10 ways to celebrate Independence Day:

Visit a historical site:

Western North Carolina is rich in history. One of my family’s favorite locations is Cherokee. In particular, we like to visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village. We always enjoy walking the trials and making new friends. Staff members are eager to share stories and have live demonstrations on how the early Cherokee people made jewelry, clothes, weapons, shelters, and canoes. We always seem to learn something on our trip back through time.

Read the Declaration of Independence

While many of us can recant passages of the document such as, “We hold these truths to be self evident,” how many of us have read or can recall the 27 grievances in the original writing leading to the declaration?

Get active – go for a hike, fishing, or camping:

Did you know that WNC has some of the arguably best trout fishing in the state? We have well over 3,000 miles of trout streams and each year the Wildlife Commission closes 1,000 miles for restocking and delayed harvesting. Currently, fishing season is wide open with a 7 daily keeper limit.

Make it memorable:

Consider investing in a decent photo or video camera. We took the plunge a few years ago and bought both types of cameras. We have a lot of fun capturing memories. Occasionally, we will look back on these priceless photos and videos to relive the moment and found this to be a great pass time. One of the things I like to do is compile short video clips and then set them to music; this makes a great way of preserving memories in a fun and engaging way.

Pack a picnic and watch the fireworks:

Admit it, many reading this cannot recall the last time they sat on a blanket and enjoyed a picnic dinner. How about trying a new recipe or pick up a box of fried chicken while picking out the perfect viewing area? Don’t forget to pack a frisbee to toss around. Looking for fireworks? Find them here!

Treat a veteran to lunch or dinner:

What better way to honor our nation’s heroes by treating them to a lunch? We see active duty servicemen and women at restaurants near the Asheville airport. Something we like to do is anonymously pay for their meal.

Make a difference:

Everyone has something they are passionate about. Why not take this passion and introduce it to someone new? For instance, an outgoing person might go to a nursing home and visit a resident. Someone who enjoys soccer could visit a local park and start a pick-up game.

Throw an Independence Day themed BBQ:

On a recent visit, the client arranged for a catered Low Country Boil as incentive for his staff to stay after hours for my education presentation and one-on-one meetings. This was my first boil and I was impressed at the simplicity of the food and great conversations. So much so, this inspired my family to invite a few good friends over for our first boil this summer! (If any have advice about how to make this go off without a hitch, please email me with your thoughts and suggestions.)

Watch the local 4th of July parade:

Remember when you were a kid and watched the parade? The nostalgia of candied apples, popcorn, marching bands, and waving the American flag just oozes fun and happy memories! It just doesn’t get much better.

Declare your independence, financially that is:

The Declaration of Independence is roughly 1,400 words. Financial independence does not require a formal “declaration” per se, but it does require a well thought out plan.   Just as our forefathers were resolute in their desire for independence, our decision to save and invest for our future should be a high priority. Things that should be considered are having adequate cash reserves, health, life and disability insurance, long-term savings and investments, and estate planning documents to name a few. The internet has a wide variety of tools and resources that may be helpful. However, the advisors at Parsec take a unique and tailored approach for client recommendations and advice. More importantly, our advice is consistent whereas information on the internet will vary. Our belief is that with proper savings, planning, and investment oversight most people can achieve financial independence. If you have questions or concerns that you would like us to address, please call or write.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe 4th of July!

Neal Nolan, CFP®, AIF®
Senior Financial Advisor
Director of ERISA Services

Neal

Hidden Costs of College

Congratulations!  You have four years of tuition, room and board stashed away in your 529 Plan and Junior hasn’t even graduated from high school yet.  Now you can breathe easily, right?  Well…maybe, maybe not.

