From Accumulation to Distribution: A Retirement Crossroad.

Richard M. Rosso, CFP:

In retirement, follow again what makes you human. Re-discover what you lost before you were a slave to the clock.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

As originally appeared in MarketWatch’s Retirement Weekly.

What’s been my greatest advice to people once they seriously consider retirement?

No it’s not create a budget.

It’s watch the movie “Castaway.”

Castaway one

Take notes. Life is about to get bumpy.

Money is at the bottom of the life list for surprises. There are enough academic studies that prove how people with formal retirement planning are more successful than those who don’t plan.

No, there’s another storm front to weather.

In the 2000 film Tom Hanks portrays a frenetic FedEx systems employee obsessed with time and productivity. During a Christmas evening flight to Malaysia, his delivery plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. He is violently tossed and cast to a remote island where he remains trapped and surrounded by cascading ocean currents. Over four years, while loved ones consider him lost (they had a funeral), and the love of his life marries and…

View original 1,390 more words

A Houston Lesson – Be “One” & “Someone” To A Happy Retirement.


A version of this writing appeared on MarketWatch.

There’s a controversy brewing in Houston.

The conflict between the “one” and the “someone,” is highly visible, to thousands of commuters to see.

Painted on the side of an overpass, for as long as I can remember, at least 17 years, those heading south on a bustling freeway have grown accustomed to the weather-worn message.

“Be Someone.”

Be Someone

Between ominous rusted-steel teeth at the mouth to downtown, I find myself looking for it, expecting the usual sight of what has become a faded element of the urban landscape.

I laugh to myself every time I pass. Why do I care? Is it tradition? Beacon? Wisdom? No idea. I think -Who shall I be today? Can my identity stand the elements and test of time? Will my integrity allow me to remain or be someone?


An unidentified culprit painted over, messed with the message.  A word that completely changed the tone was gone.

The day “BE SOMEONE” became “BE ONE.”

Be One

No longer was I someone. A vandal’s vandalism of vandalism merged me into life’s traffic? Houston’s road congestion is bad enough, now this, too.

I wasn’t the only one disrupted by the alteration.

There was local news coverage. Television, radio, print.

Then, as quickly as media attention emerged, an urban hero yet to be named, wronged a graffiti right.

In fresh paint, “BE SOMEONE” was back.

The message in the infrastructure had returned.

Throughout retirement, you will travel the roads, switch lanes between “BE ONE” and “BE SOMEONE.”

The best way to avoid surprises and maximize life in retirement, is to hit the gas.

Embrace both.

A “BE SOMEONE” mindset is you as you stand apart from others.

A “BE ONE” frame of reference arises as you stand together as a share of a greater whole.

Random Thoughts:

Be Someone: Retirement is the opportunity to re-awaken your true identity, rekindle inner passions. Relish the time to march to your own beat, again.

I consult with retirees who are forging a road to awareness and re-connection to what was important to them in the past. I call it a “re-acquaintance list.”

This is no bucket exercise. A bucket list is compiled of grandiose experiences, at least in my opinion. A re-acquaintance list is small in comparison yet ongoing. Like a support bridge underfoot that hasn’t been traveled completely – It’s what makes/made “you” well, “you.” It’s a return to simple passions that lead to greatness which I define as joy and richness of soul.

The relevance of career goals fade.

Greatness is achieved through less monumental actions which occupy slow whispers of time. It’s when the greatness of “be someone” is realized. For retirees, it’s a return to desires they needed to place on the backburner to earn a living, like reading or painting.

Also, they’re seeking educational and lifestyle enrichment by selecting retirement residences that exist on college campuses. For example, The Forest at Duke University offers apartments and single-family homes in a 40,000 square-foot independent wellness community. There is access to private primary care or skilled nursing in a lush, tranquil setting.

What retirees find most attractive about these communities is the chance to fully embark on the “be someone” concept. The Forest offers lifelong learning through regular in-house programs like lectures and resources by local scholars. In addition, the initiative to nourish the mind, body and spirit is appealing with access to performing arts, ballet, yoga and guided mediation. Residences may be apartments or single-family homes for an entry payment and a monthly service fee which is inclusive of all living expenses including meals.

Be One: To “be one” is to be a participant in something bigger. Here, your identity is at its best when part of a greater mission. People who remain engaged with former co-workers, provide deep experience into current projects, and participate in weekly or monthly rituals with friends or those in their communities appear most fulfilled through retirement.

An engineer who retired in 1996 still meets his high school buddies for dinner once a month on Thursdays. The members of this group have never missed a date. Unfortunately, several have passed.  However, that hasn’t stopped the ritual.

In 2010, a project manager known for her skills to assemble an effective team accepted a severance package from a large pharmaceutical company. She still mentors and continues friendships with those she hired throughout a 24-year tenure.

Active retirees are involved in coffee groups. Regular meetings of people who bond over hot coffee and highly-caffeinated morning conversation. From Perry, Iowa to Hartwick, New York, these gatherings have been in existence close to a decade and contribute to mental acuity through community, support, active listening and verbal engagement. There’s no room for technology like smartphones or tablets, either.

Be Someone:  March to your own drummer, walk the path that brokerage firms purposely choose to ignore and your portfolio will last as long as you do.

In a recent edition of the Journal of Financial Planning, Wade Pfau, professor at The American College re-visited the Trinity Study which appeared in the February 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Association of Individual Investors.

