Give Your Income a Plan – The 35/45/20 Rule

So you want to start making real progress on getting out of debt or building wealth, right? But where do you start? I’ll tell you…it’s not buying stocks or consolidating your student loans and it’s especially not by buying another lottery ticket.

No. You need to start on the ground floor by looking at yourself and streamlining how your most important tool, your income, is working for you.

If you are like most people… you’re itching for payday. As soon as the check clears your feeling pretty good, maybe even a little too good. A big lump sum, $500, $1000, $2000 or more, in your bank account that immediately starts burning a hole in your pocket… just wanting to be spent on new cloths, gadgets, or experiences. Hey, you earned it right?

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But what happens when the weekend is over or it’s the end of the month and your bills are due? How big is that pile of cash now?

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The problem is physiological. That single shot of cash is giving you an artificial high of “wealth” by feeling that you have more money than you really do.

So how do you avoid this trap?

You have to give your paycheck a purpose by developing a plan.

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I am going to give you the thought process that my wife and I currently use that helped crush our debt and accelerated our net-worth growth rate by almost 100% year over year.

You may have heard of the 50/20/30 rule – 50% of your post-tax income goes to needs, 20% goes to savings/debt, 30% goes to wants – i.e. fun stuff.

Why would you want to be normal? If you really want to change your life you have be different. We flipped the ratios around and currently live by the 35/45/20 rule. (A mouthful, I know!)

The 35-45-20 Plan

35% is your needs, or living expenses – rent, utilities, food, etc.

45% goes to debt payments or savings and investing. This portion swings wildly from debt payments to savings & investing depending on where you are in your financial journey.

20% is your wants – night out with friends, new shoes, movie tickets, etc.

If you think it’s nuts to only live off of 35% of your income check out our Ultimate Guide on understanding your budget and trimming the fat. 

Build a system of Accountability

How we held ourselves accountable to the above ratio was by developing an automated system for our income.

Instead of having our paychecks dropping into one checking account we started thinking of multiple accounts. This was taking “making a budget” to the next level, instead of putting the onus on us to constantly juggle and really blurring the lines of where the money was going from a single account we instead set our paychecks to direct deposit into 5 separate accounts…

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Checking Account #1 Fixed Expenses
Checking Account #2 Debt Payments/Investing (eventually)
Checking Account #3 Allowance
Savings Account #1 1 Month Emergency Fund
Savings Account #2 5-12 Months Emergency Fund

Checking Account #1 – Fixed Expenses – 35%

What are your “fixed expenses”? Think of the items that have a recurring bill, such as your rent or mortgage, utilities (water & electric), cable/internet, cell phone, groceries, etc. Think of expenses that typically don’t fluctuate significantly month to month. Write these expenses down… and add them up. Now, since some of these expenses fluctuate slightly due to external factors, such as hot summers and cold winters (i.e. A/C, Heating) electricity usage, and food prices, add another 10% to the total to cover that flux.

For example, if your fixed expenses add up to $1000 per month add another 10% on there, so you’ll have $1100 per month going into this account. If you get paid bi-weekly you will need $550 per paycheck going into Checking Account #1.

Checking Account #2 – Debt Payments – 45% to 0%

Depending on your income level, the status of your current emergency fund, or debt level this account will change in meaning as you progress on your financial journey. Like what was stated before…if you are getting paid bi-weekly whatever your total debt payments are every month you’ll need at least half of it going into this account per paycheck.

Checking Account #3 – Allowance – 20% 

So now take that lump sum of money and send 20% of that to what we will call your “allowance” fund. The money that you can use to spend how you want, going out to dinner, buying that fancy coffee every once in a while, or that new gadget. This is where living within or below your means comes into play.

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When my wife and I started living within 20% for the “fun” expenses our mindset started to change, we started adding more weight and value to the items or experiences we were buying. We don’t feel as if we are restricting ourselves here, we just ended up focusing on things that actually held value to us. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that we were wasting so much money with our old habits, adding up thousands of dollars per year!

