Is Market Volatility the New Normal?

Last year, stocks marched higher with only minor pullbacks. When the year ended, the largest peak to trough decline for the S&P 500 Index was just under 3% (St. Louis Federal Reserve data on the S&P 500). It was a year that lacked turbulence and one that rewarded diversified investors.

Since the beginning of February, volatility has returned. It’s a reminder that periods of relative tranquility don’t last forever.

In my opinion, it’s something that the long-term investor should look past, though I recognize it can create uneasiness among some investors.

If we were facing serious economic problems, something that might be signaling a recession, it would be a cause for concern. Right now, I don’t believe we are.

The Case for Stocks

Let’s review two underlying supports for the equity markets.

Thanks in part to the tax cut, corporate profits are forecast to rise nearly 20% this year (Thomson Reuters).

Weekly first-time claims for unemployment insurance recently touched a level not seen since the late 1960s (St. Louis Federal Reserve). It’s a concrete sign that companies don’t want to lose employees. If business conditions were deteriorating, the opposite would be true.

The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (designed to detect emerging trends in the economy), just hit a new high. I know we are facing some challenges (we always will), but the economic fundamentals are solid right now.

Coupled with interest rates that remain at historically low levels, the fundamentals have cushioned the downside, in my view, and remain supportive of stocks.

Shorter term, however, headline risk continues to whipsaw sentiment.

Causes of Volatility in Stocks

Two issues have surfaced that have stirred up volatility, in my view.

  1. Last month President Trump announced he will impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, fueling concerns over protectionism and the potential impact on the economy. His apparent goal: Pry open foreign markets to U.S. exports.Before I go on, let me say that it is not my role as your financial advisor to offer up opinions on political issues. However, it is incumbent upon me to analyze and share my thoughts on headlines that are influencing shares. It’s not a political statement. It is a commentary on events viewed through the narrow prism of the market.

    Investors viewed the corporate tax cut and the paring back of regulations favorably. Trade tensions, however, have created uncertainty.

    Most economists support free trade. It’s a net benefit to the U.S. and global economy. But “net benefit” means there are both winners and losers.

    Losers–those whose jobs disappear amid a flood of cheaper imports. Winners–consumers who pay less for various goods, and those who work in export-oriented industries. In 2017, U.S. exports totaled $2.3 trillion (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis). Yes, that’s trillion with a “T.”

    Free trade versus fair trade–it’s a highly debated topic.

    U.S. manufacturers are consumers of steel and aluminum, including farm and construction equipment, aerospace, and pipelines and drilling equipment in the energy industry.

     

    At the margin, it may modestly boost inflation and could force some U.S. manufacturers to put projects back on the shelf or move production offshore.

     

    Additionally, U.S. tariffs may invite retaliation, pressuring exporters, jobs and profits in globally competitive sectors. It could also spark a tit-for-tat trade war that hurts everyone.

     

    As the month came to a close, Trump announced he is set to raise tariffs on Chinese imports. In return, China announced new barriers to some U.S. goods, though the response was measured.

     

    While the odds of a major trade war remain low, all this has injected uncertainty into market sentiment.

     

  2. Troubles popping up in the tech sector have added to volatility. For example, Facebook is embroiled in a controversy over privacy and data sharing. More recently, Trump has set his sights on Amazon, expressing his displeasure in several tweets.Yes, they are only two stocks, but both have performed admirably, leading the tech sector higher. And, they have a combined market capitalization of $1.1 trillion (WSJ as/of 4.3.18).

Perspective

 

I provided an explanation for the recent volatility because I believe one is in order, but let me caution you not to get lost in the weeds. Day traders care about minute-by-minute swings in stocks prices. Long-term investors sidestep such concerns.

So, let’s step back and gather some perspective by reviewing the data.

According to LPL Research—

  • The average intra-year pullback (peak to trough) for the S&P 500 Index since 1980 has been 13.7%.
  • Half of all years had a correction of at least 10%.
  • Thirteen of the 19 years that experienced an official correction (10% or more) finished higher on the year.
  • The average total return for the S&P 500 during a year with a correction was 7.2%.

These bullet points are an evidenced-based way of saying turbulence surfaces from time to time. Patient investors who don’t react emotionally have historically been rewarded.

I understand that some degree of risk is inevitable. But our recommendations are designed to minimize risk, and they are designed with your long-term goals in mind.

If you have any questions or concerns, let’s talk. I’m simply an email (croberts@financialfreedomplanners.com) or phone call (804-277-9734) away.

 

Table 1: Key Index Returns

MTD % YTD % 3-year* %
Dow Jones Industrial Average -3.7 -2.5 10.8
NASDAQ Composite -2.9 2.3 13.0
S&P 500 Index -2.7 -1.2 8.6
Russell 2000 Index 1.1 -0.4 7.2
MSCI World ex-USA** -2.2 -2.7 2.5
MSCI Emerging Markets** -2.0 1.1 6.3
Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond TR 0.6 -1.5 1.2
Source: Wall Street Journal, MSCI.com, MarketWatch, Morningstar
MTD returns: Feb. 28, 2018-Mar. 29, 2018
YTD returns: Dec. 29, 2017-Mar. 29, 2018
MSCI returns run through Mar. 30, 2018
*Annualized
**in US dollars

 

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Busting 5 Big Retirement Myths

Urban legends, urban myths, and the latest that’s on everyone’s lips–fake news. Whatever you call it, in our age of information, claims of spurious repute can go viral in minutes. Anyone with a PC can start a blog and offer up opinions on just about any subject, whether he or she is an authority or not. Sources? Who needs sources?

OK, there’s a bit of sarcasm in that last comment, but I think you know where I’m going.

When it comes to retirement, there are plenty of misleading thoughts, opinions and fake news floating around out there. This month, I’d like to clear up some misconceptions that surround the retirement years. With that in mind, let’s jump in.

  1. I’ll never see a penny of the money I put into Social Security. If I had a nickel every time I heard someone utter that phrase. Sadly, if a 40-something says he is confident he will receive monthly checks, he sets himself up for ridicule among his contemporaries.

    I wouldn’t disagree with the hypothesis that young people getting started in the workforce will receive a low return on contributions into Social Security, but that’s a completely different argument.

    Back to the matter at hand, Social Security is not on the verge of bankruptcy, and I fully believe even those who are many years from retirement will be collecting monthly benefits when it’s their turn. Let me explain.

    According to the 2017 annual report from the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees, Social Security “has collected roughly $19.9 trillion and paid out $17.1 trillion,” in its storied 82-year history, “leaving asset reserves of more than $2.8 trillion at the end of 2016 in its two trust funds.”

