Financial Symmetry: Balancing Today with Retirement

When considering retirement, do you wonder what financial opportunities you may be missing? Busy lives take over and years pass without taking advantage. In this retirement podcast, the Financial Symmetry advisors unveil financial opportunities, to help you balance enjoying today so you are ready to retire later. By day, they are fiduciary fee-only financial advisors who answer questions about tax savings, investment decisions, and how to save more. If you’ve been putting off your financial to-do list or are just not sure what you’ve been missing, subscribe to the show and learn more at Financial Symmetry is a Raleigh Financial Advisor. Proudly serving clients in the Triangle of North Carolina for over 20 years.
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Now displaying: 2016
Dec 13, 2016

You likely would rather think about ANYTHING other than their taxes. And even though you want more tax savings, you rarely follow through with proper tax planning. Most people don’t realize the large amount of tax savings they could have by making a few simple tweaks. Instead they operate under the “penny wise, pound foolish” mantra. Missing substantial savings to save the cost of a professional. By performing professional tax planning towards the end of the year, there is often thousands in tax savings available. You can read more about our 10 tips to help you save more when filing your taxes this year.

Nov 29, 2016

Many people don't have a great idea of what do do with their bonus at the end of the year. Should you spend it? Invest it all immediately? Invest it over the coming year? In this week's podcast, Chad and Mike explore your options and help you decide how to end your year. 


Music this week: 

Celebration (Single Version) – Kool & The Gang from the Album Celebrate! (1980) 

Don't Stop Believin' – Journey from the Album Greatest Hits (1988) 

Used under Fair Use. 

Nov 8, 2016

Two-thirds of people admit to procrastinating when it comes to their retirement planning. In fact, the average person spends more time planning a vacation then than do planning for retirement. 

Non-urgent financial tasks love to find cracks in our to-do list, falling to the bottom fast. Mark Twain humorized this concept well with his quote, “Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow?”

Jason Zweig captured these problems in his book Your Money and Your Brain. He wrote “Unpleasant tasks often lead to pleasant results down the road. We often procrastinate the worst on things that are good for us [with] saving more in our 401(k)” being near the top. “So the problem is not that we don’t know what’s good for us. It’s just that tomorrow seems like a better time to do it than today.”

In this episode, we share some of the best reasons we’ve read, personal stories, and tips we’ve used to combat financial procrastination.

Strategies to Fight Financial Procrastination

  1. Research on why we procrastinate financially
  2. The implications & cost of continuing to procrastinate
  3. Quick ways to combat putting off what you know you need to do today financially

Facts and Links Mentioned In the Show

  1. People check email an average of 150 times a day. Peak amounts are 900 times a day. [Art of Charm Podcast with Greg McKeown]
  2. More than 2/3 of adults age 55+ admit to procrastinating on retirement planning. [Financial Engines Study 2015]
  3. This survey shows people say that 25 is the right age to start financial planning but in reality they started planning 10.6 years later. [Financial Engines Study 2015]
  4. Top 5 Reasons We Procrastinate
    • 50% blamed stress for their procrastinating
    • 40% said they had higher priorities, even though they were interested in retirement planning
    • 24% were worried about being taken advantage of
    • 23% were not sure how to go about it
    • 20% believed it was too difficult
  5. How to Beat Procrastination by Dr. Travis Bradbury [LinkedIn Pulse]
  6. Why Investors Keep Repeating Their Mistakes [ interview with Wait Buy Why Founder]

Stacking Benjamins Podcast

You can also check out Chad on the Stacking Benjamins Podcast on a special Halloween edition. He shared 5 horror stories we see regularly from when we first meet with people.

Connect With Chad and Mike

Subscribe To This Podcast

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Oct 25, 2016

Can you really fail in retirement?

For most people, retirement is that time on the horizon when you get to do what you want, when you want. But surprisingly, it's not all that uncommon for people to retire only to go back to work or face other unexpected negative events that occur which people are not prepared for.

You spend a boatload of time planning the financial side of retirement (at least we hope you did). But how much time do you spend planning how you'll spend your time.