Savings Account #1 – Easy Access – 1 Month Expenses Emergency Fund

As we talked about earlier, having an emergency fund helps you handle life’s unexpected moments by giving you the money you need when you need it to avoid taking on additional debt. This account should equate to about 1 months worth of living expenses and should be easy to access, within less than 24 hrs. This account will be available when an appliance breaks down, or unexpected doctors visit. This account should not be touched unless an “emergency” happens.

Savings Account #2 – (5 – 12 Month) Emergency Fund – Online High Yield Savings Account

So this account should equate anywhere from 5 to 12 months worth of living expenses and should be accessible within 3 days or less. So we should be thinking of online savings accounts here. Your money is in a safe spot that is just out of immediate reach to prevent you from making impulse decisions.

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Steps to using the 35/45/20 Rule – From Debt to Wealth

Alright, so lets go through an example of using the 35/45/20 Rule…

Step 1 – Build 1 Month Emergency Fund

If you are starting out without an emergency fund of at least a one month’s worth of expenses your first goal should be to create one. This may mean paying the minimums on your debt payments at first, with the remainder of the 45% going to building up that small emergency fund. Remember, you can’t focus on aggressively paying off your debt if your constantly reaching for your credit card to cover small expenses that popup outside the norm.Step 1

Step 2 – Eliminate Debt

When you’ve completed your small emergency fund can you now attack your debt with the full salvo of 45% of your income. Step 2How you go about this is up to you. What worked for us was “The Debt Snowball” method outlined by Dave Ramsey. Take all your debts ordered smallest to largest and contribute more than the minimum to the smallest debt until it is paid off. Then roll that money over and put it toward the next smallest debt, and so forth and so on until your debt is eliminated.

Step 3 – Build Up a 5 – 12 Month Emergency Fund

After successfully eliminating your non-mortgage debt your next goal is to strengthen the rest of your emergency fund. Start throwing that 45% into Savings Account #2 until you hit that 5 to 12 month equivalent number. It is up to you what that amount is… be it 5 months, 12 months, or any number in between. This account is your fall back for extreme emergencies, job loss, significant health issues, etc.

Step 3

Step 4 – Wealth Building & Investment

So now this is where the fun starts to happen… Your non-mortgage debt is gone, you have a strong emergency fund set aside… now what?

Don’t fall into the trap of seeing all this freed up income as giving you the right to start a shopping’s spree. Stay focused!

It’s time to start building real wealth.

Checking Account #2 changes it’s meaning now to “Investing”.

Step 4

How you define “Investing” is up to you.

You may start saving up for your first home or your first investment property.

You may start to dabble in index and mutual funds in a taxable investment account.

Or maybe a little bit of everything… that is ultimately up to you.

What matters is that when you start to leverage 45% of your post-tax income to “investing” and wealth generation you are now way outside of the normal. Stay there.

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Plan, Automate, Execute!

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If you made it this far.. congratulations! Hopefully you followed all that…

So in conclusion, by giving our income a plan and a purpose while also automating our paycheck we changed our mindset, and ultimately our path to financial success. The 35/45/20 rule may sound like a challenge but you have to break outside the norm if you want to achieve above average results. This process has amplified our net-worth growth by 100% year or year by eliminating our debt and supercharging our investing potential.

Let us know your thoughts on the 35/45/20 Rule or whats plans you’ve had success with! We would love to hear from you.

So what are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or send us an email via our Contact Page.

If you liked what you’ve read please be sure hit the “like” button and share! If you want to receive the latest articles please be sure to subscribe.

 

5 Money Habits to Start in your 20’s

Your 20’s are an exciting time of your life, so much opportunity for development and growth. For a lot of us we hit some major milestones… starting our first “adulting” job or career, getting married, buying our first home or car, maybe even paying off those good ol’ student loans.

The time you have in your 20’s has the potential to set the tone of your financial health of the rest of your life, so it’s important to develop some essential habits…

1. Create a Budget

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You hear this one from everyone, make a budget!

