Blog Archive 2017-05-20T19:56:37+00:00

Blog Archive

Money and Happiness

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Money and Happiness

November 2018

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought this month I would take a break from the details about the market, economy, GDP, etc., and instead focus on something completely different.  The old saying is “money can’t buy happiness,” but I believe having your financial affairs in order can provide you with confidence during some difficult periods in life.  Money itself isn’t going to make you happy but it can be a mechanism to allow you to do fun things with those you care about.  Let me explain.

A few months ago, I had back surgery after dealing with severe nerve pain for months.  It was so bad I couldn’t get comfortable standing, sitting or even lying down.  As the day of surgery approached, it made me realize how much I took for granted just being pain free.  There were several trips planned for the fall such as a Napa wine tour, fall weekend in the hill country and Christmas in the mountains.  The thought of having to cancel those was depressing and made my heart sink.  It was a sharp reminder of how valuable time is with my family and friends doing activities we enjoy with each other.

The week after surgery, while recovering at home, several close friends came to visit me, many driving up from Houston.  I knew their calendars were full of work and family things, but they chose to take time out of their day to be with me.  The physical presence of a friend brought me true happiness and joy.  We talked about fun times together in the past and those still to come.  It was truly uplifting and took my mind off the pain and recovery ahead of me.

Did money make me happy that day?  Absolutely not.  Did having a plan in place to protect those around me give me comfort before my surgery?  Absolutely.  The relationships and shared experiences truly are irreplaceable.  We can’t predict the future but we can prepare for it.  In the end, the happiest people I know have done a good job preparing for the future but more importantly, they have relationships around them and enjoy spending time together.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Money and Happiness” was published in the November 2018 issue of Life on the Green magazine, a social publication for the residents surrounding The Woodlands, Country […]

Trick or Treat

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Trick or Treat

October 31, 2018

October brings fall festivals, Halloween, and my personal favorite – trick or treating!

For financial professionals, it also ushers in the 4th quarter, providing a wealth of data and potential insight into the economy, corporate earnings and where the markets may be headed in 2019.  Will we be tricked into a false sense of security or possibly receive a treat for being patient investors?  Here are some key data points to keep an eye on as we move ahead:

  1. GDP/Unemployment – The first release of Q3 GDP was +3.5%. This follows a strong 2nd quarter increase of 4.2% and shows the growth of the economy has been strong for 2018.  With record low unemployment, the Federal Reserve will likely continue raising interest rates which has been a key driver of market volatility and downside over the past few weeks.
  2. Mid-Term Elections – The uncertainty will likely keep markets in limbo until November 6th.  Polls are forecasting the makeup of the Senate will probably not change, but in the House, there are key races that could shift the balance of power.  The markets prefer gridlock in Washington, so the outcome will probably mean business as usual.
  3. Federal Reserve – The last meeting of 2018 for the Fed will be mid-December. The markets have been factoring in a rate hike at this meeting, but it is likely dependent on GDP, inflation and wage data.  The Fed has been transparent thus far under Chairman Powell in their stance of monitoring the data, so this rate hike is subject to continued growth in the economy and positive forward-looking data.

When considering your own strategy, try not to hedge your bets on any one specific event, as you would need to be right on two fronts.  The first is to predict the event and the second is the impact it will have on your investments.  We advise our clients to rebalance, diversify, and reduce some of the riskier assets if need be.   However, this current drop in equity markets is likely to add another buying opportunity if you are a long-term investor.  Be patient, stay disciplined in your strategy and try not to get caught up in the emotional “crisis” of the day because the media will always create one if needed.   In the end, we all want to avoid […]

Downsizing-Smaller isn’t Necessarily Better

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Downsizing-Smaller isn’t Necessarily Better

September 26, 2018

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For many homeowners the idea of downsizing can often mean the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.  Perhaps children have grown and moved out, a job relocation is imminent, or an elderly parent has passed away – the extra space once needed is now creating a drain on finances.  While the idea of decreasing living expenses by downsizing, may seem logical and well intentioned, some often overlooked factors can hurt financially.  Weighing the advantages and disadvantages equally can help prevent any potentially expensive mistakes.

The desire to downsize usually begins with the most obvious and immediate benefit – reduced living expenses – including mortgage payments, insurance and taxes.  One of the most commonly overlooked disadvantages we see in new construction home purchases is with higher tax rates based on new development infrastructure.  The attractiveness of owning a smaller home in a new or developing area may not be as enticing once the additional costs, fees, taxes and higher financing costs of today’s mortgage interest rates are considered.  We recommend putting pencil to paper and including the full cost of selling (commission, moving, etc.) as well as buying (new paint, furniture, landscaping) so you can make an informed decision.