In this episode, we share ideas from an intriguing presentation given at NAPFA National 2016 where Mitch Anthony spoke about his new book The New Retirementality. He describes 10 components in the "Return on Life Index" he developed. This index details all the other areas you get a return in life that you may not regularly think about through those lenses. This includes your contribution after work, leisure, health, education, and relationship building opportunities.

Remember, you don't stop investing after you stop working. You just find different areas of your life to invest in, besides your portfolio. Take a listen to find out more of what we learned during Mitch's presentation.

Ways You Can Fail at Retirement

  1. Facts that back up our claim that many people fail at retirement
  2. 4 Key Success factors that have been found to result in a successful retirement.
  3. Resources to help you as you decide if and how to retire.

Facts and Links Mentioned In the Show

  1. For those over 65, the official number of suicides is 14.9 out of 100,000 people per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These numbers for over 65 may be under reported as overdoses are assumed to be an error.
  2. In 2014, people over 50 were twice as likely to get divorced than in 1990.
  3. The book Your Retirement Quest: 10 Secrets of Creating and Living a Fulfilling Retirement by Alan Spector and Keith Lawrence
  4. Retirement Mythbusters Presentation

Two Questions to Help Avoid Failing at Retirement

  1. Think through how are you going to spend your time?
  2. Secondly, how are you going to pay for it?

Connect With Chad and Mike

Subscribe To This Podcast

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Oct 11, 2016

New regulations for 401k regulations are putting even more responsibility on the employer. Understanding these new laws can be a complex, and time-consuming task. Join Chad and Mike as they walk through the basics of what employers need to know to ensure they are ready for the changes. 

Sep 27, 2016

In this episode, Chad and Mike take another look at the 401k, and how important it is to your retirement plan.

Sep 13, 2016

Much is made about keeping our physical fitness in good shape. But what about your financial fitness? In this episode, Chad and Mike discuss why its important to regularly take a survey of your financial fitness, and how you can improve it once you do.

Aug 30, 2016

This week, we're back up with the conclusion of our college planning episode! Mike takes a look at financial strategies for the final few years before your child goes to school, and what you can do to maximize your funding during this time.

Aug 23, 2016

This week, we're covering one of Mike's favorite topics: college planning. Learn what to do during the early years of your child's life to ensure you have the resources you need to support their education.

Jul 19, 2016

This week, Chad brings on special guest Cameron Hendricks, CFP® to discuss his recent experience at the FPA NexGen conference, and why it is important for your financial advisors to attend conferences in general.

Jul 12, 2016

One thing is certain, there are always going to be panics in the market. Political turmoil, natural disasters and other factors will cause markets to move, and can make you wonder: should I sell all my investments and hope that it gets better? Chad and Mike discuss these issues to discover how you can avoid making common investment mistakes with uncertainty in the markets.

Jun 28, 2016

In this episode Chad and Mike discuss managing your 401k, and how to avoid common mistakes when saving in your retirement account.

Jun 14, 2016

In this episode Chad and Mike discuss the top 5 questions they hear from their prospects, with special guest Allison Berger, CFP®.

May 24, 2016

In this episode, Chad and Mike do a "Top 10 Ode to David Letterman" of little things you can do immediately to get your finances back on track.

May 10, 2016

In this episode, Chad and Mike discuss Prince's lack of estate documents, and offer advice for listeners who may not yet have considered the importance of preparing a will. You can read a text version of this post on

Apr 26, 2016

This week, Mike and Chad take a look at the best financial gifts you can give a graduating high school or college student. 

Apr 13, 2016

Think about the last time you felt something surprised you.  If it was a pleasant surprise, the event likely exceeded expectations.  Then there’s the surprises that catch us off guard. A great example occurs around tax time each year as many people are surprised when they owe a large tax bill. It’s tough to find anyone that would describe that as a positive feeling.

If it stops at feelings, bad outcomes are generally avoided. It’s when events fall short of our expectations where our patience can run thin and our “do something” alarm begins sounding. When this type of decision making is applied to investing, it’s likely you find an average investor.

