Need to Exchange Currency? Pay Attention

If traveling to a foreign country is in your near future, one of the biggest costs that you need to avoid is the often expensive exchange rate that you’ll be charged when switching from American dollars to another currency.

Tourist areas and airports are notorious for charging high exchange rates, for example,  and a number of credit cards and banks also charge you an exchange rate when you purchase something using in a foreign currency using their card.

Below are a number of tips that will help you to maximize your American dollars while also minimizing any exchange rates or fees that you’ll have to pay when vacationing. Enjoy.

  • Before making any exchange, ask how much you will get for the specific amount of money you want to exchange. The fact is, many currency exchange places will tell you that they don’t charge fees or that they have excellent exchange rates but, oftentimes, will give you a worse exchange rate than other locations. If you ask specifically how much money you will receive for a specific amount of money that you want to exchange, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting ahead of time and be able to determine whether or not their exchange rate is fair. Also, keep in mind that changing currencies in the country you’re visiting is usually less expensive than changing it here at home in the United States.
  • If your hotel or another business asks if you’d like them to convert their bill into American dollars, tell them no. In most cases their exchange rate will be much higher than the exchange rate that your bank or credit card might charge you (see below to avoid these too). Simply let them bill you in their currency and let your credit card or bank do the exchange after your vacation is finished.
  • If you have a smart phone (and who doesn’t these days) you should definitely get a currency converting app before you leave home. These are extremely convenient and, in most cases, very easy to use, and will tell you if you’re getting a good deal on your money exchange. Two of the best are GlobeConvert and XE Currency.
  • Finding and using a credit and/or debit card that doesn’t charge of foreign exchange fee is an excellent idea. Unfortunately, most credit cards charge from 2 to 3% for every purchase that you make in a foreign currency, which can add up very quickly. There are many cards that don’t however and, if you take a look websites like bankrate.com, creditcards.com and others, you’ll find cards that don’t charge anything.
  • Just like using a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign exchange fees, using a bank or checking account that doesn’t charge them is an excellent idea when you’re traveling abroad. You should definitely check with your bank before leaving to make sure that they don’t charge exchange fees and, if they do, consider opening an account with another bank specifically for your trip. It might take a little bit of time and effort but, depending on how much you plan on spending and how long your trip will take, it might save you quite a bit of money. If you want to find out which banks don’t charge exchange fees, NerdWallet.com will tell you.

Traveling abroad can be an amazing experience and quite an adventure. If you don’t want it to be an expensive adventure however, following the tips above is in your best interest and could save you hundreds of dollars. Bon voyage!

Paying too Much in Property Taxes?

Property taxes, especially in some states like New Jersey, are out of control. Even states that are considered “fair” when it comes to property taxes can sometimes charge too much and, if you feel that your property taxes are too high, the tips below will help you to check and, possibly, lower them. Enjoy.

First, make sure you know the exact square footage of your home. If the field record of the square footage doesn’t match the current square footage of your property exactly, and the error is in your favor, there’s a good chance that any case you bring for having your property taxes lowered will be won.

Interestingly, although most homeowners believe that the number of bedrooms makes a difference in the assessment of their property taxes, the 2 rooms that make the most difference are kitchens and bathrooms. In other words, the rooms that have running water. Many cities and towns will value a home’s bathroom based on how many fixtures it contains, including whether it’s a full bathroom, three-quarter bathroom or half bathroom. Each of these different types has its different assessment value.

Kitchens are also important to evaluate, especially if you have an in-law suite or a finished basement. For example, you might be paying more property taxes if your wet bar in the basement has been assessed like a kitchen.

Another important factor in the assessment of your property taxes ii the type and/or style of your home. For example, colonial homes are often valued higher than ranches. If you believe that your home has been incorrectly categorized, you might want to speak with your assessor to have its classification changed, which could possibly lower your property taxes.

The condition of your home is also a big factor in the assessment of your property taxes. The lower the condition, the lower your taxes usually will be and, if you feel that your home has been graded too highly, you may want to try and get this knocked down a bit. For example, although the difference between an “excellent” home and a “very good” home might be minimal to the casual observer, it may well make a large difference in the amount of property taxes that you are forced to pay.

Keep in mind that if you’re going to argue any of these points with your tax assessor, you should do your best to have all documentation prepared before you sit down to talk with them. Any glaring errors that can be found on your field card will probably be fixed without a formal procedure being necessary but, if that isn’t possible, you may need to file an abatement to send along with your tax bill until the change is made.

Also, since an inspection will no doubt be needed in most cases to ascertain whether or not of mistake has been made and your taxes should be lowered, it’s also possible that your valuation could rise and that you’ll end up paying higher taxes.

Nevertheless, if you feel strongly that you’re paying too much in property taxes, and you’ve done your research so that you can present your case with all of the necessary documentations, there’s a good chance that you will be successful. It might take some time and effort but, if you can save a significant amount of money every year, it will be well worth the time and effort that you put in.

Adult Children Refuse to Leave the Nest

Not too long ago if an adult was to say to someone that they just met “I live with my parents”, it typically would have set them up for quite a bit of ridicule and disdain. That social stigma has fallen away in the last few years as more young adults are staying home with mom and dad than ever before. In fact, nearly 22 million so-called “millennials” were living in their parent’s home in 2012, nearly 40% of all adults between the age of 18 and 31.

