When Can You Splurge

When Can You Splurge?

We all have things we enjoy, and the question of when can you splurge has unique financial planning considerations. We probably think about these choices, consciously or subconsciously, every day. And while I don’t think there can be a hard and fast rule, there are some things to consider. Once we start peeling back the proverbial onion, there are many psychological layers to this question. We all have a relationship with money. It is based on our experiences, upbringing, and innate preferences. The question isn’t just When can you splurge? It is How can you have a better, more effective relationship with your money?

“Money makes a terrible master but an excellent servant”

P.T. Barnum

First, let’s define what we mean by splurge. Clearly, your normal living expenses should not count as a splurge. But, even this is problematic. There are many Americans who have adopted a lifestyle which they cannot afford. Their choice of housing, cars, vacations, clothes, etc. consumes all of their income. And then when an emergency does occur, it has to go on the credit card. They end up in debt and there is no way to pay off those debts with their current consumption. They don’t see that they are splurging already, and spending in an out of control manner. Read more: Machiavelli and Happiness in an Age of Materialism.

A definition of splurge as “to spend money freely or extravagantly, especially on something special as a way to make yourself feel good.” Most definitions imply wastefulness and vanity. But I also think that occasionally being able to spend money on things which you enjoy is a great freedom. We all may have interests which make no sense to others. Perhaps it is cars, or watches, or shoes, or a boat. To us, it is the realization of a dream. To someone else, it would be a waste of money. That’s okay. The blue car pictured above is my splurge from this March. Maybe that doesn’t do anything for you. For me, a lightweight sports car with a manual transmission is a joy.

When Not to Splurge

Let’s begin by laying down a few prerequisites for a splurge. Perhaps it is easiest to think of these as a checklist:

  1. Can you pay in Cash? Or would this splurge be funded by credit card debt? If you don’t have the cash to purchase an item, maybe you should hold off until you can afford it.
  2. Do you have an emergency fund with at least 3-6 months of living expenses?
  3. Are you funding accounts for your long-term goals? For example, a 401(k) or IRA for retirement, a savings account for a house down payment, or a 529 plan for your kid’s college.

If you can pass these three prerequisites, then the splurge is not going to hurt you. After all, we don’t want to look back on our splurges with regret and be angry that we made a mistake. Number one, credit cards, also suggests that if you presently have a lot of credit card debt, you should not splurge. You should prioritize paying off your cards, first. How much should you save for number three? If you are in your 20’s and are currently saving at least 12% towards your 401(k), I think you are off to a good start. If you got a late start, you may need to save more than 12% to be prepared for retirement. Read more: What percentage should you save?

Start with a Plan

My purpose as a Financial Planner is to help you be smart with your money. Our ultimate goal is to make sure you achieve your financial goals. With that in mind, we are always looking to design long-term diversified investment strategies built within a planning process. We are always looking for the most cost-efficient, high-value ways to manage your money.

The beauty of the plan is that it creates awareness and a process for change. For some individuals, that may mean establishing automatic savings programs to fulfill your needs for retirement, debt management, house goals, college savings, etc. We can break down each goal into a monthly target and set it on auto-pilot. Read more: Do You Hate Saving Money?

For others, a plan can show them that they are on track. Because many people are afraid to splurge. And I am writing for them, too. Yes, there are people who need to splurge less. But there are also people who need to splurge more.

If your relationship to money is centered on fear, anxiety, and regret, you are carrying a terrible amount of stress with you at all times. This is a scarcity mentality, which is psychologically harmful. It impacts your behavior and hurts your satisfaction. In one study, adults who had a positive attitude about aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with a negative mindset. Your thoughts matter! Read more: 5 Ways to Go From A Scarcity to Abundance Mindset.

Your plan will let you know how much you can splurge and give you the confidence that you aren’t doing anything to hurt your future self. Maturity is often defined as the ability to delay gratification. We all need to save for the future. Still, splurging doesn’t require that we have already accomplished all our goals! Only that we are presently taking the steps necessary to get us there. If you want to feel more confident about your splurge, start with your financial plan. Otherwise, how do you know?

But Should You Splurge?

Still not sure if a splurge is a good idea? Afraid you will regret a big purchase? A few last thoughts.

