The new year always seems like a great time to overhaul everything in our lives. Why not? It’s a clean slate. A chance for something different. The perfect opportunity to try and correct mistakes from the past year.
It can be enticing to do the same thing for your investment portfolio – turn it over, dump everything out, and try again. This may feel especially tempting during seasons of market volatility. But unless something has changed with your investment time horizon, objectives, or risk tolerance, there’s really no good reason to do it.
The market experienced an unusually long period of low volatility, so even seasoned investors may feel unsettled with recent drops. Keep in mind, though, volatility is a normal part of market cycles. As we head into a new year, it’s helpful to approach your portfolio and resolutions with a similar attitude:
Maintain perspective. Uncertainty is a constant, and downturns happen frequently. Unforeseen circumstances pop up, so sustaining new behaviors isn’t always realistic. Take a breath and keep moving forward.
Stay disciplined and set realistic expectations. Implementing a quick fix that doesn’t make sense for your long-term goals is similar to trying to time the market. It can be extremely challenging and could end up costing you in the long run. For example, on December 24, 2018, the Dow Jones dropped 653 points – its worst-ever performance on Christmas Eve. Just two days later on the 26th, however, the Dow added over 1,080 points – its biggest points gain in history.
Ask for help. Utilizing an advisor may help ensure your investment strategy aligns with your long-term goals, timeline, and risk tolerance. As with other goals in your life, this level of accountability can help prevent you from making emotional investing decisions.
Despite rising interest rates and worries about trade wars between China and the US, the US economy remains strong: growth is healthy, unemployment is low, the number of people working is rising steadily, and wages are up. As long as you maintain a strategy consistent with your needs and preferences, there is no compelling reason to change your investment discipline.
But it doesn’t hurt to check in on your financial goals and current circumstances – call the Shepherd Financial team to schedule your next review.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a widely-watched index of 30 American stocks thought to represent the pulse of the American economy and markets. Investors cannot invest directly in an index.
Are you a procrastinator? Do you get a rush from delaying things until their final deadlines? You’re certainly not alone. Many people will sheepishly admit to sometimes pushing work to the last minute. But it could be a problem if you’re part of the 20% of the population known as chronic procrastinators, whose delays create havoc and undermine goals in multiple areas of their lives.
At the halfway point of 2018, we have to ask: where do you fall on the spectrum? And is your procrastination affecting others? As a plan sponsor, it’s your fiduciary duty to prioritize your company’s retirement plan and participants. So those financial wellness goals you set in January? Pretty important. The pending decisions about plan design? Critical and time sensitive.
First, remind yourself of the priority items for this year. If this was never a discussion with your advisor, schedule a review meeting right now. You need to have a clear picture of where you’re going to determine the steps you should be taking along the way. Analyze what adjustments might need to be made to those goals since a great deal of change can occur over the course of six months.
With regard to financial wellness, consider your employee population and anything you’ve learned about them. Do you know their communication preferences? It may be helpful to integrate those attributes and desires in your overall delivery strategy. Examine the type and frequency of participant meetings. Are your employees engaged? Do they have access to appropriate resources? If the answer to either question is no, consider the changes needed to help your employees retire well. You should also think about how you currently measure the success of your financial wellness program – what are your metrics? What results have you seen so far this year?
Perhaps you want to implement a safe harbor contribution provision in your plan design. Well, don’t delay – missing the deadline can be costly. To obtain the safe harbor exemption from ADP and ACP testing for the remainder of the year and ensure an active safe harbor plan by January 1st, the setup process should begin no later than September 15th. Since you must provide notices to your employees at least 30 days (but no more than 90 days) before the beginning of the plan year, notices should be delivered by December 1st.
So even if you’re infamous for your procrastinating ways, here’s your gentle reminder: your deadline is now. Do the things you’ve been delaying – at least when it comes to your company’s retirement plan.
Valentine’s Day reminds us now is the perfect time for ‘the talk’ with that special someone in your life. And since this is a financial blog, I obviously mean the money talk. True, communication can be challenging, and the topic of money is a sore spot for many people. But the more you can speak honestly about money, the less fear and anxiety will be wrapped around it. The dialogue may look different based on your relationship status and life stage; regardless, it’s important to have the conversation now, as well as make room for future conversations.
