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Topics: Budgeting Advice

May 22, 2023

As the cost of living rises, households worldwide feel the squeeze. Inflation impacts everything from groceries to housing to healthcare, and families struggle to make ends meet as they stretch their budgets to the limit.

Recent statistics show the inflation rate in the United States has risen to its highest level in over four decades. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased by 7% over the past year alone. Inflation is a persistent increase in the prices of goods and services over time, leading to a decline in purchasing power of money. It affects the economy in many ways, including households, as it erodes their buying power, making it difficult to afford basic necessities.

A couple seeking help from a financial advisor.
A mature diverse couple shakes hands with a financial advisor.

How Is Inflation Impacting Households Today?

Inflation is affecting families significantly, with prices of goods and services rising rapidly. One area where inflation has a noticeable impact is the cost of groceries. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food prices have increased by 6% in the past year.

Inflation is also impacting the cost of housing. According to the National Association of Home Builders, lumber has increased by more than 167% since April 2020, making building, renting or renovating homes much more expensive.

Other areas where inflation impacts households include transportation, healthcare and energy costs. With gas prices rising, transportation costs are increasing making it more expensive for families to commute to work or travel.

Healthcare costs are also rising, with medical services and prescription drugs becoming more expensive daily. Additionally, the cost of energy, including electricity and natural gas, is increasing impacting household budgets.

 

How We Got Here and Why?

The United States has experienced an increase in inflation in recent years, fueled by a combination of factors, including:

Supply  chain disruptions: The COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions in supply chains, leading to shortages of goods and raw materials and higher consumer prices.

Government stimulus: The US government has implemented several rounds of stimulus packages in response to the pandemic, flooding the economy with cash and contributing to inflation.

Labor shortages: The pandemic also caused labor shortages in many industries, which has led to increased wages for workers and higher prices for consumers.

Rising energy costs: The cost of energy has increased, with higher prices for gasoline and other commodities, which has increased the cost of goods and services.

Monetary policy: The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low to stimulate economic growth, contributing to inflation by making it cheaper for consumers and businesses to borrow money.

These factors have all contributed to the current state of inflation in the US. However, inflation is complex and multifaceted; many other factors are also at play.

7 Tips to Help Navigate Inflation

Inflation can be a challenging economic environment for households to navigate. Here are tips from our team of advisors at Trilogy Financial that can help you manage inflationary pressures.

1. Calculate Your Inflation Rate

This measure provides a more accurate reflection of the inflation you are experiencing compared to the general inflation rate reported in the media.

A financial advisor can help calculate your personal inflation rate by analyzing your spending habits and identifying the goods and services that make up your personal consumption basket. This process can involve reviewing bank and credit card statements, examining household bills, and discussing significant lifestyle or spending habits changes to help you track the prices of these items over time and calculate your inflation rate.

2. Create a Cash Management Strategy

A cash management strategy will allow you to preserve your purchasing power and financial stability. A financial advisor can help you create a strategy that aligns with your financial goals and risk tolerance by:

  • Assessing your current financial situation,
  • Identifying your short-term and long-term cash needs, and
  • Recommending appropriate investments that balance liquidity, yield, and risk.

The strategy can involve diversifying cash holdings across different asset classes, using inflation-indexed bonds or money market funds, and considering alternative investments that offer potential inflation protection.

3. Discuss When and How to Use TIPS to Protect Against Inflation

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) are a type of U.S. government bond indexed to inflation. As inflation rises, the principal and interest payments of TIPS adjust accordingly, providing investors with a hedge against inflation. A financial advisor may recommend TIPS if you want to protect your portfolio against inflationary pressures or maintain your purchasing power over the long term. It could involve assessing your risk tolerance and investment objectives and recommending an appropriate allocation to TIPS within a diversified portfolio.

4. Discuss Alternative ‘Inflation-Hedging' Assets

In addition to TIPS, assets such as commodities, real estate and stocks of companies with pricing power can provide inflation protection. A financial advisor can help you choose the right assets for your portfolio by assessing your investment objectives, risk tolerance and time horizon. As a result, they can recommend an appropriate allocation to inflation-hedging assets that balance return and risk, like commodity funds, real estate investment trusts (REITs) or sector ETFs offering exposure to companies with pricing power.

5. Strategize for How to Avoid ‘Tax Bracket Creep' as Income Rises

Tax bracket creep pushes an individual's income into a higher tax bracket, resulting in a higher tax bill. This move can erode the purchasing power of your income and reduce your savings.

A financial advisor can help you strategize on how to avoid tax bracket creep by considering tax-efficient investment vehicles, such as Roth IRAs, tax-loss harvesting and charitable donations.

6. Review Homeowners and Other Insurance Solutions to Avoid Under Coverage

As the value of assets, goods and services increase due to inflation, the cost of replacing them also rises. A financial advisor can help you review your insurance coverage and ensure they have inflation protection from risks.

Advisors can also educate you on the different types of insurance available and their benefits, such as umbrella insurance, which can provide additional liability coverage in case of a significant lawsuit or accident.

7. Reassess Long-Term Inflation Assumptions for Retirement Projections

Inflation can significantly impact retirement savings and planning because it reduces the purchasing power of money over time. Individuals will need to save more to maintain their living standards in retirement.

A financial advisor can help you reassess your long-term inflation assumptions for retirement projections by analyzing your current savings and investment strategies, projecting future inflation rates, and identifying potential gaps in your retirement plans.

From Us to You: Control Your Financial Future

As inflation continues to affect households, you should take control of your financial situation and work with a financial advisor to develop a plan aligning with your goals, risk tolerance and personal situation.

Trilogy Financial is a financial advisory firm dedicated to helping clients navigate the complex world of personal finance. We offer comprehensive services, including financial planning, investment management, and retirement planning.

If you are concerned about the impact of inflation on your finances, contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced advisors. We are here to help you take control of your financial situation and navigate through the challenges of inflation.

Female financial advisor meeting with clients.
Female financial advisor meeting and discussing expert inflation protection tips with clients.

 

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The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual 2. Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

July 21, 2022

Ok now that you’ve recovered from falling off your chair after reading the tile of this blog, let me explain.

Inflation is one of the biggest challenges in achieving, and maintaining, financial independence. The low inflation we have experienced for decades has made many of us lazy when it comes to spending.  Now is the time to put some great habits into place that will reduce your spending now and will help even more when inflation get’s back to historical norms.

Here are some tips:

  1.  The days of clipping coupons seems to be a thing of the past.  Time to resurrect this time-tested way to save money.  Now it’s done electronically.  Click here for a great article on coupon apps.
  2. Bargain shop.  The meat department is the best place to shop for deals.  Supermarkets would rather greatly reduce the price on meat than throw it away.  I’ve seen bargains at 50% off.  And not to worry, the meat is still good.
  3. Dump the name brands.  I am a big name-brand guy however that is changing.  You can save 30-50% on certain items by going with the store brand such as Kroger at Ralphs.  Just today we saved 30% on peanut butter and couldn’t tell the difference.
  4. Use those credit card miles.  If you fly Southwest use their Chase Rewards Card.  This year alone I flew two of us to Hawaii roundtrip and flew myself to NY and used my miles.  Pretty much all carriers have credit cards they use for miles.
  5. If you shop at Ralphs use their Ralph’s Reward Card.  They have a great app that shows you year to date savings.  We have saved $500 so far this year.  You also get fuel points that you can used at Shell Stations.  I’ve saved as much as $.50 per gallon!
  6. This one is real hard for me but try to walk out of restaurants with a doggie bag.  I’m the type of person that if something is real good, I’ll clean my plate (thanks mom!).  But with portion sizes so big you should have no problem making two meals out of one.  Your wallet and belly with thank you!

 

These are just a few habits to help get you through this time of high inflation that could help your plan when inflation gets back to “normal”.

May 13, 2022

Have you ever had one of those months? The water heater stops heating, the dishwasher stops washing, and your family ends up on a first-name basis with the nurse at urgent care. Then, as you're driving to work, you see smoke coming from under your hood. Bad things happen to the best of us, and sometimes it seems like they come in waves. That's when an emergency cash fund can come in handy. One survey found that nearly 25% of Americans have no emergency savings. Another survey found that 40% of Americans said they wouldn't be able to comfortably handle an unexpected $1,000 expense.1,2

How Much Money?