The published cost of college attendance can vary substantially from the actual cost for numerous reasons.   The primary contributor to this variance; a surprisingly small number of students graduate in four years.   In fact only 59% of students graduate within six years according to the National Center for Education Statistics.       Now before you blame Junior for taking too long to get that degree (and blowing your budget), understand that getting the classes needed to fulfill degree requirements at a large university can be a daunting, if not impossible, Hunger Games-like experience resulting in an extended stay.   Changing majors, transferring schools and required remedial classes are other common contributors to a longer than expected the graduation time line.

One cost-effective way to manage the timeline is to plan on taking required classes you couldn’t get during the regular school year at your local community college during the summer.   Budget for this (hopefully minimal) additional expense and have the classes pre-approved so your student receives credit for their work.  Also, insist that your student meet with their advisor before scheduling classes to confirm they are on the right path to meeting their degree requirements.  Now that you are on the four-year plan, it’s time to understand some of the other hidden costs of college.

While wandering the park-like grounds and admiring the architecture of the colleges on your tour list, it can be easy to forget a very important question.  Is this a comprehensive fee?  Quite often the answer is yes at a private college and hard to ascertain at a public school.   To help compare apples and oranges, take a checklist of possible extra fees or expenses on your tour so you ask the same questions everywhere.

  • Are there class-specific fees? For example, lab fees for science classes or studio fees for art or music classes.
  • Are there differential fees for specific majors?
  • Does the school charge more for additional credit hours? Some schools have a  50% tuition surcharge for credits in excess of degree requirements.
  • Is tutoring an additional expense? Is the tutoring remedial only?
  • Are there use fees for athletic facilities, the health center, and tech support?
  • Is there a fee for printing?
  • Can you rent textbooks at the campus bookstore?
  • What percentage of the student body lives on-campus vs. off-campus? If your student lives off-campus budget for rent, security deposit, utilities, furniture, and renters insurance.
  • How far is the school from your home? You may need to budget for travel expenses and summer storage fees.
  • What does it cost to have a car on-campus?
  • Do you receive college credit for study abroad programs?
  • What extracurricular activities interest your student? Greek organizations and club sports teams can cost thousands of extra dollars each year.
  • What is the process to get student tickets to football or basketball games and what do they cost?
  • What are some of the other small fees you can expect? Many schools charge an orientation fee, a matriculation fee, and a commencement/graduation fee.
  • And last but not least… expect a 3% fee for paying the other fees with your credit card.

Once you have narrowed down your list of potential colleges, find someone who has a student there and ask about the hidden extras.   You may be surprised to find that the private school, with a high four-year graduation rate, and a comprehensive fee compares more favorably than you expected to a large, public university.

Nancy Blackman
Portfolio Manager

Nancy Blackman - Parsec Financial Corporate Headshots

Important Changes to your Social Security Benefit

In October, President Obama and the US Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.  Included in that act was a clause that eliminated two popular Social Security claiming strategies: File-and-Suspend and Restricted Application.

File-and-Suspend:  A strategy where a person, who is at least full retirement age, files for social security benefits, but then immediately requests to suspend those benefits. This allows his/her spouse to take a spousal benefit on the filer’s record, while the filer’s benefits are delayed and continue to grow.

Restricted Application:  A strategy where a person, who is at least full retirement age, files for spousal social security benefits and delays his/her own benefit so it continues to grow. This allows the filer to receive some benefit now (the spousal benefit), and a larger benefit later.

Delaying your benefit pays off big. When you delay your benefit you earn delayed retirement credits, which equate to an annual 8% increase in benefits.

Those born before April 30, 1950 were grandfathered in to the old rules and may continue to use File and Suspend and Restricted Application strategies while delaying their credits. Please note, if you were born before April 30, 1950 and you wish to implement the File and Suspend Strategy, you must submit your application before April 29, 2016.

Those born after April 30, 1950 or on or before January 1, 1954 (age 62 in 2015) may only use the Restricted Application strategy.   If your spouse is receiving benefits and you have reached full retirement age, you may apply for a spousal benefit, while allowing your own benefit to accrue Delayed Retirement Credits.

