3 Ways To Write Your Own Story, Like Baseball’s Daniel Norris

Originally in ForbesYesterday, a bearded 21-year-old surfer who lives in a 1978 VW bus, and on a self-imposed annual allowance of $10,000, mowed down my beloved Orioles with a 96-mile-per-hour fastball.

Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris isn’t striving to make a statement with his apparently Spartan existence. He’s simply choosing to live life according to his priorities. He’s writing his own story.

According to ESPN, Norris’ values system is strengthened by generational ties and rooted in the topography of Johnson City in northeast Tennessee: “Play outdoors. Love the earth. Live simply. Use only what you need.”

The point of this article is not to compel you to adopt Daniel Norris’ values, but to convince you to live by your own. Here are three ways to do so:

1) Know your values.

The challenge to knowing your values is learning how to discern and articulate what’s most important to you without simply parroting a corporate slogan or a Successories poster. (Hint: “Integrity” is already taken.) Most of us, in response to the direct question, “What are your values?” will inadvertently list someone else’s. Consider a less direct, but perhaps more difficult, path to discernment.

Especially if you are a visual processor, glance at this exercise—the Wheel of Life—courtesy of Money Quotient founder Carol Anderson:

Wheel of Life

On each spoke, rate your satisfaction in the corresponding area of life between zero and 10—10 being the best. After connecting the dots, note the roundness or wobbliness of your wheel as a whole. Consider why your satisfaction in some areas is high while in others it might be low.

Now, while ruminating on your reaction to the exercise, write a few words—or perhaps a few sentences—addressing what is most important in life to you. Start with two to five of the areas of life represented on the wheel. The result may be a nicely packaged articulation of what you value most.

If you want to go deeper—or you’re more verbal than visual, or if your Wheel of Life exercise was fruitless for any reason—consider George Kinder’s “3 Questions” exercise. It may be another eye opener.

2) Have the courage to live according to your values.

Truly living life according to your values is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage because social convention prefers efficiency. There are few venues where non-conformity is prized less than it is in sports, and “perhaps nowhere is consistency more valued than in baseball,” says Eli Saslow of ESPN.

Being true to yourself could cost you. It cost Carmen Segarra her job—and likely forevermore limited her prospects in her chosen profession—when she challenged Fed regulators to actually, well, regulate.

Of course, the objective is not non-conformity for its own sake, and definitely not visible self-righteousness. Daniel Norris won’t compromise his conviction not to consume alcohol, for example. But he also doesn’t opt-out of the rookie hazing ritual that involves carting around the veterans’ booze. Originality doesn’t necessarily have to mean unmitigated individuality.

Originality is attractive when it is genuine, but repellant when it is contrived or copied.

3) Outperform.

If Daniel Norris was just another dude living out of a VW bus down by the river, his non-conformist path would be unknown. Having inspired values alone doesn’t make Norris an inspiration. Applying himself to them in an exemplary fashion does.

Via Twitter, Norris tells us exactly how he’s decided to apply his values:

“I live to find 3 things. 1. Eternal life. 2. The strike zone. 3. Good waves.”

My Orioles are certainly aware that he’s mastered at least one of the three. So are his teammates, who have learned that Norris’ unique way of approaching life—and the game—has netted positive results. They may not understand his method, but they appreciate it. Similarly, you will be given more leeway to be yourself in whatever you choose to pursue if you do so with excellence.

Life isn’t a bullet list of values or a spreadsheet for calculating progress toward your goals—it’s a story, a narrative. I hope my suggestions aid you in writing your story, but please don’t confine yourself to my prescriptions. Regardless of whether or not we follow any particular method to discerning our values and pursuing our goals, we’re still creating a body of work. Everybody’s life tells a story. The only question is, Who’s writing yours?

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.

3 Ways To Gain From Market Losses

Originally in ForbesEven if you get your daily news from one of those celebrity tabloid shows, you have probably still heard that the market has been more than a little crazy in recent weeks.

Indeed, the typically overstated “surge” and “plunge” headlines have been less hyperbolic of late, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average burps out daily gains and losses in the hundreds of points. But over the past several trading days, the results have been all red, and since Sept. 18, the market has taken back more than 6% of what it’s given so far this year.

Is this volatility the precursor to another market gutting? Or perhaps it’s just a momentary ebb in advance of a continued upward flow?

The answer is yes.

The market is in the business of rising and falling, and of making fools of those who attempt to predict which it will do next. But be sure that we will feel both the pain of another big drop—perhaps sooner rather than later—and the euphoria of another unprecedented gain.

english-dow-jones-industrial-average-weekly-close-january-19

Whether this very recent pullback happens to be the beginning or the end of something, most investors have already lost enough to benefit from it.

Benefit? Yes, you did read that correctly. Here are three ways to gain from market losses:

3 Reasons to Avoid ETFs: Advisor

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

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

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

ETFs

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

What Is Your Fool’s Gold?

Originally in ForbesMy son gave me a present. To be fair, I don’t think it was until after he realized the gift was monetarily worthless, but I appreciated it nonetheless. It’s a big hunk of the mineral pyrite, also known as fool’s gold. My son’s gift has value to me far beyond its function as an excellent paperweight. And, ironically, its worth to me is continually rising. It’s become a constant reminder to orient my life away from that which only appears valuable and towards that which truly is.

We all have our own versions of fool’s gold. It’s generally the stuff that, while largely worthless, receives an undue amount of our time, attention and investment. What’s yours?

Fools Gold

Here are three ways to spot it:

1)   Fool’s gold consumes time you’ve dedicated to other things. Not more than one paragraph into writing this post (on this topic, no less!) I found myself entering this Google search—“what is the best banjo ukulele”—and then navigating to this page, then this one.

The Real Danger In Overstating Returns (Like PIMCO)

Originally in ForbesAs if PIMCO needed any more bad press, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether the bond giant “artificially boosted the returns of a popular fund aimed at small investors.” While we should all be attentive to the results of this probe—because I’d bet my lunch money that its implications will be felt beyond just PIMCO—there is an even deeper issue to consider. And this issue has a more direct impact on our individual portfolios and money management choices. The real danger in overstating returns, and indeed the root of most financial missteps, is self-deception.

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“How’s your portfolio?”

Who among us wants to feel like a failure? We’ll generally avoid experiencing this sensation at all costs. So, absent conspicuous success, we permit ourselves to believe that we’ve at least not failed, frequently through self-deception.

Back to School — Back to Financial Fundamentals for 3 Generations

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

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

back-to-school

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

Dealing With the ‘Personal’ in Personal Finance

Originally in MoneyTo really help people, financial planners have to delve into the the feelings and emotions that drive their clients’ financial decisions. One planner explains why that’s so hard.

While most of us financial advisers want to do the best for our clients, we often struggle at the task.

The main problem, as I recently wrote: We don’t know our clients well enough. We may say that a client’s values and goals are important, but most of us don’t adequately explore these more personal (a.k.a. “touchy-feely”) parts of a client’s life.

Why is this? 

Financial-Advisor

One reason we avoid deeper discovery with clients: No matter how we’re paid—whether by commissions or fees—most of us don’t get compensated until the financial planning process has neared its end. 

3 Reasons Financial Advisors Should Court Younger Clients

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

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

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

millennials-360

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

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

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

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

My family outside of the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston

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

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

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

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: