Budgeting

Are You Too Financially Cautious?

Is it possible to be too financially cautious?  Cautious does not mean that you are just conservative or frugal with your money, but that you are too afraid to spend your money wisely. You may not even be aware that you are too cautious and here are some examples:

Hesitate to make the right investments: Aside from traditional investments, you may be too cautious to invest in your own education and knowledge, spend the money for new equipment and technology, marketing, or spending money on employees.

Too cautious about wasting money: If you are so concerned that you will waste your resources then you will end up spending too much time trying to save a nickel, but it ends up costing you a dollar. For example, you don’t want to spend the money to keep track of your finances in QuickBooks or even Quicken for personal use, but yet you incur hundreds of dollars of insufficient funds charges each month. I have seen clients spend approximately $10,000 for insufficient funds fees.

Not taking a loan when you should: I am not an advocate of borrowing money excessively or foolishly, nor do I think that borrowing should be avoided at all times, which some pundits advocate each position strongly for. However, sometimes you need to have a line of credit to smooth out some bumps or to take advantage of low-risk opportunities that arise. Alternatively, if you pay off all of your debts too quickly then you may not have any cash available.

Time versus money: Using your time productively strongly dictates your financial success. However, if you spend your time on $10 per hour activities that drive you crazy instead of paying someone to perform them, while you can be making $200 per hour, then that is a poor use of your time and financial resources.

Money before relationships: If you are too financially cautious then you will probably never want to get married, and if you do, then you will worry about not having enough money for your children and will probably not have any.

Another way of saying financially cautious is to be penny wise and pound foolish. Don’t try to save your pennies, but make dollars!

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Are You Thankful for What You Accomplished?

Happy Thanksgiving! We should always be thankful for everything in our lives, including people, things, and accomplishments. Sometimes we take our accomplishments for granted, and it is good to examine the past to see just how far you have come. Here are some examples:

New home: Whether you just purchased your first home or moved into a more accommodating new home, this is quite an accomplishment.

Paid down debts: Did you significantly reduce your debts or pay them off? For some, if your debt levels have stabilized, this too is an accomplishment.

Started a business: Taking the leap to start a new business is exhilarating and quite an accomplishment.

Expanded your business: Did you open another location, hire additional employees, or increase your sales a sizable amount compared to the prior year? These activities all take time and energy and are a huge accomplishment.

Charitable giving: Has your charitable giving increased compared to the year before? If so, then excellent, but if it hasn’t, maybe it has increased as a percentage of your income if your income went down.

Increased your savings: Even saving just 1% more of your income than you did the prior year will have an enormous impact on your finances if you continue to do this each year.

Worked less: Are you working just a few less hours than you used to? A few less hours each week can make a big difference in your life.

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5 Habits for a Healthy Business and 3 Unhealthy Habits to Avoid

Our habits are repeated actions that we take, and have a tremendous impact on our results. Healthy habits become ingrained within us and we continue to do them with little thought or resistance over time. What are some practical, easy habits to ensure a healthy business and also the habits to avoid?

Healthy Habits:

Schedule activities: If you want important things to get done, especially non-urgent, important items, then you need to schedule them. Whether you need to schedule an activity on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, once it is on your calendar, then the likelihood of it being completed increases significantly. Examples include setting aside time for marketing, networking, reviewing finances, and reviewing processes.

Delegate often: Do you want to get more done? The key is to delegate, but not only to delegate, but to delegate the right things and delegate to the right people. Think before performing a task that needs to be done, especially a somewhat urgent task. This can be as simple as scheduling appointments, cleaning up a mess, or communicating simple issues.

Pause before spending: Virtually every single expense can be justified and rationalized for your business or for you personally. Before committing to spending money, first pause, think about it, and answer  the following questions: can the expense be delayed without their being a negative impact, are their other options, and what would happen if I do not incur this expense?

Consult advisors regularly: Everyone should have an advisor to consult with before making major decisions. High impact decisions can include: employee management issues, loans and finances, purchasing another business, opening another location, legal matters, etc.

