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Squirrels, Nuts and Business Cycles

squirrel You might think that our title has something to do with the recent behavior of Wall Street and Washington. It probably could, but in this case, it doesn’t.

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It does refer to seasons. We’re in the Midwestern United States. We’re heading into fall which, of course, means winter is just around the corner. Squirrels are busy hoarding up nuts so they will have the food they need to sustain them through the winter months.

Hot and cold, boom and bust

Like the seasons, our economy moves through times when things are hot and times when they’re cold. We experience booms and busts.

It’s interesting, though, that our friends in the southern hemisphere are just heading into spring. Things are heating up there while they’re cooling down here! It reminds us that most businesses do best during the boom times, but some actually prosper when times are tough.

Almost every business has products or services that will do better when the economy isn’t doing as well. With your offerings, which ones will save your clients money? Those are the items you should promote now as consumers seek to stretch their budget.

Your cash stash

Speaking of stretching our budgets, just like squirrels hoarding nuts for winter, we should all make sure we have an emergency cash reserve. Financial planners recommend keeping between three to six months of living costs stashed safely away for ready access.

In recent times, some have suggested a Home Equity Line-of-Credit could be substituted for this cash reserve. Only you can decide if that’s the right option for you; however, with what’s going on with banks and the credit markets, it may pay not be your best option for your crucial cash stash.

If you own a business, you should also look at your working capital. Is it adequate to take you through a slow season? If not, look for ways to cut your costs so you can shore up your cash hoard.

Purchasing out of season

The seasons also create opportunities for us when we’re purchasing. For example, if you live where we live, you’ll probably get a better deal right now on a lawn mower than a snow blower. Timing your purchase when demand is down on these bigg ticket items can save you money.

Tougher times also create opportunities for us as consumers. Businesses still have bills to pay. They want to keep the doors open. So they may cut deals now that they would never consider in good times.

Purchasing in season

With other items, you’re better off buying in season. Retailers will often lure you to their stores by drastically discounting these items. For example, isn’t turkey cheaper right before Thanksgiving than any other time?

Time Money has a great article about the best time to buy everything. Planning when to buy is just as important as what you buy. Buying on impulse less often will save you BIGG money more often!

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Next time, we ask, “Are you a victim of your own success?” Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

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9 Questions to Answer Before You Make Extra Mortgage Payments

Bigg Challenge
One of our listeners, Randy, is considering making paying his mortgage every two weeks instead of every month so he can pay it off faster. He wants to know if this is a good idea..

Bigg Advice
We can’t give you a direct answer, Randy, but we will give you nine questions that will help you determine if you should make the extra payments.

#1 – Do you have any other debt?
Chances are your mortgage is the cheapest debt you’ll ever find, after taxes are considered. So if that’s the case, you should pay off your other debt first.

#2 – Do you have an emergency cash reserve?
The general wisdom among financial planners is that you should have somewhere between three months to a year of living expenses in an account that’s readily available.

#3 – How good is your credit rating?
The better your credit rating, the better chance you have to borrow in the future at a reasonable cost should the need arise. When you make extra payments, you’re essentially investing in an illiquid asset. So if your credit score needs some improvement, work on that first.

#4 – How do you feel about debt?

Some people don’t like having any debt at all. If you’re one of them, and if you’re happy with the answer to the first three questions, then make extra payments!

#5 – What’s your interest rate?
This question gets you ready to determine your best financial move. There are two things you need to know:

  • the interest rate on your mortgage
  • your tax bracket (i.e. how much you’ll pay in taxes on your next dollar of income, that’s called your marginal tax rate).

Multiply your interest rate by (1 – your marginal tax rate) to get your after-tax cost of interest.

#6 – How disciplined are you?

If you’re likely to just spend the extra money if you don’t make extra mortgage payments, then by all means just make extra payments. If you’re disciplined
(or set it up so you don’t have to be), then you’re ready for the next question.

#7 – When do you plan to retire?

In general, the longer you have until you retire, the more aggressive you can be. So if you plan to retire in a relatively short time, lean toward extra payments. If you have a relatively long time before you retire, you’re probably better off investing.

#8 – What could you earn if you didn’t pay off your mortgage early?
You figured out your after-tax interest cost in Question 5. That’s your cost of money. Now you’re going to look at how much you can make from your investments. That’s your projected return. If the return on your portfolio is greater than your cost of money, that’s a sign you shouldn’t make extra payments on your mortgage.

#9 – Will your current portfolio support your desired lifestyle?

If you already have enough money to keep you happy for the rest of your life, why do anything risky? Just pay off your mortgage and reduce your risk even more.

We’ve offered some general advice here. Find a certified financial planner or CPA to help you with your specific situation. 

Want to read more? Here are the
9 questions you should ask before paying off your mortgage
in more detail.

Our bigg quote today comes from Walter Savage Landor:

“We talk on principle, but we act on interest.”

But you shouldn’t pay down your principal unless it’s in your best interest.

Next time, we’ll share a love story with lessons. Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

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