Sharing is caring. It can even mean savings and better health if the lifestyle fits you.

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Sharing could be caring about way more than your finances . . . if the lifestyle fits you.

With housing costs on the rise, more people are considering a shared housing environment, or co-living, to meet their living needs. In some cases, this involves one party owning the home while additional tenants live in the space. In other cases, all parties agree to rent the same living space and split costs, and still others are matched through a management team with individual leases based on the amount and nature of personal space used.
There are many positive reasons for doing this. Co-living can lower the cost of living for each person, allowing for increased personal savings and affording a certain quality of life without having to pay entirely for it individually. Co-living can also provide social benefits; more people are seeing living spaces not just as a place to call home, but to share ideas and collaborate with other people who share the same interests literally living under one roof. From technology hackers and gamers to people who enjoy sustainable living or various forms of art and drama, co-living can give you the ability to live with others that are as passionate as you are about your lifestyle. Finally, community is a very important part of mental health. As people turn more to digital devices and feelings of loneliness are on the rise, co-living can provide a home environment that is welcoming and takes that isolation off the table.
However, there are challenges that come with co-living as well. Co-living means that you have to share – share the kitchen, share the living and dining space, and share the bathrooms. Depending on the size of the space and the people you are co-living with, this can be intense and it can feel challenging to find a place if you need time to yourself. There is also the challenge of sharing expenses and living values. Rent and utilities can be split equally monetarily, but some households also consider an income-based shared system for paying base expenses – the more you make, the more you pay into living expenses. Here are some additional questions to consider:
1. Are you going to buy the large cable and internet package, or are you seeking minimal levels of services? Netflix? Hulu? Other subscription-based services?
2. Do you pay for cleaning services, or is everyone responsible for chores?
3. Does everyone in the house agree on what is being paid for and how much is being paid for?
4. Is there a house curfew or rules on guests, or dietary restrictions for allergies?
5. What are the consequences for breaking the house rules, including nonpayment?
In resolving all of these situations, the key to success lies in setting clear expectations in advance and regularly communicating. This communication is not just about the house rules, but about the co-living experience in general. Some houses set monthly times to have a potluck and discuss co-living related topics. Others use technology like Slack, Discord, or Facebook to set-up private groups for online discourse. They use shared document spaces like Google Drive or Dropbox to scan bills in as PDFs and expenses with a public spreadsheet for who has paid for what. I recommend setting a particular date/time each month for this meeting and for payments – it is important and deserves a small amount of time dedicated to it.
There are many wonderful benefits to co-living as a potential housing solution. Co-living can help you reduce costs and/or provide access to a higher quality of life than what you could afford on your own. You also can live in an environment with more personal connection and enjoyment through the people that live alongside you and the interests they share. As long as you are mindful of both the positive aspects and what sharing implies in your daily living, co-living can be an extraordinary solution to work toward both your financial and social goals.
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!

