caitie leibman

What Do the Happiest People Know about Spending?

Two cups of coffee with a leaf design in the foam.

No matter their savvy or experience level, most investors would probably agree that money is a means to an end. It’s not an end in itself. You could have all the cash and all the stock certificates in the world, but you can’t eat them or burn them for fuel. They make terribly inefficient insulation. They’re less fun than a deck of cards.

But when it comes to deploying our money to optimize pleasure, finding joy can be more of a challenge than you’d think. One reason? Psychologists call it the “hedonic treadmill”: our brains are so good at getting used to things that they will keep chasing new pleasures, new experiences, and the next thing that will bring us a boost.

In terms of our spending, this means that we get used to fancy new gadgets sooner than we think we will. Luxury goods lose their luster as fast as anything from the bargain bin.

The danger is that if we don’t notice that we’ve started running from one thing to the next, the costs mount and the returns on enjoyment diminish.

Consider how we make decisions the larger the ticket price gets: housing and transportation are huge outlays, and they make up sizeable portions of many household budgets.

Is the purpose of buying a new vehicle to replace a family car, to enjoy the everyday pleasure of being able to get reliably from point A to point B? Or is this “for fun,” for the joy of driving and being seen driving a particular make or model? If this is fun money, are you okay with the fun that might be given up, if the money goes toward this one decision?

It’s okay to deploy our discretionary spending however we see fit, but we might do well to remember something powerful: we shouldn’t underestimate how gratifying even the smallest of joys can be. In fact, sort of like the effects of compound interest, routine doses of fun can go much farther than those fewer, farther-between spending sprees.

This is why it’s vexing to hear a little treat like a latte get such a bad rap. As writer Laura Vanderkam explains, such “small, repeated pleasures” have the power to give life a lift, regularly. And better, even a lifetime of $3 lattes will not sink your longer-term goals the way that a $300,000 status symbol—like houses or cars truly beyond our means or needs—could.

So what do the happiest people know about spending? That if you want more of that proverbial bang for your buck, think more about the frequency than the size of life’s pleasures. The big stuff may be overrated, in that humans tend to overestimate the impact that large purchases will have on their happiness.

Tending more often to your joy and enjoyment as you spend? Now that sounds like a nice way to direct your time and money.

Want to talk more about how your money is working for you in your everyday life? Let’s visit, anytime.

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It’s Never Too Early, and It’s Never Too Late

Quite a bit of the news around retirement research focuses on shortfalls. How many of us have heard a headline lately about how many people aren’t saving enough for retirement or aren’t hitting their retirement goals? 

It can sound bleak. But when you get into the numbers, things are a little more nuanced. (Examples: people sometimes overestimate what they think they’ll need, and even when they “fall short,” people tend to make do with however much they do end up with.) 

According to survey findings from Allspring Global Investments, most retirees agreed that they were glad they had started preparing for retirement when they had… but most retirees also wished that they had started earlier. Turns out humans are a tricky bunch to satisfy! 

Retirement is such a huge topic, and our emotions around it can affect how willing we are to take a closer look at our situation. We don’t need to let fear call the shots, however. Avoidance is a survival skill, not a “thrival” skill. 

“Being clueless about money is no longer affordable,” writes Kate Levinson in her book Emotional Currency. (Ouch, right?) But Levinson points out that this challenge is also an opportunity: any day is a great day to get started. 

Not only is it never too early to get started, it’s also never too late to get started. Ever ripped off a Bandaid or taken a flying leap into the deep end? Ever opened that email or that bill you were dreading? 

Ever crossed a finish line after you thought it would be impossible to even get started? In the face of the unknown, it’s easy to let fear tell us stories about how hard things will be. We don’t have to accept the first story our fear tells us. 

Instead, let’s let the journey be as pleasurable as it can be. We can embrace this very moment as the best possible one to take the next step. It’s never black-and-white. Sure, maybe we could’ve started yesterday, and after all, there’s always tomorrow. 

