My Retirement Vision

Wanted: Superior Retirement! Rocking Chairs Need Not Apply

Retirement used to be a word that had a very clear definition to me. Basically, it meant you stop working, eat dinner at 4:30 p.m., and spend your golden years sitting in a rocking chair.

When I was a young man this was my vision of retirement. You kick back enjoying the fruits of decades of labor. It seemed perfectly logical at the time. Didn’t everybody wake up at 6 a.m. and work 60-plus hours a week in a job they couldn’t stand for 40 or so years?

Over time my perception of retirement has changed dramatically. But no matter what my vision of retirement looks like, the path to get there is the same…ACHIEVE FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE.

Now I like to think of myself as a 45-year-old millennial. Yes, I know that sounds odd. But I do respect my younger counterparts’ idea of retirement. Who wouldn’t want a future that involves doing what you love and taking time to see the world?

Also, the idea that happy is the new rich — a life less focused on acquiring stuff and more about real experiences connecting with people — really appeals to me. This mindset helps when it comes to financial independence. You need less money if you have less stuff.

So if this is what the typical millennial believes in, I swipe right. Let’s take a moment and travel through how my retirement vision has changed:

1. My 20s Retirement Vision…

In my youth, I had a lot of young man wishes. I’m going to make millions of dollars, purchase a mega mansion with an eight-car garage for all my high-end sports cars, and travel the world on my yacht Lonely Island style.

Now, those ideas make me think…That is WAY too much house to clean! How much would tires cost for that car? And if I’m really being honest, I get seasick standing on a dock.

At some point, adulting does happen and perceptions can change. And no matter what you envision retirement to look like, a plan is a must (if you’re currently in your 20s and can set your plan now, you’re one of the lucky ones).

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Tired Financial Advisor

C’mon! Who Wouldn’t Want $10,000 and Free Breakfast?

Early in my career as a financial advisor I was sitting at a local restaurant waiting on a friend to have breakfast.

It was one of those little places where the tables are just a tad too close to each other. I was early and while I was sitting at the table I overheard the conversation occurring at the table behind me.

Seated were three people. Two of them had on three piece suits and were decked out in fancy jewelry (Rolexes, cuff links…etc.). These two young men looked to be in their late 20s…and I could smell “stock broker” rolling off their $3,000 suits. The third gentleman was clearly a prospect for these two guys – we’ll call him Jim. I could tell they were pressing him hard to move his accounts to their firm. And then came the most egregious thing I’d heard an advisor say in my nearly 20 years as an advisor:

Financial Advisor #1 leaned across the table lifts his head and looks squarely at Jim, “Do you like to make money.”

Jim confidently said, “Well, of course.”

Financial Advisor #2 tapping the table, “How about $10,000?”

Jim meekly replied, “Yea, sounds like a…good amount. That’s a lot of dough.”

Advisor #1 in a dead serious tone says, “Well, we do that for our clients in a single day.”

I almost fell out of my chair.

What a Load of Complete and Total B.S.

You see, Chris and I started our careers in the big brokerage firms. We learned a lot of things, including how many of the financial advisors only cared about hitting sales quotas — at almost any cost. (We never fit in there and subsequently left to start our own independent firm.).

So when I heard the two brokers next to me spouting this garbage, it infuriated me.

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tax refund angel devil

Spend Your Tax Refund Yet? Stop! How To Do it Right This Year

From where we sit, getting a tax refund is a sin. But we all sin a little, right? And most don’t know that paying the U.S. Government more than you should in taxes is on the wrong side of the moral compass. “Wait,” you say, “I thought giving was good.”

In this case, “overgiving” is not good. You’re essentially spotting Uncle Sam an interest-free loan. But that’s why we’re here to help!

If you’ve already overcommitted this past year, we’ve got at least 5 solid tips for what to do with that extra cheddar.

But, first the public service announcement …

1. More than $500 on your tax refund? Take a look at your W-4

Your W-4 is a form your HR department handed you when you were hired. You might recall it being this weird questionnaire that computes how much money should be withheld in your payroll taxes. I’ve known people who just phone a friend to get the number of allowances: “Johnny does 7, so that sounds good to me.”

Bad idea.

There are many online calculators available that make more sense than the actual form:

Use them. Get your number and then call your HR department to compare what they have on file. If it’s different, change the allowances you’re claiming.

One of our founders, Kevin Conard, likes to use this opportunity to encourage people to increase the amount they’re saving into their 401k. If you’re increasing the allowances you may not notice a difference in your paycheck. Solid plan.

2. Build Your Safety Net

A lot of the other tax refund tip lists have pay off debt listed first. Not going to argue exactly (I’d be contradicting some of my previous tips). But I will pitch an alternative point of view by focusing on your emergency fund with this particular “windfall.”

