decision making

Thoughts and Destiny

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Our thoughts become words; words, actions; actions, habits; habits, character.

What we “do” for work is sometimes hard to describe. Often, it starts in the mind. Either we have a hunch, or a client wonders, “What if…”

Soon, we’re writing or talking about it. We’re acting on our plan. We’re integrating the change into the overall vision. And we’ve done it! We’re working our whole, integrated system.

Simple enough, right? Deliberate motion.

But it starts with planning, taking those thoughts and arranging them in the direction of our goals.

Lately, we’ve been thinking about that series of relationships. We’ve seen the sentiment posted above in many forms over the years, and we found out that versions of that idea have been ascribed to various poets and teachers for hundreds of years (not to mention Lao Tzu, Margaret Thatcher, and even the Buddha!).

Maybe the credit ought to be shared after all, because we think there is treasure of wisdom in this notion. If we could condense the chain, it would be this: planning is the attempt to shape your destiny.

Planning is agreeing to take your ideas seriously enough to examine them. Planning is a decision that your life will no longer be a thing that happens to you.

Planning is “opting in” to your life.

Clients, there is no one path we’re prescribing here. But we are firm believers in helping you work toward your goals, and geez are we geared up about it.

Whether it’s a thought from your head or a question for us, we’d love to hear from you. Write or call anytime.

What Comes Next? Three Paths

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Psychologist Shawn Achor wrote about crisis and adversity, recurring features in both the markets and life. Stuff happens, as they say.

Achor says there are three alternate mental paths in the aftermath of crisis.
The first one leads nowhere. We simply expect the crisis conditions to continue. The second one leads downward to more trouble, a continuation of the trend. We humans do tend to believe current conditions or trends will continue.

Finding the third path is difficult when times are tough. Many people do not see it because they do not believe it exists. The third path leads from the challenging conditions to greater strength, capabilities, opportunities and success. Think of it as falling forward.

Studies show those who conceive of failure as an opportunity for growth are more likely to find the third path, and experience that growth. Others have talked about the same concept with words like resilience and grit, or more vividly, post-traumatic growth.

We see this pattern in the investment markets. Although historically the stock market has recovered sooner or later from every downturn, some investors do not recover. Those who can only see the first two paths have a hard time staying invested. If they sell out at low points, believing the crisis conditions will continue or worsen, what might have been a temporary loss becomes permanent.

By the time they see the third path, the market may have already recovered. Their diminished pool of capital can only get reinvested at higher prices, perhaps to repeat the cycle of crisis and loss.

Fortunately, here at 228 Main you clients tend to have productive attitudes toward investing. You can see the third path, which is a big advantage. If you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Confusion, Wealth, and Options

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A confession: I am confused about a fairly important life question. Some of you have been, or will be, facing similar conundrums.

You may be surprised, depending on how well you know me. Clarity is something I strive for.

When I am home in Louisville Nebraska, there are no traffic lights between my modest abode and my shop at 228 Main Street, a ten minute walk if I choose. Life is simple, inexpensive, and easily within the means of future benefits from Social Security and a small pension.

I also have a home in Florida which is not particularly modest. We chose it a few years ago, when I was part of a ‘we.’ It met the needs of my high school sweetheart as she worked to extend her life in the face of serious health challenges. The original rationale for the decision no longer holds, as Cathy passed away last summer.

You may recall our original decision a decade ago to adopt a snowbird lifestyle, in the hopes of making my plan to work to age 92 a sustainable one. I had no appetite then for decades more of Nebraska winters.

Now I am confused.

• I still have little appetite for Nebraska winters.
• The Florida home is more than I need.
• It takes money to maintain a second home.
• Where I will want to spend how much time in the future is something I cannot answer now.

What is needed to cure my confusion is time. The old rule of thumb about dealing with wrenching personal change is “don’t make any big decisions for at least a year.” Now I understand this rule, after giving myself whiplash trying to make plans prematurely.

The answers will become clear with time.

What gives us the time we need is money. I have some; you have some. Money for its own sake has little value, but the time and flexibility it provides is priceless.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

 

Financial Inflammation

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Inflammation is one of the ways the human body deals with harmful stimuli. It keeps us healthy. Chronic inflammation is something else: it is thought by some to be at the root of many health challenges. It seems to be a factor in heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other serious problems. Complex processes are difficult to manage, but some things have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation.

We use the concept of chronic inflammation to think about other areas of life, as well. Sometimes we meet people who have conflicting goals, plans that are unlikely to happen, unsatisfying spending habits, or ineffective use of wealth.
All of these are a form of financial inflammation.

The first step in dealing with inflammation is understanding its role in keeping us from healthy bodies or working financial plans. Then we can work on the things that are aggravating it and the things that may help control it.