You may benefit from making individual financial balance sheets, including all your debt and savings, before you begin talking. This way, you’ll have a better idea of your net worth. You may also compile a list of money questions or concerns you’d like to cover. It’s worthwhile to discuss your current financial situation, share values and long-term goals, and talk through spending and saving habits. Not being willing to talk about money can lead to big issues, both now and down the road. Open communication, though, gives the opportunity to create shared vision for the future, tackle problems as a team, and have accountability for your financial decisions.
Determine your own money values. This is where you’ll examine if you value saving or spending, as well as think about the various lifestyle standards you have. If you’re single and value the ability to travel, you’ll likely take that value into a relationship. Potential partners may discover conflicting values. Married couples may disagree about saving for college for their kids versus boosting their own retirement savings. It’s ok to disagree, but finding common ground is key. And keep the big picture in mind: creating safe space for ongoing dialogue about a positive financial future.
It’s also critical to come clean about your financial baggage. If you have student loan debt or a spending habit you’re having trouble kicking, hiding the issue will only compound it. (Literally – interest either hurts debtors or helps savers, but it doesn’t sit still.) Once you’ve talked about where you’ve been and where you are, look ahead. Are there any financial obstacles ahead? What are you hoping to do with your money in the future? Highlighting these can help you better see how to actually plan for the future.
Of course, not every money conversation needs to be so in-depth, but it helps to check in at least once a month to ensure you and your partner are on the same page, spot any problem areas quickly, and maintain momentum toward your goals. Your first financial talk together may be a little awkward, but with time, you’ll become fluent in a shared money language.
It’s easy to see why January is considered the start of new things – there’s a fresh calendar year and a plethora of resolutions get shouted from the rooftops. This feels like a chance to hit the reset button in many areas of life. At this point, you can see the race has a clearly-defined finish line – and it’s 12 months away. Of course, for some people, January is really right in the middle of the action. Maybe you’re gearing up for your second semester and looking at a somewhat shorter distance to the finish line.
No matter the length of your particular race, though, it’s helpful to have a good idea of what you’re getting into. As runners will tell you, there is a vast difference between sprinting 100 meters and grinding out a marathon. From race preparation and strategy to gauging your pace along the way, you will benefit from having a plan in place before your feet ever leave the starting line. At Shepherd Financial, we believe financial wellness is one important piece of whole-life wellness. So while we hope financial goals are part of your plan (and want to help you set and achieve those goals), don’t stop there. Pause and think for a moment about how financial well-being could positively impact the rest of your life. Do you want to pay off debt? Save more for retirement? Increase your charitable giving? Send your kids to college? Travel more? We can help you create a plan and work toward those goals.
It’s also important to realize not all runners are built the same. If you’re a sprinter, don’t force yourself into strapping on a hydration belt to run 26.2 miles. Set yourself up for success by running your race. You may find it useful to set smaller goals with shorter timelines. We believe each of our clients has a unique lens with which they see the world. Getting to know you, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, is part of our process – if we craft a financial plan that doesn’t fit your specific needs, it doesn’t make sense to pursue it.
Don’t forget your running buddies! When you head out to pound the pavement for a few hours, it’s nice to know you have a support system by your side. Think through what you want to accomplish, then find the teammates who will encourage you to get there. Because our focus is creating retirement-ready individuals, our team is constantly producing new tools and educational resources. We love finding customized solutions for retirement plan sponsors, participants, and individuals.
For nearly two years, our team has conducted a monthly financial wellness webinar for participants in the retirement plans we advise. These webinars focus on different topics meant to engage participants with their overall financial wellness. Some of our most popular presentations have been our Quarterly Market Reviews, The Basics of Investing, and Dealing with Financial Stress. We have one particular webinar so relevant, though, it’s been requested multiple times and in a variety of formats: Women and Investing.
But why? What’s the big deal?
The truth is, women face a totally different financial environment than men. With an ongoing gender disparity in compensation, years worked, risk tolerance for investing, healthcare costs, and overall lifespan, it’s no wonder there is an undercurrent of fear and confusion surrounding finances. Studies have revealed women do not feel confident – or even comfortable – discussing money or investing with friends, partners, or financial professionals.
Nearly 90% of women will end up managing their finances alone at some point in their lives1, whether due to not getting married, divorcing, or having their spouse pass away. This means learning to navigate expenses and medical/long-term care decisions on one income and without a partner with whom to plan.
