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July 6, 2022

Severance Explained

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Severance Explained

July 6, 2022

Severance Explained

Getting paid to leave your job? It might sound impossible, but that’s exactly how severance works.

Though it’s not required by law, employers often offer benefits to laid off employees on their way out.

Why? Sometimes it’s an expression of gratitude to loyal employees. Other times, it’s to attract top talent.

Either way, severance can ease the loss of a job. It can give you a financial cushion when you’re seeking a new position.

Severance comes in several forms…

Income

It’s exactly what it sounds like—your paycheck continues after you leave. Sometimes, this is based on the number of years you worked for the company.

Insurance coverage

COBRA continuation allows you to keep your health insurance for a limited time after leaving your job. If your severance agreement includes this, your employer may pick up the tab for the first few months. But eventually, you’ll be responsible for the entire premium.

Outplacement services

These can help you find a new job. Services can include résumé writing, interview coaching, and job search assistance.

Vacation or sick pay. If you have vacation or sick days left over, your employer might pay you for them as part of your severance package.

Retirement benefits

If you’re vested in a retirement plan, you may be able to keep your benefits or cash them out.

Severance pay is often negotiable. If you have a good relationship with your employer, they may be willing to give you more than the minimum. And if losing your job will cause economic hardship, you might be able to bend the ear of your employer to get additional benefits.

It’s worth noting that severance pay only kicks in if you get laid off. Getting fired or simply quitting won’t trigger your benefits. Sometimes, you can negotiate a layoff with your employer in exchange for training a new employee.

Whether you’re just looking for a few more benefits or you want to get paid if you leave your job, understanding severance can help you get what you’re after. Know your needs, and negotiate accordingly.

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Sinking Funds 101

June 29, 2022

Sinking Funds 101

You can put down the life jacket—a sinking fund is actually a good thing!

Why? Because a sinking fund can help you avoid high interest debt when making big purchases. Here’s how…

Put simply, a sinking fund is a savings account that’s dedicated to a specific purchase.

For instance, you could create a sinking fund for buying a new car. Every paycheck, you would automate a deposit into the fund until you had enough money to buy your new ride.

And that can make it a powerful tool. Instead of putting big ticket items on a credit card or using financing, you can instead use cash. It can work wonders for your cash flow and your ability to build wealth over the long haul.

Here are a few tips for making the most of your sinking fund…

Plan in advance

Sinking funds work best when they’ve had time to accumulate—you probably can’t save for two weeks and then expect to buy a car!

First, write a list of all major upcoming expenses on the horizon. List how much you expect them to cost, and when you plan to purchase them.

Then, divide the cost by the number of pay periods between now and then. That’s how much you need to save each paycheck to buy the item in cash. Even if you can’t spare the cash flow to save the full amount, you can at least save enough to lower the amount of debt you’ll be taking on.

Prioritize access

What good is saving for a purchase if you can’t access the money? Not much.

That’s why it’s best if your sinking fund is highly liquid. No penalties for withdrawal. No delay between selling assets and accessing cash. Otherwise, you may find yourself unnecessarily twiddling your thumbs instead of actually making the purchase!

Prioritize safety

Remember—this is for a specific purchase on a relatively short timetable, so you might not want to put these funds in a more aggressive account. The last thing anyone wants is for their car savings to get halved by a bear market. There are other accounts specifically designed for building wealth. This doesn’t need to be one.

So before you make your next big purchase, call up your licensed and qualified financial professional. Give them the details about what you plan to buy and when. Then, collaborate to see what saving for the purchase could look like. It could be the alternative to credit card spending and financing that your wallet needs!

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed and qualified financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

Wealth Is Security, Not Paycheck Size

June 27, 2022

Wealth Is Security, Not Paycheck Size

Wealth isn’t about how much you earn. It’s about how secure you feel.

Consider two examples that illustrate this truth…

Mark works for an up-and-coming software company in middling America.

He earns a handsome salary.

He wakes up at 5 a.m., works out, and meditates for 30 minutes. His chakras stay open. His creative juices stay flowing.

He shows his coworkers pictures of his Tesla between ping pong matches.

He’s never had any of them over to his rented downtown apartment. They mostly just eat sushi at that new place, hit the town, then go their separate ways.

His flat screen TV and triple monitor setup display more pixels than his eye can perceive.

In short, Mark is rich… but he isn’t wealthy.

He’s not wealthy because he has no security. If he gets laid off, he loses his Tesla, his community, his apartment, everything.

Let’s consider another example…

Sarah earns average money running a small creative studio in Nowhereville, U.S.A.

She‘s late to her weekly lunch dates with her long-time friends. Projects don’t finish themselves!

The kids rushed cleaning the dishes… again.

When her mom died, her friends worked around the clock to keep her family fed with homemade meals.

When the dust of her day settles, she sits down in her bed, does some light reading, journals things she’s grateful for, and then hits the hay.

What’s left after business and living business expenses goes to her Roth IRA that’s been steadily growing for two decades.

Sarah may not be rich… but she’s wealthy beyond belief.

