‘Someday Came’: How Our Vision Of The Future Shapes Our Saving In The Present

While on vacation recently in the Abaco Islands, on the outer rim of the Bahamas, I found myself on an important mission: taking the golf cart to the local market to restock our dwindling supply of the necessary ingredients for piña coladas.

I was stopped in my tracks en route by a welcome sign announcing a new resident’s beachside home. It read: “Someday Came.”

The obvious implication is that these folks decided to act on their “Yeah, I’m gonna do that someday” daydreams.

But it raises many questions, right?

Who are these people? What’s their story, financial and otherwise? Did they hammer this sign into the sand after scrimping and saving, finally realizing their retirement dream following a lifetime of toil? Or are they the professionally mobile couple with young kids you see on HGTV’s “Caribbean Life,” who decided they’d just had enough of the rat race?

I’m glad I don’t have the answers, because the big question for the rest of us is worthy of consideration:

How do we define our “someday”? How do you define yours?

The Equifax Hack Shows Only You Can Protect Your Identity

What happens when one of the three primary entities designed to safeguard our financial identity to the outside world gets hacked?  

We don’t know yet, but it’s quite possible that the answers will be illuminated in retrospect because Equifax waited more than a month to announce the breach.

What can you do at this time to ensure that you are shielded from the worst possible outcomes of this–or the inevitable next–mass identity theft?

Click on the graphic above to watch Tim Maurer on PBS’ Nightly Business Report discussing Equifax hack

First, specifically regarding the Equifax situation, you may consider taking two steps they have recommended (all while keeping in mind that this is coming from the entity that let the identity of as many as 143 million Americans slip through their fingers):

1) You can go directly to the dedicated Equifax website to determine if you were likely hacked, like I did. Hit the “Potential Impact” tab and then the “Check Potential Impact” button:

You’ll be asked to put in your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number.  Then, you’ll get the verdict on whether or not they think your information may have been hacked. When I completed this process for the four members of my household, three of them were (apparently) spared while I got the undesirable response that my “personal information may have been impacted by this incident.” Awesome.  

Many, however, have found this online device lacks reliability. In at least once instance, the name of a colleague’s dog and a fabricated Social Security number returned positive results. [Insert contemplative, curious emoji.]

2) Regardless of whether your information was hacked, Equifax then gives you the opportunity to sign up for their TrustedID Premier credit monitoring system–free for a year to all Americans. There initially was some controversy over whether agreeing to receive the freebie would result in waiving your right to be part of a prospective class action lawsuit against Equifax in the future. They’ve since clarified that it will not.

But signing up for their credit monitoring service also seems convoluted, or perhaps my enrollment message appears clearer to you:

If your journey to secure your identity continues beyond what the leaky Equifax has to offer–and it probably should–please consider these additional steps:

3) Monitor your credit. You can pay someone to do this, but I’ve yet to be convinced that it’s worth it, especially because you can get most of the promised benefits for free.  

You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com. Order all three at once for the most comprehensive review or spread them out throughout the course of the year. But to be fair, reading a credit report can be like drinking from a firehose.

Therefore, you may consider a growing number of free online resources, like CreditKarma.com or Mint.com, that aggregate credit information in a more understandable and practical form.  Personally, I’ve used CreditKarma for years and found it to be very helpful as part of the following simple process:

  • Regularly glance at the homepage, which displays my current credit score from two of the three credit bureaus. Only if there’s been any significant movement in this score will I then…
  • Review any of the warnings that might explain the volatility in my score. If so, I might…
  • Review reports in full and take any necessary action.

This process has more than once served to alert me to activity that required follow-up.  

4) You may consider taking the additional step of “freezing” your credit. It’s a process that looks different in each state, and I’d only recommended it if you don’t intend to use your credit in the near future. Otherwise, you’ll have to “thaw” your freeze to give prospective creditors the necessary access to your info.  

One step, however, that I can’t see any downside to taking is freezing any existing credit reporting for your minor children. (Um, why do they even have credit reports, major credit bureaus?) If you decide to go this route, Clark Howard’s credit freezing guide is helpful.

5) Only use credit cards–not debit cards–for purchases. Despite Dave Ramsey’s objections, this way, it won’t be YOUR money that is stolen if you’re hacked. It’ll be the credit card company’s job to reclaim their funds.  

This is advice that I’ve received first-hand from Frank Abagnale, the fraudster turned FBI consultant made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Catch Me If You Can.  

