on time, you will receive a check for 3.3% of the amount borrowed! If you opt to have the 3.3% credit applied to your loan amount (I would), it will save about 5.35% of the amount borrowed due to interest savings! Click HERE for Sallie Mae's Cash Back details.
* SC Student Loan - Through their Quarterback Program, borrowers can automatically receive a 0.25% interest rate reduction for allowing monthly drafts for your payments. Through their Best Interest Program, after making 36 consecutive on time payments, borrowers will receive a 2% interest rate reduction. If you make all of your payments on time, then the last portion of your loan will be forgiven - up to $750! Read all about SC SLC's benefits HERE.
* Wachovia Student Loan - They will provide a 1% rebate when loan repayment begins. Another 1% rebate after 12 months of consecutive on time payments. Another 1.5% rebate after making 24 on time payments! You can read about that HERE.

The common thread through all of this is ON TIME PAYMENTS!!!

Have fun saving money! By the way, I love the automatic draft feature. I use automated drafts for all of my investments. It really helps me stay on the wagon (it is one of my wagon staplers!).

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Save Money - Get Rid Of The Home Phone

April 13th, 2008 at 01:43 pm

At NewSpring Church, we are able to provide FREE one-on-one financial counseling for hundreds of people each year. I have a crew of awesome volunteer financial counselors who help people develop a plan that works! I love it!

One thing we have all seen is the fact that over HALF of the people that we meet with no longer have a home phone. They have dumped the home phone and are using their cell phones instead.

For those who still have a home phone, I am seeing a cost ranging from $35 to $50/month.

Let's think about this in a larger way.

$50/month = $600/year

How much money do you need to earn to bring home $600? Think about it. If you want to bring home $600 extra in your paycheck, you will need to earn something like $900.

So … By getting rid of the home phone, you are giving yourself a $900/year raise!

I LOVE giving myself pay raises!

Have you dumped your home phone? Select your answer in the survey below!

Have you dumped your home phone?

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Give me a break!

April 12th, 2008 at 06:49 am

I was traveling to teach the Financial Freedom Experience this weekend, and I heard a radio commercial about make-up.

The voice-over person said, "Discover how our make-up can change your life."

Really? It can change my life?

Wow. I am going to go order a bucket of it now.

Readers: What other outrageous claims have you heard as part of product/service marketing?

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Marching To Debt Freedom - Couple #3 - Month 04

April 11th, 2008 at 11:59 am

Introduction
This couple has been married for many years and have one child. They have HAD IT with their debt and have been marching toward debt freedom since November 2007. They are THROUGH with credit cards.

What went well this month …
We transferred part of our Bank of America balance to the "Discover - 2" card at a much lower interest rate. We are trying to eliminate the Bank of America card due to the fact that they are increasing interest rates, even though they have not "attacked" us yet. We also transferred the 29.9% VISA to a 0% Citi Card. We are also able to TITHE (give to the church)! That is so exciting to us!

What were the challenges/struggles this month …
The bonus we were expecting was not nearly what we had hoped for. We decided to plop it in the ING Direct Savings Account and save it for property taxes.

Updated Debt Freedom Date …


Month By Month Progress …


Sangl Says …
Couple #3 transferred a 29.9% balance to a 0% interest card. That is AWESOME! The balance on that card was $5,629. With this one change, they are able to save over $1,600 a year in INTEREST! That means that nearly $140 of the $205 monthly payment was going toward interest. It is now going to principal reduction. WAY TO GO!

Continue working the interest rates to 0% or close to it. It will really speed up your Debt Freedom March!

Couple #3 has been able to start tithing to their home church as well. That is AWESOME! I know that if Jenn and I were not able to give, I would be very unhappy. I love giving! There is something so powerful in being able to support someone or something that you really believe in.

I can not wait to see next month's update!

Readers …
As you can see from Couple #3's Debt Freedom March, it takes work to get some traction. Couple #3 is doing the work necessary to take their finances to the next level. Are you doing the work necessary to manage your money to the ABSOLUTE BEST of your ability?

