The Top 10 Places Your Next Dollar Should Go

Originally in ForbesThere is no shortage of receptacles clamoring for your money each day. No matter how much money you have or make, it could never keep up with all the seemingly urgent invitations to part with it.

TOP 10 DOLLAR

Separating true financial priorities from flash impulses is an increasing challenge, even when you’re trying to do the right thing with your moola — like saving for the future, insuring against catastrophic risks and otherwise improving your financial standing. And while every individual and household is in some way unique, the following list of financial priorities for your next available dollar is a reliable guide for most.

Once you’ve spent the money necessary to cover your fixed and variable living expenses (and yes, I realize that’s no easy task for many) consider spending your additional dollars in this order: 

Boomer Esiason: NFL Great Turned Life Insurance Advocate

Things are super at the Super Bowl“Today is your day to go out into the world.  You’re going to be great!”  This affirmation is one of a precious few memories that National Football League great, Boomer Esiason, can vividly recall about his mother, who died when he was only seven.

She was the “Belle of the Ball,” according to Esiason’s grandparents and older sisters—a beautiful singer, dancer and piano player who “would light up a room” with her blond hair and blue eyes, inherited by her only son.  But Boomer was not old enough to own these recollections himself.  Those memories endear him to the woman he can barely recall, but his enduring memories are limited to only two.  The first was sitting on his mother’s lap while she tied his shoes on the first day of kindergarten, whispering prophecies that would indeed come true.  The second and last memory was being denied access to her hospital room as she died of ovarian cancer.  Young Boomer was relegated to sitting in a courtyard, the scene emblazoned in his memory, as his mother would occasionally come to an overlooking window to catch a glimpse of her boy.

Living With A Broken Heart

Almost 30 years later, in 1996, Esiason found himself at that same hospital visiting his maternal grandmother shortly before her passing.  But that time, as an adult with children of his own, he recalls looking from his grandmother’s room, fixating on the very courtyard where he once sat contemplating the loss of his mother.  There was so much that he didn’t—couldn’t—understand as a child that he was able to comprehend as a husband and a father.

Boomer’s father, Norman, was a member of the Greatest Generation, a World War II veteran who took advantage of the G.I. Bill.  He worked his way into a solid job, but his wealth was in his family, not his balance sheet.  The loss of his wife—her income, of course, but especially her presence—had a significant negative impact on their household.  But quiet, reserved and proud, he never once considered complaining or outwardly lamenting the financial difficulties he endured after the passing of his wife, even shielding his children from the reality.  Boomer recalls at the age of 16, lingering as his dad finished the weekly examination of household finances so that he could ask for five dollars to take his girlfriend out, a favor he was rarely denied.

“I know that he lived with a broken heart,” the younger Esiason confessed.  “He died in 1999 on Thanksgiving, of all days, at the age of 77.  But from the time that my mother passed away in 1968 to 1999, I never saw my father with another woman in all those years.  He raised me with a broken heart and I think I was his escape.”  Indeed, Boomer gave his dad something to cheer about.  After setting 17 school records at the University of Maryland, he was drafted into the NFL by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1984.  In 1988, he led the Bengals to the Super Bowl and was voted Most Valuable Player of the league.  His dad was also able to see his son retire from football and begin a successful broadcasting career that continues to this day.

Today, however, Boomer’s passion for football seems eclipsed only by his desire to pass on the life and financial lessons that he has learned through experience.  So when Boomer was asked to be the spokesperson for Life Insurance Awareness Month by the LIFE Foundation, it was an easy decision.  “This absolutely fits what has happened to me in my life for a number of reasons,” Esiason told me as he opened the window into his life beyond the gridiron.  “When I became an NFL football player and decided to have kids in the early 90’s, I recognized that I didn’t want to have happen to my kids what happened to us, as [we were] struggling when I grew up.”

Further compounding the importance of life insurance for Boomer and his wife, Cheryl, is the fact that their son, Gunnar, has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that primarily attacks the lungs and often compounds the impact of other illnesses.  Day-to-day medical expenses are high, and the cost of finding a cure, higher still.  So in addition to the $100 million raised by the Boomer Esiason Foundation to benefit all CF patients, Esiason sees life insurance as vital to ensuring that his son has the financial resources necessary to continue his push toward a cure.  “If I don’t protect [Gunnar’s] future and I don’t protect my family’s future, then if we ever found ourselves in the situation that I found myself in when I was seven, it would be an unmitigated disaster and my kids and my wife would not be able to sustain the life that we’re fortunate to live now.”

Boomer and his best-friend, Tim O’Brien, made the decision to acquire adequate life insurance for their respective families together in the early 1990’s.  Later that decade, O’Brien helped move the Boomer Esiason Foundation headquarters “closer-to-heaven,” to the 101st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.  While thankfully all of the Foundation’s full-time employees were absent the morning of September 11, 2001, Esiason lost over 200 friends, among them, Timothy O’Brien, husband and father of three children, ages seven, six and four when he died.

