Tag Archives: alexa von tobel

Owning your own home is totally doable

TIMG_5496he thought of owning a home never crossed my mind until my early thirties. I remember a myriad of limiting thoughts crossing my mind including, “there is NO WAY I can afford a home,” or “I don’t have the time or the money to maintain a home” or “owning a home is something you do when you settle down…and renting is still cheaper.” Looking back on those thoughts I can’t help but laugh. Yes, those thoughts are all legit, but SO NOT true.

I was 31 when I seriously considered buying my first home. Up until that time I did what all of my other friends did…rent an apartment with roommates. At that time of my life, I was in my last quarter of my MBA program at Santa Clara University. I was going to school part time and working full time as to not take on giant school debt. “Who has the time or money to own a home? All I do is work and go to school at night,” I remember thinking.

A roommate, Greg, told me one night that he planned to buy a house and asked if I would be open to renting a room from him once he found a home. Hmmm….clever. Seeing him go through the home buying process opened my eyes to how that “trick” is done. Greg found a home after a few months search and I rented a room from him at a price equal to what I was paying for the apartment…and he got all the financial benefits. I quickly realized if Greg could do it, so can I.

The first step in buying a home is to get your financial house in order and determine when you are ready to buy a home. Yes, this can be tough given the lack of financial education people receive these days. Or, if you totally “Kanye” your finances buying too many Yeezy shirts. One of the best things I did was meet with a certified financial planner (CFP). Financial planners will help you obtain a clear snapshot of your current financial health and help you identify short-term and long-term goals…including buying a house. Planners will also provide you the tools to get there.

Ask a trusted friend or parent for a referral or there are options available online. Alexa von Tobel created LearnVest to help people get control of their money. Be financially fearless! The service and tools are all available online and certified financial planners are available to work with people one on one to achieve their dreams. I’ve met Alexa several times during my time with a financial technology startup. She is really great and has a passion to help others. Believe me, once you understand your financial strength, the path to affording a home becomes clear. I think many of you will find the path a lot less difficult than you think. I know I did.

A second step in understanding the affordability of a home is the cost of ownership. This is a BIG factor I find many people don’t quite think through clearly. Getting your financial house in order to buy a home is focused mostly on getting approved for a loan to buy a house. This second step is focused on what’s needed to keep and maintain a home once you buy it. So beyond the monthly mortgage payment, homeowners must consider costs of home insurance, taxes, utilities, homeowners association dues (if applicable) and more. These home ownership costs are in addition to the typical living expenses we all have including cable, phone, Internet site subscriptions, going out, etc.

So how is this done? Build a budget! Building a budget helps identify and prioritize monthly expenses within the context of your financial priority…in this case, home ownership. Yikes, many people quickly realize the need to say “no!” to a Tuesday trivia night at a local bar. I remember making the decision to NOT buy a BMW so I can afford a home. I will be writing more about budgeting in a future post…and will maybe throw in some trivia for those needing a fix.

A third step in understanding home affordability is changing the mindset that it’s what people do who want to settle down. Or that renting is still cheaper. I recently wrote a post for TV and radio talk show host, Chelsea Krost, about the benefits of buying versus renting so check that out as a resource.

The shift in mind-set is up to you and it’s hard to change people’s thinking without a catalyst. What shifted my mind into wanting to own a home was my room mate Greg. He bought a home and I rented a room from him. He used my rent money to pay down HIS mortgage and gave HIM great tax benefits. Greg got to experience the many financial benefits of owning a home…and I paid him to do it. That relationship changed my mindset. “I need to look into this!” I remember thinking.

Yes, home ownership is scary. The more you understand how it’s done and the many benefits received the less scary it is. I argue the more EXCITING it is. Home ownership is one of the many things that make America great. It’s your property. You can do what you want with it…within reason, of course. Do laundry at midnight. Fry fish and stink up the house. Netflix all night with the sound WAY up. If you do it in your own house, no one complains to the landlord. Better yet, NO BODY CARES! To me, that’s the true benefit of home ownership.

