Retirement By the Numbers

July 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

leaves-228111_1280

I find it helpful to speak to folks with experience when making decisions about my future, and I’m guessing you do, too.

So when we are considering retirement strategies, what decisions, say on taking Social Security, have others tried? Have they been happy with the results of those decisions or would have, in hindsight, done things differently?

I found a few interesting studies that asked some of those very questions and her are the findings.

How much do we need? This is one of the first questions to ask as you begin retirement timing. About 85% of what you are bringing in as a working person is the amount many experts say is what you’d do well with in retirement. Fidelity Investments has estimated, living until perhaps age 92, we should try to save 6 times our ending annual salary. So if you are earning $50,000 in your final working years, using this example, you might want to have saved $300,000.

The sobering fact is that according to a survey by Employee Benefit Research about 36% of folks have saved LESS than $10,000.

What about Social Security? According to a study by Nationwide Financial 38% of retirees regret having claimed their Social Security benefits early. An article in Investments News reports that retirees can claim Social Security benefits as early as 62, but their benefits are permanently reduced by 25% compared to waiting until full retirement age of 66 to begin payments. And those willing to wait even longer earn delayed retirement credits worth 8% per year for every years they postpone benefits up to age 70, increasing their benefits by an additional 32%. And that, my friends, is real money.

The moral of the story is that if you can afford to wait, if you can keep working, live more frugally, whatever it takes to stave off taking of benefits, might be best for your future.

So, at what age should you retire? Think this through with me. The longer you wait the better for your wallet. Delaying retirement by even just a few years can increase your annual Social Security benefit, may allow your savings to grow for a few additional years, may allow you to really pay off troublesome debt.

On the other hand, healthcare costs are a concern if you retire before age 65, before you are eligible for Medicare.

What’s the answer? There is no single answer, no cookie cutter, which addresses each person’s individual concerns. General rules of thumb: save as much as you can. Pay off debt. Wait to retire so you can maximize benefits. (CR10139)

Goint to the Chapel: The Finances of Togetherness

June 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Love and money

I appreciate a good love story. But I hate if the ending is sad, if the joy and determination at first is lost.

With June the most popular month for weddings, this is a good time of year to have a little heart-to-heart about the finances of togetherness. You may not be getting married or are just taking your relationship ‘to the next level,’ let’s see if we can your future together rosy and bright.

We’re going to jump right into the deep end.

The legalities– Folks in love don’t always want to discuss boundaries. But Robert Frost’s famous line, ‘Good fences make good neighbors,’ is oft repeated because of its immense truth. So if you are not getting married you may want to invest in a domestic partnership agreement. Not romantic? Being financially ruined is also not romantic.

Day-to-day expenses – There are several ways to manage expenses. I will list three here and their pros and cons. 1.) Keep bank accounts and finances entirely separate- which is hard when it comes to food and cable or encouraging feelings of togetherness. I have seen couples do this and it has emotional consequences for them. It leaves one, in my experience, feeling as if the relationship is more like a roommate arrangement. 2.) Put all earnings into one joint pot or account- which is hard if there is disagreement on hobbies or spending- like shoe shopping or things any other items or interest on which you may have strong disagreements. 3.) Another method is the ‘pick your bill’ or the percentage-of-income-to-percentage-of-expenses method- which is hard for saving jointly. Like I said, each method has pros – which I didn’t mention- and cons, and there may be times in your lives together when you use particular methods as life evolves in your relationship or jobs change.

Big purchases – Assuming you have a legal agreement, buying a car or expensive item together is easy as distributing proceeds in the event of a breakup is already spelled out. But titling expensive purchases, like property, is very important without a legal agreement. So please consult an attorney or legal advisor in such cases.

Red flags– You may want to NOT join your finances together if your intended partner owes money and doesn’t pay bills, if they spend beyond their means regularly, if you are the source of money because getting work is ‘hard.’ These and other red flags should be a wake-up call that the person you love may not be the adult of your dreams. You want a real, responsible – and fun- adult with whom you can share financial goals.

