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Before You Kick Back to a Traditional Retirement, Read This

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Dreaming of the days you can sit on the beach, tropical drink in hand and not a thing on your to-do list? Ready to call it quits at your job and walk out to an endless vacation where you never have to check a single email or attend a meeting again?

It’s nice to daydream like this when you’re in the middle of your career, drowning in responsibility at work and home, and feeling like you’ll never catch up on all the sleep you missed in the last 10 years.

After all your hard work, you might look forward to the day when you can quit for good and kick back to a relaxing retirement free of any kind of obligation or responsibility.

But you may want to rethink that plan because more and more research shows that a “traditional” retirement — where work up until full retirement age only to quit and never work another day in your life — can be bad for your health.

The Potential Pitfalls of a Relaxing Retirement

When you simply stop going to work and have nothing on your to-do list, you can quickly run out of reasons to leave the house and interact with others during your everyday routine.

Many retirees become increasingly secluded and lonely without jobs to go to or people to see for a specific reason.

You can always plan trips to visit friends and family, of course. But it’s hard to beat the loneliness that can settle in when that’s not part of your day-to-day life.

A UK study found that loneliness, depression, and physical health issues are common among retirees who kick back to a traditional retirement with nothing on the daily agenda.

Initially, that relaxing retirement is restful and rejuvenating. But the longer it extends, the more prevalent health issues become as retirees increasingly retreat — consciously or subconsciously — from a more active life.

How to Have a Healthier Retirement

To avoid these pitfalls, plan your retirement around communities, relationships, and experiences. Researchers at Harvard found that you need to organize this new phase of life to include 4 fundamental factors for good mental and physical health:

  • A new social network outside of the job you leave behind.
  • Play, meaning hobbies you enjoy like camping or tennis.
  • Creativity, in whatever form that takes for you — taking up some sort of art, making something by hand, and so on.
  • Constantly seeking to learn new things and keep your mind engaged.

If you don’t have family nearby, consider how you can engage more in your local community, make new friends, and maintain existing relationships with neighbors or coworkers.

You could also consider a move as part of your retirement planning so you can be closer to those you want to have good relationships with as you age.

Play and creativity may be easier to weave into your retirement plan, as these are fun and rewarding activities. The key is to be intentional and make them part of your plan — don’t just assume you’ll naturally fall into something that satisfies these needs.

Retirement planning needs to cover the financial stuff. But you can plan for your actual retirement lifestyle, too. Make sure you give yourself a reason to get up, move around, and interact with other people every single day.  

You’ll Enjoy Financial Benefits When You Switch Your Retirement Mindset, Too

When you consider alternatives to the traditional retirement that include possibilities like working part-time, putting your expertise to work as a consultant, or even starting your own business, you also make retirement planning considerably easier.

For one, you’ll enjoy all the benefits outlined above. Your physical and mental wealth will likely be better than if you kicked back and did nothing at all.

That, in turn, benefits your financial health. Healthcare is the biggest expense for most people in retirement. If you can maintain your health for as long as possible, you’ll likely pay less in medical costs down the road.

Plus, creating some form of income stream beyond just your retirement savings nest egg means you alleviate some financial pressure. If you continue to work — even if it’s just part-time — you’ll earn some amount of income.

That means you don’t need to rely 100 percent on what you saved during your working years to last you through 20 or 30 years’ worth of retirement.

Are You Planning for an Active, Robust Retirement?

Of course, kicking back and relaxing should be part of retirement. But it shouldn’t be the only thing you do in your life after work.

“Retirement” today could simply mean the day you no longer need to depend on a full-time job that provides you with a specific number on your paycheck.

It’s the day when you’re free to explore your hobbies, pick up a part-time job doing something you really love, or volunteer with an organization you’re passionate about.

This could be your chance to start a second act as a freelancer or consultant. You could start your own business — or even learn a completely new set of skills that allow you to start an encore career (with more flexibility and a lighter schedule than your previous job, of course).

Retirement shouldn’t mean you retreat from life. Find ways to stay active, engaged, and productive.

You’ll be happier as a result — and as a bonus, you could make it even easier to fund the retirement you want since you won’t be sitting around, twiddling your thumbs and hoping your savings alone will be enough to fund your retirement lifestyle.

How Much Is Too Much College Debt?

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Over 44 million Americans walked away from their time in higher education with some amount of college debt. The total amount of student loan debt collectively carried by college students and grads today is $1.45 trillion, and the average 20-something-year-old borrower pays $350 per month on their loans.

 

There’s no question about it: student loan debt is a serious financial burden for many students, parents, and newly-minted grads.

 

Whether you’re considering college costs for a family member or want to go back to school yourself, you likely want to avoid dealing with student loan debt thanks to statistics like this and harrowing news items that detail individuals who are struggling to handle their tens of thousands — or even hundreds of thousands — of dollars’ worth in college debt.

 

But debt isn’t inherently bad. In fact, student loans can be useful tools to use as leverage. The real question is how much is too much college debt, and when does it shift from useful tool to financial anchor holding you back?

 

Using Student Loans as Productive Financial Tools

 

There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty around student loans. But this kind of debt can actually be useful to you or your student. Here are some reasons why:

 

Student loans allow you to leverage your cash flow. Instead of shelling out for the cost of college in cash — and potentially leaving you vulnerable to other unexpected expenses and emergencies — student loans allow you to gradually pay for college over time in a way that doesn’t stress your liquidity as much.

 

You can pay down debt and continue saving. In addition to not needing to drain your savings accounts, the fact that you can pay back student loans over time allows you to balance that responsibility with the responsibility you have to yourself to save for the future.

 

Student loans can help students build their own credit. If your teenager is headed off to college, taking out a loan can help them build their own credit (which they’ll need as adults in the real world). This is a less risky way to help them than providing them with a credit card, which can be hard to manage and far more costly if they fail to make payments thanks to dramatically higher interest rates.

Still, Debt Is Debt

 

If you’re reading this and thinking you now have the green light to take out all the student loans you want, think again. At the end of the day, debt is debt. And it costs you money to borrow and finance an education.

 

It might make more sense to avoid student loans altogether if you have the financial means to do so (or your student can help pay their own way, so you’re not on the hook for the entire cost).

 

But what if you are….

 

  • Considering emptying your savings accounts to cover college costs
  • Not saving for retirement so that you can save for college instead
  • Able to pay for college out of pocket through your cash flow, but just barely

 

If you find yourself in these situations, student loans can be a reasonable solution. Just make sure you understand how much debt is too much first.

 

How Much College Debt Is Too Much?

 

Let’s be clear on the obvious indicators of “too much college debt.” If you’re looking at debt that reaches into the six figures, it’s too much.

 

Most grads won’t earn anywhere near $100,000 in their first year out of school, making this debt extremely difficult to pay off and a huge burden to handle financially. If your student is aiming for a career path that typically pays $40,000 to entry-level workers, $80,000 is far too much debt.

 

How much of an income you can expect to make after college is the biggest factor in determining how much is too much. Here’s an easy way to start estimating an appropriate amount of student loans:

 

  • Research how much you (or your student) can expect to make after entering the workforce with a new degree. Don’t just look at old data from something like the Bureau of Labor Statistics — go on job boards like Monster.com or Indeed and search for open positions that you might qualify for after school and view what the starting salaries are for those jobs.
  • Look at how much a degree from a chosen university will cost. Include tuition, fees, room and board, and other common expenses like textbooks. Most colleges have information on average costs and expenses that you can use.
  • Calculate how much of that cost you can reasonably cover and determine how much in student loans you’d like to use to help finance your education.
  • Compare a reasonably expected salary to your expected amount of college debt.

 

If your expected amount of student loan debt is more than your expected salary, it’s too much. If it’s the same as your expected salary, it’s also likely too much (if you don’t want to spend the next 10 years paying off those loans).

 

If you estimate that the amount of your salary is more than the amount of debt you plan to take on, it could be a reasonable financial move to make.

 

Even when student loans can be used as financial tools, you need to be very careful about how much debt you take on. You also need a strategic plan for repaying it at the lowest cost possible before you start applying for loans.

Why Average Investors Don’t Beat the Market

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Most people invest in order to grow wealth over time. It’s only natural to want the biggest returns possible as part of that process.

But focusing on returns isn’t necessarily a sound investment strategy — and it could be part of what leads average investors to perform so poorly.

In fact, average investors don’t just fail to get big returns. They tend to underperform market indices that they invested in, like the S&P 500. In 2015, the S&P 500 index outperformed average investors by 3+% percent and they did the same with the Barclay’s Bond Index!

Theoretically, that shouldn’t happen. An index simply tracks the market. Investors are getting beat up trying to beat the market.

And that’s where they get into trouble.

Why You Shouldn’t Try to Beat the Market

These investors are actively involved in their investments. They constantly watch the market (or the news, or both) and try to predict the best moves to make in order to earn the biggest return.

It’s not just individuals who do this. Some advisors will promise returns, too. If you run into one of these, run the other way. Over time, most active investment managers fail to beat the market just like average investors do.

Again, it’s only natural to want to maximize your ROI. To us as humans, that means we have to work for it and take actions and constantly be striving to earn that return.

But time and time again we see that tinkering with your portfolio — rather than simply sticking to a sound investment strategy that aligns with your goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon — leads to losses, not gains.

What’s going on here? Why can’t smart people use their intelligence to outsmart the market?

There are a few factors at work against you as an individual investor acting alone without a reasonable, fiduciary financial planner at your side to help guide the way. Let’s look at 3 of the biggest mistakes you can make that put your portfolio in the most danger.

