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How Every Financial Decision Affects All The Others

By
Jeff Motske, CFP®
August 13, 2018
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Money can be a complex thing. No, I’m not necessarily talking about the stock market or the emergence of cryptocurrencies. I’m talking about how every financial decision you make affects all the others. It sounds like a simple enough theory, but when it comes time to putting it into action, it’s often difficult to see through.

I see many clients who come in clearly stating their goals: they want to retire, they want to start their own business or pay for the children’s college education. They want to be financially independent. Yet, when we look at what they’re doing with their finances, we find that their actions may be working against their goals. That daily Starbucks habit has a different cost when you calculate how much you’ve spent in a given month that could have been used towards other expenses. For those who are constantly leasing new vehicles, those payments that never end take on a different perspective when you consider how they could have been applied to a down payment for a house.

We see it now with millennials struggling under immense student loan debt. While much of their income is funneled towards basic needs and paying down debt, little is left for necessary things like amassing an emergency fund and saving for retirement, let alone other milestones like purchasing a home. Putting off funding these other items can have a serious detrimental effect down the road. Furthermore, while millennials have grown to be the largest generations purchasing homes1, this major decision has prompted additional complications like borrowing from retirement to afford a down payment or underestimating ongoing maintenance cost. In fact, based on a survey by Bank of the West, 68 percent of millennial homeowners now have regrets about buying their home2 because every decision made truly impacted everything else.

Things can get especially tricky when decisions are being made by more than one person. Couples can have household goals, but if they’re not united in working towards them, these goals can often get sidelined. Perhaps they’re trying to save for a house, but one of them isn’t sticking to their plan. Maybe they’ve been diligently saving for retirement when one wants to take a major withdrawal to start their own business. Sometimes it can be as simple as not even bothering to discuss the household’s financial goals. Very often, if you’re not working together, you’re working against one another.

Please understand, I’m all for enjoying your hard-earned money. Sometimes, though, difficult choices have to be made. Perhaps it’s deciding to put off that trip with friends to pay off your credit card, or eating out less to build up your emergency fund. I remember being in that predicament when my family first moved into our home – we lived without furniture in two of the rooms! You see, the key to your personal financial success isn’t typically making more money. It’s really about being aware of your financial behavior and of how your daily financial decisions impact your long-term fiscal future.

1. https://www.housingwire.com/articles/42748-millennials-lead-all-other-generations-in-buying-homes

2. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/18/most-millennials-regret-buying-home.html

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By
David McDonough
October 30, 2019

FIRE, an acronym for “Financial Independence, Retire Early” is trending as a new financial lifestyle.  In a nutshell, FIRE promotes extreme savings in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, with the goal of being able to live off passive income from the accumulated nest egg much earlier than typical retirement age.  Some proponents suggest saving 70% of your income until you have collected 25x your annual salary, cutting your working years in half.  Extreme saving is not a new idea, but the phrase has taken off in the last couple of years, creating a cult following online.

Putting aside additional savings to fund a “work optional” lifestyle is a fantastic idea in theory, but most Americans would find it quite difficult to only live on 30% of their income without making DRASTIC changes.  If you are willing to downsize, live with roommates in a cheaper part of town, eat beans and rice, drive an old car/take the bus, and limit purchases, you could be successful at FIRE.  However, this level of deprivation may cause unintended sacrifices that impact your social life and happiness.

Our take on FIRE is to find your happy medium.  For example, you absolutely should increase your savings rate incrementally every year if you can afford to do so, but initially choose an amount that’s attainable.  To help you get started, these are the questions we encourage clients to consider:

1) What is your current cash flow?

Do you have a firm grasp on how much you spend on monthly groceries?  Going out to eat? Gifts at the holidays for friends and family?  The key here is to consider all expenses, not just big-ticket fixed items like your car payment or mortgage.  Once you have an idea of how much you are spending compared to household income, you can then evaluate your current savings rate.

2) Where can you cut back to increase your savings rate?

Can you meal prep on Sundays to avoid going out for lunch during the week?  Can you stay in to watch a movie instead of going to a theater for date night?  Are you willing to have a “no-spend” week?  Some people use tracking software (our firm provides EMoney to our clients) to help set up electronic budgets to alert you when you are close to going over set categories of spending. Alternatively, can you bring in additional income via a side hustle?  Can you work additional hours at work to qualify for overtime pay?  Make an honest assessment to determine where you could potentially improve your cash flow on a monthly basis.

3) Are you debt-free, or leveraging debt appropriately?

A mortgage with a low-interest rate is an appropriate means of financing a lifestyle you want, while potentially building equity via real estate.  If you still have student loans or credit card debt, though, your increased cash flow should go towards paying this off ASAP. Just make sure you have 3-6 months of living expenses built up in an easily accessible emergency savings account as well.

4) Outside of your emergency savings, are your accounts keeping pace with inflation?

Historically, inflation rates average around 3% annually.  This means that your purchasing power decreases, as the cost of goods increases over time. Remember when you could buy a Coke bottle out of a vending machine for a dollar? Your parents or grandparents may even recall purchasing a soda for a quarter!  That’s inflation at work. If you’re planning to retire early, this means you need to account for inflation over several decades. The best way to maintain your purchasing power is by investing excess savings in the stock and bond markets and taking advantage of compounding interest over time. A Financial Advisor can determine the best investment strategy for you.

5) Are your investments in a diversified portfolio in line with your risk tolerance?

Trying to time the market to buy and sell holdings is incredibly difficult to do.  Diversification via broader index funds and investing consistently (to take advantage of pullbacks) has proven to be a more successful investment plan for most Americans.  The concern with the FIRE movement is knowing how risky you can or should be with your asset allocation depending on your time horizon to retirement.  For example, if you are closer to reaching your retirement goal, you don’t want 100% of your assets invested in the stock market.   A comprehensive financial planner can help determine how much risk you should be taking on by looking at your finances holistically, and ensuring portfolios are rebalanced regularly according to your needs.

The road to early retirement is still a long one, so you’ll need to regularly evaluate your progress, reassess as needed, and don’t forget to acknowledge small victories!

Our advice is to push yourself to save more, without going to the extremes of the FIRE lifestyle.  If you would like additional accountability, Trilogy offers progress checks through our Decision Coach process more frequently than annual reviews.  And if you need a road map to help find your path to success, reach out with any questions here.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine what is appropriate for you, consult a qualified professional.

By
Mark Nicolet, CFP®, MBA, ABFP™
September 5, 2018

As the fall approaches and football season begins, each team has a new energy, a fresh game plan, and oftentimes, a new coach. A new coach brings a different strategy, culture, and mindset. When a new coach arrives, expectations are higher, but remain realistic as fans know winning a championship takes time. With that said, I’m going to argue for a coach who has staying power. Remaining with the same team or school has a long-term impact and provides a consistency that develops into success. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said it best, “It takes time to create excellence. If it could be done quickly, more people would do it.” As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and decision coach, I’m committed to long-term client relationships. By developing and strengthening these advisor-client relationships, I will better understand the context of each client’s story and the history of their decision-making, guiding them to their next best decision. I know life will happen to my clients and I will be alongside them for each step, helping them to adjust the game plan and strategy for continued success. I have and want staying power, because I know it benefits my clients over the life of their financial plan. I create this staying power by working on a referral basis, where trust and credibility already exist, because I want to attend their retirement party. I want to see their kids go to college. I want to guide them through a job transition or business venture. Now, be careful, because a coach can get stale and lose the team, so if you need a second opinion on your current plan, or you’re looking for an advisor with staying power, please reach out to me at mark.nicolet@trilogyfs.com.

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