Who is the Average Investor?

The average investor is best described as a person attempting to time the market intentionally or unintentionally based on emotional influence.  By allowing their emotions to rule decision making, selling and buying of investments tends to follow the crowd.  This phenomenon is tied to research around the psychology from Daniel Kahneman who found that losses produce twice the mental anguish as an equivalent sized gain.

Cash flow data backs this up.  Studies show investors have more money invested in funds when they are doing poorly and fewer when they are doing well.

Most of us have either a personal story or a friend or family member experience of getting overly-exuberant in the tech markets of the late 1990’s or buying real estate just before the housing crisis in 2007.  The fact is we all have some of the average investor in us, which is why having a disciplined process in place is so important.

Common Behavior of the Average Investor

One of the most common identifiers around an average investor is the desire to chase performance of a hot area.  This plays out by investing in the best performing asset class over the last 12 months or selling all of your stock investments because a financial celebrity predicts a crash ahead.

This is one of the reasons, investor returns in Morningstar trail fund returns. A recent article by Morgan Housel, You May Be A Better Investor Than You Think, discusses how average investors don’t earn anywhere close to a benchmark.  The article uses the S&P 500 fund example and demonstrates how the 10 yr annual return is 6.3% while investor return is 4.4%.  Even further many are unfairly comparing their portfolio to the S&P 500 only when their portfolio is diversified across multiple asset classes.

A recent Vanguard study titled “Reframing investor choices: Right mindset, wrong market”, that demonstrates how behavioral performance chasing has a negative effect when investing across all asset classes.

Past performance has a huge impact on the average investor’s decision making.  This is demonstrated in every market bubble that’s existed from tulips in the 1600’s to technology stocks in the late 1990’s.  Many of us remember this vividly, as the excitement around the S&P 500 peaked after investors experienced 15-20 years of earning double digit percentage returns every year in 1999 only to experience a much lower result in the next 15 years (ending 12/31/2015).

There are many studies that demonstrate how the average investor typically is penalized anywhere from 1.2% to 3% annually by making emotional decisions around their investments.

Requires Discipline

Even mutual fund managers experience poor investor returns at points. But the best ones, trust their research strategy and stick it out.  Another study demonstrated that outperformance over the long term goes hand in hand with shorter periods of underperformance as 96% of 10 year outperforming mutual fund managers had at least one three year period when they underperformed, and 47% were actually in the bottom 10% over at least one three year period.

Average investors tend to throw in the towel at some point during that 3 year period of underperformance. This is when their FOMO or FOLIA takes control– the Fear of Missing Out or the Fear of Losing it All.

Learning how to manage these emotions and implement a disciplined process is the first step in minimizing average investor type behavior.

How Do You Avoid Being The Average Investor?

Avoid short-term temptations or reactions and focus long-term – Studies demonstrate the average individual stock could move 47% to -39% over the next year but that range shrinks to 7% to 17% annualized over a 20 year period. Many investors capitulate at the wrong time, resulting in a mistake that can be detrimental to their long-term picture.

Start with a plan – Implementing a savings strategy with a disciplined investment approach helps avoid ebbs and flows in short-run.  By focusing on what you can control, the daily headlines become easier to digest.

Hire an advisor – This gives you a calming voice that can ease the uncertainty by providing historical perspective.  There’s a reason even our financial advisors aren’t their own advisors.  Finding an independent, objective fee-only financial advisor is a great step to helping you minimize average investor like thinking when it comes to your investments.

Mar 29, 2016

Young advisors often have more passion, technical knowledge and a longer runway than older financial advisors.