  1. Avoid impulse buys. Shopping as therapy for stress, boredom, or other problems is only a band-aid. Find a better solution. Talk to a friend, go for a walk, do something that makes you feel better and actually addresses the emotional need.
  2. Could this be easily reversed? Some items hold their value. If you buy an item for $3,000 and could resell it in a couple of years for $3,000, it’s a fairly low risk proposition. And if it brings you joy, then why not.
  3. Have you shopped around and done your research? Can you buy used or find an alternative? A splurge doesn’t have to be reckless; see if you can find a great deal.
  4. Do you have a bucket list of experiences that you’d like to do and and see? A splurge can also be a trip or event, and it is healthy to spend on creating memories and not simply buying more things. We only get so many trips around the sun. Our time here will go quickly and it is finite. 10 years from now, you may still smile when you think about that epic vacation to Machu Picchu. You probably aren’t going to be thinking about what it cost because in the long run, it didn’t matter.
  5. An itch needs to be scratched. Sometimes, an idea takes hold and we simply need to do something. If it doesn’t go away, maybe we will be richer as a person for having allowed ourselves to live a little more freely. What is the worst that will happen if you do this one splurge?

Intention, Choice, and Balance

Money is a great tool to lead a satisfying and interesting life. We all know that more things can’t bring you happiness. And we all know someone who spends too much and rationalizes it as “self-care”. How can you find a balance? At the one extreme, many Americans are not saving anything and are two paychecks away from being broke. At the other extreme, there are hoarders who are paralyzed with fear of spending and losing their money. I’m a frugal person, but this can be taken too far.

Choose what is truly important to your life. Don’t let others decide for you what is a good use of your money. But be smart. Start with a plan and cover your bases. When you have your savings plan established, be intentional with your spending so your choices align with your goals. By that I mean, don’t just spend blindly, splurge in ways that are meaningful to you. Maybe bonding on a family vacation is more important than upgrading your car this year. Maybe keeping your housing costs reasonable will allow you to spend on other priorities. The balance is deciding where to splurge and where to not spend your money. The right balance is to splurge neither too much, nor too little. Never splurge to keep up with the Joneses.

When can you splurge? I’m not going to show you the compound interest on a daily cup of Starbucks. I’m not interested in slapping people on the wrist to make them feel bad about how they spend their money. I believe you can align the head and the heart on your spending. When you have invested time and energy into your financial plan, you will have earned the confidence to know when you can splurge. Then, giving yourself permission to splurge will not be from weakness, but to help you live the life you truly want.

How to Save More Money

How to Save More Money

Growing your net worth is the product of saving and investing. Sometimes, we assume this means we have to slash our spending to be able to save more. Sure, you want to have awareness and planning regarding your spending. But it’s not much fun to give up coffee or never take a vacation. There has to be a balance between sensible spending and your saving goals.

Luckily, there is another way to increase your savings rate: earn more. Especially for younger investors, as your income grows you will find that you can easily save more. This may take a number of years. But, as your career takes off, your income may increase at a double digit rate during your twenties and thirties.

So, don’t despair if you cannot save as much as you would like today! Focus on growing your career and increasing your income. Saving will get easier.

Hold Your Spending Steady

As you get promotions and raises, avoid the temptation to keep up with the Joneses. You will see friends and classmates who are buying fancy cars and huge houses. Good for them! But what you might not see is how much debt they have, how little they save, or their net worth. You won’t know how stressed they are about their finances. They may be two paychecks away from being broke.

Hopefully, your current lifestyle is enjoyable and you find happiness in your relationships and the things you do. Getting more expensive things is not likely to create lasting satisfaction. The temporary, but fleeting, pleasure from consumption is known as The Hedonic Treadmill. If your priority is becoming financially independent, using a raise or bonus to save more is a better choice than spending it.

Put Your Savings On Autopilot

As your income grows, save your raises. Establish recurring deposits to your retirement plans and other accounts, and increase them annually. If take this step when you receive a raise, you will not miss the extra money. Skip increasing your monthly savings, and you probably aren’t going to have extra money leftover at the end of the year. If it’s in your checking account, you will spend it!

For couples, a joint income is a tremendous opportunity. If you can live off of one salary and save the second salary, you will grow your wealth at an amazing rate. In some cases, this could literally be saving one of your paychecks. Or, it may make more sense to participate in both of your 401(k) plans, and save the equivalent of one salary.

Multiple Sources of Income

Given the economic fallout from Coronavirus, many people aren’t getting a raise this year. A lot of us are seeing that our 2020 income will be lower than 2019. Hopefully, this will be temporary, but there are lessons to be learned. It is a risk to have all your eggs in one basket with one job. If you lose that job, you’re really in trouble.

As an entrepreneur, I have always had multiple sources of income. My financial planning business is diversified across a number of clients. I also sell insurance. I make music in a couple of orchestras and teach a few lessons on the side. Some of it is small, but having multiple sources of income gives me flexibility and safety.