Marching To Debt Freedom - Couple #2 - Month 07

April 10th, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Introduction
This couple is THROUGH with debt! It has now been five months since they announced that they were breaking up with debt.

Here is this month's update!

What went well this month …
This was a good month. We stuck to our cash envelopes and, of course, did not add any new debt. We got money back from our taxes, which we used to PAY OFF OUR LAST CREDIT CARD!!!! Yes, that's right…no more credit card debt!!!!!! As Joe suggested, we saved a little of our tax reFUNd for ourselves, and used the rest to pay toward debt. We had enough money to put an EXTRA $1,000 toward paying off Vehicle #1. It was a great month!!
Challenges and struggles this month …
Some of our cash envelopes ran out quicker than usual this month. We made it a point to pull money from another envelope and not use our debit card. Other than that, we don't have any "real" struggles with the plan. We know what needs to be done and we stick to it.

Here is their updated Debt Freedom Date calculation …


Month By Month Progress …


What has kept you on track for seven months? What motivates you to stick with it?
When we first started this we had meetings with Joe every month or so. The fact that we had someone holding us accountable for our actions made a difference in the beginning. Of course, we wanted to do what he said and be able to show him we were making progress each month. But, as time went by we really got into it. The fact that we could be debt free in 2 or 3 years (other than our home) was really exciting to us. Especially since I thought I was going to pay on my student loan for the next 15 years!! Once we got started there was no turning back. We love paying for things in cash, we love having a plan and we love paying off our debt and not adding to it. It is freeing!! Our focus starting in April is paying off Vehicle #1. I think that is key…taking it one month at a time, having a focus and celebrating each feat, no matter how big or small.

One last thing that has help my husband and I stay focused is we are a team. It takes 100% TEAM WORK!! When one of us is weak, the other is strong. We make decisions together and stick to the plan together!!!!

Sangl says …
It is AWESOME to see what is happening in Couple #2's lives!!! I am BLOWN AWAY every single time I see people "get it" and catch a vision of what life will be like without payments. In just SEVEN months, this couple has paid off $16,339 in debt AND eliminated ALL OF THEIR CREDIT CARDS!!! In just SEVEN MONTHS, Couple #2 has reduced their Debt Freedom Date by TEN MONTHS. They are already THREE MONTHS ahead of plan! This is typical for folks who say "I HAVE HAD ENOUGH!"

I would not be surprised to see Couple #2 achieve Debt Freedom twenty months from now. That would make Christmas 2009 and AWESOME Christmas! Think about it … Imagine saying to each other at Christmas, "Honey, I bought you Debt Freedom for Christmas! We now have over $1,600 a month that we can spend on other cool things like investments, vacations, and giving!"

Marching To Debt Freedom - Couple #1 - Month 07

April 9th, 2008 at 09:56 am

Introduction
Couple #1 is THROUGH with debt! They have been married for many years and have two children. They are now SEVEN months into their march. Here is this month's update.

What went well this month …
We are working the plan. I jacked up the emergency fund to $5,000 and payed a little more on some bills.

What were the challenges/struggles this month …[/b[
NONE

[b]What has kept you on the wagon for SEVEN months?

I sleep at night. I owe this to my family. God has blessed us with so much, and I need to take good care of it.

Updated Debt Freedom Date


Month By Month Progress


Sangl Says …
Incredible progress again this month! This is outstanding. By my calculations, this family will be debt-free except for their house (1st Mortgage and Home Equity) in less than TWELVE MONTHS! That will be INCREDIBLE!

Lowes and American Express are going to be leaving within the next few months and then the dentist is going to be VERY CONFUSED when the office receives a snowball payment of $1,170 ($500 Lowes + $500 AMEX + $170 Braces)! It is so fun to watch the debts just leave!

Readers …
THIS is what happens when you experience your IHHE Moment and get intensely focused! This debt does not stand a chance. I love it! This stuff works! I can't wait to receive an invitation to YOUR debt freedom party!

