What I Learned About Life & Money From Binge-Watching The Revenant.

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I’m here.

I’ll be right here.

But you don’t give up.

You hear me?

As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight.

You breathe, keep breathing.

Shallow breath that accompanies overwhelming grief, is as heavy as glass-jagged ice that packs arteries deep in earth’s wilderness.

Cut channels form and wind through an eternity of generations and flow with cold-spilled blood of friends now enemies, lost loves and soulful regrets which claw at a mind that yearns for redemption so a soul may continue the travails toward final peace.

Air thick and pliable as cold Plasticine moves like strands of bloated snakes. They steal their way into capillaries of the lungs and search for a moment to expand. The moves are stealth. The slither is in sync. The grief strands share a common goal – to suffocate a target from the inside out.

The plan is to pierce frequently, bleed out the spirit.

And for a time, they conquer. For as long as pain and anger are your focus, they thrive.

The compound shocks from an attack, betrayal in plain sight, and the overwhelming hunger for resolution, will consume you.

Thoughts of the world as it was before the massacre is a futile mind game. An incomplete circle eternally agape.

I traversed through harsh terrain of loss, deceit, bad decisions, and denial.

You have, too.

We’ve all lost someone special. There are people in your light who are now dark.  Even when people from the past fade into the reflection in a cold white mirror, you still see, feel them beckoning.

Taunting.

All the while you hear the words in solemn tone –

“I got the best of you.”

“Nothing is gonna bring you back.”

revenant bear

I opened up, exposed myself. I invited a cunning, powerful creature to slash and crunch down on every part of me, inside and out, with mighty teeth.

And after all the black pitch that sticks and stirs inside: From love, lust, and abandonment. A toxic burden to carry.

I was left for dead.

It’s through a frozen spray of loss and anger, that an entity larger and darker than yourself emerges from a gut-wrenching torpor. A suffocating shadow that seeks to overwhelm and absorb everything happy, anything good that you felt once.

Who you were before.

It will relentlessly follow until you consciously decide to let it go. And only then, as a revenant, you’ll understand death, a long, sterile absence, and return to the surface.

All you can do through this time is exist,  wait it through. Go through the motions. Eventually, one by one, frozen limbs will tingle with the warmth of survival. The urge to break free from a blood carcass calls. It whispers, then roars in your ears to get up. Continue your life’s mission.

The greatest obstacle I observe within me as I emerge?

Scars never heal.

Something inside is rotted.

A spark in the mind still remains, but it’s nowhere what it was before the…

revenant bear three

In the sweeping 2015 epic “The Revenant” Leonardo DiCaprio portrays a seasoned hunter and trapper guide for a rogue band of men seeking pelts through a harsh 1823 winter travail within boundaries of unchartered U.S. territories. Hugh Glass survives one of the most brutal, mesmerizing grizzly attacks ever created on film.

In a physical state near death, mentally alert but helpless, Glass witnesses a fellow trapper under his commission, John Fitzgerald, fatally stab his son Hawk. Years earlier, Glass lost his Pawnee Indian wife and vowed to always protect his half-Pawnee offspring.

This time he failed. The heartbroken hunter is left for dead (he wasn’t). Alone.

The entire movie is the searing trek of the main character from point A to point Z through hostile Indian territory, searing pain, frigid weather and harsh wilderness all for one reason.

Revenge.

The mission to find Fitzgerald and take him out drives Glass to survive overwhelming odds until a final bloody conclusion.

***************************************

Fresh, cold air reaches my lungs because I am ready to allow it. The engagement with the nature of beasts I was no match against still hurts.

I won’t deny that truth.

Yet on the exhale I see clear. In a robust-to-fade puff of smoke, I know.

I am not gone.

I am damaged. I always will be.

After all, the long, extended sharp claws and front teeth of grizzlies with purpose, those marks never heal.

But I am still alive.

I believe it to be true.

And there is still pain. Lots of pain.

Much of a mourning continues.

As a dark spirit stirs and fades.

I emerge from a frozen cocoon, I used as a hiding place.

A place of comfort  I found to work things through.

I hear a voice emerge from inside what shielded me for months.

And in a message, there is the snap of power. Something bigger is telling me so. It absorbed the greatest punches so I didn’t need to, the rough stuff I couldn’t fight on my own.

Whatever it was, the energy it conjured, recently granted me permission to bust free.

Go forward with the rest of the journey.

There are missions and miles left, risks that need tackling, half-spirals that require a full spin before I fade into the mist of memory.

So, I am slower. Less steady. That’s fine.

Hey, cut me some slack. I’ve had several run-ins with human and corporate grizzlies over the past half decade. Swift, sharp claws (and they knew how to use them).

They’ve no doubt, left deep impressions. There are scars not healed. It feels like parts of my spirit is gone and I feel the pain from every second of it.

Good or bad. I like to leave an impression, too.

So I fight.

Do you?

For people I love and cherish, I hope there’s a spirit of charity, and most, important – loyalty. Because there’s just so little loyalty around these days.

Oh, there’s loyalty to things that in the long-run, don’t matter for shit. A company that every day is looking for ways to replace you and along the way asks for more and more until you’re spiritually broken.

An ego that thrives on empty calories as it feeds off emotional Cheetos, caloric platitudes which mean nothing except to the mirror that holds a gaze and is willing to stick its greasy, cheesy hands in places an ego doesn’t belong.

For the Fitzgeralds of this world (watch the movie), those who feign love, act like they care, lie. For people who stick knives in what you care about and all you can do is stand by helplessly?

For them?

I have zero expectations or hope.

The essence of invisible spirit that guides the cadence of the world, knows what to do with the blackness inside them.

But you, the keeper of the hate, or the past, must release it to the universe and let it work its power.

You must let the anger roll over, smash, so an entity, a spirit with cred in the cosmos, can absorb that energy and ostensibly do what’s required. Or not.

Either way.

It’s not in puny, human hands.

It’s not up to us.

It’s not in the black spirit of revenge or ‘get-even-itis’ you can live or die peacefully.

It’s when the dark ghost is cast, that your next move, a clear path, begins to expose itself.

Remember – The Fitzgeralds thrive on the sorrow they create.

So what did I learn from the movie “The Revenant?”

Plenty.

I think you can pick up a bit of wisdom, too.

Random Thoughts:

Flee from your Fitzgeralds

The ones who are cunning enough to create an illusion, a facade of care, friendship, alliance, love, a  false penchant for your mission. Sooner or later they expose themselves in an ultimate, final act of betrayal.

Those people exist but you don’t want to believe it.

Well, believe it.

Or you’re going to lose someone or something very important to you.

You cannot survive engagement with an army of Fitzgeralds. If you seek to live a long fulfilling existence, anyway. You won’t make it.

I’ve had 3 Fitzs in 7 years, so I’m not saying it’s easy. Even the best of hunters miscalculate. What I’m saying is your gut, your internal clock, will go off alarmingly and warn –

This person isn’t right. I don’t belong here. Someone is gonna die, and it’s most likely me!

revenant hawk

Spoiler: Fitzergald (Tom Hardy) kills Hawk

At that point, you must flee. Don’t fight unless necessary. Just go. Disappear.

Close them out.

Make a list today from inside out. Go with your intuition. Who in your life is cancerous? Who is setting you up for the kill? I bet you have five Fitzgeralds on paper already. Right off the bat.

Now move. Let these people go. Release them to their purpose.

I didn’t let go. I paid the price. So did Glass.

Steven Hendel, writer for and creator of one my favorite websites, http://www.theemotionmachine.com, penned a recent article titled How To Improve Your Intuition: Learn to Take Your “Gut Feelings” Seriously, that will help you detect the Fitzgeralds who roam through the wilderness you call life.

