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!

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Free Financial Mentoring: Savvy Ladies

empowered women

Free financial mentoring from Savvy Ladies

Savvy Ladies is a not-for-profit organization formed to provide free financial mentoring to women.

How does it do this?

An army of volunteers, to start. Any woman can sign up for a pro bono 1 hour mentoring consultation with a Certified Financial Planner™ on a wide variety of topics. Volunteers have also written blog posts and recorded webinars on specialized topics. All are available on the organization’s website, https://www.savvyladies.org.

What kind of topics?

Cash flow, investing, divorce, widowhood, caregiving, budgeting, debt, college, careers and more.

Who does Savvy Ladies serve?

Any woman of any background who has a question about money. Founder Stacy Francis recognized that, as women, we are more often in-the-dark about money issues than men. Many women have no one to talk to about it. Savvy Ladies creates a safe place where those questions can be asked and answered.

What is its goal?

More self-reliant, financially educated women. In psychological terms, “financial self-efficacy.” Having self-efficacy means feeling confident and resourceful enough to handle a problem or question. Note this does not mean having or knowing all the answers. It means having the confidence to know where you might find the answers, and that you will be successful.

Who are the volunteers?

The website features several of the many volunteer professionals. Recently as a volunteer I have spoken with women as far away as Colorado and as close as my home state of Florida.

What’s the catch?

No catch. Volunteer professionals do not solicit for business. After the one hour consultation, the recipient fills out a survey asking how well their question was answered. The volunteer also fills out a survey asking how well they thought the consultation went.

Importantly, Savvy Ladies has received the GuideStar Seal of Transparency. Not all charities are what they appear. For more information on checking up on charities, see: https://www.hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com/charities-and-giving/.

Want to see more ladies get financially savvy?

If so, here are a few ways you can help.

Donate or Sponsor. Savvy Ladies relies on donations and sponsorships to keep the website, small staff, and operation running smoothly.

Refer. Refer a woman you know to the free financial helpline for a consultation. Or, refer a financial professional you know to volunteer.

Volunteer. If you are a financial professional, apply to be a Savvy Ladies volunteer. It’s up to you how much time you spend. Of course, men are welcome, too!

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What Is Retired Husband Syndrome?

What is retired husband syndrome?

I first heard of Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS) at a book signing in 2013. From across the book section in the exhibit hall, I saw a young man with jet black hair staring at the back of my newly-published book, The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future. He turned it over, opened to the table of contents, flipped a few pages, and turned it over again.

Until that point, he acted like other book-browsers – look at back, flip to front, open to table of contents, flip to back, flip again. Some would then take the book to the register. Others set it back on the shelf. The whole decision took less than 2 minutes.

But this young man took so long reading, I wondered if he might consume the whole book right there. Then I quit watching, distracted by conversation with another attendee.

When I turned back to look for him, he was gone. Figuring he had decided against it, I was surprised a couple of hours later to see he was the first in line at the book signing.

Retired Husband Syndrome – in South Korea

Approaching with an enthusiastic smile, he said “Hello” in a heavy Asian accent. He was from Seoul, South Korea, and said that he thought my book would be helpful to his male clients. Unsure why he was excluding the female ones, I readied my pen to sign, but asked him to tell me more.

“In Asia, we have Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS),” he said.

“I’ve never heard of that. What is it?” I asked, putting the pen down.

“Some husbands spend their whole lives working for a company, and when they retire, they are at home, and it is not good for the marriage. The husband loses his identity because he is not in his job anymore, and he wants to be home with his wife. The wife has been at home her whole life, but she doesn’t like the husband being there, doing nothing.”

“So sometimes the retired husbands do…nothing? They don’t have hobbies or hang out with their friends?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Wow. So you must see a lot of marriage problems in your practice?”

“Yes! And it is too bad. They have a pension, but the couples never spend time planning what they will do.” He explained more about the strain on the marriage; the sadness he sees at a time when there could be great joy and celebration; and the effect on their children and the families.

“This makes me sad. Sometimes I am going to be the only person outside of the family who might see it. All of the financial advisors in Seoul could help people with this. This is preventable.”

Retirement Planning Is About More Than Money

I once heard a conference speaker say, “We spend more time planning what we’re going to eat for lunch than how we will spend a 30-year period of our lives.” In the U.S., it’s not only pre-retiree husbands, but also wives, singles, straight, and LGBT pre-retirees, admitting they are at risk for something like RHS.

