4 Sweet Money Lessons – Straight From The Toaster.

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Pop Tarts almost killed me.

pop tart gun

The foundation of Mom’s parenting philosophy was the use of food to pacify me. Pop Tarts, either hot from the toaster or “raw,” as I called them, straight out of the box, were my favorite. My reward for good behavior was delectable, grape and occasionally iced.

Three boxes a week for seven years. Do the math. No wonder I have a permanent roll of fat around my belly.

The iconic Kellogg’s toaster happiness is turning 51 with no signs that its 32-year streak of increasing annual sales is in danger. And my ability to discover money messages in unusual places continues as well.

Money lessons arise like the fruity-sweet smoke of a hot toaster with a pastry left in just a little too long.

Here are four random thoughts that will help you add a healthy balance (pun intended) to your financial health.

1. Finances don’t need to be so serious all the time

It’s OK when money is sweet and replete with empty calories — in moderation. For example, I buy a scratch-off lottery ticket on occasion just for fun. The odds of winning are not a factor in my decision. The thrill and anticipation of the remote chance of winning is worth $2. The ROF (return on fantasy) is a bargain. Pop Tarts and other sweet foods were considered a staple in my childhood household. That’s not a good idea. It’s OK to splurge; I encourage it as long as spending limits are established and monitored.

2. Patience has rewards

Did you know Kellogg’s was sued for damages after a Pop Tart caught fire in a toaster? Boxes now carry a warning about fire risk in a toaster. Those things can get hot. As a kid, most of the time I wouldn’t wait and forged right ahead — I’d take a piping-hot mouthful of fruit filling without worrying about the repercussions.

The length of time people hold onto stocks has been falling rapidly since the 1960s and now stands at roughly six months. Investing, especially in stocks, is a long-term discipline. If your holding period is three years or less, then you’re not investing, you’re gambling. Prepare to be burned. Work with a professional to understand your underlying motivations for investing and try to match your life goals or benchmarks with the appropriate financial vehicles. You’re more apt to enjoy the cool sweetness of being a successful — or at least a levelheaded — steward of money.

3. Variety isn’t diversification

Pop Tarts come in 25 flavors. Over the years, Kellogg’s has experimented with different shapes, offbeat themes (like Ice-Cream Shoppe flavors), even a Pop Tart variety that was split down the middle with two separate flavors in one pastry. Most of those variations lasted only a couple of years. The original flavors like grape, strawberry and brown sugar-cinnamon have endured.

The financial services industry is, for the most part, a “popped-up” marketing machine, full of air and seeking to create products that promise diversification but often fail to do so. Costly hedge funds, and inverse products that promise protection in down markets, are not necessary to achieve diversification or enhanced returns. If you’re seeking true diversification from stocks, consider guaranteed investments like U.S. Treasury securities and cash, which are part of a lean and levelheaded diversified portfolio.

4. Icing is fun, but it’s not everything

The first frosted Pop Tarts debuted in 1967 when Kellogg’s discovered that icing could withstand the heat of a toaster. The foundational concept of this legendary confection remains basic: sweet filling surrounded by a plain, pre-baked, flaky pastry crust. Yet the simple brilliance of a Pop Tart has endured for decades.

When managing finances, the least complicated rules are still worth following. Saving at least 10% of your income annually, monitoring spending, keeping credit card and other unsecured debt levels to a minimum, establishing an emergency cash reserve and investing to reach longer-term goals — these never go out of style or lose appeal.

Sure, it’s fine to add a sweet kick to money basics. For example, taking calculated risks like investing a portion of your assets in emerging-markets stocks and bonds, placing money in sectors or asset classes that have recently underperformed, and investing in learning new skills to increase your value in the workplace can top your basics off nicely.

As with Pop Tarts or any sweet treats, moderation is important. It’s the same with your money behavior. You shouldn’t pursue either extreme deprivation or all-out splurging.

Wealth is built in moderation.

I blacked out from eating three boxes of Pop Tarts during a 1970s Saturday morning cartoon block. I’m not proud of that experience, but I am wiser for it.

groovy ghoulies

Just like the advertising campaign claims they’re “crazy good,” so can you be by following the lessons straight from a beloved toaster pastry.

Five Financial Sanctuaries that Place your Retirement in Jeopardy.

Richard Rosso:

I believe disclosure of sales goals is important. Understanding if your adviser is a fiduciary and focuses on your interests first, or a broker that has his or her employer’s objectives as a primary focus, will help you find the right long-term partner or clarify a relationship you currently enjoy (or question).

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

Originally appeared in MarketWatch’s Retirement Weekly.

In the AMC smash-hit television drama “The Walking Dead,” a group of road-hardened survivors of a zombie apocalypse seek protection from the undead (and the living who pose greater dangers than cannibalistic walking corpses.)

The fifth-season opener finds the weary characters fighting for their lives against a community of cannibals who lured them to a so-called safe zone called “Terminus.”

terminus

Handwritten signs and maps along roads and rails of rural Georgia guided the crew to a final destination, sanctuary was promised for all who arrived.

