There’s no magic to a million in retirement, but as the Baby Boomer generation begins making the transition, it’s a question oft posed. In this Nightly Business Report clip, Sharon Epperson (CNBC) and I answer the big question: Is a million enough?

Date: June 5, 2014
Appearance: Is a million dollars enough to retire?
Outlet: Nightly Business Report on PBS
Format: Television

Survey Shows Students Are Dumping Top Colleges Due To High Cost

The disproportionate rise in the cost of college relative to the cost of everything else is not news, but a new survey shows that college students are dumping their top choices for education based on price. Have we finally reached the tipping point?

Well, I’m a planner—not a prognosticator—so I’ll defer judgment to those with functioning crystal balls, but let’s address the college cost crisis and a way to avoid becoming the next student or parent squashed by education overpayment.

Is there really a crisis?

20 Lessons We Can Learn From 20-Year-Olds

20 YO Graphic-01It’s become enormously popular to publicly lecture 20-somethings.  I’m not a 20-something, but my regular interaction with the Millennial generation as a college instructor leads me to conclude that we may have more to learn from 20-somethings than we have to teach them.

Here are 20 lessons in LIFE, WORK and MONEY inspired by the Millennial generation:


Nobody responds well to being lectured.   Despite the ineffectiveness of self-righteous bombast, it seems never to be in short supply.  Insisting that someone else sees how wrong they are may guarantee that we will feel more right—but it doesn’t necessarily make it so.  Even if you have good intentions, the best time to teach someone something is after they’ve asked for input.

Life needn’t be so strictly compartmentalized.  Work, family, leisure, service, worship and artistic expression are elements of life that remain segregated for most.  But this schizophrenia of roles leads to inauthentic living in one or more of these venues (and drives us crazy).

We should give ourselves permission to be more of who we are and less of who people want us to be.  There’s an externally successful business owner who shows up at my gym for his morning workout dressed to the nines in a suit and tie.  He didn’t come from a meeting—he just thinks it’s important to send a message everywhere he goes that he is successful (and he’s happy to announce it).  The Millennials’ refusal to engage in such posturing is often mistaken for aloofness or apathy, but it’s really more about a healthy yearning for authenticity.

Being miserably busy is not a good measure of self-worth.  Busyness is no virtue.  It leads to forgetfulness, distraction and tardiness.  And it’s exhausting.

We are human beings, not human doings.  We tend to explain who we are by listing what we do for work and what we have accomplished professionally.  Millennials are more comfortable in their own skin and more capable of enjoying time that can’t be measured in terms of productive output.

 “American” is not actually a language.  Millennials are the first generation in decades who don’t take American pre-eminence for granted.  They’re expanding their personal and professional horizons with international travel and picking up a second or third language.

Traditional education is overvalued.  While Millennials are known for having overpaid for higher education, their dissatisfaction with what they got in return—fueled by their angst over the loans that now burden them—are serving to ensure that they and their children will spearhead the biggest education overhaul in a couple centuries.


Being a slave to work is no badge of honor.  Being the first in and last to leave may send a message to the types of people who value an ascetic work regimen, but it will also send a message to your family and close friends that your work is more important than they are.  Which message do you want to send?

We’re not all productive in the same ways and at the same times.  Sure, there are advantages to being an early bird, but the best employees will figure out where, when and how they work most effectively, and the best bosses will encourage them to do so (to a mutually beneficial end).

Work and life aren’t something to be balanced, but instead something to be integrated.  That we must balance work and life implies that they are seemingly opposed forces incapable of being effectively blended, but the most effective leaders and satisfied employees find ways to bring work to life by inviting more life to work.

Success is overrated.  Boomers have made an art form of becoming successful, or at least appearing so.  Success certainly isn’t a bad thing, but when the visible representation of success (more impressive titles, bigger houses, nicer cars, granite everything) takes precedence over those for whom we supposedly became successful to serve, we have a problem.  This isn’t even a generational thing.  It’s never really been true that reaching the pinnacle of success is what ultimately makes our lives fulfilling—it’s really significance and meaning for which we hunger.  Millennials seem to have a better handle on that.


