Archive for Author Kristi Sullivan

From Lattes to Private School: Five things that scare me.


Fun fall facts mixed in with a few other things that scare me!


I. A 16-ounce Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks has 450 calories and 25 grams of fat.  On the plus side, it also contains 20% of your daily calcium allowance.


II. If the candy corn kernels purchased each year were laid end to end, they would stretch around the world 4.25 times.


III. A child born today will face a first-year college cost of $41,000 for public in-state tuition.  Want to go private?  That’ll be $92,000 for one year.  That’s assuming a 5% annual inflation rate from today’s prices.


IV.  The world’s spider population weighs 29 million tons, as much as 478 Titanics.  Spiders eat about 10% of their body weight each day – about like a 200-pound man eating 20 pounds of meat per day.  Source:


V.  According to a March 21, 2016 article on Motley Fool, the average American has $63,000 saved for retirement.  Withdraw that at the generally “safe” rate of 4% starting in your sixties, and that gives you $210/month in retirement income plus Social Security.  It makes you envy the spiders – they have less to worry about.

Afraid You are a Bad Investor? You are!

bad investor

What have you done???


That’s right, I said it.  You, and you, and you, and you (picture me pointing around a crowded room) are a BAD investor.  And it isn’t your fault.  As Lady Gaga says, “Baby, you were born this way.”


There is good news and bad news here.  Our brains are hardwired to buy investments high and sell them low, just the opposite of how you make money.  The culprits are dopamine and the amygdala.

Stick with me.


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that instructs the brain to make us feel good.  Rewards (chocolate, new shoes, investment increases) increase dopamine activity.  This can be a good thing, as dopamine regulates our risk/reward behavior.  However, when it comes to picking investments, dopamine can be blamed for some risky behavior – and some famous investment bubbles.


Dopamine acts in two ways.  If an investor puts 10% of his money in an investment and watches that investment rise dramatically, he feels happy.  However, he ALSO feels sad that he didn’t have more of his money in the well-performing investment.  The kids these days call this FOMO or Fear of Missing Out.


So, then this investor, to counteract his FOMO and feel more happy dopamine, invests more of his money in the investment that has already gone up.  Maybe all his friends are doing the same.  This influx of new dopamine-fueled money (see NASDAQ in the late 1990s) creates inflated pricing until the bubble bursts.


Here, in the land of falling stock prices, we meet our friend the amygdala.  We like to think of ourselves as rational beings, making decisions with our massively sophisticated, available-to-humans-only pre-frontal cortex.  Alas, most of the decisions made by the rational brain are only justifying action on the impulses of our animal brains underneath.


The amygdala regulates our fight-or-flight reflex.  It is also the area of the brain that lights up with the most activity when research subjects look at statements where their investments lose money.  Our visceral reaction (that is VERY hard to overcome) is to treat falling investments the same as being confronted by a lion.  Run away!

There is an answer.


So, if we are born to sell low and buy high, how can we ever use investments to reach our financial and life goals?  The answer is simply to invest according to a plan, ignore the news, and rebalance to your target asset mix (not panic-sell) when markets have big swings.


Don’t have a plan?  Don’t worry.  You can engage with a financial planner to help you, or even turn to some of the new online tools to take the investment decisions out of your hands and use the detached, non-emotional target-date funds for some investments.


All is not lost, and your brain is not the enemy.  After all, it told you to read this blog!


By the way, the source for this blog is one of my favorite books, How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. 

It’s October – Time to talk about Fear (and Greed)


It’s October and my theme of the month will be fear.  And maybe a secondary theme of pumpkin spice.  We’ll have to see.


An old saying is that fear and greed are the two emotions that drive investing decisions.  However, most investors will tell you they don’t let emotions rule their investment decisions.  Yeah, right.  Let me give you a few examples of language I have heard in relation to investments that shine the light on this phenomenon.