If anything happens, she has assets—a family, a community, a business, and savings—to support her. She rests easy the moment her head hits the pillow.

The takeaway? Invest in your security. That could be a savings account, a healthy relationship, a community, life insurance, or a stable business. Over time, those investments can help bring you the peace of mind you’re searching for.

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Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Let’s face it—we’ve all botched a New Year’s fitness resolution.

Sure, we started the year with great intentions and a few gym visits, but it didn’t take long for our resolve to waver and we never returned. However, many of us have kept that membership around. After all, we paid so much to sign up that we might as well hold on to it just in case our motivation comes back, right?

Wrong.

It turns out that gym membership might have been a bad value right from the start. But how can you tell? Here’s a few things to consider if you’re thinking about finally moving on from your overly ambitious New Year’s resolution.

How gym memberships work

Gym memberships seem pretty simple on the surface; you pay once a month for access to gym equipment during operating hours. But annual fees and initiation fees can add up pretty quickly, meaning that you can potentially sink hundreds of dollars into a gym. National gym chains may range in price from $164 to $1,334 per year, but the national average comes out to $696 annually. Plus, some gyms make you sign a contract locking you into a year-long membership. You have to pay for the membership regardless if you work out!

The big question: Are you paying for something you won’t use?

Gym memberships are more cost effective the more you take advantage of them. Going to the gym seven times a week at an average priced gym? Let’s do the math. You’ll pay $1.90 per visit. Go four times per week? $3.36.¹

But let’s say you visit the gym about four times per month for an hour-long sweat session. You’ll wind up spending $14.50 per hour! To put that in perspective, we spend an average of $0.28 on Netflix per hour. Sitting around watching TV is far more cost effective than working out.

Alternatives to gym memberships

So what can you do if you want to get fit but don’t want the potential financial black hole of a gym membership? It’s often cheaper in the long run to build your own gym at home rather than getting a membership. You also might want to see if your apartment or office has a serviceable gym. If all else fails, you can always do body weight exercises. You might be surprised by how grueling and intense push-ups and squats can be!

The bottom line is that the keys to making your gym membership worth it are motivation and discipline. The cost of buying a membership isn’t enough incentive.² You have to find a deeper drive to get you in the gym week in and week out. Check out the costs of your local gym, weigh the alternatives, and ask yourself why you want to start working out before you sign that contract!

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¹ “Are gym memberships worth the money?” Zachary Crockett, Jan 5, 2019, https://thehustle.co/gym-membership-cost

² “Annual Gym Memberships Can Be a Trap. Do This Instead.” Whitney Akers, Healthline, Sep 24, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/gym-memberships-can-be-a-trap#2

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

June 15, 2022

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Soft skills are having a moment.

Employers are realizing that there are some tasks that computers actually can’t do—at least not yet! So the words soft skills have started getting a lot of traction. One survey found that 92% of employers value soft skills as much as hard skills (1)! But what exactly is a soft skill? For that matter, what’s a hard skill? Let’s take a closer look at these two different types of abilities!

Hard Skills

A hard skill is quantifiable. You can typically learn them through taking a class or reading a book. They’re almost always technically skills that can be used in very specific circumstances. For instance, knowing how to design a website or retrieve data are hard skills; they’re very narrow types of knowledge that require training and technical proficiency to master. Engineers, doctors, and accountants are just a few examples of jobs that are based around hard skills.

Soft Skills

Defining soft skills is more tricky. Have you ever met a leader whose vision inspires you to work harder? Or have a coworker who’s able to rise above a stressful situation and keep a level head? Those are all examples of soft skills. They’re essentially people skills applied to the workplace.

Which one is more important?

It’s tempting to think that hard skills dominate the economy. The digital revolution is changing the way we interact with the world and tech related hard skills are becoming essential in more and more fields. But that doesn’t mean soft skills are going anywhere; one study from LinkedIn found that 57% of employers value soft skills more than hard skills! (2)

It’s easy to see why. A room full of super geniuses armed with quantum computers is useless if they can’t communicate effectively and don’t have a plan! Skills like leadership, conflict resolution, and stress management are just as important as ever and employers know it.

So let’s say you’re looking for a job and you’ve started working on a resume. How do you highlight both your hard skills and your soft skills? Hard skills often shine the most on paper. Portfolios, degrees, certifications, and recommendations all demonstrate that you’re actually proficient.

Soft skills tend to come out in interviews. Make sure you show up early and dress professionally. Making eye contact, smiling when appropriate, and asking thoughtful questions can all show that you’re the type of person who works well on a team and won’t start unnecessary drama. Those little things may seem insignificant if you’ve got a Ph.D from a top university with years of experience under your belt, but you might be surprised by how much they matter to employers and your coworkers!

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¹ “Soft skills,” Livia Gershon, BBC, July 21, 2019 https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190719-soft-skills

² “Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: List of Examples for Your Resume,” Tom Gerencer, Zety, May 2, 2022, https://zety.com/blog/hard-skills-soft-skills

Time Management

Time Management

We never seem to have enough time.