My goal is to share with others the great opportunities, benefits and risks of home ownership to empower them to make their own decisions for what works best.

Please feel free to Tweet me with questions about this post @ericdunstan.

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Buying the first home means not buying the sports car

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 9.29.22 PMThe explosive growth of the Internet brought a lot of money to the San Francisco Bay Area and the Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. Many of my work colleagues and friends cashed in their stock options and bought high-end cars or lived BIG in San Francisco during those go-go years. Many of us younger employees did not know the difference between paper wealth and actual wealth. Unfortunately, the paper wealth quickly disappeared as pro-forma balance sheets fell out of fashion and stocks plummeted. Easy come, easy go.

Fortunately for me I did not get sucked into the craze of buying a BMW M5 and renting an apartment in the Marina. My Mid-West style upbringing made me far too frugal (or cheap!) for such “extravagance.” Fortunately I was able to same-day sell a chunk of my ISO options and chose to just sit on the cash. I continued to drive the 1988 Toyota Carolla I owned in college and rented with a roommate a two-bedroom apartment in less than trendy Sunnyvale. I was also able to have my company pay for a good portion of the MBA program I attended to avoid taking on massive student loan debt.

Yes, I experienced a ton of peer pressure for not living in the city. “Come on, Dunstan! Move up to the Marina with us. You won’t have to make the long drive home to Sunnyvale late at night…and “Social Safeway” is just crawling with honeys.” Many a tale has been told about love found in the produce aisle.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 9.43.19 PMWhy didn’t I cave to the peer pressure or buy-in to the spendy trends at that time? I wanted to buy a house. That was my goal. Even back then, living in San Francisco was expensive and many of my friends there lived paycheck to paycheck. Several work colleagues graduated with an MBA and $100K+ in student debt. I graduated with no debt. Shortly after I started my first job after business school I was able to purchase my first house. Goal accomplished.

The San Francisco Bay Area housing market is even more competitive (read “expensive”) now than it was in the early 2000s. Buying a home or condo takes a significant cash down payment to meet the more stringent lending requirements. A hefty monthly cash flow is also required to take care of the trappings of ownership…namely property taxes, insurance and then basic living expenses. Home ownership gets expensive. Fast. But I think it’s SO worth it!

First time home ownership is still possible in the Bay Area despite the gloom and doom affordability market data. Sacrifices have to be made and savings goals have to be achieved. Life style choices have to be made too. The process of saving for the first home may take some time and may require renting with a roommate in a less fashionable area to amass cash. Building a monthly and annual budget is a great tool to help analyze where the monthly paycheck goes and decide what changes are to be made to funnel more cash to savings. I highly recommend Alexa von Tobel’s book, “Financially Fearless” to help with building a budget and savings plan.

Buying what type of house and in what neighborhood will also be defined by company stock performance and salary compensation. People make a lot of money in the Bay Area. However, how well one manages money will play a key role in the home purchasing power of the individual. Keep in mind that most first time home buyers will NOT be able to buy a home in a top neighborhood. Be OK with that. Buy what you can afford in the best neighborhood possible. How this is done will be discussed in future posts. Start small and gain equity to then move up to the next house/neighborhood. This is all very possible. It takes time, commitment and money management. I did it. So can you.

Please send me a note on Twitter (@ericdunstan) if you have any questions.


“Apple Pay Accepted Here” alerts needed to drive adoption

Little Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 11.21.46 AMLeague baseball season recently started which meant a trip to Sports Authority to purchase the relevant equipment. Fortunately, most of the items for t-ball are in the under $20 each category which makes the financial commitment more bearable. Like most dads, the start of Little League season brings back many fond baseball memories including a controversial meeting of a reigning Miss California. When I say “controversial” I mean it raised a few eyebrows as to why she attended, whom she knew on the team and the outfit she was wearing. It turns out she was dating our team’s assistant coach and used her fashion sense to keep his attention off the game played on the field. Dads enjoyed the game that much more. Moms were furious. Funny the things one remembers from more youthful days.