There is no financial strategy or product that can return a life when it’s been taken, but the life insurance conceived in Tim O’Brien’s foresight allowed his family to grieve properly and to move forward deliberately, without fear that their livelihood was also at risk.  There is no athletic accolade that will reprogram Boomer Esiason’s brain with memories of tender moments with his mother at his high school or college graduations, his wedding or the birth of his children, but the financial and life lessons learned from her loss and the endurance demonstrated by his father are already being passed on to future generations.

“My business is me.”

“I don’t have stock options and I don’t own companies,” Esiason told me.  “My business is me.”

Although I’ve never been asked to provide color commentary for the Super Bowl, and most of the people I know have never been voted the MVP of the most valuable sports league in the world, the same can be said for most of us: My business is me.  Your business is you.  Have you really done adequate financial and life insurance planning to ensure that those you love would be cared for even beyond the demise of your business—you?

Most people avoid conversations about life insurance because we generally don’t like to brood over the topic of our own demise, and many attach a hard-sale stigma to the life insurance business, using that as a rallying cry for inaction.  Death’s inevitability considered, a fear of it is certainly understandable, but meaningful discussions on the topic can be surprisingly life-giving.  And while the entire financial industry has more work to do in its evolution from sales to advice, the stereotype of pushy life insurance salesmen coercing you to sign your life away is grossly overstated.  Besides, neither of these concerns reduces the importance—the responsibility—of planning for the unexpected.

Boomer Esiason doesn’t sell life insurance.  He’s an ex-pro football player, an NFL commentator and the chairman of a foundation in support of the cystic fibrosis cause.  I don’t sell life insurance.  I’m a fee-only financial advisor, an educator and a writer.  Both of us, however, wholeheartedly support the LIFE Foundation’s initiative to bring awareness to the vital role of life insurance within financial planning in the month of September.  Consider utilizing their life insurance calculator and description of the different types of life insurance as a first step in that journey.  Feel free to ask me questions about your specific situation in the comments section or via email at tim at timmaurer dot com.  But please don’t let “Look into life insurance” be another important to-do left undone.

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How Insurance Works, In 90 Seconds

Every time we experience a calamity, like Hurricane Sandy if you're on the east coast, it reminds us that there are risk factors in life beyond our control.  Through insurance, we transfer these catastrophic risks we cannot bear to insurance companies, but knowing HOW INSURANCE WORKS is vital to understanding why, how and what we need to insure.  Take the next 90 seconds to more thoroughly understand HOW INSURANCE WORKS:

[youtuber youtube='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rxYK40avGQ&feature=youtu.be']

Annuity Audit App

This is the 10th 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:

It is my hope that this is an extremely brief exercise for you, but many people who have long-term relationships with folks in the insurance, brokerage, or banking industries have a lifetime of annuities built up.  If that is your scenario, it is very important that you do this exercise to get a handle on where your money is and what it is doing (or not doing).

When you did your Personal Balance Sheet or Mutual Fund Audit App, you probably pulled together the statements for any annuities you own.  These statements often lack the information you’ll need for this exercise, so I also want you to pull together each of the contracts you received at the inception of your annuity policies as well.  Then, using the App (link below), fill in the information cataloging the following: owner[i], annuitant[ii], beneficiary[iii], contract value, surrender value, cost basis (the sum of your contributions), and the surrender schedule.  Some of this will be on your statement, but the remainder will be in your policy contract. You may have to do some digging.

Once you’ve collected the information, the analysis should start with a diagnosis of the investment value.  If it is a fixed annuity, you’ll know very quickly if the rate is competitive with today’s rates.  If it is a variable annuity, examine how it has performed versus the various benchmark indices.  If it is an equity indexed annuity, the chances are very good that it is not a phenomenal investment, but it also probably has a very long and steep surrender charge which may make it prohibitive to move at this time.

If you determine you’d prefer to be out of an annuity contract, here are the questions to ask:

  • What, if any, surrender charge exists?
  • Is the surrender charge cost prohibitive?
  • How much longer will the surrender charge last?
  • How much have you contributed (what is your cost basis)?
  • How substantial would the tax impact be (would you have to pay a lot in taxes)?
  • Is there a gain on which you would have to pay a penalty if you are under age 59½?

Again, remember to make these decisions slowly because there are many moving pieces with annuities.  It is best to speak with a fee-only Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner AND a Certified Public Accountant prior to making any final decisions.

Click HERE to access the Annuity Audit app!


[i] The person who made the investment in the annuity

[ii] The person upon whose life the actuarial calculations in the annuity policy were based (this is often the same person as the owner)

[iii] The person or people to whom any annuity proceeds will be directed upon the death of the annuitant

Home and Auto Insurance App

This is the seventh 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 find the backdrop for the exercise HERE or just jump right in with the instructions given below:

In order to know if your home and auto insurance policies are providing you with the appropriate levels of coverage, you’ll want to collect the declaration pages for all of your home, auto, condo, and renter policies.  The Application Exercise online will provide a chart to fill in your various coverage limits next to our recommended minimum limits.

After you’ve tailored your desired limits with the help of an independent planner who does not accept commissions or referral fees for the sale of insurance, you can use the Application Exercise to shop your coverage with several carriers.

Click HERE to access the app!

