Retirement lifestyle planning looks beyond numbers. Beyond money there is the question of how to spend and invest a more precious resource – time.

The normal approach to retirement planning is to start with the amount of savings. Then ask for an idea of how much income those savings will produce. Conversely a retirement lifestyle plan starts with describing what you need, want, and wish for. Then ask for an idea of how likely it is those savings can get you there.

Some people need help coming up with their wishes. It might not have occurred to them before to ask what will bring meaning and fulfillment to them in that chapter of life. For some this is a more difficult decision than figuring out an investment plan or tax strategy.

If you come up short on your goals, the plan recommends what can be done instead. If you come up with excess, the plan asks what you might have left out.

People who engage in the retirement lifestyle planning process understand that there is only so much that money can do. The rest is up to you.

Challenges and CoastFire: My Story

Headshot of Holly Donaldson

My story: The following is an updated excerpt from the introduction to my book, The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, $20).

As a behavioral economist (in a field that studies the psychology of personal economic decisions), I have a keen interest in our relationships with money. I care about maximizing its usefulness as a tool rather than elevating its status as an end.

But for much of my life, I had those two reversed.

I did my own financial planning backwards. I put the pursuit of money first, life second, and myself last. In other words, I floated in a fog about my attachment to money, swept along by society’s encouragement and my own beliefs. My money mentality was not aware, awake, or intentional. It was unconscious. It was anything but mindful. 

Ironically, I was one of those successful savers. Starting when I was a teenager, I kept track of every penny I spent. I could not wait until my 21st birthday so I could start contributing to the 401(k) at work. 

Money as the Main Goal

In my 20s and 30s, I focused on money as an end, determined to define my success as a person by the amount of money I made. As a result, I made some choices that caused me, and those around me, to suffer unnecessarily. I fretted over how much essential things cost. It hurt me to spend on myself for anything nice, much less on anybody else. I now realize that having money was a way to feel good about myself. In my mind, my earnings defined my success as a person. This is the area where I was most imbalanced, and I regret some of the decisions I made then. 

After college, I joined a Miami bank training program. I saw that most of the trainees chose to live in a new suburban complex requiring a Metro commute. I chose to live in cheaper North Miami, only ten minutes from downtown, proud that I was saving on rent, gas, and Metro fares. The building was newly renovated but occupied mostly by taxi drivers who kept odd hours, and the crime rate was higher in my neighborhood. My car was broken into in the parking garage. I did not get much exercise because, as a 5-foot-3-inch 20-year-old, I didn’t feel safe going outside. 

Further, while my coworkers were discussing the fun evenings they had had at south Miami neighborhood restaurants, I thought, “Bah, humbug!” I was proud not to “waste” my money on frivolities. I ate mostly sauteed vegetables and microwave popcorn in my apartment. Over the seven-month training program, I not only did not exercise enough, I unconsciously distanced myself from the camaraderie of the other trainees. While I eventually fixed the exercise deficiency later in life, the friendships I might have made and enjoyed today are absent. 

A Vicious Cycle

It was not easy for me to accept that what you have is not who you are. I didn’t understand that if you looked to your net worth to find your self-worth, your net worth would never be high enough. It was a vicious cycle: I never felt good enough, so clearly I didn’t have enough; when I had more, I still didn’t feel good enough, so clearly I still didn’t have enough, and so on. 

The Turning Point

When I was 39 in 2005, my then-employer, a regional bank, merged with another one. The new bank had very different priorities. A startup division of a brokerage company had been trying to recruit me, so as part of the decision to make a jump, I ran a financial analysis to see how much risk my then-husband and I could take on.

I told him, “I have done these calculations six ways to Sunday. It appears that right now, if we do not save another dime, when we are 60 we are guaranteed a double-wide mobile home and early-bird specials at Denny’s.” I was being facetious, but it was clear to me that this was not good enough. We would need to keep working and saving for more. 

To my surprise, he said, “Sounds good!” 

I had always assumed that I would have to maximize my earnings as much as possible until age 60 because that was what everyone was supposed to do. Suddenly I had the space to step back and think: what do we really need? I thought: “I guess it’s not too bad to be nearly 40 and know I have at least what I have now. In fact, if I had to, I could definitely live with that.” Nowadays my story would be called “reaching CoastFIRE.”

I felt liberated. Suddenly I had a world of choices before me. 

New Choices

When I began to understand the meaning of “enough,” the pursuit of money ceased to control me. As a result of changing my money mentality, within a few years I was able to:

  • start my own business
  • write a book about money and mindfulness
  • realize I would rather be debt-free than live in a big house in the city
  • build a small house in the country
  • spend more time on my new porch.

From that point on, I made more decisions from a position of security and confidence, rather than pursuing the vague goal of achieving another dollar without knowing why. 

Sacrifices Without Regrets

As I near 60, I have no regrets about the decision to leave corporate life. Financially, I have made sacrifices. I have had to pay (a lot) more for health and disability insurance. I won’t have as big of a pension as if I had stayed for seven more years. (But oh, how long those seven years would have been.) I haven’t had an employer match to my retirement plan. On paper, becoming self-employed vs. staying as a corporate executive is not a move many financial advisors would recommend making.

But even with a divorce and remarriage in my story in the meantime, I’ll still be okay. Looking back, the best investment over the past nearly 20 years has been the freedom of time to work how I wanted, doing what I love to do in the way that suits me best. It’s also meant plenty of time for important people in my life, as well as for my physical and mental health. 

It’s Never Too Late

Money is not the destination; it is merely the vehicle. The hardest work for me has been to figure out what life I wanted to live to be happy. Once that became clear, the tough decisions fell into place. 

If I had figured out what I wanted first, I might have saved myself a couple of decades of unnecessary work and worry about not having enough. The irony is, those years probably shortened my life, which is one way to avoid running out of money!

