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.

Beware of Predictions

Beware of Predictions

If you are like me, the fatigue of social distancing and sheltering-at-home has come. Although we have had sweet times as a family during these times, I am ready for some (but not all) of the normal to come back. And speaking of normal, what is normal during times of uncertainty are predictions – predictions about the stock market, economy, politics, etc. I know you have seen them, and I have too. What are we to do with so many “expert” opinions? I have some thoughts.

Eventually, They Get It Right

Just this morning I saw this headline: “Expert who predicted the 2008 Great Recession has another prediction.” I bet he or she does! And I bet this person had many more unfilled predictions. Soon after I saw, “Americas         #1 Futurist 2020 Prediction Will Stun You!”

My favorite quote about predictions is this: “If you are going to make predictions, you better make a lot of them!” Eventually, you will get it right. This has been my experience during my time as a financial advisor. You will ALWAYS have someone predicting the sky to fall and never return again. You will ALWAYS have someone predicting the next recession. You will ALWAYS have someone predicting now is the best time to buy gold!

Most likely, these forecasters will eventually get it right. When they do, they can then write a book on just how they knew this bad time was coming. And they can be interviewed on the major networks to share their expertise. When I see this, I often want to ask them: “So what about the 99 predictions you got wrong?” Hold them accountable when they are wrong. But that doesn’t sell advertising as well…

How to Respond

Blocking out the noise is difficult. The voices and headlines surround us. They beg for our attention. So what’s a person to do? Go back to the tried and true financial principles that have guided the wise through turbulent times: Remain calm. Have a plan. Remain diversified (i.e. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket). Focus on what you can control. Voice the things you can’t control. 

This pandemic will certainly go down as a historic event. The loss of lives is tragic. The uncertainty can be paralyzing. But I’m also amazed and encouraged at the resilience of our people. In the midst of a presidential election year, we are seeing Americans come together for a cause greater than themselves. It’s refreshing. 

In closing, we say “Thank you!” for those on the front lines serving others. We greatly appreciate your sacrifice and service! May we all look for ways to be of encouragement to others. And when we need encouragement, let’s reach out to those who love us. Hearing a voice or seeing a familiar face is good for our souls!

This too shall pass. We hope and pray for your safety and health during this time. Please do not 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.

Reasons to be Hopeful

Reasons to be Hopeful

These are certainly days we will remember – for our generation, and generations to come. The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked our world…literally. We are being tested – our beliefs, our resolve, our plans. “Does it feel different this time?” Yes. It always does. But can we still be hopeful? We can. Here are some thoughts on how. 

Remember Our Past

Black Monday: To say I remember the day October 19, 1987 would not be truthful. I was 7 years old. But I assure you early in my career this day was referenced many times. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost over 22% value in just one day. This day is referred to as “Black Monday”. And what did most every investor fear? The next Great Depression. Did this occur? No.

Tech Bubble Burst: Now, I do remember where I was on September 11, 2001. I was a college student returning from my morning class. My friends were all gathered around the TV as the Twin Towers were on fire, soon to fall. This occurred right in the middle of the tech bubble bursting. How could we as a nation survive this? We did.

Great Recession: This time period from 2007 to 2009 was…let’s say it…unprecedented. Our country and world had never experienced anything like it. The stock market dropped approximately 57% from top to bottom (we are not there as of this writing). I vividly remember this time as an investor and financial advisor. To be honest fear did reign at times. Could we survive this? We did.

Remain in the Present

We are prone to become emotionally paralyzed in times as these. We digest news and information at a rate our minds and bodies just were not designed to do. How are we to respond? Well, we’d offer this: What can you control? Certainly not the stock or bond market. But how about these:

  • Reduce the amount of news and information taken in each day. Start and/or end each day with silence and solitude. Relax. Meditate. “Be Still, and Know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
  • Revisit your overall financial plan. Are you still on track? If not, what adjustments can you make? Reduce withdrawals; eliminate certain expenses; and rebuild your emergency fund to name a few.
  • Remember what you are invested in – stocks and bonds of companies. Although it can feel like your monthly or quarterly statements are just paper, they actually represent the ownership you have in companies or debt and interest owed to you (bonds). Question: Do you believe that the overall values of these assets will be higher in 1-5 years? If so, then remaining invested with goals in mind is prudent. 

Reassure Your Future

“Cash is king,” my old boss Dave Ramsey still says. No doubt – in this economy, cash is king, whether as an emergency fund or an investment opportunity. Maintaining a healthy cash position is critical to weather these storms. 

