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Online, so fine

Aaron and Julie Greenwald have discovered the key to money management: It’s as simple as careful planning, good communication, and the continuous pursuit of financial education.

Winter 2011 your$ magazineThe Greenwalds have always been good at managing their money. Their careful planning allowed them to get their Masters without taking out loans, and two years ago they bought their dream home. Because they’ve known each other since first grade, they communicate well, which helps keep them on the same financial page.

“I can’t say that we’ve always been masters of our finances. We haven’t always known exactly what to do every step of the way. But we’ve always been able to prioritize what’s important to us right now, for the short term,” says Aaron.

Last year, Julie and Aaron Greenwald decided to invest some time increasing their financial knowledge. “Those who work in education naturally give a lot. It’s sometimes hard to give back to yourself. Even if it’s just taking the time to learn about your finances,” says Julie.

The Greenwalds were at a place in their lives when they felt they needed to think further out. They had a lot of questions about what they were doing now and what they needed to do to plan for retirement.

Free online education? We’re there.

While attending a financial seminar offered a few years ago by Bob Moeller (WEAC), they learned about opportunities to further their financial education with WEA Member Benefits. On the seminar schedule at weabenefits.com, they discovered a new online seminar presentation called Finances 101: Seven Mistakes New Members Make with Their Money.

“I thought, ‘It’s online? We don’t have to go anywhere! This is great. We can put on our slippers. Eat dinner.’” They weren’t sure what to expect. “I thought it was going to be more of a video presentation, but I was happily surprised when the seminar was interactive,” says Aaron. “It felt very conversational. Ana Bonjour, the presenter, did a really nice job.”

Ana Bonjour is a Retirement Savings Consultant with WEA Member Benefits. “Throughout the presentation members use the chat, Q & A, and ‘raise your hand’ features to communicate with me. I’m able to provide instant feedback to all,” says Ana, who shares stories and examples from her personal and work experiences. “The online forum makes it a safe place to ask questions without worrying about what others might think,” she adds.

Drink it all in

Julie and Aaron Greenwald“We absorbed a lot,” says Aaron. They took notes, asked questions, and utilized a list of Web resources sent to them before the seminar started. “We had a very productive and positive conversation after the seminar. Ana left us with a lot of goals, but also a lot of reassurances that we were doing some things right,” he says.

That’s been key for the Greenwalds, learning that they’re on the right track. They have confidence moving forward with long-term plans that their approach is sound.

Guilt-free spending? Oh yeah!

Aaron and Julie are planners, and they’ve been good about prioritizing their wants and needs. “We have an Excel spreadsheet that we live by,” says Julie. By planning their purchases and sticking to their budget, they essentially give themselves permission to spend—guilt free. “If we have it in the budget, we get to do it,” says Aaron. There’s no buyer’s remorse. They include things like clothes shopping, yoga, and massages in their monthly budget. “That was my ‘aha’ moment. If we stick to this budget, we’ll be able to furnish our home how we’d like, we’ll have this amount for the emergency fund, and long-term we’ll be able to decide when we retire.” The downside, they acknowledge, is that you can’t have everything at once, “but in the grand scheme of things, it’s better to be able to sleep at night.”

Slow and steady wins the race

Aaron and Julie admit that it’s not the most glamorous thing to sit down on the weekend with the spreadsheet, but they agree that it’s well worth it. “It’s not like you get to the finish line and you see what place you’re in,” says Julie. “You can actually win the race if you plan.”

The hardest part was taking the initial look at their finances and figuring out where they were spending their money and setting priorities and goals. “But after that, it’s just maintenance,” says Aaron.

The follow up

After the online presentation, they followed up with a phone consultation with Ana “to take a more specific look at our allocations in our IRA accounts,” says Aaron.

“It’s our plan to touch base with somebody once a year.” This year they’re going to take advantage of one of the new fee-based financial planning services offered by Member Benefits. “We’ve had good experiences. And we like that there are no commissions for the products they’re selling,” adds Julie.

Reaping the benefits

Other plans for 2011? They’re interested in learning more about the Wisconsin Retirement System and saving for retirement by participating in other Member Benefits seminars, preferably online.

“We don’t want to wait to see if we can retire, we’d rather know ahead of time what we need to do to retire when we are ready.” They also plan to pay off their car, then reallocate the money to their IRAs. “We also want to add to our emergency fund. And then we want to relax,” says Julie, “and enjoy the benefits of our hard work.”

They say they’re more confident because of the steps they’ve taken. And they’re appreciating the journey. “It’s not just where we are, but how did we get here?” says Aaron.

“And it ends up being fun. It’s like a board game because there’s positive progress and we have wins along the way,” says Julie.

 The Trustee Custodian for the WEAC IRA accounts is Newport Trust Company.

MEMBER PROFILE

Julie and Aaron GreenwaldJulie and Aaron Greenwald teach third and fourth grades respectively in the Hamilton School District. They were drawn to education by the rewards that come from everyday classroom experiences. “Being there when a child learns something new, when it clicks. We love being part of that.”