CoastFire isn’t for everyone. But the principle of mindfully paying attention to the pursuit of money is. It’s a joy for me when a successful saver discovers that they might actually have a choice to hop off the savings hamster wheel and start enjoying what they’ve got.

Got a similar story? Share your thoughts below.

Continue ReadingChallenges and CoastFire: My Story

Roth: To Convert Or Not To Convert

checkbook

Roth: to convert or not to convert. Converting to a Roth IRA might be worth consideration if you have been saving for retirement in a traditional IRA (TIRA)

As you may know, when it’s time to take the money out of your TIRA, you will owe tax on the amount you withdraw (called a “distribution”). So when you think of the balance in your TIRAs, give that number a haircut of 10% – 40% (using current tax rates) that will be sent to Uncle Sam.

Further, when you reach age 73 or 75 (depending on your birth year) whether you need money or not, you will be required to take an IRS-calculated required minimum distribution (RMD). The RMD income can push you into the next tax bracket or, more commonly, into a higher bracket for Medicare premium surcharges. Surcharges mean you could pay up to several hundred dollars more per month for Medicare.

Finally, if you are married and leave TIRAs to your spouse, he or she must eventually take RMDs. When they start filing as single the year after you die, there is a greater likelihood the RMD will push them into the higher income tax or Medicare surcharge brackets.

Review of Roth Advantages

Roth’s have several advantages over traditional retirement accounts (TRAs).

1) When you think of the balance in a Roth IRA, there is no tax haircut. Money in a Roth grows tax-free forever. That’s a bigger balance to spend on world cruises, grandchildren, or a Winnebago.

2) Your heirs will have to withdraw the Roth money if you don’t, but they won’t owe tax then, either.

3) Roths have no RMDs. So that might save you from Medicare surcharges and other additional taxes such as the Net Investment Income tax (NIIT).

4) If you are married and die before your spouse, your spouse will not have to take RMDs from them.

5) If you have a trust, it may be much more beneficial to leave a Roth to the trust than a TIRA. Ask your CPA or tax attorney about this one.

What’s the Catch with Roths?

What’s the catch? The amount of TIRA that you convert to a Roth gets taxed in the year you make the conversion. If you convert $100,000 this year, that’s $100,000 added to your income.

So if you are still working, and you convert some or all of your retirement money to a Roth, you will be paying tax on the converted amount at today’s tax rates, hoping/betting that the growth in the Roth will make the extra tax bite today worthwhile later.

For the hope/bet to have the best chance to work, a few things help:

– You expect to be in a the same or higher tax bracket after you quit working. Otherwise you could wait and pay less tax on the conversion at a lower tax bracket later.

– You don’t expect to need the money in the Roth for many years. To reap the biggest benefit, the Roth needs time to grow.

– You are ok taking more risk with money in the Roth. Since more risk means greater return over the long haul, more risk in the Roth helps to juice the tax-free growth for which you are aiming. Having Roth money sit in CDs or money markets isn’t going to reap the big benefits.

– You can pay the Roth conversion tax bill out of non-retirement money. Otherwise you might have to take an even larger distribution, which then creates higher income and even higher tax.

Have a Strategy

Because of the tax hit from a Roth conversion, one popular strategy is to wait to convert until you quit working, or otherwise experience a big drop in income, and take advantage of the lower-income year(s). The amount to convert is then carefully calculated each year to keep you out of higher tax brackets for both income taxes and Medicare.

This strategy works especially well if you are younger than 70, delay taking Social Security, and live off of already-taxed savings or investments. You may have a couple to several years where small incremental amounts are used to fill up a relatively low bracket. Over that time it’s possible to build up a nice-sized conversion amount in a Roth.

When NOT to Convert

Converting to a Roth may not be the best strategy if any of the following are true for you:

·        You have kids in or going to college over the next 2 to 6 years. The increased income from the conversion (beginning from 2 years prior to enrollment) will possibly increase the amount on the FAFSA (Federal student aid application) you would be expected to contribute toward tuition.

·        You plan on donating most or all of your RMDs to charity. You can do this tax-free anyway by making a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) from IRAs (but not employer retirement plans) beginning at age 70 1/2. You can also count your QCD towards your RMD after age 72. No sense paying tax on the conversion when you’re going to do QCDs.

·        You expect to have high medical and/or long-term care expenses. These will offset the tax on your TRA distributions too. Like QCDs, there’s no sense paying tax on the conversion if you will have high deductions to offset future distributions.

Getting Help

Getting help to convert to a Roth is usually a good idea. The easiest system is to have a Roth at the same firm where you have a TRA. Usually you can make the conversion by doing a simple transfer between the two accounts. Find out how the firm will report the distribution and conversion on your tax records. When you have more than one firm involved, get detailed information from each firm about how to make the transfer show up on their tax records properly.

The next step is to pay the tax on the conversion. Firms may ask about withholding for taxes – this can get tricky to calculate, but in general, as mentioned above, you would want “0” withheld and then submit an estimated amount from your non-retirement funds as soon as possible.

Due to the large tax consequences typically involved with Roth conversions, it’s best to consult with a CPA, tax attorney, and/or CFP™ for more detailed advice. In some cases, the future savings and flexibility a Roth affords may be well worth some extra effort and expense today.

We love to talk taxes. Schedule a 30-minute call and let me know what questions you have: https://bit.ly/3GWZNrc

Continue ReadingRoth: To Convert Or Not To Convert

5 Myths about 401(K) Rollovers: What’s the Rush?

5 myths about 401(K) rollovers: Should 401Ks (or 403bs, 457s, or TSPs) always be rolled over? Often, soon-to-be retirees are led to believe their impending retirement forces a deadline or urgency to “do something” about their retirement plan account. 

Several understandable myths surround the mystery of what actually happens to your money when leaving your employer. Below are five of them.

