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A Simple Way to Set Goals for 2014

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I love complex processes.  I really do.  There’s just something about the intricacies of a large spreadsheet that can really get my brain going, and I can spend lots of time deep in an analysis for financial questions.

Yet, when I tried to apply the same level of detail to my past goal-setting, it never worked out the way that I hoped.  I’ve tried spreadsheets and software and GANTT charts to try to lay out my goals in detailed sequences and it just doesn’t seem to work, and I’ve never understood why.  A friend passed along James Clear’s excellent post on setting aside goals to focus on systems, and it sparked a new way of thinking for me in this year’s goal setting.  Read it, it’s an excellent way to think about meaningful change.

With that in mind, I created my goal template this year in 3 simple pages that you can download below.  Print them off, and take 15-20 minutes to jot down your thoughts on these critical questions: (Download a PDF copy of these questions - 2014 Goal Template)

Q1 - Reflect on the past year.  What did you accomplish in 2013?  Personally?  Professionally?  Give yourself some credit for your accomplishments. What were this year’s successes?  Large and small, they all build towards your long-term vision.

Before you look forward towards your goals, have you looked back at the previous year at all?  What accomplishments did you have in 2013?  Put those down on paper, and remind the goal-setting part of your brain that you did accomplish some things last year.   We’re all much better at picking out the things we didn’t accomplish from a list than the ones that we did, so let’s take a few minutes to counter that natural tendency and prime our goal-setting mechanisms.

Q2.  What would you like to accomplish in 2014?  Personally? Professionally? 

Let your creative imagination have some space and think about what you’d like to have accomplished, when you’re sitting down at your desk in the first week of 2015, looking back at another successful year.  Write those down and think about what it would feel like to have those accomplishments on your 2014 success list.

Q3.  What do you need to do to accomplish your 2014 goals?  Skills to Learn?  Habits to Acquire? 

Now, take page 1 and put it on your left, and page 2 and set it on your right.  Place page 3 in the middle and let your brain make the connections from the positive past to the imagined future.  What are the things you need to do to make those goals a reality?  What habits and skills do you need to develop?  What connections do you need to make?  What activities should you try?  Take the advice of James Clear that I linked to above, and focus on those systems and habits.

I love setting goals and thinking about the future, and my biggest area of improvement lies in building systems that support those goals and positive changes that I’d like to make.  I’m focusing my energy on building positive habits that will lead to the goals that I’m seeking for myself, my family, and my business this year.

(Download a PDF copy of these questions - 2014 Goal Template)

Please share with me in the comments how this process worked for you, and if you have any questions or suggestions so we can all benefit from them!

Frustrated With Your Partner? Here’s Your Task

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I often find when I talk to clients, they’re frustrated with a specific financial trait that their partner has.  Lately I’ve been saying something different to these clients, and hopefully it is both useful and true.

When you find yourself frustrated with something your partner is doing, there are two things you need to be able to do:

1 – Believe that they could act differently

2 – Talk to them like an adult about what’s bothering you

These are both deceptively simple, but quite challenging in real-life practice.  Yet if you can do these two things then you have a chance for real progress and change.

Believe that they could act differently.  If you believe that something is going to happen, you start to look for clues that you are right, and set up a situation that is bad for everybody.  You’re frustrated with your partner before they even do anything, and you’re setting up a negative feedback cycle that could sound something like the below statements in your head

  • He always just spends whatever he wants and doesn’t talk to me about it.  
  • She is so cheap!  I can never spend money on anything, she’s always going to get mad at me.
  • He doesn’t care about saving money for ________, he’d rather just spend it on meaningless things.

If that’s truly what you believe, you’re going to look for evidence that you’re right.  And most of the time, you’re going to use whatever you find to support that evidence, even if it’s a stretch (be honest, you’ve done it). If you really want to set the stage for your partner to act differently, you have to believe that they could.  Imagine them acting differently, and look at the activities that have recently struck that nerve with you about their financial habits.  Can you see yourself responding to them differently if you imagine them with the opposite financial trait?  Try this for a few days or a week and see what happens.  If you’re like me, you’ll learn that it’s really easy to slip back into old ways of seeing them, and if you are brave enough to hold the space to imagine them acting differently they’ll start to make small subtle changes that you will feel appreciate of, rather than criticize.

