Four Tips to Move from Financial Insecurity to Security

Lots of folks complain that they simply cannot save money or that they are trapped in the paycheck-to-paycheck crisis of having nothing at the end of the month. This financial insecurity is very real and it can be an extremely difficult cycle to break. Here are four tips to help those of you experiencing financial insecurity remove barriers and start moving into a more financially stable position and become your own money hero!

The first barrier is deciding to save money. This is a real challenge and a big deal. Take to heart that changing your financial situation and moving from scarcity to having some cash in reserve is truly a big deal. It’s your money, and the challenge of saving some of it is very real. Accept that fact. It may take you a few weeks or months to truly grasp that making the change is a real challenge and a big deal, so acknowledge that fact. It's worth deciding to save and will help to lessen the feeling of financial insecurity.

 No better feeling than cash in hand at the end of the month.

No better feeling than cash in hand at the end of the month.

Next, you are going to need some tools. Identify what works for you whether it is an app for your Smartphone to track spending, a spreadsheet, or old-fashioned envelopes that you put money in and lock in a cabinet. You should also consider other tools such as employer provided savings vehicles, like a 401(k), or even a separate savings account not tied to your checking into which your payroll department can deposit a set sum of money for you each pay period.

Third, find your motivation. Pick something that excites you to get started on your path to savings. It doesn’t have to be a large expense, but something you would otherwise not be able to pay for with cash during a normal pay cycle. Target this item as your first goal; make sure it is real, and obtainable. Once you achieve this goal, reflect on your success and celebrate! Then set a new goal to achieve and keep going!

Fourth, it’s time to talk turkey. You need to have a heart-to-heart with yourself and start evaluating your spending choices. Where are you throwing away money each month? That’s where the tools come in from step two above. Use a spending app to track your purchases for three months and analyze the data.  Review all of your monthly spending and determine what is discretionary (you can really live without) and what is non-discretionary (such as rent, insurance, utilities, food, etc.) and start trimming some fat. If you don’t need a full gym membership consider buying a package with a set number of visits or joining a group that exercises together in your local park. Look at your dining out and bar tab; if you are going out four nights a week, cut back to three at first and then two. Entertainment is another big area. Review your cable, movie, periodicals, and Internet subscriptions and see if you have any services that duplicate or can be cut to basic. Stop retail therapy! It’s only adding to your financial insecurity and most items bought are unnecessary or have a very short useful life. In fact, clean your house and consider having a garage sale to jumpstart your savings.

blur-cash-close-up-545065.jpg

Make the mindshift to be a saver and not a spender. It is difficult to do, but it can be done. If you need to, find a friend and make a pact and turn saving into a fun competition. You can do this if you’re single or even as a couple. The support can be invaluable.

Consider hiring a pro! If you need guidance, hire a CFP® professional like me to guide you. We get professional help in most areas of our life so why not hire a professional to help with your finances! Just as we hire doctors, dentists, auto mechanics, and real estate agents, we should seek out professional help for our financial lives. Finally, don’t forget to celebrate your victories along the way. As an independent CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I can help you. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #goals #newyou #future #CFPPro #financialinsecurity #financialsecurity #savings #mindshift #401k #cash

Fee-only vs. Fee-based Advisers: Is There a Difference?

Greg DC photo.jpg

I was a recent guest on a local podcast and was asked if there is a difference between fee-based and commission-based advisers. Cue my entrance to talk about focusing on the term fee-only when it comes to hiring an adviser in comparison to those terms. This is a topic that is dear to me because there are a ton of financial services professionals and we all fill various rolls and needs for clients. While some argue that there are conflicts in every arrangement, clients really need to understand what they are paying for and how they are paying their adviser.

So, is there a difference? You bet there is; and it could cost you! The financial services industry seems to be laden with jargon and titles that sound similar, but in reality, have very different meanings. Are you hiring an adviser, a wealth manager, a broker, or being sold insurance under the guise of investment planning? It can be very confusing for clients. When it comes to your adviser, you need to know the terms fee-only and fee-based because it determines how the adviser is compensated.

Generally speaking, fee-only financial planners are usually registered investment advisers and act as a fiduciary in the client's best interest. Fee-only advisers do not accept any compensation based on product sales, i.e., no commissions. Fee-only advisers are viewed as having fewer conflicts of interest and are seen as providing more comprehensive advice. Services generally go far beyond just wealth management.

Conversely, a fee-based adviser may not always have to disclose how they are compensated to a client. Many fee-based advisers do offer hourly fee-for-service but they may also offer commission-based products (insurance, annuities, etc.) to clients. Fee-based advisers may not disclose that they will receive a commission based upon their recommendations. Further, fee-based advisers generally have to work in their firm’s best interest first, and not necessarily the client’s. Conflict of interest, anyone? That being said, many fee-based advisers may offer great service to their clients. Just be very aware of what you are paying for as a client.

 Be direct when asking your adviser about their compensation. Ask how they are paid and if they receive any form of commission.

Be direct when asking your adviser about their compensation. Ask how they are paid and if they receive any form of commission.