One of the blackest holes at brokerage firms is their continued reluctance to review, update, and contradict any study that was valid during the greatest bull market in history which was an outlier, not a common occurrence.

After all, it’s in the industry’s best interest to perpetuate the myth that stocks are a panacea regardless of cycles. Academics like Wade Pfau are leaders of the “be someone” movement and his work is crucial to your financial success in retirement.

The Trinity Study was published in 1998. The focus of the analysis was to determine the probability of portfolio success upon withdrawing 4% annually (adjusted for inflation), with a mix of long-term corporate bonds and the S&P 500 stock index. With a 50/50 asset allocation, the portfolio survived in 95% of historical rolling 30-year periods.

Per Wade Pfau, who updated the study in the August 2015 edition of the Journal of Financial Planning, today’s markets matter more to the sustainability of portfolio survival than historical outcomes.

Based on the current low interest rate environment and high stock market valuations, a sustainable 4% withdrawal rate will require a drawdown of principal. Income generated will not be enough. For new retirees this is especially dangerous as the first 10 years of portfolio withdrawals can alter permanently future portfolio longevity. If a retiree faces sequence of return risk whereby asset returns are below historical averages in the face of withdrawals that reduce principal, then portfolio success rates must be revised downward.

The outcome of the study is sobering: Wade Pfau’s simulations conclude that a portfolio with a 50% stock allocation now has a 64% probability of success with a 4% withdrawal rate, down from 95%. Success is reduced to 37% at a 5% rate.

Retirees must stay vigilant and examine portfolio withdrawals to be a step ahead of sequence-of-return risk. If portfolio distributions exceed income and appreciation for two consecutive years, withdrawal rates should be reduced for the upcoming period. It’s an exercise that should be conducted once a full year’s worth of liquidations are completed.

Be One: Retirees experience happiness when giving back to their communities. Schedule a couple of hours a week to explore a charitable passion. Serving others provides great reward for all involved. For greater fulfillment, a donation of time over money is healthier.

A list of non-profits seeking volunteers can be found in your area at You may filter by issues from “Animals” to “Women.”

From there, you can gather a deep understanding of how your non-profits of interest, operate. Written reviews by those who have donated and others who sought aid, are there to assist volunteers make informed charitable decisions.

I don’t know how the Houston “battle of the graffiti” will conclude.

Regardless, there are many ways to be “one” and “someone” in retirement. They can co-exist. Form a synergy.

In retrospect, “be both,” works.

Try it.

How a Daughter Goes From Killer to Savior at 30,000 Feet.


“I hate God!”

ten year screamng

I was less than an inch from my mother’s face. I could feel her breath. I spit in her eye by mistake. She was kneeling. Stare down at urban sunrise #1,201. This one? This one crossed boundaries.

Fleshy, fatty boundaries.

fat boy

The tiny, crucifix attached to my underwear every morning to “keep me under God’s care,” was a four-pointed golden thorn in my side. A ritual I had grown to dread. Years of passive-aggressive defiance went ignored. I had no say in this tradition passed on from God-knows-who.

It was a worthless exercise. At least to me.

Mom never missed a day. It was her thing.

The power of an undergarment idol was fleeting. I was hesitant to bring up the topic.

Perhaps it couldn’t get good reception or a signal from the heavens buried under three layers of clothing. The thickest corduroy Korvette’s carried. Like the rabbit ears on our old black & white Panasonic television, I didn’t trust “the cross” to do the job.

Religious “underpinnings” failed to protect from constant bullying (about my husky-sized everything). A huge miss.

Although, I come to believe that “God’s care” may have spared me the fate of the yearbook’s chubby road-bump of the year when Mr. K the third-grade gym teacher, speeding in his Pontiac, just missed turning my gut into the consistency of overcooked pasta.

To this day I believe he was intentionally seeking to run me down. I was never able to prove it. But I KNOW. The best news I heard last year was that he died two years ago.

Perhaps all that pinning finally kicked in. Nah.

Who am I kidding?

From diaper to big boy briefs, this small crucifix was a huge part of my childhood. A religious layer under layers. The safety pin increased in size, too – powerful and sharp enough to pierce undershirts and thick waistbands of white Fruit Of The Looms. It was the size of a small pocket knife. Against my skin it felt heavy, like an anchor. It was my personal spear.

Until that morning in October. I remember Mom’s delicate touch was uncharacteristically heavy. Her technique was sloppy. Like her eyes were closed. She had been fighting with dad all night. Non-stop since he staggered in from Delmonico’s after midnight. Her finesse now a fumbled mess of tangled fingers. I didn’t trust her to pin me with the usual grace. I kept looking down. Sweating. I tightened against what I believed was coming.

The pin penetrated like a hot blade. Deep through fat. Blood rolled down in a series of thick, bulbous drops and pooled at my feet now sweating and sticking to a heavily varnished wood floor.

All my exaggerated fears about this moment had come true.

What’s up Jesus? A nail in a cross. Now a pin in the abdomen? What gives?

Frustration and pain compelled me to unleash frustration in mom’s face. I was possessed. Perhaps she observed my father’s anger in me as I bellowed, cried at the top of my lungs.

“I hate God! No, I hate you, too!”

I knew I was dead. Disrespecting your mother in an Italian family doesn’t happen without dire consequences. It’s a no-win for a child. The repercussions are as close to fatal as you can get within the law. Not even police got in the middle of an Italian mother and her kid in the heat of a scolding.