So often it feels like we’re balancing a million things at once with no wiggle room. We also probably feel guilty when we “take a little break” and burn some time scrolling through social media or chatting with co-workers. There never seems to be a balance between getting all the things done but enjoying some rest every once in a while.

Fortunately, time management isn’t something that requires a total life overhaul. It just takes a little discipline. Here are a few beginner tips to help control your time and use it wisely.

Tackle your biggest task first thing

You might be surprised by how much time wasting comes from being intimidated by a task. Maybe you don’t know where to start, you’re nervous that you’ll mess everything up, or you don’t know who to ask for help. The list goes on.

The best solution for overcoming this fear is to take on your most important assignment when you start your day. That gives you a few advantages. First, you’re closer to peak performance in the morning, meaning your best efforts are going towards the most difficult work. Second, just making a dent in a big project can give you the confidence boost you need to knock the rest of your day out of the park. It’s an easy way of proving to yourself that you’ve got what it takes to get things done!

Use a time limit

There’s nothing worse than setting aside a few hours to work on something only to find yourself overwhelmed and drained before lunch, and not having accomplished what you wanted to do. That’s why setting timers can be so useful. It means that you can work on a task, accomplish what you can, and move on to the next thing before getting burned out and bogged down. Try dedicating an hour to each item on your list and cycle through them. You might be surprised by the difference a fresh perspective makes!

Don’t multitask

This seems so simple, but we all need to hear this from time to time. It’s tempting to take the edge off a boring job or task with your favorite podcast or YouTube videos playing in the background. Worse yet, you might decide to try writing an email to a superior, hosting a webinar, and filling out paperwork all at the same time! What a simple way to boost your efficiency, right?

But you’re probably not boosting anything except the time it will take to complete any one of those tasks. When you try to multitask, chances are you’re actually slowing yourself down and making more mistakes along the way.¹ A much better solution is to turn off your phone, put on some classical music or white noise instead of a YouTube video, and knock out your tasks one at a time.²

Remember that the key to making these tips work is discipline. Setting a timer won’t make a difference if you check your social feed for two hours during the workday or can’t say no to last-minute lunch invitations. But these suggestions are easy places to start once you’re committed to making more effective use of your time!

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¹ “12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking Now!” Amanda MacMillan, Health, Jul 14, 2016, https://www.health.com/condition/adhd/12-reasons-to-stop-multitasking-now

² “These 6 Types of Music Are Known to Dramatically Improve Productivity,” Deep Patel, Entrepreneur, Jan 9, 2019 https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/325492

Tax Now or Tax Later?

June 8, 2022

Tax Now or Tax Later?

If someone asked if you’d rather pay taxes now or later, what would you say?

Paying later is tempting. After all, who likes paying taxes at all? As with most inconveniences, it’s easy to delay, delay, delay.

But here’s an important question. When do you think taxes will be greater—today, or years from now?

It’s impossible to answer.

Looking to history doesn’t really help—income taxes are actually far lower now than they were in the 1930s, 40s, or 50s.¹ So if you pay now, you may miss out if taxes sink even further.

But no one can predict the future. If you opt to pay later, unforeseen circumstances may create a higher tax environment down the road.

So if you’re comparing tax now vs. tax later, it may feel like you might as well toss a coin to determine your strategy. Not a good place to be!

But fortunately, there’s an alternative. Tax never.

And no, that doesn’t mean buying shady nail salons, opening businesses in the Cayman Islands, or committing a felony. It simply means working with a licensed and qualified financial professional to identify time-proven—and 100% legal—financial vehicles.

These include…

Roth IRAs/Roth 401(k)s Health Savings Accounts Indexed Universal Life (IUL) Insurance 529 College Savings Plans Municipal Bonds

Each vehicle has specific rules, limitations, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s absolutely critical that you consult with a financial professional before you start leveraging these tools. Remember, you don’t need to flip a coin to make financial decisions!

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¹ “History of Federal Income Tax Rates: 1913 – 2021,” Bradford Tax Institute, https://bradfordtaxinstitute.com/Free_Resources/Federal-Income-Tax-Rates.aspx

Retiring in a Bear Market

Retiring in a Bear Market

Is a slowing market challenging your peace of mind about retirement?

It’s no wonder why—losing wealth on the cusp of retirement can suddenly lower the quality of your post-career lifestyle.

And worst of all, it can seem unavoidable. If you turn 67 during a bear market, what are your options for avoiding a retirement disaster?

The first, most obvious solution is to keep working. Take the loss on the chin, push through, let the recovery buoy your savings, and retire at the top.

The drawbacks? It could delay your retirement by 3 to 5 years.

Even worse, you’ll then likely face the temptation to retire at the TOP of the next bull market. And if you don’t plan accordingly, your retirement savings and income could get hammered during the almost inevitable bear market that would follow.

The second, far more powerful strategy? Taper your risk as you approach retirement.

Why? Because it can make you far less vulnerable to market fluctuations. Whether you retire at the top or bottom of the market becomes less important for your retirement outcome.

That’s why it’s absolutely essential to meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional ASAP. They can review your goals and situation to determine what level of risk works best for you. They can also help you taper your risk exposure as you get closer to retirement.

