Your Goals for 2019

Welcome to 2019! A new year brings a fresh chance to accomplish your goals. Maybe you’re dreaming that this will be the year you buy your first home. Maybe you’ve realized that your kids are one year closer to college and it’s time you start preparing. Maybe this is the year you want to exit from your current job so you can spend more time doing the things you love.

Even if your goals are further out than 2019, by December 31 of this year, you can either be several steps closer to achieving those goals, or you can sit right where you are today and risk that they will remain forever out of reach. Time stands still for no one. This is the only chance to do 2019 before it is gone forever.

Many of your goals have a financial component. Whether it is becoming a home owner, paying off your student loans, getting married, saving for a college education, planning for your retirement, or supporting your favorite charity, we can help you achieve your goals. The objective of our financial planning is not to own a bunch of stocks and bonds or get a nice tax break, it is about finding an effective, efficient, and logical way to help you accomplish your life’s goals.

We love when someone has a concrete, specific objective. When you truly embrace an important goal, there is ample reason to find the discipline for whatever steps are needed to achieve your objectives. I can tell you all about the benefits of a Roth IRA or a 529 College Savings Plan, but if that doesn’t fit into your needs, all my words are worthless. The “why” has to be there first, before we can get excited about “how” we are going to do it.

If you have goals that you want to accomplish in 2019 – or 2020 or 2029 – I’d like to invite you to join us and become a client of Good Life Wealth Management today. We serve smart investors who value personalized advice centered on their goals.

I’d welcome the opportunity to share our approach and allow you to consider whether it would be a good fit for you and your family. 

  • Our process focuses on planning first – we want to fully understand your goals and needs before we make any kind of recommendation. You would think this would be universal, but believe me, most of the financial industry has a product that they want to sell you before they have even met you. (Read our 13 Guiding Beliefs.)
  • We have no investment minimums. Younger professionals have financial goals and complex, competing objectives (hello, student loans!) even if they haven’t started investing or only have a small balance in a 401(k). We think helping young professionals build a strong financial foundation is important work. This is our Wealth Builder Program.
  • I’ve been a financial planner for 15 years and hold the Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Financial Analyst designations. Professional expertise and deep investment experience should be a given if you’re seeking financial advice. (More about Scott.)
  • Having your own plan means that you have taken an objective measure of where you are today, that we have created specific goals and objectives, and that we identify and implement steps to achieve those goals. While this is often savings and investment based, we’re going to evaluate your whole financial picture, from taxes and employee benefits to estate planning and life insurance. Bringing in a professional delivers accountability to a plan and protects you from what you don’t know you don’t know. (Financial Planning Services)
  • We are a Fiduciary, legally required to place client interests ahead of our own. Our fees are easy to understand and transparent. We aim to eliminate conflicts of interest wherever possible and if not possible, reduce and disclose. I invest in our Growth 70/30 model right along with our clients; if I thought there was a better way to invest, we would do that instead. (Skin in the Game)

Successful people – in any field – seek out the help and expertise of others. They surround themselves with knowledgeable professionals, not to abdicate responsibility, but to improve their understanding through asking the right questions. I became a financial planner to help others achieve their goals, and I love my job. For me, it is endlessly interesting and personally rewarding.

You could make a New Year’s resolution about your finances, but I genuinely believe you are more like to have a good outcome if you hire the right advisor who can help guide your journey. If you want 2019 to be the year when you turned your dreams into goals and a plan, then let’s talk about how we can work together.

You CAN Invest in a Taxable Account

I spend a lot of time talking about retirement accounts, and for many Americans, the only stocks they will ever own are in their 401(k) and IRAs. I don’t know why, but many have never even considered investing outside of a retirement account, and a few have even thought it was not possible.

It is a GREAT idea to invest outside of your retirement accounts. Why? Because the contribution limits are so low for IRAs ($5,500) and 401(k) accounts ($18,500). There are a lot of people who put in that amount and then think they can’t do any more investing or that they don’t need to. There’s nothing magical about these amounts. No one is promised that if you save $5,500 a year into an IRA that you will have enough to retire (especially if you are getting a late start). And if you have ambitions to be wealthy, it may take you 30 or 40 years of 401(k) contributions to break the $1 million mark.

While we often talk about the tax benefits of retirement contributions, let’s actually run through the math of an IRA investment and making the same investment in a taxable account. The results may surprise you.