How large should an emergency fund be? There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. The ideal amount may depend on your financial situation and lifestyle. For example, if you own a home or have dependents, you may be more likely to face financial emergencies. And if a job loss affects your income, you may need emergency funds for months.

Coming Up with Cash

If saving several months of income seems unreasonable, don't despair. Start with a more modest goal, such as saving $1,000, and build your savings a bit at a time. Consider setting up automatic monthly transfers into the fund. Once your savings begin to build, you may be tempted to use the money in the account for something other than an emergency. Try to avoid that. Instead, budget and prepare separately for bigger expenses you know are coming.

Where Do I Put It?

Many people open traditional savings accounts to hold emergency funds. They typically offer modest rates of return. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures bank accounts for up to $250,000 per depositor, per institution, in principal and interest.3 Others turn to money market accounts or money market funds in emergencies. While money market accounts are savings accounts, money market funds are considered low-risk securities. Money market funds are not backed by any government institution, which means they can lose money. Depending on your particular goals and the amount you have saved, some combination of lower-risk investments may be your best choice.

Money held in money market funds is not insured or guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency. Money market funds seek to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 a share. However, it is possible to lose money by investing in a money market fund.4

Money market mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the charges, risks, expenses, and investment objectives carefully before investing. A prospectus containing this and other information about the investment company can be obtained from your financial professional. Read it carefully before you invest or send money.

The only thing you can know about unexpected expenses is that they're coming. Having an emergency fund may help to alleviate stress and worry that can come with them. If you lack emergency savings now, consider taking steps to create a cushion for the future.

 

 

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

  1. MarketWatch.com, 2020
  2. Bankrate.com, 2021
  3. FDIC.gov, 2022
  4. Investopedia.com, 2021

 

February 11, 2022

Here’s a tip: Review your spending habits. It's really hard to mitigate or manage financial anxiety if you don't have a clear sense of your spending.

When talking with clients, questions that come up all the time are “Where's my money going? I don't know where all of our dollars go, we’re making a good income, but I don't know where it's going?”. To get cash flow will start answering that question. It will start reducing the anxiety in those particulars because we can't continue this path of “how do I fix this?”. That's what we do as Advisors – we train, and we help people fix and solve those particular problems. I always ask this question, where's my money going? But more importantly, is your money in sync with your financial why? And your financial why is customized, it's, what do you want it to be? And that could be financial independence.

I can tell you in the course of my 30 plus years I’ve sat down with many couples, individuals, and businesses and I've said, “Hey, congratulations, you now have financial independence”. In other words, you don't have to go to work anymore, work is now an option. You can still choose to go to work – you could change jobs, you can do whatever, but you don't need to anymore. You've built up enough that you can replace the income, enjoy the lifestyle that you want to enjoy, spend the time with family, friends, and loved ones that you want to do. And that comes from good planning on the front end and understanding that you can get there much faster if you work with a coach or work with an advisor and understand your cash flow.

It will be liberating once you go through that process, but it does require taking action. Here's some take actions on what you can do. There are the knowns and the unknowns.

In the knowns, we control whether we want to have a plan or not, we control whether we want to do cash flow and budget analysis, we control that reduction. If that's really your number one goal is to get debt-free well, then let's build a plan that makes you debt-free. We control how much is in our emergency fund; so that if we lose a job or income drops, maybe we've got adjustable income or we want to change jobs, we've got this money set aside so we don't have anxiety during that period. We control all those things. We control how much protection we have against risks; you know how much life insurance that we have if we have state documents that are there those are all known things. Now, here's an unknown, you don't what day you will leave this world. Do you have plans in place that make sure that loved ones are protected the way you'd like them protected? Again, you control these areas, these are all things that are in your control.

The one thing I'll say is even though we don't have control over the unknown, we always want to stay informed, especially around new laws and new rules. This is what Advisors do for a living. For instance, if you take money out and the market's down or maybe you took it out and it's taxable- now it bumped your taxes up.  It’s important to meet with your Advisor and to have a coach to help interpret these known rules that are probably unknown to most Americans.  It's probable these types of things will come up and once you pick a strategy, whatever that strategy is, you can't change it.

But you have to always ask yourself “Maybe this impacts me, and if I don't know about it, I'm not going to do anything prudent to help myself get on to financial independence”. If you do know about it and your Advisor knows about it, they're going to help you make good decisions that will work well for you in those areas. It's important to understand that there are unknowns out there, and you can plan your best for those unknowns, but it's important to accept that you never have full control of the unknown. So. think about what you do have control of, and make sure that you are making the best decisions for yourself, your family and your loved ones.

 

 

January 5, 2021

Awareness is key to change, but you also need action. In fact, you need focused, decisive and immediate action to see change and to get yourself back on the road to financial independence.

There are a lot of decisions to make when forging your way to financial independence, there are also countless paths to each destination and countless solutions to each problem. Most folks are also juggling more than one financial goal: retirement, emergency funds, college education for children. How do you prioritize? How do you find the right solution for retirement or long-term care? All the decisions can be overwhelming, which causes many to check out of their own financial situation. While taking a step back when one feels overwhelmed is a natural response, refraining from taking action can ultimately do more harm than good.

Definitive action can both propel you towards financial independence and protect the traction you’ve already made. The sooner you start investing in your financial future, the more your funds can grow due to compound interest. The longer you wait to address any financial problems, the more these minor issues can snowball into larger issues, which can often be the case with debt. Also, if you haven’t taken decisive action to establish an emergency fund or invest in the proper form of insurance, an unexpected event can derail you further from your route to financial independence.

Our Advisors at Trilogy try to help you take the guesswork out of making a decision. Some of the worst indecision is born from not knowing the results of choosing Option A over Option B. However, our Advisors /Life Planners can run various scenarios for you, showing the consequences of different courses of action – helping you see which decision may be the right one for you. More importantly, they are here to support you through difficult situations, so the rest of your road to financial independence will be smooth sailing.

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.

September 23, 2019

There have been countless news stories about how Millennials are different than previous generations, including their relationship with debt. The principles on debt – the difference between good and bad debt and how to make sure your money works for you – haven’t changed. What has changed are the ways to prepare for retirement and the mountains of student debt that many millennials are struggling under. This large debt slows down their ability to build toward their financial independence, which is a road that many have to pave on their own.

First off, preparing for financial independence has changed. One’s golden years are no longer secured by a pension. More and more people are accepting that preparing for retirement rests solely on their shoulders. The look of retirement has changed as well, with some expecting to continue working because they want to, not because they need to, as well as some embracing the FIRE movement and planning to retire well before 65. For many, the financial landscape that people are planning for has changed.

One of the things that hasn’t changed is what we have historically considered “bad debt”. Credit card debt, high car payments and other depreciating assets, can be harmful to your bottom line. These expenses don’t increase your net worth and often simply distract you from your long-term goals of financial independence. It’s a good idea to keep expenses in this category to a minimum.

Good debt, on the other hand, is money you borrow to ultimately increase your wealth. Historically, student loans for higher education and real estate have fallen under this category as they were seen to be investments that would bring sizable returns in the future. As with any investment, though, you need to critically examine your likely return to make the right decisions. If you are looking at taking student loans for higher education, the goal is for that education to secure a position that will provide you a greater salary. However, if you take out a $100,000 loan to enter a profession that generally generates an annual $40,000 salary, which doesn’t seem to be the best return on your investment. This is the lesson Millennials are laboring under. With $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loan debt[i], Millennials are struggling to make ends meet, let alone build for the future.

Like a series of dominoes, consequences of financial decisions can be far-reaching. Yes, real estate can be a building block to your financial freedom. Yet, many Millennials are delaying buying a home due to their significant outstanding student loan debt[ii]. Additionally, if you’re looking to buy a house that requires a mortgage that leaves you with little funds to contribute to savings or other investments, it may no longer be a good debt option.