Woman sitting in a car
A new car is fun and exciting, as long as you avoid breaking the bank for it.
The temperature is rising, the sun is bright, and it’s fun to get in your car and go out on a road trip. Many Americans this time of year purchase new or used cars, and a question I get asked often is “Should I buy a new car?” or “Can I afford a particular car?”  And while it is generally considered rude to answer a question with a question, I don’t answer this one with just one question, but with several questions! (and I beg forgiveness for being impolite) Here are some questions you should consider as you look to purchase a vehicle.
How do you plan to use your car?  Is your car going to be primarily for commuting and running errands?  Do you plan to take long road trips – if so, how many? Will you be using the vehicle in rough terrain?  This gives an idea of how many miles you may put on the car annually, and under what conditions/stresses the vehicle may have.
What features do you NEED to have, and what features do you WANT to have?  Before getting caught up in price, think carefully about which bells and whistles are actually important to you.  If you have your hands full often, having a vehicle where the trunk opens up automatically may make life a lot easier.  If safety is a primary goal, then looking at crash test ratings and making sure the car has sensors to detect traffic might be more important.  Write out a two column list – one of wants, and one of needs, before you go shopping.
Look at your budget and figure out what you want to spend.  Notice that I did not just say “afford,” but what resources do you actually want to dedicate to transportation  Keep in mind that it’s not just about a car loan to repay, but you also need to consider the gas, oil changes, tires, brakes, and other periodic repairs over the life of the vehicle.  What you are willing to spend each month in total will determine what you can actually afford in terms of the price of a vehicle.
Consider older vehicles in your decision-making.  While there is a fair amount of advice surrounding getting a vehicle that is 2-3 years old (when most new leases expire) there are now more buyers than before buying at that age of vehicle.  Vehicle quality has improved over the years, so keep in mind vehicles that are 5 or 6 years old that have been mildly driven as an option. In many cases, you can save 30% off of the 2-3 year old car price this way, let alone lower insurance costs.  It does take more shopping to find some of these deals, so be ready to put some time in doing research online, but the payoff can be thousands of dollars shaved off the cost of your next vehicle.
Finally, shop online and have a detailed plan before you ever set foot in a dealership. Be aware that dealers know that you shop online; many salespeople will try to distract or disrupt your thought process on the lot to regain control of your thought process. They know that if they can recapture you in an emotional/reactive state, they can sell you what they want to sell you, and not necessarily what you actually came there to buy. By doing your homework and/or buying the car online, you can be better prepared to make this transportation and financial decision for all the right reasons for you.
It is so easy to spend on that shiny, bright new car with features you didn’t even know you needed, and that makes you feel really excited, in that moment.  Allowing yourself to calm down emotionally so that the rational part of your brain can provide input helps temper those emotions. This will make sure that from the things you want and need in the car to the price you want and need in your budget, your purchase fits and serves you the best way possible.
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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Make Money-Smart Home Improvements this Spring

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Don’t leave a sofa for Murphy when you make home improvements and updates.
As we roll into springtime, many Americans are spending money to make improvements to their home.  With the housing market continuing to improve, home sellers are starting to make those key updates they may have held back on in the hopes of improving the price of their home. But many people are just staying at home more often, preferring to enjoy the comforts of their own space instead of going out to casual dining restaurants and movie theaters.
Here are some easy, low-cost home improvements that can help brighten your home without breaking your budget:
1. Plant flowers and herbs. Flower and herb boxes can add terrific color, are easily portable, and at roughly $20-$25 for each one, are a very inexpensive way to brighten your space in just an afternoon. Plus, if you’re like me and have herb boxes, you may get the benefit of fresh basil, rosemary, thyme, mint, or hot oregano to cook with throughout the spring and summer.
2.  Paint! A freshly painted room looks and smells clean and updated. If you’re trying to sell your home, neutral colors make it easier for homebuyers to “see” all the space you have and imagine more easily how they would make the space “theirs.” Just make sure to not skimp on the tools of the trade – brushes, rollers, drop cloths, and plenty of painter’s tape!
3.  Do a Spring Cleaning of your Spending. You just got done filing taxes, so why not sit down for an hour and look through the banking and credit card accounts. Is there money that you spent that you wish you hadn’t? Think about what money you wish you had back, and what led to you spending that money to begin with. Was it a want or a need? If it wasn’t a need, how can you avoid making that same mistake in the future? Spending a little time tackling these questions can lead to making better choices that save you money.
4.  Supercharge your savings with energy efficiency! According to ENERGYSTAR, replacing your five most used light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs can save you up to $60 a year and last 6-8 times longer than conventional light bulbs.  A programmable thermostat can cycle through temperature settings at different times of day depending on whether you are home or away, saving you up to $150 a year. Even just buying a few power strips to help turn off systems of electronic devices when not in use can save you $60 a year.  You can improve your home and your wallet with some of these ideas!
5.  Show your deep roots by planting trees. Trees are an inexpensive way to provide a buffer from road noise, nosy neighbors, and depending on the specimen of the tree can eventually add substantial value to your property. Shade trees also cool off areas of your property and home, potentially lowering your energy costs – just make sure your tree is properly placed so the tree doesn’t try to root itself in your house’s foundation.
6.  Scrub your home top to bottom. Touch up scuffs on walls, scrub the tile, vacuum the floors, and put some elbow grease into degreasing the kitchen and grill. You’ll get a great workout (your core will feel it) and you’ll love the restored ordered and freshness of an organized, clean space to live and work. Consider a garage or community sale for items you don’t need anymore, or donating them to a local charity to free up space and reduce clutter.
Whatever your motivation is, making improvements to your living space can be a fun and rewarding decision, but it’s important to make sure that the improvements you are making actually do what you want to do.  Taking on debt in order to improve the home can be financially and personally very stressful, so making sure things like your emergency fund are in good shape before taking that next step is important. A great way to manage these costs is to set a budget for your home improvements, and then list the different improvements and how much they cost. Then, from that list, pick the ones that you feel are most important AND fit in your budget. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to make your physical home a more secure place only to make your financial “house” on the verge of being condemned.
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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Don’t Feel Stucco While Buying a House!

