Retirement Planning and Tree Planting: Common Traits

An ancient Chinese proverb states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” What do tree planting and retirement planning have in common? Both reward you by starting early and expecting the harvest much later in your future.

One of the “seeds” we plant in the lives of younger professionals is that the future arrives much sooner than most anticipate. I don’t mean that time speeds up but rather that life has a way of causing you to focus on many other tasks that will rob you of your future savings goals. For example, when you were graduating high school and received all of those beautiful congratulatory cards filled with checks and cash, you thought the future was so distant that you were immortal. 

However, in just a short period of time, you go to your mailbox and find the ornate envelopes addressed to you. Opening the envelope, you quickly realize it is a graduation announcement from a friend’s child! “How can this be?” you say out loud. Time has a way of moving consistently forward in our lives and, if we aren’t careful to notice, passes us by without our comprehending the importance of events and people around us.

What does this have to do with retirement, you ask? Everything! We provide financial planning and counseling services to younger professionals. When we inform them of the balance needed in their lives to meet all of their lifetime goals, they are quick to point out that the amount of funds allocated to their retirement seems excessive since they are so young. I love it when this statement is said so boldly by the young person! This recognition of time being so far away from their current reality allows us to demonstrate the difference between a little invested today and the required larger amount to invest if she starts 20 years later to save for retirement.

After the calculations and graphs are reviewed with the person, you can literally see the look in their eyes as to how fast time truly passes. The key to planting the money tree needed for retirement enjoyment is today. Too often people come to our office to discuss retirement planning and leave with less confidence in reaching their goals because of the lack of time to accumulate assets properly.

To help you start today, we have produced our “Top Ten Tips for Saving Today”:

Tip #1: Elect to participate in your employer’s retirement plan. Even if the amount is small, the plan will typically match a certain percentage of your contributions which will help you grow your funds more quickly.

Tip #2: Forgo the cup of latte, double shot, no foam every other day and place these funds in your savings. You will be surprised how much you can save in a year!

Tip #3: Pay yourself first. This is our mantra when clients ask us how to save for the future. You must take advantage of the tax laws to plan for all applicable deductions possible. Invest in your future, not the government.

Tip #4: Find an accountability partner. Saving is like exercise; you must perform both on a consistent basis to see the results. When I started exercising (again) regularly, I didn’t notice results for a month or so. Then the magic came alive one day when I was putting my suit pants on – they were too big! Your saving for the future will work the same way. Find someone to hold you accountable for exercising and saving.

Tip #5: Do what wealthy people do. Budget each year and consider your savings goal as the first disbursement for your monthly funds. The key difference between the behavior of wealthy people and ordinary people is their approach to saving for their future. Wealthy people will save their desired portion of income first and spend the rest. Ordinary people will pay their bills first then save what’s left.

Tip #6: Don’t stop investing your savings in difficult market cycles. Emotions rule a lot of people. However, to be successful in saving for the future, you must be consistent in your investing. Think about the process as if you were shopping. Look for bargains that have fundamental characteristics of a good investment. These are typically found when the markets are in recession or downturns. 

Tip #7: The stock market is an auction use it to your advantage. In its simplest terms, the stock market is based on someone selling something and someone else buying it. Don’t be confused with the technicalities of the market. Consider a well-balanced portfolio and consistently fund it through good and bad markets. You may find that you are well rewarded in the long run.

Tip #8: Rent don’t buy. Before you think you know what I am referring to allow me to explain further. Don’t buy assets that are low utilization but require significant investment of time and money. One primary example is a boat or recreational vehicle for most people. Besides maintenance, insurance, storage, taxes and other costs are borne with these assets that could be alleviated by renting one when you need it. Recently, we rented a house boat for a weekend on the lake. The gas tank was full and the maintenance, as well as all the required safety equipment, was completed by the leasing company. All we did was enjoy the weekend and turn the craft back in after we were through.

Tip #9: Invest your raise in salary. Instead of increasing your monthly living expenses by the same amount of funds you received in your recent raise, consider allocating the raise to your future savings. If you have been living comfortably, why should you change your lifestyle simply because you make more money?