In the end, everyone should be looking for ways to invest in their future. You need to be mindful about your money and how it’s working for you. While it’s good to make sure that you’re not throwing your money away, you also want to make sure that your debt is worth the expected rate of return. Everyone has multiple goals, both short-term and long-term. If you plan the right way, you can make sure that the money you have today can work for your dreams for tomorrow.

[i] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/student-loan-debt-i-had-a-panic-attack-millennials-struggle-under-the-burden-of-student-loan-debt/

[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellenparis/2019/03/31/student-loan-debt-still-impacting-millennial-homebuyers/#6a8ff1073e78

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.

September 23, 2019

For many young adults, college is the first time they are independently managing their own money. It can be a time marked with excitement and new opportunities, or anxiety and worry. Financial skills built at this time can have long-lasting benefits. Likewise, money mistakes made now will carry on into their future. That is why about 70 percent of college students worry about their finances[i]. However, with the right skills and habits, this can be a great time to lay a strong foundation for their future financial independence.

The first financial decision that most college students encounter are student loans. Before taking out student loans, make sure to explore other financial aid options, such as scholarships and tuition assistance from participating employers. Also, don’t forget the option of going to local community colleges for the first couple of years. If student loans are an option, it is best to resist the temptation to take the maximum amount one qualifies for. Instead, borrow only what is needed. This will help in the long run. College is an investment, and students need to be sure that their rate of return is worth it.

It is imperative that young people know how to budget, but unfortunately, that’s largely not the case. In fact, 43 percent of college students don’t track their spending[ii]. This is particularly crucial for those who have student loans. You can help your young people early by introducing them to the concept of budgeting well before you’re packing them up for college. A budget is not simply an account of where one’s money goes. It aids in making decisions, establishing financial priorities, and staying aware of how your money is working for you. Please always remind your college students that the less they spend now, the more they’ll be able to move forward in the future.

Another common first for college students is the first credit card. Credit cards are a good tool to establish small lines of credit, but monthly balances should always be paid off immediately. Not only does this avoid late fees, but it also avoids interest building on purchases. Also, protecting personal information is imperative. Students need to constantly be aware of who they are giving their information to and what is being charged to their account.

College is a busy time full of “firsts”. These experiences can have long-reaching consequences. Help your college students prepare a solid foundation to their financial independence by providing them with the proper education and tools for a bright financial future.

[i] https://news.osu.edu/70-percent-of-college-students-stressed-about-finances/

[ii] https://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/college-resource-center/student-guide-to-budgeting/

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

July 23, 2019

The road to financial independence isn’t always a smooth one. There are plenty of things that can pop up and derail us from our goals. Sometimes it’s an unexpected turn of fortune, like a sudden loss of a job or a medical crisis. More often than not, though, the things that derail us from our financial goals are our own financial bad habits.

There are a lot of financial bad behaviors that plague every-day Americans: impulsive purchases and overspending, not living within your means, lack of a financial plan for emergencies and the future. One of the most challenging aspects of financial bad habits is how unassuming they seem at first glance. Most of these bad habits appear to have a minor impact in the moment. Yet, living years with these bad habits left unchecked can do more damage to your long-term financial health than some of these situational detours, like the loss of a job or a medical crisis.

Awareness of these bad habits is the key to kicking them. Once you identify what they are, you can put steps in place to work against them. Not sure where your money is going? Make a budget and make sure that where your money goes reflects your values. Are you an over spender? Perhaps avoid those spending triggers like a mall or online vendors and give yourself a cash allowance rather than utilizing credit cards. Do you need to put more money away for an emergency fund or investments? Have money automatically transferred every month to ensure that you’re paying yourself first.

If you’re not sure what your financial bad habits are or how to fix them, working with a financial advisor might be your best course of action. Having a third-party look over your financial house and habits can help identify unhelpful behavior or areas of improvement. Our Decision Coach program was especially designed for those folks who may need some additional accountability and coaching. In fact, if one of your financial bad habits is lending money you can’t afford, a financial advisor can be a great scapegoat as to why you have to start saying No. We don’t mind being the “bad guy” to your loved one if that helps you stay on your path to financial independence.

The path to financial independence can have some pot holes, the most significant being our own self-sabotaging behaviors. However, the proper awareness can bring change. Changing any type of behaviors take time and support, and we’re happy to help those who are committed to helping themselves.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

April 17, 2019

Now, I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of large tax refunds (see March 1 blog). In fact, if you are consistently getting a large tax refund, you should probably adjust your withholdings so you can dedicate that money to your financial why’s every paycheck. After all, allowing the IRS to hold your money is a bad investment. If you should find yourself receiving one, though, you may be wondering how best ways to use it. It’s only normal to be tempted to do some retail therapy or splurge on a fun experience. However, it’s best to see how you can get your money to work for you before giving in to that temptation.

The very first thing to consider is how much debt you have. Large amounts of debt, whether it be student loans, credit cards or other outstanding financial obligations, can cripple you from saving for your goals. Using your tax refund to pay down debt might be the very thing to get you closer to saving for your goals.

You also want to make sure to bulk up your emergency fund. An unplanned repair, medical expense or job termination can all cost a pretty penny. Without an emergency fund, we may feel tempted to use our credit cards to cover the unexpected expense. As I just mentioned earlier, this simply takes us farther from our goals. Ensuring that we have an adequate emergency fund can make sure that we stay on target regardless of what life may throw at us.

Your tax refund can also be used to work towards your financial independence. Maximize your contributions. If you don’t have a plan, establish one. A little money can go a long way with the help of time and compound interest. Remember: there is no do-over when it comes to saving for retirement, so be sure to do as much as you can now because that time will be here before you know it.

I understand that using your tax refund check to indulge in something today can be quite tempting. More often than not, though, these distractions simply take you off your path to financial independence. You need to make sure that you’re making the money you receive today work to build the life you want to live tomorrow.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

March 7, 2019

A tax refund isn’t winning the lottery. It isn’t a gift. It’s the return of your money, money that you’ve earned that the government has been holding. At a time when you need your money to be working for you, you can’t afford to have your money do nothing, not even earn interest. Rather, your money needs to be working towards your financial freedom.

The issue with a large tax refund is that the money that has been withheld throughout the year could have been working for you all along. Rather than have it deducted, you could have been paying down debt, contributing to your emergency fund or investing it for your future. Yes, you can definitely do those same things with your tax refund. However, now you’ve missed out on the time your money was being held where it could have been earning interest or saving you money by paying off debt sooner.

While I am a firm believer in minimizing your withholdings throughout the year, I know that this shines a light on an individual’s sense of discipline. You need to make sure that you’re applying the additional funds where they need to go, which is not the retail fund or other expenses that aren’t working towards your future. Automatic transfers for both savings and investment accounts make it convenient to get your money to work for you. Another consequence of having a minimal amount withheld throughout the year is that you could owe the government come tax season. Once again, this supports the need for saving and being disciplined with your money.

You’ve put in a lot of hard work for your money. Not only should it be a means to your financial independence, it should be a tool that you can access right away. Take advantage of your money today to ensure that you get where you want to go tomorrow.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

March 6, 2019

The world of finance is tricky to navigate. With so many options available for your investments, it can seem complicated and daunting when trying to plan for your financial future.

The three buckets principle is a way of simplifying the complex and is suitable for people with substantial savings as well as people who are just starting out. Whether you’re well established in your career or fresh out of college, setting up your three buckets should be a priority.

How does it work?

The three buckets are:

  • Bucket 1: Emergency Funds
  • Bucket 2: The Goal Bucket
  • Bucket 3: Retirement Bucket

Bucket 1 – Emergency funds

Expect the unexpected and make sure you’ve planned financially for it.

Unanticipated costs can be devastating financially. Getting laid off work, writing your car off or escalating medical costs, for example, can set you on the financial back foot for many years.

Bucket number 1 creates a buffer of cash that is only to be used for such emergencies. By having this bucket available, it means that should the need arise you won't be dipping into other savings or going into debt to cover the cost.

How much to save in your emergency fund bucket

Aim to have 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses here. Add up all your monthly costs, such as mortgage, bills, transport costs, and groceries, and that will give you the total to aim for.

Bucket 2 – The goal bucket

This bucket is for your short to mid-term financial goals. Savings for your kid's college, a down payment on a house, or even saving for a vacation can go in this bucket.

