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Lauren's Blog

Lauren’s blog covers topics that impact your finances, your family, and your future. Is there a topic you’d like Lauren to tackle? We’d love your suggestions and feedback.

Ready to retire? Consider taking the road less traveled

Ready to retire? Consider taking the road less traveled

It’s inevitable. You tell your friends you’re retiring and the first question out of their mouths is, “What are your plans?” Question number two: “Where are you going?” It seems the connection between travel and retirement has become an obsession in our society. And while it may conjure up images of tropical destinations and “once in a lifetime” adventures, the dream doesn’t always reflect the reality.

My friend Joyce is a perfect example. After working in corporate healthcare for decades, ten years ago she was finally ready to call an end to her career. Of course, the questions and suggestions began immediately: “Where are you off to? Have you thought about a cruise?” “You should go on a safari! It’s the trip of a lifetime!” “We loved Capri! You just have to go!” “You’ve never been to Paris?” Joyce had already traveled a fair amount in her life, for work and pleasure, so the idea of planning a big retirement trip wasn’t even on her radar. Suddenly the pressure was on. She started to feel like she had to travel—it was, after all, what retirees are expected to do.

When we met for coffee a week after her retirement party, she was restless. “I don’t even know where I want to go, but I feel like I should figure it out soon. I’m already bored with my routine!”

It’s a dilemma I see all the time. As retirement looms, people are so focused on closing the door on their careers that they don’t take the time to think about what’s next. They know they’re not ready to settle into a rocking chair, but they have no idea how they want to spend their days.

To help guide Joyce, I posed a question that was much different than, “What’s your travel destination?” Instead, I asked, “What do you want to do in your second half of life?” Joyce looked like a deer in the headlights. I took a sip of my coffee and continued. “Is there anything you’ve dreamed of doing, but have simply never had the time—not including traveling?” We sat quietly for a few minutes, and I could see the wheels turning in her mind. When she did speak, she seemed almost embarrassed, as though she was confessing a dark secret. “Paint,” she said. “I’d love to paint.”

Joyce’s vision was no standard image of an elderly gentlewoman quietly painting landscapes on a sunny hillside. Her dream was to paint large, bold canvasses that would take people’s breath away. I could already picture her in paint-covered overalls tossing paint onto the canvas like a modern-day Helen Frankenthaler. She didn’t know her next step, but she now had a vision in her mind, and it had nothing to do with jumping on a retiree-filled cruise ship.

Don’t go me wrong. I’ve recently discovered my love for travel, and I get that, at least for some people, travel is a retirement dream come true. Even then, I’ve seen peer pressure turn what should be a time of financial freedom into a whole new level of stress and anxiety. Travel anxiety can be especially challenging for anyone who lives in an affluent area, and even more so for affluent couples who set out on their travels together. Suddenly, what could have been a modest, budget-conscious Alaskan cruise morphs into a five-star, luxury journey on the Crystal line—for five times the original cost. The pressure to overspend can come from relatives as well. Knowing that memories are important, it’s all the rage right now for grandma and grandpa to treat the entire family to an all-expenses-paid family vacation, yet few retirees can afford this level of extravagance. I’m all for spending money on experiences instead of “things,” but it’s important to be realistic. If a trip is beyond your budget, that’s the moment you need to stop and ask yourself: whose dream am I living? Mine—or my neighbor’s? Peer pressure can be tremendous, but swallow your ego and make choices that align with your dreams and your budget.

Joyce’s story has a wonderful outcome. After our talk that morning, she decided to make her dream come true. She signed up for classes at Otis College of Art and Design, studied with master teachers, and earned a certificate in Fine Arts. She’s been painting ever since, and though I have yet to see her in overalls (I guess that’s my version of her dream, not hers!), she’s happier than I’ve ever seen her. She does travel a bit, but mostly to New York City on artist trips. By focusing on what she truly wanted, she took the road less traveled (pun intended!) and painted a beautiful “retirement” that even she never saw coming.

If you’re on the cusp of retirement—or even already there—take some time today to brainstorm how you want to spend the next decade of your life. Build a vision board. Journal. And don’t let anyone else’s expectations stand in your way. Once you have some ideas, I recommend sitting down with your financial advisor to figure out a realistic budget, and then take it from there. By charting a path based on your dreams and your finances, you can paint your own picture of a wonderfully fulfilling retirement that’s free of financial anxiety. That’s what I call the “golden years”!

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Rethinking retirement in the “gig economy”

Rethinking retirement in the “gig economy”

There’s a movement going on in America, and it’s something retirees, and those even close to retirement, should start studying—hard. It’s called the “gig economy,” and it’s changing how people think about almost everything. Work. Play. And even the fine line in between the two. It’s changing how we pay and get paid for both, and it’s transforming how people look for work and how the work itself is getting done. Whether you’re looking for extra income to help fund your retirement, or you simply want to work to keep your mind and body active in your later years, understanding the gig economy and how it functions is vital to rethinking your retirement.

Anyone who has been forced to look for work recently can tell you firsthand how the gig economy has flipped the traditional work landscape on its head. Old-fashioned resumes have been replaced by LinkedIn profiles, and even the idea of finding a conventional “job” is fast becoming a thing of the past. Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb have provided a way for almost anyone to earn an income, as well as a whole new way for consumers to find and pay for services.

These companies aren’t alone. Today, there’s a website or an app that offers on-demand services of almost any kind imaginable. DoorDash delivers breakfast, lunch, or dinner from your favorite restaurant to your door at the click of a button. TaskRabbit lets you order up a “trusted and local handyman” within an hour. Dogvacay gives pet owners online access to 5-star pet sitters and dog walkers. And there are just as many services for professional freelancers. Upwork helps companies hire web developers, writers, accountants, and virtual assistants. Guru is the place to find professionals in management and finance, engineering and architecture, and sales and marketing. And UpCounsel is the go-to site for legal services.

Of course, every one of these services requires individuals to provide skills. Whether they are driving for Uber or DoorDash, putting together IKEA furniture, or helping a business crunch the numbers, these workers make up a growing workforce that is already in place. That means that if you thought serving up lattes at your local Starbucks was the only job in town for anyone “post-career,” you’re happily mistaken. The gig economy is taking over, and that’s good news—at least for those who get it and can adapt to this new reality.

The business school at UCI certainly gets it. My friend Howard Mirowitz is on the advisory board at the school’s new Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The center is devoted entirely to inspiring innovation and entrepreneurship in the 21st century. Here students learn both why it’s important to become an entrepreneur, as well as the processes and tools to help turn that dream into a reality. The center fills a need that’s positively exploding. While being an entrepreneur may have sounded like a lofty dream a decade ago, it’s fast becoming mandatory for anyone hoping to succeed in an environment where it’s predicted that 43-50% of workers in the US will be freelancers by 2020. Let me repeat that: 43% to 50% of workers will be freelancers. Whatever your age, if you’re looking for work today, you are part of that statistic. Which means that now is the time to figure out what you have to offer the world and how that fits into what the world needs from you, and then begin to create your opportunities as part of this new, dynamic workforce.

For those of us who grew up in a business world where “climbing the corporate ladder” was the norm and playing by the rules led to a coveted lifetime pension, this new era can be pretty daunting. It requires flexibility and agility, not to mention a good dose of personal marketing savvy and technology know-how as well. So where do you start? It may be a moving target, but these five steps can help you take those first important steps:

  • Start to think differently.Rather than thinking about getting a “job,” make a list of all of your skills—both skills you learned in the traditional workplace and those you learned in life. Next, examine your list and circle the things you would like to continue doing and what someone else wants enough to pay you for. One of these skills may very well be your next “gig.”
     
  • Get a mentor.There’s no doubt about it: millennials have the gig economy down pat. To them, it’s just the way the world works now. If you need help figuring out how you can offer your skills, or even what skills people might be looking for, ask someone younger to serve as your mentor. You’ll be amazed at the knowledge they can offer.
     
