Equifax Data Breach - What You Need To Know (and do)


A lot of folks have been asking me about the recent Equifax Data Breach so I thought I would take a moment to go over a few things you should know.  

More than 143 million people are potentially impacted by this breach so chances are pretty high that you are vulnerable.

The first thing you need to do is to go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. This is the secure website set up by Equifax for you to check for potential personal impact. Once you are there, you'll be asked to enter your name and last 6 digits of your Social Security Number to verify if your data may have been part of the breach. You'll get an answer right away. For couples, one person may be impacted while the other may not be so don't just check for one of you and assume that's all you need to do.

Next, you should sign up for Equifax's TrustedID Premier. Even if you weren't impacted, you will be prompted to sign up. It's being offered to you at no cost. This program will provide you with 

*$1M in ID Theft Protection
*Credit monitoring from all 3 agencies
*Current credit report
*Equifax credit lock
*Social Security Number scanning

If you aren't comfortable using the free identity theft protection with Equifax (totally understand) then check out:

lifelock.com or zanderins.com.

You may also want to consider a credit freeze on your credit report.  It costs just a few dollars but will be able to prevent anyone including you from getting any type of credit while it is frozen.  You can unfreeze it at any time for a small fee.  This just makes for certain no accounts are opened in your name.

Privacy breaches can be a scary thing but the best thing you can do is to measure your impact early on and then take the necessary steps to get protected. Once you receive your credit report, go ahead and review it for any new accounts opened that you did not initiate or activity that does not belong to you and then report it. 

Your credit is an important piece of your financial health so make sure to take care of it!


My Office Facelift - On a Budget of Course!


I recently decided that it was finally time to decorate my home office space. For the most part, until this year, I've met with clients at a separate location so I haven't spent as much time in my home office for it to really matter how it was decorated. I decided that needed to change.

But, I practice what I preach so I wasn't about to make this radical change without some planning and some saving.

First, I set myself a budget. I knew exactly what my overall budget could allow so my parameters for what I would spend for this "remodel" were very clear.


Next, I shopped around. I wasn't clear from the beginning what I wanted but once I was, I shopped around to get the absolute best price. I was patient and waited for things to be on sale. I even looked around and took advantage of every opportunity to "join a newsletter list" to get a % off of my purchase.

To make my purchases, I used Scrips, a program where when we buy gift cards, a portion of the value of the card gets credited back to my daughter's marching band account for color guard. It's like getting PAID to shop!  

Finally, I leveraged the power of rebates. I got a rebate from my paint purchase but I took it a step further and watched for the price of my items to go down and got a rebate from that as well. That move alone got me $200 back on a desk that was already significantly cheaper than everywhere else I'd looked!

When you layer your savings like I did with patience, coupons, discounts, rebates and a budget you are able to do a lot. I decorated my office from top to bottom and wall to wall but I came in under budget and ended up with a space I love!

Home (office) improvement projects don't have to break you. Just be smart about them and you too can recreate your living spaces without going broke!


School's Back In - Did You Prepare?

For parents, the beginning of a new school year can be both joyous and stressful. This year is especially exciting (and expensive) for our household since we now have a high school senior!!  It seems like every year, our kids need a longer list of special supplies, new clothes, and a funded lunch account. Here are four things you can do to help alleviate the stress of going back to school.

  1. Review your history. Take a look back at the previous year and see what you spent in July-September on school preparation. If you use a tool like Quicken, Mint or Every Dollar, you have an easy way to see your history. Take a look at what actually happened vs. what the budget said so you can prepare appropriately for the next couple of months. 
  2. Look for holes that need to be filled rather than just assuming you need everything. You don't need to spend unnecessary money. Have your kids go through their closet thoroughly. If their jeans are good and their shoes are fine, you don't have to buy new ones just because it's the beginning of the school year. Budget for new ones but get them when you actually need them. Take stock in school supplies. You may just find that you don't need to buy near as much as you thought. 
  3. Budget for it. Write it all down and figure out when it's going to happen so it doesn't sneak up on you. Budgeting a little bit each month over a year's time will not sting nearly as much as paying a few hundred in August.
  4. Watch for sales. Lots of stores have incredible back to school sales. You can get some supplies for pennies! This is a great time to stock up a little. If you know you're going to go through 20 spiral notebooks in the year, get them while they are only 10 cents instead of paying $3 or $4 for them.

