Starting on the Right Foot

In the spirit of college graduation season, as Milliennials contemplate their careers and financial futures, I thought I’d share a bit of perspective that’s helped me find career contentment and at the same time, put me on a course towards financial independence. While those of you who recently earned your bachelor’s degree (congrats!) may feel pressure to find your life’s calling, as society often tells you you should, I would suggest a different approach. Instead of trying to figure out your purpose or your true career calling, I advocate a low-pressure alternative; something I call “following your thread.” More on that in a bit. In addition to focusing on your career, which is admittedly very important, I would recommend giving some attention to your finances at this point in your life. Even if your income is paltry, carving out just a small amount of time and energy in this area will pay off in spades.

As it turns out, identifying a single line of work that will lead to perfect career bliss is a tall order. As a young college student I didn’t have that hindsight. Had I known to pay attention to the classes that really interested me and followed that thread, I might have arrived at career contentment sooner. While I’m finally happy in my financial vocation, the point is that few of us discover our life’s passion in college. For the rest of us, learning to identify important career sign posts, setting ourselves up for financial success, and tuning into our intuition are much more useful.

My advice to those of you just starting off is to start tuning-in exactly where you are. If you’ve landed your first job, congrats! Now is time to dive into your work and also pay attention to what energizes you and what drags you down. I call this “following your thread”. Move towards tasks that interest and energize you and over time, reduce those duties that sap your energy. While any job will often have some unpleasant assignments, moving towards a better work mix will ultimately lead to greater career satisfaction.

Once you get the hang of following your thread – and it is a life-long process – making a commitment to excellence will take you to the next level. This may sound like a tall order, but I’ve found that it’s not my job that gives me meaning but it’s the meaning I bring to my job that matters. Granted, we’ll fail often (I do regularly), but a commitment to excellence imbues our work and everything we do with meaning and value. This flips the notion that career bliss comes from finding our passion or figuring out what we want to be when we grow up. It seems that working with what’s right in front of us at our current job, digging in, and brining our passion and commitment to our current task is actually what brings lasting career contentment, which overtime should pay off in financial rewards.

And last, but not least, I believe that setting yourself up for financial success is the bedrock of a bright future. Without stable financial footing, including saving regularly for retirement, money stress can hang over the happiest of careers and lives. A stable financial situation can free up your innate creativity, which then helps open you up to new opportunities. It’s a virtuous cycle that paves the way for a rewarding and meaningful life. Where to begin? Start small and simply. Track your expenses and set a reasonable budget that allows you to save a regular amount monthly, but with wiggle room to still have fun with friends and family. The power of compound returns will grow your money significantly over time and can better help you weather market and career downturns. Financial education is key and there are plenty of great financial planning books out there. If you’re not a do-it-yourself-er, consider contacting a fee-only independent financial planner who can help get your started.

Wishing you a bright and fruitful future!

Carrie A. Tallman, CFA
Director of Research

?????????????????????????????????????????????

Using Brief Everyday Moments to Teach Kids about Money

More than once my nine year old daughter has asked “Why don’t you quit your job so you can be home more?” After I remove the knife from my heart, I tell her that we would not be able to afford to live in our house if I didn’t have a job. “Daddy could get a job,” she says. After my stay-at-home husband removes the knife from his heart, he tells her that my job pays more than a job that he could get. These are the few and small lessons we teach our kids about money. I hope they’re enough.

As a working mother with three small kids, and a busy stay-at-home dad, there’s not a lot of time for my husband and I to have protracted discussions with our kids about money. We want to teach our children how to work hard, spend wisely, and value the things they have. But with so little time, I find myself having far fewer conversations about the money than I thought I would before I had kids. I also thought I would never let them eat in the car, but you know how that goes.

Because my time, focus, and patience are so limited, I try to model behavior in my daily actions and conversations. When the kids ask why we can’t have something or do something that is not in our budget, we explain that we have to make priorities about how we spend our money. If we buy that toy, then that would be one less pair of pants we could buy, and you need a certain amount pants for school. Recently, my daughter overheard the grocery store clerk tell my husband how much the groceries were. “One hundred and fifty-three dollars!?” She was shocked. He explained that yes, it was crazy expensive, we were lucky to be able to afford it, not everyone can, and that’s why it drives us nuts when she doesn’t eat the edges of her sandwich. It’s like leaving a dollar on your plate!