The next move startled me. Her strike was a lightening bolt. Then a loud click between my ears. I felt warmth release from my nose and liquid down my throat. Since mom was lean, mostly bone, it was like getting slammed by a human sledgehammer.

The stab was nothing compared to the slap. The blood released immediately as my bleached-white crew neck t-shirt saturated red. To black.

I was petrified then.

And I am now.

Another female seeks blood. Terrific.

This time it’s my 17 year-old, 85 pound daughter.

Don’t let her petite frame fool you.

She’s a killer.


All of us die a little each day as our children grow. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

killer daughter

I study her profile. Separated by an aisle on a flight from New York.

The salt of blood overwhelms my nose. I can taste it. I’m pinned to the aluminum skin of the aircraft.

I’m claustrophobic. I’m now the insane guy you read about who opens an EXIT door miles above the earth and gets sucked into the afterlife.

I’m sweating. Underneath my skin is ice.

It’s panic. Out of nowhere. My right hand is firm around one of the plastic handles on the door. The word EXIT is taunting, telling me that things will be better if I just listen.

One pull and I’m free.

Crazy thoughts bounce inside my head. They are loud enough to drown out the sound of engines.

I ring for the attendant. I need a Bloody Mary.

All I think about is how small I am. Insignificant. As a parent I hold little if any control over her. Or me.

I’m driving blind. I’m scared.  So is she. The thought escalates scare to hardcore terror. What roads will she travel? Alone. Together with another. With whom? I encourage her to consider a lesbian lifestyle. I tell her men don’t know how to wipe their asses good enough. Anything that gets her to switch teams. It’s not working. Yet. I give her advice that I know she can’t use. I’m not stupid enough to have a handle on most of what effects her. She’s her own person now. What did I miss? I know I missed something. What’s her greatest fear? I’m afraid to ask. Because I think it’s mine, too.

I’m headed for the handle on the EXIT door again. My grip is firm enough to white my knuckles.

I see my mother at 16. I study her delicate features. The cabin goes sepia. In her face and what’s beneath. In dark eyes. Pools of challenges thrive and collide. Nothing clear. Replete with angst.

From aisle seat to aisle seat I stare across and realize my mother has returned. The same edge separated by generations and together on this plane. Teetering between hope and hopelessness. A cutting blade. Back and forth inside me. The bleed I never wanted to experience again. A woman who shouldn’t have had children is alive again. Cast thee from my daughter, woman!

At times I’m hesitant to love her. It’s uncomfortable to be around her sometimes. I never closed the circle with the doppelganger. She’s a flesh mirror to the past. I see right through her and it’s my childhood, not hers. She clarifies and muddies everything.

I’m smashed in the nose thinking about the day in 2000 when my mother died on the other end of the phone while I was at work. I tried to give her peace, I did really. From my cubicle during a stock market crash. I cared more about what Intel stock was doing than stopping to comprehend that my mother would be dead before Ma Bell (she was a thing then), disconnected us.

I told her that grandpa was waiting. I heard her say she was sorry and then a man’s voice boomed in the receiver – “She’s gone.” I said nothing. Hung up. Went back to warm calling sales leads. Watching Intel. I didn’t leave work early. Didn’t think about it.

Until I finished the fake, expensive cocktail.

My daughter is frail. I see it. I accept and accommodate. Well, I accommodate. She’s delicate as a fine china plate with a crack in the middle. Her constitution sometimes strong, other times as light as tissue. I’m responsible. Well, my DNA is. It’s faulty. It carries the insanity gene. I was always scared of this. Now the ailments that took down a parent arise. The depression, especially. Today at least there’s medication. In the 70’s, psycho-doctors believed hooking your brain to electrodes and sending electricity through the head was a viable remedy.

I’m a marginal father at best. I’m not certain I’m wired for this parenting thing. I observe the actions of who I consider excellent dads and try to mirror them. I fail miserably. I hold back. Oh,on the surface I’m engaged but underneath I’m so nervous I can’t remain in the present long enough to enjoy the father/daughter moments.

I’m constantly slipping back 40 or so years to the time when I loved a woman so much yet she betrayed me by skipping out when I was a teen.

Maybe I’m not ready or mature enough to heal.

Until that return trip. Perhaps it was a lack of oxygen.

I realized that life-shifting changes do not need to arise from adversity. Sure, hardship ignites awareness. It happened for me in dramatic fashion on several occasions. However, I’ve learned that big decisions to alter course can be subtle. Uneventful. There’s a click in the head (I think) and a decision is made to change and never look back. And you don’t.

So I decide. Just like that.

She’s a savior. Not a killer.

Because that’s how easy it is.

To decide.

Random Thoughts:

I begin with gratefulness. My daughter is a connection to my past. I have been given another chance to heal by understanding through her, what my mother must have gone through at a time when depression and anxiety were ignored or denied. I know now mom must have suffered in silence. Little Italian girls were supposed to be perfect. No matter what. The impossible devil of perfection drilled into them daily. Now I get it. Finally.

All I do is try to be a better father every moment. In turn, my actions allow me to empathize and forgive a parent who battled but succumbed to the flames of inner demons.

I watched her burn. Did nothing to stop it.

I take that back.

I was ten years old. My mind was on Mad Magazine and masturbation. Not a 31 year old female with ignored mental illness in the midst of a seminal breakdown. I tried my best to understand and interpret adult situations.

