Getting Creative with Financial Literacy

Getting Creative with Financial Literacy

As a dad and a financial advisor, I find myself constantly trying to explain how money works. In my opinion; budgeting, investing, and creating income are topics that should be equally important to my 8-year-old daughter as they are to a 50-year-old client. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, access to financial literacy tools for money management are not a mainstream part of our educational system. With more and more resources available at our fingertips, it is my hope that the next generation will grow up already knowing how to save and plan for retirement way before they get their first job.

Take my daughter for example. Last summer, my then 7-year-old asked me what I do for work (I’m a financial planner). It turns out, her friends were all talking about what their parents did for a living, so naturally my daughter wanted to join in on the conversation. Up until this point I had always told her that I helped people get ready for retirement, which I summed up as a “summer vacation that never ends”. She didn’t give it much thought until other kids started talking about how their parents owned a restaurant, helped people get better as a doctor, or worked on getting packages delivered faster as an engineer at Amazon. When my daughter told her friends that her dad helped people get ready for a never-ending summer break, she got a lot of “Huh?” faces.

I then decided to have a more in-depth dialogue with my daughter around what I actually did. The basics of how investing works seemed like a good place to start. So, using the tools we had at our disposal (crayons, blank paper and a 7-year-old’s imagination) I set out to explain what a financial advisor does. It started with a simplistic explanation of what the stock market is, and by the end of our first conversation, my daughter had learned the rhyme: “Stocks make you an owner, and bonds make you a loaner.”

This was progress! After a few more arts-and-crafts sessions, we had created a story explaining how investing in the stock market works, and it was starting to resemble a book. At this moment, I told my daughter we should try to publish our book so other children could learn about investing, and she turned to me and said, “Dad, you can’t just publish a book. Only authors can do that!”  Challenge accepted!

Fast-forward six months, and our rough draft was polished into a finished book. Today, you can find “Eddie and Hoppers Explain Investing in the Sock Market” on Amazon! As a dad and a co-author, I’m very proud of my daughter for helping me create this story and for helping me make the book a reality.

After the book came out, I figured my daughter would stay interested in financial literacy, but I should have known asset allocation and risk management weren’t exactly the most exciting topics for an 8-year-old. I had to find a way to introduce financial topics into everyday life.

Money management for a second-grader is pretty simple. My daughter’s main income sources are: A monthly allowance, gifts from relatives for birthdays/holidays, plus she had a lemonade stand last summer that netted a respectable profit. The problem wasn’t earning the money, the problem was keeping track of it and then remembering how much she had when she wanted to buy something.

So, as a dad/financial advisor, I did what comes natural… I created a spreadsheet to track everything. Turns out, spreadsheets are also pretty low on the list of things that my daughter finds interesting. This is when I had my a-ha moment. I did a quick internet search and found a lot of options for tracking how much a kid earns, spends and saves. Last summer when I was trying to teach my daughter what I did for a living, I did a similar search for children’s books that discuss financial topics and found very little. That’s what inspired me to write our book. Thankfully, this time I was able to find what I was looking for when searching for an app that could help me teach my daughter about budgeting.

Ultimately, I decided to use Guardian Savings with my daughter because it has the right balance of simplicity and effectiveness. Guardian Savings allows my wife and I to be ‘The Bank of Mom and Dad’. My daughter finally got organized, and she consolidated all her savings from the half-dozen wallets, piggy banks and secret hiding spots, so she could make her first deposit. More importantly, when we’re at the store or shopping online and my daughter finds something that she must have, we’re able to open the app and let her see the impact of making an impulsive purchase. Plus, as the parent, I get to decide what interest rate my daughter will earn in her account. Not only do I get to have a conversation about what interest is, but she gets to experience the power of compound interest by seeing her savings grow each month. Talk about a powerful motivational tool!

In this day and age, the idea of teaching your child how to balance a checkbook is outdated. The next generation will live in an entirely digital world. Apps are the new checkbook, and it may be a good idea to teach your children personal finance in the same environment they will be in as adults. Already a digital native, my daughter impressed me by how fast she learned how to use the app, not to mention the principals of saving and smart spending that are encouraged throughout the interface. In a few years, I’ll be able to discuss what asset allocation is and how a Roth IRA works, but for now I’m happy that my daughter can get practice making budgeting decisions and building a strong understanding of the basics.  Financial literacy has to start somewhere and the sooner that foundation can be made, the more confident a child will be when it comes to managing money as an adult.

Should I Do a Roth Conversion?

Should I Do a Roth Conversion?

 

 

With all the recent changes to the U.S. tax code, it’s a good time to revisit different tax planning strategies. One strategy I’m often asked about is whether a Roth conversion is a good idea. The universal answer to that question is “maybe.” Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple rule of thumb that applies to everyone. There are many factors that need to be examined, and my goal is to tell you the most common reasons you might want to do a Roth conversion.

Before I do that, it’s important to note a particular change in our tax code with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017. In the past, a recharacterization was done if you needed to “undo” the Roth conversion. Starting in 2018 and beyond, this is no longer allowed for Roth conversions. An exception is if you make a Roth contribution, and then learn that you earned too much income during that year. A recharacterization will still be allowed in this case so that you’re not subject to the excess contribution penalty tax. (more…)

Using RSUs for Monthly Cash Flow

Using RSUs for Monthly Cash Flow

 

  

If you work at a company like Facebook, Amazon or Microsoft, a large portion of your total income is probably made up of restricted stock units (RSUs). After tackling your savings goals, there might not be a lot left over in your paycheck, so you may be asking yourself the following question:

How do I use my RSUs for income and spending?

At Merriman, we take our clients through a discovery process to learn about goals and lifestyle. Through that process we often discover total income may be made up of more than just a salary. To ensure our clients are hitting all their savings goals for early retirement, vacations and higher education, we need to create a plan for how to use multiple sources of income. For example, we may need to figure out what to do with RSUs, how to effectively use an employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) and how to invest annual bonuses. Mapping out a month-by-month plan helps our clients get organized and feel confident they’re taking the right steps toward saving enough and achieving their goals. Having this peace of mind allows guilt-free spending with the money that’s left over each month.

 

Case Study

I recently met with a couple, Scott and Julie, who needed help creating a plan for their monthly cash-flow needs. At first, putting together a monthly budget seemed simple enough, but for Scott and Julie, it became clear it would be more complex because of their different income options. We had to figure out what to do with their income from salary, when to sell RSUs and how to take advantage of their company’s ESPP.

To create a plan that balanced their income vs. expenses, we took a three-step approach.

Step 1: Optimize savings options.

  • Each contributes $19,000 per year to their 401(k).
  • Each contributes to their ESPP to take advantage of the discounted share price.
  • Each makes contributions into their after-tax 401(k) so they can take advantage of the Mega Backdoor Roth. (Note: This is not available at all companies.)
  • They contribute monthly to a 529 college savings plan for their two kids.

Step 2: Calculate what the income gap is each month.

After they meet their savings goals, pay their taxes and take care of other miscellaneous payroll items, their monthly income from their paychecks equals $10,000.

Their monthly expenses are -$15,000, so this leaves them with a monthly deficit of -$5,000.

Step 3: Sell RSUs and ESPP shares to supplement income.

Below is a spreadsheet that shows a month-by-month cash-flow plan for their “spending bucket,” which is their checking account. Notice we first filled the bucket with $50,000. This initial $50,000 came from the sale of some of their RSUs. At the beginning of each month, you can see the starting amount gradually go down. We refill the bucket every quarter by liquidating more RSUs, and then every six months we sell shares in their ESPP.

We never want the bucket to go to $0, so we make sure there’s a buffer every month. Also, it’s important to note that this spreadsheet does not show what we’re doing with their annual bonuses or remaining RSUs. Without going into too much detail, those excess income amounts could be saved or used for guilt-free spending.

Income from paychecks continue to fill the bucket, and when the amount gets low we refill their spending bucket using the proceeds from selling their RSUs and shares in their ESPP.

Because they’re on track to hit all their savings goals, they can put their annual bonus in their “live fully” bucket and use it for dining out, vacations and other guilt-free spending.

Each year we’ll review how the actual cash flow went. If it turns out spending was a little higher, then we’ll adjust how much of their RSU proceeds are used for cost of living needs. If they spend less than we anticipated, we’ll instead invest more of their RSUs.

The complicated budgeting that we helped Scott and Julie put together is something we’re doing more and more for clients who work in tech. Here at Merriman, we get it. While working 50+ hours a week, it’s tough to find time to ensure you’re efficiently saving in all the right ways. It’s our job to help you keep your financial plan on track and so you can enjoy your life. In other words, our goal is to help you Invest Wisely and Live Fully. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to learn more about how to implement a customized cash-flow strategy that fits your compensation plan.

How Much Risk Do You Need To Take?

How Much Risk Do You Need To Take?


Figuring out how much risk to take in a portfolio can seem like a simple calculation, but for most people, emotions tend to make the process more challenging. On the surface, we all know risk is a necessary component of investing, but finding the right amount of risk to achieve our goals is more complicated than just picking a number between one and ten.

There are many factors that determine how risky an investment is. (more…)

Did You Know You Have Options When It Comes to Long-Term Care Insurance?

Did You Know You Have Options When It Comes to Long-Term Care Insurance?

For most people, a successful retirement means finding a way to ensure their money outlasts them. Achieving this goal is usually done by saving enough money and then creating a practical and sustainable budget. Unexpected and unplanned costs can jeopardize this, so it’s important to have the right insurance to provide protection against the unknown. One type that’s changed in recent years is long-term care insurance (LTCi). There are different LTCi options available today, and it can seem overwhelming when trying to find the right fit. This article introduces the different types of LTCi. (more…)