Second, you need to have an adult conversation about it.  Start with that picture of them in your head and talk about the thing that is bothering you.

  1. Tell them about the behavior is bothering you.  Use “I” statements to share from your point of view.  ”I feel like I can’t ever spend any money without you getting upset.”  Let your statement be about what you are feeling, and let them respond.  
  2. Tell them about how you are working on seeing them differently.  Can you share an example of a time where they made a different decision, and how it made you feel?
  3. Ask them to tell you what they’re feeling, and really get into their perspective to understand it.  Stephen Covey talks about going beyond active listening to empathic listening.  Can we really understand where they are coming from?  What has happened in the past that has helped to shape their beliefs and perceptions about money?  I love to have clients talk about what money was like when they were growing up. It really gets at our core early lessons around money, and usually has a residual effect on how we interact with it now.

Give these new actions a try and explore what it could do for you and your relationship.

Cash is King – It’s Useful For More Than Mattress Stuffing

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I seem to be having conversations with clients daily about cash.  We talk about how little they spend in cash anymore, the pennies in interest they are earning in their savings or money market accounts, and about how much they should be keeping in cash at all.  Here are a few short thoughts for you today about Cash and the most common conversations I have around it.

  • Carry Some In Your Wallet – When my 2 1/2 year old wants to play with her cash register, she doesn’t really understand what the paper things in the cash register are for.  She does understand the credit card and how it swipes, and how we use it to pay for things when we go to the grocery store or shopping nearly anywhere.  I now try to carry cash for this reason, to show her that some things we buy are one of the green bills, and some are 5 or more.  It’s a bit early to understand how they’re different amounts, but as your kids get older, can you start to involve them more in the process of understanding how your family spends your money?  If you want a fun question, ask a child where money comes from (even more fun if it’s not your own, I must say).  
  • Save Some For A Rainy Day – Cash in an Emergency Fund or savings account is a critical success factor for financial peace of mind.  When I talk to people who are struggling with spending, it’s a cycle of spending, digging out of a hole of credit cards or other loans, and then they can’t ever seem to make that next step of building up an emergency fund.  Once you have it, you don’t have to be focused on the return that it earns.  Return in an Emergency Fund is just bonus.  The point of it is that you have a stable, secure reserve of cash in the event that there is an emergency.  While you don’t see that return every day, all you need to do is think about a time when you needed some financial backup and it wasn’t there.  The financial return from an emergency fund comes in long-term savings, savings of credit card interest, the ability to have higher deductibles on auto and homeowner’s insurance and the savings you see there.
  • Save Some For An Opportunity – This is really where the old saying “Cash is King” comes from.  Cash isn’t king because you get a little bit of interest on it at the bank.  Cash is King because it allows you to take advantage of opportunity when it presents itself.  When you find the home that you’ve been seeking, having the readily available cash to make an offer and get an affordable mortgage is critical.  When your parents or grandparents invite you along on that big trip you’ve always talked about taking, or you finally decide it’s time for you to do that trip by yourself and you get an email alert about the airfare sale, having the cash on hand to move on it allows you to move forward confidently.

How else do you see Cash affecting your life?

Top Posts – April 2013

 

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The 5 most viewed blog posts on the Upperline Financial Planning blog in April:

  1. 6 Tips for Refinancing Your Home – Financial Rules of Thumb Series
  2. Inherited IRA’s – What You Need to Know
  3. Financial Rules of Thumb Series – How Much Should My Car Payment Be?
  4. H. Jude Boudreaux, CFP® Named to List of Top Financial Advisors for Doctors for 2nd Consecutive Year
  5. Lending Money to Adult Children – 4 Things to Consider

National Retirement Planning Week

Past Now Future

You may know that April is Financial Literacy Month. What you may not know that last week was National Retirement Planning Week. While the whole month’s focus is to increase your knowledge (read: literacy) when it comes to all things financial, this past week was laser focused on retirement planning.