When considering a smaller home in an established community you can realistically assume that living expenses will decrease by having less space, lower tax rates and an established infrastructure.   However, consider the additional long-term costs associated with an older home such as an aging roof, A/C unit, hot water heater or inefficient windows because these repairs can add up quickly.

One of the biggest advantages of downsizing, regardless of a home’s age, is the reduction in energy costs.  Downsizing to a smaller well-built home with energy efficient appliances and systems is not only easier on your wallet, but also reduces your carbon footprint on the environment.   By enlisting the help of a qualified home inspector or energy efficiency inspector, unexpected expenses can be avoided by identifying potential issues prior to buying your new home, and setting a solid foundation for your financial future.

“Downsizing – Smaller isn’t Necessarily Better” was published in the June 2018 issue of Life on the Green magazine, a social publication for the residents surrounding The Woodlands, Country Club, Player […]

Annual Benefits Enrollment – Time to Dig in (Reassess)

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Annual Benefits

Annual Benefits Enrollment – Time to Dig in (Reassess)

September 2018

The fall brings the hope of cooler weather, schools are back in session and when it comes to work the dreaded annual benefit enrollment packages.  For most people, the default is to leave everything the same as last year.  With all the recent changes in health insurance and other features this year might be an ideal time to really dig in and reassess, to maximize all your employer benefits.

401(k) & Retirement Plans – 401(k) plans are the most popular retirement benefit which allows an employee the ability to voluntarily contribute funds on a pre-tax or post-tax basis.  The company usually provides a matching contribution which is in essence “free” money.   The funds in the plan are portable so if you change jobs you can rollover the vested portion to your new employer or into your own IRA.  Bottom line is your company is GIVING you money for your hard work and contributing to your retirement savings.  Other possible retirement plan offerings include SIMPLE IRA’s, Defined Benefit Plans, or possibly an SEP (Simplified Employee Pension).

Health/Dental Insurance Due to rapidly rising premiums, these are by far the most expensive benefits for an employer to provide.  Many will share the cost of the plan with employees and offer features such as an FSA (Flexible Savings Account) which allows you to set aside money on a pre-tax basis to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Life & Disability Insurance – If you should die or become unable to work, these benefits will provide payments to you or your family to cover funeral costs or ongoing living expenses, often at little or no cost to you.  Group benefits have traditionally had much lower costs than personally owned policies but be cautious and compare.  Coverages such as Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) have extremely low premiums because the probability of receiving benefits are very low.

Commuter benefits – Whether commuting by car or public transportation, be sure to ask if your employer offers reimbursements or discounts for mileage, tolls, parking, or public-transit passes to off-set the cost – sometimes with pre-tax dollars.  Flexible work hours or work-from-home options can also reduce your monthly commuter expenses.

Matching Donations – Employers can offer this benefit to support organizations that their employees are passionate about.  When […]

College Bound-Financial Checklist

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studying-951818_1280College Bound-Financial Checklist

August 2018

Summer is a great time of celebration for high school seniors, but should also include time preparing them to transition into adulthood.  For many, college will be the first time they will experience living away from home and the independence of managing their own finances.  Here are just a few concepts every teenager should be familiar with:

Bank Accounts – Not all accounts are equal.  Be sure to compare maintenance fees, minimum balances and ATM availability.  Teach them how to write a check.

Credit vs Debit Card – Debit cards pull directly from a checking account, while credit card purchases are essentially small loans you must pay back with interest.  Responsible credit card use can build a solid credit history that will be necessary down the road when renting an apartment or purchasing a car.  Education about the differences of each and the importance of keeping debt to a minimum, by paying balances off on time and in full each month, is critical for a good credit score.

Develop good money habits by having them create a Spending Plan to manage expenses.  Don’t just deposit money for the semester/year without providing somewhat of a framework of how the money should be spent.  The Cardinal Rule here should be “Spend less than you earn.”

Time Value of Money – If there is any earned income, encourage them to start saving now.  The habit of saving, even if just a few dollars a month, will serve them well for many years to come.

Attend a Personal Financial Course – These classes can often be found with local community education programs or as a freshman course in college.

Identity Theft – Teach them to safeguard personal information and keep tabs on suspicious activity.

Employment –  For many families, student loan debt is a reality to finance higher education.  The pros and cons of taking on a job while also carrying a full course load should be carefully considered.  While it can be a great way to reduce your student debt, gain valuable job experience and learn time management skills, it could also interfere with academic progress if someone isn’t disciplined enough with juggling school and work commitments.

