Dr. Lamar Barden, MSFS, AEP, RFC, LUTCF ■ Ande Frazier CFP®, CLU, ChFC, RICP, ChSNC, CDFA®
500 East 2nd Street, Rome, GA 30161-3112 ■ 706-234-7468 ■ www.clocktowerwealthmanagement.com
It’s that time again. A clean slate. Time for a do-over. For those who seize the spirit of change, there’s a “new you” ahead. Perhaps a slimmer you. Or a stronger you. Or a you that can finally speak Italian, make perfect risotto, and restore a farmhouse in Tuscany. Well, we say any kind of transformation is wonderful but, this year, think about applying your energy to something that is probably causing you more stress than you realize.
Your Financial Picture
We recently surveyed thousands of Americans, and nearly 80 percent report being seriously stressed out. And since overall well-being is directly linked to financial well-being, much of that angst is rooted in financial concerns. In fact, nearly two-thirds of us say we are pretty bad at living within our means. The amazing thing is, you can change that! This article kicks off a 12-part series on how you can—calmly, deliberately, purposefully—move from feeling concerned to feeling confident in managing your finances. This series will run over the course of the year, and build, step by step, from easy to more challenging, until you have implemented each point that may apply to your personal situation and better protected your own financial well-being.
Define Your Life Goals
Wait! Don’t go away. This is more fun than it sounds. We all know that people who write down their goals have a greater chance of success. And we hate those people, don’t we? But listen up, they sleep like babies, while the rest of us lie awake at 3:00 a.m. obsessing about credit cards.
As the Rolling Stones once said: [to know] what you want [is the first step to having the financial resources to] get what you need. Or something like that. In any case, do you want to make more money? Retire early? Change careers? Start a family? Open a business? It’s time to figure out THE REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS IN YOUR LIFE because they are the starting point for making smarter financial decisions. (And, bonus, they’re good to know, just because.)
Here are some tips on identifying your goals:
- Lead with your heart, not your head
This is serious stuff, but don’t let your intellect overrule your true feelings. The more honest you are about setting goals that are meaningful to you, the more motivated you’ll be to achieve them.
- Be SMART about it
Psychologists tell us success is more likely when goals are SMART—meaning they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Recognizing that you want to get out of debt is a good start. But creating a goal of paying off one credit card (specific, measurable, achievable) over the next 12 months (time-bound) to begin saving for your children’s college fund (relevant) is even better.
- Think long and short
Those who are most confident about their finances see life as a long road trip. As you identify goals, balance those in the near-term (new home) with those further down the road (vacation of a lifetime, retirement), and make sure you have protection to weather unexpected storms (emergency fund, insurance) along the way.
- Talk with an Experienced Professional
If your leg were broken, you’d go to the doctor. Similarly, if your financial behaviors are preventing you from leading the life you want, you go to the person who knows how to fix it. There are some good rules of thumb to go by, but one size does not fit all in financial decision-making. Your goals are unique, and a financial professional can help you figure them out—and how to make them a reality.
OK, so let’s get started
Right now. Seriously. Just as an exercise. Write down in sequential order what your life goals are. The back of an envelope, a journal, a spreadsheet. Maybe you’ve done this before, but it does not hurt to do it again, if only to know where your priorities have shifted.
Here are some of the common ones, to get the juices flowing. Remember, keep them SMART:
- Earn a graduate degree
- Own a home
- Own a second home
- Get married
- Start a family
- Treat my parents to a vacation
- Retire at 62
- Climb Mt. Everest
- Start a business
- Volunteer for an organization
- Become successful as X position at Y company
- Visit 50 countries
- Hold public office
OK, so what did you come up with? Keep your list handy and we will refer back to it in the coming months as we explore how to move from concerned to confident. And, stay tuned for next month when we explore how to set up a budget. We’ll make it as painless as possible. Promise!
There are two certainties in life: death and taxes, or so it’s been said. While the thought of filing taxes may not fill you with delight, for many Americans, receiving a tax refund could be the mini financial windfall they need to get back on track with financial goals that may have gone awry during the year.
Whether you’re a millennial, or a GEN X, Y or Zer, these five actions offer a great way to start. They can help you leverage your tax return to improve your financial and emotional confidence.
- BECOME A WORLD CLASS SAVER
After over a year of living through a global pandemic, most people realize that life can be unpredictable. To avoid accruing debt in an emergency, bolster your savings cushion.1
Financial professionals generally recommend keeping six months of expenses in savings, and you can kick-start that savings goal with your tax refund. Note that this recommendation is for a length of time — not a specific dollar amount. Why? Because everyone’s monthly expenses are different. To know the right savings amount for you, start tracking your expenses. It can be as simple as recording every purchase in a spreadsheet or finding a phone app that will do the job.
- PROTECT YOUR INCOME: DISABILITY INSURANCE
Nobody wants to worry about an injury or an accident that will cause loss of work. But it happens. In fact, over 25 percent of today’s workers will face this situation.2 To help protect yourself against a potential loss of income, consider using part of your tax refund to purchase individual disability insurance. If you get sick or hurt and can’t work, an income protection policy can provide a portion of your income while you recover. Then you’re able to concentrate on getting better — without draining your savings and while maintaining a consistent lifestyle for you and your family. Many disability insurance plans offered through employers only cover up to 50% of your income, but could you live in half a house or drive half a car?
- PROTECT YOUR FAMILY WITH ROOM TO GROW: WHOLE LIFE INSURANCE
Another valuable option for your tax return is whole life insurance. A whole life policy provides money to your family in the event of your premature death. Yet it can do even more. As you pay the monthly premium, the whole life policy slowly increases in cash value.3 During your lifetime, you can use this money towards major expenses, like starting a business, buying a house or funding your child’s college education.4 In this way, whole life insurance diversifies your financial portfolio and can provide a source of funds insulated from market volatility.
- PAY DOWN HIGH-INTEREST DEBT
Notice that paying down debt is prioritized after securing savings and protecting you and your family. Of course, it’s important to eliminate debt, but it’s even more critical to get out of the cycle of debt if you’re in one. Once you have savings and protection policies in place, you may not need to turn to credit cards or high-interest loans in case of emergency. Then, with these protections in place, it becomes wise to pay off any debt.
- INVEST IN YOURSELF
You know the expression: an investment in oneself is an investment in the future. Your tax refund can provide the opportunity to act on this idea. Consider putting some of the money towards continuing education classes or a professional certification that can help increase your earnings moving forward. What skills can you learn to boost your hiring appeal? A tax refund can open new doors to learning. Or, if you’re among the many Americans feeling pandemic burnout, it’s ok to spend on self-rejuvenation too: sign up for a yoga class, invest in a personal trainer or take that long-deferred family weekend away.
This spring, some people will receive a nice little windfall from Uncle Sam. How you choose to spend it depends on your current level of savings, protection and debt, as well as your dreams for the future. A financial professional can help you decide how to distribute your income, whether it’s a one-time refund or over the course of your entire career.
Welcome to your 60s – the time in your life when retirement is less a far-off dream and more an immediate reality. Immediacy is a decision that’s completely up to you. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), in 2021 39% of all workers expect to retire at age 66 or older. As you enter your 60s, what shapes your retirement decision? What constitutes a strategic retirement plan? Here are four things to consider.
WHAT’S THE RIGHT SIZE FOR MY LIFE?
Retirement means living on a fixed income. Learning to live within those means is essential. Consider down-sizing to a smaller home to reduce expenses and maintenance costs. Drive your current vehicle longer than you ordinarily would and resist the temptation to sink large sums of cash into a luxury vehicle. Finding everyday ways to save, such as eating out less, can extend your savings over many more years. The right size life also applies to the community you call home. Many in their 60s include relocating in their retirement plans. Moving from an expensive metropolitan city to a smaller community can help reduce housing and cost of living expenses.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I SAVE?
According to EBRI’s 2021 Retirement Confidence Survey, only 50% of workers aged 55+ have tried to calculate how much money they’ll need to save for retirement. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s awfully difficult to chart a course to get there. The simple act of planning increases your success in reaching your retirement savings target. Most experts agree that you’ll need approximately 70-80% of your pre-retirement income to enjoy the same lifestyle throughout retirement as you do now. This figure – your replacement ratio – is comprised of your household income, investment income and financial assets. Social Security will generally comprise 40% of your replacement ratio; now’s the time to finalize how you’ll come up with the rest.
WHEN SHOULD I DRAW SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS?
Eligibility for Social Security kicks in at age 62, although you’ll need to reach your full retirement age to qualify for your complete benefit. Drawing benefits early should be a calculated choice. Assuming a full retirement age of 67 with a $1,000 monthly benefit, drawing at age 62 (prior to full retirement age) reduces your monthly benefit by 30% to only $700. A $500 spouse’s benefit would be reduced 35% to $325. Those with short life expectancies, or little to no retirement savings, may make the decision to draw earlier. In general, the longer you can wait to draw benefits, the greater your monthly benefit will be.
SHOULD I WORK?
Working for pay in retirement is an idea that has grown in popularity in recent years. According to EBRI’s recent study, 72% of current workers plan to work for pay in retirement. The reasons for doing so vary. Many (88%) do so to stay active and involved. Others (78%) enjoy working or a had a job opportunity come along (51%). Yet financial concerns play a role, too. Some want money for the extras (68%). Others want to avoid reducing their savings (60%) or need funds to make ends meet (39%). Certainly, working beyond your full retirement age allows you to increase your income and your level of retirement savings. Working in a part time role or in a new industry can allow you to delay the first instance where you’ll dip into your retirement savings.
As you enter your 60s, your financial situation will be top of mind as you prepare for retirement. However, it’s just as important to plan for how retirement will impact your health, your emotional well-being and your relationships with those around you. When you invest as much time in qualitative planning as the quantitative type, you’re setting yourself up for retirement success.
You’re at the amusement park, waiting to board the roller coaster. You can see the whole track as you stand in line. Peaks that seem to pierce the clouds. Dizzying descents. You climb into the car, clutch the harness, and off you go. And despite all that you saw beforehand, the highs and lows still take your breath away.
Welcome to cash flow volatility in your business.
One in four businesses fail due to cash flow problems.1 And despite forewarning, many business owners are underprepared to manage the ups and downs. During lean times, watching the bank account dwindle and worrying whether you’ll make it through the next payroll cycle. During flush times, feeling an almost irresistible urge to spend on a strategic upgrade that will help you take the business to the next level.
While you may not be able to predict every cash flow change, here are five ways to prepare your business to stay on track through the twists and turns.
Know your flow
The best way to manage cash flow problems is to prepare to avoid them altogether. Start by working with a financial professional, who can guide you in determining how much cash is flowing into and out of your business each month. Look at your expenses and income over the last six months and if the numbers appear fairly steady, calculate the averages. If your business is seasonal, pick a six-month period that includes your highest expense and income month(s) and calculate accordingly. Armed with this information, you can create a budget that helps keep your business in the black.
Cash flow slowdowns are inevitable in any business, so there will be times you’ll need extra cash to tide you over. Building a cash reserve is critical. Set aside at least enough to cover three months’ worth of expenses but aim for six months to feel really secure.
Establish a lifeline
Do you know your terms with your suppliers? The best time to set up a grace period is before you need it. Talk with your vendors to see whether you can extend your payment terms out by 30 days or more in a cash flow crisis. If you’ve established a good relationship with them by paying on time, they may be amenable to giving you a break when you need it.
Get hawkish on receivables
Past due invoices are a major irritant for businesses—and a key reason why positive cash flows go negative. Make it a priority with your team to get timely payment from your customers. Track your receivables on a weekly basis and have a system to follow up immediately on past-due invoices. Consider adding a small discount to motivate customers to make early payments.
Open a line of credit
Establishing a line of credit with your financial institution is a good strategy. In addition to helping you cover a cash flow downturn, you can use financing to underwrite growth opportunities—new equipment, more staff, an additional site—rather than using cash on hand or depleting your reserves, and suddenly finding yourself cash poor.
Cash is the lifeblood of your business. Managing its flow is critical to helping your business achieve and maintain success for many years to come.