Discover the Fitzgeralds lurking in your financial mistakes

The enemy of money hides in plain sight and usually has to do with a positive pattern you break to appease another, not yourself. Recently, I broke my own rule about taking on a big mortgage mostly to make somebody else happy, which is a critical error I’m paying for and need to unwind. I had a Fitzgerald in my life unleash a treacherous moment in my net worth that I’m certain will take me back a year at the least.

When you make big financial decisions, make certain to keep a level head. Don’t allow emotions to creep in and overwhelm your fiscal status.

Again, get a gut check. Ask others for their honest opinions. Consult outside, objective sources and you’ll stand a greater chance of survival.

Forgive yourself for trusting Fitzgeralds but never forgive them for their egregious behavior

Cut yourself some slack, after all, you’ve been mauled.

When witness to a crime of the heart, especially when it’s yours, timelines, memories get muddied and overpowered by emotion.

Remember -These entities have a track record of deceit. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Let yourself feel the sorrow, allow the darkness to consume you. It’ll be easier to release them that way.

So, forgive yourself for being human and trusting. Continue to trust the right people, however.

Over time you’ll get proficient at detecting and avoiding the Fitzgeralds.

Remain vigilant.

After the chase, after the amazing focus to survive, energy high on retribution, Glass confronts Fitzgerald in a bloody fight to the end, but it’s not what you think.

Glass could have but didn’t kill his foe.

Weary, he looked up from his anger and observed Fitzgerald’s future.

Glass realized.

“Revenge is in God’s hands, not mine.”

look up

“Go ahead. Get your revenge. But you’re never gonna get your boy back.”

Ironically, the first honest words uttered by the enemy.

A bloodied Fitzgerald (yet alive), is released to rushing waters only to join his fate, his death, at the hands of Indians on the other side of an icy creek. Earlier on, Glass had saved a Pawnee chief’s daughter from a marauding group of French trappers who repeatedly raped and beat her. And now, the hero was about to have his vengeance at the hands of those he assisted.

At that moment, the universe was ready to close the circle. Glass was smart enough to listen, observe, and release the object of his hate to its proper destiny.

We all must do the same.

Cast out your Fitzgeralds. Allow their pasts to catch up to their presents and black out their futures. Their dark spirits will destroy them soon enough. These entities wind up following a path you do not want nor should you admire.

Cast the revenge shadow to a great power. That energy knows where to go. What’s death to you is light and absorbed by another to maintain balance of a world’s turn.

It’s merely a matter of time.

And all you need to do?

Live your life.

That’s it!

Wait outside the tree line. Observe.

As you stare into a cold mist that hangs heavy in a blue steel sky.

See again the light of those who give you peace.

Learn to appreciate the lesson.

The true love of people who care will capture your attention again, will never stop shining.

As for the Fitzgeralds?

Well, they’re already dead.

A revenant life is not one of fulfillment.

There’s a point when that anger must be unchained.

And only you will know the moment it must occur.

It’ll fall upon what drives you inside.

At that release, so will your heart be free.

But first, you will wander through a brutal wilderness.

As you must be lost to be found.

revenge is not

What is a revenant?

A person who has returned, especially from the dead or a long absence.

Through a period, you’ve been there.

It’s time to emerge.

And breathe. 

Just keep breathing.

 

10 Questions to ask your Adviser. Right Now. Today.

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He was annoyed with me after a while. He said I asked too many questions.”

It’s tough for me to imagine speaking these words to a client or anyone seeking guidance.

I don’t have the guts. Or the hubris.

Or the stupidity.

I wonder about (and I’m thankful) for complacency among some advisers. It allows me to continue to gain thoughtful, inquisitive clients who never feel that I’m annoyed by a passion to learn.

The noblest efforts we undertake as trusted financial partners are to listen, answer questions, validate good behaviors, empower improvement and communicate effectively to our audience.

How does a prospective client – One who has a genuine curiosity in her finances, a successful saver and investor, ask “too many questions?”

If you’ve been with an adviser long enough to feel comfortable together, or maybe you’re exploring a new financial relationship, asking questions should be encouraged.

There’s no such concept as “asking too many questions.” You query enough to satisfy your need for information requested. I’ve noticed how the more self-aware an individual is about their financial situation, the more questions that arise.

There’s no reason to feel intimated or stifled.

You’ve earned the right (and the money).

Channel your inner Columbo.

Remember Columbo?

Columbo

The disheveled, inquisitive, seemingly frazzled (like a fox), detective was a master of detection. His questions on the surface were unassuming. Some appeared silly. However, underneath, there was a method to his madness.

Columbo knew the importance of questions no matter how insignificant they appeared

And when you were convinced he was done with the investigation.

There was always “just one more thing.”

It drove the perpetrators crazy.

Columbo was intrusive, occasionally annoying and he couldn’t care less. He was purposely oblivious. He felt he had the right to ask.

So do you. When it comes to your family’s financial well-being every question you have should be addressed.

Now’s the perfect time, too.

Why?

The market is complacent. Volatility is low.

Yet, dark clouds are forming on the horizon.

storm clouds

Political ill-wind is beginning to stir and capture the market’s attention, bond yields around the world are falling (some are negative). The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield is at it’s lowest close May 2013. A clear sign of economic distress. U.S. corporations are in their fifth quarter of negative earnings growth.

There’s never been a more perfect time to ask these ten questions: It would be a mistake not to.

Are you a registered investment adviser or a stock broker? There’s a difference.  A big difference. When people ask me I respond: “Well, I don’t really want to help you break anything. Most likely, I’m going to help you mend something a broker, broke.” You need to ask the question and comprehend the difference.

A registered investment advisor or “RIA” is held to a fiduciary standard. According to www.thefiduciarystandard.org, a committee of investment professionals and fiduciary experts who formed in June 2009 as advocates for fiduciary-level advice:

“Registered representatives of broker-dealers are subject to a suitability standard under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, while investment advisers are regulated as fiduciaries under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.”

What does that mean to you? Plenty.

Fiduciaries are held to a high standard of ethics and care which affects all the advice they provide. It’s a much stricter standard. There should be no conflict of interest and if one exists, it requires clear disclosure.

The Committee for the Fiduciary Standard outlines 5 core principles of a fiduciary:

  • Put the client’s best interests first;
    • Act with prudence, that is, with the skill, care, diligence and good judgment of a professional;
    • Do not mislead clients–provide conspicuous, full and fair disclosure of all important facts;
    • Avoid conflicts of interest;
    • Fully disclose and fairly manage, in the client’s favor, unavoidable conflicts.

 “Suitability” guides a broker to recommend an investment that is appropriates for your situation, is not held to the same standard. A broker is required to know your risk tolerance, tax bracket, and time frame for the money you seek to invest. All skeletal in nature. Yet legitimate. Well, it’s suitable.

Feels like something is missing, doesn’t it?

My belief, based on how brokerage firm compliance departments operate and an unpleasant experience with a former employer, is that suitability has been misaligned to protect the financial organization from lawsuits or arbitrations and NOT designed to safeguard individuals seeking guidance.

The Fiduciary Standard is a high calling. It’s there to position the client front and center in the financial advice model, as it should be for every professional who assists consumers with their financial decisions.

 On April 6, 2016, the outdated foundation of financial services was slammed and cracked to make ground for hopefully, a safer, increasingly objective industry with the issuance of the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule.

Mind you, it’s the genesis of a higher standard of care for brokers, so there’s much to be accomplished. I expect the Rule will be pushed, pulled, fine-tuned before it fully takes effect on April 10, 2017 and final policies put in place by January 1, 2018. My thought is this will be a continuous work in progress long after 2018. That’s ok. It’s a step in the right direction.

