Six Ways The Living Are Dead With Their Money.

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A version of this writing appears in Nerdwallet, NASDAQ.com & YahooFinance.com.

Zombies have gone mainstream in pop-culture due primarily to the popular cable television show – AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Wandering corpses are scary. Financial dead zones are equally frightening.

wandering zombies

There are situations that corner money in a dangerous place.

The habits are so stealth you may never calculate how many dollars were bled or lost.

There are indeed occasions when the living are dead with their cash.

Random Thoughts on how to protect yourself and avoid financial ‘zombie traps.’

Bank fees can chip away at the flesh and blood of net worth – Moebs Services a leading economic research firm in a recent study discovered that overdraft revenue for banks, credit unions and Thrifts was an astounding $32.5 billion for the year ending June 2015. That’s the highest level since June 2010.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau registered approximately 410,000 complaints from December 2011 to June 2015. What’s amazing is that out of them only 1.6% were attributed to overdrafts. Consumers lost billions in fees by overdrawing accounts, but rarely took issue with a median $27 dollar fee for protection. Talk about bleeding dollars!

To avoid or minimize this zombie trap link-up a savings account or credit card to your checking. For an average charge of $5, money will transfer automatically to cover.  You can actively opt-out of a bank’s automatic overdraft program, too. Even better – Consider institutions with no overdraft fees. Google Nerdwallet and check their list of banks that won’t bloody you with overdraft charges.

Don’t ignore 401K allocations.  Your company retirement account is a potential dead zone. Once money is invested, there are two potential, lethal bites to net worth. First, there’s a tendency to build a stealth overweight in company stock whether it’s through payroll contributions or employer match.

The danger arises when 15% or more of your liquid assets are tied up in one investment and it underperforms or worse – drops dramatically in price, as witnessed in the energy sector over the last year. To manage risk, once (if) the stock allocation becomes monstrous, or 15-20% of the total value of a retirement account, protect yourself and trim it back to less than 15%.

Second, there’s a tendency to invest and forget: In other words, employees rarely review, alter or rebalance holdings. Money requires attention to deflect a zombie pitfall. Set aside 30 minutes every 3 months to ensure investment selections still fit your tolerance for risk, sell (take profits) from what’s performed the best, and determine whether you’re comfortable with your overall mix or asset allocation. Consider using the services of a Certified Financial Planner to provide an objective analysis of current investments and specific recommendation changes.

Minimum credit card payments. According to Nerdwallet, as of October 2015, U.S. household average credit card debt is $16,140. In zombie environs, this balance would be considered a herd. A group of living dead that moves as one, like waves. They overwhelm everything in their path.

So, if the minimum payment is roughly 5% of the balance (plus interest) at an interest rate of 15% (U.S. median), it would take close to 11 years to pay off the balance (assuming you stop using the card). Yikes. Talk about dead money!

In addition, you would incur $5,327 in interest charges. Minimum payments are not adequate weapons against herds. You’re going to need more firepower. Consider special deals that come with balance transfer offers, use liquid savings (which currently pay close to zero), or call the credit card company and ask for a lower rate – I’ve witnessed people negotiate attractive rates and save thousands.

Stealth, recurring charges. They are the most horrific. They’re like zombies in the fog. You won’t notice until it’s too late. Recently, after a close examination of my credit card statements, I discovered a quarterly payment of $9 dollars to a forgotten newsletter. I’m ashamed to say this had been going on for TWO YEARS. I bled money for 8 quarters!

Think about the recurrent payments you haven’t cleaned up because they’re a nuisance or frankly, you don’t remember. Debits for subscription periodicals you no longer read or membership fees for services you rarely use. This living dead walks among your credit balances. Just look.

PRINT (no online review) and closely examine your credit card and checking account statements at the minimum on a quarterly basis. Be proactive to battle the fog zombies. Call vendors to not only stop future debits but to reimburse you for services you haven’t used. I did. They rebated four quarters of charges.

Paying extra on a mortgage. Borrowers love to pay extra on their mortgages. It feels good. Like a cure that protects against lethal zombie bites. It isn’t. Most homeowners will stay in their residences for 5 years (not 30). Making larger payments is money taken from the life blood of liquidity. The additional cash has the potential for greater and higher uses like reducing high-interest debts, building emergency liquid reserves, bolstering investments that will be needed to generate retirement income. Unless you plan to remain in a house for 10 years or longer, paying extra only makes sense if you have adequately funded investments or completely paid off debts.