    As an ever-larger number of baby boomers continue to retire and collect benefits, the trustees expect the trust funds to be depleted by 2034.

    Thereafter, expected-tax-income receipts are projected to be sufficient to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits. Put another way, recipients of Social Security would receive about a 25% cut in benefits, if no changes are made to the current structure.

    Of course, these are simply projections and much will depend on economic growth, job creation, and wages. Yet, it’s a far cry from, “I won’t see a penny of Social Security.”

    I suspect that politicians will eventually settle on some type of compromise that will extend the life of the current system.

    That said, I recognize that timing and strategies that can be implemented for Social Security may be complex. If you have questions, please give me a call or shoot me an email. I would be happy to discuss your options with you.

  2. The stock market is too risky. There’s no question about it, the bear markets that followed the dot.com bubble and the 2008 financial crisis were unprecedented, in that we saw two steep declines in less than 10 years.

    Made fearful by what they see as too much risk, millennials have shied away from stocks, according to a Bankrate survey. What seems like a complete disconnect: Millennials seem to be far more interested in Bitcoin! The word speculative doesn’t even begin to describe Bitcoin. But let me get back on topic.

    There has always been a degree of risk in stocks, even with a fully diversified portfolio. Yet, a well-diversified portfolio is akin to a stake in the U.S. and global economy. Moreover, the U.S. and global economy has been expanding for many decades. It may not be larger next year, but history tells us it will be bigger in 10 or 20 years.

    When it comes to investing in stocks, I typically experience some resistance from folks who haven’t seriously entertained the idea before. I listen to their concerns, and answer with an array of factual data that’s not designed to win an argument, but simply to educate. When you have all the facts, then you can make an educated decision about what’s best for you.

  3. Medicare will handle all my health care needs in retirement. If only Medicare did cover everything. But then, the cost to finance it would be much higher.

    Medicare doesn’t cover the full cost of skilled nursing or rehabilitative care, according to AARP. Yes, the first 20 days of a stay in a nursing home is covered, but you’ll pay over $160 per day for days 21 through 100. And Medicare doesn’t cover stays past 100 days.

    You may be paying out of pocket for personal care assistance, too. The same holds true for miscellaneous hospital costs, routine eye exams, hearing, foot and dental care.

  4. Why save today when you can start tomorrow—there’s plenty of time. This section is designed for millennials and those who are just beginning their journey in the workforce. There’s no better day to begin saving than today! I can’t stress this enough.

    Let me give you a simple but telling example.

    Susan invests $5,000 annually between the age of 25 and 35 and earns 7% annually. She puts away a total of $50,000.

    Bill invests $5,000 annually between the age of 35 and 65 and earns 7% annually. He saves a total of $150,000.

    When Susan reaches 65, she will have amassed $602,070, while Bill will have $540,741.

    Source: JP Morgan Asset Management

    Lesson learned–the sooner you begin, the better off you will be as you approach retirement.

    Take full advantage of your company’s retirement program. If your company doesn’t have a savings plan, there are many simple ways that you can get started. Feel free to reach out to me and I can assist you.

  5. Retirement is easy. Many look forward to the day when they will no longer prepare for Monday mornings at the office. For those who face the work challenges that crop up daily, retirement may seem like a welcome oasis in the distance.

    But that oasis sometimes turns out to be a mirage. Often, the transition from decades of working to retirement isn’t so simple.

    For a better retirement, set goals, and not simply financial ones. Can you transition to part-time in your job? Consider part-time employment or consulting. It will ease the transition, keep you busy, and extend your savings.

    Volunteer with your local church or local community organizations. Are you familiar with Meetup.com? Look for groups with similar interests. You’ll not only derive an enormous amount of satisfaction from helping others, but you’ll meet like-minded folks and make new friends.

    Try something new. Take up piano or another musical instrument. You may enjoy it and be good at it. A friend of mine took up poetry to keep his mind sharp.

    Please, keep up any exercise routines—and it’s never too late to start a new one. Check with your doctor, who will be happy to prescribe a fitness plan that’s suited to you.

    Have you ever considered taking a class? How about writing a book? Expanding your knowledge or sharing your ideas can be quite fulfilling. Though well into his 70s and still happily working, one individual I know is writing a book to his kids. Now there’s a legacy!

    The most important thing you can do to make retirement enjoyable is to stay active and keep your mind and body sharp.

Concerned about retirement readiness, when to take Social Security, pension questions? Give us a call at (804) 277-9734 or email us at croberts@financialfreedomplanners.com; we can help!

www.financialfreedomplanners.com

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TAX SIMPLIFICATION – DON’T BET ON IT!

“Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree,” quipped Senator Russell Long, who chaired the powerful Senate Finance Committee from 1966 to 1981.

This past year, Halloween was barely over when House Republicans introduced their version of tax reform. Few observers thought such a massive undertaking could be signed into law within seven short weeks.

But that is exactly what happened. In the hectic days that preceded Christmas, the president signed into law the most sweeping change in the tax code since 1986.

“The legislation will result in substantive tax reform for corporations, with the elimination of the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) and consolidation down to a single 21% tax rate (from 35%), all of which are permanent,” Michael Kitces, a respected authority on tax issues, wrote on Kitces.com.

“However,” he added, “When it comes to individuals, the new legislation is more of a series of cuts and tweaks, which arguably introduce more tax planning complexity for many, and will be subject to another infamous sunset provision after the year 2025.”

Tax Simplification – Not So Much

I know the often-stated goal of tax reform was simplification. But simplification means that much lower tax brackets can only be achieved if cherished deductions and credits are done away with.

It’s easier said than done.

Sure, simplification is a lofty ideal, but, “Don’t take my deductions or credits from me,” has always been the taxpayers’ battle cry. And yes, Congress heard and listened to several of those pleas.

While some deductions will disappear, others remain or have been reduced. Senator Long probably would have sported a grin when President Trump signed the massive bill.

Sharpen your pencils – the new tax code and tax planning

Over 80% of Americans will get a tax cut next year, while just 5% of taxpayers are expected to pay more (Tax Policy Center, Washington Post). In most cases, cuts are expected to be modest; however, much will depend on individual circumstances.

Due to the complexities of the new law, I am always happy to talk with you, but I also encourage you to check with your tax advisor. Many experts are struggling with the details of the bill, and that’s to be expected this early in the game.

What I would like to do is touch on the high points. It’s not all-inclusive and not a deep dive, but given many of your questions lately, I believe an overview is in order.