Couple With Keys Standing Outside New Home

It’s all smiles until the roof begins to leak and there’s no emergency fund to fix it.
As springtime begins to start poking its head, lots of wondrous things start happening. Trees begin to sprout buds with the promise of another beautiful year. In the Midwest where I live, hopes of warming temperatures and opportunities to grill tasty food dance in my head. Children will soon go on Spring Break, ensuring that homework will only be getting harder to complete as summer vacation looms on the horizon.
And another season of home buying begins!
There is a feeling of rejuvenation, of renewal in buying a new home. If you have been renting a home for several years, the idea of having that money go into buying a property instead of feeling like your money is being shipped “into the void” is appealing. And for that matter, if you are in a part of the country that regularly gets snow, not having to negotiate that while packing and moving is also attractive.
Realtors know all of this. They know what factors drive your buying decisions, and they plan accordingly in how and when they list homes, how they price them in the market, working hard to get the most money possible for the current homeowners. Moreover, according to ATTOM Data Solutions, a leading research firm in property data, foreclosures in 2017 hit a decade-low number. This means that the idea of just buying a foreclosure and cleaning it up, while it makes for a lovely TLC show, does not match the current reality of the housing market in most major areas. This is fantastic if you’re the homeowner selling, but makes for a challenging environment if you’re a new buyer.
But never fear, The Briggs Blog is here to help you get a handle on your home buying journey! Here are some questions and tips to help you be prepared to choose a home that truly fits you and be financially smart while doing so.
How much do you want to spend on your mortgage and taxes each month? Instead of looking at things as a percentage of income, how much do you WANT to pay because other goals, like saving for retirement, education expenses, travel, and other priorities may weigh into how much can actually be afforded. If you travel frequently, perhaps you consider a more economical space that meets your basic needs. If you don’t travel much, you may want to spend more than a typical home buyer on your house because you plan to be there often.
What do you like most and least about the houses you have seen so far? Write your favorite qualities on note cards, and then separate that pile of note cards into three categories – needs, really wants, and things that are nice to have. What you may realize is that something you need is not actually written on a note card – write it down and include it! This will change how you look at house listings, which helps you shop for what is actually a best fit instead of what feels good at the time.
Have a strong emergency fund in place before making a purchase. Once you are a homeowner, things break, and when they do, you have to pay for them. Using all of your savings to buy a home, only to have something major break right away or an emergency medical expense come up may force you to use credit to pay for that emergency expense. Taking on that debt adds risk which, when compounding with an unexpected job loss or other tragic event, means that you could be losing your home outright. I work hard to make sure my clients have a good cash emergency fund to avoid the biggest risks turning into losing something they worked so hard to earn.
Make sure your credit score is accurate and dispute any discrepancies before you start working with a mortgage lender. Additionally, if your credit history is poor, it may be wise to take some time to build a better credit history by waiting to buy and focusing on making on-time payments, building a stronger emergency fund, and eliminating debt obligations before jumping into the market. Be careful as you do this to avoid predatory credit repair companies and debt consolidation companies. A good financial planner working in conjunction with an ethical mortgage lender can provide you prudent guidance on how to attack this.
Do your homework on the realtor and mortgage lender you choose to work with. Ask people you trust for referrals. Additionally, choose a home inspector that is independent of the realtor and lender you work with. This will help avoid any potential conflicts of interest and make sure that when you really like a home, you are getting unbiased verification that the home is in the condition being represented, because once you own it . . . you own it, taking the bad with the good!
Research the neighborhood you are moving to. Google maps, crime reports, and education ratings are all a great starting point for evaluating a community online. I am also a big fan of going out, perhaps for a couple of days, and getting a feel for how the community you’re looking to move into both during the day and at night. Is there a ton of traffic when you want to head to work? Are there strange people walking around at night, or is it well-lit with people walking the dog at 9:30pm? Make sure it’s an environment that you feel safe in, because even the best home on paper won’t be a good fit if you don’t feel safe and comfortable living in it.
Consider your future work plans. What are your plans with respect to work? Are you happy with where you are working? How consistent is your work/income? Changes in work may involve an eventual commute that’s no longer sustainable, so work plans influence how close someone may want to live to a population center. Contract work or self-employment can lead to an inconsistent income stream, which may mean purchasing a less-expensive home to avoid the risk of the mortgage being too expensive during lower-income months.
Make sure family plans are taken into account. Do you plan to raise a family? If so, how many kids do you have or want to have? How much space do you want to raise your family in? Will your parents or other relatives potentially move in at some point? Planning these ideas in advance avoids having to move out shortly after moving in, which can cost money down the road.
With some thought ahead of time, careful research, and patience, you will find a home that is a great fit for you. Home ownership can be a gratifying and wonderful experience, and I hope that this list helps you wrap your head around the “big stuff” in finding that perfect match. Good luck in your home buying efforts this season!
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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Qualified Retirement Contribution Day is Just 50 Days Away! Are you Celebrating?