Let’s say you put in $5,000 to a Traditional IRA this year and also deposit $5,000 into a taxable account. In each account, you buy the same investment, such as a S&P 500 ETF, and hold it for 20 years until retirement. Assuming you get an 8% annualized return for those 20 years, in both accounts, your position would have grown to $23,304.79.

At the 20 year mark you withdraw both accounts. What taxes are due?

From the Traditional IRA, the entire withdrawal is treated as ordinary income. You may be in the 24% tax bracket, in which case you would owe $5,593.15 in taxes. That’s pretty painful and the reason why so many retirees hate taking money out of their IRAs and limit their withdrawals to their Required Minimum Distributions.

What about for the taxable account? You started with a $5,000 cost basis, so your taxable gain is $18,304.79. It is a long-term capital gain (more than one year), and will be taxed at the capital gains rate of 15%. Your tax due is $2,745.72. That’s less than half of the tax you’d pay on the withdrawal from the retirement account that you did for the “tax benefit”. Is that IRA a scam?

No, because you also got an upfront tax deduction for the IRA contribution. If you were in the 24% bracket, you would have saved $1,200 in taxes for making that $5,000 contribution. If you subtract the $1,200 in tax savings from $5,593, you still see that your net taxes paid was quite high: $4,393.

However, that is ignoring the time value of money and getting to save that $1,200 now. If you actually invest the $1,200 you saved that year, and have it grow at 8% for 20 years, guess what it grows to? $5593.15. (If you invested this in a retirement account, you will owe 24% in taxes on this gain, or another $1342.)

The key to coming out ahead with doing an IRA versus a taxable account is that you need to actually invest the tax savings you receive in year one. If you just consume that tax savings, instead of saving it, you actually might have been better off instead doing the taxable account where you could receive the lower capital gains rate.

The best solution is to maximize your retirement accounts AND save in a taxable account. If you want to become a millionaire in 10 years, save $5,466 a month. People have ambitious finish lines, but don’t set savings goals that are in line and realistic with their goals. The short-term activity has to match the long-term objectives. Once you are in retirement, it is a great benefit to have different types of accounts – IRAs, Roth, and taxable – to manage your tax liability.

My point is: Don’t be afraid of a taxable account. Retirement accounts are good, but mainly if you are going to save the upfront tax benefit you receive! Today’s ETFs are very tax efficient. While you will likely have dividend distributions of about two percent a year in a US equity ETF, when you reinvest those dividends, you are also increasing your cost basis. If you’re looking to invest in both a retirement and taxable account, let’s talk about how you can do this in the most effective way possible.

Financial Planning In Your Fifties

My hope for every fifty-something investor is that you have by now attained financial independence, where you have enough assets to stop working if you wanted and live off your investments. Most aren’t quite there yet, but if you’re working with me, we have a good idea of your finish line, a quantifiable goal, and the steps needed to get there.

What does scare me is when someone says that they plan to never retire, so this doesn’t matter or apply to them. While it’s natural to wish that time would stand still or that things won’t change, it’s a poor plan to assume that change isn’t going to happen to your life.

I think of a relative who worked for one company for 30 years, until age 59, when they went out of business. He was used to making a certain level of income, which just wasn’t available in his small town, for someone with skills that didn’t easily carryover to other types of business. He was planning to work forever, but it turns out, he wasn’t interested in jobs that paid 50% of his previous salary. He was unemployed for three years, before starting Social Security at age 62.

See: The Boomer’s Guide to Surviving A Lay-Off

For many employees in their fifties and sixties, they want to keep working, but if they lose their job, they discover how tough it is to get another high-paying job in today’s economy. Others leave work due to health issues, or to care for an ailing spouse. The point is that things change. It’s great to work if you want to, but not because you have to. The single-minded goal of every fifty-something investor should be to build their nest egg to where they would be fine if they didn’t work.

1) Prepare your retirement finish line. What size nest egg should you have? At a 4% withdrawal rate, you need 25-times your annual needs. Need $50,000 in withdrawals? Your goal is $1.25 million. Are you there now? How much do you need to save to get there? And while you are at it, download your Social Security statement.

Why 3% withdrawals might be better for retiring early: Can You Retire In Your Fifties?