Have you considered finding a side hustle, second income, part-time business, or online gig? Find something you enjoy and make it into a business. Find something people need and provide that service. You never know where that part-time work might take you. Maybe someday it will allow you to retire early or be your own boss! In the mean time, use your additional income to save more and build up your investment portfolio. Don’t give up your time just for the sake of buying more things.

How and Where to Save More

How much should you save? If you are saving 15% of your income, you’re doing way better than most people in America. Start at a young age, and a 15% savings rate will likely put you in a very comfortable position by retirement age. For those who are more ambitious, or just impatient like me, aim to save more than 15%. You could be putting $19,500 into your 401(k) each year ($26,000 if over age 50).

And you might be eligible for an IRA, too, depending on your income. Or, consider a taxable account, Health Savings Account (HSA), or 529 College Savings Plan. There are lots of places you could be saving! Put your savings on autopilot with recurring deposits to your retirement plans and other accounts. If take this step when you receive a raise, you will not miss the extra money, but you will be growing your wealth faster.

Do you need a reason to save more? The sooner you save, the faster you can achieve financial freedom. Even if you enjoy your work, it’s great to have the means to not have to worry about your job.

You can save more by spending less. That’s true, but you can only eliminate an expense once. Most people will have some tolerance for cutting costs, but austerity is no fun. Focus on increasing your income, hold your expenses steady, and increase your monthly savings. Put your energy into building your career, and aim for a high income. Couples have a great ability to save, if they can aim to live off one income. Look for creating a second or third income stream. A lot of the wealthy people I know have an entrepreneurial mindset. They have multiple income streams.

As your earnings grow, you will be able to save more and invest more. Most of my newsletters deal with investing, tax, or planning questions. But those benefits only accrue after you’ve done the first step of saving that money. It’s not how much you make that matters, but how much you keep!

Stock Crash Pattern

Stock Crash Pattern

There is a stock crash pattern which is playing out in 2020. We’ve seen this before. We saw it in 2008-2009 with the mortgage crisis, in 2000 with the Tech bubble, and in 1987. The cause of every crash is different, but I’d like you to consider that the way each crash occurs and recovers is similar. Let’s learn from history. What worked for investors in 2000 and 2008 to recover?

I don’t believe in the value of forecasts, and no one can predict how long the Coronavirus will last. This week, things are getting worse, not better. Truthfully, a market bottom could be weeks or months away. No one can predict this, yet it’s human nature to seek certainty and guarantees.

Once we accept that we cannot predict the future, what should we do? I believe the answer is to study what has worked best in the past. That is what we plan to do here at Good Life Wealth Management for our client portfolios. Here’s our playbook.

Stock Crash Pattern Steps

  1. Don’t sell. I had clients who sold in November of 2008 and March of 2009. Luckily, we got them back into the market within a few months. Unfortunately, they still missed out on a substantial part of the initial recovery. The initial recovery will likely be very rapid. We aren’t going to try to time the market.
  2. Rebalance. In our initial financial planning process, we examine each client’s risk tolerance and risk capacity. This leads to a target asset allocation, such as 50/50 or 70/30. Because stocks have fallen so far, a 60/40 portfolio might be closer to 50/50 today. Rebalancing will sell bonds and buy stocks to return to the target allocation. This process is a built-in way to buy low and sell high. (Selling today would be selling low. It’s too late for that.)
  3. Diversify. The investors who have concentrated positions in one stock, one sector, or country jeopardize their ability to recover. Some stocks might not make it out of this recession. Some sectors will remain depressed. Don’t try to pick the winners and losers here. We know that when the recovery does occur, an index fund will give us the diversification and broad exposure we want.
  4. Tax loss harvest. If you have a taxable account, sell losses and immediately replace those positions with a different fund. For example, we might sell a Vanguard US Large Cap fund and replace it with a SPDR US Large Cap fund. Or vice versa. The result is the same allocation, but we have captured a tax loss to offset future gains. Losses carry forward indefinitely and you can use $3,000 a year of losses against ordinary income. Tax loss harvesting adds value.
  5. Stay disciplined, keep moving forward. When it feels like the plan isn’t working, it’s natural to question if you should abandon ship. Unfortunately, we know from past crashes that selling just locks in your loss. Instead, keep contributing to your 401(k) and IRAs, and invest that money as usual.

This Time Is Different

The most dangerous sentence in investing is This time is different. It isn’t true in Bull Markets and it isn’t true in Bear Markets. In the midst of a crash, people abandon hope and feel completely defeated. Maybe you will feel that way, maybe you already feel that way. Maybe you are thinking that this is the Zombie Apocalypse and all stocks are going to zero.