The new rule resurrects the definition of fiduciary from the 1974 ERISA – (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) and expands upon it. ERISA’s fiduciary standard outlines how a retirement plan fiduciary must act prudently and with undivided loyalty to the participants. Obviously, the retirement landscape in 1974 was very different. The 401(k) plan wasn’t in existence. Defined benefit plans, or pensions, were the most popular retirement vehicles.

Crucial elements of the rule – advice provided must be in a client’s “best interests,” full disclosure of conflicts of interest, and charge no more than “reasonable compensation,” for services. Generally, the fiduciary must sign a “Best Interests Contract” with the client that outlines how he or she will provide advice in the client’s best interest.

A broker’s financial institution will also be subject to the rule. Ostensibly, sales quotas, contests, awards or special compensation that may tempt an adviser to stray from his or her fiduciary responsibilities, will be prohibited.

The message is growing strong (there’s a long way to go), to an industry driven by sales pressure: Change your culture. In other words, those ads you run that give the appearance of fairness, caring and client first that not one consumer takes seriously? Make them reality, not fantasy.

Ethical employees who serve financial clients in publicly traded brokerage firms are torn between serving clients holistically for the long term and at the same time are up against the wall every quarter, starting from scratch, to meet outrageous quarterly sales goals and tremendous pressure to sell the hot product of the day (these tactics still exist). The internal friction can generate great turmoil and perhaps push an employee to make sales first and fail to responsibly counsel.

The mixed message from senior corporate puppets to do what’s right for a client and oh, meet big sales targets (or you’re out), builds conflict and distress. Talented workers become discouraged, burned out and move on. It’s an ancient business model. Change is required and it appears to be coming.

Slow is better than no.

Unfortunately, the recent ruling only covers retirement accounts. For now. The Security & Exchange Commission is expected to release a fiduciary standard in 2016 which would cover fiduciary responsibilities for taxable brokerage accounts. Although a uniform fiduciary standard (with the DOL), would be welcomed, it’s too early to draw any conclusion that this will occur. Nor is there any assurance that the SEC will adhere to an October release.

While the Feds work to figure it out, ask the question. Keep in mind, not every professional you engage will operate in a fiduciary capacity regardless of federal rulings. My suspicion is you’ll be hearing interesting, articulate, creative responses but not a clear “yes” or “no.”

Based on the answers received, you’ll gain valuable perspective about what’s best for you and your family’s finances.

Think fiduciary over suitability.

How much will I pay for your services?

 Simple question deserves a simple answer. Unfortunately, not so simple. People share with me their frustration as they’re unclear how their current financial professionals get paid or are compensated for selling investment products.

It’s especially perplexing for mutual fund investors sold multiple share classes and perpetually unclear of how charges are incurred. A clear comprehension of the class share alphabet (A, B, C), is as thick and jumbled as the inside of Campbell’s Soup can.

B &C share classes are popular selections on the product-push list. They represent the finest alchemy in financial marketing. As consumers are generally hesitant to pay up-front sales loads like in the case of A shares (even though when taking into account all internal fees and expenses, they’re the most cost-effective choice for long-term investors,) B & C shares were created to mollify the behavioral waters.

To avoid having a difficult conversation or facing reluctance about opening your wallet and shelling out 1-4% in front-end charges that reduce the principal amount invested, the path of least resistance is to offer share classes with internal fees, marketing charges and deferred sales charges. Either way you pay. With B & C shares generally, you pay more. However, big fees reduce returns, they’re stealth. Thus, they feel less painful to invest in (even though they’re not).

Frankly, the only funds worth considering are no-load mutual funds where you can purchase or sell anytime without a commission or sales charge. Avoid the A, B, C’s all together. Meet with an hourly-fee based Certified Financial Planner or a fiduciary to help you assess your current mutual fund holdings and for recommendations based on your personal situation.

A financial professional may be compensated hourly, by annual flat fee, a percentage based on assets under management, commissions or perhaps a combination. Regardless, to make an informed decision, you must understand how your adviser puts food on the table. If you can, get it in writing.

 There’s no ‘right way’ to be compensated as long as it’s fair and reasonable for services rendered. You also want to understand what motivates your broker or adviser to recommend investment vehicles. If you’re not getting straight answers, well you know what to do. Move on.

How do you incorporate my spouse, life partner and children when it comes to planning for me? You don’t exist in a vacuum. An adviser should maintain a holistic approach to financial planning and that includes communicating with loved ones and teaching children how to be strong stewards of money. The meetings, communication must be ongoing. At least annually.

Why did you select financial services as a career? I recall vividly how the stock market intrigued me through my teenage years. I never missed an episode of Wall Street Week. As early as 13 years-old I was fascinated with how markets worked.

In grade school I enjoyed helping classmates understand how our passbook savings accounts (and compound interest) worked. Every Wednesday, a bank representative from Lincoln Savings Bank would meet with our elementary school class and collect deposits and stamp our passbooks.

This question should be used to gauge a perspective financial partner’s penchant for helping others and passion for his or her role as a mission, not a job. How do you know whether a professional sincerely cares about your financial situation and goals? You’ll know it, intuitively.

 What are your outside interests? A successful life is about balance. This question gets to the weekend and evening person behind the financial professional you observe from behind a desk, charts, book, and computers. You may discover activities you have in common and develop rapport on a personal level.

To gain a complete picture of the kind of person you’re entrusting with your investments is a crucial element of your interviewing process. By the way, it’s not prying. It’s curiosity. Ostensibly, you should like the individual you and your family may be working with for decades.

Can you tell me about your firm’s service standards? You want to know how many times a year you’ll be meeting with your financial partner whether in person (preferably), over the phone or web meeting like Go To Meeting. Is it quarterly? Every six months? How would you like to work as a client? What are your preferences? Will you be receiving calls and e-mails throughout the year about topics important to your financial situation like the market, economic conditions, financial planning, and fiscal changes that may affect me?

What is your investment philosophy? Recently, I meet a couple who was upset how their broker placed a million bucks into the market in one day. They believed there would exist a more thoughtful strategy for implementation especially in the face of the second-highest stock market valuation levels since the tech bubble. But THEY DIDN’T ASK. Are you ‘buy and hold?’  You seek to discover  whether the adviser is merely towing the employer’s line or does outside research and shares his or her personal opinion based on research and study.

Is there a portfolio sell discipline? What is it? Frankly, if the word no, or something like it comes up, excuse yourself politely and find another adviser. This investigation is over.

The dirty little secret in financial services is that ‘sell’ is a four-letter word. I’m certain you’ve heard about missing the 10 best days in the market (brokers preach this ad nauseam). How detrimental it is to portfolio return. And it is. But what about the other side of the coin? What about the math of loss?

Math-Of-Loss-122115.png

Per Lance Roberts, Clarity Financial’s Chief Investment Strategist:

Clearly, avoiding major drawdowns in the market is key to long-term investment success. If I am not spending the bulk of my time making up previous losses in my portfolio, I spend more time growing my invested dollars towards my long term goals.

Markets can’t be timed. That’s true. However, risk management is about controlling the math of loss which can be devastating compared to possible gains. Your broker or adviser should have a strategy you believe in to guard against market storms.

Whether it’s a conservative portfolio or asset allocation right from the beginning, or a specific sell and re-entry discipline to minimize portfolio damage, a sell strategy is crucial.

Academics and influential financial service providers are on the band wagon when it comes to sell disciplines. Whether it’s Dalbar, the nation’s leading financial services market research firm, or MIT Professor of Finance Andrew Lo, there’s a growing body of work that shows how investors spend most of their investment life (20-30 years), making up for losses, playing catch up.

Investing, closing your eyes and hoping for the best is not a wise strategy especially in a market propped up by central bank intervention and a P/E 10 ratio at 25.7, the second-highest level since the tech bubble at 44.2. The historic average is 16.7. Real price/earnings over 10 year averages are not going to drive market returns in the short term. However, as an investor, you must be aware of the environment you’re dealing with. Placing 100% of your stock allocation into the market at these levels should be a strategy you avoid, especially if you’re 5-7 years from retirement.