You don’t have to “get settled down” right away.  Financial planner, Roger Whitney, told me “[Millennials] are getting married later in life [than Baby Boomers] which gives them time to mature and be more financially secure when entering marriage.”

Money shouldn’t be a taboo topic of discussion.  30-something personal finance writer, Arielle O’Shea, finds Millennials to be more open about money.  Even if it’s because they’re more cynical about financial security, having seen a couple bubbles burst and many of their parents split over financial issues, Millennials seem to be more open to discussing their personal finances (to good effect) with each other and in public.

We don’t have to own everything—sharing is ok too.  Having to own everything we touch in this lifetime may be good for auto and home improvement companies, but it’s certainly not the most efficient or inexpensive way to do things.  Airbnb allows users to swap living spaces, Lyft offers a network of drivers when you need a ride, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in the growing sharing economy.  Millennials are making and saving money with services like these, according to Forbes writer, Maggie McGrath.

The acquisition of real estate is overrated.  Creating stability, building equity and getting tax deductions are all good things—but losing money and depriving yourself of the freedom and flexibility to be mobile are not.  Millennials haven’t abandoned home ownership, but we all need reminding that it does have its drawbacks and shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion for everyone all the time.

We can and should embrace the role of technology in our financial lives.  The financial services industry is known more for hindering progress and clinging to antiquated, high-margin practices and procedures.  Millennials, however, are creating and “using websites such as Mint, You Need a Budget or Manilla, which not only help to track spending, but serve as accountability partners with e-mail alerts when spending limits are exceeded,” according to Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of Workable Wealth.

Youth isn’t a license to embrace reckless investing.  Carmen Wong Ulrich, host of Marketplace Money on APM says “[Millennials are] less likely to want to risk investing their money in the markets, but that also means they’re more likely to stay away from the financial products (and marketing) that burned their parents.”  Indeed, losing money isn’t a good strategy, regardless of your age.

Experiences are more valuable than things.  David Burstein, Millennial author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, acknowledges that 20-somethings are spending more than any past generation on travel and eating out, but it’s because they place a higher value in deepening interpersonal relationships and creating lasting memories.

The “traditional” notion of retirement isn’t necessarily an ideal.  Millennials tell me that they expect to be working a long, long time.  They don’t expect pensions and don’t trust Social Security, leaving them with little choice, but they also don’t idolize the notion of full-time feet-in-the-sand retirement.  They plan to work longer and enjoy themselves more along the way, many of them hunting more for a calling than a job.

You can do well and do good at the same time.  Profit or charity—take your pick?  The Millennials have invited us to consider that we don’t have to choose between Robber Barron or do-gooder.  In addition to Google’s unofficial motto—“Don’t do evil”—companies like Toms and Warby Parker give one pair of shoes and eyeglasses (respectively) for every pair sold.

Every generation finds comfort in the norms it helped establish and relishes in the norms it helped deconstruct—but the outgoing generation tends to not-so-quietly mourn when the incoming generation does the same.  Pew Research calls the Millennials confident, connected and open to change.  Yes, it’s a little scary that 20-somethings are changing the way we live, work, play, invest and worship—all without even asking our permission!  But it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter at @TimMaurer, and if you’d like to receive my weekly post via email, click HERE.

You’ll love this–a discussion with a prolific, syndicated Canadian talk show host about the lesson that EVERYONE can learn from the U.S. debt ceiling debacle.  This article spurred our discussion.

Listen to the show snippet here: Finances and Fault

Date: October 28, 2013
Appearance: Finances and Fault
Outlet: AM 680 CJOB
Location: Winnipeg, MB (Canada)
Format: Radio

Education Savings Plan App

This is the 12th exercise in a series designed to walk you through an entire financial plan.  The exercise is embedded in an Excel spreadsheet you can download and save for personal use.  You can read the backdrop for the exercise HERE, or just jump right in with the instructions given below:

If you’re starting from scratch, the following application steps will provide a great starting point; if you’re re-evaluating, this will be a great opportunity to hone your approach.