I’m a planner. I kind of have a compulsion to think of the worst case scenario. When you’re in love…you don’t. But bad things happen to people in wonderful, caring people, people in love. We never want your heart broken. But since in life there is heartache, we certainly don’t want to add financial ruination as well.

Plan so you can be safe. Be in love, but be safe. That’s how smart adults do things. (Information provided should not be construed as legal or tax advice; you should speak with an attorney or tax advisor.CR10057)

 

Insurance: Not Thrilling but Important.

May 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Kids at the shore

We generally know that life insurance is important, but it can seem confusing. Not to mention boring. Not boring to me, of course. But I can see why in your busy life and with your schedule, this might be a topic that you would rather deal with at another time. But when, exactly, will you figure this out and take the time to at least get an overview of this exciting subject? After all, this is pretty important topic for your loved ones, especially the little ones in your life. Maybe you could grab an adult beverage and pull up a chair. Let’s chat.

Who needs it? – Insurance. Who needs it? One web site answered the question with more questions. If someone depends on you financially, that may be a good indication of a need for life insurance. Do you supply income to anyone? Do you help with the expenses of a family member? Do you own a property in which dependents live? Don’t take for granted all the myriad ways you help people. Folks need you, both because you love them and also possibly because your contributions have a financial impact on their lives. How would their situation change if something were to happen to you, my friend?

You can see that these important questions may open a bigger conversation. Do not be overwhelmed. Be aware that in seeing this larger picture this may be where insurance may be beneficial to you.

How much? – Suffering the loss of a loved one is a terrible tragedy. It takes years to recover and we are always changed by the loss.

However, insurance at least allows you to LIVE, with a roof over your head, in the same school, participating in the same activities, even after that terrible separation. Being able to continue to life in the same surroundings and able to have the freedom to spend more time with the kids and not worry about missing work, these are the reasons for life insurance. To help you keep your lifestyle when someone you love is gone.

No amount of money makes up for their loss. But what if, because of their loss, you also lost your home, the kids had to change schools and you had to take another job? Having money troubles after such a devastating loss can be terribly hard.

So how much do you need? What lifestyle do you want to maintain? Few of us can afford every possible contingency. But having some idea of what items are essential to help the family be stable and possibly to be cozy are figures that can be estimated. And you need to do this to plan for those people who depend upon you, loved adult. They need you to be pragmatic and do what you can afford to do to take care of them – in case.

What kind? – There are several types of life insurance. Term insurance is for a period of time: ten, twenty or thirty years are common periods. Term insurance is often less expensive than other types as it is for a specific period of time. Two other types of insurance fall into the category of ‘permanent’ life insurance. Those kinds are whole life and universal life. These types of policies build cash value and remain in effect for the entire life of the insured (or until age 100) as long as the premium is paid. Lots of details about how these vary but we don’t have time to discuss them here. You should speak with an insurance professional regarding your individual situation.

Now what? – Talk to an insurance agent. Know that all insurance agents need to be licensed by the state. And whether you use a local agent or a person who you’ve never met via an online option or phone, the same rules apply to them. Since we are all licensed in the same way the difference, is service. If you work with a local insurance agent they live in the community, have their kids in the same school and may understand your family, and their needs, more personally.

If you suspect you need insurance, get a quote. There is no obligation and getting started on this journey could really help your family. Drink up! (Additional disclosure: Health and other non-variable insurance products are not offered through Wall Street Financial Group, Inc. CR10001)

Seven Possible Sources of Retirement Income

April 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

money grows

Money in retirement. It is the culmination of our efforts, the harvest to enjoy in later years. When we are relaxed on an exotic beach, or chasing the grandkids, our retirement income, the careful planning, allows us to rest easy knowing our futures are bright and secure.

Though for many Social Security is the central source of retirement income, there are other possible places from which some income for your future might be obtained. The goal in retirement is to fashion together income streams that all together provide you with the level of income you may need to cover expenses and fun. This stream added to that income stream, plus this one equals your total bucket of money for each period.

You might use some of these ideas to provide possible supplemental income for you.

