Stock pickers, market timers, and crystal balls

“The worst months to invest money in the stock market are October, January, and May. The others are February, June, November, March, August, April, September, July, and December.

Mark Twain’s sense of humor is reflected in his quote on investing – unfortunately, his investing experience was far from humorous. While his writing was very profitable, he lost a great deal of money as a result of his attempts at market timing and security selection. His initial foray into investing resulted in bankruptcy. [Read more…]

Begin with Personal Financial Ratios

In his ground breaking self-help book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey presents an approach to being effective by attaining goals and aligning oneself to “true north” principles of character. Habit two teaches “Begin with the End in Mind.” Whenever I teach students or clients the importance of personal financial ratios, I always make sure that I share this principle. The personal financial ratios are a goal to strive toward and a goal to be obtained.

The first step in the process is to create what is commonly referred to as a budget. Susan Tillery, CPA / PFS, CFP® has coined the phrase “spending plan.” I find this title to be very empowering: it emphasizes choice in spending decisions. Once the spending plan is completed it should be reviewed in light of the following financial ratios. [Read more…]

A Voice for Moderation

“In life,” said he, “these were so squint of mind

  As in the handling of their wealth to use

No moderation – none, in either kind.

—The Comedy of Dante Alighieri, L’Inferno,

In his tour of Hell, Dante confronts those who have been condemned for the sin of greed; and in particular, greed with regards to wealth. He describes the greedy as being closed minded and having no moderation. It does seem that wealth has that effect on many.

One of the basics of personal financial planning is moderation on both the planner and the client’s part. Some synonyms for moderation are: self-restraint, self-discipline and self-control. In recent years, as I have reviewed the work of other personal financial planners, I have seen a lack of moderation. [Read more…]

The Buck Stops Here!

The Recession of 2007 – 2009 generated a great deal of blame and finger pointing. In my mind I visualize the recession as a “multi-car accident” with everyone fleeing the scene and pointing their fingers at the “other guy” as the responsible party. No one hung around to be accountable.

Actually in U.S. history, no one is more accountable than President Harry S. Truman, the haberdasher from Independence, Missouri. He inherited the “multi-car accident,” World War II, the Cold War, and global inflation. But on his desk was a reminder of a strong truth: “The Buck Stops Here.” Many do not know that prisoners in the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma, made this sign. On the reverse side of the sign are the words “I’m From Missouri.” [Read more…]

Unbridled Optimism!

I must confess I am an unbridled optimist. I have always been the glass runneth over type, as opposed to a half full or half empty—kind of person. At social events, I will not shy away from the “doom and gloomers.” I usually confront them with a positive comment. The conversation goes something like this: “I can’t wait till so and so is out of office because they are ruining the country.”

My response is, “the only way to ruin a country is for its citizens to abandon it.” William James said, “Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer felt that “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

Here is more good news to confront the “naysayers.” The IRS has just released the “Fall 2013 Statistics of Income Bulletin.” And the news is good—go figure. For tax year 2011, taxpayers filed 145.4 million individual income tax returns. This is an increase of 1.7 percent from tax year 2010. Even better, the adjusted gross income reported on these returns is up 3.5 percent from the previous year. And the icing on the cake is taxable income for 2011 rose 4.4 percent. And knowing the taxpayers predilection for understating income and overstating expenses, I would say the news is even better.

So, has the U.S. government rescued it citizens? I would say, “No.” It’s the citizens of the United States that not only rescued themselves but saved the planet during 2007 – 2009. More particularly, it was the U.S. small business owner, who regardless of economic circumstance—famine, war, or recession—is able to make a living for themselves and their families.

If you are looking for optimism to begin the New Year, then look no further than your neighbor and all those who embrace the “can do” attitude of America. And the next time bad news is heralded at an event, share some good news. Automobile sales are up. Housing sales are up. We have a surplus of oil and we are about to export natural gas. Just being an American is cause for optimism.

Tis the Season . . .

December 31, 2013 is fast approaching and the deadline for making charitable gifts and receiving an income tax deduction is fast upon us. I often wonder who is giving and how much is being given. One source for such statistics is the National Philanthropic Trust.

Some of the numbers are encouraging, especially in light of the Recession of 2007 – 2009. The percentage of U.S. households which give to charity is 88%.  Charitable giving is up 3.9% which exceeds the consumer price index. Of total giving, the largest source is from individuals (73%), followed by foundations (14%), bequests (8%), and corporations (5%) [Yes, there are rounding errors—not my issue]. [Read more…]

Quack, Quack! Discernment Needed!

I am a fan of humor, which is off-kilter, offbeat and unconventional. One of my favorite authors of this genre is Douglas Adams. In his book Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, he provides the following reinterpretation of a familiar phrase: “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.”

In a previous posting I made mention of how critical it is for consumers to understand how financial planners are compensated. I stated that for the majority of the financial services industry “compensation falls into two broad categories: products and services provided and employment relationship. Both of these categories can have an impact on recommendations provided by the financial planner.”

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Major Tom to Ground Control!

“Once again, please check to make sure your seat belt is securely fastened, your seat back and tray table are in the full upright and locked position, and all carry-on luggage is placed completely underneath the seat in front of you.” At some point, everyone who travels by air has heard this familiar refrain. There’s even a feeling of comfort in this familiar routine of flight. But what if the next time the Emergency Briefing Public Announcement said, “Once we reach our cruising altitude we will engage the auto pilot and return to the cabin and begin our cabin service.”

I’m fairly certain fear would break into our “comfort bubble.” Feelings of unbelief and incredulity probably would surface and maybe even some anger. We might think, I’m paying for a service: air transportation. For this service I expect flight attendants in the cabin to provide safety and a snack. I also expect the flight crew to pilot the aircraft! These feelings and responses are entirely appropriate and natural, and yet . . . .

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Payable Unto Death: Halloween Etymology

All Hallows Eve is an unofficial kickoff to the Fall holiday season, and one of the more ghoulish refrains I have heard this season is from financial advisers. Their endless refrain is that mortgages are bad, and if you have a mortgage, you should pay it off. Their endless cacophony is like the wail of a Banshee, or the howling of a wolf:  “All debt is bad. It is ungodly to have debt.” It sounds as if they are trying to scare children or to manipulate their clients through fear. Obviously, they have never considered the needs of a business owner.

I would like to begin this posting with a little etymology. Mortgage, like many of the words we use in finance, is from the French language. And yes, its root meaning will bring a chill to your bones: mortgage means payable unto death.  The presumption is that the borrower will be servicing the debt until they die.

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Don’t Let the Bogeyman Get You!

An adviser forwarded the following email string along to me—you can’t make this stuff up!  Only in America. . . .

The adviser’s clients had landscaping work accomplished at their home. After the work was completed a final bill was sent by the landscaping firm.  At the bottom of the invoice was the following handwritten note:

“P.S.  I know I quoted you $635.00 for the project. However, being a business owner I don’t mind asking if you can pay in cash, or write a check out to me in my name. If you do so, I will reduce the price for my services to $600.00.  My taxes are horrible.  If you don’t want to, I will not be upset at all and will understand 100%.  Please let me know.  I can stop by and pick up the check at your convenience.”

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