Monthly Archives: June 2017

How Much Money Do You Need to Live in Los Angeles?

As the second-largest city in the United States, Los Angeles attracts residents from across the country and around the globe. As the epicenter of the multibillion-dollar entertainment industry, the city is a magnet for aspiring actors, directors and screenwriters. With idyllic weather year-round, beautiful beaches and a diversity of scenery, it is possible, during some months, for an Angeleno to snow ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon.

Los Angeles is a perfect study in how the demand curve works. When demand for something is high, prices rise. There is plenty of demand to live in Los Angeles. As a result, everything including rent, food, gas, and utilities is expensive. When considering a move to LA, the first order of business is understanding how much money it is going to take to pay the bills.

The following information is detailed in averages, but keep in mind Los Angeles is a huge, sprawling city. Prices vary wildly depending on where you plant roots. Rents in Santa Monica are not comparable to rents in South Central LA. By understanding the average cost of rent, utilities, food and transportation in Los Angeles, and then making adjustments based on your unique circumstances, you can narrow down the range of how much money you need to live there.

Average Rent in Los Angeles

As of March 2017, based on figures from Numbeo.com, the average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center sits at approximately $1900 per month. If you are looking to get roommates, a three-bedroom apartment averages slightly over $3,420. The good news is that while these averages may seem scary to a new resident, they are skewed upward by the presence of extravagant luxury rentals in the wealthy areas of town. You can find plenty of Los Angeles rentals for under $1,500 per month if you go outside of the city center, though it is advisable when you find something that seems cheap for the area, to investigate the neighborhood and the apartment to ensure it is somewhere you are willing to live.

Average Home Cost in Los Angeles

If you can afford to buy in Los Angeles, prepare yourself for stiff competition and sky-high prices. According to real estate website Trulia, the average price of a home per square feet in Los Angeles is $554 as of March 2017, and current trends indicate this number will soar this year. Currently, the average cost of an LA home is hovering at $699,000. If you’re considering buying in the LA area, it is beneficial to get pre-approved for a mortgage as this will assist you tremendously when closing a deal with the seller. You can research current mortgages available for a home in LA using a tool like a mortgage calculator.

Average Utilities in Los Angeles

Like many parts of California, the Los Angeles region does not have a monolithic climate. Several micro-climates comprise the area. For example, the San Fernando Valley regularly reaches the triple-digits during the summer and can be quite cold for Southern California during the winter. Malibu, by contrast, rarely exceeds 80 degrees and has only dipped into the 30s a handful of times. Your utility bill can vary greatly based on the specific climate in your neighborhood. Citywide, the average utility bill is $133.50 per month for an 85m2 apartment. This figure fluctuates throughout the year and will vary according to the size of your home, but you can use it as a benchmark.

Average Food Costs in Los Angeles

Food in Los Angeles is significantly more expensive than the national average. A gallon of milk costs $3.79, and a loaf of bread costs $2.50. A dozen large eggs is $3.62. For a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the cost is $4.54. Even a frugal consumer, to be safe, should build $500 into his monthly budget for food costs in Los Angeles.

 

The Path to Financial Abundance

There are many paths to financial abundance: inheritance, marriage, lottery, business success, just to name a few. For most of us, however, the path to financial abundance will be paved with savings. It is a method based more so on self-discipline than luck. In that regard, it can be gratifying. The essence of saving is to spend less than what is earned. Yet this simple concept is easily lost in the complex world of digital money. Quite simply, it is very easy to over-spend.

To manage this potential problem effectively, it helps to look back to simpler times, remind ourselves what worked then, and adapt those strategies to today’s realities. As a young adult in the 1980s, I lived for years in a cash-only manner. I would cash my paycheck on Friday afternoons. The cash was then allocated to a series of paper envelopes labeled rent, truck payment, utilities, food and extra. Each of the first four would receive 25% of the required monthly obligation. Any cash left over went into the extra envelope. At month’s end my bills were covered, provided I remained faithful to the system week after week. Then my bills would be paid either in cash or by money order. I had no checking account, only a savings account.

Limiting Discretionary Spending

Any discretionary spending had to be paid from the extra envelope. This placed limits on my spending, a form of self-discipline. On those occasions when an unexpected necessity exceeded the contents of the extra envelope, I would “borrow” from one of the other envelopes knowing it had to be repaid from the next paycheck. With no credit cards on which to accumulate debt, my net worth grew over time.

With the benefit of hindsight, what made the envelope system work so well is that I always had a clear awareness of my cash flow. With that awareness, I had the information needed to make sound spending decisions throughout the month. My bills were covered and I knew how much extra was available at all times.

Tracking Personal Cash Flow

To bring that clear awareness and real-time management into today’s environment of credit cards, checks, automatic debits, etc., a different tactic is needed. There are some digital tools available, but I am a pencil-and-paper kind of guy. So, that was my challenge. My solution was to divide my monthly spending into two categories: normal and discretionary. Normal encompasses the recurring monthly bills which once upon a time had their own envelope such as mortgage, truck payment and utilities. This is the relatively fixed or inelastic portion of my household budget. I have those items listed on a monthly spending sheet along with the total amount required each month.

With this number in mind, I decided on an all-in spending number (normal plus discretionary) that was below the household income. This ensures a positive cash flow situation, the essence of successful savings. From the all-in spending number, I subtract the normal value leaving what represents the amount that would be in the extra envelope. The last bit of math is to divide that number by 30 so that I have a daily spending target. This discretionary spending of extra money gets tracked on a notepad every day. A running tally of the over/under is also tracked daily. It may sound overly-simplistic but I have been using this method for years. It really works! (For related reading from this author, see: What Are the True Costs of Your Household Expenses.)

Financial abundance is within reach for all of us. To achieve it, one must get and stay cash-flow positive on a consistent basis. With a clear awareness of income versus spending coupled with diligent tracking and management, everyone can succeed in this important quality of life issue. For more details and insights into this and other important financial topics, please see my book, “The Game Changer’s Guide to a Better Financial Life,” available through Amazon.

Save More Money Can Reduce Financial Stress

I’ve long held the position that even though we live in one of the wealthiest, most financially blessed countries ever, as a society, we also live a life of serious financial stress. I often joke that it’s probably less stressful to live in the rainforests of South America, hunting and gathering, than to live in our modern, tech-savvy society, paycheck to paycheck. A lot of this stress stems from the fact that, as a society, we just don’t save money very well. According to a past Marketwatch article, almost 69% of Americans have less than $1000 saved. That is an astonishing amount of us that are basically one paycheck away from homelessness, or at least raiding our retirement funds in case of an emergency.

Why Americans Have a Hard Time Saving Money

There is a plethora of reasons behind our insufficient savings habits, such as a lack of discipline and making bad financial decisions. Maybe, it is simply that good jobs and hourly rates just don’t exist anymore for the lower and middle class (which I would argue as a legitimate factor). We can even rationalize that the value of the dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to, therefore, neither will our paychecks. Regardless of the validity of these arguments, our financial habits have a direct impact on our ability to save and our overall financial well-being, regardless of the inflation rate or our income level.

How to Alleviate Financial Stress

If you find yourself significantly stressed out over money, there are several adjustments that can be made to alleviate that pressure and simplify your life. But it does require discipline and sacrifice, and a willingness to live with less. For example:

  1. Flip the “whip” – Many of us cannot legitimately afford the car parked in our garage; it’s possible we can’t afford the house it’s parked in either. If your car payment exceeds 15% of your monthly net income, not gross (we live off the net), then it’s time to consider downsizing or getting rid of your vehicle. I have done this before myself, and although it’s unpleasant, it’s better than living in stress and worry. Maybe 15% doesn’t sound like much, but if your mortgage or rent is near the recommended limit of 28-30% per month, almost half of your net income is being consumed by rent and a vehicle. The change is worth it. Alternative transportation could be used for the short term if available, such as public transportation, occasional ride-sharing with Uber or Lyft, and even carpooling to work. Assuming your car is not upside-down in value and you are diligent in saving in other areas, it shouldn’t take too long to buy a used, older car outright, completely eliminating a car payment. (For related reading, see: Options for When You Can No Longer Afford Your Car.)
  2. No cable – In my opinion, cable service is one of the biggest wastes of money. In the average household of three to four TVs, cable and internet services can run $200 per month or more. I recommend having only internet and purchasing a streaming device with no recurring monthly cost. These “sticks” allow you to stream movies or purchase programs or apps. I have recently done this myself, and eliminating cable alone is saving me close to $1500 per year. (For related reading, see: Alternatives to Cable TV.)
  3. Gym membership – these can easily cost $600-800 per year, depending upon how swanky the establishment and package that was chosen. With YouTube and DVDs, it’s so easy to get a quality workout at home without having a ton of money worked out of your wallet. Eliminate the membership, not the exercise.
  4. Side hustle – I have always been a huge proponent of a side hustle, or part-time gig. During my transition of leaving corporate America to go independent, I also had a part-time job while I built my practice. Even if you have a stable job or career and feel you could save more, find a good side hustle. Do something you enjoy and make some extra cash while doing it.

