My Mother Never Left The House. It’s Not The Same For You.

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Mom was prisoner in a tiny one-bedroom apartment.

She rarely left the house. She was afraid of the world. We were on welfare. It embarrassed the hell out of me.

I was sent out to buy the stuff we needed to survive in the 1970’s.

Tampons, beer, vodka.

tampons and beer

I’m sure I was sent out for food. All I remember was the embarrassment of waiting in a grocery line holding tampons and Old Milwaukee. Trying not to make eye contact.

Back then, when I was ten, the owners of the small stores knew us so I was given permission to purchase items that stole my childhood and emasculated me for a decade. I believe my mother granted “favors” to some of the shop owners based on the looks she got when we entered but I don’t have proof.

Mr. Mangini allowed me to pay for alcohol with food stamps.

Like he was doing me a big favor.

Moms today can’t afford to stay home. They don’t send their kids to liquor stores to stock up either. Well, some do. I know them.

Most don’t.

Childcare expenses can motivate people to drink.

Several facts about child care expenses will shock you; the costs weigh heavy on American households.

Child care is a major expense in family budgets, often exceeding the costs of housing, food and even college tuition.

For middle-class families, the cost of center-based child care is 15-30% of gross income. For a family of three living at the poverty level, annual center-based child care costs can take up nearly half of family income. The average cost of center-based daycare in the U.S. is $11,666 annually (or $972 a month), according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.

No wonder couples are waiting to have children.

bratty kid

The U.S. birth rate reached an all-time low in 2013 according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control.

Although the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression is considered history, for the majority of Americans the financial strain of underemployment, sub-par wage growth and over indebtedness remains a part of daily life.

Unfortunately, most of the burden of child-care costs fall on the family. There’s little public assistance available and the benefits are fragmented.

So what to do?

Random Thoughts:

Get a handle on offsite child-care costs for your household at least two years before having a child. The Child Care Aware Calculator allows families to examine their financial situation both with and without the cost of child care. Factors such as cost of child care, work related expenses, monthly bills, and savings or retirement contributions are all included in the calculator.

Families will be able to get an idea of their monthly budget and how child care will impact that budget.

Bolster savings, cut expenses. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you need to come up with another $300-$500 a month for offsite child care, mind the gap early and investigate methods to save more cash now. Meet with a certified financial professional who can help you devise a strategy.

Investigate work-related benefits as soon as possible. For example, a Dependent Care FSA lets you use pretax dollars to pay for eligible expenses related to care for your child, disabled spouse, elderly parent, or other dependent who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care, so you can work, or if you’re married, for your spouse to work, look for work or attend school full time. It’s time to do homework and contact your employer’s human resource department to understand benefits available.
The annual dollar limit on employee contributions to employer-sponsored health care FSAs is $2,550 in 2015.

The annual limit for dependent care FSAs or dependent care assistance plans (DCAPs) remains at $5,000 for qualifying individuals and those who are married and file a joint return, and will remain at $2,500 for those who are married and file separate returns.

Maximize available tax credits. If your employer doesn’t offer a flexible spending account, you can take full advantage of the child care tax credit. This credit allows you to itemize up to $3,000 in expenses per child per year, up to a $6,000 annual cap per family.

Once you’ve itemized the expenses, you can take a percentage of that and apply the tax credit.

You can use an FSA and a tax credit, however, any FSA money is applied to the tax credit cap first. If you withdraw $5,000 from an FSA, you can then itemize only $1,000 for the child care tax credit.

The percentage of expenses a family can claim steadily decreases as income rises, until families with AGI of $43,000 or more reach the minimum claim rate of 20 percent, qualifying for a maximum potential credit of $1,200. The credit is worth between 20 percent and 35 percent of child care expenses, depending on your family’s income. Meet with a tax professional early on to determine if tax credit are available to you.

Explore whether it’s beneficial for one party to remain at home. Crunch numbers using the Stay-At-Home Calculator available at www.parents.com.

After considering monthly incomes, expenses, childcare expenses, monthly work expenses and other annual expenses including federal income taxes paid, perhaps it’s a financially good idea for one party to remain at home instead of paying for professional child care. You may be surprised.

There’s no doubt child-care costs, which increase at 7% a year are a financial burden.

Research suggests investing in child care is good for the economy. Children are an investment in the future prosperity of a country. Studies show that increased access to quality, affordable child care raises employee morale and company loyalty, and can even save businesses as much as $3 billion a year, according to Child Care Aware.

Forget having kids. Why bother? It’s expensive. They won’t take care of you when you get old.

They’ll live with you until they’re 35.

People who possess zero parental instinct no longer feel pressured to have children.

Thank god.

Please don’t feel obligated.

I think my mother did and turned me into a tampon delivery service.

Never send boys for feminine hygiene products.

It can damage them for life.

boys buying kotex

Waking up A: Living the JA Life.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

It was the birth of Occupy Wall Street. Well, pre-birth. A genesis, that’s all I know. For me too. The start of an uprising. I was going to have lunch with my idol, new friend, a mentor. Any minute. Little did I realize, from this connection, this spark, the friendship that would ignite. The life-changing guidance I was about to receive at the foot of a muse. A master muse.

We were in the vicinity of Wall Street. On the concrete fringe. Lunch meeting  at a sushi place. I was nervous. Couldn’t breathe (even though this muse advises thousands to breathe – Breathe deep). Feverishly texting a former friend about how I was about to pass out. Pacing. Pace. Pace. Pace. Dizzy.

For me, it was like meeting Superman, or some other bigger-than-life hero. I know for a fact when JA was in first grade, donning a red cape blanket…

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From Accumulation to Distribution: A Retirement Crossroad.

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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 moves on Chuck Noland survives, too.

The drama is layered with lessons of acceptance, perseverance, resourcefulness and a shift in perspective that takes Tom Hank’s character to a rural Texas farm-road crossing, an old FedEx truck route he’s traveled before. Although this time, the weight of his decision is heavy.

It will change his life forever.

Once that retirement decision is made you’ll feel that weight. You’ll stand on a double-yellow line at a crossroad.

Which direction will you turn?

Here are a few lessons to navigate the first and most stinging waves of retirement.

Random Thoughts:

Those truly ready to retire have a sixth sense of sorts. You will too. As the FedEx plane plummeted from a stormy night sky, the odds of human survival were remote. As the aircraft broke apart and sank like a stone, Chuck’s instincts kicked in. Miraculously, he made it to the surface.

A lone survivor.

Pre-retirees seem to sense when their employers’ planes are headed in a different direction than they are. Those I counsel often reference turbulence at work they no longer find appealing or willing to accommodate.

Stressful projects, new bosses. The changes that were easy to overcome before are no longer palatable. If you plan accordingly for retirement, 5-7 years out, you’ll be able to control your escape, maintain focus on an exit. Like Chuck, an event will motivate you to flee. There will be a sense of urgency to depart. For example, a client who recently retired from a large corporation turned in his resignation one day before the executive suite announced the sale of the finance unit he had worked in for 16 years. That’s the uncanny sixth sense I’m talking about. Be open to the message.

Are you listening?

The first year in retirement can be challenging. Prepare to churn through darkness, all the time jolted by waves of self-discovery. When Chuck Noland surfaced he was nowhere out of peril. In the middle of nowhere there was still quite a way to go before safety.

Even those with a well thought-out financial plan are not completely prepared for retirement. The emotional part, anyway. It’s a span of dark distance I call “the black hole” as you cross from accumulating wealth to depending on it. New retirees feel vulnerable through this stage. They go through the motions. They seek a destination. A place that is not on a map because it’s created by the retiree traveling the path.

During the first year in retirement, give yourself a chance to accept life changes. Let the waves jostle you. Use time to re-discover who you were before a 40-year career dominated your life. This should be a new and enriching journey, however it begins with turbulence.

I’m sorry.

As you travel from accumulation to distribution, don’t completely sever the threads of your former environment.

In Castaway, Chuck Noland maintains his watch on Memphis time. It’s comforting to return to hours you remember pre-retirement. Recall the best about the wealth accumulation years. Nothing about you has changed. Except days formerly occupied with deadlines and meetings are now on a clock personally designed and followed by you.

A redesigned sense of value will eventually emerge but not without connection to who you were because it’s still who you are.

Isolated on a tropical island, very unfamiliar territory, the former hard-pressing executive who overlooked what’s truly important now finds survival with simple things he finds inside water-logged FedEx boxes that wash onshore. Items that connect him to life before the crash.  It anchors and helps him prepare mentally for this present condition.