It helps to clarify how you might spend the bounty of time that increased longevity will likely bring. If you need help planning a fulfilling retirement, find a financial professional or coach who takes as much interest in your time as they do in your money.

You can help stop the spread of one type of preventable international syndrome, and help your future happiness even more.

For more on the psychology of money prior to retirement, tax tips, and a monthly dose of fun, enjoy the free award-winning e-letter, “The View From the Porch.” Subscribe at this link: https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn

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Money: Values, Behaviors, Habits and Change

saving money

Money values, behaviors, habits, and change: Perhaps there is something about middle age, or a pandemic, that creates the urge to examine values, behaviors, habits, and change.

At my 25th college reunion, I had breakfast with a college friend who worked for our alma mater, Davidson College. She had attended lots of reunions.

I asked about her observations of reunion attendees. She said something like, “At the 10-year mark, everyone’s comparing notes – who has how many kids, who has graduate degrees, what they did for vacations, what kind of home they live in, etc.”

In other words, their money values tended to be focused on status.

“By the 25th, nearly everyone has experienced some kind of life event, and they are a lot more mellow. The other stuff must not seem as important.”

So, values shift as life unfolds.

Values drive behaviors, which become habits. When we begin to question the behaviors and habits, we become ready for change. And that’s how growth happens. Eventually this process can work its way into finances.

Beginning to Examine Behaviors – Eating Habits

My own path to behavior change didn’t start with money. It started with eating.

One of my first experiences with behavior change was through Weight Watchers. I was 35 years old, 5’3″ and 15 pounds overweight. I decided that I valued being healthy more than enjoying unhealthy food. I lost 20 pounds and gained 5 back, but kept it off.

How did I do it? Tracking and accountability. Whenever my clothes got tight, I would write down everything I ate. This helped me track and change my eating behaviors permanently.

Ironically, tracking and accountability had come naturally to me with money. I wrote my first budget at age 9, and had tracked my money ever since. This made me a good saver, but later I learned it didn’t necessarily mean I had a good relationship with money.

Conversational Habits

Next I moved to healthier conversation habits.

The values of listening well and feeling heard became more important. I learned that “listening” does not mean, “Wait until the other person is finished talking so I can say what I want to say.”

Listening means to suspend all noise and chatter in my head; and reflect on what I am hearing. To eliminate the noise and chatter, I acquired a rule: Anything that I want to say while someone else is talking, I am not allowed to say.

Like any other habit change, it took conscious effort at first. When I think of something I want to say, I let it go, stay present, and listen. I found that, if I truly wanted to understand someone then what I wanted to say would have gotten in the way of that.

My conversational habits, and relationships, improved.

Money Values, Behavior, Habits and Change

My money habits needed improvement too.

I used to overtrack my spending and worry unnecessarily about it. This led to a habit of denying myself some things that would have been convenient, or just enjoyable. Then, like binge eating, I would splurge on something silly or outrageously expensive. Even though the splurges never exceeded the savings, it created big regret and self-criticism.

This roller coaster of emotions tied to money was one of the hardest habits to break. The shift came indirectly through other personal changes wrought through a divorce. Working structured programs with friends who shared similar struggles helped me identify emotions sooner and do something more constructive with them.

This education helped me write The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future, for people who have difficulty spending their savings in ways that bring joy and happiness.

Examining is Easy; Change is Hard

It is easy to underestimate how difficult behavior change can be.

It’s normal to believe we can simply tell ourselves to act differently. We can “just say no” to cookies after dinner, to quit interrupting, or to quit worrying about financial things we cannot control.

Instead, it helps to have a nudge – a program, a structure, a new discipline, or an accountability partner – to complete the transformation from old habits to new ones.

Before you know it, with new habits, a lot of good physical, relational, mental, and financial growth will happen.

Enough good stuff to share at the next college reunion.

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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.

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The ABCs of Behavioral Economics

The ABCs of Behavioral Economics: This article was originally published in NAPFA Advisor magazine.

Behavioral economics, with its long lexicon of “biases,” has enjoyed great popularity for a couple of decades. However, it’s also one area where financial planning students feel the least prepared. Experienced advisors, too, find this relatively new field fascinating, but yearn for practical ways to apply it, especially amid the market volatility of the past couple of years.

