All Things Financial Planning Blog


The 5 Biggest Changes in Personal Finance over the Last 20 Years

Personal-DebtMy son recently turned twenty and it inspired me to reflect on all of the changes in his life as well as in my professional life. My son’s progression has gone from being a baby, to a toddler, to a growing child, to a teenager, and finally to a young adult. He is now trying to figure out his professional place in life as he just finished his first year of college. During that same timeframe, I’ve seen personal-finance go through its own five stages of maturity. Twenty years ago it was more about buying a product, being transaction focused, little reliance on technology, running massive volume plans, and focusing just on the money aspects, not health and psychological aspects.

  1. Let’s face it, our culture must sell products and we’re pretty darn good at it. The problem is that the marketing and slick ads of all the things we buy in America today, don’t always match the quality and integrity. I think the biggest move that our industry has made in the last 20 years was to go from selling a product to following a process. The process includes a comprehensive financial plan. The financial plan not only talks about investments but also about understanding debt, figuring out a budget, understanding human capital (what we think of as our skills to make money for ourselves), reviewing your insurance for the major risks in life, and understanding that all of these things are linked together in order to get us all to the finish line.
  2. The transaction focus over the years has ebbed and flowed in terms of the hyperactivity in order to get better performance. Back in the olden days, it was about transactions because that’s how many advisers were paid. It was said that advisers are not in the storage business they’re in the moving business. Today the focus is on asset management for a fee, retainers, hourly fees, and project fees rather than commissions. Although I see a bit of a backlash happening in the last few years where it appears technology is getting ahead of the small investor. The advent of massive millisecond transactions have caused us to doubt the integrity of the system which the world of investments is built upon. We had multiple occasions like the “flash crash” and the search for algorithms giving institutions a major-league advantage over the average investor.
  3. For those who need help with their finances, the place to start your search is to ask a friend if they know somebody that’s good. Yet the next step is to get on the Internet and search for someone that appears to fit your standards. Even though it’s like trying to take a sip out of a fire hose every time you do a Google search people are finding most of their initial information on the internet. Today, I feel it’s much more of a collaborative effort between the adviser and the client. The adviser gathers the information needed to better help assist the client in making decisions. The best advisers these days are more of a librarian than a master of many disciplines.
  4. The financial plans that we put together over the years can be extremely comprehensive and lengthy. The problem with that is that planning by the pound doesn’t always get things done because most people are very busy these days and just want to get down to a summary version. I know that because I do a daily radio show commentary and 14 years ago I had 3 minutes to talk, today I have a minute and 10 seconds. A more modular approach works better because it talks about your specific problem at the moment and how you fix it. I feel that the best plan these days is to have one page versus 100.
  5. Probably the most important change that I’ve seen over the last 20 years is that financial planning has gotten much more holistic. It is about looking at the big picture and trying to incorporate wisdom, along with emotions, as we see the springing up of behavioral economics and why we do what we do. Reading a book like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (he was the first psychologist to win a Nobel Economic prize) should be mandatory for anybody who’s going to invest or put together a financial plan. It’s really critical to try and take health, wellness, happiness, human capital, emotions, relations, and wealth together as they are all part of the playing field.

The world of financial planning and investment advisory has moved steadily in the right direction over the last 20 years and I hope that it will continue to do so. There is certainly a lot of room for improvement yet I feel that some of the breakthroughs that we’ve seen in healthcare and technology over the last two decades are going to find their way into a simpler, more comprehensive blend of our money and life connections. Robbers used to say, “Your money or your life.” The next phase of financial planning is going to be “Your money and your life!”

Dave Caruso, CFP®
Certified Financial Planner™
Coastal Capital Group
Danvers, MA


Connecting Your Money with Your Life

So how’s that money connection going in your life? As financial planners we spend a lot of time putting things together like budgets, net worth statements, investment policy statements, performance reports, financial plans, investment strategies, asset allocations, tax analysis, insurance reviews and just about any list you can imagine. In gathering all this information, sometimes we forget to ask the most important question: Why? It’s important to know what your motivation is, what you are trying to do, and why you are doing it. The motto of my organization is “Connecting your money with your life.” When I say that to people, they get a puzzled look on their face and those that are more candid ask what it means? My first response to the question is to answer with a question: what are you trying to accomplish in your life? That’s where it gets interesting because people go in one of two directions. First they will talk about the “stuff” like having a vacation home on the water, owning a nicer car (maybe even a midlife crisis car), paying for the kids $50,000 a year education, taking a trip around the world, being able to retire on $100,000 a year and able to have a little left over as legacy for the next generation. All of these things are important, but is that what makes you happy and fulfilled when it comes to your life? If the answer is yes then you can stop reading right here because that does it for you. If your answer is no, then let’s go on to the next paragraph.

