Is Your Attitude Toward Work Killing Your Retirement Dreams?

Originally in ForbesDo you have a generally positive or negative impression of the word “retirement”?

I ask because it dovetails nicely with a series of questions (inspired by Rick Kahler) that I use to begin most speaking engagements. These questions are designed to incite self-awareness, offering us clues about how our life experiences have shaped the (often unarticulated but powerful) beliefs that unavoidably influence the decisions we make with and for money.

Work or retire as a concept of a difficult decision time for working or retirement as a cross roads and road sign with arrows showing a fork in the road representing the concept of direction when facing a challenging life choice.

Regardless of an audience’s homogeneity, their responses are consistently inconsistent. I have, however, seen some generational persistency on the topic of retirement. For example, on average, baby boomers have a generally positive view of retirement—no doubt shaped in part by the incessant financial services commercials that promise a utopian post-career existence with beaches, sailboats, golf and an unlimited supply of vintage Pinot Noir.

On the other hand, the finance and accounting students that I had the privilege of teaching at Towson University—almost all members of the Millennial generation—had a generally negative view of the notion of retirement. This is for two prominent reasons:

  1. They pictured hot, humid, early buffet dinners in rural Florida.
  2. They don’t think that the American dream of retirement is available to them.

Interestingly, according to a new study from AARP’s Life Reimagined focusing on full-time workers 35 and older, this generational pessimism is now creeping up the age ladder to Generation X and baby boomers as well. AARP reports that “while 87% of those surveyed who are working full time say they want to retire someday with nearly 70% of those hoping to retire by 65, just over half don’t expect to retire by 65 or at any age.”

Sheesh. Can I get a ho-hum?

It deserves mentioning that the working set 35 and older does appear to accurately assess their retirement readiness. Corroborating common perception with reality, the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) estimates that “52% of households are ‘at risk’ of not having enough to maintain their living standards in retirement.”

Old news, right? But what interests me a great deal more is the following finding in the AARP’s survey: “Although this group acknowledges that they will be working longer, fewer than one in five people across the Gen Xer and Boomer demographics say the thing that motivates them to get up in the morning is going to a job that fulfills them.”

So, more than 80% of the workforce over the age of 34 doesn’t like their work? No wonder they’re so stricken by this distressing conundrum: They desperately want to retire but can’t stand the only vehicle likely to help them reach their destination.

We must acknowledge that our views of retirement and work are inextricably intertwined.

It’s a vicious circle: If you don’t like your work, you’re likely to overvalue retirement. But if you undervalue you’re work, it’s logical to assume your performance will be less than optimal and, therefore, that your wages—your retirement savings engine—will be suppressed.

But there’s a virtuous circle to counter: If you love your work, it’s likely that you undervalue retirement. But ironically, because you love your work, it’s logical to assume your lifetime performance is improved and your lifetime earnings (and savings potential) are increased, better preparing you for retirement.

Yeah, but it’s unrealistic to think that everyone can have their dream job! This is absolutely true, but that doesn’t mean we can’t purposefully and intentionally move toward it, shifting in the direction of a more virtuous cycle.

Or, in the words of career guru Jon Acuff, “Please don’t tell me you’re too busy to look for a new job and then show me your perfectly detailed fantasy football team.… Please don’t tell me you’re too busy to update your resume and then update your social media accounts incessantly.”

And most fascinatingly, the AARP study seems to help point us in the direction of a more fulfilling career: “If money was not a factor, most would volunteer or donate to a cause and travel the world.… The most popular types of ideal jobs for those who would switch are doing something that helps or teaches others and doing something creative or artistic.”

You probably don’t have the same talents that will likely launch 12-year-old Grace VanderWaal into a lifetime of fulfilling work (I still can’t watch this without choking up). But I’d be willing to bet that you could do something to move one step, small or large, in the direction of more fulfilling work, which will likely help you make and save more money over your lifetime while reducing any desperation you might feel about the need to retire.

To help you make the most of this article, please consider these two questions:

  1. Is yours a vicious or virtuous work/retirement circle?
  2. What is the next action you’ll take to move in the right direction?

The Relative Irrelevance of Market Highs

Originally in ForbesThis week we’ve heard a lot about the U.S. stock market achieving new highs. So what? Should this record transcendence inspire confidence or fear, action or inaction?