What history shows is that all past crashes have recovered and led to new highs. If you’re going to invest, this is what you have to believe. Even though things are terrible right now, if you think that this time there will be no recovery, I think you will be making a mistake.

The stock market will continue to go down for as long as there are more sellers than buyers. Panic selling is the driver, not fundamentals. No one knows how long that will take. Eventually, we will reach a point of capitulation, when all the sellers will have thrown in the towel. That will be the bottom, visible only in hindsight.

My recommendation is to study past crashes, not for the causes, but to see the charts of the recoveries. I believe that 2020 will have a similar stock crash pattern to 2008, 2000, and previous crashes. We don’t know how long this takes or how deep it goes, but we do know what behavior worked in past crashes.

We have a plan, and I have faith in the plan. Things may be ugly for a while, probably a lot longer than we’d like. All we can control is our response. Let’s make sure that response is based on logic and history, and have faith in the pattern and process.

Investing involves risk of loss. Diversification and dollar cost averaging cannot guarantee a profit.

2020 Stock Market Crash

2020 Stock Market Crash

This month will likely be called the 2020 Stock Market Crash in the years ahead. Investopedia defines a crash as a double digit drop over a few days as the result of a crisis or catastrophic event. A crash typically occurs after a period of speculation which drives stock prices to above average valuations. Panic is a hallmark of a crash, versus a Bear Market. Certainly, we have met the definition of a crash.

Risk is perceived as danger when it occurs, but only in hindsight do we see another definition of risk: opportunity. If you look at the purchases you made in your 401(k) back in 2008 and 2009, you may be astonished by the gains you made at those low prices!

Your emotional response to a crash may be to ask if you should sell. But then you might miss out on today’s opportunities. Even if you are fully invested today, consider these five actions instead of selling.

Five Opportunities

  1. Keep buying. Dollar cost average in your 401(k), IRA or other accounts. The shares you buy at a low price could be your largest future gains. If you have not made your IRA contribution for 2019 or 2020, this might be a good time.
  2. Roth Conversion. Thinking about converting part of your IRA to a Roth? If so, you would now pay 11% less in taxes versus last month. After that, your gains will be tax-free in the Roth.
  3. Rebalance. Hopefully you started with a defined allocation, like 60/40 or 70/30. If that has subsequently gotten off-target, now may be an opportune moment to make rebalancing trades.
  4. Replace low yielding bonds. Look at the SEC Yield of your bond funds. The SEC Yield measures the yield to maturity of a fund’s bonds and subtracts the expense ratio. It is the best measure of expected returns for a bond fund. Bonds can work as portfolio ballast: a way to offset the risk of stocks. If that is your objective, stay safe. Unfortunately, the actual contribution of bonds to your portfolio return is terrible, maybe 2%, or even less than 1% if you own short-term treasuries. Instead, what I find attractive after this crash is Preferred Stocks, non-callable CDs (versus Treasuries of the same duration), and Fixed Annuities. If your SEC Yields are unacceptable consider changes, but proceed with great caution. Above all, avoid trading down from a safe bond to a risky bond just for a higher yield.
  5. Do nothing. Markets go up and down. You have the choice of just ignoring it. Selling on today’s panic is the worst type of market timing, giving into fear. So, take a deep breath and realize that after the crash it is often best to hold.

Work on Your Financial Plan

There’s more to your financial success than just whether the stock market is up or down. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I on track for retirement?
  • Do I have an Estate Plan?
  • Am I prepared for my children’s college education expenses?
  • Have I protected my family with a term life insurance policy? Additionally, are there risks to my career, business, health, or family which I need to address?
  • Do I have a disability and long-term care plan?
  • How am I addressing my charitable goals?
  • Are there additional ways to save on taxes?
  • Should I refinance my mortgage?
  • Am I eligible for a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account?
  • Have I calculated the optimal age to begin Social Security for myself and my spouse?

Don’t let investing in the stock market consume all your attention, because it is only one piece of your financial plan!

Think Long Term

Risk is danger and risk is opportunity. Instead of worrying about this month, imagine that it is 2021 or 2022 and the market has recovered. What would you have wished you had done in the 2020 Stock Market Crash?

Ignoring the panic of the day isn’t easy. Thankfully, a good investor doesn’t have to make predictions about the market going up or down. We can’t control that. The key is managing how you respond when the market is at its worst. Finally, if you know you need work on your financial plan or would benefit from professional advice on managing your portfolio, I am here to help.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Stock market investing involves risk of loss of principal. Dollar cost averaging does not guarantee a gain.

