Fee-only financial planner category: A collection of blog posts on fee-only financial planning topics by Holly Donaldson, CFP®.

Certified Financial Planner™ and author Holly Donaldson writes a regular blog on topics for those interested in financial planning. Her speciality is the psychology of money in preparing for and transitioning to retirement. Many people find that, after saving well for a few decades, that the idea of actually spending and enjoying what they have saved requires a much different mentality. It is for these people Holly wrote her book, The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

The balance in being sure you have enough for the future, while also enjoying the present, is the highwire act of retirement. With Holly’s guidance, clients find they have greater security and confidence. They learn how to strike the right mix between enjoying the present and investing for the future.

Additionally, they appreciate that as a fee-only financial planner Holly does not sell any products, receive commissions or referral fees. Clients most interested in Holly’s services are those who do not feel well-served by advisors who require an ongoing engagement or fees. They don’t need a chauffeur for their money. Only a financial navigator.

Enjoy a monthly award-winning e-letter on psychology of money in retirement. Subscribe to “The View from the Porch” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn.

To speak with Holly about your own circumstances, select a day and time on the calendar below.  She will call you then at the number you provide: https://bit.ly/3GWZNrc

Reset The Money Shame Game

“I knew I’d screw it up.” “I should’ve listened to my dad.” “Only losers end up paying for financial advice.” “I’ll never be good with money.” “If I can’t manage my own finances, I’m a failure.”  “Why am I so stupid with money?”

Painful statements, these are. While I’ve heard them spoken out loud, I would bet they are spoken silently far more often.

Where do they come from?  It could be one traumatic event, or a repetition of harmful moments, that lead to shameful beliefs about our financial capabilities. Without a counterbalancing mantra of, “You are still good. You just made a mistake, that’s all,” the message delivered can be, “You’re a screwup. You’re a failure. You will never get it.” When we are young, after all, there is only good and bad. It’s impossible to grasp that it might be neither.

A few examples: Being left out of the family business discussions, while siblings are groomed to take over. Hearing parents fight over money, even though they seem to have plenty of it. Being told repeatedly, “You don’t need to know that. Your father/husband/brother/uncle will take care of it.” These can entrench the “I’m flawed” belief that is carried into adulthood. Without realizing this belief exists, we allow it to influence what actions we take or fail to take. It can even affect who we allow into our lives, and who we don’t.

If you’ve been operating under these assumptions, and now you know it, you’ve taken the first step to reset your relationship with money.

What else can you do? Here are two suggestions to start:

1) Be wary of those who are all too willing to reinforce these messages – family members, spouses, or even financial professionals. Their aim is to create dependence. Seek the company of those who say, “I have no doubt you can handle this,” and will work alongside you, not put themselves ahead of you.

2) Be aware of your body messages. Shame has a certain feeling to it – it might be tightness in the chest, or nausea in the stomach. Pay attention to the start of that feeling – then stop, breathe, notice, and redirect your thoughts to the positive. Call someone supportive to talk about it.

Undoing money self-doubts can be one of the greatest gifts we give ourselves to reach peace and security about our financial future.

For more on unspoken money messages, both negative and positive, see Chapters 2 and 3 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

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3 EI Lessons Learned on Independent Business-hood

This week includes Independence Day, but it is also Independents Week – a nationwide campaign to heighten awareness of local businesses, jobs and economic prosperity brought to a community by non-chain, non-corporate enterprises.  In my transition from corporate to independent business-hood, I had to manage more diverse relationships, from the perspective of an owner instead of an employee. I found it helped to develop emotional intelligence to navigate those waters. Following are 3 of the lessons that have helped me on that journey.

1) Boundaries – My first year in business, I took on a very nice client who asked me to make house calls.  She often had to meet after work, which was a 50-minute trip for me in rush hour traffic. The doorbell or her phone would ring while we were meeting, which sometimes prevented her from focusing on our tasks at hand. I violated my policy of meeting during regular business hours in my own office environment, free of distractions, because I wanted so badly for “her to be happy.” While I believe she was happy, and we got her project completed on time, I was usually exhausted, a little irritable, and resentful before, during, and after our meetings. Yet, it was not her fault – it was mine, because I made a business decision without the intelligence of setting boundaries.

2) Listening – I used to think listening meant keeping my mouth shut until the other person quit talking. That certainly works better than interrupting, which I used to be a pro at. Later I learned that repeating back what I thought I heard, followed by something like, “Have I heard you correctly?” worked wonders for my relationships with clients, vendors, employees, and, wow, even friends and family. There are as many ways to strengthen listening skills as there are ways to strengthen your muscles. Exercising my listening ability has helped me be a better receiver of sensitive information, and deepened my understanding of where others are coming from. Whether it’s a vendor or a client, both of these made me better at business.

