8 Ways to Avoid Paying Full Price for Any Holiday Gifts

Got an extra $638 laying around that you won’t miss? Yeah, me neither. Yet that’s how much the average American will spend on holiday gifts this year.

The good news is we don’t have to be average. Avoid paying full price and it’s a lot easier to trim holiday spending. Here are eight ways to do that without compromising on the gifts.

1. Go for discounted gift cards.

On sites like GiftCardGranny and GiftCards.com, double-digit discounts on gift cards for GameStop, Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters are easy to find. Use the discounted cards to buy gifts—or gift the cards themselves. Americans have ranked gift cards the #1 most popular wish list item for 12 years in row in National Retail Foundation’s annual holiday survey.

2. Sign up for the list.

To attract new customers, some retailers offer discounts for your first online purchase. For example, you can get 15 percent off and free shipping at Kate Spade, 15 percent off at Kohl’s and 10 percent off from Dicks Sporting Goods simply by signing up for the brands’ newsletters.

If you stay on the list, you can potentially score even better deals. Victoria’s Secret sends special promotions twice a day to its email subscribers, and Bed, Bath & Beyond sends coupons for $5-$15 every month.

3. Abandon your cart.

When online shopping, try leaving items in your virtual shopping cart overnight. For some retailers, like Bonobos, that triggers a “you forgot something” email, where they may offer an extra discount to motivate shoppers to complete their purchase.

4. Get social.

Local brands in particular are likely to offer exclusive deals to their social media fans, says Chelsea Hudson of TopCashBack.com—so follow your favorite stores on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook for an inside scoop on flash sales, promo codes and giveaways. Bloggers and social media “influencers” partner with brands and share their own promo codes with followers, too.

5. Forget brand loyalty.

In many cases, the gift you’re looking for is sold at a bunch of different retailers—so do a little research before buying to ensure you’re paying the lowest price. If you’re in store, swing by the customer service desk; they’ll often price-match what you find online to convince you to buy an item right then.

If you’re in store, swing by the customer service desk; they’ll often price-match what you find online to convince you to buy an item right then.

6. Refer a friend.

At clothing line Boden, refer a friend for a $15 coupon, and your friend will get 20 percent off their first purchase, too. At shoe company Rothy’s and Rebecca Minkoff, referring a pal will get you each $20 to spend, and UNIQLO will give you both $10.

7. Watch for price drops.

If you’re looking for a specific item but can’t find a coupon or sale, tools like Savelist, CamelCamelCamel (for Amazon items) and SlickDeals’ alerts will keep track of prices and notify you when a new deal is posted.

8. Negotiate.

If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Some (usually smaller) businesses may offer a discount for paying in cash, so they can avoid paying fees levied by credit card issuers. And in secondhand stores or on resell marketplaces, like eBay and Poshmark, asking the seller directly if they’re willing to lower a price is likely to save at least a small amount.

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10 Things To Do the First 10 Minutes of Your Day

Wanna have a great day today and every day? Get a great start. It’s easy to set a positive and productive tone if you do (or avoid doing) some key things first thing in the morning. C’mon, it only takes 10 minutes.

1. Don’t hit snooze — Getting a late start only leads to morning stress so when that alarm goes off, try try try to get your feet on the floor the first time.

→ How to Avoid Hitting Snooze in the Morning

2. Write something down — Did you have any good ideas or dreams while you were asleep? Get ’em down right away. Your relaxed, sleeping brain is open to ideas that you might not come up with while preoccupied with daytime activities so take advantage of any flashes of genius you have.

→ The Simple Secret to Cultivating Creative Thinking

3. Forget yesterday, focus on today — Still stressed about things that happened yesterday? Why? You can’t change it so let it go.

(Image credit: Monica Wang)

4. Think of something you’re grateful for/ excited about — There’s always something to look forward to.

5. Leave your phone alone — Do yourself a favor and log at least 10 minutes of life sans screen time first thing in the morning. You can still check the weather, your email and the news, just don’t do it while lying in bed.