You’ll find sufficient supporters for both the pessimistic and the optimistic view, with a far greater number of pleas to act on these views. But I invite you to consider the relative irrelevance of market highs for the following simple reason:

Any investment with a positive expected rate of return should regularly revisit and recreate its all-time high as a matter of course. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have a positive expected rate of return!

The caveat is that the higher the expected rate of return on a particular investment, the more irregular we should expect its flirtation with market highs to be. Perhaps that’s why the broad index of large U.S. companies—the S&P 500—has experienced 121 all-time highs in the past 16 years while the Nasdaq—an index of tech stocks—has experienced only nine.

You have three choices in the face of the mania that Wall Street and its many mouthpieces both conjure up and rely upon: you can agonize, act or exercise apathy.

I realize how hard it is not to agonize—to not fall prey to the hundreds of daily invitations seeking your attention. But provoking agony is an old sales trick designed to get you to act. Many in the financial services industry still get compensated to transact—to sell—not to advise. They make money regardless of your benefit or lack thereof, as long as you act.

My recommendation, therefore, is to exercise deliberate indifference. Receive the information you likely have no choice but to encounter and make an active decision to be passively indifferent.

You’ll likely benefit a great deal more from pursuing a timeless personal memory this week than concerning yourself with a financial benchmark’s all-time high.

Of course, you aren’t really free to exercise apathy unless you’ve acted on creating a well-thought-out investment plan. For starters, here’s a simple DIY portfolio that has beaten the pros.

The Real Reason I Moved to the ‘Best City In The World’

Charleston, South Carolina

Originally in ForbesAccording to Travel + Leisure magazine, “Charleston is a remarkably dynamic place, so it’s no surprise that it has achieved its highest ranking ever in our survey as [2016’s] best city in the world.”

It’s the first time a U.S. city has received the top honor, but Charleston ranked No. 2 last year and has been ranked the No. 1 city in the U.S. and Canada for four years running. As scored by Travel + Leisure readers, Charleston received its top-ranked status based on six categories: sights/landmarks, culture/arts, restaurants/food, people/friendliness, shopping and value.

But please allow me to give you the top three reasons why my family moved to Charleston two years ago, and the reason we’ll stay (and invite you to join us).

First, a little background. When people ask me where I’m from, the answer is no different today than it has been all my life: Baltimore. I’m a Baltimorean—or, as we lovingly refer to ourselves, Baltimorons. I was born in Bal’mer and never lived outside a 30-mile radius from it for the first 38 years of my life (and that includes my college years). I so loved the place and its people—my people—that I couldn’t imagine leaving its Old Bay-scented landscape.

My beloved family and extended family, including two sets of adoring grandparents, are all in Baltimore, not to mention a lifetime of dear friends and, of course, the Orioles and the Ravens. Baltimore will always be home.

But about three years ago, my wife, Andrea, and I were on one of those peculiar outings called “Date Night,” the domain of parents with young children availing themselves of the rare adult conversation. After an apparently tall glass of red wine, my wife took a very deep breath and announced that she thought we should move. I assumed the suggestion would require replanting only an exit or two along I-695, so I nearly choked on my crab cake when I learned that my bride was lobbying for a much bigger move—to Charleston. South Carolina.

Masking my unarticulated fear of leaving all that I knew behind, I responded with a barrage of practical protestations:

“It’s a celebrated resort town. It probably costs a fortune to live there!”

But she’d done her research, and immediately pulled up several beautiful houses on her phone that we could never have afforded had they been in Baltimore. Yet, they boasted price tags far lower than the home we were currently living in.

“Then there must be bad public schools,” I next objected. “Anything we save on the house, we’ll likely have to shell out for expensive private school!”

Again, she showed me ratings for schools in the Charleston suburb of Mount Pleasant that rivaled or bested those of the excellent schools our children attended in Baltimore.

I was running out of practical excuses not to leave, but there was no chance she could muster an argument to counter the biggest reason of all—my fear of leaving everyone and everything behind. Indeed, she couldn’t do anything to change THE reason I didn’t want to leave my hometown. That change would have to happen on its own:

The Top 3 Reasons We Moved to Charleston:

3 – Lower cost of living

People don’t think of Baltimore as being an expensive city, but it is. No, it’s not as expensive as some of its Northeast rivals, D.C., Philly, New York or Boston, but relative to most of the country, it ain’t cheap. The move to Charleston enabled us to buy the nicest home we’d ever lived in for meaningfully less money. (I must disclaim, however, that as Charleston’s status as a world-class city becomes more well-known, the flood of new residents has closed the gap between Charm City and my hometown, but those from D.C., New York, Boston or Southern California would still find it a bargain.)