Uncle Sam.jpg

I want you . . . to save for your retirement!

There are special days for all sorts of things – National Pizza Day (February 9th – I had BBQ Chicken), International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th), and even International Tabletop Day (April 28th this year for you board gamers out there). So I am pleased to inform you that this year, April 17th is National Qualified Retirement Contribution Day!
Wait . . . you say that day sounds familiar to you?  Nah, there’s nothing else going on that’s important on that day at all.
Okay, perhaps you know that date because it also just happens to be when taxes are due. Every year, the day taxes are due is the last day you can make contributions to qualified retirement accounts, such as your 401(k), 403(b), IRA, Roth IRA, SEP, etc. for the previous calendar year. Here are three key points to think about as we get closer to that April 17th deadline.
1. Make sure that when you make contributions, they are marked with the correct tax year to be applied in. For most of the year, that’s the current year you are in, but there is overlap in January through early April where it could be a contribution for either. If you haven’t maximized your contributions in the prior tax year, it is advantageous to mark those overlap month contributions for the prior year, thereby increasing what you can contribute in the new tax year.
2. If you file your taxes early enough and you are receiving a refund, consider using your return to boost your retirement savings. A few hundred dollars may not seem like much, but it can grow quite a bit if it’s performance compounds over time. It does mean trading an immediate want for a long-term need, but your future self will thank you for the extra resources later on.
3. If you are married and either you or your spouse is unemployed, as long as the working partner earns enough income to make contributions, you can make a “spousal IRA” contribution following the same rules as though they were working during the tax year in question. Again, make sure you mark which year the contribution is for.
It’s not easy to save for a long-term future. The sacrifices it can involve, the things you may have to give up in order to do so, it can be painful, especially when there are already so many demands on you at work, at home, and from whatever life throws at you. When temptation knocks at my door on whether to save more or spend it, I think about a quote from Fred Rogers about what we value and the choices we make.
“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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Don’t Get Emotional. Right.

Failure crisis concept lost business career education opportunity

Investment news sources would lead you to believe that this is what the world looks like for you this week.