For those born after January 1, 1954, neither strategy is available.  However, you may still choose to delay taking your benefits until age 70.  By doing so, you stand to increase your future benefits by 32%.

Please note that if you are already drawing Social Security, or if you have already set up File and Suspend, the new laws do not affect you.

Summary of Available Strategies

Age Can Participate Cannot Participate
66  by 04/30/2016 File & Suspend /Restricted Application
62 by January 1, 2016 Restricted Application File & Suspend
62 by January 2, 2016 File & Suspend /Restricted Application

There are many factors to consider when determining when to start taking Social Security.  We recommend that you meet with your financial advisor for guidance to help you with that decision.  And if you were born before April 30, 1950, please remember the April 29, 2016 deadline.

Tracy Allen, CFP®
Financial Advisor
Tracy Allen

Tracy Allen

Remain calm and carry on: why stocks and stress don’t mix

The popular press is generating a lot of recession-related articles lately and with stocks starting the New Year on a weak note, it’s no wonder investors feel a little nervous. Year-to-date, U.S. large cap stocks are down about 10% while most international markets are down even more. Commodities continue to slide and global economic growth has been revised lower. This is certainly not a confidence-inspiring picture, but here’s why keeping calm and carrying on is the best course of action.

First, I want to illustrate why stocks and stress don’t mix. Let’s say that stocks are down 10% year-to-date, the global growth outlook is muddy at best, and you’re seeing a lot of articles suggesting that the US is headed for a recession. Assuming the above facts and a meaningfully-sized investment portfolio, most humans are likely to feel anxiety, stress, and maybe some fear. Is the market going to fall further? Are we heading for a recession?

Having read enough about neuroscience to be dangerous, I know that when we’re feeling anxiety, stress, and fear, the more evolved part of our brain – our neocortex – is usually off-line and the more primitive part of our brain – our limbic system or brain stem (a.k.a. lizard brain) – is typically running the show. When our lizard brain is calling the shots we often make poor, fear-based decisions because we can’t see the big picture. Our brain shuts down and we become reactive instead of proactive. In these instances our capacity to think higher-level thoughts is greatly reduced.

Speaking of the big picture, did you know that from 1926 – 2015, stocks have delivered average annualized returns of 10%? Notice that includes the two largest US market declines, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession. Not bad. When we get triggered by stress, facts like these can get overlooked and we could make decisions we’ll come to regret. Here’s a schematic of how that might look:

graph 1

You can see how our thoughts and emotions affect our behavior which then reinforces the above pattern or one like it. Unfortunately, the outcome stinks and so I’d like to propose an alternative – – one that leads to a much happier, healthier outcome.

In the alternative pattern, the same triggering event happens, only this time you’re aware of the stress and anxiety it triggers. The fact that you’re aware of the stress and anxiety is huge! It means you’re not identifying with the emotions and thus your rational-thinking, neocortex brain is still online. You now have choices. Given the old pattern, one strategy would be to call your advisor and get some reassurance that the sky isn’t falling. Another option is to simply turn off the TV or the computer and take some deep breathes. Maybe take a walk around the block or engage in an activity you enjoy. The point is to interrupt the old pattern. The more you can do this, the more your awareness grows, and in turn, the more options you have.

Following through with this example you can see that giving yourself a break from the triggering event and getting some perspective allows you to stay calm, and thus make better decisions. Just like the first illustration, when repeated, this one will also reinforce itself. And the outcome is much better.

graph 3

So now that you’re hopefully in a calm, peaceful state, we can talk about the current environment. Yes, stocks have gotten off to a shaky start but the US economy remains on stable footing. Jobs growth is strong, oil prices are low, consumer debt is in-check, and wage growth is finally starting to rise. It’s true that US manufacturing is contracting but it only accounts for about 12% of GDP. Meanwhile, US services sectors, which account for 88% of GDP, remain in expansion mode.