  • Market yourself. Create a great LinkedIn profile that uses keywords that match your skill set to be sure people can find you online (learn all about LinkedIn keywords here). No, you don’t need to include dates that might “age” you or list every job you’ve ever had. Focus on what’s relevant to what you’re marketing today. If there’s already an on-demand service that matches your skills (think Upwork and Guru), explore how to get listed. There are even services which provide that service, helping to market everything from your Airbnb rental to your skills in human resources or healthcare.
     
  • Save madly.While there are many upsides to the gig economy, the downside is that it isn’t always consistent. Even if you do find the perfect niche, there may be off times when your services aren’t needed, or the need may change entirely, causing you to have to rethink your focus once again. Having a sizeable emergency fund can help offset potential gaps in income.
     
  • Be flexible.When I left my own corporate career, I realized there was a whole set of skills I needed to learn to succeed at my new goal. If you have some but not all of the skills you need for your new “job,” don’t let that scare you away. And if your interests change, know you have the freedom to change your work focus as well.

The gig economy may be replacing the traditional workplace, but what powers it are three things that will never be replaced: people, knowledge, and skills. By taking a look at the knowledge and skills you bring to the table, you may find that working in the gig economy can help your golden years shine that much brighter. How fun is that?!

 

 

 

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Are you ready to become an investing Wonder Woman?

Are you ready to become an investing Wonder Woman?

The new Wonder Woman movie broke every box office record last weekend, and critics and audiences continue to shout praises, calling it one of the most entertaining—and empowering—movies this year. I had a great time seeing it myself, and while I’m no critic, I thought it was the perfect summer treat: a big, noisy movie with a woman super hero. What could be better?!

But while yes, having the power to win the battle of evil in the “war to end all wars” would be pretty great, what I really wish is that I could give every woman Diana-level confidence in a superpower she already has today. That superpower, of course, is investing.

Here’s the great news for all you warriors out there: Another study just came out that showed that women are better at investing than men. That’s something to celebrate! As a group, we plan better, we take less risk, and (this should be no news to anyone!) we’re more patient—and these are all factors that add up to larger returns in the world of investing. But here’s the not-so-good news: we lack the confidence of Diana. Despite the data, women continue to see men as better, smarter investors. Among 1,500 women polled last December, only 9% thought women would earn a bigger year-end return than men. That’s a disconnect that matters. After all, if we don’t see ourselves as smart investors, how can we ever overcome the earnings gap and finally take control of our own finances?

Whether you’re one of the doubters or you have complete confidence on your investing skills, here are five things every woman can do today to become an investing Wonder Woman:

  1. Own the fact that you have the mindset to be a wise investor.
    Diana has the skills to fight evil. You have what it takes to be a great investor. Know this. Research shows that when women take the helm for our own retirement planning, we tend to be smarter, more levelheaded investors. And yet in most families, men have the trusted relationship with a financial advisor, while women take on the role of a “financial child” in the household. It’s time to take a different path. Trust that you have what it takes to make smart investment decisions, and talk to your advisor yourself to be sure your investments address your own needs and are aligned with your own values. And if you need to build up your knowledge of the basics, start with my blog post When did it become ok to be financially illiterate?
     
  2. Make retirement planning your number-one priority.
    Longevity is a huge issue for women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women can expect to live about five years longer than men. At the same time, between taking time off to care for children and our own aging parents, a persistent wage gap that reduces our take-home pay as well as our future Social Security payments, and a historically lower pay rate, we typically have fewer resources to fund our longer lives. That means it’s critical that you start planning for retirement as early as possible. While you may not be able to overcome some of the gender barriers that can haunt any woman’s account balance, the combination of persistence and compounding can help close that gap.
     
  3. Pay your future self first.
    If you’re like most women, it’s easy to put saving for retirement on the back burner. But let’s face it: there will always be bills to pay and extra expenses to manage. To be sure your retirement doesn’t get lost in the financial shuffle, work with your advisor to determine how much you need to save, and then set a schedule to pay yourself first—every month. The more automated your contributions can be, the better. And rather than feeling deprived, think of that savings as a “freedom fund” for your future self. A June 2016 studyshowed that 83% of women in the US aren't saving enough for retirement. Don’t represent that statistic! By being diligent now, you can create your own financial freedom—no matter how you choose to spend your time later in life.
     
  4. Make conscious decisions about 'image' purchases.
    As a professional woman and business owner, I know all too well how expensive the societal pressures can be for women to spend on our images. We are judged by appearances much more than men, so the cost of a wardrobe, manicures, haircuts, and more can take a very real bite out of every paycheck—which is already smaller than a man's. (Just ask Hillary Clinton, who has said she was thrilled to put away her makeup after losing her Presidential bid last year; I doubt any male candidates felt the same relief!) It's a double standard, and whether you are paying your bill at Nordstrom or the plastic surgeon, it all adds up. Remember: your image is important, but that doesn't mean you need a Prada suit to look your best. Decide which purchases are necessities, which are optional, and be honest about what you can really afford.
     
  5. Fight like a superhero for equal pay!
    Women still earn less than 100% of a man’s dollar, and that will likely never change without pay visibility. For decades, corporations have promoted a culture of secrecy about pay. This reality puts women and minorities at a distinct disadvantage. After all, how can we advocate for ourselves if we don’t even know what our co-workers earn? By removing the taboos around pay transparency, we can end this inequality once and for all. At the same time, we need to start placing a real, tangible economic value on caring for children and aging parents—work that is largely taken on by women. By offering benefits such as disability insurance, health insurance, and Social Security credits for this very real and necessary work, we can finally begin to recognize that the care being provided is a valuable part of the fabric of our community and our society as a whole.

Women can be great investors, but our mindset alone isn’t enough to change our trajectory. Just like Diana, Princess of the Amazon, we need to take real action. We need to see ourselves as the smart investors we are, focus on saving for our own futures, and balance our need to create a great image with our need to gain a greater financial advantage. And we need to fight the good fight for equal pay—even if it takes Diana’s God-killer Sword and Lasso of Truth to spur on salary transparency! Lastly, even Wonder Woman counts on the rest of the Justice League to help her succeed. Find a team you trust, and start taking control of your financial life today. Your future self will thank you for taking your job as an investing Wonder Woman seriously—no shield required.

Photo: TM © 2017 DC Comics

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What would you change if you were rich?

What would you change if you were rich?

I’m a theatre lover, so it won’t surprise you that I know the lyrics to “If I Were a Rich Man” from the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof by heart. In the song, Tevye sings about how his life would change if he were, indeed, a rich man. For the peasant Tevye, his dreams are pretty simple. But have you ever asked yourself how you would change your life if you were rich?

I sat down with Jack and Mary last week and asked this very question. Both recently retired, they’re financially fortunate. They have been very careful with their money, have saved a significant amount and, as icing on the cake, five years ago they received a large family inheritance. Logic would say that they should be able to relax now and simply enjoy the benefits of a well-planned, well-funded retirement. But when it comes to money, logic doesn’t always prevail. Instead of enjoying their assets, they focus on being frugal—to an extreme. And because Jack is even less comfortable spending money than Mary is, it’s a source of tension in their relationship.

To help de-stress the situation, I gave Jack a little homework: I asked him to simply write down what he’d do differently if he felt rich. When I read his answers, I couldn’t help but think of Tevye’s simple dreams. Why? Because while they aren’t the dreams of a fictional peasant, Jack’s dreams are almost as simple., Jack said that if he felt rich, he would eat more sushi, buy more books on his Kindle, and eat out at nice restaurants more often. If he felt really wealthy, he said he would think about replacing his 10-year-old car, fly first-class on an airplane (at least once!), and treat himself to a new camera. Even in his wildest dreams, Jack is anything but a spendthrift!

My good friend Ava is another example of someone who has turned frugality into an art form. Divorced when her children were still small, she was determined to create a financially sound life for herself and her family. She spent as little as possible, saving every penny she could in jars labeled as “lunch money.” Today Ava’s “lunch money” amounts to tens of thousands of dollars. She may not be rich (yet), but she’s well on her way to a very comfortable retirement. The problem? She rarely lets her frugal mindset—or herself—take a luxury vacation. Over the years, I’ve done everything I can to persuade her to use some of her savings to do things that will make her happy today.

