5 Top Books Read in 2023

5 top books read in 2023: What books made an impact on you last year?

top books read

Each year a few selections from the prior year’s reading are highlighted here. For 2023, below are 5 favorites (actually, 4 books and 1 app) from finance and retirement, self-help, and fiction.

Finance and Retirement

The finance and retirement book recommendation this year is Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security, by Lawrence Kotlikoff, Paul Solomon, and Philip Moeller. Although published in 2016 it’s been updated for current changes to the claiming rules. Do you really need to read a book about Social Security? Isn’t filing pretty straightforward? Maybe, maybe not.

It’s easier to say who would not necessarily benefit from the book than who would. The book might not be for you if:

  • you already filed for Social Security more than 12 months ago (because, did you know everyone gets a one-time filing do-over in the first 12 months?); or
  • you are not yet 62 and you and your spouse have never been
  • divorced,
  • disabled,
  • widowed, or
  • worked for an employer who opted out of participating in Social Security (generally this would be certain railroad companies or municipal governments).

These rule out a few million people, but for the other tens of millions, there is probably something useful inside this book that could save anywhere from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars over the rest of their lives.

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

Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power, and Thrive by Kristen Neff, Ph.D.. Neff’s specialty reminds me of Brene’ Brown’s – a narrow niche of psychological research for which she has chosen to become a deep expert. In Brown’s case it’s empathy while in Neff’s case it’s self-compassion. I didn’t even know what self-compassion meant when I began reading and studying Neff’s work about three years ago. Lest it be confused with becoming a tender-hearted wuss, Neff makes clear that self-compassion requires a ferociousness that is societally frowned upon in women. How to act on that feeling while also expressing self-compassion is the balancing act which she skillfully examines and explains.

Not a book, but an app: Insight Timer. I keep this one in my Mental Health folder on the first screen of my phone. It’s my go-to app first thing in the morning for a guided meditation or simple calming wake-up music (try for example, “A New Day,” by Wakes/Ada and Nathan). Later I consult it again when I need to get to (or get back to) sleep. The teachers are well-vetted by IT and then rated by worldwide listeners. Guided practices span the gamut of spiritual and religious traditions. There are musicians in varied stress-relieving genres to choose from (calming piano – try Chris Collins; cello – try The Wong Janice; recorded nature sounds – Insight Timer Earth). Currently IT claims 28 million listeners.

Fiction

On the fun side, here were 2 picks for fiction.

First is Skeletons at the Feast, by Chris Bohjalian. I have a hard time with World War II novels, or actually any war novels, because I’m skittish about violence. (Probably because I have spent most of my life in relative peacetime and so I am duly thankful for that.) Sometimes I can’t bear to turn the page because I fear what’s coming next. But Bohjalian’s storytelling is so good, it kept me turning pages. While at it, I learned what and where Prussia was, and a little of what it must be like to live in constant uncertainty about one’s chance of surviving the next year, then month, then day, then hour. It reminded me of Viktor Frankl or John Steinbeck. There’s a great deal of loss, of course, but the ending still felt satisfying in a realistic way.

The second novel, Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver, follows a young woman home to Oklahoma after she drops out of medical residency in Arizona. She’s gone home to check on her ailing father, the small town’s only physician, while her sister is in central America helping victims of gang violence. She finds new purpose teaching school and falling in love yet still believes she will return to practicing medicine in the big city. Meanwhile, other parts of her childhood emerge like pieces of a giant memory puzzle. She remembers doing something wrong, but can’t recall quite what it was. As the puzzle comes together, she realizes her father might not be the man she thought he was. There are people who remember her as a young person, but not many seem willing to help her make sense of it. Kingsolver’s puzzle is an intriguing one for the reader to solve.

See other book recommendations on our Resources webpage.

What books were life-changing, or just entertaining, for you last year? Leave a comment below.

Continue Reading5 Top Books Read in 2023

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?

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

As a Child-Free Elder, Who Will Be On Your Team?

“Who will take care of you when you’re old?” someone once asked me when I told her I had no children.

It seemed like an old-fashioned kind of question. Nevertheless, it caused a mini panic attack.

Knowing the statistics, I had made the vague assumption that I would need to make arrangements for care, but something about her question made that statistical probability more real.

About 14 percent of 40- to 44-year-old women had no children in 2018 – up from about 10 percent in 1980, U.S. Census data shows. This is and will be an issue for millions of Americans.

As anyone who has served as a caregiver knows, there are four main questions to ask from the beginning. Answering these can lead to the formation of an elder care support team. The team members may come from two areas – friends and family, professionals, or both.

  • Where will I live?
  • Who will make medical decisions for me?
  • Who will handle my finances?
  • How will I get transportation?

Team Member 1: Where will I live?

The first part of figuring out the team is to know where you will be living. The vast majority of Americans want to age in their homes. For some people that home might be the place they have lived for several decades. If so, then the team member will likely be a home health care company.

For others, home might be a place they move to – with a supportive community, but not a facility (perhaps at first). If that’s you, building a network of friends and professionals in the community can be one of the best ways to reinforce your support team.

Although it’s not in many people’s plans, sometimes aging at home isn’t an option. For people aging without children, it’s more important to get to know assisted living and continuing care facilities, and figure out how you would pay for them. (For myself, I purchased a traditional long-term care policy. But that doesn’t mean that is the right solution for everyone.)

Team Member 2: Who will make medical decisions for me if I can’t?

Preferably someone close by. Ideally this person could be available at a moment’s notice and will not have to travel far to attend appointments with you.

Having a strong primary care physician relationship is also highly beneficial. Some doctors, especially those who specialize in concierge medicine, can and will serve as your legal health care surrogate.

Team Member 3: Who will handle my financial affairs?

Many attorneys recommend having a different person named for financial matters than for health care decisions. As aging progresses, it’s a lot to ask of one person to handle bill paying, money management, and doctor appointments (as anyone who has served as a sole caregiver can attest).

Money management involves several duties. To name a few,

  • Paying bills and making renewal decisions (such as memberships, subscriptions, and/or insurance policies)
  • Making gifts
  • Making transfers between accounts, such as taking IRA withdrawals
  • Managing investments

Your financial team might involve two members – someone who does the day-to-day management, plus a professional investment manager. Most professional investment managers do not provide billpaying and cash flow management. Professional investment managers may charge a fee that is a percentage of the amount they manager, or a flat fee. If a friend or family member is taking over the day-to-day, it’s important to pay that person a fair fee, too.

Or you can find a fiduciary who will cover it all. Trust companies are one example of fiduciaries who will handle all financial duties if they are named as trustee or co-trustee on your documents.

My choice for now is an independent fiduciary. She happens to have a law degree and serves in this capacity full-time. Her services won’t begin unless I’m alone and losing the ability to handle things myself. Hopefully that’s a very long time from now, if ever.

Team Member 4: How will I get transportation?

If you move to a community with many transportation alternatives, you might not need a separate team member for transportation. This is my goal – a walkable community with good public transportation alternatives. The EPA even publishes a National Walkability Index.

But if you are staying in a home or community without many alternatives to your own car, and you don’t want to use ridesharing with strangers like Uber or Lyft, you could assemble a network of friends and acquaintances on whom to rely. So together they will be your transportation team member.

How can I make my affairs easier to manage for the team?

Consolidate and simplify with one financial institution. It will be far easier for your financial surrogate, and the institution may even show you some extra appreciation. Some people are concerned that this is not being “diversified.” Nowadays, most institutions can hold a diversity of cash and investments all under the same roof. Just make sure to keep under the FDIC limit in any bank accounts.

Use the health apps provided by your healthcare providers to give easy access to your electronic medical records.

Have all of your digital passwords in one digital password manager. Most people don’t realize they have on average over 200 accounts with passwords. See “Document Your Digital Assets.”

How do I make it all legal?

Once you have decided who you would like to name as your surrogates, have either a durable power of attorney (DPOA) or living trust drafted by a board-certified estate planning attorney. (See “Do I need a trust?” for more on the topic of trusts.) The same attorney will often also draft your living will and healthcare power of attorney, too. For qualified attorney recommendations, check for your local chapter members of the National Association of Estate Planning Councils.

For more information on planning for aging, check out the e-book, How Does Your Money Flow? A Guide to Common Saving, Spending, and Sharing Decisions (Porchview Publishing, $3.99, available in e-reader-friendly formats). Or, join the list for our free award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch.”

Continue ReadingAs a Child-Free Elder, Who Will Be On Your Team?

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

The Retirement Answer? A Blank Stare

blank stare emoji

The Retirement Answer? A Blank Stare

I had just asked a 59-year-old, “You said you can retire in 3 years. How will you spend your time after that?” Expressionless, all he gave was a blank stare.

“I never thought about it,” he replied.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the first 59-year-old with that answer. “I don’t know” is a more common answer than most think. 

More To Retirement Life Than Money 

According to a study by United Capital, when asked about their financial life stories, most people talked about working and spending, not saving and investing.