And if you’re ready to retire but skittish about the market, they can help you weigh the pros and cons of taking the plunge or waiting it out.

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Cities vs. Suburbs

June 1, 2022

Cities vs. Suburbs

Deciding where to live is hard.

It’s a big decision especially in a historically unstable housing market. That’s why it’s important to know what to expect from the options you’re weighing. Here’s a quick guide to the pros and cons of living in a city or a suburb!

Cities: Pros and Cons

There’s a reason people flock to cities. First and foremost, jobs tend to be easier to find in the city than anywhere else. That means there’s a high incentive to move into town close to where you work. But that’s not the only reason to go urban. Cities are often more walkable than suburbs or the country and often feature extensive public transit. All the culture, nights out, museums, and coffee shops that your city has to offer are all easily accessible either on foot or with a quick subway ride.

But there’s a price to pay for the convenience of city living. Urban housing is typically higher than other areas, and normal things like a date night dinner will probably be pricier than elsewhere. Crime is also higher in the city than the suburbs or the country, so situational awareness is a key skill to develop if you’re living in-town.

Suburbs: Pros and Cons

The suburbs are designed to give you access to the benefits of the city while offsetting some of the costs. For starters, your dollar will probably go farther for housing in the suburbs than it will in the city. Suburbs tend to be safer and offer more space, making it appealing to people looking to start a family or couples with kids. Plus, if you’re lucky, you could be a similar distance from the countryside as the city, so you’re flexible between choosing a night in the city or a hike in the woods!

However, it isn’t all sunshine and roses for suburbanites. Housing might be cheaper per square foot, but houses also tend to be larger. That means you can actually end up paying more for housing in the suburbs even though you’re technically getting a better deal square footage-wise. The other big downside is that transportation in the suburbs can be brutal. The cost of driving a car in traffic every day can be high, so much so that suburban transportation can be shockingly expensive, especially when gas prices skyrocket. That’s not even factoring in the stress of dealing with traffic.

Deciding where to live comes down to what you prioritize and your stage of life. Are you a young professional with a new job downtown? It might make more sense to move closer to work and be near where everything is happening. The same might also hold for a recently retired couple looking for easy access to quality medical care and date spots. A young family looking for a safer space to raise kids, however, could potentially want to look further out for housing. Just take a few of the factors we discussed in this blog to heart before you make the big decision!

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What's a Recession?

May 23, 2022

What's a Recession?

Most of us would probably be apprehensive about another recession.

The Great Recession and COVID-19 caused financial devastation for millions of people across the globe. But what exactly is a recession? How do we know if we’re in one? How could it affect you and your family? Here’s a quick rundown.

So what exactly is a recession? The quick answer is that a recession is a negative GDP growth rate for two back-to-back quarters or longer.¹ But reality can be a bit more complicated than that. There’s actually an organization that decides when the country is in a recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is composed of commissioners who dig through monthly data and officially declare when a downturn begins.

There’s also a difference between a recession and a depression. A recession typically lasts between 6 to 16 months (the Great Recession was an exception and pushed 18 months). The Great Depression, by contrast, lasted a solid decade and witnessed unemployment rates above 25%.² Fortunately, depressions are rare: there’s only been one since 1854, while there have been 33 recessions during the same time.³

What happens during a recession. The NBER monitors five recession indicators. The first and most important is inflation-adjusted GDP. A consistent quarterly decline in GDP growth is a good sign that a recession has started or is on the horizon. Then this gets supplemented by other numbers. A falling monthly GDP, declining real income, increasing unemployment, weak manufacturing and retail sales all point to a recession.

How could a recession affect you? The bottom line is that a weak economy affects everyone. Business slows down and layoffs can occur. People who keep their jobs may get spooked by seeing coworkers and friends lose their jobs, and then they may start cutting back on spending. This can start a vicious cycle which can lead to lower profits for businesses and possibly more layoffs. The government may increase spending and lower interest rates in order to help stop the cycle and stabilize the economy.

In the short term, that means it might be harder to find a job if you’re unemployed or just out of school and that your cost of living skyrockets. But it can also affect your major investments; the value of your home or your retirement savings could all face major setbacks.

Recessions can be distressing. They’re hard to see coming and they can potentially impact your financial future. That’s why it’s so important to start preparing for any downturns today. Schedule a call with a financial professional to discuss strategies to help protect your future!

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¹ “What Is a Recession?” Kimberly Amadeo, The Balance, Apr 6, 2022, https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-a-recession-3306019

² “What Is a Recession?” Amadeo, The Balance, 2022

³ “Recession vs. Depression: How To Tell the Difference” Kimberly Amadeo, The Balance, May 4, 2022, https://www.thebalance.com/recession-vs-depression-definition-causes-and-stats-3306048

Habits of Successful People

Habits of Successful People

Successful people come from all types of backgrounds.

But did you know there are certain habits they tend to have in common? What’s better yet, they’re mostly practices that don’t require a huge budget to start doing. Here are three concrete ways that you can imitate the wealthy—starting today!

Wake up early (but also get enough sleep). Let’s establish right away that most people shouldn’t wake up at four in the morning if you’re going to bed at midnight. Lack of sleep can exacerbate or cause dozens of health and mental issues ranging from obesity to depression.¹ That’s the exact opposite of what rising with the sun is supposed to do!

The primary perk of going to bed early and waking up early is that it helps give you control of your day. You’re not simply rolling out of bed forty-five minutes before work and coming home too tired to do anything useful. Instead, you get to devote your most productive hours to something that you care about, whether that’s meditating, working on a passion project, or exercising. Speaking of which…

Exercise. Exercise is something that the successful tend to prioritize. One survey found that 76 percent of the wealthy devoted 30 minutes or more a day to some kind of aerobic exercise.² It seems obvious, but working out doesn’t just improve physical health; it can help ward off depression and increase mental sharpness.³ It’s no wonder so many successful people make time to exercise.

Read. Almost 9 out of 10 wealthy people surveyed said they devote thirty minutes a day to reading. Why? It turns out that it can improve mental awareness and helps keep your brain fine-tuned.⁴ But reading can also be a valuable way of expanding your perspective, learning new ideas, and drawing inspiration from unexpected places.

Some of these habits might seem intimidating. Switching your bedtime back three hours so you can wake up before sunrise is a big commitment, as is working out consistently or reading books if you’re just used to scanning social media. Try starting off small. Get out of bed thirty minutes earlier than usual for a week and see if that makes a difference. One day a week at the gym is much better than zero, and reading a worthwhile article (like this one!) might pique your appetite for more. Whatever your baby step is, keep expanding on it until you’re an early rising, iron-pumping, and well-read machine!

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¹ “10 Reasons to Get More Sleep,” Joe Leech, Healthline, Jan 6, 2022, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important

² “9 habits of highly successful people, from a man who spent 5 years studying them,” Marguerite Ward, CNBC Make It, Mar 28, 2017 https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/28/9-habits-of-highly-successful-people.html

³ “The Top 10 Benefits of Regular Exercise,” Arlene Semeco, Healthline, Dec 14, 2021, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-exercise#section4

⁴ “Here’s Why Your Brain Needs You to Read Every Single Day,” Brandon Specktor, Readers Digest, Mar 30, 2022, https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/benefits-of-reading/

Why Retirees Are Going Bankrupt

May 16, 2022

Why Retirees Are Going Bankrupt

“Bankruptcy” and “retirement” are words that shouldn’t belong in the same sentence.

But it’s become an increasingly common phenomenon—12.2% of bankruptcies in 2018 were filed by people over 65, up from 2.1% in 1991.¹

What’s driving this unexpected trend? The collapse of pensions and the lack of savings by people nearing retirement age are the two primary culprits.

The pension problem is relatively straightforward. In the past, pensions were pretty much a given—a common benefit that companies provided to their employees as part of their compensation package. Employees would work a set number of years, and then receive a monthly check from their employers upon retirement.

But in recent years, pensions have all but disappeared. Today, only 15% of workers have access to a pension plan.²

That alone isn’t enough to fuel the increase in bankruptcies among retirees. After all, workers now have access to 401(k)s and 403(b)s, which can help replace pensions to some extent.

The problem is that most people nearing retirement age don’t have enough saved up in these accounts to support themselves. In fact, the median retirement account balance for baby boomers (age 57-75) is just $202,000.3 Using the 4% rule, that’s a retirement income of about $8,000 per year, well below the poverty line.

Is it any wonder then that retirees are going bankrupt? They go from having a stable income to having almost no income at all, and they don’t have enough saved up to cover the basics. What are they supposed to do when the medical bills start piling up or the car needs repairs?

If you’re approaching retirement age, don’t become a statistic. Meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional ASAP to discuss your retirement options and see what steps you might need to take now to support yourself.

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¹ “Retirees and Bankruptcy,” Bill Fay, Debt.org, Sep 30, 2021, https://www.debt.org/retirement/bankruptcy/

² “The Demise of the Defined-Benefit Plan,” James McWhinney, Investopedia, Dec 18, 2021, investopedia.com/articles/retirement/06/demiseofdbplan.asp

³ “Average Retirement Savings for Baby Boomers,” Lee Huffman, Yahoo, Apr 10, 2022, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/average-retirement-savings-baby-boomers-125500443.html#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Transamerica%20Center,income%20of%20%248%2C000%20per%20year

An Introduction to Crowdfunded Real Estate

May 11, 2022

An Introduction to Crowdfunded Real Estate

Home tours and late night toilet repairs.

That’s what most people think of when they hear the words “real estate.” You’re either an agent or a landlord. You’re either selling homes, or fixing up diamonds in the rough and renting them out.

But you probably don’t think of the word “app.” At least, not yet.

That’s because there’s a new way of owning real estate—crowdfunding.

Here’s how it works…

You’ve probably noticed that real estate is wildly expensive. Even before the housing insanity of 2021, few had the cash to buy land, homes, or commercial lots outright. The traditional method to get around this was to take out a loan. It was a barrier that limited real estate to either financial institutions, the wealthy, or scrappy home flippers.