Happily, we’ve made great progress. I’ve had more than a few calls lately that burst with excitement: “Lauren, you’ll be so proud of me!” Ava is finally remodeling her home (something we’ve talked about for over a decade!), and she’s now planning to go to a yoga retreat… in Hawaii. I couldn’t be happier for her. She’ll never overspend, but at least she’s allowing herself to enjoy the fruits of her labor—and her “lunch money.”

If you’ve built your life around saving, it can be quite a challenge to suddenly change your mindset, no matter what the numbers tell you. As an advisor, I know that I can’t solve internal problems with external solutions. You can look at all the charts and projections in the world, but that won’t change how you feel on the inside, and that’s what matters most when it comes to financial confidence and peace of mind. So what’s the answer?

Start by recognizing that the process is different for everyone, and that it takes time. Just as it can be difficult for someone who has overspent their entire life to put boundaries on their spending habits, if you’ve never let yourself feel comfortable spending—even when you have the money to spend—it can be difficult to open your wallet without feeling those old pangs of guilt.

The next step is to take a close look at your assets and your budget. Are you under-spending? If so, do you know why? Are you scared of outliving your money? Did your parents teach you that saving was “right” and spending was “wrong”? Perhaps start by journaling about it to get to your essential truth. Ask yourself why you have trouble spending. And if you’re ready to have some fun, ask yourself the Tevye question: How you would change your life if you were rich? Your answers may surprise you!

Of course, finding the level of spending that’s right for you is a balancing act, and very few of us have such unlimited assets that we can completely forget about budgeting. A trusted advisor can help you understand how much money you have today, establish a realistic budget based on your cash flow, and help you start to internalize your boundaries moving forward. It can be a freeing experience, but it has to come from the inside.

My friend Donna is newly widowed, and understanding how to set her spending boundaries is a learning process. She calls me often for help. “Can I buy this?” she asks. My reply is always the same: “I don’t know… tell me, exactly how long are you going to live?” We both laugh, and then we move on to the reality of helping her find her new balance. It will come. Until then, I just keep reminding her that she does have assets. Her real challenge is to gain the confidence and peace of mind to know she’s not overspending, while still being generous to herself. Donna deserves it. Don’t you?

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How long do you plan to live? (And are you planning for it?)

How long do you plan to live? (And are you planning for it?)

Back in January, I dove into Jonathan Clements’s fantastic book How to Think About Money. My blog Money really can buy happiness introduced the first step in this great guide: Buy more happiness. The second step may be even more important, in part because it’s something almost everyone I know seems to be in denial about. What is step two? Bet on a long life!

It’s quite an anomaly. Humans embrace anti-aging remedies and strive for immortality, but when planning for our financial life, we frequently place our bets on living fewer years than is reasonable to expect. The data is out there. We are living longer. In 1900, the average life expectancy was just 52 for men, and 58 for women. What a difference a century makes! Men and women who are in their mid-60s today can now anticipate living to age 90, and 10% can plan to celebrate their 95th birthdays! Knowing that, why do so many people plan their finances as if they were still living in the olden days? If our golden years are likely to last two to three decades, it’s time to start getting serious about planning to sustain a long, happy, healthy life. And while there are lots of pieces to the planning puzzle, here are five ways to help propel you on the right path forward:

  1. Reset your expiration date. For years, we’ve been conditioned to see our 60s as the final stage—the denouement—of our lives. Get over it! The fact is, if you only live to your 60s, you’ll be among the unfortunate few. The good news is that once you change your mindset and reset your target date, almost every decision you make about the future will change. Your approach to investing will shift (see #2). You’ll suddenly have permission to make a mid-life career change and finally explore a passion that brings even greater joy in the decades ahead. Instead of seeing the years ahead as a slow, inevitable decline, you’ll start to look at—and hopefully realize!—all of the breathtaking opportunities ahead.
     
  2. Invest (and keep investing!) in stocks. When it comes to investing, the golden rule is to “invest early and often.” Thanks to the magic of compounding, the longer your dollars stay invested, the greater the compound (i.e. exponential) growth. My client Polly is my favorite example of this in action. She and her husband bought shares of great companies in the 1950s, reinvested dividends, held the splits and spinoffs, and didn’t react the to “the market.” When her husband died a few years ago, she was assured a secure widowhood and is planning her charitable legacy. Intuitively Polly and her husband know that capitalism works. Markets work. Downturns happen, but over the long term, the market continues to climb skyward. Invest as early as possible, and you can sit back for the ride.

    Twenty years ago, there was a rule of thumb to “hold your age in bonds” to protect your savings from any untimely downturns in the market. Why doesn’t that rule apply today? It assumed that retirement would last only a decade or so. Imagine a 30-year-old pulling out of the market to “protect her assets” at age 50. It’s unthinkable! In the same way, while you may choose to get slightly more conservative in your later years, staying in the market continues to provide the greatest potential for continued returns. Invest—and keep investing—and you’re much more likely to enjoy a lifetime of financial freedom.
     
  3. Delay claiming Social Security. The Social Security claiming decision is one of the most critical retirement decisions most American will make. For most of us, it should be a no-brainer. Claiming benefits before Full Retirement Age (FRA) costs you a bundle. In fact, between age 62 (when most people become eligible for Social Security benefits) and FRA at age 66 or 67 depending on your birth year, your monthly check increases by 5% a year. Waiting until age 70 increases your benefits even more, by a whopping 8% for each year you delay, up until age 70. Knowing that the chances are good that you’ll live another 15-20 years (especially if you’re a woman), why would you not take advantage of this guaranteed, inflation-adjusted longevity insurance? You can’t get much better! (For more details, see my blog Social Security & Women: Tackling the Challenges.)
     
  4. Consider other income streams.  While traditional pensions are largely a thing of the past (consider yourself lucky if you do have one!), guaranteed lifetime income is something for which we all strive. Consider options such as income annuities (an entirely different product than deferred annuities, which I hate, and so should you!), fixed income strategies, and longevity insurance (a less expensive option that starts paying a guaranteed income when you reach a certain age, say 80 or 85). Everyone’s situation is different, so be sure to work with your advisor to do a detailed analysis and identify the options that are best for you. The most important thing: don’t delay. The earlier you put your plan in place, the more optimal your outcome.
     
  5. Stop worrying about dying young. One of the biggest arguments I hear from clients when it comes to longevity planning is, “What if I die earlier? Won’t I be leaving money on the table?” It is true that most analyses will provide a “break even point” for Social Security and certain insurance benefits, and if you do die earlier than hoped, you may have given up a small percentage of potential earnings. But just look at the alternative: by making your decisions based on a long life—not a short one—you can create more income, which gives you more choices and more freedom, no matter how long you are lucky enough to live. Focus on the amazing possibilities a longer life has to offer and bet on living it to the fullest!

If you groan, roll your eyes, and say “God forbid” when someone mentions the possibility of living beyond 100, give me a call to discuss how to make your money last. The sooner we start planning, the more prepared you’ll be if (when?!) you reach that triple digit!

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How to Win Big in Retirement (and Life)

How to Win Big in Retirement (and Life)

Picture this: a group of a dozen women and men; most are retired or semi-retired, diving together for seven full days in a tropical paradise. Every person in this “older crowd” is not only healthy enough to get themselves to the Gulf of Mexico to enjoy an activity they love, but they’ve also achieved a level of financial security that, while it may not have them swimming in money, at least has them swimming with the fish. No matter what challenges they have faced in the past, these are people who are truly succeeding at retirement.

How did they achieve the Holy Grail and “win big” in retirement? That’s what I found myself asking as I enjoyed my days with this great group in Cozumel last week. As a financial advisor, this type of winning is my goal for all of my clients, and I wanted to understand how this group had gotten where they are today. So I listened to their stories.

My friend Chantal (my travel companion and dive buddy for this trip) told me that, for her, “retirement is freedom.” After years or hard work, she wanted to be free to enjoy life on her terms. To make it happen, she decided to retire but to continue to do some part-time work as an expert witness (she has a Ph.D. in Pharmacology). The rest of her time is her own. Chantal looks at the world as an opportunity, and even when things go a bit sideways, she has a way of always looking at the sunny side of the situation. (It’s no wonder I love having her by my side as a fellow traveler!)