Admittedly, I am biased in favor of the fee-only model and run my practice this way. Many fee-only planners have also obtained the Certified Financial Planner™ designation and act as a fiduciary for their client. However, you do not have to be fee-only to be a Certified Financial Planner™.  If you would like to learn more about fee-only planners, you can research the following websites for information and use their Find an Adviser function:  National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), the Garrett Planning Network, or the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

For disclosure, I am not a member of NAPFA or Garrett Planning Network at this time. I am however, a fee-only, independent CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and a member of the East Bay FPA and the XY Planning Network.  I can help you with financial decisions, budget for debt, save or invest for retirement, investment allocation and much more. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #feeonly #feebased #commission #fiduciary #CFPPro

Preparing to Buy a Home? Go Beyond the Numbers.

You’ve decided to take the plunge and become a homeowner. Congratulations!! This is a huge step and the joys and benefits of homeownership cannot be overstated. But what do you need to consider beyond this point.

First, you should have already run the numbers to understand how much home you can afford. Do not focus solely on the mortgage payment amount. Fixating on a specific mortgage amount from an online calculator or even your lender could lead to a big surprise. That early payment figure may change just after closing. It could go down a few dollars, but chances are it will actually increase slightly due to the timing of closing, final amount borrowed, closing costs, and escrowed items such as insurance and tax. Your mortgage company may escrow your property taxes and pay them when due on your behalf so that you don’t fall behind and find yourself in a situation where your property taxes are unpaid. Some lenders may also escrow your insurance payments and handle those payments as well. If they do not, it’s up to you to keep your insurance and taxes paid up. To truly be ready to buy, any increase should be manageable for you financially and not affect your monthly budget or your emotions. Be sure you understand this going in and that any increase is not unmanageable.

adult-attractive-beautiful-159453.jpg

Consider also that owning is very different from paying rent. Rent is usually set for a period of time and you pay that exact amount to your landlord every month. Your rent may, or may not, include utilities, but that’s all you pay. Done! With home ownership, you need to consider that you will in most cases be paying your mortgage payment, home owner’s insurance, property taxes, utilities, possibly HOA fees (homeowner’s association or neighborhood association fees) and all on-going maintenance items. You are now king, or queen, of your castle and its financial obligations are all yours. You don’t call the landlord when the heating system or dishwasher stops working. You call a repair service and you pay the bill.

So that is the first step beyond the numbers, know all of your responsibilities.  The second is to know what type of home you want. You need to be honest with yourself and consider whether you want a condo, a single-family home, a planned community, possibly a TIC arrangement (multiple owners share an undivided, fractional interest in a piece of real estate), an urban location, or out in the suburbs. All of these living arrangements can be very different. Spend some time going to open houses and getting a feel for the type of home in which you are most comfortable.

ancient-architecture-beautiful-434531.jpg

Once you narrow down the type of home you like, start neighborhood shopping. If it is your first home purchase, you may not be able to get exactly what you want, where you want it; especially if it’s a hot neighborhood. Visit your target location during the day, in the evening, and on weekends. Try to talk with neighbors and get their take on the neighborhood. You need to see what the area is like at all times and make sure you are comfortable being there. Consider buying smaller at first, especially if you can’t get into that ideal home and neighborhood. Look a few blocks away or even into the next neighborhood. Being adjacent to your prime area may pay off over time as the surrounding areas rise in value. One note about buying small, don’t buy too small; your home should be rightsized to meet your current needs.

apartment-architectural-design-architecture-144632.jpg

Be passionate, but don’t romanticize buying your first place and never fall in love with the first home you see that is nicer than your current living arrangement. You need to really shop around and not overpay just to secure a home. Overpaying could put you in financial jeopardy if you find out three months in that you cannot handle the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and upkeep on your dream property. This is known as being house poor when you spend too much of your income on a home and lack resources to live comfortably and be able to save for retirement, take vacations, and meet other financial goals and needs.

Finally, don’t rush! Set a longer timeline than you think you will need and start saving extra money well ahead of the purchase target date. You should even try making your future mortgage payment before you buy. Start with your rent and add any extra amount you would need so it equals the projected future mortgage payment. Next, add an amount for insurance and property taxes. You can find annual estimates and divided by twelve and add that amount to the projected mortgage. If this wreaks havoc with your budgeting you may not be ready to own a home.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you prepare for buying a home. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #firsthome #homebuyer #house #condo #Hireaplanner #income #cash #CFPPro #housepoor #neighborhood

What I Learned Thrift Shopping

This week I decided we needed some pasta specific dishes. You know, those things that are not really plates and not really bowls. I also decided I would go back to an old pastime from my college days – hitting the thrift store. Was I in for a surprise!

I haven’t been to a thrift store in a long time. Since we won’t be using these pasta dishes on a daily basis, I thought it would be fun to hit some thrift stores or antique shops. My experience was both a bit startling and educational.

My first stop was at a local thrift shop that is a really large, well-known national chain. I understand that they are not really a charity, but since there is one a few blocks from my house, I hit it first. My first surprise was just how busy the store was for a weekday. I didn’t expect the crowds for a Wednesday. My next surprise was when I actually found something that was pretty much exactly what I wanted, but not at all in a pattern or color that I could live with. Just that the bowls were available and so easily located was a surprise. My surprise turned to shock when I looked at the stamp on the bottom of the dish and discovered it was from a famous cookware store, and that the thrift store had each unit priced higher (at $8.99) than what the dish was selling for online at the cookware store! Who’s running this place? was my first thought. In the age of Smartphones and instant connectivity I could easily look up the current price online and see that the thrift store was, in this instance, no bargain.

I left the thrift store and stopped by my friend Erin’s house. She’s on maternity leave and her newest was down for his nap. This gave mommy a much-needed break and some time to chat without the little guy in her lap. We were talking about the kids (she has four now), their school, Erin’s work, her and her husband’s recent home renovations, and just the things friends chat about. I mentioned I had dropped in to that national chain thrift store and was shocked that the prices were not what I had expected and even more shocked the staff didn’t seem to take the time to search the web to price items more accordingly. This, is when I got a better tip on discount shopping!

Erin told me about the large, national chain’s competition! Yes, competition amongst the discounters. This had never really occurred to me. It’s a local place but part of a family company that operates in California, New Mexico, and Texas and partners with charities and community groups to give back. Being that it was close, and highly recommended by Erin, I stopped by just for a look around. Surprise! It really was different. They, too, were busy for a weekday, but the store was cleaner, larger and much more organized. It did have similarities to the national chain with old furniture and outdated appliances lining several aisles, but there was a buzz about the place and the colorful red, white, and blue circus-theme branding livened up the store.

 Each bowl on the left came in at only 0.55¢.  The serving dishes were more, but still a bargain! 

Each bowl on the left came in at only 0.55¢.  The serving dishes were more, but still a bargain! 

I made my way to the housewares section and discovered that this must be the place where folks are actually making donations. This thrift store had a huge selection of items in every category and true thrift store pricing. I soon located a few pasta dishes in a style and pattern I could live with – white with a wheat pattern. Unfortunately, I also spotted two grape-themed serving dishes and five grape-themed napkin rings. Given that grape growing and wine is a big part of our family, of course I couldn’t pass these up!

I decided that was it and I needed to make my way to the register before I got caught-up in buying a silver-plated cigar server or 1970s Jell-O mold. I mean seriously, when would I ever use those? At the register I discovered that today was a yellow tag sale day. What that meant for me was that each pasta dish I found was going to be 0.55¢. Yep, a whopping fifty-five cents! A far cry from the $8.99 each at the first shop.

Overall, it was a good afternoon outing. I might add visiting these places and those that call themselves antique shops to my list of businesses to patronize from time to time. The thing is, know what you need, keep your impulse buying under control to avoid frivolous spending, and just have a sense of adventure and openness because you don’t know what awaits. You may not find the exact item you need, but that’s what a mainline retailer is for. If you are flexible, these shops can save you a lot of money and they can be fun. And who knows, I may just go back and get that Haggar dinner jacket I saw for $7.99….and that silver-plated cigar server!

Need tips on saving money? As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you assess your financial situation, set goals, and take steps to achieve improved financial wellness. Whether it’s reminding you to use coupons, ideas for saving on home goods, or mapping out retirement or career change goals, contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #CFPPro #stressfree #FinancialLiteracyMonth #savings #retirement #goals #thrift #thrifty #pinchapenny #pennypincher

It’s Tax Day! Four Tips to Better Tax Filing

1040 tax_forms.jpg

Today’s the day! Thanks to a federal holiday, today is the deadline to file your personal tax return unless you file for an extension. If you file an extension, you have until October 15 to file your return. Here are a few tips to make tax filing and preparation easier.

The first thing you should do is assess this filing season. Was it stress free? Did you owe? Maybe you owed a lot. Did you get a big refund? Assess your situation if any of these events occurred.

If you owed a lot and are not sure why, the first place to check is your Form W-4 withholding allowance. If, for example, you are married, filing jointly and have two incomes, you may wish to have both wage earners claiming married and zero if you are in a higher income tax bracket. If you have dependents, this may be different. The best thing to do is grab your last two to three paystubs and head over to the IRS Withholding Calculator and be as specific as possible and run the numbers.

Pexels - accounting159804.jpeg

Second, did you receive a large refund? Well, that too can be a red flag. After all, the point is to get as close as possible to paying just what you owe and no more. A large refund may mean that you are over withholding. It would be better to get that money on a weekly or monthly basis if it is from earned income (i.e., your paycheck). There is no need to give Uncle Sam an interest free loan during the year when you can use that money for yourself.

Third, you should have electronic copies of your tax returns. Consider scanning them and creating and saving electronic copies. You can create a password protected file and many professional tax preparers already provide password protected electronic copies. Review this year’s copy and compare it to last year’s copy. There should be some consistency in taxable income, deductions, credits, and tax owed. If not, it’s time to ask why and meet with a tax preparer. Look for a preparer with good training and if possible, a designation such as EA, Enrolled Agent.

Finally, keep your tax returns together in a secure place. Now is the time to create a 2018 folder for next year’s filing season. All things related to your tax return should go into this folder. All receipts from charitable contributions, copies of Forms W-2 and W-4, 1099 forms, student loan interest paid, real estate taxes paid, mortgage interest paid, etc., should be included.  Any form you receive that is related to a tax credit, deduction, or income production should be kept in this file. You may not receive some of these forms until early next tax filing season, which would be in 2019.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you prepare for a better tax filing season. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday  #refund #Hireaplanner  #income #cash #CFPPro #taxfiling #tax #1040 #w4 #w2

One Woman’s Success Update During Financial Literacy Month

Given that it is Financial Literacy Month, I wanted to check-in with my friend Kim about a post written a year or so ago. In that post, What Does Your Habit Cost You? Try $112,000 I explored the cost of bad habits. The timing was perfect because Kim was trying hard to break a bad habit – smoking. I am happy to say that she has been successful and is making amazing progress. Kim tells me she feels “100 times better” and that her overall health has improved.