I delivered cheerleader speeches. I’d stand on her bed pontificating like a midget politician  – “Mom, it’s you and me against the world – We can do it! We can get through this!”

Lots of tears. They did nothing. The drugs, the men, the alcohol, the fears, the electroshock treatments, drowned out my constant pleading for a short semblance of normalcy. Topless and drunk in the courtyard of our Brooklyn apartment building on a school morning was enough to seal my fate as the freak of the neighborhood. And still I tried.

Now I know there was nothing she could do.

woman burning

Through my daughter I forgive my mother for what I lost. A childhood.  I came to understand how the illnesses, the fears were too much to fight. I wish I had the opportunity to tell her that internal demons are scarier than hell. I wish I could say I understand why she had pinned that stupid cross to me every day without fail.

“Please God, don’t let him inherit my weaknesses. Protect him.”

female depression

It hit me. Sitting in the exit row. Finally.

Now I know. The ritual worked.

Big changes can happen without fanfare. Just decide. Don’t make it a big deal. Stay casual. Calm. Today I’ll save more. I’ll say no to lending money to others. I’ll find another job that pays more for what I’m worth. I’ll get up and go to the gym. The less you think about it and do it, the more successful you’ll be.

Like me.

When I decided. Released my grip on the exit.

And re-entered.

Accepted the truth.

I look down and read:

“We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other.”

Self Reliance – Essays First Series 1895 Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I have that cross. It’s a tarnished symbol after so many years.

Its power is gone.

Or is it?

As the plane landed, I couldn’t decide for sure.

I’m certain I never will.

And I’m at peace with that.

Gold is Not a Safe Haven – Don’t Be Fooled.


It’s indeed a shining moment. Oh, not for you. For them.

The gold bugs.

gold bug

The zealots who over the last three years have been advising investors to purchase gold. They’ve been correct for roughly two weeks. There’s been a stealth bounce in gold prices.

Frankly, gold investors appear to be in a perpetual frenzy. Pundits who preach gold are steadfast in their conviction, recommending gold no matter how low it goes. Sooner or later, they were destined to be right.

Well, here is their moment in the golden sun (for now:)

It turns out gold is relatively risky in terms of standard deviation (a measure of risk), and the largest negative returns of gold are close to the ones of stocks. Per the author “gold is generally not a safe haven for bonds in any market. Gold only functions as a safe haven for a limited time, around 15 trading days.”

Now, we’re not saying gold can’t outperform for periods. We just don’t want you to fall for the impression that the metal is some sort of hard-commodity Snuggie, or offers protection for the long term.

The lives of your investments, the heart of them, are designed to be warm and connected — to sales, to services, products, countries. What is gold connected to? Nothing. You can’t even use it to purchase toothpaste. I tried.

Once I attempted to pay for a subscription to a gold newsletter with gold. I created mass confusion. Enough for an operator to disconnect me. Before rudely dismissed, I was notified by a manager that the writers of this monthly periodical (very popular) would happily accept any of my major credit cards. Or a personal check. Which of course, is backed by the dollar balance in my bank account. Not gold.

Remember: Gold newsletter marketers bank dollars (not gold). Some prey on your fear and paranoia.

Gold’s relevance ebbs and flows based on our fear of the unknown or circumstances beyond our control. How did something of the earth become a store of wealth? Why not apples? At least you can eat apples. If the end of the world does come, you’ll seek apples over rock.

In the apocalyptic science fiction movie “The Book of Eli,” Denzel Washington’s character uses Wet Wipes as a medium of exchange. I’d even take them over gold. Our dollars aren’t going away as a medium of exchange and will be backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. We are not returning to a gold standard as much as Rand Paul would like to think.

Following a doomsday scenario, think of it this way: If gold is winning, then for the most part, you are losing. So pray it continues to be a lousy long-term investment. If gold is rising, most of everything else you own is falling. Not good. It’s in your best interest that gold fails.

There does not exist an academic study nor empirical data which proves gold as an effective inflation hedge. None. The pattern is random at best. Again, owning gold may provide a level of emotional comfort. That’s fine. More often gold prospers when there is instability or lack of confidence in a fiat currency. Could be inflation, also deflation. Regardless, the relationship to inflation or the dollar, is random at best:

Gold is portfolio protection — you’ve heard that one. The message is pervasive on television and radio. No. It has been and continues to be plain old U.S. Treasury securities. Want real diversification or protection? Cash and U.S. bonds do the job:

So you still want to own gold? If you must, keep your allocation limited to 5% of invested assets. There are several methods to consider. Obviously, you may own the medal directly — jewelry, coins, bars. You can investigate gold prices through

The more efficient and liquid methods are through low-cost exchange-traded funds like SPDR Gold Shares GLD, -0.32%   or no-load mutual funds. The Vanguard Precious Metals and Mining Fund, VGPMX, -1.45%   which is inclusive of other precious metals in addition to miners, has an expense ratio of .29%. Regardless, you’ll require tremendous patience as an investor in this category. Be prepared for long periods of under- as well as over-performance.

True wealth comes from achieving more household cash inflow vs. outflow, combining assets that diversify, managing portfolio risk by preserving capital through market drawdowns, and managing emotions through good and bad market cycles.

Performance of gold compared with the S&P 500 SPX, -1.53% :

Richard M. Rosso is a senior financial adviser with Clarity Financial in Houston. Lance Roberts is a general partner and CEO of STA Wealth Management in Houston.


