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The Secret to Growing Your Retirement Account

Stay the course. That’s the secret.

The pain we experience when we see the account balance drop is much greater than the joy we feel when we see the account balance increase by the same amount. Imagine you have a retirement account with $500,000 in it and it declines by 20% to the end the month at $400,000. That can be scary – you’ll most likely question your allocation and investments. Unfortunately and in too many cases that is exactly what investors do: The sell out of their losers and buy something inappropriate for themselves.

There are still many investors that are still sitting in cash after selling out of the stock market during the worst moments of the recession of 2008.

Fidelity has some data that backs up this statistic

How To Retire in 4 Years

The story about a couple’s desire to retire in 4 year is compelling.

They have applied many of the important financial planning concepts:

1) The plan to live a very modest lifestyle in retirement – They plan to need 30,000 a year in retirement.
2) They have cut and reduced many of their expenses. They realized how freeing it is to not have a large mortgage.
3) They plan to work part time. Retirement is being redefined. Working part-time, doing a fun job, is becoming common.
4) They have a plan. While I have not checked their math, it’s appears they have thought through many of the common issues retirees face.
5) They are diversified. Between side jobs, investments, and real estate they will have multiple sources of income available for them.

Making A Plan To Save For College

Recently we introduced The Money Management Tool to help clients better organize their financial lives. The tool has lots of features and we will occasional explain how some of the features are being used by our clients (or should be used) to help them reach their financial goals.

This post will deal with a client who is trying to save for college.

Situation: A client recently had a child and wanted to start saving for her college education. He is a hands-on client who likes to dig into the numbers himself and run multiple scenarios. His concern was: “If I fund my child’s education, how will it impact my retirement plans?”

Problem: He didn’t have a framework to think through the various scenarios.  All the calculators he found online were too simple and lacking the detail he needed.

Solution: The Money Management Tool provides a suite of workshops to help people just like my client. There is a specific workshop to help clients plan for college. He was able quickly enter his assumptions to see what the outcome would be for him.  From there, it offered some options to help him reach his goal.  Once he was satisfied with his plan, he was able to pull me into the process to make sure it made sense.

College

Tracking Your Asset Allocation Across Multiple Accounts

Recently we introduced The Money Management Tool to help clients better organize their financial lives. The tool has lots of features and we will occasional explain how some of the features are being used by our clients (or should be used) to help them reach their financial goals.

This post will deal with a prospective client who has many accounts and struggles to keep track of how they are invested.

Situation: A prospective client couple approached us looking for help managing his investments. They had multiple investment accounts held at different institutions. And in most cases, the accounts could not be moved or consolidated.

Problem: They struggled to understand what they really owned. They thought they were diversified by owning several different funds, but in reality they owned many passive index funds that tracked the same index. Even though the fund names were different, the underlying investments were all very similar.

Solution: The Money Management Tool could be used to connect all the accounts together. After establishing the connections between the tool and their accounts, they would be able to see a total asset allocation across all their account. We were then able to work with them to adjust their allocation.

asset allocation

Is a Creative Saving Strategy Right for Me?

Someone can reach an ambitious financial goal (such as saving for college education) despite having limited cash flow available to fund the goal.  The goal can be accomplished by using a creative saving strategy called a serial payment.

Many clients that I have worked with this year have expressed a strong desire to fund a majority of their children’s college education but currently have limited resources to commit to it today.  Instead, they have promising careers in which they expect decent raises in the future or expect their spouse to re-enter the workforce once the children are in school.  They have already tightened their belt and understand that a portion of future raises will be diverted to their future goals.  This strategy gives them a roadmap for the future.

For more details, read these other posts to learn about the process.

The Most Overlooked Saving Strategy: The Serial Payment

In a recent post, I argued that there is a flaw in the most common approach saving for a big goal like college education.

I argue that in some cases, saving for a goal should be done the way you would if you were to begin training for a road race. If you begin to exercise today and have a goal of running in a marathon twelve months from now, you won’t just start running 26.2 miles per day.  You’ll burn out or get injured.

Instead, you are more likely to come up with a plan where you gradually and systematically increase the difficulty of your exercise regimen over time.  By gradually increasing the workout,  you mentally condition yourself and can prepare for longer, harder, and more difficult exercise routines in preparation for the race.

While we mostly think about saving a set dollar amount per month, that may not be realistic or possible for many people who have limited cash flow. Saving for a goal could be done the same way by using a saving strategy referred to as the serial payment. Here is what makes this strategy different – the amount saved increases by a set percentage each and every year.  For example someone who saves $150 a month for one year, would increase it by a set percentage (we’ll say 4%) each and every year.  In year 2, they would be saving $156/mo ($150 * 1.04).  In year 3, they would be saving $162 ($156 * 1.04).

Let’s compare these two strategies.  Assume that John and Andrew each want to save $90,000 for college education in 18 years.  They plan to save a portion of their paycheck and will invest it in the market where they are expecting an 8% rate of return.  John plans to invest $2400 at the end of every year and will do so for 18 years.  Andrew will fund $1,825 at the end of the year but will increase the amount by 4% per year thereafter.

