Thinking about a second home? Read this before you commit.

second home

In my chosen career of “killer of hopes and dreams,” I’ve had many conversations about the pitfalls of owning a second home.  Here are some thoughts from a 2015 blog.

Consider this before you buy a second home.


People must be feeling good about the economy because second home ownership is on the rise again.  Vacation home sales increased over 10% in 2012 and 11% of home purchases were second home in that year. (Source.)


Some folks find their second home is all they hoped for and more.  More time with family in a peaceful setting, less expensive than a hotel room, and more comfortable with your own things surrounding you.

However, it’s not always wine and roses.

Myth #1:

My adult kids and grandkids will gather here regularly for picture perfect holidays and getaways.

Reality:  Your adult kids probably have other parents to visit (in-laws) and as the grandkids get older, their time is dominated by sports tournaments, friends, and other interests.  You may be paying for the upkeep on a home that is not visited as often as you thought.


Myth #2:

Real estate in (name the city of your choice) is always a good investment.

Reality:  Real estate in vacation home locations is often more volatile than work-a-day cities.  When recessions happen, the inability to keep the second home can lead to sharp drops in price. It can also increase inventory and property could be difficult to sell for a prolonged period.

Also, a house is not an asset that you can use to pay for medical costs or groceries.  Yes, it looks good on the balance sheet, but it’s not helping you pay the retirement bills.  In fact, between maintenance, HOA dues, utilities, cable, and property management fees, you may be paying much more per year than the increase in value of the property.


Myth #3:

I’ll never get tired of (name the city of your choice).

Reality:  You may find yourself longing for some variety in your travel, but feel tied down to one place due to the carrying costs of your second home.


Keep in mind when you are thinking of purchasing a second home the real, total costs (not just the mortgage) of the property.  A summer rental, while not building equity in a home, will probably cost much less.


Is most of your net worth tied up in your home?

net worth

For clients who have most of their net worth tied up in their homes, finding a way to use that equity to pay bills is a must.

If you are feeling your retirement income is too tight and you meet the eligibility requirements, using your home equity through a home equity conversion mortgage may be worth investigating.

Net worth and your mortgage.


Here are some reverse mortgage basics:

  • Reverse mortgages are also known as home equity conversion mortgages (HECM) and are administered by the FHA.
  • You enter an arrangement with the lender to take money out of your home based on the amount of equity you have and your age.
  • You don’t have to have earned income to qualify.
  • You keep the ownership of your house until the last occupant dies or moves out.
  • You can receive the income from home equity in a variety of ways: For a specific time period, as a credit line to use as needed, or for your lifetime or the time that you or your spouse occupy the home.
  • When you pass away or move from the home, whatever equity is left after the debt and fees are paid will pass back to you (if living) or to your estate. (For related reading, see: How Does a Reverse Mortgage Work?)

Step Away from the Tax Refund and Nobody Gets Hurt.


What you really need to do with your tax refund.


Money Magazine recently asked me the best way someone should spend their tax refund. I immediately told them that they should go out and buy a new TV.

Oh, come on! You know me better than that.

Here’s what I really said.


Whether your refund is in the thousands or hundreds, the urge to spend the funds might instantly become overwhelming. Maybe you already had an idea of what you want to spend the money on and you’re all set to hand over your refund for it. Or, maybe the money means you finally have enough to make a large purchase you’d otherwise need to save for.

“People often look at their tax refund as found money like lottery winnings or inheritance. The temptation to spend surprise money on something fun or frivolous is strong,” says Denver, Colo.-based Certified Financial Planner Kristi Sullivan.


Click here for more….

Some Financial Advice Stands the Test of Time

financial advice


Time has gotten away from me and my blog content is due to Catherine, my amazing social media whiz (  So, I’m taking a page from Dear Abby and re-running some old blogs this month in hopes that you forgot them and they seem new to you again!


Sound Advice.


In the May, 2015 print edition of Money Magazine, there was an article called 101 Ways to Build Wealth.  These list-type of articles come around often and say many of the same things, but I did find a few of these interesting:


Timing is everything.

“Tip #15:  Don’t Tend to Your 401(k) After a Rough Day at Work.  You save more when you feel powerful, even if it’s for a quirky reason.  A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people who had just answered questions while sitting in a tall chair were more likely to save money than those on a low ottoman.  Consider reserving your major financial chores for ‘up’ days when you are feeling in command says study co-author Anne Kathrin Klesse.”


Location, location, location.

If you are looking to buy a house, pay attention to Tip #47:  Look for a nearby Starbucks.  “Homes within a quarter-mile of Starbucks doubled in value, whereas the average home in the US appreciated 65% from 1997 – 2013,” according to Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow.


Don’t panic.

This last tip I picked because it backs up something I’ve said in previous blogs.  Tip #71 says to “Keep Calm and Carry On” with your bond investments in the face of rising interest rates.  “Even if this happens, it’s no reason to flee fixed income.    Much of the drop in bond prices will be made up by the higher yields your funds will earn on newer bonds.”

Your Retirement Account: What’s the magic number?

retirement account

How much is enough?


According to some financial planning experts, you will need to save enough [in your retirement account] so that your retirement income is in the range of 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income. You will need a higher percentage if you plan to improve your standard of living. If you have more expenses in retirement than before retirement, your retirement income may have to be more than your pre-retirement income.


My thoughts on your retirement account.

“There are two reasons it is important to have after-tax investments as part of your retirement plan. First, if you do such a great job saving that you can retire before age 59½, you need money you can access without a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Second, it’s nice to have some diversification of your tax bill in retirement so that every account withdrawal doesn’t get taxed at regular income tax rates,” says Kristi Sullivan,CFP®, Sullivan Financial Planning, LLC, Denver, Colo.


Kids vs. Clients: The Working/Non-Working Mom Dilemma

kids vs. clients

Darned if we do, darned if we don’t.


I had a hilarious conversation with a client who recently relocated to Arizona to be closer to her kids and grandchildren.  She is still working at a job she loves, but thinking of retiring soon.  She said to me, “I feel guilty when I’m playing with my grandkids and not serving my clients.  Then I feel guilty when I’m working and not with the grandkids.”


Do you ever feel this way?


My client described exactly how I feel over summer vacation (fast approaching!), when there are not enough hours to have fun with the kids and feel responsive to client needs.  So, a general pervasive feeling of guilt hangs over summers for me.


Well, darn it!  Here I thought that particular working mom dilemma would go away when my kids are grown.  Only to find out that I may have a reprieve from those feelings for about 12 years after the kids are launched…and then be right back in it when I become a grandmother.


The cycle begins again.


Kids vs. Clients. Oh, to be Wonder Woman….


And we wonder why there is a gender pay gap?  I guess trying to be Wonder Woman does not translate into Wonder Income.  Sheryl Sandberg, help!


Anyway, not much advice in this blog.  Just some random musing.  Next week, look for something more number-y.

One America News Network: My quote about YOUR emergency cash

emergency cash

Do you have emergency cash?


Building up emergency cash can be an uphill battle. So why not use that tax refund?


That was my advice when asked by OAN (One America News Network) about replenishing funds that you might have used for something else during the year.


“Now is actually an ideal time of year to do that because of tax refunds, says Denver adviser Kristi Sullivan. The average IRS refund last year was over $2,800, an excellent stepping stone to a fully-stocked emergency fund.”


Click here for more….

Your Tax Refund: What you can do with that extra cash

tax refund

Got your tax refund? Let’s go crazy!


Shoot. You know me better than that.

The average US tax refund was $2,800 in 2016.  What to do with that mad money?