To me, connecting your money with your life is about achieving the things that you wanted when you were 10 years old. You want to have good friends that you can trust, to have fun, be happy, be your own person, and have a life of meaning, even if you didn’t get drafted by the Celtics or Red Sox. That means it’s all about what you want to give, or even give back. I hope number one on your priority list is your family. After that it may be your career, social life, religious beliefs, hobbies or giving back to the community. You begin to learn in the financial planning process that it’s not what you accumulate that becomes the most important connection, it’s about giving back and making the world a better place that completes the money-life connection.

The two most important things in my life are my family and my profession. Why else would I be sitting here at six o’clock on a Saturday morning writing an article for people that I don’t even know? It’s because I’m trying to make your life a little better by allowing you to see things that even I, a well trained financial planning professional sometimes forget. The main goal is to connect your money with your life. It isn’t about net worth, it’s about self worth. Whether it’s money we give, wisdom, compassion or even just our time, the Bible had it right when it said that “it’s better to give than to receive.” Not that I’m complaining about receiving since it is my job to help people try to achieve a comfortable life with financial freedom.

So my exercise for you is to think about everything during the next few days that puts a smile on your face. Try to avoid the things that drain your energy and do more things that give you energy. My mantra has always been the five S’s where I try and make everyone Smile, be more Self-Aware, be more Self-Assured, be Smarter and be more Successful. If I’ve done that in a conversation then I’ve accomplished my money-life connection. Find out what you love to do and develop your own S list! Try to keep a log of what made you a little warm and fuzzy that day. Pull out your financial plan that lists your budget, net worth statement, insurance, investments, performance and your “to do” list and start writing out your own list as to why you do what you do, and what makes you feel good. I recently read a book by Simon Sinek and it talked about some of the best people and corporations in the world and why they were successful. The book used a lot of examples like Apple, Harley Davidson, Martin Luther King and the Wright brothers. It focused on 3 questions that separate them from others. What do you do, how do you do it and WHY do you do what you do? The differentiator is WHY! So answer that question about yourself today and check out this video link by spending a few minutes listening to the WHY hypothesis. If you can do that, then you have fulfillment in life, both financially and emotionally. Another resource to take a look at if retirement is high on your priority list is The New Retirementality by Mitch Anthony. It talks about having the passion and desire to wake up and do the things you love to do for the rest of your life. It’s important to realize there are two sides of our brain. The left side does the calculating of the information. The right side of the brain makes you feel good about it. I feel that getting an 8% rate of return versus 6% is not as important as the daily satisfaction of doing what matters most to you (although we will still try hard to get higher returns!). So use both parts of your brain and you will learn to connect your money with your life. You will live a more fulfilled life as well as a financially successful one!

Dave Caruso, CFP®
Certified Financial Planner™
Coastal Capital Group
Danvers, MA


10 Things to Do in 2012!

It’s time to get the checklist out again as we start a new year. You’re hearing this from a checklist fanatic. I’m always afraid that somewhere down the road I will drop the ball on something which is why I try to follow the logic of the book titled The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande that was written to avoid simple mistakes in medicine. I’m putting together my version of the 2012 checklist for your finances, along with a little health and happiness thrown in because health and wealth habits are very similar. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions or checklists, I figure there are only 4 reasons things don’t get done:

  • They are really not important but they sound good on paper
  • You don’t know that you need to do them
  • You don’t have the time to do them (aka they are not a priority)
  • You don’t know how to do them (it feels too overwhelming)

I really wanted to title this blog The Big Things You Must Do in 2012. I had an epiphany as to how things actually get done. My epiphany was that big and important things often are put on the back burner because they are too overwhelming. Yet easy little things can be resolved when you do 1 piece at a time or even just a few minutes a day, especially by using a checklist. Just recently we’ve revamped the way that we correspond with our clients based on what we call their “to do lists”, which are all the things they know they have to do but they never seem to have the time to do it and often we can’t do it for them without more information. My mantra for 2012 and future years is to do the little things, not the big things! Our process is to be proactive with our clients about six times a year to try to get all those dangling participle items off the checklist. If we give someone five things to do they never get done but if we give them one thing, we have a better shot. It all comes down to the goals versus activities. Yet it is a series of smaller activities that get goals accomplished. So focus on the activities and try to adjust a few little things a day and they will ultimately add up to completed goals and a finished checklist if you don’t make the tasks overwhelming.

