life planning

The Joy of Being Cheaply Amused

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Once upon a time, we went out on a Friday night – to the dollar theater. This was a discount affair, where good movies – not prime, first-run movies – could be seen on the big screen, for a dollar.

In the ticket line, we happened upon friends and clients, recently retired. They told us it was a regular part of their entertainment. They also hiked the trails at the state park, played cards with friends, read books from the library, and liked to watch the sun set over the river.

He said, “One of the things we had to learn early in my teaching career was the joy of being cheaply amused. We were not making much money, and did not really have a choice.” Even in retirement, on a good pension and with plenty of resources, those habits stuck.

That phrase struck a chord with me. I had long noticed that those who feel compelled to keep up with the Joneses, or whose happiness seemed to depend on shopping or acquiring things, were difficult clients to work with. Those traits are connected to a general desire to always want more.

In contrast, the joy of being cheaply amused seems to correlate with simpler lifestyles, longer-term orientation, and a greater sense of contentment.

This has a huge impact on lifestyles in retirement. The conundrum is, those who are cheaply amused tend to be the ones who can afford the bucket list trip to Europe or Alaskan cruise, to be generous in helping children and grandchildren, who have money for really significant activities.

In other words, some of the most successful retirees we know have grown into being able to spend well. Not having a lot of money starting out in life is good discipline for being thoughtful about spending later on.

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

Make the Most of It

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All seven billion of us have the same job. Whether we are among the poorest or wealthiest, sickest or healthiest, a single task unites us: wake up every day and make the most of it.

Taking that one step farther, we each can increase our ability to do things, to be better, to be stronger. Beginning each day a little better, a little stronger than the day before, that helps us make the most of it.

I won’t pretend to know or prescribe what you should eat or drink, how you should live, whether to exercise, or give you health tips. My professional expertise is devoted strictly to striving to grow your buckets, for use in your real life.

When you entrust me to help you with your wealth, I owe you the effort to make the most of it. Wouldn’t it be better for you if my brain was a little bigger? After all, thinking is how I do my job. The Harvard Health Blog recently cited studies that show exercise boosts the size of parts of the brain involved in memory and learning.

So exercise may be helping me make the most of it, in ways that help you, too.
This is a win-win choice: I have other, selfish reasons for exercise that have nothing to do with you. But if Harvard is correct, you get an advisor with a bigger brain out of the deal.

This essay began with a focus on the day to day, making the most of it. Oddly, my longest-range goal brings me to the same choice about exercise. It will help me serve you until I am 92 years old.

This congruence between my fondest ambitions and my daily life is good for you, too. Win-win.

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

Louisville, My Home Sweet Home

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Planning to work to age 92 has a side effect: there is no date any time soon after which I can do what I want. Cathy and I knew this. A decade ago we figured out that we needed to have some fun along the way. That’s how the whole snowbird plan got started.

Snowbirds are people who go south for part or all of the winter, migrating north to their homes in the spring. We began doing that in 2010, for a few winter months. It was the best of both worlds. We had our home in Nebraska to enjoy most of the year, close to friends and family, and a place to get some weeks of warmth in the dead of winter.

A couple years after we began this, Cathy’s health went south. She was diagnosed with a slew of pretty awful lung conditions. We were able to continue our snowbird routine. Her rising need for oxygen eventually made flying impossible, so we simply drove back and forth.

Three years ago, things got to where long road trips were no longer possible. She had to choose where to live. The specialists who saved her life and continued to treat her are in the south. And Nebraska winter weather could be fatal in a power outage or a stalled car. Staying in the south became a matter of medical necessity for Cathy.

At the same time, health insurance paid the bills for stuff that kept Cathy alive. My small group policy required me to maintain Nebraska residency. And I needed to be in the shop at 228 Main Street for a bit every month. (Our work for you helped Cathy, because it’s expensive to be sick.) I became a long-range commuter. Cathy could remain in the warmth and I could keep the business end going.

Cathy got extra years of life with the help of Florida weather and Florida doctors—important years, in which children got married and grandbabies were born. With her passing, I can focus again on life in Louisville, my home. I’ll be selling Cathy’s Florida house – it’s too much, and in the wrong place.

