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In our last blog, you likely saw yourself in one of our money personality profiles. Were you a…

We talked about how each of these personalities might handle the thought of budgeting. Now let’s discuss how each of these women might effectively put together a spending plan.

Giver

To recap, givers might put off crafting a spending plan because you are too busy with your commitments to other people. As a Giver, you should think of a spending plan as a gift you can give to those you love and charities you support. If you can shift your mindset from “budgets are restrictive” to “this is an opportunity to help others” the task may seem a bit easier.

Keeper

As a keeper, you’re crushing it as a saver and because you have a hard time not saving, you may think you don’t need a spending plan. But keeping too much does not lead to a balanced life. The Keeper needs to add a category or two for items or activities that bring you joy. An exercise I like to use with clients is to picture what you would do if money were truly no object (like you just won that billion-dollar lottery). Whatever comes to mind should be part of your spending plan, in whatever way possible, even if it is small.

Merry-Maker

Who needs a budget? Life is short! Sorry, but as a Merry-Maker you likely need the most assistance with a spending plan. While living for the moment has its place, crafting a spending plan can actually bring you MORE joy than a devil-may-care attitude. How? By eliminating that nagging guilt that you often feel, or fear that you are not saving enough.

Take a look at what purchases of yours are the most impulsive and set aside a small percentage of your income to those. Don’t try to completely eliminate them (“No more shopping ever!”) because that is not realistic. By creating a pot of money to spend on what makes you happy, you give yourself permission to enjoy life AND be responsible.

Perfectionist

You’re doing everything right, so creating a spending plan is a little different in your case. You don’t need a ton of help with creating a spending plan, but you do need to keep in mind that it is a guide. No one in the history of money has ever hit their spending plan exactly. Things come up!

A trick that can help the perfectionist is to set a percentage that your budget is allowed to “drift.” By allowing line items to vary by your plan by, say, 10% you are giving yourself the freedom to relax, because technically you are still within your budget. At the end of the month or quarter, determine if the drift was a one-time event or if your spending plan needs to be permanently adjusted.

Looking for more insight into your money personality? Download the eBook below!

In the 18+ years I’ve worked in the financial planning industry, many things have changed – and some things have stayed the same. For example, some of the tools and technology have changed, but the basic principles and the things that keep women up at night when it comes to their finances haven’t.

The good news is that there are ways to alleviate some of these worries and the answers might be simpler than you realize.

Let’s look at the top four things that might be causing you stress and figure out some solutions.

What if I’m not saving enough for retirement?

Hang on; “enough” is too broad to get a handle on. That’s because “enough” for one person is not enough for another.

My clients and I work together to identify monetary needs in retirement. Then we take a look at how likely you are to have those needs met based on current and future savings, hypothetical market returns, inflation, and other factors.

Lastly, we can plug and run different scenarios to get to an actual amount you need to be saving (or have already saved!). If that isn’t currently possible, we craft a plan to get you to that savings rate. Having numbers, facts, and a plan goes a long way in alleviating worry.

Am I covered when it comes to healthcare?

While I am not a healthcare or health insurance expert, I can help identify tax-advantaged ways to save money on healthcare costs, such as using an HSA as an investment vehicle to pay for premiums in retirement. I also have a network of professionals to whom I can refer you to select and purchase health insurance.

Will I be okay if the market fluctuates?

Financial advisors often joke that half of our job is to keep our clients from making poorly timed market mistakes. We jest, but this is truer than not.

Being able to speak with a trusted advisor who is familiar with your situation when the market is volatile is invaluable. I guide my clients back to the plan that we outlined, which already accounts for market fluctuations. An adjustment may or may not be called for, but I am able to bring rationality and experience to the situation. Rash decisions based on fear are rarely the right move.

How should I prepare for my future? Will I need long-term care?

It is understandable that this is one of women’s largest fears. There are so many variables and unknowns:

“Will I have anyone to help care for me?”

“Will I even need care?”

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services and women need care longer (3.7 years) than men (2.2 years) (Source). It is pretty likely that you will need some kind of care; I work with clients on identifying what that may cost, and if you will be able to pay for those costs with your savings and investments.

Long Term Care Insurance policies are a great tool for bridging the gap between what you have and what you may need. LTCI policies have come a long way in recent years and are no longer just “nursing home insurance.” I work with my clients on finding a policy that is affordable to you and have benefits that either you or your heirs can use if you do not need the policy for care for yourself.