→ Tech Disconnect: I’m Banishing My Phone from My Bedside

6. Drink a glass of water — It never hurts to be hydrated so get a jump start on your daily water intake first thing.

→ I Got Healthier This Summer in 10 Seconds a Day

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

7. Get some natural light — Throw open those curtains right away! Getting a little sun will make your brain wake up and realize it’s time to function. Waking up in the dark on these long winter mornings? Take a mid-morning walk, open a window and do your best to get a little light. It’ll perk you right up.

8. Stretch — Get your blood flowing with a little light stretching.

9. Make the bed — It’s not only us, science says making your bed will make your whole day better.

→ Make Your Bed! For Productivity, Profit and Peace

10. Do something you don’t want to (and cross it off your list) — Dreading doing a chore you hate is so much worse than actually doing it. Get it out of the way right away and free up that mental energy.

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From Six Figures in Debt to Six Figures in the Bank: How They Did It

Staring down any amount of debt can feel overwhelming. But when it’s in the six figures, it can be hard to imagine even getting back to zero, much less building up your savings, too.

If you’re looking at a mountain of debt, let these stories inspire you. The three couples below not only paid down six figures of debt, but now have a net worth in the six figures. Here’s how they did it.

“Two years ago, we had $107K of student loans. Today, our net worth is nearly $150K.”

John, 30, and Rachel M., 27, U.S. Coast Guard officer and stay-at-home mom in Cape Cod, Mass.

“When my wife and I tallied up our student loans in 2015, we learned we were more than $107,000 in the hole. We knew we needed to do something—fast. The idea that making some big changes in the way we managed money today could lead to financial freedom in the future was the motivation we needed.

Getting started: We started tracking our spending carefully, which highlighted wasteful expenses that we eliminated. We went on fewer trips, stopped buying expensive groceries, gave up alcohol and put off big purchases we wanted, like a boat. With some work, we were able to set aside about 50 percent of our low six-figure income—and upped that percentage even more when we got raises.

We also picked up side jobs: Rachel sold handmade items on Etsy and I started a landscaping business, which brought in a few hundred extra per month. Eventually, we were contributing an average of $3,500 per month toward our loans.

We didn’t put every extra penny toward debt, though. It was important to us to work toward a positive net worth at the same time as we lowered our debt, so we invested. After about eight months of aggressively paying down debt, we began prioritizing our retirement contributions, ultimately maxing out our employer-sponsored plans and IRAs.

Crossing the finish line: In just about two years, we’ve wiped out about $80,000 of student loans, which has freed up a ton of money. Not only does that allow us to invest more, but it’s given my wife the freedom to stay home with our newborn.

We do still have about $23,000 of debt to pay. But since the interest rate is about 3 percent, we’ve consciously slowed our progress in order to make our money work harder for us in the stock market. Today, our assets exceed $170,000—about $142,000 in retirement accounts, $26,000 in regular investment accounts and a small cash emergency fund—and we’re looking forward to growing it.

Their advice for others: Learn how to invest—you owe it to yourself! It’s the best way to build long-term wealth.”

Downsizing to a tiny home helped us wipe out $200K of debt.”

Claudia, 32, and Garrett Pennington, 35, a marketing specialist and sales specialist in Lancaster County, Penn.

“Our debt ‘aha’ moment was realizing we couldn’t pay off $16,000 of debt before the no-interest period on our credit card expired back in April 2015. We knew then we needed to turn our finances around.

We started by putting everything on paper. It was shocking to see all our debts in black and white, but it was also a relief to finally face it. In addition to the credit card debt, we had $36,000 in student loans and a $156,000 mortgage. (I know most people don’t consider mortgages “bad debt,” but we’d spent thousands remodeling a home we didn’t love and were overwhelmed by how long it’d take to own outright.)

Our net worth was somewhat offset by a small cash savings and some retirement funds—but we were essentially starting from scratch.

Getting started: We ruthlessly slashed daily expenses and put our home on the market—eventually eliminating the $1,000 mortgage payment—and put 10 percent down on a $70,000, 500-square-foot tiny home. We donated or sold about 80 percent of our stuff, earning hundreds from Craigslist buyers—all of which went toward debt.