If we look like we could be your son or daughter, then you are likely on the right track to finding a financial advisor to form a relationship with. While we may look young, that doesn’t mean we are inexperienced or harder to relate to. Let me explain:

We entered the financial planning profession during the age of the rise of the comprehensive financial planner and we’ve had the unique opportunity of learning from a team of high quality financial planners. Many firms over the last few years have emphasized the hiring and developing of young talent. Financial Symmetry is no different and has been hiring and promoting advisors from within throughout the 15 year history of the firm. Young advisors are developed through an increased level of responsibility as well as the chance to benefit from years of observing older advisors in the firm. We have seen what type of advisor we want to be and have determined what approach best fits our personality and goals. We therefore know what we want to communicate with our clients and how to do it.

Think about those you are associated with that you trust the most…likely friends and family top the list. You have built a relationship with these individuals over time and have trusted their recommendations whenever you seek their advice. I can attest that the FSI advisors strive for this type of relationship with their clients. We want to get to know you on a personal level as well as your family so we can best see and understand your financial goals.

It is also easier to relate to us than you may think. After all our parents are just a few years from retirement themselves. We have observed firsthand from them as well as their friends and co-workers what their needs and concerns involving retirement and overall financial planning include. We are accustomed to conversing and socializing with people older than us as well as our clients are accustomed to communicating and interacting with individuals of the younger generation such as their children.

Benefits of A Young Advisor

There are some common differences you will find though, but I think they actually benefit us in a way that they won’t for older advisors.

  1. Technology: Yes, the amount of time we check our phones and social media sites may be unimaginable to you. However given this new technology age, knowledge and industry influencers are right at our finger tips. Every day we learn new and innovative ways to help us serve our clients better through reading of blogs, market commentary, and even sharing and learning ideas with other financial advisors. We are able to improve our processes utilizing the latest financial industry technology in order to better serve our clients.
  1. Retirement: We aren’t retiring soon…and that’s a good thing! As a result of this when we engage in a relationship with a client, we intend it to be for the long haul. If you are closing in on your retirement and are working with an advisor who is in the same stage of life as you then “guess what?”…they are going to retire soon as well! The years prior to and immediately after retirement can be some of the most challenging years as you juggle financial decisions and you want to make sure you have a reliable advisor by your side throughout this process, not one that is thinking about their own retirement and may pass you off to a new advisor during this time of need.
  1. Passion and Knowledgeable: No client wants to feel as if they are just a number, which can often happen when there is a lull in the advisor/client relationship. With a younger advisor we are “hungry” and “passionate” and helping our clients achieve their best financial life is our primary goal.

When you combine this passion with knowledge this can be a dynamite combination that can truly be the defining mark of an advisor/client relationship. At Financial Symmetry all of our advisors have obtained the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation. As a result we have spent years in study, obtaining experience, and practicing in a fiduciary manner in order to engage in practices that are in the best interest of our clients.

Mar 15, 2016

I’m not sure about you, but we haven’t met many people that wouldn’t love to lower their tax payments.

As we move in to the heart of tax season, do you find yourself wondering every year around this time, what other opportunities you may be missing?

Millions of people who file their tax return themselves overlook tax opportunities each year that could save them extra money in April but they hesitate to pay to have a professional prepare them.  The hidden secret is that tax planning should be done year round.  So we put together a list of a few things we see most often missed on tax returns.


Maxing Tax-Deferred Savings

One of the easier ways of avoiding tax now, is to save the maximum amount in all your tax-deferred accounts (401k/403b).  Many have a tough time reaching the maximum savings limit ($18k per person in 2016).  This often brings the focus back to your cash flow as overspending keeps many from hitting the maximum amount.  Those over age 50 have an extra benefit where they can save $6,000 more each year until they stop working.


Not Funding HSA accounts

This is an excellent retirement account that offers a triple tax saving opportunity.  Problem is many aren’t taking advantage of it. If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan, you have an opportunity to sock away savings tax-free, that can grow tax-free and then be withdrawn tax-free.


Non-deductible IRA contributions & Roth conversions

High income earners still have a way to make Roth contributions. It just takes a few extra steps and involves some monitoring to do it successfully.  If you already have nondeductible IRA contributions, this is a great opportunity to get these contributions in to a Roth IRA, assuming you don’t have a larger deductible portion already built up (consider the pro rata rule in this case).  Don’t forget to fill out form 8606 to keep an accurate record of your nondeductible IRA contributions.