This ONE THING can help you with all of these concerns

When it comes to most financial issues that are keeping you up at night, there is one answer that can solve almost any problem.

Education.

Financial education does seem to help women worry less about their financial security. Many women worry about their finances several times a month, but less so when they know wealth-building strategies – 50% of women who were aware of these steps were worried several times a month, versus 80% who were not aware of these strategies, the survey found. Another seven in 10 women said they worried when they didn’t know how to make their money last, compared with 45% of women who did have an understanding of preserving their wealth. (Source)

Ask questions. Seek out resources. Yes, I know that paying money for guidance can sometimes feel odd when what you’re trying to do is save money – however, working with a professional can often save you more than you’re spending on their services.

When the market is volatile it can be tempting to hide your cash under a mattress until it passes. But hang on before you decide to cash out.

A True Understanding of Inflation

Inflation is the increase in prices over time, or a decrease in purchasing power. If inflation is 3% a year, an item that cost you $1.00 today, will cost $1.03 in a year.

It might be hard to believe because the news makes it seem so dire all the time, but inflation in general isn’t a bad thing and is considered healthy for an economy. It’s when inflation is too high that it is cause for concern.

That still doesn’t mean you should hold on to a bunch of cash.

Anyone who is a client of mine or reads my blog will know that I think everyone should have an emergency fund in a savings account. However, too much cash, especially in times of high inflation can have a detrimental effect on your long-term financial health.

Cash that is parked in a savings account (please don’t tell me you have huge amounts of cash in your house!) right now is earning a half percent at best, and the purchasing power of that money is rapidly decreasing. Earning a rate of return higher than inflation is the only way to maintain the purchasing power of your money.

Here's What’s Really Happening with Your Money

What we’re talking about here is what is known as “real rate of return.” According to Investopedia, “Real rate of return is the annual percentage of profit earned on an investment, adjusted for inflation. Therefore, the real rate of return accurately indicates the actual purchasing power of a given amount of money over time.”

The math on real returns is quite simple: The return on your investment minus the rate of inflation is your real return. If your investments grew by 7% in a year and inflation was 4% that year, your real return is 3%.

It Might be Time to Tune Out

Seeing or hearing everywhere that inflation is out of control or that we are doomed to “70s level inflation” can be nerve-wracking or downright scary.

It’s important to keep in mind that news outlets want to scare you so that you’ll click or tune into their channel. But there are strategies you can implement to help you feel in more control during times of high inflation.

  1. Keep emergency cash in high interest savings accounts. You still won’t earn enough to keep ahead of inflation, but every little bit helps. Many online banks offer a higher interest rate than the bank with multiple corner branches. Credit unions are also a good place to check.
  2. Don’t have more money in emergency savings than necessary. Figuring out exactly how much to keep in an emergency fund can be tricky – and that’s something an advisor can help you with - but too much isn’t really keeping you “safer.”

Something to keep in mind as you work on planning for the future: an advisor isn’t just there to help you put money in the right place. We’re also available to answer your questions when you feel unsure about what’s happening in the market. Dealing with money can be emotional and it’s important to have a resource you can turn to when things feel uncertain.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

If you’re a younger investor looking at the current market volatility, you might be alarmed but you’re probably not panicking.

It might be a different story if you’re someone nearing retirement.

For most investors, the advice financial planners give is along the lines of “stay the course” or “keep your long-term horizon in mind.” This is all true and good advice - but what if your time horizon isn’t long, or you just want to take advantage of next-level techniques for using market swings to your advantage?

Here are three questions I’ve been answering for people over the last few months:

If I’m living off of my investments because I’m retired or just really wealthy (good for you!), do I need to review my cash position?

Having too much cash on hand can be counter-productive, especially in times of high inflation. However, if you can strategically hold enough cash to sustain you while the market is down, that can make the low return worth it.

When it comes to your investments, it’s best to try and “stay the course” and not move to cash. Remember that selling stocks while they are down guarantees that you won’t have an opportunity to recoup those losses.

What if I have a traditional (aka, pre-tax) 401(k) or IRA?

When valuations are low, it can be a good time to consider a Roth conversion of some or all of those assets. On that same note, if you are unemployed this year, a Roth conversion may make sense while you are in a lower tax bracket. This can be complicated, so be sure to check with a financial advisor.

What if I have some non-retirement assets with a tax loss?