Jurassic Money: 5 Financial Dinosaurs to Avoid.


Jurassic One

In the 1993 film “Jurassic Park,” Jeff Goldblum’s character argues with the scientists who have assured him that their cloned dinosaurs cannot reproduce. “Life finds a way,” Goldblum says.

Extinct for millions of years, dinosaurs survive on the big screen. They frighten and thrill us out of our cash and generate big box-office bucks. (Their latest romp, “Jurassic World,” has grossed more than $600 million this summer.)

Dinosaurs exist in the real world, too — financial dinosaurs that stomp on your goals and chew up your money.

Don’t feel bad: These prehistoric remnants often thrive in the portfolios or financial activities of even the most astute investors. For massive creatures, they are mysteriously stealth-like when it comes to devouring cash from wallets. Life, you could say, finds a way.

Can you detect the beasts that smash portfolio performance and endanger overall financial progress? Consider these five fossils that require burial deep within the archives of financial services history.

Random Thoughts:

1. Load mutual funds

These ancient beasts roaming the asset classes of your portfolio have long since reached their life expectancy. With more than 16,000 no-load managed or index funds available, paying sales loads on mutual funds is akin to taking a big bite out of your investment returns before they have a chance to run.

Whether it’s the A-share price of admission of 3%-5.75% upfront or the creative B- and C-share classes, where load charges are supposedly deferred (but not really), the total expenses of these investments are a challenge to justify. Stay away from this Jurassic world. It will only lead to financial chaos. If you own loaded funds, monitor them regularly with a watchful eye for exit. Move into more affordable options as soon as their performance lags their benchmarks for two quarters.

no load funds

2. Variable annuities

This blend of mutual funds and insurance busted out of containment long ago and has wreaked financial havoc on thousands of investors. As with the Indominus rex of “Jurassic World” — the product of combining the DNA of multiple creatures into a terrifying monster that would sell more theme park tickets — the financial services industry created these hybrids to benefit themselves through lofty commissions and high fees.

If you own a variable annuity, you’d get better acquainted with what makes this creature tick. Don’t be surprised to learn that annual expenses can be 4% or higher. That means every year a significant portion of your return gets devoured by the ravenous VariableAnnuitus rex. Pay attention to surrender or “exit” penalties that can range from 1%-10% and decrease over a period of years. These charges are designed to hold you captive in the cage with these costly beasts for as long as possible.

Work with a financial or insurance professional to devise a strategy to transfer variable annuity proceeds to less expensive alternatives. To defer taxes, an advisor, if properly licensed, can initiate a process called a 1035 exchange.

Take heart: Not all annuities are prehistoric relics. Deferred-income or single-premium income annuities are becoming more popular as ways to supplement Social Security and generate an income you cannot outlive.

3. Payday and title loans.

These types of loans for quick cash are growing in popularity. Like the velociraptors of “Jurassic World,” they don’t seem too dangerous until the sharp teeth of interest charges and other fees dig deep into your wallet. With interest rates that can easily top 300% APR, rarely are they a smart choice. Several states have passed legislation to help consumers understand how these loans work. Fast-cash lenders cater to people in a liquidity crunch, usually lower-income groups with poor credit opportunities.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is gaining a better understanding of the nature and magnitude of payday, title and other installment-type loans. It’s customary for a borrower to “roll over” these loans and continue to pay fees and interest charges, thus creating a debt trap that’s tough to escape. If you must use these loans out of necessity, realize that the federal government is actively forming a framework to harness these financial beasts and determine how people can seek credit relief in an affordable manner.

lose money fast

4. Emotion-based investing

Our brains are primal. They’re built to keep us alive, not necessarily to maximize our investment returns.

Dalbar recently released its latest “Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior” study. This 21-year analysis consistently shows how poorly mutual fund investors have performed compared with market benchmarks. For example, in 2014, the average equity mutual fund investor underperformed the S&P 500 by more than 8.19%. In fact, the return from the broader market was more than double that of the average equity mutual fund investor: 13.69% vs. 5.50%.

One of the more prominent investor pitfalls is called “anchoring.” An anchor can sit heavy on net worth — like a brontosaurus on the chest. Investors who anchor are focused solely on the price they paid for an investment. If the investment turns out to be a loser, anchoring prevents the investor from selling regardless of whether conditions warrant a sale. They strive to “get even.” Anchoring results in opportunity costs or even bigger losses as additional money is put into underperforming investments. To battle this primal enemy, create a buy and sell rule for every investment or work with a professional to guide you.

lizard brain

5. Brick-and-mortar banks

For higher yields, exit the Jurassic period. Virtual banks can link easily to brick-and-mortar options and are FDIC-insured. Even if not for day-to-day banking, online choices are perfect for savings, especially emergency reserves which ideally should hold six to nine months’ worth of household living expenses. NerdWallet offers a comprehensive hub with savings account basics, tips to find higher savings accounts rates and a list of the best online savings accounts.

bad bank

There’s no place in household balance sheets for colossal animals, especially those that have a ravenous appetite for cash. Keep the dinosaurs limited to movie choices, and financial success will be more reality than fantasy.

Jurassic World

This post first appeared on Nasdaq.

Seeds: How A Millennial Farms a Retirement Portfolio.


A version of this writing appears in MarketWatch.

“You’re a farmer now. Will you be a proficient one?”

“Rich, you do realize I work for a startup tech company in Austin.”

“Yes, as I said. You’re a farmer.


