Month: October 2021

Checking the Couch Cushions

It’s been a while, but I do remember scrounging for change—flipping over couch cushions, checking the slot at the vending machines, walking a parking lot for anything that’d been dropped or forgotten.

A paper route and other gigs soon changed my focus, and I discovered the power of steady income. Whether we’re talking about one-off opportunities or streams, there are plenty of ways to check for change in the couch cushions.

Maybe you’ve heard someone advise you, “Don’t leave money on the table.” It often comes up in negotiations or sales situations, but there are scrounge-worthy lessons for many areas of our financial lives. Some ideas we love?

  • Knowing what you need—and not just what you want or could use. This self-knowledge provides great perspective. When we keep the basics in mind, we know where the bar is. Anything above the bar is extra, bonus, a cherry on top. The practical implication is that awareness makes us more patient. If a purchase or expenditure is not an immediate need, we know we can afford the time to wait for a sale, a deal, a change of season, or any other more opportune moment. This is saving your scrounging for the right time.
  • Asking for what you’re after. You know we believe in the practice of transparency: there’s not much to be gained by withholding our goals or expectations. It gives the other parties involved—a boss considering your next raise, a mentor, a new financial advisor?—a chance to do their best for you. And if people still aren’t in alignment, wouldn’t you rather know sooner than later? This is a method of scrounging for time to work toward your goals.
  • Remembering you don’t know what you don’t know. This could be a productive conversation starter for anyone in your circle you trust. It’s something you could ask your tax professional, your employer’s human resources department, or even our office: “In your experience, what’s something I may not know that I don’t know?” There could be opportunities people wouldn’t know to think of! This is scrounging for possibilities.
  • Maximizing those matches. Yes, you know this is a favorite of ours: take full advantage of any employer match on retirement contributions. It’s more bang for your literal buck. It’s free dessert for eating a balanced meal.

We should note that we believe in leveraging opportunities: we do not believe in abusing any system to the detriment of the community. (Many of us learned our lesson in childhood: our siblings’ rooms are not fair game for scrounging the way the couch cushions are!)

There are, however, plenty of aboveboard strategies for scrounging. Opportunities abound. Which are worth it?

Clients, when you’d like to explore this topic—or anything else—write or call.


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Happy Roth Year!

We’ve got Roth IRAs on the brain. Why? How would you like to never, ever pay income tax on investment gains and dividends and interest on some fraction of your money? Oh—and your beneficiaries never would either. Well?

That’s the magic of the Roth IRA, properly used.

Every single person may convert existing IRA or rollover balances into a Roth IRA, by paying income tax on the converted amount. Many believe income taxes will rise in the years ahead, above the scheduled increases in the current law.

Anyone may do a conversion of the amount they choose from existing IRA or rollover accounts, although other factors determine whether you are also eligible to contribute as much as $7,000 for 2021.

Here are some reasons that people are using this technique:

It allows folks to take advantage of the perhaps low tax brackets they are in currently: why leave the 12% or 22% or 24% bracket partly unused if you believe your tax rates will be higher in the future?

It provides a bucket for your most dynamic investments, where gains will never be taxed.

It offers balance to your retirement assets, between traditional “pay tax later” accounts and Roth “pay tax now” accounts. This reduces future RMDs (required minimum distributions) and increases your cash flow flexibility.

Like so much of life, we cannot know the future, so we simply do the best with what we do know. “A little of this, a little of that” may be a prudent way to deal with uncertainty. Future tax rates, future investment results, and your future cash flow needs are all unknown. So it might make sense to take a middle-of-the road approach—and build more flexibility into your retirement situation.

Roth conversions go by calendar year, so if you would like to talk about your options, please call or email us in the next few weeks.


Traditional IRA account owners have considerations to make before performing a Roth IRA conversion. These primarily include income tax consequences on the converted amount in the year of conversion, withdrawal limitations from a Roth IRA, and income limitations for future contributions to a Roth IRA. In addition, if you are required to take a required minimum distribution (RMD) in the year you convert, you must do so before converting to a Roth IRA.


