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Music Mondays – Living on a Prayer

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Those who know me, know that Bon Jovi is literally my favorite band ever. I have loved them for 30+ years now. Since they have been around almost as long as I have and have been producing new music the entire time, they truly have provided the soundtrack to my life.

Despite the fact that I love all of their music, the song I love above all others is Livin’ on a Prayer.  Every time I hear it, I want to scream “OHHHHHHH WE’RE HALFWAY THERE!” at the top of my lungs.  This is not only a great song to listen to, but it provides a great analogy for how a number of us feel financially.  Many of us are literally living paycheck to paycheck.  We are living on a prayer. No matter how awesome this song is to sing, it is not awesome to live it as a reality.  If you can relate to this, then I challenge you to stop, take a deep breath, and look at your finances.  Find your problem areas and strategize on how to fix them.  If you can’t find the problems, then ask a friend (preferably a non-judgmental one) to look them over with you and find what you’re missing.  A change of perspective can be a great gift.  If you are too embarrassed to ask someone you know, then reach out to me, and I’ll help you sort it out.

The primary reason why I see clients living on a prayer is lack of focus and planning around their finances. I know we all lead busy lives, but when we don’t take the time to focus on our finances, we create more problems that will only compound with time. Schedule time at least once a month in your calendar to look into your finances in great detail. I am sure with this focus, you will find ways to save and improve your financial well being. Hopefully before you know it, you’ll be singing this song and not living it.

Enjoy this video straight out of 1986!!  LOVE the hair and tassels on the leather jacket!  Yes!!

Wealth Strategies that Won’t Work

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As a financial advisor, I have heard many interesting ideas from clients on how they are going to achieve their financial goals. Some are practical and achievable and some are just plain wacky. I plan to highlight the wacky ideas in my blog posts entitled “Wealth Strategies That Won’t Work.” My hope is that if you are someone who is relying on one of these that you will learn to let them go and actively pursue more practical avenues for growing your wealth and achieving your financial goals.

I have had many meetings where I ask clients how long they expect to work, and I can’t tell you how many times I get the response “I am never going to retire. I plan to work until I am 80 (or dead, whichever comes first)”.  A number of clients who share this with me are younger, have no savings, and have dim future prospects for financial prosperity.  While I understand that given their current picture, they may feel they have to work until 80, I have found that if they make smart Financially Blonde choices at an early stage in their lives, they will actually not have to work so hard and for so long.  The choices are hard and require work and effort now, but in your 20s, 30s or 40s, you are young and have the energy to put in this work.  I would much rather see people put in this energy now than have to work hard later on in life when you have less energy and want to slow down.

It’s easy to say you are going to work “forever” when you are 20 or 30 and retirement is so far away; however, I have many clients in their 60s who are looking retirement in the eye, and they are not financially ready to stop working. They are not ready, because they didn’t make “smart” choices along the way.  In addition, they are tired from having worked the last 40 years.  They would like to relax more and many of them need to relax more, but it is not a feasible option for them financially.

So I urge you not to think of working until 80 as an option for you in life.  Start early making hard choices so you can make easier choices later in life.  If you go out with friends every weekend, take a couple weekends a month off and stay in to preserve your cash.  If you like to shop, can you make a few less trips a month?  If you need a new car, can you wait or buy a less expensive car? I challenge you to use your youthfulness to make smart choices so that your 80-year-old self can relax instead of work.

Music Mondays – Safe and Sound

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As a financial advisor, I was responsible for putting together financial plans for clients and recommending investments for their money. If clients had money to invest, they typically did not want to take too much risk with it. Their feeling was that they worked hard to accumulate that wealth and therefore, they did not want the markets or investments to deteriorate their wealth. The fact is that just about every investment you can think of has risk. Some of them have more than others. And risk is not necessarily a bad thing. Typically when you take on more risk, you get more “reward.” At the end of the day, I wanted to protect my client’s money as well, and I wanted them to feel “safe and sound.” The only true guarantee that I could suggest to clients to make them feel “safe and sound,” though, was insurance. In fact, I insisted on a certain level of it for most clients. Many financial advisors do not view insurance as part of an overall plan, and I think that is a mistake. For me, the insurance component might not be as “sexy” as the stock market, but it is the “safe and sound” option. Again, you have worked hard to afford your home or your car or lifestyle. You would not want a catastrophic accident to happen that would take that all away.