How much to save in your goal bucket

This is effectively disposable income so anything left over after you’ve attended to your monthly outgoings and buckets 1 and 3 can be added to bucket number 2.

If you've managed to fill bucket 1 already, you can use that cash to start filling bucket 2.

Bucket 3 – Retirement bucket

It's never too early to start saving for retirement, so you should aim to have this bucket set up as soon as you possibly can, ideally, as soon as you enter the workforce.

How much to save in your retirement bucket?

Aim to save 15-20% of your gross income for retirement. If your company offers a 401(k) plan, deposit part of your bucket 3 money there. If you don't have access to a 401(k) plan, consider a Roth or traditional IRA to maximize your investment.

Bucket 3 is made for investing as you want to maximize your returns for your golden years.

These three buckets will help you successfully save for your future. It's a good idea to attend to buckets 1 and 3 first. Once you have them filling nicely, you can look to start filling bucket number 2.

This simple strategy is easy to follow yet priceless for effective financial planning. If you haven’t got yours set up yet, make it a priority to do so.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax deductible in the contribution year, with current income tax due at withdrawal. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ may result in a 10% IRS penalty tax in addition to current income tax.

The Roth IRA offers tax deferral on any earnings in the account. Withdrawals from the account may be tax free, as long as they are considered qualified. Limitations and restrictions may apply. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ or prior to the account being opened for 5 years, whichever is later, may result in a 10% IRS penalty tax. Future tax laws can change at any time and may impact the benefits of Roth IRAs. Their tax treatment may change.

February 25, 2019

Coming from sunny southern California, there’s nothing quite as nice as an aimless, leisurely drive down the coast. As delightful as that is, it’s not a metaphor for life. Life is complicated and moves fast. It’s easy to get sidetracked. That’s why when it comes to any of your goals, especially financial independence, a clear vision of what you’re working towards and a developed idea of the best way to get there will keep you in route to your goal. Many folks have a general idea of where they want to go. They want to be fiscally responsible, perhaps investing in a home and saving for retirement while still prepared for the financially unexpected. However, 1 in 3 Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement and only 16 percent of those surveyed had more than 15 percent of their income saved. We know that most people have good intentions. So why do their actions take them so far away from their goals?

It all comes down to that lack of a map – not having a well-defined goal and detailed route to get there. Yes, it’s good to know that you want to be fiscally responsible, but if you don’t have a detailed definition of what that means, how do you know when you’ve achieved it? What are you saving for? How much do you need to save for retirement and how much do you need in your emergency fund? What other financial goals do you have, and which ones take priority? Lacking those details may make it easier to get distracted by impulse purchases or detoured by a financial commitment that might not be the best for your budget or your long-term financial goals.

Once you have the destination, then you need to determine the most direct route to get there. Do you have a distinct budget for all your needs and your goals? Are you going to have a monthly amount deducted from your account to your savings goals? Have you considered the influences that work against your goals and what you might do to counter them? Having a distinct plan doesn’t mean that everything is settled. Circumstances may arise that distract or reprioritize your goals. Having a definitive plan, though, can help you recalibrate your course and prevent you from being shifted away from your goals long-term.

The road to your financial independence is oftentimes anything but direct. Between relationships, families, career, health and everything in between, it’s easy to lose sight of your goals. Yet, by thinking things through and creating a detailed plan, we can stay on course. Despite every fork in the road, every decision that tempts us away from our goals, we are able to remember what we’re saving for and the right steps we put in place to get there, which makes it easier to stay on course to our financial independence.

  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/27/1-in-3-americans-have-less-than-5000-dollars-saved-for-retirement.html
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/15/bankrate-65-percent-of-americans-save-little-or-nothing.html
February 1, 2019

With a long weekend with my sons and my wife out of state for a reunion with friends, we found our way to Home Depot, the library, a car wash, and of course, a local pizza parlor. These small, but meaningful experiences for our boys’ weekend left me appreciating why a commitment to an automatic, monthly savings plan provides clarity and confidence within our day-to-day lives. We ventured out as my wife enjoyed the time with her friends, knowing we had already committed to saving a determined dollar amount, prior to the decisions of this weekend, this week, and this month. Some months naturally are more expensive than others, and outside of December, it’s hard to anticipate which month(s) will squeeze you. So, this confidence can be had when you have ALREADY settled on your 401k contribution, Roth IRA contribution, your non-retirement investment account contribution, your 529 plan contribution, your insurance contribution, and other vehicles you may be using to save for your priorities. There are a lot of options, but when accounts are being funded, the money isn’t available to spend, and you are taking advantage of dollar-cost averaging.

Once in place, what’s left to spend, is up to you. You will still need to manage the groceries, gas, and other (Target, of course), but I’m confident that you can live the life you want to live, spend intentionally, and still remain on course for future financial independence. More income creates more options, yet the behavior of savings is for everyone. If you have a structure, you can make incremental changes as income increases and priorities change. Eventually, you will have worked towards saving 15%, then 20%, and then 30%. It’s easier to retire when you are comfortable when living off of $.70 of every dollar. As a Decision Coach, I help families navigate how to best allocate their income on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis through consistent and intentional communication. This provides an immense amount of clarity when your future priorities are already being saved for, especially when my boys want to grab ice cream on the way home, and I have no hesitation in saying, “Yes.” Please contact me at mark.nicolet@trilogyfs.com if you are interested in discussing your personal situation.

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. Dollar cost averaging involves continuous investment in securities regardless of fluctuation in price levels of such securities. An investor should consider their ability to continue purchasing through fluctuating price levels. Such a plan does not assure a profit and does not protect against loss in declining markets.

January 7, 2019

When we look outwards, most of our world can seem like chaos. Political events impact the market. Technological changes create new employment opportunities and put others to rest. Illness and misfortune affect those we love. It is easy to fall under a sense of helplessness in these moments. The key to weathering these storms is to focus on the elements you can control to make for a better financial future.

The first step is to create a solid plan. Many hope for a good outcome, but hope is not a strategy for a sound future, financial or otherwise. Your plan should reflect personal and financial goals. If you have created a personal mission statement, the goals in your plan should be inspired by that. The key aspect to a plan is that it identifies possible issues and gives you concrete steps to take to weather any storms.

Part of your plan should always include paying yourself first. There are going to be numerous obligations and goals to funnel your finances towards. Be sure that saving for your financial independence is one of them because there aren’t any do-overs when it comes to retirement savings. Just as important as saving is how you save. Make sure to fill your three buckets for more financial flexibility when you retire. The more options you have, the more control you have over your financial future.

After all that work, make sure to protect your plan. Life insurance will cover your debt and obligations, should you pass. Other forms of insurance can also provide during retirement or should you become disabled. Preparing for unfortunate or far-off events is a difficult thing for many to do, but a little planning in this area can protect everything you’ve worked so hard for, for your loved ones and your legacy.

None of us can see the future or know what tomorrow will bring. With a little forethought and planning, though, you can make sure you’re prepared for whatever life throws your way. Be sure to focus on what you can control and those strategies will help you build a better financial future.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

December 17, 2018

The holidays are meant to be a joyous time, one of socializing, gift-giving and charity. Multiple holiday influencers, such as our faith, family and even the media, can impress upon us what celebrating the holidays mean and possibly lead us to overextend ourselves. The result can leave us recovering physically, emotionally, and often, financially. With a little forethought and discipline, though, we can bring in the New Year without suffering from a financial holiday hangover.

The first step is to establish a holiday budget. If married, be sure that this is a joint project with your spouse. Start with a gift list – who do you want to gift and how much do you want to spend on that gift. Be realistic with what you can afford and who warrants a gift. Don’t feel compelled to give one just because you receive one. Most importantly, stay focused on the meaning behind your gift, rather than the price tag. Your recipient will value the thought and care you gave.

The budget doesn’t stop with gifts. Consider all the non-typical expenses that arise during the holiday season; décor, food for entertaining, tips for preferred vendors, dry-cleaning for the holiday parties, hostess and host gifts or dinner tabs, and travel. Also, don’t forget about charitable giving. Including this in your budget will deter you from being influenced by emotion and possibly overextending yourself.