Create your family education policy.  If you are one of two parents, put your minds together.  If you’re a single parent or one of many students without a benefactor in your educational quest, your policy is just as important.  It may be helpful to pull out your Personal Money Story exercise, which likely includes some good or bad experiences you’ve had surrounding the cost of your own education.  Then, review your Personal Principles and Goals before articulating your educational savings goals.  Utilize the Family Education Policy worksheet to concrete your family’s plan, and then, at the appropriate time, share it with your children.

From that policy should spring your Education Savings Plan.  Use the calculator we provide to help you determine what your monthly savings should be and how much of that should be going into a 529.

Click HERE to access the Education Savings Plan app!

Welth: Is It Wurth It?

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of conducting a 40-minute radio interview with one of the great business leaders of our time.  (I’ve split the interview into four ten-minute podcasts, the links for which follow this post.)  Truett Cathy is the founder of Chick-fil-A and the author of several books, most recently, Wealth: Is It Worth It?  He’s well suited to ask and answer that question, because after beginning his restaurant career over 60 years ago with a single eatery, he’s built one of the nation’s most successful and well-loved restaurant chains. But interestingly, an adjective he’s not entirely comfortable putting before his name is “rich.”  He says, “One of the worst things I can imagine someone saying about me is, ‘He’s a rich old man.’”

But it would be hard to argue either of those.  After all, Mr. Cathy is 90 years old and falls at number 375 on the Forbes 400 list, with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion.  However, he defies his age by going to work nearly every day and carries himself with the humility and grace of a line cook, not the founder and chairman.


Wealth is a hot word these days; especially in the financial services business, everyone wants to be about wealth.  So now, instead of being financial advisors or financial planners, stock brokers, insurance salespeople or bankers, everyone is a wealth manager or wealth consultant.  If you work with them, their commercials suggest you’ll be one of the people golfing all day or travelling around the world on a $1 million sailboat or sitting on the beach (with your wealth manager, of course) toasting the purchase of your new 5000 square foot beach home.  Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with golf (except that it’s a miserable sport, chasing that little white ball around); and sailing, for those who know how to do it, is sublime; and if you have the money, right now is a great time to be buying a beautiful beach property—but dangling this utopian envy in front of everyone is what I don’t like about the financial industry’s co-opting of the word wealth.

We tend to believe today that the three words “money,” “riches” and “wealth” are generally synonymous, and I do believe that in the contemporary vernacular, they are.  But that wasn’t the initial intent.  Money and riches, if you follow them back to their original root words in ancient languages, always meant something similar to what they mean today.  Wealth, on the other hand, had a much deeper meaning.  It meant enough.  Contentment.

In Wealth: Is It Worth It? Cathy cautions us of the trappings of financial accumulation, giving us insight into how living through the Great Depression and seeing his own father left emotionally destitute by his inability to provide for his family in that incredibly difficult time informed his own belief system around money.  Far from demonizing dollars, he gives us a framework for virtuous money dealings grounded in Solomonic wisdom.  (Cathy is unabashed in sharing that his money philosophy is grounded in his Christian faith, but he also draws on wisdom from sources neither canonized nor ordained and never seems to get preachy.)

Is it worth it?

But Mr. Cathy isn’t convinced wealth is worth it even after you “earn wealth honestly,” “spend wealth wisely and save it reasonably.”  Even then, we still have the capacity to let wealth accumulation overtake us.  He concludes that the only way wealth is really worth it is “…if you give it generously.”

While this resonates as truth, I admit my skeptical self wants to conclude it’s easy for those blessed with abundance, like Cathy, to admonish the rest of us on the value of charity.  Even he acknowledges it’s unlikely that his children or grandchildren will ever suffer from want.  But having now read his personal and financial story and talked with him, I find not an ounce of inconsistency or inauthenticity.  He applied the same approach to money when living through the Great Depression and standing over the grill in his first restaurant as he does today encouraging us to deconstruct and rebuild our view of affluence.  I also cannot think of a time personally, or with hundreds of clients over the years, in which this particular proverb did not hold true: “If I give water to others, I will never be thirsty.”