When Ken, our travel leader in Cozumel, was ready to leave the corporate world, he started thinking about what would make him happiest. He had been the leader of his dive club for years, and diving was and is his passion. He decided to semi-retire and turn his passion into a business. Channel Island Dive Adventures was born, and Ken (and all the rest of us) couldn’t be happier!

Chantal, Ken, and others I chatted with on the trip have something other than diving in common. (While it may sound like an easy fix, I don’t think diving is the key to a successful retirement!) Interestingly, what they share seemed to jump straight from the pages of the book I was reading during the trip: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (Kind of the Story of my Life) by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams. This semi-memoir isn’t a great piece of literature, but it’s a fun, inspiring read, and it drove home everything I was seeing and hearing during my weeklong adventure. What I realized is that nearly everyone in our group followed what Adams lays out as his steps for “winning big.” They worked for Adams, who opened—and soon closed—two restaurants, was fired from multiple jobs, and who managed to leverage his failures into fame and fortune as a successful cartoonist. And they worked for my fellow divers, all of whom seem to be living their retirement dreams—on their terms. Here are the three common keys to success: 

  1. Make fitness and sleep a priority. No matter how much money we have to spend in retirement, none of that will do any good unless we’re healthy enough to enjoy life! Keep your body moving. Walk. Do yoga. Lift weights. Do whatever you can to keep your body fit and active. And while there are never enough hours in the day, most people need to spend about 8 hours sleeping to function at their best. According to this article in AgingCare.com by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults—seven to nine hours of sleep per night.” Not getting enough? The article also offers tips to help make it happen.
     
  2. Reduce stress. Easier said than done, I know, but the impacts of stress on your body and your mind are many. It’s one reason I began a dedicated meditation routine last year. And while there are many approaches to help reduce stress, remember that stress is caused by the things you don’t do. Take care of the things that increase your stress levels first.
     
  3. Have a positive attitude. Scott Adams’ stories about his life are great examples of turning lemons into lemonade. Corny as it is, that kind of positive attitude can change how you see the world—and how the world sees you in return. According to this great article in the Huffington Post, “positive thinking” is no longer a fluffy term that is easy to dismiss. In fact, research shows that “positive thoughts can create real value in your life and help you build skills that last much longer than a smile.”

How can you win big in retirement? Start with these three steps. Of course, getting your financial ducks in a row is also key. Work with an advisor you trust, and be sure to look at every aspect of your financial life—including your retirement goals. Stress really is caused by the things you don’t do. By planning well for your future, you can reduce stress, increase happiness and, indeed, win big in retirement. 

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Leonard Cohen: Lessons from a master in the art of aging

Leonard Cohen: Lessons from a master in the art of aging

It seems the Nobel judges and I have a bit in common. I’ve always viewed certain musicians as master poets. At the top of my list of lifelong favorites: Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and, of course, the inimitable Leonard Cohen. Bob Dylan recently grabbed many headlines with the announcement that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this year “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” (As of this writing, Dylan has still not responded to the Nobel Academy to acknowledge the honor.) At the same time, Dylan’s slightly older friend and musical peer Leonard Cohen has been making headlines of his own. At age 82, when most people of his generation are happy simply to have time to relax, Cohen is doing anything but settling down. Last week he released a new album, “You Want It Darker,” and in typical Cohen fashion, he hasn’t shied away from topics many choose to avoid. In the title track, he declares “Hineni, I’m ready, my Lord.” When asked recently if he was truly ready to die, his reply was this: “I may have exaggerated.” Classic.

In a recent interview in The New Yorker, Cohen discussed aging, and what it means to him on a very personal level:

“At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities and the benefits of it are incalculable.”

As is often the case, I agree wholeheartedly with the man. Aging is a great gift, and if we take the steps needed to “put our house in order,” we can appreciate our later years even more. Perhaps even ease oh-so-slowly into that moment when we are, in fact, ready to die. What does it mean exactly to put your house in order? As a financial planner, my mind immediately goes to money. If you plan well enough that you don’t have financial challenges when you’re older, you can free your mind up for the rest of the equation. (For more on planning for the financial burdens ahead, read my blog, Aging: 4 steps to walking a smoother path toward the inevitable.)

Money isn’t the only factor in that critical equation. Many believe essential work—something that engages your mind, your spirit, and even your soul—is vital. Cohen is an amazing example of someone who has continued to produce essential work as long as possible. Perhaps the lack of distractions in old age has helped him be so prolific. He says that, compared to other times in his life, the lack of distraction “enables me to work with a little more concentration and continuity than when I had duties of making a living, being a husband, being a father… the only thing that mitigates against full production is just the condition of my body.”

If Cohen is any example, it seems that putting your house in order also includes deciding what you want to achieve in your last decade or two of life, and how to make it happen. We often think of artists as being the tortured ones—they struggle for years to achieve their goals, and even then they’re often not appreciated for the result. But Cohen has a passion that has kept his mind and his soul engaged his entire life. For the rest of us, it may take some introspection to discover what we want now that we finally have the time to achieve something new.

My good friend Sue Alpert discovered her own “second half of life” passion after she became a widow. Following her own experience, she dedicated her life to helping others prepare for the death of a spouse or other loved one. Her mission is to help others reduce the chaos that can swallow a new widow or widower whole by encouraging people to prepare for the business of loss. (You can take her quiz here to see how prepared you are for loss, and learn the proactive steps you can take to tackle important planning and organization before it’s too late.)

If you don’t have your financial house in order, now is the time to talk to a financial advisor and make it happen. And if you’re struggling to identify your own essential work—what you want and need to achieve in your second half of life—I recommend looking at the Halftime Institute, a program designed to help pursue significance later in life. Marc Freedman’s book, “Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life,” is another inspiring resource. (To learn more about Marc Freedman and Encore, see my blog Inspirations: Finding Purpose in Your second Half of Life.) If you find what you’re seeking, I’d love to hear your story.

Leonard Cohen remains one of my heroes. I’ve already downloaded the new album on iTunes and I can’t wait to listen to every word. As for the new Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan, he’s practically a youngster at 75. Time will tell how much this other great poet may teach us about aging in the years to come.

Not sure your financial house is in order?  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to schedule a time to chat. As always, I’m here to help.

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Market volatility making you crazy? 5 tips to managing your emotions

Market volatility making you crazy? 5 tips to managing your emotions

I like to say that if my clients are worried when the market does somersaults, then I’m not doing my job. And yet, I know that no matter how much I talk about prudent portfolio risk and why our focus on the long-term mitigates the impact of short-term market fluctuations, it can be a challenge to turn off that voice in your head that starts making noise when the market dips. The nagging questions can persist. How will this affect my income? Should I be making any adjustments? Will I really have enough to retire or take care of myself?

While those questions may always rear their ugly heads when the market is in the red, here are 5 tips to help you stay on top of your emotions—and on track toward financial success:

1.     Admit you’re human
In fact, embrace it! Why? As humans, we are never (ever!) free of emotions. That means that the majority of our decisions—as much as 90%—are based on our reactions to events and, yes, our emotions. Which also means that a measly 10% of our decisions are based on technical realities. If you can accept your humanity and realize that emotions play a huge role in everything we do, then you just might be ready to be an investor. (For more on juggling being human with the rollercoaster ride of investing, take a look at my blog Finance and feelings: Navigating life’s twists and turns.)

2.     Get clarity about your personal values and goals
Since emotions drive our actions, it’s important to realize that each one of us has “money scripts”—absolute truths that seem to have come from our mother’s milk and that dictate how we think about money. We’re taught to be generous… or thrifty… or that “charity begins at home.” We’re given rules like “tithing is required” or “the children come first” or “children should stand on their own two feet.” We’re told that our “net worth” is our “real worth.” (For more on this topic, see my blog Money Rules.) But in the real world, these learned truths may not be so true after all.

Look carefully at your values and goals, and understand your personal truth. Throw out anything that doesn’t fit your reality. Define your personal values and goals, and then determine how much money you need to support them. Start with how much you need for the basics—food, clothing, shelter, medical—today and in the future, and then decide how you want to use the excess. What’s most important to you? Consider things like funding your grandchildren’s education, traveling, starting a business, supporting a cause, or leaving a family legacy. The options are limitless, and they’re highly individual.