Tip #10: Recite often the nine tips above so that you are not easily distracted by the “bright shiny objects” that appear before you while living your dream life. One word that I have used, on purpose, throughout this article is “consistently”. Without reviewing your actions periodically, it is easy to find yourself off course and in treacherous waters. 

Seek out a professional to help you establish a plan and work the plan like your life depends on it – because it truly does! See you on the golf course. 

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Eliminating the Top Three Fears of Pre-Retirees

Retiring is a big step in life for most people. Along with this new lifestyle comes the fear of the unknown. You do not have to be subject to these fears if you simply follow the process outlined in this article.

Let’s identify three fears causing the greatest concern for pre-retirees. First, most people have enjoyed a career where they receive consistent paychecks and benefits. At retirement, there is a sudden realization that the ever-flowing money and benefits immediately stop! You don’t have to feel this way if proper planning has been performed. For example, if you have saved properly in your employer retirement plan, a series of consistent payments can be established to provide you a lifestyle you desire. Proper assumptions must be considered when establishing this stream of cashflow to confidently assuage the underlying fear of “running out of money”.

Why would you work so hard all of your life to simply exist in retirement? I am pretty certain that no one listed “barely survive” as a retirement goal! Start saving for retirement early and you will reap the benefits of living a life you desire.

The second fear of pre-retirees is the unknown cash needs of other family members while the retiree is enjoying life. When planning and analyzing the needs of the potential retiree, it is critical that you consider the needs of other family members you have supported during your career. What I am referring to is the “sandwich” generation. Some individuals are not only caring for their retirement needs but the needs of their parents and/or children (hence the name, “sandwich” generation). Challenges to the traditional family structure have been monumental in the past two decades. In years prior, the retiree had only their existing household to care for during the period after employment. Now, the retiree may be called upon to assist in college funding, caring for an elderly parent, etc. The world is a different place today and these considerations should be given some thought during the planning process. 

To alleviate this fear, consider allocating a certain amount of funds to be invested in a manner that provides for these needs. Are there assets of your parents that may have considerable value but no cash flow capabilities? If so, perhaps selling the property would provide sufficient support for your parents’ futures. If not, this special fund would give you confidence that your retirement is secure while also meeting your obligations you desire to undertake for your family members.

The third and final fear of pre-retirees is the rising cost of medical care and its negative impact on their retirement assets. This is a tough one for most people. Proper medical care is necessary to allow you to enjoy the highest quality of life in retirement. However, with medical care rising approximately 6% per year for pharmaceutical and physician visits, a significant ailment could wreck your well-planned future. Consider utilizing Medicare Programs to your advantage. For example, it is critical that you consider a supplemental plan to your Medicare Parts A and B coverages. The remaining 20% of inpatient costs would be a material burden on your assets and cashflow if you were required to pay it out-of-pocket. There are many types of supplemental plans that cover various levels of support. Analyze them and consult an expert for guidance to select the proper plan for your needs.

If you are concerned about the rising cost of prescription drugs, and are enrolled in Medicare, consider the Medicare Part D Program. You may find sufficient coverage for your needs for a small premium each month. One caveat to this plan is that you will be penalized for enrolling in a period after you are initially qualified at age 65. For example, after your 65th birthday, you are eligible to enroll in Medicare Part D. 

However, your health is great and you don’t expect a costly amount of prescriptions. Then the unimaginable happens – at age 68 you experience a significant health event that requires expensive medication each month. You quickly enroll in Medicare Part D at the next enrollment period and realize that your monthly premium seems higher than you remembered at age 65. The difference in rates is the late enrollment penalty calculated at 1% of the national base beneficiary premium assessed each month from your originally qualified enrollment date to the month you enrolled in the program. In our example above, 36 months had lapsed from the date of the originally qualified enrollment date for the individual which means the monthly premium penalty would be 36%. As a result, your monthly premium for Medicare Part D coverage would be 36% higher than the national premium. As you can see, this penalty can become material rather quickly.