So, let’s get started. (Sources for this review include Kitces.com and the Tax Policy Center). This applies to tax year 2018.

  1. The 10% bracket remains unchanged, while the 15% bracket declines to 12%, the 25% to 22%, the 28% to 24%, the 33% to 32%, the 35% holds steady, and the 39.6% slips to 37%. The thresholds are modestly adjusted above the new 22% bracket.
  2. The standard deduction nearly doubles to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filers, reducing the incentive to itemize and simplifying for some taxpayers.
  3. The $4,150 personal exemption is eliminated, and the $1,000 child tax credit doubles to $2,000. In general, rules for charitable contributions remain unchanged. By itself, the combination of points one, two, and three will provide modest tax relief for most families. But I must caution, it depends on your individual circumstances.
  4. Those in high-tax states could see the biggest hit, as there will be a $10,000 cap on state, local and property tax deductions.
  5. For investors, the preferential treatment for long-term capital gains and dividends remains intact, as is generally the case for retirement accounts. One important change – the new law repeals rules that allow for recharacterization of Roth conversions back into traditional IRAs. Once you convert into a Roth, there’s no going back.
  6. The 3.8% Medicare surtax on investment income for high-income taxpayers was retained. Since the levy entered the tax code, we have crafted strategies that reduce its bite; however, the tax survived tax reform and is likely to remain a permanent feature of the tax code going forward.
  7. The AMT for individuals was not repealed, but exemptions have been widened.

    According to the Tax Foundation, Congress passed the AMT in 1969 after the Secretary of the Treasury said 155 people with adjusted gross income above $200,000 had paid no federal income tax on their 1967 tax returns.

    The AMT was never adjusted for inflation and grew into an onerous feature for many Americans. In inflation-adjusted terms, those 1967 incomes would be roughly $1.2 million in today’s dollars. Ideally, it would have been eliminated from the tax code. But Kitces points out, “While the AMT commonly impacted those around $150,000 to $600,000 of income, in the future, AMT exposure will be much smaller, and it will be extremely difficult to be impacted at all, especially given more limited deductions.”

  8. The estate tax survived, but the exemption will double from $5.6 million to $11.2 million, and $11.2 million to $22.4 million for couples.
  9. The new tax bill also repeals the Obamacare mandate that requires all individuals to obtain health insurance. It becomes effective 2019.

    Finally, it’s important to point out that many of the more popular changes in the tax code for individuals will sunset in 2025. While many may eventually be made permanent, as we saw with the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, there’s no guarantee this will happen again.

  10. And for businesses: Given that the 21% corporate tax rate applies only to C-corps, there will be a 20% deduction for pass-through entities, such as S-corps, partnerships, and LLCs. I believe this will be a welcome benefit for many business owners, but complex rules may limit the pass-through for some entities.

Final Thoughts

I fully expect that the rewrite of the tax code will produce unintended benefits and unexpected consequences.

From an economic standpoint, Congress and the president hope to unleash the “animal spirits” that have been lethargic for much of the economic expansion. They hope that changes, especially as they relate to business, will encourage firms to open new plants, expand in the U.S., and level the playing field with the global community.

Prior to reform, the U.S. corporate rate was the third highest among 188 nations (Tax Foundation).

The $64 million-dollar question – will it work? About 90% of economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal expect a modest boost to growth in 2018 and 2019, but after that, opinions diverge.

If tax incentives boost productivity, it could lift long-run GDP potential, which would yield a significant benefit. If the economic benefits end after a two-year sugar high, it will likely be deemed a failure.

Early anecdotal data offer some encouragement, as several large firms announced year-end bonuses or wage hikes tied to the lower corporate tax rate.

At a minimum, the lower tax rate increases longer-run after-tax earnings, which played a big role in the late-year stock market rally. It could also boost corporate stock buybacks and dividends going forward, which would create an added tailwind for stocks.

That said, I’m cautiously optimistic it will encourage entrepreneurship and economic growth, which would benefit hard-working Americans.

Again, I understand that uncertainty breeds questions and concerns. If you would like to talk, I’m simply a phone call or an email away. I’d be happy to talk with you and answer any questions you may have.

Hourly & Project-Based Personal Financial Planning

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Avoiding 8 Big Mistakes in Retirement

Tens of millions of Americans are looking forward to the day they retire. Others enjoy their profession and can’t imagine a life without work. Yet, even those folks recognize that one day they won’t wake up on a Monday and head into the office.

In either case, they share a common goal—a comfortable retirement that doesn’t force them into a drastic lifestyle change. And while I admit it’s a well-worn cliché, a failure to plan is another way of saying that you are really planning to fail.

As I’ve done in many of my monthly newsletters, I want to take a step back and talk about the basics or the fundamentals, and review important mistakes that retirees sometimes make.

Experience isn’t always the best teacher. Many times, someone else’s experience is. If we can avoid common pitfalls, we can sidestep costly mistakes and reduce the stress that can sometimes accompany retirement.

8 Retirement mistakes to avoid:

1. Falling prey to scams. Sadly, scams are proliferating in today’s tech-driven world. They are just a mouse-click away. One must always be on guard. That is why I am leading off with a warning about fraud.

I recently came across an article that illustrated how home buyers were being scammed out of their down payment. Long story short, a buyer unsuspectingly receives and acts on fraudulent wire instructions from hackers who have hacked into the computer of their real estate agent. The hackers are posing as their agent.

Unfortunately, the seller rarely has any recourse, losing both home and cash.

I provide this illustration because the criminal mind is only limited by creativity. Scams, including investment scams, come in multiple forms.

I don’t want you to be taken by con artists. I don’t want you to go through the pain of being victimized. I’ve seen it before and it breaks my heart.

2. Be careful not to drain your savings too quickly. Once you retire, there may be the temptation to shift spending toward new hobbies or travel. Unless you have substantial reserves set aside, spending too much too soon could create unwanted stress and exacerbate worries that you might outlive your retirement.

Set up a budget and look for ways to trim expenses without a significant change in lifestyle. I know a retiree who financially is in great shape. For much of her life, she’s shopped at Goodwill for her clothes and still enjoys “finding deals,” as she puts it.

Simple changes can sometimes yield substantial savings.

3. House rich and cash poor. If you own your home, might it be time to downsize? You can lower your utilities, maintenance, property taxes, insurance, and more by moving into a smaller home that doesn’t appreciably impact your lifestyle.

Equity that remains can supplement savings.