How will I have access to you and your team? A caring adviser will make sure you have the ability to text, access to a cell phone number, the phone contacts and e-mails of support staff and make you feel comfortable to reach out at any time. You should also expect a prompt response to voice mails within 24 hours or less.

When can I meet your clients? Advisory clients possess knowledge and intellectual gifts they love to share with others. Intimate client gatherings provide clients opportunities to communicate, generate business, form friendships. It’s rewarding to witness. The ability of clients to gather and know each other also helps new retirees transition to their next life adventures easier by hearing the life stories from people who have been there already.

Questions are an integral part of any relationship. As a friend recently taught me – not asking them in a timely fashion can create resentment and anger.

You’re not being nosy.

You’re not a nag.

You’re seeking information to make an informed decision.

About a topic close to your heart.

Financial well-being.

No questions asked.

Unless you’re Columbo.

Then keep asking.

How To Survive a Retirement: The 3 Questions.

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In the AMC’s hit drama “The Walking Dead,” where the world is overrun by rotting corpses with a desire to feed on the living, there’s something even greater to fear.

The survivors.

negan two

Staying alive in a post-apocalyptic society appears to bring out the worst of what’s left of humanity. People are ruthless killers. Strength in numbers is the best defense, yet poses an interesting dilemma.

One wrong move, one bad decision, and you’re history.

Just like that.

Sometimes, overcoming the most complicated of challenges comes down to the obvious. Nothing’s perfect however complexity fosters confusion which can shift focus, divert your attention. And when your enemies, especially within, outnumber you, it’s only a matter of time before.

Well. You know (it isn’t good).

negan three

The good guys devised a simple screening method.

An initial shield to determine if strangers they encounter are worth entry into their community.

Three questions.

questions

Let’s see how you do. Will you pass or fail?

Are you team material?

Or are you best left alone to fend for yourself?

How many walkers (corpses with an appetite for the living), have you killed?

To safeguard others, a survivor must be willing to take out the undead (a shot or blow to the head does it). Plain and simple. If your zombie kills are minimal or non-existent there will be doubts about your contribution to the survival of the group.

How many people have you killed?

Unfortunately there are instances when tough decisions must be made for the sake of self-preservation.  Best the number of walkers taken out exceed the number of people otherwise you may become a victim yourself.

Why?

Tread carefully. The reasons for taking out the living best be because of personal survival. Or request. You see -There are sad instances when victims of zombie bites would rather die honorably, in their control, rather than expire from the disease they carry.

They would rather not wake up. Walk around.

zombies walking

As I ponder the power of simple questions, whether in fact or fiction, I have come to realize how most situations, no matter how serious, can be broken down to three questions you ask yourself or others ask you.

When it comes to preparing for retirement, there are so many differing rules, theories, planning tools –  in my mind I need to consider retirement similar to a zombie apocalypse.

Sort of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

If today, you could clear all the noise, reduce retirement planning to what concerns you the most, what you need to do to protect yourself – What three questions would you ask?

As I work with individuals to formulate personalized retirement strategies, three questions emerge consistently. As a matter of fact, it’s rare when one of these queries doesn’t arise.

Once you strip out the confusion, target the basics.

Focus comes down to three main concerns.

Random Thoughts:

A confident retirement comes down to the money coming in to a household.

Cash flow is everything.

Question #1: How much spendable income may I have on a monthly basis post-tax to keep me, or me and my spouse comfortable for 20 years? Simply put, how much can I have?

Why 20 years?

Let’s face it. The odds of becoming a centenarian are as slim as the dead coming back to life. OK, not that slim but infrequent enough to understand that age 100 shouldn’t be a default setting for retirement plans.

Everyone I counsel is asked to complete the thorough, thought-provoking life-expectancy calculator exercise at www.livingto100.com.  Eight out of ten outcomes come in between 80-85 years old. Women average longer life expectancies at 83-86 years old. Per calculator results, men rarely live past 84 years old.

Thought leader Dick Wagner and author of the new book “Financial Planning 3.0,” in a recent interview with the Journal of Financial Planning, stated “financial planning is very, very young as a profession. If you believe that 1969 was the first year for the profession, then we’re into our 47th year. That’s not very many years if you compare it to other authentic professions.”

So who are we as advisers to indiscriminately assume that retirees are going to live to 100? I’m not sure why I see this occur so often. Maybe it feels safe. Perhaps it’s CYA. Regardless, it’s inaccurate.

Candidly, even if the profession were a thousand years old, longevity analysis would remain a slim, educated guess at best. I am 100 percent certain however that establishing retirement income plans to conclude at age ‘unrealistic’ is an exercise in disappointment. People won’t adhere to goals, milestones they find impossible to achieve.

Please plan for reality. Not fiction. A reach to age 100 will most likely lead to unsuccessful plan outcomes. You won’t feel secure enough to retire or you’ll wait too long thus placing the quality of life in retirement, in jeopardy.

If you believe, based on family longevity and state of health, that there’s a great probability of living to 100, by all means, don’t ignore preparing for the possibility.

The topic is challenging and uncomfortable to discuss. It requires acknowledgement of our own humanity.

A seasoned adviser doesn’t overlook or dance around the topic of longevity. He or she should handle the conversation with grace and honesty. After all, we are all going to die (and hopefully not return to life like in The Walking Dead).

It’s something we all have in common. We don’t seem to like to think about it happening before age 100, especially when it comes to retirement planning.

In the same interview financial futurist Dick Wagner continues his thoughts on the financial planning profession:

“The mission and purpose of financial planning is to work with individuals and families and their personal relationships with money and the fearsome forces that it generates. There’s something about ‘fearsome forces’ – it’s terrifying. I mean, it’s a quintessential challenge of the 21st century: just try to survive with this money stuff. People do something that’s really hard, which is to anticipate their needs of the last 20-30 years of their lives. Now how do you do that? You have no idea what your health will be, you have no idea what your date of death is, you have no idea how long you can continue to earn a living.”

Financial planners deal with plenty of their own fearsome forces. One source of angst is to have straightforward, yet sensitive discussions; balance the thin line between a portfolio and human life because as Dick Warner lamented, there are plenty of unknowns.

Take it from me – we’re not fond of zombies in the planning process but they do exist.

Before you look to have a retirement plan completed, take it upon yourself to go through a life-expectancy calculator. Sit with the outcome for a while. Do the results make sense?

Once you’re at peace with the information, share it with your financial planner. Incorporate it into your analysis. You’ll both be in sync. You’ll tackle fearsome forces together. The synergy will lead to reasonable goals, follow up and fulfillment.

Question #2: Will Social Security be there for me?

The assumption that Social Security is a dying social program, regardless of the generation, runs pervasive. Don’t underestimate the importance of properly integrating Social Security into your retirement arsenal. For the majority of Americans, this is their sole income for life.

So, let’s clear up several misconceptions.

According to financial planning thought leader Michael Kitces in a recent voluminous Kitces Report on the topic, the Social Security system is often considered “going broke” by 2034. At that time it’s believed the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted.

Most planning clients have a difficulty believing the funds will last that long. Per the analysis, the majority of benefits will still be paid through tax revenues on workers paying payroll taxes at that time.

Social Security recipients usually receive Cost-Of-Living Adjustments each year. An added bonus to an income you cannot outlive is inflation protection. Unfortunately, COLA is not in the cards for 2016 (a rare occurrence), however overall, Social Security remains the best lifetime income deal available to the masses.

It’s best a retiree in good health plan to wait until at least full retirement age (66, or 67) or possibly later to apply for Social Security. By the time I’m consulted for formal retirement planning, many recipients have already applied for benefits early – at age 62, in fear of not being “grandfathered” into the system and losing future benefits.