I was excited about the recent trip to Sports Authority for an entirely selfish reason. I was super stoked for a chance to FINALLY use Apple Pay! When I purchased my iPhone 6 Plus, the first thing I did was load on my bank’s ATM and credit cards. Why? Because I’m a FinTech guy…and this sort of thing gets me just as excited as a chance to meet Miss California. However, my Apple Pay excitement quickly slid down into a “now what?” I really struggled to find a place to use Apple Pay within my network of retailers that I frequent. Based on a recent BI Intelligence survey, just 8% of large US retailers currently accept Apple Pay. Keep in mind this stat focuses on LARGE US RETAILERS. I don’t shop a lot at large US retailers. I’m a keep it local type of guy…or at least keep it regional type of guy. When I did visit an Apple Pay enabled business like Toys R Us the opportunity to pay with my phone slipped by for I was not reminded that my chance arrived.

When it came time to bay for the baseball pants, socks and belt I whipped out my iPhone (that scene from “Blazing Saddles” comes to mind)

with great excitement and said, “OK, I want to use Apple Pay. How do I make this work?” My question should raise grave concerns from Apple and the retailer. However, what happened next should FREAK APPLE OUT. “Uhhhh,” began the clerk. “I don’t know…let me talk to my manager.” I stopped the clerk, saving him a trip to find the manager. I scanned my phone over the payment terminal, used my touch ID and the payment was made. “Oh, great…you figured it out,” the clerk said. So wrong.

This frustration is shared with many iPhone loving friends and FinTech colleagues. Clearly Apple Pay merchant adoption needs to increase and consumers need to be reminded to us it. Hopefully this is all changing with greater merchant adoption and the launch (FINALLY!) of the Apple Watch. The same BI Intelligence survey revealed that 56% of retailers say they will accept Apple Pay by 2018. But doing the quick math, this means that 44% still will not…and we all know these merchants will be the locally owned business.

Eric DunstanSo where does Apple Watch fit in driving Apple Pay adoption? Well for starters, the payment process gets much easier for the watch will be tethered to the iPhone loaded with the relevant cards. Users double click a button on the phone, place the watch near the payment terminal and payment is made. Skin sensor technology verifies the watch is on the verified user’s wrist to prevent unauthorized use. The watch really helps make Apply Pay easy to use. Ease of use means greater user adoption.

Informing users that Apple Pay is accepted is the remaining adoption hurdle to be solved. Frankly, I’m a little surprised this hurdle has not been addressed. It seems easy to solve. Functionally needs to be implemented to push alerts to Apple Watch users when they are near a payment terminal that accepts Apple Pay. Given how integrated watches are to routine interaction and reference, these alerts will be easily seen. Better yet, leveraging the iBeacon technology, merchants can send Apple Pay alerts to customers as soon as they walk in the door and before any purchases are made. Ease of payment may be enough of a factor to push the customer to a purchase decision. I am envisioning personal finance expert, Alexa von Tobel at Learn Vest cringing right now!!!

I’m excited that we are moving closer to not having to carry a bulky wallet anymore. The Apple Watch and alerts to use Apple Pay will train and shape the right habit to eventually push me to leave a wallet at home. Now, if I can only get my drivers license, loyalty cards AND annual passes on my phone I will be wallet-less!


Fitness apps are great model to help consumers talk about money

Eric DunstanThis past weekend I attended a beach wedding in Santa Cruz, CA. I played the role of husband to the matron of honor and father to the ring bearer. I spent a lot of time with the groom and groomsmen as we waded through the schedule from taking pictures to the bride walking down the sandy aisle. Having never met 90% of these people, most of the idle conversation topics focused on how long we’ve know the groom/bride, where we’re from, the weather, sports and physical fitness.  The wedding party was a very physically fit group and a lot of time was spent discussing work out routines, fitness goals, injuries, metrics for measuruing those goals and what mobile fitness applications were used. One groomsman was a tri-athlete, another a cyclist and several runners…me included. Even though we all did different sports, we all shared a common language around how we set goals and measured success; how many reps/sets, timed distances, time splits, calories burned. Of course, as the day wore on and the drinks flowed, these reported metrics achieved super human status. “I ran a marathon in under two hours, backwards…uphill both ways. In the snow. Waiter, can I have another Grey Goose?” The common interest and shared vocabulary of fitness enabled 8 guys to have a great time at a wedding.