If that’s the case, consider harvesting the loss, which could reduce your tax liability. “Tax Loss harvesting” is essentially selling off some of your holdings that have decreased in value and using that loss to offset investments that have increased in value. This can alter your asset allocation, so this is also a good time to check in with your advisor.

While these are common questions, I know that your financial situation is unique. Market volatility like we’ve experienced these last few months is a good reason why it’s important to talk to a trusted advisor. Getting your specific questions answered could make the difference between panicking and knowing you’re on the right track.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success of protects against loss. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

In a recent article released by Financial Advisor IQ, the news about personal finance in 2022 wasn’t all bad.

Shocking, I know.

Yes, there are the worries that many people across the country have about their finances:

However, according to the article, 62% of Americans are “more hopeful about the new year” and “feel optimistic about the future.” Seventy-two percent are “confident that they’ll be better off financially in 2022.” In fact, most Americans say they developed better money habits in 2021.

That’s what my financial planning ears like to hear.

While the study mentioned in the article was full of helpful statistics, it wasn’t as helpful when it came to suggestions about keeping financial resolutions many people are making at the beginning of the year. Let’s take a look at the top three financial resolutions and see if we can’t come up with a plan.

BUDGETING

It’s almost impossible to know where you stand financially if you don’t have at least a basic budget and track where you are spending. It doesn’t have to be overly complex and there are lots of tools out there to help you. US News & World Report has outlined 10 tools here – from old school pen and paper to free apps and banking tools!

REPLENISHING AN EMERGENCY FUND

When it comes to having an emergency fund, enough to cover 3-6 months expenses is a good rule of thumb starting place - but that can vary and depending on many factors including if you have a partner who works, how stable the industry you work in is, etc.

From the Financial Advisor IQ article, “…unexpected non-health emergencies and family health emergencies are the top setbacks Americans anticipate in 2022, cited by 26% of respondents and 22% of respondents respectively.”

In other words, if you don’t have enough in an emergency fund, this should be a top financial goal.

CREATING OR ALTERING LONG-TERM FINANCIAL GOALS

When we think of setting and achieving financial goals, that can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task. However, once they’re identified you can start taking small steps in the right direction. And if you’ve set goals in the past, this could be a good time to look at what you’ve achieved, what you still need to work on, and what needs to be altered (we all change; our financial plan might need to as well).

Here are some tips from Principal.com to get you started:

1. Give your money a “job.”

2. Categorize each financial goal as short-, mid- or long-term.

3. Set a target date for each financial goal.

4. Prioritize each financial goal: critical, need, or want.

5. Know how much you have vs. what you still need to save.

You can do it!

After the last couple of years, we could all use a bit of good news and the fact that more Americans are being thoughtful about their financial goals is certainly something to celebrate.

Remember that small tweaks can lead to some big changes; don’t look at these as enormous goals that need to happen RIGHT NOW – that’s the easiest way to get overwhelmed.

Need an accountability partner or someone to help you figure out your next step? Shoot me an email at liz@aspenwealthinc.com.

While 2021 wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea (okay, it wasn’t ANYONE’S cup of tea), there were some good things that came out of it.

And then there were some not-so-great things that came out of it.

How was 2021 for you?

As we start a new year, it’s helpful to look back on the one we just experienced (or endured, depending on your perspective) to see what was beneficial and what we’d like to change. To help us get a handle on the previous year, Lightly Roasted Thoughts offered up these seven questions:

  1. If I had to sum up this last year in one sentence, what would that be?
  2. What results/experiences would I like to repeat next year? And what would I like to not repeat?
  3. What were my top three lessons learned?
  4. Who made me feel happy and confident and who did not?
  5. What worries me most about the future?
  6. What have I done to be kind to myself this year?
  7. In an ideal world, how would I like to describe my life at the end of this upcoming year in one sentence?

As a financial advisor, I can’t just let this go with personal questions about the year; we should also take a look at what we achieved and what we need to work on financially in the upcoming year as well.

Answering these questions, both personal and financial, will help you get some perspective on what’s changed and what needs to change. Keeping a record of these answers from year-to-year might also give you an idea of where you’ve been and how far you’ve come in your personal and financial life.

Now, come on 2022. Improve my golf game!

With all of the ups and downs of the last couple of years, many people have been questioning their careers.

The media has even given it a name – the Great Resignation – so now you know it’s real.

According to Fast Company…

…as many as 95% of the workforce is considering leaving their organization.

