Retire Like These Guys…Not These Guys

Executive Summary2While most of the commentary these days regarding retirement is about the math and “science” of cash flow and portfolio management, there is also an art to retiring well.  Making a graceful transition from the vocation that marks your life into whatever follows helps form your legacy—for better and worse.

Led Zeppelin was the best rock band of all time—at least in their time, and for many of us, still. Jimmy Page was the musical mastermind behind this super-group of savants, but it’s hard to imagine that they could’ve reached legendary status without Robert Plant.  Every generation since has attempted to replicate Plant’s voice and stage presence.  Although the band’s retirement was unplanned after drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980, Plant and Page’s work since is a fascinating case study in retirement.

Retire like Robert Plant…not like Jimmy Page

pageplantRobert Plant has explored, experimented and remade himself several times since retiring from Led Zeppelin.  As I write, I’m listening to one of my favorite albums, Raising Sand, a Grammy-award winning collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, a legend herself in the realm of bluegrass.

Maybe since it was his baby, Jimmy Page has struggled to ever let go of Zeppelin, a fact that was evident in his 2012 Rolling Stone interview.  He’s struggled to retire well.  He seems to have lived between a handful of attempted (and certifiably mediocre) Led Zeppelin reunion gigs, and implies Robert Plant is at fault for resisting a full-out remarriage.

It’s not easy to retire from the best gig you’ve ever had, but unwillingness to acknowledge that it’s over can be even more painful.  Loosening your grip on the past, however, can free you up for a fulfilling and rewarding second act.

Retire like Michael Strahan…not like Brett Favre

07-1t107-kelly-300x450I had to recuse myself from using my beloved Ravens’ Ray Lewis as the favorable example in this gridiron comparison to preserve objectivity, but objectively speaking, Michael Strahan’s exit from the winning New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII may indeed be a better example of one of the very few NFL players who managed to truly go out on top.  Strahan capitalized on the Giant’s surprise win over the New England Patriots to position himself for a second and third career that now pits him against the less-than-menacing Kelly Ripa.

Brett Favre, on the other hand, who was the most exciting quarterback of a generation, couldn’t let go.  He leads the NFL in retirement threats, retirements and comebacks, finally ending his career in a concussive fog as a Minnesota Viking.  Favre wisely turned down a request from the St. Louis Rams just this week to replace injured Sam Bradford, citing his many concussions and subsequent memory loss.  He can only hope to forget the sexting scandal that marred his good-old-boy reputation at the end of his career.

When you excel at your craft and you’re competitive, it’s hard to let go, but holding on too long can destroy your reputation, damage your legacy and hamstring the team you leave behind.

Retire like Sallie Krawcheck…not like John Thain

Sallie Krawcheck’s retirement was involuntary—she was fired from her position at Bank of America—but she still managed to do it gracefully.  Krawcheck is the former lots-of-things Wall Street, having been at the helm of major divisions at Citi and more recently Bank of America, as the head of Global Wealth and Investment Management (including Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust).  But she doesn’t talk or act like most Wall Street execs, and not just because she’s a woman.  She’s taken surprisingly principled stances on conflicts of interest, like the “cross-selling” mandate pushing Merrill brokers to sell banking products, and the touchy topic of regulatory reform within the industry.   While maintaining her principles may have led (in part) to her forced departure from Wall Street, in retirement her striking combination of competency and transparency have earned her respect that few of her scandal-ridden colleagues enjoy.

John Thain has handled himself, well, differently.  He’s the former Merrill Lynch head who infamously gave his office a $1.22 million dollar upgrade and paid out billions in bonuses to country club cronies as the American financial system came crashing down.  Even the financial industry couldn’t stomach him and he was “tossed out on his ear” by then CEO of Bank of America, Ken Lewis.  Thain is Wall Street excess personified and an easy target for the 99%, but don’t feel too bad for him; while he may have traded a $35,000 in-office toilet for “plastic and Formica,” he’s back on the scene with the $2 billion bailout beneficiary, CIT.

It’s much better to make a graceful early departure than to be thrown out in disgrace.

Three Keys To A Successful Retirement

What retirement lessons do Robert Plant, Michael Strahan and Sallie Krawchek teach us?  Three keys to a successful retirement are to know when to leave, leave well and retire to something meaningful.  You don’t have to be a rock star, a professional athlete or Wall Street royalty to model and benefit from these practices.