Write down and understand where your money is coming and going. When you start to track your income and expenses it opens your eyes to all the potential money you could be saving and investing but were actually eating away by going out three or four times a week.

You can track your budget using a number of different tools and methods, you can do the home brewed approach by developing a simple spreadsheet or you can use a number of financial and budgeting applications for your smart phone. Whatever method you end up choosing the most important attribute is your dedication and consistence in tracking your in’s and out’s. Check out our guide at making a budget and slashing our expenses.

2. Automate Your Savings

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This one is easy, money you never see in your paycheck is harder to spend on impulse. Set up automatic deductions from your paycheck to deposit into an online high yield savings account or online brokerage account for investing.

There are plenty of options today that not only are easy to setup and use but help you in the long run of setting you up for financial success. It may be developing an emergency fund for a rainy day, or starting that passive income dividend stream you always wanted.

Start small, it can be a little as $5 to $10 a paycheck but your goal should be to gradually ramp up your deductions until it starts to feel uncomfortable. You will be amazed in as little as a year how much you have saved with this approach.

3. Have an Emergency Fund

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In your 20’s change can be rapid and sudden, your 15 year old car breaks down.. your furnace goes out, or you just received a pink slip. You can never be too careful by creating a emergency fund to cover those rainy days.

Strive to save up 6 to 12 months’ worth of living expenses to get you through the tough times. Since the majority of Americans don’t have the cash on hand to cover a $1000 expense, it should be a wake up call to have a stash of cash to help you when you need it. By maintaining an emergency fund it allows you to avoid the major pitfalls of using credit and loans to cover those unexpected expenses and racking up unnecessary interest payments.

An emergency fund is not a “I need the newest iPhone” fund, or the “shopping spree” fund, and it should not be considered an investment fund. Leave it alone and keep it in a liquid high yield savings or money market account, it may not sound as sexy as putting it all in the latest penny stock but you’ll be happy when you need it to cover that blown out tire.

4. Invest early and often – Retirement (401k, IRA, etc.) and Taxable Accounts

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In your 20’s you have one of the greatest assets that money can’t buy, and that is time.

Use that time and the magic of compounding by investing early. If you are fortunate enough to have an employer that provides access to a 401k, try to contribute 15% of your pretax income or if you can’t achieve that do your best to contribute the percentage needed to receive an employer match if available. Your starting salary and contributes may start out small initially but as time goes by you’ll see massive growth and the sooner you start the less effort will be required in your 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s to prepare for retirement.

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… he who doesn’t… pays it.”

-Albert Einstein

With every raise you receive try increasing your retirement contribute by 1-2%. If you were living on your previous salary just fine, you won’t miss that 1 or 2% all that much.

For 2019, you are able to contribute up to $19,000 of your pre-tax income. I know, your thinking to yourself…$19,000?! Are you crazy? You all have the potential to achieve that and more… you just have to start!

Other retirement vehicles such as IRA’s offer other tax benefits depending on your income, and I recommend looking into them if you do not have access to or are maxing out your 401k.

Taxable investment accounts also can be considered when you have reached your goals for your emergency funds and retirement contributions. Remember not to chase the latest penny stock or virtual currency, start off small and steady by researching low-cost index and mutual funds that provide you diversity to hundreds or thousands of companies.

“It’s a mirage… the idea it has some huge intrinsic value is just a joke”

-Warren Buffet (on Bitcoin)

5. Live Like a College Student

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You were living like one not too long ago so why change it? Just because your making big bucks now doesn’t mean you should go out and blow it all on a new depreciating car or some fancy apartment. Get a roommate, nurse that old car for a few more years, buy a a refurbished smartphone with cash. If you really want to jump start yourself on your way to extraordinary financial wealth, live below your means!

Conclusion

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Remember, your 20’s can be the best years of your life or… they could be the years that set you up for success for the rest of your life, it is your choice. By making simple and steady habits with your finances now you’ll thanking yourself later.

So what are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or send us an email via our Contact Page.