Not all insurance is necessary and not all insurance is “worth” it. At the very minimum, I believe people should have homeowner’s or rental insurance, car insurance, and health insurance. I don’t think that life insurance is necessary for everyone, but there are certain instances where I feel it is a must. On a basic level, where life insurance is concerned, you have whole life or permanent insurance or term life insurance. Unless it is part of a larger estate planning strategy, I don’t feel that whole life insurance is worth the cost, so that leaves term insurance. I like to see people who have a mortgage and/or children have term insurance. If something were to happen to you, your home and your children would be the biggest “financial concerns” that you would have. Term life insurance could help your surviving family members stay in their home and if you have children, it could help pay for their college or lifestyle for a period of time. Most people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s do not want to think about life insurance; however, if something were to happen to you or someone you love at this age, the financial burden could be catastrophic on those left behind. In addition, it is less expensive to get life insurance while you’re younger and if anything were to happen to you down the road, you run the risk of becoming “uninsurable,” and you would miss your opportunity to even have life insurance. In this song they say “even if we’re six feet underground I know that we’ll be safe and sound.” Yes, if you were six feet under, you would be safe and sound, but would your family?

The other insurance that I like to see anyone over 50 have is long-term care insurance. Again, people in their 50s do not want to think about when they are incapacitated, but the increasing costs of long-term care could become a major financial issue for you or possibly your children. Long-term care insurance is a way for you to preserve your assets and control the level and quality of care you would receive should something happen to you. Again, just like life insurance, long-term care is less expensive when you are younger and getting it earlier would protect you in the case of something happening down the road that would make you uninsurable.

Again, insurance is not fun and sexy and typically you are paying for something you may never use so you will feel it is a waste. However, if something were to happen to you, your family, or your assets, the only way to truly keep everyone “safe and sound” is insurance.

Don’t Buy It – Try it!

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Do you have a product graveyard?

I like beauty products as much as the next girl. I’m guilty of having a “product graveyard” that is pretty sizable.  Product graveyards consist of all of the beauty products we have purchased, typically without much thought ,and then ceased to use them continuously.  The interesting thing about me is that I have probably spent THOUSANDS of dollars on various face moisturizers over the past 18 years and yet the one item that I use consistently is Oil of Olay, which averages for $9 a bottle and lasts for months.

One day a few years back my friend Lisa took me to Sephora and opened my eyes to a whole new world.  Prior to this day, I thought that the Sephora “Try Me” items were nothing but a collection of germs, funguses, and infections waiting to happen.  The concept of putting my fingers into a product that hundreds of other fingers had been in just seemed completely revolting to me.  But Lisa showed me the value of “trying and not buying” while in a Sephora, and I have to give it a VERY BIG Financially Blonde approval to it.

Sephora is awesome

At least twice a month, I make a point to visit a Sephora with no make up or product on my face. I arrive with the intention of giving myself the greatest “free” facial possible.  I tour all of the face product sections and try out the most expensive options. I am not a big fan of the make up sections, but I encourage those if you are interested in that sort of thing.  After my facial, I typically spray some dry shampoo, add a little lip-gloss, and I’m ready to go.  My husband always comments on the youthfulness of my face when I return home after one of these trips.  Check out my before and after pics below and let me know if you see the difference.  I love that both my husband and I notice a difference, and that I have saved myself hundreds of dollars on facials and expensive skin care products.  I challenge you to take advantage of a “Try It but Don’t Buy It” trip. Tell us about your results and what products we should try!

try it pics

 Do you ever go shopping and not buy anything but try stuff out?

Music Mondays – The Gambler

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Sage advice from an old man

In continuing with my Vegas inspired blogs, I am taking this Music Monday to highlight The Gambler by Kenny Rogers. The video below is cheesy and the song is 35 years old, yet it has some of the most sage advice I have ever heard. In the song, a down on his luck train passenger gets lessons on playing cards from a seasoned gambler, but we all know that his advice goes beyond the card table.