3) Customer Focus –  I used to think if I advertised or discussed my credentials, picture, achievements, or experience, then I would win people over. Instead,  I found that other people’s stories and tribulations are far more interesting than my own. Besides, business is not the best place to get my needs met. I have a support network of friends and family who gladly fill that role. My website, marketing materials, message, and meetings may include personal stories, but their purpose is an attempt to provide a direct lesson or benefit for my reader, client, or even my vendor. These interactions focus primarily on what they have told me is most important to them (which is generally not my credentials, picture, achievements, or experience) – it’s their unique issues and struggles.

Investing in emotional intelligence education is one of the best I ever made. It has helped me remain independent in business, but also helped me grow as an independent person, too. (For one  provider of emotional intelligence in the workplace, check out www.kendonaldson.com). #AMIBA

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Helping Through Hurt – 4 Lessons on Grief

A friend in her 30s is grieving a recent loss. She says she is very tired.  Maybe she can’t sleep, and she has two kids. Yet I sense an expectation of herself to work as hard as she did before the loss.  “I need to show up for work, and I can grieve when I get home later,” is an idea I remember having the first time I experienced intense grief.

In short, grief was a chore on my to-do list. As if.

4 Lessons

Since my first encounter with grief, and after meeting many people dealing with loss, I’ve learned 4 helpful things about it:

1) Grief is not optional.

It’s not something we can refuse, like dessert. “None for me right now, thanks anyway.” Nope. If you get hit by a 2 x 4, there will be an injury. How much it hurts, and for how long, depends on your pain tolerance, your physical fitness, or your size relative to the 2 x 4’s.  Grief’s injury, unlike the 2 x 4’s, doesn’t manifest as throbbing pain, gushing blood, or even crying, for some people, so we might tend to think we willed it away. But the grieving brain still has an injury that needs a way to heal.

2) Grief affects judgment.

Absent-mindedness, like putting your cellphone in the refrigerator, is normal. So is making major decisions that are later filled with regret. Don’t push someone grieving to make a major decision, and don’t put yourself in that position if you can help it. If your widowed client wants to let the life insurance check sit in the bank account, let it sit for now.

3) It takes longer to heal than many of us think it should.

“Shouldn’t you be over this by now?” Don’t say this to yourself, and don’t think it about anyone else. The process is fluid, and change happens daily on the way to feeling consistently normal again. However, if the grieving process appears to be “stuck,” then talking to a mental health professional might be a good idea. (See https://www.caring.com/questions/grieving for signs of being stuck.)

4) Death is not the only cause of grief.

“It’s not like anybody died or anything.” Divorce and breakups, an empty nest, addiction problems, a major change in health, and relocating all can bring about the same sense of loss and emotional tornado of grief. Treat those events the same way. If they want to talk about it, be the best listener you can.

What Can We Do?

In addition, what helps healing?

1) Supportive groups, friends, or family. Talking about it.

2) Sensible diet and exercise. Injuries heal better with vitamins, nutrition, and endorphins.

3) Creative expression.

4) Mental rest. Meditation. Taking frequent breaks.

If you’re the one grieving, it can be hard to pick up the phone, put on the sweats, break out the paints, or sit on the yoga mat. If you’re the one who wants to help, though, invite them to occasionally talk or walk with you.

Nevertheless, whether you’re hurting or helping, sharing the pain of grief leads to richer lifelong relationships.

For more on the effects of emotions on financial decisionmaking, see Chapters 2 and 3 of Holly’s book, The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

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How Do Your Money Memories Affect You Now?

What is your earliest memory of money? A piggy bank, the tooth fairy, your mom’s change purse? This summer, Mindful Monday will focus on money memories: those incidents, messages, habits, attitudes, and beliefs we gather from an early age.

I remember talking to my mom from the back seat of her Ford LTD stationwagon. My little sister Jill was probably riding up front so Mom could hold her. I don’t remember what I had asked for, but she had replied that we didn’t have enough money for it. I remember feeling confused and asking, “But doesn’t Daddy go to work and make money?”

“Yes,” she said, “But sometimes we have money, and sometimes we don’t. We can’t buy everything we want all the time.” I was even further confused, so much so that I don’t remember if I knew what to ask next.

Ah. My first memory of learning that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” I guess the shock of that reality was so painful, it stuck with me.