Sometimes it’s helpful to boil things down to basics. At the risk of oversimplifying, here are three reminders, A-B-C style, of what behavioral economics is about, how it works, and how advisors can use it.

A—What is behavioral economics about? A: Actors (economic ones) are not always rational.

Economists used to assume that actors (people and companies) always act rationally to increase their profit, wealth, or “utility.” The father of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman, won a 2002 Nobel Prize for proving they actually don’t. However, even today, both clients and advisors still tend to assume finance is about facts, not feelings.

Throughout my early banking career, I made this assumption. For example, when the estate tax exemption was $675,000, I reveled in suggesting ways that nearly every client could save on estate taxes. One husband, whom I knew liked to argue, pushed back when I brought this up. “Why do you automatically assume I want to save taxes?” he blurted.

His wife looked at my jaw hanging open. I answered, meekly, “Because nearly everyone I talk to wants to save taxes?”

“Well, maybe I don’t!” he said. “The government has a lot of good programs.”

Before that day, I had never asked how anyone felt about paying taxes (who would ask such a stupid question?), or what the idea of legacy meant to someone (too personal, I might upset them). My job, before that day, was like Sergeant Joe Friday, “Nothin’ but the facts, ma’am.”

Now I know all facts, especially anything with the word “estate” in it, for goodness’ sake, come with feelings. It’s far better to get to the feelings first if we want any chance of rational decision making.

B- Why Does This Happen? B: Brains have powerful primitive parts.

In his 2011 best seller, Thinking: Fast and Slow, Kahneman divides the brain into two systems: System 1 and System 2. To oversimplify, System 1 is the older, primitive part, and it generates emotional responses. System 2 is the newer, intellectual part.

Most of the time we’re quite aware of what’s going on with System 2 (intellectual), and quite unaware of System 1 (emotional). We fail to remember how much more powerful System 1 is than System 2. To make matters worse, System 2 falsely believes it can override System 1 anytime it wants.

For example, have you ever been sitting at a traffic light and suddenly heard a honk from the car behind you? My System 1’s initial thought is, “Who the !@#$ is honking?” as I glare in the rear-view mirror. A fraction of a second later, it occurs to System 2 to, duh, see if the light turned green. System 1’s embarrassment kicks in with a little wave in the mirror, “Sorry!”

One of the signs of a true professional is the ability to override System 1 through experience and practice. Kahneman uses firefighters as an example. After many fires, they learn that fear doesn’t go away. They accept it as part of the job, then, with experience, use it to make split-second but measured decisions.

In the last couple of years, have you not been a little scared, at least once? A study from the Journal of Behavioral Finance showed financial professionals are just as prone to emotional errors as retail investors. Knowing and accepting this should make us even more cautious. Younger advisors know from their training not to act irrationally based on fear. Senior advisors know from experience not to act irrationally after seeing advisors who did.

Our System 2 can try saying, “I won’t be scared the next time the market falls 10%,” but your System 1 will decide that involuntarily, not you.

System 1 beats System 2 to the punch nearly every time because System 2 is wired to conserve energy. So, it allows System 1 to do most of the work, which mainly involves scanning for threats. Fear isn’t wrong. It’s unavoidable. Whether and how we handle it is our hallmark.

C—What can we do about it? C: Curiosity can help.

How do we foster conversations in which System 2 creates a measured response to System 1 impulses? One way is to concentrate on being curious. This means to expect our own emotional response but not react to it. Accept whatever the client brings up. Focus on better understanding the client’s responses.

Here is an example:

Client: “I think we should buy/sell/do something different than what we’ve been doing.”

Advisors’ thoughts under the influence of System 1:
Fear: “Are you leaving?”
Guilt: “I should have called you sooner.”
Contempt: “You stupid idiot!”
Impatience: “No. You are acting irrationally. I don’t have time for this. Here’s my advice. Take it or leave it.”

Advisors under System 2 (with System 1 emotions in the background):
“I understand, and I would like to hear more about what you’re thinking.” (Fear: Yikes! No! You might blame me for this.)

“It sounds like you are really concerned. Tell me more.” (Contempt: After all our meetings, why can’t you just be calm?)