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.

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.

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.

Less: The New More

One of the things that frustrates me most about financial planning and financial planners is that it seems we’re simply in the business of helping people accumulate more.  More of everything—cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, houses, cars, collectibles and other belongings.  Indeed, how many financial success stories are based on depictions of households who have LESS this year than last?  If anything, the financial industry may be in the business of inspiring a spirit of greed—albeit in the guise of commercials and marketing slicks with beautiful, ageless smiles in ideal settings typically involving sailboats, golf courses and vineyards.  Come pay us to help you get…more.

And I don’t think anyone would deny that we, as a country, bought it—hook, line and sinker—over the course of the 80’s and especially the 90’s, during the birth of the now foreclosed McMansion.  Yes, it was as if an entire generation of Americans consented to hopping aboard a giant hamster wheel of accumulation, all striving toward the imaginary objective of acquiring enough stuff and a pot of money big enough to sustain a comfortable level of consumption through to the grave.  The results speak for themselves: a housing bubble that has left a quarter of the country under water, the corresponding market crash that left a slew of investors without a positive rate of return for over a decade, perpetual car payments and credit card bills, the decline of selfless charity, the demise of the single-income household and millions of workers who abandoned their dream jobs for whatever would pay the most money.

Fortunately, we’re starting to see a shift away from our self-worth being determined by the square footage in our houses, the emblem on our cars or the title on our business cards.  Led by a generational strain more impressed with subjective quality than objective quantity, folks like Tammy Strobel, author of the book You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap) and the Rowdy Kittens blog, are showing us by example how LESS really can be MORE.  Prone to material minimalism and houses as small as a parking space, they are not condescending or judgmental.  They’re just choosing to live a different way, disregarding much of the supposed accumulation gospel preached by the financial services majority, and inviting a growing community to do the same.

Tammy and her husband, Logan, are both 34 years old, and while she told me it wasn’t a particularly easy transition to go from the life they had to the simplified one they have, it has been a wholly gratifying experience they’d never trade.  A few years ago, they were spending in excess of $70,000 of household income, and they owned two cars and a big apartment filled with stuff.  Now, they live in a tiny house—128 square feet!—have no cars and rarely have monthly expenses in excess of $700.  I’m sure your response to that was similar to mine: “That’s crazy!”  But they have simply chosen to value relationships, community, independence and the most valuable commodity of all—time—over the everyday trappings that dominate most of our lives.

What is to be gained by simplifying life from a physical and fiscal perspective?   It“… allows you to create your own lifestyle, one with the freedom, money and time to do what you love…” according to Strobel.  Sounds an awful lot like the promises offered in a retirement planning pitch, doesn’t it?  But many of these folks are living this unique style of financial independence decades away from a traditional retirement age.

While these simplifiers may be light years away from qualifying for any of the big dogs’ wealth management services, they’re actually living by the foundational precepts of sound, commonsensical personal finance.  And while some may be inclined to dismiss them as a cult of upstart hippies, their behavior is more vintage and classically conservative than nouveau and socialist, most closely representing the habits of our grandparents and their parents.  Those generations actually owned houses they could afford, using mortgages sparingly.  They put in a day’s work and enjoyed the balance of their time with family and friends.  They considered a single car—much less two or three—to be a luxury, and couldn’t have imagined using leverage to buy one.  And they spent more time seeking to reduce their expenses than increase their income.  What a novel notion.

If it sounds crazy for a financial planner to be lauding deleveraging, downsizing and dispossessing, please let me remind you that the goal of the best financial plan isn’t necessarily to have more money…but to have a better life.

Tax Myths And Rules App

This is the 11th 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.  If you haven’t yet, please read the posts divulging the 5 Tax Myths and the 5 Tax Rules.  If you have, you’re ready to jump into the exercise with the short explanation below:

Tax Myths & Rules

Put your own tax acumen to the test by reviewing each of the Tax Myths and Rules to see how well you’re avoiding and applying them in your life.

With the aid of this spreadsheet, you’ll be able to examine your own posture toward each of the five tax myths and rules.  You can then determine what actions you can take to avoid letting tax implications lead instead of follow in your financial planning.

Click HERE to access the Tax Myths & Rules App!