By now, you have likely read headlines from the past week and a half talking about how the market has in a roller-coaster up and down. You may have heard one-liners such as “The Dow has moved 1,200 points this trading session” or CNBC’s weekend leading “Dow swings more than 22,000 points in wild week.” It’s pretty hard to ignore when these sort of quips are jammed into phone notifications, Facebook news, in the ticker at the bottom of a screen while watching something else, in print media, and of course from every financial firm on Earth wanting to sound smarter than everyone else (admittedly, I am pointing the finger at myself a bit here as well).
So naturally, a question that nearly every client I have interacted with this week has asked me, tongue in cheek, is “So . . . have you been getting a lot of calls?”
To which I reply, “Should I be?”
An awkward pause usually happens here, as I grin sheepishly knowing what they’re really asking. They’re concerned, because they’ve read the news and they want to make sure that they aren’t missing something they should know. There’s a desire to feel secure, to feel confident, which is not necessarily the same as feeling scared or feeling defensive. But with all of the energy expelled by media in dispensing stress for entertainment and profit, that energy is either internalized, or we take it and make use of it. And if you don’t think financial advisers feel the same things you do when these situations occur, I’m here to pull back the curtain and reveal that yes, we financial advisers get nervous and concerned about these things too. I like to hit the treadmill when processing this sort of information – it puts energy into something useful, while giving me time to think about what is actually happening.
One of my favorite cringe-worthy phrases I hear when challenging situations arise in the market is the advice to “not get emotional.” Really?  Don’t get emotional.  There are people that are wired to flip the switch on, flip the switch off with their emotions and control that switch with the default set to “off” – they are psychopaths.
So, assuming that you are not a psychopath, when you see these headlines and facts being spilled out, you need a way to process that information and contextualize it without causing strong enough emotions that make you want to take immediate action. Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel prize winner in economics for his work in behavioral finance, describes our brains as having two systems.  System 1 “is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach” where System 2 is “the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.” System 1 reacts to situations in the here and now; System 2 charts the future and looks for the most optimal route.
When we see headlines, coupled with alerts on our phone and flashing numbers on CNBC, all of these things are designed to trigger immediate actions from System 1 – watch the TV, read the article, click the button, pay attention to me NOW!” And when we do pay attention to it, System 1 continues to rock out instructions, so as it sees the numbers flashing on the screen, the big CAPS LOCKED (yeah, the CNBC app actually used caps lock in a number of its alerts this week – I got them all) System 1 wants to avoid danger, get out of the bad situation, mitigate damage. And so without any other plan or speed bump in place to slow action, I am certain some people jumped right onto their online brokerage accounts and sold things and bought things and pulled money out of things with the feeling of “phew, now I’m safe.”
And then System 2, slow as it is at times, catches up.  It starts to process that nothing cataclysmic actually happened, apart from some numbers going down on a screen. If you had 100 shares of Apple and you didn’t sell them, you still have 100 shares of Apple. There’s still a roof over your head, your job is fine, food in the refrigerator, family and friends that love you, and you’re not injured or having your life threatened. The fact that the Dow swung 1,000 points in a day, or went on a 22,000 point ride this week, while they may be facts, did they actually matter?
For some people though, they never got to System 2. They listened to System 1, and fled to what they thought was safety. Except what they actually did, was bought high and sold low. And if they pulled money out of qualified retirement accounts, they potentially caused themselves years worth of damage in taxes and penalties. They ignored the plan they deliberately set up for themselves long-term, in favor of emotions and reactions that satisfied only the most immediate, short-term desires.
But Steven, they had a financial plan, so what was their fault? Their fault was not the lack of a plan involving their resources. Their fault was not having a plan involving their resources and their emotions.
I was an Eagle Scout, and throughout my time in Boy Scouts, our motto was to “Be Prepared.” It’s why you have an emergency kit in your vehicle, a fresh set of supplies and non-perishable goods in your home, so that in the event that something unexpected goes wrong, you have resources to handle it. Even my financial practice, Briggs Financial, has a disaster recovery plan should something unfortunate happen to my office or myself. The plan is not just to make sure we have resources – it is also to help us maintain a calm mindset so we can best react to the situation when and if it arises.
So, what is your financial emergency preparedness plan?  How do you build one?
A great way to approach this (and how I like to work with my clients on this) is to talk about what some of the greatest risks are, say the top 5 risks, to the financial investments of your household. Then, once you’ve identified those risks, write out full-length answers on how exactly you will handle those situations. If a situation comes up that isn’t on this list, it did not make the cut, and it probably is not worth worrying about. Here are a few sample questions that come up often:
What happens if I (or my partner, or both of us) lose our job? How will we pay our expenses, and where will that money come from?  Is that money in a safe place, or is it in a form that is subject to risk as well? Do we have a big enough emergency fund? (3-6 months of expenses, don’t skimp here folks!)
What happens if I (or my partner, or both of us) are injured or killed, or if our house is damaged or destroyed? Who will handle our finances and make sure things are taken care of if I am unable to do so? Are there liabilities, like a home mortgage or kids’ expenses/college, that need to be addressed if that situation occurs? If so, how are we going to address them?
What if the business I own has a bad year, or multiple bad years? If I need funding for the business, where will that come from?
If I am relying on my investments to pay for my living expenses, can I afford to have 10%, 15%, or 20% less money come in should the market go down? If not, how should I be invested to minimize the risk and avoid the associated losses from being market exposed?
Notice that in all of these questions, you don’t see me talking about headlines, or Dow points, or roller coasters. These questions are about facts that can actually happen in your life. These are the facts that matter. By having answers to questions like these, with an actionable plan that you can document and pull out and use if the situation ever arises, you can also discern when System 1 should kick in and you act by getting that plan out, or when System 1 wants to kicks in and react and you catch yourself, thinking “this situation isn’t on this list, let’s wait and give my mind a chance to catch-up.”
By building this framework for how you process information and react (or don’t react) to situations, you will make decisions that are better for you short and long-term without causing unnecessary expense getting tripped up on facts that just don’t matter.
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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Valentine’s Day Approaches – Plan Ahead or Pay the Procrastinator Tax!