3.     Be humble
There’s an Old English proverb that says it well: Enough is as good as a feast. When it comes to investing, your ultimate goal should be simple: save enough to support your goals. Remember, when investing, average is good. If your goal is to beat the market, you’re bound to assume an unwise amount of risk. A more humble approach is to trust the rules of investing, carefully balance risk and return, and set a goal of accumulating  enough assets to support your life. You may not experience the “thrill of victory,” but you’re also much less likely to suffer the “agony of defeat.”

4.     Get help
Getting the help of an objective third party can help remove the emotion from investing and support smarter, more rational decisions. My clients Doug and Marie used to have terrible arguments about money. They had very different values and goals, and that disconnect created highly emotional conflicts. When we started working together, I asked them each to write down their feelings about money, as well as their values and goals. Now, even if they don’t agree, they at least understand each other’s perspective. And when they do disagree—or their emotions start to override smart financial decision-making—they “just call Lauren.” 

5.     Stay true to your goals
Judy had been retired for just over five years when the market crashed back in 2008. It was a dramatic time when many investors were letting their emotions dictate their decisions. Pundits posited that the market would never be the same and that staying put would be a sure path to financial ruin. Judy watched friends pull everything they had out of the market and put their assets into “safe” places—short-term CDs, bonds, and even savings accounts. They all said they’d “get back in” when and if the market recovered. Judy knew her plan was sound; she knew her goals, and she stayed invested.

It took a while, but the market recovered. In the past two months, it’s set new record highs, with the Dow jumping past 18,000. As a result, when we reviewed Judy’s portfolio last week, she was thrilled to realize that she has almost the same amount in her account as the day she retired over 12 years ago. That’s the strength of the market. That’s the power of long-term investing.

When you have a solid plan in place that’s designed to support your values and goals, short-term shifts in the market don’t have the power to deliver financial catastrophe. In fact, if you’re still contributing to your savings, market dips will help your long-term outcome by giving you an opportunity to buy more for less. Even when you’re in the distribution phase, we design your portfolio to insulate you from volatility. And if you start to doubt yourself? Go back to step one and remember: you’re human. Then review your values and goals, and trust that you’re on track to have enough to live the life you were meant to live.

Need help building—or sticking to—a solid, long-term investment approach? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  me to schedule a time to chat. As always, I’m here to help!

[Photo credit: Daniel Ito]

 

 

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Is “retirement” the only answer? Take time to rethink the possibilities

Is “retirement” the only answer? Take time to rethink the possibilities

As a financial advisor, you would think I’ve seen a million definitions of retirement. What’s surprising to me is that I haven’t! In fact, not all, but certainly most of the people I work with tend to see retirement as an absolute goal and an endpoint. That’s why I’ve made it one of my primary goals to break that definition wide open and help every client rethink their possibilities.

At 52, Leslie is well into a very successful and lucrative career in aerospace. When we sat down for her financial review last summer, she hit me with the question almost before I’d said hello: “When can I retire?” I was taken aback for a moment. The last time we’d talked, she’d seemed satisfied with her job, and she was bursting with excitement about a new project she was working on at the time. “You’re only 52 Leslie,” I said (with just a little envy!). “What’s the urgency?”

She slumped back in her chair, and every part of her seemed to collapse. “I’m just so tired of it all. The corporate craziness. The fighting for each new project. The hamster wheel. I love the actual work, but I don’t know how much longer I can stand the process I have to go through to roll up my sleeves and just do my job.” Anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world can commiserate. But I’ve known Leslie for years, and she looked and sounded like she was truly at the end of her rope. Suddenly what I expected to be a pretty eventless review meeting was carrying much more weight.

The first thing I did was look at the numbers, and they looked pretty good—so good, in fact, that my calculations showed that Leslie could realistically retire in just two years, at age 54. For many, that would be a dream come true, but I knew that for someone like her, it could be a recipe for discontent, if not downright disaster. So I started asking some important questions. I didn’t focus on budgets or savings or future expenses. What I wanted to explore was what she wanted the next 50 years —or even the next 10—to look like. Here are just a few of the questions I asked:

If you aren’t going to an office every day, what do you see yourself doing—every day?

Do you see yourself living in the same place you are today? Do you have a dream destination?

How do you socialize? Are most of your friends work colleagues, or do you have other circles of friends? What about extended family? When and where do you get together?

What activities do you do outside of work? Is there anything you do that might become a second career?

Are you active in any charitable work? Do you volunteer?

You seem to love what you do. Is there a way to transfer your skills to another organization? Would you be interested in teaching?

If not, will you be happy not doing the work you’ve been passionate about for years?

Is there something else you love that could replace that passion?

If you could have chosen a different career, what would it have been? Is there anything you’ve always wanted to explore but never had the time to pursue?

As we sat sipping our coffees and chatting, I didn’t maneuver Leslie’s thinking; I just worked with her to paint her picture of her future. Her frustration at the office had prevented her from looking beyond her “day job.” At first, this type of “playing” wasn’t easy. Toying with the ideas felt like breaking out of a well-sealed box. But once she got there, we were suddenly onto something! “I’ve always wanted to write,” she confessed. “Not a novel or anything like that. Not fiction. But I’ve never seen a textbook that clearly explains the concepts we use every day in aerospace engineering. It’s this vacancy of information that would be so valuable for anyone entering the field.”

As soon as the words were out, everything about her seemed to change. She was literally on the edge of her seat, her eyes were bright with excitement, and her voice was as happy and clear as the last time we’d met when she had gushed about that old project. What a transformation.

It’s been a year since that meeting. On the surface, not much has changed. Leslie is still working at her job in aerospace. She’s still frustrated with corporate politics and the battle for projects. Yet her outlook has changed dramatically. She is planning to leave her job next year, and she’s headed for anything but a traditional retirement. After our talk, she began to research the process of writing a textbook. She shopped around a proposal to multiple publishers, and one has already expressed interest in her book. It’s a long, multi-year process from proposal to publication, but Leslie is well on her way to making her “retirement” dream come true.

No matter how near or far retirement is for you, I invite you to take a good look at yourself—your goals, your passions, your dreams—and rethink how you envision living your own retirement. And no matter what size your nest egg may be when the time comes, I hope you make choices that bring the most thrilling opportunities to life.

Want some guidance exploring your definition of retirement?  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to schedule a time to chat. As always, I’m here to help!

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Facing divorce? 5 tips to protect your financial future

Facing divorce? 5 tips to protect your financial future

I don’t think there’s anyone among us who doesn’t have a story about 2008. Whether you lost a significant chunk of your retirement savings (at least temporarily), watched your parents struggle, or saw your colleagues panic and your friends lose their homes, it was a devastating period. The market has been volatile ever since even as it slowly and surely climbs to new highs. However, there’s a situation many people—especially older couples—face all the time that has the power to bring on even greater long-term financial devastation. What is this monstrous risk? Divorce.

Denise emailed me last week, and I was surprised to hear the elation and relief in her voice. “I’m finally doing it,” she said. “I’ve wanted a divorce for years, but I finally got the courage to make the leap. Even better, Doug feels the same, so I think it will be pretty easy. Amicable even.”

Before the words were out of her mouth, I felt my stomach drop. I hated to burst her bubble, but I also know the reality all too well. When couples divorce, no matter how “amicable” the situation may be, financial distress is inevitable. Add even the slightest bit of hostility to the mix, and you can be sure that distress will increase.

While I wish there was a way to ease the road ahead, or at least add even a tiny sugar coating, the fact is that there’s rarely a way to avoid the personal financial downturn that comes with divorce. No matter how much you’d both like a different outcome, this will be your “personal 2008.” Your assets will be divided in half. You will have two households to support, two retirements to fund and, if children are involved, two “family” vacations to pay for—all further compounded by legal fees to iron out custody details on top of everything else.