2) Increase your contributions to catch-up levels. In the calendar year that you turn fifty, you can now contribute an extra $1,000 to an IRA ($6,500 total), and an additional $6,000 to your 401(k) or 403(b) ($24,500 total for 2018). There’s also a $1,000 catch-up for Health Savings Accounts (HSA), but you have to be 55 for the HSA catch-up.

Learn about The Secret Way to Contribute $35,000 to a Roth IRA. 

3) While it’s possible to manage debt into retirement, most people are more confident about their finances when they are debt-free before they retire. I’d suggest you avoid creating new debt in your fifties and consider paying your mortgage off entirely.

4) Many of us are going to need some type of long-term care in the future, especially as life expectancy rises with medical advances. Increasingly, in-home care can allow people in their eighties to remain in their home. Why are we talking about this now? The most cost effective time to buy long-term care insurance is in your fifties to early sixties. You can’t wait until you have a need for care, and then apply for insurance. Instead, we ought to look at creating a pool of funds that could provide this care should you or your spouse need it, decades in the future.

5) Rethink Retirement. Some of you will have a traditional retirement, where one day you stop working and never work another day. However, many of you will have a very different “retirement” than your parents. Maybe you change careers, go to part-time, start a business, or find new sources of income. It’s all possible! Let’s figure out how to make it happen.

See: Replacing Retirement With Work-Life Balance.

Financial Planning In Your Forties

In your forties, it’s time to get serious about your money. Let’s take care of business and establish your financial plan. You can create your future. When I meet with people in their sixties, their net worth and retirement preparedness has little to do with their income, but has a lot to do with how consistent they were with their planning and saving in their thirties and forties. So, be the 40 year old that will make your 65 year old self proud.

1. You are behind. Chances are that you have neglected some aspects of your financial planning at this point and many people in their forties are not on a trajectory that will lead to a comfortable future. Some people are only a little behind and just need to add a few things, but others are severely in danger. You still have the potential for significant compounding of your investments so take advantage of the fact that time is on your side.

Here’s a checklist of what you should have:

  • savings plan of how much to save and where;
  • a retirement plan that calculates a finish line when you can retire;
  • an estate plan;
  • a college funding plan for your kids;
  • comprehensive insurance for your assets, life, and for unexpected liabilities;
    tax strategies to minimize your tax bills;
  • a disciplined, investment program and target asset allocation.

Catch up: Financial Planning In Your Twenties
Financial Planning In Your Thirties

2. Get Rid of Debt. At this point, you should have a mortgage as your only debt. You should have paid off your student loans, and should be paying your credit cards in full every month. “Living within your means” means you don’t borrow money for furnishings, vacations, or toys.

If you are serious about your financial future, you will recognize that cars are a terrible waste of money. All cars lose about 50% of their value within five years. I see a lot of people who are leasing a Mercedes or driving a new $65,000 truck who tell me they cannot afford to put $400 a month into an IRA. My advice: keep your current car for as long as possible, 100,000 miles or more, then buy used and pay cash.

See: Rethink Your Car Expenses
Should You Get A New Car to Save Gas?

3. Save Based on Goals. In your twenties and thirties, you probably saved based on ability: I can afford to save $300 a month, or, I’ll save 10% to my 401(k). That’s okay to start, but it’s not looking at what is actually needed to accomplish your goals. Maybe you didn’t even have a goal! When your goal is specific, a course of action becomes obvious. If your goal is to pay for four years of tuition at a certain university, we can project how much that will cost and how much we need to save to achieve that goal.

For financial independence, start with your living expenses and apply a 4% withdrawal rate. If you need $60,000 a year to spend, that would require a portfolio of $1,500,000 (4% = $60,000). Now you have a specific goal. How much do you need to save to get to $1.5 million at age 65? Can you do it by 62? Are your investments likely to achieve the return necessary to reach your finish line? Your actions – spending, saving, and investing – should be based on a plan for your goals.

See: Setting Your Financial Goals

4. Family Needs. Increasingly, we are seeing adults who besides having to plan for their own future and their children’s needs are having to help their retired parents with care or financial support. Have a conversation with your parents and understand how they have planned for their retirement. Do they have a retirement income plan and an estate plan? Are you seeing any signs of memory loss or a decline in cognitive skills? These are signs of potential difficulty managing money in the future. If your parents are in their seventies or older, it might be a good idea to have conversations about money and their wishes. And of course, they might need a financial planner to help them as well.