Back to school should be a fun time. You should be able to focus on enjoying the process of meeting new teachers and settling back into a school year routine. If you'll do these things, I promise it'll be much less stressful!


Financial GPS

It’s funny how we will take hours to plan a 7-day vacation or even just a weekend getaway but we won’t take the time to plan our financial future.  Maybe we need to create a financial destination as exciting and motivating as our vacation destination.

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Vacations Don't Last Forever

It's summertime and that usually means it's time to relax, take a break, and hopefully take a vacation. We relax our wardrobe to shorts and flip flops. We go on vacation and relax our minds and bodies. Unfortunately, we also tend to relax our watchful eye on our money. When we do that, we can easily get off track.  And 3 months without budgeting becomes a problem!

No matter what time of year, it's still important that you stay on track. I get it, though. I'm right there with you. It's hard. If I let a whole week go by, there is a 100% chance that I will veer away from my money plan and overspend. So, you might be saying, if Ericka has trouble, what am I supposed to do?

First of all, don't feel like you can't enjoy yourself and take a little bit of a break. You can. You just need to plan for it.

Planning for it can take many forms. You can say "this month, we're not going to pay anything extra towards our debt."  Just make sure it's only a month and then you get right back to your plan. You see, that's not getting off track. That is a planned pause at the station before continuing on your journey.  In addition, this keeps you from using a credit card to fund your summer fun.

Lastly, when you decide to take a break, don't let yourself feel guilty. You've planned for it. I've given you permission (if that's what you need to take a break).  There must be no guilt. Enjoy the break. If you don't, then you will have a much harder time getting back on track or worse, you'll get burned out with staying on the plan and end up quitting all together.

The key here, as always, is to plan. Keep in mind that this is a break and not a stop and you'll be just fine. So go enjoy the lazy days of summer but don't let yourself get too lazy when it comes to the budget. Think of this as your summertime refresh.  Now go enjoy, stay on plan, and stay the course!


Why Buy-In is a Must for Money Conversations

So far, we've talked about shared goals and accountability. These are both critical to success when it comes to your financial plans together as a couple. But, perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is that of Buy-In. Buy-in is always necessary when you are making changes.

Consider this. So far, you've both made goals together. Is it enough to just make the goal? You both want it (probably badly) but if that was enough, wouldn't you already be on your way to achieving that goal? It's because you didn't have buy-in. 

Buy-in takes more than just asking your partner to give up going out to lunch. It takes more than just sacrificing expensive vacations to get to the goal line. The good news is that the other two pieces that we've already talked about (shared goals and accountability) are actually part of the buy-in process.  

So what else gets us to buy-in?  Here are a few things that can help get you both moving in the right direction:

  • Recognizing that each of you has a specific role in the success of your goals. This can instill a deep sense of pride and purpose which encourages buy-in.  One of you may do the planning and the other does the tracking for example.
  • Create incentives. I love a reward system and encourage my clients to set rewards as they achieve certain milestones. It doesn't have to be super expensive or extravagant but if you know that you can go to our favorite restaurant to eat when you pay off that next credit card, you may just be more willing to make the short-term sacrifices to get there.  This also works great with kids too. 
  • Understanding the "Why". At the end of the day, when you know what your big "Why" is for getting out of debt, you are more likely to succeed. Having a big "Why" to remind you along the way can help keep you engaged in your plan together and prevent potential derailments.

Try these things with each other and watch for how much more excited and on-board you each are for working toward your goal of financial freedom. Buy-in can make ALL the difference!