What are you planning to grow in your new fields? How will you tend to them? How many can you manage?”

Ely recently earned more seeds than he’s ever held. A six-figure bonus. For this Millennial, a bounty received. Smart enough to seek objective guidance and lay the groundwork for a strategy before the windfall is spread. Not to be cast to the wind. Conditions needed to be perfect for what he was seeking to grow.

“I don’t have fields. I’m from New York City, remember?”

“A seed is an organism. The shell encases life and vigor that will break out and grow strong if tended to as it should be. It works the same for money. Now that you possess financial seeds, you must consider planting them in multiple fields to reap rewards that will sustain you over a lifetime. Picture this…”

Plentiful tracts. Spider webs of rich soil. All different. Tilled with a specific mix of nutrients and attention. Fortified by a plan and philosophy designed to produce opportunities diversified enough to endure changing climates.

Investing for retirement is a robust, varied harvest that may be reaped for decades.

Here’s how an industrious Millennial became a financial farmer.

It starts with a refreshingly different philosophy about life and money. A young farmer’s mindset has the potential to send chills up the spine of every financial services organization that believe stocks are the only crops in town. Wise stewards of money understand that true diversification and investing is more than stocks.

Ely and I call it “holistic diversification.”

Stocks are not ignored; however they represent one field among four deserving attention.

According to Investopedia, diversification is “a risk management technique that mixes a wide variety of investments within a portfolio. Diversification strives to smooth out unsystematic (business) risk events in a portfolio so that the positive performance of some investments will neutralize the negative performance of others. Therefore, the benefits of diversification will hold only if the securities in the portfolio are not perfectly correlated.”

The information then goes on to outline how to diversify with stock investments. If diversification is truly risk management and is a technique that “mixes a wide variety of investments within a portfolio,” why is a portfolio defined solely as a mix of “domestic and international securities?” Is this the “wide variety” that controls or contains risk?

I’m sorry, this definition is not accurate. Farmers shake their heads in disbelief.

Over the years, especially since the financial crisis, stocks have become more positively correlated. In other words, in times of crisis, defensive industries like food and beverage and cyclical growth sectors like industrials have moved increasingly in the same direction: Down. The majority of stocks follow the general trend of the market, especially during bear cycles.  So, when diversification among stocks is needed the most, it disappoints the most.

Holistic diversification is grander way to think and invest.

It breaks down mental barriers around money, inspires self-discovery, fosters creativity and generates a thought process where opportunities can seed, plant and prosper in a beautiful lifetime patchwork. Each field requires different levels or types of care.

That’s diversification the way it should be.

Ely (with my encouragement and his self-assessment) re-defined diversification with the wisdom of an investor three times his age (I had him write his philosophy and send to me.)

“I will seed 4 fields with my bonus to increase diversification and wealth: Personal growth (maximize the return on me), my stock and bond portfolio allocation, private investment (perhaps rental real estate or a few startups I’m interested in), and a long-term annuity to help supplement my social security and portfolio income at retirement.”

As you ponder a philosophy that blends life and money in soil where the nutrients are a unique blend of your personal needs and desires, remember to go beyond traditional thinking to cultivate multiple streams of future retirement income.

Cultivate the ROL or “Return-On-Life.” An astute farmer enriches the soil of life by nurturing mental and physical growth. A quarter of Ely’s bonus will seed recreation. A beach vacation, a personal trainer, wine flights, fine dining and a creative writing class.

Return-On-Life isn’t a mathematical calculation. The farmer’s formula is personal. Results are calculated by the health of the bounty from all the fields.  A guilt-free plan that blossoms or hones a marketable skill, creates an experience, relieves stress. It’s the spending which provides the farmer a clearer head, endurance and energy to work the other fields to yield maximum output.

healthy male

Add nutrients to a stock allocation but set realistic expectations. Traditional asset allocation plans deserve attention however farmers have been advised by financial media and popular publications that stocks, bonds, hedge funds and other liquid investments make up the centerpiece of the farm. I was able to help Ely question this guidance: Help him broaden his perspective about planting landscapes and think smaller about the future riches sowed from this area. I needed to set expectations. A likely scenario over the next decade is the returns from this field may reap less return, perhaps close to zero.

Using a formula from money manager Dr. John Hussman of the Hussman Funds to mathematically determine what stock market returns may look like over the next decade, the following result is calculated.

Assume GDP averages a consistent, recession-free 4% annualized growth rate, the current market cap/GDP remains at 1.25 and the current S&P 500 dividend yield of approximately 2% doesn’t change for ten years, forward stock market returns do not appear to aid a formidable bumper crop:

                                                  (1.04)*(.8/1.25)^(1/10)-1+.02 = 1.5%

Assumptions are just that: Obviously, change is the only realistic constant. These long-term estimates are based on decade-long rolling periods therefore they are highly inconsistent when it comes to short-term market cycles. Regardless, it allows a farmer to plan and diversify accordingly. The potential of this field is consistently on the radar as resources are directed most often to this space through regular contributions to a retirement plan and a taxable brokerage account.

Plant seeds in unfamiliar terrain with the richest soil for growth. The diversified farmer understands that investing in non-publicly traded ventures is risky, requires patience, yet can reap great personal and financial rewards if the landscape is properly understood and receives the correct balance of nutrients, attention and ongoing provision of resources. Tilling a private field takes passion and focus above and beyond what’s required to sustain consistent pastures. It’s a direction that requires guts to pursue. After all, that part of the farm can go busy, is fragile. A young farmer with vision handles the responsibilities with alacrity and maturity.