Don’t get me wrong: I would never wish for anyone to stay in a marriage only for financial reasons. Life is too short for a couple to stay in a non-productive, dysfunctional relationship. However, the sooner both parting parties face the fiscal realities of divorce, the sooner they can begin to make the appropriate adjustments to move forward financially. It’s a tough mandate considering the emotional turmoil in motion, but it’s a must.

Rather than breaking the news to Denise on the phone, we scheduled a meeting to look at the details. When we sat face to face, here’s what I shared:

  1. Be prepared for a lifestyle change. I’ve seen people stuck in faulty assumptions, unable to let go of lifestyle changes, even keeping an unaffordable house “for the kids’ sake.” Often, downsizing in every way is not only optimal, but mandatory. If your happiness is based on living in the same place and affording the same luxuries, you’re in for a rude awakening. This shift is huge, and you need to understand the ramifications at the outset.
     
  2. Be realistic about your budget. Yes, this includes supporting two households, and that will eat up a major chunk of any expendable income, but mortgage and rent are not the only factors. As soon as you have a clear picture of your monthly income, you’ll need to create a budget that matches that number to avoid an increase in debt due to overspending.
     
  3. Include retirement in your planning. Couples who remain together can anticipate the reduced expenses that come with a single dwelling and shared expenses. Going solo means you’ll need even more to support your non-earning years. If you’re over 50, consider making “catch-up” contributions to your retirement. If that’s not possible, at the very least, be sure you are contributing every month to help ensure you don’t outlive your assets as a single.
     
  4. Don’t count on the promises of your attorney. While I do hope that most divorce attorneys are striving to act in your best interest, we’re all optimists at heart and, even more so, some attorneys will tell you only what you want to hear. Wait until your case is closed to spend money that’s not yet in your pocket. Once your Marital Settlement Agreement is final, you’ll have an accurate sense of your financial capacity. Until then, keep your wallet closed as much as possible.
     
  5. Keep an eye on the details. If you’re on your spouse’s health insurance plan, those benefits may end when your divorce is final. If you decide to sell your home post-divorce, you may face capital gains taxes if the appreciation is greater than $250K. However, if you sell “incident to divorce,” you and your spouse may both qualify for a $500K exemption from capital gains instead of just half that amount. (A transfer is incident to divorce if it occurs within one year after the marriage ceases, or if it is related to cessation of the marriage.) Details add up and have a major impact on your financial health—now and down the road. Work with a professional advisor to be sure you know which decisions matter most, and when.

When Denise and I finished talking, she wasn’t on the same cloud nine. Reality checks are rarely comfortable. But she did tell me she felt much more prepared for what was to come. “It may not be as easy as I thought it could be,” she said, “but I’m still certain we’ll all be happier over the long term. I know I have some serious homework to do!”

If you’re facing divorce, I urge you to take a close look at your finances and make the best possible decisions as you walk this new path. Whether you’re wearing rose-colored glasses or are mired in the common distress and shock of it all, taking time out to review the money side of the equation may make it much easier to find joy as you enter a whole new phase of life. 

Need help working out the financial details of your divorce?  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  me to schedule a confidential session. As always, I’m here to help.

 

 

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Retirement stress: When “living the dream” doesn’t come easy

Retirement stress: When “living the dream” doesn’t come easy

I came into financial planning in the second half of my career. It is truly a calling for me. As a CFP®, I adhere to a code of ethics that holds competence as a core principle and requires a commitment to lifelong professional education. Because there is always more to learn and new ways to help my clients achieve their goals, I recently began coursework through the Sudden Money Institute to become a Certified Financial Transitionist®. It’s a natural fit for me, and I’m thrilled to say that after completing Part One of the program, I’m already putting some of the lessons into action.

One of the topics we covered in the first session last weekend was the importance of mindset in how one defines and handles the stress that comes with every life transition. Mindsets exist at two ends of the spectrum, with a growth mindset at one end and a fixed mindset at the other. People with a growth mindset see stress as a challenge, while people with a fixed mindset see stress as a threat. Every transition comes with stress, but your mindset dictates how you respond when something you care about is at stake.

Oddly (or so I thought so at first), one of the most stressful transitions I could think of with my clients is one that is viewed as a positive change: retirement. In nearly every case, approaching retirement is full of a crazy amount of stress. So much for that vision of the happy couple laughing hand in hand as they stroll on the sand! Instead, retirement often comes with a ton of uncertainty, fear, disagreement, and emotional chaos. Here’s an example:

My clients Wendy and Brian have been looking forward to retirement for years. Brian is five years older than Wendy, so he retired a few years ago. Wendy is still working at a job she loves, but Brian wants to travel, hike and fish, and do all the things he’s afraid they’ll soon be too old to enjoy. They agreed on a retirement date for Wendy, and with my help, they’ve been working toward that goal. Now that date is just around the corner, and instead of feeling joyful, Wendy is completely stressed out. When she and Brian met in my office last week, I could feel the tension between them, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t seem to help them focus on the rational aspects of their retirement plan. Both Wendy and Brian were swimming in emotion, and their upset was palpable. When life changes, money changes—and that’s stressful.

Wendy’s mindset about retirement was a fixed mindset. She had a negative view of stress, and every decision felt life-threatening. When I asked Wendy what she was thinking and feeling, she said, “I realize how confused I am about what my life will look like after I leave my job. Who will I be? What can I afford? Will we have enough money to live like we do now? Brian wants to travel the world, but I’m not sure that’s at the top of my list,” she said. “Everything feels upside down. I realized I’ve been running so hard to get to the end of work that I haven’t been able to face what is beyond. What is retirement? There are so many things I need to understand before taking the leap!”

Brian’s mindset about retirement was a growth mindset. He realized all the changes he would have to address, but he was excited and challenged. Although Wendy and Brian were in sync with their goals and dreams, their different mindsets triggered very different responses to the stress that comes with the transition to retirement. Given that there are two sides to money—the technical and the emotional—our work together will address the emotional side first so Wendy and Brian can rise to the challenge of the next phase of life, connect with others, and learn and grow together.

If your retirement (or another life-changing event) is around the corner, here are three steps to get you started on a path toward your “new normal”:

Step 1: Examine your mindset about stress
By taking a deeper look at how stress triggers your responses, you can harness the power of stress and position yourself to learn and grow. Do you act or react to major change or loss? Are you reactive and closed off, or are you responsive and open? Acting puts you in a growth mindset, while reacting puts you in a fixed mindset. Explore ways to take control of change. Share your stories and your history so you can better understand yourself and those who share your life.

Step 2: Know what’s at stake in the future
This iswhere you move towards the stress to name it, understand it, and embrace it. When life changes, money changes, and this is important. At this stage, it’s important to name your fears. Are you afraid of being a bag lady, or are you afraid of failing to live the life of your dreams? Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but your career got in the way, and you now have the time to realize your dream. Maybe you want to see the Northern Lights or spend more time with grandchildren or take up a second career (perhaps a service-based career like the opportunities I talked about in my recent blog Inspirations: Finding purpose in your second half of life). There are no rules. Take the time to explore how you want to live it so you can make it happen.

Step 3: Harness the power of stress
With a growth mindset and a clear idea of what is at stake—for you—you will be more open to opportunities and learning. Now you can work on the technical side of money; set realistic budgets, set meaningful goals, and strive to build a community of friends and family. Remember that after 50, changes come fast and furious, so when the next change comes (and it will), you’ll have created the capacity to be responsive rather than reactive. You’ll get a little older; you’ll get a little wiser, and the trade-off will be a good thing!

When I meet with Wendy and Brian meet next week, we’ll follow these steps, taking the time to dig into each area to help them find a deeper connection, decrease stress and, most importantly, have a shared growth mindset that will serve them well through this transition and all the rest to come.

Remember: endings bring transitions, and every transition leads to a new normal. Fostering a growth mindset through transitions will enable you to harness the creative power of stress so you can get to your “new normal” with as little uncertainty, fear, disagreement, and emotional chaos as possible.

Having troublesliding smoothly into retirement? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to schedule a time to chat. As always, I’m here to help!

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Finance and feelings: Navigating life's twists and turns

“Take the emotion out of money.” At one time or another, you’ve probably heard this advice, whether you’ve heeded it or not. But is it the best advice?