See: Financial Planning for the Sandwich Generation

5. Umbrella Policy. When it comes to insurance, don’t just get “a” policy. Take the time to understand what your policies cover and exclude and make sure your coverage is more than adequate. People who look only at getting the lowest rate on their home and auto insurance are likely to be disappointed by their coverage, exclusions, and deductibles if, or should I say when, they have a claim. It’s important to make sure you have enough insurance, especially as your net worth grows.

That’s why I recommend clients consider an Umbrella Policy, which will supplement the liability coverage on your home and auto policies. If you have a car accident, your umbrella policy can provide another $1 million or more in coverage above the $250,000 limit on your auto policy. For a few hundred dollars a year, it’s worth owning an umbrella. If you don’t have a policy, or want to shop rates, I can refer you to an independent agent who can help you consider your options.

See: Don’t Forget Your Umbrella

Financial Planning In Your Thirties

In your thirties, you are establishing the financial habits which will last for the rest of your life. Choose carefully! You might think that it was tough to save and invest in your twenties. Well, I wish I could say things get easier in your thirties, but there are going to be new demands and expenses. You might still have student loans, but will be adding in a mortgage and car payments. Besides your own expenses, you may have a young family and all the joys and bills of day care, pre-school, and then clubs, sports, and music lessons. Your time and your money can disappear very quickly!

It’s important that you don’t delay your financial planning for another year. One year can turn into five or ten before you know it. I know it is easy to feel overwhelmed with all the financial pressures you face. Although there is a lot to do, we can help you get through the process and take the steps to create financial security and eventually, financial independence.

1. Catch Up. Most people in their thirties still need to do some of the key steps we discussed for your twenties: establishing an emergency fund, managing debt, tracking net worth, starting investing, and getting term life insurance.

See: Financial Planning in Your Twenties

2. Increase Savings. As your career progresses, you may find you are being promoted from entry-level to higher paid positions. You might change employers, relocate, or even pursue a new, more lucrative career. From 30 to 39, you might see a significant increase in your income. The question is: When you get a raise, will you spend it or save it? If you can get in the habit of increasing your saving and investing, you can generate a significant amount of investment capital in your thirties.

The challenge is that you will see so many friends who are buying a bigger house, leasing two luxury cars, taking lavish vacations, or buying a boat or a lake house. You have to resist the temptation to “Keep up with the Joneses”. They may be taking on a vast amount of debt to fund their lifestyle and are not being responsible with their money. Just because a bank will give you a credit card or loan, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to spend the money.

3. Put Your Investing on Auto-Pilot. What works is squirreling away money consistently. Set up the accounts you need: 401(k), Roth IRA, 529 Plan, Health Savings Account (HSA), etc. Pay yourself first and set up monthly automatic contributions to each account. Don’t worry if you have to start small, you can always increase your amounts later. If you don’t make contributions automatic, you probably aren’t going to have an extra $5,500 lying around at the end of the year to fund your IRA.

See: How Much Should You Contribute to Your 401(k)?

4. 15-Year Mortgage. If you begin your house search process with the pre-approval for a 15-year mortgage, you can save a fortune in interest over the life of the loan. Of course, you also have the opportunity to own your house free and clear in just 15 years. Even if you move after 10 years, you will have significantly more equity if you started with a 15 year rather than a 30 year loan.

See: The 15-Year Mortgage: Myth and Reality

5. Start a 529 College Savings Plan. The sooner you can starting saving for your kids’ college, the more time you can enjoy the benefits of compounding. And since a chief benefit of 529 Plans is tax-free growth, you get more benefit by starting at age 6 than at age 16. An early start is helpful.

See: How Much Will It Cost to Send Your Kids to College?

6.  Establish an Estate Plan. No one wants to think about their own mortality, but this is an important step that you need to take. If you have minor children, you really do not want to leave decisions about what happens to your children (and the money to support them) in the hands of a Judge who doesn’t know you. Courts are bound by rules that may lead to outcomes that you would not have wanted. I can refer you to an attorney who can complete this process with you. The cost for most plans will be only $750.

See: What Happens If You Die Without a Will.

Financial Planning in Your Twenties

In your twenties, you are out of college, starting your career and maybe will be starting a family soon. What is most essential is to realize is that financial planning is not just for people your parents’ age who are getting ready to retire. Financial Planning is for YOU!