4. Failing to take health care into account. Medicare doesn’t cover everything, and long-term care expenses may eventually crop up. With some appropriate adjustments, we can make sure you are aware of your options and plan accordingly.

5. An investment mix that is too aggressive or too conservative can come back to haunt you.

As you near or enter retirement, the more aggressive posture that served you well may no longer be appropriate. It goes without saying there may not be the time to make up unanticipated market losses, especially if you are forced to liquidate to cover normal or unexpected expenses.

Conversely, getting too conservative in retirement can put unwanted constraints on your portfolio. The danger—your investments lack a component geared toward appreciation, creating the risk you may outlive your money.

While time-tested principles can guide us, each situation is unique and we can assist you in finding the right balance.

6. Claiming Social Security too soon could be an expensive proposition. It may be tempting to file for Social Security when you reach 62. But, did you know that you will reduce your monthly benefit by 25% by not waiting until full retirement—now 66 years of age.

Every year you delay past full retirement age increases your monthly check by 8%, until you reach 70, where you’d receive another 32%. Plus, annual cost of living adjustments are based on your current benefits. So, if you delay, you will not only receive a larger monthly check, but the annual cost of living increases will be based on the larger base amount.

Of course, many factors determine when it’s best to claim your benefits, including life expectancy.

Married couples have several options that are not available to those who are single. And let’s not overlook spousal benefits, which may be eligible for those who are divorced.

Social Security offers many options and strategies. If you are so inclined, let’s talk and see what may work best for you.

7. You can’t ignore taxes. Most of you will see your marginal tax bracket drop in retirement. But some seniors may be in for a rude awakening when they file.

Many are aware that IRA or 401k distributions are taxable, but sometimes fail to adequately prepare when they take distributions.

The same holds true for interest, dividends, and capital gain distributions from mutual funds. In addition, some folks are surprised to find that Social Security may be subject to taxes.

If you file as an individual and your combined income (adjusted gross income + nontaxable interest + ½ of your Social Security benefits) is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits. If the total is more than $34,000, up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable. For married couples, raise the numbers to $32,000-$44,000 and $44,000, respectively (SSA.gov Benefits Planner: Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits).

Planning for tax outlays doesn’t reduce the discomfort that goes with paying Uncle Sam, but preparation can reduce the tax bite. And proper planning can eliminate surprises at tax time.

As always, I’m happy to assist but feel free to consult your tax advisor.

8. Leading a sedentary lifestyle. For some individuals, working and socializing go hand in hand. When they retire, they inadvertently disconnect from the world. Don’t let this happen to you!

Stay active and exercise as you are able. Have you considered a senior aerobics class or other low impact exercises? Talk to your doctor. He or she will be thrilled to recommend a plan.

Stimulate your mind. Some like to read, others enjoy puzzles or brain teasers. Or you might consider an online class. I know of one retiree in her late 70s who is now taking piano lessons.

What is your passion? Now is the time to volunteer. Local organizations or your church can point you in the right direction. As a bonus, it will open up avenues for new friendships.

This isn’t an all-inclusive list. It’s not meant to be, but avoiding common mistakes will reduce your stress and help you get the most out of your retirement.

Changing gears—upward march in stocks

No question about it—for those who have invested in a well-diversified equity portfolio this year, you have been handsomely rewarded.

Of course, I rarely recommend diving into a portfolio that’s 100% invested in stocks, unless you are young and your tolerance for risk is high.

When markets get volatile, those who are 100% invested will see the biggest declines. Simply put, other asset classes help reduce volatility and put you on a straighter path toward your goals.

The tailwinds that have driven stocks over the last year, and for that matter, over recent years, remain in place.

Economic growth in the U.S. has been quite resilient, even in the face of devastating hurricanes.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported at the end of October that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expanded at an annual pace of 3% in Q3. It’s the second-consecutive quarter of GDP growth that has met or exceeded 3%. The economy hasn’t experienced that since 2014.

But it’s not simply just what’s happening at home; we’re witnessing an acceleration in economic activity around the world.

One byproduct for investors—solid corporate profit growth. It’s a key factor in the stock market equation.

Throw low inflation and low interest rates into the mix and the S&P 500 Index set 11 new all-time closing highs in the month of October (St. Louis Federal Reserve data).

Table 1: Key Index Returns

MTD % YTD % 3-year* %
Dow Jones Industrial Average +4.3 +18.3 +10.4
NASDAQ Composite +3.6 +25.0 +13.3
S&P 500 Index +2.2 +15.0 +8.5
Russell 2000 Index +0.8 +10.7 +8.6
MSCI World ex-USA** +1.3 +18.0 +2.9
MSCI Emerging Markets** +3.5 +29.8 +3.3
Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond TR +0.1 +3.2 +2.4
Source: Wall Street Journal, MSCI.com, MarketWatch, Morningstar
MTD returns: September 29, 2017-October 31, 2017
YTD returns: December 30, 2016-October 31, 2017
*Annualized
**in US dollars

 I have never favored market timing as a strategy. You know, hoping to sidestep the inevitable declines and get back into stocks prior to the inevitable upswing. It’s simply not possible to accurately and consistently predict the future. I know that seems obvious, but it must be said.

My approach has always been a time-tested strategy that is based on the historical data that takes the bumps in the road into account.

I won’t venture a guess as to how markets may perform next year or through the remainder of the decade, but we’ll participate in the upside and use various evidenced-based strategies that will mitigate, though not eliminate, the downside.

History tells us this has been the best path to wealth accumulation and obtaining your goals.

As always, I’m honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve as a financial confidant, planner and advisor.

We’re simply an email or phone call away, and can be reached at:

croberts@financialfreedomplanners.com or (804) 277-9734.

Schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation or 45 minute “Getting to Know You” meeting today.

Hourly & Project-Based Personal Financial Planning

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5 STEPS TO ACCUMULATING WEALTH

There are many reasons to engage the services of a financial advisor.

Some investors don’t understand the complexities and the array of choices, and they would prefer to have an expert deal with it for them. That’s understandable.

Others enjoy the DIY approach. They love to explore the various strategies of money management. Grasping and understanding new ideas and concepts creates that “Aha!” moment. But time has become a major impediment.

We have many clients who came to us working hard, making good incomes with little to show for it (their words, not mine). Busy schedules place demands on our time and energy, and it’s easy to lose focus, and many times control over our financial lives.

Then there are those who were comfortable managing their own finances, and, having amassed a fair degree of wealth, can claim success. But climbing to new financial heights can sometimes create a fear of heights. At this juncture in their life, they are more comfortable having a financial professional keeping an eye on their choices.