We can trust him now. I’m pretty sure.

6) Lastly, change your passwords to online financial accounts. If you were one of the 143 million people affected by the Equifax hack, you may wonder if hackers could gain immediate access to your bank and securities accounts. But you still hold some very important cards that they can’t see–namely, your password and any PIN numbers attached to online financial accounts.  

Do you really want to go “off the grid”?

It’s probably a good time to update and strengthen those.

But here’s the scariest news that has been highlighted by this new mass hack:  

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where it’s not a question of if, but when, we will deal with having all or part of our identity stolen.

Sure, you could try to go “off the grid,” like Psycho Sam, the bush-man. But for most of us, the benefits to be derived by the online economy simply outweigh the risks. That means personal credit monitoring is a habit we must build into our lives.

Solving for the Qualitative Deficit in Financial Planning

“The whole financial planning process is wrong,” says George Kinder, widely recognized as one of the chief educators and influencers in the financial planning profession.

But what exactly does he mean, and how does he justify this bold statement?

First, let’s separate the work of financial planning into two different elements–let’s call the first quantitative analysis and the second qualitative analysis.

Quantitative analysis is the more tangible, numerical and objective. It’s where planners tell clients what they need to do and, perhaps, how to do it. For example:

  • “Your asset allocation should be 65% in stocks and 35% in bonds.”
  • “You need $1.5 million of 20-year term life insurance.”
  • “Have your will updated and consider utilizing a pooled family trust.”

The qualitative work of financial planning is the intangible, non-numerical pursuit of uncovering a client’s more subjective values and goals, and, hopefully, attaching recommendations like those above to the client’s motivational core–their why.

If quantitative work is of the mind, qualitative is of the heart.

Qualitative planning often has been dubbed “financial life planning”–or simply “life planning.” It is defined in Michael Kay’s book, The Business of Life, as the process of:

Take More Risk In Life And Less In Investing

“I just really wish I’d taken more risk in my investment portfolio,” said no one–ever–on their deathbed.

That may seem like an odd observation, unless you consider the fact that I had the privilege of spending a couple days recently with life planning luminary George Kinder. Among other benefits, I was able to reacquaint myself with his famous three questions, elegantly designed to progressively point us toward the stuff of life that is the most important–to us.

The final question invites us to explore what benchmark life experiences we would leave unaccomplished if we only had one day left on this Earth. And as you may suspect, even in a room filled with financial planners, achieving a more aggressive portfolio posture was, perhaps, the farthest from anyone’s mind.

Meanwhile, most of the items that people did list represented experiences (not things) that, individually, were outside of their to-date unarticulated–but now evident–comfort zones.

Participants almost universally wished they’d have taken more risks in life–personally, educationally, relationally, experientially, professionally and vocationally.  

Similarly, those most meaningful experiences they had enjoyed thus far in life were the ones that pushed the boundaries of their comfort zones, expanding their personal risk tolerance.

But what about financial risk tolerance?

Adaptation Devaluation: Why A U2 Concert Is Better Than A New Couch

My favorite discovery in the field of behavioral economics confirms what we already knew deep down, even if it contradicts “common sense”–that experiences are more valuable than stuff. I recently put this finding to the test:

Concert of a Lifetime

“You’re crazy.”

Those were my wife’s words when I called her from the road, rushing to discuss what I termed “the concert of a lifetime.”

I’d just learned that living legends U2 were touring in support of the 30th anniversary of their most celebrated album, “The Joshua Tree.”  

(Photo by Andrew Chin/Getty Images)

The greatest live band of a generation playing the soundtrack of my youth from start to finish.

Andrea was on board with going to the show–she’s a big fan, too. But what invited her claim of insanity was my insistence that we take the whole family to Seattle to see the show. We live in Charleston. South Carolina.

The 10 Email Commandments You’re Breaking Every Day

Do you live in fear of your email inbox? It is such an effective tool for information exchange that it can render us completely ineffective in our attempts to control it.

I fear that I’m going to miss the proverbial wheat because of all the darn chaff overstuffing my inbox. You, too?

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Well, apparently we’re in good company. As a student of behavioral economics and finance, my ears always perk up when behavioral economist Dan Ariely has something to say. He struggled so much with  managing the daily email harvest that he decided to create two apps, one that helps people send him better emails and another that helps him prioritize the emails he receives.