Myth 1: When you separate from your employer, you must take your retirement plan account (401K/403B/457/TSP) with you.

Actually very few employer plans require employees to leave the plan upon retirement. You have a choice to leave the account right where it is. 

This includes if you are widowed and your spouse was the employee. More than likely, you can stay with the retirement plan if you want to.

The rules for your employer can be verified by checking with your human resources department, or obtaining a copy of your plan’s complete document, usually available at your account’s website.

Myth 2: When you separate from your employer, it’s always best to take your retirement plan account with you.

Some people might not have the greatest level of fondness for their employer and want to sever ties with anything having to do with the company. While understandable, it’s important to separate facts from feelings about your money. 

Due to tighter ERISA and Department of Labor regulations, it’s very unwise for employers to have their employees’ retirement plan limited to only high-fee, high-risk, or self-serving fund options. Chances are that what’s available there is worth taking a more in-depth look.

On the question of where you are best served with your retirement funds, here is where you will get a wide range of answers. You can ask friends, family, the internet, co-workers, and even ChatGPT and go in circles.

Whether rolling over your retirement plan account is in your best interest depends on a few different factors. Keep reading to myths 3, 4, and 5 to find out more.

Myth 3: Retirement plan accounts have no impact on the ability to do a Roth conversion.

False. This particularly applies to people who have IRAs outside of their employer retirement plan. If you are considering converting part of an IRA you already own outside of a retirement plan to a Roth, the amount you can convert is subject to an arcane concept called the “pro-rata rule.” 

In general, under this rule, the amount you can convert is subject to a ratio that includes all IRAs, but does not include monies in employer retirement plans.

Therefore, if you roll over your retirement plan before doing a Roth conversion, you will likely limit the amount of outside IRAs you can convert. For many people retiring in their 60s and delaying Social Security, Roth conversion opportunities abound. It might very well make sense to wait to roll over at least until age 70 so that you can leave the Roth conversion option more open.

Conversely, if all of your retirement money is in the employer retirement plan and you are considering Roth conversions, then a total or partial rollover might make sense in order to then accomplish a “Back-Door Roth.”

If Roth conversions are something you are considering, it’s imperative to talk to a tax professional first before doing any rollovers, and before doing any Roth conversions.

Myth 4: Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) can be made directly from a retirement plan account.

False. Qualified charitable distributions are distributions made directly from an IRA to a charity by anyone over age 70 1/2. They can only be made from IRAs, not employer retirement plans.

The reason to make a QCD is to reduce the taxability of IRA distributions. QCDs work very well for people over 70 1/2 who already have the intention and ability to give to charity, but are not able to itemize their charitable deductions.

If this is you, then you may indeed want to roll over your employer retirement plan account to an IRA so that you can accomplish QCDs from the rollover IRA. But if you’re a few years away from age 70 1/2, there’s no hurry.

Myth 5: Any investment options that you have in your retirement plan, you can also get in a rollover IRA or annuity.

False again. Some employer retirement plans offer institutional shares (often seen as “I” “R” “Y” or “Q” shares) of mutual funds, which have lower fees inside them. The minimum investment for many institutional shares is $1,000,000. Thus, the only way to access them for most retirement plan participants is to be in the plan, where your purchasing power is aggregated with other employees and retirees. Once you roll out of the plan, you may not have institutional shares available. Instead you might be limited to higher fee options common with the retail shares of funds.

Another type of fund only offered in employer retirement plans are stable value funds. Although not FDIC-insured, they are principal-guaranteed by an insurance company and generally pay a more competitive rate of interest. In some market environments a stable value fund makes a good substitute option for a short-term bond fund because it has the guaranteed principal and generally pays more than a money market fund (though not always). Nevertheless, by leaving the plan behind, this important option might be left behind, as well.

In short, rolling over your 401K is rarely a time-sensitive decision. Most people have enough going on already at a time of life transition. Take your time to talk to professionals who have no conflict of interest in advising you which way to go. For a decision this big, there’s no need to rush.

If you can relate to anything in this post and would like to talk more, we would love to listen. Schedule a call with Holly here: Contact.

Continue Reading5 Myths about 401(K) Rollovers: What’s the Rush?

What’s Your Closet Type? Thrifty Penny, Generous J-Lo, Savvy Suze or Imelda Galore

What’s your closet type? Thrifty Penny, Generous J-Lo, Savvy Suze or Imelda Galore

On a 2004 visit to Ghana, a west African country, I noticed lots of people wearing second-hand Western clothes. While others donned beautiful traditional garments of their country, it was equally common to see second-hand t-shirts, khakis and jeans. The second hand clothes were sold in nearly every street market. My hosts told me these were commonly called obruni waawu, which literally means, “dead white people’s clothes.”

I understood that the clothes looked like those of white Westerners, but “Why dead?” I wondered. Before long, an answer dawned on me. Maybe to Ghanians, many of whom don’t have closets, the only reason a white Westerner would give away perfectly wearable clothes would be because they are dead. To them, clothes might be something you use up until the day they are no longer needed at all.

I don’t know if this is the actual reason, but it led me to compare and wonder how often we buy new clothes and get rid of old ones. For some, it’s quite frequent, and not so much for others. Having seen over 400 budgets in my lifetime, I’ve noticed spending on new clothes that ranged from $2,000 to $50,000 a year. But what I have not asked and do not know is, how often are the old clothes being thrown out or given away?

Money Velocity and Money Supply: Closet Velocity and Clothing Supply

There are two concepts in economics that come to mind – money velocity and money supply. Money velocity refers to how many times a dollar changes hands in an economy. There is also money supply, which is the amount of money available in an economy to be spent at any time.