These findings show employees are taking time to reprioritize—which may not lead to resigning. If leaders approach the situation with grace, organizations might be able to capitalize on these newfound priorities to not only retain employees but attract new ones. As workers return to the office, leaders should proceed with great caution, transparency, and open-mindedness. A failure to do so might instigate a mass exodus of employees that are interested in more accommodating opportunities.

Even if you’re not thinking about leaving your job, you might be wondering about your next steps. And I’ve got great news for you: professional development is a good way to help yourself financially and is completely within your control.

Women & Professional Development

For women, making an effort when it comes to professional development is especially important. We often take time out of the workforce to care for children or aging parents more than men do.

Unfortunately, this leads to missed opportunities and experiences. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but right now it is – the recent “Shecession” brought about by COVID is the perfect example of how women take on the bulk of caregiving, which means they fall behind professionally.

We need to do everything we can to level the playing field.

Keep in mind that women also feel more comfortable touting their skills when they are concrete and “provable” rather than utilizing the “fake it til you make it” strategy that men often use.

Think Outside the Box

When you think of “professional development” I’m betting that time spent in mind-numbing classes might spring to mind. And, yes, there are some that are less fun than others. For example, the 30 hours I spend every two years completing financial education for my CFP® Certification is not something I look at on my calendar with breathless anticipation.

However, I know that it’s important to stay on top of changes in the financial industry for my clients so I’m happy to do it.

I also spend time reading about current trends and what is happening daily. And a good portion of my effort is spent doing something I really enjoy, like learning how to best understand my clients’ goals, how best to educate my clients, and how women’s beliefs and behaviors affect their finances.

While that might not be what you think of when you think “professional development” these “softer” skills are crucial to my business and have made a big impact.

Ask Your Boss

What boss wouldn’t love to have an employee who is interested in bringing more to their job? Now, let’s see if they’ll pay for it.

If you can show how taking a particular course or attending a conference will benefit the company and your team, they may absorb the cost even if there is not a budget for professional development. If your company won’t pay course fees, etc. you should negotiate to use your work hours to complete the coursework. Again, showing the benefit to the company (even if it’s something you’re interested in personally) goes a long way toward getting this approved. 

If you are not able to have management pay for fees, or use work hours to do this, don’t neglect it. Spending personal time on professional development is a great way further your career and learn new skills.

Just think: Maybe you can use those new skills to find a job where they do pay for continuing education.

It’s Not Just About the Bottom Line    

While I’m all for using professional development to further your career and increase your pay, remember that it’s not all about the money. We spend a lot of time working, so it’s important to like what we do.

Again, that’s been the impetus for the Great Resignation.

With that, I’ll leave you with these words from Women Who Money:

There are many benefits to continuing your professional development. It can help you boost your career and enjoy your life more.

Not only can it help you increase your income, but it may help you spend less on things you previously splurged on to help you cope with a stressful work situation.

When you’re unhappy or feel stuck in a job you dislike, you’re not living the best experience you can. This can lead us to spend recklessly or mismanage our finances.

The compounding benefits of engaging in continuous learning, whether formal or informal, can be quite rewarding. Financially and otherwise.

As Neil Postman, author of The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, said, “At its best, schooling can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from how to make a living.”

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

We all have moments in life where we find ourselves at a crossroads.

We know what we should do, but it’s often at odds with what feels good in the moment.

Life would be so much easier if we naturally chose the better option, wouldn’t it? If we just automatically picked up that apple without even thinking about it or found it just as satisfying to save the money as we do buying the new shoes.

But that’s not usually how life works.

Creating Better (and Easy) Financial Habits

In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he discusses the concept of habit stacking – something we often do every day without realizing it (and something that could be utilized to make better decisions).

Habit stacking is when you train yourself to do a series of tasks on a consistent basis. For example, when I get up in the morning, I do this series of tasks without even really thinking about it:

  1. I make coffee.
  2. I water my garden.
  3. I notice my husband has made the bed as usual.

When I’m getting ready, I do the following:

  1. I wash my face.
  2. I put lotion on.
  3. I put on my sunscreen.

These are things I don’t even think about anymore – I just do them.

Any of us can look at the habits we already “stack” and find ways to build on them to create the outcomes we’re looking for.

…the reason habit stacking works so well is that your current habits are already built into your brain. You have patterns and behaviors that have been strengthened over years. By linking your new habits to a cycle that is already built into your brain, you make it more likely that you'll stick to the new behavior.