Sanctuary

On the surface, it appeared to be a dream come true. Warm smiles, comforting words, hot food.

Underneath, Terminus was nothing as promised or perceived. Victims were lured in to be placed in rail cars like cattle and eventually slaughtered.

rail car

As there is a fine line between fact and fiction, this harrowing situation got me thinking about portfolios in…

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Is Your Money Sub-Optimized – 6 Methods To Making The Most Of Your Money & Life.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

“I think we’re doing the right things with money but we feel sub-optimized.”

money burning

Twenty-four years guiding others through financial challenges, thousands of words, and oddly I experienced personal angst over this one -“sub-optimized.”

It’s rare the word arises, if at all. There was something about it that captured my ear and mind. I wondered about the obstacles that create what I call “dollar drag,” whereby the highest and best use of our money is overlooked or ignored.

Sub-optimization is an equal opportunity offender. We all are afflicted, even if our track record of handling money is better than average. There can be great intentions, even respectable core money habits and yet sub-optimization thrives because we’re human.

As in the case of this forty-something couple: Six-figure wage earners, ambitious savers who set aside 20% of income for retirement, well-funded 529 plans for young children and saddled with dangerous credit card debt…

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Stop Thinking Now – 3 Ways to Shut Down and Live Again.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to “die before you die” — and find that there is no death,” Eckert Tolle.

Reliving the past is draining. After I recall memories of the past to write a blog in my present, I can feel brain cells dying. I can sleep for two hours. The world loses color like I’m living in a black & white movie. Everything becomes one dimensional. The spirit and gift of the present-gone.

Focusing on the future and where you want to be is exhausting. And then when the future becomes the present you can’t enjoy it and you’re edgy-ready to focus on the future again. It’s the fucking hamster wheel of our nature but then sooner or later the hamster dies and the mate in your Habitrail feeds off your carcass.

It’s time for you to live in the present. Shake off the…

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God Knows Where You Belong (Even When You Don’t).

Richard Rosso:

Every year, it was an adventure I looked forward to. A chance to escape the urban filth, the smell of incinerated used Kotex pads, the endless mounds of dog shit. A daddy/son adventure.

To upstate New York.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

September 1970: “Shut the fuck up back there!”

Image

It was a cavernous black-on-black metal beast out of Detroit. A 1969 Cadillac Convertible with slick leather seats. With each turn, lane change, interchange between brake and acceleration, my little body was slung from side to side in the backseat (we weren’t fans of seatbelts back then) like an amusement ride just for me.

Every year, it was an adventure I looked forward to. A chance to escape the urban filth, the smell of incinerated used Kotex pads, the endless mounds of dog shit. A daddy/son adventure.

To upstate New York.

Where trees survived in packs and the air smelled sweet. The Catskills, specifically. The plan was always the same: First, the Catskill Game Farm (now gone), then Carson City (gone too), and last, a small retail establishment named “Roy’s,” which only sold stuffed animals.

Hundreds of them. I’ll never forget behind the front plate-glass window sat…

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A Folded Cardboard Holiday. Four Ways to Stay Alive at Christmas.

Richard Rosso:

Christmas reminds me how relationships, like antique glass ornaments, can easily shatter. Shiny one day, swept up in the Dyson the next. As if the sparkle never existed. Unfixable.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

I dislike Christmas. Not in a funny, green “Grinchy,” way either.

grumpy christmas

The holiday has clearly lost some of its sparkle for me, especially now, as cherished people I believed would be around for longer than a memory, decided to bail quickly from my inner wonderland. Clean gone. Like the three wise men who get misdirected by Apple Maps to the birthplace of Cee Lo Green instead of the second coming of you-know-who.

The problem with Christmas is it stirs ancient thoughts and the mental bias of anchoring. I dare you to gaze at a tree ornament you’ve unpacked this year, every year over the last ten and not recall “the moment.”  A vivid memory of  how you felt when you received it, who gave it to you, where you bought it. The weather that day you hung it from your fake Christmas tree. The eye color, hair color, smell, of the person who bought the cheap holiday trinket for…

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Lessons from a Fleabag Hotel. Fight the Yellow Sticky.

Richard Rosso:

We all have a place where stains originate. Time fades the imprints others leave, but the stain remains.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

The smell of urine, semen and god knows what else (like there’s anything worse) filled my nose 3 stations before the train stopped at ground zero.

I could taste sour things way before.  The foulness overtook me. Absorbed in my clothes. I was paranoid about an air-born disease festerering in my liver.

The hollow of a play land called Coney Island-long deteriorated, burned out, rusted, ignored, graffiti ridden, was home to the Terminal Hotel.

Coney Island. Also home to the background for apocalyptic movies.

Only “The Warriors,” are not afraid of hanging around Coney Island.

The Terminal – It thrived, heaved in and out like an Amityville horror house but not as pretty. It was an evil presence that swallowed you whole. A landmark, a beacon, to the hopeless built right across from the elevated train line. There were no ghosts. Ghosts were too smart to linger.

The scary residents long or short…

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