Closure for 2020. Hope for What is Ahead.

Closure for 2020. Hope for What is Ahead.

Has there ever been a year more than this one where people have been so ready to kick it to the curb? “Tying a bow on it” might be a softer approach, understanding that most would not consider any part of 2020 a present. However, I do think it’s a healthy habit to seek closure for different seasons of life, especially the hard times.

Below are some brief reflections as we wrap up 2020 and head into a new year.

What’s Taken for Granted

How often have we heard or said the phrase, “Don’t take it for granted!” I certainly have. At moments I take this challenge to heart. But if I’m honest, I feel it’s impossible to live each day in this manner. We are human. Unfortunately, we have to learn lessons over and over again.

So what did you take for granted prior to the pandemic? I’ll name a few for me:

  • Handshakes
  • Hugs
  • The gift of slowing down, smelling the roses (or allergens), observing nature
  • Church worship
  • Walking and gathering in public freely

Certainly, my list could go on. The reality is that much in my every day life that I took for granted was taken away at least for some time.

Challenges and Joys

So how have you responded to the challenges of 2020? Perhaps you have experienced heartache, loss, anxiety or depression. Have you said goodbye to dear loved ones, tragically without being able to hug their necks or hold their hands one last time? How can we find closure here? It’s hard (a massive understatement).

On the flip side, have you’ve found hidden joys with much of every day life coming to a screeching halt? Were you reckoned with the busyness of life, rushing from one activity to another? I think many were initially relieved (in a surprising way) when all activities were cancelled. Family dinners around the table once again became the norm. Stories were told. Laughter unfolded. Politics were debated (okay hopefully not).

How can we reconcile these extreme experiences? I’d argue that we actually can.

An Ultimate Hope

A question must be asked: Where does your ultimate hope and security lie? Work? Stuff? Bank or investment accounts? Others?

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these. We were made to work. Buying a car (or adult toy of your choosing) can bring happiness. Saving and investing (rather than hoarding) can be good. Relationships with others can be life-giving. But let’s face it: None of these produces ever-lasting joy.

Work is stressful. Stuff breaks. Banks go under. Investments lose value. Others, including best friends and close family, can hurt or offend us. It’s inevitable!

And being this is a financial planning blog, let’s talk about a doomsday scenario: What happens if all banks go down and companies go bankrupt? There goes the U.S. of A. No companies mean no jobs. No jobs mean no taxes. No taxes mean no government. People, it’s farm and garden time! The money buried out back or in a fireproof safe is now just paper to start a fire.

Now that we have panicked some readers, do we honestly think this is where we are headed? No. We believe Apple, Google and Netflix are here to stay. We firmly believe the value of the companies our clients are invested in today will be worth more in 5, 10 and 20 years. Therefore, we invest with a long-term mindset.

Consider your alternatives: Cash? Gold? These can be good short-term vehicles for saving. However, you must consider the long-term effects of inflation. The purchasing power of a dollar decreases over time. What your dollar can buy today will buy less in 5 years. Therefore, long-term investing makes sense.

But investing is not our ultimate hope. These things do not last. But we believe there is something…Someone who does. Consider the words of Elisabeth Elliot:

“Where does your security lie? Is God your refuge, your hiding place, your stronghold, your shepherd, your counselor, your friend, your redeemer, your saviour, your guide? If He is, you don’t need to search any further for security.”

Rest easy, reader, especially this Christmas season, if God is where your ultimate security lies. He will not fail you. He will not abandon you. He is for you. He will not leave or forsake you. It’s His promise. And He remains true to His Word. Hear it straight from Him:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – Jesus Christ (John 16:33)

*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.

Hard but Necessary Conversations

Hard but Necessary Conversations

You may have heard a similar story before:

“Our parents had a lot of assets and resources before they died. We knew they had money – we just did not know how much. And they would not talk about it. We assumed (and certainly hoped) they had a plan in place to distribute those resources to their children and others. However, what occurred after they died was a nightmare. The children fought. Lawyers got involved. Some money eventually got distributed to each child. But we haven’t spoken since.”