It’s difficult to say for sure how this one memory has affected my decisions, however, I would say that my attitude toward money as a young adult leaned more toward scarcity than abundance.  I began saving for retirement in my 20s, and became debt-free around 40. That was great, but it wasn’t until that age that I realized some things I missed out on for the sake of “saving enough” money. I stayed in a lucrative job that cost me sleepless nights. I declined some fun opportunities with friends and family that I now regret. I hesitated to ask for professional help to take care of myself physically and emotionally in difficult times. In all of these, my concern about my bank account balance came before my concern about me.

So money memories may affect our decisions about money, but more importantly, they may affect our decisions about ourselves. Now I believe I have a more balanced perspective. In my career I am more choosy about how I spend my work time, and who with. Even if it means giving up revenue, I don’t lose sleep over it. When it comes to having fun with close friends, cost doesn’t enter the equation. And I make it a priority to take care of myself, even it means spending some extra bucks for a professional opinion. My balancing act isn’t perfect, but I know it’s better than before.

For more on money memories, check out the questions in Chapter 2 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future. Or, let me know how you might change your balancing act for the better: post a comment here, or email me privately at holly@hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com


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A Way To Serve Those Who Served Us – Veterans’ Day

Working with this young veteran and his family has been one of my most enriching volunteer experiences. Planners, consider a pro bono commitment or donation to Building Homes For Heroes and NAPFA’s Consumer Education Foundation.

When I was first asked to do this, I didn’t think I would be the best fit. I don’t come from a military family; had little technical background in veteran benefits; and am unfamiliar with the life of someone who is dealing with a disability. None of those things mattered.

The NAPFA Consumer Education Foundation (NCEF) provided tools and information. I could ask for help on the national discussion board. Most of all, though, Sgt. Sepulveda and Bernice have done most of the homework. They simply needed someone to affirm their decisionmaking, or to suggest a different direction.

All they needed was a guide, a second opinion, and sometimes, a coach. Those I could do. We both started off unsure of ourselves, but as we worked together, we gained confidence – the Sepulveda’s in their decisionmaking, and me, in my ability to help someone outside of the client world to which I’d become accustomed.

Overall, veterans have supported and shaped our country from the Greatest Generation to Generation Z, and it’s an honor to work with them.

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6 Questions For Your Life’s Next Chapter

“What do I want with my life after X?” 

“X,” for you, might be retirement, getting through a medical issue, leaving a corporate career, or re-entering the work world after staying home with children. Thinking of veterans this month, “X” might also be entering civilian life after service.  From veterans to young mothers to the disabled to retirees, there are 6 questions to ask in life’s transitions.

1. What is my identity? Is your identity tied up in what you do? Begin to focus instead on who you are – that is, who would you be if you were not at your job?  Once you figure this one out, the next five questions fall into place much easier. One excellent resource: Marry YourSelf First! (book and workbook) by Ken Donaldson, LMHC.

2. What will give me a sense of purpose? Remembering times in our lives and careers when we felt the biggest sense of accomplishment can guide us to this. Write a story about a time when you felt the biggest sense of accomplishment and purpose. Where were you? What were you doing? Who else was involved? Repeat and repeat. See any patterns?

3. How will I maintain socialization? One of the biggest determinants of our happiness is the people we spend time with on a routine basis. Who brings you joy?

4. How will I manage my time? Corporate and military organizations force time management – going in or out of these environments can be disorienting to some. 

5. How will I maintain my sense of status? Depending upon the organization and/or groups you are transitioning to and from, remembering your self-worth outside of a title or rank is crucial. Develop new groups where you find fulfillment.

6. How will I manage my money? Life transitions often involve a change in finances. For better or worse, being prepared can make the difference between looking back with pride or regret on how you handled it. Seek out professional help if you lack confidence in your decision making.

More resources on building your life’s next chapter will be coming in the next edition of the e-letter, “The View from the Porch.” Sign up at www.hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com


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Mind Your 4 Digital Asset Types

An attorney I met had a father-in-law who ran 3 businesses from his Blackberry. When he died suddenly, she was shocked at how difficult it was to access his emails, accounts, and online life. Every online provider had different requirements. This was her introduction to the concept of the “digital asset.”

Digital Assets

Have you ever given thought to your digital assets and how someone else would step in your shoes? It’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords. Keeping track can be overwhelming, but we can begin by naming 4 main types – personal, financial, business, and social:

1) Personal assets:

Photos, Movies, Books, E-books, Music, and Podcasts. Unlike your Simon and Garfunkel records, Michael Jackson CD’s, or Rocky DVDs that the kids will get whether they want them or not, there are some e-libraries you can’t leave to anyone. For example, access to Kindle and iTunes libraries die with their owners.  For all your photos and videos stored in the cloud, make sure you have a backup, especially if it’s iCloud. Upon proof of death, all content in an iCloud account is deleted.