1. Trying to Time the Market

Average investors get into a world of trouble when they start trying to time the market — especially when it comes to attempting to sell high.

It’s very simple: no one knows what the market will do tomorrow. We don’t know what it will do next month. We don’t know what it will do next year.

Trying to plan around guesses about what the market may or may not do is setting yourself up for failure. In this case, that means losses.

What we do know is that the market will, at some point, take a nosedive. We don’t know the day, and we don’t know where the bottom will be — so it is entirely pointless to try and time it.

Similarly, we know that once the market takes a tumble, it will eventually recover. But again, we don’t know precisely when this will happen. Say it with me: it’s entirely pointless to try and time it.

Investors tend to wait until they feel very confident to buy in after a market crash, at which point they’ve missed out on most of the gains and buy at premiums. The opposite tends to happen during the pullbacks: investors tend to wait for a ‘bounce’ to sell, and by the time they’re convinced they need to sell the market already tumbled. They sell and experience major losses making it even harder to buy on dips!

You nor anyone else has a clue when exactly market peaks or troughs will occur. Don’t try to guess and leave yourself buying high and selling low.

2. Giving in to Groupthink

You’ve heard that famous Warren Buffett quote, “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” It’s an excellent piece of investing advice that almost no individual investor follows.

Why? We’re biased toward influences from our social circles. FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. You can refer to this as groupthink or herd mentality — either way, we tend to let our desire to belong to a group or community override logical (and even creative) thought.

Today, of course, our survival wouldn’t be jeopardized if our “herd” kicked us out or if we chose to strike out on our own. But that wasn’t the case thousands of years ago when being accepted or rejected from our groups could mean the difference between life and death.

We go with the herd because we don’t want to get left behind, miss out, or worse, be shunned by the tribe. This happens in all areas of society — including in business and financial markets.

Groupthink can lead us to simply go with majority opinion while leaving our own critical thought and reasoning processes behind. It’s what drives market bubbles or the desire to buy more and more stocks when everyone else is doing the same.

When others are greedily buying up stocks, and the market is soaring, as Buffett mentioned, there’s reason to be cautious. Similarly, when everyone is panicking and selling shares, it provides the successful investor an opportunity to snap up stocks at bargain prices.

To avoid the mistake of groupthink, turn off the TV. Don’t worry about sensationalized headlines. Ignore your colleague at the water cooler who has the inside scoop on the next hot stock pick.

Stick to your investment strategy, even if it means going against the herd.

3. Not Realizing “No Action” Is a Decision

Sometimes, all the knowledge in the world is not enough to stop investors from doing stupid things in situations where they should know better. It’s not always easy to just sit back and do nothing, especially when you feel emotional.

And investing is a big emotional roller coaster full of very high highs and some terrifying lows. But just like a roller coaster, you need to keep the seatbelt buckled and stay in your seat until you reach the end of the ride instead of attempting to leap off at some point in the middle.

Many of the decisions investors make focus around choosing between one of two (or many) actions. What average investors sometimes miss is the fact that not doing anything is also a decision and a choice you can make.

Avoiding the actions that lead to mistakes is sometimes more powerful than choosing all the right moves to make.

In fact, this is one of the areas where a financial advisor acting as your fiduciary can add the most value: reminding you to stay calm, keep your seatbelt fastened, and ride out whatever has you spooked.

How to Make Room for Your Passion in Your Life and Your Budget

Most of us have something that we absolutely love to do — and it’s usually a passion that allows us to express ourselves and our creative sides. Whether it’s music, art, writing, volunteering, or consistently picking up something novel and learning something new, we all have a passion or two that’s important to us.

But as you’ve probably noticed, life often gets in the way of that passion.

Why don’t we do what we love more often? In most cases, there are two major roadblocks that get in the way of pursuing your passion: time and money

If you want to overcome both these obstacles, these 4 tips will help you make room for what’s important to you both on your schedule and with your budget.

Evaluate How You Spend Your Time Now

It’s hard to make time for something if you don’t know where your time goes right now. Try tracking your time for a few days to a week and find out exactly how many hours you spend:

  • Working
  • Sleeping
  • Doing chores or running errands
  • Having free time

…and so on. That last one is really important. How do you currently spend your free time when you don’t need to work or complete tasks?

If you’re anything like the average American — who spends 3 hours per day watching TV — you likely have more time for leisure than you initially thought. It’s just that you pack it full of activities and feel constantly busy.

But look at what those activities break down to be. If you simply stopped watching TV on weekdays, you could have 15 hours per week to devote to a hobby or passion project.

Evaluate how you spend your time right now. Get really granular with it. And then cut out what’s unimportant or not valuable. It’s all about getting intentional with how you spend the time you have.