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

Mutual Fund Audit App

This is the ninth 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:

Most of the information you’ll need to complete this exercise should already be together from the Personal Balance Sheet exercise earlier in this series, but if not, pull together the most recent holdings information that you have for your various investment accounts.  If you have online access to these accounts, it will be as easy as printing out the page with your current holdings.  If not, pull together each of the most recent statements for all of your investment accounts.

Aggregate your holdings using the form we’ve made available for this exercise online.  Segregate them between investments that are inside of retirement accounts (like your 401ks, 403bs, IRAs, etc.) and nonretirement accounts (there is a tab for each on the spreadsheet).  For any mutual funds, you’ll want to have the name of the fund and the five-letter symbol.

Now, navigate your web browser to  With the tools here, you’ll be able to use that final column of your Investment Audit to fill in the Manager Category column.  (You can examine your mutual fund managers with the tools on Morningstar using the basic service at no cost.  Another good, free resource for the analysis of stocks and mutual funds is Yahoo’s Finance web site

Plug the symbol of each of your mutual funds into the “Quotes” field on Morningstar.  The main page for each fund will show you a 10-year chart with a graphical depiction of your fund’s performance alongside its benchmark.  Just below the chart, you’ll see a tool that will allow you to click and drag the timeline backwards to see a longer fund history if it’s
available.  You can also hit the “Performance” tab and select the “Expanded View” to see even more detail about the fund’s numerical performance.

Using the tips in this post, you should now be able to classify each of your funds.  In the Action column on the right hand side of the worksheet, check any of the Return Chasers and Index Huggers for additional review.  Again, Return Chasers should be well understood, carefully monitored, and dumped if misunderstood.  Index Huggers should be replaced.

Click HERE to access the Mutual Fund Audit 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!

Fight or Flight

by Jim Stovall

Recently, I spent quite a bit of time with a dear friend of mine who could best be described as the quintessential Southern gentlemen.  He is well into his eighth decade of life but, in many ways, his attitudes and demeanor harken back even farther to a much-earlier time.

He was born and spent his formative years in rural Mississippi and remains very steeped in the southern culture.  While my friend seems to have love in his heart for everyone, he still refers to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.

One of my favorite quotes from my dear friend is that “a good run is better than a poor stand.”  This old saying may have originated in the aftermath of a long-forgotten Civil War battle, but it can serve you and me today.

There are few human endeavors that require more time, effort, energy, and resource than an argument or disagreement.  In many cases, the disagreement or argument, itself, becomes more costly than the issue it sprang from.  Very few people have the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable.  We are all so vested in our personal beliefs that we take opposition to our position as a personal affront.

I would be the first to say there are many beliefs, standards, and positions that are worth arguing for and even fighting about, but it’s important to pick your battles.  Oftentimes, with a friend, colleague, or loved one, you can win a brief argument and lose good will and trust that have been built up over many years.  Before you engage in a conflict with another person, group, or organization, be sure to count the cost.

In the ancient and classic book The Art of War, Sun Tzu describes the best way to win any battle and be victorious in any war is to avoid the conflict entirely.  Before you engage in a debate, an argument, or a conflict, ask yourself the following questions:

1.      Do I really care about this issue at hand?

2.      Does the matter under consideration involve a core principle that I hold?

3.      What could I lose by escalating this conflict?

4.      Does the outcome of this debate affect one of my personal or professional goals?

5.      Is it possible for me to simply state my position and agree to disagree?

As a professional speaker, I have had the privilege of sharing the stage with General Colin Powell.  We should all be grateful and thankful for leaders such as General Powell who have dedicated themselves to our defense.  During a recent debate about an ongoing conflict in the Middle East, General Powell cautioned that it is important that we avoid a situation where we win the war but lose the peace.

As you go through your day today, never back down on your core principles and beliefs, but never fight or argue over things that truly don’t matter.

Today’s the day!

The Three Guarantees In Financial Planning

Not much in the realm of financial planning can be guaranteed.  Even the best projections and technical analyses are filled with disclaimers noting, among other things, that “Past performance is no indicator of future results.”  You can lose money.  The company you’re counting on could go out of business.  But of this you can be sure:  Three sure-fire guarantees in financial planning are SURPRISES, CHANGE and FAILURE.

Reassured?  I was afraid not.

But fear not, these three guarantees do come with counter-agents that we can systematize in our financial planning to minimize any negative impact:

Surprises require MARGIN.  Change requires FLEXIBILITY.  And failure requires GRACE.