Kim_$Savings_2018.jpg

Kim used technology to help her with her goal. She has been tracking the number of cigarettes not smoked and money saved by not buying cigarettes with an app. In addition to the health benefits, Kim has realized a positive financial benefit as well. She has been able to route the money saved (over $2,100) back into her monthly budget. This has made budgeting and paying for necessities during the month easier. The stress of spending money on her former habit is gone!

Financial Literacy Month provides an opportunity to learn about all things dealing with personal finance. One of which, is making a change and improving your financial well-being. Whether it’s a new financial term or using a recommended technology to making a major change (like Kim did), this is a great month to explore learning about personal finance.

Kim_Cigs Not Smoked.jpg

You can be like Kim and a year from now look back and celebrate your success on the road to financial wellness. Whether you want to break a bad habit and track the savings, or be better with your budget, there is support. Discover your motivation, set a goal, and pick a tool to help you with reaching that goal. It might be an app for saving and budgeting, or a website that provides tracking calculators, or even a real live group of folks that meet in person at a local coffee shop, take the approach and support that works for you. Don’t forget that I am also here to help, so feel free to contact me if your goal involves financial planning.

One place to look for support is at FinancialLiteracyMonth.com and follow the Tools for Success link. Here you will find a roundup of tips, worksheets, webinars and even success certificates to help you reach your financial wellness goals. Let this month be your kick-off point to better financial wellness. Tackle one topic to start with and then build on that success.

If you need more help, reach out to me and let’s get started. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you asses your financial situation, set goals, and take steps to achieve improved financial wellness.  Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #CFPPro #stressfree #FinancialLiteracyMonth #savings #retirement #goals

Market Madness Reminds Us to Have a Sensible Financial Plan

As I prepped this week’s blog post, the market handed me a gift and caused me to do a re-write. It’s all good because the lesson is time-tested and a valuable one. As I write this post, April 2, 2018, the DOW dropped nearly 459 points by the closing bell. Sounds scary, but keep in mind it is only 1.9%. Some would protest, ‘only, what do you mean only’ but given the current market valuation that drop seems steep, but it’s not nearly in correction territory (which is a 10% drop).  A sensible financial plan should be able to accommodate a 1.9% drop without causing you to lose sleep.

 Set personal and specific goals with your adviser.

Set personal and specific goals with your adviser.

Keep in mind the three things you should do during market turmoil. First, ignore the hype. Second, do nothing (i.e., don’t panic sell, or buy). Third, call your adviser if you feel the need. If you don’t have a good adviser, get started asking for referrals or feel free to give me a call. The point is, you don’t want your financial plan to be swayed by the news headlines, nor do you want to make any rash decisions during a market episode. You do want to reach out and find a financial planner that can work with you to create a sensible financial plan and be a voice of reason during these times.

So, what is included in a sensible financial plan? The answer, of course, depends on your personal goals and resources. That said, there are some key components that your adviser should include in a comprehensive plan. Keep in mind that if you hire your adviser to do hourly work for a specific project, your adviser will limit the scope of their work to that request. In a comprehensive plan, at minimum, the key elements to be covered are: personal goals and objectives, cash flow, tax, insurance, retirement, investment, education, estate planning, and any pressing or immediate financial concerns.  Let’s look at each in more detail.

 Consider your personal timeline and resources.

Consider your personal timeline and resources.

Personal goals and objectives should be your starting point for a comprehensive plan. It is why you are creating a plan. Your goals and objectives should be personal and specific and you need to discuss realistic timelines and resources with your financial planner.  No planner can help you if you are age 65, want to retire in one month with $1 million dollars, but you have only saved $10 your whole life. But let’s say you are in your fifties, have been saving during your career but you are not sure how much you will need to retire at your full retirement age of 67 (surprise, it’s not 65 for many folks). You also want to know if you can retire at age 67 and delay taking social security until age 70. These goals are personal and specific and importantly they have a realistic timeline for you and your planner to work with.

Cash flow is critical for any plan. Your cash flow should be examined to create an income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement. It will also let you know if you are overspending each month.  This is important when discussing budgeting, investing and multiple other key elements of your plan.

Tax is a very important area to review. Each of us needs to pay our fair share, but we don’t need to give Uncle Sam an interest free loan! Work with your adviser to make sure you are not overpaying tax, or worse, in a situation where you have not been properly withholding. Minimizing your tax burden should also be examined in relation to your income, investments and charitable giving.  

Insurance addresses risk management. It’s not just about having life insurance, but rather are you properly insured all around. You need to know what exactly you need for auto, health, life, disability, long-term care, and casualty insurance.

Retirement and investment are sometimes linked, but not always. Many people consider that they go hand-in-hand but that may not be the case. Each person is different and whether planning for retirement through your employer and investing in a 401(k) or other plan type or investing in a taxable account outside of an employer relationship, you need to know what you own, why and how much you can contribute. You also need to know if your investments match your risk tolerance and are they coordinated to your current stage in life.

