The Habit of Saving

One of the most difficult habits to instill is saving. In this time we are living, too many of us want to experience a lifestyle that our current income cannot maintain while saving for our future. Before we realize it, our future is the present and we are in a bind. Forced working past the age of retirement that you would have desired to initiate your travel plans and other activities will not make you happy.

While reflecting on my younger days, I remember a couple of lessons learned about saving for the future. My goals were not lofty as a child except for the area of sports equipment. With limited means, my siblings and I purchased our own sports equipment if we wanted something beyond my parents’ budgeted funds for sports. This is where my saving habit came into existence. One of the most important lessons you can learn early in life is the habit of saving. Every child should be taught this valuable habit before graduating grade school. 

During my childhood, I saved depending upon the item needed in life. For example, I needed a new baseball glove because George Brett of the Kansas City Royals said so and he was a Hall of Fame Player. (Well it wasn’t only that fact but I also liked the Wilson A2000 glove and how it looked on my left hand.). My parents took me to the sporting goods store and we looked at the gloves. There it was on the rack in front of me – the baseball equipment that would make me a Golden Glove Award winner! 

I was smiling ear-to-ear until the salesman told me the price of the glove, $125. Ouch! I had saved $35 and thought it would get me a glove used by the great third baseman, George Brett. Lesson #1: The investment required for worthwhile items may cost more than you originally thought.

So, I went to work saving the remaining funds needed to buy the glove. To insure that the glove would not be sold when I returned, the salesman placed the glove in layaway for me. For the next several weeks, I would bring a payment to the store to be applied to the glove. After six weeks, I was in the store and smiling with a Cheshire Cat grin. I could take my glove home today!

This is where I learned my Lesson #2: Things don’t make you a better ball player, practice does. My new glove was my pride and joy. My abilities to play 3rd base did not immediately improve and I will a little disappointed with myself. 

The moral of this story is that you may want to examine why you want something and allow time to pass before you buy on an impulse. Saving for your future should be a habit that we develop early in life. You will find that you are less stressed in life, prepared for inconvenient hardships that arise and are more prepared to take advantage of future opportunities. The great investor, Warren Buffett, began his savings habit while a little boy. This habit helped him become one of the wealthiest people in the world. I am not saying we will all be as rich as Warren Buffett but I am saying you may enjoy a pretty good lifestyle.

If you need help finding a strategy for saving that creates your bigger future, seek out a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional. This is one habit that will serve you well in life. See you on the golf course!

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The One Secret to Retiring Successfully

We are asked many questions about the strategies to retirement and enjoyment of life. This article will reveal the secret success criteria that many of our clients have implemented over the past 20 years to change their lives. Let’s think about the word “retirement” for a moment. Too often the word has negative connotations to individuals who are ill prepared for the next phase of life. Others see the word as an opportunity to begin a new hobby, career or volunteer service life. What is your understanding of the word “retirement”?

Most of our challenges in life give us opportunities to exercise our philosophy toward the pending decision. There are many inclinations to a decision and the result you choose may have life-altering consequences. Wouldn’t you want to tip the scales of success in your favor on this type of decision? Of course! If you were to find a method of decision-making that supported greater probabilities of success, you would use that method for all decisions.

Sadly, immediate wisdom is not bestowed on us humans. No, we learn by the old-fashioned method of trial and error. However, if you were to seek out someone to assist in your resolution process that had experience and specialized training in the area of retirement planning, you could attribute that person’s wisdom as your own.

The one secret to retiring successfully is to change your philosophy of life. I know this sounds like an indomitable task, but it does not have to be. For example, there are, at least, two options for every decision in life – positive and negative. You could think like some people that hate to pay income taxes. However, when I frame it in the context of what their income had brought them in terms of life, family, charity and other aspects of their choosing, they quickly see the difference in philosophy I hold toward paying taxes. Am I saying you should throw a party because you pay a significant amount of taxes to the government? Sure, if you want. Hey, this is America! Do what you wish with you own time, talent and treasure.

Your philosophy toward investing for your future requires that you look through the lenses of potential and desire. Do not retire to simply quit working. This philosophy will produce poor long-term results. Instead think of the contributions you could make to your community, church or other civic groups that require your expertise to continue supporting constituents. 