Overlooking important employer benefits. Benefits enrollment season is about to begin. Annually, I observe employees make mistakes that leave their futures up to chance. For example, they fail to take medical coverage or feel disability insurance isn’t required since “nothing bad is going to happen.”

There are hazards that have potential to wield long-term damage. A serious illness or a disability without adequate insurance coverage leaves you exposed to unrecoverable financial shocks. It would be like fending off a bunch of ravenous zombies with a plastic teaspoon.

It’s smart to accept when you’re outnumbered. To survive, transferring risk to a fighter with great resources (like an insurance company), is a money-smart way to live.

The dead can devour money.

They have an appetite for poor financial decisions.

Now you know how to detect and destroy them.

And live a zombie-free, financially less-frightening life.

zombie comic

4 Reasons To Embrace An Imperfect Retirement Plan.

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A version of this writing appears in MarketWatch.

The recent downturn in the stock market has placed an important decision on the back burner.

It’s not strange to change direction through a storm of uncertainty. Through a volatile period it’s not unusual to move a retirement date out, continue to collect a paycheck, bolster savings and reduce debts.

I hear it often – “I’ll work just one more year.”

The working dead

On the surface, it feels right to wait.

I call it ‘failure to launch.’

There’s never an opportune time to retire, regardless of the preparation and the formal financial planning undertaken to ensure lift-off. Frankly, even when the stock market is on solid footing people tend to find reasons to delay the next step.

It’s perfectly understandable. It’s human to feel vulnerable at the crossroad of a life-changing moment especially when the moment has arrived.

The financial planning process can inadvertently exacerbate “launch dysfunction.” It’s also in a planner’s nature to be conservative and advocate a decision to wait for a better time (whenever that is).

I’ve discovered after hundreds of retirement discussions and volumes of plans delivered, that the decision to wait is rooted in an overdependence on the successful outcomes of formal retirement plans designed to predict the survivability of assets to meet lifestyle expenses for three decades or longer.

But is that practical?

No.

Before you decide to undergo retirement planning, you must make peace with the fact that the entire process is extraordinarily imperfect, like you and me.

Retirement plans are 20% science and 80% forecast (or art).

Unfortunately, there are elements you will never be able to predict with complete accuracy. You may not live to 95 even though you believe it to be true.  Future market returns are an educated guess at best.

Instead of waiting for every financial star to align before retirement, consider the following random thoughts:

You’re better off with formal retirement planning, than not. People who begin formal planning early on, five to ten years before retirement, increase the odds of a successful launch date compared to those who begin late or not at all.

A plan which includes a complete inventory of assets, liabilities and future goals coupled with assumptions for inflation and realistic future investment return simulations helps you gain invaluable intelligence early that can be used to create an ongoing action plan to validate positive financial habits and minimize the impact of weaknesses.

A plan is not right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful. It’s not a threat, or a reason to be chastised for poor fiscal behavior. The first iteration is the start of a long-term educational process, an awareness and ongoing tuning of financial strengths that apex at a launch point I call ‘escape velocity.’

Consider escape velocity a financial trajectory that launches a retiree successfully through the first decade of expenses and withdrawals with minimal negative impact to investment assets. Academic studies outline how the first ten years of asset drawdowns is crucial to the survival of a portfolio over the next twenty.

Within a plan, your financial life is run through a simulation to determine probabilities of success which comes down to your money lasting as long as you do (or longer if you wish to leave assets behind for others).

You’ll see, how in the face of withdrawals and changing market returns, your asset values ebb and flow. Through great bull markets (best case), bear markets (worst case hope not) and somewhere in between.

If your assets can make it through the first ten years successfully. And I mean at a 75% or greater probability of success, you are ready to launch into imperfect retirement mode as long as expenses are monitored annually and changes are made to reduce lifestyle expenses.

I’m not saying it’ll be clear sailing. Or you won’t need to adjust mid-flight: Work part-time, cut costs, downsize.

Most likely, you will.

I’m saying there’s a delicate balance at stake. A point of no return to consider.

Either retire early enough to enjoy the experience, forsake a perfect planning outcome, take a leap of faith, or wait until your probabilities of success through the worst market cycle is 95% or greater. By then it may be too late due to health issues and aging. The retirement you hoped for may be one you regret.

You see, this is the art part. When you’re planning to travel a path three decades long, science fades into the dark pitch of road and creativity and faith take over, more often than not.

Mentally, you must let go of perfection and consider multiple detours to navigate the imperfect.

