Eat your peas and carrots: two ingredients to financial healthSubmitted by Concierge Financial Planning, LLC on May 2nd, 2019
"Ann, I did everything laid out in my plan and I’m not as far ahead as I would like," lamented my client Ross the other day. This contrasted completely with my meeting with Sylvia earlier in the week where it was I that was aggrieved, "Sylvia, you didn't do anything that I laid out in your plan last year!" To which she retorted accurately, "Yes—that’s true, but I did great financially anyway."
The difference between the experiences of Ross and Sylvia can be summed up in one word: spending.
Although in similar financial circumstances, Ross has a hard time keeping to a budget and as a result spent more than we planned in 2018. Sylvia, on the other hand, is a very cautious spender and came in well under her budget. For Ross, this meant he was unable to fund his taxable retirement savings account to the extent we discussed, and he was even at risk of not being able to make his full pre-tax contribution—a financial planning sin. Sylvia chose to use her budget shortfall to exceed the planned funding of her taxable retirement savings.
This once again proves the adage: the best, guaranteed investment you can make is not spending.
Now, before you think it is a good idea to ignore sound financial planning advice, you should know that Sylvia left real money on the table by not following her plan. For example, she failed to exercise company stock options as planned and will end up owing more in taxes as a result. She also did not rebalance her portfolio and realized lower returns than she otherwise would have. Yes, it's good to underspend your budget, but it's even better to do that and follow your plan.
Here are five tips to help you save more than you think you can and stay on track to achieve your retirement goals:
- Pay yourself first. If you are planning to save a specified amount outside of your employer plan, set up an automatic transfer from your checking account for the day after pay day. Don’t wait until the end of the month because it’s more likely that you won’t have the money left to save.
- Give your raise to your savings account, not your checking account. When you get a raise plan to increase your contributions to your employer sponsored by plan by at least 1%. If you’re already maxing out your employer plan, increase your taxable savings and set up an automatic transfer as described above.
- Stay disciplined with your investing. This is much easier said than done. Rebalance at regular intervals and stick to your recommended asset allocation. It is very difficult to sell equities in a rising market when it’s time to rebalance, but it’s vital for long term plan success that you do just that.
- Don’t let the tax tail wag the dog. I find that many of my clients are so intent on reducing their current year tax burden that they neglect to make prudent decisions simply because they would generate a taxable gain. Sylvia refused to exercise her company stock options because she didn’t want to pay the required taxes. As a result, her position grew and when she finally exercised her options she ended up paying a significantly larger percentage to Uncle Sam; in fact, she was pushed into a higher tax bracket, had to pay gains at 20%, and was subject to additional NIIT (net investment income tax). What’s more, it affected her daughter’s application for college financial aid!
- Stay healthy and exercise. Nothing throws off a financial plan or the joys of taking early retirement quite like a healthcare event. By exercising and staying healthy you will not only be able to reduce your healthcare expenditures but also your pain and suffering. Health is wealth!
In the end, both Ross and Sylvia understood what they did right—and what they did wrong. With luck, at next year’s update meetings none of us will be wailing!