Last week I was happy to host a presentation and discussion with Dave Jetson, a therapist and financial counselor who would certainly disagree with those words of wisdom. In his work and his writings (his latest book is Finding Emotional Freedom: Access the Truth Your Brain Already Knows), Dave focuses on helping individuals explore and heal money issues.Over the course of the evening, Dave shared how our emotions impact our financial decisions, and how three parts of our brains—our “trauma child,” conscious brain, and inner child—all compete for our resources and dictate how we save and how we spend. As a financial advisor, I found Dave’s thoughts and research to be in line with my experience observing how feelings can cloud judgment and, all too often, derail the best-laid financial plans.

It’s no mystery that money is an emotional hot topic for almost everyone. Even though we know intellectually that money is simply a necessary tool to support our goals, most of us can’t help but have feelings (and often lots of them!) about money. And those feelings, whether they’re conscious or not, can cause some very real issues when it comes to making smart decisions.  Issues that typically cause the most conflict are rooted in our fears about money, safety, and survival. Dave refers to this fear as the reaction of the “trauma child”—the part of us that, at a very young age, formed our deep-rooted reactions to money. Like Dave, I’ve found that it’s important not to ignore these feelings when they come up, but instead to connect with them and share them—especially when making decisions together with your partner. Here’s an example:

My clients Julian and Karen have very different perspectives about money. Julian was raised by a single mother and money was always a challenge, so he has a lot of fear about being able to provide for his family. To manage his fear, he is hyper rational about money. He serves as the financial regulator in the family, setting the budget and the savings rates, and taking full responsibility for meeting their financial goals. His wife Karen, on the other hand, was raised in an affluent family and never had to worry about money. Since Julian takes the reins financially, she doesn’t have to worry about survival, so she’s free to focus on keeping the family healthy and happy. That structure seemed to work well, until recently when they faced a financial crisis that challenged their thinking. When their pre-teen daughter showed signs of serious depression and needed a residential treatment program, Karen called me in tears. Julian was refusing to spend the money needed to pay for his daughter’s treatment, and talking to him about the issue was leading nowhere.

I was so glad she called. Clearly this crisis was bringing some big emotions into play, and those feelings were clouding the real issues. Whether it was their “trauma children” interfering or some other issue, I knew I needed to tread carefully. But I also knew that, ultimately, they both wanted the same things: a happy, healthy, financially secure family. With that as a basis, I was able to help. I asked them to meet with me as soon as possible to talk through the issue and see if we could agree on a solution. When we sat down together, I began by asking them to revisit their shared values. Next, we talked about their fears. Julian opened up about his fear of getting off track from their savings plan. “We don’t even know if this treatment will work, and it will set us back a lot. How can we be sure we have enough money to cover the expense and still be on track for retirement?” Karen shared her fears for her daughter. “Depression is a serious issue. What is it worth to us to be sure she can recover and be safe and happy?” Then she shared about her sister’s depression growing up and how much it had scared her. “I couldn’t do anything for her, and it made me feel helpless.”

As we talked, I could see the walls come down. In less than an hour, Julian and Karen had “felt” their way through the issue instead of “thinking” their way through it. They both had a new appreciation for where the other was coming from and, most importantly, they were re-focused on their shared values and goals. Julian was able to see that this crisis was a small wrinkle in their big-picture plan—not a derailment—and Karen was no longer angry at his initial reaction to what she saw as an urgent need.

It may sound a lot like a full-fledged psychotherapy session, and while I’m certainly not a therapist, financial planning is, by definition, a type of intervention. The purpose of creating a financial plan is to help identify your values, understand your goals, and create a tangible path to achieving your short- and long-term objectives. But even with a great plan in place, there’s always (and I mean always) an unexpected twist and turn. At one time or another, every family will face a crisis that drives them back to that emotional place and forces them to deal with a “trauma child” throwing a fit that can threaten to undo even the best-laid plans.

As Dave Jetson shared last Thursday, “Our ‘trauma brain’ is the same as our financial brain.” That’s why it’s important to pay attention to what we’re feeling first, and then tackle the dollars and cents of the equation. So the next time you’re facing a financial decision that has you feeling less than peaceful, take the time to connect with what you’re feeling rather than “taking the emotion out of money.” I expect you’ll find it’s a much easier path to wise, rational decisions—about money and just about everything else.

Need help figuring out how to navigate your emotions to make better financial decisions? Let’s schedule a time to chat. As always, I’m here to help.

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Volatility, escalators, and yo-yos

b2ap3_thumbnail_underactive_escalator.jpgEarlier this month I spoke to a group of women on choosing to choose (the brief version was included in my July 28 blog), yet in the question and answer session, I was asked the inevitable: “Is the market going back up?” My answer: “Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt, yes!”

If there’s any doubt in your mind about how I can be so emphatic with my answer, it’s probably because the recent market volatility has you, like many others, feeling like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster when it comes to your invested assets. Here’s why I’m not worried:

Volatility is, literally, the up-and-down movement of the market caused by investor sentiments that drive trading activity. Technically, volatility is measured by the standard deviation from expectations, or “normal” market movement. “Normal” is about 5.8% a month and 20% a year. That’s not much change, especially on a daily basis, and we get happily used to those nice, tiny fluctuations. But just like when we’re riding on a real rollercoaster, those little bumps aren’t so bad—it’s the monstrous drops that make our stomachs turn over!

As we’ve seen recently, volatility causes downward stock price pressure as anxious sellers drive down market prices. The current sell-off is being driven by amorphous fears about a slowdown in global growth. In the early 2000s, the cause was poor earnings and devaluations of tech companies. Then came the turmoil of 9/11. In 2008, it was the financial crisis. More recently, Greece and China have been the culprits. Each of these events brought uncertainty, which spurred volatility, which created fear. Of course, fear then impacts the market, which creates a vicious chicken-and-egg situation. The bank rush of the 1930s is a great example. Some banks collapsed, and the fear of more failures caused a run on the banks. Were all banks in trouble? No. But people who had their money in the institutions that did fail lost all their savings (deposit insurance didn’t exist at the time), and that fact caused widespread panic. Clearly fear—especially when it comes to money—can be much more contagious than any plague. The good news is that uncertainty eventually passes. Each crisis, whatever it may be, resolves itself one way or the other. Fear dissipates. And volatility levels return to normal. For investors, the most important thing to remember is that market volatility is temporary while the overall movement of the market is long-term.

Dan (an acquaintance, not a client!) was one of many who let fear drive his decisions back in 2008. He pulled everything out of the stock market to “cut his losses.” His plan, of course, was to put his money back in as soon as things returned to normal. But Dan’s strategy had a major flaw. Now, at the end of a seven-year bull market, Dan asked me if it’s safe to get “back into the market?” My answer, of course, is that investing requires discipline and education. And that if he thinks he has the skill to “speculate” on price fluctuations, well…he’ll likely end up on the wrong side of every trade. If Dan would only take the time to understand investing and the story of the escalator and the yo-yo, then he’d be ready to be a wise investor.

Picture it: you’re on an up escalator playing with a yo-yo. The yo-yo is going up and down on a small scale, while the escalator is going one way—up—on a large scale. Yes, the yo-yo continues to move, but it (and you) continue to move in one direction: up! Now imagine the yoyo is market volatility, and the escalator is the market itself. Even if you’re a really bad yoyo-er (like me) and the yo-yo falls all the way to the end of its string before you wrap it back up again, you’re still continuing to move in the right direction.

Martin Brower is considered by many to be a real estate expert in Orange County. A former Irvine Company exec, he currently writes the column Along the Coast in Orange County’s Coast Magazine. As an expert, he’s often asked, “where is the real estate market headed?” I’ve heard Martin answer, “I don’t know where it’s going, but let me tell you where it’s been.” He then tells his own story of the Westchester home he purchased in the 1950s—what he paid then and today’s price. He didn’t talk about yo-yos, or the collapse in 2008, but he did point out that the trend is clearly up and the change is exponential. Over time. The lesson learned is this: As an asset class, real estate is good, but it’s no greater than any other asset class. The perceived over-performance is the result of the typically very long hold period associated with home ownership. Holding on to your investments—whatever they may be—is the key to long-term success.