Cut Out What’s Not Essential

This idea applies to your budget, too. If you struggle to come up with money to spend on your passion, take a look at your current spending. Do you make purchases that align with your values? Or do you find you often suffer from buyer’s remorse?

It’s always easier to spend money than it is to save it. But cutting back doesn’t need to be painful if you start by identifying where you spend money on things that are not important to you.

Carefully track your spending for a month. Then, look back at your purchases. Moving forward, eliminate anything that you didn’t get a lot of value out of, made you regret your purchase, or did not enjoy as much as you would enjoy pursuing your hobby.

If you still need to cut back, you may need to make a few sacrifices or tradeoffs. Would you prefer to go out to eat three times per week, or cut back to once so you can spend that money on your passion instead?

It doesn’t need to be about depriving yourself or eliminating things from your life entirely. What’s more effective is to recognize what’s essential and invest your time and money in whatever that is for you.

Schedule Everything

Once you make room in your calendar, schedule in time to spend pursuing your passion! If you don’t fill in that extra time intentionally, other nonessentials are sure to start slowly creeping in and stealing your time away again.

Even if you can’t free up large blocks of time, organizing your current schedule to spend your time more efficiently may help make room for a hobby or pursuit that interests you. Can you bundle tasks together? How can you structure your days so you’re more productive, and therefore necessary tasks get done faster?

Explore different ways of organizing your time, tasks, meetings, and other priorities.

Monetize Your Hobby

These ideas can help you reallocate the resources you already have. But sometimes, you don’t simply need to reorganize. You need to make more.

If pursuing your passion would be easier if you had more money to devote to it, consider how you can monetize that hobby.

Musicians can look for small, weekly gigs that pay a few bucks. It may not be enough to live off of, but it’s a nice bonus to in addition to spending time doing what you love.

The same can be said for any kind of artist or skilled worker. You can sell what you produce or even spend some time using your abilities to freelance. You could also get paid to teach others something you love and feel passionate about.

There’s no need to feel limited when it comes to engaging in activities that light you up and allow you to express who you are. When you take the time to look at your what’s essential to you, the way often becomes clear.

Put those things first and make them a priority. Cut out what doesn’t contribute to your values, and allocate those resources — be they time or money — to what does.

Why Your Retirement Is More Important Than Saving for College

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Yes, it sounds harsh. But this is an important financial reality to understand: you should prioritize your retirement savings over saving for your kids’ college expenses.

This isn’t about loving your kids less. It’s about knowing how to prioritize your financial goals in the best possible way for both your sake and theirs.

And remember, putting your retirement needs ahead of saving for college doesn’t mean indefinitely choosing one over the other. You can balance both these competing goals and fund each at the same time.

Here’s why your retirement savings is that important — and how you can balance your desire to help your kids by saving for college while also making sure you take care of yourself.

There’s Only One Way to Fund Retirement

Our kids have countless options when it comes to higher education and paying for it. We give them whatever help we can. They can contribute themselves by earning scholarships or working part-time as they go through school.

There are plenty of ways to reduce the cost to make college more affordable, too. They can choose a lower-cost, in-state university. You can help educate kids on how to live frugally and limit their expenses while still in school.

And while it might not be ideal, students can take out some student loans to help fill the financial gaps. This is not the same thing as taking out far more than they can reasonably expect to repay once gainfully employed after graduation, or taking out more loans than they need to pay for tuition.

The point is, our children have several ways they can fund higher education or reduce the expense of college.

But when it comes to retirement? We’re mostly on our own.

We need to take responsibility for funding our lives after work. Social Security and other benefits can help, but these aren’t guaranteed (or likely to completely fund what you need for the rest of your life).

There’s not much flexibility on where to get this money — or how long we have to fund our retirement goals. If we don’t save and invest now during our working years, we may need to keep working or dramatically change our lifestyles.

Saving for Retirement Helps You and Your Kids

Still, many parents feel averse to the idea of saving for their own needs ahead of helping their children. But it’s just like the idea of the oxygen mask on an airplane: you need to address your own needs before you can realistically help anyone else.

You do no one any favors — least of all your children — if you fail to plan for your retirement and end up needing someone to help you. That burden will likely fall on the very children you wanted to help in the first place!

By prioritizing your retirement ahead of financial goals like saving for college, you ensure that you take care of yourself after you stop earning an income. Your adult children won’t need to use their own income to financially support you.

How to Save for College Without Neglecting Your Retirement

None of this is to say you shouldn’t save for college to help your children. You should allocate money to fund your own retirement goals first. But you can contribute what you can from your cash flow to college savings after that.

Make sure you take advantage of employer benefits and packages that are available to you. Contribute at least enough into your 401(k) to get the match, and fund tax-advantaged accounts that can lower your year to year tax burden.

By doing what you can to save on taxes, you might have more money left over throughout the year to use for college savings.

