Archive for Personal Finance

How Does the Election Affect Your Portfolio?

Well, another Election Day is coming up and I am thrilled.  Why?  Is it because I am SO excited about the two potential candidates that I can’t wait to cast my vote?  Not exactly.


The benefit of Election Day to all investment advisers is that hopefully for the next 3 ½ years we can get a break from people asking how I think the election will affect the stock market.  The answer is I don’t know and neither do all of these so called experts on TV making predictions.


For those of you who find comfort in numbers, here are some historical facts around elections, parties in power, and stock market returns as measured by the S&P 500:


  • Presidential Election Years: +7.4%
  • Incumbent Party Wins (doesn’t matter what party!): +14%
  • Incumbent Party Loses (ditto): -4.4%
  • Democrats Win: +4.3%
  • Republicans Win: 3%


The above returns are just one year numbers and…they are in a vacuum.


What about if the incumbent party is Democrat and the Republicans win, and of course, it’s a Presidential Election Year?  Will the stock market return 7.4%-4.4%+10.3% = 13.3%?  Who knows?


Here is another favorite topic of debate:  What political party is better for the stock market?  Again, there isn’t a very clear answer because it’s not just about who is President, but also who is controlling Congress.  And it’s probably not caused by either factor, but what is happening in the world economy at any given time.


Below are average annual returns of the S&P 500 from 1901-2016 in different political climates:


  • Democratic President/Republican Congress: +8.6%
  • Republican President/Democratic Congress: +2.4%
  • White House/Congress controlled by the same party: +7.1%
  • Democratic President/Split Congress: +10.4%
  • Republican President/Split Congress: -4.3%


Now, how helpful is this information to helping you make investment decisions in an election year?


Not at all helpful! 


Since Congressional elections happen every two years in some form, these combinations of Presidents/Congress are constantly in flux.


Here is what you can do in an election year and all other years:


  • Have a well-diversified, low cost portfolio
  • Don’t try to time the market – stay the course through ups AND downs
  • Save, save, and save more
  • Control your spending and don’t go into debt buying elephant or donkey buttons


Special thanks to MFS Investments for the fantastic study that I quoted in this blog.  Click here for the whole thing.

Top 5 Ways I Wish I Could Save Money, But Never Will

Continuing the theme of last week’s blog, here are some solid ideas for saving money that I will probably not be implementing.  But, maybe you can!


#1:  Getting rid of Cable.  I could very easily go without TV.  It would save me from having to watch Tiny House Hunters and going into weekly rages about the idiocy of the people featured (see last week’s blog).  However, I am married.  To a man.  I will never be able to get rid of cable.


#2:  Groceries for under $1,000/month.  I shared an article link recently about a man whose wife and 13 children live debt free in the Washington DC area.  He had many good insights and ideas, but the thing I couldn’t get over what that they only spent $1,250/month on food for a family of 15.  Fifteen! I can’t get out of the grocery store for under $250/week and there are only four in my house.  And, I’m a pretty consistent coupon clipper.  You’d think a family of 15 would spend $500/month in toilet paper alone.


#3:  Unlimited Data Phone Plan.  Now that I have one son (and soon to be two) on my phone plan, I cannot imagine having to track and limit the texts, phone minutes, and downloads of three people.  My son has a friend who he can never contact after the 2nd week of the month because he has run out of texts. Of course he has!  What a pain.


#4:  Being a bad tipper:  See last week’s #3.


#5: Skiing:  This is an expensive habit and of course, I could stop.  Someday, my knees will dictate that I do, but in the meantime, bring on the snow!

Top 5 Annoying Ways to Save Money

In order to keep you, dear reader, informed on realistic ways to save for the future, I do a lot of research on how people make ends meet on a tight budget.  Some of the ideas are great, but others are just so irritating.  Herewith, my top 5 annoying ways to save money.


#1:  Families with any more than 3 members all sharing one bathroom.  This is prevalent in Country Living type magazines where couples with 4 kids decide they need to get back to what’s “real” in life and move into a farmhouse built in the 1750’s that only has one bathroom.  I’ll tell you what’s real – 5 people standing with their legs crossed in the hallway while Dad takes his 30 minutes in the bathroom with his iPad.  When your first child starts potty training, you are out of the one-bathroom life stage.


#2:  The Tiny House movement.  Thanks, HGTV, for ruining Mondays by dedicating the whole evening to people moving into Tiny Houses.  Just thinking about these people with 3 kids moving into a 400 square foot house and complaining about the lack of storage, kitchen space and, ah-hem, “privacy” from their kids makes my blood pressure rise.  My husband is waiting for the follow up series debut of Tiny House Divorce Court.


#3: Bad tipping of service workers.  That extra $2 or $5 you don’t tip won’t mean a thing to you in the long run, but it means a lot to the person on the receiving end struggling to live on less than minimum wage.  If you can’t afford to give a decent tip, you should just keep your stingy self at home and eat Ramen.


#4:  Having friends move you.  Let’s make this clear.  You have one occasion of friends moving you for payment of pizza and beer.  That is when you move out of your last college living quarters.  After that, if you can afford to move to a better place, you’d better be budgeting for paying movers as part of your new elevated rung on the ladder of life.


#5: Pot Lucks.  Yes, these have a place in life (office celebrations come to mind), but overall, if you are hosting people for dinner, book club, your kid’s birthday, or whatever, you should provide most of the refreshments.  If nothing else, then you know what’s coming and where to put it all.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but don’t make your guests do the entertaining for you.

Good Money Habits for Kids

I’m often surprised by the level of support my retired clients are giving their middle-aged children.  Sometimes it can derail an otherwise good retirement plan. That’s why it’s important to teach good money habits to kids as early as possible.  Overspending kids become overspending adults, and that’s not good for anybody (except maybe credit card companies).


5-8 year olds: Let’s say you spend $75/month on clothes, toys, and ice cones for your kid.  Tell them that your budget is $75 for the month.  As you buy things, tell them how much it cost and how much is left in the monthly budget.  If, in week 2, you’ve spent the $75, tell your child that’s all for the month and STICK TO IT.  This is also a handy tool to keep parents conscious of what they are spending.


Five is a good age to start the allowance process.  See next week’s blog about that complex topic!


9-12 year olds:  We all have to learn buyer’s remorse sometime.  The pre-teen years, when purchases are smaller than say, a car, are a good time to start.  Let them spend their allowance on any stupid thing they want.  If it breaks, or isn’t as cool as it looked on Amazon, let them live with that disappointment.  It may curb that impulse to buy next time.


Middle school is time to start talking to kids about college costs and how much you are going to be able to pay.  Kids need to be motivated BEFORE high school starts to get the grades needed for scholarships or admittance to their dream school.


13-18 year olds:  Make your teens responsible for larger and longer term budgets.  This is a great time to start using a clothing allowance.  Give them a larger number for the year to spend on clothes and let them manage it.  You’ll be surprised at how quickly the sale racks and discount stores become appealing.


As teens start getting their first jobs, help them research wages and negotiating payments.  This is especially important for your budding entrepreneurs with lawn mowing, babysitting, or IT businesses.  They need to understand their costs and how to charge so that they are earning a profit for their efforts.


This barely scratches the surface of money lessons for kids, but hopefully you got some new ideas or were inspired to reinforce your efforts to make your kids financially responsible.

Kristi’s Quotes: Money Management and Aging Parents

Financial Planner

Do you know when to ask for help when caring for aging parents? In this post in Money, Kristi helps you figure it out!


Denver financial planner Kristi Sullivan recommends hiring a case manager to

do the heavy lifting.  “For an hourly fee, these people can handle….” (click here for more)

Contact me at

303-324-0014 or to talk about how I can help you achieve your financial goals.

Stay Informed and Educated

Everyone Deserves a Financial Planner – Especially You!

My friend and fellow Denver CFP ® licensee Sara Gardner came up with this tip for an article in and it really hit home:  Everyone deserves a financial planner.


Often, my friends will say to me, “When I have money, I’m going to come and see you.”  This makes me a little sad.  First, as a profession, we financial planners must put out a message that says, “Non- millionaires need not apply.”  That’s not the case.  Everyone deserves help getting a money plan in place, no matter where you are in your wealth building journey.


Now, not all planners can be all things to all clients.  For example, if people are having trouble staying out of credit card debt, I’m not the best person to help with that.  But guess what?  I have kind and qualified friends who are budget creating experts and I am happy to refer folks to them.


Some people have good savings habits and a start on goals such as retirement and college savings.  They don’t have a lot saved yet, but are on their way.  However, there are lots of needs bombarding their budgets and they need help sorting and prioritizing.  That’s where an hour spent with a fee-only financial planner (like me!) can help.


Paying a financial adviser for time spent answering your questions can be a fast, no-hassle way to fine tune your savings and investment plans.  No sales pitch for annuities to follow!


My point is, even if you encounter lots of investment advisers with high asset minimums for their client base, that’s not all of us!  Don’t give up and keep searching for an adviser that can meet you where you are in your financial voyage.


Last, keep an eye out for opportunities to meet with a financial planner for free.  The Financial Planning Association has several events per year where you can sign up to speak to a Certified Financial Planner ™ licensee for free for 30 minutes.  Other openings include call in banks like MoneyLine 9.  Financial planners aren’t such a bad group – many of us volunteer our time to make sure everyone has a chance to get quality money advice.

A Word About Pets

Why should a financial adviser be writing about pets?  Because people will open a link about pets more often than a link about money.  So, I’ll write about pets and money.

First, do you know how much you spend on pet care?  If not, I’ll give you a few averages that I lifted from this article on the moneyunder30 website.

One-time pet expenses

  • Spaying or Neutering: Dog: $200 / Cat: $145 
  • Medical Exam: Dog: $70 / Cat: $130
  • Collar or Leash: Dog: $30 / Cat: $10
  • Litter Box: Cat: $25
  • Scratching Post: Cat: $15
  • Crate: Dog: $95
  • Carrying Crate: Dog: $60 / Cat: $40
  • Training: Dog: $110

Total One-time Costs: Dog: $565 / Cat: $365

Annual pet expenses

  • Food: Dog: $120/ Cat: $145
  • Annual Medical Exams: Dog: $235 / Cat: $130
  • Litter: Cat: $200
  • Toys and Treats: Dog: $55 / Cat: $25
  • License: Dog: $15
  • Pet Health Insurance: Dog: $225 / Cat: $175
  • Miscellaneous: Dog: $45 / Cat: $30

Total Annual Costs: Dog: $695 / Cat: $705 

Okay, I’ve given you the numbers. Now, do I suggest that you look at these and not own a pet?  Not if I don’t want a Colorado-dog-lover’s protest mob in the front yard.  No, I want you to be realistic so that if you are considering adding to your family, you’ve budgeted some money for the additional cost.

For you pre-retirees out there who are working with a financial planner on projections (if you aren’t, please call me), don’t forget this important budget item when telling your planner what you need to spend in retirement.

A last thought for older pet owners.  Please keep in mind that the puppy you buy at age 87 will still need exercise when you are 95.  Maybe an older pet makes sense?  Also, be sure to update your will with a designated guardian for your furry friend as well as money for that guardian to continue the upkeep that will be required.

A wedding costs what?!?

According to an April 5th article on, the average wedding cost in the US rose to over $32,000 in 2015.  Compare that to the median household income of $50,000 and you can see that wedding mania may be a little out of control.

Of course, that number is an average and costs around the country vary.  In Manhattan, the average wedding cost is $82,000 (gulp!)  and in Alaska, you can get away with a mere $17,000 for your big day.   I though my relaxed, hippie, granola state of Colorado would be much lower than average, but nope, we come in at $31,000.

Thinking of tying the knot soon?  Of course, you want your day to be unique, personal, meaningful and fun.  You know what else is fun?  Financial security!

So, to compare, let’s look at some wedding costs and an investment of a similar amount can grow to over time.  Source,

  • Average wedding cost overall at $32,000 invested for 35 years earning 6% interest = $245,000 retirement nest egg
  • Average cost of a reception live band at $3,500 invested for 20 years earning 6% = $11,000 in your kid’s 529 college savings account
  • Combined cost of a wedding photographer and videographer at $4,300 invested for 5 years earning 6% = $5,700 for your 5-year anniversary vacation

And the flip side is this:  $32,000 on a credit card charging 17% interest for the 10 years it takes you to pay it off makes your wedding’s overall cost of $58,000!

Not to kill your hopes and dreams, but if your dad offers you cash to elope you might consider taking the money!  Viva Las Vegas!

Is Your Kid Really Going to Get a Sports Scholarship?

As I write this blog (I write them in advance of them coming out), I’m waiting for yet another cancellation notice for my sons’ games this weekend due to weather.  We will be playing spring sports make-up games until August at this rate.

It’s not so disruptive to my schedule because I am a very relaxed mom when it comes to kids’ sports.  I don’t care if their teams win or lose.

My main concerns about my children’s athletics are these:

  • Are practices and games convenient to my home? Walking distance is preferred.
  • Is the time commitment reasonable? No more than 6 hours per week is ideal.  Tournament avoidance is desired.  Overnight travel is not tolerated.
  • Are the coaches competent but not abusive?
  • Are the other parents people I like to hang out with? If so, I will provide the drinks and snacks!
  • Is the registration cost reasonable?


Of course, you can always find something on the internet to support your way of thinking.  And so I did:

  • Travis Dorsch (former kicker for Purdue and the Cincinnati Bengals) conducted a study that found spending on youth sports has grown to up to 10.5% of family gross income.
  • The percentage of kids who get college scholarships to play sports is low – 3% – 5%, so putting a ton of money to sports hoping for a payoff later is not a great investment.
  • Putting too much pressure on kids for something that is supposed to be fun is emotionally damaging. The best memories of professional athletes of playing sports as kids are often of unstructured games with friends.


The source for these juicy tidbits is a New York Times article by Paul Sullivan (no relation!), “The Rising Cost of Youth Sports, In Money and Emotion,” published January 16, 2015.  Check it out for the full quotes and sources.


If these topics sound like they would be of interest to your employees, sales conference, or professional organization, contact me at 303-324-0014 or for more information.


Can Your Relationship Stand The Test of Financial Stress?

Relationship Financial Stress

This topic was suggested to me from my friend and financial adviser Cameron Morgan of A&I Financial.  Wow, has dating changed since the Stone Age when I was out there!

I recently had an inquiry from a magazine reporter about how many dates you should go on before asking about your sweetie’s credit score. I couldn’t help, since the last time I went on a date, everyone involved (me, my date, the guy at Popeye’s waiting on us) was totally broke so it wasn’t really an issue.

However, these are challenging times financially and money is the number one thing couples fight about, so you might as well get your spending habits and money attitudes out there early.

Some financial info you want to know before walking down the aisle:

  • How much debt do you have? What kind (credit card, car loan, student debt)?
  • How will we handle kid expenses (i.e. what to buy them vs. make them earn, allowance, large purchases)?
  • What do you earn?
  • Will we split expenses or treat all earnings and savings as one pool for the family?
  • Do you value spending money on things or experiences more?
  • What are your parents’ finances like? Your sweetie may not know the answer to this question in detail, but you can observe their spending habits for a clue as to your mate’s money background.  If it seems really foreign to your attitude, it’s probably worth discussing.
  • How do you see our lifestyle as a couple/family? Will be both work or will one stay home with kids? Do you want to live in town or the suburbs?  Do you need a new car every two years or is that not important?
  • What’s a good threshold for purchases that need to be cleared with each other? $250? $1,000?


This barely scratches the surface, but you get the idea.

Even if you are long married, these could be some good questions to revisit.  Especially as you head toward retirement and may be looking at some lifestyle changes ahead.

Always, being open and willing to discuss difficult topics is important to a happy long term relationship.  Money talk is no different!  Except, maybe less enjoyable.

If these topics sound like they would be of interest to your employees, sales conference, or professional organization, contact me at 303-324-0014 or for more information.

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