edelman’s financial planner, part 2: integrity trumps a short-term sale
September 12, 2007

Last week’s Edelman rep owns a completely different philosophy.

After a few hours of reviewing our situation, he offered to draft an official financial plan – an $800 service. But he immediately said directing that $800 toward our debt pay off would be his first recommendation … vs investing it toward his fees at this time.

Impressive.

More from:

  • Edelman’s financial planner post, part 1
  • Code of Ethics per the folks at Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards.

reviewing one’s portfolio, investing money, & the duh factor
September 11, 2007

I meet with the administrator of our retirement plan tomorrow and look forward to nailing down:

  • what our monthly contributions should be to retire age 65 with 75% of current salary;
  • what our monthly contributions should be to retire age 65 with 100% of current salary (omg that seems nuts but heck why not know the number);
  • and the biggie: what our current allocations should be to achieve any or all of above.

I predict we have too many domestic equities (vs having at least some international stocks). But at this point I’m talking out the wazoo.

Considering one’s age & risk tolerance are key, sure. Yet it’s perspective and context that I crave from tomorrow’s discussion (a follow-up to this first meeting).

Beckoning to tomorrow’s planner:

Help us afford more than tooth picks & water during our sunset years!

More to follow post meeting manana.

More from:
Our retirement plan administrator TIAA-CREF

Edelman’s financial planner, part 1: my credit card & the taj mahal
September 10, 2007

In my quest to find a financial planner for my family, I met with one last week from Ric Edelman’s firm. I’ve read a few of Ric’s books & appreciated his no-nonsense style & wit. I theorized associates working for his company would espouse similar credibility.

And that proved true with the planner I met.

On credit card debt:
I liked how he asked questions about my family’s entire financial outlook before honing in on the credit card reality. I was fully prepared to defend my debt philosophy on that topic when he casually whipped out his calculator.

He said:

Well you’ll pay xxx in interest payments and lose xxx percent in interest gains despite your current investments. I’d suggest your top goals to accomplish are to continue retirement contributions toward the 403(b), continue saving toward your emergency cash reserves, pay off the credit card debt, get a will, and then max out your retirement contributions once the card’s paid off.

His suggestions did not surprise me; what did surprise & appeal however was how debt pay-off was one factor in a greater proposal — a rounded outline for our circumstance. Granted it was our first meeting but he wasn’t condescending about credit card debt or my resistance to pay it off.

He came across as very credible. I look forward to further debriefing our meeting via Housewifery this week. What do you think of his suggestion?

More from:
Liz Pulliam Weston & her keen reasoning on when – ironically – not to pay off debt.

new book … rich and thin: slim down, shrink debt, & turn calories into cash
September 6, 2007

I’ve only read excerpts from this book, plus a book review by Michelle Singletary.

Singletary cites major statistics on obesity within the book’s context: better eating means good news for your health physically & financially.

It’s a familiar theory. But Singletary describes a financial tool from the book called the Money Calorie Counter. How many calories annually to you ingest from sassy coffee drinks? And how much could you gain in savings by not buying that designer caffeine?

I’d like to read more on how Rich and Thin authors Deborah McNaughton & Melinda Weinstein address these questions.

Thanks to poet & pal Mary Fumento for the tip.

More from:

financial roots: your fiscal beliefs, fears, confidence must come from … where?
September 5, 2007

In preparing for another financial planner interview this week, I imagined how a certain discussion could play-out regarding our debt:

Planner to me: So do you have credit card debt?

Me: Sure do.

Planner: So why don’t you pay it off right now or at least increase your payments?

Me: Because the thought of having zero dinero in our emergency reserves makes me vomit.

For my family right now, it comes down to rebuilding habit.

For a while, it’s been ‘pay off the card’. Then a perceived emergency that warrants use of it occurs again (we wouldn’t have much in emergency reserves since we focused on debt pay-off).

And the cycle played out many times in our lives.