You can also make the most of college savings dollars by investing them into an appropriate vehicle for long-term growth. If your kids are younger than 10, they have nearly a decade to go before starting their freshman year at a university.

Take advantage of that timeline by investing into a 529 plan or another brokerage account. As they get closer to attending college, you’ll want to adjust the plan to keep that money as safe as possible.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to fund 100% of your child’s higher education, either. As your kids get older and can better understand financial realities, make them part of the conversation. Giving them the knowledge that you agree to fund up to 50% or 75% of their university expenses can help them make informed decisions about which schools to apply to or what programs to consider.

And don’t forget to encourage your kids to participate and make their own contributions. That doesn’t need to be financial. They can do their part by achieving academic success that secures scholarships and grants. Or they can commit to certain sports or programs that provide a path to a subsidized university education.

Every parent wants to help their children succeed and have a better life than they enjoyed. While saving for college is one of the primary ways you can do this, remember that your children can appreciate your help after graduation, too.

The best way to make sure they can live out adult lives in which they get to prioritize their own financial goals over your financial needs is to fund your retirement first. Once you’re on track there, then you can turn to saving for college and other goals.

Make the Most of Your Vacations: Save for Travel, Not a Vacation Home

 

A vacation home works for some people and can provide a lot of benefits. It’s wonderful to have your own place to escape to when you’re ready to relax and unwind. And if you make good decisions about where and what you buy — and get a little lucky in the process — a second home can be an asset.

 

But the key point? It works for some people and certainly not all. In fact, for most people saving for travel instead of a vacation home makes much more financial sense. It also ends up better for you in the long run regarding happiness and enjoyment.

 

That being said, it’s well worth understanding how to make the most of your vacations, you’re better off saving your money for trips, experiences, and various destinations — not a second home.

 

Vacations Are Fun and Games — Vacation Homes? Not So Much

 

Buying a vacation home often makes you a second-home owner. With homeownership usually comes with a second mortgage, property taxes, insurance, the responsibility for repairs, managing a property that may be far away, potentially managing renters (or paying someone to manage that process for you), and so on.

 

In other words, it may sound fun and exciting. But don’t get swept away thinking about all the benefits. Vacation homes come with all the downsides — and potentially even more — of any property you own, pay for, and are responsible for taking care of throughout the year.

 

Add in handling those responsibilities over distances, and a vacation home is often a fast-track to frustration (and a lot of work, to boot!).

 

Make the Most of Your Vacations by Maintaining Your Freedom to Choose

 

Those downsides don’t even account for the fact that owning a vacation home tends to mean you’re locked into the same vacation year after year. Again, that might be fine for some folks — but for most people, the freedom and flexibility to vacation in various places and explore new things is worth a lot.

 

You may remain stuck with one type of vacation for as long as you own your home. And even if you’re not, that begs the question: why bother with the vacation home in the first place? Keep the freedom and spend that money on taking dream vacations wherever you choose to go.

 

The Benefits of Saving for Travel

 

Still not convinced? Consider these reasons you should save for travel instead of plunking your money down in another property that you’ll only use a few weeks (at most!) out of the year. You’ll get:

 

  1. The opportunity to explore and visit more places.
  2. The option to take different kinds of vacations (cruise, beach house, camping, etc.).
  3. Increased flexibility (where you go, when you go, how long you go, how many people go, etc.).
  4. The ability to budget for “that one big trip” you’ve always dreamed of (maybe three weeks in Southeast Asia, or a month in Europe) by spending less on travel in the year or two leading up to the trip (such as a camping and hiking trip at a national park).
  5. Fewer unexpected expenses, since you don’t have to worry about vacation home repairs, furniture, the air conditioning going out…
  6. The freedom to follow the deals and to pick vacations based on deals you find online, without being locked into any one place.
  7. Simplify your life with greater peace of mind.

 

Travel Can Keep Your Other Wealth-Building Goals on Track, Too

 

Traveling, as opposed to a vacation home, can keep your other financial goals on track because you can spend significantly less on travel (even luxury travel) than you would buying and maintaining a property. Travel gives you more flexibility in how you use your money, even to the point of choosing not to travel.

 

As your life circumstances change — you suffer an injury or illness, get married, have kids, take care of an elderly parent — travel may not be the right fit for a few years. And that’s okay. You can save your money and explore places closer to home while you need to prioritize other things in life.

 

While you can choose how and when you travel, you can’t choose to not pay your mortgage on your vacation home if another savings goal or family need becomes a priority that year. When purchasing a vacation home, you lock yourself into those expenses year after year — even when your goals, financial situation, and interests change.

