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
**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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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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Social Security Benefits Bump Up Every 4 Months You Wait

SS Benefits Increase Every 4 Months You Wait

Full retirement age for Americans born between 1943 and 1954 is 66 years old— here’s how benefits rise or fall if they retire anytime between 62 and 70.

Americans born between 1943 and 1954 can claim 100% of their Social Security benefits at age 66. If they retire early, at age 62, they get 75% of the benefit amount, but waiting until age 70 yields 132% of their full-retirement-age monthly payments. Benefits increase incrementally at four-month intervals between age 62 and 70.

Source: The Motley Fool

When to begin drawing Social Security can be a more complex decision than you might think. Certain decisions can result in substantially higher lifetime benefits.

Call as at Financial Freedom Planners…we’re here to help!

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On guard against fraud

Fraud is a reality that we must constantly guard ourselves against. There are those who can be considered trusted advisors and there are those who will always be unscrupulous. We know and understand that. Yet, by nature, many of us want to trust and open up to the friendly and seemingly knowledgeable folks we meet. It’s always important to exercise a reasonable amount of caution.

Seniors can be particularly susceptible to abuse. Many want to trust those that seem willing to provide assistance, and the proliferation of complex products can leave us open to fraud by those exploiting that complexity.

I have seen or heard too many heart-wrenching stories of outright fraud, or financial products that were sold to an individual that simply didn’t make sense, except for the dishonest person peddling their wares.

Never hesitate to reach out to us at Financial Freedom Planners if you ever have any questions about our recommendations or why we believe they are best for your particular situation. Or for that matter, call us if you’ve come across something else and just don’t think you know enough about the product to ask the right questions. We are here to assist you in any way that we can.

10 Ways to beef up your defensive line

As we near the end of football season, here are some excellent steps you can take. Reviewed by the Federal Citizen Information Center and the U.S. General Services Administration, the Certified Financial Planner Board has put together this list of steps, which you can implement immediately to alert you to potential fraud red flags and help protect you.

1. Look beyond the designations on a business card.

There are over 170 known designations and certifications used by financial professionals. Some require rigorous testing. [You may choose to share your own experiences here.] Others are little more than marketing tools, with no real education needed—much less an exam. Be certain to ask them if they act as fiduciaries on your behalf.

2. If you don’t understand what is being said, don’t buy it.

This one is pretty simple, but we can still fall victim to promises that are really too good to be true. I strive to keep an open line of communications with you. Always feel free to pick up the phone and call me if you come across something that sounds good on the surface but leaves you with an uneasy feeling.

3. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

You may get a tasty meal, but be wary of the pressure to make an immediate buying decision. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping on it or getting a second opinion.

4. Just because a so-called expert recommends it doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

I have repeatedly emphasized that your specific situation and circumstances dictate the best course. Think about it–an aggressive stock fund might be just what’s needed for a 28-year-old who is saving for retirement. That same fund might not work for someone who is 90 years old and needs income.

5. It’s a tried and true axiom. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not legitimate or safe.

It’s human nature to want to find the magic bullet that easily solves a problem. But be very wary of promises that seem too good to be true.

6. Don’t confuse familiarity with trust.

We know plenty of good people in our community, but please do your homework and check anyone out before entrusting your finances to them.

7. The final sign-off should always be yours.

Don’t leave spaces in account applications or contracts before signing them.

8. Make sure the money others are making isn’t yours.

We’ve all heard of the classic Ponzi scheme. Be very careful that you don’t throw your hard-earned money into a scam.

9. Get the full story.

What is the cost of the investment? Who will benefit from your decision? Is it you or the person making the recommendation?

10. You have rights as a homeowner. Know them.

Know your rights as a homeowner. If you are considering tapping equity via a reverse mortgage, let’s talk and discuss the benefits and any possible pitfalls.

These crimes are all too common today—please take these steps to heart and protect yourself.

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Presidential Election – What Do Soccer & Investment Strategy Have In Common?

Resist the temptation to react, as difficult and counter-intuitive it may be.

Sometimes, the best reaction is no action at all!

Consider the following soccer strategy:

During a penalty kick, a soccer goalie must make a split-second decision to stay put in the center of the goal, jump left, or jump right.

Behavioral economist Ofer Azar collected data on more than 300 goalies and discovered that goalies who jumped left stopped just 14.2% of the shots, those who jumped right stopped a mere 12.6%. But goalies who stayed put in the center of the goal were able to prevent goals 33.3% of the time. Amazingly, only 6% of the goalies chose that option.*

Azar interviewed the goalies about their decisions and found that emotions played an important role. The goalies revealed that they felt worse if the goal was made and they were standing still. In fact, taking action, even if it’s certain to lead to failure, was considered better than taking no action at all.