Clearly, when all is considered, this can be quite an extensive budget. Ideally, you want to start saving in January as the last thing you want to do is use a credit card to cover these expenses. For those who find it difficult to stick to their budget, utilizing cash or prepaid cards can help you stay on track. There are many tools available if you’re willing to use them.

This may sound like a lot, but a little forethought and discipline can go very far for you. I wish a happy and healthy holiday season to all. More than that, though, I wish you a happy and healthy new year, free from the financial holiday hangover.

December 7, 2018

Giving to charitable causes can be a very emotional thing. You’re supporting something near to your heart, possibly with a deep personal connection. However, if you’re not mindful, it is possible to give at the expense of yourself. Be sure you don’t let your heartstrings control your purse strings.

Forethought and planning should extend over all your financial decisions, including charitable giving. For a variety of reasons, many don’t follow a plan. Some give whatever’s left in their budget, perhaps not as much as they’d like or tempting them to give more than they can afford. Others give at the end of the year for the tax break. Alternatively, perhaps charitable giving isn’t planned for at all, which allows one to be swayed by emotion when the right cause comes along. Suddenly, they can be committing based on what they feel rather than what’s best for their finances.

Once you decide to factor your charitable giving into your annual financial plan, you can start doing your research. Not only do you determine which causes you want to support, but you can also investigate various organizations that service that cause. There are many websites that evaluate charitable organizations to ensure that your financial contributions or going where you want. Additionally, having your charitable giving worked into your financial plan allows you to turn down other charitable requests graciously. Should you be approached, you can mention your annual giving plan and that you will consider them for the following year.

Being mindful about your charitable giving also gives you the opportunity to influence your children or loved ones on how to do the same. Your actions become the example to your values. While you needn’t share all the details, you can openly share how you formulated your plan and why. The more people who become aware of how to consciously create an annual giving plan, the more people are actively working towards their financial independence.

I don’t think it’s possible to take all emotion out of your connection to a charitable cause, and I don’t think you should. However, I will always be an advocate of folks proactively working towards their financial independence. The key to that is approaching your finances with reason and logic, relegating our emotions to the backseat and holding firm to your purse strings.

November 9, 2018

I personally believe that one of the advantages of doing well financially is to be able to “give back” to causes that are near and dear to your heart. However, when we feel passionate about a cause, the emotional pull can tempt us to financially overextend ourselves. With some forethought, though, you can utilize creative measures that allow you to be generous without breaking the bank.

Your Time

Before you pull out your checkbook, perhaps consider getting your hands a little dirty. Whether it’s cleaning trash from the beach, working at a food pantry or assembling packages for our troops stationed far and wide, nonprofit organizations are powered by people. Even the simplest volunteer work can make a significant impact on an organization in need.

Your Talent

Some of us have specialized talents and skills that can be of value to a charitable organization. If you have an accounting background, perhaps you can offer your services to a nonprofit close to your heart. If you run a landscaping company, you can choose to donate your services to your alma mater. Such specialized services can be of great value to an organization and not make much of a dent in your personal finances.

Your Treasure

Just as there are different types of non-profit or charitable organizations, there are also different ways to financially contribute to them. Many of us are familiar with direct contributions, donations that may qualify to be deducted from your income tax. You could also contribute via donor-advised funds, which allows you to make charitable contributions to specially designated funds at a specific charity, receive a tax benefit from the contribution and recommend grants to be funded by the charitable fund account. Another option is to donate appreciated stock or appreciated real estate, which provides a significant tax deduction. Some choose to leave a charitable donation after they pass via a trust  These gifts in trust can be tricky, so it is advisable to meet with a professional to avoid any issues. Additionally, there are those who prefer to utilize charitable gift annuities, which allows an individual to receive a fixed income after donating money, securities or real estate.

There are as many worthy charitable organizations as there are stars in the sky. When your funds won’t allow you to do more, there are always other ways to “give”. Doing so thoughtfully and creatively can ensure that everyone benefits.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

  1. https://www.nptrust.org/what-is-a-donor-advised-fund
September 12, 2018

Before the year’s end, in the midst of the holiday events, travel, and overall busyness, the last thing you want to think about is tackling your finances. But considering how finance-related resolutions are the third most popular New Year’s resolution, why don’t you give yourself a head start on next year’s financial goals by finishing this year strong? Here are ten critical financial actions you’ll be glad you took when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve!

  1. Amp Up Your Retirement Savings

If possible, max out your contributions to your 401(k) by the end of the year to make the most of your retirement savings. For 2018, you can contribute as much as $18,500 (or $24,500 if you are age 50 or older). You might also consider contributing to a Roth IRA. For 2018, you can contribute as much as $5,500 (or $6,500 if you are age 50 or older). Keep in mind that if your income is over $199,000 and you’re married filing jointly, you won’t be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA.

  1. Use Your Medical And Dental Benefits

Did you have good intentions of taking care of some dental work, blood tests, or other medical procedures? Now’s the time to take advantage of all your healthcare needs before your deductible resets. Dental plans in particular often have a maximum coverage amount. If you haven’t used up the full amount and anticipate any treatments, make an appointment before December 31st.

  1. Verify Expiring Sick And Vacation Time

Depending on your company, your sick or vacation time might expire at the end of the year. Check with your HR department to learn about any expiration dates. If your sick or vacation time does expire, fit in a last-minute vacation, a staycation, or trips to the doctor to use up these benefits.

  1. Use Your Flexible Spending Account

Like your health insurance benefits, you’ll want to use up your FSA (Flexible Spending Account) dollars by the end of the year. Your benefits won’t carry over and you’ll lose any unspent money in your account. Check the restrictions for your account to see what the money can and cannot be used for.

  1. Double-Check RMDs

If you’re retired, review your retirement accounts’ required minimum distributions (RMDs). An RMD is the annual payout savers must take from their retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, SIMPLE IRAs, SEP IRAs, and traditional IRAs, when they turn 70½. If you don’t, you may face the steep penalty of 50% of the distribution you should have taken. To calculate your RMD, use one of the IRS worksheets.

  1. Stay On Top Of Charitable Contributions

If you made a charitable contribution in 2018, you might be able to lower your total tax bill when you file early next year. It can be especially advantageous if you donated appreciated securities to avoid paying taxes on the gains. Along with your other tax documents, find and organize any receipts you have from your donations to charities, whether it was a cash, securities contribution, or another type of gift.

  1. Review Your Insurance Coverages

A lot can happen in a year. As you experience life changes, from the birth of a child to marriage to a new career, it’s important to regularly review your insurance coverages and your designated beneficiaries. Now is the ideal time to review your current insurance policies and make sure they are up to date. You might also want to evaluate your need for other types of insurance you may not currently have, such as long-term care insurance.

  1. Prepare For A Market Correction

We are currently in the longest bull market in history2 and the stock market just keeps hitting record highs3. But we know that what comes up must eventually come down. Prepare yourself and your money by sticking to a long-term strategy, rebalancing your portfolio, and keeping your emotions in check. As long as you are following sound investment principles, only investing long-term money, and keeping your assets within your risk tolerance, you should have no reason to panic when we experience a market downturn.

  1. Talk To Your Kids About Money

The holidays are usually a time for families to get together and reconnect. Use this time intentionally by talking with your kids about money. No matter how old they are, you can give them sound wisdom that will set them up for success. Make sure they understand the importance of saving for retirement and having the proper amount of insurance coverage. Another way to help your kids financially is to create an estate plan to make sure you leave a legacy and avoid passing down a significant tax burden or legal headaches to your kids. If you’ve already taken the time and energy to create an estate plan, you’ll want to check in periodically to ensure all the documents are up to date and no major details have changed.

  1. Give Without Gift Tax Consequences

It’s never too early to start planning for the legacy you want to leave your loved ones without sharing a good portion of it with Uncle Sam. You may want to consider gifting. Each year you can gift up to $14,000 to as many people as you wish without those gifts counting against your lifetime exemption of $5 million. If you’ve yet to gift this year or haven’t reached $14,000, consider gifting to your children or grandchildren by December 31st.

  1. http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/22/longest-bull-market-since-world-war-ii-likely-to-go-on-because-us-is-best-game-in-town.html
  3. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/08/21/stocks-hit-record-highs/922315002/
June 21, 2018

Regardless of where it comes from, getting an unexpected chunk of change usually makes for a pretty good day, week, or even year. But if you aren’t intentional about what you do with your extra cash, you could follow in the footsteps of many lottery winners who squander their winnings and end up unhappy and broke.1  Even if the gift you receive isn’t a significant amount, you’d be amazed at how some smart planning can make a big difference down the road. Let’s look at some ways you can you use your raise, refund, or windfall to get ahead financially.

  1. Pay Off Debt

Big debt, small debt, it doesn’t matter. Debt is debt. Start with high-interest debt and work your way down. Did you know that the average American household carries over $16,000 in credit card debt and pays an average of $1,292 in interest annually?2  Sure, using your extra influx of money to reduce debt isn’t as fun as going on a trip, but think of the satisfaction you’ll feel when you see your balance decrease, knowing that you are saving yourself thousands of dollars in interest in the long run.

  1. Beefing Up Your Retirement Savings

Even if you diligently contribute to a 401(k) or IRA, chances are you aren’t maxing out those accounts. Let’s say you receive a $3,120 tax refund, the average amount according to the IRS.3  You then deposit that $3,120 in an IRA and see a 7% rate of return annually. In 20 years, you will have earned approximately $8,000 on that investment due to compound interest. Let’s go a bit further. If you invest your tax refund every year for 20 years, your retirement savings could see a boost of almost $150,000! If you’ve received a raise, use some of it to increase your contribution percentage right away. That way, you won’t get used to living with that extra money and it puts you ahead for the future.

  1. Invest In Education

Most of us dream of our kids going to a great school and getting a solid foundation for their future career, but have you considered how much of an investment it will take to get them to that point? The numbers can be daunting. These days, a high school graduate can expect to pay upwards of $200,000 for an undergraduate degree at a top school4 and over $10,000 each year for in-state tuition alone at a public institution.5  The costs will vary depending on room and board and other educational costs, but either way, it’s a lot of money.

One option is to open a 529 account with your tax refund and, once again, let compound interest help you get ahead. Not only will your investment pave the way for your child’s future, but it could also give you a tax break.

  1. Build Your Emergency Fund

An emergency fund provides you with a cushion for those times when life gives you lemons. If you don’t have readily available savings, something as simple as an unexpected car repair or medical bill could derail your finances. Or, if you know you have a large purchase or a life milestone approaching, such as welcoming a baby into your family, having an emergency fund will help you avoid digging into long-term savings or going into debt to cover costs. You can’t put a price on the peace of mind that an emergency fund will give you, so think about investing some of your tax refund to boost your short-term savings.

  1. Be Generous

Giving your tax refund away may not help you get ahead, but it could make a lasting impact on someone else’s life. Find a charity or cause that is close to your heart and pay it forward. Your gift could also help you when the next tax season rolls around. Just make sure to get a receipt for your contribution and itemize your deductions.

Have You Received Some Extra Cash?

It’s okay to treat yourself when you find yourself with excess income, but don’t splurge just because the money is there. Make a list of your financial priorities and then map out how your additional money could give your financial future a boost. If you would like guidance on how to use your raise, refund, or windfall, call my office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128 or email me at michael.loo@lpl.com.

May 21, 2018

Your first thought, spend it! But how? Is it the house project you and your spouse have been discussing for the last several months? Should you pay down your credit card balance? Go on a trip? Wait, you’re excited about the refund, but in retrospect you should have adjusted your allowances so that you didn’t give the government an interest free loan over the course of the last twelve months. With that said, should you fire your accountant? Well, it’s too late now. Take a moment, and think through the best use of this money? What are your short-term priorities? How do those priorities align or even conflict with other priorities that are further down the road? Should the refund have just one focus?

Let’s first sort through what we need to consider. Is this refund enough to actually complete the house project or will you actually have to put the remaining balance of the project on a credit card? Do you have your three to six months of savings in your emergency fund? What are the interest rates of your current credit cards? What is the current state of the market? Are you comfortable with market risk if you were to invest your refund? How secure is your current career? How variable is your current income? These are significant questions and require more diligence than, quickly hiring the contractor to install heated floors in that master bathroom. Give some intentional thought to this prior to your refund arriving in your bank account. Meet with a Certified Financial Planner to not only consult about what to do with your tax refund, but also your current planning situation and existing investment accounts and risk management plan.

Prior to the receipt of your tax refund, create a pie chart, sort through your most important priorities and time frames, then allocate accordingly, without heavily weighting one priority over the next. Make your refund go further. Start with savings, then, make a larger credit card payment than the monthly minimum if a balance exists, assuming the interest is in the teens. Tuck a portion into the stock market. If you anticipate needing or wanting the money prior to retirement, establish or contribute a portion of the refund to a non-retirement investment account. Only after taking these steps should you allocate funds to a home project. Why? You have now considered long-term planning first, then addressed short term priorities. Life happens, homes need upgrades, and travel is always an option. These plans will ALWAYS be available and present. Retirement and long-term planning will not happen, if you don’t plan now. Meet with a Certified Financial Planner to sort through what to do with your tax refund. Finally, discuss this with your CPA in preparation for next year’s taxes to sort through how you can limit the refund and have more cash available over the course of the year.

April 11, 2018

Not all goals are equal in their achievability. In fact, 92% of people don’t reach the goals they set.1 While goals can be difficult to achieve, they’re not impossible. However, the best way to set yourself up for success is to set meaningful goals.

A meaningful goal sets itself apart from a standard goal in three main ways.

  1. It’s Specific and Measurable

The more specific your goal, the more likely you are to reach it. According to one study, setting specific goals led to a higher performance 90% of the time.2 The reason for this is fairly simple: the clearer the path, the easier it is to follow it to the final destination.

I hear so many people tell me their goal is to save more, spend less, or build a retirement fund. The problem with these goals is that they lack specificity. Saving more could mean saving $10 per month or $1,000 per month. You can’t track your progress or know if you’re on track toward your goal if you haven’t specified it and you can’t measure your progress.

One of the first things I tell clients is to make their goals as specific as possible. For example, instead of “build a retirement fund,” you can specify it to “build a retirement fund of $100,000.” Finally, make it measurable—”build a retirement fund of $100,000 by age 45.”

  1. It’s Relevant to Your Life

A goal is only meaningful if you’re passionate about it. Those who meet their goals do so not just because they’re hard workers, but because they are passionate about what they want to achieve. Their goals reflect their values and interests, rather than being random or something they think they’re supposed to achieve in life.

For example, some clients tell me they want to build their savings account because they’ve been told that’s what they should do. While true, you likely won’t feel very inspired to save more if you don’t have a reason for it that makes sense for your life.

I tell these clients to think of what having a savings account would mean for them. Would they feel they could sleep better at night? Would a savings account mean they could go on an annual family vacation? If they build a savings account up to a certain amount, could they finally upgrade their unreliable and problematic car?

Whatever your goal, you should be passionate about it and it should be relevant to your life, not what you think you’re supposed to achieve.

  1. Frame it Positively

We’ve all heard about the power of positive thinking, and it translates to your goals, too. We are much more likely to work toward something we want to achieve or do rather than what we want to stop doing or don’t want.

For example, rather than a goal of “stop overspending” or “spend $200 less each month,” frame it in a positive light: “spend more mindfully” or “save $200 each month.” This can help you view saving as a good thing you’re supposed to do, rather than spending as a treat that you no longer should do. It’s easy to reverse any goal, so there’s no excuse not to!

Don’t Go it Alone

The process of setting a goal is just as important as the process of working towards it. Think of your goal as the frame of a house. You can’t build a stable home without the proper foundation and a clear blueprint.

If you’re struggling to achieve your goals or aren’t sure how to set ones that are meaningful, an advisor can help. As an independent financial advisor, my mission is to make a meaningful impact on the lives of my clients and the people they love. I help families make informed decisions with their money and pursue a strong financial future, from setting meaningful goals to guiding them along the path toward the finish line.

Contact me for a no-strings-attached meeting to discuss your goals, how to make them meaningful, and what strategies can help you pursue them. Call my office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128, or email me at michael.loo@lpl.com.

