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Behavioral Finance: The Key to Your Financial Independence

Jeff Motske, CFP®
August 4, 2020
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Recently, I came across two competing headlines: “Dow Dropped Because the Wheels are Coming Off” and “The Dow is Up Because there are Flashes of Optimism.” On any given day, financial markets swing—one-day values are up and the next they are down. Trying to figure out how to build your wealth by focusing on market ups and downs can be overwhelming. I choose to champion an altogether different approach—behavioral finance. I believe the key to long-lasting financial independence lies in individual behavior inasmuch as it does the markets or various investment tools. Knowing that success lies within you – your choices, your responses to the market, and your long-term habits over time – rather than in the whims of the market, keeps you on the road to financial freedom.

Dangers to your wealth aren’t so much the downturns in the market as they are your own biases and emotions. Behavioral finance requires discipline and rational thought processes which can present challenges for many investors. We may feel obligated to put our kids through colleges we really can’t afford. Keeping up with the Joneses can deplete our savings or prompt us to invest in things that aren’t aligned with our long-term financial plan. And, in times of stress or change, we may be tempted to react by pulling our money out of the market or by doubling down on an investment. Such actions might play out well in our heads but disastrously so in real life. Ultimately, behavioral finance shows us that individuals carry much of the responsibility for their own financial success.

When you assume this responsibility, it becomes clear that you also gain control of your financial future. You have the ability to build wealth and establish a sense of security without worrying about the market. After all, it is the plan and the decisions you make (or don’t make) that have the greatest impact on your journey to financial independence. So, you may wonder, how do I embrace this concept of behavioral finance? First, you have to do some analysis – predominantly on yourself. What kind of spender/saver are you? Is your money going towards your goals and values? Are there steps you should take to limit habits that lead to unhelpful emotional responses? Besides self-reflection, you will need to create a financial plan. Whenever you are tempted to pursue a course of action, pause, and make sure it is in line with your plan’s goals. If it’s not, you must weigh the risks against the rewards. For those situations that require deeper insight, another great tool is a trusted financial advisor. Their expertise and guidance will be an invaluable resource as you strive to build wealth and turn your dreams into reality.

You have a multitude of tools at your disposal once you realize that financial independence is yours to create. It will take work, discipline, and time, but with that comes agency and autonomy. Start planning now so you can start making the decisions and exhibiting the behaviors that will set you up for a prosperous future.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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Jeff Motske, CFP®
June 7, 2018

Your retirement savings, which is the means to your financial freedom, should be set up in the same way. There is no way to accurately predict what life will be like during the course of your retirement. Based on the climbing US debt, it is safe to assume that tax rates may increase. Unanticipated expenses may arise. Life is never predictable. Therefore, you need your money to be ready to work for you. In my experience, one of the best ways to ensure this is by utilizing three types, or buckets, of savings.

The first bucket is comprised of your traditional retirement investments like a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan. These plans are very popular and easily accessible as most employers offer them. Contributions grow tax-deferred and can be automatically deducted from one’s paycheck. However, what was a tax benefit while saving becomes a tax-trap once you retire as those funds will be taxed once they are pulled out. Another thing to consider is what the tax rate will be like at that time. I always ask my clients, “Do you think taxes will have gone up or down by the time you retire?” No one ever says down. Therefore, if all your retirement funds are in this first bucket, you are suddenly at the mercy of the government on how you utilize your retirement money. This is not financial freedom.

However, more buckets mean more options. Let’s consider that you also have retirement savings invested in a second bucket containing tax-free funds. This is typically comprised of Roth IRA’s or Roth 401(k)’s. Although Roth 401(k)’s are not highly promoted or even included in a lot of employer-offered plans, they are a very powerful saving tool. Your contributions grow tax-deferred and are distributed tax-free. With the addition of this second bucket or savings, you suddenly have a little more flexibility on how you access your money.

The final bucket is one that isn’t on most people’s radar. This bucket should be comprised of the investments in your portfolio of stock equities. The gains on these investments are taxed as capital gains. Historically, capital gains tax rates are significantly lower than typical income tax rates. If these investments are sold properly, they can provide another option when trying to manage how your money works for you.

As you can see, multiple buckets of retirement savings seek to provide you with freedom and tax control. If taxes are high, utilize your second bucket. If taxes are lower, feel free to dip into your first bucket. You can work with your financial advisor on what investments belong in which bucket, as well as to dial more or less into these buckets depending on tax rates and what your needs are. This flexibility is key to securing your financial freedom in retirement.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk, including the risk of loss.

Mike Loo, MBA
February 23, 2021

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