Accountability Can Take Many Forms

Last week, we talked about the importance of shared goals and how to create them. This week, I want to dive into the subject of accountability. Whenever I talk about accountability, I always think about programs like Weight Watchers. The concept of weight loss isn't unique to Weight Watchers. Yes, they have their own "system" but at the end of the day, doesn't it really boil right back down to making healthy choices? The system is what makes it different and the most important part of that system is accountability.
Each week, you go to your weigh in. You know that the meeting leader is going to see how your week went by the numbers on the scale. Those who are successful get a star and perhaps some other 'attaboy' or 'attagirl'.  Those that don't have the greatest week will get encouragement and maybe even some tips on how to make next week better. These are all hallmarks of an accountability system.
We do better when we have someone holding us accountable. The same is true in your relationship. When my husband and I were working on getting out of debt, there was a time when he took my credit card from me and I haven’t used one since. I used to go out to lunch a lot and that was a habit that I couldn't seem to break without that level of serious intervention. He and I had agreed on our shared goals and our commitment to them was firm but without him helping me stay accountable it wouldn't work. Using cash for my lunches out was another way to stay accountable to our goals.
Understand that sometimes accountability takes shape with a simple "check in" and other times it's more extreme (as it was in my case). As a couple, talk to each other about what accountability looks like between the two of you. Agree to how you will each hold the other accountable and what actions you should take when the other partner needs it. 
Having these ideas agreed upon in the future will make for a much smoother accountability partnership between the two of you.


Forget SMART Goals - It's All About Shared Goals

We all know about SMART Goals - and yes, they do work.  I completely recommend them to all my clients. But maybe they need to be called SMARTS goals where the final 'S' stands for Shared.  I'm here to tell you that shared goals are absolutely key when it comes to you and your honey paying off debt and creating a secure financial future.

When we talk about shared goals, I'm not talking about a goal that you share (tell) someone else.  I'm talking about a goal that you both create and are both passionate about.  

What's so special about shared goals you might be asking? Imagine if you and your partner create goals separately. You have a goal to lose 10 lbs by the summer and he wants to learn to be a pastry chef before the annual neighborhood bake sale. It's going to be harder for you to achieve your goal if you support his goal and he won't be at his best in his progress if he's fully supporting yours. You'll both be going in different directions and neither one of you ends up accomplishing what you wanted.

If you create goals together, you can both support each other fully and celebrate that much more when you get there.

If you haven't done shared goals, I recommend that you sit down with your partner and discuss your goals and if they aren't an exact match, work together to see how you can find compromise and make a shared goal together.  Trust me, your end result will be well worth it!


Here's Why You Aren't Making Progress Getting Out of Debt

I see it time and again. Couples sitting in front of me in their first coaching session with me completely dumbfounded why they haven't been able to get out of debt. They've read the books. They've created the budget. They're smart people who just can't seem to get traction.  
The truth is that it's not that you're not smart enough. It's not that you can't get out of debt. What nobody is telling you is that you're missing some key ingredients to success in your plan - 3 key ingredients to be exact.
First of all, let's talk about goals.  No, this is not another post about SMART goals. What most couples are missing are shared goals. These are goals that the two of you create together. When you create these shared goals together, you are so much more likely to get to the finish line together.
Secondly, we have to talk about accountability. As a couple, you need to be each other's accountability partner. You have to promise that even when it's hard, each one has to tow the line for the other. 
Finally, you have to have buy in. Everyone involved needs to have input.  This way they will want to complete the tasks at hand.
If you've read my brand new book, Naked and Unashamed: 10 Money Conversations Every Couple Must have, you're probably chomping at the bit to get started. But, if you AND your partner don't both buy in to achieving a life that is debt free, it will not work effectively.
I promise, if you add these three ingredients in with your other tools, you will start to make progress and you'll see those debt numbers shrink.
Be sure to stop by the blog throughout April (Financial Awareness Month!) as I dive into each of these ingredients in detail so you can really put this information to powerful use in your family.


How to have “The Talk”

Honey…. Um I won’t be getting a raise this year…
Dear… we owe taxes this year…
How are we going to pay for the kids to do all these activities?
I want to go on a vacation, can I book it?
Are we on track for retirement?
We owe too much money on our credit cards.  What do we do?