 Your child can borrow for education, you cannot borrow for retirement.

Your child can borrow for education, you cannot borrow for retirement.

Education planning for your children can give them a huge leg-up in life. But keep in mind that you need to cover your own retirement first. Your children can borrow for college tuition, but you cannot borrow to cover the cost of retirement.

Estate planning is not always pleasant to think about. It is however, a vital part of financial planning. Even for those well under the estate tax threshold, there are many items to consider. Do you have an advanced health care directive or proxy, a power of attorney in place, a last will, a living trust? Who will make your funeral arrangements and how will it be paid for? Don’t leave this up to a relative that you think knows your wishes. Get it on paper and be clear about your final wishes. Figuring out what you wanted done can leave loved ones in a very painful and awkward situation.

Finally, consider pressing financial needs. Is there a particular situation that you need to deal with immediately? If so, let your adviser know up front and give them as much detailed information as you can about what the current situation is and why it is causing stress.

Hire a pro! Hire a CFP® professional to help you. We get professional help in most areas of our life so why not hire a professional to help you with your finances! Just as we hire doctors and lawyers, we should seek out professional help for our financial lives. As an independent CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I can help you. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #newplan #financialplan #goals #newyou #future #plan #CFPPro

Celebrate Milestones

 Me (l) and Randy (r) enjoying some bubbly at the family's place on the coast in Albion, CA.

Me (l) and Randy (r) enjoying some bubbly at the family's place on the coast in Albion, CA.

This month I celebrate my fiftieth birthday! For some, that means I’m a dinosaur, and others still view me as young. For me, it’s just my current age and it is what it is. Even with demographic projections for better health and longevity, turning fifty is still a big milestone in our society. Some of us embrace it as just another birthday, but some fear it. I thought I would retire early at age fifty, but thanks to the 2008 financial crisis and not actually buying that winning lottery ticket, I’m not. Instead, I am on the path of entrepreneurialism and growing my own financial planning business.

A lot of things do start to happen around this age. Your tolerance for bullshit and office politics pretty much plunges off a cliff. AARP starts to contact you so they can get you signed up and into the fold. You gain some clarity about life and just how short it really seems. Sadly, you start to lose older friends and family members. I lost my father late last year so I am now a member of that club. And at one point you really don’t care about who is going out on Thursday night, and Friday night, and Saturday night or what you’re going to wear to the club. Dinner with good friends in a restaurant where you can hear each other talk becomes much more appealing.  You realize you are never going to have those 6-pack abs you see on the cover of health magazines, but you can still be athletic.  At the same time, you realize now that you are fifty, it isn’t as old (or as bad) as you thought it would be when you were in your twenties. You are right smack-dab in that ‘too old to be young, too young to be old’ demographic.

On the plus side, you can really start to enjoy being the person you are! You are most likely no longer vying to impress the boss, set the world on fire, or fit in with the cool kids in the cubicles. In fact, it’s the exact opposite – you are the cool kid, or maybe even the boss.  A lot of folks recognize that you do indeed have a few years on them and that with age, generally speaking, comes a little bit more experience and thus, a little more wisdom. For me, I really know what I don’t want to do, or will no longer tolerate, and I also know what it is I want to do more of and which goals and activities I still want to accomplish. It’s that clarity thing sneaking in and helping to inform your decisions and sharpen your focus.

 Me with my nephew, Kendall, at Convict Lake. Obviously some serious talk. 

Me with my nephew, Kendall, at Convict Lake. Obviously some serious talk. 

I want to work with folks who want to better themselves financially. At age fifty, you really understand the importance of time and investing and saving early. Not only for retirement (as that is a moving target these days), but for major life milestones. That’s why I got my CFP® designation so I could make this a career. I still want to hike in the Sierra, and fly fish. I love combining the two and the more hiking and fly fishing I can do, the more agreeable and focused I am. Travel? You bet! Priorities have shifted somewhat and instead of cramming in as many places as possible, I would rather spend time and money getting to a really nice destination in comfort and taking advantage of being in the moment and just enjoying the location and what it has to offer. Preferably, I want to do the latter two activities with my husband so we can share the experience. That brings me to another point: relationships.  Being together, for me, is more valued and the stability and love in a relationship cannot be overstated. A good relationship provides a comfort, trust, and depth of caring that is far more valuable than you can imagine and far more beneficial to your well-being.

 Me (l) and Randy (r) atop the Pyramid of the Sun outside Mexico City. 

Me (l) and Randy (r) atop the Pyramid of the Sun outside Mexico City. 

A while back, I wrote A Financial Letter to My Twenty-something Self and that was a great exercise. I highly recommend this for everyone. You can even write a letter to your future seventy or eighty-something self. It would be fun to open when you hit that milestone. At any rate, life doesn’t always work out as planned, but good planning can smooth those unexpected bumps, transitions, and victories along the way.

 Me (r) and Randy (l) at River's End in Jenner, CA. Champagne features heavily for us! 

Me (r) and Randy (l) at River's End in Jenner, CA. Champagne features heavily for us! 

