Monthly Archives: August 2016

True Value of Money

Why are you tracking your spending, living by a budget, paying off debt, building an emergency fund, contributing to a 401(k), and everything else you’re doing to improve your financial situation? What’s your endgame here? Have you thought about it? I mean, really sat down and thought about why you’re making all this effort?

 

I’ll tell you what, it’s not about making the “right” financial decisions. That alone won’t make you happy. And it’s not about having more money. A bigger bank account won’t automatically make you happy, and neither will all the stuff you can buy with that money.

 

What WILL make you happy is the time you can afford to spend because of the money you have in the bank.

 

True Financial Freedom

 

True financial freedom is the point at which you’re able to make decisions based on what makes you happy instead of what makes you money.

 

It’s the point at which you no longer need the next paycheck because you have the savings to cover it. It’s the point at which you can afford to take time off and travel the world or be home with your kids. It’s the point at which you can change careers because the new one is more meaningful to you, even if it’s not as financially lucrative.

 

Financial freedom doesn’t necessarily mean that you never have to work again. It just means that you’ve put yourself in a financial position where you’re able to spend your time in ways you enjoy.

 

What Does It Take?

 

So, what does it take to get to the point where your money allows you to spend your time as you please? First, it takes an understanding of what you actually want to be spending your time on. What excites you? What energizes you? Which people do you want around you? What missions do you want to be a part of?

 

Second, it takes an estimate of how much money you’ll need to be able to do those things, and when you’ll need it. It doesn’t have to be exact. Just a reasonable guess is enough to get started.

 

Finally, it takes a plan for how you’re going to save that money and consistent action to make sure that plan gets carried out.

 

And it’s really that last part that’s the most important. Consistently saving money is the key to giving yourself financial freedom. You don’t need to be a millionaire, but having money in the bank allows you to make decisions based on what makes you happy, instead of what makes you money.

 

Successful Financial Plan

download-12On the surface, the cost of a financial plan is simple: generally between $2,000 and $4,000, depending on its complexity and where you live.

But dig deeper and you’ll find that the plan’s success also depends on you spending time to implement it.

Consider the case of a young physician who recently came to my office inquiring about a financial plan. His primary issues were cash flow with tax considerations, debt service and investment advice. I suggested he would also need an insurance review and estate planning, since he had none. At the conclusion of our getting-acquainted meeting, my colleagues and I quoted a fee for the financial plan and what it would include. He decided to work with us.

Next we had a goal-setting meeting and collected his pertinent financial documents such as his tax return, investment statements, debt statements and more. We provided risk-tolerance questions and discussed his short- and long-term goals in greater detail. Then there was an interim meeting where we reviewed his goals — to be sure we prioritized them correctly — his risk-tolerance results and his investment analysis.

A couple of weeks later, we had a plan-delivery meeting, where we reviewed the recommendations in all the areas of his financial plan. He took the binder home to review and start implementing the plan.

He returned in a month for a progress meeting. He had made some headway on our list of recommendations, but not as much as I had hoped for. At the conclusion of that meeting he told me: “You were very clear as to what the plan would cost me in dollars. What I did not know was the time it would take me to collect the information on which the plan is based, to meet with you, to read and study your recommendations and then to finally implement them.”

He was correct: It costs both time and money to enact a financial plan that will really help you. Eight months later, I received an email from the doctor, letting me know he’d completed all the recommendations. In the end he said the total cost, in terms of dollars and time, was well worth it.

Beware of additional costs

Keep in mind that with some financial service providers, there could be huge additional costs in the form of fees or commissions. This could also be a conflict of interest if your advisor recommends products that pay him more, rather than the ones that are best for you. So be sure you know exactly what fees are involved when you start working with an advisor.

While my recommendations in the doctor’s plan included specific changes to his insurance and investment holdings, I did not sell him any of the coverage plans that I recommended, nor did I sell him the investment products he needed. That’s because I am a fee-only advisor. I want my clients to know that I have no vested interest in the implementation of the insurance or investment part of the plan.

This is not the case for advisors who provide both a plan for a fee and then sell you the investments or insurance products as well. All too often, the insurance recommendations made by those who sell the products, too, include more and larger policies than what I would recommend. It is a sad fact that the commission may be driving the plan recommendations, rather than what is best for the client.

When you are looking for a financial plan, be sure that you use the services of a Certified Financial Planner and that the planner does not sell any products. To find such an advisor near you, contact Garrett Planning Network or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

Which one do you choose rent or buy

Have you ever felt pressured to buy a house? Maybe from your friends, your family, your co-workers, or even yourself? Like you haven’t actually made it as an adult until you own your home?

 

It’s a common feeling, but the truth is that buying a house ISN’T always the right decision. In some cases renting is a smarter move, both for your wallet and your lifestyle. Here are four reasons why.