 

What to Think About If You’re Set on a Vacation Property

 

If you do choose to forge ahead with a vacation home, here are just a few points you’ll want to keep in mind:

 

  1. Make sure you know the neighborhood and surrounding area. Is it a place you are going to want to visit for the next 30 years or more (assuming a 30-year mortgage)?
  2. Are you going to have renters? Keep in mind that you have to a rent a vacation property for large chunks of the time if you want to receive the tax benefits. This usually means making the most popular weeks available to renters — not your family.
  3. Renting a vacation home often requires hiring a management company, or managing it yourself. It also means more wear and tear on the furniture and property. Account for this when you look to see if your budget can handle a second home.
  4. A vacation home is more than the price of the home. It needs to be furnished, maintained, repaired, and insured (and often vacation homes are in costly areas, such as a beach house on the water). Again, account for these expenses when you consider the financial aspects.

 

There are so many benefits to saving for travel rather than tying money up in another property. Remember, you can’t buy your freedom – and a vacation home certainly takes some of that away.

 

At the very least, if your heart is set on a vacation home, do a lot of research, planning, and consideration before jumping in feet first. Understand all the pros, and more importantly, all the cons before committing. A vacation home may make sense if you fully understand the consequences and downsides and feel those sacrifices are worthwhile.

Whichever way you choose to enjoy the money you use for vacations and other fun experiences, make sure it aligns with what’s important to you and your values.

In Times of Change, Focus on Your Financial Plan

behavior-gap

No one can guarantee when the markets will go up or down. Lots of talking heads and so-called “experts” like to claim they know when factors like news items or current events will impact how the stock market behaves, but it’s all guesswork.

It’s extremely easy to get caught up in a 24/7 news cycle that produces headlines and predictions meant to invoke emotional reactions in viewers. But the key to long-term financial success is tuning out the noise and understanding that ups and downs happen.

We know markets can be volatile. That’s part of the price paid to invest and earn more money than you could almost anywhere else — and it’s also something to account for in a comprehensive financial plan.

The only certain thing is that the market will rise and fall. We don’t know exactly when. All the noise from reporters, TV hosts, or others speculating about what the market will do next because of elections, the Fed, or whatever else they point to as the why behind their guesswork only serves as a negative distraction.

Instead of panicking and reacting based on what you hear on the news or from folks at work, you can create and set a financial plan, tailored specifically to you, based on reasonable, objective decision making (instead of emotional and irrational). A great financial plan accounts for your goals, your risk tolerance, and your concerns — and it means you already know what to do when others threaten that the market may take a turn due to whatever people happen to be worked up over today.

What Does It Mean to Have a Comprehensive Financial Plan?

A comprehensive financial plan is specific to you. It includes factors like:

  • Your goals (saving for a house or a child’s college education, retiring early, starting a business, and so on)
  • Your income
  • Your cash flow
  • Your tax situation
  • Your target retirement date
  • Your future earnings and income
  • Your risk tolerance
  • Your time horizon

Note that each of these components of a financial plan starts with “your.” That’s because a comprehensive financial plans starts with you — not the news, or the global markets, or future predictions.

And of course, a financial plan can include more than just what’s listed here. Again, the theme is you. What’s important to you? That has to be factored in.

While investing is an important part of achieving your long-term goals, focusing solely on investments alone is similar to running around a hamster wheel. There will be highs and lows, but if you aren’t working toward something, you’re just running in circles.

Investing coupled with a comprehensive plan that looks at the big picture ensures you are investing appropriately for your situation and making progress toward your goals.

Don’t Panic and React with Emotion

One of the most important benefits to having a financial advisor is that they can serve as a gatekeeper to keep you from reacting emotionally and totally derailing your financial plan. When markets tank (like they did in 2008 and 2009), people start to panic.

As they watch the markets fall, they react emotionally. They can’t stomach losing so much money. They freak out! And then they sell at the absolute worst time: when markets are already down!

Keep in mind that after you sell at the bottom, you won’t know when to buy back in — and that often leaves people buying at the top of the market. Selling low and buying high is the opposite of prudent investment advice. Meet the “behavior gap”.

Think of it this way: you wouldn’t go to a store and specifically not buy something because it was on sale. It’s the same way with stocks. When they’re down, they are “on sale.” This is the rational, objective way to look at the market.

But when it’s your money and your net worth you see taking a hit because the market dropped, it’s extremely difficult to maintain that mindset and act rationally. Again, most people panic and never dream of buying because it really hurts to see those red down arrows next to your investment balances.

An objective third party can help you prevent such a huge mistake. A financial planner willing to act as your fiduciary will remind you of your comprehensive financial plan that was already built assuming there would be market volatility.

In short, that means your planner can give you some of the most valuable advice you can ever receive when everyone else is panicking: don’t deviate from your plan! That may mean staying the course and taking advantage of this latest ‘sale’.

The Right Plan Will Hold Steady Through Current Events

Ultimately, a comprehensive plan stands the test of time. Because market fluctuations are expected (remember, it’s the timing that’s unexpected), your plan already accounts for them.