If you liked what you’ve read please be sure hit the “like” button and share! If you want to receive the latest articles please be sure to subscribe.

5 Steps to understand your budget & 15 Ways to Cut the Fat! Ultimate Guide

You know that excitement you get when its payday? Woohoo! All that hard work punching the time-clock almost feels worth it for a split second! Now fast forward, it’s the end of the month, the bills are due and that excitement has now turned to a feeling of dread or despair as you pay that last bill. You’re left scratching your head as you realize you may have nothing to show for all that hard work or even worse… still owe someone. Where did all the money go?!

STEP 1 – Write it down!

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Get out a pen and paper or open up a spreadsheet and start putting all your monthly bills in front of you.

If you have no idea where your money is going you won’t know where to focus your efforts.

For this post let’s doing some Googling and find what the average American has for monthly expenses.

Monthly Bills 1

My goodness, I am sweating already! Over $4000 per month just to live. If you are one of the fortunate enough souls to live in some of the east/west coast states your numbers are probably significantly higher!

STEP 2 – In vs Out

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Alright so the next step is to subtract your monthly bills and debts from your monthly income. For this example, we will use the average salary in the United States, around $62,000 per year. If we don’t include retirement and medical contributions, and just assume Federal and State taxes as well as Entitlement Programs such as Social Security and Medicare the average bi-weekly pay comes out to around $1800 or about $3600 per month.

STEP 3 – What’s left?

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Oh boy, this isn’t good. We are in the hole by $450 in this example. How do we make up the difference?

If you are like the average American there is a good chance you may leave a balance on your credit card to squeak by. But, if the next month is the same as this one, you’ll continue to add to the balance…with interest! It’s easy to see how the average credit card balance in the US is over $6000! So, what do we do about it?

STEP 4 – Cut the fluff!

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So, what can we do to get us back in the green? Any low hanging fruit? Let’s take a deeper look at our expenses…

1. Mortgage, Property Taxes, PMI

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There isn’t a lot of quick and easy ways on this one as a home owner, outside of drastic moves such as down sizing or relocating to a cheaper area, which do come with their own costs (such as realtor fees).

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) removal might be a possibility but you’ll have to add MORE money to your monthly mortgage payments in order to increase you total equity to over 20%. Note, your mileage may vary depending on the type of loan you have, such as an FHA loan will not allow you to cancel your PMI when you reach 20% and may require refinancing to a conventional loan.

If you plan on staying in the same place for more than 5 years and you’re unhappy with your current interest rate, look into your refinancing options which may lower your monthly payment. Understand there may be additional fees when it comes to refinancing so make sure the amount of interest you save over X amount of years is greater by a significant amount greater than those fees.

If you want to reduce your overall loan cost and total interest paid toward your mortgage while also turbocharging the amount of equity in your home, you could look into paying “extra” toward your principle every month. You may save 10’s to 100’s of thousands of dollars over a normal mortgage period. Check out this Mortgage Payoff Calculator and see how much you could save.

If you think your property taxes are a little high or you just don’t quite understand why your taxes went up 10% this year see this guide for tips and tricks!

If you are renting, you could ask your landlord for a rate reduction if you have a great rent history (stable income for the landlord may be more enticing than an empty unit), or negotiate a new rate at the time of your lease renewal. If none of those options work and you have a chance to down size to a more manageable rental go for it!

2. Home Owners Insurance – (Save 20%)

When is the last time you reviewed your home owner’s insurance policy? Shop around and see if your current insurance company is still competitive. Make sure you are not over paying for coverage, or over insured. Always make sure you have the right amount of insurance to protect you and your family from loss. There are dozens of home owner insurance providers to look into! You could save substantially!

We discovered we were grossly over paying for insurance on our first home when we started shopping around. We were fortunate it enough to lower our premium by almost 40% and increase our coverage. It pays to do research here!