 

1. Flexibility

 

Life changes fast. That great new job you just started might turn into an exciting opportunity in a different city. That big family you planned on having might turn into a smaller one.

 

Renting gives you the ability to quickly change your living situation to best match the new realities of your life. That flexibility can be the difference between seizing an opportunity and having to pass on it.

 

2. Cost

 

Proponents of buying like to say that when you’re renting, you’re essentially paying off someone else’s mortgage. So why not buy and make sure that money is going towards yourself?

 

There is some truth to that, if you stay in one place for an extended period of time (typically 5-7 years or longer), then buying often results in the lower long-term cost.

 

In the meantime buying can be really expensive. There’s the upfront cost of the down payment. There’s the cost of handling the fixes and improvements that come with any new purchase. There’s the cost of new furniture. There are the ongoing costs of insurance, taxes, and maintenance.

 

Renting has costs too, but they’re often much smaller and more predictable, at least in those first few years. And in many markets where housing prices are high, renting can actually be a better long-term financial decision.

 

You can use this calculator from The New York Times to figure out just how long you would have to live in one place before buying became cheaper than renting.

 

3. Adjustment

 

Renting is often a great idea any time you move to a new place.

 

It gives you the opportunity to figure out which neighborhoods you like and which you don’t so that you can eventually make a buying decision you’ll be happy with for the long-term. There’s no sense in being stuck somewhere you don’t like simply because you felt rushed into buying a house.

 

4. Stress

 

Owning a home has plenty of benefits, but it can also come with a lot of stress.

 

Any time something needs to be fixed, it’s on you to either do it yourself or pay for it to be done by someone else. And of course there’s that big mortgage that can feel like a weight on your shoulders.

 

Renting comes with fewer commitments and fewer responsibilities, which can lead to lower day-to-day stress.

 

How to Live Like Your Dreams Now

Many people view retirement as a 30-year vacation, full of leisure and travel. But new retirees often find that retirement isn’t the carefree life they expected. They miss having social interactions, a sense of achievement and daily structure — and as a result, some experience weight gain, marital discord, depression or substance abuse.

And many retirees, especially those who retire early, end up returning to the workforce.

Retirement often looks different today than it has in the past. And as you reconsider how you want to spend your golden years, it’s a good idea to contemplate big-picture life goals and current desires.

Maybe some of those dreams don’t have to wait until retirement.

Rethinking retirement

Rather than leave careers they enjoy, some baby boomers are working well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65 or phasing into retirement over time. Increasing longevity and improving health outcomes also relate to this decision.

But these boomers aren’t necessarily working 40-hour weeks. Companies are growing more receptive to employees’ desires for flexible schedules, including three- or four-day workweeks or remote work. These arrangements free pre-retirees to spend time on travel, hobbies and other goals — and lead to enhanced productivity and job satisfaction.

Work-life balance is the key ingredient to happiness. According to John Wasik’s New York Times article “Facing Retirement, but Easing Your Way Out the Door,” many workers enjoy their reduced schedules so much that they’re extending the arrangements for years longer than they planned.

Figuring out what you want now

In his book “The 4-Hour Workweek,” author Tim Ferriss argues that reduced workweeks are a growing trend for all workers, not just pre-retirees. Technology and the “Uberization” of the global economy allow workers to leverage overseas vendors and virtual assistants and focus on their “highest and best use” skills, in and out of the office. You don’t have to wait for that magical moment in time called retirement.

“Someday is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you,” Ferriss writes. “Lifestyle Design is not interested in creating an excess of idle time, which is poison, but the positive use of free time, defined simply as doing what you want as opposed to what you feel obligated to do.”

My favorite parts of the book are the exercises that help you identify what you want to have, be and do within the next six to 12 months. These are similar to the questions I pose to clients when I first meet them. Younger clients often have no problem identifying 10 or more things they want to achieve before they die, but clients who are in their late 50s and older tend to have a harder time completing these exercises and may even focus on their kids’ needs instead of their own.

Here’s a sample of the questions Ferriss uses to get people back in touch with the things that excite them and guide them through the goal identification process :

  • What are you good at?
  • What could you be best at?
  • What makes you happy?
  • What excites you?
  • What are you most proud of having accomplished in your life and how can you repeat this or develop it further?

Financial planners are life planners

Life planning creates the foundation for your financial plan. When I understand my clients’ goals, I can ensure that their money is allocated and prioritized to help them reach those goals. The financial plan then comes to life in a powerful way for clients. They can envision the future — whether it’s 12 months or 20 years from now.

Does your financial planner ask you questions like the ones above? Is he or she more interested in you or your money? Find a planner who provides holistic financial planning services and helps you start working through your bucket list. You don’t have to wait until retirement to start enjoying your time or your money.