2) Financial assets:

Bank, Brokerage, PayPal, Frequent Flyer, Bitcoin, etc. Did you sign up for paperless statements? Good for you, but make sure you have documented somewhere that the accounts exist. If no one can get into your email, and you haven’t kept good notes or a plan somewhere, they may not know you opened a new Treasury Direct account. 

Additionally, once the bank or brokerage company learns of your demise, they may lock out the online account, preventing anyone from accessing statements. Statements are essential for understanding how much was in the account at date of death, but primarily, how your assets are titled.

3) Business assets:

Blogs, E-books, Books, E-commerce sites. Intellectual property is often housed digitally. Have you inventoried any copyrighted works and addressed them in your estate planning documents? Can someone get to them in a way that will continue to produce revenue or royalties? 

4) Social accounts:

Email, Text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc..  An elderly friend of mine passed away 6 years ago but his face and profile still pop up occasionally as someone “I might know” on my Facebook and LinkedIn. I am guessing his family either aren’t involved with social media, or simply were not able to log in and post a nice memorial tribute to a wonderful man. What do you want your online presence to look like, if at all, and for how long, once you’re gone? 

With all of these different, it seems like you might need a digital asset will and executor. It turns out there are such things now, and 10 states, including Florida, have ratified them through passage of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Asset Act (RUFADAA). (You can more about it here: https://www.onefpa.org/journal/Pages/APR18-Estate-Planning-for-Digital-Assets-Understanding-the-Revised-Uniform-Fiduciary-Access-to-Digital-Assets-Act-and.aspx. In the act, you can name a digital asset executor – someone to access your email, text messages, and social media accounts, in your will or trust.

If you have been reading or watching for a while, you know I am a fan of having a Notebook. But if you aren’t the paper Notebook type, or just ready to reduce paper, check out www.everplans.com. For $75, you can have a plan and inventory of your digital estate, easily accessible to those you trust. If you give it a try, let me know how it works out, and I’ll post feedback here for future readers. 

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Dig Those Digital Assets

Shortly before a relative of mine died in 2008, he showed me where and how he kept his financial life organized. He had accounts in more places than I could keep track of in my head. So we wrote them all down. Between the visit to his home office and our written instructions, I thought I was all clear on what he had and how to get to it. But when it came time, I still nearly missed one. It was the only account for which no statement came in the mail – a “digital asset” at Treasury Direct.  I uncovered it 11 months later as I was clearing out the file cabinet, in a manila folder with a scribbled label. The folder was empty, but a userid and several crossed-out passwords were written on the inside flap. It turned out to be a five-figure account. 

Nowadays, it’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords. Of course, not all of them have money in them, but they still might be “assets.” Paypal accounts, frequent flyer accounts, Amazon accounts, eBay accounts, and any kind of points-earning sites might be worth a little, or a lot. Membership sites – AAA, AARP, fraternities, sororities, national professional associations, etc. might hold some kind of group life or accidental death policies. A blog or YouTube channel might bring in a little advertising revenue. Even if the site or account has no potential for ever producing money, most people have some kind of online presence, even if it’s simply their Facebook page, that they might not want hanging out there if they’re no longer around. There are 4 categories that our digital assets can fall into. Next week I’ll go into more detail and how to plan for them.

But while it’s tax time and you might have all of your financial life pulled together, give it some thought: how could someone easily take over my digital life if necessary? One app I am using is Dashlane – it sits on my hard drive and remembers all my sites and passwords. All someone needs to do is enter my Dashlane password, and they can see what I’ve got and how to get to it. Scary? Perhaps. To play it a little safer, I chose not to use the “cloud ” version of Dashlane to share among all my devices.  I’ll be providing lots of other resources in an upcoming e-book on end-of-life planning and digital assets (Porchview Publishing, $7.99). If you would like to be on the pre-order list for a coupon, become a subscriber to the free monthly e-letter, “The View From The Porch,” at https://www.hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com

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Eight Signs of Professional Codependency

Early in my banking career, I had codependency tendencies with clients. How do I know this? Eight behaviors:
1. I lost sleep over how I thought a client might be feeling – about their kids, their pets, their careers, their marriages, as well as their money.
2. I mistakenly thought that being “helpful” in all areas of their life (which I had no business or expertise in) would be met with oodles of gratitude and appreciation.
3. I had no boundaries on my time. I was available 24/7. Any client’s minor issue took priority over my exercising, relaxing, recharging, and taking care of myself. Then I resented them, and myself, when I allowed interruptions.
4. I feared angry clients and sometimes thought their anger was my fault.
5. If one client (out of 200 at the time) was unhappy, my whole day was unhappy.
6. If I stood up for myself or my employer, I felt guilty.
7. When I made mistakes, I felt like a failure.
8. If I got a new client, I thought it was because of what my team and I did. If I lost a client, I thought it was because of who I was.