The gambler is truly providing us with important life lessons. From a financial standpoint, I would like to highlight the chorus “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” And these words are incredibly important when looking at recurring payments we have on our credit or debit cards. These payments could include anything from gym memberships or cable/satellite bills to magazine subscriptions or website access.

Recurring payments add up

Recurring payments are sneaky charges that have larger implications. $19.99 per month might not seem like a lot of money, but $240 for the year could definitely make a difference in your financial health. When I meet with clients who have difficulty saving, we review their credit and bank account statements in great detail and analyze the true value of these recurring payments. Do you use the service you are paying for? If so, how frequently? Has it been months since you have used it? If you are not benefiting from these payments, then you need to “fold ‘em” and walk away.

I understand that it is sometimes difficult to let go of these because you always think you will use them at some point. However, if you are not using them with any frequency, then your money is best spent saved or utilized on something else more useful. Recurring payments are like STD’s, they are relatively easy to acquire, but seemingly impossible to get rid of, especially in the case of gym memberships.

I advise clients to review these charges monthly and set aside time to call or email the company directly so that you can ensure that you have cancelled any that are of no use to you now. Even if it may be difficult to cancel, your money and financial health is worth your time to make sure you are not overpaying for something you are under-using or not using at all.

Remember the wise words of the Gambler “The secret to survival is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.” Some of these recurring charges may be beneficial to you, but you should commit to analyzing them on an ongoing basis and know when to walk away if they aren’t worth it. Don’t let them quietly hurt you one month at a time.

Vegas Baby!!

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I just recently traveled to Vegas for the first time. There are so many lessons to be learned from one trip to Vegas and I will mostly keep with the theme “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” except for those important financial lessons that shouldn’t remain there.

As a financial advisor, people frequently ask me about buying individual stocks—“Should I buy Apple?” “What about Ford?”—and I have a difficult time responding to them.  If they are asking about buying these stocks because they heard something on the news or like the product, then my feeling is that buying that stock is not too dissimilar from going to Vegas and putting your money on red.  Some people enjoy Vegas for that kind of excitement.  As for me, I appreciated the shows, food, and late night drinking.  Yes, Apple, Ford, or other high quality companies could be good investments; however, if they are not part of a well thought out and constructed portfolio, then there are no guarantees about the kind of returns you can expect from owning them.

The financial markets have gotten increasingly more complex for individual investors.  There are a number of other buyers out there, including large hedge funds that use computer models to inform their buying and selling choices. With all the factors impacting each individual stock, it can be difficult to predict long- term performance.  In October of 2007, I owned Bank of America stock (through my 401k) at $52.07 per share.  I left Bank of America in July of 2008, and I had the option to sell the stock in my 401k at $22 or take the shares.  I thought it was crazy that Bank of America stock was trading at $22 (I just knew it would go back to $52 in the future) and OF COURSE I was going to take the shares.  Then I watched that portion of my IRA go down to $3.95 in February of 2009 and now it is around $14.61.  There are obviously a number of reasons why Bank of America in particular has gone through this price volatility; however, even intensely analytical investors do not understand why it still trades below its book value.  There are many stocks that have experienced similar price fluctuations that are difficult for analysts to explain completely.

So how do you keep from feeling like going to Vegas if you want to own stocks?  There are a number of things you can do to take away some of the stress.  The first is actually setting aside what I would call “play money” just like I would advise you do to if you were going to Vegas.  This is money that you don’t necessarily need for any particular life goal.  Then take that money and buy the stocks that you find interesting or want to own for personal reasons.  The next suggestion is that you buy a well-constructed stock portfolio where you own stocks of different sizes, different industry groups, and different geographic areas.  This diversification will help reduce the volatility in your portfolio.  It is not the same as putting your money on red and black, but it is much better than just being on red.  The final option would be to own pooled vehicles like mutual funds or ETFs.  These investments give you exposure to numerous stocks as determined by either a portfolio manager or an index.  Just purchasing a handful of shares of these gives you instant diversification to help lower your stock market risk.

No matter what your preference is for investing in the stock market, make sure you are informed on what you are doing and have fun doing it.  If you feel intimidated or scared, ask questions until you get the answers that alleviate those feelings.  The financial markets are complex, and just like you should know your odds before you play any game in Vegas, make sure you are fully informed on your investing!