There are many factors to consider prior to retiring. We have a saying we use with our clients, “You retire for the first time only once. Don’t make a lifetime mistake when you do so.” Retirement planning is a process that should be addressed in advance and, to provide the greatest probability for success, consult a professional that specializes in retirement planning. Life is meant to be lived, not feared.

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Time — Your Most Powerful Savings Weapon

The most powerful factor to assist in the planning for your future is time. However, time is also the one factor of investing that you can’t control. What do you do? 

To properly unleash the power of time in the calculation of compounding interest, you must start early to invest. You have more control over your future than you know. For example, if you saved only $100 each month from the time you graduate college at age 22 until you reach 30 and invest it prudently, say at an annual return of 6%, you would accumulate $12,344.27. Not quite ready to retire at age 30, right?

What happens when you continue saving each month but the amount is increased to $250 from age 30 until age 67, which is the age full retirement age for Social Security Benefits and assume the same annual rate of return? Of course, the amount in your savings account would be much higher if all assumptions were realized. How much would you realize in your savings account at age 67? You would have accumulated $522,896.95! Now, can you retire and live the life you choose? It depends. 

The key financial principles to learn from this illustration is that time and compounding of interest have helped you grow your account by $402,296.95 and you only invested $120,600. What if you had invested a little more each month, say $500 per month from the age of 30? You would realize a total of $932,763.11! To illustrate the power of these two financial principles, you have saved only $231,600 from your earnings and the account grew $701,163.11. 

What if we looked at this from another angle? Let’s assume that you enjoy coffee. Instead of the latte with extra espresso that costs $3.50 per day, you save this amount in your savings account each week for a total of and invest the funds to earn 6% annually. How much would you have accumulated in 45 years? $294,561.07! Now, that is a lot of coffee money.

The overall lesson to learn from these illustrative calculations is that you can save a significant amount of money for retirement if you start early in life. Time is the most powerful of element when growing money for the future. Of course, no one earns an exact 6% each year for forty-five consecutive years. However, the calculations provide you some motivation to start saving at the earliest point in your life. 

One of the best methods of accumulating money is to fund your employer retirement plan with as much as you can defer from your salary. Most plans feature a matching contribution from the employer, when coupled with your potential for growth, would help you reach your savings goals faster.

These simple concepts can work for you if you maintain discipline in the process. Too many people believe they have plenty of time to save for retirement and create a lifestyle that is too costly to allow them to save. Here is the trick to this process: do what wealthy people do. Save first and spend the rest! See you on the golf course.

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Three T’s of Successful Retirement Planning

Making a major life decision is not to be approached in a haphazard manner. Many people underestimate the impact of retirement on their lives and have “buyer’s remorse” once the process is complete. How can you experience a more positive and proactive outcome to retiring? Simply follow the “3 T’s” outlined below and you will gain tremendous confidence and control over your new phase of life.

Establish a Team

The first “T” is to establish a team. Many aspects of life allow you only one opportunity to get things right and this is one of them. Financial, estate, cash flow and tax considerations must be addressed in the process of planning to retire. Often clients come to our office for a meeting about their retirement and certain elections chosen by the individual are irrevocable. Elections in the format in which you will receive your retirement benefits, Medicare and Social Security Benefits and other critical lifestyle choices may have lifelong ramifications. You should consider assembling a team consisting of, at a minimum, a CPA, a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner, an estate planning attorney and your spouse or significant other. Why do you wish to include your spouse/significant other? Do you know how your relationship may be changed by each of you spending the majority of your day together? It is critical that you listen and coordinate your plans for retirement with your team.

Timing

The second “T” is timing. When is the best time to retire? How can you maximize retirement income by electing benefits offered by your employer, SSA Benefits and other support income during your retirement years? The key to properly timing your approach to launch into this next phase of life is to understand the qualitative issues and work to resolve them to your benefit with similar gusto as you do your quantitative needs. Emphasis is generally given the monetary issues of retirement only to realize your plan failed to consider the importance of emotional issues about the changing lifestyle you may find yourself. Work with your wealth advisor to determine if you have addressed all facets of retirement and the timing is in your best interest.

