Monthly Archives: May 2016

Do it Yourself Project

As Jimmy Durante said, “Everybody wants to get into the act!” You can’t turn on the TV or read the paper or view a website these days without somebody offering retirement planning guidance from an expert. Most of these ads are sponsored by investment or insurance companies. They want you to invest with them but the guidance they give is superficial at best and hardly personal.

That’s not all. Recently, a web site opened up offering women an on line financial plan prepared by a CFP® for around $600. There are low cost on line “ROBO” advisors and there is even an APP that professes to do your retirement planning for a modest fee. These might be okay for younger folks to get them started in the right direction but if you are one of the many who want to retire in the next fifteen years, do you really think you should trust an APP to guide you on one of your most important life events?

Retirement planning is not just about investments. In fact, when I prepare a retirement plan, investments are the last thing I talk about. Planning for retirement is complicated and there are a lot of opportunities to make mistakes. If you screw up, it can cost you a lot of money and potentially ruin your retirement. A few years ago, I wrote an article for the Financial Planning Association that they posted it on their web site. You can read it right here.

A value of saving in my kids

We don’t make our kids eat their vegetables before having dessert. Shocking, isn’t it? I’m probably going to get in trouble with a lot of parents and nutritionists for saying this, but yes, we do not make our kids eat their vegetables before having dessert. Wait, you say, isn’t this is a blog about personal financial planning? What does saving have to do with kids eating vegetables?


I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let me tell you how dinnertime goes at our house.


Dinner at Our House


Almost every night (no one is perfect), our kids get a plate of healthy food in front of them.


We talk about how we value eating foods that make us strong inside and out. We even have a vegetable garden so they can see where healthy food comes from and have the pleasure of helping to grow it.


Beyond what goes on their plates, though, we stay out of their eating decisions. They are pretty good about trying things, but they don’t always like what we serve, and they don’t always eat it. That’s okay. If we happen to be having dessert that night, they still get some.


There’s research out there that says kids have innate mechanisms for knowing what their bodies need and when to stop eating. Limiting sweets can actually lead to kids eating a lot more of them later in life. Our goal is simply not to mess up their internal regulation by telling our kids what to eat.


And guess what? They like vegetables and are really proud of eating them!


Kids and Eating / Kids and Money


So what does all this vegetable talk have to do with money? We wonder if a similar approach might work for money lessons. Right now, the kids are six and four years old. The most important thing we want them to internalize at this age is “spend less than you make,” “live beneath your means,” or in other words, “Save!”


So, what is our job as parents?

  • Put healthy choices in front of the kids. First, we limit the amount of advertising and shopping that makes it on to their “plates.” And we do things such as hitting neighborhood garage sales to stock up on gently used toys. They are comfortable leaving some of their money in their piggy banks when we go, because they know they are going to have a little fun spending too, and it’s easy for them to see that their money goes further than it would at the store.
  • Give them a window into how we make grown-up decisions with money, using lessons they can understand. “Yes, I can just pay for that library book you can’t find, but that is money we won’t be able to spend going to the water park.”
  • Talk to them about our value of saving. We value having reserves that give us choices and flexibility. Saving is setting aside money to spend later on something more important than whatever is in front of us right now. Like the vegetables, it makes us strong and healthy, even though it might not give us the same immediate pleasure as dessert.
  • Use Money Savvy Pigs so they can see and touch what it means to make goals, set aside money for different goals, and have the pleasure of reaching goals. This is their money vegetable garden!
  • Stay out of their spending decisions and let them have dessert (i.e. spend money on something frivolous), even if they don’t always save exactly the way we want them to save.

Planning and Uncertainty About Finance

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.” But even death and taxes are uncertain enough to present significant financial planning challenges.

Unfortunately, it is quite easy to conclude that financial planning is a waste of time because no one can know the future. But we do know that we’ll need to set something aside for the future, we won’t earn wages out entire life, and prices will probably continue to inflate. The only other crucial assumption we need to make in financial planning is that every other assumption we make is wrong.

Let’s face it, managing our finances and making important money decisions involve making a lot assumptions:

  • How much will I save? Spend?
  • How much money will I be making? For how long?
  • How much will I need for emergencies?
  • Should I buy or rent?
  • What if I need to move for work?
  • How much should I invest? Keep in cash?
  • How much money will I need to retire?
  • Inflation?
  • When will I retire? Will that be in a bull or bear market?
  • How much risk should I take?
  • What will the markets return?
  • How much insurance do I need?
  • How much will healthcare cost?
  • What will my future tax liability be?
  • How long will I live?

Just about everything about financial planning is uncertain, but some of these uncertainties become less uncertain overtime. As we get closer to future events, often the very same events that we’re planning for, the range of possibilities becomes narrower because we will have more information available. And at some point, we will have our certain answer, but by that point, is is usually too late to have done anything different before we knowing better.