A while back Michael Finke, Professor of Retirement Planning at Texas Tech University hosted a webinar about financial planning in the context of longevity and aging. None of us likes to think about the deterioration of our physical and mental abilities. Yet how we navigate these changes, and equally importantly, how we plan for them, will have significant effects on our future happiness. Life expectancy has increased for a number of decades and the trend continues. Finke concludes that definite connections exist between income, health, social activity and longevity and happiness. Generally, those people with higher income tend to enjoy better health and are more socially engaged. These factors contribute to greater longevity and increased satisfaction in retirement. The webinar raised a number of interesting questions in regard to retirement. I’d like to discuss the following two issues: first, whether to remain in your home as you age, and second, how declining cognitive abilities affect the management of your finances.
Think of all the times you felt pleasure as the result of buying something. When I started interviewing for my first job in the investment business I bought the most expensive suit I could afford. I felt like a million bucks every time I wore that suit! Of course that led to a penchant for expensive suits but that is another issue. Money does not just buy things but also experiences. How many beautiful memories come to mind because you gave yourself permission to spend money on a new experience or adventure. I can think of so many trips we took as a family or even in younger days before having children. Those were clearly happy times. Weren’t they?
The idea of paying off the mortgage – usually our largest single debt - has an iconic and seemingly straightforward appeal. But is it really the best financial strategy? The analysis of the relative benefits of paying off a mortgage versus saving for retirement can be complicated. To answer the question it is important to consider your individual situation. Are you close to retirement age, or many years away? Do you have significant retirement savings or not? What tax bracket are you in and how much benefit do you receive from the mortgage interest deduction? Will the returns on your retirement investments exceed what you are paying for the mortgage? I will provide some guidelines to help you think through your particular situation. If you are already feeling dizzy contemplating the range of factors affecting such a decision, you are not alone. Professional guidance may be needed.
In the past several articles, we’ve looked at the variable nature of prices. What does a gallon of milk or a hotel room cost? How much does it cost to retire? What types of financial management services are there, how much do they cost, and which one might work best for you? In that vein, why pay someone to manage your money? I recently told the story of a client who experienced immense relief upon delegating the management of her finances. Making all the decisions on her own had left her plagued with fear and anxiety. My listener exclaimed, “But my father said never to pay fees!” Such advice might be good for one person, but not so good for another. While I agreed that one should pay as little in fees as possible, my listener’s objection raised the question: What are some of the reasons to have your money managed professionally?
Do you have any idea of the costs and fees associated with your investment accounts? The previous articles in this series have explored the difficulty of determining what things really cost. In discussing this issue with some friends, another frustrating cost question arose: “What does it cost to invest your money?” There was unanimous agreement that information about investment costs was often scarce and confusing. What fees are associated with investing? How do we find out? Many people don’t know whether or not their accounts are being managed by anyone, and whether or not they are being charged. In this article, we’ll look at those investment accounts you may have. What exactly are you paying for? How much does it cost to have your money managed for you? Some investment vehicles, specifically mutual funds and ETFs, have “expense ratios.” We’ll look at those as well as 401Ks.
Last month’s article about prices began as a rant about the difficulty of knowing what specific items should cost and how to assess their value. In this month’s article, we’ll look at the “price” of retirement. How much does it cost? Have you saved enough? As a financial planner I want to know what something is going to cost before I say “yes.” Sometimes this can feel a little embarrassing. I’ll be the first to ask the waiter, “So how much is that swordfish special?” Did you grow up hearing, “If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it”? I have the excuse that “it’s my job,” but I know that many people experience fear around asking. I’m not the only one who wants to know.
In their book, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes, Gary Belski and Thomas Gilovich state: “Numerous studies over the years have demonstrated significant overconfidence in the judgments of doctors, lawyers, engineers, psychologists, and securities analysts.” According to these findings, highly educated people seem to see their “smarts” in one area as evidence that they are more knowledgeable in other areas as well. But it’s not just professionals who fall prey to this belief. It appears to be part of human nature generally to over-estimate our abilities. For instance, in rating our skills at driving, how many of us think we are “smarter than the average bear?”
Consider the following scenario. You are perusing the menu at a restaurant, deciding what to order. The fresh, local salmon in a piquant sauce with sun gold tomatoes and basil has your mouth watering. It is $32. You definitely want fish, but immediately conclude that the salmon is simply “too expensive.” No, can’t do that. So you order cod, perfectly respectable, broiled – but plain – at $22. It arrives. It’s OK – but it isn’t what you really wanted. We’ve all experienced this type of automatic compromise that seems so sensible we accept it as the “right” decision. Such thinking may become an unconscious principle behind our money decisions. This is the smart thing to do. But is it? Why do we so often deny ourselves what we really want? One obvious answer is that it is about the money. Ten dollars is . . . well, ten dollars.
It’s the sort of thing people ask friends and acquaintances. Recently at the gym I happened to overhear a conversation that began with this question. Unfortunately, I was on my way into the shower and didn’t get to hear the answer. It’s an intriguing question. What is a “good investment guy” anyway? At some point, you may want to find some investment guidance, too. What should you be looking for?
Many of the women I see in my financial planning practice have been through divorce. Many are experiencing for the first time what it is like to live independently. I hear familiar themes with respect to money —phrases like, “I should have paid more attention,” and “I shouldn’t have assumed my ex-husband knew what he was doing.” Finally, it dawned on me to start asking these women what lessons they would want to pass along to younger women, including their own daughters, about money. What follows are their stories and mistakes. Every one of these women has a valuable lesson to share!
Last month I posted a piece encouraging people to pay attention to their money. This, I argued, was “the one thing” that could make a meaningful difference in peoples’ financial lives. It may strike my readers this month, therefore, as counter-intuitive when I suggest that over-vigilance of one’s investments might backfire. Let me explain.
According to the old saying, where the eyes go, the body goes. It turns out the basis for this truth is not only physical, but psychological as well. I remember a recent motorcycle trip over the Sonora Pass. I had the road to myself and was enjoying the thrill of driving fast through the turns. Coming down the mountain looking out toward Nevada, I glimpsed a long stretch of road ahead. Accelerating out of a turn, I anticipated a clear sweep. Suddenly I saw a scrap of two by four on the road, directly in my path. My attention fixated on the piece of wood. Panicking, I hit it. Luckily, I didn’t wipe out, but instantly began berating myself for the collision with this obstacle. Perhaps if I had directed my eyes elsewhere, I could have avoided it. I’ve recently encountered a couple of people with financial challenges that reminded me of this event.