My daughter has asked us to pay her money for chores around the house. When it comes to allowance, each family must decide what works best for them. We have decided not to pay allowances or to pay for chores. I explain that it is her job to help out in the house. As a family, we all have a duty to make the household run better. She puts the dishes in the dishwasher every night because she is part of the family. I do, however, pay her to “babysit” my two year old sometimes when I have a household chore that I have to tend to, and I need someone to distract my toddler. I tell her that as the mom, it’s my job to watch the baby, but she can earn some money by helping me with my job. I distinguish between her household duty as a member of the family, and an extra job to help me out with my job. In doing this, I hope it helps her to grow up not feeling entitled, with a strong work ethic, and the knowledge that in life, you just have to work. That’s the deal.

We also try to scale down Christmas and birthdays. I believe that if I only ever gave the kids two gifts for Christmas they’d be just as excited as if I gave them ten. But once they expect ten, they are let down at two. I’ve tried very hard each year to keep it minimal. Unfortunately, that may be a battle I’m losing, because it becomes uncomfortable when grandparents lavish more gifts than Santa Claus. What’s a Santa Claus to do?

Parents, your time is limited and you are exhausted. But you don’t have to summon loads of energy to teach your kids about money, just show them with your everyday actions and conversations. As parents, we have to work hard, spend wisely and value what we have. We have to be vocal about it with our kids. Let’s hope they get the message, because I don’t have time for a bigger discussion on the matter – I have to leave right now to get to my six year-old’s soccer game.

Harli Palme, CFA, CFP®
Partner

???????????

Shouldering the Burden of Financial Responsibility

“Atlas through hard constraint upholds the wide heaven with unwearying head and arms.” –Hesiod

My Wednesday morning started with five 400-meter runs, uphill, carrying a 35# sandbag. OK, maybe “run” is a bit of an exaggeration – it was more of a trudge, and there might have been some walking in there toward the top. I hated every second of it, but I kept going because, well, that’s just what you do. When I thought about it later, it struck me as an apt metaphor for the way life feels sometimes – an endless uphill struggle with the weight of responsibility resting heavily on your shoulders. This is particularly true for anyone who is the primary provider for their family. As my colleague Carrie pointed out in her recent blog post, more and more women (including me) are finding themselves in this position, whether by choice or necessity. Most of the time I am able to face each day as it comes and maintain an upbeat outlook on life, but sometimes the enormity of this responsibility is paralyzing and my mind races with worries – what if something happens to me? Have I prepared for the worst possible outcome? What more can I do to ensure that the people who depend on me to keep going will be OK if I can’t?

Since everyone loves a list, let’s break this down into 5 areas that you definitely want to address if you are the primary provider for your family:

  1. Life Insurance – This one is pretty obvious, and I hope most people have some amount of life insurance in order to provide for their dependents should the worst come to pass. But do you have enough? Many companies provide life insurance as an employee benefit, but the standard amount will probably not be enough to replace your salary for an extended time. As a starting point, consider your current salary and how old your children are, so you can estimate how much financial support they will need and for how long. Beyond that, you may want to provide your spouse with your lost income until retirement age. Take these factors into consideration when determining the length of the term and amount of coverage you need.
  2. Long Term Disability Insurance – This one is a little less common, but no less important than life insurance. Think of it this way – if you become disabled and cannot perform the job that supports your family, how will you replace your income? What if your disability adds to the household expenses in the form of ongoing medical care? Now you’ve not only lost your earning power, but you’ve also become a liability to the family you once supported. Don’t let that happen.
  3. Estate Planning/Will – Many times younger people who are still in the asset accumulation phase tend to put off drafting a will, despite its importance. It is especially imperative if you have young children, since it allows you to determine who will become their guardian if both you and your spouse are gone. Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date for any IRAs, 401(k) plans, pension plans or life insurance policies. For more complex estate planning strategies you might want a trust – your financial advisor can help you figure out what you need to do to make sure your estate plan is sufficient.
  4. Retirement Savings – If the worst doesn’t happen and you live to a ripe, old age, you need to be sure that you are saving money to provide for your golden years. As the primary earner, the bulk of this responsibility falls to you to contribute to your company’s 401(k) or another retirement plan, but it is equally important to include your spouse in your retirement projections and contribute to a plan for him or her if you can. Again, your advisor can help you figure out how much you need to be putting aside and how to navigate the ever-complicated IRS rules and requirements for retirement savings.
  5. Education Savings – Though not as imperative as the first four points, saving for your children’s education expenses will relieve them of significant financial pressure when they are in school and will help them avoid taking on massive amounts of student loan debt. You can rest easier knowing that if you predecease your spouse and children, you won’t be leaving them with an insurmountable tuition bill. As with retirement plans, there are several investment vehicles available to you for education savings. Work with your advisor to determine the best plan for you and your family.