Charitable Deduction Opportunities

If you have large capital gains from appreciated stock, it may benefit you to donate these shares instead of making cash charitable contributions. Another opportunity for those who are over age 70 ½, is to make a Qualified IRA Charitable Distribution which also qualifies as Required Minimum Distribution.  This benefits you by not increasing Adjusted Gross Income on your tax return which in turn helps with medical expense deductions, social security taxation and Medicare rates to name a few.


Missing Any Deductions?

Some of the more common we see left off of Schedule A are car taxes, investment fees, and charitable donations. Go through your potential itemized deductions.  Look at the prior year return for some guidance.  Also, if you made a 2014 estimated payment to the state in January of this year and/or owed when you filed your 2014 state tax return then you can add those payments as a federal tax deduction on this year’s return.

If in a low bracket, you may want to delay deductions and accelerate income instead.  When your AGI ends up in the 15% tax bracket, capital gains are taxed at 0%.  So realizing gains could be beneficial here.

High tax bracket earners have an opposite focus as they are looking to reduce income. Word of warning: watch the Medicare Surcharge (3.8%) on income over $200k for individuals and $250k for joint filers. If you find yourself in this area, you may want to look for ways to delay income depending on the control you have in your income.


AGI thresholds You Don’t Want to Miss

  • Child tax credit (begins phasing out at $110k).  Can you make a deductible traditional IRA contribution? This could actually reduce your tax bracket from a boosted higher rate as you are not only reducing the ordinary income tax but getting an extra benefit due to the credit.
  • Itemized deduction limitations over $309k (single $258,250) – especially if restricted stock or stock options are vesting and you are selling in that tax year.
  • American Opportunity Tax Credit phases out at $160k AGI ($80k single).  If you pay for the first $4k of college expenses, you can use this credit (mentioned below).


ACA subsidy tax bubble

Many retirees who no longer have an employer continued health plan and haven’t yet reached 65 now have a new option – buying medical insurance through the health insurance marketplace.  Depending on the tax diversification in your investment accounts, some early retirees are receiving premium tax credits.  But be careful, if receiving the credit and your income rises above 400% of the Federal Poverty Level for the number of people in your household, you could lose all the credit.

In this situation, managing tax brackets become vital.  But to do so, you need to have saved in accounts with tax flexibility.  Tara Signal Benard summarized a breakdown of this strategy in a New York Times article titled, “Devising a Tax Strategy After the Paycheck Is No More.”


Don’t Forget About Other Credits

  • Pay for first $4k of tuition first to get AOTC – 3 million people missed this credit in 2014.
  • Residential energy credit for any HVAC replacement or energy efficient upgrade to house
  • Foreign Tax Credit – you lose this credit with foreign stock in IRA accounts. This is why asset location is important. Vanguard found this can add up to 0.75% per year in performance.  $7,500 for a $1 million portfolio.
  • Dependent care credit – If both spouses are working, don’t forget to include summer camp costs as this is very likely a deduction.


Feeling Like you Missed Something?

If you feel a bit lost after reading these examples then look to hire a professional.  Tax return for families can range from $300 to $500 depending on your situation.  Could be money well spent if they find tax savings you overlooked.

When digging in to the numbers CNBC found the more you make the more interesting IRS auditors find you.  The IRS begins to get more interested in those earning more than $200k.  According to turbotax – only 1 percent earning less than that are audited.  If you are over the $200k threshold, then 4% of your group will be audited.  It’s not until you begin earning more than a million, to where 12.5% get an audit notification letter.

If you feel like you would like a second look, we’d encourage you to find a fee-only financial planner who has knowledge in the tax planning area.  It’s very likely it could be worth it.

Other Links Mentioned During the Show

Mar 1, 2016

Do you have a mapped-out plan for your future?  Do you know the best steps to take to achieve your goals?  In a world in which 75% of America is winging it when it comes to their financial future, a holistic financial plan will set you ahead of the crowd.  Having a dynamic and workable financial plan helps you look at all aspects of your finances and project what things will look like on your current trajectory and if you make improvements.