So yes, the yo-yo has been going up and down for weeks now. And just as it started to settle down, the Fed opted not to raise interest rates. So we’re back in yoyo territory. But just remember that the escalator is still going up. Maybe not as quickly as we’d all like, but that movement, over the long term, will eventually get us where we plan to go. And if you need a small daily reminder to keep you smiling, just print out a copy of this old newspaper I came across the other day and imagine what a fortune those who invested in 1962 have today—as long as they stayed put and ignored the yo-yo. I hope you’re one of them!

b2ap3_thumbnail_1962-Dow.jpg


Still wondering how the yo-yo will affect your long-term outlook? Email me to schedule a time to chat. As always, I’m here to help.


 

 
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“Money Rules”

b2ap3_thumbnail_Sandro_Lacarbona.jpgThere’s a Mahjong saying that goes something like this: “The most important choice is to choose to choose.” If bridge is your game, “a pass is a bid” says the same thing. The fact is, no matter what you’re playing—Majong, Bridge, or the “game of life”—whether you realize it or not, you’re always making choices. Even if you “choose not to choose.”

In my work, I see examples of people failing to make choices every day. As an outsider looking in, I get a unique perspective, and I can see that most of these non-decisions are rooted in the roles people have taken on for themselves—in a family, as part of a couple, or as part of society as a whole. Years ago I read Harriet Lerner’s excellent book Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships that examines roles and patterns not just in romantic relationships, but in families and society as well. That understanding helped me realize why I made some of my own choices—even when I didn’t realize I had a choice at all.

When my husband Ed was disabled from his stroke, I became his caregiver. To me, there was never a question of whether or not I would do this. It was a given. It was part of my value system. It was written into my DNA. Years later, I remember someone asking me why I made the choice to take that role—to care for him at the expense of my own social life and, some might say, my life as a whole. It was difficult for me to even digest the question. What “choice”? At the time, I didn’t feel there was a choice to be made. I just did what I had to do. And yet, in retrospect, I now realize it was a choice—and an important one at that.

Would I have made a different decision if I’d realized I had an actual choice at the time? I don’t believe so. And yet there are so many other decisions we make every day that may go in a different direction if we’re able to step back to consider our options, analyze the potential outcomes, and make the best possible choice for us at the time. This is particularly important when it comes to money.

Last week, I met with my clients Barbara and Rob. They’re in their early 50s with three kids—one in college and two in high school. Rob just got laid off, and while they have a solid savings in place, they’re concerned about making it last as long as possible to cover Rob’s job search.

As we talked through their concerns, college costs were an obvious piece of the puzzle. But when we started talking about the possibility of telling their kids they could only cover a portion of the expense with money in their 529 Plans, Barbara was adamant: “Absolutely not an option! We’ve always told them we’d pay for college. We can’t back out now.”

She was clearly upset, and I can’t blame her. As mothers, it’s our instinct to protect our children—to help them be happy at all costs—even to our own detriment. We mothers can’t seem to help ourselves:

  • My client MaryAnn told me her mortgage would have been paid off by now, but she “had to” help out her 40-year-old son and his family financially. At 66, she’d like to retire, but she still owes nearly $300K on her mortgage.
     
  • Frances, a recent widow, has a drug-addicted daughter who wants to come live with mom to “help” her out now that dad is gone. Letting her daughter move in to her home would challenge her emotionally and financially, but even with the support and guidance she’s found at Al-Anon, she can’t get herself to say no.
     
  • At 70, Rachel wants to know if she should buy life insurance to be sure her 50-year-old daughter is taken care of after she dies.

The list goes on…and on. Children and money and mothers. Someone once said, “Mothers are only as happy as our least happy child.” (How true!) But I see it present big money problems, all because of our maternal “money rules.”

As women, it’s particularly important that we identify these rules we’ve created for ourselves and make changes to find balance in our financial lives—and to make active financial choices based on our current reality. But change is hard, especially when it comes to money. It’s so much easier to pretend your husband really can balance the checkbook. Or that you can’t understand money or investing. Or that your adult child really can’t cope without your help. Or even that you’ll win the lottery tomorrow. That’s why, for so many, change never happens.

My challenge to you is to start making changes today, no matter how scary it feels. A great first step is to find someone to talk to about your financial decisions—a confidante with an objective point of view who can take two steps back and help you see the choices you’re making. And if talking about money feels like a scary change in itself, remember that, for most of us, money is a very private issue. But that third-party perspective is often vital to helping us change our old patterns for the better.

Sue Alpert’s book Driving Solo: Dealing With Grief and the Business of Financial Survival is about her challenges in changing her own “money rules” when she was widowed. One of her important pieces of advice: “get a team.” I couldn’t agree more. Whether you’re driving solo at this point in your life or not, I encourage you to build your own team. Find that trusted confidante and start making active choices about your money today. “Choose to choose.”


Ready to take that first step? Let’s schedule a time to talk about your money choices and get you started on a path to greater financial security.


 

 
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Lauren Klein quoted on finance site TheStreet.com

The following content originally appeared in an article by Chris Metinko on the popular finance site The Street on May 26, 2015.


b2ap3_thumbnail_coffinatfuneral.jpgEnd-of-Life Harsh reality – Older Americans Die Broke and Destitute

NEW YORK (TheStreet) – While people checkup on their 401(k) to make sure they're adequately planning for their golden years, most don't worry about dying with no money.

However, according to a new study by the non-profit Employee Benefit Research Institute, more than one in five Americans who died at age 85 or older had no assets beyond their home, and more than 12% of that cohort had no assets at all. It was even worse for singles who died at or above age 85, with nearly a quarter having no assets other than their home and 16.7% having no assets. The average net equity left in the homes of those who died at ages 85 or above was $141,147 for couples and $83,471 for singles.

While it’s no secret Americans are bad at saving for their retirement, the numbers paint a particularly bleak picture for those in their last few years. However, experts say there are thing people should keep in mind, especially as they get well

Commie Stevens, managing director of strategic and financial planning for Beacon Pointe Advisors in Newport Beach, Calif., said as people age, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask those they care for to check certain expenses and financial details.

“Your mental abilities may change over time without you even being aware of it, so it's wise to have an open discussion with loved ones now,” Stevens said. “It's important to let them know where you keep your records, what you owe and own and wise to ask them to occasionally check to see if you're staying current on bills and that no one is draining your resources.”

Stevens added it is typical for many people to have accounts spread out among many different custodians, and it’s wise to consider consolidating investments to simplify the review of your accounts and associated withdrawals that create a retirement paycheck.

Lauren Klein, a certified financial planner in Newport Beach, Calif., said the hardest thing for many as they get older is to change their behaviors and attitudes. She said she recently had a 73-year-old woman experiencing financial challenges in her later years, mainly because she was outspending her own means. 

"I explain that in the short run, almost everything is fixed, but in the long run most items become variable,” Klein said. “First, I try to get the client to clearly see the need to change.” Klein said some things she recommends as people get older is to substantially reduce the small -- and not-so-small -- luxuries, consider moving to a smaller apartment or even subsidized housing, use the Medicare Advantage plan and work as long as possible. 

“Even if you work less, a dollar earned is a dollar saved,” she said.

Another reason to work is to delay the start of Social Security benefits. Each year a person waits beyond the minimum age, their Social Security benefits increase approximately 8%, said Allison Alexander, a financial adviser at Savant Capital Management in Rockford, Ill.

Alexander also reminds people to be aware of what they have and determine their tolerance for risk and ability to maximize their investment return. She said an adviser can do projections of income and expenses so a consumer knows with some degree of certainty what he can expect for cash flow in her or his retirement. They also can do a stress test on one’s portfolio and expose it to different assumptions regarding inflation and market return.

“Whether the news is good or bad, it's better to know while you still have time to be proactive and adjust your saving habits,” Alexander said. “Small changes in savings now will provide a more comfortable lifestyle later.”

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09 November 2016

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All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of Lauren S. Klein, President, Klein Financial Advisors, Inc. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and we make no representations as to its accuracy or completeness. Read More >