He manages to keep near always an antique pocket watch. A Christmas present from his girlfriend. Her photo inside. It provides focus from the time of the ill-fated flight until he’s found floating almost dead, by a cargo ship. She is Chuck’s motivation to survive. His purpose.

castaway pocket watch

“She was with me on that island.”

I advise new retirees to focus on applying tenured ambitions to ventures that nurture their meaning, not their ambition. Core skills can be applied with meaning to hobbies, charities, part-time employment and travel. People, too. I observe retirees live again by spending resources on grandchildren. They’re not buying electronics or clothes or toys either. They’re purchasing experiences.

Who and what will be with you on that island called retirement?

Confide in a listener. Chuck Noland’s confidante was a Wilson-brand volley ball aptly named Wilson. The smiling face on the surface formed from a bloody hand print. Wilson became a source of comfort, a way for Chuck to work through a survival and ostensibly a harrowing escape plan.

Retirees find great comfort sharing their emotional concerns and fears with others, especially through the first year. Spouses and close friends become anchor points. Human pocket watches. Financial advisors can add piece of mind by reviewing retirement plans and budgets with retirees on a regular basis. An objective voice that provides consistent validation that their plan will work is crucial.

I have witnessed some of the greatest emotional and creative discoveries from retirees in the beginning years as long as they share open dialogue with people who care to listen.

I have read magnificent works of fiction writing, observed great paintings and other inspired works from former accountants, attorneys and other hard-driving right brain individuals who didn’t appear to be artistic at all. And I’ve known many of them for over a decade.

Chuck Noland would have never made it off the island without Wilson. I’m convinced. There was a wall of thought and belief to climb before a makeshift raft with a portable toilet sail could be constructed strong enough to encounter the terrifying tides which bordered the island.

Who are your Wilsons?

castaway Three

Define and live your themes. In your past life there were goals. Whether hit or miss, you defined yourself by them.

So did Chuck in his FedEx life.

Goal setting will not enhance your retirement. Themes will.

Think about it: Accomplish a goal and you immediately set another. Enjoy it briefly and anguish over the next one. If you fail, you become discouraged. Goals are no-win for the creator. They are human hamster wheels.

At the conclusion of Castaway, Chuck Noland was not driven by goals. He was no longer the same person. A roadmap of Texas, sunroof open, donned in sunglasses, he was immersed in the freedom of the path. In the passenger seat a new volleyball and an unopened FedEx package he carried throughout his ordeal. On the surface of the weathered-worn box a pair of painted angel wings now faded.

There was one last delivery to be made before continuing a new adventure. Chuck finds and leaves the package at the address of the sender along with a note that the package kept him alive.

Chuck stops to study a map at a crossroad not far from the ranch house. An attractive woman in a pickup truck pulls up alongside him.

“Where you headed?” she asks.

“I was just about to figure that out.”

“Well, that’s 83 South. And this road here will hook you up with I40 East. Um, if you turn right, that’ll take you to Amarillo, Flagstaff, California. If you head back that direction, you’ll find a whole lotta nothin’ all the way to Canada.”

castaway four

As the truck pulls away, Chuck notices the wings painted on the back of her truck. Identical to the ones on the package.

He turns toward the road she’s traveling and smiles.

Retirement should be focus on roads you seek to travel. Each has meaning.

Every rock under the tires is an experience to feel.

Let the themes you wish to follow reveal their destinations.

There’s a new life in the gravel.

At a funeral a woman who recently retired asked me:

“What am I supposed to do in retirement?”

I said: “Follow what makes you human. Find what you lost. You had wings once, most likely when you were a child. Now use them to fly on the wind of themes you loved once and forgot. You know, before they were clipped by the daily grind.”

Some of the best advice I provide to retirees has little to do with money.

The woman took my business card. She called me.

“Are you sure you’re a financial advisor?”

Sometimes I wonder.

castaway two

Inflamed: The Red Stain Goes Deeper. 4 Steps To Resurface.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

“You gotta stay who you are, not who you were.

Places like this..

You have to put it away.”

What if you can’t?

“You have to.

Or it kills you.”

broken heart Here.

Rip open what’s been sealed tight and the past will bubble up on airy ringlets of regret. Pain grabs and fuses with it on the journey higher – they rise as one, gather momentum, and then explode into a fog of thick fear that absorbs you.

You’ll feel a boulder hit in the gut when this creature surfaces.