Taking this to the closet analogy, what would closet velocity and clothing supply be? Let’s say closet velocity refers to how often the clothes on hand are changing. This would mean not only how often new ones are bought, but how often old ones are discarded or donated. Correspondingly, the amount of clothes we have on hand at any point in time would be our clothing supply.

Taking four combinations from these two concepts and having some fun with the names, what’s your closet type?

Closet Type: Thrifty Penny, Generous J-Lo, Savvy Suze or Imelda Galore

If you have a low clothing supply and low closet velocity, you might be a Thrifty Penny closet type. This means:

  • you have a small number of clothes that you wear until they have holes, stains, or are otherwise unusable before you replace them
  • you feel ok not being trendy
  • there aren’t a lot of choices of what to wear, and
  • you don’t require a large closet.

Conversely, if you have a high clothing supply and high closet velocity, you started with lots of clothes, are buying lots of new clothes, and are also giving or throwing away old or never-worn ones fairly frequently. This would be the Generous J-Lo closet type.

  • You have a large closet with lots of choices and
  • the latest looks, and
  • you feel ok only wearing a few items a few times, once, or never because you are going to give them away anyway.

If you have a low clothing supply and high closet velocity, you have a small, actively-traded closet. This would be the Savvy Suze closet type (after Suze Orman, who claimed to own one pair of earrings, her signature diamond studs.)

  • New clothes are entering constantly, getting worn, and old clothes are constantly going out.
  • You always look up to date from a carefully curated closet.

If you have a high clothing supply and low closet velocity,

  • you have a large closet of seldom-worn items, with plenty to choose from, and
  • not many clothes going out.

This would be the Imelda Galore closet type, as in Imelda Marcos, the in?famous Phillippine first lady with an enormous shoe collection.

What Could Closet Type Say About Your Money Attitudes?

How we spend on clothes can indicate one aspect of our attitudes about money. In her work with Money Habitudes(TM), Dr. Syble Solomon identified six primary attitudes toward money: spontaneous, selfless, targeted (as in with goals), security, free spirit, and status.

Anyone with a puritanical upbringing might see the last one – “status” – as a negative. Status is something many people want but are supposed to pretend not to, right?

Rather than taking a strictly negative view toward status, though, Solomon recognizes that status purchases like clothing are needed to help us make a good impression. However, if you tend to spend lavishly on clothes you will never wear, or spend more than you can afford for the sake of trendiness, you may have a tendency toward status overspending. Conversely, if you show up in old or frayed clothes a lot, you may have a problem with status underspending. Spending enough so you can suit up and show up when it matters, with care, fun and spontaneity, shows a healthy attitude about status spending.

What About You?

With Dr. Solomon’s more balanced view in mind, I am going to take a second look at my closet. I don’t plan on being a dead white person anytime soon, but I may find potential obruni waawu destined for Goodwill or, ultimately, Ghana.

Which closet type do you best relate to? Did you find yourself spending more or less on clothes during the pandemic? How did the pandemic change your closet? Have you changed your donation or throwing-out patterns? Leave a comment below.

For more on conscious spending patterns and balancing old with new, read Chapters 2 and 4 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

And for monthly tips on money psychology, tax savings, and good humor, subscribe to the award-winning e-letter, “The View From the Porch.”

Continue ReadingWhat’s Your Closet Type? Thrifty Penny, Generous J-Lo, Savvy Suze or Imelda Galore

3 Myths About Ideal Retirement: More Than Money at Stake

view from the porch

3 myths about ideal retirement: more than money at stake.

I knew a man who couldn’t wait to retire from his government job. With a good financial plan, a few decades of hard work and wise money decisions, he was able to call it quits at 55. Thrilled with his newfound financial freedom, he immediately took to cooking, golf, dating, traveling, fishing, and having fun. For the first few years, every time I saw him, it appeared the lifted burden of work had lightened his step and his heart.

At 65, he moved to a Florida retirement community. It’s the kind with restrictions on residents’ age (55+), house colors, landscaping, and mailbox designs. One of the few ways to stand out is by the cover on your golf cart. To outsiders, everyone looks the same, dresses the same, exercises the same, and seems to adore their life in the sunshine.

No One to Talk To?

Yet, one day on the phone he said, “Y’know, I really like talking with you. I don’t have anybody to talk to here.”

This was a shock. “What?” I said, “What about golf and pickleball friends? Aren’t there some retired CEOs, executives, people that think like you, that you have something in common with?”

“Nah,” he said, “I don’t have that much in common with anybody here.”

I thought that was crazy. He talked like them, dressed like them, shopped like them, and exercised like them. He probably was just as well off, financially, as any of them. How could he not have someone to talk to?

Unfortunately at that time, I was unfamiliar with the signs of depression. Five years later, it took his life.

Three Myths About the Ideal Retirement Life

According to Mitch Anthony, author of many books on retirement, there are three myths about the ideal retirement life.

Myth 1: “This part of my life is going to be about ME.”
Anthony says, “This is a formula for emptiness.”

Myth 2: “I am going to surround myself with people like ME.”
Anthony’s reply: “This is a formula for stagnation.”

Myth 3: “I am going to do nothing but relax.”
Anthony: “This is a formula for boredom.”

Emptiness, stagnation, and boredom don’t sound much like the ideal retirement. Yet, these three myths form the basis of a lot of financial plans.

A Mayo Clinic gerontologist told Anthony, “A life of total ease is two steps removed from a life of total disease. The first step is they get bored, the second step is they grow pessimistic, and then they get ill.”

I’m afraid that’s what happened to the man who appeared to have the ideal retirement plan, but ended up having no one to talk to.

The Dark Side of Retirement Plans

Writer Robert Laura describes the “dark side” of retirement. For some who don’t think about how to bring meaning and purpose to their life after work, serious mental health maladies like depression and addiction await. Surprisingly to some, the U.S. age group with the highest suicide rate is adults over age 75. In fact, Florida retirement communities have some of the highest suicide rates in the country.