Life Insurance Needs Analysis App

This is the sixth 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 find the backdrop for the exercise HERE or just jump right in with the instructions given below:

This app is designed to help you determine what your life insurance needs are for final expenses, debts and mortgages, education, and income replacement.  If you conclude that you have policies you don’t need or want, and you’ve confirmed your research with an independent planner who does not accept commissions on the sale of life insurance, then you should have several options for terminating your policies.  These will differ from policy-to-policy, so check with your insurer.  But don’t make those decisions hastily.  Even if you shouldn’t have purchased the whole life insurance policy you bought 15 years ago and don’t need or want it now, in some instances it will make sense to keep it.

Requesting an “In-force Life Insurance Illustration” and a “Policy Cost Basis Report” from your agent (or the insurance company’s home office) will help you and your independent planner determine whether the policy should be kept or surrendered based on the investment value, future prospects for growth, stability of the insurer and tax consequences of liquidating.

Additionally, if you are considering replacing a current policy with a new policy that is more appropriate or economical, it is very important that you do NOT cancel any existing policies until you have received and paid for the new policy.  This is to ensure that no issues arise throughout the course of your underwriting that would disqualify you from receiving the new insurance policy.

Especially in these economic times, it is important to ensure that every dollar of yours is working hard for you, and that includes the dollars channeled toward life insurance.

Click HERE to access the app!

Risk Management Matrix App

This is the fifth 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 find the backdrop for the exercise HERE or just jump right in with the instructions given below:

The best way to see activities through a risk management lens is to go through some ideas of your own, like the example of my car accident, and discuss or jot down the ways in which that risk could have been managed with each of the four methods.  It doesn’t have to be something as dramatic or painful.  It could easily be a risk management success story that you can now better understand.

Examine both the personal and the financial risk using all four of the risk management techniques.  After doing that exercise, discipline yourself to analyze a few other examples throughout the course of your days.  If you’re bold enough, teach the technique to a friend or family member (there’s no better way to learn something than to teach it).  Eventually, it won’t be work, and you’ll see your options more clearly.  Then, when you examine your existing insurance products or new offerings, look for ways you can reasonably avoid, reduce, or assume the risk before paying someone else to do it for you.

Click HERE to access the app!

The Economic Bias of Home and Auto Insurance Agents

Most of the time, we expect those in the financial sales realm to sell us MORE of something than we may need, because the more they sell, the more money they make, right?  But in one very interesting example—home and auto insurance agents—they may actually have an Economic Bias to sell us LESS than we need.  Please take 90 seconds to learn why:

Financial Planning for Fathers

Tm1  I’ve learned more about life in the last 6 years than in the previous 28 combined.  It was 6 years ago when I became a father, and I now have two incredible boys—Kieran and Connor—who’ve likely taught me more than I them.  Parenting is a glorious challenge that tests every area of our lives—our marriage, family, and friendships, as well as our productivity, creativity and often times our mental stability!  Financially, being a father is… expensive.  And for those dads who have a tendency to evaluate financial expenditures as a “return on investment,” the return on investment in our children presents a confounding dilemma.  After all, the expense is cold hard cash and the return is nebulous and may not be realized for decades.  

In the end, we dads must relinquish our desire for tangible benefits of parenting and pour our life (and often
Tm2   times, our money) into these little ones, unconditionally.  It is through this sacrifice that we begin to realize that the real benefits of parenting have nothing to do with dollars and cents, but instead intangible blessings and unexplainable joy.  And who wouldn’t trade that—dollars for lasting joy?  Fathering, then, turns out to be an incredible investment after all!

Practically, here are four financial planning areas that every dad needs to address:

Will – Most of us dads think that we’re generally indestructible, but the truth is that the one thing we can be sure of in life is that we will eventually… die.  That inevitability requires us to have a will.  And especially for fathers of young children, the most important financial planning recommendation in your world is to acquire or update a will—most importantly, to stipulate who your children’s legal guardian will be in the case of your untimely demise. 

Life Insurance – The one thing that many dislike almost as much as the thought of their own death is the notion of talking to a life insurance agent.  But the truth remains that if we would be leaving behind a spouse and children who are at least partly reliant on our very existence for our portion of the household, we need some life insurance.  The vast majority of us will ably fulfill our life insurance needs with TERM life insurance.

Education Planning – As dads, we’re not legally or ethically bound to pay for our children’s college education, but if that is something that we’ve pledged to do, we should save for it so that it doesn’t wipe us out once our kids start graduating from high school.  Consider saving 50% of your expected college expenses in a 529 college investment savings plan.

Work/Life Balance – Dads tend to put a lot of weight into our role to “provide and protect” in our households, but if we’re to be honest, we’d acknowledge that we occasionally abdicate ourselves from other roles and duties in the household.  Simply put, our kids grow up fast, and if we make them feel like our work is the most important thing in the world, they’ll quite naturally conclude that they aren’t.  Adults understand the difference between the quality of time and the quantity—but for kids, it’s often just about the quantity!

I had an opportunity to share these same thoughts with viewers of WBAL-TV (NBC) in Baltimore yesterday - Father's Day.  If you want to view the video simply click HERE or click the image!

TM - WBAL - June 20, 2010