We also substantially increased our incomes. I left my part-time nonprofit job for a full-time marketing gig—doubling my salary. We also began an SEO consulting business, which brought in $1,700 per month in its first year alone.

Thanks to the one-two punch of cutting costs and making more, we made massive monthly payments—anywhere from $900 to $7,000 per month.

Crossing the finish line: We paid off our credit card debt within six months, then started aggressively paying off our new mortgage. By November 2016, we owned our tiny home outright. That freed up enough cash to zero out the rest of our loans—and finish paying off all our debt—by March 2017.

My one regret during this time is not saving, which I admit is risky, or investing more. But since being debt-free, we’ve been saving and investing thousands per month. Our net worth now exceeds $100,000—between our home, retirement investments and cash—and we’re working toward our next lofty goal: financial freedom. For us, that means creating passive income streams that cover our annual expenses.

Their advice for others: Set SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. Knowing where you want to go will make it easier to create a plan to cut expenses and increase income.”

“Realizing we couldn’t afford a family vacation, thanks to $109K of debt, was our wake-up call.”

Brian, 47, and Lynn Brandow, 46, IT project manager and retail associate in Long Island, N.Y.

“Back in 2010, Lynn and I were planning a family vacation. But when I tried to swipe our five credit cards, we didn’t have enough credit available to pay for the trip. I asked the banks to increase my credit limits without any luck.

Though this was our rock bottom, it gave us the motivation to start learning about good money management and how to pay down our $109,000 of credit card debt. While we had some retirement savings at the time, we also had an underwater mortgage—so we had our work cut out for us.

Getting started: Our first step was creating a lean budget and cutting back on things like eating out and entertainment. Lynn also went back to work as a part-time retail associate, earning $600 to $800 per month.

We ultimately utilized a free debt management program through our credit union, which helped us negotiate reduced or waived interest rates. This didn’t discharge any debt, but getting a break here was an incredible springboard to begin repaying debt.

Crossing the finish line: Over the next four years, we funneled as much as $2,200 a month, or about 30 percent of our take-home pay, toward our credit card debt. (We also built up a small emergency fund of $1,000.) By September 2014, we’d paid it all off.

Debt freedom has brought our family peace of mind. Lynn and I continue to regularly communicate about money, which is an important part of being good financial role models for our kids.

Now we’re focusing on building our wealth. Our net worth is currently $366,000 between retirement accounts, cash, cars and our home (which is no longer under water). Every dollar we put toward debt is now saved or invested.

Their advice for others: Define your ‘why.’ Ours was to better provide for our kids, travel more, share experiences and build memories as a family. Keeping this in mind made it easier to take the necessary steps to dump our debt.”

How to Save $1 Million By Retirement on a Five-Figure Salary

You’ve probably heard that you’ll need $1 million to retire. You’ve probably also thought that sounded pretty close to impossible—especially if you only have a little saved, or, maybe, nothing at all.

If you are in your 20s or 30s, there’s good news. You have an amazing—but easy-to-waste—advantage when it comes to investing for retirement: time. Thanks to compounding returns (when your investment returns start generating returns and so on), money socked away early has the chance to grow exponentially.

But even if you’re older than that, it’s not too late to benefit from compounding. The most important thing is to start investing, even if you don’t have much to invest yet.

The Benefit of Starting to Invest in Your 20s

Let’s say you’re 25, and haven’t started investing yet, but land a job earning $55,000 (not far below the median income for householders between 25 and 34 years old, which was $62,294 in 2017). Better still, you’re eligible for a nice 401(k) benefit: Your employer matches 50 cents of every dollar you contribute, up to 6 percent of your salary. So you enroll and contribute 6 percent. (Of course you do; it’s free money!) That means you’re investing about $275 pre-tax money per month, and your employer kicks in $137.

Stay the course throughout your career, investing 6 percent of your salary, and you’ll be a millionaire by age 60. And by 65, you’ll have $1.5 million!

But let’s back up. This example is based on a host of assumptions. The first is that you are earning $55,000—which you may not be by 25. If you make less than that, you’ll need to set aside a little more each month or invest for a longer period of time. The example also assumes you get a 3 percent raise each year, and increase your 401(k) contributions accordingly—and that you average 7 percent annual returns from your investments, which is a fair estimate for stock market returns over a long stretch.