Stocks have been spooked by falling commodity prices, slowing growth in China, and fears of deflation. But most leading indicators remain strong and every recession since the 1970’s has been preceded by a spike in oil, not a decline. Finally, and speaking of perspective, there will always be some risk of recession simply because contractions are a natural and a healthy part of any business cycle. Without them we can spiral out-of-control into bubble-like environments. I for one intend to stay calm and carry on. Nothing else seems to help anyway.

Carrie A. Tallman, CFA
Director of Research

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Five Gas Saving Travel Tips for the Holidays

It’s that time of year again- entertaining, eating too much, and lots of travel.  Marshall Doney, AAA president and CEO, stated in a recent press release that over 46 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from their home this Thanksgiving.  The chart below shows that gas prices are actually in our favor for traveling this Thanksgiving.

Here are five easy ways to save on fuel prices – not just for the holidays, but all the time!

2012-2015_Avg-Gas-Prices-11-23-15

    1. Drive the more fuel efficient car.  Many people jump to taking the family car with the most leg room and luggage space.  Perhaps take this opportunity to assess your packing and squeeze into the smaller more fuel efficient car.
    2. Lighten the load.  Take an inventory of what’s in your car.  By having a heavier car you use more fuel.  Take off the roof rack that you don’t plan on using this winter and empty out the trunk, leaving only the necessities.
    3. Get a tune up.  Consider getting your car serviced before taking off this holiday season.  The better shape your car is in, the more fuel you will save.
    4. Go back to driver’s ed.  Take this time to remember the basics of driving.  Accelerate slowly, eliminate aggressive braking and speeding.  All of these things lead to increased fuel cost.
    5. Find cheaper gas prices.  GasBuddy is my favorite app for this purpose.  You can use this to find the cheapest prices on your route.

Every penny counts when trying to stick to a budget to meet your long-term goals!

Ashley Gragtmans, CFP®
Financial Advisor

Ashley_Woodring(b)

 

The Power of Spending Choices

While it’s still well ahead of the official holiday season, a recent email got me thinking about what really drives my spending habits. My sister messaged our family a week ago asking if we were planning to buy presents for the kids this Christmas. I love my nieces and nephews but they are eight in number with at least one more on the way. Buying each one of them a birthday present reflective of their unique personalities is a delight, but as their numbers have grown, holiday shopping has become a little less joyful (‘tis the season) and definitely more stressful.

After the email arrived I knew immediately what I wanted to do – not buy Christmas presents. Only it wasn’t so easy to type those words back. So I waited. Everyone else had responded in the affirmative, but I held back. I felt torn between what I thought I should do and what I knew I wanted to do: enjoy the holiday season with family, minus the gift-giving.

After a little inner conflict and a healthy dose of anxiety, I realized that my desire to not offend, to maintain a magnanimous image, and to avoid the dreaded Scrooge moniker, prevented me from telling my financial truth. I saw that it wasn’t the criticism or praise from others that I was trying to avoid or earn; it was my own inner critic that I was trying to please.

With this newfound awareness, I discovered that not only does this happen at the holidays, but throughout the year! My misguided sense of propriety often influences my spending habits, in a way that is not always aligned with what I really value. Instead, when I notice and promptly ignore my inner critic’s arbitrary rules and demands, it frees me up to spend in a way that’s more aligned with what I really value — like retirement and that future trip to Paris I’ve been planning.

I bit the bullet and told my sisters that I would no longer buy Christmas presents for the kids. It turns out that none of my family criticized me for my decision. This non-reaction was even more proof that my own thoughts and fears – not other people – were behind my financial misalignment.

While some people may not react as well as my family did, when we stop worrying about other peoples’ reactions to our spending choices, they will have less of an impact. We’ll see them for what they are – simply other peoples’ reactions. In the meantime, giving ourselves a break, internally, frees up a lot more clarity to spend in alignment with what feels right. And I can’t think of a better holiday gift!

Carrie A. Tallman, CFA
Director of Research

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Ways to Cut Wedding Costs

I’m getting married this year, and I couldn’t be more excited . . . about getting married, not necessarily about planning the wedding. The process can be stressful and overwhelming – the organization, details, responsibility, and not least of all, cost.