1 http://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/science-says-92-percent-of-people-dont-achieve-goals-heres-how-the-other-8-perce.html

2 http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1981-27276-001

March 19, 2018

Do you remember Veruca Salt, the spoiled rich girl from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? You know, the girl who yells at her father, “I want it now!” And her clueless, abiding father would get her whatever she wanted, which consequently did more harm than good.

Well, we all have one of those fathers. Not the one that we buy a Father’s Day card for every year, but one that we carry in our wallet. One that typically says yes to whatever we want to buy, regardless of how that may spoil our budget, or worse, our credit score. It’s called a credit card.

Please understand, I am not calling you spoiled or demanding. However, in this instantaneous age, it’s very easy to spend impulsively or unconsciously. How many of us have gone to Target to purchase one or two items and ended up walking out with a full cart? How many of us have passed some idle time perusing one of our favorite online vendors, one who may even have our credit card information stored in their system? We may have had no intention to buy when we got on the site, but when we spot a good “deal,” it only takes a few quick clicks to make it ours.

You see, it happens a lot more often than you think. Study after study has shown that people will spend more money when they use credit cards than when they use cash, sometimes as much as twice the average cost for the same item1. Not only does the method of payment affect the quantity, it can also affect quality, with consumers willing to purchase unhealthy or unnecessary items when paying with a credit card as opposed to cash2.

The convenience of clicking or swiping to purchase, rather than handing over tangible cash, has spurred on overspending and racked up national credit card debt to $905 billion3. The truth of the matter is that we have lost sight of the fact that credit cards are essentially a thirty-day loan, which is becoming more and more apparent with the younger generations. Based on Experian’s Millennial Credit and Finance Survey Report Part II, 58 percent of millennial credit card holders polled in 2015 had maxed out a credit card, been charged a late fee, had an increase in the interest rate on a credit card, had a credit card declined or had defaulted on a credit card payment4. Financial behaviors like these can wreak a lot of havoc on a young person’s credit score and financial future. Such a small, seemingly innocent looking piece of plastic can do a lot of damage.

Now I am in no way advocating a credit-free lifestyle. Not only are credit cards a convenient way to build up your credit score, but many cards offer rewards programs where users can earn discounts, airline mileage and cash back. Most importantly, though, there are an increasing amount of vendors that no longer accept cash. This is not simply limited to online purchases. Have you ever tried leaving an airport parking lot or paying to access a toll road with cash? In most places, it is nearly impossible.

What I am saying is we need to start being a bit more mindful with our money, a bit more critical of how we spend. I mentioned the perks of credit cards rewards programs earlier. How many of us, though, have actually stopped to determine how much those perks really cost once you start adding up interest and impulse purchases? If switching over to cash purchases helps us become a bit more mindful with our money, then so be it.

Before you end up with a pile of debt and regret.

1. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/credit-cards-make-you-spend-more/

2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/201607/does-it-matter-whether-you-pay-cash-or-credit-card

3. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/

4. https://www.slideshare.net/Experian_US/experian-millennial-credit-finance-survey-report-part-ii

March 12, 2018

Each of our lives is comprised of elements that create a story. Our financial lives are no different – the elements include our bank accounts, retirement accounts, mortgages, car loans, student loans, investment accounts, stock options at work, life insurance policies, credit cards, etc. When most people think of their financial life, they think of these elements but have trouble contextualizing them in their overall financial story. All of these elements are simply tools that either help or deter us from our goals. Before analyzing the tools, it’s important to understand why you’re using them and the goals and priorities that create the story which requires them.

One way people analyze these tools is by researching investment returns. Before delving into the world of returns, think about why you are investing in the first place. Your investments should reflect your overall financial priorities. If the risk tolerance in your investment appropriately reflects the time-frame you plan on needing the money, then worrying about investment returns day-to-day can be more of a headache than it’s worth. For example, if you are 35 years old saving for retirement at 60 – you should be aggressively invested if you’re comfortable with that. Because you have 25 years before you plan on using the money, short-term fluctuations in the market shouldn’t really concern you. In fact, if the market does go down and you are still contributing to your retirement, you are technically “buying on sale” – getting more shares for the same dollar value. Contributing to your retirement in up-and-down markets is called “dollar-cost-averaging” – meaning you average out the cost/share of an investment by contributing consistently rather than trying to time the market and invest when you are “buying low”.

There are many benchmarks in the financial industry to compare your investments to and track performance. Some examples include the S&P500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average for large-cap stocks, the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index for bonds, and the MSCI Index for international investments. It’s important to understand how your investments are doing in relation to the overall market – it keeps you abreast of what you are investing in and prompts questions you may not ask otherwise – such as what fees you are paying, who’s helping you decide what to invest in, and how much risk you’re taking on compared to the benchmarks you’re using as a comparison. However, the benchmark you should habitually pay more attention to than any other is your particular goal with each investment and your overall goals in terms of building wealth.

Focusing on investment returns only paints half of the picture when tracking progress because it is completely out of your control. If you can confidently say your investments are well diversified and invested according to a risk-tolerance you are comfortable with, there is a much more important benchmark to track than returns. Instead of relying on your investment vehicles to do all the heavy-lifting, you should use your investment behavior as the ultimate indicator to determine if you’re making progress or need more work. What are the financial goals you have in mind? To retire by 55? To save for a second down payment on a house? To pay off your mortgage? Help your children pay for their college tuition? Protect your investments and family in case of a long-term illness? Reduce credit cards and student loans? Build emergency savings?

When you are focused on goal-based financial planning, there are a lot of benchmarks to concern yourself with other than the hype involved in investment performance. Are you saving more this year than you were last year? Did you increase your savings rate when you received a raise? Does the money you are spending appropriately reflect the values and priorities that are most important to you? Are you using extra income to increase investments and decrease liabilities? By focusing on why you’re investing in the first place and the priorities that matter to you, it’s easier to ask the right questions and monitor progress. Once you know what you’re shooting for, a Decision Coach can help you understand the appropriate tools to get there.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is a capitalization weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is comprised of 30 stocks that are major factors in their industries and widely held by individuals and institutional investors.

The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index is an index of the U.S. investment-grade fixed-rate bond market, including both government and corporate bonds.

The MSCI EAFE Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets, excluding the US & Canada. The MSCI EAFE Index consists of the following developed country indices: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

Each index is an unmanaged index which cannot be invested into directly. Unmanaged index returns do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

February 22, 2018

You just realized you need a budget. Whether it's because you'd like to be saving more money, you plan on investing in a retirement plan, or you want to straighten out your current finances, you know that having a reliable budget would make your life easier.

Creating a budget for the first time can be one of the most overwhelming experiences, especially when you're just starting to look critically at your financial situation.

Take a deep breath and don't stress out! There are just a few simple steps that you can take to reach a reliable, stable budget. I have some excellent pieces of advice that I give to all my clients, family members, friends, and even neighbors. Let me guide you on this financial journey.

Ready to get started?

__________________

Step One: Track all of your expenses

The first step to getting figuring out your finances is to figure out what you have been spending. Print your bank statements for the last three months and categorize each item in your statement on to a new spreadsheet. The Federal Trade Commission has a convenient website www.consumer.gov suggests categorizing every expense, including:

  • Car Expenses
  • Food
  • Clothing Expenses
  • Insurance
  • Credit Card Payments
  • Misc. Expenses
  • Entertainment/Going Out
  • School/Business Expense

Once you have your spending history, review your daily, weekly, and monthly expenses. Looking at the big picture and the tiny details all in one place can help you make small changes that have significant impacts on your finances. Reviewing all of this information lets you easily formulate your budget for next month without the hassle of digging through your bank statements.

Step Two: Set realistic goals

Start with a small, short-term goal. Set one finance goal to obtain over three months and use smaller milestones to meet the finish line you set for yourself. Use each week to reassess your goal and make adjustments as needed. When the goal is achieved, make another, and another, and another. Goals may require modifications, but it's an excellent way to set yourself up for financial success. You'll have something to be proud of every time you pass a milestone. And when the goal is reached? Reward yourself with something—that's still in your budget, of course.