But it’s also really nice to be here with you, today. Call or email us, any time. 

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Rolling with the Punches

Our daily struggles might have more going for them than we first think. Imagine tripping on the coffee table and thinking, “Gee, it sure is nice to have toes to stub!” A little perspective goes a long way. So “rock bottom” may sound like a terrible place to find oneself, but it also could make a solid place to push off from. This week’s video: a serious lesson from a funny show. 

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Defining Success: Working Hard or Hardly Working?

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So many financial topics intersect with work topics. There are retirement goals, pensions and employer plans, income and benefits, career outlook, possible commuting expenses—the list goes on!

In talking with many of our friends, however, the work topics that have the biggest impact on how we feel day-to-day are a little less concrete. It’s sometimes less about the numbers and maybe more about how we think about our work or how we define success.

Success can be measured in multiple ways; it doesn’t have to be based on the type of career or how lucrative it is. Maybe it’s more about who we get to be at work. Maybe some people achieve success from the relationships they build professionally or the joy they bring to others through their work. Some might enjoy a good competition to feed their ego, while others may be proud just to make it through the day.

The hit sitcom The Office depicts everyday work life for the employees of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, a seemingly mundane office setting in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The office is managed by an eccentric “man-child” who spices up day-to-day activities with crazy stunts along with his maniac second-in-command, Dwight. Michael couldn’t care less if his staff meets quotas every day: he just wants his work friends to be happy. To live life to the fullest.

Somehow, even with all the shenanigans that happen at work, the job gets done. Each character explores their passions, navigates life, and shows us that success isn’t all based on the money you have in your bank account. We can enjoy the little triumphs and give ourselves credit when it’s due.

Now for a little fun… Which character resonates with you? Here are a few fan favorites from The Office lineup: each has their own strengths, goals, dreams, and relationship to their so-called day job.

Michael: Creative, Childlike, Optimistic

  • Michael dances to the beat of his own drummer. He resists going along with the crowd (sound familiar?), and he won’t waste time doing something that doesn’t bring him joy. He finds fulfillment through companionship—and bringing out the best qualities in his colleagues. Success, to him, is living up to the text on the coffee mug he bought for himself, to be the “WORLD’S BEST BOSS.”

Dwight: Analytical, Competitive, Committed

  • Growing up on a farm with his (peculiar) family made Dwight skeptical of “city folk” and anyone who didn’t share his views. But this makes him both curious and thorough in his research as he makes decisions. His ways might be strange to others, but he knows they are right for him. His sense of success comes from earning the promotions and respect he’s always desired.

Jim: Clever, Efficient, Funny

  • Jim really exemplifies the “work smarter, not harder” philosophy. He’s one of the highest producers in the office, but he puts in the least amount of effort. The efficiency in his work allows him to spend his time doing things he enjoys—like creating elaborate pranks on Dwight or meaningful gestures for his romantic interest, Pam. Some might see him as lazy, but he gets in and out so that he can prioritize what’s important to him. His success lies in finding gratification in the small things.

Pam: Practical, Passionate, Thoughtful

  • Pam is always looking for ways to improve herself and the systems and spaces around her. She knows what she is passionate about, and with support, she will take chances toward her dreams. She learns, grows, and ends up changing her mind about things a time or two, but she has the ability to end up where she wants to be. Pam shows us that as long as we have a plan, and we keep our values in mind, it’s never too late to try. Her success comes from learning along the way and being there for those she loves.

These characters, although fictional, remind us that it’s okay to take “serious” topics like work a little less seriously. Sure, we show up to work, we do what needs to be done, but what we get out of the experience may be more up to us than a paycheck.

Everyone is unique, so we will all take different paths to get to where we want to be. We choose how we define success. Does anyone’s approach sound like you? We would love to find out! Call or email us to chat.

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What We Do—But Mostly What We Don’t

Organizations sometimes use “mission statements” to capture their core focus or values. In a sentence, why does this company exist? What is its main purpose? What’s the goal?