Everything you love or thought you loved will crumble. Ashes.

You don’t know it yet but you’re fighting a force you can’t beat.

But you’ll fight all the same.

And the stain begins to take hold.

blood spray

You hate every minute of its movement.

You feel the crawl. It’s cold.

Your initial response is to resist.

Resistance is an inflammation that…

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Shelves: The Signs You Should Never Ignore.

I stare at them, through them, to the back wall of them.

Book shelves. Eight feet high. Twelve shelves. Times two.

old book shelves

On the left – the clutter of a life. My life – Pictures, books, pop-culture junk I’ve thrown money away on through the years.

Life artifacts that collect dust. They mean nothing to the observer. Much to the possessor.

On the right.

The air thick of pressed wood.

I believed someone else’s life would spill over to that side.

A fill and compliment to mine.

The perfect mash-up of imperfect.

Souvenirs of two lives brought together.

A mix of sordid pasts, peaceful presents and galvanized futures.

Those shelves.

They haunt me.

The screws holding them together have bright-beady eyes. Each brass round traces my steps.

I pass them on the way to the bathroom. I can’t help but stop and notice the strange irregularity, the irony of.

Full vs. empty.

My dog Rosie’s tiny head smashes into the back of my legs every time. She never anticipates a full-on brake mid-step.

For months.

The shelves.

They were trying to tell me something.

Shelf grids like brown gaping teeth. Sending messages. Always sending messages I couldn’t understand.

Was I losing it?

I see signs in everything.

Maybe it is a tumor. I joke about that tumor. Maybe it’s real this time.

What were shelves trying to say?

I finally figured it out.

Since four years old, passages have had a way of altering the colors of my world.

As I pivot from one point of life to the next, colors around me change. Well, not literally, but my viewfinder, my perception filter adjusts.

I’m not smart enough to think of it beyond how I did decades ago.

Colors.

As I add smoky gray to the prism, I see clearer the sparks from shiny eye screws.

Piercing through darkness.

With painful sharpness.

“We’ve been waiting.”

Random Thoughts.

There’s a message in everything. Just listen. The gaping universe of empty shelves was trying to get my attention. The message in the emptiness was clear in hindsight but I overlooked it. The shelves were telling me something was off in my life. I wasn’t listening.

I needed to correct an imbalance.

The only way to populate shelves is to bask in the stillness of them. Bask in the beauty of the emptiness first.

Oh, I stopped enough (Rosie’s cranium knows) but lost focus. I guess I wasn’t ready for the lesson until I was ready?

As I finished this line an e-mail, a present moment reminder, arrived from Eckhart Tolle.

Coincidence? I say NO.

“Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something new into the world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness.”

Signs.

Be aware of your environment. Never lose sight of the beauty. Even in the empty you will ostensibly flourish.

What part of yourself will you place on a shelf? For how long? A thought, a wish, a desire. Can you dust off a memory and add life to it again?

I think so.

Love never dies. It’s just up on a shelf and dormant until you breathe spirit into it again.

Live fully your themes. Goals are too much like heat-seeking bullets. They find you and hurt. Whether they hit or miss you lose. Accomplish a goal you immediately set another. You enjoy it for a second and anguish over the next one. If you fail, you feel like a fail. Goals are no-win for the creator.

Themes are billowing sails, full wind, moving water. The wind in your eyes. Themes are the rides. Adult Disneyland. You can travel along multiple themes and accomplish a step every day. Feel good about the journey. Bask in the sun on your face.

moving sail boat

As a theme, empty shelves now speak words of comfort. Messages of hope.

There’s no fear in the space.

I know they’ll be good things to fill them.

Or maybe I’ll take a hammer to them.

Destroy them.

Break them down.

Build again.

You always get a chance to start again. As long as you can patch walls, find materials.

You always have the chance.

Through the empty space is the path.

The bridge.

The transition.

To a well-stacked life.

Rich with the air that money can’t buy.

stacked book shelves

Through the empty is the ride of your life…

8 Ways To Go “Money Active” With Your Kids.

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Children are naturally curious. 

2014-08-27 05.18.47

How do you spark an interest in money?

As a child, I was an observer. My mother didn’t have money and my dad always lived for the moment. He died with nothing.

Today, with your children bombarded with messages you need to attempt to “sneak” money lessons in whenever possible.