Measure results: This can include reviewing your financial results, effectiveness of marketing campaigns, and employee productivity. Do not make assumptions, but keep track of important metrics and review your finances. Just because you are busy does not mean that you are profitable. Look at the numbers!

Unhealthy Habits:

Impulsive decision making: Almost all important business decisions can be pondered, and do not have to be made immediately. Take your time!

Following emotions and feelings: Don’t do things just be you feel like it or because you don’t feel like it. This can include being reactive to a customer that is upset or an employee that made a mistake. Although you may feel better at the moment, it doesn’t help long-term. The same goes for how you feel. I know that I feel like playing Cooking Fever on my phone for a few hours, but if do so, then only the virtual customers in the game will be fed, while my family will be starving.

Consulting with inept people: I know this may sound harsh, but seek the advice of people who are competent to give you advice and/or thoroughly know you and your situation.

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Try to Move the Needle Just a Little Bit

Do you want to make big massive changes? From growing your sales, increasing profits, working less hours to even losing weight, it seems daunting, but here’s how to get started:

Habits: When you want to change something drastically, it all starts with your habits. Incorporate new habits into your routine, and replace the old habits with these new habits. Doesn’t this sound so easy?!

Keep track: Keep track of your results to be able to measure your progress. For example, let’s say that you want to increase your sales by 20% compare to last year. First, monitor your results using financial software, such as QuickBooks, or even in Excel. If you do not measure your results, then you will not be able to determine if your actions are working.

Give it time: When making changes, you have to give it time to see those changes happen. It can be weeks, months, or sometimes years. As long as you are seeing the needle move in the right direction, then you know that it is working, no matter how small the positive results are.

Sustainability: If you make a monumental change then it may not be sustainable over the long haul. For example, if you decide to work less and cut your hours all at once, then you will quickly become overwhelmed and will go back to your old schedule. Look at the longer-term goal and then work backwards to figure out the proper actions and timeframes. For example, if you are currently working 50 hours per week and want to cut back to 40 hours, then give yourself a timeframe of one year. Next, shoot to reduce your workweek by approximately 1 hour per week for the first month, then 1 hour the next month and so on, until you have achieved a shorter work week. Then, figure out which actions you need to take to reduce your hours.

Change can be dramatic even if the results seem small in the beginning. Have the endurance, discipline, and willpower to continue your actions to achieve your long-term goals.

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Don’t Focus on the Wrong Things

What we focus on gets our time, energy, and attention, but how do we know what to focus on to amplify our financial results?

Reactive items: Sometimes there will be an event that needs to be dealt with immediately, but most of the time this is not the case. If you find that you are always being reactive then you are probably not focusing on actions that will produce the best results. Also, this means that you not operating your business in an organized manner, which tends to produce more reactive items.

Minor items that produce little to no value: An example is spending gobs of time and money trying to design and print your business cards. Your business card should be a representation of your business, but if you spend 15 hours trying to design them, then that is overkill. Cleaning excessively and making everything impeccably neat is another waste of time. Cleanliness and neatness are good, but don’t spend an hour each day cleaning your desk, car, or anything else. If you do, then you may have other issues that I am not qualified to fix!

Blaming others: Everyone likes to be right, right? But if you don’t know who is helping you and who is hurting you then how can you run your business profitably? Know who is your enemy and who is your friend. The people surrounding you include your employees, vendors, professionals, subcontractors, etc. They are usually working toward the greater good, but if you do not think so, then take an objective look at the situation, which is probably more positive then your emotions will lead you to believe, to determine if this is the case.

Tasks that can easily be delegated so you can make more money: There is a business owner that I often see cutting the grass, edging, and taking care of the landscaping of his business. It is understandable to do this for your home if you really enjoy this type of work and have the time to do so, but not for your business. Let’s calculate the lost income from this endeavor. Let’s say the landscaper cost an average of $50 a week plus some extras and snow plowing for a total of $3,500 per year total. Then, it takes you an average of 2 hours or more each week to do all the landscaping (don’t forget that you need to have all of the equipment, maintain the equipment, change your clothes before yardwork, shower, change your clothes after, and now you probably need a nap). This can easily equate to spending 5% or more of your time on landscaping work. What if that time was spent trying to grow and develop your business and was equivalent to $10k, $50k, $100k or more of income?