It’s a useful exercise. If we had to spit it out, what would we say we do? We invest.

There are a lot of ways to flesh out and explain this mission (and we do that, often, in our communications!). But we also consider ourselves contrarians. So it makes sense that we also like to explain our work in terms of what we don’t do.

We invest… but not with guardrails. No training wheels, no buffers, no timing schemes. We don’t give guarantees, and we will not offer a false hope of market returns without market volatility.

Why don’t we like that stuff? All of those things cost money or opportunity—or both—and thereby limit our future wealth.

So you won’t see us whipping out any literature about risk that confuses it with volatility. You won’t see pie charts that arbitrarily slice up a portfolio. We won’t pretend to know better than you about your goals or how you live your life.

We seek to invest for the long term when the cost of owning a percentage is lower than the value of the ownership opportunity, in our studied opinion—even as we know that the market price will fluctuate, even as we know we will not always be right.

But a smoother ride to a poorer future? No thanks.

Clients, want to talk in more detail? Call or email, anytime.

Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

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Getting to the Good-Enough Place

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Clients, in each round of portfolio reviews, we have a chance to get into the nitty-gritty with many of you. There are changes we suggest, but we also do a fair amount of listening. We’re shaping the future together, after all.

We’ve enjoyed our research in sectors like renewable energy, efficient energy systems, and more sustainable forms of transportation. These areas continue to grow all the time, and it’s been an interesting challenge to find the best opportunities among the players. Some of these developments hold promise for making the most of modern life here on earth while respecting our finite resources and limits.

We’ve written about how certain investing styles are harmonious with our focus on the long term, and whatever you call these practices, we’re interested: we want our practices to be more sustainable, more consciously capitalist, more socially responsible… You get the picture.

But it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Businesses are human endeavors—perfectly imperfect entities with a variety of goals, costs, and tradeoffs. So how do we minimize harm and maximize long-lasting good?

Maybe you’ve seen the sitcom The Good Place, but this Ted Danson and Kristen Bell show keeps coming to mind in these conversations. It’s an exploration of the afterlife, and believe it or not, it asks some hilarious questions about the meaning of life’s choices. How do they add up? Who has earned a spot in “the good place”?

Ted Danson’s character puts it this way: “Life now is so complicated, it’s impossible for anyone to be good enough. These days just buying a tomato at a grocery store means that you are unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, contributing to global warming.” He’s trying to point out that life in the 21st century is so interconnected that even the most mundane choices are tied up with consequences that cross the globe! “Humans think that they’re making one choice,” he says, “but they’re actually making dozens of choices they don’t even know they’re making.”

Put that way, it can seem overwhelming. There could be an existential crisis lurking in every grocery store aisle!

But, just like the characters in the show, we’re trying to come at this with a lighter, more gentle approach. What the characters come to realize is that given the costs of our choices, which do enough good that we can live with the costs?

Where can we be of service?

How might we try, fail, and then try better?

Big questions, important topics. Clients—let’s keep talking. When you want to know what this might mean for your portfolio, write or call.

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What We Mean by “Plans and Planning”

Clients, when we say “plans” and “planning,” what exactly is it that we’re talking about? From Day 1, our conversations center on you: your goals, your concerns, and how your life and your money work together. So planning, we believe, includes any and all topics that affect your financial wellbeing. 

Our planning services are included as part of our process working with clients. Some investment advisory shops do bill separately for time spent selling “Financial Plans,” so it bears mentioning that we do not. 

Instead, we tend to use wide-ranging planning conversations throughout our relationship. They’re handy when we’re first meeting each other, and they give us useful talking points over time, like when we’re reconnecting at or in between our annual reviews. 

Not every client will bring up the same topics or concerns, but generally, people’s questions tend to focus on some similar desires. Maybe some of these statements resonate with you: 

  • “I want to figure out how to organize my finances.” 
  • “I want to feel like I’m financially secure, independent, or free.” 
  • “I want to be able to support the life I want to live.” 
  • “I want to be able to create the legacy I have in mind.’” 

