Tag Archives: finance

Use These 5 Simple Hacks to Ease Financial Stress

 

April is Stress Awareness Month and we all know that finances are the root of much of the stress we face. If you haven’t ever lost a little sleep worrying about a money-related issue, I would question whether or not you had a pulse. It’s almost inevitable that, at some point, we all will have a financial difficulty that wears on our mind, and ultimately, maybe even our body.

Financial Finesse is a financial wellness firm that offers coaching to over 2.4 million people in the U.S. In the firm’s 2016 Financial Stress Research, they reported that 1 out of every 4 people say that they suffer from high or overwhelming financial stress and 6 out of 10 people reported losing sleep over at least one financial problem. The good news is that there are some fairly simple steps we can take to ease financial stress. Here are some that have worked for me.

Resist the consumerist culture we live in.

My wife and I just recently realized we had too much stuff. Not only did we have too much, we wanted even more. The culture we live in is constantly in our face about purchasing items that are supposed make us happy; new clothes, beauty products, cars, toys for your kids, electronics, apps for your phone. The never-ending assault on our desire for more is relentless. Our home was bursting at the studs with things we didn’t need and all of that stuff was causing stress. So we decided to get rid of it. Anything in our home that is not useful or doesn’t bring us joy is sold, thrown away or donated. And, we have begun to use the same criteria for our purchases. We are spending less money on things that have no lasting value and using those resources to focus on experiences and priorities that truly make us happier. We are still in the beginning stages of this journey, but it’s amazing how much less stress we have.

Create an emergency fund.

According to a recent survey by Bankrate, 57% of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an unexpected $500 expense. Now that is stressful! Sticking money into an account and resisting the urge to touch it can be tough, but here is a quick hack I have used for years to help with this. Create automatic transfers from your checking account into a savings account. Most of us now have our paychecks directly deposited into our checking accounts and most banks allow you to set up automatic recurring transfers. So, set up money to transfer every payday to a savings account and you will likely not even notice it’s gone. It doesn’t have to be a large amount; it will feel great just to get started!

Make a plan.

Simply having a plan in place to manage your finances can be a huge weight off of your shoulders. Knowing your monthly income and essential expenses is the first step in figuring out a budget and sticking with it. When my wife and I decided she would leave her career and stay home with our girls a couple of years ago, we both lost sleep over the financial impact this would have on our family. So, we sat down together and calculated our monthly income and bills. From there we identified some expenses we could easily reduce (like our satellite bill) and figured out how much we would have left for discretionary expenses (it wasn’t much). Having this plan in place made us both feel better and gave us some peace of mind knowing we could make this work as long as we stuck to the plan.

Talk about money.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to ease financial stress is to talk to your spouse or significant other about money. These are not always easy or fun conversations and they may even end with one person being upset. But don’t give up. It is vitally important for you and the person you are sharing your life with to be on the same page about finances. A seemingly simple rule my wife and I have always used is that we will ask the other person before we make a purchase that is over a certain threshold. When we were first married and had very little in the way of financial resources, the limit was $50. For example, if I wanted to buy new decoys for turkey hunting and they were going to be more than $50, I had to run it by my wife first. While our threshold has grown since we were newlyweds 12 years ago, we still have this rule in place. It may seem silly, but it is a subtle way to ensure we are both on the same page about how the family’s money should be spent.

Visualize your future.

Your future self wants to be financially independent. Taking steps now toward that end will ease stress today and have a lasting impact later in life. What does your future look like? What do you want do? What will you be doing when you are 65, 75, 85? A great first step in planning for your financial future is to visualize the life you desire. This will help you to know if you are on track today to achieve the life you are picturing. My wife and I frequently talk about our dreams for our life after work and what we want to do. Sometimes these conversations are just two people dreaming together and sometimes there is a little more planning involved, but either way, it is helpful. Be kind to your future self, take action today to reduce stress now in order to avoid tension in the future. Read my blog about this here.

 

Stress can kill. And financial problems are one of the leading causes of anxiety. There are many money problems that may be fixed using simple hacks like the ones above, but for serious issues, you may need to talk to a professional to get help. The key is to take control of your money and allow yourself some better nights of sleep!

 

Jeff Kempker
Manager of Member Services

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Auditors: Skunks at the Garden Party?

Pair of baby skunks, standing side by side on a fallen log.

 

Auditors are those wonderful people you wait anxiously to see every year, and when they appear it’s just like Christmas morning.  Okay, maybe it isn’t exactly that way.  You may look at audits as a necessary evil, but they really do serve an important role for your organization.

Here at LAGERS, we have lots of audits.  Lots.  We have an internal auditor (me), and we have multiple external audits as well.  In addition to our regular external financial audit (which many, if not all, LAGERS employers also have), our auditors are now performing an additional audit of internal controls over member data and employer financial data. This is called a Service Organization Control Report, or SOC Report.  This additional review is due to a recent pronouncement by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).  Then for the first time in many years, Missouri’s State Auditor conducted a performance audit of LAGERS and issued a report in August 2015.

Why are we telling you this?  Not so you’ll feel sorry for us, really.  The fact is that while an audit can be a bit intrusive, it really can be an important part of the oversight of your organization.  At LAGERS we are fiduciaries for the trust fund on behalf of all participants, and our ultimate duty is to maintain that trust for the exclusive benefit of members and beneficiaries.  As a public entity, we want to be transparent to all stakeholders, including the taxpayers, that help fund the benefits provided.  Having independent audits of our finances and operations can help us provide assurance to all parties that we take this responsibility very seriously and are accomplishing our mission.  Internal audit reports directly to the Audit and Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees in order to maintain this crucial independence and objectivity. You may have heard us say “LAGERS is getting it right,” and the results of the multiple audits mentioned support that statement.

Generally speaking, auditors aren’t always “skunks at the garden party,” but they can and will be if necessary.  Depending on the type of audit though, it shouldn’t be only about finding problems, but hopefully offering ideas for ways to improve.  Someone who doesn’t do your job every day but who can objectively observe may be in a good position to offer suggestions.  I like to think of the goal as “better,” and auditors can be just the people to help make that happen.

To view the most recent available external financial audit, visit our website. The SOC Report mentioned above will be available when complete (fall 2015) to all LAGERS employers on the Employer Web Portal of ECLIPSE.

 

Pam Hopkins, Compliance Officer/Internal Auditor

Pam Hopkins, Compliance Officer/Internal Auditor

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