2 – Slower pace of life

Yes, Southern hospitality is a real thing, as Travel + Leisure found, with eight of its top 12 best U.S. cities located in the Southeast or Southwest. But Charleston and the surrounding area is also marked by the lesser-known and still elusive “Lowcountry lifestyle.” It’s better felt than explained, but this outsider notes a more deliberate (not “slower”) pace of life with a heightened appreciation for the natural beauty of the region and an emphasis on relationships. Busyness is more a sign of misplaced priorities than a badge of honor here, while a turning tide or spontaneous happy hour are entirely responsible reasons to reschedule a conference call.

1 – A family adventure

But the No. 1 reason to stay in Baltimore became the No. 1 reason to leave. Have you ever wondered what it would look like to leave everything and everyone you know and plop down in a place about which you knew nothing and no one? As I considered this notion, the prospect of moving was transformed from a fear to an attractive step of faith. I feared separating myself—and especially my children—from the relative comfort we’d found in knowing. The change came when we began to yearn for the excitement of discovering. We weren’t so much leaving Baltimore as we were going on an adventure.

The Reason We’ll Stay In Charleston:

In short, it has exceeded our high expectations. Yes, the well-preserved Colonial downtown with an outsized cultural scene nestled among three rivers, countless tidal creeks and several vibrant beach communities is likely what puts it on the world’s map. But the place is far outshined by its people—a confluence of those who exhibit Lowcountry ideals and those in search of just such substance. However, the primary reason we’ll stay has less to do with Charleston and more to do with us.

Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

It was the act of choosing to discover that has given us new eyes, even as we enjoy the discovery. As a family of four, we decided to go on an adventure, and we’re just getting started.

Wherever you are—and wherever you may go—what implications might that choice have for you, your work or your family?

Hope Deferred Makes the Heart Sick

The practical present application of ancient wisdom

Originally in Forbes“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” So reads a Solomonic proverb penned in the 10th century B.C. Consider with me, however, a contemporary application of this ancient wisdom, especially in the realm of personal finance.

HOPE DEFERRED

“We’ve got to apologize, Tim,” said a financial planning client with whom I had a great relationship.

“Whatever for?” I asked.

“You know that new Lexus? The one that backs itself into a parallel parking spot?”

“Yes, I’ve seen the commercials.”

“We bought one,” the client said, with his head bowed in apparent shame.

I’d never communicated that these folks—or anyone, for that matter, who has sufficient means—shouldn’t use said means to purchase a vehicle of their choosing. But the general impression the public has toward financial advisors and educators seems to be that we all think the best use of money is in storing it up and avoiding its deployment. Defer, defer, defer.

How Money Destroys Relationships

Originally in ForbesMoney destroys relationships because people can’t compete with money. Money, after all, doesn’t disappoint you, or express disappointment with you.

It’s not that money is inherently bad or evil, but it’s not inherently good or righteous either. Money is simply a neutral tool that can be used well or poorly. It only has the value—the personality and the relational standing—that we give it.

One of the few criticisms I have of the movement to explore the psychology of money is its use of the phrase “your relationship with money.” Unintentionally, this gives money entirely too much credit by implying personhood. Indeed, if you have a “relationship” with money, you’re likely elevating it unnecessarily, and maybe even subconsciously devaluing those in your life who actually have a heartbeat.

How did we get here, to the point where we’ve personified—and in some cases deified—the “almighty” dollar?

Finding and Mastering Fulfilling Work

Live Out Your Calling as an Artisan

Originally in ForbesYou likely feel as though you don’t have enough time to watch a video that is 17 minutes and 47 seconds, right? But what if watching it allows you to penetrate beneath the scar tissue of busyness and distraction and transform your view of work and the satisfaction you derive from it? Would it be worth it, then?

If you’re willing to watch the video, please feel free to stop reading here, because I’m convinced that, though seemingly out of context, you’ll get the point by the end of the video—the point that there’s a vastly different, far more rewarding way to do what we call “work” than what most of us have been taught and have experienced. It’s the work of an artisan.

craftsman working on stone isolated on hands

But first, a bit on the evolution and etymology of work: What’s the difference between a job and a profession? I ask this question more than you’d think, and the summary response I receive is, “A job is something you have to do while a profession is something you want to do. A job is a necessity—it puts food on the table—while a profession is something that you train for and build over time.”

