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Are there holiday spending mistakes to be made?

November 29, 2012

It is that time of year when we think about Christmas shopping and what to buy, who to buy for and how much to spend. Some people have an easy time with it and some people find it difficult. With the fragile economy  there are some spending mistakes that can be made. And holiday spending mistakes are like fruitcake: they reappear, year after year…

Are you buying out of guilt? Confusing spending with celebrating? Blowing your budget on trivial items? Or maybe you’re putting gifts on credit because that seems easier than admitting you can’t afford presents in the first place?

Instead, enjoy the holidays for a change and ditch debt-related stress. here are four holiday spending mistakes — and how you can avoid them.

  1. Going overboard on gift wrap. Shoppers tend to buy expensive wrapping paper or gift bags impulsively. During the holiday season, it’s easy to rack up $100 in gift bags, wrapping paper and wine bags. Reuse instead. Recycling bags and ribbon is “perfectly acceptable today.”
  2. Charging too much. To cut the costs of Christmas, keep the credit cards under wraps. Tons of research shows that people spend more money when they charge things. If you can pay with cash, you’ll always be a little more aware of what those gifts cost. If you don’t feel safe with money in your pocket among the holiday hordes, then use a card, but keep a running tally in a notebook or smart phone. That way, you’re less likely to add to your list of recipients or buy impulse gifts. Rather than adding everything up as you go, set a total budget, then subtract what you spend as dwindling balances tend to be more real. And don’t get an interest free loan so you can overspend on Christmas; that sort of long term borrowing also sets you up for financial failure.
  3. Shopping while guilty. Shopping and negative emotions — guilt, panic or mob mentality — make an expensive combination. Many consumers budget more “out of guilt.” What we must remind ourselves is that money doesn’t equal love or affection. Short-term sales create an emotionally charged situation. Whether it’s a flash sale, a Black Friday deal or a weekend special, the fear of “missing out” can override common sense. Being in a crowd can also change the way we think. When everybody is grabbing for something, we feel we should be grabbing for it too. Online shoppers are not immune. Surfing late at night when you’re exhausted or after a few glasses of holiday cheer can get expensive. The solution in any venue is to take a timeout. Put an item in your cart, but wait at least 20 minutes to buy it, if it still appeals to you then it is probably something you want.
  4. Not trimming gift lists. Long before you trim the tree, trim the gift list. If money is tight, it’s likely not a secret. Announce how you’ll handle holiday gifts this year – whether it’s no presents, children only, exchanging names, buying a gift or whatever works for you. For some people , their love language is receiving things; you have to give them notice. You don’t have to tell them your whole business, but just say, “I have assesses my financial life and it’s a mess. And this holiday, I have decided to straighten out.” And you can still find ways to let special people know they matter. One option is gifts of food that you enjoy making…or a real handwritten note with just a few lines to say what this person has meant to you this year or in general…that shows you are thinking of the person…that’s huge!

As my kids have grown into adults our gift giving has been so much easier. Probably because they have their own families and have begun their own traditions. What ever your traditions are Gunwel Associates can help you with any financial upset you find yourself  facing. Remember we have all been there and we can help. Give us a call today at 615-730-9444 and visit our website at You work hard for your money, let us work smart to help you keep it. Happy Holidays!


Do you ask questions during an interview?

November 28, 2012

What I have always loved about interviewing was the time when I get to ask the questions. There is always a time when the interviewer says “do you have any questions?” and I go for it. I realize that may have gotten me in more trouble that I realized at the time but most of the answers to my questions were met and I was satisfied. I think a good job interview is a give and take…how you pose your questions tells a lot about you as a candidate. Being prepared to ask well thought out questions is critical if you expect an interview to go well. Why is this important? here are a few good reasons:

  • Many job interviewers will spend half of their time listening to you describe your experience. they will reserve the second half of their interview for answering your questions. In a 40 minute interview, this amounts to 20 minutes. That is a significant amount of time.
  • Most job seekers do a good job describing their background, however they fail to ask questions. Doing so helps you stand out.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Remember, as you prepare your questions, the obvious ones will be answered throughout initial conversation and their description of the company and position. Don’t be trapped with the response, “You already answered all of my questions.”
  • Ask good spontaneous questions throughout the interview to show that you are paying attention.

