The Magic Numbers

Ray’s Take: Saving for retirement doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes meaningful thought, discipline, and action to create and execute a plan that will sustain you in your golden years. Yet, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, only 18 percent of U.S. workers say they are very confident of having enough money to live comfortably during their retirement years. There seems to be a big disconnect going on between knowledge and execution.

Adding to that mix, the shakeup of the markets in 2008 shook up a lot of existing retirement plans. Many investors found they couldn’t stand as much risk as they thought they could and made some costly mistakes. That led to postponing retirement for many Americans. Many of them were too heavily invested in stocks and hadn’t adjusted their mix as they approached retirement.

Many people think they will just work longer to make up for any shortfall they discover in their retirement funds. And it makes perfect sense that people would think that since we’re all living longer and in mostly better health. After all, 70 is the new 50. Right? But, for any number of reasons, this may not work out. Unfortunately, this thought process ignores the reality that unemployment rates for those older than 50 are increasing faster than for any other group.

So, how do we find the magic numbers and the way to execute that plan?

Solid retirement planning is the best thing you can do for yourself. Diversification. Adjusting your mix as you get closer to retirement to help protect the funds you’ve saved. Lose the emotions when it comes to your money. Emotion makes for a bad partner when it comes to your retirement plan. A cool head is a big asset.

Planning for a sufficient nest egg may seem to be an intangible retirement savings goal. Trying to set benchmarks along the way, based on your age and earnings, might be more realistic. A good financial planner can set you on your way to achieving your goals.

Dana’s Take: It seems like everyone is looking for magic, the magic amount of money that will make retirement living easy. For most of us, that amount is simply more than we have now.

Today, I spoke with a teacher who is looking into multiple work options after she retires from teaching. She is aware that her retirement fund isn’t adequate for the rest of her life, so she is starting to plan the next chapter. I admired her openness to new work opportunities in midlife.

To make retirement living easy, you must have a solid plan in place and stick to it. Magic does exist, but it’s in the smile of your child, the joy in your life and the blessings of each day.

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Let It Go: Stress, Finances Don’t Mix Well

Ray’s Take: Worrying is a way that our brain prepares us for the next challenge or opportunity, and it’s healthy in low doses. But too many of us are consumed by worry, which creates stress. And stressful thinking can sabotage your finances. A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association found that money is the leading cause of stress for many Americans.

Worrying affects not only your quality of life but also the quality of life of those around you. And worrying about money can lead you to make bad financial decisions. And actually lead to poor health and strained relationships, which may cause more financial issues. It can become an endless circle leading to a downward spiral.

Some deal with worry by ignoring reality and any constructive ways of dealing with it. This rarely helps.

We all deal with stress in different ways, but a good approach to reducing money worries is to take an active role in taking charge of your finances. Money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Always be aware of how much debt you owe and take steps to reduce it. Set some goals and develop a plan to pay off that debt or buy the house you’ve been dreaming of.

Changing the way you think and changing the things you are doing can have a big impact on your stress levels. These are two things that you have control over in a world that sometimes seems to be taking us for a roller coaster ride. Taking a hard look at the worst-case scenario, and figuring out that you would survive it somehow, can take the worst of the edge off of your stress level.

If you’re a worrier, it’s time to let it go. Assessing the details of your situation can seem like an overwhelmingly stressful practice, but if you use stress-reducing tips to keep you on track, you might finally have the control you need to diminish those anxiety levels for the long term.

Dana’s Take: Do you remember the Travelers Insurance commercial with the shaggy white dog that constantly moved his bone because he was worried it would disappear?

It’s easy to become like that poor dog without even realizing we’re doing it.

It’s possible we learned to worry about money from our parents. Or use worry to stay on top of our finances as a kind of safety valve. Or we may simply worry because we don’t know where all of our money disappears to each month.

Worry less. Starting now. Start by figuring out the difference between irrational worries that you can set aside and valid concerns that need action. Once you start figuring things out, all of that worry starts to melt away.

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Realistic Returns

Ray’s Take: It’s common among investors to fall into the “short-term mindset” with investments. The financial media tends to make things worse. If you do not see the returns you want on cue, you decide to move your funds around to the ones that are showing higher short-term returns.

The danger of short-term thinking is that you might have gotten restless when you didn’t see big returns and decided to part with your stake. The daily quote makes it seem like the value is staying the same. This business is getting better and better behind the scenes in a way that’s not reflected in the short-term returns you’re obsessing over.

There are always going to be fluctuations – that’s just the way the investing world shakes out. The behavior of the stock market is inherently so complex that no single variable – or person – can predict how the market is going to behave next or what would be its future returns – at least not on a regular and consistent basis.

The market swings like a pendulum from optimistic to pessimistic, and sometimes overshooting the mark can cause a panic or greed reaction. Be wary about promises of big returns. They usually turn out to be for the person promising them and not for you.

