Why Do I Need A Financial Plan?

Why Do I Need A Financial Plan?

 

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. This adage, generally attributed to Benjamin Franklin, is as true for financial planning as it for other endeavors. At Merriman, we want to help clients meet their financial goals. Any successful goal-setting strategy includes a detailed plan. But this plan is not only helpful for increasing chances of success. It is also one method we use to minimize potential failures.

When you first met your advisor, did you start your relationship and immediately hand over your hard-earned resources to their management, or did they put you through a rigorous due-diligence process to develop an agreed-upon plan before moving forward?

While the latter requires a lot more time and energy upfront from both parties, this hard work pays off and makes the relationship more valuable and more productive in the long-term. (Short-term pain, long-term gain). It can especially add value during times of uncertainty or major life transitions, such as retirement. When the unexpected happens, the plan serves as the basis for deciding how to react. Without a plan, it is easy to act impulsively or without fully considering future consequences. A good plan has already taken into account potential pitfalls or trouble spots and has a strategy to overcome them. With a plan in place, you are able to adjust course, if needed, and ultimately still get to your desired outcomes.

At Merriman, we build a plan together from the beginning of our relationship and stress test your resources to determine the likelihood of achieving your most important financial goals. We start with a discovery meeting where we map out all aspects of your life—financial and otherwise—so we can provide a truly customized plan to help you achieve your goals. To make this meeting as productive as possible, we ask that if you have a spouse or partner, have them join us, as the plan we are building together is for the both of you.

As part of our due diligence, we securely collect important items such as tax documents, insurance statements, estate planning documents, paystubs, budgeting and expenses, financial accounts and retirement income statements, and debts, among other information. This may seem like a lot to ask for at the start, but these documents provide clues to potential weak spots in your plan.

Think of it this way: when you meet with a physician for the first time, do they judge your health based solely on your physical appearance, or do they ask tough questions and run a gamut of tests before providing a diagnosis? The collected samples and information serve as the inputs and the test results are the outputs based on the criteria used in the examination. A financial plan can be thought of the same way.

While test results are useful, they are in themselves really just data. We then interpret this data, informed by our education and experience, to provide comprehensive advice on how best to achieve your financial goals.

Why do you need a financial plan? Because in good times and difficult times, a financial plan is your best opportunity to meet your financial goals. At Merriman, that’s our mission, and that’s why we take financial planning as seriously as we do. You should expect the same attention to detail from anyone with whom you choose to work.

Reach out to us to discuss your specific goals and the necessary next steps to achieve them.

 

What Women Need Know About Working with Financial Advisors | Tip #3

What Women Need Know About Working with Financial Advisors | Tip #3

I want to acknowledge that all women are wonderfully unique individuals and therefore these tips will not be applicable to all of us equally and may be very helpful to some men and nonbinary individuals. This is written in an effort to support women, not to exclude, generalize, or stereotype any group.

 

I was recently reminded of a troubling statistic: Two-thirds of women do not trust their advisors. Having worked in the financial services industry for nearly two decades, this is unfortunately not surprising to me. But it is troubling, largely because it’s so preventable.

Whether you have a long-standing relationship with an advisor, are just starting to consider working with a financial planner, or are considering making a change, there are some simple tips all women should be aware of to improve this relationship and strengthen their financial futures.

Tip #3 – Know the Difference Between Risk Aware & Risk Averse

Countless studies have shown that women are not necessarily as risk averse as they were once thought to be. As a group, we just tend to be more risk aware than men are. Why does this matter? First of all, I think it’s important to be risk aware. If you aren’t aware of the risk, you can’t possibly make informed decisions. But by not understanding the difference, women sometimes incorrectly identify as conservative investors and then invest inappropriately for their goals and risk tolerance. Since most advisors are well-practiced in helping people identify their risk tolerance, this is an important conversation to have with your advisor. During these conversations, risk-aware people can sometimes focus on temporary monetary loss and lose sight of the other type of risk: not meeting goals. If you complete a simple risk-tolerance questionnaire (there are many versions available online), women may be more likely to answer questions conservatively simply because they are focusing on the potential downside. Here is an example of a common question:

The chart below shows the greatest 1-year loss and the highest 1-year gain on 3 different hypothetical investments of $10,000. Given the potential gain or loss in any 1 year, I would invest my money in …

Source: Vanguard           

A risk-aware, goal-oriented person is much more likely to select A because the question is not in terms they relate to. It focuses on the loss (and gain) in a 1-year period without providing any information about the performance over the period of time aligned with their goal or the probability of the investment helping them to achieve their goal. A risk-averse person is going to want to avoid risk no matter the situation. A risk-aware person needs to know that while the B portfolio might have lost $1,020 in a 1-year period, historically it has earned an average of 6% per year, is diversified and generally recovers from losses within 1–3 years, statistically has an 86% probability of outperforming portfolio A in a 10-year period, and is more likely to help them reach their specific goal.

A risk-aware person needs to be able to weigh the pros and cons so when presented with limited information, they are more likely to opt for the conservative choice. Know this about yourself and ask for more information before making a decision based on limiting risk.

Having a conversation about your risk tolerance, the level of risk needed to meet your goals, and asking for more information is always easier when you follow tip #1—work with an advisor you like. There are many different considerations when hiring an advisor: Are they a fiduciary? Do they practice comprehensive planning? How are they compensated? What is their investment philosophy? They may check off all your other boxes, but if you don’t like them, you are unlikely to get all you need out of the relationship. If you’re looking for an advisor you’re compatible with, consider perusing our advisor bios.

Be sure to read our previous and upcoming blog posts for additional tips to help women get the most out of working with a financial advisor.

How Kids, Teens, and Parents Can Be Financially Smart—Together!

How Kids, Teens, and Parents Can Be Financially Smart—Together!

 

Why is it that when the words “children” and “finances” are mentioned in the same sentence, parents brace themselves like they are about to hear the punchline to a really bad joke? Well, it may be because children and finances are often characterized as two major topics that can cause stress and frustration.

This stress and frustration may be a roadblock, preventing parents from having an open dialogue about finances. Being a financially smart family is so important.

We want to tear down that roadblock and give you a road map to help you, your teens, and even young children develop great financial habits. When every member of your family understands basic finances and sets financial goals together, everyone feels more financially confident and accomplished.

Even doing something simple like money saving DIY activities together teaches them that saving can be fun and satisfying.

An American Psychological Association survey questioned parents on their relationship with their children and finances. The results revealed that only 37% talk often with their family members about the subject of finances.

Why is it that the vast majority of parents don’t talk about finances with their kids? Maybe most don’t know at what age to begin. Maybe they don’t know what to say. Or maybe they think talking about finances as a family isn’t important

Whatever the reason, you may find yourself as a parent in one of these three categories, needing an extra push to establish some basic familial financial habits. For you and all your children, let’s take a look at some ways to help everyone under the same roof get a better handle on the family finances without feeling the need to be an accounting professional.

 

Financial Tips for Young Kids: Show How Far Their Dollars Go

Do you often find yourself with your kids at the store having to say “no” to the many toys and candy bars that they have pulled off the shelf? Maybe you want to reward your kids with a little something, but they don’t always understand why that $40 limited edition Lego set may not be in the budget.

That’s because they are used to you being the gatekeeper of their spending. Instead, teach them how to be the gatekeeper of their own spending by giving them a bit of financial freedom under your supervision.

Financial freedom for an elementary- or middle-school-aged child should be exercised through simple, intentional actions. It can be as simple as giving them a small amount of money with the intention of letting them have the final say in how they spend it.

This simple action encourages thoughtfulness and awareness about the cost of something they want, which helps them feel a sense of financial freedom while still under your supervision.

Example: Say you want to reward your child by giving them $5 to spend at the store however they would like. Point them over to the dollar section or by the checkout, making note of the price tags that are displayed. Weigh the options of getting several small things versus one larger item.

They will feel empowered by the challenge of seeing how far their dollar can stretch. This sort of freedom helps them develop the habit of thoughtful spending, and it keeps Mom and Dad from always having to say, “No!”

Practical Goal: Take your child to a store of their choosing at the end of the week (if they’ve earned it) and give them a set amount of cash to spend however they would like. Help them weigh their options and select something that they are happy about.