The steps you take in your twenties will lay the groundwork for the rest of your life. Will you become wealthy or will you be just one step ahead of your bills and debt like many Americans? A lot of us older folks wish we could be twenty-five again but with what we know at 45 or 65. Then we could get an early start and be in much better position later.

So, let’s get organized, educate ourselves about money, investing, and taxes. Define your goals and create a written financial plan. It’s an exciting time to be seeing your hard work starting to pay off. There are plenty of money issues that create a lot of stress: student loans, credit cards, buying a car, housing affordability, low paying entry level jobs, etc. We need to tackle those issues head-on.

Here are five crucial steps for being in your twenties.

1. Emergency Fund. Keep three to six months of living expenses in a safe, liquid account that is separate from your regular checking or bank account. Unplanned expenses are an inevitable reality of life. Cars break down, houses need repair, injury or illness happens. It’s not really a matter of “if” these things will occur, but just when. An emergency fund is a prerequisite before you can start to invest for long-term goals.

2. Manage Debt. Avoid taking on new debt and be smart about managing your existing liabilities, such as student loans, car payments, and credit cards. You have to plan for how to pay off your loans, while still having a plan for the rest of your financial goals, too.

See Should You Invest or Pay Off Student Loans First?

3. Annual Net Worth Statement. Adding up all your assets and liabilities is a key step to managing your financial life. Understand where you are today and direct your cash flow to grow your net worth. By tracking this annually, you are not only measuring your progress, but creating a sense of urgency that will help align your short-term decisions with your long-term goals and dreams.

4. Start Investing NOW. Don’t think that you can make up for lost time later. Compounding works over time and the earlier you start, the earlier you can reach the finish line.

See The Cost of Waiting from 25 to 35

5.  Term Life Insurance. You might not have significant assets today, but when you are young, you have the largest amount of future lifetime income. If you have a spouse or family, the greatest need for protection is at age 25, not at 65, when most of your earnings years are behind you. We don’t use insurance as an investment; it is to protect against potentially devastating and rare risks. So, buy a term life policy. If you are healthy, it may be only a few hundred dollars a year. And if something were to happen to you, the term policy would be the most important financial planning step we took. Don’t skip this!

See A Young Family’s Guide to Life Insurance

Vanguard’s Measure of Our Value

We create value for you through holistic financial planning, looking at your entire financial picture to create a comprehensive approach to investing your money, gaining financial independence, and safeguarding you from risks. This sounds great, but let’s face it, it’s pretty vague. The numerical benefits of hiring a financial advisor can be difficult to evaluate. Since 2001, Vanguard has spent considerable resources in measuring how I can add value for investors like you.

Their study is called Vanguard Advisor’s Alpha and they have identified areas where financial advisors create tangible value. Their aim is to quantify how much a client might benefit from each process a financial advisor could offer. Vanguard’s conclusion is that an advisor like me can add 3% a year in benefits through effective Portfolio Construction, Behavioral Coaching, and Wealth Management.

Their recommended approach in these areas very much reflects what I do for each client. Not all advisors use these steps with their clients. If your advisor isn’t talking about these actions, you could be missing out. Vanguard has analyzed how much a client might gain from each step in our financial planning process. Benefits, below, are measured in basis points (bps), where 1 bp equals 0.01% in annual benefits.

1. Portfolio Construction

  • Suitable Asset Allocation / Diversification >0 bps
  • Cost Savings (Expense Ratios) 40 bps
  • Annual Rebalancing 35 bps

Our approach is to create long-term, diversified investment strategies for each client. We start with a top-down asset allocation and use ultra low-cost ETFs and institutional-class mutual funds to implement our allocation. Portfolios are rebalanced annually.

2. Behavioral Coaching

  • Estimated Benefit 150 bps

There is a huge benefit to coaching and that’s why we prefer to write about behavioral finance topics than giving you “weekly market updates”. You can’t control what the market does, but you can control how you respond. And how you respond ends up being one of the biggest determinants of your long-term results.

We take the time to create a solid plan, educate you on our approach, and reinforce the importance of sticking with the plan. There are real risks to having a knee-jerk reaction to a bear market, chasing performance, or buying into bitcoin or whatever fad is currently making the headlines. Based on Vanguard’s calculations, the value of Behavioral Coaching is actually greater than investing steps like asset location or rebalancing.