How we spend our time has the largest impact on the profitability of our business. All of the above also relate to letting your emotions rule your decision making versus being well though-out, which I have written about previously. Focus on the right things!

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How Much is the NJ Health Insurance Penalty?

Although there are no longer Obamacare penalties at the Federal level starting 2019, the State of New Jersey has implemented its own penalties for 2019. What are some of the requirements, exemptions, and penalties regarding this new law?

Requirements: The law requires you to have minimum essential health coverage or qualify for an exemption of coverage. If you do not have coverage or qualify for an exemption, then you will incur a shared responsibility payment when you file your 2019 New Jersey tax return next year.

Exemptions: There is a list of over 20 exemptions, and some of them are as follows: income related, such as marketplace affordability and income below filing thresholds, gaps in coverage of less than two consecutive months, hardships, and group memberships, such as being a part of a health care sharing ministry.

Penalties: The minimum penalty is the greater of 2.5% of your household income or $695 for an individual taxpayer. This increases to a maximum of $15,060 for a family of two adults and three dependents with a household income greater than $400,001.

The penalties are steep so make sure that you are properly covered or are able to receive an exemption to the penalties. For those who are looking for non-traditional coverage options, health care sharing ministries such as Solidarity HealthShare or Christian Healthcare Ministries may prove to be good, low-cost options. However, make sure to perform your due diligence to make sure that these can be the right fit for you.

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The 3 Pillars

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A business has many moving parts that must all be coordinated to ensure smooth and profitable operations. Usually, there are aspects of a business that are either completely ignored or not given the time, energy and focus that they need. These moving parts can be broken down into 3 major areas: operations, marketing, and financial.

Operations: Most businesses focus all of their time and energy on the operations of their business, and with good reason. Without operations there would be no business. Aspects of operations that are usually overlooked are: developing and managing employees, delegation, scheduling, and technology. It’s easy to get lost in all of the details of delivering your product and service that improvements to your business get pushed aside for the sake of just getting through the day.

Marketing: Marketing is the promotion of your business and is the key to growth opportunities. This can include old-fashioned networking, social media and Internet marketing, and many other forms of getting the word out. There are even indirect ways of marketing your product or service based upon visual interactions and use of technology.

Financial: Financial matters are like a middle child that tends to get ignored. Anecdotally, I have yet to see a business that does not have either cash flow problems or tax issues if they ignore their finances. Practically speaking this is the least interesting aspect of running a business, which is probably why it is ignored. However, operations, marketing and financial are all thoroughly intertwined, and if you ignore the financial aspect of your business then it will negatively impact all of the others.

These three pillars create the foundation of a business, and by strengthening them you will create lasting success.

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What If Your Spouse Is Reckless with Money?

Did you take a financial compatibility test before you got married to your spouse? I am sure the answer is no and even if you did, people and circumstances can change over time. If one spouse is more cautious with spending and one is reckless, then this will not only cause tension, but the financially reckless spouse will most likely hurt or greatly strain your finances. It can also be a huge source of marital tensions. What should you do if you find yourself in this situation?

Here are some approaches, from rational, gentle approaches, to tougher, harder approaches, along with observations:

Communicate and work together: Hopefully, the remedy to your situation is as easy as communicating with each other to make sure that you are on the same page financially. If your finances are steadily strengthening, debts are decreasing or paid off, savings rates are sufficient, and charitable giving is charitable, then it doesn’t really matter if your spending seems reckless. However, when your income is growing and you are still struggling to pay for ordinary expenses, then it is time to have a talk. Both spouses should be aware of financial matters, savings goals, and limitations on spending. One can hope that this will solve the problem, but if not, then try again or move on to another approach.