Step Three: Make adjustments

I can't stress this enough—once the budget is set, don't be afraid to readjust as needed. There is no shame in making necessary changes to your budget. Situations change all the time, and nothing has to be concrete. Flexibility is key. Being rigid can make things harder for you and your family if something unexpected comes up and you need to spend more in one category than previously thought. Adjust smartly, not just because you want to splurge on a new gadget or pair of shoes.

Step Four: Never stop reviewing your budget

As I said in step three, adjustments are necessary. While you should remain flexible, if you notice that month after month, week after week, your budget seems to need changes, it's time to review. Reviewing your budget monthly will put your mind at ease if everything is going according to plan or allow you to see what hiccups caused you to veer off-course. Remember, no budget is perfect, and we all have to work towards a happy, balanced budget.

This is just a beginner's toolkit that can help you keep your budget in good health. These are my starting points that seeks to help you get to your financial happy place. There's no need to stress anymore. You don’t have to be perfect. I’ve seen too many people give up on budgeting because they made one mistake and got mad at themselves.  Give yourself the grace to be human.  As long as you are making more good decisions than bad ones over a long period of time, you can work towards getting to where get to where you want to be. You have a roadmap, and you can make your finances a priority quickly with just four simple steps.

February 1, 2018

If you're one of the millions of Americans who received, or are expecting to receive, a tax refund, you are probably trying to decide how to spend it. The average refund this year is around $3,000, a nice chunk of change to throw at one of your goals. Rather than impulse buying that new Apple iWatch or splurging at Sephora, make the best use of this windfall by putting it towards improving your financial situation.

Build Up An Emergency Fund

Some very good friends of mine woke up recently to find that their downstairs had flooded from a burst pipe on the second level. They had to rip up their hard wood floors, replace furniture, and even replace some of the walls. Luckily, their bedroom and their child's nursery was spared, but THIS type of unexpected event is exactly why you need an emergency fund. If they didn't have cash readily available in a savings account, they might have been tempted to put charges for repairs and replacements on a high-interest credit card. Depending on your situation, you should ideally have 3-6 months of regular expenses in the bank. Use your tax refund to start, or top off, your rainy day fund.

Pay Off Debt

The power of compounding interest can work in your favor when investing, but it can also cause debt to grow faster than you might think. Credit card companies apply their interest fees to the amount that you owe initially. But every month (and sometimes every DAY!) after that, the compounding interest will apply to the principal, as well as the previous month's interest. If you want to apply the snowball method, apply your refund to the smallest account you can close out. Alternatively, you can use the “Avalanche” method, and put your refund towards the card with the highest interest rate. Paying off the smallest account might feel good, but if you have double digit interest accruing on a card, get that debt paid off as fast as you can. Take the windfall from your refund and put it towards cleaning up your personal balance sheet.

Fund an Individual Retirement Account

IRAs are one of the greatest savings vehicles you can have for retirement. These vehicles allow you to invest in the market outside of any employer-sponsored plans (like a 401K) with tax-free growth (no capital gains!) until retirement. There are two types of IRAs that are available to the general public: Roth IRAs and Traditional IRAs. With a Roth, you contribute post-tax dollars and don't have to pay income taxes on any distributions in retirement. There is, however, a phase-out limit based on income. With a traditional IRA, you do pay income taxes on distributions in retirement. However, contributions made could be tax-deductible for that tax year (contributions made from January 1st of the current year through April 15th of the following year). As of now, individuals can contribute up to $5,500 per year ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older), or your taxable compensation for the year, if your compensation was less than this dollar limit.

Monetize Other Financial Goals

Planning to take a big family vacation to Disneyland in 5 years? Dreaming of owning a house but need to build up a sizable down payment? Wondering how you are going to pay for your pre-teen's college tuition? If you have any intermediate goals (prior to retirement), consider opening a brokerage account to help your money grow more efficiently. Statistically, the stock market has more up years than down, and historically, has recovered from those down years relatively quickly. If you have time on you side, consider monetizing these goals by participating in the market at a level that is in line with your risk tolerance.

But If You Must, Splurge…A Little

If you just can't help it, take a small percentage of your refund to treat yourself. Whether it's a nice dinner, a manicure, or checking out a movie with your spouse, take a minute to blow off some steam. Keep this amount small though as the path to wealth is paved with good decisions. Start making good habits today to delay gratification and secure a financial safety net in your future.

November 7, 2017

Don’t we all just love the holidays? Having a nice, large Thanksgiving meal with close family and friends? Unwrapping presents during Christmas or Hanukkah, seeing the big smiles on the young kids and grandkids as they rip open that favorite toy they begged for? It may be pure bliss during the months of November and December, but come January and February, when those credit card statements come in, the stress starts to set in.

According to the article here,   the average person takes more than five months to pay off that holiday debt. Many more carry that into the next holiday season, hence carrying it indefinitely and having it snowball out of control. Many people just make the minimum payment on credit cards throughout the year, and then when the holidays come about, go crazy with buying up everything, their balance goes up, and so does that minimum payment, which they soon cannot afford to pay. Defaults on credit cards and people trying to do balance transfers or debt consolidation soon become the norm and the house of cards (literally) soon falls.

44% of people surveyed stated that they were stressed out because of that extra holiday debt. Among all age groups, Millennials were most likely to go into debt around the holidays. People ages 24-35 were most likely to say they went into debt this holiday season with a rate of 14.3%. With the exception of 45-54-year-olds, the likelihood of going into debt decreased with age. Seniors were least likely to say they went into debt, with a rate of 7.6%.

So how can we mitigate or eliminate this holiday debt altogether?

Start a holiday-saving account: Set aside a holiday or Christmas budget at the beginning of each year! The problem that many people run into is that they do not set a holiday season budget and just spend, spend, spend. We have many clients who save anywhere from $50-200/month starting in January, so that they have their full budget come the 4th quarter. Or, if you are out shopping throughout the year and see a great sale on something that a family member or close friend would like, feel free to buy it, to pace yourself. If it’s within the budget, you should be ok.

Change your tax withholdings: It’s also a proven fact that many people over-pay their taxes throughout the year, over-withholding on their paychecks. The average person pays their amount of taxes by the spring or summertime, and the rest of the year is just spent paying more to Uncle Sam, lining his pockets. We have had many clients who come through our office in the 3rd or 4th quarter, and after we look at their tax returns for the previous year, as long as everything is a constant, we ascertain that they have already paid all of their taxes for the year. They can then increase their withholdings on their paycheck, thus bringing in more income monthly, to allow them to pay for the holiday’s cash. Solution: no post-holiday blues. Then, come January, we would review the client’s situation again, many times working alongside their CPA, to help them get to more of a point of breaking even or getting just a small tax refund back at tax time. This would allow them to better plan out their budget for the year.

Can you change your schedule: Other things to consider to have a credit card-free holiday is to work overtime, if your job allows it, or if you get a bonus throughout the year, to set that aside for the holiday season. But don’t count on it, as you can’t always rely on bonuses, commissions, or pay raises to occur when you want them to.

If you are a people-person and don’t mind strangers in your car, consider driving for Lyft or Uber. I believe they offer tiered bonuses if you complete a certain amount of rides during your first 30 days of working and always have promotions going on. That’s an instant quick bonus for one or two months of work. Many retailers, as well as Amazon, hire hundreds or thousands of seasonal part-timers, to help with the holiday rush. Maybe you can even use that employee discount at that retail store you’d be working at to get a good deal on some presents. UPS and FedEx also hire extra drivers and warehouse employees to sort through all of those packages that are being delivered the last two months of the year.

Conclusion: Get creative and don’t get complacent. You can do this!

Action items:

Understand where your money actually went.

There are many great apps out there which can track your spending throughout the year, and help you stay up on things, so things don’t spiral out of control

Set a realistic budget of what you will spend on family, friends, co-workers, and even clients, if it merits it in your situation, so you don’t break the bank

Work with a trusted financial advisor/coach that can hold you accountable on your spending, so you can keep pace to reach your financial goals

Good luck and let us know your progress!  Enjoy the holidays and create some lifetime memories!

[1] http://www.magnifymoney.com/blog/featured/americans-holiday-debt-added-1003-average-year/

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