This story is tragic. And sadly, we see this often in our work as financial planners. However, we have also seen plans executed beautifully by parents and grandparents. We would like to share some ideas on how to get this process started.

It Starts with a Conversation

Fear. It drives so many (and too many) of our decisions. “What if this happens?” What if that happens?”

I know. It’s difficult. Initiating a conversation with loved ones about end of life planning and wishes can be quite touchy. “You just want money!”, they might say. But if there is a healthy relationship, and communication is done in a loving way, you most likely will not hear those words.

Ideally, your parents (or grandparents) would come to you and want to have these conversations. But they could have many of the same fears. Maybe this mode of communication was not modeled to them by their parents. Therefore, they don’t know how to get this conversation started.

These are certainly some realities. But doing nothing out of fear is not wise.

Some Helpful Language

We came up with a conversation starter that might be helpful in initiating this conversation with loved ones.

“[Name], we (or I) would like to talk with you about some very important matters. Our motive for initiating this conversation is out of love, care and concern for you. We want to do everything we can to carry out your wishes as it relates to end of life matters, or in the event one of you were living but were unable to make and carry out financial decisions.

Do you have specific desires and wishes as it relates to these matters? And have you properly executed the documents necessary to help carry out these wishes? If not, we are ready to assist however we can to get all of these necessary items in place. Are you willing to discuss these matters with us?”

A great resource could be the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler. (In full disclosure, I have not personally read this book but know others who have. In addition, Stephen Covey writes the Forward for this book which is a tremendous endorsement.)

Use a Facilitator

Perhaps you have already tried to initiate these conversations but were unsuccessful. We encourage you to not give up. Increase or use other resources available to you. We have had the hard task but privilege in helping facilitate these conversations. If not a financial planner, perhaps an attorney, pastor or trusted mutual friend could help.

In Closing

We have had many meetings with clients around these matters. We strongly encourage our clients to have these hard but necessary conversations with loved ones, whether it is about their own plans or others. We can tell you that more times than not our clients are very glad they took these steps. What generally follows are properly executed plans and strengthened relationships. However, we are acutely aware that these conversations don’t always go as planned. It’s okay though. 

Boundaries – You faced the fears. Some uncertainty was addressed. You can’t control the actions of others. But you can now better plan for yourself and your loved ones.

If we can assist in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We are glad to be a resource.

*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.

Of Presidential Elections

Of Presidential Elections

We hope you are well and getting back into some sort of normalcy. Some of you have kids or grandkids back in school. Others have begun virtual learning. Regardless of your circumstances, we hope you are remaining connected to friends and family as we all need each other during this time.

We are approximately two months away now from casting our Presidential ballots. And like all election years, fear can reign regardless of which candidate you support. Emotions run high. Feelings can be hurt. And you are forced as an investor to make decisions in regards to your portfolio.

We thought it would be helpful to bring in some facts and data in regards to investing to help counterbalance the emotions. You might be surprised as to what you see.

We Have Been Here Before

I know, I know: “This time it’s different.” Well true – It’s always a little different. But I’d like to share what is not different:

Bantering

Exaggerating

Manipulating

Attacking

Rhetoric

Yes, I could go on. But I think you’d agree that these actions typically are represented in election years. So how do you block out the noise and see the truth as investors? You find the true data.

Facts

Please click on this link from Capital Group, one of our investment partners. Check out the first graph which shows the rate of return of the S&P 500 Index going back to March 4, 1933. The colors represent a Democratic or Republican Presidency.

Do you see the trend? “Markets have tended to power through presidential elections – with some volatility along the way – regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican won the White House.”

Please hear me clearly: Your vote matters. What I’m pointing out though is that for long-term investors, they have generally fared well regardless of the political party in charge.

Have a Plan. Revisit the Plan. Update the Plan.