Rent – Do you own an apartment, duplex or business property? The rent from that asset may provide you with money to offset your living expenses. You might budget this money for an expense that is similar in value, such as taxes, winter heating costs or another monthly bill.

Annuities – Annuities can provide lifetime income. Once again this stream needn’t be big so long as it provides another source for covering your expenses. Even fifty dollars a month added to your income is a blessing.

Inheritance – Millions of dollars change hands every year through inheritances and yet many have not properly prepared for the transition. Creating the retirement income you are looking for may be helped with funds gained through the generosity of those who love you.

Savings accounts – Savings accounts and Certificates of Deposit (CDs) make up a larger portion of retirement income than the previous income sources mentioned above. Having a plan for how the money may be allocated, to what bill or pleasure, may help in making sure all of your needs are covered.

401k – Retirement plans accumulated from your tax-deferred plans through work, or in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), for many of us generally make a significant source of funds for retirement. If you have several years until you plan to retire, renew your saving efforts by either beginning an account or adding to your established retirement saving accounts.

Part-time work – About twenty percent of retirees find that part-time work is a great source of additional income. If jobs are available and you are healthy enough for work, you may enjoy not only the money but the social interaction.

Pensions – Defined pensions have been discontinued at many companies because of their expense to the firms. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that about twenty-two percent of full-time private industry workers recently got a defined pension benefit. Once again, no matter the amount, this can work with other sources of income to provide you with additional financial stability.

The goal in having this discussion is to help you know that many of the people who I work with use every possible source of income to piece together their retirement income. The transition into retirement, receiving only a single adequate paycheck (or two if it is a two-income family) to multiple checks from various income sources, can be a confusing transition. But once you get everything set up, and have a plan for each piece of money, things will be good. (CR9920)

Your business

March 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

balloons let loose in a blue sky

Many of my clients and friends are business owners and I have a cozy place in my heart for those willing to take the risk and go forward with their vision to change the world, and their own futures, by stepping out in business. In fact, according to the Small Business Administration, 99.7 percent of US firms are small ones and they are responsible for 64 percent of new jobs in our country. In times of changing employment markets, many folks begin their own business and make their dreams a reality.

So what do you need to know to start YOUR business? Here are some tips.

Your plan – A business plan may seem like a big hurdle to begin your start-up, but it is an essential tool for you to evaluate your competition, clearly understand YOUR value proposition and what sets you part from the others in the competitive market, and makes you face the prospect of the real success or failure of the firm. In a business plan is a SWOT analysis, which stands for: Strengths, what are the strengths of your firm? Weaknesses? What are firm’s weaknesses? Opportunities? What markets are you hoping to capture that have not yet been absorbed by competitors? And what are the threats that you will need to overcome?

A business plan also includes your marketing plan. Who is your target market? Not everybody. Everyone is really not your target market. You don’t want folks who can’t [pay for your services, or folks who think they can do a better job. You want folks who appreciate you and think you are professional and capable and who have the funds to support you in business. So you really have to be critical in your marketing plan. What are the tactics to put your plan in place? Are you going to advertise, do social media? It will become easier when you hone in on your target market.

Choose a location– This is a more critical decision than you may have realized: where are you going to operate your business? Can you operate at home? Do you have the space? What will clients think with a home occupation? Do you have parking? Is working from your residential location a permitted use for the zoning in your town?

Is your location near the customers? Is it visible? Can you put adequate signage on the exterior space?

If you can meet clients elsewhere or you are conducting business online, the location may not be as critical. But for most businesses, where you do locate your business may have significant ramifications.

Funding – Where’s the money coming from to start this enterprise? Do you need to buy equipment or inventory? What money will you use to pay the bills? Is it a credit card? Savings? A business loan?

Business type – What will be the legal type of business for your start-up? LLC? DBA? An S-corporation? A C-corporation? Talk to a tax advisor or an attorney to figure out the best way to help protect yourself from liability and for taxes.

