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The Power of Distraction

We live in an amazing digital age. Today, thanks to technology, I am able to not only connect with friends from all parts of the globe—I can video chat with them, see their life moments in (almost) real time, and participate in their funny jokes and videos they share online. This connectivity is wonderful in that I am able to maintain a relationship with others that would never have been available to me a few years ago.
Like anything in life, moderation is important. Technology has not only enabled us to connect with long lost friends and family, it can also bombard us with hourly with notifications about things that are truly insignificant in our lives. The BREAKING NEWS story… the ever-changing Facebook news feed…Text Messaging, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, LinkedIn… I could go on and on. The distractions are endless today. What’s worse, is that all of these distractions are likely not serving you in your personal life or in your finances.
For instance, did you know that we now have a word for people who are constantly on their phone instead of being present in the moment or in the conversation? That’s right— it’s now called “phubbing.” This is the world we live in folks.
Now, you may think all of this distraction may seem irrelevant or insignificant; however, the truth is, that it likely impacts you in some way. In our profession, the biggest impact we see from this new age is how these daily distractions can slowly pull someone’s focus away from their financial goals. Here’s a news flash:
The market does not care about your goals. It does not care about your timeline for retirement, nor does it care about how much money you need each month…or your tax rate. Nope, it doesn’t care about the estate planning you haven’t completed, and it doesn’t care about your emergency fund. It doesn’t care about your plans to travel or your dream home.
These are things that you must care about. 
I spent the better part of my 20s living and working in New York and California, and one of my acting coaches said to me once, “Michael, no one is going to care more about your career that you do.” And, while it may be true that we as financial professionals  do our best to advocate for our clients…help them plan and prepare… coach them with investments and monitor their financial plans—one thing we cannot do is care more about their money than they do. It’s simply not possible.
That’s why we must continue to stay diligent and focused amid a world that constantly bombards us with craziness. The loss of focus can turn into procrastination, which can begin a negative compounding effect. We want to avoid that kind of outcome.
So, how does one stay focused?  It’s actually quite simple….it’s just not always that easy. The first thing you must do is find a qualified financial professional that can help you create a comprehensive financial plan. Once you’ve completed this step— all of your future financial decisions should be made in context of that plan. Then, you enjoy life— monitor and adjust your plan as needed. You don’t need the continuous news cycle or online fear mongering to distract you from the things in life that are truly important. The good news is that if you have a financial plan as a guidepost, you always have something to help you re-center if you get distracted by this noisy world.
*Special thanks should go to Ben Carlson at www.awealthofcommonsense.com who wrote a killer piece titled “14 Things The Market Does Not Care About”— it’s a wonderful article and part of the inspiration for this post. Check out Ben’s article here.
Investment Advisory Services offered through AlphaStar Capital Management, LLC, a SEC Registered Investment Adviser. SEC registration does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by the Commission nor does it indicate that the adviser has attained a particular level of skill or ability. AlphaStar Capital Management, LLC and Vertex Capital Advisors, LLC are independent entities. Insurance products and services are offered through Vertex Capital Advisors, LLC by individually licensed and appointed agents in various jurisdictions. Any comments regarding safe and secure investments and guaranteed income streams refer only to fixed insurance products offered by Vertex Capital Advisors, LLC.

Can A Navy Seal Teach You About Finance?


Is it possible to apply leadership and life lessons from the military to your financial life? The answer is a resounding YES. I’ve been in the financial industry long enough to hear some pretty creative metaphors for financial stewardship, and to be fair, some are fantastic, while others are weak or overused. I mean, if I hear another golf metaphor used for a financial concept, I may develop a headache right on the spot.

The reason we financial professionals use metaphors is because we are attempting to create clarity for our clients and prospective clients. Let’s be honest here—we all prefer ideas and explanations that are simple and easy to understand because the greater our level of understanding, the more empowered we feel to take action. Relating something we understand with something we view as complex is one way to make that type of connection.

So, what can a Navy Seal teach you about personal finance? Before I tell you, I’m not going to paint with broad brush strokes here—the specific man I’m referring to is Jocko Willink, who is developing somewhat of a cult following due to the release of his book Extreme Ownership (co-authored with Leif Babin), his consulting company Echelon Front, and his growing podcast audience.

Full disclosure- I have never heard Jocko discuss specific financial ideas, but the themes of his discussions on leadership and discipline have many real life applications to both business and individuals who want to succeed with their money.