We use the term “reFIREment” to describe the next phase of your life. To us this is a new beginning with excitement and vigor. By changing your philosophy toward retirement, you will find yourself changing your investment philosophy. Think about the joys and/or challenges you wish to, or may, experience after your career. If you desire to travel, relocate to another state, start another career – all have funding needs that must be addressed during your work life. By defining your ultimate purpose in life, through a sound philosophy, you will be empowered to fund your retirement in a manner that allows you to accomplish a more rewarding life. Your outlook for the future will be much brighter and more positive when you have a plan that focuses on something other than “not working”.

Seek out help if you are unclear on how to define your future in monetary or philosophical terms that give you the greatest opportunity for success. A retirement specialist can serve many roles for your family. The best resources you will receive from a Certified Financial Planner™ professional are independent, tailored planning and honest feedback on the best approaches to reach your goals. You have far more to contribute to the world. Do not stop giving just because your work life has converted to your beach life. See you on the golf course!

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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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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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Why Saving For The Future Matters?

Forty-one percent of Americans believe they would be able to cover a $1,000 emergency with savings, according to a survey conducted by BankRate in January, 2020. The chickens certainly came home to roost with the COVID-19 pandemic! The more disturbing findings of the survey were that 37% of the respondents would use their credit card to resolve the emergency. The lack of savings in the United States has reached critical stages for most families. To prepare your family for inevitable times of critical cash flow emergencies, I am providing you a proven strategy that will provide you with the confidence to weather emergencies in the future.

Some of the most common “emergencies” to strike families are automobile mechanical damages, large appliance failures, emergency medical care and loss of employment. Just one of these instances could spell disaster for your family without adequate savings to mitigate the disruption. During the pandemic, too many people have felt the anxious feeling of unemployment and wondering how their family will survive. Luckily, for many, the state and federal unemployment programs have been far richer in benefits than otherwise could have been. With the temporary additional federal unemployment benefit of $600, some individuals have “earned” more cash flow while being unemployed than experienced from their actual job. 

First, review your expenditures currently experienced by your family and choose one item of lesser importance to you from the list. This is the item that will no longer be purchased and the funds previously spent for this item will be automatically drafted each month from your checking account to your savings account. What this process does is take away the resistance of human nature to change by asking your financial institution to do the hard work for you. How this is accomplished is by visiting (or calling) your bank and asking them to perform an ACH (automated clearing house) transaction for you in a specific amount on the same date each month. Once you have adjusted your mindset to the alleviation of this item, choose the next least desired item on your list and continue this process until your family’s budget reflects only those expenditures that truly provide your family enjoyment. The ultimate goal of the process of saving for your future is to maintain 90 to 120 days of living expenses in a liquid account in case (and they always do) an emergency strikes your family. 

Second, if you are capable, consider seeking a part-time job or side gig. During the summer months you may have an opportunity to work in the evenings or weekends performing odd jobs or lawn work to increase your cash savings. This seasonal employment activity is an excellent method of increasing your cash reserves but may also tempt you to increase your lifestyle. This is where discipline must be exerted. Let’s say you earned an additional $200 in a week on your evening job. If you deposit these funds in your bank account, ask your bank to transfer them to your savings account instead of leaving them in your checking account. By performing this transfer your account will appear as though you have the same amount as always but your savings account will be increasing for your family’s safety. Any incremental increase in income, such as a bonus from your employer, should be treated in a similar manner.

Lastly, you may have accumulated assets which you no longer use such as additional lawn equipment, stored furniture, etc. Why not sell these items and place the proceeds in your family’s emergency fund? You may be surprised what someone will pay for a used piece of equipment!

The key to providing confidence and security for your family is the consistent monitoring of expenditures coupled with a mindset toward saving. Your bank most likely has an app for your phone that you can access with a couple of clicks. The challenge is to forgo looking at the increasing savings account everyday thinking it is available to you for a family vacation or new TV. No, this money is for the next emergency to strike your family. You will be glad you were disciplined and can face the next catastrophe with greater security.

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Strategies for Using Your Stimulus Check

Have we secretly transported to another universe? We can’t sit in a restaurant and eat dinner. We can’t attend a movie theatre. We can’t even visit our friends. All of these changes in life because of one thing – a virus. Have we experienced a paradigm shift in our lifestyle in the United States? I say NO WAY!

The United States Treasury has begun the process of issuing stimulus payments to qualified American citizens. Checks and direct deposit payments started crediting the checking and savings accounts of my fellow countrymen earlier this week. Most of us will receive a benefit of $1,200, some will receive a lesser amount and others will receive nothing. What do you do with this sudden inflow of money?