Of course not everyone in retirement communities is depressed. It’s more common to see residents who live vibrantly, filling time with volunteering, mentoring, and close social circles. Ironically, few of these things require much money.

5 Parts to Plan For More Than Money

For those like the man above, jumping from the work treadmill onto the retirement scene with only the financial part of a plan can be risky. Instead, consider suggestions for the non-financial parts of a well-thought-out plan:

  • Ask yourself how much of your identity is tied up in what you do, rather than who you are.
  • Start creating a life to retire “to” rather than simply a job or business to retire “from.”
  • Consider gradually reducing to part time and taking extended vacations, rather than showing up one day, and having nowhere to go the next.
  • In your ideal week, identify how would you spend your time, and with whom?
  • Have a diverse social network outside of work.

The best retirement plans start with a plan for a fulfilling life first in order to match up those parts with money decisions. Many people go at it the other way around, asking “How much income can I get with the amount of money I have?” and assuming that answer will dictate their lifestyle.

That’s why good planners ask first how you want to spend your time, before asking about your money. If you define what an ideal retirement means first for you, then your retirement plan and your retirement life have far better chances of success.

Dedication to Mental Health Awareness

Following May’s Mental Health Awareness month, every June I republish this story in memory of the man who inspired it. Retirement is a life transition that has an under appreciated impact on mental health.

Resources for Ideal Retirement Plans:

Dori Mintzer, Ph.D. has a weekly live interview series and podcast called “Revolutionize Retirement.” In it, she interviews experts on retirement life.

See, The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013).

Sign up for a free monthly e-letter with retirement readiness tips, “The View From the Porch.”

Continue Reading3 Myths About Ideal Retirement: More Than Money at Stake

How To Let Go of Money Self-Doubt

blank stare or self-doubt emoji

How to let go of money self-doubt:

What is money self-doubt

Money self-doubt is an inner belief that one cannot trust themselves with a decision about money.

Sometimes these beliefs operate in the background, quietly driving decisions when we don’t realize it.

Other times they’re front and center.

What does money self-doubt sound like?

Money self-doubt beliefs often sound like critical messages:

  • “I knew I’d screw it up.”
  • “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?”

Money Self-Doubt Origins

Where does money self-doubt come from? 

It could be a single traumatic event or a repetition of harmful moments that lead to flawed beliefs about our financial capabilities. One time being taken by a scammer, or many times being told by an abuser we aren’t capable.

Without counterbalancing mantras like,

  • “You’re still OK.”
  • “You just made a mistake.”
  • “You can do this.”

the self-doubt can take hold.

Society and media also don’t help, offering a choice of money self-image as either, “good with money,” or not. Individual instruction is rarely given in school, or in families, much to our society’s detriment. While financial professionals are often proficient in finance, many are not good educators. A few even try to make money more complex than it is, to keep clients feeling less than sure about themselves.

Case Study: Sondra (not her real name) is a highly educated and accomplished professional. Her parents came from Depression-era families where money was tight in their younger years. Money was never talked about in Sondra’s home, although she was given everything she needed. She grew up with the belief that her parents didn’t discuss it with her because they believed money was something she was not capable of handling. When she went to talk with a financial advisor, he threw so much jargon at her that she was too uncomfortable to admit she didn’t understand what he was talking about.

Money Self-Doubt Results

Without realizing these beliefs exist, we can allow them to influence what actions we take or fail to take. Self-doubt can affect who we allow into our lives, and who we don’t. It can affect our choice of career. Or how we spend, or choose not to, on our own needs, wants, and wishes. Ironically, money self-doubt can lead to overspending with some people, and over-deprivation with others.

Sondra chose a career where she was assured a salary and the chance of a bonus if she worked hard enough. She worked longer hours than she wanted to. She lived minimally, foregoing many comforts and rewards of her hard work. Her dreams of having more work-life balance were put on hold because she never felt financially secure. In her personal life, she chose friends and partners who also didn’t talk about money, leaving a gap in her closest relationships.

How To Let Go of Money Self-Doubt

If you’ve been operating under flawed 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 4 suggestions:

1) Be aware of body messages. Self-doubt, sometimes manifesting as shame, has a feeling to it. It might be tightness in the chest, throat construction, shortness of breath, nausea or butterflies. Instead of trying to get rid of the feeling, breathe through it and name it: “I am feeling shame/doubt about a money issue.” Redirect your thoughts to positive truths: You are smart. You are capable. You know how to ask for help. This is something you can handle.

2) Ask yourself a simple question: “Is this true?”

For example if you have a belief that “I’ll never be good with money,” and you had to prove that in a court of law, what evidence do you have? Sometimes asking this question can be one way to help our brain separate facts from fictional beliefs.

3) Call someone supportive to talk about your feelings. (But make sure they truly are supportive.) If you’d like professional help specifically about money psychology, check out the Financial Therapy Association.

4) Become aware of those in your life who are too willing to reinforce doubt-based messages – family members, partners, friends, or even (especially) financial professionals. Instead, seek the company of those who say, “I am confident you can handle this,” and will walk alongside you, not put themselves ahead or above you.

After talking with a friend, Sondra decided to educate herself about money. She began to read books that explained things simply, and take online courses that took a simple approach. Patiently, she interviewed many financial professionals. The more she talked about money, the more confident she became. In the end, she found someone who prioritized her financial education and independence. She began to feel more secure, and gained the courage to consider a daring career move.

The Gift of Letting Go

Letting go of money self-doubt 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 see Chapters 2 and 3 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future, or this 5-minute video with mental health counselor Ken Donaldson on Money Shame.

