A 4-Step Process to Integrating Money and Life

Originally in ForbesOnce you’ve abandoned the pursuit of balancing money and life in favor of integrating the two, the question still remains: Now what? How the heck do I better integrate money and life? Like most personal finance dilemmas, the answer is simple, but not easy.

It’s simple because it doesn’t require many steps. What’s more, it’s advice you’ve likely heard before, perhaps multiple times. But it’s challenging because you have to do some work—interior work. And then you have to make some difficult decisions.

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Before I share the process, it’s imperative that we recognize a fundamental financial truth, often shrouded in a sea of marketing, misinformation and self-help rubbish that’s more sales than psychology.

RULE: Money is a means, not an end. Money is a tool—a neutral tool that is neither good nor evil. It may, however, be used in pursuit of either good or evil, and everything in between. Money can be well-utilized in the pursuit of goals, but it makes a very poor, lonely goal in and of itself.

Understanding—and believing and applying—this rule is the aim of the following systematic four-step approach to better integrating life and money:

Don’t Balance Money And Life, Integrate Them

Originally in ForbesWe got the subtitle of my last book wrong. It reads, “Balancing Money and Life.” And while the book is still substantively solid and its aging content remains mostly relevant, the subtitle, I now believe, is a misnomer. It may actually contradict the book’s fundamental message.

Whether we’re talking about money and life, work and life—whatever and life—the temptation is to see the “whatever” as a force standing in opposition to life. An alternative to life.

And, unfortunately, this isn’t merely a rhetorical conundrum. As it often does, life follows language. Indeed, the phrase “work-life balance” has become so common that most of us now consider it an either-or proposition. We picture a scale, balancing work on one side and life on the other, as though it’s a zero-sum game. Work or life.

And so it has become with money. We can choose to expend life in pursuit of money or deplete our financial resources in pursuit of life.

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Perhaps there’s a third option—the integration of money and life. Consider these seven ways we might view life and money differently if our approach to them was less mutually exclusive:

I was truly honored–and just a little bit terrified–to be the subject of one of the BAM Alliance‘s short films (extraordinarily produced by Once Films) depicting the heart of the work we’ve dedicated our lives to.

street signsWith markets entering a period of significant volatility this past week, CNBC was curious what type of discussions I’m having with clients.  I told them, in short, that I’m talking about ways that we, as investors, can benefit from market losses.

Date: October 17, 2014
Appearance: Gaining Through Market Losses – CNBC
Outlet: Street Signs on CNBC
Format: Television

3 Reasons to Avoid ETFs: Advisor

Originally published CNBCExchange-traded funds—commonly referred to as ETFs—are all the rage. While there are several excellent reasons to use an ETF over the seemingly archaic traditional mutual fund, they are not a universally preferable solution.

First, to be fair, let’s review a few reasons why ETFs can be a better solution than mutual funds.

ETFs generally have lower associated costs than comparable mutual funds. This isn’t news, I know, but since costs are one of the few variables over which we have control as investors, I don’t mind flogging this deceased ungulate.

ETFs

The expense ratio is the most obvious cost reduction. For example, the legendarily inexpensive Vanguard 500 Index Fund has an expense ratio of 0.17 percent, while Vanguard’s S&P 500 ETF has a barely noticeable expense ratio of 0.05 percent. This makes ETFs an ideal choice for investors making a sizable, broadly-based, one-and-done purchase.

Boomer Esiason’s Advice For Millennials: Plan For Tomorrow, Live For Today

Originally in ForbesBoomer Esiason is busy—I mean, really busy. “Starting next Tuesday, all the way until after the Super Bowl in 2015, I think I’ve got about four days off,” he told me.

Why, then, was he anxious to talk about financial planning and life insurance?

It’s because he has a message for today’s youth: “Protect your future and make sure that whenever adversity strikes, you are prepared for it.” Prepared, among other things, with the appropriate level of life insurance. 