One of the most basic strategies of using your stimulus benefit is to establish a plan that addresses your most critical needs. For example, if you are in need of shelter, food or medicine, you should utilize the funds for these purposes. What if your mortgage is a federally-backed loan (such as FHA loans)? You may be granted payment relief for 6 – 12 months! If you are renting, perhaps your landlord will allow you to defer a month or two so that you can focus on the more important matter of your health. Any medicines you may require to maintain your health would be the focus for using your stimulus check.

If your basic living needs are met, you should consider saving the stimulus funds to enhance your emergency funds. It is vital that you maintain a minimum of 60 – 90 days of living expenses in a readily available account for emergencies. Guess what? The current pandemic we are living through is one of the emergencies for which this fund would be utilized! By maintaining access to funds that will allow you to live your life as you desire, at least for a period of time despite the ever-changing world around you, is both comforting and empowering. To know that your lifestyle can continue through times of struggle gives you the mental confidence to meet other challenges that may arise in life.

Let’s assume that you accumulated ample savings in your emergency fund. You may wish to review your debts and pay down, or even better pay off, certain high interest debts such as credit cards. I am not a big fan of credit cards due to the ease of abuse of such unsecured credit that allows individuals to live beyond their means. The phrase my father often tells me come to mind pertaining to credit cards – “give a man enough rope and he will hang himself”. During times of economic distress, many credit card companies will lower your interest rate for a period of time, if you contact them, and have been making your payments consistently and on time. Once the card is paid in full, place it in a zip-lock bag, then place the bag in a plastic container of water. Next, place the container in your freezer. This will require some effort on your part to free the card from the ice causing you to expend energy and time thinking about the use of the card.

Should you have none of the above needs, consider yourself a lucky person! The use of your stimulus benefit could be a very positive act such as contributing to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) for a tax deduction. By saving for your future with an IRA, you will be preparing for the future in a bold way. Your needs are met today, for the next 90 days and for your future!

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Liquidity is Everything!

One of the most frightening stories I have heard about a retiree is the one where her daughter came to our office and her face was ghostly pale. No, this isn’t a fictional character. Sadly, this story is too often told and true. Our client’s mother had been talked into an investment that “guarantees her a return with a bonus paid up front”. This particular investment sounds good but the problem was the mother’s age was 89 years young! Suitability is the key word for this type of investment. 

Investments that require prolonged surrender periods, the time at which you can recover your original investment without a penalty, should be skeptically analyzed for appropriateness for the investor. In the present instance, our client’s mother was 89 years of age and the investment had a surrender period of 12 years. Her mother would be 101 years of age before she could recover her $300,000 original investment. I will admit that U.S. citizens are living longer that that experienced in the 1860’s but the likelihood of living to 101 and not needing her funds for medical care is improbable. 

Not only did her mother invest the $300,000, she had very little liquid funds available should in-home aides be required or nursing home care admittance become a necessity. By investing in illiquid, long-term investments, the client’s mother would not experience the type of lifestyle she was accustomed. Diversification is an excellent tool to minimize exposure to this type of danger. These products are not illegal or unusual. The biggest hurdle for many people is that the products are sold by individuals with a benefit for themselves. Commissions on some of these products can be 10% or higher. 

A better alternative is to utilize investments that ladder or vary in maturity. For example, if you need fixed income interest payments, perhaps you would want to purchase individual, highly-rated bonds with varying maturity dates. Some jumbo certificates of deposit may be utilized for laddering purposes so that your interest rates vary depending on the term of the deposit.

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. There is no substitute for sound, independent, financial advice delivered by a fiduciary advisor. Select someone that does not have a vested interest in the sale of the product but rather the success of the client’s investment in meeting their goals. As a Certified Financial Planner™ professional, it is our policy and process to place the client’s interests ahead of our own. There is another old question I ask some of my financial professional colleagues that brings this thought to light: “Would you invest your mother’s money in the same way as you are recommending your 89 year old client?”. 

Don’t take chances with your financial security. Apply generally acceptable and proven strategies for meeting your family’s needs. Let’s end this column with a quote from Warren Buffet, “Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing.” See you on the golf course!

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The Power of Habits

Habits are much easier to form than to change. Good or bad, habits are formed by all of us, sometimes subconsciously. For example, which leg do you place in your trousers each morning while dressing for the day? Do you even think about the process of dressing or is it simply a routine that you follow because you have performed the same process for many years?

What do habits have to do with your finances? Everything! Many of the habits involving finances are passed down from generation to generation. Did you know that by simply saving $200 per month and investing it prudently for a period of 25 years, one could amass one million dollars? My personal habit of saving started when I was a young child. Granted, money was a little more difficult to accumulate in the 60’s and 70’s but I digress.