Here are some sample questions to ask the interviewer:

  • Why did you join this company?
  • What do you like best about it?
  • What was your adjustment like upon joining this company?
  • What are the job’s primary responsibilities?
  • What qualities have helped a person be successful in this role?
  • What do you see as being the greatest challenge?
  • What are the professional backgrounds of other members in the group?
  • With whom will I be interacting? To whom will I be reporting?
  • Can you give me examples of new products/services you will be offering to your customers/clients in the near future? What prompted this initiative?
  • What have been some successful initiatives you have worked on in the last year?
  • Most firms trend to be in “a state of change” – How is this firm different today than 5 or 10 years ago, and how do you think it will be different 5 years from now?

Now here are some questions you should not ask:

  • What is your turnover rate?
  • Is this position open because someone has left the firm?
  • Do you work a lot of overtime here?
  • Why do people leave the firm?
  • What don’t you like about the firm?
  • How much vacation time would I get the first year?

No some of the don’t ask questions can be asked if phrased differently.  Looking for a job is tough, especially in this economy. Let Gunwel Associates help you by simply role-playing some of these questions. We are a full service tax & bookkeeping firm that wants to help you in every aspect of your financial life. We know it is tough out there and we are here to help. Give us a call at 615-730-9444 and visit our website at Let’s get the discussion going! See you soon.

Who’s Living Together These Days?

November 21, 2012

In my lifetime I have been in three serious relationships. The first one is when I was married and the other two I cohabited. I love those words that no one ever says. I guess living together is so much more “nasty-sounding.” When my sister, Jody, and I were young the questions we always asked our parents were things like “what would you do if I got pregnant?” (that was a Jody question); “what do you think if we smoked?” and “what would you do if we lived with someone before marrying them?” Now most times those questions were an irritation to our parents and we were back-handed and sent to our rooms or flat-out yelled at and told we would be going to hell. An article came out a few weeks ago in USA Today that spoke to the fact that all kinds of couples are living together..

Americans who cohabit are no longer just young couples testing their waters before heading to the altar, an analysis of new Census data reveals. In fact, cohabitation is much more diverse: Nearly 30% are divorced, nearly half are 35 or older, and growing numbers are parents with children at home. As of March, when Census did a count of cohabiters, 15.3 million unmarried heterosexual people were in live-in relationships – 6.5% of all adults 18 and over. The survey did not include those who had cohabited in the past but are now married or are living alone or with family or friends. Cohabiters are increasingly more diverse than a decade ago. The idea that young adults are dominant is really wrong. There is no stereotypical cohabiting couple anymore. The middle class, childless, cohabiting couple represents a very small proportion of all cohabiting Americans. The data will be part of a Census report on families and living arrangements scheduled for year-end release. Among the highlights:

  • 41% of cohabiting couples have children living with them.
  • 47% are 35 and older, and 13% are 55 and over.
  • 21% have a bachelor’s degree of higher, 31% have some college, 35% have a high school diploma, and 13% did not graduate from high school.

People are living together for different reasons. It depends on where you are in your life. For the young, cohabitation is a “prelude to marriage,” while for older adults, it’s a “long-term alternative to marriage.” There has been this doubling of the proportion of older adults who are living in cohabiting relationships. It’s grown for late middle-age and the oldest adults – a clear upward trend for both of these groups, and no signs this is going to slow down.

During the past several year Gunwel Associates has helped both married couples as well as cohabitating couples plan their financial future. The economy can be difficult and we are here to help you maneuver through these scary times. I believe it has always been a benefit to sit down with a financial person and talk about things like budgets, savings, investments, insurance, taxes and basically everything having to do with your financial future…together or alone. We are here to help. Give us a call today at 615-730-9444 and visit our website at There is no time like now to start talking. See you soon!

Casualties of Recession Return

November 20, 2012

These days, there may be something more valuable to a job seekers than a four-year college degree: a two-year college degree. Employment for Americans with an associate degree or some college has increased by 578,000 the past six months to 35.2 million, while payrolls for those with at least a bachelor’s are up by just 314,000 to 46.5 million, Labor Department figures show. The trend underlines that some of the mid-skill jobs that disappeared in the recession are coming back, and it may signal more lasting growth in such occupations. They include operators of computerized factory machines, heating and air conditioning repair people, X-ray technicians, medical records specialists and low to midlevel managers.

In recent years, the shares of these jobs has not grown sharply relative to those requiring bachelor’s, but they may have begun to do that. By contrast, employment for people with a high school diploma or less has been stagnant since 2010, after plummeting in the downturn. After the recession began almost five years ago, many factory, construction and other midskilled jobs were eliminated even as employment for those with bachelor’s degrees or higher dipped only slightly. In the recovery in 2010 and 2011, payrolls for four-year college graduates increased at more than twice the rate of those who attended community college.