With the help of a fee-only, fiduciary Certified Financial Planner™, you can have a 3rd party evaluate where you stand financially and help you set up realistic next steps to get you the direction you want to go to achieve the things you want to in life.

Examples of next steps you might receive include making sure you stay at a healthy spending level, saving the necessary amounts in the right types of accounts to prepare for retirement or future college tuition, getting estate documents updated to make sure you’re in control of your assets and body no matter the circumstance, and making adjustments to save on taxes.

A CFP Board 2012 survey found that over half of people with a holistic financial plan feel “very confident” about their financial picture vs. those who’ve never had financial planning completed.  And a 2016 study showed that simple online financial calculators are often wrong when predicting retirement readiness.

When Should You Have a Financial Plan Made?

If you have no plan in place, the best time for you to have one made is now.  It’s rare to accomplish a goal (and even more rare to accomplish multiple goals) without a plan of attack to get you there.

A financial plan is beneficial at any point in life, although the benefits can at times be more evident when preparing for major life events or going through life transitions.

Major life events that prompt one to seek a financial plan include the following:

Even if major life changes are not around the corner, financial planning will help you see if you are on the right path.  It’s like going to see the doctor.  You realize the need to visit a doctor when changes in your health occur.  But just as you should go see a doctor for regular health checkups because there could be something wrong you’re unaware of, financial checkups are also very important.

No matter where life has you, a financial plan can make sure you are reaching your peak financial fitness.

What Should You Do Once Your Financial Plan Has Been Created?

Once your financial plan has been made, monitor it.  This is the most important step!  We find that many clients who only have a financial plan created but do not move forward with an ongoing relationship with us typically do not implement all of the recommended changes, mostly because life is busy and the plan gets forgotten.

Having the regular accountability of a financial advisor is the best way to make sure you stay on track.

There’s no better time to start than now.

Feb 17, 2016

What if you could save an additional $1,500 each year? After 30 years you would have $119,000, assuming the money was invested and you got a 6% return. That $1,500 each year — just $125 a month — can add up to quite a bit of money.

Of course, to save more money each month you likely need to cut your spending. But if you are like most people, you probably don’t want to drastically change your lifestyle. Fortunately, there are smart and simple steps you can take to trim spending without a major overhaul.

Use the 72-hour rule for purchases

How many purchases have you made on Amazon or at the store that you later regretted? Limit your impulse purchases using what personal financial author Carl Richards has called the 72-hour rule. Instead of buying an item you want immediately, wait 72 hours to see whether you still want it. You’ll be surprised at how much less you end up deciding to buy. I find this works all the time with my kids. They think they can’t live without a certain toy, and then after 72 hours they forget it even existed.

Analyze big purchases

Major purchases may have the biggest impact on your spending and ability to save. I’m often amazed that the same person who will drive across town to save money on gas will buy a new expensive car without analyzing the implications. The same goes for housing costs or big-ticket vacations. Here are some tips on how to analyze and save on each of these purchases:

  • Car: The Internet has been a huge help for consumers in finding car deals. With online sales you often can negotiate through email, and sites like TrueCar provide transparency about what other car buyers have paid. But when buying a new car, it’s important to consider the ongoing costs and not just the upfront purchase price. For instance, many people prefer luxury cars, but premium gas and maintenance typically will cost more for these cars. Finally, a simple rule is that the longer you keep the car, the cheaper the cost.
  • House: Housing tends to be the biggest expense for most people. As a financial planner, I’m a fan of homeownership if you plan to live in your home for more than five years. However, the larger and more expensive the home you purchase, the more it limits your ability to spend within the rest of your budget. One family I work with, a couple with one child, decided to downsize because they just didn’t need the space. This was a good move financially because it gives them greater flexibility to save more, spend in other areas or retire sooner.
  • Vacation: Research locations and potential deals on sites like If you can, be flexible when selecting travel dates to maximize savings. Also, compare multiple locations to determine the best fit for you and your family — and where you can get the most bang for your buck.