Fair enough. What, then, is a vocation?

You know you should have a will–but WHY?

Originally published CNBCYou’ve surely heard the sad news that music legend Prince has died, and you likely caught the fact that he did so without leaving a will. This high-profile case of apparent negligence has rekindled the collective finger wagging over having the correct estate planning documents. But the question remains—WHY?

I had the opportunity to answer this question recently on the Today show, but I wanted to further explore the topic in the hope of providing some additional, actionable clarity:

WHY NOT?

Statistics suggest that a majority of Americans don’t have a will. And, after reading hundreds of these documents, I’ve found that even most people who do have a will have one with sub-optimal language they don’t understand.

Why don’t we do a great job planning for our death?

Simple Money Featured On The Today Show

Recently, I had the distinct privilege to join Sheinelle Jones on the Today show, discussing some rapid-fire personal finance issues in Simple Money style.  Is now a good time to buy stocks?  Is it a good time to buy, sell, refinance or renovate a home?  We even discussed a version of the Simple Money Portfolio and my top two picks for cash flow apps that can improve your financial situation.  Click HERE or on the image below to view the segment.

Tim Maurer on Today Show

Building a Strong Portfolio in 7 Simple Steps

Originally published CNBCThe movement of markets is so incredibly complicated that even the world’s most skilled portfolio managers struggle mightily to “beat the market” over the long-term. Building a strong portfolio, therefore, must be similarly (and singularly) complex, right? Wrong. While portfolio architecture and management is not easy, here is a seven-step process that makes it surprisingly simple:

Step 1: Know thyself.

This ancient Greek wisdom is where we must begin, because personal finance is more personal than it is finance. Investing is complex because we are complex. Therefore, we must understand ourselves before we try to understand the markets. This means honestly gauging your time horizon and the returns necessary to meet your goals, but it’s especially important that you understand your willingness to take risk in the markets. You must take the gut-check test.

Step 2: Understand investing.

The Millennial Guide To Managing Risk With Insurance

Originally in Forbes“I’m too [fill in the blank] to worry about insurance.” If you’re a millennial, there are plenty of words you could choose from to complete that sentence. Perhaps “young,” “poor,” “busy” and “skeptical” are good ones (for starters).

You might have enough insurance.  You might even have too much.  But I’d bet you don’t have as much as you need in some categories, too.  Regardless, ignorance is neither blissful nor beneficial at any age, so let’s ask and answer the questions below, reviewing the most prominent types of insurance that may—or may not—be important for you to consider.

First, allow me to offer a fundamental insurance lesson that will serve you well now and into the future: Don’t just buy insurance. Instead, manage risk.

I offer the following Risk Management Guide as a template for making insurance decisions in my book, Simple Money:

Risk Management Guide

Consider applying this guide to the risks inherent in driving a vehicle: Driving while under the influence of alcohol (or texting) offers a tiny reward relative to the potential risk involved and can easily be eliminated. Driving at a reasonable speed and wearing a seatbelt drastically reduces the risk of having an accident, as well as the risk of serious injury. We assume the risk of being involved in an auto accident every time we get in a car, but we can also limit some of the associated financial risk we assume by setting our auto insurance deductibles at a manageable level. The catastrophic financial risk that most of us couldn’t easily endure involves liability—for example, a large legal suit if we are at fault in an auto accident. That’s where insurance comes in.

How, then, can millennials best manage life’s most prominent financial risks—with and without insurance?

Do you own a car?
If not, skip to the next question. If so, it’s important to know that most drivers, and especially younger drivers, are underinsured because they don’t have enough “Bodily Injury Liability” coverage. If you’re at fault in an auto accident and you’re sued for a million dollars, it’s your liability coverage that picks up the tab—part of the tab, that is. If you decided to save money on your premiums by reducing your liability limits to, say, $50,000 per person injured up to a maximum of $100,000, that means you could be on the hook for $950,000 (if only one person was hurt in the accident). Consider increasing your limits to $250,000/$500,000, and also take a look at adding an umbrella policy—often reasonably priced—to bring your liability coverage up to or beyond $1 million.