Unfortunately, unless a household is cash-strapped or a recipient’s health is poor, there’s rarely a reason to apply for Social Security before full retirement age.

Starting early will have a lasting impact to monthly payouts. For example, a person with a full retirement age of 66 who started Social Security at age 62 would experience a permanent 25% annual reduction in benefits.

When I began my career in financial services during the great bull market of the 80s and 90s, the numbers worked out favorably for a Social Security recipient to apply for benefits early and invest the difference.

Since the year 2000, this strategy has been less effective. Over the last sixteen years I’ve witnessed improving life spans, people working longer and unattractive returns on investment assets, which has made Social Security a formidable hedge against longevity and adverse portfolio conditions.

In addition, Social Security has become a stealth, forced ‘savings’ program for a majority of households stressed to save for retirement in the face of rising college costs, financially caring for elderly parents and adult children, underwater mortgages and chronic underemployment.

For most recipients, waiting until age 70 to take advantage of an 8% delayed retirement credit is a smart strategy. In a majority of cases a retiree should seek to postpone Social Security, enjoy a permanent 8% bump in benefits, along with annual COLA (Cost-Of-Living-Adjustments).

Question #3: What should I be afraid of? I don’t really know.

This retirement game is unfamiliar territory. You’re outside the safe or familiar zone (which in The Walking Dead, is a dangerous place to be). Don’t be shy. Nothing is off limits. After all, this is a new experience. You’re not an expert (yet) at this next life phase.

Why not ask a tenured planner what you should fear? Better yet – ask friends and associates who have been retired – what did they find scary about this new world? What had they overlooked? What are the mistakes they’ve learned from? What were their greatest oversights?

There could be enemies hiding in plain sight (it’s tough to trust anyone in a world overrun by zombies), that may be overlooked because you’re too close to the situation.

Frequently I receive questions about fear in retirement. They usually have little to do with money. Ostensibly, information regarding Social Security, healthcare costs in retirement and other crucial topics, is widely available. A comprehensive retirement plan will cover all important financial concerns as well.

What’s difficult to find because a person needs to live it to learn it, is information on how emotionally challenging it is to navigate from the accumulation side of the household balance sheet to the distribution mindset – The new reality where a retiree must depend upon his or her assets to survive. Being outside the protective walls of a job or career is rarely discussed in financial planning circles.

From my experience, it takes at least a year for a retiree to gain comfort with a change in lifestyle, a satisfactory portfolio withdrawal rate, a new purpose for a life away from the office.

Never lose sight of the power of simple questions.

If they can keep the survivors of a zombie apocalypse alive.

Think about what they can do for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch For Dust People: 5 Lines Of Defense.

Featured

“You don’t have to try to keep the tears back.

You couldn’t cry if you wanted to. You couldn’t cry if you wanted to.

Even your thoughts are dust.

Even your thoughts are dust.”

Lucinda Williams

The Dusters thrive among us.

In the misty whirlwind of false, trenchant phrases and gut-hemorrhaging head games you’ll be captured.

The haze created by the escape, their false feelings that conclude in emotional entrapment, will set the outer reaches of your soul ablaze like high velocity, ghost-pepper shots to the eyes.

The singed ends of nerves you never knew you had will explode in dry fire, like staccato firecrackers going off in a cloying sulfur-mist tethered by a humid summer sky.

The lies will choke off your oxygen.

Your capacity to think straight will evaporate.

You’ll feel yourself shrivel from the inside out.

shriveled man

Because you’re gagging on dry death. 

Helplessly falling into the cracks of the parched splintered arteries.

Ground into a foundation of splintered bones and pulverized hearts.

And you won’t. Even. Know. It.

By the time you get it, you’ll be dried out completely.

The hour, the minute, the month, the year you’re shaken from their lives.

As they move to the next dirt destination.

You’ll re-live each terrifying moment.

So you see.

Sadly, you must understand.

Fresh victims are plentiful.  Always close.  In the wings. Waiting to be dried and shaken while you’re stirred.

Before a Duster rolls down to a new pubic town (population YOU).

Before they release you to a wind that flows on apathy and stinks with the rot of deceit.

Another poor soul is near.

Unaware.

This group? Get to know who they are.

Society is overrun with them.

They feed on on others to build themselves. They fire up egos. Their own.

The Dusters.

Beware of them.

Let me show you the way.

Let me help you understand.

Allow me to help you avoid the dusters.

Because.

If you’re a victim?

****************************************

dust people two

                  You’re gone already. 

It’s called an expiration date and it’s on your head right from the get go.

Random Thoughts:

Dusters don’t feel remorse. Apathy. Or anything.  The antics, every thought they possess, is based on an end game first. the grand exit. They re-live the escape plan. The goal for them is to leave with more than they entered your life with. Their timing is perfect.

Right from the start you are in a burning house with the door padlocked shut.

Dried meat. Turned into a jerk(y).

Oh who knows what keeps them around, sometimes for years.

I rattle this around in my head every day.

Good sex, a sympathetic ear, a travel bud, shared business contacts, an image boost, outright free stuff, a paycheck for nothing, a friendship controlled for personal gain.

Who knows?

The Dusters are indeed a diverse bunch. The breed is a non-partisan feeder.

They come from all walks of life.

Frankly, they represent an epidemic. One that’s going to be around a while because the ongoing deterioration into a Tinder culture demands it. And I fear it’s just begun.

I fear there are more of them than us, now.

So the odds are they will come for you, too.

You’re gonna get dusted.

It’s just a matter of time. The day you’re shaken, swept out to the dustbin of the past.

Once Dusters have gotten what they need from you or something/someone else to play with, you are dust (dead) to them.

And if  you’re stupid or unfortunate enough to fall in love with a Duster, you’ll ignore the signs because nobody can be that evil, right?

Wrong.

So. So. Wrong.

Dust storm #1– Dusters create grandiose exit-preparation stories. It’s a first assault. An initial test of your resolve. It’s an attack on your sanity. A Duster wants to gauge the power of your commitment to stick with them long enough to be damaged. Because you see, it’s not a conscious effort to hurt.

It’s a part of who they are.

So, let me ask – How much can you handle?

Duster victims are steadfast suckers.

Others are smart and flee quick.

Who are you?

stop stop

Dusters swirl words into flirty-dirty demons that revolve around and within you. It’s a tactic designed to confuse a victim before the slaughter.

Since Dusters don’t trust their own actions, naturally they can’t trust yours. In addition, they have not completely shaken the packed-on remnants of past particles (which is interesting) because they abhor how some of their victims have moved on to healthy relationships.

How dare they???

dust_by_forgottenx

You can’t make Dusters feel bad because they can’t feel. Anything. People who can’t help them and those who have outlived their usefulness are swiftly discarded.

You’re an ash in a flash.

Their love is not permanent. Frankly, there’s no such thing as love (outside of self) for this cancerous spin-off of the species. Oh, they’ll say they love you, they’ll promise long term just to keep you in the storm, as they’re not quite done with your bloody carcass, yet.

It’s like that monster grizzly. You know – In the DiCaprio film “The Revenant.”

Just when you’re convinced he’s finished tearing out your neck, ripping open your back, dragging you like a puppy toy, THE BEAR RETURNS. THE MAULING RESUMES. NO MERCY.

Each lie, a claw to the face: They’ll be a friend forever (slash). They’re working for you (slash #2). They have your back (final gash). Actions prove different. Over and over again.

Love does not reside in their core. It’s not at home there. It dies before it’s able to breach the wall.

The warm fuzzies are icy-knife-ies.

The world is indeed their stage and you’re merely rolling across, stuck in it, used in it, then released from it.

dust world They’re comin’, they’re comin’!