Sangl Home Pay-Off Spectacular - April 2008

April 8th, 2008 at 09:04 am

Every month there will be an update of Joe & Jenn's Home Pay-Off Spectacular! The sixth monthly update is TODAY!

Here's this month's update!

Total Squares: 2,426

Paid-For Squares: 735

Squares Remaining: 1691

% of House Owned By The Sangl's: 30.3%

% of House Owned By Wells Fargo: 69.7%

Here is the updated "Sangl Home Pay-Off Spectacular" (Click on the picture to view the larger version)



As stated last month, we remained on the "slow path" for another month to ensure we have adequately prepared for known, upcoming expenses. The worst thing in the world would be for us to be blasting this mortgage and be cash-poor. I can't wait until we attack this mortgage with some huge payments again. A few more months of slowed up payments. ARGH!

Choosing Mutual Funds - Part 5

April 4th, 2008 at 08:21 pm

Welcome to the latest series - "Choosing Mutual Funds"

In this series, I will be sharing how I choose mutual funds. It should be noted that I do not sell investment products nor am I professional in the mutual fund industry. This is my own personal philosophy for choosing mutual funds.

Part One What is a mutual fund?

Part Two Establish investment goals

Part Three Types of mutual funds

Part Four Locate mutual funds that meet individual criteria

Part Five Start Now!

What a great series this has been! I love talking about investing because it is what allows us all to achieve dreams! As you might guess, I am FIRED UP!!!

I end the series with Nike's slogan - Just Do It!

I carry this crusade to help others win with their money all over the place, and I still can't believe the number of people that have not begun to invest. People in their 30s! People in their 40s! People in their 50s! People in their 60s!

So no matter where you are, I have to tell you what Charles Schwab once said …

"The best place to start is where you are with what you have."

It is time to get started. At least invest enough to get the company's match. It's FREE money!!!

If you have non-house debt, I recommend that you follow my hero's (Dave Ramsey) 7 Baby Steps. Click HERE to print your very own copy of his 7 Baby Steps. Invest enough to catch the free company match and then kill your debt. Then get a huge emergency fund of three to six months expenses and invest at least 15% of your gross income into tax-advantaged investments. That is where the real fun begins - when you are able to fund your God-given hopes/plans/dreams!!!

Read the entire "Choosing Mutual Funds" series by clicking HERE.

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Choosing Mutual Funds - Part 4

April 3rd, 2008 at 07:26 pm

Welcome to the latest series - "Choosing Mutual Funds"

In this series, I will be sharing how I choose mutual funds. It should be noted that I do not sell investment products nor am I professional in the mutual fund industry. This is my own personal philosophy for choosing mutual funds.



Part One What is a mutual fund?

Part Two Establish investment goals

Part Three Types of mutual funds

Part Four Locate mutual funds that meet individual criteria

Once I have determined the category of mutual funds that meet my criteria, it is time for me to review actual mutual funds. To find the mutual funds, I use a three-part approach.

1. Mutual Fund Screens - I really like CNN's Mutual Fund Screener and Morningstar's Mutual Fund Screener. For example, I used the CNN screener to select Small Growth Diversified Funds that have delivered an average of 10% annual return OR LARGER for the past 10 years. It delivered 36 mutual funds that met that criteria! This really helps me narrow down the search!
2. Review Retirement Plan Mutual Funds - If your employer has a retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b), Simple IRA, or TSP then be sure to review the options available. My employer has a Simple IRA with American Fund investment options. Usually an employer helps absorb some of the fees or the fees are reduced by the plan administrator. This can really help preserve financial gains!
3. Seek Professional Guidance - I meet with a financial advisor about once a year. This professional advice helps me look at my investments with more clarity.

Once I have found funds to look at, I look at the following characteristics of each fund:

* Age of the Mutual Fund I like mutual funds that are older than me!
* Investment Growth I look at the 1, 5, 10, and Lifetime track records.
* $ Needed To Start This is really important for beginning investors.
* The Fund's Objective This helps me understand the direction of the fund.