As a financial planner I’ve thought a lot about the cost of this important day. A quick Google search reveals that the average amount of money spent on a wedding in the United States is over $30,000. It’s not like the old days where fathers paid men a dowry to marry their daughters (thankfully). While both of our families are helping us on wedding cost, we still need to pony up quite a bit of cash on our own. I did not want to start off this next phase of my life in debt.

Through my planning I’ve come across a number of ways that people have saved money on their wedding. While I didn’t choose all of these options, I think they’re all worth considering.  If you know someone who’s planning on tying the knot soon, you may want to share these ideas with them: 

  • Cut the guest count.I’ve experienced night sweats on who to invite to my wedding. I wake up thinking: “They invited me;” “She’s my second cousin twice removed;” or “What about my best friend from kindergarten?” A recent survey by theknot.com shows that it costs over $200 per guest at a wedding. That’s right – over $30,000 for just 150 people! Try to limit your guest to friends, immediate family, grandparents, close aunts and uncles, and close cousins. People will understand you can’t invite everyone.
  • DIY.This isn’t for me, but it is for a lot of people. I’m not overly handy or creative, nor do I have the patience for doing anything myself on my big day. However, if you are that type of person, you should do as much as you can on your own. Try printing your own invites and save-the-dates cards. Research sites like Etsy to get ideas. Pick a creative family member to help decorate for your rehearsal dinner; have a girlfriend do your hair. Every little bit that you can do yourself (or others can do) will save hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Maybe a friend’s participation could be given in lieu of a gift.
  • Don’t be so traditional.More of my friends are not getting married on Saturday. In most cases they are moving to Friday and Sunday where wedding vendors and venues don’t charge the same premium as a Saturday wedding. Also, think lunch reception and maybe not a sit-down, four-course evening meal.  Or, you could just do a champagne toast and appetizers and cut out early for the honeymoon 😉.
  • Pick a season and stick with it.Try to purchase decorations, flowers, and food that are in season. If you are trying to get Birds of Paradise or sunflowers in the dead of winter, you will pay for it. You can save a lot by having a Christmas wedding because most venues are already decorated. Another option is to try for a spring wedding when everything outside is blooming. If you are planning your meal options, do a sautéed veggie option with items that are in season.
  • Bundle. Try bundling items to cut down cost. For example, instead of having a cake and party favors, maybe have a candy station for people to grab something on their way out the door. This way, you still have sweets and favors, but you’re cutting the expense down by really having one.  If you have something around the house that you can use as your guest book, do it! I’ve seen people use globes from a bookshelf to sign, as well as old corn hole boards that were painted with the wedding colors.
  • Keep it casual. Buffets may not give the same vibe as a plated meal, but it’s a lot cheaper. If you really don’t want people to wait in line for food, then try doing family style. This is a bit more expensive but doesn’t come with the extra cost of servers.
  • Hire a coordinator.  This goes against the DIY bullet, but you can save money in the long run. Most wedding planners have discounts and perks arranged with partners and vendors… but be wary and do your research before hiring someone to plan for you.
  • Do everything memorable early. Try to get the bouquet toss and cake cutting out of the way early. If you do everything memorable first thing, you can let your photographer and videographer leave early to cut down on their hourly time. Your guests will continue to snap pictures throughout the night.
  • Buy someone else’s wedding. This may sounds crazy, but sadly, many people cancel their wedding every day. Most deposits are already put down and can’t be returned. Decorations have been bought, and gifts have been purchased.  Check out http://www.bridalbrokerage.com/to purchase someone else’s unfulfilled day.

Finally, the number one way to save money… ELOPE! Have a quick wedding, a potluck in the backyard, good conversation and s’mores by the fire, and call it a good day!

Good luck on planning your special day!

Ashley Woodring, CFP®
Financial Advisor

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