So I shared this tact with husband Sean – to which he concurred on changing focus. He was creeped-out by the card balance (predominantly tax payments) but appreciated the underlying philosophy: build up cash reserves to prevent credit card usage in emergencies.

Then comes the self-reflection:
What has the most impact on one’s financial beliefs? Is it more than just live-and-learn as an adult?

That must be a complex answer for everyone.

Yet these two childhood memories stand out as canyon-wide influences on my financial beliefs:

  • family thrived with their business during the Oklahoma oil boom;
  • family sank deep into fiscal ick-ville when that boom went bust

Don’t wanna go back there … ever.

So what’s the first step – forming a positive vision to strive toward (vs always looking back at that which we want to avoid)?

More from:

  • WiseBread’s Sarah Winfrey outlines those wise, internal questions that can frame what we really want. …joy? chocolate? companionship? love? a Twinkie bath? Winfrey’s reflective approach proved a useful tool to carve out purpose — financial or otherwise.
  • Request:
    Please treat yourself to Jonny Goldstein‘s above Twinkie bath clip, 3 minutes. The ribs crack from cackling every time.

crazy yet cool: benefits of online banking & my first 1.5 months with ing’s savings account
September 4, 2007

That’s far more aggressive than three years of business with our brick-and-mortar bank — all three years combined. Not even close.

ING’s low overhead packs a punch in our favor: 4.5% interest rate, no minimum balance vs the brick-and-mortar bank of $2,500 minimal opening balance at .65%.

It frankly took a while for my psyche to actually embrace online banks; it was purely phobic on my part where as my husband was more game long ago to commit. We chose ING for their name recognition.

The monthly & annual yield makes for supreme immediate gratification; I split my pants every week to deposit more into the account. Maybe that means savings is fun – or I need to get out more. Hmm.

More from:

renting vs buying e.g. can you still afford pet food with a mortgage?
August 29, 2007

I live in downtown Washington, DC with my husband where we rent 600 square feet & love it. We long sold the car & we both walk to work (…I endure a hefty commute from the bedroom to my home studio 15′ away).

After scoping out properties with an agent – we’re delaying home ownership, despite the market stats.

I sometimes get defensive on this issue, esp with friends who’ve owned for some time. I let my self-concept get all out of whack, thinking my man & I are somehow less adult for not owning property in our 30s.

The truth is, I believe buying now makes us financially vulnerable no matter how much home price tags decline. To get into a 600 square foot home in this area, we’d:
-have to relinquish our emergency cash reserves toward down payment & closing costs;
-retain a minimum monthly mortgage of $2k for 600 square feet at a conservative purchase price of $230k;
-that leaves minimal to zero monthly margins for unforeseen expenses or increased contributions toward retirement.

Granted, we’ve chosen to live in pricey downtown near work for simplicity of living. Walking to work is addictive, especially that welcome by-product of zero car payments and insurance.

And Stephen Pollan chimes in:

Today when young clients come to me to discuss real estate, I tell them to buy their second home first. I tell them to steer clear of “starter houses” they’ll eventually outgrow, and instead buy the kind of home they would have stepped up into after selling a starter house. I tell them to plan on buying a house they could be comfortable in for the rest of their lives. If that means waiting longer to buy, so be it. That will give you more time to save money, …more time to separate your needs from your wants. The result will be a more intelligent buy.

So right now, I’m glad to help our landlord with his property ownership & tax benefits. As his renters, we’ll keep chins up while investing in our fiscal balance and discipline.

More from:
–CNN’s cost of living calculator (knocked my socks off when my cousin in Tulsa, OK said we could live in a 4 bedroom, marble kitchen estate for what we’d pay for 600 sq ft in DC);
Rent v buy calculator which assesses whether buying a home (or renting & investing the would-be mortgage payment) would be best per your current stats;
–Pollan’s book Die Broke offers frank, reasonable insight to personal finance

ask ask ask: your employer’s benefit’s plan
August 28, 2007

I rarely reviewed medical or dental coverage plans when joining a new firm (unless you consider ‘whatevah‘ as a valid acknowledgment to such material).