Shouldering the burden of financial responsibility can make you feel like Atlas, but it needn’t crush you. With a little planning and preparation, you can weather the uphills, savor the downhills, put down the sandbag every once in a while and live fully in the present.

Sarah DerGarabedian, CFA Financial Advisor

???????????????????

Market Update through 3/31/2015

as of March 31, 2015
Total Return
Index 12 months YTD QTD March
Stocks
Russell 3000 12.37% 1.80% 1.80% -1.02%
S&P 500 12.73% 0.95% 0.95% -1.58%
DJ Industrial Average 10.57% 0.33% 0.33% -1.85%
Nasdaq Composite 18.12% 3.79% 3.79% -1.17%
Russell 2000 8.21% 4.32% 4.32% 1.74%
MSCI EAFE Index -0.92% 4.88% 4.88% -1.52%
MSCI Emerging Markets 0.44% 2.24% 2.24% -1.42%
Bonds
Barclays US Aggregate 5.72% 1.61% 1.61% 0.46%
Barclays Intermediate US Gov/Credit 3.58% 1.45% 1.45% 0.49%
Barclays Municipal 6.62% 1.01% 1.01% 0.29%
Current Prior QTR
Commodity/Currency Level Level
Crude Oil $47.60 $53.27
Natural Gas $2.64 $2.89
Gold $1,183.20 $1,184.10
Euro $1.0740 $1.2100

The “Who” of Earning More

While we’ve all read the articles about the gender pay-gap in the US, I’d like to discuss why it’s important that women start earning more and provide one perspective on how we can go about doing that.

First I’d like to mention that despite earning more college degrees than men, and now, more advanced college degrees, women still make on average 27% less than their male counterparts. That’s a glaring disconnect and it’s significant considering that most women outlive men by roughly five years in the U.S. We’re also the sole or primary source of income for 40% of households with children. That’s up from only 11% in 1960. Thus, a higher income in our working years is crucial if we want to adequately provide for both our children’s and our futures.

While it’s clear the female gender has the intelligence and discipline to master higher education, what isn’t clear is why we don’t reach the same levels of success in the workplace. I can’t claim to know the answer for all women, but I can speak from my own experience. As the first of my sisters to go to college I had little guidance. Fortunately, once I learned the system, established good study habits, and got clear about why I wanted a degree, I started to excel. In college, succeeding meant knowing the material, acing tests, and generally holding myself accountable. I didn’t necessarily need strong interpersonal skills or external confidence. I simply needed to know the subject matter and master tests and assignments.

My first job in finance was a very different experience. In comparison to school, the working world – particularly in the male-dominated world of finance – was much more about confidence, speaking up, and did I mention confidence? Yes, intelligence and a job well-done were important, but I noticed that those who had the confidence to take on challenging projects, talk to the executives with ease, and court clients with swagger seemed to get ahead. Interestingly, I had this confidence outside of work, but in the office my voice cracked, my brain froze up at inopportune times, and my words were often awkward. It was doubly painful to watch myself make blunder upon blunder, all the while knowing that in other environments I was relaxed, confident, capable – in a word, myself. What was happening? Where did I go?

It’s been twelve years since landing my first financial job and since that time my confidence has grown. I believe the biggest contributors to bridging the gap between the outside-work me and the at-work me were awareness, compassion, and trust. Although at times I felt insecure, incapable, and frustrated on the job in those early years, having awareness of the confident, capable version of myself was an important touchstone in the office. It allowed me to notice what triggered my nerves or caused my thoughts to freeze up, instead of believing that that was who I was. With awareness, I could proactively prepare for those moments, give myself a break when I did have a blunder, and trust that in time, I would grow more confident. It wasn’t always easy, but having an image of who I wanted to be at the office spurred me on. So did identifying role models at work, both male and female, and reaching out to those people. Knowing where I wanted to go, what that looked like, and most importantly, who I wanted to be at work were my guideposts.

