Stay Focused on the Steak; Not the Sizzle!

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Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the old marketing adage taught to salespeople: sell the sizzle, not the steak.  That’s great if you’re the salesperson, but not so great if you’re the customer. Why? It basically means the salesperson is selling you on the benefits, not the features. This may cause you to overspend on an item. I’m here to tell you that as a customer, you should stay focused on the steak.

Generally, we already love the perceived benefits of what we are buying. It’s one way we justify shelling out our cash to make a purchase. However, there are few key things to consider when shopping and you encounter this situation.

Don’t overbuy. Many times, people get talked into buying more than they had intended. You did your research (online most likely) and you know what you actually need. Stand strong and don’t be coerced into overbuying more than you need. Maybe you saw an awesome grill online and you know it will fit perfectly into your budget and your backyard space. Once you arrive at the store however, the salesperson talks you into the newer, bigger, splashier model with SmartPhone technology, infrared grilling, mood lighting, rugged off-road wheels, and Internet capability! Wow!! Are you really going to use all of that stuff? Most likely not. Stick with the original features you were interested in and save yourself some money.

Beware of add-ons such as insurance, an extended warranty, annual maintenance service, etc.  You may already have insurance on the item through your homeowner’s policy so why pay more? The basic warranty may be more than you’ll need, and the annual service will most likely lead to a future upsell. In the words of an infamous former First Lady, ‘just say, no’ to these add-ons.  

 Photo by  Raymond Perez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Raymond Perez on Unsplash

But wait, there’s more! How many times have you heard that phrase on late night television? This invariably means you are going to walk out with twice as much “stuff” as you had intended to buy. Be wary of these special two-for-one offers unless you really need twice the items or you can gift one of the items. Why the caution? Because this sales pitch usually includes an additional charge for the second item! It’s not quite as much as the original item, but you are going to pay more.

Unless you like overspending and being sold more product than you need, try to be aware of this sales technique and stay focused on your original purchase. In the long run, you’ll still be able to buy what you want and stay on budget. And finally, don’t berate the salesperson for using this technique. After all, they are only doing their job, and doing it well.

Let’s shop! As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you assess a major purchase such as a car, home, boat, or RV. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #Hireaplanner #income #cash #CFPPro #shop #shopping #online #steak #sales #budget

Financial Planning Tips for Dad this Father’s Day

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We posted tips for Mother’s Day, now here we are at the week leading up to Father’s Day. We often see articles that included tips learned from dad, but what about financial planning tips for dad?  

 My stepdad looking smart in his fireman's uniform. 

My stepdad looking smart in his fireman's uniform. 

Just as with mom, you should discuss topics with your father such as retirement savings, Social Security plans, insurance needs, retirement activity goals, and even estate planning and end of life decisions. This is especially true if your father happens to live on his own at this stage of life. You don’t need to personally understand all of these areas yourself but have a frank conversation to get a better understanding of where your father stands financially and what he is planning for his golden years. We often assume that dad being dad, has all the answers and that’s not a good assumption.  It’s better to be upfront and clear and discuss these issues.

 My father and stepsister celebrating her birthday.

My father and stepsister celebrating her birthday.

An important documents binder is also a good gift for dad. It can come in handy in emergencies. Let your dad customize this binder and have him put all of his important documents inside such as his Will, insurance contracts, Durable Power of Attorney, Social Security statement, titles to vehicles, mortgage, and even a farewell letter to family and friends. It’s his binder so let him personalize it all he wants, but make sure it contains all of his vital documents. You can read more about what to put into his binder at my blog post Do You Have a Special Emergency Binder.

Again, you don’t have to understand all of these areas but you do need to understand your dad’s goals and plans. Discussing these points should be done open and honestly. Topics that you and your dad do not understand should be noted and both of you should make a plan to get answers and follow through. As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you with the unfamiliar areas, set a timeline and put that plan into action to help dad get ready for retirement and beyond.

 #talktometuesday #CFPPro #Hireaplanner #retirement #socialsecurity #goals #savings #cash #fathersday #dad #binder #emergencybinder #father #dad

Three Key Things to Consider When Selecting a Bank

I was struggling with a topic for this week’s blog and then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. A friend had asked, what’s the best online bank? For me, that’s a loaded question. Like when you are at a wine tasting and someone comes to the pouring table and asks, which one is the best? or, which one do you like? My personal choice is irrelevant. The bank I use or the type of wine I like is not important if it doesn’t work for you personally.