The merits of these are debatable (if you didn’t know they exist, what good are they doing?).  One thing is certain, we need help in these areas.  Survey after survey indicates that Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement.
How can we realize this enough to answer the survey but not enough to do anything about it?
It’s Abstract
Retirement is “over there”.  It’s somewhere off in the distance.  Is it 59 1/2 or 65 years old?  Who knows.
It’s difficult to commit to saving money now for an ambiguous concept down the road.  Humans are fantastic are registering immediate responses.  Just see how long you can keep your hand on a hot stove.  But we’re not so great at delayed gratification, which really is what planning for retirement is about.  How well do you want to live after you stop working?
Here’s the trick: as you begin planning your retirement, it becomes less abstract.  You start realizing how much you could save and what that means for your standard of living.  Once you have the numbers, you start dreaming about the vacations you want to take and items to cross off your bucket list.
It’s Complicated
 
Unfortunately being abstract isn’t the only roadblock to retirement.  There are lots of ambiguous terms like 401(k), Roth IRA, Mutual Funds, Bonds, Compound Interest, Taxes.  That is a lot going on.  There are different vehicles for your plan as well as a variety of ways to fund them.
It is important to balance two sides of the same coin.  One, understand that you don’t have to know it all.  Meet with a fee-only financial planner and investment advisor that has access to more information than you.  In the multitude of council, there is safety.  Two, don’t invest in anything that you don’t understand.  Identify professionals that have the heart of a teacher that are willing to coach you into understanding your options.  You don’t have to know it all to begin with, but this is your retirement. You need to know what you are doing when you begin putting your money into something.
It’s Important
 
You don’t want to work your whole life.  Or, at the very least, you don’t want to have to work your whole life.  Do you want to travel?  Do you want to leave your family an inheritance?  Do you want to donate money to charities and worthy causes you believe in?
Whatever your personal drive, find the motivation to start your retirement planning now.
(This is the latest post from Upperline Financial Planning intern Trevor Acy)

H. Jude Boudreaux Listed Among Top Financial Advisors for Doctors for Second Year in a Row

 

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We at Upperline Financial Planning are proud to announce that H. Jude Boudreaux, CFP® was recognized by Medical Economics Magazine as one of the Top Financial Advisors for Doctors again in 2012!  We are humbled by the honor and work hard every day to be worthy of the recognition.

We are proud of the company that we are building here, and would like to welcome you to contact us if you’re interested in learning more about our unique approach to financial planning.

 

Financial Rules of Thumb Series: Invest No More Than 10% of your Total Savings in Employer Stock

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This post is part of the Financial Rules of Thumb series. Check out the rest here!

(Today’s post comes from Trevor Acy, an Upperline Financial Planning intern)

Some companies offer great deals for employees to invest in their company stock.  While it’s not exactly too good to be true, there are definitely risks you should be aware of.

The Upperline: Diversification is important. Having too much investment tied to the same place your income comes from can be risky.

It’s tempting, I know.  They’ll give you a match or a discount to purchase company stock.  There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of those options.  We strongly recommend that you guard yourself against putting too many of your eggs in one basket.

Single stocks are riskier and even more so if it is your company’s stock.

Single stocks mean you are relying on the performance of one company to earn dividends and interest.  If that same company pays you too, you run the risk of losing your investment and your job.

One day, you will no longer work for that company.

You are going to find another job or retire, they are going to downsize you, or you will die.  You know your job is not going to provide an income for you and your family forever.  You will have to rely on different sources of income at some point which should involve your investments.

If your company goes bankrupt and you’ve invested heavily in their stock you’ve just lost your income and your investments.  That’s not a good one-two punch.  Take the match or the discount, but don’t overload your investments in your own company’s stock.

Make sure you are spreading yourself wide enough that poor performance from any one investment doesn’t derail your financial goals.

How can you take advantage of employer stock benefits and remain diversified?

  • Choose diverse options in your 401(k) plan.  Your company likely offers 20+ investment choices on their retirement plan lineup.  Choose low-cost, well managed options that cover the broader market and fixed income landscape.
  • Diversify away from employer stock as soon as possible.  Every plan I’ve looked at has different timing restrictions on how long you must hold the employer stock.  Familiarize yourself with the rules of your plan and put a reminder in your calendar to move funds from your company stock to your diversified investment choices on a regular basis.

What questions do you have about your personal investments in employer stock?

 

Save for Retirement Before Saving for a Child’s College Education

Saving for Retirement and College

This post is part of the Financial Rules of Thumb series.  Check out the rest here!