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Fast Times, Slow Times

photo shows a throttle with an image of a tortoise and an image of a hare

Great thinker Burt White recently put the last two years in context: “The fastest bear market ever then became the fastest recession ever that then became the fastest recovery ever.” In fact, the S&P 500 stock index doubled from the low point faster than ever. At the start of the pandemic, with so much fear and uncertainty, the five-week drop was sharp but short.

Then things turned around.

All we had to do as investors was sit tight, rearrange things a little where we saw a chance at a bargain, and wait a short while.

Long-time clients will remember the slow times of the past, when bad weeks in the middle of bad quarters in the middle of bad years seemed to go on forever.

When account balances were lower than the year before.

When it seemed like the economy would never recover.

The human tendency is to believe that current trends or conditions will continue: it makes it difficult to keep the faith in the slow, bad times. But we know how this works, so we keep the faith despite it all. Spring comes after winter. Recovery and growth follow recessions.

The fast times we’ve had recently will inevitably slow down. The next recession, the next bad year is out there. No one knows when. Those who claim to know are so often wrong they can’t be relied upon. We find solace in knowing the tough times may bring us the bargains that make the good times good.

Clients, we will continue to rely on the principles that have served us well over the many years we’ve been at it. Looking for bargains, avoiding stampedes, seeking to own the orchard for the fruit crop. Whether trends are moving fast or slow, up or down, we seek to understand the seasons and the cycles of the market.

We cannot guarantee results, but we’ll still be here doing what we do when times change. Clients, if you would like to reminisce about the olden days or talk about the future, please email us or call.


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Flashing Lights, Bells, and Whistles

photo shows a BNSF train going through Louisville, Nebraska

The main line of the Burlington Northern Railroad parallels the Platte River through Nebraska, and it crosses Main Street in Louisville. Many times each day, bells sound, lights flash, and the crossarms come down to block traffic. The locomotive blows its whistle. When this collection of clues occurs, you can bet a train is near.

The warnings all make sense when you think about the damage a 200-ton locomotive would do to a car or pedestrian, should they meet at the crossing.

Another thing happens many times each day, with nearly as much noise. Dire warnings about the future of the stock market come from cable business news shows, internet business sites, people at the diner, and sometimes even friends and relatives.

But there are two important differences between train warnings and market warnings. No one profits by promoting phony train warnings, but there is a lot of money to be made by those promoting fear of stock market volatility. And often, the dire-sounding market warnings merit a yawn in response—not a slamming of the brakes.

For example, those who pretend to know that a 10% or 20% stock market decline is around the corner may well be right. A 10% decline is par for the course in any given year: they are routine. Of course a market decline is coming! They always are. It goes up and down, sometimes a lot, unpredictably.

I’ve followed the markets avidly for decades. One of the things that is ever-present is the prediction by someone, somewhere, that the market is about to get crushed. There are always reasons or rationales; the human mind is a marvel of creativity. History provides millions of snippets of data that can always be arranged to convince some people of anything.

We have found it worthwhile to ignore the noise and stick to our discipline. Search for bargains, avoid stampedes, and strive to own the orchard for the fruit crop. Clients, if you’d like to talk about any noise you’re hearing, or the fruits of our research, email us or call.


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Fresh as a Rose

photo shows pink, yellow, and red roses in a garden

Maybe you remember having to write a persuasive paper or give a persuasive speech in school. The structure of such a composition could be pretty simple: describe a problem, then present a solution to that problem. Done.

I remember this kind of prompt when I see ads today for certain products, especially those related to… the nose.

“Your neighbors will notice your home smells like garbage… if you don’t buy this spray.”

“You’ll never find romance… without our mouthwash.”

Advertising in this country has relied on these types of messages for decades. In fact, the first commercial deodorant makers realized that in order to survive they would need to convince Americans that sweating was an embarrassment. (Your human body leaks? How unseemly!)

Fast-forward, and these products do sell! Scented garbage bags, room sprays, and body washes have become staples for many households. And don’t get us wrong, we’re not suggesting these products don’t have their uses and pleasures. But it’s pandering to exaggerate about “how much poorer your life will be without this one specific solution I have to offer… and it’s available! Call now!”