Regardless of where the money comes from, living within their means may not be the popular choice but will teach […]

Happy Independence Day!

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Field of American Flags

Happy Independence Day!

July 2018

The Fourth of July often feels like a mid-summer holiday where we enjoy a few days off from work and spend time with family and friends.  It is a reminder of the blessings we have as a country and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.  For me, it also includes our financial independence and the benefit of a free market.  We can spend and invest however we choose.  As a child in 1976, I vividly recall the bicentennial anniversary of our country and wondered just how far the markets have come over the last four decades.

The current decade (2010-2017) benefited stockholders with a positive total return of 140%.  This has been one of the longest economic recovery periods in history due, in large part, to the Federal Reserve stepping in post 2008, record low interest rates, and major asset purchases.  Investors were rewarded for sticking with stocks during this period, but as rates move higher, it has left a wave of volatility in its’ wake.

The decade of the 2000’s (2000-2010) has been referred to as the “lost decade” because the market dropped 14% from start to finish early on with the dot com bubble burst and again in 2008 with the mortgage crisis. There are only two other periods in the market’s history where a 10-year return is negative; 1929 and 1966.  Opportunities to invest during this period were probably the best I’ll see in my lifetime.

The 1990’s reversed course again and turned positive with a total return of 316%.  The economy expanded and grew so rapidly the Federal Reserve raised interest rates 7 times from 1994-1995.  This was an excellent time to own stock, apart from the Long-Term Capital Management bailout in 1998.

Finally, the 1980’s added 227% of return even though inflation and interest rates were in the double digits.  Gasoline prices soared and we weathered a recession only to come out of it with a major tax reform and stronger economy.  The end of this period also brought about Black Monday where the market dropped over 20% in one day.

There are no guarantees stocks will always remain a good investment, but as you can see from this example, three extended periods of time were positive and only one was negative.  Investing can be an uncertain process, but […]

Teaching Children Financial Literacy

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Teaching Children Financial Literacy

May 2018

This past month, our oldest son leased his first apartment.  As a parent, it was both rewarding and concerning at the same time.   We had agreed early on that we would pay for their college, so the expenses never really decreased over the past few years.   Now that one son has graduated and moved out on his own, we finally see a change in those expenses for the better and hope to share a few lessons learned along the way.

All our children have had checking accounts from an early age, worked in high school and college, and were very aware that there was not an infinite supply of money for gas and entertainment.  By giving them some freedom with their own debit card, they learned valuable lessons when their purchases were declined, how to plan for bigger purchases, and the importance of saving.  This helped with the early years and now continues into adulthood, as they understand the need to anticipate bigger expenses like an apartment lease, car payment and utilities.

A common mistake I have seen is when parents leave their children on their car insurance policy, cell phone plan and even provide them with a credit card.   While this may seem innocent at first,  it can often create a state of dependency that is difficult for some to end as children grow into adulthood.  My philosophy has always been to give them the bill early and let them figure out how to pay it.

Needs and wants can be a difficult concept for young adults to grasp.  A new BMW, the latest iPhone and new furniture are all great to have but come with a hefty price tag.  We had our son break down his salary, figure out what his fixed expenses would be and he quickly realized his budget would only allow him to purchase a used car to afford his daily living expenses.  Fortunately, he had savings for a down payment and security deposit for his new apartment lease.

Helping your children establish good money habits early is key to their financial success later.  Encourage financial independence by letting them make monthly payments and budget for savings and unexpected expenses.  Your children will be better off in the long run if they learn to manage […]

Volatility Is Back

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Volatility Is Back

 May 2018

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The market swings of early this year have been a rude awaking that stocks don’t always go straight up.  2017 will go down as one of the lowest volatility years in history.  These recent moves are in line with normal fluctuations and always provide a healthy reminder of the downside stocks have.

The beginning of 2018 started off with a nice rally as the S&P  500 moved up over 7% in January only to fall 10% over  the next two weeks. Since that time, the market has stabilized but not fully recovered.  Corrections are usually a great buying opportunity, but there are several items to consider.  First is to understand what caused the market correction and if the volatility will continue.  The primary driver of this selloff was fear of inflation from wage pressure and uncertainty of how the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve will respond to higher inflation.  The tool most often utilized to fight inflation is raising short term interest rates.

The expectation in January was the Fed would raise rates   2-3 times, but now the market has been pricing in a potential 4th rate hike.  The interest rate on the 10 year Treasury bond moved from 2.4% to 2.8% as a result.  This higher cost of borrowing will eventually slow inflation (and economic growth) but not significantly until rates exceed 3% to 3.5%.  Core inflation is still running around 2% so it is doubtful runaway inflation is in near future.