Be overly (insanely) cautious the first five years.  Academic work by financial planner, speaker and educator Michael Kitces and Professor Wade Pfau outlines how your asset allocation should be conservative in the early stages of retirement, especially in the face of lofty stock valuations.

Generally, I have retirees reduce equity exposure by 20% at the beginning of retirement and I’m not opposed to holding 2-5 years’ worth of cash or cash equivalents for withdrawals and to eventually purchase stocks at lower prices.

You’re thinking cash doesn’t earn anything. Well, it doesn’t lose anything, either. You can make up losses due to inflation. Principal erosion due to market losses is an entirely different story.

What most investors do not realize currently is that they could hold cash today and in five years will likely be better off. However, since making such a suggestion is strictly “taboo” because one might “miss some upside,” it becomes extremely important for measures to be put into place to protect investment capital from downturns.

Friend and business partner Lance Roberts provides the following chart which outlines the inflation adjusted return of $100 invested in the S&P 500 (using data provided by Dr. Robert Shiller).

The chart also shows Dr. Shiller’s CAPE ratio. We capped the CAPE ratio at 23x earnings which has historically been the peak of secular bull markets in the past. Lastly, we calculated a simple cash/stock switching model which buys stocks at a CAPE ratio of 6x or less and moves to cash at a ratio of 23x.

The value of holding cash has been adjusted for the annual inflation rate which is why during the sharp rise in inflation in the 1970’s there is a downward slope in the value of cash.

However, while the value of cash is adjusted for purchasing power in terms of acquiring goods or services in the future, the impact of inflation on cash as an asset with respect to reinvestment may be different since asset prices are negatively impacted by spiking inflation. In such an event, cash gains purchasing power parity in the future if assets prices fall more than inflation rises.

The importance of “cash” as an asset class is revealed.

While the cash did lose relative purchasing power, due to inflation, the benefits of having capital to invest at low valuations produced substantial outperformance over waiting for previously destroyed investment capital to recover.

While we can debate over methodologies, allocations, etc., the point here is that “time frames” are crucial in the discussion of cash as an asset class. If an individual is “literally” burying cash in their backyard, then the discussion of loss of purchasing power is appropriate. However, if the holding of cash is a “tactical” holding to avoid short-term destruction of capital, then the protection afforded outweighs the loss of purchasing power in the distant future.

Cash is not exciting. However, the excitement at the beginning of retirement should be about the memories you build, not the money you can potentially lose in stocks.

Real value of cash

Cover as much fixed expenses as possible with income you can’t outlive. Maximizing Social Security payouts and minimizing taxes on those payments by coordinating benefits received with withdrawals from investment assets, can add thousands to your household cash flow over a lifetime.

Social Security is an income stream you can’t outlive and should not be discounted in your retirement analysis. It needs to be a crucial element of your written plan.

Creating a pension through the use of deferred income or single-premium annuities can supplement social security and bolster your income for life.

Investors fear annuities. Financial pundits on the radio and in print advise how annuities “are bad.” If you’re purchasing annuities, you’re most likely taking money away from them as advisors. Understand the motives behind negative blanket statements about annuities.

Not all annuities are the same.

Consider the word annuity means “a fixed sum of money paid to someone each year, typically for life.”

Social Security is an annuity, right?

The combination of Social Security plus income annuities can be employed to cover expenses you must pay – think rent, food and insurance. Leaving your variable assets like stocks as supplements to your income requirements.

Avoid variable annuities. They are unnecessary and expensive. When you think negatively about annuities, it’s the variable ones you’re most likely referencing.

Decrease cash outflow throughout retirement.  The first two years of retirement is a soul-searching expedition. It’s also a period where I witness retirees highly sensitive to stress and anguish from having too much ‘stuff,’ large homes and big overhead.

Reducing financial pressure by going smaller generates great emotional benefits. Monetary bandwidth can be built into your budget. If you’re prepared to reduce portfolio withdrawal rates through rough market periods without seriously inhibiting your lifestyle, then an imperfect retirement mindset can work.

An imperfect retirement strategy is not “set it and forget it.”

Throughout, you must be willing to regularly meet with your financial partner to analyze withdrawals market cycles and adjust accordingly. In addition, you need to be receptive to change and flexibility. Even be open to part-time employment to increase household income.

Because waiting for perfection is not practical or realistic.

And a life is at stake.

Yours.

imperfect striving

From Accumulation to Distribution: A Retirement Crossroad.

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

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…

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

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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?

Until.

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 www.greatnonprofits.org. 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.

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“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.

Hell.

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.

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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 goldprice.org.

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.

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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.