Transition

The third and final “T” is for transition. Successful individuals that transition smoothly to and enjoy retirement are those that understand their time is more valuable than their wealth. Purpose is required of each of us to live a fulfilling life. Why would you wish to devote most of your early life to work and career only to be miserable after your leave employment? That, to me, is not success. However, the person who understands that she has talents, time and treasure to devote to others may find a more rewarding experience in the retirement phase. Consider your plans to travel, join civic groups, devote your time to education in other fields of interest, etc. You must understand that with today’s medical advancements, you may spend as many years in retirement as you did in your career. With that in your mind, wouldn’t you feel more confident knowing that you addressed the Three T’s of Retirement Planning?

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Selling the Farm? Think About This Tax-Saving Election!

You worked your entire life and a significant amount of your family’s wealth is tied to the family farm. This scenario is experienced by many families in the U.S. How do you obtain your value from the land and pay the least amount of income tax? There is a way.

The income tax laws, referred to as the Internal Revenue Code in the United States, provides for families to retire from the farm without paying current income taxes on the transaction. As you can imagine, there are a few caveats and requirements to performing such a transaction. This type of land transfer is known as a “like-kind exchange”. In recent years the regulations governing this type of transaction have been refined to allow property held for productive use or investment (i.e., the farmland) to be exchanged with other investment property to defer the tax on the potential gain in the land.

Think about this approach. Mr. Jones has a farm which consists of 640 acres of pastureland. He purchased the land 40 years ago. His basis in the land is $100 per acre or $64,000 for the total parcel. However, Mr. Jones is ready to retire and decides he wants to sell the property. Today, the land is worth $1,000 per acre or $640,000 for the total parcel. Mr. Jones visits his CPA to discuss his decision to retire and sell his land. The good news is that Mr. Jones is retiring. The bad news is that his federal tax bill on the sale of the could be as much $128,000! 

To defer the tax bill to its latest due date, Mr. Jones’ CPA informs him of a structure that allows Mr. Jones to exchange his farm land for other land that is held for investment. Perhaps Mr. Jones would desire to own rental properties that would generate cash flow to supplement his retirement?

This area of law is very specific but can provide significant benefit to taxpayers. Two important timelines are required to be met to treat the property received in the exchange as “like-kind” property: 1) The property to be received must be identified within 45 days after the taxpayer’s property is relinquished in the exchange; 2) The property transaction shall be closed within 180 days after the relinquished property is transferred to the other party.

Additional parties are involved in this type of transaction. A qualified intermediary is utilized to transfer the deeds, hold the deposits and to execute the transaction on behalf of the two exchange parties.

Before you simply decide to sell your farm, think about other opportunities to mitigate the tax bill. You will be glad you did. 

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IRA Law Changes That Affect You Now!

If you are receiving required minimum distributions from an IRA, you may have an opportunity to lower your tax burden for 2020! The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a waiver for required minimum distributions for 2020. This provides immediate relief to taxpayers who were being forced to pay tax on the distribution but had no economic need. Another reasoning for this provision of the Act was to allow investors to retain their investments within their IRAs during a time our economy was contracting. Further, the required minimum distribution is based on the balance of the account at December 31, 2019. The markets were much higher than they are currently. The waiver applies to traditional and Roth inherited IRAs, too.

To provide immediate tax reduction, individuals under the age of 59½, who need funds to continue their lifestyle, may receive up to $100,000 of IRA premature distributions in 2020 and the 10% penalty for early distribution will be waived. However, the distribution is taxable. Good news for these individuals is that the tax due on the distributions may be evenly spread over three (3) tax years to be repaid.

If you are in the process of preparing and filing your 2019 individual income tax returns, you may contribute to your 2019 IRA up to July 15, 2020. This contribution would normally be allowed only to the date of April 15. By providing taxpayers the opportunity to build additional cash flow for their households, the extension of time to fund an IRA may allow investors to open or fund an IRA that otherwise would not be feasible.

Limits for IRA contributions for 2019 remain at $6,000 for Roth and Traditional IRAs. For those age 50 or older, an additional “catch-up” contribution of $1,000 is allowed. If you or your spouse, as married filing joint tax filers, wish to contribute to an IRA for 2019, your modified adjusted gross income must be $103,000 or less. If you are a single filer, your modified adjusted gross income must be $63,000 or less to contribute the full amount allowed in a Traditional or Roth IRA. The limit for IRA contributions for the 2020 tax year are the same as those in 2019.