Success comes from changing up old beliefs about how you think you should go “money-active” with the kids, creative thinking, remaining interactive.

Praying helps.

Random Thoughts:

Be an Example – Here’s an easy one because you don’t need to say a word – your actions are enough.

You children are monitoring your feelings about finances. What is your outward expression towards debt, savings and general household financial management, especially when communicating with the family?

If your relationship with money is positive or one of control and discipline, your children will learn from the example. If your relationship with money is negative, stressful, extravagant or reckless, the kids will pick up on that, too. Smart money beliefs and actions can lead to smart money imprints by the younger generations around you.

Anytime is the Right Time – One simple question framed in a positive tone may provide the right spark to get a money conversation underway. I call it “financial curiosity.” And you can be financially curious with your child anywhere – at the mall, at the supermarket, in his or her room.  If your teen makes a purchase, inquire about it with sincere interest. Out of non-threatening curiosity I ask my daughter for her reasons behind purchases and services she uses. She never feels like I’m prying (at least I don’t think so).

What compelled your child to buy a particular item? What does it do? What other choices are available? Is this item something the family may find useful? How does it work? Will this make their lives better, easier, more fun? How so? Was it a challenge to save up? You’ll gain information about the motives behind purchases and discussions regarding other money matters will blossom.

Get Them Involved – Talking about money is fine, however, it doesn’t compare to having your kids experience money management firsthand – something I call “money active.” Have the kids be responsible for specific money projects, let them fully experience the rewards and feel the sense of accomplishment when the plan is executed.

For example, provide children an opportunity to budget a family vacation or weekend getaway and then all enjoy the fruits of the labor. Partner with them to set savings goals for future purchases, especially the bigger-ticket items. Assist your teens with the research, or offer to match a percentage of the purchase price as a reward for good money habits.

Are the products or services the kids are using viable investment prospects? Now open the door to the investing conversation. And what better way to ignite the money flame — a possible investment into a company that manufactures a product or provides a service the children are passionate about.

 It’s OK to Seek Help – So you’re still having difficulty getting the conversation going? Let someone else help you get the fire started. Seek assistance from an objective person who would be willing to provide money lessons to the kids; perhaps someone in the family, or a friend successful with money management, would be excited to share an experience. Don’t be reluctant to seek assistance and allow someone else to tee up your involvement. I’ve witnessed grandparents do a great job at getting through to the grandkids with stories and financial lessons.

Make Money Real Life – Be candid. Your kids like to know you’re human, and occasionally make financial mistakes. They also want to understand what you did to correct a money mishap. You may need to be a bit creative; children are accustomed to movies loaded with action and special effects.

Take time to compose a compelling story about how you faced a financial obstacle head on and came out a winner. Or if the story doesn’t end well, explain specifically what you learned.

Kids are very comfortable with technology so become “money active,” and take advantage of online money-management tools to help kids achieve financial success. For example, at www.moneyasyougrow.org  there are activities that guide you to help the children work through money milestones grouped by age, beginning at 3-5 year-olds.

Begin a Money Mindset. Out of each dollar of allowance, figure out how much goes to savings, to charity and to spending. You need to help children establish guidelines early on. There are several products that make this division of money fun. Like the Money Box available from www.Moonjar.com. Also, there is an item called Money Conversations To Go which can jumpstart fun family discussions about money.

Have Children Handle Coins  – It’s a great way to get very young children comfortable with money – When my daughter Haley was 3 I had her handle nickels, dimes and quarters, they were shiny and fascinated her. From an early age I would have her place the coins in a bank and shake up that bank from time to time and it would sound like a rattle of sorts. Placing the coins in the bank was a sense of accomplishment for her and it started her on the road to fiscal success – Now, at age 16, she’s become a first-rate saver!

How About a Funky Money Diary? Purchase a three-subject notebook to help the younger kids keep track of the money they want to spend, share & save. Decorate with stickers related to money or cutouts of items the kids want to purchase in the future.  Interactive fun!

The most memorable interactions with children about money are ones you may overlook.

You’ll find discussing money at different times, in various places.

Out of nowhere.

It’ll become so routine, you’ll be smitten with delight.

Then you can focus on the tough discussions.

Like sex.

I’m still not ready.

kid shock

4 Sweet Money Lessons – Straight From The Toaster.

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As featured at http://www.nerdwallet.com. 

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.