Dust storm #2: Duster emotions are fleeting, float light on the breeze, subject to change in a blink. There’s nothing in the soul when it comes to feelings.

Remember – Duster’s are always on the move even when still, constantly searching for exits. Lusting for the water of another’s life because the newest victims are the juiciest!

It’s how they prosper. Duster victims are flesh commodities.

Dust a dozen.

There are so many choices, so many people they can dry out, it’s like a feeding frenzy.

“Harvest time, all the time,”is their motto.

And surprise!

Look who’s on the menu..

human menu

Dusters are ghosts, shells of humans with important stuff missing. People are nothing to them unless you have something they desire. When a Duster shakes you off, it’s done with rehearsed platitudes, false language of leaving they’ve recycled from the dusty remnants of other departures. They’ll even fool your relatives. Suck in the kids!

Dusters thrive deep in finances.  They’re the cuts you never do anything about. They’re stealth hits that keep on hitting. Recently, I received an e-mail for fees, an auto-renewal from a service it took me 3 hours to cancel.

Most would rather have their money turn to dust before they halt this auto-finance terrorism. Take a day. Stop all auto-payments. Gain control. I know consumers who have lost hundreds, thousands, robo-paying for services they never use because it’s easier to pay than to stop. Huh? No.

Dusters rarely say “I’m sorry,” or admit mistakes. And why should they? You should bow. Die noble in their grace. Just dust, bury yourself before they get to it. After all, they’re terrific. You’re the reason they’re fucked up, remember?

As a matter of fact they’ll make you feel wrong for being right.

Remember that line from the classic film “Love Story?”

Love-Story.png

Yea, it’s nothing like that.

Not at all.

Identify Dusters with 3 simple inquiries. No kidding. To kill a Duster you must be the Duster (not for long because that’s not you).

Keep it simple. The best deaths occur in plain sight. Every minute. Not even Kojak would be able to figure it out.

kojak

Keep sucking, buddy. You won’t catch me!

Tell me about your long-term friendships. Dusters have few close friendships to speak of. That’s not a bad thing on the surface. Loners can be cool. You just want to get a handle on the quality of the relationships. How a Duster defines them.

If you can’t adequately get a handle on why and how these friendships are maintained, step back. If there appears to be a pattern of breakage and it’s always the fault of others, well you know what to do, right?

Describe your last break-up in detail, please. Dusters are expert ghosters. They refuse to face a victim in person, or communicate verbally, on a forever departure. They conjure up lame-ass, re-hashed excuses through e-mail or other electronic channels. This query is your most insanity-driven dive into the Duster psyche. Stay strong. You’re going in deep.

Break-ups aren’t perfect. You’re not looking for clean, neat separations. You’re seeking to identify respect for a former partner in the throes of a heartbreaking life episode.

Dusters hold below-zero respect for people who love them, especially at goodbye time.

Remember, this is their heart, a life code: They want to slap-clap you off their tails. Like they would from their jeans after a long journey on a dirty mud-cut of ground.

Tell me about something, an incident, you’re sorry about. My personal favorite. You know why? Because Dusters are rarely sorry. About anything! After all, it’s never them. Be sensitive to a consistent string of “remorse code.”

Let me explain.

Remorse codes are strings of negative roads well traveled.The same circle patterns of mistakes. Ghost-like breakups, busted engagements, cheating. Could be they’re tough heartfelt lessons. Perhaps your Duster has vowed never to do this to you. Or maybe you’re delusional and the next stop on the heartbreak express.

Have you fooled yourself, convinced yourself that it’ll be different with you?

Question: Are you up for the risk?

Are you willing to take the chance?

Well, if you do.

Then:

_ _ . _ _ _ _.. … ._ _. . . _ ..

(Morse Code for Godspeed).

morse code

It’s not Morse Code, it’s Remorse Code. Silly.

Dusters feel guilt but it’s merely an odd form of self-flagellation. A seemingly strange internal coping mechanism. A futile effort to connect with what’s shoe-string left of their humanity (who am I kidding?). There’s a peculiar sadness that arises their victims move on. Re-hydrate.

The ones who escape really irritate them. So much so they can’t visit the ground zeroes, the towns, where these survivors survive.  They feel something odd – REMORSE. Well, only because the ones left behind made it through the pain parlor. Their happiness, their recovery is Kryptonite.

Go figure.

Dust storm #3: Dusters will lament to you about the love or friend who got away. How they’ve mourned. How bad they feel. Really? They don’t. Take it as a warning. A brief wet spot they sit in with us three-dimensional mortals. It’s a worm hole you must crawl through. Listen. Discover. Run!

Dusters relish the stories they create. With disparate mental fragments of dark plot-lines, they form a sick square-fits-in-a-hole puzzle designed to validate an exit strategy, a distrust, even a hatred of their prey.

Dusters believe all people are bad so they must strike.

Destroy them first. Always.

Dusters are narcissists who frolic with sharp blades yet never cut themselves. They are expert slicers, compart-mentalists, molders.  They’ll work diligently to galvanize fellow Dusters against you to protect their personal lack of accountability and courage.

I tested this theory recently. I placed my head on the chopping block. It’s in the bloody basket. Rotting. It turned out exactly as I figured it would.

They are steadfast cowards at intimate human interaction, connection, above all else.

basketcase

Great movie from the 1980s: Basket Case.

It’s personally rewarding to discover people who are so damn good at Duster detection and deft at avoiding attacks from Dusters and their fuck-flunkies (not a dance move from the 1970s, or is it?).

I unfortunately, am not one of those special people, proficient in these skills.

Dusters will push, twist you into a different person. A human you’ll no longer recognize. The ultimate betrayal, the way they depart, the manner in which they leave frayed ends dangling like bloody entrails on a clothesline at a zombie laundry party, will drive you insane, out of your own skull.

You won’t recognize yourself. Your pets will avoid you. You smell different.

It’ll take time to return to the light, the living, the waters. The clear. The still.

Like a storm on the plains they’ll lift, carry, then drop you like a rag doll.

One day it’ll happen, you’ll look up. You’ll stop dragging what’s left of yourself across a gravel road and start all over.

You’ll be boarding the life train again. Sniff the spice off a summer breeze.

The light of day will no longer feel like night.

Oh, you’ve been there.

Sometimes it feels like exposed nerves are rubbing against broken and infected parts of my heart.

I wish Johnny Cash were still alive.

I would have loved to share my dust theory with him.

Would my thoughts be set to lyrical magic?

How would he take the words. Improve them?

Hmm, maybe this?

Dusters.

In this world.

As a new day bursts blue. Clear-on-clear.

They have their smoke eye on you.

For now.

I’ll wish you good thoughts.

I’ve walked there. I fear the footfalls.

And when the time arrives for you to be a target.

Or no longer play with the player.

Perhaps you’ll remember my words.

Heed the warnings.

Consider and respect my ongoing torment.

And dust the Dusters at their own dirty game.

I’m on your side.

Breathe in deep.

As deep can be.

Hold.

Release.

Walk.

Now you’re steady.

Prepared.

Thriving.

Dust free.

And a connect with the universe again.

Where it’s cool and clean.

And calm again.

dust free

*****************************************************************

Sidebar: The Dusters know who they are. They know this post is about them, don’t they?

They’re reading right now. In denial. Ready to strike. 

Listen. Learn:

Lucinda Williams’ Dust.

Writing is part of my healing process . A closure activity.

I hope ya’ll enjoyed this lil’ ditty.

Dedicated to my very clever friend – Tami Denny. 

Five Lessons from an Urban Supermarket.

Random Thoughts of a Money Muse

Damn you Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Detectives: Damn you all to hell!

heston damn you

The first/best “DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!” ever. The original “Planet of the Apes.” I believe Hollywood has had the balls to remake this film like three times. 