There were certainly bumps along the way, including raises that were not granted, wrong career turns, and staying in some positions for too long. Despite the setbacks and challenges, I remained focused on my “who” at work and had a willingness, and perhaps a penchant for embarrassing blunders. Money was important to me, and although I aspired to grow my income, it wasn’t my main focus. Surprisingly, my commitment to being more myself and a willingness to work with new, uncomfortable situations had the happy side-effect of promotions and pay raises.

Money is important. Considering that we women often outlive men and are shouldering more and more responsibility for our dependents and ourselves, it’s even more important. The good news is that while money is not always our first priority, from my experience, it doesn’t have to be. A commitment to being more fully ourselves in any environment and a willingness to stretch ourselves with uncomfortable, yet meaningful challenges frequently has the happy side-effect of higher earnings.

Regardless, becoming more fully ourselves brings with it the capacity to weather any financial situation and is, in the end, its own reward.

Carrie Tallman, CFA

Director of Research

?????????????????????????????????????????????

GREAT NEWS ON INCOMES, SPENDING AND INFLATION

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) hit a trifecta in its March 2 release, “Personal Income and Outlays: January 2015.” As the chart below shows, the first piece of wonderful news was that real disposable personal income (DPI), which is what you have left of your income after taxes and inflation, hit a new record in January of $12.246 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate. That finally eclipsed the old record of $12.214 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate set in December 2012. That old record was an unsustainable outlier at the time, which was caused by many people who had the ability to bring income such as bonuses and special dividends forward to avoid the higher tax rates of 2013, doing exactly that.

Untitled

Conversely, the January 2015 record was driven by a seasonally adjusted increase of $42.4 billion in wage and salary income from December. That accounted for a very healthy 83.5 percent of the total increase in personal income of $50.8 billion, seasonally adjusted. That strong performance of wages and salaries suggests that, driven by ever-growing employment, disposable personal income will set many more records in 2015 and 2016.

Even more astonishingly, real disposable personal income rose by 0.9 percent in January from December. That was the biggest increase since—you guessed it—the 2.84 percent spurt in December 2012, which was on top of a very strong increase of 1.44 percent in November 2012. Of course, real DPI plunged by 5.9 percent in January 2013, the biggest drop in over 50 years. That is most unlikely to occur this time, as we will see when we get the data for February 2015 on March 30.

This 0.9 percent increase in real DPI in January is even more amazing, because January wages and salaries are hit every year by increases in Social Security taxes on both employees and employers. Every employed person who exceeded the $117,000 taxable maximum in 2014 before December 31 had to start paying again on January 1. This year the tax covers wages and salaries up to $118,500. That change subtracted an additional $7.9 billion in January.

Note the phenomenal growth in real DPI in the previous chart. It is now six times higher than in 1959, triple the 1973-1975 level and double where it was in 1987-1988. It’s up more than 20 percent since 2009. Most countries would be delighted to have such terrific growth in DPI over comparable periods.

The second piece of great news in the report was the fact that real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) set a new record in January of $11.164 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, as shown in the following chart. That was up 0.3 percent from December and a very impressive 3.4 percent from January 2014. Because real PCE makes up by far the largest share of real GDP (68.2 percent in 2014), this strong beginning to 2015 reinforces the consensus forecast that this will be the first year since 2005 to see real GDP growth of 3.0 percent or more.

Untitlewd

The third piece of wonderful news was the continued low rate of increase of so-called “core” inflation, the implicit price deflator for PCE less food and energy. The chart below shows how this measure rose in the late 1970s and early 1980s hitting a peak of 4.02 percent in January 1981. It is probably not a coincidence that that was the month when President Reagan took office, as his first official act was to deregulate oil prices. While both energy and food are excluded from this index, the impact of that decision had far-ranging consequences in reducing inflation.

Untitled3

The overall PCE deflator fell 0.5 percent in January from December and was only 0.2 percent above January 2014. That was primarily because “Energy goods and services” registered price declines of 10.4 percent in January from December, and fell a whopping 21.2 percent from January 2014.

This very small increase in the overall PCE deflator made a big contribution to the 0.9 percent jump in real DPI. The rest came from the large increases in nominal income.

This BEA report is one of the best ones we’ve had in many years. It should be followed by much more good news on income and spending by consumers in coming months.

Dr. James F. Smith
Chief Economist

?????????

Living Healthier – Better for your Wallet, Not Just your Waistline.