Another item to consider is your own portfolio allocation.  Do you have enough cash savings for an emergency or rainy-day fund?  Do your current investments have too many/too little stocks?  How about your ability to withstand the market fluctuations?  If you’re comfortable answering these questions, it is likely a good time to increase your stock exposure.  We believe 10% corrections are a nice entry point if you have a long enough time horizon.  We don’t know when or if the market will recover but if history is any guide it is worth considering.

Safe Investing

“Volatility Is Back” was published in the April 2018 issue of Life on the Green magazine, a social publication for the residents surrounding The Woodlands, Country Club, Player Course, where Dan is a resident and is a featured monthly contributor.

Economic Update-Fall 2017

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businessman square -2557056_1280Economic Update-Fall 2017

October 2017

In spite of the many predictions of doom and gloom earlier this year, the global economy continued its synchronized expansion.  The IMF (International Monetary Fund) projects global growth will be 3.5% for 2017 with the US growing at a rate of 2.1%.  We haven’t reached our targeted 3% growth number in the US, but the current state of the economy is healthy considering the Fed raised interest rates, essentially removing stimulus from the system.

There are several reasons to remain optimistic for the outlook to continue in a positive direction.  Interest rates still remain historically low, inflation is benign and subdued commodity prices are a boost to consumer spending.  These are a definite tailwind since 2/3 of our economy comes from consumer spending.  Housing, construction and infrastructure are holding steady to provide some additional lift.  Based on these conditions, the US is likely to remain in the late phase of the business cycle without a recession in the near term.

However, there are a few caution lights flashing on the market dashboard.  Growth in US stocks have pushed the valuations to elevated levels.  Markets can remain there for an extended period of time, but we must have earnings growth to support the move in stock prices. The current expansion we are in (post-2008 until now) is second in terms of length and return (99 months and +258%) using the S&P 500.  The other statistic to keep in mind is the S&P 500 which usually sees a greater than 10% drop, or corrects itself, at least once per year.  The last time we had a move of that magnitude was June 2016 when Brexit passed in the UK.  We are definitely overdue for pullback based on the data.

With all these things in mind, what should you do?   First, we suggest re-balancing your winners/losers.  Second, know what you own in your portfolio and be proactive is assessing the amount of risk you have.  Understanding where your portfolio is exposed to volatility in the market place will help you prepare in the event of a drop.  Lastly, put some money in a safer haven to take advantage of any drop that might happen.  We can’t predict when volatility will return but we can plan for it.

Safe Investing

Dan

“Economic Update-Fall 2017” was published in […]

Protecting Yourself from Online Fraud & Identity Theft

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Protecting Yourself from Online Fraud & Identity Theft

August 16, 2017

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We live in an increasingly connected world today and protecting your personal and financial information from threats online is critical.  In 2016, 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud, according to a new report from Javelin Strategy & Research.  By making some simple changes you can significantly reduce your risk of exposure.

  1. Password Management – Change your password to a complex string of characters using more than just numbers and letters. Financial firms usually allow longer passwords which will enhance the security on your accounts.  It’s a good idea to vary the ID/password at each institution.  This will isolate the risk if your information is stolen and help to keep other accounts open while resolving any issues.
  1. Utilize 2-Factor Authentication – Enable two-factor authentication on all financial accounts (bank, investment, credit). This process initiates a different code to your phone or electronic device each time you login to your account. This eliminates the risk of just an ID/password being compromised.  Most financial institutions today offer this, but you usually must request or enable to function yourself.
  1. Use a Specific Device for All Financial Transactions (no email or web browsing) – The primary way an attack is carried out is by the use of email usually in the form of a link or attachment that seems innocent. Before you realize it, the attacker has placed malware on your device to capture login credentials, encrypted your data (ransomware) or hijacked your device for later use in another attack.  By identifying one device as a “financial transactions only” device you can have confidence that malware or an unsecure website will not expose you to unnecessary risks.  At a minimum, you should always use secured wifi connections for all financial transaction  Don’t risk your financial information over any public wifi network.
  1. Freeze Your Credit – The last consideration is to place a freeze on your credit with all three major credit bureaus. This will not hurt your credit, but will prevent someone from obtaining credit fraudulently in your name.  It can be a small hassle when you need to add credit but it is definitely worth the trouble.

By making these small changes, your risk of compromise will drop dramatically but will not be eliminated.  […]