Continue ReadingHow To Let Go of Money Self-Doubt

Holiday Spending Hangovers

holiday hangovers

Holiday spending hangovers: What do holiday overdrinking, overeating, and overspending have in common? We can get stuffed in over our heads before we know it, leading to regret later. The holidays can test our temptation to overcelebrate. While holiday alcohol- or food-induced hangovers are commonly discussed, spending hangovers can bring about equal regret.

Thinking Ahead

To avoid regret, it helps to think ahead. You might call it an “awareness strategy.” What events are coming up that might bring about a temptation to overspend?

Nowadays, that strategy might start in October. Halloween is now the second biggest holiday for consumer spending after Christmas. What used to be a couple hours of candy collection with a homemade costume and a paper grocery bag is now practically a national holiday. Multi day trunk-or-treating. Elaborate costumes. Yard decorations needing extensions upon extension cords. On November 1, where does all the Halloween stuff go? In the attic, the garage, the storage unit, or the garbage? And what about the candy? Halloween often leads to sugar, spending, and stuff hangovers.

Next comes Thanksgiving, where we stuff ourselves with, literally, stuffing. Some then stuff our brains with football and TV. Some families stuff all the important conversations for the past year into a few hours at the table. The air is stuffed with emotions. And spending can often be a coping mechanism for difficult emotions. It seems all the Thanksgiving hangovers – food, football, TV, and feelings – start with stuffing.

And finally if you celebrate it, Christmas, the king of holiday hangover potential. Must-have new decorations, the tallest tree, fancy food, family gatherings, parties, gotta-get gifts, candy, cake, and alcohol all stuffed into a few short weeks. Moderation choices might start out strong. But decision fatigue can quickly take over. Come January, depleted bank statements and depleted emotions can bring on the same headaches as too much cookies and eggnog.

Thinking ahead to all of the opportunities to spend gives you a head start on avoiding regret later. Ask

  • What is coming up where I will want or need to spend on a holiday?
  • What does the spending event entail?
  • What are alternative ways to achieve my goal for the spending event?
  • Imagine it’s January. When you look at your bank and/or credit card balances, what’s a reasonable figure for you to be at then? Start with that as your goal.

Release Self-Judgment

Before launching into ways to criticize decisions before you have even made them, remember that it’s ok to splurge. It just takes a little thinking ahead, strategy, self-care and balance. Deprivation generally doesn’t work.

Mindful Spending Strategies

For some people, simply having a January bank balance goal is enough to help them stay focused throughout the season.

Others need more concrete ideas. Here are a couple:

  • Plan most or all of your shopping at one or two stores. Buy yourself a gift card for that store with the total amount you can spend that allows you to make your January goal. Ask for your remaining balance with each purchase. When the gift card is spent, you have made your goal.
  • The old-fashioned envelope approach. Withdraw the amount of cash that allows you to make your January goal. Put it in one or more envelopes, organizing by spending category. For some people, watching the physical cash dwindle is the best way to stay focused.

Keep Track

The gift card and envelope approaches are one way to keep physical track of how you are doing on your spending goal.

If you find yourself resisting or unsure about the idea of having a January goal, simply keeping track of your spending as you go can work, too, as a reminder to rein in overspending.

Weight Watchers has used this approach for decades. The best tool of the program for me was the daily journal. Logging what I ate every day had more impact on my diet decision making than any other single factor.

Similarly, when a group of experimental homeowners were given an electric meter next to their thermostat, they used 7% to 19% less electricity than those with outside meters.

So writing down what you spent each day can take the form of a note on your phone, or a physical notepad or journal.

Every bit of awareness can help.

Credit Cards and Overspending

What if you must use credit cards, or really like getting the points? (Although the points rarely work as well as cash back, but that’s another blog post.)

Using a credit card is like having the electric meter on the outside of the house. You never get to compare what you have spent to a predetermined goal. Additionally, psychology studies show that when used in stores, as the credit card is handed back to us it reduces the feeling that we have spent anything. Our wallet looks the same afterward.

To build spending awareness and still use credit cards, sign up for a daily or weekly reminder of your charges and the current balance. (Not all companies will do this, tragically.) Each day or week, transfer your charges for that period from your bank account. At the extreme, you might make 30 payments on your credit card over the holidays, but so what? It’s helping you avoid the hangover.

Public Service Announcement

And a final Public Service Announcement: if you’re concerned about hangovers of a different kind, you’re not alone. There is help. AA.org helps with all kinds of addiction. Al-anon.org is for friends and families of alcoholics or addicts. Or, call a local Certified Addiction Professional for more one-on-one advice.

See our Resources page for recommended books on the psychology of money.

Imagine getting through January with no hangovers!

Continue ReadingHoliday Spending Hangovers

Death By A Thousand Indecisions

indecisions

“Then indecision brings its own delays, And days are lost lamenting over lost days. Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Death by a thousand indecisions. As Goethe asked, are you “in earnest”? When it comes to decisionmaking, sometimes it’s quick: Ready-Fire-Aim. With other decisions, we take our sweet time. How much is indecision costing you?

Like death from a thousand cuts, indecisions can slowly deplete our energy, leaving little behind for ourselves or others.

Decisions are Draining

That’s because decisions are draining. Neuropsychologists like Dr. Moira Somers tell us that decisionmaking depletes our mental energy. According to Dr. Somers, every day we wake up with a finite amount of mental energy. As the day goes by, the more decisions we make, the less energy we have. And the bigger they are, the more energy they use.

Think about life’s transitions. One reason transition times, good or sad, are so stressful and exhausting – a move, a death, retirement, a child, a divorce – is the many seemingly small, plus a few momentous, decisions.

Further, lack of sleep, hunger, grief or even excitement can start the whole day off depleted.

Then, every indecision we “make” is a decision. In fact, a pattern of indecisions can take physical form, and stress us out every time we see it.