“I’d be happy to talk about that further. Help me understand how you are feeling.” (Impatience: Do I really have to listen to this?)

We can help the client discover their emotions themselves, simply by creating a safe space for it. Upon reaching that point of self-discovery, ironically, they feel more understood by us. Once someone feels understood, only then will System 1 sometimes step aside and make them ready for System 2-based factual advice.

Sometimes Advisors Need to Hold the Advice

In a 2016 article for The Journal of Financial Planning, Brad Klontz wrote,


The secret is this: when we are doing our best work, we are bringing little or nothing new to the exchange. We are asking no questions. We are offering no advice. We are making no recommendations. We are providing no analysis or insights. We are abandoning our goals and agendas and are just bringing ourselves. Sure, we are facilitating a process, but we have learned that our effectiveness grows as our ability to be present grows. In our best moments, we are engaged in exquisite listening, which is the best therapy.

Klontz, Van Sutphen, and Fries, “Financial Planner as Healer: the Role of Financial Health Physician,” Journal of Financial Planning, December 2016

Behavioral economics can feel counterintuitive: Expect irrational responses, and accept that feelings are more powerful than facts. By not immediately reacting with advice, we become the best advisors.

For more on applying behavioral economics principles to real-life financial planning, see The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

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Guest Rap Song Post: It Won’t Go To Zero

Guest rap song post: It Won’t Go To Zero. In early 2010, Ken Robinson, JD and Certified Financial Planner in Ohio, produced a funny rap video with a serious educational message: “It Won’t Go to Zero.” Whenever markets start back on their once-in-a-while roller coaster ride, it’s a good time to resurrect Ken’s lyrics and rap-star antics. Thank you Ken!

In 2007, the stock market began falling and didn’t hit bottom until 2009. Although it recovered throughout 2009 and 2010, it took several months to 2 years for the investing public to actually believe it. Who could blame them after the traumatic crash – a 50% drop in the S&P 500 – in the fall of 2008? Ken’s video in early 2010 occurred during a recovery many didn’t yet recognize.

During those couple of years, people and pundits asked, “Is this time different?” “Will it ever come back?” “Is this the New Normal?” “What if it goes to zero?” In times like these, it is usually confusing and difficult to separate reality-based facts from emotional actions.

Get to the Chorus

The chorus of Ken’s song goes,

“The markets are resilient, and although they may bend, they won’t break, the stock downturn will come to an end. I can’t say what might finally make things turn around, but eventually we will get back on solid ground. I’m not here to be some investment hero, I’m just letting you know; the markets won’t go to zero.”

The lyrics are just as relevant today, in a different decade, under a different New Normal. I wouldn’t change a thing he’s saying. In fact, yesterday I had nearly this exact conversation. I just wish I’d had the talent to say it in a rap song.

Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3GtxtWSZxE

Choose Composure

Ken’s message is to keep our composure. After a recent NBA playoff win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors was asked by the reporter, “You were down 13 points. How did your team come back to win?”

His answer: “Composure.”

Fortunately for the Warriors they did not have pundits on the sidelines screaming, “You’re finished!” “A comeback is impossible!” “This time it’s different!” Unfortunately for the investing public, scary messages are way too available on nearly any media source we choose. And the primitive part of our brains is hard-wired to look for danger, whether or not it might truly exist.

Choose media messages wisely. When things get scary, no matter what you are hearing and reading, choose composure.

For more on the ways our brains mix up our money messages, see chapters 6 and 7 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future, or any of the books on our Recommendations page.

Continue ReadingGuest Rap Song Post: It Won’t Go To Zero

A Buckets Approach To Retirement Income

buckets

A buckets approach to retirement income: One of the most common questions financial planners receive from pre-retirees is, “What’s the safest way to give myself a paycheck once I quit working?”

Those who have been around long enough probably know someone who retired close to a particularly bad market year, like 2001, 2007 or 2008. Because that someone had to, or chose to, sell some investments at that terrible time, they ended up living off of much less than they originally thought. This can be a scary thing to watch. It makes some wonder, “How do I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?”