So the big deal is this: women are falling far behind men when it comes to saving and retiring on their terms.
Our team simply refuses to settle for this reality. We want to empower women to ask – and answer – questions like these:
How should I initiate financial conversations with my spouse?
What’s a good plan for divorced ladies?
How soon is too soon to begin estate planning?
As a single woman, how do I get started when I feel so overwhelmed?
The process is simple, though it may not be easy.
Start by making a plan. Make it a priority to understand where you are (track expenses and create a budget) and where you want to be (create short-, medium-, and long-term goals). Identify areas where you need help (perhaps learning to invest, paying off debt, or determining your retirement income needs). Once you’ve done that, educate yourself – it’s good to engage in your own financial wellness! Make sure you figure out who’s on your team. It’s unreasonable to think you can or should do everything yourself. We have accessible, knowledgeable team members to make it easy on you. Take advantage of our resources and tools available. Finally, keep making the next right decision. Monitor your portfolio, stick to your plan, and look ahead.
Don’t let fear keep you on the sidelines of your own life.
1 National Center for Women and Retirement
A financial health check? Uh oh. Even the words can evoke feelings of dread. But here we are, midway through 2017. So…how are you doing?
I can practically see the wheels turning in your head:
That’s right. I was going to make changes. Make a budget, pay off debt, save more, dance my way into financial freedom…So what happened?!
I know how you feel. It’s very easy to get sidetracked from our well-intentioned goals. Life just seems to get in the way at times, doesn’t it? If you’ve fallen off the financial wellness wagon – or are barely hanging on by a thread – here are a few ideas to help you get back on board.
1. Take a deep breath (seriously – it’ll reduce your anxiety) and work your way through the list, one step at a time.
2. Think about the past six months. Have you experienced any important life changes? These may impact the goals you originally set. Be willing to reframe your goals based on your current circumstances or set entirely new ones, if necessary. Some examples:
· You made a job transition and need to determine what to do with your current retirement plan account balance
· You had a child and need to update your will
· Your spouse wants to be a stay-at-home parent, so your income stream is going to be lower
3. Pull out that budget sheet you crafted so carefully in January. Open up your checkbook or bank statements and start doing the math. Do you see any problem areas? Are you spending more than you earn? The second you start attuning to the issues, the more likely you are to actually deal with them.
4. Start looking at the other goals you set. How’s the debt repayment plan coming? Has it been derailed by a bad spending habit that’s popped up? Brainstorm ways you might be able to curb it.
5. Ask for help. Find a friend to be your financial accountability partner or make an appointment with a financial planner. There is power in a community of people encouraging you to take positive steps forward.
Indiana is renowned for its litany of sports legends. You’ve likely heard of fan favorite Peyton Manning or a trash-talking guy named Reggie Miller. Perhaps you’ve seen those little cinematic gems, Hoosiers and Rudy? And in the month of May, it’s commonplace to see Indianapolis flooded with spectators, all eager to witness what’s known as The Greatest Spectacle in Racing – the Indy 500.
Drivers complete 200 laps to try and win this 500-mile race. Their prize? It’s unique – winners get an ice-cold bottle of milk to celebrate their triumph at the Speedway. Yes, there is a monetary prize as well, but many drivers have claimed getting to drink the milk is the better reward – it’s symbolic, celebratory, and a refreshing end to a grueling race.
Here at Shepherd Financial, our passion is helping individuals and plan participants navigate their personal roadmap to retirement. Like Indy 500 drivers, many things are needed along the way: clear vision, endurance, and support from others. The process starts by asking yourself these questions:
· How much money will I need at retirement?
· Where is my retirement income going to come from?
· How much should I be contributing today?
· How should I invest my retirement savings?
· What steps do I need to take right now?
It’s important to remember your working years are a long race, and some seasons may feel achingly repetitious. There are other times when, out of necessity, you must take a pit stop. Life changes – like having a baby, buying a house, or losing a spouse – happen and can feel frustrating (and maybe even like you’re spinning your tires), but we’d encourage you to use those moments to reset and refocus.
Ask for support and let other people help you. A driver may have a great understanding of how his or her car works, but their job on race day is to drive. Changing tires, refueling, and making mechanical tweaks are the responsibilities of the pit team. The driver simply needs to radio the crew and ask for help. In the same way, financial professionals can walk through the roadmap questions with you, enabling you to focus on your current race.