Your financial plan tells you what to do even in turbulent markets or troubled and uncertain times. It’s designed for the long-term. What feels like a big, massive upheaval today will likely be a blip on the radar when you look back in 30 years.

The best way to safeguard against panic and emotional reactions is to have a financial plan — and then stick to it.

Ready to invest in real estate? Take a close look at your margins

Philip Taylor

                              Photo credit: Philip Taylor

We’ve all heard the mantra: “Location, location, location!” When buying investment property, a great location is often considered the #1 rule for success. But as we’ve all seen in that late night, drag-out game of Monopoly, location certainly isn’t the only factor at play.

A decade ago, we all learned more than we wanted to know about subprime mortgages. People were investing money they didn’t have using loans they should never have been given. The stage was set for the perfect storm. Home prices started falling, refinancing became difficult (especially with historically high debt-income ratios), and those previously attractive adjustable-rate mortgages began to reset at higher interest rates. Monthly payments rose dramatically and mortgage delinquencies soared. It’s the scenario that led to a shocking 3 Million foreclosures in 2009 followed by a complete overhaul of mortgage banking regulations. It took years for housing prices to climb back out of a deep, black hole—and even longer for people to recover financially and psychologically.

Prior to the housing crash, real estate had almost always been viewed as a solid investment, averaging over 6% for decades. Now that housing prices are on the rise, investors are once again turning their eyes toward rental properties. Many risk-averse investors gravitate to real estate as an attractive proposition. You can feel it. You can see it. You can drive by your property and know your investment is real. But is investing in property the right choice for you? The answer depends on one thing: the margins.

Many investors look at a basic equation, “money in and money out,” when calculating returns. It seems so simple. Purchase a $200k property that generates $1,300/month rent and earn $15,600 a year—it’s a risk free 8% return using borrowed money! But is it? There’s much more to the equation, and if you dive in and look at the details that deliver the actual margins and return, you may find your investment isn’t what it seems. Be sure you’re considering these key factors when calculating your actual profit margin:

  1. Maintenance & turnover costs. Of course, installing that new water heater costs more than just your time, and your renters may not be very forgiving of an overgrown lawn. Maintaining any property can be expensive, and costs can escalate even further when you experience turnover. Cleaning, marketing, and preparing your property for a new tenant adds up, and every day your property is vacant becomes another drain on your margin.
  2. Insurance & mortgage expenses. Insurance premiums for rental properties can run over 20% more than a typical homeowners policy, and additional liability insurance may be required. Also consider that mortgage rates are higher for second (and third and fourth) homes, and require a 20%+ down payment. Creative techniques to use personal lines of credit can be used to mortgage the property, but that means tying up your available credit that may be needed as an emergency fund during leaner times.
  3. Liquidity. Speaking of liquidity, you pay a steep price for being able to ‘touch’ your property. While it may not be a tangible expense, real estate’s lack of liquidity creates costs when you need cash and timing is an issue. In most cases, completing a sale and seeing any cash in your pocket can take several months, which can force you to borrow money to cover expenses. And borrowing may be difficult if you’ve tied up your credit line with property.
  4. Weighting. Many clients ask me, “How much should I invest in property?” Unless you’re building a career in real estate, an age-old rule of thumb is that your net worth should be spread evenly across three areas, with 33% of your equity in each: 1) real estate, 2) partnering with the great companies (i.e., owning equity), and 3) lending to great companies (i.e., owning bonds). And yes, your home must be included in this equation!
  5. Estate & legal complexity. Have you seen what lawyers charge these days? As a landlord, you’ll need legal help to understand your rights, draft rental and operating agreements, choose which type of entity should own your properties, etc. If a tenant needs to be evicted or if you have a dispute, legal fees can skyrocket. Plus, estate planning for real estate can get complicated (and expensive) quickly with an LLC or partnership.
  1. Capital gains & depreciation. It’s not uncommon for CPAs to recommend investment property to minimize taxes, but in reality, when the time comes to cash in your chips and sell that property for college or that summer home you’ve dreamed about for years, all depreciation is essentially recaptured by your diminished basis—and subtracted from your “earnings” and any return on investment. Capital gains tax ranges from 15% to 20%, so they’re an important part of your real margin. Postponing capital gains is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul…and it all comes around in the end. (Think you’re exempt? If you haven’t lived at a property for at least two of the previous five years, you’ll lose the capital gains tax exemption, which allows individual filers to keep $250,000 of profit from the sale tax-free.)
  1. Tax complexity. It sounds great: write off expenses through the property to avoid Self Employment tax on your income. If you carry a loss, now you have stepped into Passive Loss Land. Income exclusions limits, at risk rules, passive activity limits, etc. Don’t forget property tax! All of this complexity eats up your valuable time, increases your expenses, and reduces your margins.
  1. Compensation for your own hours worked. Here are a couple of questions for you: How much do you make an hour? Is your money working for you, or did you “buy” another job? For example, if you’re earning $150K annually working 40 hours a week (with a few weeks vacation thrown in), you’re making about $78/hour before benefits. It’s not uncommon for property owners to spend several hours a week managing everything from rent collection to fixing water heaters to dealing with vacancies and rental applications. Of course, if you’re paying someone else to manage your property, be sure to subtract management fees from your margin, and include your true hours worked in the equation as well.