Extreme Ownership.

This is not just the book title—it’s the theme that leaders must take 100% responsibility for their results. It’s described as, “Leaders must own everything in their world; there is no one else to blame.” You may not view yourself as a leader—you many not have a leadership position at your job, but you are 100% responsible for your personal finances. True, you may have some obstacles and outside influences, yet that still doesn’t release you from personal responsibility. It is way to easy to blame someone or something other than yourself, but what good comes of that? If you want to reach your financial goals—first you must actually have goals (crazy, right?). Next, you must be willing to take 100% responsibility for reaching them.

Simplicity > Complexity

One area that our society is failing at is financial literacy. We teach algebra and geometry in high school, yet we don’t sit our kids down and show them the destructive nature of credit card debt or how to balance a checking account. The end result of this is that most of us learn our financial habits from outside influences such as our parents, and habits, unfortunately, are not the same thing as principles. If you want to win with your finances, you must develop a set of simple financial principles that are unwavering. Often times, people fall into the trap that financial matters are too complex and difficult to understand, so they fail to do anything. Or, they begin—but eventually fall right back into their old habits.

Don’t fall for the complexity trap. If you are exploring a strategy or course of action that cannot be explained simply, don’t go for it. This is one of the most common mistakes I see people making with their financial lives—things are too complex. The best financial advisors should be able to explain things so that you understand them— in fact, it’s part of our job to make the complex become simple. Beware those strategies and ideas that can’t be simplified.

Overthinking When It’s Time to Act

This next paragraph is an exact quote from Jocko where he describes the danger of overthinking your tactics when in combat:

“You’re preparing to take a building and you come up with a plan. You set up two elements to cover and move so you can take the target. But as you begin looking at the map and imagery, you notice that there is another outhouse about 150 meters away from the house. And now that you see it, you decide to break apart your team and dedicate some guys to watch that that outhouse just in case. You might think that you’ve covered all of your bases but what you’ve REALLY done is separate your units, increased your communication problems, separated your fields of fire, disaggregated your fire power, diminished your unity of command, broken your SOP…eliminated your tactical advantage for the mere chance that when you hit the house at 2am, the guy is in the outhouse. This is what overthinking can get you.”

Please understand that there is a huge difference between doing your due diligence and overthinking. As an advisor, I want my clients to ask questions and seek understanding. I think any good advisor would welcome that dialogue. However, there comes a point with any plan or strategy when it’s time to execute. Overthinking or analysis paralysis rarely benefits anyone in the long-term. Jocko says,
“When people get super detailed about planning, they often fall into the trap of planning for something that can’t be known. How about instead of making a plan for something that can’t possibly be known, make a plan that’s adaptable!”
There  are some aspects about your finances and your future that simply cannot be known. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of permutations you attempt to analyze, unknowns will remain unknown —until they are known! Plans that are flexible and adaptable are superior to those that aren’t.

Discipline Equals Freedom.

What an amazing phrase. This can be applied to so many areas of our lives—our health, our wealth, our business, etc. When it comes to personal finance, you must take ownership of your decisions and your outcomes—the good, the bad, and the ugly. This begins with developing the discipline it takes to reach your goals (again—do you have financial goals?).

I run into people all the time that believe they’ll “get serious” about retirement in their 50s. I won’t get into the arithmetic of that talking point, rather I’ll say this- “If you haven’t developed the discipline to save a percentage of your earnings in your 30s and 40s, how do you expect to save 2-3 times that much in your 50s?”  The simple truth is that it’s not likely to happen because it’s too painful.

Personal finance is a game of discipline. There’s no other way around it. You must determine your goals and work with the level of discipline required to reach them. Stay focused. Be Adaptable. Take Ownership of the outcome. At least, that’s what I think Jocko would say.

 

Investment Advisory Services offered through AlphaStar Capital Management, LLC., a SEC Registered Investment Advisor. AlphaStar Capital Management, LLC and Vertex Capital Advisors, LLC are independent entities. Insurance products and services are offered through individually licensed and appointed agents in various jurisdictions. Vertex Capital Advisors, LLC does not offer legal or tax advice.