Rethink ongoing phone and cable plans

Most people look only at their monthly payments and often are shocked by how much they spend annually on cell phone and cable bills. When shopping for a phone plan, try to compare plans based on the minutes, texts and data you need. Another option is to consider no-contract cell phones. The monthly cost is much lower, but you do have to buy the cell phone upfront.

With cable, the average monthly bill is $100, or $1,200 a year. “Cutting the cord” has become more popular recently as many people decide they don’t need the 100+ channels on cable. If you can do with a limited number of channels, then a streaming device and a good HDTV antenna for local channels may be all you need — and it can save you a lot of money.

Review your insurance policies

Many people are paying too much for property and casualty insurance. Every few years you should shop around your auto insurance and home insurance policies to confirm you are getting a good price. You also can see how your auto and home insurance providers rank based on consumer satisfaction by checking out the yearly report from market research firm J.D. Power.

Additionally, one way to lower premiums for home or auto policies is to raise your deductible if you have cash in the bank and you rarely make any claims. Larger deductibles typically range from $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the type of insurance you have. However, note that this does create risks if you don’t have money available or in an emergency fund if a large claim does occur.

Pick high-quality products that last

Sometimes it makes sense to spend a little more money for items you will use for a long time. A good example is men’s shoes. A high-quality pair of shoes will last almost forever and, though more expensive in the short term, will be a lot cheaper over the long run than repeatedly buying the cheapest pair. Think about the items in your life that you will use for a very long time and are worth the extra expense upfront.

Stick to a budget

First, automate your savings. It’s hard to spend what you don’t see, so automatically transferring money out of your checking account will help you keep spending down. Determine how much you should be contributing to or withdrawing from your accounts, and set up automatic monthly transfers. I like to call this forced scarcity, in that you can spend only what is in your bank account.

If this is not working and you start running up debt, try using online budgeting tools to help you create and monitor your budget. It may be more time-consuming, but you’ll know where every dollar is being spent. And if you are still having issues, consider working with a fee-only financial planner to help you develop and stick to a budget so you can reach your goals.

Hire a professional

Sometimes spending money can save you money. This can be true for home repairs, taxes, college planning and many other areas. For instance, I see many people miss important deductions or credits they could have claimed when they complete their own tax returns instead of working with a professional. And for me, it makes sense to pay someone to help when it comes to house repairs. I can try to fix the problem, but I only make it worse.

So how do you decide whether to hire a professional or go it alone? If the risk of mistake is greater than the cost to hire someone, it is worth the investment. Of course, if you don’t have the time or knowledge to take care of the task at hand, it makes sense to get help, too. If you’re not sure where to look, ask for referrals from friends or co-workers, or check Angie’s List for service providers and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors for fee-only financial planners.

Spend wisely

Ultimately, the goal is not to disrupt your lifestyle dramatically, but to make sure you spend your money wisely and efficiently. In short, it’s important to think about what you are spending your money on and what you really get out of it.

Perhaps even more important than drastically cutting your spending is thinking about the non-monetary value of your money. In a longitudinal study following 268 men for over 70 years, researchers for the Grant Study found that good relationships are key to leading a long and happy life — not how much money you have, the newest tech gadget or a certain high-profile job, but the people in your life.

Instead of spending money on more stuff, why not spend it on personal experiences with your friends and family?

Feb 3, 2016

So many of us get charged up and rattle off an impressive list of goals but then struggle to follow through.

The disconnect between creating and accomplishing is where life change gets stuck. Months pass and we realize our lives are no different.

Where did progress stop (or never begin)?

Often, it's when life's curveballs throw us off our game. Even though we know the surprises will come, we're not prepared when they show up.

I thought about this recently on a Saturday morning, when my mind drifted to how enjoyable it would be to extend our screened porch. Wait, did this just become a goal?  What about the 10 year anniversary trip we want to take next year? We also know one of our cars will need replacing in a few years.  If we do all three of those things, will we be able to hit our charitable and retirement savings targets as well?