Retaining an advisor is akin to having a personal trainer coaching you as you go through your daily exercise regimen. The trainer keeps you on track, encourages you, and can suggest beneficial adjustments.

If you find yourself in one of these categories, you now know that you aren’t alone.

Once again, though, let me emphasize that each individual situation is unique, each client is unique, and we adapt our advice so that it matches your circumstances and financial goals. And we are always here to answer your questions or address any concerns.

But, while each person’s plan has its unique qualities, there are fundamental principles that must be woven into every financial blueprint. These fundamentals are the building blocks for wealth accumulation over the long-term, and it’s important to keep them in mind, always.

Let’s take a look at the fundamentals:

5 steps to accumulating wealth

1. Pay yourself first.

You no doubt have heard this before. Put yourself first in line and think about the following questions: Do you have a budget? If you don’t have a budget, why? Why are you saving? What motivates you to contribute to your savings on a consistent basis?

Many people find a negative association with the word budget. We prefer to borrow a line from Dave Ramsey: Having a budget actually gives you permission to spend. You won’t be depriving yourself—you’ll be telling yourself it’s okay to spend the money (that is, as long as it’s in the budget for the month).

Have a goal. Dream big and keep the goal in front of you!

2. Avoid get-rich-quick schemes. 

I’ve been around the block many times. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. After reading that common sense advice, many of you are probably thinking, “I know that. Why did you lead off with something this simple?” Well, I’ve seen too many smart folks fall for get-rich-quick schemes that leave them poorer. Sometimes much poorer. And it’s heartbreaking to hear the tales.

Maybe it’s simply greediness we’re afraid of losing out on perceived riches. Maybe it’s fear—fear we’ll miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Maybe we’re too trusting. The best con-artist’s pitch is steeped in sincerity. Maybe our judgment gets clouded, as we’re dazzled by the flashing presentation or personal flattery.

If you ever come across something you believe might lead to quick riches, please let me review it with you. I promise I will provide you with an objective viewpoint.

3. Avoid trying to time the market. 

It sounds so simple. Buy low, sell high.

Or, here’s another take: “Buy when there’s blood in the streets.” It’s still bounced around in financial circles.  Forbes credited the saying to Baron Rothschild, an 18th Century British nobleman and member of the Rothschild banking family. Coincidently, or not, Forbes published the article two weeks prior to the market bottoming in 2009.

However, in both cases, these are platitudes that are best ignored, in my view. You see, we’re not wired to dive off a cliff and buy when everyone is selling. Instead, the temptation is to circle the wagons and play defense.

In reality, it’s much easier to buy when markets are heading higher. Euphoria can breed euphoria, which leads to a feeling of invincibility. It’s the “follow the crowd” mentality.

We eschew trying to pick a few winners, avoid trying to predict the future, (i.e., market timing) and preach diversification and a disciplined approach that strips the emotional component from the investment plan.

Longer term, stocks have historically been an excellent vehicle to accumulate wealth. Let me explain.

Crestmont Research produces a chart each year that reviews the annual 10-year total returns for the S&P 500 Index going back to 1909. These are rolling, 10-year periods; i.e., we are reviewing over one hundred 10-year periods.

Since 1909, there have been only four 10-year timeframes that have generated negative returns. Want to hazard a guess as to when they may have occurred?

That’s right–the late 1930s and the end of the last decade. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given extreme valuations that occurred in the late 1920s and late 1990s and early 2000s.

Oh, and the average annual return? It can vary by a considerable amount, but it averages 10%.

4. You must start somewhere, but start.

Let me share my story. Years ago, I began working for a company that offered a 401k plan with a generous match. In my mind, a 401k was a euphemism for, “I get nothing today so I’ll have something tomorrow.” It epitomizes the concept of delayed gratification.

Don’t try to climb Mt. Everest overnight. I started withholding 2% of my paycheck, and increased it quarterly to 4%, then 7%, and finally 10%. As I bumped it up in small increments, I found I really didn’t miss the extra withholding.

Guess what? I enjoyed watching my small nest egg begin to grow! One more thing, you can’t start too young. Compounding and time is your friend.

I’m thrilled when I have the opportunity to work with people in their 20s and 30s who are embarking on their careers. They truly have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a head start on wealth accumulation.

When’s the best time to start? How about NOW?

5. Diversify.

Both Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie allegedly said, “Put all your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket closely.” Twain and Carnegie didn’t live in an age where the dissemination of information is almost instantaneous. Bad news comes in like a WWE smack down on a stock. It’s the defensive end leveling the quarterback, and it can happen in seconds.

Our team carefully screens investments in mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. We also pay close attention to the underlying cost of those investments. You’d be amazed on how much difference the cost can make over time. Our goal is to select the right balance that leaves you exposed to the longer-term appreciation potential in all major sectors of the economy. You can read more about that in “Balanced Investing Is Part of a Balanced Life.”

And we don’t stop at the U.S. border, as we recognized the potential the global economy offers.

A fixed income component is critical for most folks. Being 100% diversified in a portfolio of stocks can leave you exposed to a market decline. It’s for someone with a very long-term time horizon. If you are nearing retirement, you may not have the time to recover in the event of a steep market decline.

Bonds, cash, and fixed income securities are not earning spectacular returns right now. However, they help anchor the portfolio. As the percentage of stocks decline in relation to cash/fixed income, the portfolio is likely to experience less volatility. You won’t see the peaks in a roaring bull market, but you’ll sleep better at night knowing that a sudden dip in the market is far less likely to take a big bite out of your investments.

Switching gears: New highs and the fundamentals

The S&P 500 Index finished the quarter at a record high. Notably, the closely followed gauge of 500 large U.S. stocks ran up its quarterly winning streak to eight consecutive quarters (WSJ, MarketWatch data).

It’s done so in the face of three devastating hurricanes—Harvey, Irma and Maria, dysfunction in Washington, unsettling news from North Korea, and gridlock in Washington.

But in many respects, it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

As I’ve wandered through the literary tulips with you, one common theme is a focus on the economic fundamentals.

Stocks take their longer-term marching orders from corporate profit growth. And profits are driven primarily by economic growth at home and abroad.

Currently, we’re in the midst of a synchronized global expansion, which has created a strong tailwind for earnings.

Moreover, interest rates remain near historic lows, and the Federal Reserve hasn’t been shy about signaling that any rate hikes are expected to come at a gradual pace.

If I had to concoct a recipe for bull market, I’d go heavy on profits, economic growth, and low interest rates—Oh, wait a minute—that’s today’s environment!