The result: they both reach their goal of $90,000 by the end of the 18th year.   Below is the breakdown of how much each of them has to save each year:

saving

Andrew is able to begin saving a lot less early on but will have to make up for it from the 9th year and on.  By then he will likely be in the peak earning years of his career and will have more cash available to fund the goal.

This strategy does have some drawbacks.  Making less contributions in the early years reduces the effectiveness of compounding interest which means that Andrew would have to save an extra $3500 more than John over the 18 years.  And that figure would be much larger if we adjusted for inflation.

If you are exploring ways to save for a goal, run the numbers assuming a flat/fixed amount first.  Saving more earlier is almost always preferable thanks to compounding interest.  But it may not be possible.  If you can’t afford that, try using a serial payment strategy.

The Three Flaws With The Most Popular Saving Strategy

The most common saving strategy is where the investor saves a specific and set amount of money on a regular basis. For example, $200 is automatically set aside (and possible invested) by a young family every single month to fund future college education expenses until their child turns 18.

Here’s the problem: Using a fixed dollar amount as described above is hardest in the early years which is when cash flow is already tight. There are three reasons why.

  1. Behavioral standpoint. The saver is just getting started and not conditioned to save such a large amount so quickly. While they have every intention of saving $200 a month, they crash and burn after only a few months.
  2. Cash flow limitation. A saver may decide they can’t afford to save $200/mo now and decide to begin saving at a later date after they have received a raise or two, abandoned the goal altogether or reduce the scope of their goal. All of which may be premature decisions.
  3. Economic standpoint. The purchasing power of $200 declines, slowly but surely, every year due to inflation. Think about what $200 could have bought 18 years ago? Now imagine that trend continuing 18 years into the future. When the saver factors in the effect of inflation, and future salary raises, the pain of saving $200 will decline substantially by the end of the 18 years. The saver would still be saving the same amount, but it will feel like a lot less 18 years from now.

Think of it this way: if you begin to exercise today and have a goal of running in a marathon twelve months from now, you won’t just start running 26.2 miles per day. You’ll burn out or get injured. The same can be said for how we save. Trying to develop a habit in which you save too much, too quickly, can easily fail.

Using The Money Management Tool: Setting a Budget

Recently we introduced The Money Management Tool to help clients better organize their financial lives. The tool has lots of features and we will occasional explain how some of the features are being used by our clients (or should be used) to help them reach their financial goals.

This post will deal with prospective client who needed some help staying on budget.

Situation: A young couple with two children asked us for guidance on getting a handle on their debts. They had multiple credit card balances with obscene interest rates, a result of unexpected bills. They were spending more and more of their income to make debt payments instead of saving for retirement. They were slowly realizing that they would not be digging themselves out of debt anytime soon and needed a plan to get back on track to save for retirement.

Problem: During the initial meeting, we discovered a significant amount of their take-home pay was going toward non-essential expenses, such as the most premium cable package available and eating out for lunch every single day.

Solution: Directing savings originally intended for retirement to pay down credit card debt is an acceptable strategy in some cases. But when there is a lot of non-essential spending occurring, a tightening of the belt should be the first strategy. In this case, the client could connect their credit card account to The Money Management Tool and analyze their spending habits to see just how much is spent on restaurants and entertainment. They could then develop a budget to help them stay on track.

budgeta

If you or someone you know needs help getting their financial house in order, this tool can help.

Contact us today to get started.

Using The Money Management Tool: Connecting Accounts

Recently we introduced The Money Management Tool to help clients better organize their financial lives. The tool has lots of features and we will occasional explain how some of the features are being used by our clients (or should be used) to help them reach their financial goals.

This post will deal with a prospective client who has many accounts and struggles to keep track of where they are located.

Situation: A prospective client approached us looking for help managing his investments. He had about 10 different accounts – multiple checking and savings accounts and a several different retirement accounts from current and previous employers. These accounts were held with several different financial organizations.

Problem: He struggled to keep track of all the accounts. He was constantly forgetting passwords used to view his balances online. He was spending hours trying to stay organized and reading the statements. The inconvenience grew to the point where he just ignored his accounts.

Solution: The Money Management Tool could be used to connect all the accounts together. After establishing the connections between the tool and his accounts, he would be able to see daily account balances for all the accounts from a single account. No more trying to remember multiple passwords or trying to read different statements each month.

new account

If you or someone you know needs help getting their financial house in order, this tool can help.

Contact us today to get started.

The Relationship Between Happiness and Income Is Being Turned Upside Down

New research on the relationship between happiness and income is changing the rule of thumb. For years, it has been touted that an annual income of $75,000 is ideal and earning more than that results in a diminishing return of happiness.

Contrary to the old rule of thumb, there is a linear relationship between money and happiness, suggesting the more some makes, the happier they are in life.

So, maybe money can buy happiness after all?

You can read the study here