Business name – Your business name is really important. It speaks to your credibility. It addresses what you do so new folks don’t need to guess. Make sure as you are choosing a name, that a web site domain name is also available. You will want to check to make sure that you are not infringing on any registered trademarks when you pick a name.  You do the best you can. There are experts in marketing who excel at helping you come up with a great business name. You may want to consult an expert.

Licenses and permits – I mentioned above that you may not be able to run an enterprise like yours in your town or even in the residential neighborhood in which you live. In addition to town ordinances and zoning  you need to consider any permits required because of the type of business you’re starting. For those of you in Maine, the State of Maine has helpful information on their web site:

http://www.maine.gov/portal/business/starting.html

Tax ID – Paying taxes is part of owning a business. Your business will need a tax ID. The IRS has information on their web site to help you understand what a tax ID is and how to file for your company’s number:

http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Starting-a-Business

Rules for employers – As your business grows and you need to hire, there are other considerations. You’ve worked hard to set your firm apart from the competition and you will want to keep the vision and the culture of your business. You will want to have folks dress a certain way, greet customers a certain way, answer the phone and take orders in a particular way. You will want to excel in great service, in personal care, in doing the best job so folks come back time after time. How are you going to pass that information on to new hires?

This is just some of the information needed to run a great business. Lots of things to think through even before you open your doors to have the best shot at success. Having a excellent skill or talent isn’t all you’ll need. But getting some of these things done well will save you a lot of on-the-job education in your business start-up. (CR9882)

 

A Man is Not a Financial Plan

February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

You are a sweetheart

February and the celebration of Valentine’s Day always seems to me to be a good time to talk the importance of loving yourself enough to take care of your money.  Studies find that if you have confidence in yourself, if you think you are worth the effort, you WILL take care of your money. And I want you to do that, to believe you can do this and then to DO IT.

To that end I want to remind you that ‘A man is not a financial plan.’ This is a trademark phrase of the Women’s Institute of Financial Education, WIFE. We say this to make a point, to urge you to care for yourself as you do for others, to take responsibility even if this is an area in which you have little knowledge or familiarity. It is not said to scold or nag you, or to make you feel guilty.

It is said because it is true. People are valuable as human beings and not for their money. You are important because of who you are and not for what you can do for someone else. It is true in another key way: your money is your responsibility.

What this does not mean is that you have to shoulder all the responsibilities of the finances by yourself if you are blessed to have a partner. But neither should you do nothing and ignore it all.

So what should you do? If you’re married, talk about money together. Because it’s your money, decide on a money plan that fits both of your lives.

Don’t wait until some special time in the future. Don’t avoid this as if it is painful. You can learn this. It may need to be explained differently than you are presently hearing it. But you can learn what you need to know to be in control of your money.

Make a budget. Or, check on the budget and make sure things are going as planned. If you DON’T have a budget, make one. They are a delight as they help you control the fun and future plans. Budgets are GOOD.

Talk about retirement together. Retirement planning is typically the biggest part of creating your money map or financial plan. What lifestyle were you anticipating once you retire? How much income will that lifestyle require? How much is saved presently and at what rate are you saving? How much more might you need to save to achieve your goal? At what age do you want to stop working? What about your spouse? They may want to keep working? Will you be moving? Lots of things to work through so that your plan is specific to YOU and realistic.

Take responsibility for a portion of the money tasks. Pay certain bills, make calls or do the internet investigation needed for your investment accounts. Talk together about the whole picture but personally take a role in your money life.

Men are amazing and wonderful. But they are not alive only to give you money and act as a wallets for your spending pleasure. They are people to love and respect and they deserve intelligent partners who handle adult responsibilities adorably.

Get your free ‘A Man is Not a Financial Plan’ bumper sticker at http://www.wife.org/ CR9798

 

Facing Your Finances Alone

January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

2013-10-13 14.16.48

You may be facing this year on your own. The statistics for divorce show that about half of marriages each year-end. The average age of a widow in the US is about 60 years old. And you may have chosen a single life. Whatever your life is, here are some tips for managing your finances.