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you plan for your future so those milestones are more meaningful.  Contact me and let’s get started or just plan a hike! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #milestone #stressfree #hike #savings #retirement #fiftysomething #flyfishing #hiking

Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 Eases 401(k) Hardship Withdrawals – But is This a Good Thing?

Everyone is still wrestling with changes affecting financial planning that occurred due to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, but what may have been a dramatic change occurred in February this year. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA) passed in February of this year. Under the BBA, hardship withdrawals from 401(k) and 403(b) plans will now be easier to obtain. At first blush, this may seem positive for plan participants, but don’t break out the bubbly just yet!

Couple_ pexels-photo-618550.jpeg

Under current law, these hardship withdrawals (not to be confused with loans) from 401(k) and similar defined contribution plans are limited to elective deferral amounts contributed by participants. Further, once a withdrawal is taken, employees are restricted from making new contributions to their plan for six months. Also keep in mind, that with a hardship withdrawal, the participant has to pay a 10% penalty in addition to ordinary taxes. Hardship withdrawals, unlike loans, do not need to be paid back. This is changing.

With passage of the BBA, there are now some key changes coming in 2019 to hardship withdrawals. Mainly, participants can now access their elective deferral amounts in addition to earnings and employer contributions. That last part is a major change. Employees will be able to access more funds for hardship withdrawals than previously allowed.

Other key changes include:

The removal of the six-month suspension period for making contributions. Employees can continue making contributions to their plan to offset the hardship withdrawal. Participants are also eligible to receive employer contributions.

The BBA also removes the requirement that plan participants first take a loan from their plan prior to requesting a hardship withdrawal.

California residents get a special wildfire relief window period. For California residents who take a hardship withdrawal of up to $100,000 between October 8, 2017 and January 1, 2019 whose principal place of residence was in the wildfire disaster area and who sustained an economic loss due to the fires, the 10% penalty is waived.

What hasn’t changed under the BBA are the criteria for qualifying for a hardship withdrawal. The IRS still says that a hardship “must be made because of an immediate and heavy financial need of the employee and the amount must be necessary to satisfy the financial need.”  The IRS also assumes that if a participant is taking a hardship withdrawal, they have no other means of meeting the “immediate and heavy need” other than a hardship withdrawal. For more from the IRS and the rules that go along with hardship withdrawals, please read Retirement Plans FAQs on the IRS website.

Piggy-pexels-photo-221534.jpeg

Even though obtaining a hardship withdrawal and continuing to contribute to a qualified plan is now somewhat easier, it may not be a good thing to do. Eliminating the six-month suspension period for making contributions is a good thing. This, coupled with the fact that participants no longer need to take a loan first, may drive more participants to seek hardship withdrawals as opposed to loans. If a participant does take a hardship withdrawal, the participant will likely need to take an amount large enough to cover the hardship and the withholding (the 10% penalty and the ordinary income tax). Taken together, this could have a dramatic impact on your plan balance and retirement savings. By taking the withdrawal, a participant will be losing earnings on the amount withdrawn which will affect future savings for retirement.

The upshot is that even though obtaining a hardship withdrawal is easier, it should be considered very carefully. Participants need to weigh whether a traditional loan is a better choice, or whether taking the hardship withdrawal is truly the best move for their individual situation.

If you are not sure how these changes will impact your finances, contact me. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you asses your choices and move forward.  Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #tax #taxfiling #stressfree #newyear #savings #taxchanges #2017TCJA #taxcuts #taxcutsjobsact #BBA #401k #403b #BipartisanBudgetAct

Emergency Fund Pain

We recently learned the value of having an emergency fund! In mid-January our sixty-eight-year-old floor heater died. Kaput! The Bay Area has a very mild climate but January and February tend to be cold months. Luckily, most of February this year was unseasonably warm. Still, we had some overnight lows and early mornings in the thirties and several days at the end of the month in the forties and we even had rain, sleet, and snow on some of the local mountains.  

Winter is the wrong time of year to be searching for a new HVAC system. The companies are swamped because it is a common time for folks to need service. They are booked! With one company we were number 106 for a service call. The short of it is, getting estimates took weeks, no one would replace our old system due to liability, and just the age of the unit (no parts availability). We needed a completely new HVAC system so we opted for air conditioning as well. Historically, homes in this area did not have AC but for the past several years, summers have been getting hotter and we have had heat spikes in the 109F range.

 The "new" cold air return register. I painted it champagne mist. 

The "new" cold air return register. I painted it champagne mist. 

Given that our home was built in the 1940s we had zero infrastructure in place for a modern HVAC system. No ducts, no register cuts in the floor, no electric to the unit under the house, no breaker for the unit, no vents, no nothing really. We needed everything! All of the estimates ranged between $18,000 to nearly $20,000 for complete system installation. So, we bit the bullet and selected a company we thought would best suit our needs.

 Previously, the new cold air return was the old heat vent. It looked awful from years of heat exposure. 

Previously, the new cold air return was the old heat vent. It looked awful from years of heat exposure. 

Here’s the upshot of the whole calamity. Had we not had an emergency fund that total would have to have been financed, or we would have had to secure a loan. Luckily, we didn’t need to pay more for financing, we did have to dip deep into the emergency reserves, but we got a tiny reward! For paying cash in full, the company we contracted offered a 3% discount on the total. That was a nice savings of nearly $600 off the final bill. I would much rather have a small discount than have to pay interest over time. Although it was painful to see that money go, we now have a comfy, modern system and are all set for decades to come.