The Buckets Approach

Enter the buckets approach to retirement income. Below is a link to a video excerpt from the online course, “Retirement Readiness,” outlining a buckets approach in more detail. (A link to the course can be found at the bottom of this article and here.) A description for each of the buckets follows below.

https://youtu.be/mkeqzgJfeFc

Bucket 1 – Cash and Money Market Accounts

The first bucket will provide your paycheck. The rule of thumb is to
1) calculate any retirement income you will have (pension, Social Security, dividends, interest, rental property, for examples);
2) figure your annual recurring expenses (do not include one-time expenses such as replacing a car, roof, or paying for a special trip or wedding);
3) subtract 2) from 1); and
4) keep 1 to 2 years of that difference in Bucket 1.

For example, Justine retires at 65. She expects to live past age 82 so she is waiting until 70 to claim Social Security. She has a pension of $800/month. Her recurring expenses are $70,000 annually. The annual difference is $70,000 – $9,600 = $60,400. To start retirement, she decides to keep 1.5 years of the difference in Bucket 1 so $60,400 x 1.5 = $90,600. She puts that in a high-yield money market account and sets up an automatic transfer of $5833.33 monthly to her checking account. Voila – she has a new paycheck.

When she turns 70, she will collect $45,000 in Social Security. At that time the annual difference will fall to $70,000 – ($9,600 + $45,000) = $15,400. She decides to keep 2 years of the new difference in Bucket 1, so $15,400 x 2 = $30,800. She reduces the monthly transfer from the money market to $1283.33 per month.

Bucket 2 – Bonds, CDs, and Bond Funds

The second bucket replenishes Bucket 1. As the paychecks come out, the principal in the money market account will naturally decrease. When the balance reaches a level you have predetermined, a transfer is made from Bucket 2.

Bucket 2 is comprised of a combination of CDs, bonds, and or bond funds. CDs and bonds have maturity dates, so they are structured in a ladder (staggered maturity dates usually 6 to 12 months apart into the future). As each one in the ladder matures, the principal is either transferred to Bucket 1, or redeployed into a new CD or bond with a maturity date at the end of the ladder. If bond funds are used, they are laddered according to the duration in the fund, and the funds are sold as needed to replenish Bucket 1.

Bucket 3 – Stocks and Stock Funds

Bucket 3 replenishes Bucket 2 through harvesting gains in stocks. To do so, the general rule of thumb is:

  1. Review Bucket 3 on a regular but infrequent schedule (at most quarterly and at least annually). I
  2. f there are gains, transfer those to replenish Bucket 2.
  3. If there are no gains (i.e. the market is in a correction), then do nothing until the next scheduled review.

In this way, stocks are not sold at the most inopportune time. With up to 5 years of paychecks in hand, the first two buckets provide a secure cushion from market corrections.

Final Notes

It’s worth noting that whether the buckets are held in a tax-deferred account or a taxable account makes a difference. Buckets may be spread across accounts in different combinations to minimize taxes.

The goal of the Bucket approach isn’t to generate the best returns of any retirement portfolio on record, but rather to help prevent retirees and pre-retirees from selling at an inopportune time. Thus, a new retiree could use the bucket concept to replace their paycheck without worry about what markets are doing that month.

For a short online course on how to speak “finance” about retirement readiness, see Simple Finance Retirement Readiness: https://bit.ly/3p3BkXE.

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Honey, Ain’t Money Funny? 4 Ideas For Couples’ Money Convos

Couples and money

Honey, ain’t money funny? Sometimes, not so much. As Valentine’s Day came and went, a couple struggled with questions about consumerism, the meaning behind gifts, and how money affected their relationship. Whether it was financial inequality, overspending, or miserliness (a la Scrooge), humor was hard to find at a time when they were surrounded by hearts-and-happiness messages.

What can couples do to have a better relationship with money? Following are 4 ideas. For each one, it’s a good idea to plan a special fun reward or celebration at the end. The more you practice at these, the easier the conversations will get. You may find your differences become predictable, manageable, and even laughable.

Idea 1: Try a Monthly Money Date

For monthly money dates, quickies are best. These are for checking the “dashboard indicators” in your household finances. Agree to limit these conversations to about 15 minutes. A 2 1/2 minute video on 3-Part Money Dates can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TWFKfF0vRQ.

Build in fun and humor by focusing on your progress, positive wins, and gratitude for what you’ve got so far. For big ideas and thorny issues, make a separate date to discuss those using one of the following 3 formats. Then move on to the “real” date part!