Even if those assumptions apply to you, a $1 million prize at the end may still seem too good to be true, especially in the early years, when growth seems paltry. After year one, you’d have only about $5,100 (including your employer match). By 29, you’d have about $31,000. But things accelerate in your late 30s. At 36, you’ll have crossed the six-figure mark; at 46, you’ll have more than $300,000, and by 51, more than half a million.

Better yet, to get there, you’d only have to contribute about $256,000. (Your employer will contribute half that, or $128,000.) Compounding takes care of the rest.

Even if this example doesn’t match your exact situation, it demonstrates the power of investing early, and regularly, and sticking with it so you can reap the benefits of compounding returns. But it’s not too late to hit that $1-million mark if your 20s are behind you.

What to Keep in Mind if You Start Investing in Your 30s

Let’s say you, like many Americans, reach your 30th birthday and haven’t started saving for retirement. Using the same assumptions, you still have time to reach $1 million by the time you’re ready to stop working—but you’ll be 65 instead of 60, like the early saver.

After 30, however, things get trickier. Someone who waits until age 35 would only have $665,000 by age 65. But there’s always hope, and it’s truly never too late to start growing wealth; it’ll just cost you a little more to catch up. Nudge that 6 percent contribution up to 10 percent, and that 35 year old would get to $961,000 by age 65 (and more than $1 million just a year later, by 66).

How to Have Enough by Retirement Without an Employer Match

So far, we’ve assumed that each investor has the benefit of both an employer-sponsored retirement account (and one-third of non-unionized American workers don’t) and a generous match (which about a quarter of employers with 401(k)s don’t offer). Remove the 3-percent match from our first example, and the person who started at 25 years old would still have $1 million by 65.

You can also become a millionaire by 65 by investing $4,700 per year in your own Individual Retirement Account, which is accessible to anyone who’s earned income in a given year. That’s 8.5 percent of a $55,000 salary, but it would become less as you earn more over time.

In other words, becoming a millionaire is not impossible, even if an employer isn’t helping you out. But it bears repeating: Investing early is key. Starting at 35 in the above scenario means you’d have $475,000 by 65. Maxing out the IRA—the current limits are $5,500 per year, or $6,500 if you’re 50 or older—would still only yield about $580,000 come retirement time.

Sure, rent, debt and all your other bills could make putting aside several hundred a month a little daunting. But remember, depending on the type of account you have, your contributions could be pre-tax, meaning you won’t feel it as much in your take-home pay.

And even if it requires some sacrifice now to get there, the payoff of being in good financial shape (even if you don’t quite hit $1 million) by the time you want to stop working should be worth it.

This article was updated on Sept. 27, 2018

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Finally, a Budget You’€™ll Actually Want to Follow

You can probably give a lot of reasons why budgets haven’t worked for you in the past. You’re busy. You have an aversion to spreadsheets. You don’t have time to log all your purchases. You don’t want to deprive yourself of that daily latte no matter what those so-called “experts” say. (Good news: You don’t have to.)

Sound familiar? Then you’ve been thinking about budgeting all wrong.

“Every individual’s goal is to be happy,” says Terrance K. Martin, director of financial literacy programs at the University of Texas-Pan American. “If you can frame money as a medium of exchange to buy things that make you happy and put it in real terms that matter to you, that forces you to act and take control of your finances.”

Huh?

Martin’s not suggesting you start “happily” swiping your Visa whenever you want and calling it budgeting. He’s talking about reframing your whole approach to spending and saving so you direct more money toward purchases and experiences that bring you joy and less toward those that don’t. (You’d be amazed at how much you’re probably spending on stuff that doesn’t up your happiness quotient.)

How to put that into practice? Try these steps to build a budget you’ll actually want to follow this year.

1. Make room for what matters most.

If you don’t tailor your spending plan to your own preferences and priorities, it won’t work. It’s that simple.