 

Financial Tips for Teenagers: Responsibility Comes with Freedom

It’s time to make the pivot from the gatekeeper of all of your teenager’s expenses to a partner in their expenses. Teens are now at that stage of life where they are capable of earning a bit of income, and they need some extra help learning how to manage it.

Whether you and your spouse decide to give them a bit of weekly allowance or encourage a summer job, teens are entering the arena of earnings and need help with spending. It is important to establish basic habits now to help them feel confident in their spending habits in the future.

One of the most valuable skills that can help teens feel more confident with their money is helping them develop financial observational skills. This includes being aware of how much things cost, keeping track of where their money goes, and planning on how to save towards something they want.

This sounds basic, but these observational skills can help them become more thoughtful in their spending. The simple act of slowing down and thinking about how they should use their money will instill confidence and prevent impulsiveness.

Plus, you’ll be able to set financial boundaries with your teens while still giving them freedom to do what they want with their money.

Here is a list of different things you could do to help your teens become more financially observant and responsible.

#1 – Create a Savings Plan for Something Expensive

If your teen has their heart set on buying a more expensive item, brainstorm ways to make it happen. Help them make a savings plan or even suggest splitting the cost with you. Remember, you are their partner; you are there to encourage them, not control them.

#2 – Think of Their Money as a Budget, Not a Limit

Each week, take a few minutes at dinner to ask your teen about what they’ve spent that week. This will help them start thinking of money as a budget, not a limit. Ask them if they were happy with how they spent their money or if they wish they had used their money in a different way. All answers are great for learning.

#3 – Start Off with an Allowance at First

If your teen does not yet have any sort of income, consider giving them an allowance each month—an allowance that is contingent on something that you and your teen decide together. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from earning money and choosing how to spend it that teens should begin to experience.

Practical Goal: Read these three examples together with your teen. Talk through how these examples can establish good spending habits, then select at least one of the examples to implement in the following week together.

 

Financial Tips for Parents: Take Charge of Your Finances and Give Wisdom

As parents, you and your spouse are in charge of leading financial conversations. Including your children in certain financial decisions can help you and your children be on the same page when it comes to money.

It’s not necessary for them to be aware of all financial decisions between you and your spouse. Kids and teens won’t understand high level concepts yet, but you can help your kids be more conscious of money when they have a say in casual, familial financial decisions.

A familial financial decision could be something like comparison shopping for family car insurance plans, but think of ways to involve the kids in that process that is appropriate for their level.

The first step to create an open dialogue with your children is to help them understand how their financial actions make a difference. When your kids feel like their voices are being heard and taken seriously, they will be more likely to actually want to talk about financial matters.

Just talking about how to spend your Saturday night together, weighing options and assessing price points of different activities, can help them better understand why sometimes the decision to do something is “no” and other times “yes.” Familial financial unity begins with frequent, honest discussions.

Example: Let’s say that you and your family decide to save up for a family vacation. Each member of the family decides how they are going to help contribute to this family goal.

Your youngest one may choose to eat at home instead of getting that after-school Happy Meal. Your teenager may volunteer to babysit the younger kids longer once a week so that a parent can get a few more hours in at their part-time job.

The parents can include a vacation savings allotment in the family budget as a way to slowly work up to the goal. With everyone playing a part in the goal, each family member can feel like they are contributing to the vacation.

Goal: Pick a family activity that appeals to everyone, figure out the estimated cost, then list out ways that everyone would be capable of contributing. Each week, check in on everyone’s progress to see how close you and your family are to that specific goal.

Now call your family together and set your goals in motion!

 

Written exclusively for Merriman.com by Madison Smith 

Madison Smith is a personal and home finance expert at BestCompany.com. She works to help others make positive financial strides in their lives by providing expert insight on anything from credit card debt to home-buying tips.

 

 

 

 

What Women Need to Know About Working With Financial Advisors | Tip #2

What Women Need to Know About Working With Financial Advisors | Tip #2

 

I want to acknowledge that all women are wonderfully unique individuals and therefore these tips will not be applicable to all of us equally and may be very helpful to some men and nonbinary individuals. This is written in an effort to support women, not to exclude, generalize, or stereotype any group.