Dog eating chocolates from heart shaped Valentine's box

Failing to plan is planning to . . . have your puppers eat all your chocolates!

It is just 22 days until Valentine’s Day.
You’re welcome.
Valentine’s Day might be just one day of the year, but it is a very big one day.  In the United States alone, the National Retail Federation projects Valentine’s spending to eclipse $18 billion, of which over $4 billion is spent on jewelry and another $2 billion spent on flowers.  Men spend nearly twice as much as women on the special day ($198 for men vs. $100 for women).  In fact, with the exception of 2009, Valentine’s Day spending has increased every single year since 2000. With the holiday rapidly approaching in just a few weeks, here are several ways you can treat that special someone in your life without breaking the bank.
1. Have flowers delivered a week prior to Valentine’s Day or anytime after.  There is high demand within a few days of the holiday, so some flexibility in when flowers are being delivered can bloom some great deals.  Many flower shops offer 7-day guaranteed freshness on the flowers you buy, meaning that if you receive them a week ahead, they should still be lovely for the special day.
2. Enjoy a wonderful dinner together at home.  Wine and proteins can cost upwards of 80% less when purchased at the store and prepared at home instead of fighting for a table at a restaurant.  This means you can get a top quality filet or that special bottle of Pinot Noir without starving yourself the weeks leading up to it.
2.5.  If you are dead set on going out, consider saving some money each week beginning now to help cover the cost so that it isn’t such a shock when you get the bill. Packing a couple more lunches and making coffee at home for a few weeks isn’t so bad . . . and you could keep doing this after Valentine’s Day and start a trend of saving more money.
3. Valentine’s Day sparks not only jewelry gifts, but engagement and wedding ring purchases as well.  The tradition of diamonds and “two months’ pay” might be a great rule of thumb for the jeweler, but that’s not who the jewelry is for, so play by your rules here.
Let me put it another way: Driving yourself in debt to buy jewelry does not say “I love you.”  It says “I am gullible and you should not trust me with money, ever.”  Buy jewelry you can actually afford, not just what they are willing to let you pay for with extended credit and terms that amount to you selling a kidney.
When I proposed to my wife, I found a unique sapphire ring from a jeweler that specializes in estate pieces.  Having been handcrafted about 100 years ago, her ring truly is one of a kind, and because we used the same ring for the wedding ring I was able to afford a larger stone than I would have been able to afford at a traditional jewelry store or from an online retailer. Funny enough, there was no objection from her, and she married me a year and a half later.
4. Early sales on Valentine’s things are going on now.  Pay less now, or pay more later, or pay a lot more the day before/day of.  Your choice!
4.5.  Valentine’s gifts oftentimes go on clearance either on Valentine’s Day itself or the day after.  Consider snagging some sweet bargains (get it – chocolates . . . sweet) on February 15th.
5. Create a gift yourself!  A homemade gift can be very personal and tailored to the person you’re giving it to, making it not only something they’ll enjoy, but cherish more because YOU made it.  Some ideas include hot cocoa mixes for two, a thumb drive or CD with your favorite songs on it, or a handmade Valentine’s Day card.  Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can dress up and read from Romeo and Juliet in the most ridiculous accent possible under your lover’s balcony.  Not that I did that a couple of years ago . . .
5.5.  Celebrate early!  Akin to the flowers idea, if you aren’t dead set on February 14th being THE day you need to celebrate, consider celebrating early and not fighting the market for everything you want to pamper yourself and your partner with.  My wife and I this year found a wonderful six-course beer dinner, pairing each dish with a tasty brew at less than half of what it would have cost us to go out on exactly February 14th.
To close this heartwarming edition of The Briggs Blog, I would like to leave you with an Irish blessing.  Until next time…
May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.
Blessings and friendship,
Steven
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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Losing Money in the Name of Diversification!