If you are feeling the monetary strain, downsizing your car, getting rid of cable and the gym membership, and finding a side hustle can have a dramatic impact on your budget. It takes a bit of courage, but one can transition from living check-to-check to having a net surplus per month, depending upon your situation. If you are having debt and/or budgetary concerns and you want to make some positive changes but are not sure where to start, reach out to a qualified financial advisor. If you change nothing, then nothing changes!

Key Tips for Budgeting Your Money

It’s almost a truism that budgeting is a critical step for anyone looking to get serious about money management. After all, you have to know where your money is going in order to make plans for the future. But if you haven’t ever tracked your spending, how do you get started?

Here are three tips that will help you set up a budget and start managing your money.

Determine Wants Versus Needs

The first step towards creating a budget is determining which expenses are wants and which are needs. Housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, clothing and childcare are generally considered necessities; entertainment, travel and dining out are thought of as “wants,” or what are known as discretionary expenses. That being said, there often is some gray area between a want and a need: You may need a car to get to work if carpooling or public transit is not an option, for example, but a flashy sports car may be a want. Everyone must buy clothes, but designer clothes are not requirements. If you can afford or have already purchased a luxury version of your necessary expenses, remember that downgrading is always an option if you decide that type of expense no longer fits with your lifestyle.

Figure Out Fixed and Variable Expenses

Fixed expenses – which, as their name implies, remain the same every month – are the backbone of every budget and should be the easiest to plan for. Examples of these might be your rent, car payment and student loans, which are likely to be the same, month in and month out. Variable expenses, no surprise, are the ones that change every month. Your grocery bills, consumption-based utilities (like oil/gas, electricity, phone service), clothing expenses, travel and car maintenance expenses are all variable expenses.

Budgeting for variable expenses, of course, is one of the harder parts of creating a spending plan. Here are a couple of tips to help make it easier:

  • Track your spending for three to six months, figure out the average over that period and, in the future, aim for the average every month.
  • Instead of tracking variable expenses monthly, try setting a six-month or annual budget goal. This is especially useful for expenses like car maintenance or travel, which might not crop up every month but still need to be considered in a budget as they can be big-ticket items.

Decide What Type of Money Manager You Want to Be

It’s important to determine whether you are a big-picture or a detail-oriented money manager. Some people like to know generally where their money is going but don’t want to have to track every coffee they buy; others like to know exactly how much they spend on their latte habit. Determining if you prefer a detailed or broad view of your money will help you decide what type of budget system will work for you. The one caveat: If money is tight, you may have to use a system that tracks every penny. Once your finances are more flush, you may be able to switch to a less detailed tracking system. Here is a closer look at each type of budgeting.

• Detail-oriented budgeting. This system helps you control the outflow of your funds and sometimes alerts you to wasteful spending that you weren’t aware of. You know the popular “you spend enough on coffee each year to buy a used car” scolding? This system will help you figure out exactly how much you spend on things like your java habit, and where you actually want your money to go – including into savings and retirement accounts.

While you can create a detail-oriented budget manually with receipts and spreadsheets, many people choose to use automated tracking tools such as those found at Mint or Personal Capital. These programs will track and categorize all of your spending, which makes it easy to see if you are overspending in different categories. An additional benefit: If you have expenses for your work that should be reimbursable (travel expenses, office supplies), an automatic tracker can help you keep them organized and make sure you get the full reimbursements you are due. 6 Best Personal Finance Apps will update you on good tools to try.

• Big-picture budgeting. If you have more financial wiggle room and less tolerance for tracking details, you may want to develop a big-picture budget. Create a list of all of the regular expenses that you consider “needs,” and include categories for savings, retirement, emergency funds, charitable giving and travel (if you travel often). If you choose to use a big-picture budgeting system, be sure to give yourself a sizable cushion for savings and an emergency fund. (For more on this, see Building an Emergency Fund and Why You Absolutely Need an Emergency Fund.)

Once you have determined your monthly necessary expenses, plus the additional categories included above, you can then spend the remainder of your monthly income however you choose. The only thing to track is the total spent from this “miscellaneous” fund, but you don’t have to track how much you spend on clothes or coffee. To make tracking easier, it can be helpful to have one bank account or one credit card that you use for your “miscellaneous” expense fund so that you can easily keep an eye on your total expenditures.

The Bottom Line

Budgets are a critical tool to help with money management, but ultimately they are just a general set of guidelines. If your current budget isn’t working for you, try another approach. The most important thing to do is to make a plan that works for you, and once it’s in place, to stick with it.