Idea 2: Try a 2-Day Relationship Conference

No you don’t have to talk about money for 2 days. What a buzzkill! Instead, in a Relationship Conference, each partner takes a turn being a pure listener to the other partner’s issues. Being the listener in a relationship conference means saying nothing while your partner talks. You can decide on the timeframe, but make it somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes. You can take notes. Take a break for 24 to 48 hours and allow thoughts and feelings to arise to reflect on what you heard. Share those with your partner by reversing roles – it’s their turn to simply listen and reflect for whatever timeframe you decide – 24 to 48 hours. Summarize how you both felt about the Conference. Then celebrate your ability to tackle tough stuff.

Idea 3: Take Turns Active Listening

Another option is to take turns all in one setting being the active listener. This means being fully present to your partner’s issues and emotions without bringing up your own responses or emotions. (Tip: This is really hard for most people who have never done it before.) You do this by repeating back what you heard, checking with them to make sure you got it all (“Did I get it all?”), and asking to hear more about the emotions underlying each statement (“You said you felt excluded. Tell me more about that.”) Once your partner agrees they feel completely heard and understood, then it’s your turn. Remember to celebrate and give yourselves credit for your progress with active listening.

Idea 4: Ask For Practice Help

Are there some money issues in your relationship that sound too difficult to talk about on your own? Sometimes each of these exercises work best if practiced with a counselor first. And that’s ok; sometimes we need training wheels before we’re ready to ride the conversation bicycle on our own. Give yourselves the gift of an enhanced relationship by getting some tips on how to have a healthy conversation about money.

Remember when you learned to ride and then let go of the handlebars? Imagine feeling that free in your relationship with money and each other. One’s Scrooge to the other’s spending might actually be something you learn to laugh about for years to come. You know you’ve arrived when you find yourselves saying, “Honey, ain’t money funny?”

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to our award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn.

For an online course on couples and retirement readiness, see the Simple Finance page at: https://my-simple-finance.thinkific.com/courses/retirement-readiness-signature

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Monthly Money Dates

couples and money

Monthly money dates sure don’t sound very romantic. However, it’s said that money and sex are the two biggest reasons for divorce*. Could it be just a coincidence they are also two of the most difficult topics for couples to discuss? So perhaps it might make sense to figure out how to talk about them. Making regular times to talk about a difficult topic can often break down walls within other relationship areas.

In fact, a money date doesn’t have to last that long. Probably at most 15 minutes. (Unlike that other difficult topic, quicker is better.) One suggested format for a money date has 3 parts, with each partner taking turns:

For Part 1: “Here’s what I contributed this month.”

And Part 2: “Here’s what I see for major expenditures coming up.”

Then Part 3: “How are we doing?”

Money Date Part 1: What You Contributed

First, telling what you contributed, no matter how big or small, starts the conversation with recognition for your efforts. If one partner stays home or is out of work, find a way to recognize other ways you contribute – whether it’s nurturing the kids or searching for that next great job.

Money Date Part 2: Upcoming Expenditures

Second, talking about what’s coming up, or could come up, leaves little room for unpleasant surprises. While this may be the hardest part of the conversation, it’s placed here for a reason. Psychological studies show that thinking about how much we spend or have spent can induce the same emotions that lead to depression. On the other hand, counting what we have induces the same emotions that lead to happiness and fulfillment. That’s why the spending question is sandwiched between the other two.

Money Date Part 3: How Are We Doing?

Third, how well you are doing? Ask, what goals are worth tracking? If you are unsure where to start, try the following four indicators: retirement accounts; savings levels; debt levels; and charitable giving. Rather than constantly comparing to an ideal number, find a way to recognize progress from where you were at some point in the past. No matter where you might see room for improvement, walk away with at least one thing you can both point to and be glad or hopeful about.

Money Date Wrap-up: What Next?

Sharing your hopes and working through challenges about money decisions, even for 15 minutes, can be an intimate couples exercise. If you follow this formula successfully, you might find you’re a little more interested in that other intimate topic that’s hard to talk about. (And feel free to take longer than 15 minutes for that one.)

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to the award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn, check out Holly’s book, The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future, or sign up for the online Retirement Readiness course.

*see Dr. Dae Sheridan’s Tedx Talk, “Real Talk about ‘The Talk'”

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