(Today’s post comes from Trevor Acy, an Upperline Financial Planning intern)

This rule of thumb can trigger emotional response. It may seem selfish to begin your retirement savings without putting money toward your kid’s college education first. You want to do right by your children, but it is important to right by yourself too.

The Upperline: If you pay for your child’s college but haven’t saved for retirement, you’ll be depending on them or government care in your golden years. Retiring with dignity should take priority over college savings.

This is a rule of thumb that I agree with.  I want you to be able to save for your child’s college, but you should start your retirement savings first.  Both of these are important reasons to save.  College may seem more urgent since your child isn’t getting any younger and it is easy to delay retirement saving “until later”.  A key to retiring with dignity is taking advantage of the power of compound interest.  The best way to do that is to start saving for retirement as soon as possible.

It is ultimately their responsibility for their education. Your responsibility is your retirement.

Having their parents pay for college isn’t their only option.  Scholarships and grants exists for a reason.  They can work to pay their tuition (did you know that college students that work actually make better grades? See this NYTimes article on a study by Laura Hamilton for more on that topic).  They can also start their education at a community college to get credits for core courses at less expensive tuition rates.

We don’t want to encourage students to go into debt for their education. The number one reason people drop out of college is due to debt, not grades (see this great infographic for other reasons).

One note from Jude: Student loans can be a useful tool, but we have seen clients burdened with what amounts to a mortgage payment for their college educations.  Using debt is always about making smart choices, and it’s important to make good choices bout the potential return one can expect on borrowing money for college.

Doing both is great, if you can afford it.

Let me be clear that your goal should be becoming financially capable of saving for retirement and college.  If you are able, these two should be done concurrently. But while you are working toward that goal, your retirement takes priority over college savings.  Don’t forfeit your retirement in order to be a blessing to your child now only to become dependent on them later.  Refer to our post on how much to save for retirement and if there is more discretionary money to spend then you can begin funding an Education Savings Account (ESA) or 529.

We will cover education saving vehicles in an upcoming series, but be wary of using the following for college savings:

  • Insurance
  • Savings bonds
  • Zero-coupon bonds
  • Pre-paying tuition

These do not provide maximum growth or keep up with inflation well enough to be a good savings vessel especially when ESA and 529 plans exist.

What are your questions about saving for college?  Let us know and we may answer them in a future post!

Top Posts of 2012

2012 was an incredible year for Upperline Financial Planning, and I’m so thankful to all of you who visit the site and contributed to our success!  Below is a list of the 10 most viewed blog posts of 2012, I hope you enjoy them, and hope we can contribute great information for you in 2013!

  1. 6 Tips for Refinancing Your Home – Financial Rules of Thumb Series
  2. My 6 Favorite Business iPad Apps
  3. Financial Rules of Thumb Series – How Much Should My Car Payment Be?
  4. Lending Money to Adult Children? 4 Points to Consider
  5. Student Loan Consolidation Deadline 6/30/2012
  6. Financial Rules of Thumb – A Financial Planner’s Perspective
  7. 100 Minus Your Age?  - Financial Rules of Thumb Series
  8. Financial Rules of Thumb Series – Is Saving 10 Percent Enough?
  9. Inherited IRAs – What You Need To Know
  10. Your Summer Vacation Budget – 6 Tips to Make the Most of It

What We’re Reading – Sunday 10/14

We are often telling our clients that most of what comes from the financial media is just noise, so to help you cut through the chatter here’s the best of what we’ve been reading lately.   Today’s update comes from the newest member of the Upperline Financial Planning team: Kevin Sweet.

3 Tax-friendly ways for grandparents to fund college costs

(529′s, Coverdell’s, and Direct Payments)

IMF sees alarmingly high risk of deeper global slump
(IMF sees global growth at slowest since 2009 and “Confidence in the global financial system remains exceptionally fragile.”)

Using Menu Psychology to Entice Diners
(The Science & Psychology behind the placement and pricing of menu items
.)

Richard Feynman on Beauty (VIDEO)
(The Nobel Prize winning scientist and world renowned thinker on the beauty of everyday objects.)

What subjects would you like to see us cover in future dispatches?  Let us know in the comments below!

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