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Why Putting Off Your Bucket List Is a Bad Idea

February 28, 2019 1:21 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Retirement is often looked at as the shining light at the end of a long professional career. Ever catch yourself thinking thoughts like these?

When I retire, I'll finally travel the world.

Once my career slows down, I'll get started on that passion project I've been dreaming of.

After my children are grown and out of the house, I'll really begin having some adventures.

The problem with this all-too-common way of thinking is that it isn't rooted in the present. Instead, it glorifies the future—retirement, specifically—as the time when you'll finally honor your truest self and check off the bucket list items that are close to your heart. It makes sense in theory, but it puts a good chunk of your happiness at a future point way down the line. As a longtime wealth advisor, I can say that this is the norm for most folks.

Unfortunately, I've seen this plan backfire more than a few times. The truth is that none of us has a crystal ball. Despite our best-laid plans, we can't control every aspect of what the future will bring. What if you or your spouse experience an unexpected illness in retirement that prevents you from fulfilling those big goals? Or an adult child needs help that takes resources away from turning your dreams into reality. These may sound like extreme circumstances, but things like this happen more often than you'd think.

This is precisely why it's so important not to put off your bucket list until after you retire. The reality is that by then, it may be too late. Sometimes it isn't a serious emergency or health crisis that changes the plan. For many others, it's things like financial restraints or insurance issues that make it near impossible to live out their long-held dreams.

There is a silver lining here, though. These seemingly opposing goals—maintaining financial stability in everyday life and checking off your bucket list—don't have to be at odds with each other. In fact, it's more than possible to nurture both without neglecting either. The answer comes down to smart, values-led financial planning. At JJ Burns & Company, the operative word is "values."

The reason there's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to financial planning is that we all have different values, goals and dreams. For some, it's traveling across Europe and experiencing different cultures. For others, it's volunteering and exploring service projects that make a positive impact on the world. Smart financial planning makes room for whatever you value right alongside life's most practical demands, like contributing to retirement, investing wisely, and protecting and growing your net worth. These things go hand in hand, each supporting the other.

Wise planning empowers you to fill more than one bucket at the same time without negatively impacting either. This involves creating realistic timelines and financial plans to allow you to sprinkle bucket-list experiences into everyday life leading up to retirement. The driving force, in life and financial planning, is striking a balance that feels right to you; working toward fulfilling your dreams in a way that doesn't derail your other responsibilities. This may require asking yourself some big questions and contemplating a variety of trade-offs that will ultimately allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds. This task is a lot more manageable when you have the right wealth advisor by your side to help you weigh your options, explore your choices, and ultimately create a plan that's in line with your values.

We only have this one life, and the reality is that we can't predict what the future holds. Delaying your happiness until your golden years could end up being one of your greatest regrets. (Take it from me; I've seen it firsthand!) Thankfully, better financial planning is the secret weapon that allows you to enjoy life now and in the future. It doesn't have to be one or the other.

This truth guides our financial planning at JJ Burns & Company. We're driven to help each and every client live life to the fullest today, while protecting their financial health for tomorrow.

Love & Money: Couples, Are You Managing Finances Equally?

February 14, 2019 12:31 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Maintaining a successful long-term relationship, and continuing to thrive over the long haul, is a team effort. Both partners have to be all in, both emotionally and logistically. This goes beyond divvying up household duties and co-parenting: one responsibility that's easy to forget about is balancing love and money by managing your joint finances.

There is no ‘best way’ for couples to manage their money—it depends on what works for you and your significant other. Some may feel most comfortable merging all their funds into joint checking and savings accounts, while others prefer the autonomy of separate debit and credit cards. The truth is that both approaches can work, but no matter the option you choose to use, some financial details are indeed intertwined when you're a married couple.

Commingling Your Credit

When newlyweds say "I do," they're uniting more than just their families; their debt also comes under one new umbrella. In other words, your credit score no longer stands alone. Whether you're applying for a mortgage, an auto loan or any other type of financing, lenders will look at your overall financial health, which includes your spouse's credit score. Having the money talk with your partner doesn't have to be complicated. If you haven't already done so, sit down together and put your credit history and current debts on the table. This way you're both on the same page. And if there's any credit repair to be done, you can make a plan for tackling it together.