Untitled

A couple of years ago I made a significant lifestyle change. After gaining post-college weight, I realized that the carefree metabolism of a 20-year old went out the window at 21. I made the decision to stop eating unhealthy food and develop a workout regimen that I could stick to. At first I worried that I couldn’t afford to live “healthy.” I believe that this is a normal and reasonable reaction. $120 for a gym membership? WHAT! $10 for organic breakfast? HUH? Thankfully, what I realized was that I was incorrect to think that “healthy lifestyles” and “expensive lifestyles” were synonymous. I actually saved money! Here are just a few ways that you can get healthy, save a dollar or two, slim down and be happier.

  1. Get rid of your expensive bad habits:
  • Do you pay $10 a day for a double pump, venti, skinny, salted caramel mocha frappuccino? Stop it! First, whoever told you that this was “skinny” was lying to you. Second, these things add up. What bad habits do you have? Is it the lunch time soda? The mid-afternoon candy bar from the vending machine? The two packs of cigarettes a day? Once you write down your vices, tabulate them to see how much those bad habits cost over a week, a month, a year, a lifetime.
  • Example: A pack of cigarettes in North Carolina costs $4.45. You could spend more than $49,662 on smoking a pack a day for 30 years. According to the American Cancer Society, each pack of cigarettes on average will cost you $35.00 in health care costs. That’s $383,250 in health care costs due to smoking for 30 years. Is it worth it?
Vice Per day Per 30 Years 30 Yr Health Cost Total 30 Yr Cost
Cigarettes $4.45 $49,662 $383,250 $432,912

 

  1. Reduce your medical bill:
  • It’s impossible to ignore the fact that eating healthy and exercising can reduce visits to the doctor. There are a plethora of studies out there that prove a healthier diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, lower your cholesterol, reduce stress on joints from excess weight, etc. To give you a personal example, I have always had trouble with stress management. I’m a worrier (#shegetsitfromhermama). Since I was a child I have racked up numerous medical bills related to anxiety, including medications, sleep studies and doctor visits. Had I known much earlier that by slapping on a pair of running shoes and going for a jog, I could eliminate a lot of my stress, I would have saved myself and my parents a lot of money. Running is a much more affordable way to blow off steam than medication. With my routine, I was able to ditch the expensive medications and doctors’ visits.
  1. Waste not:
  • I’m marrying a Dutchman soon… literally. One thing I learned from him and his Dutch family is to waste nothing and use everything. When I first started dating Chris I couldn’t understand how he would eat 2-3 times more food than I did and spend 2-3 times less money than I did. The answer simply was he didn’t waste anything. Now, this was a bit harder for me to do. Chris could sit down and eat hummus with a spoon, but if I didn’t have crackers to eat the hummus I’d let it sit there, go bad, and then I’d throw it out. So how did I fix this little problem and save hundreds of dollars doing it? Planning! How did I shed some pounds? Planning! Sit down at the beginning of the week and plan out all your meals. When you plan ahead of time you’re more likely to make healthier choices. You also are less likely to go out and eat when you have already planned, purchased and prepped your healthy food choices. Once you realize the savings potential you start using the “waste not” mentality in other facets of your life.
  • Tip: when planning your meals ahead of time, leave yourself a day to go out and splurge. Without the occasional “cheat” you may go crazy and give up.
  1. Cut on transportation cost:
  • Now this isn’t possible for everyone, but for a lot of people you can quickly save some money, cut cost and your waistline by switching up your transportation methods. Bike and walk to work. Is there a train nearby? Then walk to the train rather than driving to your office. If you are eating out for lunch, pick a restaurant that you don’t have to drive to. A lot of people say that the time spent walking is a great way to meditate, and reflect on their day. This can offer a peace of mind that can’t be achieved with the stresses of the road.
  1. Create healthy family outings:
  • Skip the $30 movie, popcorn, and 2 hours of inactivity and do something active with your family. Spend $15 on a soccer ball and go to the park on Sunday afternoon. Take the dog on a hike or a walk. This brings up another point… working out and being active is always more rewarding and sustainable when you have a support group or community of people that you workout with. If healthy outings cannot be accomplished with busy family members, then join a running club, a biking group or a community gym.

I could write an entire blog series on ways to be healthier and save money… but the key is to start small! Pick an area that needs improvement in your life and manage it. Use the momentum of a small change to snowball into an entire lifestyle change. Fatten up that wallet by trimming up the love handles!

Ashley Woodring, CFP®

Financial Advisor

Ashley_Woodring(b)