One of the highlights of Wealth: Is It Worth It? is an interview Cathy conducted with a friend he has forged in pursuit of his campaign for generosity, the venerable Warren Buffett.  He asks, “Warren, how do you define wealth?”  Buffett answers, “Wealth is having enough.”  Interesting, isn’t it, how wisdom changes so little even over thousands of years.  There is plenty of money out there and a lot of riches, but whether among the rich or the poor, we could all use more enough.

There are many more life-giving tidbits you’ll find throughout my radio interview with Truett Cathy.  The show is organized into some bite-size portions below:

1)     Introduction: A blessing to some and a curse to others 
2)     Friendship w/ Warren Buffett; money and children
3)     Truett’s father; living through Depression; discomfort w/ being rich
4)     “Retirement is misery!”; Chick-fil-A’s secret; when to start giving

Check out comedian, Tim Hawkins, hysterical ode to his favorite restaurant, Chick-fil-A!

Know Yourself: Conscious Retirement Planning

So you’re old enough to have finally purchased the house and made it a home.  You’ve molded your children into fine readers and artists as well as piano, soccer and lacrosse players.  You’re on the board of the local Y, you support the PTA and normally make a contribution to the offering plate when it’s passed.

How about your retirement plan—how is that coming along?  Do you have an inherent tendency making saving easy for you, or is it more difficult? Each of us has a saving personality on a continuum spanning a wide spectrum.  Are you a Spendthrift, a Spender, a Saver or a Hoarder (or somewhere in between)?  Your optimal retirement savings methodology depends on that answer.



Most educators in the realm of personal finance take aim solely at those who find themselves on the left side of this continuum as if more is always better, so I’ll first address those predisposed to over-saving.   Hoarding is warehousing money simply for the sake of seeing it collect, not for a specific use or purpose.  This practice is idolized by far too many in the realm of money management, but hoarding is actually a financial disorder.  I’ve written recommendations for mandatory vacations in financial plans for hoarders to help break their addiction to stockpiling, and I don’t presume it’s a fault simply driven by greed—for many, it’s fear.

Those who lived through or felt the effects of the Great Depression saw such vast amounts of wealth decimated that many developed a scarcity complex.  A client I was blessed to call a friend passed away last year at the age of 87 with no lineal descendants and over three million dollars in liquid cash and investments.  The good news is that three worthy charities benefited from her generosity; the bad news is that she worked until she was 70, she never took a vacation (not once!) and she lived in a bad neighborhood in which she was burglarized and assaulted (but thought she couldn’t afford to move).

Conversely, a good friend and financial planning colleague of mine is living and battling with Cystic Fibrosis, a disease attacking the lungs which leaves its afflicted with a life expectancy of 37.4 years.  My buddy is married with two beautiful children and turns 37 this year.  He’s forced to be focused both on the future for his family’s sake (and hopefully for his sake as advances in medicine push towards a cure for CF), but he also recognizes the absolute necessity of getting the most out of every single day.  Tomorrow is promised for none of us, and our retirement plan should reflect that.

Am I, a financial planner, suggesting you could actually save too much for retirement?   

Absolutely!  I’m not demonizing any particular level of net worth, but you may be socking away as much as humanly possible for your future even to the detriment of your (and your family’s) present.    Many advisors will, driven by their economic bias to manage your money, use the save-for-your-family’s-future guilt trip to wrench more of your dollars into accounts they can oversee.

It is also important for me to acknowledge most of us are actually more inclined to lean in the direction of the spendthrift than the hoarder.  It’s easy to over-value the present because we can see, touch and feel it today.  And many of us have so many pressing concerns demanding attention and funding, it’s only natural for deferred gratification to take a back seat.  So my calls for balance between your future and present plans should not be received as a blessing to underestimate the importance of saving for the future.