Now that you understand the little things are big things and that activities are just as important as goals, then let us move on with my top 10 list you will get done for 2012:

  1. What do you have? This is a way to figure out what you own and what you owe to determine where you are. Basically you just add up the worth of your home, cars, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement plans and even your tangible assets. Those are things in your house like your furniture, your jewelry, your coin collection, or anything else that you feel has some material value if you decided to sell it. Then add up everything that you owe which includes your mortgage, student loans, credit cards and personal debt from relatives, friends and bookies. The result is you Net Worth.
  2. Do a budget check up. Of course that makes the assumption that you have one, which unfortunately most people don’t. If you want to take the time, watch this Budgeting Webinar. You’re trying to get some sense of how much money is coming in and how much is going out. The difference between the two should be your savings or you’re overspending and not living within your means. Of course you’re going to forget stuff, which is why you can use this budget form as a guide. Just remember that your financial life needs to start with a positive cash flow to be sure you are saving!
  3. An insurance review is a critical part of financial planning. The events that could cause dramatic changes in your financial position are usually if we become disabled, have our homes destroyed, have somebody sue us, have healthcare problems, and of course dying. One of my previous blogs talked about the biggest risks we face in life and about half of them can be resolved by insurance.
  4. When is the last time you did a will? I try to make sure that clients take a look at their estate planning documents every 5 years or more frequently if there are any major changes in their lives like divorce, deaths and healthcare issues. If you don’t have a will at all, then it’s time to get on the stick because they are really important things to have unless you want the court system and people you don’t even know to manage your affairs. If your life is a little more complicated then you might also want to have a durable power of attorney that allows others to take care of your affairs if you are incapacitated or out of the country, a healthcare proxy if you end up under life support and maybe even some trusts if you are single, have children with special needs or have a an estate that’s worth more than $1 million.
  5. Check your credit report. You can often find some crazy little things in there that you might want to clean up, especially if you are planning to get a loan sometime in the future. If you see your credit score under 600, then you probably have some work to do to clean things up. Your report is free at least once a year from all the three major agencies and there is absolutely no need to pay to get a look at your report.
  6. How risky is your money based on where it is right now and how much risk do you think you should be taking? Most of the traditional planners use some type of asset allocation to figure out how much risk you’re taking based on your mix of stocks, bonds, international stocks, real estate, commodities and anything else you may own. If you really don’t know what you’re doing, it’s probably time to ask for a free second opinion about your portfolio from a trusted advisor of someone you know. The benchmark is the volatility of the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index, which has something called a beta, which is 1. That simply means if your beta is .5 after someone does the analysis, you have about half the volatility or risk of the S&P 500 stock index. If you’re taking more than that, it’s probably time to make some changes. If you absolutely can’t find someone to do this, then try Morningstar or check this link.
  7. Are you paying too much in taxes and what are you going to do about it? Most of us aren’t certified public accountants or have the knowledge and desire to figure out the 72,536 pages of the tax code (which started with 400 pages in 1913). Just like it’s hard to determine your risk, you probably do need a professional here. Again it’s time to sit down with your tax person if you have one. If not, find a friend or co-worker that has one and see if you can get a free consult. Some accountants may even do it as a courtesy to their current clients in hopes you may work with them as a paying client in the future.
  8. Check out refinancing as we have some of the lowest rates in history. I am not just talking about your home; you might want to consider your car, a personal loan or any other loan that sits out there where you’re paying more than 4-5% to borrow the money. When I did a recent analysis of my client’s mortgages I noticed that a very large percent of people have mortgages higher than 5%. Unfortunately real estate prices have dropped about 30% from their highs, so you still need to have equity in your house. Preferably you should have more than 20% equity so that you don’t have to buy private mortgage insurance or have to pay down the mortgage with your savings and investments. That reminds me about credit card debt. It may make sense to take money out of savings and investments if you have a high interest rate and you’re getting very little from your portfolio or savings accounts. The simple explanation is that if you are paying a 15% rate on credit cards, you’re not likely to get better than a 15% rate on your portfolio. So paying off the credit cards is the same as getting a 15% rate of return. When it comes to your mortgage refinancing, ask how long it would take to break even on the new mortgage and figure out if you plan on staying in the house that long. Getting a 1-2% better rate in today’s world can mean saving thousands over the life of a 30 year loan. Be sure to shop around and get competitive rates that include the closing costs and any points as well.
  9. Ask for a raise or think about a career change. One of the best ways to improve your financial life is to make more money! Unfortunately people are uncomfortable negotiating with their boss to get a raise. Even worse is that we’ve had record job losses over the last few years and that can really wipe out years of progress when you have to live on unemployment checks. Since the recession began, we have lost almost 9 million jobs and only 2.2 million new jobs have been created. So you need to be proactive in two ways: First you can go to your boss and give her/him a program that is a win-win where you do better for the company and get a raise for it as well. The second thing is to retrain for another job that gives you better opportunities. This too is uncomfortable and may even require money to take courses. Making a change is never easy, but jobs aren’t guaranteed any more. Your human capital and earning power are probably the best single investments you have in your financial life.
  10. Mend a relationship and get healthier! There is a theme in my blogs over the last few years of the direct link between wealth, and health and happiness in life. People should have balance, so maintaining discipline in these key areas is critical. Here again I urge you to make these small daily changes in life to meet your big goals for a happy, healthy and prosperous life. One of the best ways to be happier is to spend more time with the people that make you feel better and a reconciliation with someone you really care about may be the best resolution you accomplish in 2012.