But what if you could team up with dozens of other people to buy a property? Say you and twenty people pitched in on a home in a promising neighborhood with good schools. You split the rental income, and when the home gets sold, you cash your share of the profits.

Suddenly, real estate is far less intimidating—you can pool your resources with others to buy a stake in a property, without shouldering all the risk or responsibility yourself.

But that’s not all. If enough people pitch in, you could hypothetically start buying apartment complexes, supermarkets, even a skyscraper!

That’s the power of crowdfunding.

And recently, it’s taken off. The past few years have seen a surge in online real estate crowdfunding platforms.

The model is simple. You give the platform money, either as a lump sum or monthly deposit. They use your money to buy promising properties. You get dividends and appreciation. They get a fee for managing your money.

And for many platforms, you can simply download an app and make decisions about how much you want to contribute and see how your properties are performing from your phone.

Let’s be clear—this is NOT a recommendation to start crowdfunding real estate purchases. Far from it. It’s still a new industry which is relatively untested. As with all financial decisions, it’s best to consult with a licensed and qualified financial professional first.

But it’s worth knowing about this new way of owning property. Only time will tell if it becomes a staple of wealth-building strategies, or if it fizzles out.

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Stop Hitting Yourself!

May 9, 2022

Stop Hitting Yourself!

There are two powerful emotions that come with self sabotage.

The first is that freeing feeling of “who cares?” That’s what pops up when you see that perfect dress with the staggering price tag but still reach for your credit card. It’s a rush.

The second is that sinking feeling of “I can’t believe I did this again.” That’s what pops up when you get that mind-boggling credit card bill at the end of the month. It can be crushing.

And then you go through the same old routine—you swear off the plastic, promise yourself that this time will be different. And it works… for a little while. But your willpower grows thin. Suddenly, there’s another shiny trinket on your screen and you just. Can’t. Resist.

Oops, you did it again.

It’s a vicious cycle, and it can feel like you’re stuck in quicksand. But there is a way out.

The first step is recognizing that self sabotage is a form of negative reinforcement. In other words, you’re doing it because you—and others—tell yourself it’s just a part of you and you can’t help it.

For instance, what thoughts run through your head when you self sabotage? Do you think, “Gee, I made another mistake. Thank goodness my actions don’t define me, and I’ll get through this. I am capable of changing my behavior.”

Or do you think, “I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I did that again. I guess I’m just fundamentally flawed and doomed to repeat this over and over again.”

For many, it’s the latter. And that narrative condemns you to self sabotage, even if you would love to do things differently.

Think about it. This line of thinking reinforces that you can’t change, even though you sharply feel the consequences of your actions. It implies that you’re helpless. And if that’s what you tell yourself, is it any surprise if that becomes the narrative of your life?

So what do you need? A better story.

The key to breaking out of the cycle of self sabotage is changing your mindset. You need to think about yourself in a different way—a way that empowers you and gives you control over your actions.

Instead of thinking “I’m a flawed person who will always make mistakes,” think “I am human and I will make mistakes. But I can also choose differently. I just need to do it.”

And the best part about it? You’ll finally start telling yourself the truth. You are capable of change. You just made a mistake. And there’s no reason that you have to keep making them.

So the next time you find yourself hitting yourself for another financial slip up, stop for a moment and ask yourself—what story am I telling myself about myself? Is it limiting? Or is it the truth?

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How Insurance Companies Stay In Business

May 4, 2022

How Insurance Companies Stay In Business

Here’s a mystery—how in the world do insurance companies stay in business?

After all, their business model seems… odd. Their main product is cold, hard cash. In some cases, those payouts are substantial—for life insurance, it’s recommended that people buy 10X their annual income. That can mean payouts of well over $500,000. That’s a huge chunk of cash! The premiums you pay over your lifetime likely don’t even scratch the surface of that amount.

So what’s the secret? The answer is minimizing risk. Here’s how it works…

Let’s say you run a mom-and-pop life insurance company. You find 20 clients, and charge them each a $100 monthly premium for $500,000 of protection.

Your business earns $24,000 per year, and for the first five years it’s smooth sailing.

But what would happen if just one of your clients died? Suddenly, you would have to pay out $500,000. And unless you had some other income, that would mean the end of your business.

Here’s an even scarier proposition—what if you decided to exclusively market towards the elderly? And what if two of them died in quick succession? Suddenly, you’re on the hook for a million dollars, and your business is toast.

This is why insurance companies are so risk-averse. They have to be, or they’ll go bankrupt.

Their solution? They evaluate every person they insure. Actuaries plug the amount of coverage, age, history, health, and even the zip code of prospective customers into complex algorithms to determine their risk level. It’s why life insurance is often vastly more expensive for smokers than non-smokers—their risk of death is simply higher.

Then, the actuaries hand the results to underwriters who determine the premium amount.

Let’s consider your hypothetical business again—this time with proper risk protection.

You still have 20 customers, each with $500,000 of protection. But now, you’ve evaluated each customer for risk, and adjusted their premiums.