Ely set seeds aside for rental real estate to generate passive income and will diversify his farm more effectively than publicly-traded real estate investment trusts that correlate higher small company stocks. He’s also seeking to purchase units of a limited partnership in a wine-tasting venue opening in downtown Austin, Texas.

I’ve experienced a willingness by pre-retirees and recent retirees to invest 5-15% of their net worth in private ventures and small business franchise opportunities as a way to diversify from traditional stock and bond portfolios. It’s a growing trend as investors know they’re not getting the full story on how diversification works. They’re “reading around” Wall Street. Flanking the field, venturing out to undiscovered, fertile ground.  I greatly encourage them to take the chance as long as a team we understand the impact of a formidable loss on their retirement strategy.

Grow a pension and supplement Social Security. Safe is a field. It produces the steady, ongoing sustenance a farmer can never outlive. It’s the poster child of proper diversification. An annuity that will provide reliable income to bolster Social Security. The use of insurance to transfer risk in case something goes wrong that sets our farmer back financially in the future, is a smart addition of acreage to the farm. Nothing fancy. Nothing variable: A simple deferred-income option or a single-premium immediate annuity where the farmer knows exactly the bounty to be received on a periodic basis as part of long-term retirement income planning. There’s nothing variable here. No storm fronts that can create loss and vulnerable conditions. Ely believed that this field balanced and fit perfectly into the farm he’s working.

“So you see Ely, you’re a financial farmer. You’re working at a startup in Austin. For the seeds.”

I met with silence at the other end of the phone. Ten seconds max. Felt like 60.

“You know Richard, I understand now. I’m seeking to maximize the fruit of my labor and enrich the other non-financial riches that will blossom.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Well done, farmer Ely.

farmed field

Well done.

Retirement Lessons From The Wolves.


“I want everything you have. Every last drop.”

wolf one

In the upcoming season of AMC’s hit series “The Walking Dead” the wolves represent a roving band of ruthless survivors. Unlike menacing characters of the past, the wolves will be the most dangerous and cold-blooded yet.

Marked by the letter “W” on their foreheads, the wolves stalk and prey on human victims. They hunt silently through the woods and appear out of nowhere to confiscate possessions no matter how meager. They kill to bolster a living dead army and use rigged truck trailers full of zombies to trap unsuspecting trespassers.

Wolves (the four-legged kind) can shadow a food source for a week before attacking. Up to 100 miles a day. They’re known to bring down prey up to 10 times larger than themselves. A pack can “intimidate” larger animals. Wear them down by denying them access to food, water and shelter. They’ll nip at a victim’s flank throughout a hunt. Eventually a large beast gives up due to blood loss and exhaustion.

The wolves are beyond the line of sight yet always watching. They appear out of nowhere. They can take the shape of things you’ve grown comfortable with.

Retirees must stay vigilant against predators that wish to impair them mentally, physically and financially. After all, when no longer earning an income from employment and depending on a pool of invested assets for survival, one can’t afford to be vulnerable for long.

Here’s how to recognize, avoid and beat the wolves in retirement.

Random Thoughts:

Stay hungry. I notice that the most successful retirees have a rekindled appetite for life. After several decades at a job, those who hunt for new skills and experiences stay mentally and physically ahead of the wolves.

Dr. George Valiant psychology professor at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues have spent over four decades corresponding with hundreds of individuals from the Study of Adult Development.

Participants shared four key elements to a healthy, enjoyable and rewarding retirement:

Play. Indoor, outdoor activities and travel. Anything goes. The healthiest retirees stick to a varied play regimen. They treat recreational endeavors seriously. Most of the retirees I counsel keep a calendar going out 3-6 months filled with a wide variety of activities from fly fishing in Colorado to Bingo at local venues.

Real wolves can play for several hours at a time. Physical activity makes them sharper for the hunt. Two-legged wolves in a sci-fi drama define play in ways I wouldn’t recommend for retirees (or anyone for that matter.)

For the first several years, many retirees are reluctant to fully embrace recreation. They feel the need to ease into it. Interestingly, new retirees share how they feel ashamed to play. They believe it’s unproductive. That’s why I help retirees alter their perceptions. We outline and discuss activities which improve other areas of their lives. Every element of play is defined by its ability to enhance mental or physical health. For example, a trip to Colorado may improve Type 2 Diabetes because time will be spent undertaking healthy activities like hiking and exploring fresh or organic food restaurants.

Spark creativity. Retirees with an appetite to stay young pursue engagements that consistently stimulate their brains and emotions. Writing, painting, photography and gardening are popular with retirees I counsel. Learning to cross boundaries builds an awareness and appreciation of living.

I request pre-retirees document the creative boundaries they wish to cross during the first three years of retirement then hold them accountable through something I call “lifestyle reporting.”

The exercise is crucial to their ongoing financial planning process. Self-discovery begins with three paragraphs motivated by three questions:

How will you nourish your soul during retirement?

What actions do you believe will take you to another level physically and mentally?

Describe your first creative step. How will you take it?

Along with crunching numbers and stress-testing portfolio withdrawal rates, it’s important for me to challenge people to think outside the employment box they’ve lived in for so long. Mentally strong individuals give themselves permission to stretch their imaginations and try things that help them feel a sense of accomplishment throughout retirement.