Learning to Budget Together

An effective budget is really nothing more than a financial game plan that both partners create together. Lead with laying out your joint income, followed by the monthly expenses you have both together and separately. For instance, your mortgage or rent payment would be a joint expense, while your weekly happy hour date with your best friend may be considered an individual spend.

Once you see everything in black and white, communicate openly and honestly to come up with a monthly budgeting plan that works best for the two of you. Some couples may prefer separate checking accounts but joint savings accounts; or you might like the idea of using your spouse's income to cover housing expenses while directing yours to a checking account designated for other bills. At the end of the day, the best option is up to you, but the point is that ironing out the details should be a joint activity—not something that one partner decides and then dictates to the other. Financial knowledge is the foundation of financial empowerment, so no one should be in the dark here.

Planning for the Future as a Team

Equally managing your money also comes down to talking openly about your individual financial goals. Your spouse may be dreaming of traveling the world after retirement, or maybe you've both got your sights set on saving a down payment for a new home. Communicate freely about your big-picture dreams, then strategize as a team about how you'll get there. Building a reliable nest egg that will see you both through retirement doesn't happen overnight. Instead, it requires getting on the same page as your partner early on so that you can begin taking steps to get there—and, hopefully with as little stress as possible.

Whether it's coming up with an investment strategy, a debt payoff plan or a monthly budgeting approach, the most important thing is that you are doing it together. If one partner doesn't have a strong foothold in their finances, what will happen if he or she comes up against an unexpected death or divorce down the road? In the blink of an eye, they may be left to manage their finances on their own.

If making an effective plan feels like tricky terrain, a CFP® professional can help you and your partner clarify your goals and get on the right track together. Communication is key. From there, it's about managing your money as a team.

The Ins and Outs of Retiring Abroad

February 6, 2019 8:59 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Your 60s are a unique time. You're on the home stretch of your professional life, your kids are likely grown, and in the back of your head, you're probably asking yourself what it is you want out of your retirement. But in the run-up to your golden years, finding time to catch your breath and really dive deep into the big questions isn't always easy. Work, family and social obligations have a way of keeping us perpetually busy—giving us the perfect excuse to put off retirement planning.

We don't have to tell you that time goes fast, and if you aren't prepared, retirement could very well sneak up on you. The good news here is that a little planning can go a very long way when it comes to crafting the retirement of your dreams. Of course, it all begins with one very important question: What do you really want to do once you retire?

What Does Retirement Mean to You?

This is a very personal question. For some, it may mean finally embracing a slower lifestyle where you have the time to dig into your hobbies and do as you please. For others, this stage of life is more about exploring new adventures and finally experiencing bucket-list dreams. Whether you prefer to take up rock climbing, big game fishing or work on your garden, being a happy, fulfilled retiree depends heavily on one important factor—planning ahead. 

It all begins, of course, with you. Take a minute for yourself, close your eyes, and envision your ideal retirement scenario. What does it look like? What is it that's going to feed your sense of fulfillment and emotional well-being? These are big questions, so really settle into this exercise.

For more and more people, retiring abroad has been a game changer. There's no shortage of beautiful locales that boast inexpensive, quality health care and low housing costs. Put those things together and it's easy to see why a whopping 3.3 million Americans are skipping Florida and opting for an out-of-the-box retirement destination instead.

How to Plan to Retire Abroad

In some ways, planning to retire abroad isn't all that different from retiring in your hometown. Both require getting a firm grasp on two ever-important factors: Your income and your expenses. The first one goes beyond your nest egg, covering everything from Social Security benefits to pensions to passive income streams like rental properties. This amount isn't really contingent on your location as the numbers will be the same whether you're in Fort Lauderdale or Belize.

It's your expenses that really tip the scales. Coming in on top is usually housing and health care, both of which can be significantly cheaper outside of the United States, depending on where you go. While the average American homeowner spends $1,443 per month on housing alone, expats can live a life of luxury in dreamy Granada, Spain—soaking up five-star cuisine, rich culture, and unbelievable natural beauty—for just $2,500 a month. Health care is also top notch.

So how can Baby Boomers get there? The journey begins with having a candid conversation with an experienced wealth advisor who understands your values, goals and financial position. Together, you can craft a plan that's tailored to you, and then begin taking steps to get there. As the old saying goes: Inch by inch, life's a cinch.