Once you have mastered this basic structure, you can begin to create larger stacks by chaining small habits together. This allows you to take advantage of the natural momentum that comes from one behavior leading into the next. (Source)

How Can We Tie This to Your Finances?

Let’s take a look at some things you might do daily, weekly, or monthly when it comes to managing your money:

Daily: One of the examples from James Clear is to wait 24-hours before making a purchase of $100 or more. Another task you could build on is to write down your expenses from the previous day before you turn on your computer in the morning.

Weekly: If you find yourself sitting down to have a cup of coffee every Sunday afternoon, use that time to create your weekly grocery list so you can plan your week. Want to take it a step further? Prep your meals ahead of time. This could save you time and money because you’re avoiding those last-minute meal purchases.

Choose one day a week as your “financial education” day. Find a habit that you already have (like checking your phone first thing in the morning) and before you log into social media, listen to a short financial podcast or read a financial education article (like my blog!).

Monthly: When you pay your mortgage, rent, or another monthly bill, set a financial goal for the next month: “I will stick to my food budget next month” or “I will work on one skill to increase my value to employers.”

Small Changes Lead to Big Outcomes

The whole premise of Atomic Habits is the concept of making small changes that will lead you where you want to go over time. Don’t look at your finances and feel paralyzed. Think of one small thing you can implement today and see where that leads.

Want to work on it together? Let’s talk about it! CLICK HERE to contact me.

In planning how to finance a large purchase before age 59 ½, it’s common to consider the idea of taking a withdrawal or a loan from a 401(k) or another retirement account. Taking money from your retirement funds is not a decision to be made lightly and can come with a few negative consequences. But the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act has allocated $2 trillion for economic stimulus and relief, including provisions to make it easier and more sensible for some to access their retirement funds. 

If you’re experiencing hardship because of the Coronavirus pandemic, you may be considering borrowing or withdrawing money from your 401(k) to help. Some things to consider:

What Has Changed Under the CARES Act?

Normally, you can withdraw or borrow up to 50% (or $50,000) from your 401(k) savings before age 59 ½. A premature withdrawal usually comes with a 10% penalty and at least 20% automatic withholding from taxes. 

Under the CARES Act, you can now borrow or withdraw up to $100,000 from employer-sponsored and personal retirement accounts, or a combination of the two. The 10% penalty is waived for distributions made in 2020 and there are no mandatory withholding requirements. However, if you don’t pay back the amount you withdrew, the distribution will be taxed as income. You can spread this evenly over the years 2020, 2021 and 2022. If you do pay back the amount within three years, you can claim a refund on those taxes. 

You can also take out up to 100% or $100,000 as a loan and defer payments for up to one year. 

Who is Eligible? 

Not everyone is eligible to take advantage of these 401(k) benefits. If you, your spouse or a dependent has been diagnosed with COVID-19, you are automatically eligible. Otherwise, if you have suffered from financial hardship due to the pandemic, you may be eligible. This could include a number of circumstances that you, your spouse or a member of your household has experienced, including: 

Even if you are still employed, you may be eligible for a distribution from your 401(k) if you have had one or more of these hardships. 

Consider Your Options Carefully 

Consider the impact that a withdrawal from your account may have on compound interest over time. If you’re withdrawing with no plan for paying it back, you may be hurting your finances more in the long run than borrowing from somewhere else. But, especially if you’re experiencing a hardship like loss of income, withdrawing money from your 401(k) may make more sense than accumulating high-interest debt. 

Be mindful of taxes in your specific situation. As mentioned above, you can claim your distribution as income all at once or spread it out over the next three years. In many cases, it would be better to spread the income out, as you’ll be less likely to bump yourself into a higher tax bracket. Although if you expect your income to be lower in 2020 than the two subsequent years, claiming the distribution all at once may result in a lower tax liability. 

Conversely, taking a loan does not immediately count as income if you plan to stay with your employer; you will pay back the loan over the next five years. But staying with the same employer for 5 years isn’t always in your control. If you separate from that employer, the full remaining amount of your loan is due by mid-October of the following year. If you do not pay the loan back by then, the entire amount is considered an early withdrawal, and is therefore taxable and will incur a penalty.

Retirement plans are designed for long-term savings to help you save for your post-working years. There are serious consequences to withdrawals and loans, and they should be considered very carefully.

If you’re struggling to figure out whether taking a withdrawal or loan from your 401(k) is right for your needs, consult a financial professional to figure out what your best plan of action may be.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice .We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

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