Okay your top 10 is out, get to it and turn the little things into the new big thing this year.

Dave Caruso, CFP®
Certified Financial Planner™
Coastal Capital Group
Danvers, MA


20 Financial Planning Questions That You Need an Answer To!

Answering financial planning questions is something that I am passionate about and absolutely love to do. Although when I think about what’s important in my business, it is not so much answering those questions (because lots of times people don’t understand, remember, or get around to it), it’s really about getting to the heart of the important issues and knowing the right questions to ask. Most of the questions I hear are usually about something they need to do right away or they are reacting to recent news events. As we head into the holiday mayhem, take a few minutes to reflect on what you’re concerned about.  

Here’s my top 20 list for you to determine what’s most important in your life right now:

  1. Do you know how much you save or spend each year?
  2. What is my current net worth?
  3. What are the ten most important things I want to accomplish while you’re on this Earth?
  4. Am I borrowing money the most efficiently?
  5. How much am I investing in my own human capital or that of my children and grandchildren so they can earn the most during their working years?
  6. Do I have the proper choices in my retirement or 401(k) plan and is it enough to allow me to retire when I intend to?
  7. Do I have the proper amount in an emergency fund?
  8. If something were to happen to me, will my family be able to put everything together?
  9. Do I have the proper amount of insurance so my family will be taken care of if I die, become disabled or am sued?
  10. Does long term care make sense for me?
  11. Is my estate plan up to date and do I have a will, a durable power of attorney, a healthcare proxy, or a trust?
  12. Is there anything else I can do to reduce my income taxes that I’m not doing now?
  13. What is my risk tolerance and how much risk am I taking right now?
  14. What is my current asset allocation with all the things I own?
  15. Have I named the proper beneficiaries of my insurance and retirement accounts?
  16. What has been my rate of return over the years and is it competitive to the respective benchmarks?
  17. Am I up to date on the latest investments like Exchange-Traded Funds and Alternative Investments that may be negatively correlated to the stock market?
  18. If I only had 5 years to live, what would I change in my life?
  19. If money were no object, what would I be doing right now?
  20. If I found out I was going to die tomorrow, what do I regret not doing?

I’ll admit that I think my last three questions are my favorites. They were developed by the financial planning star named George Kinder, of the Kinder Institute, who wrote the book The Seven Stages of Money Maturity. It’s essential to make sure that you answer the questions that are important in your life and that they align with your finances. In fact, the motto of our firm is to help you “connect your money with your life.” 