The key, therefore, is to know yourself and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses pertaining to saving and spending tendencies and patterns.  

If you’re a spendthrift, you may likely need some form of intervention.  You may need to institute personal austerity measures—like the governments of Greece and Ireland—or introduce some level of accountability with a mentor of sorts.  If you’re a spender, it is likely you can effectively train yourself by setting up automatic savings mechanisms, diverting funds directly from your checking account (or paycheck) to the buckets you’re filling for the short-, mid- and long-term.

A sign you’re a natural saver would be that extra cash piles up each month—seemingly effortlessly—but you may also judge and condescend to family and friends without the same innate advantage.  If you’re a hoarder, you too may need intervention…to force yourself to spend!  One of the best ways to redirect in this regard is first to offer your services—not your money (at least initially)—to a worthy charitable organization, like a homeless shelter.  Or go on a mission trip to a third-world country and see how people live with nothing.  I’m not trying to guilt you into giving your money away, but to demonstrate how people with absolutely nothing may experience more happiness than you.  You’ll have to experience it to believe it.

Retirement planning is not a science, but behavior management is.  By better understanding yourself and controlling the only economic assumption over which you have absolute control—YOU—you’re likely to better enjoy your retirement, and all the days leading up to it.

*This post will also be appearing on

“This Isn’t Russia.”

Caddyshack-300x225In the midst of a mentoring session with Danny Noonan on the golf course, Ty Webb, Chevy Chase’s character in Caddyshack, instructs Danny, “You don’t have to go to college.  This isn’t Russia.  Is this Russia?  This isn’t Russia.”  Jim Stovall and I thought you may need a bit more instruction than this on the matter, so we dedicated a chapter to education planning and saving for education in The Financial Crossroads.  We’d like to share some of our contrarian thoughts with you for this week’s Crossroads Conversation…

From Chapter Fourteen: If Cost Were No Object:


Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor at Automobile Magazine said, “When someone asks me what car I’d buy if cost were no object, I pretty much always say the 911.”  Ms. Skogstrom is referring to the Porsche 911, the iconic sports car to best all sports cars.  The magazine was reviewing Porsche’s newest creation, the 2009 911 Carrera 4S.  I can remember as a boy, too young to even drive, having one of those hypothetical daydreams as I thumbed through a magazine of sports cars, picturing a wealthy philanthropist walking up to me and saying, “Hey kid, I’ll buy you any car in that magazine——the cost is no object.”  In that recurring daydream, I too have always answered, “The 911.”  There’s just something about it.  But alas, when it comes to automobiles, cost is an issue, so I’ll not be parting with the $109,000 that would be required to buy the 2009 Carrera 4S, “as tested.”

There are very few things in life for which we could actually say money is no object.  The health and welfare of my family is the first that comes to my mind. But even then, I confess that I certainly have allowed money into my decision-making process.  I have, for instance, chosen a pediatrician who is in my health insurance network.  Is there a better pediatrician that may offer a concierge medical service independent of insurance hassles?  Possibly, but I haven’t explored those options because I know the cost is quite high.  For most decisions in life, money may not be the primary driving force in our decision, but we delude ourselves if we claim that it is a forgotten non-factor.

This is no more evident than in the realm of education.  Does education have a price?  As parents, do we owe our children a particular educational path?  Is a college education an entitlement or a privilege?  Before we jump headlong into this debate, let me clarify a few things.  Learning has inherent value that is incalculable.  Education is one of the primary ways that we learn.  I don’t, even for a second, want you to receive a message suggesting that education is overrated.  I teach on the college level and believe that it is one of the more important things that I do in life, but I don’t believe that any and all education is priceless.

Annuities are Not Bought…They’re Sold!