Those who have a plan do far better than those who don’t. Even more, those who revisit their plan and make any necessary changes do even better! This has certainly been our experience as financial planners working alongside our clients. This process helps us see the big picture and reminds us of why we invest for the long-term.

“By design, elections have winners and losers, but the real winners have been investors who stayed the course and avoided the temptation to time the market.” – Capital Group article

We are here to listen and help should you like to discuss your specific situation. We understand these times can produce uncertainty and fear. We are ready to engage in these conversations with you.

*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.

Reasons to Stay Invested and Reasons to Adjust

Reasons to Stay Invested and Reasons to Adjust

We are quickly wrapping up summer 2020. And wow…we won’t forget it! What is normally a time of recharging and checking out from the norm has been a time for many of checking in to the daily number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The toll this can take on us is brutal. I don’t think we were designed as humans to digest constant news and data from around the globe. Of course, the bulk of this news is negative and life-taking, not giving.

But there is some good news that hasn’t been reported as much as COVID-19 – the stock market. Would you believe that on July 21st this year the S&P 500 index closed at the same value where it started the year (3,257)? Also, on July 22nd it even exceeded the starting value (3,276)? So what are investors to do? We have some suggestions.

Stock Market vs. The Economy

You might be asking: “How can the stock market be back up given the horrible news of COVID-19 and discouraging (to say the least) economic reports such as unemployment numbers?” Answer: The stock market and economy are not the same. Yes, there is some correlation between the two. However, as often said in our client email communications and previous blog posts, the stock market is a leading economic indicator. The stock market is forward-looking and prices in what it believes lies ahead.

No question the actions of Congress and the Fed has provided stability to the markets. Now, it comes at a cost to the government and eventually taxpayers. But in the short-term, the stock market is pricing in stability.

Reasons to Stay Invested

You might feel the temptation to bail-out now given you are back (or almost back) to your January 1st starting values. However, what is your motivation? Most likely it’s fear which is seldom a good reason to make adjustments. So why stay invested?

  • Remember why you invested in the first place. Investing was never a short-term plan (at least not for Rivertree clients). It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Don’t lose focus of this long-term goal.
  • Recognize the Opportunity. For those still in the accumulation phase of retirement planning (i.e. still contributing regularly to retirement accounts), have you celebrated the investment purchases that occurred in February through May? You bought more shares of companies whose values were beaten-down. With this short-term recovery, you now own more shares than you would have previously! This valuable investment strategy is called dollar-cost averaging. And it works well with time.
  • Recognize the Alternatives. Should you choose to abandon your long-term investment plan, what are your investment alternatives? Cash? If you’re like me, you have received multiple emails from savings account companies stating that your interest rate was being lowered. You’re doing really good to get 1% now for online FDIC insured savings accounts. Is a 1% rate of return going to accomplish your long-term goals? Most likely not unless you have significant wealth and can afford for inflation to erode the purchasing power of your dollars. Savings accounts are great for emergency funds and short-term savings needs. They are lousy for long-term investing.

Reasons to Adjust

No question there are times to make adjustments to your investment allocations. These adjustments could better suit your long-term goals and needs. When is a time to adjust?

  • Your goals have changed. Perhaps your retirement age moved from 62 to 70 or vice versa. This eight-year difference could affect the amount of stock and fixed-income holdings you have. If your retirement is delayed until age 70, you could afford to have a larger allocation towards stocks. If your retirement age is expedited to age 62, consider allocating more to fixed-income investments.
  • Your risk tolerance has changed. It’s common that a once aggressive investor shifts to a more moderate investment risk tolerance, especially as one approaches retirement age and considers that little will be added to investment accounts. And, you wonder if you’ll live long enough to see your investments recover in the event of a downturn. Maybe the year 2020 has exposed this change in risk tolerance and it’s time to make adjustments.
  • Your financial circumstances have changed. Maybe you’ve had a change in income or lost a loved one. These life events would certainly be cause to revisit your investment allocations. 