Visualize your end goal and think about what it requires to get there. Yes, you are striving for the monetary prize of funding your retirement income goal. But how will you celebrate actually reaching the finish line? What’s your bottle of milk?
Sir Francis Bacon is often attributed with saying, “Knowledge is power.” While agreeing with the general sentiment, we have learned firsthand that knowledge is often not enough when it comes to personal finances. April is National Financial Literacy Month, and our team believes this is a critical and timely subject. Financial literacy is more than just a general knowledge of money: it is both the education and understanding of how money is made, spent, and saved, as well as acquiring the ability to manage one’s financial resources effectively.
In our industry, it is clear to see how a lack of financial literacy impacts both individuals and the companies for whom they work. It has been well-documented that financial stress increases absenteeism, decreases productivity, and negatively affects retirement and health care costs. So while the issue is personal, it seems naïve to believe employers should have no say in the matter. Considering its impact on physical health, financial wellness needs to have a natural place in the overall benefits package.
When it comes to retirement plan design, adding features like auto-enrollment and auto-escalation are important steps to help employees save (and save more). But plan sponsors should also consider how loans and withdrawals may cause plan leakage – when faced with financial difficulties, if employees can easily pull money back out of the plan, they probably will. However, simply focusing on increasing savings in the company retirement plan as the only financial goal could also be part of a two-fold problem – first, employees may have a variety of more pressing financial needs; second, improving financial well-being must begin with driving actual behavioral change. This involves communication, education, guidance, and resources that are customized for your employees.
Using plan and participant data (ages, current deferral rates, loan balances, etc.) can help dictate relevant strategies for your company. These targeted strategies can have a significant impact on long-term financial security. But keep in mind that creating financial literacy is not a one-time event. Instead, it must be developed over time – for example, learning how to set and achieve personal goals can positively change attitudes toward saving and spending, which can in turn help build a better budget that will actually be followed. It’s also important to engage with employees in ways that matter to them, perhaps by utilizing technology, gamifying financial behaviors, offering rewards, and incorporating overall wellness into the company culture at large.
In the financial world, we tend to think in quarters rather than seasons, use spreadsheets more than pencil and paper, and punctuate our speech with ticker symbols instead of adjectives. But Shepherd Financial is not your average retirement consulting firm.
Yes, our goal is to create retirement-ready individuals – whether that’s through our 401(k) plan participant engagement meetings or individual wealth management process. Our team is always focused on providing amazing, intentional service. What really differentiates us, though, is our desire to prioritize people, as well as their stories, lives, and goals.
We know that while not much actually changes between December 31st and January 1st, most people view the turning of the calendar page as their chance for a fresh start. The new year lies ahead, open and unblemished. If you are ready to charge into the new year with guns blazing, we applaud you. Take the world by storm!
But for others, the new year creates anxiety. And if you are one of the many people who experienced a tumultuous 2016, you may be looking back, weary and unsettled. Perhaps unexpected medical bills have financially swamped you. Maybe you are now responsible for the care of an elderly parent. You might feel uncertain about our country’s economic future. How you feel about these experiences truly matters.
And we know it can be quite common to let those feelings create a state of paralysis. Worry and fear twist in your stomach. You stop moving, and life simply happens to you. We get it. But know this: we see you, and your story matters to us. You are not alone.
If you’re hesitantly peering over the edge of the new year, our challenge for you is this: be the leading character in your own story. This will require turning hopeful eyes toward your circumstances, taking ownership of your situation, and making active decisions about what comes next.
You are not stuck unless you do nothing – so do something!
For some, that will include swallowing your pride and asking for help. Make the phone call you’ve been avoiding and set an appointment with a financial planner/counselor/personal trainer/doctor. Yes, it’s hard, but it is necessary to move forward.
Other people will need to take a long look at spending habits and commit to doing something different with finances this year. Maybe it means cutting up your credit cards, or perhaps it involves creating a budget and carefully tracking expenses in order to get out from under a weighty mountain of debt. Financial freedom won’t happen unless you deliberately work toward it.
Let 2017 be a year of positive change in your life. And if you need us to partner with you for either the first step or the long haul, our team is only a phone call away.