Now, I understand the hurricanes have changed lives and wrecked property in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. If you are so inclined, please consider donating to relief efforts. Short term, the economic data is taking a hit from the storms. Longer term, it’s unlikely to have much impact on the economic trajectory.

While North Korea’s quest for an ICBM that can strike the U.S. is very unsettling, short-term investors seem to be pricing in the unpredictability of the rogue regime. More importantly—speaking strictly from an investment perspective—investors aren’t anticipating a disruption in the economic cycle.

So, while you should be prepared for more troubling news, it simply isn’t affecting U.S. economic activity.

Table 1: Key Index Returns

MTD % YTD % 3-year* %
Dow Jones Industrial Average +2.1 +13.4 +9.5
NASDAQ Composite +1.1 +20.7 +13.0
S&P 500 Index +1.9 +12.5 +8.4
Russell 2000 Index +7.4 +9.9 +10.1
MSCI World ex-USA** +2.3 +16.5 +1.8
MSCI Emerging Markets** -0.6 +25.5 +2.5
Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond TR -0.5 +3.1 +2.7
Source: Wall Street Journal, MSCI.com, MarketWatch, Morningstar
MTD returns: August, 2017-September 29, 2017
YTD returns: December 30, 2016-September 29, 2017
*Annualized
**In U.S. dollars

Tax reform

“Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that man behind the tree,” was attributed to the late Louisiana Senator Russell Long, who chaired the powerful Senate Finance Committee from 1966 to 1981 (NYT).

He assisted with tax reform in 1986, and Congress is now considering the first major rewrite of the tax code since then.

The initiative that’s been proposed by the President and the Congressional Republican leadership is simply a blueprint. It must clear a number of hurdles before becoming law.

The framework is silent on how dividends and capital gains will be treated, and no mention has been made of the 3.8% surtax on investment income for high-income Americans.

The outline calls for special treatment for retirement accounts, but no other details were provided.

Therefore, anticipating and positioning for changes becomes very difficult given the uncertainty surrounding the bill.

Meanwhile, a 20% top corporate rate has been proposed, down from 35%. It’s roughly in-line with most developed nations, and is expected to be supportive of stocks.

But it’s early in the game and any discussion of the final points is purely speculative.

Nonetheless, please reach out to me if you have any questions about tax reform or tax planning. Or, if you would like to discuss any other matters, I’d be happy to talk with you.

We’re simply an email or phone call away, and can be reached at croberts@financialfreedomplanners.com or (804) 277-9734. Schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation or 45 minute “Getting to Know You” meeting today.

Hourly & Project-Based Personal Financial Planning

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6 WAYS TO A HAPPIER RETIREMENT

And Happy Birthday, Economic Recovery!

Picture this—it’s Friday afternoon, your work is done, and you have the weekend ahead of you. But what makes this weekend different from any other weekend is that two-week vacation following it. You wish your colleagues well, they express similar thoughts, and you head toward freedom.

Of course, you’re excited! Travel, new experiences, time away from the mundane, and time to recharge.

In the back of your mind, you know it’s temporary and you’ll be back at your desk before you know it. Maybe that’s part of the reason why the time away is special. It’s short-lived.

Now, let’s take this another step.

This vacation is permanent. You are saying your final goodbyes. When you awake on Monday, you will wake up when you want to wake up. No more alarm clocks. You’ll never head back to the office again.

For some, you’ve already experienced your last day at work. For others, it is a goal, but it’s not reality. At least not yet. I’m talking about, of course, retirement.

One of my goals as your financial advisor is to help put you on a path to reaching your financial dreams. We take a holistic approach that encompasses many aspects of financial planning.

But what happens when you’ve reached those goals and you have the resources to retire comfortably? Just because you’re financially well-off doesn’t mean you are ready to embrace what can be a drastic new lifestyle.

Let’s explore the non-financial aspects of your transition.

A recent story featured on CNBC stated, “Happiness in retirement is about more than account balances.” Sure, money is part of the equation. It reduces stress that can be brought on by inadequate finances.

But those whose identity is wrapped up in their work, especially for those who have built their company from the ground up, retirement can be an uncertain transition. Many of you delay retirement, opting to work well into your 70s or even 80s.

A 2013 British study cited in the aforementioned CNBC article showed that retirement may actually increase the risk of depression by 40%. Think about it—your routine has been interrupted, and the bonds you’ve formed with your co-workers will forever be changed.

All of this can have substantial implications for your health. So, please, don’t overlook the psychological implications that may inevitably be a part of retirement.

Be proactive

Many of you are taking steps to ensure your financial well-being long after you retire. But retirement is much more than just finances.

  1. If possible, transition into retirement. Recall the scenario above. You’ve worked a full week, it’s Friday, but you’ll never go back to work. It sounds enticing, especially if your job is just that…a job.However, a recent Transamerica study found that 61% of American workers hope to transition into retirement by shifting from full-time to part-time. Yet only 25% said their employers offer such options.

    A study last year by Merrill Lynch noted that 47% of retirees have either worked or plan to work in retirement, and 72% of pre-retirees say they want to work in retirement. Simply put, if you want to work or feel you need to supplement your retirement income, you aren’t alone.

    If your firm offers a flexible schedule, seriously consider it. If not, could you contract on a project-by-project basis, consult, or find part-time employment elsewhere. It will not only keep you busy, it will keep your mind sharp, and supplement your retirement income.

  2. This is critically important. What do both of you want to get out of retirement? How can you get on the same page? How much time will you be spending together?In the past, you have probably been apart during your weekdays. But that will change. You can find ways to integrate each other into your daily lives through activities that you both enjoy. But you may also want to spend time with your own friends and family. Consider mixing things up. Variety really can be the spice of life.
  3. Set new goals. You are embarking on a new venture. But unlike your decades of work, retirement life won’t have the structure it had before. That can be disorienting for many, creating drift, depression, and even magnifying health issues.Consider coming up with an outline or schedule of activities. Having a daily or weekly plan can help prevent loneliness.

    Keeping active via part-time work is one option. Another—volunteer. What are your passions? Who or what causes would you like to assist? Your church or a familiar community organization can benefit from someone who has years of experience in the business world and decades of accumulated wisdom.

    In addition, volunteer work helps expand your social network, a network that can quickly fray when you no longer enjoy the everyday comradery that a place of employment offers.