1. Clarifying goals provides a focus that may guide our decision-making and reduce uncertainty.

2. Figuring out a path to get to your goals provides a roadmap to move you toward that desired future.

3. Fixing the things that interfere with progress, and finding ways to improve your progress, are ways to systematically reduce the financial inflammation in your life.

Vitality is a good thing in your financial plans and planning, as well as in life.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Navigating Life

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I have never been what they call “an early adopter.” Even at the dawn of the personal computing age, my strategy was to figure out where the leading edge of technology was, and take two steps back. So it may not surprise you to know I am fairly new to the world of smart phone navigation.

The way those systems work reminds me of the way we approach life here at 228 Main:

1. Start where you are.
2. Proceed by way of your plans.
3. Arrive at your dreams.

When the phone maps a route for you, it never says “Gosh! There are a lot of problems where you are. It’s too far to go! Maybe you should wait for a better day to go.” It simply takes your location and starts to make plans.

Once underway, if you get off course, the phone figures out whether it is better to go back the way you came, or take a new route to the same goal. One way or the other, it wants you back on track. It won’t let you go mile after mile the wrong direction.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do. So one of the basic requirements is knowing your destination.

When we think about our work for you, there are many similarities. We begin by understanding where you are, your starting point. We invest time in learning your goals (or dreams), helping you clarify them if necessary. Where you are, where you want to go: it is about the same as using your phone to navigate.

Then we do the work. Sort out the best path to get you to your dreams. Check in and monitor it to make sure you are still on course. Provide midcourse corrections if needed. And communicate continuously with you.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Peak Experience

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You know we are endlessly fascinated by the search for investment bargains, the interplay of human behavior and the markets, and economic cycles. We enjoy talking with you, and collaborating on your plans and planning. But the pinnacle of our work is in a whole different category.

Once, a life-long friend of a close client had not been able to solve the question, “Can I afford to retire?” Mrs. S had raised two children on her own after being widowed at a young age, and was working at a job that had become onerous as she approached retirement age. For two years she had pursued the answer, but could not find it.

She needed to gain the confidence that she could retire. The resources were there, through her lifetime of diligent saving. We were able to explain the meaning of her wealth, how it could help her work toward where she wanted to go, in terms she could understand.

A year and a half after that, she called to ask another question. Would it be possible for her to own a home, or was that a pipe dream? She had spent thirty years in a modest rental duplex. Some time later she began her home search.

These questions, and others like them, are the reason we are in business. Our real work is not about making money. It is about helping clients make decisions that could change their lives.

Mrs. S was never our largest client. She never paid us the highest fees. But the personal satisfaction we felt from our work was vast.

Many will never need that much help. They come to a comfortable understanding of the meaning of their wealth without our context and perspective. We are still very happy to play a role investing their resources, and answering those financial planning questions that do arise.

Clients, if you would like to talk about these things or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

 

The Problem with Goals

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Scott Adams, creator of the wildly successful comic strip Dilbert, is a man of big ideas. Some of them are fantastic, some of them are questionable, a few of them may be literally insane. However, for all his eccentricity it’s hard to argue with results: over the past three decades Adams has managed to parlay his workplace doodles into a multi-million dollar franchise.

Among his many ideas, there’s one in particular that he credits his success to: he doesn’t believe in setting goals for himself. Instead, he believes in building systems to work towards what he wants. The idea is simple. Most peoples’ goals depend on factors outside their direct control, which leads to frustration. By focusing on what you’re doing to manage those goals, though, you can build a system or framework for trying to achieve what you want. This way, you’re only concerned about the things that you control yourself, rather than worrying about goals that are outside your immediate reach.

For example, suppose a freshly minted high school graduate wants to be a doctor. That goal will take an enormous amount of dedication and training, and no amount of passion or talent is going to replace that. At any given moment, they’re an entire decade away from reaching their goal—it will take them five years of school before they even reach a point with any kind of real hands-on training. When faced with such a distant goal it’s easy to despair of ever reaching it. But while they can’t just up and be a doctor, they can always work on their system for trying to become a doctor. By focusing on their immediate day to day studies instead of their long-term goal, every day is a success. They simply use their system.

We think this makes great life advice in general, but it’s particularly important when it comes to investing. Our goal is to grow our portfolio over time, but what the market does day to day is entirely beyond our control: we can’t force our portfolio to go up. What we can always do, though, is work our system. In our case, this means practicing our three core principles: avoid stampedes in the market, look for the biggest bargains we can find, and own the orchard for the fruit crop. We can’t push a button and make your portfolio grow. But we can practice our investing discipline every day, even when the markets don’t cooperate.