The 19th century writer Marcel Proust had some really powerful questions that you might want to ask yourself as well. Below are a few of them that a journalism professor, client and friend of mine used to help aspiring writers develop plots. I think these might inspire you and get you thinking for a while:

  1. What is your most marked characteristic?
  2. When were you the happiest?
  3. What is your greatest fear?
  4. What is your greatest extravagance?
  5. Which talent would you most like to have?
  6. What is your motto?

I’m sure there are a number of important questions that I didn’t include on this list. I’d love to hear yours so that I can write about them in my future blogs. In fact, I guess I have 20 blogs lined up in case I have writers block next month! Happy holidays and happy hunting for your questions and answers in life! 

Securities and Financial Planning offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor.  Member FINRA/SIPC .

Asset allocation does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.

Dave Caruso, CFP®
Certified Financial Planner™
Coastal Capital Group
Danvers, MA


The 6 Biggest Financial Planning Problems with Video Clips You Have to Watch!

I feel that a picture’s worth 1000 words and a video clip is worth 1000 pictures. So I’m putting this blog together to show you the 6 things to really watch out for when it comes to financial planning. So I guess you’re getting the equivalent of 1 million words in my short blog here today!

I seem to learn more by my mistakes than my successes in life so I thought I’d give you a little taste here of what I think are the 6 things you really want to try and avoid when you’re trying to become financially secure. On top of that, I wanted to follow-up with a funny video that sometimes tells the story better than those sometimes harsh words of caution that I give is a financial advisor.

  1. How Much Risk is out there? Do you really understand how much risk you’re taking? Some risk is about catastrophic life risks like death, disability, health, losing your job or a broken relationship. There is also risk when it comes to your investment volatility. There is economic risk, interest rate risk and inflation risk that can really set back a financial plan. In my 30 years of being a financial advisor, I’ve never ran into a single client that knows exactly how much risk they want or even have to take. Needless to say, balance is the key in terms of getting the right mix of things that work for you but it tends to take a long time for people to figure out what they feel comfortable with. Sometimes we do the homework and get it right and sometimes we are just lucky when we escape risky situations. Take a look at this clip and see if it’s your lucky day.
  2. Self Discipline & Control Are Critical! It is really important when you’re trying to stay within a budget and force yourself to save to increase your net worth. Unfortunately we may have our self-control determined by the time we are four years old. In a previous blog, I talked about the marshmallow experiment and spoke about Stanford University professor Walter Mischel doing experiments in the 1960s. Mischel took four-year-olds and put a marshmallow in front of them and asked them if they could wait for 20 minutes. If they were able to, he would give them another one, effectively doubling their reward. It’s very much like me telling people that if you use the rule of 72 and divide your rate of return into that number, it tells you how long it takes to double your money. That means if you get a 7.2% rate of return, then you double your money in roughly 10 years. As a result of the research, most of the children were not able to control their urges. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored significantly higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test years later. Try this video on for size and see if you have the same look on your face when you wanting to buy something you feel you shouldn’t.
  3. Afraid of Change and Technology. I’m still looking for people who love change, but they seem few and far between. Growing up I went to 10 high schools and 23 total schools by the time I graduated college. Despite dealing with change, I still didn’t like it. With the advent of our massive productivity increases over the years with Technology driving it, it still seems like many people feel they are behind the curve, including myself. Technology and change in the financial markets continues to move swiftly, especially these days with the wild volatility we experience with the advent of computerized trading. This new, more interconnected, financial world is now even affected by smaller nations like Greece, Ireland, Slovakia and Iceland causing havoc on larger exchanges in the United States, Europe and Asia. Unfortunately the genie of technology is out of the bottle and it’s probably not going back in regardless of what the regulators are trying to.  Just think of the things that you can do now on a cell phone compared to what we were doing on a Rotary phone 30 years ago. In fact I’m still a bit of the technology phobic as I have a five-year-old cell phone that I call my rotary cell phone that I have yet to update. Enjoy this clip of Louis CK talking to Conan O’Brien about technology & the technology brats. Here are a few seniors engaging in it though.
  4. Peer pressure And Mob Psychology Matter! As much as we all feel that we are individuals in the world, we are surrounded by a jury of our peers that remind us that were not quite as individual as we think we are. So when the herds move in and out of the markets, they can draw in many unsophisticated investors into buying or selling at the wrong time. Try and fight the pressure to go with the herd and take a little time to understand what is important and when to act on it. Unfortunately on many occasions we make emotional decisions versus intellectual ones. This candid camera video clip that was taken over 50 years ago tells us a little bit about how many of us play follow the leader, even though we are not sure whether we believe it. Have a discipline or an unbiased financial advisor who has your best interest at heart. Enjoy this elevator ride.
  5. Procrastination & the Wake up call! Unfortunately one of the easiest and worst things we can do in life is nothing. We could learn a little from these videos of our house pets, the cat and dog. As our kitty shows, things can quickly sneak up on you and then turn around on a dime. Mans best friend can also show us that after running in place for a long time, you can sometimes have a rude awakening by running into a wall.
  6. Attitude Matters! I will admit that I am a glass is half full guy myself, so I prefer guarded optimism as opposed to a “ this world is going to heck in a handbasket” mentality. It’s amazing how we can read the exact same words, but they can have opposite meanings like the lost generation Palindrome.