So is buying investment property a wise idea? Is it the best way to build wealth? Is rental property really ‘risk averse’? Only if you can be certain that “sure bet” doesn’t turn into a financial drain that steals your precious time, overweights your net worth with investments that lack liquidity, and adds too much complexity to your finances. If you’re not willing to do your homework and consider these important factors, don’t expect location to save a poorly planned use of your life savings. Even Park Place won’t win the game if your margins aren’t in line with your costs.

Want help deciding whether real estate is the right investment for you? Contact me to schedule a time to run the numbers.

Generation X? I feel your pain!

Photo-Bill Gracey

Generation X has some problems—and not just their own. Perhaps the biggest one of all is that this group has everyone else’s problems too! On one hand, they’re dealing with aging parents. On the other hand, they have young kids, college-aged kids, or adult kids who are moving back home or need financial support because they can’t find a decent job post-college. And all this is happening right when stressed-out GenXers are in mid-career and trying desperately to build their own net worth.

 

If you’re in your late 30s, 40s, or early 50s, you know the scenario well. Your career is in full swing, and even if you are making a great salary, it seems money is just flying out the door. If you have kids, they’re more expensive than ever (who knew $100 cell phone bills, iPhones, laptops, and SAT prep camps would be part of the new parenting equation?) and college costs are skyrocketing more each year. Your house is another story. Even if you were lucky enough to purchase a home (or at least refinance) in today’s low interest rate environment, you’re still paying a higher percentage of your income than previous generations toward housing. And if you’ve been in the same place for a while, renovations can throw another blow to your budget. But it doesn’t stop there. You are the “sandwich generation.” Your parents are aging…and they need your help. According to the Pew Research Center, about one in seven GenXers is providing financial support to both a child and an aging parent. From helping your parents through illnesses, to getting them set up on Medicare, finding great assisted care, selling their real estate, and more, the tasks you have to tackle seem endless.

 

It’s exhausting just thinking about it. As an advisor, one of my most important roles is helping my GenX clients juggle these overwhelming responsibilities today while also planning for the future. Because no matter how mired you are in today’s challenges, your own retirement could be an even bigger problem—unless you plan well today. To help make the juggling as easy as possible (let’s face it: it will never be easy!), here are my top five tips for getting through the “sandwich generation dilemma” with your sanity in tact:

 

  1. Take care of yourself first. With so much responsibility for others, it’s easy to forget to take care of you. But just like we’re told to put on our own oxygen mask first before helping others, it’s vital that you keep yourself healthy too. Get your annual physical. Get a flu shot. And see your medical team when something isn’t quite right. These are the years when preventive care makes a huge difference in your health today (so you can take care of everyone else) and helps to ensure your wellbeing as you age.
  2. Start thinking about how you want to define “retirement.” Unlike your parents, you probably don’t see yourself retiring at 62. You expect to live a longer, healthier life, and you may be planning to keep working much later or start a second or even third career—something that invigorates you and keeps you socially, intellectually, and physically active later in life. You want to play by your own rules, but that takes money. Which leads us to…
  3. Invest in yourself now so you can buy your independence and dignity later. Let’s face it: money is the key to independence. Once you’re ready to move on from your current career, you’ll want to have the assets to support your “non-retirement” dreams in the future.  Whether investing in yourself means earning an advanced degree, nurturing a talent, or simply putting a percentage of today’s salary into a “next career” bucket, being proactive now can help you make your dreams come true down the road.
  4. Lower your stress by getting your financial “house” in order. If you’re like most GenXers, your finances could be in better shape, in part because you’re money is so tied up in everything from your kids’ college tuition to your parents’ medical bills. That might be why 68% of GenXers report that they don’t have a good handle on cash flow, 53% don’t pay off their credit cards regularly, and 23% pay late fees. While changing this behavior may feel like one more thing to add to your to-do list, it will save you time—and stress—in the long run.
  5. Keep an eye on your endgame. Yes, all this juggling can feel overwhelming, but it’s vital that you attack your finances with gusto as soon as possible. Don’t just get your parent’s estate documents squared away—tackle your own as well. Make sure your money is working for you every day, and be sure you have adequate insurance in place to protect your assets and your family. Just like taking care of your health, making your finances a top priority can help lower your stress, give you more time to spend with your family, and ensure you have the financial strength to keep all those balls in the air.

Need help with the financial piece of the puzzle? Contact me to schedule a time to review your specific situation. Together we can plan for the future—your own, your kids’, and your parents’.