What does not-deciding look like? A pile of unfiled papers. Empty boxes stacked in the garage. The “miscellaneous drawer” in the kitchen. The “junk room.” Scattered financial accounts in too many places. Unfinished projects.

With a finite amount of mental energy at hand, who can blame any of us for having some kind of to-be-decided pile/stack/assortment hanging over us all the time?

Dealing with Indecision

What to do about it?

  • Make big decisions in the morning, before depletion sets in.
  • Automate it: Use a system to take care of small decisions automatically
  • Eliminate it: Ask often, “How important is it?”
  • Date-Activate it: Calendar the decision to deal with and be done
  • Delegate it: Ask for help

Automate It

An automation example I love and have yet to implement is the decision of what to wear. Michael Kitces, a noted financial expert, famously has a closet full of the same blue shirts, pants, and shoes. One less decision each day for a busy guy.

Another example is cooking. Thanks to Cassy Joy Garcia’s book, Cook Once: Eat All Week, our household now pre-preps ingredients on Sunday. Then, each work night is 15-30 minutes to assemble and cook the ingredients with pre-planned healthy recipes. The meals are delicious, but the best part is not having to make the decision of what’s for dinner. Hallelujah.

Eliminate It

In the summer of 2021 I began thinking about a new car. My financial plan called for me to sell my would-be 7 year old car in January 2022 and buy another one. I couldn’t decide what kind of car to buy.

Aware that the indecision was draining me, I wondered why I was having such a hard time deciding. Then it hit me. I didn’t need a new car. In fact, I didn’t need a car at all. My husband and I had both switched to working from home. Why did I need a shiny hunk of metal to sit in the garage? We had my husband’s car, which was only 2 years old. We ran a 6 week experiment without using my car to see if it caused any problems.

When we saw that it didn’t, I felt immense relief. This told me I was making the right decision. Besides, it was a good time to sell a used car. $15,000 later, we are both very happy about eliminating that decision!

Date-Activate It

My calendar rules my life. It tells me what to do, where, and when. If this is not you, then this tip might not work.

One decision that goes on the calendar every year is whether to take a ski trip and if so, where. The local ski clubs publish their trips around August/September. Ski season pass discounts usually end on Labor Day. So I have the calendar marked for that timeframe to do my research, poll my skiing girlfriends, and make the decision. While it feels sooner in the season than I would like to make a commitment, if I did not give myself a deadline, I would dilly dally into December as all of the good trips filled up. And in the meantime, I would be spending a huge amount of mental energy on something that’s supposed to be fun.

Delegate It

Part of my indecision problem has been the flawed belief that I should be able to do everything myself (and perfectly, which is a topic for another blog post).

However, after a divorce, when my brain was extra foggy, I had significant success with hiring a friend to help organize. At the same time, I had estate planning documents updated with a local attorney. With my friend’s insight, coordination, and diligence, I quickly had an uber-organized office AND an updated “emergency box.” I felt the fog lifting as things came together.

It turns out that hiring help accelerated my decision making and used less energy. Perhaps this is what Goethe meant by the boldness in beginning. Delegating to others can be bold.

Getting Better and Better

Goethe said in that boldness to begin the decision we find genius, power, and magic. Further, there is a spiraling effect – the fewer decisions left to make, the more time to do what we do best. This is far better than a daily slog through indecision-infused mud.

At some point, with excess energy, I felt ready to give back. Someone close to me suddenly lost her husband and her mother within a three month period. She had an overwhelming number of decisions to make about seemingly small stuff, and was in a grief-stricken state to be doing so. I feIt the capacity to help her. I could not have made that statement before I had my own house in order. I don’t know if that counts as genius, power, and magic, but it felt really good to do.

What About You?

What if you took an indecision pile and automated, eliminated, date-activated, or delegated?

Who might you then be able to help?

Genius, power, and magic are waiting, if we have the boldness to begin.

Continue ReadingDeath By A Thousand Indecisions

The Ideal Retirement Plan: It’s About More Than Money

view from the porch

The ideal retirement plan: it’s about more than money.

I knew a man who couldn’t wait to retire from his government job. With a few decades of hard work and wise money decisions, he was able to call it quits at 55. Thrilled with his newfound financial freedom, he immediately took to cooking, golf, dating, traveling, fishing, and having fun. For the first few years, every time I saw him, I could see the lack of work responsibilities had lightened his step and his heart.

At 65, he moved to a Florida retirement community, the kind with nearly identical roofs, lawns and mailboxes. One of the few ways to stand out was by the cover on your golf cart. To outsiders, everyone looked the same, dressed the same, exercised the same, and seemed to absolutely love their new life in the sunshine.

Happy on the Outside But No One to Talk To

One day on the phone the man said, “Y’know, I really like talking with you. I don’t have anybody to talk to here.”

This was a shock. “What?” I said, “Surely there are some retired CEOs, executives, people that think like you there, that play golf, and that you have a lot in common with.”

“Nah,” he said, “I don’t have that much in common with anybody here.”

I thought that was crazy. He talked like them, dressed like them, shopped like them, and played golf and pickleball with them. He probably was just as well off, financially, as any of them. How could he not have someone to relate to?

Unfortunately at that time, I was unfamiliar with the signs of depression. Five years later, it took his life.

Three Myths About the Ideal Retirement

According to writer Mitch Anthony, there are three myths about the ideal retirement plan.

Myth 1: “This part of my life is going to be about ME.”
Anthony says, “This is a formula for emptiness.”

Myth 2: “I am going to surround myself with people like ME.”
Anthony’s reply: “This is a formula for stagnation.”

Myth 3: “I am going to do nothing but relax.”
Anthony: “This is a formula for boredom.”

Emptiness, stagnation, and boredom. Doesn’t sound much like the ideal retirement. Yet, these three myths form the basis of a lot of retirement plans.