Hopefully you’ll remember to include these 6 things in your financial decision making and hopefully the humor of a video clip can paint 1 million times the impact of a single word. Enjoy the laughs and make your financial life better! Also do me a favor, if you know of some clips that can make people laugh when it comes to their planning, please send me the links and I can share them with others trying to match humor with financial planning!

Dave Caruso, CFP®
Certified Financial Planner™
Coastal Capital Group
Danvers, MA

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Dealing With This Crazy Market Volatility: 30 Years of Advice With Just 3 Mantras!

Since April 29 of this year, we’ve been in a downward spiral in the stock market that has caused a lot of investors to ask why in the world they deal with all this crazy volatility? Over the last decade it seems like every time you make some gains in the market, you end up giving them all back. Even though we haven’t officially hit the bear market status (-20%) as of this writing, it again poses the question as to whether you should be buying or selling right now. In my 30 years experience dealing with crazy volatility, there are three things that you need to be aware of. First, it starts with the true diversification of your different investments and how they’re mixed together. Second is to have some sort of mechanism that allows you to decide when to buy and when to sell. Finally it’s about understanding yourself and seeing the type of person you are when it comes to your emotional and intellectual decision-making in life.

If we start with diversification, then it’s key to understand your choices. One of my favorite books is written by a gentleman named Mebane Faber, The Ivy Portfolio. It’s a book that talks about how the Ivy League institutions invest their substantial assets to generate returns that will hopefully last in perpetuity. The five core groups that he does analysis on are stocks, bonds, international stocks, real estate and commodities. Of course, there are literally hundreds of different asset classes that exist today as seen by the recent rise in ETF’s (exchange traded funds) that have become a major component of the volume of the stock exchanges. Not long ago there were less than 20 of these index types of funds that can trade during the day just like stocks do. Now, there’s something close to 2000 exchange traded securities that are being traded in the markets, all driven by a particular type of asset class. You shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the massive number of choices, so come up with some combination of 5 to 10 of these major asset classes and do some homework on which ones you feel are the most critical to your investment objectives. Just promise me you’ll use at least 5 or 10 totally different asset classes.

The essence of Faber’s book is that over long periods of time these asset classes tend to perform similarly. It’s just a matter of doing some rebalancing to make sure that no one asset class gets too big to take down the others. I was recently reading an analysis and a publication entitled the “Horsesmouth” written by Craig L. Israelsen Ph.D. that confirms this same sentiment. It looked at multiple asset classes over the last 41 years using 17 rolling 25 year periods. In essence it shows that the internal rates of return on the seven asset classes that he used (cash, bonds, large US stocks, small US stocks, non-US stocks, real estate investment trusts and commodities) showed higher returns as you use more asset classes. By using too many asset classes, you can end up with what is termed “deworsification.” In some of the research that we’ve done we’ve also found that when we reduce our asset classes to less than 10, the long-term back testing works better. One of the most prominent index mutual fund families in the country, Vanguard, along with its founder John Bogle has been promoting the strategy for many years.