3. Wealth Management

  • Asset Location 0 to 75 bps
  • Spending Strategies (withdrawal order) 0 to 110 bps
  • Total Return versus income approach >0 bps

Asset location is creating tax savings by placing certain investments in retirement accounts and certain investments in taxable accounts. Spending Strategies, for retirement typically, are another area of considerable attention here at Good Life Wealth. Go to our Blog and you can find all of our past articles (currently 197). In the upper right, use the Search bar and you can find several articles explaining these concepts and how we implement them.

Vanguard lists some of these benefits as 0 bps with the explanation that the value can be “significant” but is too individual to quantify accurately. When they do add up the benefits we can achieve in Portfolio Management, Behavioral Coaching, and Wealth Management, Vanguard believes we are adding 3% a year in potential benefits for many clients.

We hope this may help those who are on the fence, wondering if it is worth it to hire us as your financial advisor. There is a value to what we offer or I wouldn’t be in this profession. The Vanguard study doesn’t consider our benefits in helping you with tax planning, risk management, estate planning, college funding, or other areas. They also don’t consider intangible benefits, such as peace of mind, saving time by hiring an expert versus trying to do it yourself, or the fact that investors who create a retirement plan with an advisor save 50% more than those who do not.

We offer two distinct programs to meet you where you are today and help you get to where you want to be. We are welcoming new clients for 2018. Do you have questions about how we might add value for you? Let’s talk.

Premiere Wealth Management
Comprehensive financial planning and portfolio management
Cost is 1% annually, for clients with $250,000 or more to invest

Wealth Builder Program
Subscription program to build your net worth with expert financial planning in the areas you need
Cost is $99/month, for clients with $0 to $249,999

What Are Today’s Projected Returns?

One of the reasons I selected the financial planning software we use, MoneyGuidePro, is because it offers the ability to make projections based on historical OR projected returns. Most programs only use historical returns in their calculations, which I think is a grave error today. Historical returns were outstanding, but I fear that portfolio returns going forward will be lower for several reasons, including:

  • Above-average equity valuations today. Lower dividend yields than in the past.
  • Slower growth of GDP, labor supply, inflation, and other measures of economic development.
  • Higher levels of government debt in developed economies will crowd out spending.
  • Very low interest rates on bonds and cash mean lower returns from those segments.

By using projected returns, we are considering these factors in our financial plans. While no one has a crystal ball to predict the future, we can at least use all available information to try to make a smarter estimate. The projected returns used by MoneyGuidePro were calculated by Harold Evensky, a highly respected financial planner and faculty member at Texas Tech University.

We are going to compare historical and projected returns by asset class and then look at what those differences mean for portfolio returns. Keep in mind that projected returns are still long-term estimates, and not a belief of what will happen in 2017 or any given year. Rather, projected returns are a calculation of average returns that we think might occur over a period of very many years.

Asset Class Historical Returns Projected Returns
Cash 4.84% 2.50%
Intermediate Bonds 7.25% 3.50%
Large Cap Value 10.12% 7.20%
Small Cap 12.58% 7.70%
International 9.27% 8.00%
Emerging Markets 8.85% 9.30%

You will notice that most of the expected returns are much lower than historical, with the sole exception of Emerging Markets. For cash and bonds, the projected returns are about half of what was achieved since 1970, and even that reduced cash return of 2.50% is not possible as of 2017.

In order to estimate portfolio returns, we want two other pieces of data: the standard deviation of each asset class (its volatility) and the correlation between each asset class. In those areas, we are seeing that the trend of recent decades has been worse for portfolio construction: volatility is projected to be higher and assets are more correlated. It used to be that International Stocks behaved differently that US Stocks, but in today’s global economy, that difference is shrinking.

This means that our projected portfolios not only have lower returns, but also higher volatility, and that diversification is less beneficial as a defense than it used to be. Let’s consider the historical returns and risks of two portfolios, a Balanced Allocation (54% equities, 46% fixed income), and a Total Return Allocation (72% equities, 28% fixed income)

Portfolio Historical Return Standard Deviation Projected Return Standard Deviation
Balanced 8.53% 9.34% 5.46% 10.59%
Total Return 9.18% 12.20% 6.27% 14.23%

That’s pretty sobering. If you are planning for a 30-year retirement under the assumption that you will achieve historical returns, but only obtain these projected returns, it is certainly going to have a big impact on your ability to meet your retirement withdrawal needs. This calculation is something we don’t want to get wrong and figure out 10 years into retirement that we have been spending too much and are now projected to run out of money.