This inspired some colleagues and me to ask: “What are the ways that we might be contributing to the chaff in the inboxes of our business associates and friends?”

What are the often unspoken rules of good email etiquette? Here’s what we came up with…

The 10 Commandments of Business Email:

1. Thou shalt not gratuitously “cc.”

You’re on it–they know.  

PARENTS: Don’t Sacrifice Yourselves On The Altar Of Your Children’s Education

Parents have sacrificed their financial futures on the altar of their children’s education. Fueled by easy federal money and self-interested colleges, the result is a student loan crisis that appears already to be eclipsing the catastrophic proportions of mortgage indebtedness leading up to the financial collapse of 2008.

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Please allow me to disclaim a few things:  

  • I’m not anti-education. In fact, I valued my college education so much that I went back to teach at my alma mater, Towson University, for seven years.
  • I believe that a college education is a) inherently valuable, b) an enhancer of career prospects and c) fertile ground for unforgettable life experiences beyond the classroom.  
  • I’m a parent. I’ve encouraged my two sons, 13 and 11, to strive for a college education, and I’ve also offered to share in the financial burden.
  • I’m not a prognosticator. Therefore, I’m not predicting an imminent crisis akin to the Great Recession, led by student loan defaults. Crystal balls don’t work, and anyone who claims to have one is selling something.

I’m also not a conspiracy theorist, but the facts, according to a new Wall Street Journal article, are indisputable:

The Antidote for Stock Market Hysteria

Just for fun, Google the words “market pullback.” There are over 2.2 million results–most of them market predictions–and the first page of results is dominated by calls for an imminent market reversal that the simple desk calendar has already proven false. 

However, despite their worthlessness, market predictions remain as predictable as market opens and closes. (And I predict no end in sight.)

But why?

First, there’s a clear profit motive. Apparent urgency leads to activity, and activity is still how most of the financial services industry makes its money.  

“Bullish predictions encourage investors to pour fresh money into the markets, helping asset management companies to enjoy rising profits,” the New York Times reported, noting that the Wall Street forecaster’s consensus since 2000 has averaged a 9.5% increase each year. They accidentally got it (almost) right in 2016, but in 2008, the consensus prognostication missed the mark by 49 percentage points (an outcome that makes your local weatherman seem like a harbinger of accuracy)!  

But not everyone’s positive either. My colleague and the co-author of the new book “Your Complete Guide To Factor-Based Investing,” Larry Swedroe, analyzed Marc Faber’s perpetually cataclysmic proclamations and rendered the good doctor “without a clue.”  

Top 5 Books To Put The ‘Personal’ Into Your Finances This New Year

Originally in ForbesBecause personal finance is more personal than it is finance, just about every step we take in our personal development aids us in financial planning, and vice versa.

top-5It is in better understanding ourselves that even the most confounding financial decisions are made simple. Therefore, it’s entirely possible for a seemingly non-financial book to have a meaningful impact on your financial life, while the reverse is also true.

Consider, then, this list of my choices for the top five (mostly) recent books that can improve your life, work and financial serenity in 2017:

5) The Whole 30: The Official 30-Day Guide To Total Health And Food Freedom is not your typical diet book. I don’t do those. But I am fascinated by various “life hacks,” small behavioral changes we can make in our diet, exercise and sleep patterns that make life more livable.

American Pension Crisis: How We Got Here

Originally in ForbesMy adopted home of Charleston might have been ranked the “Best City in the World,” but the state of South Carolina is earning a less distinguished label as a harbinger of the country’s worst pension crises. And yes, that’s crises—plural—because U.S. state and local government pensions have “unfunded liabilities” estimated at more than $5 trillion and funding ratios of just 39%.

What does that mean, exactly?

When a company or government pledges to pay its long-term employees a portion of their salary in retirement—a pension—the entity estimates how much it (and its employees) will need to set aside in order to make those payments in the future. An underfunded pension is one that simply doesn’t have sufficient funds to make its promised future payments.

Corporate pensions in the United States are in trouble, with the top 25 underfunded plans in the S&P 500 alone accounting for more than $225 billion in underfunding at the end of 2015. But states and municipalities are in even worse shape. This week, the Charleston-based Post and Courier estimated that South Carolina’s shortfall alone was at $24.1 billion, more than triple the state’s annual budget!

How did we get here?

There are two glaring reasons: poor investment decisions and greedy assumptions.