These desires are not universal, and they’re not necessarily linear. Not everyone moves through them like one step to the next, and sometimes we loop back around to revisit them again and again. And they take some thoughtfulness to maintain. 

But you might notice these four items do capture some trends and progressions. They cover a range of chapters in our lives—from getting started, to getting a grip on things, and then to getting what we want out of the whole deal. Once we know where we are in the process, it can be easier to get down to the details. 

Consider some examples. 

“I want to figure out how to organize my finances.” Does my monthly cash flow comfortably cover my outlays? Where does my time and money go right now? How is my job or career outlook? What are some good first steps for me given where I am? 

“I want to feel like I’m financially secure, independent, or free.” Do I have what I need in terms of an emergency fund and a support network? What demands affect my cash flow now and in the near-future? What financial challenges and financial goals can I anticipate in the coming chapters of my life? 

“I want to be able to support the life I want to live.” Am I living where I’d like to live? Working how I’d like to work? Enjoying what I’d like to enjoy? How do my saving, spending, and investing align with what I want now and what I want later? 

“I want to be able to create the legacy I have in mind.” What’s on my heart? What estate or charitable considerations are on the horizon? What opportunities have presented themselves? What impact would I like to have? 

Clients, our operation is continuing to grow, and we need to be able to serve you not only in the months and years ahead—but for the decades ahead! Your beneficiaries and the generations to come will be better served if we’re thinking about how this work persists beyond any one of us. 

That’s why we’re taking the time here to try to define our terms.  

It’s important that we’re on a common mission here. Financial planning prompts like these aren’t a script, and they aren’t something that will be “one-size-fits-all.” Instead, they give us a jumping off point. They give us somewhere to start from or begin again—together. 

Are we due for a conversation? Call the shop or send us a message, anytime. 

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Lessons from Schitt’s Creek: Building a New Future for Yourself

Image courtesy CBC

Friends, some of us became acquainted with each other when one (or both) of us was in a moment of crisis. Loss can come in many forms, at any period of life. Some are thrown for a loop after being laid off or taking retirement earlier than they’d imagined. Sometimes a death or illness shifts everything in a family. Maybe debt or other baggage from an earlier chapter catches up with us in this one.

A new low is not a fun place to find ourselves. It can feel sad, and overwhelming. There are lots of ways to think about this place, like being “up the creek without a paddle.”

This idea is also the premise for the Canadian hit comedy Schitt’s Creek. The show takes it to the extreme: the Roses, an ultrawealthy family, suddenly lose everything when the government discovers their business manager has run off with all the money. It’s all gone—their business, their home, everything. And they must make do with their one remaining asset: “The kids,” the self-involved mother Moira says, referring to their adult offspring.

“The children are dependents, Moira,” their lawyer corrects her. The government allows them to retain Schitt’s Creek: a small, rural town they once purchased as a joke.

Hilarity ensues as the pampered adult children and their out-of-touch parents must face the shock of their change in status, the loss of their network and friends, a crumbling reputation… and a pressing need to learn to do things for themselves!

No one we know in real life has faced anything quite like this, but being able to laugh at and with the Rose family can help us shore up our own inner assets. When it seems like things couldn’t possibly get any worse, we may have an opportunity: things can only get better!

So whether you’re starting your investment journey or starting over in some way, any day is a great day to begin. We can give ourselves a new Day 1 at any time.

The Roses eventually saw things this way. Each family member gradually took new risks and learned new things. Both children find themselves jobs and then start new businesses; the father finds partners to start a local franchise. After a few stutter-steps, even Moira manages to relaunch her acting career.

And, wouldn’t you know it, the children even learn to ride a bike for the first time.

In the end, each becomes more self-reliant. They find ways to take their experiences and talents and transform them into something they can offer others. Can you think back to a time when you had to learn to do something different for yourself? Or when you had to change or rebuild a habit?

