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3 Things You Should Be Saving For NOW and What Information Both Parents Need to Know

I’m not gonna lie to you.  When people start talking finance…I completely glaze over.  I’m okay with the day to day basics, but when it comes to stocks, bonds, Dows, and percentages…I know I’m a lost cause.

That’s why, when I was left to fend for my financial self after the death of my husband, I retained the services of Certified Financial Planner™ Kristi Sullivan of Sullivan Financial Planning, LLC.  And boy, am I glad I did.  With everything we hear in the news and on the street…it’s enough to send anyone into financial panic mode.

So I decided to sit down with Kristi and get a few facts straight.

 

It seems like all we hear lately is a bunch of “doom and gloom” about the market these days.  Do you have any GOOD news for us?

The stock market has always had its ups and downs, but historically, the trend is to go higher over long periods of time.  Just think the Dow Jones Industrial Average was in the 600s in the early 1980s.  It’s between 11,000 and 12,000 now.

I think the important thing is to tune out the constant barrage of media regarding the economy.  Remember in the news business, “if it bleeds, it leads,” and that absolutely holds true about the financial markets.  When the stock market is way down, that’s all you hear about.   On days when the stock market is up, there’s barely a whisper about it.

If you have a well thought out investment plan that is diversified across many areas of the market, you should only look at making changes when your life situation changes or a couple of times per year to make sure you’re on target.  Other than that, tune out the gloom and doom news in favor of HGTV.

 

With money so tight these days, many young parents are struggling to figure out where to place their limited savings.  Is it in a college fund?  Is it towards retirement?  Should we split it between the two? 

It’s really hard for parents to prioritize multiple savings goals.  Just raising kids costs enough without all the pressure to save for several goals added on top.  My top three, in order of importance are:

  1. Emergency Fund (3-6 months of expenses)
  2. Life Insurance (Term Life gives you the most death benefit for your buck)
  3. Retirement

What??  No college?  That’s right.  Until you have the first three taken care of, you have no business putting money in a college fund.  Remember, your kids can get loans for college.  You cannot get a loan for living expenses in retirement. 

The best gift you can give your children is not a free college education – it is freedom from worrying about your old carcass moving in with them because you didn’t plan for your own retirement!

 

The market has been so up and down lately…any advice on how we can “stabilize” our portfolio?

Traditionally, to take volatility out of a portfolio, you add fixed income (aka bonds) or cash.  This also takes away your growth potential, but if it helps you sleep at night, it’s worth it.

The biggest mistake investors make is selling when the market drops (and they are feeling scared), then buying back in after the market has gone back up (and they are more comfortable).

If your portfolio is stable enough for your comfort level, you should be able to avoid the most common pitfall of investors:  Buying high and selling low.

 

Who should contact a CFP ® (Certified Financial Planner ™)?

Financial planning is very much like estate planning – you know you should do it, but don’t want to spend the time or money until it’s really urgent.

Most people are ready to engage in a relationship with a financial planner when a big life event happens, like marriage, kids, divorce or inheritance.  Another great time is when you are starting to think about retirement.  Last, people might want a financial planner relationship if the uncertainty of what to do with their investments is really keeping them up at night.

Engaging with a financial planner is not a free ride.  To make the relationship worthwhile, both the client and the planner have to put in some work.

A Certified Financial Planner designee is someone who has passed the coursework (usually a 2-year program) and comprehensive exam administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.  You can find a CFP ® by using the search function at the Certified Financial Board of Standards website.

 

What should they look for in a CFP ®?

Each person has a different need when it comes to financial planning.  Some things to ask yourself when interviewing financial planners:

  1. Am I comfortable talking to this person?  You will be sharing some really private things with a financial planner.  A good rapport and feeling of trust is very important.
  2. What kind of experience does this planner have?  Some planners excel at working with retirees.  Others have special designations to deal with divorce.
  3. How am I being charged for my financial plans?  Some planners charge a fee up front for planning work.  Others sell products whose commissions pay their fees.  There is no right or wrong way, but you need to understand the costs and be comfortable with them.

These are just a few things.  The official Certified Financial Planner website also has some checklists and tools for consumers to use when searching for a financial planner.

 

It seems like in every household, one person handles the money and one person doesn’t really know anything about it.  What is the basic information that BOTH people should know?

It’s really important that each spouse know the following:

  • What is our debt?  Credit cards, mortgages and car loans are something that each person is responsible for paying, so you’d both better know what you owe.
  • Where are our documents?  Make sure each person can access statements to all investment/bank accounts as well as insurance policies.  If everything is held online, each person needs to know the user name and passwords to access all accounts.
  • What are our monthly expenses?  Even if you don’t know the line items, it’s good to know about how much per month it costs to run the household.

Keep in mind that it’s also important for both people to know where all of the banking and investment information is stored.  Knowing the location of passwords and paperwork can save a lot of legwork (and probably an argument) when you need it.  A fire box is an inexpensive and ideal place for these things.  And it can be locked for security!

 

Are there any benefits for one married couple having separate investments?

It is nice to have your own money for things like surprise gifts for your sweetie.   Here are a few other reasons couples might choose to keep investments separate:

  1. It makes sense for couples in second marriages to keep some investments separate that are intended for children from previous marriages.
  2. If you don’t like your spouse’s investment style, keep your money separate and invest the way you are comfortable.
  3. If your spouse spends too much money, separate into his and hers accounts to protect your half from frivolous spending.

Money and kids are the leading causes of divorce.  Keeping separate accounts could help keep the peace.

 

If you could pass on one piece of general advice to people about how to invest, what would it be?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Just ask Bernie Madoff’s clients.

 

Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. Along with being published in several books on grief and renewal, Catherine is also a humorous motivational speaker who focuses on ” finding joy in a life you weren’t expecting.” She is also a volunteer speaker with the Donor Alliance of Colorado.

 Photo Credit:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Catherine
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2 Comments

  1. Great interview, very enlightening! I definitely need to take a bigger role in our financial future besides JUST the spending. 🙂

    • Thanks Amber! I don’t know what I would do without Kristi…I can’t figure this stuff out on my own. I can hardly balance my checkbook!

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