As an investor, what can you do in light of lower projected returns? Here are five thoughts:

  1. Use projected returns rather than historical if you want to be conservative in your retirement planning.
  2. Emerging Markets are cheap today and are projected to have the highest total returns going forward. We feel strongly that they belong in a diversified portfolio.
  3. We can invest in bonds for stability, but bonds will not provide the level of return going forward that they achieved in recent decades. It is very unrealistic to assume historical returns for bond holdings today!
  4. Investors focused on long-term growth may want more equities than they needed in the past.
  5. Although projected returns are lower than historical, there may be one bright spot. Inflation is also quite low today. So, achieving a 6% return while inflation is 2% is roughly comparable in preserving your purchasing power as getting an 8% return under 4% inflation. Inflation adjusted returns are called Real Returns, and may not be as dire as the projected returns suggest.

Applying The Rule of 72

The Rule of 72 is a very simple financial short-cut: divide your rate of return into 72 and you have (approximately) the number of years it takes for your money to double.

Double Your Money
2% = 36 years
4% = 18 years
6% = 12 years
8% = 9 years
etc.

This gives you an idea of the importance of compounding. But aside from being a way to impress children and small animals with your math prowess, is there a practical application of the rule of 72? Yes, there are a number of ways that thinking about The Rule of 72 can improve our behavior and give us better financial outcomes with our investing. For example:

1) Think Long-Term. Think in terms of “doubling periods”. If you are targeting a 7% rate of return, your doubling period would be 10 years. If you have 20 years until retirement, you would expect your money to double twice. If you have $200,000 today, you should have $800,000 in 20 years, in this hypothetical scenario. And that is without any additional saving!

2) Start Early. You want to double your money as many times as you can, but let’s face it, a life expectancy of 85 years can only contains so many periods of 9 or 12 years. To maximize your wealth, you have to start as early as possible.

Let’s consider two investors: Smart Sally and Late Larry. Sally starts investing $500 a month at age 22, while Larry waits until he is 32. He’s still young, right? He also invests $500 a month and they both earn an 8% return until retirement at age 62. At age 62, here’s where they stand:

Smart Sally has $1,745,503. Late Larry has $745,179. Sally has a million dollars more because she started 10 years earlier! Not saving in your 20’s could mean you have a million dollars less for retirement. Don’t miss out on getting that extra doubling period.

3) Invest for Doubling. I see people with money markets in their retirement accounts even though they aren’t going to retire for decades. Nobody knows what the market is going to do tomorrow or this year, but if you are investing for 20 years, recognize that a 2% return will take 36 years to double and a 1% return will take 72 years. What does your money market pay in 2017? Less than 1%? At that rate, even your great-grandchildren won’t live long enough to see that double.

Stop thinking that a lack of volatility equals safety. Investing at a low rate of return basically guarantees that your money isn’t going to grow significantly. In that regards, cash is a riskier investment to your goals than stocks.

Use the rule of 72 to choose diversified investments that are in line with your goal of doubling your money. If you have the time and risk tolerance, you need to be invested in a way that will generate long-term returns of 6%, 8%, or more. The S&P 500 Index returned 12% annually from 1926 to 2010. Although our expected returns are lower today for stocks, they are also lower for cash, bonds, and inflation.

Let’s say that you are 41 and plan to retire at age 65, in 24 years. You have $250,000 today. if you are investing in a high quality bond fund that returns 3%, you will double your money once in 24 years, to $500,000. Invest in a balanced allocation at 6% expected return, and you will double every 12 years, bringing you to $1,000,000. But if you can invest aggressively, and achieve a 9% return, you could doubles your money three times, once every 8 years. That would bring you to $2 million at age 65.

If you understand the Rule of 72, you can focus on long-term results, starting early, and investing for growth. There will be volatility along the way; there will be down years and bear markets. But if you are in the accumulation phase of your life, your focus should be to strive for long-term returns that will double your money. And with retirement often lasting 20 to 30 years, age 65 is not the end, or a finish line, but just the start of a new phase of investing. You still need growth even in retirement!