Five Wealth Building Habits

Five Wealth Building Habits

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

– Aristotle

Accumulating wealth and developing financial independence does not happen overnight, but it’s not nearly as complicated as most people think. Good habits create results when consistently applied over time. Today, we are going to talk about how to get on track and create new wealth building habits.

Frankly, most of my clients are already doing these things. That’s why they have money to invest with me. So, I’m not really writing this for them. I meet a lot of people who have a similar level of income, who are intelligent and successful in their own field, but unfortunately, their habits are never going to lead them to become wealthy.   

This past week, I gave four presentations at different companies around Dallas about personal financial planning and estate planning. One of the most common questions was about saving money and creating wealth. I think there are a lot of myths about building wealth that are holding people back from success. We need to dispel those myths and replace old habits with a new habits that create wealth.

Myth 1: You don’t make enough money to become wealthy.

I’ve seen families who become millionaires with incomes under $100,000, and I’ve seen people go bankrupt who make over $300,000. Stop thinking that the problem is that you don’t have enough income. Until you have a savings plan, you are probably going to end up spending everything you earn. Without a savings plan, a raise will only stimulate additional spending.

To be a better saver, look at your biggest expenses. When you make smart choices about your home and car choices, everything else in your budget will fall into place nicely. If you have reached a bit too high for your budget, there is no magic way to save money when your fixed expenses consume all of your income. If you are in over your head with these costs, you need to find a way out. Don’t focus on how much you make, focus on how much you can save.

Habit 1: Wealth Builders are frugal about their two biggest expenses: their house (or rent) and their cars. They view these as expenses, not as investments or as “lifestyle” choices they deserve.
Read more: Rethink Your Car Expenses

Myth 2: You can’t save right now.

You’ve got student loans. You’ve got young children. You need to save for a down payment. You need to pay down your mortgage first. You’ve got a kid about to start college.

There’s always an excuse why people aren’t saving and investing today. But there’s never going to be a “green light” where you will feel that it is easy to invest.

Habit 2: Wealth Builders put their investing on autopilot.

First: establish an emergency fund with at least three months of living expenses. Pay off your credit cards so you do not carry a balance or pay any interest expenses. Then establish automatic monthly deposits into an account for each of your financial goals: 

  • a 401(k) or IRA for Retirement
  • a bank account for your next car purchase
  • a 529 Plan for your child’s college education

It doesn’t matter if you start small. If all you can afford today is $50 or $100 a month, just get started and don’t wait. When the money comes out automatically, you won’t miss it. As you are able, increase your monthly contributions. Your eventual goal is to save at least 15% of your income. Can you get there in a year or two? Calculate how much this is and get started. If you have to adjust later, that’s okay. Don’t wait another day, because that day could turn into years. Wealth building habits need to be easy, and it doesn’t get any easier than automatic.

Read more: Don’t Budget, Focus on Saving

Myth 3: Things will take care of themselves.

You’re not worried. Time is on your side. You’ve got other things to deal with. It can wait.

Yikes. Get your head out of the sand. You can do this. Educate yourself about investing. 

While I encounter an attitude of denial sometimes with younger investors, it is not just Millennials who think this way. In fact, I think a lot of Millennials are proving to be much smarter than previous generations about materialism, credit card usage, and their life goals. 

What scares me more are older entrepreneurs who tell me that their business is their retirement plan and that their company is the best investment. Great, how many times have you built and sold a company for over a million dollars? Never done that? What is your exit strategy? It’s not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, and the successful entrepreneurs I know build a positive cash flow business which creates personal wealth in addition to their ownership value of the company.

Habit 3: Wealth builders educate themselves about their finances, are organized, and track their net worth. 

Read more: buy this book, it’s the best investment primer I have read.

The Cost of Waiting from 25 to 35

Myth 4: You have to become an expert in the stock market to be successful.

Day trading. Penny stocks. Cryptocurrency. Stock options. Commodity futures. Hedge funds.

You don’t need any of these things to become wealthy. You don’t have to read the Wall Street Journal everyday, watch CNBC for hours, or spend your weekends pouring over spreadsheets or stock reports. In fact, trying to beat the stock market is not only exceedingly difficult and unlikely to achieve, it often creates unnecessary risk in the process. The antidote is simple: 

Habit 4: Wealth Builders buy Index Funds. 

Buying the whole market gives you diversification, low cost, and tax efficiency. Evidence consistently shows the benefits of using an index approach. And you don’t have to be an expert, or become a stock trader, to use Index Funds.

Read more: Manager Risk: Avoidable and Unnecessary

Myth 5: Your best bet is to do it yourself.

We can all agree that no one cares more