The second way to deal with volatility is to have some discipline mechanism to decide when you want to buy and when you want to sell. The Ivy Portfolio also talks about using 200 day moving averages as a tool to consider using as well if you want to be sensitive to the longer-term trends in the market. The experts call this technical analysis (nothing to do with technology stocks) which is simply looking at the average price of the security over some period of time (i.e. 200 days) and just use the charts to determine your decisions. That’s opposed to what we call fundamental analysis which focuses more of its efforts on the more mainstream aspects of a company like the management, the earnings, the market share or the industry they are in. I’ve mentioned this in the past in my March article when we were starting to deal with some of this volatility earlier in the year at that time our technical indicators were positive. Subsequent to that blog, our indicators moved rapidly down in May of this year and caused us to reduce our exposure to stocks. So the message here is that you can’t read an article on technical analysis and know what to do unless it’s very current. You have to have some up-to-date software or publications that keep you disciplined to monitor your current investments. I believe the world has changed in my 30 years of experience and a buy hold and hope strategy doesn’t work as well as a technical analysis tool that helps get you out of the way in this new internationally interconnected world.

As I mentioned above, the founder of Vanguard, Mr. Bogle, isn’t a fan of trying to time the market. I will admit that I am fond of technical analysis as it helps me manage risk in volatile times. I find it is extremely helpful in protecting client’s assets, especially those who are at or approaching retirement with their need for capital preservation being much higher.

The final and most important component to dealing with the crazy volatility is to know thyself. We all have our own ways of making decisions as nature versus nurture. We don’t know whether the genes are going to make a decision or whether the environment we grew up in will dictate what we do and how we react to the world. It’s hard to figure out whether the left brain or right brain is calling the shots on our decisions. I will say that when times are not volatile then intellect will prevail when times are consistent, solid and expected. When were in the middle of a volatility firestorm like we’ve seen over this past summer, then our nature is to go back to our deepest roots where it’s fight or flight. It’s even harder when the markets are reacting to political rhetoric in the US, companies afraid to hire, consumers afraid to spend, tension in the Middle East, currency wars, Asian countries trying to control inflation as well as sovereign banking irregularities in Europe. There will always be problems in the world and with are more connected media and communications, it becomes more frequent, critical and destructive as we try and use our intellect over our emotions. That means you should subscribe to a diversification model and maybe even some technical analysis to get out of the way when the truck is coming.

My 30 years in the business has shown me three type of people, those who have disciplines and abide by those different disciplines in good and bad times, those who are in denial and simply ignore the situation and wait for it to go away and the majority seem to be looking for some direction and leadership during the tough times. All three of these strategies can work; you just have to know which one of these most closely resembles you. If you’re broadly diversified, then you can wait it out when it comes to volatility. If you use disciplines that allow you to ride the storm and don’t go against your instincts, you’ll be okay. If you’re looking for leadership and direction then find someone that you can trust to help walk you through the rocky times. I just happen to be very lucky because I understand the markets by living through them and seeing emotional mistakes making it harder for people to be successful. It also didn’t hurt that I married a psychologist!

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.
Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values and yields will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.
International investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and political instability and may not be suitable for all investors.
The fast price swings of commodities will result in significant volatility in an investor’s holdings.
Investing in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) involves special risks such as potential illiquidity and may not be suitable for all investors.
An investment in Exchange Traded Funds (ETF), structured as a mutual fund or unit investment trust, involves the risk of losing money and should be considered as part of an overall program, not a complete investment program. An investment in ETFs involves additional risks such as not diversified, price volatility, competitive industry pressure, international political and economic developments, possible trading halts, and index tracking errors.
No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Dave Caruso, CFP®
Certified Financial Planner™
Coastal Capital Group
Danvers, MA

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5 Money Questions Graduates and Newlyweds Need To Have Answers To!

Tis the season for graduations and weddings. After attending a number of those events recently, I thought I would put together a checklist of the five questions that need to be answered by those who are newly married or graduating this spring and early summer. I’m making an assumption that most of those graduating or getting married are probably in their 20’s (although I know a large number of graduates and those getting married are older or may have a wedding or two behind them). With the economy being in the situation that is now, we all know how difficult it is to find a job, especially coming right out of school. That can be the same for newlyweds who now have a whole new set of expenses that they may have inherited from their new partner.

It would be easy to put down 100 things that they can worry about, but I wanted to focus in on the top five laundry list items to abide to help them for the rest of their life. These questions may not be of the magnitude of the 18th-century philosopher Marcel Proust (of which I have 33 of sitting on my desk right now), yet they are questions that will make your life better financially if you adhere to them.