Have you asked these questions? Do you often wonder if you are on track or if your efforts will make any progress at all?

It can be challenging to figure out how to approach these topics with the one you love let alone actually find the answers that will make a difference.  And how will you change your behaviors so you finally make progress towards your goals?

It takes just a few steps to get the conversation started without the darts flying.  Check out the following ideas that will lead you to clarity and action.

  1. Get clear.  Sometimes we just dive in without regard to the real issue at hand or the outcome you’d like to see.  Make sure you know what you want to accomplish from the conversation and why.  You don’t want to start talking and make no progress because you were unclear to begin with.
  2. Be open.  State your concerns, ideas, or question and just listen.  You want to be attentive, responsive, and open to new ideas that your spouse may bring to the table.  None of us have all the answers.  A new way of doing things may get you where you want to go faster.  
  3. Make a decision.  Determine what you are both willing to do so you see the desired outcome.  Agree upon the sacrifices that you are ready to make and for how long.
  4. Take action.  A talk is a nice starting place for financial change.  You can’t expect the conversation to do all the work though.  Now is the time to do something.  Set up automatic payments or make the call for some additional help.

You may find it difficult to even get your spouse on board at all.  Well, let me do the talking for you.  Let’s discuss these topics without you having to say a word.  I will have the difficult conversations that for years you have been trying to avoid.  I will guide you through how to start the conversation, what to say once you have their attention and the 1 thing that will make a difference quickly given the subject you are discussing.  

Join me this Wednesday evening at 8pm EST.  Tell your honey to join you.  Let’s talk money with your honey!


I'm Excited to Share this First Look

I don’t know about you, but I feel like these first few weeks of 2017 have been a whirlwind!  We have a fresh new calendar with so many possibilities and that is exciting. You’ve probably set goals and are eager to see them accomplished.  And it’s no secret that our nation also has a new president.  Many Americans are uncertain about what his changes will mean to their future.  I encourage you to get involved where you can, but I highly recommend you take control over your personal economy as well.  Now is the time to get your financial house in order so that changes around you don’t get you off track.   

I want you also to take the time to celebrate the things that are going well. Recognizing our successes is one very powerful way we can bring joy and peace to our lives. It's with this thought in mind that I wanted to celebrate something very exciting happening for me. 

As most of you know, I have been working on my first book for the last several months and I am so excited to say that we're actually less than a month away from the launch!! Just last week, I received my first print copy of the book. MY BOOK! (It still feels surreal to even say that!). I wanted to share my excitement with you, the Tailor Made Budgets Community, because without you, this journey would not have happened. So,  please enjoy my silly celebration in the video below and mark your calendars now for February 15th to grab your own copy!


December Doesn't Have to Destroy the Budget

Yep.  It's December. There are gifts to buy. There are parties to attend. And don’t forget the family celebrations.  Everything costs money and your budget might be there staring you in the face wondering how you're going to make it all happen.
Today, I wanted to share 3 simple ways to take some stress off of your budget during this season.
1. Say 'no'. I know. This can be so hard but sometimes you just have to decline an invitation. Saying 'no' can not only protect your budget commitments but it can also protect your energy and your time.
2. Consider homemade, thoughtful and personal ideas for gifting. A batch of homemade cookies, a poem or song written by you, or a handmade craft is thoughtful and appreciated. I’m making homemade breads for friends and neighbors.  Pinterest is a great place for inspiration!
3. Give the gift of time. Time together is valuable and precious. Volunteer for a local charity instead of giving gifts.  Offer to babysit your nieces and nephews.  Watch your neighbor’s dog.  Not only can this be fun for you but your loved ones will be forever grateful.
The holiday season is not all about the amount of money you spend. It's about honoring your family with its traditions and spiritual foundations. Don't allow the frenzy of the calendar derail you from your progress. There are so many ways to bring joy and peace - of which you deserve much!


Aren't You Glad It's Over?