But as a risk manager, you can save money on your premiums by assuming more non-catastrophic risk and raising your deductibles. Why pay more in premium for a low $50 or $100 deductible if you wouldn’t make a claim for anything under $1,000? If you have sufficient emergency cash on hand, you can increase your deductible to $500 or even $1,000 and enjoy a reduction in your premiums to help compensate for the addition of more catastrophic risk coverage.

Do you own or rent your residence?
The biggest risk here, again, is liability. You might already know that if someone slips and falls on your property and sues you, the liability coverage that comes with your homeowner’s insurance (and perhaps umbrella policy) will pick up the tab. But did you know that the liability coverage attached to your home or apartment also follows you outside of your residence? Another risk that is often overlooked is the contents of your homestead. Make sure your coverage limit is sufficient to replace all of your clothes, appliances and audio/video equipment if it were all to go up in smoke. Do a video inventory of your home’s contents as proof of ownership (and store the video outside of the home, for goodness sake, or better yet, in the proverbial cloud).

Do you have a pulse?
If you’re a living American, you’re now required to have health insurance—at least the Minimum Essential Coverage—under the Affordable Care Act, unless you’d prefer to pay a fee similar to that of an average health insurance policy premium.  (Paying for coverage that you don’t actually receive would be a poor risk management decision, by the way.)

I know, I know…you never go to the doctor, right? I understand. I was invincible once too, until I had a near-fatal car accident at the age of 18. I’d still be paying off the medical bills at 40 if it weren’t for health insurance. If you’re healthy, by all means, assume the risk of regular doctor visits with a high-deductible health plan (hopefully used in conjunction with a Health Savings Account, potentially making every qualifying out-of-pocket health-care expense tax-deductible). But don’t roll the dice on catastrophic health-care risks by going without health insurance.

Does anyone in your life rely on you financially?
There are those—life insurance agents, predominantly—who advocate buying a life insurance policy before you need it, because “you’re young and healthy and the coverage will be cheap.” While this might be true, I’m not a proponent of insuring needs you don’t have. That’s not efficient risk management. However, if anyone relies on you financially, you do have a need for life insurance, at least if you’d like their lives to go on monetarily unimpeded if you’re gone.

If you’re coupled sans kids, just get enough coverage to pay off debts and mortgages. If you have kids, and the household relies on your income, multiply your average annual income by 15 and purchase that amount of term life insurance with a duration for as long as your income is needed. (You can learn more about that logic in my post, “10 Things You Absolutely Need To Know About Life Insurance.”) There are virtually no circumstances in which permanent life insurance—whole, universal or variable life—is appropriate for a millennial. Term life covers the catastrophic; dollars you’d be using for permanent life insurance are better spent on bigger risks, like…

Is your primary source of income your paycheck?
I’ve saved the most important—and least understood—for last. If you’re a millennial with most of your career in front of you, it’s almost certain that your biggest “asset” is your ability to generate income into the future. Disability income insurance pays a portion of the income you’d lose in the case of a disabling injury. Disability income insurance covers the money-printing machine in your basement. (That’s you.)

I recommend you apply your attention (and your premium dollars) to long-term disability income coverage over short-term coverage, because the longer-term variety supposes a more catastrophic risk. Unfortunately, the product is complex enough that it requires its own post.

What insurance do you have through work?
If you work for an established company, the chances are good that you have some group insurance (coverage that is part of your benefits package at work). But if you’re like most millennials, you likely don’t expect to retire from the company for which you currently work. Therefore, you don’t want to lean too heavily on your group benefits, most of which are unlikely to follow you when you leave.

For life insurance in particular, consider taking whatever they give you for free and look into a personal policy for your longer-term needs. For disability income insurance, you’ll likely have to blend the coverage you get from work with a supplemental personal policy to meet your needs. But in most cases, you’ll rely on your group health insurance plan because it is a more common (and highly regulated) benefit than most.

What’s the point?
Few of us enjoy talking about insurance. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the fact that we don’t love spending money on stuff that might protect us from events we hope never happen . But for most of these risks, it’s not so much a question of if, but of when. And when that time comes, you’ll be glad you took the time and spent the money to transfer the risk you’re simply unable to eliminate, reduce or assume.

I’m a speaker, author, wealth advisor and director of personal finance for Buckingham and the BAM Alliance. Connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and click HERE to receive my weekly post via email.