 

Music Mondays – Hate That I Love You

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Yes, this song, Hate that I Love You, is about an unhealthy relationship between two people; however, I think we can all fill in the “boy/girl” part of the lyrics with an item or experience that we all indulge in and wish that we didn’t. For me, it’s shoes. I hate how much I love them. I hate that I love them so. As I embarked on the journey to become financially fit, I found it relatively easy to give up many things so that I could have a sexier bank account. However, shoes are a very difficult item for me not to purchase. I think we all struggle with our financial kryptonite. It is truly a relationship that we develop with our spending problems. We get emotional when it comes to that item or experience. We feel it when we don’t indulge. But like any unhealthy relationship, when it gets to the point where we are “unglued” from it, we need to stop and evaluate why we remain in it. Sometimes the relationship is not completely unhealthy, but maybe we need to spend less time on it.

When I work with clients who struggle with unhealthy spending relationships (i.e. shoes, purses, wine, cars, watches, travel, etc.) the first step is acknowledging that this is a weakness. Once we identify the weakness, then we can make the best plan to confront the issue. This plan ultimately leads to a healthy long-term relationship for my clients and more money in their bank accounts.

As for me with my shoes, I created an allowance within my financial plan specifically for shoes. It is a dollar amount that allows me to buy one or four pairs depending on how well I spend my money. I like knowing that I have shoes in my plan; therefore, I don’t feel like I ever have to avoid a DSW or Nordstrom. However, I know I have a limited amount of money set aside for these shoes so it certainly makes me more discerning when I’m shopping. If the shoes don’t make my feet look and feel amazing the second I put them on, then I move on and wait for another pair to speak to me. If you have one of these relationships, I challenge you to identify, plan, and change it so that you can save yourself the heartache of being in an unhealthy relationship and become closer to achieving financial fitness.

Beware of the Money Pit

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Beware of “Too Good to be True”

When I was 8 years old, my mom took me to see the movie The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long.  I remember thinking at the time that it was one of the funniest movies I’d ever seen.  Just recently, it was on HBO, and I was reminded about how funny it is, but I actually appreciated it from a Financially Blonde perspective.  Walter and Anna were living in her ex-husband’s home and found themselves suddenly “homeless” when the ex returned home without notice.  Walter and Anna were shocked and caught unaware about where to live next.  They decided to look for a house, but on their budget they were limited in what they could afford.  They ended up finding a true “gem” and made a rash decision to purchase the house as it seemed too good to be true.  And of course it was.

Don’t make the same mistakes

The movie is an exaggeration of a situation; however, I see many people (myself included) make poor decisions around home ownership and find themselves in the money pit for a variety of reasons.  Home buying has dramatically changed since the housing crisis of 2007/2008.  There are a number of new banking regulations and many of the options that used to be available to home buyers are no longer available.

If you want to buy a home now, you need at least 20% of the home price as a down payment.  In addition, you will not be able to borrow against this money until your home value is at least 79% higher than the cash you have in the house, as the lending standards do not allow for it.  Then you will need cash for closing costs, which are frequently underestimated by your mortgage provider.  Then you should have cash saved for your first 6 months of your mortgage payments.  The bank will not require you to do this; however, I know that it is a Financially Blonde decision as you never know what can happen once you move into that home.  In fact, if you are buying an older home, I would also advise that you have a “rainy day fund” ($5,000­–$10,000) saved for when you discover some of the wear and tear that your home has faced that didn’t come up during the home inspection.

Buying a home is one of the largest financial decisions you will ever make, and given this, you should make sure that you give this decision the thought, time, and research that it needs before you make it.  It is Financially Blonde to have a substantial amount of cash on hand before making this decision. If you do not, then keep saving until you have it. You may dream of that perfect home for your family, but if you can’t truly afford it, then you will cause your family more damage than good by moving to the home too soon.

Ask lots of questions and preferably not from people who have a financial interest in your decision (like your realtor, banker, and financial advisor.).  The best sources I would recommend are people who have recently bought homes.  Ask for their input.  Or ask questions here on the blog, and we will get you what you need.  Don’t use Walter and Anna as a model of what to do when buying a home.

Below is a clip of one of my favorite scenes from the movie.  EVERY time I see this, I laugh as hard as Walter does over the tub.  So funny!