Azar applied his soccer research to the behavior of investors and found that when the markets are in turmoil, we have a powerful urge to “do something” even when that “something” doesn’t make a lot of practical sense. In the 2008 market meltdown, many investors gave in to the instinct to sell because it satisfied their desire for action. But those who stayed put benefited in the long run as the market recovered.

The bottom line: During times of market stress, it can be difficult and even seem counter-intuitive to stay put, but that’s often exactly the best decision. Historically, the stock market delivers far more often than not. Working together, we can increase the chances for investment success by resisting the temptation to “jump” to one side or the other when markets erupt in turmoil.

While we’re not advocating doing nothing, what we are advocating is to work with a CFP® to HAVE A GOOD PLAN, and stick to it. At Financial Freedom Planners we can help you with planning with no conflict of interest. Not only are we your advocate, we are fiduciaries as well. If you’re not in our area, we recommend our colleagues at the Garrett Planning Network.

* Wray Herbert, 2010. “On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits.” New York: Broadway Paperbacks.

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The short answer is YES! We have heard some FedSpeak in the last week or so that gives me cause for concern, and ergo the title of this post. It appears we may be facing a future when a government “independent” entity takes over the free market.

Last week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen floated the idea that the central bank should buy stocks and other long-term assets to mitigate a downturn in the economy. Taking a page out of the Bank of Japan and Bank of Israel, the Fed now appears to be considering whether it is a good thing to directly intervene in equities. Apparently central bank insanity knows no bounds. Even though these “techniques” have been attempted in Japan for a considerable period, not only has there been no discernible economic benefit, there are some that believe the policies are detrimental to the economy.

Toward the end of summer in #ZeroInterestRatesMatter – Party Like It’s 1999, we discussed the risk the Fed is taking in our economic structure (unintended consequences) by keeping interest rates so low for so long. I remain very skeptical about where we are in the capital markets….near highs in both the stock and bond markets. In our investment recommendations, we are encouraging appropriate portfolio balance in terms of risk, and very cautious on the average maturity of bonds.

In his October Investment Outlook, Bill Gross equates monetary policy with gambling with our economy, and talks about the “Martingale System” approach. He goes on to illustrate that ” that low/negative yields erode and in some cases destroy historical business models which foster savings/investment and ultimately economic growth.” In other words, these policies are actually hindering economic growth, not stimulating it.

All one needs to do is examine the results of the Japan “experiment,” both in terms of their attempts at monetary and fiscal policies…they are simply NOT WORKING! However it seems to be the default philosophy of policy makers and economists to say we haven’t done enough – we need to do MORE! We all know the definition of insanity authored by Albert Einstein:

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Bill Gross goes on to suggest “at some point investors – leery and indeed weary of receiving negative or near zero returns on their money, may at the margin desert the standard financial complex, for higher returning or better yet, less risky alternatives.” If this begins to occur, you may see some vulnerability in both the stock and bond markets.

What does this mean to you, your 401 (k), and other investments you have? While our crystal ball is as cloudy as everyone else’s, there are a number of actions you can take:

  1. Take an objective looks at your risk positioning across your portfolios and review your balance. Consider reducing equity exposure in your Asset Allocation.
    • Many people within 5 – 10 years of retirement I see have relatively aggressive risk postures. It’s critical to be prepared for another potential downdraft like we experienced in 2000 and 2008 if your time-frame is in this area.
    • This is not a forecast, just common sense. The closer you get to the need to draw on retirement funds, the more caution you should employ.
  2. Reduce Interest-Rate Risk – pay close attention to the maturities of bonds and fixed income in your portfolios – reduce the length of maturity to reduce interest rate risk.
  3. Maintain greater than normal Cash positions.
  4. In a very recent Grant’s Interest Rates Observer conference in New York City, another very well-known money manager, Jeff Gundlach, had an interesting observation: he ‘thinks the world of monetary and fiscal policy is about to pivot. He decided that the narrative that benchmark interest rates around the world would stay lower for longer was “getting quite old.”’
    • He cited several reasons: inflation is picking up, the dollar did not strengthen after the Federal Reserve raised rates the last time. Also there’s this:“In the investment world when you hear ‘never’,” ( as in rates are ‘never going up’), “it’s probably about to happen,” said Gundlach, who is CEO of DoubleLine Funds.
    • For the first time in a very long time Gundlach is looking at “TIPS,” or bonds that benefit from inflation (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities). Something to consider for your portfolio.

If you don’t have a trusted financial advisor to help you with this, we recommend a professional with the Garrett Planning Network.

Of course we are always happy to help at Financial Freedom Planners in an objective, fiduciary manner without conflict of interest!

“It doesn’t take a fortune to build one”

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