  4. “Eat well, sleep soundly, and play often.” That’s the advice from veteran career coach Bill Ellermeyer.Bill says, “Happily retired people treat themselves like a good friend. They keep themselves well-fed, exercise at least three times a week, get proper rest, and maintain strong social connections.”

    He’s right. Don’t isolate yourself. Stay active.

  5. Exercise. This is a subset of number four. Keeping busy enhances your mental capacity. If you can, incorporate some type of physical activity into your weekly regimen. If walking on a treadmill bores you, take short hikes or walks in the park. If it’s something you enjoy, you’re more likely to engage in that activity—it’s less exercise and more fun.
  6. Play with your grandchildren. If you have grandchildren, time with them is time well spent. That is something you intuitively know, but it’s also backed by research from the Institute on Aging at Boston College.“The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health,” said Sara M. Moorman, an assistant professor at Boston College.

Finally, retirement isn’t necessarily a time to slow down. It’s a time to redirect your path and embrace new experiences. Take charge and don’t let circumstances dictate your future. That’s the key to a happy and fruitful retirement.

Switching gears: Happy Birthday, Economic Recovery!

As June came to a close, the current economic recovery and expansion turned eight years old, the third longest recovery since the end of WWII. That’s according to data compiled by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which marked the end of the Great Recession in June 2009.

A quick explanation—the NBER is the arbiter of recessions and expansions for the U.S. economy. It bases its calls on data that includes employment, sales, income, and industrial production.

In a vacuum, eight years may not mean very much to the average person, so I will offer some perspective.

Including the current economic recovery, there have been 12 such recoveries since WWII.

The eight-year or 96-month-long expansion has only been exceeded by the expansion that began in 1991 and lasted 120 months, and the expansion that began in 1961, which lasted 106 months, or nearly nine years.

The shortest one managed to survive only 12 months. It began in 1980 and fell victim to then Fed Chairman Paul Volker’s decision to use monetary policy—sharply higher interest rates—to crush years of high inflation.

With the short explanation out of the way, you may be asking, “What does that mean to me and my investments?” Or, “The current recovery isn’t young anymore. Is a recession around the corner?”

Bear markets correlate closely with recessions, according to data going back to the mid-1960s (St. Louis Federal Reserve S&P 500 data, NBER).

Expansions eventually come to an end—that’s a given. But they don’t die of old age. Instead, they historically come to an end due to economic excesses, i.e., the tech boom of the 1990s or the housing boom of the last decade. Or the Federal Reserve raises interest rates too high too quickly, discouraging lending and consumer/business spending.

One of the hallmarks of the current expansion has been its slow and boring pace. For many who have seen wages stagnate or haven’t experienced the benefits from the modest-at-best expansion, there is one silver lining. The slow pace of the recovery has failed to stoke the euphoria in real economic activity that can sow the seeds of dangerous excesses.

It has also led to a super cautious Fed, which has been slow to tap on the monetary brakes.

Economist have done a poor job of calling turning points in the business cycle. So, I won’t try to predict when the next recession will set in.

What I can say is that most leading economic indicators suggest that the odds of a near-term recession are low. Put another way, economic growth creates profit growth, which is a tailwind for stocks, even as rates gradually rise.

We can never discount unexpected volatility. But as I’ve previously said, the investment plan we’ve recommended for you takes unexpected turbulence into account.

Remember, timing the ups and down in stocks is rarely profitable longer term. In reality, it only delays the day you reach your financial goals.

Key Index Returns
Index MTD% YTD % 3-year*%
Dow Jones Industrial Average 1.6 +8.0 +8.3
Nasdaq Composite -0.9 +14.1 +11.7
S&P 500 Index +0.5 +8.2 +7.3
Russell 2000 Index +3.3 +4.3 +5.9
MSCI World ex-USA** -0.1 +10.9 -1.9
MSCI Emerging Markets** +0.5 +17.2 -1.3
Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond TR -0.1 +2.3 +2.5

Source: Wall Street Journal, MSCI.com, CNBC, Morningstar MTD returns: May 31, 2017–June 30, 2017; YTD returns: Dec. 30, 2016–June 30, 2017; *Annualized; **USD

I hope you’ve found this review to be educational.

Let me emphasize again that it is my job to assist you! If you have any questions or would like to discuss any matters, please feel free to give me or any of my team members a call at (804) 277-9734 or check our website out at http://www.financialfreedomplanners.com.

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The Real-World Advice You Won’t Hear at Any Commencement—But Should

Thanks and a hat tip to Art Sobczak:

The Real-World Advice You Won’t Hear at Any Commencement—But Should

May 12, 2017 / By Art Sobczak

This hard-nosed wisdom will help prepare recent or soon-to-be graduates for how life and work really are. Some of us old-timers could use some reminders, too.

It’s that time of year when kids all over are graduating from college, and for most, entering the world of reality. Not like reality T.V. shows, but the real world of life.

I haven’t been invited to be anyone’s commencement speaker, but over the past 30 years of being in business for myself, I have learned some valuable lessons—sometimes the hard way—that I wish I could have known right out of the gate.

I believe these nuggets of real-world wisdom will be useful for graduates leaving the bubble of the “formal education” environment.

Congratulations Recent Graduate,

Welcome to the 2017 pledge class of “The Way Things Really Work” fraternity and sorority. What you are about to experience may be downright shocking for some of you.

Here are some suggestions on making it through the hazing and beyond. Should you choose to heed them, they will help you become more successful more quickly in the real world—if that’s your goal.

You have spent the past four years or more focusing on trying to impress college professors in order to earn grades. You will now need to impress people who have real control over your destiny: prospects, clients, bosses, co-workers, boards, and committees. These might be old people whom you previously considered to be un-hip. Even the nerds who graduated just a year ahead of you might be in this group. They all have something you don’t: real world experience. Get used to it. Be humble.

You will not be paid proportionate to your GPA, what school you went to, or if you have a graduate degree with letters behind your name. The market does not care. You will be paid in direct correlation to the value you provide other people and organizations. Money always flows to value in a market economy. Your economics professor might have missed that one amid all the charts and graphs and white-noise babble.

No job or work is beneath you, especially if you don’t have a job. What is beneath you is thinking you are owed something, or expecting someone else to take care of you. In addition to trading time for money, you can learn something from every job, regardless how menial it might seem at first glance.

Even if you do have a job, what you likely have right now is more time than money. Invest that time in becoming an expert in one or several areas. Specialists are always paid more than generalists. (Sorry about that liberal arts degree, by the way.)

Volunteer to tackle any task that most others avoid in any organization you become a part of. Become known as the “go-to” person that gets things done.