Yes, you need to account first for your must-have monthly expenses—your rent or mortgage, groceries, and utilities. And don’t forget non-monthly bills, like insurance or taxes, and financial goals—such as building an emergency fund, contributing to an investment account, and paying off debt.

After that, think hard about the things and experiences that make you happy. It could even be that daily latte, if it brings you joy to sit and sip it in Starbucks every day. Or it might be giving some of your money away.

That’s a top priority for Philip Olson, a certified financial planner based in Austin, Tex., with Ameritas Investment Corp. “My wife and I give to charity more than anyone we know—not because we’re such amazing people, but because it’s in the budget,” he says.

And don’t forget to factor in fun. “You have to have a reasonable amount of spending money in your budget,” says Shanda Sullivan, an Oklahoma-based certified financial planner at Sullivan Financial Strategies. “Otherwise, you’re going to bust it.”

It’s all about tailoring your plan to reflect the way you want to spend your time and money. “You have the power to decide where your dollars go and what dreams you can go after,” Olson says.

2. Cut out what doesn’t.

Here’s where you have to be vigilant. A lot of us are losing a lot of money each month simply out of laziness or because we didn’t plan ahead.

Did you forget to cancel that “free” trial after the 30 days was up and you started getting charged? Or the auto-renewing subscriptions to magazines you don’t read or could get online? Are you paying fees for out-of-network ATM withdrawals because you don’t feel like walking an extra couple of blocks? Spending money on expensive (and not especially good) airplane meals because you forgot to pack a snack? Or running out to a convenience store for household items that cost twice as much because you forgot to stock up?

When was the last time you checked the fees you were paying on your bank account? (There are lots of free or low-fee checking accounts out there.)

Are there gym memberships you’re not using but still pay for? Are you still paying for cable even though 90 percent of what you watch is on Netflix or Hulu?

Be merciless. Cut out every expense that is not giving you real value for the money you’re putting into it, and you can start directing that money toward purchases that do.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Make smart choices about big items in your budget, and don’t obsess over pinching pennies. After all, if you’re spending 50 percent of your take-home pay on rent, cutting out coffee isn’t going to help much anyway. Bonus: Minimizing major expenses—like transportation, housing, or utilities—leaves more wiggle room for the occasional unbudgeted splurge.

Taking aim at the big expenses may mean finding a roommate, opting for a cheaper car, or spending a few hours calling up service providers to negotiate better rates on your heftiest bills.

One exception on small stuff: Those seemingly “small” fees you get charged on bank or investment accounts and related services like using out-of-network ATMs. They can add up fast. So hit your bank’s ATMs or get cash back at grocery or drugstores that offer it for free, and look for low-fee accounts. You can compare accounts on sites like Bankrate.

4. Know where your money goes.

Once you’ve put together a personalized spending plan, decide how you’ll track your monthly progress.

“Seeing your expenses—and not just in your head—is pretty sobering,” Olson says. This is how you’ll know if the budget you’ve laid out is realistic, or if it could use some tweaking to better align with your priorities.

Online budgeting tools and apps like MintLevel MoneyYou Need a BudgetmvelopesWallyBillguard, and Dollarbird make this exercise pretty painless by allowing you to link bank accounts and credit cards and tracking your spending for you.

Of course, you could also just boot up Excel or go old school with a pencil and paper. After all, it matters less how you make your budget than that you stick to it.

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The Three-Step Budgeting Process That Helped Me Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

This is the story of Sam Price, a 43-year-old insurance broker in Birmingham, Ala., as told to Marianne Hayes.

In my former life, I was a broke 20-something. I lived paycheck to paycheck, routinely charged everything from rent to gas and had a credit score in the 500s. As my 30s neared, I was $15,000 in debt and months behind on my utility bills.

Everything changed when I met my now-wife Chrisynda. I couldn’t imagine saddling her with my debt, so I made some drastic moves, like moving in with my parents. Thanks to a simple budgeting process and thedebt snowball technique, I wiped out my balances in about 13 months. Over the next year, I saved $8,000 to cover Chrisynda’s wedding ring and our honeymoon before walking down the aisle.