Earnings limits for contributions to an IRA, while participating in an employer plan, are increased to $65,000 for single filers and $104,000 for married filing joint filers. The preceding amounts of modified adjusted gross income allow the taxpayer(s) to fully deduct their IRA contributions.

Lastly, one of the better changes to the IRA rules, for 2020, is the allowance of contributions to an IRA by individuals older than 70½. There is no age limit to make contributions to a Traditional or Roth IRA in 2020. This is a big bonus for many individuals who are savers. A tax deduction that you get to keep in your own account!?!? Welcome to the crazy world of taxation in the United States. See you on the golf course! 

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The Millennial Perspective: Starting Late, Retiring Fearless

According to Pew Research Center, Millennials are individuals born between 1981 and 1996. We grew up in a time before the internet was a part of everyday life and playing outside or playing video games were the best options to keep us occupied. We grew up in the rapidly changing age of technology and social media. We also, unfortunately, grew up and are still facing the ramifications of the Great Recession of 2008. This has brought on a number of financial concerns among Millennials and has caused delay for many milestone events, such as buying a home and starting a family. The average Millennial makes $35,592 a year and has a net worth of less than $8,000 according to Business Insider. The average Millennial also has a student loan balance of roughly $30,000 for four years of college. The lower income and high cost of student loan debt on top of the cost of living makes it hard to start a life and save for the future.

As any Millennial would do, I took to social media to gather the opinions of my fellow Millennials about what concerns they faced regarding their financial future. Much to my surprise, several people joined in the conversation. Some said that their biggest concern was paying off student loans, others said buying a home, saving for their children’s futures, or starting a family in general. We will touch more on those subjects later, but one of the most popular answers I received was saving for retirement. Many of us are told to start saving for retirement as early as possible and many of us fear about the future of Social Security. However, when it comes time to set up our 401(k), 403(b), or whatever kind of retirement plans are available, if any, from our employers we find that the suggested amount to invest in the plan is far more than we can afford and still have a comfortable lifestyle. I remember when it came time to sign up for the retirement plan at one of my jobs which I thought paid fairly well for someone my age. The suggested investment each month was a third of my total gross pay, or in other words, the pay before any taxes or deductions. This would have left me with just enough money to pay my rent, my car note, and utilities each month. I, unfortunately, opted out of saving for retirement at that time. 

So, how do we start to save for our futures when we can hardly afford the present? Balance. It is important to find a good balance between what you need to live, what you can save for the future, and still have some funds left over to pay yourself, even if that means setting aside more savings. How do you find this balance? Planning. Sit down and look at how much you are making and how much you are spending, and create a budget that works for you and stick to that plan. Even if you are not investing in a retirement plan with your employer, you can start to save for your future. It doesn’t have to be much to start, but we have to start somewhere. Talk to a Certified Financial Planner™, get a second opinion if you have to, do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable when making these kinds of decisions and ensure that you are making the right choices to plan for your future. Retirement doesn’t have to be a lost cause or a fantasy for Millennials. As Jonas Salk said, “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”

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Fear Is Not An Investing Strategy!

In recent days, the airwaves have been inundated with all things COVID-19! At the time of writing this article, the infectious disease had not been reported as a pandemic but may be on its way. It is often the mistake of many individual investors to attempt to know the movements of the stock market. When a disruptive force gives the markets an opportunity to correct, investors not only help the market correct but substantially contribute to the degree of correction. One method of assistance is the overwhelming and uncanny ability humans possess for allowing fear to grip their lives so dramatically that bad decisions are turned into horrific decisions.

At the turn of the new year, the coronavirus began its assault on the people of China. We can debate whether the communication and unified efforts of the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China and the World Health Organization (WHO) may have stifled the transmission of the disease. The fact is that this strain of coronavirus has spread rather quickly from one hemisphere to the next arriving in our nation on the west coast.

