Some more basic financial information. Please note that nothing written here is to be considered tax advice or authoritative. I am only writing based on what applies to me and my own financial circumstances. Before following anything financial written here, you should consult with tax professional or CPA.
It’s easy to think that taking charge of finances is really tough & confusing. It really doesn’t take a lot of my time & I don’t try to understand every detail. It is like operating a car – I don’t need to understand the mechanics, I just need to know how to drive and how to do basic maintenance.
As I mentioned before, I train in the martial arts at Jung SuWon Martial Arts School. Dr. Tae Yun Kim founded the school and I’ve learned so many things from martial arts that apply in my daily life. We hear a lot in the news right now about people feeling like they’ve lost their money & even committing suicide because of the uncertainty of the times. One very important tool I’ve learned is that when the times are going good, anyone can do good. When the times are tough, that is when our strengths come out to help us get through the tough times.
If your company offers a 401k plan, take advantage of that! A lot of companies will match all or some of your contributions (mine does!), and this is essentially free money! The deductions are pre-tax and even though I do with a little less each payday, I have some peace of mind knowing that I am saving money for the future. All I have to do is review my 401k statements periodically and if I need to change anything, I call the 401k company (or go online), they give me basic advice and I don’t have to think about it further. It is also important to not react to fluctuations in the market. The market goes up, the market goes down. You want to be concerned with the overall performance of the fund(s) you select – this is an investment for the long haul. Any good 401k company will have tools online to show you trends, ratings, past performance, etc. Typically, a company will allow employees to enroll only once per quarter. Also, since you are contributing to this with pre-tax dollars, when you withdraw the funds when you retire (some special rules here to look into), you will pay taxes on it. And, if you have an emergency and need the funds before you retire, you will be penalized for early withdrawal (special rules here too). Some plans allow you to take a loan out on your balance (yes, more rules here too). Anyway, if you aren’t too sure, start out slow, say a 1% contribution and just buy one less chai latte or green tea frappacino during the week. However, it is always good to #1, contribute the maximum allowable during the year ($15,500 for 2008) or #2, the minimum needed in order to maximize the employer match (if any) (remember “free money” from above? I’m seriously! (if you get this vague reference, let me know)).