You charge 5 clients $100 per month, 5 clients $250 per month, and 10 clients $400 per month. Plus, you’ve had to decline serving the highest risk customers. Now, you’re earning $69,000 annually. And because of your new qualification process, you don’t have to make your first payout for 10 years. Now, you can easily cover the cost, with some to spare!

And as you expand your client base, you’ll have a larger and larger pool of low-risk customers to help offset the cost of payouts for the high-risk ones.

This is the secret to how insurance companies stay in business. By carefully evaluating and managing risk, they can keep their costs low, and ensure they have the cash on hand to make payouts when needed.

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A Simple Trick to Turbocharge Your Productivity

A Simple Trick to Turbocharge Your Productivity

Today’s productivity lesson is brought to you by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

As the commander of the Allied forces in WWII and president of the United States during the Cold War, his time was at a premium. And among his greatest challenges was discerning between the urgent and the important. When reflecting on his years of leadership, he said,

“… Whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.”¹

Lots of little fires can distract from the overarching goal. Sound familiar?

That’s where the concept of the Eisenhower Productivity Matrix comes from. It’s a simple tool to help you prioritize your focus on what really matters—your goals.

Here’s how it works…

Write four headers on a piece of paper:

Important and urgent

Unimportant and urgent

Important and not urgent

Unimportant and not urgent

Typically, this is done on a square like this…

But it also works if you leave it in list form.

Now, add tasks to each category.

Delivering that time-sensitive and critical document to your client? That’s important and urgent.

Positioning yourself to ask for a raise next year? Important, but not urgent—there’s no impending deadline for getting it done.

Restocking the office goodie bowl with treats for an unexpected client visit? Urgent, but not important—there’s a hard deadline, but there are likely more significant tasks on your to-do list.

Color coding your sticky-note drawer? Unimportant and not urgent (and you know it)!

Once you’ve got all your tasks written down, it’s time to start working.

Start with the tasks in the important and urgent category. These are your top priorities.

Then move on to the tasks in the important and not urgent category. These can be scheduled for later, but they’re still crucial to your success.

Here’s your secret sauce: The tasks that are unimportant but urgent can be delegated. This is what interns, newbies, assistants, and third-party contractors are for!

A big stress reliever can be to just delete unimportant and not urgent tasks. These are distractions from knocking out items in the other categories unless you have nothing else on your plate.

The Eisenhower Productivity Matrix is a powerful tool because it can help you see the big picture. It allows you to focus your attention on what’s truly necessary to accomplish, and it gives you permission to let go of the rest without feeling like you’re dropping the ball.

So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, try using the Eisenhower Productivity Matrix to regain a sense of clarity. It may be what you need to refocus on making your vision become a reality.

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¹ “Is Eisenhower a Productivity Myth?” Brian Dordevic, Alpha Efficiency, https://alphaefficiency.com/eisenhower-productivity-myth

Time Inconsistency and Your Budget

Time Inconsistency and Your Budget

“Next week, I’ll start budgeting,” you say as you swipe your card for the third time today.

You would have started this week, but that door-busting sale on patio furniture was just too sweet to resist. “Don’t worry,” you say to yourself, “I have the budget template ready in Google Docs. New week, new me!”

But here’s the rub—why will your actions in the future be any different than your actions in the present? Barring a traumatic or unforeseen event, you’ll be facing the exact same emotions and circumstances next Monday that you’re facing today. If you’re not budgeting now, why would you budget then?

What you’re doing is delegating a present responsibility to future you, banking that—checks notes—that version of you will have the focus and self-control to take budgeting seriously.

It’s one of the oldest blunders in the book. It’s why everyone tells themselves that this relationship will be different, this cigarette will be their last, this diet will be THE diet, etc., etc.

In behavioral economics, this mental glitch is called “time inconsistency”. It’s the recognition that people won’t act rationally in the moment, even if they predict they will.

There are two ways to handle time inconsistency—the naive approach, and the sophisticated approach.

The naive approach involves thinking you’ll always follow through on your commitments, no matter how you feel in the moment. You swipe the credit card again, confident that next week you’ll start budgeting.

The sophisticated approach requires acceptance—future you probably won’t make different decisions than present you. There’s only one way out…

DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT, NOW.

Trying to quit smoking? Go to the store right now and buy nicotine gum, and throw all your cigarette packs into the trash.

Trying to diet? Make a bet with a friend today that you’ll stick to your plan for the next 6 months.

Trying to budget? Sit down in front of the computer, download a budgeting template or app, and get it done.

Become the person you want to be, right now. It’s the only way to escape time inconsistency.

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Lessons From the Super Frugal

April 25, 2022

Lessons From the Super Frugal

The world of the super frugal can be an overwhelming place.

In a sense, it’s inspiring. The creativity and grit of the super frugal are sure to put a grin on your face. You may even find a few fun money saving projects that are worth your time. Saving money with french toast? Sign me up!

However, there’s a fine line between inspiring and weird, and the super frugal sometimes cross that line. Could reusing a plastic lid as a paint palette save you money? Sure! The same is true for bartering with store clerks. Will you get funny looks? Almost certainly.