In other words, the best time to start making a roadmap for retirement is always now. This is especially true for folks looking to retire abroad or live in multiple countries during retirement. Planning ahead means thinking about what you'll do with your stateside properties, how an expat lifestyle will affect your taxes, and zeroing in on the destinations that tug at your heart the most.

After working your whole life, retirement is an opportunity to live a life that's in alignment with your greatest desires. The problem is that it's dangerously easy for the busyness of everyday life to derail our efforts to clarify those desires and bring them to life. At JJ Burns & Company, helping people achieve the retirement of their dreams is perhaps the biggest perk of the job—a little bit of forethought and accountability is all it takes.

What to Know About Being Trustee Over Family Assets

December 5, 2018 10:08 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Being appointed a trustee over family assets can feel overwhelming if you aren't familiar with the ins and outs of family trusts. First things first; don't panic. It's a big responsibility, but nothing you can't handle if you've got the right financial advisor by your side.

So what does being a family trustee mean? In the simplest terms, you're being entrusted with handling the family's assets—bank accounts, businesses, real estate, you name it. This includes managing and distributing these assets in accordance with the grantor's wishes, as well as making good on the trust's tax filings.

Family trusts can take a couple of different forms. The first, known as a testamentary trust, is appointed after the grantor's death. The other is called a living trust, which is exactly what the name implies. This is when the grantor, who's still living, signs family assets over to you. This is a common occurrence, especially for what's known as the "sandwich generation." These are folks who are simultaneously raising children and caring for aging parents.

So why would a family member appoint you as trustee? The biggest benefit is that, after the grantor's death, it allows the family to sidestep the costly and time-intensive probate process. And as Legal Zoom points out, it also preserves privacy—there won't be any public record of your family's assets and debts. Another important feature of a family trust is that it protects beneficiaries, like children or disabled relatives, who aren't able to handle their assets on their own.

Now that you know what a trustee actually does, let's unpack some of the most common hurdles. Again, seeing it all in black and white may feel daunting, but knowledge is power. In my 24 years as a Certified Financial Planner, I can tell you that financial awareness is the first step in decreasing stress and putting yourself back in the driver's seat.

Common Challenges of Being a Trustee

The thing about managing a family trust is that—in money and in life—there are a lot of moving parts to consider. In addition to the actual assets, you also have to think about the well-being of the beneficiaries you've been tasked with protecting. After one parent passes away, for instance, you may have to take over the family trust for the surviving parent who's also battling dementia or another degenerative disease that leaves them unable to handle the task.

This is tricky because, well, you're human! In addition to grieving the loss of a parent, the responsibility of caring for other close family members likely weighs heavy on your heart. The same goes for similar situations, like acting on behalf of a disabled sibling. The crux of the problem here is the complexity of juggling these two components—the financial responsibility and your emotional health. One bit of consolation is that this is completely normal and to be expected.

This is precisely why outsourcing the task to a qualified third party is often the best way to go. At JJ Burns & Company, we act as impartial facilitators who are 100% guided by fiduciary duty. In other words, we do right by the grantor and carry out their wishes so that their beneficiaries are cared for as intended—no conflicts of interest, no drama. Every family has their share of baggage, old grudges, and decades-long dynamics. It's simply part of life, but it can create a real headache for those who are handling a family trust. Partnering with a third-party facilitator protects those relationships and takes the pressure off the trustee.

Whether you choose to manage it yourself or team up with a financial expert, a few tasks should be at the top of the to-do list. Chief among them is getting an accurate valuation of the estate as a whole. And through every step of the process, honesty and transparency should always reign supreme.

It's also in everyone's best interests to create some liquidity from assets from the get-go. To put it another way, which assets can be easily liquidated to free up cash for immediate financial responsibilities, like taxes?

Your Action Plan

The first order of business is putting together a competent team of professionals (a financial advisor, CPA, and attorney) to help you shoulder the responsibility. This will help eliminate any conflicts of interest so that you can truly act as an independent facilitator of the trust. From there, it's about really understanding each beneficiary’s needs versus wants.

Prior to becoming a trustee, for example, a sibling may have grown accustomed to an over-the-top annual allowance from your parents. But taking the financial reins may reveal that this isn't sustainable over the long haul, so appropriate changes need to be made to preserve the estate's longevity. This requires making well-informed decisions that are based on the facts, as well as the parameters of the trust. Above all, advisors can help guide the trustee every step of the way.