Today I attend a benefits fair at my husband’s work. In preparation, I’ve been humbled to learn just how much there’s to learn on our coverage — stuff like:

What percentage is covered for out-of-network consults?
Where/how should reimbursements be submitted?
What’s that flex spending plan all about?
Does the employer offer health care benefits for retired employees?

More from:
-APA outlines apt questions to ask your company’s benefits team or HR staff, even sensitive ones I didn’t first consider;
-For gay/lesbian domestic partners, this looked insightful for benefits & legal protections;
-The Money Blog, the ever credible source comments on potential benefits which you may not be aware of — cool eye care & flex spending accounts.

marital money mantra #2: protect what you can’t afford to lose
August 26, 2007

Sweet cash kitty

We learned a lot from our own cycles of incur-credit-debt-yet-not-build-savings. We still have credit card debt (from mis-calculating last year’s tax payment); yet we’ve for the first time built a cash kitty, four months of expenses, with plans to secure one year’s worth since we function on a single steady income.

It’s tough changing one’s perception of what is or is not a valuable financial habit or philosophy. I heard throughout life about debt-is-bad-pay-it-off but not as much insistence on building cash reserves aka rainy day protection. I realize saving philosophies have certainly been around for ages; cash reserves (and truly reserving them for emergencies vs a Mets game…) — just weren’t emphasized as much in my personal community.

After six years of marriage, four cats, and $6k in pet surgeries it became clear viewing a credit card as an emergency cash plan lacked….prudence. Emotionally we couldn’t afford to lose the various cats & financially, we decided we couldn’t afford to personally finance continual debt cycles.

Thus dedication to building cash reserves began as did researching pet insurance(!).

More from:
-ASPCA offers diverse pet insurance plans & good customer service;
All Financial Matters says it well: Emergencies will come whether we are prepared for them or not.

marital money mantra #1: overt & unified approach
August 23, 2007

HUSBAND-WIFE ROLE PLAY:

During the first years of marriage, our conversations on spending splurges went down like this:

The husband likes books – admirably. And sure I’m addicted to eating out with friends & travel.

With books though, Sean’s a read-it-once-learn-it type of brain & is a strong visual learner. Books are his friend. It’s a learning style that differs heartily from my own. I love a good Edith Wharton novel & a few graphs from business books. But I just did not appreciate his relationship with books as they related to his well being.

But more than that, his book buying irked me because deep down, I knew our family finances were shaky with our unclear financial philosophy convincingly…unclear.

Once we took actionable steps toward more stability, my emotional freak-outs eased considerably. It helps that my husband owns a really laid-back demeanor toward home finances a.k.a. “That sounds good baby!” — his reply to many suggestions tossed out for discussion.

Our facilitating questions on the topic:
–Do we agree that saving for present & future is worth it? …get mutual buy in first; establish tactics later.

–In what ways does money affect your sense of self? …sounds corny but ask. Do they want 100% control? Do they care if you do? Do you feel like a ‘less-than man or woman’ with someone else handling the bills? In what ways do you crave financial autonomy or partnership?

–How do you like to play? e.g. books, tech, travel, hobbies

–If saving & investing for your overall health is the driving goal, what are you/we willing to financially modify – or not – toward the play stuff?

I’ve heard of spouses going out of town for the weekend with the other spouse staying home. Upon return, there’s a newly purchased car in the driveway. That actually happened with my parents. Yikes that was a cherished family moment in Mustang, Oklahoma; and looking back – there were power struggles & self images at work, all tied up with money.

If at all possible, make all that overt…with some flexible conversation on what’s the healthiest, happiest shared value on money that you can agree on.

Bottom line, if all this becomes open, then spending becomes all the more fun & relaxed. …since you’ve as a team asserted responsibility toward your driving financial goal.

More from:
1) Gerri Willis, clear, straight shooter;
2) Kiplinger & financial unions;
3) Women Today mag & couples (I like what’s said about learning what constitutes a major purchase).