It’s not that funny looks are bad. There’s wisdom to defying the crowd and marching to the beat of your own drum. But sometimes there’s a good reason to raise an eyebrow at super frugality…

That’s because it can miss the point.

Your financial top priority must always be providing for those you love. In this day and age, that means building wealth.

Some people may need extreme measures to do that. Let’s say you have deep credit card debt or a spending problem. Coupon clipping, saving on utilities, and thrifting may help you knock that debt out faster and free up the cash flow you need to start building wealth.

But don’t mistake the means for the end. Obsessing over coupons, stressing over recycling, and cutting too many corners can reach unhealthy and even pathological extremes. That doesn’t create wealth and prosperity—it can just cause more suffering.

So take lessons from the super frugal. Find a few money savings projects that you enjoy. Maybe do a spending cleanse. But keep your eye on the ultimate prize—building wealth for you and your family.

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Are You Ready?

April 20, 2022

Are You Ready?

It’s not a question if buying is better than renting. It’s a question of when you’ll be ready to buy.

That’s because rent money is lost to your landlord forever.

A homeowner, though, has the chance for the value of their house to increase. It may not be an earth-shattering return, but there’s a far higher chance that you’ll at least break even from owning than renting.

Even with its advantages, owning a home isn’t for everyone… at least, not yet. Here are a few criteria to consider before becoming a homeowner.

You’re ready to put down roots. If you’re not yet prepared to live in one place for at least five years, home ownership may not be for you.

Why? Because buying and selling a home comes with costs. As a rule of thumb, waiting five years can allow your home to appreciate enough value to offset those expenses.

So before you buy a home, be sure that you’ve done your homework. Will your job require you to change locations in the next five years? Will local schools stay up to par as your family grows? If you’re confident that you’ll stay put for the next five years or more, go ahead and start planning.

You can cover the upfront costs of home ownership. The upfront costs of buying a home, as mentioned above, are no laughing matter. They may prove a barrier to entry if you haven’t been saving up.

The greatest upfront costs you’ll face are the down payment and closing costs. A down payment is usually a percentage of the total purchase price of your home—for instance, a home priced at $200,000 might require a 20% down payment, or $40,000.

Closing costs vary from state to state, with averages ranging from $1,909 in Indianna to $25,800 in the District of Columbia.¹ These include fees to the lender and property transfer taxes.

The takeaway? Start saving to cover the upfront costs of purchasing a home well in advance. Your bank account will thank you!

You can handle the maintenance costs of home ownership. Say what you will about landlords, but at least they don’t charge you for home repairs and maintenance!

That all changes when you become a homeowner. Every little ding, scratch, and flooded basement are your responsibility to cover. It all adds up to over $2,000 per year, though that figure will vary depending on the size and age of your home.² If you haven’t factored in those expenses, your cash flow—as well as your airflow—might be in for trouble!

Do you have residual debt to deal with? The great danger of debt is that it destabilizes your finances. It dries up precious cash flow needed to cover emergency expenses and build wealth.

That’s why throwing a mortgage on top of a high student loan or credit card debt burden can be a blunder. You might be able to cover costs on paper, but you risk stretching your cash flow to take care of any unplanned emergencies.

In conclusion, owning a home is an admirable goal. But it may not be for you and your family yet! Take a long look at your finances and life-stage before making a purchase that could become a source of stress instead of stability.

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¹ “Average Closing Costs in 2020: What Will You Pay?” Amy Fontinelle, The Ascent, Sept 28, 2020, https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/research/average-closing-costs/

² “How Much Should You Budget for Home Maintenance?” American Family Insurance, https://www.amfam.com/resources/articles/at-home/average-home-maintenance-costs

The Science Backed Strategy to Feel Happier in 15 Minutes

The Science Backed Strategy to Feel Happier in 15 Minutes

Need a quick mood boost? Write a gratitude letter.

It’s easy. Think of a person who’s made a real difference in your life. Sit down at a desk with a piece of paper and a pen. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Share as much detail as you can about what this person did for you, the difference it’s made in your life, and how grateful you are for them.

Why? Because writing about what you’re grateful for has been shown to improve mental health. One study found that participants who wrote gratitude letters before their first visit with a counselor experience better outcomes than those who didn’t.1

The participants in the study didn’t even have to deliver the letters. The act of writing them was enough to experience benefits.

But if you want to supercharge your well-being, deliver the letter in person. Better yet, read it out loud to the recipient. It’s been proven to boost happiness for one to three months.² Seems strange, right? What if reading the letter out loud is… weird?

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be weird. If you can write the letter with sincerity and without any expectations, the person receiving it will likely feel touched, appreciated, and supported—all of which are great for their well-being, too.

So go ahead and give it a try! The next time you’re feeling down, write a letter of gratitude. It might just be the best 15 minutes you spend all day.

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¹ “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain,” Joshua Brown, Joel Wong, Greater Good Magazine, Jun 6, 2017 https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

² “My Life Is Awesome, so Why Can’t I Enjoy It?” Laurie R. Santos, The Aspen Institute, Jun 24, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EimJNJXcta4&t=1422s

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