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It turns out, banking is a little like wine and the answer to all of these questions is the same – it depends. It depends on the level of service you are looking for, what type of service you need and whether your bank needs to be a local brick-and-mortar institution or if you can utilize the services of an online bank.

Your primary focus in picking a bank is security of funds. Whether you go online, or brick-and-mortar, be absolutely sure to select a bank that is FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) insured or has NCUA (National Credit Union Association) for credit unions. Fair disclosure, I happen to be a huge fan of my online bank and my local credit union. I use them for different services.

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Next, consider level of service. Do you need to see a teller in person on a regular basis? Are you always in need of counter services? If so, an online bank is likely not going to meet your needs. Check out the local credit unions and local banks available to you. Visit the lobby, talk to customer service and just get a feel for how the staff reacts to you seeking information about opening an account. Conversely, if you are only looking for a free account to make an occasional mobile deposit with your Smartphone, an online bank may be perfect. If selecting an online bank, make sure your funds (and transactions) are secure. The key point is to match your service needs with the institution that offers the best overall solutions for you.

Fees! I have to mention fees. Whatever you decide, make sure you pay attention to and understand all of the service fees that are tied to your account. Focus on whether the account is truly free, or only free if a certain number of transactions per month are performed or a minimum balance is maintained.  Look for other fees such as ATM fees. Make sure you are not paying more than absolutely necessary. For example, you wouldn’t want to open a deluxe, top-tier service account with high monthly fees if all you are looking for is basic savings account.

When it comes to selecting a bank, focus on security of funds, services, and fees to narrow your choice. And when it comes to wine, pick the one you like!  

As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you narrow your choices and find a bank that fits. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #Hireaplanner #income #cash #CFPPro #bank #online #creditunion

How You Can Save Money on Travel

 Randy and I visiting Sedona with our friend Sandi. 

Randy and I visiting Sedona with our friend Sandi. 

The summer travel season is just kicking off and it can be a challenge to control your urge to splurge on a fabulous vacation. Memorial Day officially launches the summer travel season. June is rapidly approaching and is a very busy month with festivals, concerts, special events, weddings and many people taking time off while the kids are out of school.  A good summer vacation doesn’t have to break the bank and bust your budget.  Consider the following tips to save money.

Airfare is usually a major component of the summer travel budget. The airlines are masters at raising ticket prices close to departure dates so consider booking your ticket well in advance to take advantage of lower prices. Be sure to ask for senior discounts or auto club membership discounts. Also, consider not checking bags! I know, I am going to hear it on this one. Most carriers allow one roller bag and one carryon bag. If your children are ticketed passengers, that applies to them as well. You can save money on baggage fees and time by not going to baggage claim. Another option, consider using a combination of miles and money if you are a frequent flyer to reduce the ticket cost.

 Cactus in bloom at Church on the Rock, Sedona, AZ.

Cactus in bloom at Church on the Rock, Sedona, AZ.

You may not need a pricey hotel. We frequently use a private home rental agency to rent a large condo that sleeps eleven people in Mammoth Lakes, CA. By sharing our rental with other friends, we cut the cost per night per couple to much less than the local hotel rates per night. You don’t have to pack the rental with the maximum it will sleep, just find out how many other friends you need to share the cost and make it more affordable than the hotel rate. As a bonus, you’ll be more comfortable, can cook your own meals, and won’t have to deal with hotel room rates, resort charges, parking fees, etc., and everyone can come and go as they please.  Another great feature is that many private condo or home rentals also have Jacuzzis or pools!

Consider camping! If you’re the outdoorsy adventurous type, book a campsite well in advance. Camping is still very economical when compared to hotels, private residence rentals and even hostels in many cases.

Take vacations during the “shoulder season”. The shoulder season is that time of year between major seasons when many rentals, hotels, and campsites have lower prices due to lack of demand. You may find that you like shoulder season better than the prime travel season.

Avoid the most popular holiday weekends like 4th of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Pick weekends that are lower in popularity and enjoy more space to yourself. Nowadays, you can use Google to look up and research a destination or property and generally Google will tell you the peak times.