Over the decades of our working lives, we tend to follow a formula: Work. Spend. (Save). Repeat. We do this knowing one day those (savings we try not to think about or touch) should equal a nice sum, hopefully enough to reach the nirvana of “financial independence.”

Along the way, we can get trapped into planning meals and vacations, but not a potential 25-year chapter of our life. If nothing trips up the formula (divorce, premature death, disability), then a milestone birthday, the loss of a parent, or the arrival of a new boss may cause one to someday dial up a financial planner and ask, “Am I there yet?”  

Are You “There” Yet?

To which the answer is usually, “That depends.”

That depends…on where “there” is. “There” = how, with whom, and where you will find purpose, meaning, and happiness in life after Work-Spend-(Save)-Repeat.

Once that’s known, “there” can be translated into real financial goals. If you don’t know what “there” looks like, then attempts to answer the question are merely rough guesses. More importantly, if you don’t know, you’re not likely to enjoy that supposed nirvana time nearly as much.  

There are many thought leaders contributing to discoveries about the time of life past “Working” and before “Old.” That time of life, which will be 25 or 30 years for a lucky few, goes by many names: Your Third Age. The Third Stage. The Encore Years. Your Life’s Next Chapter.

Examples of such leaders include Dori Mintzer and Mitch Anthony.

According to experts like these, retirement planned well has the potential to be a time of peak fulfillment and meaning. Not planned well or planned at all, potential paths lead to boredom and, in the worst cases, clinical depression.

Real Retirement Planning 

Many people think “retirement planning” means “IRA investments” or “401K rollovers” or “pension options.” Those are certainly part of it. But the best, yet sometimes the most difficult, kind of retirement planning is not found on your retirement account statements. It’s found inside of you. 

Begin with a blank stare, and build your “There.”

Not sure where to begin? Check out this free download: https://www.hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Beyond-the-Numbers-Whats-Retirement-Money-For.pdf for a questionnaire about what kind of retirement lifestyle choices are ideal for you.  

Continue ReadingThe Retirement Answer? A Blank Stare

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

Retirement Life: More Than Money at Stake

I knew a man who couldn’t wait to retire from his government job. Because of decades of hard work and wise money decisions, he was able to call it quits at 55. Thrilled with his newfound freedom, he immediately took to cooking, golf, dating (he had divorced at 49), 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. After about ten years, he moved to a Florida retirement community where the roofs and mailboxes are almost identical and one of the few ways to stand out is by the cover on your golf cart. It seemed to outsiders that everyone looked the same, dressed the same, exercised the same, but seemed happy with their life in the sunshine.

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.”

I was shocked. “What? Surely there are some retired CEOs, executives, people that think like you, 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 looked like all the rest of them, dressed like them, played golf and pickleball like 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.

Myths About The “Ideal” Retirement

According to writer Mitch Anthony,  there are three myths about the “ideal” retirement:

  1. “This part of my life is going to be about ME.”

Anthony says, “This is a formula for emptiness.”

  1. “I am going to surround myself with people like ME.”

Anthony’s reply: “This is a formula for stagnation.”

  1. “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. 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 that they get bored, the second step is that they grow pessimistic, and then they get ill.”

The “Dark Side” of retirement

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 among white males over 65 years old. Women seem to fare better. Anecdotally, several women I know have vibrant lives in retirement communities, filled with volunteering, teaching others, and various circles of friends.

South Dakota financial planner Rick Kahler responded to Laura’s article with several wise suggestions: 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, how would you spend your time, and with whom? Have a diverse social network outside of work. Writer Douglas Bloch  complained his parents’ retirement community had no children, while his retired friends were finding fulfillment mentoring youngsters in math.

Want to take it further? Dori Mintzer, Ph.D. has a weekly live interview series – “Revolutionize Retirement,” where she interviews experts on retirement life. Sign up for free at www.revolutionizeretirement.com.

Retirement planning has far more at stake than planning how to invest your assets. For some people, a well-thought out investment plan for their time, more than their money, can be the difference between illness and premature death, and a long, fulfilling life.​

Continue ReadingRetirement Life: More Than Money at Stake

Tampa Book Signing – Dec. 8, 2013 – at Inkwood Books

How will you be prepared to navigate your own money decisions, and family money conversations, around the holidays? Holly Thomas will have her Tampa book signing at Inkwood Books, at the corner of Platt and Armenia, on Sunday, Dec. 8 from 7 – 8 p.m. She will discuss and share how to have healthy money conversations and make better money decisions this time of year. RSVP to inkwoodbooks@gmail.com ($5, wine and cheese served).

Continue ReadingTampa Book Signing – Dec. 8, 2013 – at Inkwood Books