Keep the lines of communication open so that beneficiaries can articulate their needs and wants. And be sure to revisit your family's values as needed so that you're really preserving the grantor's legacy and wishes. If you get ensnared by financial details, it's easy to lose sight of what matters most—family. Throughout your journey as a trustee, come back to your family values again and again to help guide you.

At JJ Burns & Company, we understand the complicated family dynamics that come into play here. We're also well-versed in the many financial nuances and tax responsibilities that go hand in hand with taking over a family trust. With the right team behind you, the road ahead doesn't have to be a bumpy one.

I Came Down with a Chronic Illness. Now What?

October 23, 2018 1:04 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

If you've been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you already know that it affects more than just our physical health. Digesting the news and coming to terms with this new reality often takes a toll on our mental health, relationships, family life, career and finances.

The latter is particularly important. Chronic illnesses account for 86% of our nation's $2.7 trillion annual health care expenditures. What's more, researchers say it isn't uncommon for folks with chronic health conditions to spend hundreds—or even thousands—every year, on top of their regular insurance premiums. Things obviously vary widely depending on the type and severity of the condition, but the main takeaway is that if you aren't prepared, a chronic illness could do a number on your finances.

Like anything else, knowledge is the key to empowerment. At JJ Burns & Company, we’re no stranger to serving clients who are living with chronic conditions. Our first order of business is restoring your financial confidence and putting you back in the driver's seat. Here's how.

Get a Handle on Your New Health Care Expenses

Understanding your outgoing expenses is the foundation of every financial plan. This is especially true for those with a chronic illness. Depending on your diagnosis, you may find yourself up against a long list of new health care expenses. The average person battling Parkinson's disease, for example, spends close to $23,000 every year in medical expenses. Connect with your health care providers to get a clear idea of what you can expect. Between medications, doctor visits, therapies, medical equipment, home health care aides and the like, is it possible to ballpark your annual medical needs and expenses? (Joining a support group is a great way to connect with those who are in the trenches and can provide some valuable perspective.) From there, it's time to take a deep dive into your health insurance policy to project your out-of-pocket costs.

There are a lot of numbers to crunch, which is why it's always wise to sit down with your financial advisor to map out a big-picture plan before making any moves. (We'll touch on this more in a moment.)

Leverage Tax-Advantaged Accounts

Tax-friendly funds like health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) can go a long way in easing the financial burden of a chronic illness. Each lets participants earmark pre-tax money to be spent on eligible medical expenses. FSAs have a use-it-or-lose-it setup (funds don't roll over from year to year), whereas HSAs stay with you over the long haul.

An HSA is particularly good to have in your arsenal because not only can you withdraw from it for medical expenses tax-free at any time, those funds become 100% yours, no strings attached, once you turn 65. You can spend the balance any way you wish. Just keep in mind that HSAs are only available to those who have a high-deductible health plan. They also have contribution limits ($3,450 for single folks under 55; $6,850 for families). That said, it's worthwhile to check in with your employer about whether they offer an HSA. If not, you can open one on your own if you meet the eligibility requirements.

Continue Honoring Your Life

A new diagnosis, while certainly life-changing, doesn't have to derail your dreams. Instead, it's about balancing your life with this new reality. Once you've connected with your medical team and have a firm handle on what to expect, take the time to really revisit your bucket list. What experiences stand out to you the most? Which line items ignite a sense of excitement within you?

Let this intuition guide you and your financial advisor so that your financial plan stays aligned with your values. Sometimes a chronic illness can be a blessing in disguise in that it reminds you what's really important in life. Taking an extended family vacation and making memories together, for instance, may suddenly feel like the best use of your money.

Reevaluate Your Investment Strategy

This really underscores the importance of having an in-depth conversation with your financial advisor as early as possible. A chronic illness complicates your finances, which is why our clients never have to go it alone. Depending on your health situation, your advisor may suggest reallocating your assets to free up more liquidity. If your illness is preventing you from working, whether temporarily or permanently, responsibly bridging that income gap becomes priority number one.