Eckhart Tolle, known as the “father of inner peace” should be arch nemesis of this Google invasion of privacy, but I’m thinking he’s way too self-actualized to even sweat the effort. I can hear him – “who needs this Google you speak of?”

To arrest a mind troubled by the lambasting of ego, an individual must seize the now, the present. Today. This moment.

I’m sorry ET – I’m a work in progress. Always evolving. BUT THAT DAMN GOOGLE.

Tolle ego

Allows me, so easily, to scope out the physical landmarks from my history. It tempts me to unlock doors I prefer remain closed. Behind that granite-like barrier in my mind…

View original post 1,735 more words

Three Financial Lies that can Reset or Ruin your Retirement.

A version of this writing appears in MarketWatch’s Retirement Weekly.

The financial sector still gets a bad rap.

Seven years after the financial crisis.

Justifiably so.

banker hand cuffs

In his 2013 book “Finance & The Good Society,” economist Robert Shiller describes a utopia where finance can benefit today’s society. He identifies how financial innovations of the past, like insurance and pensions for example, improved the lives of the masses. The lauded professor at Yale shares his suggestions about the future of finance and how the industry can reform and prosper by serving the common good.

Can you imagine?

Yea, me neither.

I’m sorry to be cynical but you have a better chance of finding a unicorn in your driveway and taking it for a trot over a magical rainbow.

unicorn

The halcyon days for finance are over.

Today, in the shadow of the Great Recession, forgotten by Wall Street and insidiously faded into the fog of averages, the financial industry is more than ever a marketing machine designed to convince the masses to purchase products they don’t need and to stick with investments that offer more risk for less reward.

The pundits seek to convince, not enlighten. They warn (scare) that if we don’t invest in the manner they suggest, we are in great danger of outliving our money, the boogey-man of inflation will inevitably arise from under our cash and devour our nest egg while we sleep.

From behind their manipulated statistics, these ‘experts’ communicate in serious tones a cozy belief that your household balance sheet has recovered from the Great Recession.

You know better.

Now, more than any other period since 2008, retirees and those near retirement, are vulnerable to the lies that appear pervasively in financial media.

Survival depends on you knowing the difference between white lies that don’t matter and dark fabrications that have the potential to derail your retirement planning.

There are three financial lies you must ignore to preserve your wealth right now.

 Lie #1 – Cash is trash.

Many financial talking heads consider holding cash dangerous to their livelihoods. Why maintain cash when money could be allocated to expensive managed accounts or locked up in investment vehicles where ongoing fees can be charged.

These cunning souls know if they can convince you to remain invested at all times, especially when markets are sliding, then the financial firms they represent can continue to make a predictable revenue stream to appease shareholders.

The Real Value of Cash

The experts hope you fall victim to the behavioral pitfall labeled anchoring.  When emotionally connected to a loss, you’ll wait for that losses to recover to your original purchase price before taking action, even if the current value reflects a change in fundamentals. The opportunity cost of sticking with losing investments and waiting for recovery can be detrimental to your financial health.

Gregory L. Morris, author of “Investing With The Trend,” showcases how it takes on average, five years to recover from a 20% loss in stock prices (as represented by the S&P 500). Five years can add up to a healthy stream of fees if you ‘stick with the program.’ Don’t you think?

So, let me ask: How many five-year periods can you survive in the span of a human life, to break even?

Never underestimate the value of cash as a component of your long-term asset allocation.

Mainstream media will never embrace the concept of holding cash. They’ll tout long-term returns as the reason to remain invested in both good times and bad. Most individuals lack the “time” necessary to truly capture 30 to 60-year stock return averages.

For individuals trying to save for retirement, there are several important considerations with respect to cash as an asset class:

  1. Cash is an effective hedge against market loss. 
  2. Cash provides an opportunity to take advantage of market declines.
  3. Cash provides stability during times of uncertainty (reduces emotional mistakes)

It doesn’t mean you should be 100% in cash. Holding an increased allocation to cash during periods of uncertainty provides both stability and future opportunity.

When inflation is low and stock valuations as measured by Robert Shiller’s CAPE ratio is at 23x earnings which has historically represented the peak of secular bull markets, the significance of holding cash is revealed.

As the chart above outlines, if you purchase stocks when the CAPE is 6x and switch to cash at 23x, the adjusted return of $100 increases dramatically over time. Of course, cash will lose out during periods of above average inflation like in the 1970s, however holding and investing cash during periods of low valuations produced substantial outperformance compared to waiting for lost capital to recover.

At this juncture, increasing portfolio cash to 20-30% to weather the storm will not kill your returns. As a matter of fact, your portfolio will survive. You won’t need to alter your retirement plans.

Lie #2: Stocks average 10% a year.

SP total returns holding period

This lie may be the most lethal. Recently, I heard a pundit on a popular financial channel flippantly throw out a statement to an afternoon television audience. He said not to worry: Stocks average 10% a year if you hold tight.

Currently on their Twitter feed, a popular roboadviser called WealthFront which is an electronic portfolio asset allocator, regularly shares a chart alone and within blog posts. It shows how the growth of a dollar invested in the stock market appreciates to roughly $34,000 if invested from 1871 through 2015.

1871.

The president of the United States was Ulysses S. Grant.

Orville Wright of the Wright Brothers was born in August of that year.

Is 10% completely false. No.

Misleading, yes.

Is it realistic to base return assumptions for retirement planning on numbers many pundits share in the national media?

No.

From 1871 to present the total nominal return was 8.08% versus just 6.86% on a “real” adjusted for inflation basis. While the percentages may not seem like much, over such a long period the ending value of the original $1000 investment was lower by an astounding $270 million dollars.

Since 1900, stock market appreciation plus dividends has provided investors with an average return of roughly 10% per year. Historically, 4%, or 40% of the total return, came from dividends. The remaining return (60%), came from capital appreciation that averaged 6%.

There are several fallacies with the notion that the markets long-term compound at 10% annually.

The market does not return 10% every year. There are many years where market returns have been sharply higher, significantly lower or flat lined.

The analysis does not include the real world effects of inflation, taxes, fees, and other expenses that subtract from total returns.

SHOCKER – You don’t have 144 years to invest. Using ‘perpetual’ holdings periods for something as finite as a human life is plain irresponsible.

Lie #2 will allow false hope to permeate your retirement planning outcomes. Incorporating unrealistic return projections increases the likelihood of shortfall surprises later in retirement. Perhaps at an age where returning to work is highly unfeasible.

Then what?

This whopper will indeed sneak up on you. If you’re three years from retirement or in retirement, now’s the time to re-visit the return estimates that were used in your financial planning analysis.

 Lie #3: Annuities = bad.

For years, several well-known money managers and syndicated financial superstars, have overwhelmed print, social, television and weekend radio media outlets with negative and false information about annuities.

It’s like saying repeatedly – a paycheck for life should always be avoided.

The wide universe of annuities are given an unfair rap as financial professionals with an agenda play on investor misunderstanding. With irresponsible blanket statements like ‘annuities are high commission and good for brokers, not for you,’ this group exploits the masses’ ignorance for their own gain.

They play on a human behavioral pitfall called heuristics. Heuristics are mental shortcuts we employ to digest the onslaught of information we’re slammed with daily. As busy individuals with access to limited information, we create rules of thumb to quickly come to conclusions and make decisions.

Annuities, specifically variable annuities, a blend of insurance and mutual funds, have been the subject of bad press and regulatory scrutiny for decades. Justifiably so. With exorbitant fees and generous commission structures these products were sold inappropriately in many documented cases.

Today, novice recipients of the adverse messages recall how they were told, read or heard somewhere that annuities must be avoided. So it must be true.

What an injustice to investors who would benefit from these products.