New Balance for Your Portfolio

Our recent article about finding your strategy provoked interesting conversations. We quickly saw a new framework for investors to reconcile competing needs and desires. This article puts context around the three central tradeoffs investors face.

Current Income or Long Term Growth?

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Fortunately, there are investments and strategies that offer the opportunity for long term growth while providing current income. Dividend-paying blue chip stocks are the best example. While suitable as part of an appropriate portfolio for many people, growth with income investments do not provide stability of market value, part of the next tradeoff.

Stable Value or Long Term Growth?

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While most people might prefer stability AND growth, it isn’t possible to have all of both. The best we can do is some of each. We ceaselessly seek to inoculate clients against fear of downturns, which are an inherent part of long-term investing. Behavioral Economics suggests that the price of stability is too high And yet most people need some ‘money in the bank’ or stable value holdings. They serve as emergency funds and also build confidence in your investments.

Stable Income or Stable Value?

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This may be the most under-utilized concept in the financial world. Investments that provide reliable recurring income fluctuate in value. And investments that deliver stable value do not provide reliable recurring income. Those now planning to retire have seen a vivid example in their lifetimes. Bank deposit interest rates have ranged from more than 1% per month at times to less than 1% per year at other times. In other words, the value was stable but the income was not.

The key concept here is that people living on their capital do not spend statement value to buy groceries or pay the electric bill. Portfolio income is the key to the monthly budget. Therefore, reliability of income could be more vital than stability of value.

Putting it All Together

We can do a better job of managing our goals when we understand that reliable income and long term growth provide opportunities that stable value holdings do not. Think about these ways to build a portfolio that you can live with:

  • Set aside an emergency fund so you are prepared for the unexpected.
  • Know where your income is coming from for the months and years ahead.
  • Plan for rising cost of living with a certain amount of growth potential.

These are major issues, requiring some thought and discussion. We are available; write or call to set an appointment when we can discuss your situation.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal. The payment of dividends is not guaranteed. Companies may reduce or eliminate the payment of dividends at any given time.

When the Money Runs Out

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Our advice generally has an upbeat slant to it, to the point that we occasionally get accused of being optimists. We believe our confidence in the future is soundly justified. We know, however, that not every situation is likely to have a happy ending. It takes money to do the things we want and need to do. Sometimes we simply don’t have enough of it.

This is the reason we are in business: to help clients make the most of their money. But there are limits to what prudent financial planning can accomplish. We think that our advice has value, but it isn’t magic. Our best efforts don’t always produce the resources we expected for major lifestyle needs. Other times, unexpected expenses such as legal or medical bills threaten our hard-earned wealth.

What to Do When Crisis Strikes

When faced with a financial crisis, the simplest step is cutting outlays. Even if you don’t have much in the way of luxuries to give up, you may find that some of the “necessary” expenses you took for granted can be reduced or eliminated. Maybe you are paying for an extra car you don’t really need, or more insurance coverage than makes sense, or a storage unit you could do without. We assume our bills are fixed, but on examination some of them may be reduced or eliminated.

Sometimes, though, your bills may be more than you can handle just by rearranging your budget, and that’s when the choices get really tough. At this point, your job is to sit down and figure out what the least bad option is.

Financial Strategies When Funds are Short

You can try to preserve your assets for as long as you can, investing conservatively and staying in stable assets to try to maintain balances. But simply seeking to maintain your value is not good enough if your assets are chipped away by your expenses. This route increases the likelihood that you will eventually run out of money. This strategy may only provide a nice, predictable trajectory until you hit zero.

Alternately, if you know you’re likely to hit zero eventually but you have a long-term investment strategy and don’t need the funds in the near future, you might take the opposite approach and invest more aggressively, pursuing growth to try to keep ahead of your expenses. Obviously, the risks are considerable; bear in mind that you should always keep a certain amount of funds to cover expenses in savings or conservative, liquid investments. There is a chance that you will lose your principal—but if you know that you are likely to run out of money in the end anyhow, the risk of running out slightly faster may be an acceptable trade-off for a chance to make it last longer.

Stay Realistic

In a situation like this, there is no right answer for everyone. The right answer for you is the one that you’re most comfortable with. It is important to remain realistic about your options, though. If you know that you need to draw $10,000 a year to live on for 20+ years of retirement, and your retirement portfolio is only $75,000, plugging your ears and insisting that everything will be sunshine and rainbows is probably only going to hurt you. Be wary of people peddling quick and easy cures for such financial woes–even if they are not outright frauds, odds are they do not have your best interests in mind.

If you feel you may be facing any tough financial decisions in your life, please call or email us to see if we can help you in your planning and thinking.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.