That follows a typical pattern. In recessions, employers lay off lower-skill workers first and in recoveries, they initially hire higher-skill workers. Eventually, those higher-level managers bring on low to midlevel managers. That’s happening now, and so community college graduates are recouping jobs lost in the downturn-a sign of an advancing recovery.

The trend also points to growing demand for skilled workers who can be trained relatively quickly. Many laid-off workers have turned top community colleges and vocational schools in recent years to rapidly retool for new careers. That has helped boost enrollment by 14.6% since 2007, vs. 1.3% the previous five years, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. By contrast, many recent four-year college graduates have struggled to find work. The two-year schools are offering more of an applicable, practical value and many community colleges have better ties to local employers. It’s unlikely an associate’s degree will become more coveted than a bachelor’s, but the disparity between the two could narrow.

Gunwel Associates is here to help, in any way we can, with all of your financial concerns. That includes your quest for employment, figuring your tax liabilities, preparing your tax returns, helping with your bookkeeping needs and any financial planning you may need. You work hard for your money, let Gunwel work smart to help you keep it. Call us today at 615-730-9444 and visit our website at as we are here to help. See you soon!

Can that tattoo come off?

November 9, 2012

I was always told having a tattoo was a way of life, similar to those lawn chalkis that people put everyone on their lawns, or the folks that keep Christmas lights up all year long…yeah a way of life. I have a tattoo that I got after Cosmo, the amazing tax dog died last year. It was my first tattoo and honestly has not changed my life. I had been so in love with Cosmo for all of his 13 years and he was my best friend, yes I am going to say it…my soul mate. And when he died I was devastated beyond belief…books are written of grief like that. But I pulled out and in honor of him I have his name tattooed on my left forearm. I see it daily and I smile often thinking about him. And where it is located the chicks love it…

But what if you are regretting that tattoo you got? Cheer up as there is a good chance a dermatologist can remove it – but success will depend on a number of factors, including how bit it is, what colors it contains and whether you smoke. Italian researchers who treated 352 people from 1995 to 2010 say they are the first to fully explore the factors that make some tattoos harder to remove than others. The doctors used the current standard procedure for tattoo removal, which involves repeated laser treatments spaced several weeks apart. The devices used, called Q-switched lasers, removed tattoos for 47% of patients in 10 sessions, nearly 75% in 15. Tattoos were harder to remove if they were:

  • More than 12 inches
  • Colors other than black or red
  • More than three years old
  • On feet or legs
  • On a smoker as smoking may impair natural healing processes that help clear ink after treatment.

There is a new laser, not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and found it removed more than 75% of tattoo ink in an average of four sessions. However this study of the picosecond laser included only 12 patients and did not directly compare it with the standard lasers. Typical side effects for any laser treatment can include pain, redness and swelling. It’s the cost, in time and money that discourages many people. Charges can range from $200 to $600 per laser session, depending on how big and difficult-to-remove a tattoo is.

Tattoo removal is a growing business thanks to the rising popularity of tattoos and the inevitable regrets among some who get them. A recent Harris Poll found that most people like their tattoos: 21% of adults said they had at least one, just 14% of those regretted them. I think my biggest regret in life is 24 years ago when I bought a fax machine for $1200 and was told the fax machine was the machine (of the century) that was going to make me rich. It took me two-years to pay it off and was heavier than my refrigerator. Now that is a regret. At Gunwel Associates we love to hear your stories…ones that make you mad, laugh cry and regret…so give us a call at 615-730-9444 or come by for a visit. Our website is and we are waiting to meet you. See you soon!

What does branding yourself have to do with getting a job?

November 8, 2012

Throughout your job search, it is important to build and strengthen your personal brand.  Although creating an effective resume is a large piece of the puzzle, there are other elements to take into consideration in order to promote yourself in a positive manner, achieve your professional goals and land your dream job.

Personal branding is an ongoing process that should exist throughout your job search process and entire career. The goal of establishing a strong personal brand is to differentiate yourself among other professionals by demonstrating your unique value to employers. Below are a few steps you need to take to successfully build your brand while marketing yourself to potential employers:

  • Increase Your Visibility.  The first step towards building your personal brand is to get your name out there.  The best way to establish a presence in your field is by attending industry meetings and conferences, participating in panel discussions or volunteering for committees.  You never know when your contacts will be able to help you along your job search.
  • Stay Connected.  It is important to stay in touch with old contacts as well as continue to build and maintain your current network on a regular basis.  Don’t be someone who reaches out to contacts only when they need something.  Foster those relationships, especially the important ones!
  • Create an Online Presence.  Take professional networking to the next level by joining online social networking sites. Consider starting a blog on your area of expertise or creating a website that showcases samples of your work.  Make an effort to meet other professionals online by commenting on relevant blogs or connecting with professionals through their social networking profile.  Consider creating an online career portfolio and remember to manage your online reputation to ensure you are always presenting yourself in a positive, professional manner when interacting online.
  • Establish Key Differentiators.  Identify what makes you distinctive from other candidates and make sure to communicate it to potential employers.  It is important to be honest about who you are as a professional and understand your strengths and unique value you bring to the table.  It’s also important to recognize your weaknesses and develop a plan for personal improvement.  By knowing yourself, you can more effectively promote yourself to others.
  • Be Consistent.  Ensure that you have a consistent message when speaking with potential employers, colleagues and other professionals.  While you may not realize it, everything that you do or say contributes to your personal brand, including the way you conduct yourself in meetings, in phone conversations, through email communications and how you dress.
  • Seek Feedback and Evaluate Progress.  Once you have established your personal brand, it is important to continue to gauge how others perceive you.  Test your market value by gathering constructive feedback from your co-workers, peers, family and friends.  By understanding how others view your personal brand, you can learn what steps you need to take to position yourself for success.

Market yourself as developing your personal brand is one of the first steps towards effectively marketing yourself to potential employers and elevating your career.  Employers appreciate job seekers that take the initiative to get noticed and differentiate themselves from other candidates in their industry.  Let Gunwel Associates aid your quest to brand yourself. G.A.I. has many years of experience with all aspects of social media and marketing ideas. Give us a call at 615-7302-9444 and visit our website at We are here to help you succeed in all aspects of your financial life.

Students average $26,600 in loans upon 2011 graduation…

November 7, 2012

It took me years to pay off my student loans after I finished school. When my girls (Chesley & Lace) were heading into college I made a deal with them…I would pay for their college and they would have no student loan debt if they did followed my three rules: graduate in 4 years, have an amazing college experience  (whatever that means) and do not get pregnant. I know pretty bossy, but I am their dad and had to say dad things like that. Sadly most college grads leave school with degrees and growing debt.

It’s the latest snapshot of the growing burden of student debt, and it is another discouraging one: two-thirds of the national college class of 2011 finished school with loan debt, and those who borrowed walked off the graduation stage owing on average $26,600 – up about 5% from the class before. And likely an underestimate because this doesn’t include most graduates or for-profit colleges, who typically borrow more than their counterparts elsewhere. Still, while 2011 college graduates faced an unemployment rate of 8.8% in 2011, even those with debt remained generally better off than those without a degree. The unemployment rate for those with only a high school credential last year was 19.1%. In these tough times a college degree is still your best option for getting a job and decent pay, but as debt levels rise, fear of loans can prevent students from getting the education they need to succeed. Students and parents need to know that, even at similar-looking schools, debt levels can be wildly different. and, if they do need to borrow loans, with options like income-based repayments, are the safest way to go.

The latest figures come amid increasing alarm about the sheer scope of student debt nationally, which by some measures has surpassed $1 trillion. Recent government figures show nearly 10% of borrowers of federal student loans in the most recently measured group had already defaulted within two years of starting repayment. The latest TICAS (California bases Institute for College Access and Success) report cites studies that found more than one-third of recent graduates were in positions that did not require a degree, depressing wages though other government figures cited by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce put the so-called underemployment rate for young grads much lower – at around 10%. Increasing student debt in a weak economy can be a knockout blow to many considering college. As our economy is recovering, lawmakers must send every signal that college is a good investment. Here are some other interesting facts:

  • Private (non-federal) student loans, which generally have weaker borrower protections but have been diminishing as a source of student borrowing, accounted for about one fifth of the debt owed by the Class of 2011
  • Debt levels vary widely by state, ranging from $17,250 in Utah to $32,450 in New Hampshire.
  • Debt at individual schools range from $2,150 to $54,900, though not all schools report data.
  • Among colleges, the percentage of graduates with debt range from 12% to 100%. At 65 schools (poled) more than 90% of students graduated with debt.

I know what it is like to worry about helping your kids through school and the constant thought about how to manage that. I believe that’s just one of the reasons why Gunwel Associates is able to help so affectively. We have been there, we know what it is like and we wish there was someone to help us through these uncomfortable financial issues. So give us a call at 615-730-9444, as we want to help. Perhaps we can come up with  solutions to help you help your kids. Visit our website at and come see us soon!