Do you have an emergency fund? If not, start one today! Even if you can only put away a small amount at least get started. If I can guide you and help you determine how much to save give me a call. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you with an emergency savings goal, debt reduction, and setting a timeline. #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #savings #savemore #payyourselffirst #emergencyfund

Budgeting for Periodic Expenses

Yes, I’ve written a lot about spending and budgeting this first quarter. That’s because many people pick “be better with finances/money” as their New Year’s resolution. Today’s post will help those of you trying to stick to a budget, and those of you who hate budgeting to every penny.

office-pen-calculator-computation-163032.jpeg

For periodic expenses I am referring to things that occur annually and are paid either all at once, bi-annually and possibly even quarterly. Think of items like car insurance, life or long-term care insurance, personal property tax, and maybe even a vacation.

You know these expenses come due every year. But since they are not monthly like utility bills and the mortgage, many folks forget to include them in the monthly budget. The solution is simple! Total these expenses and round up by about 2% for inflation. Divide this amount by 12 and transfer that amount monthly into a separate, designated savings account just for these expenses. The money will always be there as long as you don’t raid this account for tickets to the monster truck show or a weekend spa treatment. Name the account something to reinforce the need for this money, like ‘Annual Necessities’ or some other moniker that is meaningful to you.

If you need a pro to help you, call me. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you with a savings goal, debt reduction, examining resources available and figuring out which bills are periodic and how much money they require. #talktometuesday #savings #budget #education #Hireaplanner #savemore #payyourselffirst #budgeting #CFPPro

Save Money, Save Yourself!

It’s a challenge – do I save first or pay my debts? Many people face this very conundrum every pay period. They know in their heart that they should be saving money, but their paycheck-to-paycheck reality is very real, very stressful, and very difficult to break. The good news is that you can break the cycle. The bad news, it takes real effort and old-fashioned grit!

mobile-phone-money-banknotes-us-dollars-163069.jpeg

For those of you who feel trapped in the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, start small by making a big decision. Start with the decision that YOU are your most important debt collector. That’s right, you come first. Pay yourself first! Make this small but powerful mindshift a reality. If you must, start small with $1, and do it every time you earn money. There are roughly 20 working days per month. Make your first goal to save $1 for each of those working days. Look yourself in the mirror every morning and repeat, “pay yourself first” until you take it to heart and believe that you are most important. By the end of the year, you’ll have your first $240 in savings!

Once you’ve become accustomed to paying yourself first, challenge yourself to take it further. Consider saving a percentage of your salary through automation. Setup a savings account to receive a percentage of your salary. Over time, your goal is to increase what you pay yourself. Give it six-to-nine months so that you become used to automated savings. Then, increase your savings percentage by 1% on a regular schedule. At first, you may want to increase your savings 1% every six months. The next level is to increase your savings rate every four months by 1%, and then every three months by 1%.

Feed Pig.jpeg

My savings started small as a set amount each pay period. Then I started saving a small percentage (10%) pre-tax via my 401(k). I also received a match from my employer (I believe it was around 6% on the first 5% of salary). Next, I switched from the small set amount and started saving 5% post-tax into a savings account that I never touched. After that, I started doing something else that really pumped up the cashola! If my net pay deposit was, for example, $2,269 I would transfer an amount of $227 into savings. I did this with every check I received no matter what and it worked. It took me a few years to be able to do this, and I had to start with taking the rule to heart, “pay yourself first.” I was saving 10% pre-tax, plus a match, plus 15% post-tax! Savings became more of a game for me and I started increasing my savings percentage rate over time.

Let’s review your steps to get started:

Make the mindshift, YOU are most important.

Pay yourself first!

Start small; $1 per working day, move up to $5 per day, then to an amount every day!

Participate in any retirement plans offered via your employer. Don’t leave any ‘free’ match money on the table.

Increase post-tax savings from your net income.

Finally, examine your spending habits. Stop buying “stuff” and paying for services you don’t really need. It sounds simple, but live within your means. Cutting back just a little in many areas will give you the cashflow you need to start saving. Use a budgeting or spending app to track where you are spending your money and start reviewing the data. You’ll be surprised at where your money goes. Instead of eating out four nights a week with friends cut back to two nights per week. Invite them to your place instead and you’ll all save money. Buying coffee two to three times per day – that’s about $15. Cut back on just one purchase and you have your $5 per day. Carpool, take public transit, turn down the heat/AC, clip a few coupons for things you actually buy, cook at home, take your lunch to work twice a week, etc. We can all trim our spending, it just takes determination and grit.

Not sure how to start or what to do once you are saving. Call me. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you with a savings goal, debt reduction, setting a timeline and examining resources. #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #savings #savemore #payyourselffirst

Three Smart Tips for Using Your Tax Refund

A lot of folks are about to come into a mini-windfall of cash. That mini-windfall is your tax refund. After carping about not being able to save, or not being able to fund your IRA, or add to your investments, or pay down debt, this is your opportunity. Instead of envisioning all of the lovely, disposable, soon-to-be-forgotten things you could buy with your refund, consider investing in yourself for some financial peace of mind. Here are three smart ways you can use this windfall.