That was just the beginning of my turnaround story. Since blending our finances, we’ve stayed loyal to my budgeting process to keep us financially fit for the long haul. Here’s how it works.

1. Look for money wasted.

When I was whipping my own finances into shape, I tracked my spending and looked for obvious money wasters. I discovered, for example, that I was spending $65 a month on video games alone and decided to sell my gaming systems and opt for hikes over screen time.

After merging finances, Chrisynda and I pored over our bank statements to understand where our money was going. A recurring bank charge stood out immediately, so we switched to another bank with free accounts. We also cut our food spending in half after learning we were dropping $350 per month on restaurants and takeout. And we opted for a slimmed-down cable package, shaving $45 off our bill.

2. Pinpoint where you’re overpaying

I’m a big believer in the power of negotiation. I’d been paying $50 per month for a gym membership when I noticed a new gym opening in my area. I offered to pay $200 for a one-year membership. They were hungry for new customers and took my offer, saving me $400 annually! I’d do the same years later with our electric bill, which could hit $400 in certain months, locking in a year-round rate of $200.

We looked to our employers for missed savings opportunities, too. We started using employer-sponsored health savings accounts to set aside pre-tax cash, shaving about $1,800 off our yearly medical spending. We also discovered that Chrisynda’s employer offered a 5-percent discount with a major insurance carrier for employees who bundled home and auto coverage. We signed up and reaped $1,200 in annual savings.

3. Sacrifice now to make a big difference later.

Sometimes you need to make sacrifices in the name of financial stability. In 2010, when Chrisynda and I started planning for a family, we eliminated a $200+ car payment and lowered our insurance premium by selling my relatively new truck. We used the profits to pay off the loan before buying a used sedan and putting the rest in our emergency fund.

Financial security is all about tradeoffs—and looking back, they’ve all been worth it. We’re debt-free, have a six-month emergency fund and regularly invest 10 percent. My once-sad credit score is now around 800.

What I’ve learned is that these things don’t just happen. Some attention and reasonable sacrifice is required, but once these habits become routine, keeping up with them is much easier than dealing with the stress of living paycheck to paycheck.

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Tony Robbins on Starting ‘With Very Little’ and Finding Financial Success

Tony Robbins knows a lot about starting with a little. The best-selling author grew up “dirt poor” in California and once worked as a janitor to help pay the bills. Today, he’s worth an estimated half-a-billion dollars.

Now Robbins—whose personal and business development seminars and books have reached an estimated 50 million people—is focused on helping others build their fortunes, too. He interviewed more than 50 of the world’s top investors for his last book “Money: Master the Game,” a New York Times best-seller that’s sold more than a million copies.

His latest book, “Unshakeable,” which came out last year and has since become a New York Times best-seller as well, was written with Peter Mallouk, Barron’s top-ranked independent advisor for three years and president of Creative Planning, whose board Robbins joined. Robbins describes it as “a financial playbook that dispels fear with facts,” and has donated proceeds to Feeding America, a nationwide hunger-relief organization.

He spoke with us about how to “lock in” financial success and keep fear from sabotaging our efforts.

Why did you write this so soon after publishing a nearly 700-page money book?

This is the second longest bull market in history and everyone knows it’s going to have a correction at some point. I started seeing so much fear out there. And I thought…I want to protect people, but I also want them to see how this could be an opportunity for the greatest growth.

Why “Unshakeable”?

Because that’s my goal. The only way to have a quality life is to be unshakeable. It doesn’t mean you don’t get fearful, but you don’t stay there. For most people investing is stressful. But anyone can become unshakeable. You just need to educate yourself…It’s like the old metaphor: You’re walking late at night and you see a snake so you walk the other way. Then during the day, you see it’s not a snake at all. It’s a rope, and you have nothing to be afraid of.

How do you convince nervous investors they have nothing to fear?

With education. On average, we’ve had a correction (when the market falls 10 percent from its peak) once a year since 1900. Everybody gets scared to death. But the average one lasts less than two months and out of all of them, 80 percent never become a bear market (meaning the market falls 20 percent from its peak).

We get a bear market on average every three to five years and they usually last a year. And every single bear market in history has turned into a bull market. Every single one.

The most important thing is to just be in the market.

What’s the biggest mistake investors make?

Failing to take advantage of compounding. Take someone who invests eight years till he’s 27 and invests a total of $28,800, or $300 a month, and then just leaves it there—doesn’t add another penny. He’ll have nearly 2 million when he retires at 65 if the market continues to compound like it has (at 10 percent or more annually on average).

If his buddy doesn’t start till he’s 28 and he invests $300 a month, he’ll have invested $140,000 by the time he retires at 65. But his compounding returns will end up at almost $300,000 less than his friend. He’ll be investing longer and more—and he’ll end up with less. Compounding is the ticket.

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Starting late allows less time for compounding, true. Investors can also miss out by selling when the market is down and buying after it rises again, locking in losses. How do you avoid mistakes like that?

The first thing to do is to stop trying to time the market. No one can do that successfully. One of the most startling statistics that blows people’s minds is that in the last 20 years we’ve seen about an 8.2 percent compounded annual returns for the S&P 500. But if you missed the 10 best trading days in that 20-year period, your returns drop to 4.5 percent.

If you missed the top 20 days, you only made 2.1 percent (based on an analysis by the Schwab Center for Financial Research). What are your chances of getting that timing right? The most important thing is to just be in the market.

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How do you guard against the temptation to sell when the market drops?

You need to automate it and take yourself out of it. And you need to have the right asset allocation. That’s the way you protect yourself.

What’s the right asset allocation?

The most basic thing is diversification. You can’t just say, I like real estate or I like stocks, and that’s it.

I talk about different asset allocation strategies in the book… But you need to diversify across asset classes and within asset classes and across economies and time. (Investing, for example, in stocks, bonds and real estate—and in small, large and U.S. and foreign companies, and corporate and government bonds with different payout dates.)

What’s the main message you want readers to take away from this book?

I want them to know financial freedom is not only possible, but it’s something you can lock in. It isn’t that complex. People in the finance business try to make it as complex as possible. But it’s not.

Literally anyone can start with very little and achieve financial freedom over time. You just have to get into the game, and not get overtaken by fear. This interview has been edited and condensed.

What Are FAANG Stocks—and Why Does Everyone Want Them?

On Wall Street, FAANG is spelled with two As, and means “big win” for their lucky shareholders—which likely includes you. FAANG stands for Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google (representing parent company, Alphabet), a collection of tech companies so widely followed by investors that the media came up with an acronym for them.

Why are they such a big deal?

Each company has been known to move markets and transform not just their own industries, but also how we all live.

Consider Amazon. (It was the original “A” when Jim Cramer first coined the term to quickly refer to the group of fast-growing tech stocks; Apple was added later.) The online megastore has made shopping fast, easy and accessible, crushing its competition and completely changing the way retail operates. Many consumers now expect to be able to purchase anything, anytime, with one click and free shipping.

Amazon’s investors may have equally high expectations. Five years ago, the company’s share price was around $300; it ended the first week of July above $1,700 a share. And with a current market capitalization of about $830 billion, it’s the third-heaviest component of Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, behind Apple and Microsoft.

Even the smallest FAANG member, Netflix, is a heavy hitter. Its market cap is about $177 billion, weighing in at 0.75 percent of the S&P 500. And over the past five years, its shares have skyrocketed from less than $40 in July 2013 to more than $400 in July 2018.

Together, the five companies make up approximately 13 percent of the index with a collective market cap of nearly $3.8 trillion. So if FAANG was a country, and its market cap was its gross domestic product, that’s big enough to make it the fourth-largest economy in the world.

Plenty of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) count FAANGs among their holdings.

So, should I buy them?

Well, the group’s history of success certainly warrants consideration, but whether each company can maintain the heady growth is debatable. Then there’s the issue of price: To buy just one share of each FAANG stock, you’d need more than $3,600 total (as of July 9). And keep in mind that five U.S. large tech stocks doesn’t exactly make for a diversified portfolio.

Luckily, there’s a simpler, much cheaper way to buy into FAANG stocks while protecting yourself from any potential slowdown. In fact, it’s so easy that you’re already doing it.

Plenty of exchange-traded funds (ETFs)—including one in the Acorns portfolios (VOO) that tracks the S&P 500 index—count FAANGs among their holdings. These type of funds also give you a stake in hundreds of other companies at once. That means you get exposure to the world’s most popular stocks while maintaining a diversified portfolio in one fell swoop—a smart and easy investing strategy to build and preserve your wealth over the long term.

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The 4 Habits of Janitors, Secretaries and Teachers Who Became Millionaires

With the right habits, anyone can become a millionaire, not just hotshot bankers, corporate CEOs and tech geniuses. There are plenty of unassuming people who, despite working regular jobs—think: janitors, secretaries and teachers—have amassed serious wealth over their lifetimes. And you’d never know it by the way they lived.

How do these undercover millionaires climb to the top? We discovered four simple habits they have in common. Follow their lead and start building your own fortune, too.

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1. Live (well) below your means.

Low-key millionaires couldn’t care less about keeping up with the Joneses. “They are not attached to having the newest, the biggest or the most expensive anything,” says Certified Financial Planner Kimberly Foss, founder of Empyrion Wealth Management.

Case in point: Ronald Read, a janitor and gas station attendant in Vermont who bequeathed $8 million to his local library and hospital, had a second-hand Toyota and used safety pins to hold his tattered coat together. Grace Groner lived in a one-bedroom in Chicago and shopped at thrift stores and rummage sales, even though she’d accumulated more than $7 million. Russ Gremel, another Chicagoan, prefered oats and stew to fancy meals, drove a 25-year-old Dodge—and recently donated $2 million to the Audubon Society.

While the general rule of thumb is to save 10 to 20 percent of your income, secret millionaires put away much more—a friend of Read’s mentioned that if he earned $50, he’d save $40. Certified Financial Planner Cary Carbonaro, managing director at United Capital, suggests aiming for around 30 percent if your goal is seven digits: “The additional compounding interest will make your money grow and grow,” she says.

2. Invest early and often.

Secret millionaires know to hang onto stocks for the long haul instead of selling when the market dips. Gremel purchased $1,000 worth of Walgreens stock and held onto it for 70 years. Groner’s fortune grew out of a $180 investment she made in 1935. And Brooklyn locals Donald Othmer, a professor, and his wife Mildred, a teacher, amassed hundreds of millions, stemming from Berkshire Hathaway stocks they invested in for just $42 back in the ’60s. (Today, one share is worth more than $280,000.)

These millionaires don’t just avoid timing the market; they also reinvest their dividends. When you purchase individual stocks or funds, like exchange-traded funds, through an investment account, you have the option to take your dividend payment in cash or reinvest the proceeds into the purchase of additional shares. Reinvesting allows your money to compound more over time, giving you a greater overall return.

These millionaires don’t just avoid timing the market; they also reinvest their dividends.

3. Earn more on the side.

In addition to his day job, Donald Othmer netted extra income with his side gig as an inventor and consultant. Leonard Gigowski, a butcher in Milwaukee, earned enough from investing in his grocery store’s stock to eventually purchase a corner store, nightclub, dance studio and residential properties.

“With passive income, like real estate, you don’t have to do any work,” Carbonaro says. “Aside from maintenance and expenses, you just sit back and collect the check.” Airbnb, for example, makes it easy to add a passive income stream by renting out extra space or your entire place when you’re away.

4. Improve your financial IQ.

Read stayed in the know by reading investing news, talking with like-minded friends and seeking counsel from an advisor. Robert Morin, a librarian in New Hampshire with a $4 million estate, befriended a financial advisor who encouraged him to invest, instead of putting all of his earnings into checking and savings accounts. Brooklyn legal secretary Sylvia Bloom, who recently passed away with $8.2 million, noted the stocks her bosses invested in, then purchased the same ones (in more modest amounts) for herself.

Copy these habits by making learning about money a daily ritual: You can follow your favorite financial guru and publications on social media, or commit to reading money blogs and sites (ahem) during lunch or your commute. Then seek out a money mentor or even an accountability partner who’s working toward their own first $1 million.

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