 Sedona, AZ May 2018.

Sedona, AZ May 2018.

Set a budget and research destination activity costs and meal price averages. By knowing these costs in advance, you can set a target fund goal for your vacation. In many cases, if you reserve activities in advance and stick to your schedule you can save on the activity price.

Get creative! Rethink your travel dates, share accommodations with friends, and reconsider your approach to vacation. Many of these tips can save you money and if you combine the tips you can save a lot of cash and maybe some of your sanity.

As an independent CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I can help you make financial decisions and budget for your summer getaway. Contact me and let’s get started. #talktometuesday #getstarted #HowIcanHelpYou #GetHelp #Hireaplanner #summervacation #vacation #CFPPro #savemoney

Do You Have One of These Four Basic Equity Awards from Your Employer?

Many of us are familiar with retirement plans like 401(k) or 403(b). Some of us even have a TSP (Thrift Savings Plan). However, when employers share a bigger slice of the pie and reward employees with equity, it can get a little more confusing.

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Many companies, especially technology companies, give employees a chance to share in the growth and prosperity of the company. Companies do this by offering employees a variety of equity awards. These awards come in various types and have multiple acronyms. The awards also have very different rules when it comes to taxation and how the award can affect your bottom line. Let’s look at the very basics of just four of the most common awards.

ESPP – The Employee Stock Purchase Plan offers employees a chance to defer salary and then purchase company stock at a discounted price. An ESPP can either be a tax-qualified plan or a nonqualified plan. The employee contributes to the plan via payroll deductions for a defined period. At the end of the period, the accumulated payroll deductions are used to purchase shares of company stock at a discount. Every plan is different, but generally the discount can be up to 15%.  One added advantage if the plan is tax-qualified is called a “look back” feature. This means the plan may look back and select the lower share price either on the offering date or the purchase date thus giving the employee an even better benefit. Rules vary for each ESPP and taxation can be tricky whether you ultimately sell your shares in a qualifying disposition, or a disqualifying disposition.

Options – A Stock Option at its core is an agreement between two parties that gives the buyer (optionee) the right, but not the obligation, to buy stock at an agreed upon price within a specific time. Option agreements come in many forms but two common types are ISOs (Incentive Stock Options) and NSOs (Nonqualified Stock Options). One advantage to an ISO is that when exercised you can avoid ordinary income tax and may ultimately pay only capital gains tax. However, ISOs come with a host of requirements to be qualified and are not always the best choice for the optionee as they can generate Alternative Minimum Tax. An advantage to NSOs is that the company granting the option has greater flexibility in who they may select as an optionee, including granting to outside directors and contractors.  Options have their own lingo, unique rules and complex timing and taxation issues which go far beyond this basic explanation.

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The next two award types are frequently confused by recipients; some even use the acronyms interchangeably. They are NOT the same and careful attention should be paid to the type of award you may have received.

RS – Restricted Stock is a grant of stock to executives that is nontransferable and becomes available to the executive pursuant to a graded vesting schedule. It is generally subject to insider trading regulations under SEC Rule 144. Although it can be risky, recipients of RS awards may be able to make a Section 83b election thus reporting the compensation value of the stock when received versus when it vests. This can result in substantial tax savings if the shares appreciate in value. If the shares do not increase in value, or worse, the grantee forfeits the shares, you’ve accelerated the tax payment without receiving a benefit.

RSU – Restricted Stock Units are conceptually similar to Restricted Stock. However, they are granted to employees and the employees must meet a set of underlying criteria outlined in the plan document to receive their actual shares. That is, the RSUs are granted as an unsecured promise until the employee meets the criteria according to the vesting schedule. Another key difference is that RSU recipients cannot make a Section 83b election (there is no actual stock issued at grant).

There are many types of equity awards that companies make available to employees, consultants and directors. Each plan or award type may have different variations. Each award type has its own set of rules to be either qualified or nonqualified and will have various complex tax regimes. If you have been granted an equity award, hold on to your plan documents and read the details very carefully.

Next, call me to strategize! As an independent Certified Financial Planner™, I can help you with a strategy to address taxation and what to do with the subsequent cash. Contact me and let’s get started! #talktometuesday #savings #equity #espp #sop #rs #rsu #CFPPro 

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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