First, pay off debt. Look at your debts and see if the refund you are getting is enough to completely payoff a high interest debt. If it is, do that! Then use the monthly payment amount you were making on that debt to make a larger payment on the next high interest debt. Work with your financial planner and pay off the debt that gives you the greatest bang for your buck and you’ll be debt free in no time. Your financial planner can tell you which debts and in what order provide the shortest payoff time and saves you the most in interest.

Grow money-photo-164474.jpeg

Second, build your emergency fund. If you are a two-income household, the emergency fund should be the equivalent of three to six months of total expenses. This includes all discretionary and non-discretionary spending. If you are a single-income household, you should really consider having six to nine months of total expenses as an emergency fund. Your tax refund can add nicely to your cash stash.

Third, start or add to your investments. If you have your debt under control, and your emergency fund is sufficient, now is the time to add to your investments. Your tax refund could be just the ticket. Consult your financial planner and decide whether you should be starting, or adding to, an IRA, a taxable fund, or a Roth account.

A note about tax refunds: if you are receiving an unusually large refund (and tend to do so every year) now is a great time to meet with a financial planner to figure out why. You should be receiving a smallish-to-zero refund. That way, you are enjoying the benefit of your funds all year and not making a free loan to Uncle Sam.

Keep in mind that using your refund for one of the recommended tips does not have to be an “all or nothing” approach. You should use a small amount to reward yourself and do something like a nice dinner, a day retreat, a spa, or take a cooking class with a friend or significant other. Just don’t blow your windfall on things you don’t need and won’t notice in a few weeks.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you decide how to put your windfall to work. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday  #refund #Hireaplanner #bonus #income #cash #CFPPro #foundmoney

Mind Your Tipping and Save Thousands Over Your Lifetime

Recently, my husband and I started paying attention to tipping. Having worked in food services, I am sensitive to this topic. We observed our tipping behavior and that of several friends over the course of a few weeks.

One thing we noticed is that many people tend to actually tip higher without realizing what they are doing. Pop quiz: do you tip on the post-tax or pre-tax amount of your bill?  Etiquette dictates that you tip on the pre-tax amount for food and beverage and not the additional amount charged by Uncle Sam (the tax portion), or on additional fee schemes benefiting the establishment or the municipality, such as the Healthy San Francisco tax, or OpenTable’s new $25 per person surge pricing for a prime dinner reservation. On a small meal, this could be a negligible difference; but at higher priced restaurants and for group dinners, this can really add up over the years.

 Tax on this tab, doubled, would equal 18.5%. 

Tax on this tab, doubled, would equal 18.5%. 

Tipping within reason can help you stay on budget and save for your future. One method, if you live in an area with a tax rate of between 7.5% and 9%, or higher, on dining is that you can simply double the tax. That said, if you have a favorite server in a favorite restaurant, it really is up to you!

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you save money. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #savingstip #tipping

4 Things to do During Market Pullbacks and Corrections

 Thank you, Pexels.com

Thank you, Pexels.com

Market corrections and pullbacks can be unsettling for most investors. Knowing some terminology will help you get a handle on the situation. A market correction is when there is decline of at least 10% off of the 52-week high. A pullback is a sharp drop or reversal of upward momentum and can continue for some time. You cannot control the ups and downs of the markets, but you can do a few things to alleviate the feelings of frustration and helplessness. Start by taking a breath, and if needed, call your financial planner for a chat.

First, ignore the media hype – keep in mind that it is just hype. Wild headlines about market gyrations sell stories and give talking heads something on which to opine.

Second, do nothing! That’s right, do nothing. If you have a solid financial plan and have been keeping an eye on your asset allocation, you likely need to do nothing. You and your financial planner should be monitoring your plan and asset allocation on an on-going basis. If you need reassurance, give your planner a call and talk to them about how you are feeling. Your financial planner may feel what you feel. After all, they are also involved somehow in the investment markets and their own retirement and savings are affected to some degree.

Third, check with your financial planner and see if the market downturn is a good time to buy. Chances are it is.  A correction or pullback can be a good time to add to your diversification whether you are purchasing individual stocks, mutual funds, or bonds. Do not buy a stock, bond or fund just because it dropped in price; work with your planner to make sure it fits into your overall investment plan and goals.

Finally, if you are older and approaching retirement, you and your financial planner should have already planned your liquidity position several years before your retirement. You want to make sure you have appropriate cash holdings, fixed-income and equities that match your retirement goal.

Keep in mind that time and volatility work to your advantage when it comes to long-term financial planning and investing, so stay the course! A market downturn or correction may be a great time to add to your holdings. Consider upping your 401(k) contributions, putting more money into your IRA, or even adding to funds you already hold. Conversely, a run-up in the market may be the perfect opportunity to take some profit and build on your cash position or fixed-income allocation.  Your adviser can hold your hand and walk you through these market changes and be a sounding board for your concerns. ‪A good financial planner will also remind you of your goals and timeline and why the day-to-day changes of the market shouldn’t affect your long-term planning.

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you decide on a plan, set a timeline and put that plan into action. I can also be there to talk you through market gyrations and remind you of your goals and timeline. Contact me and let’s start planning a calmer future for you today. #talktometuesday #education #Hireaplanner #marketmadness #upsanddowns #gyrations #correction #pullback #CFPPro