Take charge and prioritize cash outflows: First, the more financially responsible spouse should be in charge of financial matters, including saving and paying bills. Next, the order of financial priorities needs to change, including saving first, preferably automatically, then paying bills and debts. This will cover your basic financial needs.

Cut off access: If the previous approaches still do not work, then you have to cut-off or greatly restrict access to funds and credit. I know, this sounds harsh and controlling, but it is not. If someone had a gambling addiction then you would do the same or you will find yourself homeless, which is not an exaggeration. Spending addictions are similar and you need to protect yourself and your family. If you are at this point then your spouse has issues with spending money.

Outside support: Financial decisions, views, and habits are very much driven by our emotions, our past experiences, and our attitudes about money. If you truly have a spending addiction, then seek the support and help of a professional that is experienced with these matters. I am not a psychologist or therapist, but anecdotally, it appears that reckless spending stems from several causes: seeking happiness by purchasing things (which is short-lived, possibly for mere minutes), the attitude that you deserve “things” (this is kind of related to the first cause), you do not care or think about finances (adults need to behave like adults), and lastly, you are just trying to sabotage your situation (it could be to get back at your spouse or because you do not feel you deserve financial security – again, seek therapy).

This can also happen with a business partner if you put them in place of the word spouse. It just won’t work.

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Why Does a Fast Growing Company Bleed Cash?

The irony of growing a company quickly is that it tends to bleed cash, and a lot of it. Why is this so and what can you do to prevent a cash crunch to keep the momentum going?

A fast Growing company is likely to spend more money to feed the growth of the business then a mature, slow-growing business in such areas as marketing, employees, technology, equipment, improvements, rent, and so on. The key to not going broke is to manage the process to keep the cash inflows consistent and much greater than the cash outflows. For example:

Accounts receivable: Sales growth without receiving money coming in will be awfully painful. Make sure you have billing and collection procedures in place to keep the cash coming in timely.

Marketing: There are different thoughts on how much should be spent on marketing as a percentage of sales. However, instead of thinking about percentages, think about effectiveness of your marketing so that your cash is not wasted.

Improvements & equipment: Building out a new location can be very costly, but there are several ways to minimize the risk of setting up an additional location. First, make sure that your first location is profitable and producing excess cash flow, second, build up a cash cushion, and third, obtain favorable financing or use a combination of cash and financing.

Employees: As sales increase there is a temptation to quickly hire more employees, which is necessary. However, if you hire too quickly, then the productivity of each employee will be too low for you to make a profit. A good strategy is to create metrics, that if met, will let you know that it is time to hire another employee or employees.

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You Get What You Pay For

I like a good deal when I see one, but be careful about going for the “cheap” price. Generally, you get what you pay for and many times it ends up costing you more and you either don’t realize this or realize it once it’s too late. Even commodity type services and products are not really commodities and here are a few examples:

Service providers: The pricing of service providers varies drastically, and includes virtually all services from home maintenance/contractors to professional service providers. Maybe you can find a good deal because the provider is newer in business and is under charging on purpose or is doing so out of poor business practices. However, a “cheap” service provider, especially one that you use repeatedly, will find it hard to provide quality service to you over time. This can be due to a high demand because of low prices, not being able to afford good, competent employees, and not having additional funds to invest in their business.

Products: If you are able to get the same product or software when it is on sale, then that is plain smart. However, when comparing two products, make sure that you understand why one is cheaper than the other. Reasons for a lower price can be because the product uses poor materials, is manufactured poorly, or does not contain a lot of features. The opposite can be true for a more expensive product, which is why you need to make sure that you purchase wisely.

Cost/benefit analysis: When making a purchase for your business, especially a large or important purchase, then weigh the cost/benefit. For example, a consultant may cost you $5,000, but you may expect that his advice will return $50,000 of profit. Alternatively, a software provider may cost you $10,000, but will save you $20,000 of expenses, including salaries. The examples are endless, and it is important to think of each expense as an investment in your business.

Don’t be fixated on price, but make sure that you understand what you are getting for the price you pay. A funny expression is, “If you pay peanuts, then you get monkeys!”

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