We are Ray and Kelli, counselors at City. Black Friday mistakes. Black Friday secrets from store employees. Negotiate a better salary. Avoid holiday overspending. 8 ways to save. Debt eliminated. Which debt to take out first. Highest paying side gigs. Homeless and helping. Get out of debt. Policeman helps elderly man. Problem with debt. FAFSA mistakes. Dream job.

The veterans page: Veterans Day. A surprised 8-year-old. Honoring heroic dog. Honorably discharged veterans shop tax-free. Forever GI Bill. Father takes care of 4 children. Integrate Marine Training? Robotic legs. Costs of war. Saluting a fallen soldier. 300K Lotto winner. Vets and painkillers. Vet resources. Grandmother of veteran's family deported. Housing the homeless. Veteran finds healing through adopting a cat. Wounded Marines help others. Video: Soldier and dog greet each other after 6 months apart. Happy Veterans Day! Helping make a Marine's dream come true.

Empowering students to fulfill their dreams through education.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Black Friday Mistakes

You could be doing Black Friday all wrong. Reader's Digest gives you the scoop on mistakes you could be making when you shop on Black Friday. 10 Ways You're Doing Black Friday All Wrong appeared on MSN Lifestyle.

Black Friday Insider Knowledge

What do the employees who work on Black Friday say about this shopping day? Many items have been on sale at the same price previously. Some stores mark up the retail price to make you think you're getting a better deal. If you want Thanksgiving back as a holiday, don't shop on this day. 11 Insider Facts Most Black Friday Workers Know -- And You Probably Don't appeared on MSN News.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Negotiate a Higher Salary

When you are offered a job, you can increase your chances of getting what you want with one sentence. How to Negotiate a Higher Job Offer in Just One Simple Sentence appeared on MSN Money

Don't Overspend for the Holidays

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Sales, Discounts, Internet, Gifts, Frenzy. Yes, these are all part of the holiday season, but there are ways to avoid spending too much. 9 Expert Tips to Avoid Overspending During the Holidays appeared on Deal News.

Save $ on Rent, Utilities, Insurance, and More

Did you know you can negotiate a lower rent payment? California residents can take advantage of an app that will refund you money when you cut your electricity use during peak times. Or buy your car insurance per mile if you don't drive a lot. Try a less expensive cell phone provider. This Is How to Save Money on the Expensive Monthly Bills You Can't Escape appeared in the Penny Hoarder

Friday, November 10, 2017

Veterans Day

Thank you, Veterans. We honor you with gratitude and appreciation for your service to our country.

Military Father Surprises 8-Year-Old Son

What's the best thing that can happen to an 8-year-old at school? How about a surprise visit from his father?

Surprised Son Can't Let Go As Military Dad Comes Home appeared on MSN Video.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Debt Eliminated!

In the past few weeks, we have gone through some steps to get out of debt using The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey:

  • Develop a budget.
  • Establish an emergency fund of $1000.
  • List debts from smallest to largest.
  • Cut unnecessary expenses.
  • Pay off the smallest debt first, then move that money into the next debt on the list.
Using this method, you will wipe out the debt from your life. Once you do this, celebrate your achievement (not a trip to Europe because that will only create more debt!). Something a little less extravagant like a dinner with your family or significant other at your favorite restaurant (something you have been holding off on because you have been scrimping to pay off debts).

After you have enjoyed a hearty meal and patted yourself on the back, you will get back to the business of saving. I know what you’re thinking: “What??? But I thought I accomplished my goal.” 

You have accomplished one goal. Getting out of debt is freeing and empowering, but imagine the kind of life you can lead if you had enough money. If you won the Lotto, what would you do with your life? Retire? Travel? Become a foster parent? Run a literacy program? Write the next great American novel? Learn to play the electric guitar? Volunteer at a homeless shelter?

I’m not advocating for playing the Lotto because of the odds. But there is a way to have the financial freedom we are talking about and Dave Ramsey’s book is the roadmap to get there. 

After your debts are eliminated, increase your emergency fund from $1000 to 3-6 months of average expenses (remember you don’t have debt so this won’t take as long as you think). How much do you need in the emergency fund? Look at the budget you’ve created and see how much you spend every month. Then multiply that number by 3 or 6 depending on how safe you want to be. Why is this necessary? 

Because you want to be a Boy Scout (motto: be prepared) when life happens. An emergency fund is essential when Murphy comes calling. 

In my next post, we will discuss investing your money to have the kind of future you dream about.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Which Debt to Tackle First?

Okay, so I've discussed the problem with debt and the need to establish a budget and emergency fund. Now we need to talk about the actual debts you have. Again, this information comes from The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. List your debts from smallest to largest in terms of how much you owe (do not include your monthly mortgage or rent payment). By the way, if you have balances on more than one credit card, you might want to consolidate them into one because it's much easier to hit one target than three or four. If you don't believe me, try juggling one tennis ball, then two, then three, and four.