Closing

In summary, there are wise reasons to revisit your investment strategies and goals. There are also unwise reasons to make adjustments. Presidential elections come and go. The pandemic will eventually pass. Volatility in the stock market will rear its head during times of uncertainty. But don’t let these fears be the driver of your investment decisions. Research continues to show that investment decisions based on fear do not produce long-term results.

Our job is to walk alongside our clients during these times of uncertainty and help them make wise long-term decisions. Should you feel the need to have a conversation, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

*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.

We Are Listening, and We Care

We Are Listening, and We Care

I am writing this morning with some fear and trepidation. That’s me being honest. “Will I say the wrong thing? Will I offend or hurt someone I care about? Will I not say enough? Will I say too much? Will I lose a client by speaking to things non-financial or even taboo?” Those are the questions in my head. Those are my fears. Would you read and extend grace to me? I am no expert on these matters. But I do care. We care.

A Discussion about Race

Around two years ago, I was invited by an African American friend to a broad discussion about race. One topic we discussed was police brutality. I listened as several African American fathers detailed talks they had with their sons about what do to if pulled over by a police officer:  All windows down; interior lights on; pop the trunk; hands 10 and 2 on the steering wheel.

I just didn’t understand. Why was this necessary? My father never had this talk with me. With time and further discussion, it started to make sense to me. I am part of the majority culture. This isn’t a “white guilt” thing…it’s simply a reality.

As I listened to dear friends and brothers share about their experience in today’s culture, my heart weighed heavily. I was brought to tears, apologized and asked forgiveness for not being more loving and kind to them as they grieved current events. I also made a personal commitment to not be silent the next time those close to me were grieving and lamenting.

A Phone Call

I did not want to watch the Ahmaud Arbery shooting video. But I also did not want to avoid engaging in something extremely hard to watch, especially when I knew my African American friends and brothers were watching it. So I did. And I was disturbed.

Then came the George Floyd video. Same feeling – don’t watch it. It’s too hard. But I did. And I was broken by it.

Remembering my commitment from 2 years ago, I picked up the phone and started calling those closest to me. Yes, I was nervous but refused to let fear reign.

Here are the words from one African American friend: “Scott, I didn’t just see George Floyd in that video. I saw myself. I saw my uncle. I saw my sons.” He then went on to tell me that he lost his appetite for 48 hours after this video surfaced. I thought to myself: “My gracious. My dear brother. I am so sorry. I have no words. But I am here with you. Thanks for trusting me enough to share.”

Our discussion was not, “Well all police officers aren’t bad.” In fact, this dear brother has many friends in law enforcement. He respects them highly.

I am thankful for every phone call I made. Each dear brother shared how they were processing these events personally. I strived to listen and not judge. And they each shared that they were thankful I called.

The Reality

The reality is this: We will never completely “fix” our problems with humanity on this side of eternity. Sin will always exist until the end of time. Humanity will wage war against one another. I am broken and saddened by this. But I also do not grieve without hope.

Something that has changed for me is seeing the difference between when my son leaves for a run or bike ride, and when one of my African American friends’ son does the same. It’s different. I am no longer seeing strangers in these brutal videos. I am seeing my brothers and friends. It has become way more personal for me. Yes, it’s harder. But it is necessary.

Considerations

Maybe you could think of an African American friend or co-worker that you could call? Ask them how they are processing our country’s current events. And then listen. Remember the ministry of presence. Be present with him or her. You don’t have to have the right words. What’s the opposite of judgement? Perhaps it is Curiosity. Be curious rather than defensive. Be open-minded that perhaps your worldview has been flawed. Be humble enough to repent and ask forgiveness from those you have hurt. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s worth it.

For Believers – Pray. Search the Scriptures to see what the Lord says about justice…about creation and life. Be open-minded and ask the Spirit to reveal any offensive way in you and lead you in the way everlasting.

Thank you for reading. And thanks for listening. We are praying for our country and world. We are praying for our people as image-bearers of God. We are trusting that God’s sovereign hand continues to rule and reign. We are committed to being the hands and feet of Christ with humble reliance upon Him as He leads us.

*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.