If you are renter, renter’s insurance is a must. It is only a faction of the cost of home owner’s insurance, but still shop around for the best price

3. Car Payment 

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This is a big one. The average car payment is now over $500 per month with a typical loan term approaching 70 months! Cars are costly and do the opposite of appreciating in value, your typical new car loses 50% of its value in the first 3 to 5 years! Other than putting the “For Sale” sign on the window see our example of paying an auto loan off fast.

4. Car Insurance – (Save +15%)

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You’ve seen the never-ending commercials with the goofy antics. Car insurance is a highly competitive market and that is good for you! Shop around annually to see if you can save on your auto insurance. Loyalty to one brand only goes so far. Always make sure you are properly insured and never go without it. The consequences of no insurance far out way the few bucks you’d save by not being covered.

If you have multiple cars or recently married see if you can combine your policies for a significant discount! We cut our combined premiums by 30% by doing research and shopping around here.

5. Student Loans

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The sooner you pay these off the better, as they are a drain on your ability to build wealth. With the average APR on undergraduate student loans at over 5.4% or higher you need to attack these with a vengeance, see how much you could save on interest by paying more toward your loans.

Be wary of refinancing or consolidating your federal student loans, you may lose a number of benefits such as “income based repayment plans” or “interest only payments” when you roll your loans over to a private loan.

6. Credit Cards – (Save $600)

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Now here is where you can slice and dice substantially. A credit card gives you a painless method of paying for things you need as well as… the things you want. Just slide or insert your card! After you pay, just put the card back in your wallet! Painless. It’s not quite the same has handing over cold hard cash. How do you feel when you give the clerk a $100 bill? A little more impactful than a swipe? You bet it is.

Get your last credit card statement out and see what you really spend your money on. Fancy $4 coffee every day? How about that $12 lunch at work? Who has time to cook dinner? $30 of take-out Chinese food is where it’s at!

Start adding up all the extra food purchases outside of your normal grocery budget. There is a good chance you will be shockingly surprised.

In this example we assume on our way to work every morning we stop and get that fancy coffee, and for lunch we get that sub combo meal. Then, after a long week we are too tired to cook so we splurge on some dinners out. Add it all up and it gets pricy fast. We are looking at $620!

Now imagine if we can just cut this out of the budget entirely by making coffee at home and a little bit of meal prepping! We would be on our way to saving $7500 a year!

7. Grocery Bill – (Save 20%+) – Food Waste

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Take a hard look at your grocery bill… do you end up throwing out more food every week than you should? Almost 30 to 40% of the groceries we buy end up in the trash!

Do you buy more than you need? Make a shopping list! Ideally when you are not hungry. And stick to it! Try to plan in advance the meals you will make that week. Once a week meal prep! Start prepping on Sunday nights by making large batches of the foods you like, get some Tupperware, and divvy up your week for lunches and dinners! Make it easy everyday to just grab and go.

8. Electric – (Save 10%)

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Who turned off the lights?! You should… when you’re not in the room. Also, look for opportunities to switch any old incandescent bulbs to energy efficient LED bulbs. If you want to take it a step further, and if you are the primary home owner, look into other electricity suppliers in your area see what competitive rates are available.

9. Heating – (Save 15 to 20%)

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Turn down the heat! If you have a programmable thermostat you can have it adjust the temperature in your home when you are away. Potentially saving 15 to 20% in your heating bills per year! Also, regular maintenance is very important to keep your heating and HVAC systems as efficient as possible.

10. Water – (Save 20%)

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This one is self-explanatory, the less you use the less you pay. Don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth, take showers vs. baths, and even better – shorter showers. Only run your dish washing machine and cloth washing machines when they are full. Install low flow faucets and shower heads. If you are on city water and sewer you pay double, what comes in goes back out and they charge you for it. For those out in the country and have a well, that water pump can be one of the largest energy hogs in your home depending on its age. Less IS Less here.

11. Cable – All the channels!… (Save 20% to 100%)

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How many channels do you watch per day? There is a good chance you’re not even watching 75% of the channels that are included in your cable package. So why are you paying for it all? Look into downsizing your cable packages to only what you watch. If you only need the local news and public broadcast channels like NBC, CBS, FOX to keep up on the weather, some shows, and maybe some major sporting events you can get a heck of a bargain here.