Analyze your living expenses and keep in mind the following phrase: “If your lifestyle exceeds your income, your outlook will be bleak.” One habit that should be learned by everyone is the habit of saving. For example, lets assume both spouses are working and the family has excessive (or discretionary) cash flow each month. Why not assign that excess to a savings plan for future needs? We inform many of our clients that their income needs in retirement will be approximately 80% – 90% of the pre-retirement income. Many are shocked with this statement! Think about what is happening during the retirement phase of life. Are you simply going to stop driving your car, eating regularly, utilizing electricity and other utilities in your home? Of course not.

Another habit we hope you will consider is the habit of exercise. By “investing” in your physical fitness, you will reap generous benefits later in life. Mobility and wellness are easily maintained in our 70’s and 80’s rather than being developed in the same time period. Start now to develop the habit of quitting, yes, quitting. Quit drinking sugar-loaded drinks and consume water instead. Limit your caffeine intake each day. Stop eating processed foods and refined sugar. If you find your willpower lacking, seek out an accountability partner. These simple steps will start you on a path of fitness that will create adventures unsurpassed in your retirement years. 

By combining your new habits of saving for the future and maintaining your physical fitness, you have conquered a tremendous number of these hardships experienced by most retirees. Don’t fear being in the minority of retirees who maintain their mobility, mental health and financial security. We believe life is far more than money. Actually, to us, true wealth is all those things that money can’t buy and death can’t take away. If you seek to reach your potential in life, seek out a specialist that works with retirees and understands the challenges faced by this amazing group of citizens.

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Three Simple Steps to Secure Your Future

The word “retirement” sounds pretty scary to most people. The reason for this emotion is that they have failed to plan properly and lack confidence in the process. This article will provide you a simple, yet effective, roadmap to reach your retirement objectives.

First, stop thinking like everyone else when it comes to finances. Yes, it is fine to be different. You must understand that your circumstances in life are most likely different from many of your friends. Some employers support their employees in planning for their futures while others do not. Your new mindset should be that of “I will depend on no one but me for my future plans”.

Do you often wonder why the ultra wealthy have the financial security they do when they may have started life in a lesser social/fiscal position than you? Do they know a “secret” formula for success that has eluded you in life? The answer is a resounding NO. However, the ultra rich think far different than the typical person. For example, to accumulate wealth you must do this simple task: 

Invest for retirement first and then spend the rest

If you have a goal of saving ten percent of your income, place this 10% in your retirement and then plan your spending with the remaining 90% of your paycheck. For many of us this will sound very opposite than what we have been doing for our adult lives. Remember, it is OK to be different because you have different dreams and aspirations than anyone else. Don’t listen to the negative comments of the mass population who struggle from paycheck to paycheck with no change. You can make this change rather quickly and simply.

Second, learn to live within your means. This step requires you to know where each of your dollars are spent. To accomplish this, write down every penny spent for a week. Upon the conclusion of the week, categorize the areas you have spent your money and you may be startled when you become aware of where your money went! For example, “Did I really spend $32 on specialty coffee this week?!?” “Do I need all of the subscriptions that I don’t read regularly?” “How did I accumulate a bad habit, like tobacco use, that costs me $40 per week or $160 per month??”

Once you analyze your spending, you will quickly see areas you may derive savings for a better purpose – your future. The most difficult part of this process is writing everything down. To accomplish this, purchase a small notebook and carry it with you at all times. Record every penny you spend for whatever reason. Be honest with yourself. The only person to be cheated by not being honest is your future you.

Remind yourself daily, if not several times per day, the “why” for taking these measures in your life. You deserve a comfortable retirement, in terms you define, and can reach your goals with small steps performed on a daily basis. The action step to take is:

Know where your money is being spent and correct course

Lastly, Step 3 is the most impactful, powerful and simple of the steps to reach your retirement goals – measure your progress and celebrate when reaching small goals. The purpose of this step is to remember that you are on a journey and the lifetime goal is too far away to see. The best method for reassuring yourself of the progress you are achieving is to look for the next step in conquering your next challenge, not the ultimate lifetime goal. The last action step is:

Celebrate small wins frequently!

To assist you in the process of defining your roadmap for the future, you may wish to seek out a financial adviser or CPA that specializes in retirement planning. The price paid by far too many people for failing to plan is very severe. Don’t pay that price, take these simple steps today to design the future you wish to live.

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