 

I was recently reminded of a troubling statistic: Two-thirds of women do not trust their advisors. Having worked in the financial services industry for nearly two decades, this is unfortunately not surprising to me. But it is troubling, largely because it’s so preventable.

Whether you have a long-standing relationship with an advisor, are just starting to consider working with a financial planner, or are considering making a change, there are some simple tips all women should be aware of to improve this relationship and strengthen their financial futures.

Tip #2 – Tell Them What You Want

Studies have shown that women tend to be more goal-oriented than men. I have found it to be true that women are more likely to focus on goals like maintaining a certain lifestyle in retirement, sending children to college, or making sure the family is protected in the event of an emergency, while others may focus more on measuring investment performance.

At Merriman, we believe all investing and financial planning should be goal-oriented (hence our tagline: Invest Wisely, Live Fully), but many advisors still set goals that focus on earning a certain percentage each year. This can be especially difficult if your partner focuses on this type of measurement as well. Women (or any goal-oriented investor) can sometimes feel outnumbered or unsure of how to direct the conversation back to the bigger picture. You made 5%, but what does this mean for your financial plan? Can you still retire next year? The issue is not that you don’t understand performance or lack interest in market movements, whether or not this is true. The issue is that the conversation needs to be refocused on the things that matter to you. All of the truly excellent financial planners I have worked with have known this and do their best to help clients identify their goals, create a plan for obtaining them, and then track their progress. If you’re not experiencing this, it’s either time to look for a new advisor or to speak up and tell them what you want. Also, note that speaking up is more easily done when you work with an advisor you like (see tip #1).

There are many different considerations when hiring an advisor: Are they a fiduciary? Do they practice comprehensive planning? How are they compensated? What is their investment philosophy? They may check off all your other boxes, but if you don’t like them, you are unlikely to get all you need out of the relationship. If you’re looking for an advisor you’re compatible with, consider perusing our advisor bios.

Be sure to read our previous and upcoming blog posts for additional tips to help women get the most out of working with a financial advisor.

5 Ways You Can Rebuild Your Wealth in 2020

5 Ways You Can Rebuild Your Wealth in 2020

 

Everyone will agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on people’s budgets. Even financially disciplined individuals experienced a blow on their finances. You may have good plans and intentions for maintaining your wealth standards, but in the end there is nothing you can do when such an event happens. The catastrophe might have impacted your savings because of a decrease or loss of salary and income, or you may have had to overspend toward necessities during the pandemic when the prices of essential commodities shot up.

Sometimes low motivation and failure to hit the target can be the cause of wealth depreciation. However, as businesses reopen and people engage in their routine life activities, you might wonder what to do to regain your previous wealth status.

1. Cut on expenses

With low income due to the pandemic’s global impact, it is crucial to understand how you spend your money. Once you know where and how you spend your money, you can quickly determine what is essential spending and what is extra. You can sell or cut expenses with those things that you can survive without, like that other car, the vacation home, the RV—and even in a worst-case scenario, your home.

It might sound like an extreme tactic, but the benefits are immense. First, it will lower your necessary living expenses. Also, if one of these properties was attached to a loan, it will eliminate the debt. Lastly, when you sell—for example, that extra car or vacation home—you will have the much-needed cash to increase your savings.

What you need to understand is that selling or cutting expenses back will not happen forever. When you stabilize, it is easy to buy them back or even get better than what you sold. The aim here is to avoid going deep into financial depression by getting rid of expenses that are not essential.

2. Pay your debt in style

Be very strategic when it comes to paying off your debt, especially your credit card debt. Choose whatever model you think will work better for your situation, as no two financial cases are the same. In the first model, you can go the avalanche way. With this method, you focus on paying off the credit card with the highest interest rates first. Pay as much as you can toward that debt, but also pay at least the minimum amount toward the other accounts. This method will help you have the least interest in paying off your debt.

The snowball method, on the other hand, focuses on clearing the cards with the lowest debt first. In this method, once you clear one card, roll over to the next card with a minimal debt balance. Again, as before, as you clear the minimal debts first, pay at least the minimum amount toward the other cards, too. This will help you to have fewer loans to pay.