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But how did one of the National Football League’s great quarterbacks and commentators become an advocate for life insurance and the spokesperson for Life Happens, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of planning with life insurance? 

Back to School — Back to Financial Fundamentals for 3 Generations

Originally in ForbesAs kids head back to school, adults spanning several generations set their sites on getting their financial house back in order.  What are the most important financial planning considerations in three major demographics—Millennials, Generation X and Empty Nesters?

Millennials:  First things first – Before making any big financial commitments, like buying a house, figure out what you want life to look like.

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  • Are you in a relationship and looking to “settle down,” or do you highly value freedom and flexibility?  If the latter, you shouldn’t be buying a house or committing to a job that is geographically tethered.
  • If you’re in your twenties, the primary factor that will influence your financial success is how well you establish yourself in a career.  Invest in yourself, and that will likely help you invest more money in the future.
  • Save as much as you can in tax-qualified retirement accounts at this phase of life, because once you get settled down and have kids, your expenses will rise dramatically.
  • Don’t default to 100% equity portfolios just because you’re young.  After getting burned by the market crash of 2008, many Millennials got scared away and didn’t benefit from the subsequent market rise.  Your portfolio should likely be predominantly stocks at this age, but consider some fixed income exposure to keep from losing your shirt (and abandoning your strategy) in a downturn.

As the kids head back to school, many of us are getting back to work on our personal financial plan.  I talked with Susie Gharib about the most important considerations for Millennials, Gens X & Y and Empty Nesters on the Nightly Business Report on PBS (produced by CNBC):

Date: August 26, 2014
Appearance: Back to School, Back to Work (on Your Finances)
Outlet: The Nightly Business Report on PBS
Format: Television

3 Reasons Financial Advisors Should Court Younger Clients

Originally published CNBCLast month I attended a presentation that explored, in depth, the notable differences and financial tendencies of several generations, from the silent generation through the millennials.

The presentation described certain representative traits perceived as common among each generation and what financial advisors should consider when communicating with members of them as prospects and clients.

When discussion of the younger generations came up, I noticed advisors around the room rolling their eyes and scratching their heads. The expert at the front of the room was providing well-researched data to help us understand what is important—and less so—to these generations and how we might consider breaking through to them. 

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But, as the attention of this group of well-heeled advisors descended into a collective yawn, the presenter scurried to wrap up before answering the most important questions:

  • Why exactly should financial advisors dedicate themselves to working with younger clients?
  • Why should advisors apply valuable time and money to crafting services and messaging for a demographic niche notorious for inspiring descriptors such as “entitled,” “ungrateful” and “distrustful”?

New Report on the Cost of Kids: Reading Between the Lines

Originally in ForbesThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released its annual “Cost of Raising a Child” report. The news from it is really no news at all to us parents—kids are stinking expensive and growing even more so. However, if you read between the lines, there are three extremely important points that don’t show up in the executive summary:

My family outside of the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston

1)   Parents still have a choice. The USDA estimates that households with less than $61,530 in income will spend a total of $176,550 per child. Meanwhile, “middle-income parents” making between $61,530 and $106,540 each year can anticipate spending $245,340 per kid. Those blessed with household income over $106,540 should expect to spend $407,820.  

Here’s how I read these numbers: It likely costs approximately $175,000 to care for a child’s needs in today’s dollars. Beyond that, it’s our choice as parents if and how we spend additional money on our progeny. When your household income jumps from $106,000 to $107,000, the USDA isn’t holding a gun to your head and demanding that you spend an additional $162,480 per child.

It’s completely up to you, and you may choose to spend more or less than some of the USDA estimates. For example, you may choose (wisely) to spend more on one child than another for various, justifiable reasons, including each individual child’s own gifts and weaknesses. If you choose to put even one child through private school, from kindergarten through a graduate degree, you could easily spend a million bucks just for education—and college isn’t even included in the USDA’s numbers.