Financial Planning – Outside the Lines

Financial Planning – Outside the Lines

Are you tired of taking sides? Tired of having to choose one over another? Simply tired of making so many decisions every day? Well, I’m not surprised given that some studies estimate the average person makes 35,000 decisions a day. I feel exhausted just thinking about this!

So, what’s a person to do? Well, a starting place is simply to acknowledge the exhaustion that comes from having to choose so many times on a daily basis (enter “decision fatigue”). And if you are symptomatic of the condition “paralysis of analysis,” it’s just that much harder.

What about financial planning? Think you have some choices to make? Well, I think we’d agree that you do. So, what does financial planning “outside the lines” look like? We have some thoughts.

Firstly, Giving Credit Where It’s Due

I read Scott Sauls’ book Jesus Outside the Lines about 2 years ago. The timing of this book was perfect for me. Scott’s writings resonated with me, particularly as it related to politics, money, and hope (or realism). He approached these quite sensitive topics with humility and grace. I greatly appreciated this. So, thank you, Scott, for your book and helping me with the title of this post.

Investments

Let’s name a few choices you have: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, annuities, passive, active, momentum, contrarian, etc. Shall I go on? I’ll spare you.

So, what’s an investor to do? And which of these options are best? Ultimately, you have to make a choice. Or, you choose to hire someone to help you.

Insurance

Buy term and invest the rest? Buy term and spend the rest? Or buy permanent, whole life insurance? Perhaps variable universal life? Follow the duck to Aflac or rely on your traditional health insurance? Work with an 800# rep or have a local agent? Which is best? (Answer coming…)

Estate Planning

Save money and do a cookie-cutter last will and testament? Or pay a local attorney to help? Retitle all assets possible into a revocable living trust, or go through the probate process? Name specific beneficiaries on all accounts, or let your will do the work?

So many decisions here. What’s a person to do?

Financial Planning (Outside the Lines)

It’s this: Developing a financial plan specific to you and your needs, goals and desires. It’s not a robo-advisor or robo-plan. It’s not a one-stop shop online or a local company advertising that they have all the right answers and solutions. It’s not an insurance company promising (almost) to save you 15% on premiums.

I remember early in my career thinking I had the perfect plan and most all of the answers to clients’ concerns and questions. My heart’s motive was to help. However, I learned with time and experience that I needed to step out of my personal story and enter into their stories.

The client may communicate their desire to have life insurance that is guaranteed to always be there. They may communicate their desire to have retirement income that they can never outlive, regardless of market conditions. The client may share their desire to work with a more traditional “brick and mortar” bank rather than an online bank paying a higher interest.

It starts with you, not us. Our personal plan might (or will) look different than yours. We are happy to share what we are personally doing in our financial plan. But again, we expect our plans to look a little different.

Our job and passion is to walk alongside you in your life story. We are morally and legally obligated to put your interests above our own. That’s how it should be.

We are deeply thankful for those who have asked us to come alongside them. It would be a privilege to have a conversation with you about how that might look in your life journey. And be assured that your financial plan will be designed outside the lines.

*For financial planning clients of Rivertree Financial Planning: Please contact us as soon as possible if you have had any changes in circumstances, objectives, goals or risk tolerance.

A Counterintuitive Freedom

A Counterintuitive Freedom

I hope you are having a good summer. I always enjoy the 4th of July holiday. I anticipate good food, good fellowship, and of course, some fireworks!

Before I continue, I’d like to pause and thank those who have served and fought for our country’s freedom. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you! Thank you to those who are serving now and have served in the past. I am certainly guilty of taking this freedom for granted many times, which is why I’m thankful for holidays and special times as these, when we honor those who have served.

The topic of freedom was discussed in our last Rivertree team meeting. Specifically, we discussed what freedom looked like in regards to finances. We could have gone many directions here: budgeting, freedom from debt, retirement nest egg, etc. But our discussion quickly went into a different direction.

Children

Many of us have children, grandchildren, or children that we may not be related to but consider our own. What a blessing children can be! And oh, what a challenge they can be…

Children need us. It feels good to be needed. And sometimes, it feels good to just be alone. Both are good and healthy.

But something happens to all children. It’s unavoidable. They grow up! Yes, I’m stating the obvious here, but humor me and keep reading.

Children grow physically. They grow emotionally. Hopefully for many of us, they grow spiritually.

But here’s my question: Are they growing into adults? I’m not talking about age of adulthood per your State’s law (FYI it’s age 21 for Mississippi, not 18).

Adults

What am I talking about in regards to adults? A responsible, contributor to society and at the core, a desire to be an adult.

But what happens? It doesn’t always go this way. Children rebel. They leave home before they’re ready. They denounce the wisdom they’ve learned through their early years. They hurt the ones who love them the most.

It’s devastating. What went wrong? Is it our fault as parents? I’d argue for most of us the answer is, “No.” It’s not your fault.

The Counterintuitive Freedom

Thankfully, we find the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 of the Bible. The younger son requested an early inheritance (which is seldom a blessing to a child I might add). The son lived recklessly, wasted his money, and found himself feeding pigs (and even desiring the pigs’ food!).

At this point, we learn that the son “came to his senses.” He finally reached his point of true brokenness and need.

So, where’s the counterintuitive freedom I keep referencing? It’s this – Allowing our children to reach the place of brokenness rather than rescuing them. We “rescue” by giving them money. We rescue by bailing them out (including from jail). We rescue by not allowing them to truly experience the natural consequences of poor decisions and behavior.

“But what about mercy and grace, Scott?” I hear ya. I treasure mercy and grace. I’ve received it time and time again, from humans and The Lord Almighty.

When they’re children, we often do extend mercy and grace. We may discipline using other consequences so they don’t have to experience the natural consequence (and tragedy) of crossing the road before looking or playing with (or in) the fire.

But our topic today is adults, not children. For adults, it’s time that they experience natural consequences. It’s what the father did for his prodigal son. He allowed him to squander his wealth and live with pigs. Don’t you think this father had the ability to find his son and go rescue him? We don’t find this answer explicit in Scripture, but I think we can infer that the father did have this ability. But in his wisdom, he waited.

As a father, I sure wish Scripture gave us more information about what the father did and what he felt while he waited. How long did it take? Was he angry with his son, and even God? Did he grieve? Did he weep? Did he lose faith? We just don’t know.

Know this: There is counterintuitive freedom in allowing our adult children to experience the natural consequences of their decisions and behaviors, even if we have the means and abilities to “help.”

Love your adult children. Pray for them. Share the burden with God, and others. Give them the space to come to their senses.

Don’t lose hope. And when you feel like you have, God is big enough to listen and meet you where you are.

(Recommendation: I’m 70 pages into the book “Reaching Your Prodigal” by Phil Waldrep. Although I have more to read, I feel confident in saying that the author gets it. It’s answering the questions: What did I do wrong, and what can I do now?)

*For financial planning clients of Rivertree Financial Planning: Please contact us as soon as possible if you have had any changes in circumstances, objectives, goals or risk tolerance.

Finding a Financial Mentor

Finding a Financial Mentor

I was challenged this morning by a pastor and friend who spoke to a group of fathers. The question initially posed was this: “What do I most need today in regards to decisions?” Answer: “Someone ahead of me, and someone behind me.” In other words, we were challenged to have a mentor and mentee in our lives. We briefly journeyed through the life of Luke in the Bible. Luke traveled with Paul. Paul was ahead of Luke. Luke also had Theophilus in his life who he mentored.

When we need counsel, we so often go to our peers who are most likely facing the same struggles (and making the same mistakes). Don’t get me wrong – I do think it’s helpful to share our struggles and burdens with peers; but are our peers best for counsel? Or could it be wiser to receive counsel from someone ahead of us in life and who has already faced the struggles? My pastor friend would argue the latter. How would this look for financial decisions?

Why can taking this step be hard for us? I’d say that simply asking for help doesn’t come naturally to us. We might be ashamed of our circumstances or situation. We might think that no one else gets it. We might think there’s just no better way than what we’ve come up with ourselves. As a person who struggles with trying to think myself through situations, I have come to learn that sharing and processing what I’m going through with others is extremely helpful; and that sharing with someone who is ahead of me is even better.

Think about financial decisions that you have made during your lifetime – the good, the bad, the ugly. How about buying your first house? First car? First timeshare (uh oh…). What did you learn? Now rewind: If you would have received counsel from someone at least ten years ahead of you, do you think the bad/ugly decisions could have been avoided? Probably so.

What about your peers? Most likely they are signing up for the same college credit card only to get a free t-shirt. Then yes, that “free” t-shirt ends up costing you hundreds to thousands of dollars in interest for the tv or vacation you really couldn’t afford. What if you had sought counsel from someone at least 10 years ahead of you who showed financial responsibility? Do you think that they would have advised you differently than your peers? Most likely so.

What about us – financial planners? We are experts in this field, but does that mean we don’t need to seek financial counsel from someone ahead of us? I have been challenged to seek out a financial mentor. Just as you, we’ve found that it’s 100% impossible to check all emotions at the door when it comes to our own financial decisions. We need sound guidance – the same guidance we give to our clients.

As we seek out a mentor, we’re also challenged to seek out someone behind us that we can help. How do we find these people? Pray that the Lord would bring these people into your life. Open your eyes to those already around you. They may not be far away.

In closing, I’ll share wise counsel that the speaker received from someone ahead of him during a critical time in his life: “Make decisions today that you will least regret in ten years.” That’s good. What’s this all about? Priorities.

So now what? Make that call. Send that text or email. Take the risk. I just did.

Diets and Money – Quite the Pair

Diets and Money – Quite the Pair

You may have noticed (or not) that we took a two-month sabbatical from the Rivertree blog. We take advantage of the holiday season to plan, regroup and recharge for the new year. We are excited about 2019 and hope you are as well.

On a personal note, I am doing something I have never done before – a restricted diet. What exactly is a “restricted” diet? Well, prior to January 1st of this year I couldn’t have told you. But as of this writing, I’m now on day 29 of 30 and have learned quite a few things about food I never knew.

In the simplest terms, a restrictive diet is saying “no” to food groups that could potentially be harmful to your body. After the 30 days, you slowly re-introduce excluded food groups and see how it makes you feel. Sound like the Whole30 elimination diet? Well, it is.

My motivation for this diet was not to lose weight but to see how food was impacting my overall health. To say this diet has been enlightening would be an understatement. All my aches and ailments haven’t been cured, but I have certainly seen the benefits in eating healthier, wholesome foods.

So, what does dieting have to do with money? Well, quite a bit, I’d argue.

When I ran into Books-a-Million on January 1st, guess which books greeted me immediately at the door? You got it – money and dieting. Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, Tony Robbins, Keto, Paleo, Plant Paradox, and Whole30 all shared a nice, wooden table that you couldn’t miss upon entry. I had settled on Whole30 prior to arriving, but I couldn’t help but thumb through each book on the table.

Then it hit me: What do we often say to our clients and seminar attendees as we discuss budgeting/cash flow planning? Give the system we teach a try. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to your old system!

I was dreading saying “no” for the first time to many foods I love. But knowing that I could go back to my “old system” in just 30 days gave me what I needed, expecting that I wouldn’t want to go back completely.

Consider this quote about change:

““We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.

― Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend

Does this quote resonate with you? What are consequences of poor money habits or diets that might motivate you to change? Often, it’s a serious health diagnosis, high-balance credit card statement, overspending in retirement, or even bankruptcy.

Don’t let it come to these consequences. Start the process of change now. Dr. Cloud also says that change comes this way: Grace + Truth + Time = Change.

We hope 2019 is a great year of healthy change for you. If you need help or counsel to begin this journey, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to help.

 

For financial planning clients of Rivertree Financial Planning: Please contact us as soon as possible if you have had any changes in circumstances, objectives, goals or risk tolerance.

Say “No” to Instant Gratification

Say “No” to Instant Gratification

I remember it like it was yesterday. When I was in high school, I worked all summer to save up enough money to purchase a brand-new Sharp VCR from Wal-Mart. I remember how I felt when I finally walked into the store and laid down my hard-earned cash to make the purchase. I can still smell the fresh Styrofoam as I opened the box. I had zero regrets because it was worth the wait.

I also remember the times I’ve made impulsive purchases. Something would catch my eye that I wasn’t looking for (perhaps an infomercial??). After making the impulsive purchase, the product or service didn’t satisfy the same and guilt would eventually follow.

The Missing Word

There’s a word that’s missing from many of our vocabularies in America. That word is “No.” Saying “No” has become increasingly more difficult as we are now the most marketed to culture in the history of the world. That’s a fact. What’s more amazing is how much more effective (and less expensive) advertising is. The ads are more targeted now. They know what you want, or might want, based on your web and social media activity.

And what if you don’t have the money to make the purchase? No problem! It’s just 49 easy monthly payments of $1.99. Wait…what the heck did I purchase? A pair of running shoes?? And how much interest will I pay over these four years? Who cares…it’s just $1.99 a month. I can do it (although often the interest on an annual basis is anywhere from 39% – 400%). And no, that’s not a typo.

My old boss Dave Ramsey is often pleaded to by his listeners to run for public office. He responds with his classic shotgun laugh. But for fun, they came up with some slogans. One was, “Change…You’re Not Going to Like.” Another was simply, “No.” These were in reference to our government’s out of control spending habits.

Insert “No” Moving Forward

I read a time.com article just this morning regarding debt levels in America at every age group. The article opens with “Americans have fallen back in love with debt.” The statistics are staggering. We’ve exceeded debt levels prior to the Great Recession…just by a little. Below is from newyorkfed.org:

Aggregate household debt balances increased in the fourth quarter of 2017, for the 14th consecutive quarter, and are now $473 billion higher than the previous (2008: Q3) peak of $12.68 trillion. As of December 31, 2017, total household indebtedness was $13.15 trillion, a $193 billion (1.5 percent) increase from the third quarter of 2017. Overall household debt is now 17.9 percent above the 2013Q2 trough.

So how can we appropriately respond to this? Take a look at your budget and spending habits. Where do you see “No” inserted? Perhaps ridding yourself of credit cards would be a tremendous step. And what about that tax refund being applied to debt payoff or savings rather than a car down payment? Small steps like this go a long way.

Think about people from just a few generations ago. Could they finance a couch? Of course not. If they wanted a sofa, they were forced to save for it and delay pleasure. Today, we can stretch payments over five years. And no, I’m not buying the “Same as Cash” deals. It’s not the same as cash. Over 80% of these arrangements result in interest payments of up to 39% going back to day one. They win. You’re not beating the system. That’s why they keep on doing it and stretching out payments for even more years.

Saying “No” is healthy vocabulary. We need it in all areas of life. Prayerfully consider where you need to say “No.” Your freedom awaits.

What Can You Do

What Can You Do

I hope you had a nice February. If you live in Mississippi, we had our usual volatile whether. You may need snow gear one day and a swimsuit the next (slight exaggeration but you get the point).

Personally, this February is certainly one to remember as I had hip surgery. Fast forward to today, I’m doing well thankfully. I still have a journey of recovery ahead of me. But, to say it has been a joy ride would not be honest of me.

I had a close friend stop by recently to check on me. He was gracious to listen to me share how hard things have been. We all need folks to just listen sometimes, right? And sometimes, we need a friend to challenge us.

After hearing me share about the things I couldn’t do right now, he asked, “What are things you can do?” I paused. That had certainly not been my focus. I reflected on his question that night and the next morning. I started thinking about not just things I can still do, but what are new things I can do? I mentally came up with a long list and took action on some immediately. My spirits were lifted and some contentment returned.

I’m not writing a message about the “power of positive thinking,” but I am challenging myself, and you, to reflect on this question: “What are things you can do?” More specifically, “What are things you can do to make progress financially?”

With financial planning, there are many aspects that we can’t control and are forced to use some assumptions: inflation, rates of return, life longevity, etc. However, there are many aspects of financial planning that we can control.

What are steps that you can take TODAY to-

  • Begin a debt elimination plan?
  • Implement a budget?
  • Call the lawyer to get your will completed?
  • Increase your life insurance coverage?
  • Increase your charitable giving?

Don’t be overwhelmed by this list. Prioritize. Need help taking steps and prioritizing? That’s exactly what we do. Give us a call. We’d love to help.

Spring is just a few weeks away which I always welcome (well, minus the pollen). Spring is a time of new life, and it can be a time of new hope and purpose.

Take a few new steps and see what happens.