3. Continue saving despite the financial crisis

However hard it might be, especially when trying to pay off your debt, maintain a positive savings balance. With savings, the money can comfortably cushion you in case of an emergency. It can also help you achieve your financial freedom faster. Don’t strain too much, though; save as much as your budget allows to maintain a good saving habit.

4. If possible, take a side gig

If your current source of income does not generate enough wealth to return you to your previous state, consider adding another hustle. Is it possible to take up another job? Can you invest in a part-time business? A part-time business, dog walking, or freelance working will see your income grow faster.

5. Be patient

Though you are anxious to restore your finances, understand that this might not happen overnight. You should be prepared mentally and emotionally for the effort. Set up plans and specific goals to achieve, devoting time and focusing on effort toward achieving those goals. With sound steps and strategies, your financial situation will eventually get back to normal. Just remember that it will take some time.

 

Abby Drexler is a contributing writer and media specialist on behalf of Evolve Bank & Trust. She regularly produces content for a variety of finance blogs. 

 

 

Wellness as a Financial Strategy

Wellness as a Financial Strategy

 

I work with clients to create plans for spending, saving, investment, taxes, insurance, estate, and all the other items that, if managed, can lead to financial security and peace of mind.  Often, after all the planning, I get the question: What else can I do to help my financial situation?  While a good plan can help mitigate the ups and downs of the markets and the economy, it still can lead many to feel like they have little control over their situation.  This question often stems from a sense of not feeling totally in control of your financial situation because of volatile markets, the economy—and recently, a global pandemic.

One area I have started to introduce to my clients as a financial strategy is to consider doing an evaluation and plan for their physical and mental health.  The estimated average healthcare costs for a couple in retirement is $285,000.  This figure can include Medicare supplement premiums, deductibles, drugs, co-pays, dental, vision, counseling, and other care services.  Over the past 30+ years as I have been working with clients, I have seen firsthand how these costs are becoming an increasing burden to retirees as inflation in the healthcare industry is very much outpacing increases in incomes.

For many, chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and auto-immune diseases are a big burden physically, mentally, and financially.  My story was typical of a lot of people I see.  Busy family life, high pressure jobs, and the stresses of life slowly add up.  Late in my 40’s, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and started taking medication.  I thought I was in pretty good shape and didn’t give it much thought as my mom had high blood pressure all her adult life, and I thought it was hereditary.  As I got into my 50’s, my cholesterol and triglycerides started steadily increasing to unhealthy levels.  Like many, I ignored the slow decay of my physical and mental health.  Denial was strong.  I would get flashes of trying to stem the aging “tide” but would eventually fall back to poor exercise and eating habits.  There were always more important things to do than focusing on my health. Between feeling the aches and pains of nearing 60 years old and waking up to the knowledge of the effect my health would have on my retirement finances, I became acutely aware that I needed to seriously focus on my health.  My motivation of wanting to feel better physically and mentally was boosted by the fact that I wanted to use my retirement savings for better things than healthcare costs.

In late 2018, I got to work.  First, I did an inventory of my state of health.  To do this, I consulted with professionals, gathered tools and health data, and did a deep dive into educating myself about nutrition and mental wellness.  I also examined my consumption of food and alcohol, my utilization of exercise, and my stress levels and other facets of improving my emotional health.  Second, I set aside feelings of ego, guilt, and pride to create a realistic road map to improving my health.  One of the main things I learned right away is that there is no quick fix.  To reverse years of poor habits and choices, it takes a long period of time.  It definitely is a marathon and not a sprint, as to do it the right way involves lifestyle changes and not diets or boot camps.  

I’m eating less with mostly plant-based meals, exercising consistently, and addressing the stresses I face on many fronts.  It has been fabulous!  My energy levels are much higher, and I have a much more positive attitude about life in general.  For many years, I felt anxious about the state of my physical and mental health and that I couldn’t get the motivation to execute a good personal healthcare plan with consistency.  I’m glad the added boost of seeing improved health as a financial strategy has motivated me to create and execute the beginnings of a sound personal health plan.

We all live with the genetic lottery, and predicting our future health is difficult, but it would be ridiculous for me not to do everything in my power to live healthily and potentially not spend my hard-earned money on healthcare.  I encourage everyone to create and execute a health and wellness plan to feel great physically and mentally.  It also is a good financial strategy.