  1. Washer and Dryer -- $969.78 debt ($100.00 a month)
  2. Car                      -- $7470.30 debt ($377.50 a month)
  3. Credit Card/s      -- $8211.00 debt ($120.00 a month)
  4. Student Loan    --$21,000.00 debt ($300.00 a month)
Once you have listed all your debts, you are going to work on the smallest debt first. Why the smallest? Because it's the first one you can eliminate and you will actually see the progress you are making. In the above example, it's the washer and dryer. At the current rate of $100 a month, it will take ten months to pay off this debt. 

However, you are going to marshal all your resources to knock the debt off sooner. This doesn't mean that you stop making payments on your other debts. It means you stop buying anything you don't need, and yes, that includes the daily Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks. If you must have your daily coffee fix, brew your own at home and take it with you. You might have to cancel the gym membership and walk or bike at the park instead. And check out whether another cell phone company can save you money. 

Let's say that through cutting back on some unneeded expenses, you are able to devote $150 a month to your washer and dryer payment. You will eliminate this first debt in 6.5 months instead of 10. Once you can scratch that debt off your list, you take the $150 a month you used to pay off the washer/dryer and devote it to the car payment. You will be paying $527.50 instead of $377.50 a month toward the car. Instead of taking 20 months to pay off the car, it now takes you a little over 14 months. Then you work on the credit card/s, and finally, the student loan.

In my next post, we'll talk about what to do once you've reached that exalted state of euphoria called being debt free.  

Friday, October 27, 2017

Best Paying Side Gigs

You're looking to earn some extra cash (pay off a debt, save for a car, travel to Spain), but you don't have the time to devote to a regular job. What do you do? These Are the 25 Highest Paying Side Hustles appeared on MSN Money.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Get Out of Debt

In my last post, I wrote about the problem with debt. Now that you know why debt is poison for your financial health, we’re going to talk about solutions. Warning: the steps I’m going to provide are simple but not easy. They will take determination and sacrifice, but if it’s important to you to get out of debt, here is a way to do it.

The steps I’m going to cover come from the book, The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey. It is a New York Times Bestseller and Ramsey hosts a radio show with 13 million weekly listeners. He has personal experience with how damaging debt can be and knows what he’s talking about. 

Step 1: Set up a budget. What is a budget? It is how much money you have coming in each month and how much money you have going out. Why do you need it? If you don’t know how much you receive and how much you spend, you won’t know if your plan to get out of debt is working. You need a budget to track your money and the progress (or lack of) you’re making.

I use Excel spreadsheets to cover family income and expenses with categories such as groceries, restaurants, merchandise, gas, automobile, health and medicine, utilities, phone, Costco, and donation. I know; you’d rather have a root canal, but trust me, it’s not as daunting as it sounds. There are many digital resources out there to help you. Your bank or credit union probably has a budgeting tool. Mint is a popular app which is recommended by PC Mag, but there are others. One possible upside to being a college student is that you might not yet have a family to support so you have fewer expenses to track. The flip side is if you haven't started in your career, you also have less income to cover those expenses.

Go over your budget every month, religiously. It's the only way to see how your plan is working, and yes, the plan is to wipe out your debt. 

Step 2: Once you have set up a monthly budget, you want to work on developing a $1000 emergency fund in a savings account. Why do you need an emergency fund? Because life happens: a transmission goes out, a wisdom tooth needs to be yanked, your best friend just split up with a significant other and needs you to fly to Michigan to console. If you don’t have an emergency fund, you are stressed and your financial plan is ruined.  

How do you save for an emergency fund? Here are some ways to do it in four months. Or get a side gig

In my next post, I’m going to cover specific debts and how to start knocking them down.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Best Grocery Store Tips

Never shop when you're hungry because you'll spend more. Shop for groceries on Wednesdays after 9pm. The 46 Best Supermarket Shopping Tips Ever was published on Eat This, Not That!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Policeman Helps Elderly Man

If you're tired of negativity, here's something to brighten your day: Montebello Officer Robert Josett went out of his way to help an elderly man. Cop Rescues 92-Year-Old Man Turned Away At Bank Because His ID Had Expired was published on Yahoo! News.

The Problem With Debt

The amount of money Americans owe hit a staggering $12.84 trillion, increasing $552 billion from April to June, 2017. How much is a trillion? For some perspective, let’s start with a million -- $1,000,000. It’s a nice round figure and if you had this amount in the bank, you would be considered wealthy. Now add three zeroes to this number and you have a billion – $1,000,000,000 or a thousand million. In three months, Americans increased their debt $552 billion. Now take a billion, add another three zeroes, and you have a trillion – $1,000,000,000,000 or a million multiplied by a million. Americans owe nearly $13 trillion dollars to mortgages, credit cards, student loans, and auto loans. 

So what’s the problem with this? Debt is money you borrow and you have to pay interest because money isn’t free. If you buy a car and don’t have enough in savings to pay cash, you would need to take out an auto loan. The interest rate on auto loans and your credit score determines how much you pay in addition to the amount you borrow. For example, if you borrow $10,000 with 9% sales tax to buy a used car (and I recommend buying used because a new car is more expensive), and the interest rate you borrow at is 4.26 percent for 60 months, you would be paying about $202 a month for 60 months. You’re going to end up dishing out $12,120 for the $10,000 you borrowed.