Think about and settle on a long-term portfolio. Once you’ve done that via a good financial adviser, it’s best for your accounts if you stop looking at them. Delete the bookmark from your web browser. Limit yourself to one peek per quarter and only one or two changes per year. Check it at the one-year mark and rebalance it. Move the amounts around in such a way that the money is back at the percentages you want.

Allocating your assets across financial markets is always a smart decision. But being realistic about your expectations is the most important step in achieving success in the financial markets.

Dana’s Take: Being realistic about finances is something we all need to be aware of. Not only about returns on our investments, but about finances in general.

Having ideas of living the life of your dreams in your golden years is great. You may want to retire in five years. But, you only have enough money put aside to last you 10 years.

Is it realistic to think you can save enough money in five years to last for 30? You need to be realistic about where you stand right now, and about what actually needs to happen if you want to make your financial dreams come true.

You may still be able to live the life of your dreams; you’ll just have to save a bit longer to make it happen.

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Keeping Up With The Joneses Can Be a Financial Catastrophe

Ray’s Take: There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your neighbor drive up in their beautiful new car or hearing about their fabulous planned vacation. It can make you forget about every other plan or goal you’ve made for yourself. Keeping up with the Joneses can eat away at your financial dreams.

According to dictionary.com, the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” means to try to own all the same things as people you know in order to seem as good as them. But when you’re making purchases that have no value beyond impressing others, you’re shortchanging your future.

For starters, it takes away your joy in life. Nothing is ever quite good enough anymore. There’s always a nicer, newer something that’s siphoning off your money. Houses, cars, electronics. The list is endless. And none of it makes you happy because it’s a continuous cycle.

Financially, it’s a catastrophe. Trying to keep up with those around you who appear to have it all is devastating financial accounts all over the country. Many times, those others you are trying to keep up with are in crippling debt themselves. It’s all a house of cards.

Taking a good, hard look at previous expenditures is a key way to determine if you’ve fallen into spending based on others vs. your own plan. As you look at those expenditures, ask yourself if you’d buy them if you had the opportunity to do it over. Keep a list of purchases you regret and review regularly as a reality check on where you’re putting your money.

Next time you’re about to make a big purchase, especially one that will put you into debt, take some time to examine your motives. Ask yourself if you truly want or need to buy that expensive item that will be replaced in a few years, or do you want to retire early? If your real goal is financial freedom, keeping up with the Joneses is not the way to achieve it.

Dana’s Take: In today’s FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) world, it’s easy to fall into the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. No one wants to be perceived as being “less than.” But that kind of thinking can not only eat away at your long-term dreams, it’s teaching your kids a lot of bad habits. Overspending on material things can, and eventually will, drag down your financial stability. Which will only make you more stressed out and unhappy in the long run.

It’s time to take some pressure off yourself and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. As a class="learn" href="http://www.memphisdailynews.com/Search/Search.aspx?redir=1&fn=Will&lnRogers" rel="

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Name SearchWatch Service" style="color: #7d0200; text-decoration-line: underline;">Will Rogers once said, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”

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Create an Investment Policy Statement

Ray’s Take: Financial professionals have long used an investment policy statement for their clients. It’s a guiding set of principles, of sorts, to help make decisions along the way. It’s an excellent tool for anyone to use to keep themselves on track when it comes to financial planning.

By putting things down in writing, you are making a clear statement of what your goals are and how you plan to reach those goals. Write down the key reasons why you’re investing and your expected time horizon for your goals. Like when you plan to retire. Include any big-ticket items that will affect your plan along the way, like buying a home or saving for college. Want to spend six months touring Europe once you retire? Be sure to include it, or any one-time big expenses that are part of your intended retirement.

Once you have your goals and major expectations mapped out, take a look at your investments and determine what funds will be available to cover these big-ticket items along the way and make investment decisions that will support them.

Include a Plan B, just in case life happens and you need Plan A to go. One day you will likely be tempted to make a major purchase or change. As you consider the options, pull out your IPS and reread it. If it isn’t consistent with the IPS, it’s time to slow down.

An IPS doesn’t need to be, nor should it be, complicated. The idea is to establish a set of guidelines so you’ll know if you’re on course or veering off the road.

Like any important part of life, an investment policy statement needs regular attention, maintenance and rebalancing. It should be flexible enough to accommodate changes in your life like caring for aging parents, children returning home and inheritance.

Once you get the map drawn, a financial planner can help refine it in the beginning and adjust it as time goes by.

Dana’s Take: While we’re on the topic of writing down plans, how about a life plan? It may seem a bit ridiculous to write down the things you want to do in your life. After all, it’s all right there in your head. And your heart. But like an investment strategy plan, having it in writing makes your life plan more concrete and real.

When you’re writing out your plan, use first person. Writing “I will,” followed by your goals makes them more concrete and gives them more power.

Dare to dream outside the box as you write your plan. Our world has changed since the market crash in 2008. At a time when so many established options no longer appear to exist, it’s a perfect time to envision and create and try something new.

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