In my experience, psychologically, building an emergency fund can be a hard tip to grasp. Bad things happen to other people, right? Thus, no emergency fund. Then where do they go – their credit cards. See the vicious circle?

Take your tax refund and either 1.) contribute to your existing emergency fund (Go you!), or 2.) open a savings account to establish that safety net. I typically recommend an online savings account because of the likely preferential interest rates and convenience.

3. Get Rid of the Bad Mojo, i.e. DEBT

Already have a relatively robust emergency fund? Awesome. Then go after the parasite of the financial world – bad debts.

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The 4 Easy Keys to Building Wealth

It seems that there is a short list for everything these days. Top 10 things to never say on a first date. The 5 best foods for your toddler. Top 20 places to travel to in your lifetime. And my personal favorite – any list that has the top 10 fails!

I would like to offer yet another list. But unlike providing just the entertainment value of my favorite “Fails” list, this list will serve you in a much more life-altering way. If followed, I am confident it will change your financial future.

This list did not come out of the pages of academia but rather from my last 2 decades working in Financial Services. I have spent 20+ years sitting kneecap to kneecap with real human beings helping them shape and plan for their financial futures. I have seen the whites of my clients’ eyes amidst the dotcom bubble burst in the late 1990s and again, with many of those same clients, in the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

It often seems that the financial industry in general wants to make investing and building wealth seem more complicated than it needs to be, so I hope to simplify what you really need to know. There are many things with investing that are out of our control – the economy and the stock market to be specific.

The great thing about this list is that all 4 things are areas of your life that YOU CAN CONTROL.

I hope that by boiling the millions and millions of google search results down to just these 4 key points that maybe, just maybe, a number of people reading this article will see their lives changed for the better.

So … drumroll please for the 4 Easy Keys to Building Wealth …

#1: Spend Less Than You Make (i.e. Save Money)

This is the one I am most passionate about. I have seen first-hand countless numbers of my clients retire with more than $1 million in their portfolios – and they never made even close to six figures in their careers. They didn’t inherit it. They didn’t sell a business for millions of dollars.

The one constant was that whatever they made, they spent less than that. Simply, if their monthly take-home pay was $4,000, they only spent $3,000. They most certainly didn’t maintain balances on a credit card. And when they had to borrow money (for a home or car), they worked to pay it off as soon as possible.

I put the “spend less” attribute #1 on the list because it is the most difficult for many people.

The next 3 are much easier to follow, but the act of spending less than you make is probably the single trait that will have the most impact on your financial life – both now and in the future. Very few people have the discipline to spend less than they make. It is main reason why few people in this country are financially secure.

#2: Get Your Allocation in the Ballpark of Being Right (Stocks vs. Bonds)

Too many investors spend an inordinate amount of time stressing over the selection of individual mutual funds while simultaneously neglecting what may be the single most important decision in investment selection an investor can make in their lifetime – the balance of stock funds vs. bond funds.

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Bad Boss Good 401k

That Son-Of-A-Bitch Boss Taught Me the Importance of My 401k

It was a Saturday morning and the creative team was huddled in the office of the Executive Creative Director. The night before, he’d scrapped all the work we’d done the previous two weeks. So all ten of us waited there in his office at 8 a.m.

Bob walked in and said, “Well, the creative work for the pitch sucked. I need three new TV campaigns, outdoor and radio by Sunday night for the pitch on Monday at 8 a.m.”

Poof. There Goes the Weekend

Ted, a budding Art Director asked, “Bob, what was wrong with the work we did last week?”

Bob responded, “There’s a toilet in every room, huh?” Insinuating Ted was a bowl of crap…or his work was. I’m not sure.

I knew at that minute there had to be a better job for me. Have you ever felt this way?

This situation I was sitting in wasn’t anything new. Bob would call and tell me to get to the office for the next client pitch on a regular basis — always after hours. And – of course – it was always due yesterday. I’d work nights and weekends. I’d pulled all-nighters. And as a young 22 year old, I took the beatings and berating. And I produced.

As much as I wanted to quit, I also had to put food on the table, pay the bills, and try to keep my head above water. The bills were still coming and I couldn’t afford to leave. Plus, even if I jumped to another job, I could end up with the same or worse problems.

Have you ever felt stuck? You’re not alone. Many people stuck are in “dead-end” jobs. In fact, 52.3% of Americans are unhappy at work.

There Are Solutions to Getting Out. For Most: It’s Your 401k

I wish I could say some bolt of lightning hit me and I knew that my 401k was my path to salvation. But the truth is, I just signed up for it because my dad had always told me “pay yourself first, son.”

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