Tag Archives: LearnVest

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.


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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