Don’t drop out. A long-term focus on the pack or who you spend time with during play will make a difference to quality of life. Retirees who make the effort forge new friendships and strengthen existing relationships are on a path of enrichment.

Retirees are embracing social media to stay in touch. I’m witnessing usage lead to frequent communication with grandchildren, former high-school classmates and long-lost friends. Retirees are not on social media to isolate from the outside world. Facebook is used to set up face-to-face meetups. I observe Retirees are sharing (pinning) photos of hobbies, crafts and other projects with others on Pinterest and discovering new projects to undertake. As one retiree said “Pinterest reminds me of a living community bulletin board. The images and ideas shared are stimulating.”

Never stop learning.  The hunger for knowledge grows for young-at-heart retirees. There’s a renewed energy to take on education defined by the desires set aside to raise a family, build a career.

Ongoing learning grows in importance. Retirees are taking on new languages, participating in cooking classes, studying literature, embracing new physical exercise adventures like hiking, skiing and honing skills like writing to keep their minds active.

Retirees are embracing virtual reality to engage their minds. A site is an educational hub perfect for retirees and popular with several clients. Through their “open learning” initiative, there is access to over 1,300 web pages of free and accessible education from universities around the world. Most topics from art to finance are represented from accredited and respected universities like M.I.T.

Through, retirees are taking instruction on acting from Dustin Hoffman and writing from best-selling author James Patterson. For an affordable $90, there is lifetime access to online classes which include video lessons and interactive learning tools.

“I like this. Just talking.”

In the opening scene of the season 5 finale of The Walking Dead, one of the Wolves comes up slowly on a traveler in the deep forest. Sits down across from him calmly and begins a conversation like a long-lost friend.

just be still

With that in mind.

Beware of wolves who minimize the long-term impact of the financial crisis. In the face of short-term zero interest rates and below-average rates on longer-dated fixed investments like bonds and CDs, retirees are increasingly receptive to taking on more risk to principal.

Unfortunately, the wolves now gather in every investment regardless of traditional risk definitions. Think about how much risk you take to achieve 3-5% returns today compared to a decade ago. Nobody knows how and when the Fed will unwind from extreme accommodative policies. Bonds and stocks are more erratic as markets transition from Federal Reserve dependent to a focus on fundamentals again.

As stocks and bonds are both expensive based on historical measures, there is no such thing as a safe haven outside of cash. Retirees must understand that financial pundits who tell them different have become wolves.

Frankly, experts have grown nescient. Economists have written off the “great recession” and the worst post-WW2 economic recovery as “average.” They’re bending the numbers to suit their forecasts which showcases their lost touch with Main Street.

The majority have been wrong (big time) over the last 6 years. About everything. Pick a subject any subject: The direction of interest rates, GDP growth, inflation, corporate revenue growth, consumer spending.

The latest media talking point is how the U.S. stock market and economy can handle interest-rate hikes with minimal impact.

The commentary is pervasive.

 “Stocks rise in the face of rate hikes,”

“The U.S. economy poised for above-average growth in 2015 and can handle Fed rate increases.”

Can you hear the wolves trying to sooth you? Put you off guard?

Averages and medians are great for general analysis but obfuscate the variables of each cycle.

The story is different today. GDP growth has been consistently below trend. Currently, wage growth is weak, 1-in-4 Americans are on Government subsidies, and 76% of Americans live pay check-to-pay check. This is why central banks globally, are aggressively monetizing debt in order to keep growth from stalling out. In addition, we are aging as a population which doesn’t fair well for above-average economic growth.

Macro-economist Lance Roberts examined the underlying data of Fed interest rates vs. real (adjusted for inflation) economic growth dating back to 1943 and discovered information you won’t hear or read in mainstream financial media:

  • The average number of quarters from the first rate hike to recession has been 11 (33 months).
  • The average 5-year real economic growth rate was 3.08%.
  • The median number of quarters from the first rate hike to the next recession was 10, or 30 months.
  • The median 5-year real economic growth rate was 3.10%.

There have only been TWO previous times in history where real economic growth was below 2% at the time of the first quarterly rate hike – 1948 and 1980. In 1948, a recession occurred ONE-quarter later.  THREE-quarters following the first rate hike in 1980.

To simplify: At the current rate of real growth the economy would head into recession much sooner based on present conditions. An important fact that most pundits ignore.

Many retirees can’t afford the negative financial impact a recession can cause.  To keep the wolves at bay, regular meetings with an objective financial advisor to discuss risk management strategies are warranted especially as we get closer to a possible Fed rate hike in September.

At the least, distribution portfolios should be prepared for lower returns and greater volatility going forward. To bolster cash flow, retirees should be receptive to part-time employment which combines their passions with a need for supplemental income. For example, I know a retiree who loves animals and gets paid for providing accounting services for a group of local natural pet food stores three days a week.

Single-premium immediate annuities that generate lifetime income can reduce sequence of return risk where low or negative returns are more likely to occur. The insurance of income for life will compliment a traditional portfolio and allow a retiree to manage longevity risk and help preserve retirement spending.

“I’m taking you too. And you’re not exactly going to be alive.”


Real wolves won’t warn you before they draw blood (unlike in fiction drama.)

Retirees are smart enough to master the beasts that lurk inside and outside themselves.

It’s important to remember that wolves show suddenly and are always beyond your vision.

Now’s the time to be proactive and recognize where they prey in your mind. Your heart.

And in your brokerage account.