As a practicing financial advisors who conduct hundreds of financial review meetings a year, we can say with authority that financial stagnation in some form hinders most people.
Financial stagnation is a state of impaired action – when you are stuck in an inactive state due to some fear, conflict, or mental block. A classic example is avoiding participating in the stock market for fear of losing money while simultaneously feeling stressed about dismal bond or money market returns. Another classic example is delaying to create or update your estate plan, even though you are exposed to more taxation than necessary or have family members who would suffer the consequences of an unoptimized or incomplete plan. Financial stagnation may be isolated to one financial domain, such as investments or estate planning, or may be present across many financial domains.
I have witnessed how exciting it can be when people plagued by inaction for 10 years or more make more progress in one year than they did in the previous decade by confronting the root cause(s) of their stagnation. You will feel tremendous relief and personal satisfaction by identifying and confronting the causes of any financial stagnation you are experiencing.
Lifelong learning. It’s a core belief here at our firm, and we regularly read across a variety of topics. I recently asked the team to share any of their favorite books from the past year, business or otherwise. Below is what we’d offer up as our recommendations from 2017, and if you have any good book recommendations from the last year, please let us know!
As my clients know, planning for the future eventually includes a conversation about mortality. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is a powerful memoir that tackles this topic to its core. This story made me reflect on how the human spirit allows us to re-imagine a new future that includes hope, faith, love and joy – no matter what the circumstances and regardless of the uncertainty. There is so much about this story that lingers, leaving each reader a new set of ideas, and most likely questions, that will, no doubt, leave you changed.
My favorite book of 2017 was The Obsession by Nora Roberts. While Nora Roberts is probably better known as a romance writer, her last several books are more mystery/thriller types that appeal to me. This story is a mystery about woman who (as a child) discovered her dad was a serial killer. Fast forward to her adulthood and she is being stalked by a serial killer who is mimicking her father’s style. The setting is the islands of Puget Sound, and I liked the story and flow of the book.
I thought Principles by Ray Dalio was a great read not just from a business perspective (Dalio founded what is now the world’s largest hedge fund), but also life principles. Obliviously he has been vastly successful in the business world, but he also shares valuable thoughts on how he lives his own life, and I think most would take something meaningful away from this book. As Dalio writes, “Time is like a river that carries us forward into encounters with reality that require us to make decisions. We can’t stop our movement down this river and we can’t avoid those encounters. We can only approach them in the best possible way.” Good stuff!
This year, I re-read The Power of TED by David Emerald because it provides great guidance on how to best interact with others in more effective ways. It explains the undesirable roles and techniques we often find ourselves in and provides an empowering alternative. For anyone who wants to lead, manage, coach, parent or help others with greater impact and results, this book is for you.
One that caught my attention earlier this year and challenged many of my longstanding beliefs was Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It’s a book about human behavior and how we consistently act irrationally. So consistent, in fact, our irrational behavior is predictable. Many of his illustrations point out the ways we repeatedly act irrationally in every day behavior and makes the reader much more conscious of these actions.
The most common question clients ask me in meetings these days is, “When will this run end, and how bad will the downturn be?” Published in 2008, “The Great Depression: A Diary” is part history and part finance that offers some perspective for today’s environment. Authored by a young attorney who was fascinated with the 1929 stock market crash, this story offers an in-the-trenches account of the ugliest recession our country has ever faced. My takeaways include not only the changes in our economy and markets since the 1930s that will help prevent another 10-year depression, but also the things that remain the same, such as fear, greed, and the folly of relying on predictions in managing one’s money.
What Are Your Own Possibilities?
Sometimes, the pursuit of wealth can leave a void in our lives—a place left empty because we lacked the energy or time to pursue a dream. There is a saying: “Wealth is not an end, it is a means to an end.” The problem is that the complexity of creating wealth and the subsequent financial planning often gets in the way of seeing and pursuing an end truly aligned with your highest purpose in life.
My life’s work has been focused on this critical unmet need. I hope to help people see the possibilities that open up once you escape from the chaos and confusion that characterize so much of the wealth management field today. I absolutely know it is possible to put a large portion of wealth management on automatic; I have built the system, structure, support and discipline to achieve this; and I’ve seen how using these benefits helps people define and achieve their highest ambitions. This approach is both effective and rewarding.