For those working as financial planners, that we will eventually be humbled by the recognition of a faulty thought process is not just likely, but a foregone conclusion.  One of the financial products that I was trained on intensely was annuities—fixed annuities, variable annuities, equity indexed annuities and immediate annuities.  And it wasn’t until I was in the industry over seven years that my continued research began to reveal that the benefits of annuities to consumers were exaggerated and the drawbacks, downplayed.  As that truth began to settle in, I had to acknowledge that I was wrong.  That was humbling, but I wouldn’t trade my initially faulty thought process for anything, because learning “the hard way” has helped me grow through experience and it makes me a better planner today.  Here’s my confession, which kicks off Chapter Twelve in The Financial Crossroads:

From Chapter Twelve, The “A” Word:

Funny_Sales_Cartoon_sales_callrememberingnames  In the realm of personal finance, no word has been dragged through the mud more times than The “A” Word—Annuities.  Yet, annuities still survive and even thrive.  How they do is not a mystery.  

There is not an outcry on the part of consumers demanding annuity products.  The reason for the continued vibrancy of annuity products and sales is that they pay a big honkin’ commission to the selling broker or agent.  (There, I’ve said it.)  And, as most of the financial sales tactics exposed in this book, I’m especially qualified to make such a statement, because I have sold them myself.  I wasn’t a bad person in those days, conniving to separate prospects from their hard-earned money for my own selfish benefit.  Conversely, every time in years past when I sold an investment product to a client for a commission, I did so thinking it was best for the client.  My recommendations met all the legal requirements of suitability that are required of a broker, but I declare to you now that in hindsight there is no question that my judgment was partly influenced by the amount of money that I could make (or not make) in the sale.  

And how could it not be?  Let’s say you, as a salesperson, had three different products to sell with the following characteristics: one would pay you 1% for every year that the investment continued to be held by the client, one would pay you 5.75% up front followed by .25% each additional year, and another would pay you 12%—all up front.  Which one would you be likely to pick, all things being considered equal?  Hmmmm.  Let’s add to the scenario the assumption that you were selling in the midst of an economic downturn which had resulted in a significant loss of revenue for you and your family.  Is it possible that in that circumstance you may be inclined to favor the product that pays 12% up front over the one that pays 5.75% up front?  And forget about the one that pays 1%, because in tough times, that simply isn’t going to butter the bread.  These aren’t imaginary numbers that I’m using. One percent is a slightly below average amount that a financial advisor may charge for discretionary management of your investment assets; 5.75% is the average commission paid to a broker who sells a mutual fund (A share); and annuity products pay up to—and in some cases over—12%!

The sale of annuities is justified entirely too often because of the massive commissions that go to the broker or agent selling the product.  Powerful organizations have made it their lives’ work to decry this very notion and have built elaborate systems designed to convince themselves, their brokers and agents, and the consuming public to believe in the justness of their actions.  I was a part of one such group and was encouraged—along with a room full of other financial folks who had been invited to San Diego for an all-expense paid trip to hear what this organization had to say—to join the ranks of the “Safe Money Specialists.”  Other people were selling products.  We were selling peace of mind and getting paid 10 times as much!

I repeat: people who sell annuities aren’t bad people.  But, they are sales people.  You expect timeshare salespeople to have an economic bias to sell you a timeshare.  You expect a phone solicitor who interrupts your dinner to keep you on the phone to convince you to buy something before you hang up the phone.  You don’t, however, expect someone who refers to themselves as a financial planner or advisor or professional to have the primary aim to sell you something.  Unfortunately, many of them do.  Your broker or agent may have drank the company Kool-Aid and genuinely believe that he or she is doing the best thing for you, so treat them with respect when you tell them you’ll be moving your business.  As I learned growing up in the Baptist church, we should, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.”  We will be discussing in much greater detail the ways that financial services employees and financial advisors are compensated and what you should look for in Chapter Seventeen.

How to Spend $1 million at Starbucks (in 90 Seconds or Less)

It's good to enjoy nice things.  It's good to be detached enough from the currency in our pockets that we're willing to part with it for the occasional extravagence.  But the cost of habitually indulging in what may even be seen as a little thing–like a cup of coffee–is nothing short of amazing.

In this short video, I tell a TRUE STORY about a friend of mine who found himself on a path to "spending" $1 million at Starbucks.  Check it out to see how!