If you want to cut cable out all together and just stream. Go big, but be aware that major internet provides are making Internet only packages less enticing than bundling with cable. We recently switched to Philo as our “cable” replacement for the channels we actually watch, and at the time of this post it costs only $20 per month for 50+ channels!

12. Internet – More is Better?

Yes, if you are like me and lived through the dial-up era then yes more is totally worth it but in today’s day and age more is only more up to a certain point. Do you really need 300 mbps download speeds? How about 1 gbps? (1000 mbps) Do you know how fast your internet needs to be to stream 4k HD movies and TV shows? 25 mbps. So, you are paying for 12 times more bandwidth than you need. What about 1080p HD? You only need 5 mbps. So, now you’re paying for 60 times more bandwidth than you need for your favorite shows. Obviously, everyone’s household is different. Some household have multiple internet connected devices so take a hard look at what you really need. If you are big into downloading games that are dozens of gigabytes every other day maybe you need those huge bandwidth needs. If you are only watching Netflix while scrolling Facebook you could probably get by with a whole lot less.

Our family got by at 60 mbps for a number of years, including online console video gaming, Netflix streaming, and all of the Facebook scrolling on multiple devices at the same time with no issue, for a grand total of $50 per month.

13. Cell Phone – Unlimited Unlimited!… (Save 70%)

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Ah the cell phone, there is a lot to be saved here. If you are okay with not having the latest and greatest bleeding edge hardware in the newest iPhone or Galaxy phone that come with a *gulp* $1000 price tag there are a boat load of lower cost alternatives that can do about 80-90% of what the top-of-the-line phones do. Take a hard look into what you use your cellphone for. Instead of spending $1000, lower your budget to $300 or less, and don’t put it on a payment plan. Buy it out right. If you are okay with refurbished units you can get last year’s top-of-the-line models for a fraction of the price! Be sure to get an “un-locked” model so you can switch carriers with no issue. When you purchase your unlocked phone outright you get to decide who gets your business.

We purchased a refurbished Galaxy S8+ a few months back for around $300, now comparing that to the $850+ that a new one will bring and you can’t tell the difference between the two it’s a no brainer to keep that other $550 in our pocket.

Now on to cell phone plans and carriers…

With the number of red, blue, yellow, and pink commercials that are blasted out every day you know the business model is competitive. The more competitive it is the better it is for you!

We recommend looking into prepaid options which give you the greatest flexibility to move to carriers that offer the best service and cost for your dollars. Check your coverage areas and understand how much mobile data you use monthly. There is a good chance you don’t need that unlimited data plan. A quick google search reveals the average person only uses 1.5 to 2Gbs per month! You can save a fortune by only paying for the data you need!

14. Netflix Subscription (Online Video Subscriptions) – (Savings 100%)

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If you are really hurting to balance the budgets than you may need to cut the luxuries, your online video subscriptions may need to fall on the chopping block. If you have favorite series that get released once a year look into the release schedule and maybe sign up for that month only to binge!

15. Gym Membership – (Savings 100%)

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Your health is your most important asset! Without good health everything else seems a little less enjoyable. But that doesn’t mean you should overpay for that gym membership, or even worse feel guilted to continue paying for a membership you aren’t even using! It is said that over 50% of gym memberships go unused every year so unless you are making the effort to use them, then drop them!

STEP 5 – Reevaluate

Alright, so we took a hard look at our expenses in this example and really tightened our financial belts. So how did we make out?

Monthly Bills Revised

Now that’s more like it! Reduced our monthly expenses by almost $950! We are back in the green with enough money left over to start working on that student loan debt, and/or building an emergency fund.

Try this exercise for yourself and let us know how you made out!

What are your tips for cutting the fat? Let us know!

So what are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or send us an email via our Contact Page.

If you liked what you’ve read please be sure hit the “like” button and share! If you want to receive the latest articles please be sure to subscribe.