A Mayo Clinic gerontologist told Anthony, “A life of total ease is two steps removed from a life of total disease. The first step is they get bored, the second step is they grow pessimistic, and then they get ill.”

The Dark Side of Retirement Plans

This is what writer Robert Laura termed the “dark side” of retirement. For some who don’t think about how to bring meaning and purpose to their life after work, serious mental health maladies, like depression and addiction, await. Florida retirement communities have some of the highest suicide rates in the country, particularly growing among white males over age 65.

Of course not everyone in retirement communities is depressed. It’s common to have constant fun, be social, and live vibrantly, filling time with volunteering, mentoring, and circles of friends.

Plan For More Than Money

For those like the man above, jumping off the work treadmill onto the retirement scene without a plan can be risky. Instead, South Dakota financial planner Rick Kahler responded to Laura’s article with several wise suggestions for the non-financial part of a retirement plan:


*Ask yourself how much of your identity is tied up in what you do, rather than who you are.
*Start creating a life to retire “to” rather than simply a job or business to retire “from.”
*Consider gradually reducing to part time and taking extended vacations, rather than showing up one day, and having nowhere to go the next.
*In your ideal week, identify how would you spend your time, and with whom?
*Have a diverse social network outside of work.

As one example, writer Douglas Bloch complained his parents’ retirement community had no children, while his retired friends were finding fulfillment in their own neighborhoods mentoring youngsters in math.

The best retirement plans start with a plan for a fulfilling life first, then match up the plan with money decisions. That’s why good planners ask, what’s the money for? For most, it’s not to support boredom, stagnation and decline. If you define what an ideal retirement means first for you, then your retirement plan and your retirement life have far better chances of success.

Dedication to Mental Health Awareness

Following May’s Mental Health Awareness month, every June I republish this story in memory of the man who inspired it. Retirement is a life transition that has an under appreciated impact on mental health.

Resources for Ideal Retirement Plans:

Dori Mintzer, Ph.D. has a weekly live interview series and podcast called “Revolutionize Retirement.” In it, she interviews experts on retirement life.

Mitch Anthony’s book, The New Retirementality.

Holly’s book, The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future

Sign up for our free monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch.” We never share your email address.

Continue ReadingThe Ideal Retirement Plan: It’s About More Than Money

2021 Book Reviews

books

2021 Book Reviews: Last year I read or listened to 48 books. That’s not a number particularly worth bragging about (I think my bookworm mother probably read twice that many). But, it was enough that I felt like I was learning, re-learning, or being entertained from other authors constantly.

Of the 48, below are those selected for recommendations this year, arranged by topic. For past recommended books, check the Resources page. It includes other recommendations for finance, lifestyle, and life improvement books.

Fiction

19 of the 48 I read were fiction. Of those, The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams, was my favorite. Taking place in Oxford, England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it chronicles how certain words were left out of the original Oxford English Dictionary. Told from the point of view one of the original editors’ daughters, it reveals the subtle dismissal of women, of the poor, and the uneducated through leaving out their vocabulary. The daughter, who starts out as a youngster underneath her father’s working table, makes her own collection of “lost words” that were literally left on the cutting room floor. Ultimately she becomes a respected scholar, though still with the inferior rank of being a woman in a man’s profession. Women in male-dominated professions everywhere will relate well to this story.

Psychology of Money

I always include this topic in the annual book review list. Last year finally saw the publishing of a book with the actual title The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness, by Morgan Housel. Housel reviews the many different tricks our minds play on us when it comes to money, why, and what we can do about it. The field of behavioral economics, upon which the book is based, is difficult to explain in layman’s terms, but Housel does an excellent job.

Finance

Reverse Mortgages, by Wade Pfau, Ph.D. Dr. Pfau upended the financial planning profession nearly 7 years ago when he published research saying, “Financial advisors are not doing their jobs if they aren’t at least considering reverse mortgages.” Initially brushed off, subsequent independent studies have confirmed his findings. Regulations have tightened and these products have evolved into a legitimate option for many different financial goals. His book outlines the details, which can be quite complex, but understandable to non-professional readers. It’s now a reference book on my shelf. I am including it here for the second year in a row because I referenced it enough in 2021 to have read it again.

Life-Improvement: (also known as “self-help”)

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport, was a perfect segue from reading “Rest” two years ago. Both books emphasize the importance of pausing, rest, and breaks in doing work that requires great focus. Newport begins by listing all the ways that society and our screens keep us distracted. We end up working mostly on superficial tasks. To get into the deep work space, most people require a great deal of uninterrupted, undistracted focus time. In the past, I would try to squeeze in that time between working on the superficial tasks.

As a result of reading the book, I made more changes to the calendar. Larger blocks of time are now set aside for client meeting time, preparation, and followup, in addition to writing time. So I might have 10 days straight of meetings, followed by 5 days of writing and working on course development. I cannot report, sadly, that I am sticking to the plan as well as I thought, but I can definitely sense improvement. (To clients, you may experience longer than expected email response times. But hopefully the responses will be better thought-out than before.)

Life-Improvement XXtra Help

These next two are perhaps controversial and definitely don’t belong on a financial planning reading list, but I learned so much from them I want to include them. Along with money, sex and our sexual anatomy are the most under- and mis-communicated, misinformed, and misunderstood topics in our society. These two books spell e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g out in simple, understandable, relatable and occasionally humorous terms. If all adults of all ages would read BOTH: The Vagina Bible: Separating the Myth from the Medicine by Dr. Jen Gunter and The Penis Book: A Doctor’s Complete Guide – From Size to Function and Everything in Between by Dr. Aaron Spitz, oh, how much happier we all would be. I considered giving both books to my adult nieces and nephews for Christmas presents but realized they might not open them, and I still want them to visit me once in a while.

What books were life-changing for you in 2021? Let me know in the comments below.

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