We’ve got nothing to sell. We’re not going to provoke a sense of shame or pretend to be high priests. Wherever you are, wherever you’ve been, (however you smell?!), we are here to try to help you strive toward your goals—however you identify them.

The problem/solution formula makes plenty of sense in its own way: of course we want companies and brands to help us improve our daily lives! On the other hand…

We don’t need the world to believe it stinks to be of service to others.

Clients, we’re here for you on your schedule. Let us know how we can help.


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In Business to Talk All Day

graphic shows Polaroids picturing the logos of social media platforms and our newsletter and weekly videos

Dire need first drove us to it. Fortunate circumstances made it possible. Now, with more dedicated resources than ever, it’s clear that 21st century communications have transformed our work with you. 

Now we are striving to be available in the forms and places that suit you best. And believe it or not, we think our communications with you are an important part of our mission to try to grow your bucket. 

Clients, maybe you’ve experienced this in your own work and communities. Keeping the channels open is not an extra step you add onto your relationships: communicating is just part of it!

Our work is really a joint venture, a collaboration with you. It does not matter if we can find favorable investment opportunities and manage portfolios in advantageous ways if clients don’t understand why we are doing what we are doing. They might feel driven to sell out at what could be the wrong time. No guarantees that our views are right, but at least you will always know what they are. 

This is why our bountiful communications with you are so key. You know what we are doing; you see our principles in action. With all that, you tend to stick with the program at crucial times when it might otherwise have been difficult to do so. 

For instance, with the best clients in the world, we can take on unpopular but potentially profitable ideas. And we don’t need to jump on every fad or chase popular but overpriced concepts. Each week you hear from us—and get our take on which stories are actually news worth knowing. 

We’ve been working on improvements in our communications program across the last year. Whether you prefer to read, or listen, or watch, you can find us! Have you caught us on our website, or visited the podcast, or watched us on YouTube? Or do you like your content best on social media? 

Here is an update of where you can find us: 

  • The blog at 228Main.com now includes an audio version of every post, playable right below each story. 
  • Want audio only? It’s available as a stand-alone podcast on SpotifyGoogle, and Anchor
  • The weekly “Clients, You Know What I’m Talking About!” videos and more are available on our YouTube Channel. Subscribe or drop in anytime. 

  • The email newsletter “The Weekly Note” rounds up the best of the blog, socials, and updates—short and sweet, in your inbox just once a week. Leave your email here to get it. 
  • You can also find news and notes and commentary from us daily on socials, at FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn

Clients, you can make it interactive any time you want, by replying to an email newsletter, calling, or stopping by 228 Main. We love to hear from you! 


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Financial Planning, Starring You!

photo shows rows of marquee lights in lines

Some pros rely on the idea that financial planning is a mysterious process, requiring advanced mathematics and cold, hard reasoning that mere mortals cannot achieve.

We keep seeing language to this effect across the financial services industry. Maybe you have, too?

  • “We’re the best solution for objective planning.”
  • “This is a strategic, objective process for financial freedom.”
  • “Everyone needs an objective partner to shape their plan.”

Being “objective” gets held up as a pinnacle of professionalism, but what’s so great about it? Objectivity is the idea that we’re more interested in the reality that exists beyond an individual’s experience—that truth is out there beyond one’s feelings and deliberations.

Objectivity is overrated, in our opinion.

Clients, what’s so bad about being the main focus of your own story? The objective part—the math!—should be working backwards from the goals you bring to the table.

I will never tell you how much you “should be” spending in retirement: you are the boss of your life.

I can’t know what portion of your assets “should be” more liquid: let’s talk about your mid-range goals first.

I don’t have an opinion on what your employment plans “should be”: you’re the one who has to wake up each day and make the most of it.

You are the star of this show, and it’s an honor to be here with you. Whether we’re trying to get some better lighting on things or rehearsing for what’s ahead, the focus is… you!

Clients, is it time to revisit any goals? Write or call.


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