Margin is a lost art and missing in nearly all phases of life in our all-too-hurried, uber-productive, stressed-out lives.  We don’t leave enough empty space on our calendars, so if we get stuck in traffic or stop to help a stranded motorist, we’re likely to be late for something else.  We can’t do anything spontaneous because every minute is already filled.  And because all of our time is spoken for, we also don’t have much in the way of blank canvas in our, and all too often our hearts.  And this is especially true of our finances—because every dollar is already spent or pledged, often even small emergencies or organic opportunities can’t be absorbed or funded.  There’s no margin for error.

Our lack of margin feeds our inflexibility.  We often don’t even consider the possibility of change because we don’t have the time.  Change, therefore, is inevitably also a surprise, compounding the discomfort.  But we often struggle to accommodate even predictable change.   Can your finances adapt to another child—even if the pregnancy was planned—or the reduction of income in an industry-wide change that was anticipated?  That which doesn’t bend, breaks.

For most of us, so much of our life is spent protecting ourselves from failure that it can be devastating when it arrives.  And it will.  Failure is simply a natural byproduct of our human imperfection.  And if you’re unable to view it as the most successful people often do—as an opportunity for invaluable education and personal growth—please consider diminishing failure’s grip, if only for pragmatic purposes.  Remember the major-leaguer who qualifies for the all-star team when he only succeeds a third of the time (a .333 average in Major League Baseball isn’t bad).  That’s where grace comes in.  Grace isn’t for the guiltless; that’s called vindication or acquittal.  Grace is being forgiven—or forgiving ourselves—when we’ve screwed up, slouched, squandered or slandered.  You don’t have to deserve it to receive it.

So what on Earth could this possibly have to do with Roth IRAs?

I love the tax-free growth and retirement distributions available with Roth IRAs.  I love that you’re not forced to take Required Minimum Distributions after age 70 ½, and I think there’s no better gift you could give your heirs than a Roth.  But my very favorite element of the Roth IRA is its LIQUIDITY, and liquidity is the key to navigating the three guarantees of financial planning.

In case you’re not following me, Roth IRAs are unlike any other retirement investment bucket, for lack of a better term, as you’re allowed to back money out of the account for any reason at any time at any age and without any tax consequences or penalties.  There’s only one caveat: you can only take back your principal—what you contributed to the account—unconditionally.  Your growth is subject to all those typical conditions (taxes and penalties) you’re accustomed to in the realm of retirement accounts.  But if you put $10,000 into a Roth and it grows to $12,000, you can take back your $10,000 whenever you please and for whatever reason.

I’m not encouraging you to take the money out, forfeiting a lifetime (and maybe multiple lifetimes if you pass it to heirs) of tax-free growth and distributions.  But hey, “stuff” happens.  LIFE HAPPENS.

So allow a Roth IRA to become part of your strategy.  Use it as an extension (not the primary source) of your MARGIN, the foundation of which should be pure cash reserves in a bank savings account.  Allow it to facilitate your FLEXIBILITY to change, if and when it’s necessary.  And if you have to dip into it, give yourself GRACE.  Learn from the experience so that you’re better prepared for the next surprise and the inevitable change to come.

Complete Your Personal Financial Statements

This is the third 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:

Cash Flow Statement

Through the online banking systems of most banks, you can now view a history of your expenditures for specific periods of time in seconds.  If you prefer to do things the old fashioned way, your recent bank statements will also show you your spending past. Seeing what you’ve spent is step one in creating a cash flow statement.  Step two is categorizing your spending—where exactly have you spent your money?  This can be an eye-opening experience.

Balance Sheet

Collect all of the statements (online or paper) for every bank account, investment account, 401k, IRA, and so on, along with every statement detailing your debts—mortgages, auto loans, college loans, credit cards and such.  Add up your assets and your liabilities and then subtract the latter from the former.  The resulting balance is your net worth.


Every dollar that you expect to receive in the coming month should be allocated to a budgetary category.  Your fixed expenses are the easiest to plan for, but you must also estimate what your variable expenses are going to be.  You also can’t forget about those expenses that come quarterly, semiannually, or annually.  This should include things like your water bill or insurance premiums that you pay on an interval other than monthly, but it should also include those personal expenses like vacations.

Click HERE to access an online exercise to complete all three!