But here is the sobering reality: We all know our time on earth is limited. “Death and taxes”, right? They’re unavoidable. But what is your ultimate treasure? Hopefully, it’s not cash in the bank, under the mattress or buried in the ground. That paper is only as valuable as the country backing it. 

Now do we believe that our USA currency is heading that direction? No. But is this a “gut check” time on what we ultimately value? Yes.

Is your future secure? Ponder this as we weather this storm.

As a Christian, it’s a great time to meditate on the truths of Scripture.

Psalm 78 says, “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and know, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (v. 1-4)

We are here for our clients and will remain in close contact. Reach out to us anytime.

*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.

From Dream Crusher to Valentine’s Gift

From Dream Crusher to Valentine’s Gift

This month’s blog title might have caught your attention. Rather than the stock market or coronavirus, we are talking about crushing dreams and a Valentine’s Day gift. If you stick with me, you will see where we tie these into financial planning.

One Day. Two Meetings. Two Titles.

The day started with a financial review meeting for clients of ten plus years. These clients are also great friends, so our meetings are often filled with stories, laughter, and some (very) direct guidance. Soon into the meeting, the wife shared how her husband referred to me the previous day: “The Dream Crusher.” I burst into laughter as I knew exactly what he meant.

In the early years of our meetings, his dreams, desires and wants were often met with a direct “No.” If you don’t have the cash saved for the purchase, home renovation or trip, then, “No.” Delay pleasure. Delay gratification. Don’t pay for these with interest of 5% to 29.99%. No, you can’t use emergency fund for “the trip of a lifetime.” These decisions so often come back to bite you.

The Dream Crusher. The title is fitting.

Valentine’s Day Gift

Fast forward a few hours that same day. I was meeting with clients I hadn’t met with in several years due to various life circumstances. They apologized several times for not coming in to review their financial plan. Some time into the meeting, the wife shared that this meeting was her Valentine’s Day gift to her husband (I clarified later that our meeting was more of a gift to them as a family). I was silent…and shocked. “Your Valentine’s Day gift?” I asked curiously. How could our meeting together mean that much to her?

She shared that she was continuously thinking about money and worrying about it. Some of the same concerns she had several years ago she still had today. Coming to their financial review meeting brought peace to her as we discussed steps to make financial progress.

I can see financial peace being a Valentine’s Day gift…quite a good one I would say.

Reconciling the Two

I wrote an article three years ago about living in the good and bad of life. We are often prone to paint life as all good or all bad, depending on the circumstances. This can be the case with other people as well. We see a public servant fall morally and can paint them as all bad. On the other hand, we see our life circumstances turn the corner positively and think it’s all good from here. We know there are peaks and valleys of life. Solomon wrote about these instances in Ecclesiastes 3: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

So how do I reconcile the two? Some days, yes, we are the Dream Crushers, advising clients to not take a path they so desire. And sometimes, we are hopefully a gift to our clients, guiding them in financial matters that bring long-term financial peace.

Ultimately, our clients are the decision makers, not us. It’s their money (although I would argue it’s truly God’s money for which they are to oversee and manage).

Through the years, I have found great wisdom and peace by asking for help and guidance from others. I don’t have to have all of the answers. I must lean on my resources just as our clients must lean on theirs. Left to ourselves, we are prone to wander!

Maybe the year 2020 is a year of finding more dream crushers and gifts in our lives. Maybe 2020 is when you realize your dream crushers can be gifts.

*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.

How the SECURE Act 2020 Affects You

How the SECURE Act 2020 Affects You

I hope 2020 has started off well for you. In Mississippi, we have recently been having to choose between wearing rain gear or shorts (or both). It has been an interesting time of weather!

On the business front, did you happen to see what law was signed just before Christmas? The SECURE Act (The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) was signed by the President on December 20th with a January 1, 2020 effective date. This Act was part of the Spending Bill and significantly affects IRA planning.

We have summarized a few of the major changes that might affect you and your accounts. It’s worth a quick read to see if any of these apply to your current situation. Of course, contact us directly should you have any questions specific to your accounts or overall financial plan.

Required Minimum Distributions

Starting in 2020, the required minimum distribution (RMD) age changes from 70 ½ to 72. So those of you who are turning age 70 ½ in 2020 have another year and a half before you have to start distributions! If you turned 70 ½ in 2019, the old rules still apply and you must take your first distribution by April 1, 2020.

Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs)

Some good news from the law is that the opportunity to donate your RMD is still available, even at age 70 ½. Therefore, even though you are not required to take any distributions at age 70 ½, it could still make sense to donate from your IRA using the qualified charitable distribution up to a maximum of $100,000 per person. Utilizing this strategy allows you to give pre-tax dollars to charities rather than after-tax.

Non-Spouse Beneficiary/Inherited IRAs

Unfortunately, a quite common planning strategy called the “Stretch IRA” does not stretch as far. For spousal beneficiaries, the rules are unchanged. But for non-spouse beneficiaries, the inherited IRA must be depleted after 10 years if the IRA account holder died on or after January 1, 2020. Inherited IRAs previously set up are “grandfathered” to the old rules if the IRA owner died on or prior to December 31, 2019.

There are a few exceptions in the new rules applying to minor children, disabled and chronically ill individuals, and individuals not more than 10 years younger than the IRA account owner. Therefore, work closely with your financial planner and tax professional ensure your calculations are accurate.

Contributions into Traditional IRAs after age 70 ½

Lastly, a significant change occurred regarding contributions to Traditional IRAs after age 70 ½. Starting in 2020, every IRA account holder may make contributions to his or her Traditional IRA after the age of 70 ½ if they have earned income (W-2 or self-employment income).

We understand that changes in retirement and tax laws can be confusing, so please contact us with any questions. We are glad to help.

Here’s to a great 2020! Blessings to you in the New Year.

Important: Specific tax guidelines exists for each of these items mentioned, so be sure to talk with your tax professional before implementing any of these strategies.

*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.

Self-Awareness and Money

Self-Awareness and Money

I hope your fall season is going well and that you’re enjoying the cooler weather. Our newsletter topic this month might seem peculiar. What does money have to do with self-awareness, and self-awareness have to do with money? Quite a bit I’d say.

A Case Made

“Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God…without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.” Who said this? John Calvin, the great reformer! Now, we can take this quote out of context and too far by saying that introspection or self-awareness is more important than a knowledge of God. Calvin makes the case that these go together. We must see ourselves for who we truly are before a holy, righteous God. After true introspection should come humility.

But what I would also argue is that Calvin saw a place for knowledge of self. We often hear of self-forgetfulness – ignore our needs and only focus on others. But as I reflect on the life of Jesus, I can’t help but notice how many times he left the crowd to be alone. He recognized the times he needed to be alone with the Father, even though there were sick people to heal and lessons to be taught. Jesus had greater self knowledge and awareness than any other man who has walked this earth. He knew his calling, his mission, and his identity. And these impacted every decision he made.

And Money?

We all relate to money in different ways. Some of us never (or seldom) worry about it. Others think about it more often. And others are consumed by it. Where do you fall?

I would argue that first knowing how you personally relate to money is critical to making progress financially. If we know we’re prone to blow cash the minute it comes out of the ATM, then maybe that method is not best. Or perhaps it’s the opposite for you: cash gives you needed boundaries of when it’s gone, the spending stops. If it’s plastic, then spending continues.

We’re often asked by clients: Which budgeting system is best? We respond: “The one that you’ll actually do.” If a yellow pad and pencil keep you on track, then that’s best. If an excel spreadsheet, great. If an app, so be it! Ultimately, which system best helps you accomplish your goals?

What about investment account balances? TV financial pundits? Research online? Are these helpful for you, or do they create more stress? Perhaps you check your blood pressure next time you partake. Or maybe you already know the answer…you just don’t want to change. That’s okay for now. At least you know. But maybe change will come when “the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” -Dr. Henry Cloud

Having self-awareness about your tendencies with money is critical.

A Helpful Tool

The Rivertree Team recently started the book The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Whew! We have already had some good laughs as we’ve discussed our types and tendencies (and some occasional grunts as we read about the not so good parts of ourselves). The goal is that we know one another and ourselves better to create an even healthier work environment.

And at the spiritual level, considering what Brother Dave said to Ian, the author of this book: “Just remember, it’s only one tool to help you deepen your love for God and others….There are plenty of others. What’s important is the more you and Anne grow in self-knowledge, the more you’ll become aware of your need for God’s grace. Not to mention, you’ll have more compassion for yourselves and other people.”

What used to frustrate us about ourselves and one another can hopefully be replaced with compassion…and some friendly chuckles. 

Now What

Have you taken this journey before? If so, has it been helpful? If you haven’t taken this journey, I’d encourage you to do so. I am confident you’ll find it worthwhile.

*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.