Let’s say you borrow $30,000 to pay for your college tuition. If you take out a Direct Subsidized Loan at 4.45% interest and pay it back in 10 years after you graduate, your monthly payment would be $310.12. You will dole out $37,223 and the loan will cost $7,223 in interest.

Now you can try to justify a car loan in that your vehicle will take you to work or school. And your education will hopefully reward you with a higher salary in your career. What about credit card debt? Assume you have a monthly balance of $8,211 on credit cards. If you are being charged 16.69% interest, and you pay $120.00 a month, it will take you 214 months (or over 17 years) to pay off your credit cards. In that time period, you would have paid back $25,680, more than three times the balance. 

Today’s interest rates: 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Dream Job

A student asked me this past week if being a counselor is my dream job. Now how do you answer a question like that? Normally, I don’t spend much time talking about me when I’m working with students because the focus should be on them. In this case, the student was struggling over whether to pursue her dream of being a lawyer and balancing that with the need to put food on the table as soon as possible.

I decided to share my dream (and its challenges) with her because it illuminates the struggle many of us have when it comes to picking a career. My dream job is to be a writer on a TV show, to help create a world such as M*A*S*H, where the people are trying to save lives in the middle of the death and destruction of war. To work as part of the creative team with the writers, producers, and actors who have a vision of touching people’s lives with stories.

At the same time, I have a family to take care of so I can’t just quit my job and move us to Hollywood with the intention of pitching the studios an idea for the next M*A*S*H. Well I could but it wouldn’t sit well with my wife (who has an extended family in San Diego) or kids (Kevin and Kristie who are both comfortable in their respective schools). To uproot them with no idea whether I could support them in LA would be the height of folly and selfishness. 

I make a good living as a counselor at City College and my job provides health insurance, something vital to our family. So do I let go of my dream to be a writer?

No. I work as a counselor and help students (which I enjoy) and I write on the side. I get up at 4:30am (I admit I don’t do this every day, but I try!) and attempt to write for an hour or so before I start my other routine of preparing to go to the office. If and when I am able to support my family with writing, then I have the freedom to decide whether I want to write full-time or keep my hands in the mix at the college because I want to make a difference in students’ lives. 

Now if you are younger and don’t have a family to support, you would have more flexibility to pursue your passion. You could very well pick up and move to LA and pitch the studios your idea for the next great comedy. Or if you’re like my son, you could study the world of virtual reality and not have to worry so much whether the job has health insurance for the whole family. It doesn’t mean you choose this career over something more stable, say like accounting, but you’re in the driver’s seat. Then all you have to deal with is the fear of going after what you want!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ideal Career -- Kid in a Candy Store

How do you find the ideal career? As a counselor, one of the analogies I use with students is if you could be a kid in a candy store, what kind of candy would you pick? If you could choose any career and you already had the skills, knowledge, education, and experience to do it, what would you choose and why? It’s important to block out any doubts, fears, or limiting voices in this process, the subversive inner critic who screeches, “Oh, you can’t do that because you don’t have . . .” At this stage, we’re not trying to look at how realistic a career is or how long it takes to get into it. There will be time for that later. For now, we are only trying to find something that tastes great. There may be all kinds of candy in the store, but we want the one your taste buds are salivating for. Your critic might be saying, “But how much will that candy cost?” Pretend it’s your birthday, and your mommy has decided to buy you whatever kind of candy you choose.

As an example, I am a counselor. I’m also a writer. If I could be a kid in a candy store of careers, I would go back to the 1970s and 80s when a TV show called M*A*S*H was running. This comedy/drama took place during the Korean War and it depicted the people serving in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. These people tried heroically and tragically to save lives in the midst of war. Hawkeye was a skilled surgeon with a piercing wit and a heart as big as his ego. Trapper John and then BJ were Hawkeye’s sidekicks in crime, doing anything and everything to antagonize the bumbling Frank Burns, then the more cultured Charles Emerson Winchester III. “Hot Lips” started as Frank’s illicit soiree away from his wife, but over the course of the show, she evolved to become a strong, yet compassionate head nurse. Radar was a na├»ve corporal who kept the whole operation running. Klinger dressed as a woman to try (unsuccessfully) to get booted out of the military. Colonel Blake was a fisherman in disguise as a leader. And Colonel Potter was an old-school military man who kept his camp loose and efficient at the same time. 

Over the course of watching this show, these characters, fictional people, became real to me. The actors brought these characters to life but what amazes me is how the writers created these characters. They took a concept with outlines and scripts and fashioned a world that was as real to me as the friends I went to school with. I came to care about the people in this show and I watched because I cared. That’s the power of good writing.

To be in a team of people working together to create something they believe in: a TV show such as M*A*S*H, The Wonder Years, or Smallville, a motion picture such as Kramer Vs Kramer, Dead Poet’s Society, or Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, a book such as Clan of the Cave Bear, Catcher in the Rye or The Glass Castle. To tell a heroic or worthwhile story. To entertain and shine a light on the problems that plague us. To give us hope that the struggle is worth it. That’s what writers do. That’s the candy I would choose.