“I’m going to keep my money in cash.  I’m sure a recession will start any day now.”


Yes, the person sounds confident in their rationale, but that is only their FEAR of investment losses talking.   Besides, there is always another recession around the corner, but they don’t last forever and almost nobody successfully times their way out of investments at the top and back in at the bottom.  Nobody!


“My brother made a killing last year on this real estate (or oil and gas, or clean tech, or drug company) investment.  I’m going to sell all of my holdings and buy that.”


This person thinks they are acting on sound advice, but really, their GREED is taking over.  Keeping your diversified investment plan over the long haul will be more successful than any hot stock tip that’s probably cold by the time you hear about it, anyway.


“I have never signed up for my retirement plan at work because I don’t know how investments work.”


This is FEAR of the unknown or not having enough information to make a good decision.  Hot tip:  Saving money is never a bad idea, losing out on your company match and tax advantages is always a bad idea, and most 401(k) plans now come with a default option that chooses an investment mix for you.  Sign up!


“I will be retiring in a year and need to have more money saved.  I am going to invest aggressively to make a higher return before I retire.”


This exemplifies GREED by trying to get more at the risk of losing money right before retirement.  It’s also FEAR of not having enough to retire.  Rather than take more investment risk than your time horizon calls for, consider working longer.  The risks are less and the rewards are more predictable.


Even though none of these statements uses the words fear or greed, they each show the emotions behind the decisions.  Stay tuned for next week when I explain to you why you are a bad investor.


Are You Prepared for an Emergency?


Are you ready?

This rough hurricane season has brought on a whole host of articles and TV shows about how to prepare in advance for an emergency or natural disaster.  One focus has been on having a ready packed bag to take with you to your roof (or boat, or shelter) in case you need to bail out of your house quickly.


I was watching a show recently that had a few ideas for your emergency bag that were new to me:

  • Petroleum Jelly and Cotton Balls – coating a cotton ball with Vaseline and lighting it (because of course an obvious thing to have in your bag is a lighter) can burn for 5 minutes at a time. Handy for light, a tiny bit of warmth or to let someone know where you are.
  • Peanut Butter – It comes in its own waterproof container and is packed with good fats, calories, and protein.
  • Emergency Escape Axe – This example has several built-in tools in addition to the axe function in case you need to cut your way out of a building.


A few tips from the South

On a lighter note, my Aunt Marcia has a recipe for Emergency Gumbo that she swears is ready in 30 minutes.  Gumbo makers, you know that is a quick prep time.  Is it called Emergency Gumbo because in a pinch you need to feed 10 or more people and need a quick solution?  Or is it called Emergency Gumbo because when Junior gets his hand bit off by an alligator in the swamp, the first reaction is to make gumbo?


Only those from Louisiana can know for sure.


And last, my grandmother, Hope, swore by always having Emergency M&Ms on hand.  This is helpful if you are antiquing in Roundtop, Texas or at the mall and have a sudden hunger attack.  The M&Ms allow you to continue with your important shopping without stopping for lunch.


Between the axe, the M&Ms and the gumbo, I hope this was a helpful blog on preparing for any emergency that might come your way.

Don’t Fall for It: Financial Scams to Watch Out For

financial scams

Fall is here and while it’s many people’s favorite season, don’t let the cooler weather distract you from protecting your money.  Here are some popular financial scams being perpetrated this year:


IRS Scam

Someone from the IRS calls you and claims you owe income tax.  If you don’t pay immediately, you will be arrested or be sued by the IRS.  Why this is a scam:  The IRS will always contact you by mail first.  Also, they will never demand immediate payment, demand a wire transfer, or ask for personal information via e-mail.  I have personally gotten a couple of these phone calls.


Fake Charity

This scam takes advantage of a recent tragedy.  If someone calls or comes to your door raising money for say, hurricane victims in Haiti, do not give immediately.  Take the name of the charity and verify it on the National Association of State Charity Officials (  Keep in mind, if you are being pressured to give money on the spot, it is likely a scam.