Understand your reality – Things may have recently changed. Your circumstances may be very different from they were even a few months ago. You need to wrap your wonderful brain around the truth of life. You need to look things squarely in the face, my friend. No games. Truth now.

Understand your fear – You also need to understand that some of what you are perceiving may be baloney because you have created monsters where none exist.  Your fears are real to you, but may have no bearing in real life. They may be fears about the future – and you can’t predict the future. They may be fears that you ‘can’t do this.’ We have to move past this into the new land that is in front of us, but we can’t do that if you don’t recognize the terrain, including your fears. But in the end, let’s give the future the opportunity to turn out well and not so negatively color it.

Take excellent care – Take excellent care of yourself. You are amazing, have been through a lot, and need someone who understands you and your needs. And that person is YOU. So live a balanced life with plenty of rest, exercise, social connections and all the rest of the needs a human has for optimal health.

Get advice– Just because you live alone doesn’t mean you need to DO everything alone. There are caring experts with integrity in your area who will provide great advice for you in your circumstance. People whom you will be able to enthusiastically refer once you find them. You can be delighted with your experts. Don’t have someone with whom you are enthusiastic? They are out there! Don’t give up until you are happy.

Trust your instincts– You may not be an expert on all things. That’s why having advice is a benefit. But you can trust your gut on the integrity and truth-telling of your advisor. You know when things are baloney and when they are not. And if you don’t know, bring a friend along who reads people well to give you some feedback in your decision-making. You are not inconveniencing a friend to get their input. You would do the same for your buds, and do it enthusiastically.

Be a great friend– Speaking of friendship, be a terrific friend to yourself. Say encouraging things about your behavior, your reflection in the mirror, about your life and future. Be a friend filled with hope and vision of wonderful days of blessing ahead of this beautiful person. And if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. Just as your mom told you.

Do not borrow trouble. Anticipate good things filled in the center with juicy surprises of hope and wonder. Say it with me: This is going to be a very good season of life. (CR9740)

 

 

We LOVE Resolutions

December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

In all the busyness of this time of year, there is also a recognition of the upcoming new year and it’s fresh start and rebalancing of priorities. I start thinking of changes, tweaks, that I want to make in personal and business life as the autumn approaches and try to take time between Christmas and New Year’s day to get my goals in order. But I’m, a planner, and I love a nice plan.

Let's toast

As part of your end-of-year consideration, I have gathered a few ideas that I hope will help you and I have an awesome 2014.

1.)    Common resolutions– In life, and for many folks, the most common resolutions are weight loss, to exercise more and to improve oneself, even on some lists to do some-or more-volunteering    For our money, the top resolutions are to save more, pay down debt and get a better job.

2.)    Should you bother making a resolution? – As a girl who loves a plan I happily found studies which suggest that people who MAKE resolutions are TEN TIMES more likely to succeed in achieving their goal than those who don’t bother with a resolution. As a numbers girl, I say, YEAH. An relatively minor bit of work that effects our future and hoped-for change by ten times is definitely worth the effort.

3.)    Effective strategies – There are several points to help effect this lovely change in our future. One way to make a dream a more likely reality is to write the resolution down and write down WHY you want to do this thing. Then think of ways to achieve this goal that includes some fun reward or side bonus so that you see the change as awesomeness. Speak to yourself in a positive way, phrasing it in your mind as a challenge you are up for, able to tackle, capable of winning.

The last in my list of strategies is to remove the obstacles that hinder you from keeping the goal. Anticipate the possibly several reasons that might slow you down, whatever they may be. Perhaps you beat yourself up with your words or thoughts when you don’t execute the plan perfectly. It may be the temptations that make your goal seem less desirable in a given situation.

I say that you and I need to give ourselves permission to – if at first we don’t succeed- to try, try again. Because bud, 2014 is going to be a great year! (CR9680)

 

 

I Choose Happiness

November 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Father and son

Thanksgiving, a time for gratitude. Is it hard to feel grateful? We often think that ‘if only’ we had this thing or that shiny object then we could really enjoy life. Studies indicate that though your natural happiness may have a predetermined, genetic ‘set point,’ happiness is also a daily choice. Here are seven happy tips.