  1. Do you understand what you’re getting into when it comes to your career and your earning power? How much money you make is certainly a driver of how financially successful you can be, but please don’t allow your pension to surpass your passion! Money is certainly important, but having a passion for what you want to do far exceeds just the dollars and cents. I think it is more important to do the things that you enjoy in life because it will give you constant motivation and improvement, which money alone rarely does. Living the life of George Bailey, from it’s a Wonderful Life, does not make for a happy or decent human being. Also if you start in a job that really doesn’t inspire passion but does pay well, it makes it harder to follow your passion later because you’ve gotten used to that financial lifestyle. The good news though is a lot of retirees are reigniting that passion that they may have not been able to pursue in their younger years and it’s making the retirement process much more gratifying as a result.
  2. Do you realize what is the single most important form of capital that most younger adults have? Human Capital is the largest form of capital that most possess. It’s all those potential years of earnings power that matters when you’re younger. That’s because most people don’t inherit sizable estates or wealth, they are dependent on their brains and their bodies to generate their lifetime income. Human capital is the most under looked and under mentioned asset in the financial world! With that being said you better go out and get some disability insurance right away, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a job. That’s because if something happens to you, you have zero protection to assure any quality-of-life other than government and family support. So when you run into the first person who prospects you for life insurance (and rest assured there will be someone) and you don’t have any dependents, tell them no, but you would like to buy some disability insurance! 
  3. Do you understand a budget? Cash is king in a meandering or down market, but its essential when you have to pay your rent, make a car payment, have healthcare and buy food. So just understand the premise that you need more money coming in, than going out! It’s the essence of financial management and unfortunately about 70% of America is either just making ends meet or taking on more debt, according to Jean Chatzky’s book, The Difference
  4. Do you know how to borrow money? I feel that the focus many times from Financial Planners is to get people to save money and not so much how to borrow better. Some of that may be how we are paid (compensated for commissions and fees on assets versus planning or refinancing debt). Don’t get me wrong as the asset side of the balance sheet building up is good, but it might go better if you’re paying less money on the liability side by lowering your interest payments for hundreds of thousands of dollars many have from home, school, car and credit card debt. As an example, if you’re paying over 20% for credit card debt, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to invest because you’re almost never going to get consistent 20% returns on your money to match the cost of your loans. 
  5. How much risk can you handle? This is where I have to interject that after 30 years of sitting down with clients and trying to determine their risk, I have yet to find anybody who knows how much risk they can handle. There’s also the question of what kind of risk. Is it risk of taking care of your family if something happens to you, is it the volatility that’s in the markets every day as we try and figure out how to invest, or the taking of risk and your job and profession so that you can make more money by taking on more responsibility or get more training (that’s that human capital thing again)? When it comes to investing I think that risk is essential. I feel most people want to maintain or increase their standard of living. That means if you’re going to have the same amount of spending power next year you need to get a rate of return better than inflation, after you pay your taxes. In order to do that you need to consider putting some of your money to work in stocks, real estate, commodity-based investments and even your business. History shows that over long periods of time, you rarely are able to do this by putting your money into guaranteed types of investments like money market funds and bank certificates of deposit. The younger you start doing this, the less risk you’ll take as time heals market corrections. This question also brings me back to what I call the rocking chair question, which is what you’re saying to your grandchildren as you’re sitting on your rocking chair somewhere many years in the future. Do you want to tell them that you took too much risk in life or too little? Unfortunately, only you can decide as risk is rarely comfortable for most people. When pursued diligently and prudently, it can be handled and can help you toward the financial life that you dream of.

Here’s a poem that I thought appropriate as we make those determinations of risk:

William Arthur Ward on “Risk”  

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
To reach out for another is to risk involvement
To expose your feelings is to risk exposing your true self
To place your ideas and your dreams before a crowd is to risk embarrassment
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To hope is to risk despair
To try is to risk failure
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing at all
The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing, and may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, or live
Chained by their certitudes, they are slaves
They have forfeited their freedom
Only a person who risks is free

Dave Caruso is a Registered Representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, member FINRA/SIPC.

Dave Caruso, CFP®
Certified Financial Planner™
Coastal Capital Group
Danvers, MA