Clients are surprised sometimes when I ask them about their higher purpose and possibilities. It is not that they feel I’m prying; they just don’t expect an advisor to be concerned with such matters. I tell them that these are the most important questions for them to consider when it comes to financial planning.
At this point in your journey toward financial strength, you already may have great momentum. All you need to reach the goal line is to exercise self-control in a few vital areas. I call these personal finance disciplines the High Five because they are the key to achieving your highest potential in life. They are:
- Saving Awareness and Control
- Spending Awareness and Control
- Work Ethic
By automating or delegating a huge share of the discipline needed to master wealth, you can reserve your energy for situations when it is needed most. This is one of the secrets of the successful people with whom I have the privilege to work. They devote their best to challenges associated with their greatest ambitions, rather than squandering valuable energy on secondary pursuits.
Ready for the next market correction? Today’s drop rekindles questions of whether this bull market is finally over. To be sure, stocks are up over 7% in the first 4 months, extending the 8-year run from the 2009 low.
But the bull market run has resulted in some expensive prices. Regardless of whether one uses multiples relative to sales, book value, trailing earnings, or normalized earnings, stocks aren’t cheap. The Shiller P/E ratio, which compares stock prices to normalized earnings over a 10-year cycle, is at its third highest dating back to 1887. The top two instances were 1929 (before the Great Depression) and 1997 (during the Tech Bubble).
Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett released his annual letter to shareholders last Saturday, a publication that is examined and dissected by investors around the world. And this year’s edition underscores why.
Before its release, the S&P 500 closed at its all-time high (again), continuing its rally that began in November. In fact, in the first 38 trading days of 2016, the S&P 500 has posted a new high 11 times. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Russell 2000 Index have printed new highs 14 and 3 times in 2016, respectively.
Even the greenest of investors is likely aware that stocks move in both directions, and that periods of upswings have historically been followed by downturns. The Holy Grail, of course, is how to invest through all the ups and downs, and Buffett offers his view:
Legacy planning goes beyond mere numbers, aligning traditional estate planning with a family’s goals and values. The process includes defining and expressing what wealth means to a family. It involves identifying the core values that bind the family, and in many cases it involves grooming children and grandchildren to be guardians of not just wealth, but also those values.
Financial advisors can provide peace of mind. But do they deliver a demonstrable, dollars-and-cents advantage to their clients?
Two studies show that the answer is yes—if the advisor is diligent in providing several key services. Let’s start with research from Morningstar, the big Chicago-based investment research firm. A 2012 Morningstar study found that advisors who use an “efficient financial planning strategy” can help clients increase their retirement assets significantly.
In my previous four posts I introduced my guiding principles of wealth management, along with the first three principles (links to one, two, and three). Today I will discuss the fourth guiding principle, which is one of the most enjoyable for me to use as a financial advisor while helping clients:
Know what is holding you back, spurring you forward, and serving you best
This kind of self awareness is essential to have the energy, confidence, and focus to support your financial plan. Wealth mastery cannot be pursued with out a degree of self-mastery and self-knowledge. You need to know what is working against you and deal with it. You need to know what you have in your favor and use it to the best possible advantage.
In my experience as a financial advisor, I have found that people often lack such self-awareness. So, I have made it one of my guiding principles to take proper time for reflection. With weaknesses especially—habits of mind that can hold you back—people often need a third party or a sympathetic ear to surface issues.
The other day I read a Bloomberg article that cited a recent survey suggesting that while the average U.S. employee calculates that he or she will retire at age 65, as a group the odds are around 50% that they will still be working at age 70. By the tone of the story, I would surmise this is less by choice and more by need.
At Janiczek Wealth Management, we are very fortunate to work with financially independent individuals and families, who have successfully put themselves in position to control their own destiny as it relates to their financial well-being. In the majority of cases, this independence did not simply happen overnight, but was the result of hard work and perseverance that eventually resulted in a major liquidity event or accumulation of wealth that changed the equation from “having to work”… to “choosing to work”. It is a very powerful edge to know that you are going to work simply because you want to, not because you have to.