Obama Student Loan Forgiveness Program

This doesn’t really exist, but is made to sound like the legitimate Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program created by George W. Bush.  You will be offered the opportunity to consolidate student debt for a fee, but this is a service you can access for free by using a student loan repayment plan for federal student loans.


False Promises for Work-at-Home

Who doesn’t want to make six figures working from bed?  These scammers offer the potential for big income, but first you have to pay a fee to access the program.  You pay the fee, and there is no program.  Remember, if you have to pay to do it, it’s not a job.


National Institute of Health Scam

Scammers tell you that you’ve been selected to receive a $14,000 grant from the National Institute of Health.  To get it, all you have to do is pay a fee through iTunes, Green Dot card, or by giving your bank account number.  News flash: The government doesn’t give grants unless you APPLY for them.


Sadly, these are but a few ways thieves are trying to get your money.  Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is!



Fumble! Giant Financial Mistakes Made by NFL Players

financial mistakes

Football season is in full swing.  Since I will have no contact with my husband until February, I now have plenty of time to write blogs!


I’ve often thought there would be no worse job in the world than financial planner to professional athletes (or Johnny Depp).  Young people surrounded by moochers and hangers-on coming into millions of dollars sounds like a recipe for disaster.  It got me thinking: What are some real-world examples of financial mistakes that we can avoid ourselves?


Terrell Owens

During his 15 seasons in the NFL, Mr. Owens earned a reported $80million.  One year after leaving the NFL, he declared bankruptcy citing bad investments, a bad housing market, and $50,000/month in child support payments.


Charlie Batch

After earning an estimated $9million, he was $8million in debt with $3million in assets due to 25 defaulted properties owned by his real estate development company.


Rocket Ismail

Here is a comprehensive list of how to blow $18million:  Pour money into themed restaurants, faith-based inspirational movies, a record label with unknown talent, a cosmetic procedure that blows oxygen into your face, a phone card dispensing machine operation, and a souvenir store in New Orleans (bad timing – right before Katrina).


Travis Henry

This former Bronco could write a playbook called “How Not to Conduct Your Life.”  His $20million in earnings went to supporting 11 children by 10 different women (and condoms are SO inexpensive).  Since his football career couldn’t keep on top of his $200,000 child support bill, he made the obvious choice to become a drug dealer and was sentenced to 3 years in prison in 2009.  Nice example for the kiddies, Dad!


Mark Brunell

This NFL quarterback lost an estimated $50million after founding a company that invested in Michigan real estate and Whataburger eateries.  Not only did he lose millions, but was then the subject of $25million in investor lawsuits.  Really, had he ever even eaten a Whataburger?


I could go on and on, but I’m getting a little sad.  Plus, my husband is demanding I make super-nachos for Thursday Night Football.  I think I’ll throw a little money in my kids’ 529 accounts to ease my depression.


Source for Terrell Owens.

Source for Charlie, Rocket, Travis, and Mark. 

SFP Book Club: Personal Finance Books that Won’t Bore You

personal finance books

What are you reading?


I like my personal finance books like I like learning about history:  through the lens of people’s experiences and emotions.  Fewer numbers, more laughing and crying, please!  Not that the technical stuff isn’t important, but that might be easier to learn (and more applicable to your situation) from your CPA or financial adviser.


Sure, you could read John Bogle’s Little Book of Common Sense Investing or Ed Slott’s Retirement Savings Time Bomb and learn lots about indexing and IRA taxes.  Or, you could learn your personal finance education in a more human context.  And stay awake longer!


Here are a couple of books I have enjoyed that put personal finance decisions and concepts in a more personal light.