All the Pretty Pearls

Diversification can reduce individual investment risk if managed well.

A common buzzword in the investment world is the concept of “diversification.” Diversification at its core is the technique of mixing a wide variety of investments within a portfolio. The rationale behind this is that when your investments are diversified, you offset the risk of any one investment performing poorly to have a broadly negative effect on your portfolio. In and of itself, this is a sound idea.
However, an aspect of diversification that is not readily spoken of is whether the individual assets themselves are appropriate for the investor. For example, a younger investor with a higher tolerance for risk being diversified with bond exposure may actually pose a higher level of risk – the bonds may pose a higher risk of lost return over longer periods of time. This keeps in mind that “loss” does not just mean losing money, but also the money that could have been earned, but was lost instead due to an inappropriate allocation. Similarly, an older client with a goal of capital preservation having exposure to a sector fund, while yes they are diversified, exposes the portfolio to risks not aligned with that client’s goals. In both cases, diversification is applied inappropriately because the investments being diversified into do not align with the goals of the client.
From my experience, there are a couple of scenarios where this has most likely occurred. One of these situations is when a bank or insurance/mutual fund company tries to sell shares of their specific mutual fund, where the recommendation only has to be “suitable” for the client.  The adviser may not be taking the client’s other investments into account, or really getting to know the client well, or may just not really understand what managing risk actually means.  All of these situations are perilous for the investor.
The other, and I think far more difficult to spot, are “Target date” retirement funds. These funds will typically present themselves as self-managing portfolios that adjust the risk profile of the fund over time, shifting from being heavier in equity positions early on to a more balanced selection of equity and bond/fixed income holdings as the fund holder gets closer to retirement. Sounds great in theory – the portfolio manages the risk exposure by itself, no need to worry about balancing different funds out. However, what I have found in many of these target retirement funds are 2.5 major flaws.
Flaw #1: The investment allocation is inappropriate for the client. The typical trend I see in target funds with bad allocations is that they are more conservative than is appropriate for the client. Now, that sounds good to an extent on its surface – more conservative means that there’s less of a chance of being exposed to losses. However, it also means losing exposure to gains you should have had exposure to, and missing that growth can really hurt, especially when that lost growth is compounded by more lost growth over a 20 or 30-year time horizon.
Flaw #2: The investments they use are actually just other mutual funds they own. A key problem to this approach is that those funds each have their own individual mandates and goals that may not reflect the owner of target retirement fund. So while you may have an allocation from a 36,000 ft point of view, that does not mean the strategies being used in those funds and their investments actually align with your goals.
Flaw #2.5: The investments they use are actually just other mutual funds they own AND THEY ARE GARBAGE. I have seen some rather interesting and poor-performing funds stuffed inside the structure of a Target Date fund allocation. This can be done to prop up fund strategies they are having a tough time selling on their own, making a fund look more broadly supported than it is. They can defend the decision to include it based on suitability, but that doesn’t mean any adviser would go out of their way to actually recommend the bad fund.
Diversification of investments is a sound approach to helping mitigate the risk of individual companies having an overly severe impact on the performance of a portfolio.  However, diversification cannot be a mindless exercise of “putting a little on everything” akin to placing chips all over a craps table – this is a dangerous endeavor that can cause long-term damage to your returns.  With careful planning, diversification is a tool that can be carefully used to manage the risk of a portfolio while maintaining alignment with your goals.
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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New Year’s 2018: It’s That Willpower Crushing Time of Year Again!