Choose – Happiness is an intentional decision that you pursue with determination. It isn’t, according to studies, dropped out of the sky  for you. It is an intentional direction pursued. You know what makes you feel better, what lifts your spirits. As much as possible those are the people or activities to pursue. Choose who you hang with, people who lift your spirits and not those who are always sad, disappointed or grumbling.

Gratitude – Studies repeatedly show that those individuals who practice gratitude are among the happiest. What can you do to get in the gratitude habit? List things, either out loud or in a journal, for which you are thankful. Everyday think of all the good things, the loving people, that fill your life. You have so many gifts, talents and blessings. Think about those things and you will feel happier.

Forgiveness – You can’t live for any length of time and not have been hurt. Anger and resentment can be emotionally crippling. Just carrying the burden of injustice or betrayal leaves your heart heavy and sad. More and more research shows, according to experts, that forgiveness is tied to mental health and happiness. Face it, life’s not fair and it sometimes hurts. Remember that your words and actions have also been the source of pain to others. Remember your poor choices in the past to better let go of the pain and hurt long-past from others so you can let it go, friend. Your health and happiness depend in part on your willingness to forgive. Let it go, little bird, and be free.

Give negativity the boot – Negativity is no fun. And sometimes we carelessly ruminate about how life stinks or seems unfair. There is no benefit in such thoughts. When you become aware of negative thoughts or careless negative self-talk replace those thoughts by remembering your list of blessings. Sing upbeat songs, dance in the living room. Chase the bad away with purposeful joy.

It’s not the money– You may be wondering why a column on happiness and emotions on a financial blog. Well, my friends, money and happiness have some link. But it turns out that all the money in the world doesn’t bring peace and contentment. You’ve no doubt observed the sad shenanigans of Hollywood celebs and the idle rich. They have lots of money and yet they feel depressed. Studies reveal that making enough to pay modest bills is a threshold for normal happiness. Making more than is needed to cover basic expenses doesn’t significantly increase happiness. With more money comes only small amounts of joy. Once you don’t have to worry about the electric bill, money fails to be a happiness focus.

Make friends – Folks who have friends, people with whom they can laugh and joke, who bring out the best in us, who care when you are hurting and celebrate in good times, are happier than those without close relationships. Want more friends? Reach out. Don’t sit in your house, resentful and selfishly wondering why no one calls or invites you to lunch. Take control of your life. Take a risk. Invite folks to join you for potlucks or the movies or a picnic in the park. All the while you think folks are ignoring you when perhaps it’s that they don’t know how to make friends, either. They feel unsure how to become better buds. If you make the effort to keep and expand your real-life social connections you will be happier. Life’s better with buddies.

Meaningful life – Finally, folks who give their time to activities that change lives, that change the community, and in which they are also challenged to give their best show high levels of happiness. More common forms of spending time such as TV viewing and other leisure activities, don’t produce the same high level of joy as giving yourself to some meaningful work.

So as you practice gratitude this Thanksgiving, ruminate on this and pursue awesomeness. (CR9590)

 

 

 

 

You and Your 401(k)

October 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

You're smart and cute

According to a recently published study, 61% of workers surveyed said that their 401(k) is their only savings for retirement and will be an important source of income along with Social Security. More than half have increased their contributions in the past couple of years and believe their investments have recovered since the crisis, and most realized the importance of a 401(k).

Here are the obstacles:

Too confusing – 52% said the their 401(k) was more complicated to understand than their health benefits.

Wish it were simpler – 57% said they wish there was an easier way for them to figure out the correct investments for them.

Don’t know best investment option – Almost half (46%) don’t know what is the best option for them to choose and a third (34%) are stressed out about not knowing which to pick.

Feel twice as confident with an advisor – Those with advisors felt twice as confident about making investment decisions than those making those investment choices on their own (61% to 32%).

You are not alone if you feel overwhelmed. But you don’t need to stress about it. Maybe it’s time to speak with a professional. (CR9442)

 

 

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