Each of us has done it, over and over again, throughout our lives. It happens in our school days, at each new job, with each change in our families and households. If you’ve done it before, you can do it again.

And, honestly, if the Rose family can do it… anyone can. We’re ready to help you begin (or begin again), anytime.

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Could a Green Thumb Make You Some Green?

Friends, we often talk about “making the most of it.” To us, this sentiment is all about working with what we have and starting where we are. It’s an outlook of abundance rather than deprivation—focusing on what we do have instead of what we don’t.

But for some of us, it’s hard to avoid falling into a pattern of maximizing what we have. Maybe it’s trying to squeeze just one more task into the end of the day. Maybe it’s feeling like we should power through email while we’re trying to exercise. In some circles, it’s assumed that we’re all “hustling” and “grinding,” getting everything we can out of every minute.

After all, “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé!”

Maximizing may sound like a type of “making the most of it,” but it has serious limits. Having 24 hours in a day does not mean having 24 to be at work, or 24 hours focus on a single project, or 24 hours to get a whole month’s worth of exercise done in one go.

Humans don’t work like that, and time doesn’t work like that. (And not all of us have the resources of a megastar who has won more Grammys than any other singer in the world.) We aren’t robots. We aren’t machines. We’re living creatures. We need food, air, and sleep.

It’s not that we shouldn’t work hard, but we wonder if we need some more sustainable ways of thinking about our work and our time. Author Laura Vanderkam talks about time management as “becoming your life’s master gardener.” This means “deciding that you are responsible for how you spend your time.”

So what do we do with what we have in this world? We can nurture it, dividing our attention between the demands of the moment and some hopes for the future. We can honor its seasons. Like a garden, life has its fallow times. Rest isn’t “unproductive”: quite the opposite, it’s time invested in rebuilding for the future.

And each project, each endeavor, takes what it takes. Sometimes the results are noticeable right away, but sometimes we ride a few seasons until our patience “pays off.”

So perhaps we could look at investing as an earthy exercise, too. We aren’t trying to squeeze every penny we can from every opportunity: we prefer to pick our spots, work a strategy, and reap what we sow. No grinding, “killing it,” or maximizing.

We’re trying to grow, grow, grow.

Want to talk about this—or anything else? Stop by, online or on Main!

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Whitney, for the Win!

You know her name from emails; maybe you’ve even had the pleasure of speaking with her on the phone. You may remember us announcing her arrival on the team just over one year ago, when she was lending us her talents part-time via LPL Financial’s Administrative Solutions program.

Today, we’re proud to announce that Whitney Engle of Floris, Iowa, is joining our team full-time! We are employing her directly as she continues to work remotely.

Whitney will serve as our new Client Services Coordinator, continuing to work closely with Larry and Patsy on the service team and also supporting the management team of Mark, Greg, Billy, and Caitie with their various duties in research, portfolio management, and communications.

We have staffed up from time to time in recent years to continue taking care of the business. This latest expansion will have a few important benefits: now that we are an SEC-facing organization, it’s more important than ever that we stay efficient in our processes and systems.

Having another team member onboard full-time also means one more friendly face is at the ready, getting you what you need, when you need it.

“I can’t wait to spend more time getting to know clients,” Whitney said. “They are the reason we’re here.”

As we’ve gotten to know her across these months, we’ve felt so fortunate. Whitney’s skills will continue to grow in her new role of course, but she has already shown many of those qualities that are tough to teach: enthusiasm, curiosity, tenacity.

Not only does she take pride in her work, Whitney is someone who clearly cares so deeply about her family—and the menagerie of animals they keep at home! Her proactive approach to things will no doubt continue to improve the experience for all of us and for all of you.

For the months and years ahead, we know that people are key to helping us help you. So, we hope you’ll help us offer a(nother) hearty welcome to Whitney! Thanks for being with us.

Above: Whitney (left) and Caitie (right) meet up in the office in Louisville.

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