That’s just it. Financial goal planning is a fluid process.  You have to place a value on how important that thing on your mind right now is to the list of other priorities you've thought about on other Saturday mornings.

Without prioritization of goals, we allow our impulses to rule our decision-making.  This thought process ignores your plan, pushing the things that aren't as much "fun" to the bottom of your list.

Having an effective monitoring process increases your odds that follow through will happen.

Recording Your Goals

Many of us don't keep a running list of things we want to accomplish.  This is why when asked about our goals, we freeze and find it hard to get specific other than "to assure we are maximizing our investment returns."

Knowing why you want to get the best investment return helps keep the focus in the right direction.  It also helps identify quantifiable steps that will help you get there.

Goal setting begins with recording.  So often, I will be talking with someone that triggers an idea I want to pursue. If I don't get it down quickly, the idea is forgotten.

One of the most practical digital tools for this is Evernote.  This helps create a central location of all the ideas that are up next on the to do list.  From small goals to large goals.

Having a list, helps compare the newest goal to all the other goals you have in the queue.  For example, is the next home project more important than maxing your 401k this year? Depends on the person and what your long-term plan is. If retiring early is important to you, then 401k savings matters more now than a kitchen remodel.

We also know our desires can change quickly, which is why prioritizing regularly is vital.

This is why we encourage setting a few different lists.

  • Immediate - now to 3 months
  • Short-Term - within 2 years
  • Longer-Term - 3+ years

Some people like to add a lifetime category which helps shape more vision type of actions.  Are you doing the small (and sometimes mundane) things today that get you closer to the lifetime goals?

Assigning time-frames and dollar amounts helps you measure success.

Once you create the ideas of where you want to go, we discuss the best way to implement goals. Even though we all are incentivized differently, a process keeps us moving forward.


Some things are easy to implement and can be done very quickly (setting up Roth IRA contributions for example). But not every goal can be tackled quickly.

If your main goal is lowering spending, then it’s more of a gradual process that takes tracking and regular review. While a future large purchase requires diligence in hitting saving targets.

Consequently, we set up our systems so the top goals for each client are displayed each time we interact with them.

Some examples include next car purchases, home projects, inheritances, or retiring early.

But setting the goals is not enough. It requires consistent accountability partners. This is why we have automated follow ups along with scheduled phone calls to follow up. Checking in after 2 weeks, 2 months, 6 months and a year keeps the focus front and center.


Goals that are not measurable tend to fizzle out.

So after recording and monitoring, if a goal was too vague, it's time for an adjustment.

Personally, I like to revisit my goals every 90 days, which allows for any adjustments as changes arise.  At a minimum, reviewing your objectives at least annually will allow you to refocus any goals that are growing stale.

How Did You Do?

The end of a year presents a great opportunity to look back and see where you stand. Seeing progress motivates you to continue progress.

Personally, this process starts during the year.  I keep a document in Evernote, that is called “Key Accomplishments.”  During my quarterly review, I take a moment to record all the things I can think of that were steps forward.

This list includes it all (small and big accomplishments).  From wakeboarding for the first time to reading a book I've wanted to read.  You'll be surprised how fulfilling it is to look back after a year and see all you've done.

For next year, I plan to set a few stretch goals (from Steve Sanduski's podcast "Between Now and Success").  Goals that I know I won't meet but will motivate me to try.  I'm betting I will be surprised by the progress.

So what goals will you focus on this year?

Links Mentioned in Podcast:

Jan 19, 2016

As we've done in years past, we compiled our view of the top 10 economic stories from 2015, and what these stories may mean for 2016. 

You can find show notes and more information by clicking here:

Jan 5, 2016

Is paying a fee for a financial advisor worth it? According to Vanguard, the leader in do-it-yourself (DIY) investing, they believe a financial advisor can add approximately three percentage points to a client’s investment returns per year.  The study (link here) found five separate ways (below) advisors add value (alpha) in working with their clients.

You can find show notes and more information by clicking here: