April is Financial Literacy Month

April is Financial Literacy Month


Financial education is in the DNA of Merriman Wealth Management. Paul Merriman recognized the importance of financial literacy when he founded the firm back in 1983. Now, 40 years later, it’s more important than ever to have access to trustworthy resources when it comes to financial planning. Since April is Financial Literacy Month, I thought I’d share some personal and professional stories highlighting how Merriman empowers our clients to live fully by providing peace of mind in their financial lives. 


For myself, the path toward financial literacy started at a young age. I remember overhearing my parents discussing a 401(k). At the time, it was obvious this “complicated investment account was a source of frustration, and getting answers proved to be overly complex. I knew then that I had to educate myself if I wanted to avoid those same frustrations later in life. I bought books on the stock market, studied modern portfolio theory as a teenager, and eventually earned a degree in economics. All these events led me on a path to becoming a financial planner, and I discovered that not only did I genuinely enjoy learning about these topics, but more importantly, I sincerely loved teaching others about how to take control of their financial future.  


Fast forward to today, and I now have a family of my own. My wife and I have two beautiful daughters, and I constantly find ways to impart financial wisdom every chance I get. One such example I’m very proud of happened when my younger daughter, Emma, was born in 2019. At the time, my older daughter, Natalia, was interested in learning what I do for a living. I knew Natalia was a visual learner, so I did what any great teacher does: I broke open a new box of crayons and drafted a story with Natalia that teaches the basics of long-term investing! Natalia was so excited about our book that she asked if she could read it to her younger sister. This turned out to be a spark of inspiration because, after some careful searching, I realized there weren’t a lot of financial literacy books for young children. I then asked Natalia if we should publish the book so Emma could read our work over and over again. After a few more drafts and updates to our crayon illustrations, we published our first children’s book, Eddie and Hoppers Explain Investing in the Stock Market! This was the first time I could wear both my financial planner hat and my dad hat, and I couldn’t have been prouder.  


Professionally speaking, I love what I do because I get to share my knowledge with my clients every day. The old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” is why people reach out to a financial planner in the first place. The cash-flow blind spots for a soon-to-be retiree can be costly and might delay retirement for years. Or the knowledge gap in how to be tax-efficient might trip up a mid-career professional, which could cause them to pay more taxes than necessary. Quite often, these financial landmines are completely avoidable, and you just need a trusted financial professional to help map out the course. 


Financial literacy is important for every stage of life. Whether you’re a mid-career professional trying to figure out what to do with an old 401(k) or are already retired and perplexed by how required minimum distributions (RMDs) work, it’s crucial to understand the financial implications of your choices. Just like compound interest, the earlier you start, the better the outcome. Here at Merriman, we have resources available through our blog, webinars, and eBooks that can help people make wise financial decisions at every stage of life.


When I think of financial educators, at the top of my list is Paul Merriman. Paul’s retirement from wealth management did not stop his drive and passion for financial education. In the past, Paul was a familiar voice on the radio and PBS. Paul still creates valuable content through his blogs, podcasts, and books. Case in point: I personally believe Paul’s latest book, We’re Talking Millions!, should be required reading for every young adult. In addition to all the previously mentioned resources, Paul has created a curriculum at Western Washington University to teach the principles of financial literacy and investing to undergrads as an elective course, empowering the next generation to have financial wisdom. His drive and genuine love for teaching are inspiring to say the least.


There have been many changes in the world of wealth management over the past four decades, so I reached out to Paul to have a conversation about what has changed and what has stayed the same over the years. If you haven’t met Paul or heard him speak, it’s hard to convey in words his passion for financial literacy and education. He has a gift for teaching seemingly complex investing topics and finding a way for anyone to understand. One piece of wisdom that Paul shared with me is how crucial it is not to over-complicate retirement planning.  He told me that a friend of his recently explained how to define retirement: “In retirement, we should not be doing anything we don’t like doing. That is a good definition of retirement.” In other words, retirement isn’t simply defined by the end of work. Retirement is better defined as reaching a point in life where work becomes optional.


The path to financial freedom is not a straight line; more often than not, it’s a journey filled with ups and downs. Through my experience as a wealth advisor and after my conversation with Paul, it’s clear to me that wealth management is more than just making wise investment decisions. Managing wealth involves ensuring all the puzzle pieces that make up a financial plan work together. Investing wisely is one piece of that puzzle, but it’s just as essential to make sure there is a plan to be efficient with taxes, put together a well-thought-out estate plan, and not forget to protect one’s wealth with the proper insurance. Here at Merriman, that’s precisely what we set out to do with all our clients. It starts with financial literacy, and through collaboration and education, our goal is to help the people we work with achieve their financial goals. 


If you would like to learn more, click here to set up a time to meet with one of our wealth advisors.




Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.

Sticker Shock over the Current Year’s Assessed Home Value?

Sticker Shock over the Current Year’s Assessed Home Value?


Every year, homeowners receive notice from the county about their home’s assessed value. When we get that little card in the mail, it’s usually filed away and we don’t pay much attention to it. Lately though, many people are experiencing sticker shock when they see how much their home has increased in value from 2021 to 2022.

On one hand, it’s great to see how much our home, typically one of our most valuable assets, has appreciated. But on the other hand, that new higher assessed value means higher property taxes, and it could also mean we’re underinsured when it comes to replacement cost coverage. From a financial planning standpoint, I encourage everyone to think of that assessed value notice as an annual reminder to do two things:

  • Reach out to your insurance professional
  • Consider contesting the value with the county


Reach out to your insurance professional

Why is it a good idea to meet with your insurance agent/broker? Well, for starters, I always encourage my clients to meet with their insurance professional at least once a year to review their current coverages and policies. This is especially important if your coverage needs have changed. I recently spoke with Satina Simeona with American Family Insurance, and she shared some additional insights about why an annual review is so important:

Homeowners policies typically have a built-in inflation protection that adjusts the replacement cost coverage on your home to align with the market index in your area. However, it is an index and not necessarily specific to each uniquely different home. It is important to have an annual review with your agent regarding the replacement cost coverage on your home policy, specifically the ‘dwelling coverage.’ At the start of your home policy every insurance company uses a similar calculator tool that calculates the cost to rebuild your home should there be a complete loss. This is the amount you want to insure your home for, not the loan value or market value as those include the land, taxes, fees, etc. This is not done again unless your agent or you request it. The calculator process takes about 20 minutes and consists of very detailed questions about your home. For example, how many beds and baths, flooring material, countertop material, any vaulted ceilings, type of roof, ceiling fans, and any upgrades. For the exterior you’ll need to discuss decks, driveways, fences, retaining walls, etc. Once calculated, your agent can see if it is over or under your current coverage and make adjustments if necessary. Ideally it will come in pretty close to your current coverage.

Another reason you should have annual checkups is for your agent to ask about certain things that may need to be updated on your policy. For example, have you done any upgrades or repairs, new roof, added any large amounts of personal property that may need coverage (guns, computers, jewelry), do you want earthquake coverage or maybe coverage for the backup of your sewer or septic tank? These are all optional endorsements that are not included in your policy unless you add them. There are over 50 endorsements you can add to a homeowners policy, and it is important to be educated on your options in case the unthinkable happens. For example, you may consider an endorsement for hidden water because most policies won’t cover a long-lasting leak that has been undetected and perhaps caused extended damage. This hidden water endorsement will cover rot, black mold, etc.

Each insurance company will approach the annual review process differently, and it’s a good idea to ask your agent/broker how your specific policies work.  For example, some higher-end insurance providers might offer replacement cost coverage with an “unlimited” ceiling so you don’t have to worry about dramatic increases in your home’s value.


Consider contesting the value with the county

This second recommendation is more of a longshot, but don’t forget this is an option! If you believe you can provide evidence that the county is overestimating the value of your home, you should definitely contest the assessed amount.

I recently had a conversation with a client (let’s call her Jane) who owns a lakefront property. Jane received her property value notice in the mail, and it was a lot more than she expected. Jane was surprised because her home was older, modest, and it didn’t have a lot of modern updates. Surrounding Jane’s property were more modern, larger houses that easily justified a much higher price tag but hers simply didn’t. When Jane contested her home’s value with the county, she came to realize that the assessment done on her property mistakenly used the value of the neighboring homes. Jane was able to successfully reduce her property tax bill by $500!


These reminders are a simple way to make sure you stay on top of protecting your home and ensure you’re not paying too much in taxes. Financial planning is always an on-going process, and I hope these tips provide helpful food for thought. If you’d like to discuss these ideas in more detail, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Wealth Advisor. If you’re not already working with an advisor, don’t hesitate to reach out.



Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.

Generation 401(k)

Generation 401(k)


The 401(k) has only been around since the early 1980s. When Indiana Jones was searching for the Lost Ark, employees were just beginning to contribute to their own retirement savings instead of relying on employer-run pension plans. Widespread adoption took a few years, so we’re just now starting to see a generation of hard-working Americans who were in charge of their own retirement throughout their entire career. I call these individuals Generation 401(k).

Bull markets in the ‘80s and ‘90s gave a lot of people confidence that 401(k)s were a much better way to save, but then a couple of recessions in the 2000s made everyone take a closer look at the pros and cons of self-directed retirement savings. In reality, 401(k)s were a way for employers to cut costs and worry less about having to make pension payments in the future. For employees, being in control of one’s own retirement seemed like a great opportunity; but it turns out it was more of a huge responsibility than anything else.

Before 401(k)s, many employees worked hard and didn’t think about how much they needed to save to create an income stream during retirement because their pension would take care of it. The pension wasn’t optional—it was automatic—and the employer was on the hook if anything bad happened in the stock market. Then, all of a sudden, the 401(k) came along, and employees had to choose how much to save, figure out where to save it, and then be able to stomach the ups and downs of the economic roller coaster. As a result, there is a whole generation of soon-to-be-retirees who are just now realizing they don’t have enough saved to enjoy life after work.

Millennials aren’t Generation 401(k). For the most part, it’s the parents of millennials who got stuck making self-directed investment decisions but lacked guidance and education on how to do it. It’s not their fault. The parents of Generation 401(k) weren’t able to teach their children how to invest wisely because it was never something they had to worry about. The result was inevitable: When it comes to preparing for retirement, trying to figure it out along the way isn’t the best path to achieve a stress-free life after work.

Where does this leave us today? For many in Generation 401(k), it’s catch-up time. Quite literally. In 2001, laws changed that allowed individuals to put more into their 401(k), including a new rule that allowed employees 50 or older to save more than their younger colleagues. These extra contributions for those over 50 are called “catch-up” contributions. This means that the final 10–15 years before retirement is a crucial time for saving as much as possible. In other words: It’s pedal to the metal time for saving.

For the younger generations, millennials and Gen Z, financial resources and education have caught up to the times. Young adults in their 20s and 30s know that achieving financial independence is their responsibility. The internet has made finding planning tools and investment knowledge available at the touch of a button or a voice command (“Hey Siri, how do I save for retirement?”). Preparing for early retirement has even sparked a revolution in how we perceive life after work. The “Financial Independence, Retire Early” (F.I.R.E.) movement has an almost cult-like following. The principles at the core of F.I.R.E. are nothing new, but the delivery has entered the 21st century by embracing technology and social media.

There is one common thread between Generation 401(k) and the younger generations. Whether retirement is 5 years away or 30 years away, it’s not going to happen the way you want it to happen without a plan. People who are planning to retire can do it alone, or they can choose to work with a professional. In these times of information overload, the allure of the do-it-yourself method has created paralysis-by-analysis for many. There are so many different moving parts to putting together a well-thought-out retirement plan that many people start down the path only to end up frustrated and rudderless before actually doing anything.

If you find yourself worried about having enough when you retire and you don’t have time or energy to dedicate to creating a financial plan, then you should hire a professional who can help you. Also, it’s not enough just to create a plan. You need to work with someone who will ensure that you implement your plan. Hoping you’ll be able to enjoy life after work is a stressful way to go through life. Knowing you have a solid plan in place to achieve your financial goals can give you peace of mind. How do you want to retire? Hoping it’ll all work out? Or knowing you can be financially independent?

DISCLOSURE: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax or legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. As always please remember investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital and past performance does not guarantee future returns; please seek advice from a licensed professional. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.

Why Diversification Matters

Why Diversification Matters



You’ve probably heard the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” but what exactly does that mean for retirement planning? Or, put a different way: Why should you care about diversifying your investments?


I’ve had a number of conversations lately with my clients who have a concentrated portfolio (sometimes through no fault of their own), and thankfully the past decade has rewarded many of them. Either because of how they’re compensated (i.e., RSUs) or through a laid-back approach to rebalancing, I’ve seen a lot of portfolios with a large allocation to one or a handful of stocks. Mostly, it’s been a concentration in tech stocks (e.g., AMZN, MSFT, GOOG, FB, SNAP, TSLA, etc.), but because of how the recent bull market has been a success story for many large growth companies, I’ve seen lots of different variations all with a common theme: A lot of eggs, all in one basket.


First, we need to understand the importance of diversification. Building a portfolio with lots of different types of investments spreads the risk around. Technically speaking, to have a well-diversified portfolio means you have different assets that are as uncorrelated to each other as possible. It’s not necessarily a quantity-over-quality metric. You can easily have a portfolio made up of dozens or hundreds of different stocks/mutual funds/ETFs and still be undiversified if all of those investments behave very similarly. Proper diversification can be achieved by investing in asset classes that are made up of different types of investments (stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities, cash, etc.), by investing in the same type of investment (small-sized company stock vs large-sized company stock), and by investing in different geographic regions (US vs International). Obviously, this is a high-level overview, and there’s a lot of research and effort that goes into building a thoughtfully diversified portfolio.


Now, back to why you should care. There’s another famous saying that goes something like this: Wealth can be built with concentration, but it should be protected with diversification. A realistic investment philosophy should be built with planning at its core. I often tell my clients (or anyone that will listen) that it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the market, but we can prepare for the unexpected.


“While we can’t predict the markets, we can prepare for them.”


If you’ve built up a concentrated portfolio and because of that concentrated allocation you’re closer to retirement than you might have been otherwise: Congrats! I’m not here to chastise anyone for successfully building their wealth. Instead, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask: What’s next? Or better put: What’s your plan to protect your hard-earned wealth? This is where diversification can make a huge impact on your future retirement plans. A well-constructed and professionally managed portfolio should be able to weather the ups and the downs of different market cycles. It’s very important that I point out that a diversified portfolio is in no way immune to losses, but with the right amount of guidance and discipline, diversification can be the key to long lasting financial freedom.



Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

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.