Here are some ideas, in order, from your friendly financial planner:


  1. Pay off credit card debt if you have it.
  2. Create or add to your emergency fund if you don’t have one or it’s skimpy. You should have at least 3 months’ essential expenses (rent, food, medical, utilities, car payment) set aside in a savings account.  Your 401(k) at work is NOT your emergency fund.
  3. Increase your contribution to your work retirement plan and use the tax refund to make up the smaller amount in your paycheck. Don’t have a retirement plan at work?  Open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) at your bank or a discount brokerage firm.
  4. Put the money in a 529 account for your kid(s) college.
  5. If you’ve covered all those bases, reward yourself! Put the money in a vacation fund or refresh a room in your house with new paint and lighting.  Or treat a group of friends to a dinner and a movie.


Happy after-tax season!


Article Links:


This blog focused on small niche funds or ETFs.  For a list of more broad based mutual funds that meet a sustainability criteria, check out this article from Barron’s by Leslie P. Norton and Crystal Kim in October of 2016.  (Click here.)


This article has great advice about cleaning out a late loved one’s home. (Click here.)


Here is an article with some good ammo for those Social Security Number requesters. (Click here.)


Still looking for ways to deploy that tax refund?  Here are more ideas. (Click here.) 

Cost of Living: How much should you be spending on rent?

Kristi's Quotes

If you’re paying more than 28% of your salary on rent…


…you’re paying too much. In this article from, I detail how your monthly expenses should be allotted.


Let’s take a look


If you’re like many Americans, you have debt. This is especially prevalent among young college grads. That has to be a factor in deciding what you can afford in housing costs.

“The conventional statistic is that no more than 28% of gross salary be spent on housing and no more than 36% on consumer debt. However, that does not at all take into account other obligations in people’s budgets,” said Kristi C. Sullivan, a CFP in Denver, in an email. “Student loans are a large bill for many and if that’s the case, you can’t afford to spend 28% on housing because then you’ll have nothing left for food. Rent is not the fixed expense people think it is. You can lower this cost by living in a less desirable area of town, having roommates, or living in a smaller place.”

Roberge said a common mindset he sees is that people will find a place, decide to move in and figure they’ll make everything else work afterward. To improve your chances at financial success and stability, you need to plan more carefully.


Click here for more….

Your Social Security Number: How social do we need to be?

Social Security Number

So, I was cleaning my broiler pan….


Don’t ask me why, but this subject popped into my head while I was cleaning the broiler pan from making ribs in the oven.  It’s a really big mess to clean up, so there’s lots of time to think.


So, as I was scrubbing, I wondered, how many times to people ask for our Social Security numbers when they shouldn’t really need that information?  When is it acceptable to say “no?”


First, here is a list of people you can’t say “no” to:


  • Credit applications
  • Cash transactions over $10,000
  • Applications for certain federal benefits, including Medicare and Medicaid
  • Military paperwork
  • Interactions with the Department of Motor Vehicles


So, why does everyone else ask?


I’m thinking the doctor’s office, schools, landlords, employers, the trash collector, the veterinarian, the movie theater.  Maybe those last few are exaggerating, but still, it seems like it comes up a lot.


Mostly, people are looking for a way to track you down if you don’t pay your bills.  So, even if it’s not mandatory to disclose your SSN, a business could refuse to do business with you if you don’t fill in that box.

Just say no.


How do you get around providing your Social Security number if it’s not necessary?  Here are a few suggestions I picked up:

  • Just don’t fill out the box on the form. Sometimes, the business will just let it go.
  • If pressed by the business for your SSN, ask the following (P.S. Be nice about it – that will help):
    • Why do you need it?
    • Who will you share it with?
    • What law requires that I provide my SSN to you?
    • What will you do if I refuse?
    • What other forms of ID will you accept?


Just be prepared – anyone who is considering extending you credit or entering a financial arrangement with you will probably insist on getting your SSN.  However, your annual membership to the Zoo or the Art Museum shouldn’t require that information.

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