A late frost can put a damper on your new spring listing. A local employer’s decision to relocate can create a glut of inventory that drives down prices and drives up days on market. A pandemic can cause sellers to stay put, while buyers scramble for a few available listings.
Real estate agents often feel a sense of financial insecurity, caused in great part by the many factors that can impact their income for better or for worse. That’s why taking control of your spending, limiting debt, and maximizing your investments and the growth of your business are essential, offering greater peace of mind and financial stability.
Great financial advice can come from anywhere — your CPA, your friends or those frugal Depression-era relatives you grew up with.
Here are some rules that are sure to put you in a better financial position next year than the one you’re in right now. Although you may not want to, or be able to, implement them all, just choosing one or two is sure to have a positive impact.
Control your spending
If you make smart decisions about your everyday spending, it sets you up to have more control over the big-picture financial decisions as well.
Here are some common-sense tips for exercising more control over your spending:
- Start by knowing where you’re spending your money, especially when it comes to discretionary spending. Take a look at subscriptions you never use or those mindless Amazon purchases that are so easy to make from your phone to determine where you are overdoing it.
- Set a dollar limit for impulse purchases, and give yourself a cooling-off period for any price above that limit. For example, you may want to say that anything over $200 that you weren’t planning on buying requires a 24-hour delay. Then, if it still seems like a good idea and an irresistible purchase, give yourself permission to spend the money.
- Strive for a balance in your spending where you prioritize appreciating or long-term assets rather than depreciating ones. Focus more on your home and less on your car. Focus more on investments than impulse purchases. Spend a little more for jewelry, clothing and accessories that stand the test of time rather than spending money on “fast fashion” and disposable goods.
- If you don’t already know how to cook, learn some simple recipes or consider enrolling in a meal delivery service that provides ingredients and recipes for simple, fresh meals. You’ll save a fortune in takeout and Uber Eats delivery charges and the food you make will be healthier than restaurant food, as well.
- Consider the disposable items you buy, and determine whether you can replace them with more permanent solutions. Buy dishtowels so that you’ll use fewer paper towels and cloth napkins instead of paper ones. Use a travel mug instead of disposable coffee cups. Cut out paper plates, plastic cups, and throwaway utensils in favor of reusable options. Not only will you save money, you’ll be kinder to the environment, too.
Cut down on debt
If you’ve run up debt on credit cards and loans, it can put a damper on your financial health and your credit score. Get rid of the debt, and you’ll give yourself more freedom and flexibility in the years to come.
Here are a few tips for cutting down on debt:
- Unless you pay off your credit card every month, don’t use it for something that you won’t still have when the bill arrives. That means don’t charge meals out, groceries and other temporary purchases. You’ll be paying interest on them long after they’ve become a distant memory.
- Pay down debt using the snowball method. List all of your debts in ascending order by the total balance due. Commit to paying the minimum amount on each, except for the smallest debt. Determine how much extra you can apply to that debt, and pay it faithfully until it is paid off. Now add the full amount you were paying on that debt to your next debt, over and above the minimum payment. Continue in this manner until you have paid off all of your debts.
- Alternatively, use the avalanche method to pay off debt. List all of your debts in descending order according to the interest rate charged on them. Pay the minimum on all of the debts except for the one with the highest interest rates. Determine how much extra you can apply to that debt and pay it faithfully until it is paid off. Now add the full amount you were paying on that debt to the next debt, over and above the minimum payment. Continue in this manner until you have paid off all of your debts.
Invest for the future
According to Certified Financial Planner Jordan Curnutt, here are some important rules that he considers “vastly important for top producers.”
- Don’t fool yourself into thinking just earning a high income is enough to build wealth. It’s how you deploy your high income that determines your financial success. In fact, earning a high income without taking action in your personal finances leaves you ending the year in the same financial position as you started. As a small business owner, you do not have a pension or corporate 401k plan with a match on your behalf. If you want to build wealth, you have to do it yourself.
- Invest regularly. It can sometimes be tempting to try and “get cute” and attempt to time the market. But here is the bottom line: It cannot be done consistently. The savvy approach is to invest systematically, and as a result, saving for your future financial success can be automated and completed as if it were any other financial goal you were saving for.
- Build a health emergency fund. The traditional rule of thumb for emergency funds is three to six months of living expenses. I typically encourage real estate agents to be on the long end of this spectrum if not exceeding it. That said, there is a tipping point at which you can be holding too much cash and it becomes a drag on your net worth. Find the sweet spot for your own personal emergency fund and never deviate from it.
- Bonus: Be sure to use a High Yield Savings Account to optimize the interest you earn on your emergency fund.
Build your business
From marketing to administrative support, it costs money to build and scale your business.
Here are some rules to keep in mind as you continue to grow:
- Figure out what it is you do in your business that makes money and where you’re wasting time. For example, if it takes you all afternoon to write a property description, you’re wasting time that you could be spending generating and nurturing leads and providing stellar client service. Not ready to hire full-time support? Outsource to a well-qualified freelancer for affordable assistance.
- Talk to your tax adviser or CPA about the way you’ve structured your business. Would you benefit from starting an LLC or S-Corp? Stop playing catch-up and come up with a tax and financial plan that really serves your interests.
- Look into specialty pricing offered to businesses by vendors like Amazon and Wayfair. That way, you may be able to make some of your necessary purchases — for the office or for staging your latest listing — more affordably.
- Talk to your favorite local lender, title company, real estate attorney, or other professional colleagues about co-sponsoring marketing events and materials. Put on an informational seminar, rent out a movie theater, or sponsor a booth at a local festival. You’ll share the expenses and amplify the impact of the information and service you’re providing.
Money management doesn’t require you to have an accounting degree or to defer all of life’s little pleasures. It does, however, require you to put some thought and effort into making good decisions and benefitting from good advice. Make a plan, and put it into action so that you stop feeling overextended and start enjoying more of what you make.
Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.