What does this information have to do with investing, you ask? Fundamentally, the same companies that achieved record profits in 2019 are the same ones that investor are now selling because of potential supply line delays or collapse. China provides a significant amount of goods to the Unites States. However, the companies that purchase their primary inventories from China for further manufacturing their products in the U.S. continue to hold substantial cash positions on their balance sheets, enjoy full employment of their workforce and, as mentioned earlier, know how to make a profit.

So, what is all of the concern about COVID-19? First, the ability to cope with unknown environmental infirmity by individual investors is almost nonexistent. Two emotions drive most of the market purchases and sells – fear and greed. One of the most often quoted statements of wisdom about these emotions was coined by one of the greatest investors of our lifetime, Warren Buffett. He said, “It is wise to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” The markets’ precipitous drop, as reported by the S&P500 and DJIA, for the period of February 19 through 28 can only be explained with fear. Stocks that were successful and reported good growth in 2019 were now being liquidated so quickly the indices reported an 11% drop meeting the definition of a correction.

Understanding that people are concerned about their overall investment portfolios, I recommend they revisit their purposes for accumulating the investments. If you have a change in your long-term need, your physical well-being has improved or declined dramatically, your family has received an unexpected windfall of assets – these are valid reasons to rebalance your portfolio to reduce risk or increase opportunity. To attempt to time the market by simply selling out after the decline of the market only converts your unrealized loss to a realized one. In country terms of my father’s remarking, “that is about as wise as shutting the barn door after the horse has left the barn.”

The better approach to protecting your family’s long-term investment savings is to make decisions out of unbiased research and analysis. Study the fundamentals of the markets and set a level of expected risk that will trigger the time of rebalancing instead of allowing fear to drive your decisions and possibly cost your family the security you desired in the first place. 

If you feel that you can’t make the decisions necessary to stay the course of your original investment approach, seek out a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and ask for a complimentary consultation and stress-test of your portfolio. You may sleep better at night.

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Should I Change My Investment Approach In Retirement?

While accumulating assets for retirement, many people utilize an employer retirement plan that allows consistent contributions while investing in a growth model. Their approach is to maximize the matching contribution from their employer and, perhaps, assume more risk than they would otherwise assume because of continued contributions. Let’s review the process of investing during retirement and the differences one will encounter throughout the distribution phase of the portfolio.

The most prevalent concern of any retiree is running out of money. To confront this fear, most retirees make the most critical mistakes with their investments. First, to seek safety in the portfolio, the retiree will change from a balanced portfolio of equities and bonds to a bond-dominant portfolio. Thinking the cash balance approach secures their cash during the contraction of the markets, the larger peril to the portfolio is the lack of participation in the expansion phase of the market cycle. In layman’s terms, the rate of return on most bonds will not be sufficient to maintain the retiree’s purchasing power during retirement. Rising costs of living expenses such as medical care, housing, food and other basic needs will preclude the portfolio from providing excess cash flow to the retiree unless the total portfolio is significant.

To resolve the concern of running out of money, we work with our clients to develop a sound investment approach that addresses inflationary pressure, periodic cash distribution requirements and market risk. One of the most effective tools to combat risk is to diversify. At the time of retirement, many of our clients will participate in an economics lesson. Albeit a short lesson, we simply ask, “how would you feel to be out of money and healthy?” This question is one that causes their face to wrinkle and the eyebrows to furrow. Typically, the answer given us is “I would not feel comfortable at all!” 

Obviously, we knew their answer but the exercise is one that makes them confront what risk truly is in their lives. So many people believe risk to be simply the loss of principal in their account. However, the greatest risk is outliving your means of support to where your longevity is not rewarded with peace and tranquility but rather anxiety. Our independent research has proven that most retirees sleep better at night knowing they will not be subjected to the need for family or state support. Independence is the reward for investing properly.

Seek out the advice of an independent financial advisor that specializes in retirement planning. You deserve a specialist for this phase of life just like your cardiovascular surgeon if you have health issues with your heart. If you have questions regarding your financial future, why not gain assurance that you are making the right decisions for your family? A visit with a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner may give you the confidence you need to live your life in a manner you desire instead of simply existing. 

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