At JJ Burns & Company, we don't believe in making rash decisions. Instead, we take the long view and consider your overall financial health before tweaking your investment strategy. Remember: Our goal is to set you up for long-term success and stability. This is where estate planning comes in.

Despite the misconception, this isn't reserved only for those knocking on death's door. On the contrary, it's a simple way for anyone, regardless of where they are in life, to preserve their wealth and safeguard their family's future. After all, this is what financial planning is all about.

Recent Market Volatility

October 12, 2018 10:28 am Published by Leave your thoughts

After a period of relative calm in the markets, in recent days the increase in volatility in the stock market has resulted in renewed anxiety for many investors. From September 30–October 10, the US market (as measured by the Russell 3000 Index) fell 4.8%, resulting in many investors wondering what the future holds and if they should make changes to their portfolios. While it may be difficult to remain calm during a substantial market decline, it is important to remember that volatility is a normal part of investing. Additionally, for long-term investors, reacting emotionally to volatile markets may be more detrimental to portfolio performance than the drawdown itself.

Intra-Year Declines

Exhibit 1 shows calendar year returns for the US stock market since 1979, as well as the largest intra-year declines that occurred during a given year. During this period, the average intra-year decline was about 14%. About half of the years observed had declines of more than 10%, and around a third had declines of more than 15%. Despite substantial intra-year drops, calendar year returns were positive in 33 years out of the 39 examined. This goes to show just how common market declines are and how difficult it is to say whether a large intra-year decline will result in negative returns over the entire year.

Reacting Impacts Performance

If one were to try and time the market in order to avoid the potential losses associated with periods of increased volatility, would this help or hinder long-term performance? If current market prices aggregate the information and expectations of market participants, stock mispricing cannot be systematically exploited through market timing. In other words, it is unlikely that investors can successfully time the market, and if they do manage it, it may be a result of luck rather than skill. Further complicating the prospect of market timing being additive to portfolio performance is the fact that a substantial proportion of the total return of stocks over long periods comes from just a handful of days. Since investors are unlikely to be able to identify in advance which days will have strong returns and which will not, the prudent course is likely to remain invested during periods of volatility rather than jump in and out of stocks. Otherwise, an investor runs the risk of being on the sidelines on days when returns happen to be strongly positive.

Exhibit 2 helps illustrate this point. It shows the annualized compound return of the S&P 500 Index going back to 1990 and illustrates the impact of missing out on just a few days of strong returns. The bars represent the hypothetical growth of $1,000 over the period and show what happened if you missed the best single day during the period and what happened if you missed a handful of the best single days. The data shows that being on the sidelines for only a few of the best single days in the market would have resulted in substantially lower returns than the total period had to offer.

Conclusion

While market volatility can be nerve-racking for investors, reacting emotionally and changing long-term investment strategies in response to short-term declines could prove more harmful than helpful. By adhering to a well-thoughtout investment plan, ideally agreed upon in advance of periods of volatility, investors may be better able to remain calm during periods of short-term uncertainty.

Let’s Talk Gray Divorces

September 12, 2018 6:10 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Breaking up is hard to do, and it's something that's made even harder when it happens later in life. "Gray divorces," as they're called, are indeed on the rise. According to Pew Research Center, the divorce rate among folks aged 50 and over has doubled since the '90s. Most people in this boat find themselves in completely new terrain. The single life can be a disorienting new reality for those who've built a decades-long life with their partner.

Divvying up your assets and debts comes with the territory for any divorce, but I've learned over the years that those who split up later in life usually have more moving parts to consider. If emotional heartbreak is one side of the stress coin, disentangling your finances is the other.

Being thrown into new financial waters is often jolting for both parties, especially if you're the spouse who wasn't the breadwinner during the marriage. For the first time ever, you may find yourself 100% financially on your own. Do you know how to confidently manage your budget, long-term goals, and investment portfolio? Taking over the financial reins can be an intimidating experience for anyone, particularly those reeling from a midlife divorce.

Even if you were the primary earner, splitting up could majorly rock the lifestyle you've grown accustomed to living. Transitioning to the single life—which may or may not include alimony—is bound to disrupt your financial health. At JJ Burns & Company, we sit down with our clients and help them develop a detailed, customized financial strategy before any divorce plans are in motion. This is the best way to get a realistic snapshot of your new financial norm.

If you're contemplating a gray divorce of your own, it's wise to check in with your financial advisor about the best way to move forward. Doing so can help you sidestep these common pitfalls.

How it Might Impact Your Lifestyle (Especially in Retirement)

When all is said and done, the average cost of a divorce comes in at about $15,500, with some paying more than $100,000. This could potentially put a major dent in your retirement nest egg, especially if you're already behind on saving. What's more, your retirement accounts could very well be considered joint assets, and how they're split up varies from state to state. I won't dive too deeply into the legal technicalities here, but before you do anything, you need to know if you live in an equitable distribution state or a community property state. This directly dictates how your assets and debts are divided.

So what does this have to do with your retirement? While your original plan may have been to live out your golden years together, drawing on the same funds, a divorce may translate to a smaller payout for you. If you're approaching retirement age, this could mean downsizing your lifestyle or finding ways to make up the difference (i.e. delaying retirement or picking up a part-time job after you retire). Divorcing also means eventually cashing in on one person's Social Security benefits instead of two.

Again, there are a lot of moving parts. Every couple is different, but knowledge is power. Before making any decisions, we always advise our clients to zoom out and look at the big picture. The end goal is knowing you can still enjoy a comfortable quality of life should you divorce.

How the New Tax Law Factors into the Equation

Making the decision to divorce is one that's inherently emotional. Be that as it may, some couples know deep in their bones that going their separate ways is the healthiest path forward for everyone. Couples who agree that divorce is the best option are in somewhat of an unorthodox situation these days—thanks to the new tax reform plan taking effect January 2019, it might be in your financial best interest to split up sooner rather than later. Why? As the law reads right now, alimony payments count as a tax deduction. Once the new tax reform goes through, the tax break for spousal support payments will be eliminated.

In simple terms, divorcing will most likely get even more expensive. In no way are we encouraging married couples to break up—anyone who's endured a divorce knows how painful it is. However, if divorce already feels right in your heart, the new tax reform is worth your attention.

While money certainly can't buy happiness, it can empower us to live a life that's more in line with our values. As gray divorces continue trending, it's definitely worthwhile to weigh the financial repercussions before signing on the dotted line. At the end of the day, being our client means knowing that we're taking the long view when it comes to your financial health, whether you're partnered or single.

Budgeting for Charity: Figuring Out How Much You Can Give to Your Favorite Cause

September 10, 2018 9:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Everyone believes in a good cause and wants to support a charity close to their hearts. Whether it’s donating goods or services, volunteering or making a financial contribution, any contribution helps.

While some people have more financial resources than others, there is a chance that may change at various times in your life. When you’re just starting out, you’re learning about savings and how to create a budget. Then, you may be thinking about a family and looking to purchase a home. Later on, it’s time to retire and you may have more disposable income to allocate.

As CFP® professionals, we can help you evaluate your financial situation to include the right amount of giving to an organization that means a lot to you—without impacting your other goals. Here are some key ways to determine how much you can reasonably give.

  1. Look closely at your current situation. What are your regular expenses each month such as housing, entertainment, personal services and loans? No matter what your financial situation, before you give to charity, you want to ensure that all the basics are taken care of – including long term retirement savings goals. 
  2. Determine a percentage of your income. A rule of thumb for most people is to give about two percent of their yearly income. However, if you tithe, it may be 10 percent or more. With this number in mind, you can plan on how to reach your giving goals.
  3. Be strategic – and creative. If your company offers matching contributions, take advantage of their generosity. Perhaps decide on putting aside a certain percentage of your yearly bonus to charity. Or maybe you have an interest or a skill that you can use as an entrepreneurial business and donate the proceeds.
  4. Examine the trade-offs. If giving is important to you, you may want to rearrange things in other areas of your life. Does leasing your vehicle rather than purchasing give you additional financial options? Can offering a week at your vacation home when you’re not using it provide something extra for your favorite charity? Simple changes can make a big difference.
  5. Prioritize your giving. If you regularly offer $500 here, $2,500 there, as well as purchase a table at a couple of benefit auctions, you can quickly derail your charitable budget without realizing it. Lead with your head instead of your heart and select a few organizations that are most important to you to maximize your giving impact.
  6. Consider monthly vs. yearly contributions. If your income fluctuates each month, it may make sense to make a one-time donation each year; if you like the feeling of having a recurring payment made each month, that’s terrific, too. It all comes down to your preference. Whether it’s monthly or yearly, your charity will be most appreciative.
  7. Make your money count. Take the time to research how the organization spends its money. What percentage goes to salaries and overhead costs compared to the charity’s mission? Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Watch are watchdog groups that can help you make informed decisions.
  8. Maximize your tax deductions. When you give, you not only want the personal satisfaction of helping a good cause, but also a financial benefit. While it’s fun to attend a gala or participate in a golf tournament, you may make your money go farther if you write a check directly to the charity. If you itemize your taxes, you can deduct the full amount of your donation. On the other hand, when you attend an event, you can only write off a portion of your ticket, because the costs associated with the event, such as dinner or entertainment, are not counted as part of your donation.

As always, do your due diligence. Not every charity is what it says it is – in fact, it may not be a charity at all and simply use a similar-sounding name. The above-mentioned charitable watchdog organizations are a good place to start when choosing which organizations to support.

For more information and guidance on charitable giving, a CFP® professional can help you clarify your financial objectives and determine which charitable giving options are best suited to help you meet your goals.

My Company Gave Me an Incentive to Retire. Now What?

August 22, 2018 3:50 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Early retirement incentive programs (ERIPs)—commonly referred to as buyout packages—are hardly new, but that doesn't make it any less jarring to be on the receiving end of one. A thousand thoughts will likely rush to the forefront of your mind:

  • Why are they offering this? Is my job unsafe?
  • Does my employer think I'm disposable?
  • Is the package enough to really see me through retirement?
  • Will I regret it if I decline?

Take heart in knowing that this a perfectly normal reaction! The decision to accept an early retirement incentive is indeed a huge one that could have potentially lifelong repercussions on your financial life. In all my years serving clients and helping them manage and grow their wealth, what I've learned time and time again is that knowledge is power. Financial awareness is by far your best weapon when it comes to navigating the tricky terrain of retirement, especially if your employer just threw an unexpected wrench in your plans by dangling an ERIP in front of you.

The most important thing is to go into these discussions with both eyes open and a firm grasp of what's being offered. Here's how to evaluate the package details so that you can make an informed decision.

What Is an Early Retirement Incentive Program?

These programs often come out of the woodwork when a company is hoping to dial down their internal roster (a.k.a. downsizing). ERIPs, by design, are meant to entice employees into making a voluntary exit. They come in all shapes and sizes, but most include a variety of attractive incentives to sweeten the deal, from additional severance pay to an extension on the employee's medical benefits to help bridge the gap to Medicare.

What Questions Do I Need to Ask?

Of course, not all ERIPs are created equal. This is why it's always wise to read through every line of the proposal with a compassionate and knowledgeable financial advisor by your side. This is the pro you want in your corner because they can calm your emotions and evaluate the package like any other financial document. Whether or not you should accept the offer hinges on your current nest egg, which requires running some numbers.

If you accept the package and begin drawing on your other retirement funds, will it be enough to see you through your golden years? Or will the ERIP be more of a springboard between your current job and your next career move, like pursuing work at another company, venturing out as a consultant in your industry, or starting your own business altogether? Depending on the terms of the offer, it could provide a very nice cushion if you were already hoping to retire sooner rather than later.

Should I Negotiate My Early Retirement Offer?

The driving force that I echo to all my clients in this position is that it all comes down to what matters to you and your family. If you accept the package as is, will your health care needs be covered? After breaking down all the numbers with your advisor, does the math come out in your favor, or do you run the risk of outliving your money? If the proposal itself doesn't come with substantial incentives to make it worth your while, you may want to call on the power of negotiation. Remember, they want you to take the offer, so you do have some degree of leverage.

If you have a robust nest egg as is, but are concerned about rising health care costs in retirement, maybe your employer would be open to, say, swapping additional severance pay for extended medical care, or some such deal. Again, everyone's needs are different. The main takeaway here is that you're under no obligation to blindly accept the initial package, and there may very well be room for negotiation.

What Are the Risks?

We're human beings, which means that, to some degree, we're wired to fear the unknown. Uncertainty, especially where our financial health is concerned, can be a terrifying prospect. Most people fear that if they're being offered an early retirement incentive, it must mean they're already on their employer's chopping block. What if they decline the offer only to be let go later down the line—and with a less attractive severance package?

The truth is that there's really no way to know any of these things for sure, which makes the weight of the decision all the more heavy. However, what we can be sure of is whether or not the deal they're offering supports your big-picture retirement strategy. If you're on the home stretch anyway, an attractive package could hold you over (with some nice extras thrown in to boot).

No matter what decision you make, be sure to take your time so that you thoroughly understand what you're agreeing to when you sign on the dotted line. If you have your sights set on starting your own business, for example, you'll want to make sure the agreement doesn't include a non-compete clause. The thing to remember is that you're not alone, and if something doesn't feel right, it never hurts to seek out an employment lawyer.

At JJ Burns & Company, you can rest easy knowing that you're with a financial advisor who empathizes with your position and is truly putting themselves in your shoes. We're dedicated to helping you make your way through these unknown waters with your retirement goals intact.

Does Money Really Buy Happiness?

July 19, 2018 9:19 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Can lasting happiness be traced back to the almighty dollar? It's an age-old question, and the answer tends to vary depending on who you ask. Some say they'd sure be happier if they could afford to pay off their debts and live out the rest of their days in stress-free retirement bliss. Others swear that real happiness, like the feeling you get when your child wraps you in a warm hug, simply can't be bought.

In all my years of helping people manage their wealth and investments, I've learned that both are true. Happiness is hard to come by if you're plagued by financial insecurity. This is because what financial peace of mind really gives us is freedom. At its core, money is a resource that, if used wisely, opens the door for what matters to you most—things that don't have a price tag, like taking time to help your child with a school project or connect with your significant other.

When financial stress is down, we have more mental space and attention for life's true treasures, like family and friends. It makes sense that those struggling to make ends meet seem to have lower happiness levels. A now-famous 2010 research study out of Princeton University found that earning less than $75,000 a year was linked to more stress and everyday sadness. It stands to reason that once our basic needs are met, day-to-day stress tends to go down.

But the research also had one other particularly interesting finding: general happiness levels didn't improve much for folks who excelled beyond that $75,000 mark. In other words, someone making $200,000 wasn't all that much happier than someone earning $100,000 less.

Thanks to inflation, that $75,000 figure has surely gone up a tick since 2010. So how much do you need to be financially comfortable these days? According to Charles Schwab's annual Modern Wealth Index, an average net worth of $1.4 million should do it; $2.4 million to be considered wealthy. But these findings also come with a non-financial twist "Living stress-free/peace of mind" and "Loving relationships with my family and friends" are among the top definitions of personal wealth.

In many ways, true and lasting wealth has less to do with our net worth and more to do with our outlooks and values. On the same note, building wealth isn't so much about how much money and assets we accumulate—instead, it really depends on how we choose to spend our money. At JJ Burns & Company, our wealthiest clients (i.e. those whose financial choices are in line with their values) all have one thing in common: they've put their money to work for them by way of a diversified, long-term written investment plan.

Taking the long view is best here. Whether your idea of real wealth is the ability to put your kids through college stress-free, retire early and spend more time with family, or have the opportunity to travel the world and feed your wanderlust, smart investing is the best way to get there—and the time to start is always now. Thanks to the magic of compounding interest, those who start early typically reap the biggest returns.

All this means, in simple terms, is to keep our investments balanced. This is diversification, and it's essential to putting some muscle behind your money in order to ultimately fund your long-term goals. Why? The market is a notoriously volatile place, and ups and downs are simply par for the course. Diversifying is your best protection; if one area of your portfolio dips, it's not enough to tank your whole plan. The best analogy for long-term stability is to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket.

Many of us zero in on hitting a specific salary milestone or amassing a certain degree of assets to measure how wealthy we are. But I've learned that true wealth has much more to do with freedom—more specifically, having the freedom to use your time in a way that fosters true happiness. Spending quality time with family and friends, and making memories with loved ones, are easily life's greatest riches. The same goes for having the financial freedom to pursue our passions, nurture our health, and attend to our life's purpose. Our money is perhaps our most powerful resource for achieving all these things.

Being our client means knowing that when it comes to your personal vision of wealth and happiness, we're right behind you, echoing your values every step of the way. The most important part of the equation is putting a stable plan in place to help you get there.