 

The Top 5 Things You Should Do With An Inheritance

Receiving an inheritance is nothing short of a blessing. With increased longevity taking hold of both the Baby Boomers and their parents, it’s likely going to stretch many a nest egg just to make it through one’s retirement years. If you consider that healthcare costs also tend to be the highest in the last few years of life, the odds of receiving a considerable inheritance will most likely continue to dwindle for many of us in the years ahead. However, if you are fortunate enough to benefit from an inheritance, here’s my top 5 list of things you should do with those funds.

Note: This is a general list and by no means should it be considered all-inclusive. Each and every person’s financial situation is unique, and it’s quite possible that you may have a better use for the funds than the ones listed below. My reasons are to be used as a general guide, and they are in no particular order.

Pay Off Student Loan Debt.
Student loans continue to be the weight around the necks of those who have them OR those who are obligated to help pay for them (like parents who’ve co-signed a loan). With the increasing cost of going to college outpacing many people’s ability to afford school, the student loan industry is alive and well. Unfortunately, students are carrying these loans for years and years beyond their graduation date, which hinders their ability to save, purchase a home, or invest earnings from employment. If you inherit money that enables you to pay off your student loan debts, do it!

Make a Down Payment on a Home
Interest rates, while beginning to see some upward pressure, are still very favorable for home buyers. If you have been looking for the opportunity to get away from the apartment life and become a homeowner, getting an inheritance may afford you with the opportunity. I have heard some people tell me that renting is so much simpler, and they have the ability to have roommates help with the costs of the apartment. To them I say you can have roommates at your house as well. The difference is they will be helping you create equity in a home. The key, of course, is to make a wise purchase and not attempt to buy more house than you can reasonably afford.
*In some cases, an inheritance may enable you to pay off a mortgage. In my opinion, this financial move is highly dependent on the individual situation, so I would consult with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ if this applies to you.

Eliminate Credit Card Debt
This one goes somewhat hand in hand with student loan debt; however, there are many people who continuously carry a credit card balance that have no business doing so. It may seem a bit bittersweet taking inheritance funds, which feel like found money, and putting them into a credit card bill. However, your mental accounting is failing you if you think this way. You see, the credit card money is money you didn’t have that you’ve spent—now you must pay it back. Also, credit card interest rates can be unforgiving, as I have seen rates as high as 19.99% on some cards. With rates like that, it’s almost impossible to get that debt paid down. Go ahead and eat the frog—pay that bill off before you can talk yourself out of it.

Invest The Funds
This one should be obvious, but it must be included because while it seems obvious, few people have the willpower to delay consumption today by investing for tomorrow. However, it is common for many of us to feel like we are behind on saving and investing for our retirement years. Inheritance money can offer an opportunity to add a boost to your investment accounts, or if you don’t have any investments, this can be your opportunity to begin your investing journey.

Fund College
If you have children, paying for college is likely on your parental radar. If you are not yet attending college, having an inheritance that can cover some or all of your college expenses is an incredible advantage! Now—when I say college expenses, I’m not talking about pizza or beer. I’m talking about tuition, room & board, and textbooks. Using inheritance funds to help eliminate the need to take on student loans OR to reduce the amount of loans is not something that should be discounted. For parents with kids, giving them a debt-free education opportunity can be one of the greatest financial advantages you offer your children…just don’t let them study something like Art Philosophy or another program that has little chance of affording them the ability to earn an income after graduation.

I can think of more ideas for how to use inheritance funds—some others that I didn’t put in my top 5 could be:
-create a savings fund
-donate to charity
-fund/payoff wedding expenses
-purchase investment property (real estate)
-pay off a car note

Gaining an inheritance is a gift, and you should leverage that gift for maximum impact. Of course, I’m not an all work, no play type of person; therefore, I do believe you should set aside a portion of the funds to be used for some type of memorable experience or personal enjoyment. However, I cannot stress enough that the “fun” money should not take a priority over the “smart” money. Leverage those inheritance dollars for maximum financial impact!

Investment Advisory Services offered through AlphaStar Capital Management, LLC, a SEC Registered Investment Adviser. SEC registration does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by the Commission nor does it indicate that the adviser has attained a particular level of skill or ability. AlphaStar Capital Management, LLC and Vertex Capital Advisors, LLC are independent entities. Insurance products and services are offered through Vertex Capital Advisors, LLC by individually licensed and appointed agents in various jurisdictions. Any comments regarding safe and secure investments and guaranteed income streams refer only to fixed insurance products offered by Vertex Capital Advisors, LLC.