No one who is truly successful works nine-to-five. Your days of regularly sleeping til noon and staying out late are over, if you plan to be anything other than average. Easy ways to success exist only in spam emails.

You won’t get awards for attendance. There is no grading on the curve here. You will be rewarded for results—and winning. You’ll be rewarded for being better than the competition, whether that’s another company or someone going for the same job, contract, or piece of business.

If you thought staying up late cramming for a test was hard work and now that is behind you because you have a degree, you are wrong. The tests and presentations now have much higher stakes, and will make the difference between getting the job, the sale, the promotion, or whatever else you want.

Speaking of losing, even if you are really trying, you will not get what you want many, many times. That’s OK, and will be valuable if you learn from every experience.

The real world you are entering is not “fair” according to the definition of many of the kids you went to school with, whatever you may have discussed in some woo-woo philosophy class. Whatever. In this real world, breaks are not given, they are created. Opportunities to succeed are not handed out equally; they are earned with a combination of attitude, risk, and massive action.

You, or more likely your parents, have paid—or taken out loans—for a huge sum of money to study lots of minutiae you will never use. (You may have said that to yourself many times while in an insanely stupid lecture from a professor who has never done anything other than profess.) The real learning that you will use now begins. Don’t be hesitant to invest money in advanced education in your career field. It will be more useful and pay off more than any other graduate degree.

If you did not excel at writing in school, do whatever it takes to get better. And the vocabulary you tap out on ur mobile device might be OK with ur friends and on Facebook, but it is not acceptable professional communication. LOL.

Speaking of Facebook, people who can hire you use it, and won’t think the photos of you doing Jäger shots and passing out are hilarious. Actually, they might….And then they will hire someone else.

A perception of a person’s I.Q. goes down a point every time they say “like,” “ah,” “um,” “you guyses,” and “dude.” It’s like, not professional, and makes someone sound immature, ya know? Join Toastmasters or take another speaking course.

It is not all about you anymore. Be selfless, curious, and grateful. You will be surprised at how it comes back to you.

Emailed “thank you’s” are not acceptable for most things worth thanking for. Get a nice pen and your own stationery and lots of stamps. Yes, some people still use regular mail. The very successful people.

Knowing all about the Kardashians, who’s remaining on The Voice, and what “celebrity” just got picked up for being stupid will not help you in the professional networks you will need to be present in, in order to get ahead. Consume your actual real-world news in whatever form you choose, and be familiar and conversant in local, national, and international politics and events.

Your new social network is LinkedIn. Become as much of an expert at using it as you are with Twitter, YouTube, and any other place you waste time online.

For whatever you want, ask yourself, “Who can give this to me, what do they want and care about, and how and what can I first do for them?”

Even if your formal job title is not sales, become great at sales, as its skills and results are required and used by the most successful people in every area of life. These skills include questioning, listening, recommending, negotiating, handling resistance, persuading, moving processes forward, having a great attitude, and more.

Become indispensable, irreplaceable, and in-demand through hard work, building expertise, and delivering value. You likely know friends of your parents who lost their jobs because they were expendable.

Be obsessively interested in other people. Ask questions. Find out how you can help them. Follow up and stay in touch. Almost everything you achieve will be the result of people you meet and form relationships with along the way.

Always ask for what you want. In all areas of your life. Don’t wish, ask. Few things will be outright given to you without you initiating it first. This alone can make you millions of dollars, and help you become happier than you imagined. Trust me on this one.

Speaking of asking, you will remember the “Yes” answers you hear, and always forget about the “No’s.” If you want to count anything, celebrate your attempts…the “Yes’s” will come in time.

Your attitude accounts for about 80% of your success. And that’s one thing you control totally.

Rejection is not an experience, it is the way you define an experience. Stuff happening is inevitable, rejection is optional. Learn from every experience and you never will look at it as rejection.

Most other people will not do what it takes to be wildly successful, and many would prefer that you don’t either. They will be jealous of your success and secretly hope you fail. Sad, but true. Distance yourself from them because they will pull you down.

Here’s your graduate degree in communication: Pay complete, undivided attention to every individual you communicate with. If face-to-face, make eye contact. Listen as if your life depended on it. Don’t interrupt. Pause after you ask a question and after they answer. Ask another related question. Don’t shift the topic to yourself.

And when you are in the presence of others, put the phone away and turn it off. Please. Paying attention to the phone instead of the person in front of you is the ultimate insult and makes you look like a self-absorbed fool.

Take personal responsibility for everything you do. Never point a finger elsewhere. “Victim” is synonymous with “loser” and “blamer.” Own it. Put your name on it. Act like you control your destiny, and you will realize that you actually do.

Most things you might want to worry about will never happen. If you can control it, act on it, and the potential worry subsides.

Treat everyone you come in contact with as the most important person in the world. You will be surprised who can actually work with you and give you want you want. You might also be surprised who can prevent you from that as well.

Smile more often than you don’t. You feel better, and others react to you more favorably.

Being five minutes early is on time. Showing up right on time or later is late. It shows a lack of respect for the other person or people.

Movement toward any end goal trumps “planning paralysis,” and done is better than perfect.

Be serious about pursuing your success, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh easily and often. Including at yourself. That shows confidence and endears you to others.

Upon close examination, many things that might annoy you are truly petty. Sweating the small stuff makes you a small person. Be quick to let things go. Always apply this question: “In the big picture, does this really matter that much?”

Just as with products, people can be viewed as commodities, and therefore paid the lowest price, if that is how they allow themselves to be perceived. Differentiate yourself. Set yourself apart. Be unique and memorable. In the process you will not please everyone. That’s OK. In fact, if you are not pissing off some people you are playing it too safe and vanilla. Bonus advice: What you dois more important than what you say about yourself.

Compliment often.

Your body is like software, not hardware. Like software you can regularly update and keep it running optimally with proper diet and exercise. Unlike hardware, you can’t trade it in for a newer model. Take care of the only one you’ll ever have.

You will rarely regret risks you take, and saying “Yes” to opportunities unless they are potentially physically harmful, immoral, unethical, or illegal. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I pursue this?” Then compare that to the best possible outcome.

Maybe you’ve heard size matters. It does, as it relates to your thinking, and subsequent actions. Think and act big. Huge. Whatever you think you can’t do is likely a self-imposed limitation.

Don’t wait for things to happen. Make things happen. Movement opens doors, creates opportunities, and gets results. Take massive action. Every day.

Welcome to the real world, newbies. Some of you will be wildly successful, and others will fail miserably. Your choice.

Now go out and attack life.

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