We have come full circle, back to the original situation. I’m going to work to age 92, so I need to figure out how to have some fun along the way. Bottom line, I’ll be spending much more time at home in Louisville.

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

Anniversaries

© Can Stock Photo / tiverylucky

We balance our attention between the moments in which we live, and the longer term over which we plan for the future. Anniversaries are a natural place to pause and take stock.

My 63rd birthday approaches. This may not seem like a particularly important number, but for me it is. My father and my eldest brother both passed away at age 62. Getting older has never been a problem for me; it is key to my intention to live a long and productive life. I am trying to do what I can to extend the string of birthdays so I can indeed work to age 92.

The 25th anniversary of my affiliation with LPL Financial comes later this year. It has always seemed like the right choice. With the challenges that we have had to work around in recent years, the flexibility and effectiveness of our partner LPL has become vital. In particular, full support for 21st century communication has helped us make a digital presence a key way to deal with periodic separation in time and distance.

Speaking of partners, I will celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary with the really important one this summer. In a life filled with good fortune, I count alphabetical order as a special blessing. On the first day of freshman year of high school, I found my assigned locker right next to Cathy Livingston’s.

You play a huge role in my long range plans: you are why I want to work to age 92. To say I am having a good time would be an understatement. While enjoying the moments as they pass, I’m also looking ahead to ways to build an organization that can better serve you, on a more sustainable basis.

Back to work! Thank you all, for everything. If you would like to talk about anything, please email us or call.

Directing Positive Change

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We humans are not perfect, have you noticed? Many of us have aspects we would like to improve in order to make life better.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear illustrates three layers of behavior change. We may seek to change an outcome, or the process to get that outcome, or our identity. Let me explain.

The outcome is the obvious thing, what we want to end up with. I’m reminded of comedian Steve Martin’s advice on how to become a millionaire. “First, get a million dollars.” Lose weight, get a degree, or get in shape are other examples of outcomes.

The process or systems you use to get to a desired outcome are a better focus for our efforts to change. If your goal is financial independence, you might begin contributing to a retirement plan, start a Roth IRA, begin a monthly automatic deposit to a savings account, find ways to earn more money, or monitor your expenses more carefully.

It seems like a process orientation – how we get to our desired outcomes – is a better place to focus than on the outcomes. But there may be a more powerful layer to effect change.

A recent news story indicated that a large fraction of pre-retirees believe they will struggle financially in retirement. If part of one’s identity is they will end up broke, it may be difficult to make process improvements stick. “What’s the use, if I am going to end up broke anyway?”

If identity becomes “I am a person who will always be able to get along financially,” then doing the things that are necessary to make that true become easier, if not automatic. But can our identities be changed?

James Clear says that what we do affects what we believe about ourselves, our identity, just as our identity affects what we do. So taking those steps to improve our processes, combined with a thoughtful approach to what we want to become, may actually shape our identity over time.

Consider the difference between “I’m trying to quit smoking” and “I don’t smoke anymore.” The first version is from a person who still identifies as a smoker. The second version is from someone who believes that smoking is now a part of their past, not their present identity. You know which one is a more effective way to look at it.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this 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.

Goldilocks the Burglar

© Can Stock Photo / monkeybusiness

The story of Goldilocks might be a lesson in moderation, but it’s also a story of breaking and entering.

We prefer to find more reasonable and socially acceptable ways to get our needs met. We talk a lot about helping clients put words to their dreams, but dreams need not be lofty. Here are a few guidelines that have proven helpful.

“The right amount is best.” In her book Lagom, writer Niki Brantmark describes this Swedish principle of the same name. Not enough is not enough. Too much of a good thing can be a good thing, but often is not. The right amount is best.

Social comparison, or “keeping up with the Joneses” can corrode happiness or financial health, if we aren’t conscious of our emotions and purposeful about our responses and reactions. It helps to focus on our own needs, rather than what others have. (I’ve met the Jones, and they don’t care what you have anyway.)

When working on goals, it sometimes helps to define three outcomes: minimum acceptable levels, reasonable targets that feel within reach, and ‘stretch’ goals that require creative thinking and approaches to get to. This may help you be more aware of options and possibilities.

Clients, if you would like to talk about your goals 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.