Declutter Your Space, Declutter Your Mind

There are remarkable benefits to tackling clutter, whether that clutter is physical, mental, or financial. Clutter creates added stress and tends to freeze people from taking action and doing what is important and in their best interest. Some of the key benefits of working with a financial planner include getting organized, consolidating accounts, and having a coherent strategy for your financial life. It’s not rocket science, yet somehow, it can be so difficult for people to do what they know they should do. We aim for simplicity in everything we do.

We all can benefit from decluttering. But where to start? It can be a daunting task. It’s so daunting in fact, that most people don’t even want to bother. But clutter can represent fear, self-doubt, fatigue, and guilt. If you’re a perfectionist, clutter is a reminder of your failures and lack of control.

Do we need all this stuff? Many of us have hoarding tendencies, a love of material items, and a feeling that we “need” more things to be happy. We were raised this way. Our grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and they learned to never throw anything away in case they needed it later. That scarcity mentality is fear-based and was passed down from generation to generation. We have to unlearn that more is always better.

When you are able to reduce clutter, it feels wonderful. How can you get started?

1) Start small. Just fill one box or one trash bag with stuff you can get rid of. Maybe this will be easy for you. But for many of us it’s tough to decide that you don’t need something. Ask your self these questions:

– When was the last time I needed this, used this item, or wore this clothing? Was it this month, or was it years ago?
– What would happen if I did not have this item? Would I miss it? Would I need it? If it’s rarely used, could I borrow one from a friend?
– Would I buy this again today?

2) Give with a purpose. Maybe there is someone else who would benefit from your unneeded item, who would appreciate it, and give it a new life. Why keep it in your closet, if it could be helping someone else?

There are many local charities that will accept your used items. Since I foster for Operation Kindness, let me share this: You can donate your unwanted clothes, shoes, books, toys, and small appliances to Operation Kindness. They will even pick up your items at your house! Just schedule a pick-up at www.DonateForKindness.org. And be sure to keep a list of your items for tax time, so you can take a deduction for a non-cash charitable donation.

Or donate to another charity of your choice. Or sell your stuff on Craigslist, or on eBay, or at your neighborhood yard sale, and make a few bucks. Some people have made thousands selling extra things in their house.

3) Set a timer for 30 minutes. When confronted with a large and unpleasant task, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Who knows how long it will take? This causes us to procrastinate getting started.

Here’s what I do: just set a timer for 30 minutes and GO. You don’t have to have a plan, just attack whatever seems to be the area of greatest need and keep moving for 30 minutes. I often find that I actually clean the room or rooms in less than 30 minutes. When the bell rings, I stop and move on with my day.

You can do anything for 30 minutes, and psychologically, it is easier to say “I am going to clean for 30 minutes” than to leave it open-ended, “I am going to clean this clutter.” Even when I don’t finish in 30 minutes, I have often made a significant dent – 50%, 75%, even 90% complete. Don’t let Great be the enemy of Good. If we can just spend 30 minutes, we may find that we achieved the result we needed, and often that is good enough.

The next day, you can always go for another 30 minutes. You don’t have to declutter all at once. We only have so much time, attention span, and energy. Give yourself permission to take small bites. It’s okay – you are moving in the right direction.

4) Stop digging. As the saying goes, if you are in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Step back a figure out why you are accumulating so much stuff. Is shopping a hobby? Do you buy stuff when you are bored, or stressed, or tired? Do you buy things you regret, that you don’t need?

Become more aware of your feelings about things. Acknowledge those feelings, those triggers, and find an alternative action. Take up a new hobby, go to the gym, find something else to fill those feelings other than shopping.

5) Outsource. Hire a personal assistant or a housekeeper or someone to do the work you hate doing. No need to feel guilty, there are only so many hours in the week. And if you hate doing some type of work, why do it? You can spend your time more productively elsewhere.

Decluttering creates a feeling of empowerment. I am in charge. I am organized. I am ready to make decisions and remove any obstacles in my way. Getting rid of clutter is like taking a weight off your shoulders. You aren’t even aware of how much it is a burden until you get rid of it.

There are benefits to your house, to your stress levels, and even to your relationship with your spouse and children. Decluttering is not just about stuff, it’s about your mindset.

If you can tackle decluttering your house, you can apply many of the same steps to your financial clutter:
1) Start small, just do one thing.
2) Set aside 30 minutes to organize your finances tonight. Don’t keep putting it off!
3) Change behavior that isn’t in line with your goals.
4) Outsource to a professional, to a Certified Financial Planner professional like me.