The 1% Solution

According to the 2016 Insurance Barometer Study by Life Happens and LIMRA, 1 out 3 households would have immediate trouble paying living expenses if the primary wage earner died unexpectedly. Note: I added the word “unexpectedly” to that sentence because let’s face it, most of us go through our lives each day with our minds focused on other things. Very little time or energy is usually given to thinking about “What If” scenarios, especially if it involves our own demise. Believe me, I get it—it’s just not something that we enjoy thinking about.

In fact, the same exact study (the 2017 version) just published a nice infographic that shows us what most people spend their time thinking about when it comes to economic and financial matters:

As you can see, healthcare is a primary concern— followed by retirement and college education planning. Down at the bottom, there is a little bit of space left for the elephant in the room:

“What would happen to those I love if I didn’t come home today?”

or

“What would happen if I couldn’t physically work any longer?”

The solution to questions and concerns like these isn’t complicated…it’s insurance.

Last week, I had lunch with Marv Feldman, who is the CEO of Life Happens, and I asked him what he thought the biggest mistake people were making when it came to life insurance, disability, or long-term care. Without missing a beat, Marv looked at me and said,

“Everyone knows what insurance is, but few people understand what insurance does.”

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of creating a comprehensive financial plan. In fact, I believe this is the most important thing you can do to set yourself on a course to reach your financial goals. A critical part of that plan is to first consider the major risks and how to eliminate or reduce them.

Most insurance premiums require an investment of 1-3% of gross household income to protect the downside risk for things like dying too soon or being impacted by a disability. This “cost” as so many view it, is really the solution. If you want to see just how impactful life insurance can be, watch this video:

Your Portfolio Won’t Save You

In the many years that I have been fortunate to work with couples and families as they plan for their financial future, I have seen, heard, and witnessed just about every type of financial mindset you can imagine. From the “Free Spirits” to the “Doom and Gloom” to the “Fiscal Hawks”— it’s been a colorful journey. One thing that continues to surprise me is the persistence of the idea that all that matters is the allocation of one’s portfolio.

In our retirement workshops, we often discuss several retirement planning issues and concerns that we frequently hear from folks who come to see us. The overwhelming majority of people who attend are coming to learn how they can make their retirement income last longer than they do. However, we still see people who have been trained to believe that the “right” portfolio is all that matters. I say “trained” because I believe that the majority of what some people know comes from the marketing of Wall Street and financial institutions.

Instead on focusing on just portfolio allocations— investors and clients should be focusing on creating an actual PLAN.

“Why is that?”, you ask.

The answer is simple— A portfolio is simply a tool that should be used to achieve your financial goals. The measure of a portfolio’s long-term success should be how well it enables you to meet your goals—NOT how it performed against the S&P 500 last year. The best benchmark for a portfolio is the answer to these questions,

“Am I on track to make sure I know for certain that I’ll never run out of income during retirement?”
“If I get sick or die unexpectedly, how could my family be impacted? (this is big if one spouse handles all of the finances)
“If my spouse gets sick or dies unexpectedly, what’s my plan?”

“If I need to take care of my aging parents, will I need to provide financial assistance?”

“Is there anyone in my family that I want to help with education or financial expenses?”

“If taxes or healthcare costs go up unexpectedly , how will I be impacted?”

Of course, there are more questions…but you get the idea. Retirement planning is much, much more nuanced than making sure your portfolio allocation is appropriate for your age. In fact, fund giants like Vanguard are trying to find ways to add advice to their platform because they realizing how valuable financial expertise can be to clients today.

Right now, stock markets are touching all-time highs, as the DOW, S&P, and NASDAQ have all touched record closes during this current bull market run. More and more, we are seeing the slow grip of inertia and complacency weave their way into the mindset of investors. What an amazing time to put a solid plan in place without the fear of market volatility or unexpected life events hindering your thought process. Don’t let this opportunity to plan for the future pass by—take the time to build your plan today…one that will protect you tomorrow in ways that a portfolio can’t.

 

Investment Advisory Services offered through AlphaStar Capital Management, LLC, a SEC Registered Investment Adviser. SEC registration does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by the Commission nor does it indicate that the adviser has attained a particular level of skill or ability. AlphaStar Capital Management, LLC and Vertex Capital Advisors, LLC are independent entities.