I used the CNN screener in part one above and found two funds to use as an example - First American Small Growth Opportunities Class Y Mutual Fund (FIMPX) and Baron Small Cap Fund (BSCFX).

I use the CNN Money Snapshot feature to analyze funds. Click on the "Stock Ticker" symbols next to each mutual fund above to see the Snapshot for each of the two funds above.



I also like to compare mutual funds to each other using the "Advanced Charts" feature on CNN Money. You can view the actual chart and details on CNN Money by clicking the below chart.



Looking at the two charts over their lifetimes, which would you choose? Smile Hmmmmmm. One thing I always remember is that history is just that: history. But it is all I have to go on, so that is why I really like mutual funds that have proven track records and have been around longer than I have. These two mutual funds are not even teenagers yet, so the jury is still out for me (Maybe that's why I don't OWN either of these).

So that is a glimpse into how Joe chooses mutual funds. Many times it ends up with a dead end, and I go back to the starting point again to get more mutual funds to compare.

Tomorrow, this series includes with the most important part of the entire process!

Read the entire "Choosing Mutual Funds" series by clicking HERE.

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Choosing Mutual Funds - Part 3

April 3rd, 2008 at 06:27 am

Welcome to the latest series - "Choosing Mutual Funds"

In this series, I will be sharing how I choose mutual funds. It should be noted that I do not sell investment products nor am I professional in the mutual fund industry. This is my own personal philosophy for choosing mutual funds.



Part One What is a mutual fund?

Part Two Establish investment goals

Part Three Types of mutual funds

There are literally THOUSANDS of mutual funds available in the marketplace today. Each mutual fund is usually assigned to a particular family of mutual funds.

Here are some common categories of mutual funds …

* International Stock Fund
* Aggressive Growth Stock Fund
* Growth Stock Fund
* Growth & Income Stock Fund
* Equity-Income Fund
* Balanced Fund
* Bond Fund
* Value Fund
* Industry-Specific Funds (like Healthcare Fund or Pharmaceutical Fund)
* Index Funds (S&P 500, Russell 2000, etc.)

If you purchase ownership in an International Stock Mutual Fund, you can bet that it is primarily investing in international companies. If it is an Aggressive Growth Stock Mutual Fund, you would expect to see the mutual fund purchasing shares of companies that are growing like crazy.

Each family of funds has a general "feel" to it. The International and Aggressive Growth Stock Mutual Funds tend to have wild swings in performance. One year it could grow 40% and the next it could lose 25%. It feels like you are on a great roller coaster ride at Six Flags!

Growth & Income, Equity-Income, and Balanced Funds are more stable and predictable.

Index Funds track specific market indexes like the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000.

In the next post, I will be sharing how to find mutual funds that meet your investment goals.

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Choosing Mutual Funds - Part 2

April 2nd, 2008 at 08:16 am

Welcome to the latest series - "Choosing Mutual Funds"

In this series, I will be sharing how I choose mutual funds. It should be noted that I do not sell investment products nor am I professional in the mutual fund industry. This is my own personal philosophy for choosing mutual funds.

In Part One, I reviewed what a mutual fund is.

Part Two - Establish Investment Goals

My personal investment goals guide my mutual fund choices. First you should know a couple of things about me.

1. I view my investments as money that I will not touch for at least five years.
2. I prefer mutual funds over individual company stocks. I do own one individual company stock, but I will not allow an individual company stock to exceed 10% of my overall portfolio.

My investment goals are GROWTH, GROWTH, and more GROWTH. I do not need my investments to produce income for me as I am in my early 30s. I want my money to GROW. This means that I invest in mutual funds that are purchasing stock of companies that are experiencing major growth (like Google).

Now, if I were retired, I would want my investments to produce income so I would be searching for mutual funds that invest in companies that are paying dividends to its shareholders (like Wal-Mart, Microsoft).

If I were approaching retirement, I would be moving the money that I would need in the next five years to much more stable and secure investments.

In the next part of this series, I will be reviewing the different types of mutual funds. Knowing one's individual investment goals makes the selection of a mutual fund category much easier.

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