Of course, I'm talking about the election. Finally, we can get back to no more political ads, no more debates, and our Facebook feeds can start to go back to normal. Maybe.  Or at least this is a new normal…
No matter who you voted for, there is an air of uncertainty around us. Changes were going to happen and now that the decision has been made, we all have to wait to see what those changes are going to be and how they'll end up affecting us personally.
Today, though, I want to remind you that no matter what, you don't have to let the emotions associated with the political climate derail you. You are still in control of your personal economic future.
I want you to hold on to your power. Do not be discouraged. Don't let doubt and uncertainty creep in to your ability to take charge of your personal destiny.  
To help you stay in control, I wanted to provide you with some reassurance and ideas that will give you the confidence to continue on and stay on track to success for your financial future.
1. Make sure you have an emergency fund. Things happen. Make your emergency fund a priority so that you can weather the storm. Having this cushion helps you stay in control and have the assurance that you can continue to live your life on your terms. It's amazing what a safety net like an emergency fund can do for easing stress of unexpected situations.
2. Actively look for ways you can improve your financial standing. Where can you make extra income? Do you work a second job? Can you negotiate a raise? Is it time to seek a new job or career that will provide more opportunity?  Are you taking advantage of tax breaks and retirement options available to you? When you're shopping, do you stop and make sure you're getting the best deal. Always be on the lookout for how you can maximize the dollars coming in and minimize the dollars going out.
3. Stay in a mode of action. When we allow emotions to control us, we can often get stuck in confusion, sadness, anger, or frustration. Taking action and moving forward gives us hope. When you make decisions to pay off a debt, the progress you make gives you hope. The pay off gives you reason to celebrate. Your successes encourage you to take more actions for more positive changes. Make sure that you stay in action to perpetuate a positive cycle in your own life. 
Keep these three thoughts in mind and you will maintain the control of your personal financial future. We live in an amazing country with amazing people. As individuals, we have incredible opportunities and it can be difficult to keep sight of that when there's a lot of divisive drama around. If that drama is distracting you, turn off the tv or shut down the social media and circle in to focus on you and your immediate needs. Give yourself the space to take control and shield from the drama. Doing this is probably the best gift you can give yourself today. Trust me - your future self will thank you!


It's Not Even Really About the Stuff


You’ve seen the show “Storage Wars”.  Enterprising resellers look for great finds in storage units that go unclaimed.  This is a big industry.  We buy and keep so much stuff that we can’t fit it all into our home The problem comes when this stuff causes a monthly financial obligation that you don’t want or need to pay anymore.

Frequently, I work with clients who have things in storage. Whether their reasons are lack of space or need for a temporary overflow space, it's interesting to me what we discover when we have a conversation about the storage fees and their budget.

One client I recently worked with has a storage story that was deeper than what it appeared to be on the surface so I thought I would share.

She had more stuff than space. She rented a small storage unit for a reasonable monthly fee. We worked together for a while on her budget and debt reduction and this storage remained a fixture the entire time.  We would talk about how she could have bought all new things for as long as she had paid the monthly fees, she would say "I know… I know" and that would be the end of it.

Since she was making such great progress on every other debt reduction and budgeting strategy, I was baffled by her resistance to get rid of the expense.  So I dug deeper. She finally acknowledged that there was this one photo in the storage that she needed to dig and look for.  It carried many feelings and histories behind it. The person in the photo was treasured and dear to her. For so long she focused on the work needed to get the storage unit cleaned.  That was daunting.  Each budget was a reminder of what she paid for that unit. That was depressing.  And yet the vision she needed to really clean out and get rid of the unit was the treasure located inside.  That picture should have been hanging in her home the entire time.

The point here is that we often hang on to stuff...and pay a price in dollars, time, and lost opportunities or potential positive experiences. Take a look in your own life. What are you holding on to? Why? Do you have buried treasure in a garage, storage unit or some other space? Maybe tackling this issue is just what you need to move closer to a less expensive and more fulfilled debt-free life.