There continues to be a lot of media coverage about our lack luster economy and the fear that many people have about their financial fitness. The fear has grown to a level where many books, websites and personal finance management services have emerged to meet the demand. Clearly, money and sound financial management is top of mind for most people. Unfortunately, talking about ones financial health is a taboo that it is never discussed openly even with close friends or a spouse. I openly discussed my physical health at the wedding last weekend…but it would be WEIRD and AWKWARD if I discussed my financial goals and health with the other groomsman. Why? Isn’t financial health just as important as physical health? We ask others for suggestions on improving our physical fitness.  Why not our financial fitness?

Alexa von Tobel, CEO of LearnVest, addresses the taboo of talking about personal finance in her book, “Financially Fearless“. “We openly talk about everything else, from sex to diets to politics, yet when was the last time you spoke with your friends about money?” I think Alexa is spot on. We as a US society DON’T talk about money and how to manage it well. Most Americans prefer to put their heads in the sand and not think about financial planning for it’s too scary or confusing. One of the biggest reasons we don’t talk about money is that we don’t know how and we don’t have a common vocabulary or framework to pull from.

Eric Dunstan

Flexscore is working to provide that financial framework to enable the conversation. They have developed a methodology that helps consumers assess their financial health through a score and provides support for how to improve. The score measures factors including assets, debt, savings, cost of living, retirement savings…and weights them against a goal. Goals include by what age to retire, buying a vacation home, or sending a kid to college. Flexscore users can compare their goals, expenses, and scores against others within their peer group.

What Flexscore is developing sounds a lot like a fitness app! I am an avid user of the Nike+ iPhone app where I set goals, track fitness activity, achieve milestones…and compare against others. The Nike application also let’s me challenge others to a race or to ask others for coaching advice. Wow, this is a fun way to track fitness activity and engage with friends. Can the same level of engagement be achieved with a financial fitness application? Through the right approach, I think a financial fitness application can be very powerful in helping others discuss money, goals and questions they may have about improving compared to their peers. A scoring system, such as Flexscore, will be a key engagement element that makes measurement informative, fun and something that can be easily discussed with others.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to envision similar personal finance discussions happening with the right measurement tools and applications developed on mobile devices. Going back to the wedding I attended, the wedding party was quick to whip out their phones and show off their fitness data on Nike+ or RunKeeper. The application UI makes the data visually fun to show off and discuss. I can easily envision the same conversation happening around finance applications. The conversation could start with a groomsman saying, “We are really trying to pay down our credit card debt, but it’s not happening fast enough.”  Another groomsman could respond, “I’ve been using this great finance app that scores my financial health. It’s helped me A LOT.”  The conversation goes on from there.

Driving adoption of these finance apps by going direct to consumer will be quite expensive and the marketplace is crowded. However, I think the right strategy for Flexscore is to white label their solution to financial institutions and advisors. A similar platform, Set for Life,  takes another approach by white labeling financial education and money management tools to corporations as a benefits program to get employees to start talking about their money. Flexscore and Set for Life hope to pull through a solid customer base through these white labeled partnerships …while receiving a monthly per user fee. Smart…and this strategy does not require aggressive and expensive direct to consumer acquisition programs. The right clients and partnerships will build a large and highly engaged consumer base for both companies.

As Gen X , Gen Y and Millennials age, the greater the momentum around having financial oriented conversations. The key play for companies like Flexscore or Set For Life is to be the platform that these users engage on to discuss and engage with their finance. Consumers will benefit and so will financial institutions and advisors who are looking for opportunities to engage customers. Consumers will be drawn to the banks and providers who do this best.  Those who don’t engage at this level will watch  their consumer base walk out the door.


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