For parents who thought that sharing their home ended when their last child turned 18, adjusting to having their adult children living back home again can take a little bit of time. It’s for that reason that today we bring you some rules and tips that should help you to live in harmony with your adult children if they haven’t moved out,  or they’ve recently moved back in.

First and foremost, set some realistic goals. If you’re not comfortable with the thought of your adult children living with you for the long term, sitting down with them and setting some realistic goals, including a time schedule for moving out, might be necessary. Also, helping them set their own realistic goals about finding a “dream” job might be necessary, as many young adults just out of college think that they will instantly fall into a job, or profession, that they love.

Some parents have taken to setting a “reverse curfew” in order to make sure that their adult children are out looking for a job during the day (if they’re unemployed, of course). What this means is that, from a specific time in the morning until a specific time in the afternoon, say 9 AM to 3 PM, they aren’t allowed to be home because they should be out looking for a job. The benefit of doing this is that, once they actually do find a job, they won’t be home during the day either.

If you need to put in writing, and make an actual contract with your adult child, then so be it. There’s nothing that says that parents and their adult children can’t have legal and binding contracts between them and, if you have already agreed on some specific factors like a moving out date or an amount to be paid for rent, there’s no harm in having some basic paperwork drawn up and notarized so that everyone knows where they stand.

Finally, always remember that communication is key. Even if it means that you “over communicate” or talk about what you want, and want for them, more than normal, make sure to keep the lines of communication open. Even though they may be adults, your adult children might not be as mature as you think and your communication, and loving words, are still very necessary.

If you want them to pay rent, pay their own groceries, do some chores around the house and so forth, communicating these wants and needs to them is vital. If you don’t then there’s going to be a lot of problems when you get angry at them for not doing the things you want, and a lot of resentment as well. Avoid that resentment by communicating openly and often.

Some families can live quite well together for years without any sort of problems. If you have a big house and you’re comfortable letting your adult children live with you, then so be it.

On the other hand, some adult children tend to take advantage of their parents and their parent’s generosity. They don’t work, don’t pay rent and spend their days watching TV or playing video games. In these situations it might be a little bit more difficult to get along and using the rules and tips above will hopefully help you to keep things under control.

The Habits of the Rich, Part 2

In Part 1 of our 2 Part series we gave you a look at five habits that wealthy people have that, in most cases, you don’t. In today’s blog were going to, surprise, look at another five habits that they have that you should definitely emulate if you want to become wealthy as well. Enjoy.

One of the first is simply to avoid temptation. Listen, the fact is that it’s almost impossible these days to get away from the never ending pressure to spend money. Television, the neighbors, family, friends and even strangers on the street can make you feel inadequate if you don’t have the same “stuff” that they do. If you want to become wealthy you’re going to have to learn to say no to temptation, and do it often.

Honestly, do you need the newest smart phone, biggest house or most expensive automobile? If you think you do, then you might have more problems than just financial.

Setting financial goals is one of the most important habits that you need to emulate if you want to become wealthy. Whatever it is that you want to achieve, whether it’s to save $1 million, open your own business or purchase a second home as an investment property, setting goals and sticking to them is one of the best ways to do it. In most cases this means actually writing your goals down, checking back on them frequently and involving other people in your goal setting who can keep you on your toes.

Prioritize your financial goals, assigned target dates to have a specific amount of money or a specific task accomplished and display those goals openly somewhere that you can see them easily and check in with them regularly. This amount of accountability will help you to stay on track much more easily.

Another habit that they wealthy embrace is to educate themselves and do it often. Wealthy people spend a lot of time studying financial concepts, stay abreast of financial trends and learn the ins and outs of the financial markets. Whenever they have the opportunity to take advantage of someone or something that will strengthen their understanding, they take it. One of those opportunities comes from the venerable Wall Street Journal. Others include Fortune magazine, CNBC and anything that features the advice of Warren Buffett. One caveat is not to overwhelm yourself with information which, in some cases, can actually paralyze you rather than help you to move forward.

A vital habits that you need in order to become wealthy is to have a diversified portfolio of assets. While the old adage about “putting all your eggs in one basket” is a bit silly (what are you going to do, use five baskets?) what it means in essence is that you shouldn’t put all of your money into only one or two different assets but instead spread it out among several. Purchase mutual funds, bonds, stocks, real estate and maybe even collectibles.

The reason being is that if one of these assets is decimated, for whatever reason, you’ll still have all of the others to rely on and protect your finances.

Finally, although this is an old adage as well, wealthy people spend money to make money. In this case, that means paying a financial professional, like an accountant, financial advisor or estate planner, who has expertise in financial matters and can help you to make the best decisions about where and what to do with your money. You can still do some “DIY” investing on your own, but the objectivity, personalized guidance and expertise that professionals offer, while it may actually cost you a little bit of money, will more than likely allow you to save and/or earn much more money in the long run.

And there you have them. 10 habits that wealthy people have and, if you want to be wealthy as well, you need to embrace. It might not be easy at first but, like any habit, once you get into the “groove” of doing it all the time it will become easier and your financial empire will grow. After all, even Warren Buffett didn’t become a millionaire (excuse us, billionaire) overnight.