Back to School: The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Can you believe it?  It’s almost time for our kids to get back to school!!  This season can be exciting and yet stressful at the same time for families. It's not only a huge adjustment to a new routine but there are also expenses (sometimes hefty ones!) that come with the onset of a new school year. Just like with the overall concept of budgeting, planning is a key to reducing or even eliminating stress in terms of school time shopping. Here are 5 key strategies for getting an A+ in back-to-school shopping:
Look for early bird deals: Big box stores like Staples or Walmart often have huge back-to-school savings. Look for those penny deals to save big on standard school supplies and stock up.
Take advantage of bulk pricing: You have to really watch bulk pricing to make sure it's a good deal but if it is, don't be afraid to dive in for the big savings. Find a friend or two with kids who need the same supplies and split the package (and the cost) and then you have exactly what you need at a great price. That's a win for everyone.
Stock up year round: There are often deals for school supplies throughout the year as businesses get new stock in or work to get rid of the remnants of the season's wares. Take advantage of their deep discounts to empty their shelves to fill your own at a reduced price. Just be wary not to buy things that will expire or dry out before you have a chance to use them.
Know before you go: Back-to-school clothes shopping can sometimes be the biggest expense but it doesn't have to be. Before you go back-to-school clothes hunting, take a full inventory of what you already have. If your child has 5 pair of jeans that still fit really well and are in good shape, there may not be a need for more. Buy only what you need now - we all know they'll grow later! You also may want to try buying just one special outfit to start the year instead of a whole new wardrobe. This not only saves on the bottom line but it saves you a ton of time since you won't be hunting all over town for a carload of clothes!
Keep last year's list: At least through elementary school (and a good portion of middle school), the school supply list doesn't change much from year to year. Hang on to last year's list and then you'll  have an eye for those items you need to look for savings on throughout the year. Buying a few things each month can make it easier to budget rather than buying them all at once the week before school starts.
Put these strategies in place and you'll be able to get everything you need at a savings and with a lot less stress. This will allow you to enjoy this time of growth for your children and celebrate the milestone that each grade level provides.


Summertime Activities Don’t Have to Melt Your Budget

Summer is here and the kids are out of school. Unfortunately, when you're stressed over finances, this normally cheerful and relaxing time of year can be super stressful. If you're like many in my community, some of these might be playing through your head right now:

  • It's yet another year when we can't afford to go on vacation
  • My kids are driving me nuts but activities are too expensive
  • We've been so good and need to have some fun but the bank account says "no"

If this is you, you're going to love what I have to share. Just because you are in debt, doesn't mean you can't have fun. It just means that you may have to spend a little time doing some research and it may mean that you have to make some compromises. 
Here are some ideas that can heat up your summer fun factor without breaking the bank:
1. Check out sites like Groupon or Living Social for deals. There are all kinds of activities available on these sites. Whether you are looking for a local activity to keep the kids busy or a frugal getaway, this is a great place to start.
2. Check out your local community center or library. These local centers and libraries always have events going on and most of them are FREE! Get your kids involved in a summer reading program and not only do you give them something to do but it keeps their brain engaged too!
3. How about camp? I know - camps can be uber expensive but it might be a great way to get grandparents or other relatives involved. They may be willing to pay a portion or all of camp fees to help out. Sometimes, all you need to do is ask!
4. Let them volunteer. Kids being busy doesn't mean that you have to be paying for it. Check out volunteer opportunities for day camps or vacation bible schools in your area. Your child will be busy and will benefit from the volunteer and leadership experience.
5. Give them some down time. Kids do not have to have something to do every waking minute of the day. It's ok to have them at home without a busy schedule. Use that time to have them work on some projects around the house like organizing your movies or going through the pantry to make sure nothing is expired. This gives them something to do and you get to mark something off that to-do list that never seems to get done.
No matter what you choose, know that you don't have to spend a fortune to have a ton of fun. It just takes a little planning in advance. Figure out what your budget can bear and then work within that framework. Get the whole family involved and get creative. You may be surprised what you all come up with!