 

Financial Planning and Fortune Tellers

© Can Stock Photo / Anke

We recently reviewed a financial planner’s article about strategies for claiming Social Security. They had software to do a complex analysis. The software required inputs of some raw facts: estimated Social Security benefits at different ages, household cash flow requirements, financial balances.

But the software required inputs, answers to questions about the future:

How much will investments earn in the future?

What will tax rates be in the future?

What will inflation be in the future?

How will household cash flow needs change in the future?

Many software planning tools even ask for the answer to the ultimate question: what will the date on your death certificate be?

The problem is we can’t know the future. So calculating that financial balances would be a tiny amount higher 30 years from now if one course is chosen versus another is probably about as reliable as consulting a fortune teller. Especially when it comes to trying to guess when your retirement will “end”!

But when it comes out of a computer, with charts and graphs and year-by-year tables of numbers, presented by a well-dressed person with initials after their name, it seems real.

At the dawn of the computer age, a phrase was used to describe the analytical version of “you reap what you sow”: “garbage in, garbage out” (or GIGO).1 We might do well to remember it.

Clients, if you would like to puzzle through any financial issue, we would be happy to use real life dialogue to sort out how the alternatives might work out. 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.

 

Your Life In Three Acts

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Life is a three-act play.

Act One is where you came from. What are you, what shaped you, how did you get here?

Act Two is the present. This is a part of the story you begin writing anew, each day when you wake up.

Act Three is the future. It includes your hopes, dreams and plans.

When we think about our collaboration with you, it begins when you tell us your Act One. This helps us understand you in your most fundamental characteristics.

As our collaboration with you goes along, you keep us informed about pertinent things that are going on in your life. This is Act Two, and it is mostly about you. Sometimes we pitch in. If you are living on your capital, we help arrange the details of how you finance Act Two. Or if your situation changes and adjustments need to be made in your plans and planning, you get us involved.

Act Three, the future, we work to help you script that part. Sometimes there is arithmetic to do, or investment plans to implement. The future is where your plans meet reality. We believe you can make the future you want more likely, by planning it.

It seems we are never done with any part. The longer we know you, the more we learn about your Act One. And Act Two, the present, continuously unfolds day by day. Act Three is ever-changing too, as tomorrow become today. The future shrinks, the past grows, while we live in the present.

The present is where we turn the future into the past. We love striving to help you make the most of it!

Clients, if you would like to talk about any of the parts of your life, please email us or call.

Peak Experience

© Can Stock Photo / Nejron

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.

 

Case Study: The Life of Mr. S, and Working to 92

© Can Stock Photo / Leaf

Long ago, I met a man in his late forties. He had just resigned one position and accepted another. Needing a place for a 401(k) rollover, he agreed to do business with me. Our methods and access to investments were quite limited then (I was still in my twenties!), but I did the best I could.

Through the years his life evolved and changed; like all of us, he had his share of joy and pain. His wife began to suffer a chronic illness. His industry consolidated which caused some moves from town to town. But his children all ended up in successful marriages and careers, and grandchildren came. I advised him on wealth management throughout, helping him manage challenges from family health expenses and other things.

At sixty-six he retired, fearing he had not saved enough. The size of the fruit crop he needed each year seemed too large for the orchard he had grown, so to speak. We devised a plan that gave him a chance for things to work, although without any guarantees.

Of course, through these years, our knowledge and experience and confidence and capabilities flourished. We grew together.

Mr. S is pushing eighty-one years old now; poor Mrs. S had her disease go from chronic to acute and she succumbed a short while back. Mr. S stays busy helping with grandchildren and keeping up his home.

His retirement finances have worked out well, although this is not evidence of anything to anyone else. Good fortune played a role, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and all that. But I still want to tell you what happened so far.

Over fifteen years, Mr. S has withdrawn more than he retired with—and he also still has a current account balance that is larger than when he started. He tells us it is like the endless coffee refills they have at the café.

I call Mr. S when I need a pick-me-up; his gratitude is boundless. This, friends, is why I want to work to age 92.

That gives us a little more than thirty years to help many more of you get to eighty with more confidence than you ever thought possible. If you are fifty or older now, we will do our best between now and then to earn your gratitude when you turn age eighty. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email or call us.


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

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific investment. Your results may vary.