Most of my clients then were wonderful people whom I adored. Yet, with these beliefs and behaviors, I tended to attract more than a few with ugly issues – angry ones who found someone to take their blame; needy ones who tested limits of compassion and empathy; and narcissistic ones who targeted me as a people-pleasing victim. Those few often kept me from being the best I could be for the rest.

How do you know if a professional in your life has healthy client relationships? Try this quiz:

True or False? (The more “True” answers, the better.)

  1. From the first phone call or meeting, expectations about next steps, communication, and process were discussed and agreed upon.
  2. While they can be sensitive to my feelings, they know they are not responsible for them.
  3. Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” They recognize happiness is their choice, and no one else’s for them. They seem to have made up their mind to be happy.
  4. They admit their mistakes, promptly apologize, and make it right.
  5. They take time to replenish and recharge themselves so that they can do the best job possible. They have boundaries around their time.
  6. They respect the boundaries I place around my own time.
  7. There is expression about what each of us wants and needs from the relationship, without guilt or apology. Both of us expect straight talk, and deliver it.
  8. They seem to have an attitude of gratitude for their life and the people in it.

After some excellent coaching, life experiences, and maturing, I committed to cultivating professional relationships that are healthy, serene, and drama-free, as much as possible. Now I have a more manageable number of relationships, and, to a person, they bring me great joy. While there is still room for improvement, it’s a long way from losing sleep over issues I couldn’t control. When I got busy at working on myself, I got better at working for others.

Video version of this post:

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When Does Financial Advice Become Couples Therapy?

I had just finished giving a talk on the psychology of money to a group of professionals, and a participant waited in line to speak to me afterwards. The person before him took quite a while, so I figured whatever he had to tell me must be pretty important to him. With a passionate look in his eye, he approached me and said, “I don’t think any of this emotional stuff about money is my job. I am not a psychology professional, and I don’t want to pretend to be one. In fact, I think I am asking for liability problems if I start bringing up things I don’t know about. I am bound to get myself in trouble, and maybe make it worse for them. Clients come to me for investment and financial advice. That’s what I’m good at, and that’s what I’ll give them. End of story.”

If you work with financial advice, and especially couples, long enough, emotional issues come up. Many financial advisors tread lightly with​​, or even avoid,​ confronting emotions behind clients’​ spending, investing, and sharing decisions. What if a​ couple brings up something the advisor doesn’t know how to handle? What if it produces a big ugly argument? What if somehow they get blamed for starting it?

How does a quantitatively-skilled financial professional understand when they are being helpful, and when they might be causing harm? The best thing I have learned to do is simply help with awareness. There are two possible outcomes from it: 1) the awareness and talking out loud with a third party helps the couple come to their own compromise and resolution; or 2) the awareness and talking out loud helps the three of us realize that resolving it might require more help than I am able to give. In other words, I never presume I have an​ argument’s answer, but I

​am willing to explore whether they have the answer within themselves. The worst that happens is that I’m wrong, but at least then we all know it and own it, rather than ignore it.

How do we​ get to this place of awareness? Trying these questions:

1. Is this normally how the conversation goes when you talk about this issue?

2. How does it normally end up?

3. What have you considered doing about it?

4 (If necessary). It sounds like this is a place where you might be stuck, and could use some outside help to work through. How would you feel about doing more work on it with a counselor?

With two clients in the room, the importance of bringing up these issues is more than doubled. If a couple is handling money disagreements in an unhealthy way, studies show the relationship itself is at great risk. And breakups and divorces cause way bigger money problems than the typical argument subject. Keeping this fact in mind means financial advisors ​might ​have a vested interest in helping couples face difficult money issues. Focusing only on the numbers may seem easier, but in the long run, the story for all three people ​may not​ end nearly as well.

See this post on YouTube here: Advice vs. Therapy – Holly P. Thomas, CFP

Continue ReadingWhen Does Financial Advice Become Couples Therapy?