Die Broke by Stephan Pollan and Mark Levine


The whole title of this book is “Quit Today, Pay Cash, Never Retire, and Die Broke.”  This book is an oldie (1998) but goodie that upends traditional thinking about your relationships with your employer, your money, and your family.  And yes, it’s about personal finance, but written in a way that is aimed at your connection with your finances, not just Alpha, Sharpe Ratios, and Standard Deviation statistics.


Reading this book opened my mind to others’ way of thinking about money.  It’s not at all about dollars and cents.  It’s the way people see the world and choose to allocate resources to support those beliefs.


For example, do you want to leave your kids an inheritance at the expense of your own lifestyle?  Great, I’ll run the numbers to help you plan for that.  Want to leave them nothing?  Fine by me.  Hate insurance? Understandable.  Love the protection of an insurance blanket?  Okay, let’s work with that.


Healer by Carol Cassella


This book was the Broomfield city book club pick about 5 years ago; I was asked to facilitate a talk about at the Broomfield Public Library.  It wasn’t something I was excited to read, but I ended up really liking it.


The novel is about a married couple and their financial decisions and reversal of fortune.  It’s also about the balance of power in a marriage created by money and how relationships change as finances evolve (or devolve).  There are some technical concepts in here (i.e. taking money out of your retirement account with a spouse’s consent). However, the focus is more about communication between family members on important financial decisions.  There’s also a sometimes-bratty teenaged daughter and who can’t relate to that?


If you have any books about finance that were powerful to you, I’d love some recommendations.  Happy reading!


Should Your Kid Even go to College? A look at some alternatives.


Is college for everyone?


In the last of my August series on education, I wanted to look at some alternatives to the traditional university path.  After all, at an average cost (tuition plus room and board) of $25,000/year for public in-state or $50,000/year for private schools, you may be questioning your will or ability to send little Bertha to college at all.


Let’s be real, college is not for everyone.  Not every person is suited to study for four years or more to then sit at a desk in front of a computer.  What are the other options?


How about a trade?


My sister dreams of one of her kids becoming a hair dresser so she has in-house beauty talent at her fingertips.  Right now, I’d really like a plumber in the family because every one of my toilets is making a different weird noise.


Here are a few non-degree jobs with average salaries found around the internet:

  • Elevator Installer – Median salary $80,000/year
  • Plumber – $45,000/year
  • Electrician – $60,000/year
  • Surgical Technician – $45,000/year
  • Wind Turbine Technician – $51,000/year
  • Construction Foreman – $45,000/year


These salaries are less than a doctor or lawyer, but people can make a decent living without having gone to college.  Also, you may start out a plumber working for someone else, but imagine the earnings possibilities if you work your way into owning a plumbing company!

The Alliance Foundation Fundraiser: Join me for lunch!

The Alliance Foundation

The Alliance Foundation


I am proud to be a part of the Alliance Foundation whose mission is to help women become economically empowered so they may move themselves out of poverty, homelessness, abuse, or addiction.


The Alliance Foundation funds three efforts:

  • College scholarships for 3 Denver women in their Junior and Senior years who need help to complete their degrees.
  • Local charities such as Arapahoe House, The Delores Project, and Girls on the Run.
  • Microcredit loans to women in developing countries. A loan of $100 can help a woman in poverty start a farming, textile, or retail business and create economic stability for her family and neighbors.

How you can help


Our annual fundraising luncheon is taking place at the PPA Events Center on September 14th at 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.  There is no cost to attend (a $35 value!) and there will be a kind ask for financial support at the end of the luncheon.


We are thrilled to welcome our keynote speaker, Rebecca Chopp who is the Chancellor of the University of Denver system.  She will be talking about trends and changes in college education and women’s leadership roles and responsibilities.


If you’d like to attend, CLICK HERE OR ON THE IMAGE BELOW:

The Alliance Foundation

If you can’t come, but would like to be a philanthropist making huge change for women in need, you can donate through the Alliance Foundation home page.  Look for the green Donate Now button.


Thank you for your consideration!  I hope to see you in September.

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