To mitigate the risk of outliving a nest egg or as a replacement for conservative investments like bonds, deferred-income and immediate annuities can be used effectively to supplement Social Security and portfolios that cannot carry the retirement income responsibilities alone. These annuity types are affordable and can play an important role in a holistic financial plan.

To understand the truth about annuities avoid the ‘real story’ touted in media and advertising. There’s something ‘Fisher’ about this bullshit. As in Ken Fisher.

Instead, check out your resident state’s department of insurance website for objective information. Meet with a Certified Financial Planner who is compensated on an hourly fee basis to understand annuity types and to determine if a lifetime income option, in addition to Social Security, is suitable for your personal situation.

Unfortunately, dystopia thrives within the financial industry.

Now more than ever.

As we appear to be entering the storm of a bear market in stocks.

To survive you must dig deeper, stay vigilant, possess a healthy dose of skepticism.

Because pundits will not disappear as quickly as your wealth can.

And finance and the good society shall remain just a fairy tale.

All charts are the courtesy of Clarity’s Financial Chief Investment Strategist Lance Roberts.

Rules To Live & Die By: Life, Money & Otherwise.

Aside

I appreciate rules.

Rules derived from the heart and mind have saved me.

Rules, forged from experience, can safeguard precious resources – financial and otherwise.

They will protect you from losing your pants.

just got naked

Naked rules are best.

Pure, simple, raw.

Here are mine.

What are yours?

 

Random Thoughts:

Part I: Life Rules.

my life my rules

 

If a woman can’t listen to the Eagles’song Lyin’ Eyes without wincing, or quickly changes the station, run.

Beware of people who carry a stash of ’emergency’ condoms (indeed run, but feel free to have sex first).

You can’t wipe your ass enough (especially men – we’re the worst). When you believe it’s all clear in the deep, take another swipe. Just to be safe.

Never trust a person who rarely uses turn signals.

Be cautious of those who judge based on past mistakes when they’ve made the same ones or worse.

Don’t step back without looking (there’s a dog there, especially in the kitchen).

Never let open wine go to waste. Never. (Did I say never?).

Distrustful people are black pitch through the soul. Avoid them.

Be wary of those who can’t maintain close long-term relationships of any kind.

When I ignore rules I create, bad things happen.

Misjudgments remain with me. I see injury in the mirror every day. I lose a spark that will most likely, never return. Perhaps it’s part of a natural process, like aging.

Living without a personal guide book can hurt you.

Along with Clarity’s Chief Market Strategist Lance Roberts, we’ve created rules to help you protect and understand the key drivers of your wealth.

Remember – For every beginning there is an end. Investments have a shelf life. Eventually you’ll need to liquidate them to fulfill a financial goal, create a paycheck in retirement, gift to loved ones. Whatever. Money is to be spent, enjoyed.

Not hoarded.

And yes, you can indeed sell investments to protect capital.

Huh? What?

Sell: The scariest 4-letter word on Wall Street.  Just the mention of it and you’re branded a loon. Leprotic, running amok and licking the neighborhood children.

Part II: Investment Rules:

Cut losers short. Let winners run. Underperforming positions are reduced or removed from portfolios on rallies.

Set financial life benchmarks and take action. Every position purchased has a sell target. Investments without goals are arbitrary, which increases portfolio risk.

Emotional biases are not part of the investment management process.

Follow the trend. 80% of portfolio performance is determined by the underlying trend.

And the current trend is south. 

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When markets break their long-term bullish trend supports combined with important long-term sell signals and a sharp decline in momentum, it has historically denoted the start of a “bear market trend.” The red highlight denotes the start of the bear market. The yellow highlight shows the ensuing bear market completion.

Never let a profit turn into a “loss.”

Investment discipline is successful if consistently followed.

Losses are part of the investment process. Losing positions are regularly culled to reduce portfolio risk and free up capital for better investment selections. However, you can’t completely avoid losses. Sorry. If that’s the case you’re better off in certificates of deposit. You can minimize but not eliminate. You play, you pay.

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As fiduciaries of OTHER PEOPLE’S money, the biggest concern is not how much money we make during market advances, but rather how much we keep from losing during market declines.

While this seems counter-intuitive, in reality it is where long-term gains are generated. As William Lippman, CEO of Investment Management at Franklin Templeton quipped:

“Better to preserve capital on the downside rather than outperform on the upside”

A strict discipline of portfolio risk management will NOT eliminate all losses in portfolios. However, it will minimize the capital destruction to a level that can be dealt with logically, rather than emotionally.

This isn’t market timing, people. That doesn’t work. ‘All-or-none’ is a losing strategy. Never go all cash. From a management standpoint, this is a bad idea. Trying to “time the market” is impossible over the long-term and leads to very poor emotionally based decision making.

The objective is to reduce portfolio risk to manageable levels to preserve capital over time. We can do that by increasing and reducing our exposure to equity-related risk by paying attention to the price trends of the market.Odds of success greatly improve when the fundamentals are confirmed by the technical indicators (see? Another rule).

Don’t add to a losing position. This is called “averaging down” and rarely is it effective. How many investors are caught in the energy sector value trap? Or treated master limited partnerships ‘safe’ as fixed instruments?

The slide has been ugly and getting uglier.

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Don’t be a hero. Buying energy or “averaging down” at this juncture will most likely be hazardous to your wealth.

Markets are “bullish” or “bearish.” Remain neutral or long in bull markets. In bear markets be neutral and increase cash.

When markets or portfolio positions are trading at extreme deviations from long term trends, do the opposite of “the herd.”

If you haven’t trimmed positions yet –Wait for an opportune time. Most likely, a  market bounce is coming. Trim your weakest holdings into strength especially if your gut is in turmoil or you’re 5 years or closer to retirement.

A goal of portfolio management is to achieve a 70% success rate. No process is perfect. Consistency wins the long game.

Manage risk and volatility, not returns. Also, manage emotions. Humans are not wired to invest. Knee-jerk reactions, overconfidence, seeing trends that don’t exist will only destroy portfolio returns.

Never discount the importance of financial planning. The investment process is an element of a financial plan. An important one. However, it’s not the full story. It’s the sexiest chapter, I know.

There’s more to consider.

So we created.

Part III: Clarity’s Financial Planning Rules.

Take a holistic approach. Proper planning integrates all assets, liabilities and sources of income for a complete perspective.

Money is fungible. For planning to be effective, remove the mental boundaries around the dollars you earn and save so they may be allocated to their highest and best use.

Don’t discount Social Security strategies. Take steps to maximize earned benefits. Coordinate Social Security withdrawals with those of other accounts to minimize the impact of taxes.

Healthcare costs including Medicare, and senior housing options must be included in the planning process.

Successful plans are grounded in financial self-awareness which includes prioritizing needs and wants.

Conversations with loved ones and friends about aspects of your financial plan are important. Make sure your estate, gifting and future housing intentions are clearly communicated.

Don’t Get Fooled By Averages. The financial markets do not return 8% a year. A realistic financial plan includes variability in returns, including losses, over time.

Accountability Matters. A financial plan not followed is not a financial plan at all. Long term financial goals need to be broken down into monthly objectives and you and your adviser are accountable in meeting those objectives. (It is easier to consider a savings goal of $500/month versus $6000/yr.) Mental trickery works. Milestones broken down to millstones will convince your brain to take action. Move forward.

Rules.

Boundaries.

They work.

Follow them.

Survive.

With less wear on your face.

Less dark circles under the eyes.

You’ll preserve joy in your heart.

Stamina.

Will be yours.

And you’ll live to play another day.

For a glossy (fancy) copy of our investment and planning rules email me at RichardRosso@myclarityfinancial.com.

Charts by Lance Roberts. Sign up for his weekly market/economic newsletter at http://www.realinvestmentadvice.com.