It can be exciting to leap into a new you . . . so long as you don’t fall into old habits.

It’s the first week of the New Year, and right now you have likely embarked on your New Year’s resolution. For some of us that’s diet or exercise, while others take on a new skill or plan to travel more. But for approximately half of us, that top New Year’s resolution is to save more money and be better about our finances.
When you begin to think about your finances, you likely start by taking a look at your credit card statements and then exclaiming “OH MY SWEET PETUNIAS WE ARE SPENDING TOO MUCH MONEY!” Without delay, you grab a notebook or get on your laptop and immediately start writing down what you’re spending on, how much money each bill is, maybe sorting it into categories, creating a fancy spreadsheet and then of course we need to color code the spreadsheet so we see in pixelated glory just how bad our spending really is (but there’s no reason why we cannot do that in a rainbow of digital paint options) and then about six hours later after hacking and slashing and not spending on anything anymore you exclaim “A Budget is Born” and, having solved that crisis of currency, you go to bed.
A couple of days later, you sleep in and end up running late for work, so on the way in you grab a Starbucks and a bagel, and you chastise yourself for it. The next day, you packed your lunch, but your work friends asked you to go with them out to eat, and you don’t want to be rude, so you leave your lunch in the work refrigerator and then forget it’s ever there. And then that weekend, wouldn’t you know it the shirt you looked at all holiday season is now at the lowest price you’ve ever seen, so it’d be a shame not to pick that up and a couple of other things you’ve needed to, since you’re there anyway. Within a couple of months, that budget that you poured sweat over and hacked and slashed and splashed rainbow colors on fades as a distant memory on a cloud (your Google drive).
But how did that happen? You made a budget and you tried to be so disciplined, so why didn’t the budget work?
I’ll give you a hint: Budgets do not change behavior.
The idea that just by making a budget you are going to save more money is akin to saying that you will play better golf because the hole is a par 4. You don’t score better because the expectation is lower – you score better by consistently practicing your swing, using good form, accounting for different environmental conditions, and making the best choices you can at each spot the ball goes. That’s what earns you a 4, or a 3, or a 10 on that hole.
Budgets do not change behavior. Budgets are the scorecard. They can help guide where you need to be to reach certain goals, like par does to a golf score on a round of 18 holes. It’s when you consistently practice better living habits, like deciding and following-through on spending less on discretionary purchases that will actually get you to the point where you save money. And just like any other skill, some days will be better than others. Some days, you’ll forget that lunch, and curse as you buy that meal in the workplace cafeteria. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Figure out why it happened, and create a better plan to avoid that situation again. You’ll make mistakes, and it’s by learning and not repeating those mistakes that, over time, your spending will decrease, and that’s when you’ll really start saving some money.
Some people have the personal willpower and discipline to attack these things on their own, but the success rate is not high. According to the University of Scranton, just 8% of New Year’s’ resolutions were actually successful, which means that there will be a healthy supply of people for me to send this blog post to in 2019. But in all seriousness, what it does demonstrate is that there is a great deal of power in accountability and in having a guide. Personal trainers do this for physical fitness, business coaches for sales and advertising, and there’s a reason why these industries exist – because they have been found to improve their client’s habits. If you feel like you are hitting a wall trying to save money or make better financial decisions, working with an adviser may be the key to overcoming your financial challenges.
Have a fantastic start to your 2018, and I will see you with the second edition of The Briggs Blog in early February!
For more terrific financial tips, check out the Briggs Financial Facebook and Instagram pages, and sign up for The Briggs Blog monthly email at the end of this blog post to have articles like this one delivered to you monthly. No spam, just terrific content delivered directly to you!
Finally, if you feel that working with a financial coach could help you stay on track in reaching your personal financial and investment goals, schedule a free consultation or email me at steven@briggswealth.com – I would love to meet you!

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