Con or Pro Probiotics?

As my faithful readers know, sometimes I get tired of coming up with new blog content, so I arm wrestle other people into writing for me.  And sometimes the content has nothing to do with finance, just something I thought was interesting.

 

Today, I welcome nutritionist Maureen West to tell us all about probiotics.  “What does this have to do with finance?” you say.  Well, there are few things worse for the pocketbook than being sick!  Read on for tips from Maureen.

 

Feeling Less Than? Could Probiotics Help?

 

Probiotics – you’ve heard the term, but if you’re like most people I know, you aren’t too sure about the benefits, protocols or differences between the numerous brands, strains and strengths available.

 

Here’s a Probiotic 101 to get you started discovering if your body could use a boost.

 

What are probiotics?

 

Probiotics are the tiny friendly bugs that naturally live in your gut and help keep it healthy and balanced… a big job!  Because the GI tract is where 70% of your immune system resides, it’s incredibly important you have more of the good bugs than the bad ones.

 

Do I need probiotics?

 

Most people can benefit from probiotic supplementation, given our modern-day lifestyles of less-than-stellar eating habits, stress and antibiotic use (which wreaks havoc on the gut!); probiotics can increase the good bacteria, and help your body heal.  They also help the body manufacture and absorb important vitamins and minerals for energy, nerve and brain function.

 

 

How do I increase my probiotic intake?

 

There are both food and supplement sources of probiotics that can recolonize your gut with good bacteria, and then help it stay balanced.

 

  1.    Food sources include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, kimchi, kombucha, sparkling water kefir, coconut water probiotic drink, and organic miso. If you tolerate dairy, you can consider organic yogurt and kefir.

 

  1.    You may need more than what food can provide. It’s fairly common to need a therapeutic dose in supplement form, especially if you have taken an antibiotic, are constipated, or suffer from allergic rhinitis, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, acid reflux, or lactose intolerance.

 

How much should I take?

 

That depends on your specific needs. Probiotics have vastly different components, with different strains targeting and benefiting different parts of the body and affecting different health conditions. They come in a huge range of anywhere from 1 billion to 100 billion active probiotic cells. Like most things in health, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.  It’s best to get advice.

 

probiotics, denver financial planner

 

Maureen West is a Certified Nutritionist based in Denver, CO. If you’d like to explore which probiotics would be most effective for you, making changes to your nutrition and/or improving your health, call, text or email Maureen at 407.921.9192 or Maureen@MaureenWest.net. Learn more at MaureenWest.net

 

Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

 

How Much Student Debt Should Parents Take On?

student debt, denver financial planner

We are getting back to into the swing of the school year and for many, school means college.  College soon, or college now, and the angst of paying for it.

 

I went to a seminar last year by Joe Messinger, CFP ® of Capstone Wealth Partners.  He gave us amazing perspective on the student loan crises and how advisers and parents (one family at a time) can stop this madness.

 

Financial Reality

His first concept was showing us a photo of Kobe Bryant’s house next to a picture of his own house.  He told us (and we know this!) that as much as he would like Kobe’s house, he can’t have it because he doesn’t have the income to support the payments.  No mortgage company in their right mind would lend him the money to buy a $10,000,000 house on a meager financial advisor’s income.

 

So, why isn’t college lending the same way?  A person can take out $150,000 worth of student loans to become a teacher earning $40,000 his first year out of college (with the help of his unwitting parents, of course).  It sounds mean, but does this make any sense at all?  No!  The college loan system SHOULD be like the mortgage industry – there should be at least some reason for the amount of the loan besides the student just wanting to go to school where the fall leaves are the prettiest.

 

Student Debt

Mr. Messinger’s idea is that families should not take out more in loans than what the student will likely make in her first year’s salary of her chosen major.  So, if that major is Computer Science, with a median first year income of $80,000, that’s the cap of the loans that should be taken. Total!  Not every year!  If the student wants to be a Social Worker earning $35,000 in his first year, that is the maximum loan that should be taken.

 

That doesn’t mean the education should only cost $35,000.  There are other ways the bills can be paid, such as merit scholarships, need-based grants, work-study, family assistance, savings, and the student just getting a part-time job during school.  Starting college at a community college for the first year or two can offer huge savings on the total cost of tuition for a bachelor’s degree.

 

The point here is that student wants cannot trump the family’s overall financial needs.  Parents need to not be in 6-figure student debt heading into retirement, and students will have a hard time launching into adulthood saddled with unreasonable debt.

 

To Reinvest or Not to Reinvest – THAT is the Question!

reinvest, denver financial planner

A question that comes up from clients of all ages is “how do I handle the dividends and interest from my investments?”

 

What is a dividend, anyway?

From the Google dictionary, a dividend is “a sum of money paid regularly (typically quarterly) by a company to its shareholders out of its profits or reserves.”  Interest is the money paid to lenders for bonds or other debt instruments.

 

Dividends are not guaranteed and can go up or down or away without warning.  Interest is from bonds is more stable, if the company whose bond you own is solvent.

 

Reinvesting the dividends means that automatically, the dividends a company issues are used to buy more of that company’s stock.  Dividends and interest are also issued by mutual funds that are passing along these payments from their underlying stock or bond investments.

 

Here’s an example

If you owned a mutual fund that was worth $100/share and a dividend payment was issued of $5/share, you would buy 5% of a new share of that mutual fund for each share you owned.  This is a great way to continue growing your position in a long-term investment.

 

Most investors are set up to reinvest dividends (and interest and capital gains, in the case of mutual funds).  In fact, when you see returns reported, it is always assumed that dividends have been reinvested.  This can make a huge difference in your portfolio growth.  According to this article by IntrinsicValueFormula, 44% of returns of the S&P 500 over the last 80 years can be attributed to dividends.

 

As great as reinvested dividends are, there could be a good reason to let those dividends (and, again, interest and capital gains in mutual funds) fall into cash instead of buying more shares.

 

Spending during retirement

One of the hardest parts of being retired is creating a paycheck from investments.  You are told your whole life to save, save, save for retirement, but where are the classes about spending during retirement?  How do you decide what investments to sell each month or year to free up cash to buy groceries, medicine, and European river cruises?

 

One easy way is to stop building more of your stock/mutual fund positions through reinvestment, and let that money accumulate in your cash portion of the account.  You can make this choice in IRA and taxable accounts.  This way, cash is slowly accumulating on its own.  Depending on your spending habits, the income from the investments may be enough to keep you from selling shares to create cash for spending.

 

As usual, my questions have no clear answers.  Everyone’s situation is different, so talk to your financial advisor – or me! – if for help deciding what path is best for you.

Here’s How Investing in Productivity Can Change Your Business!

People are always wanting the sure thing investment.  Unfortunately, in the stock market, there is no such thing, but what about investing in your own productivity?  Now there’s a way to get a sure-fire return.

 

This week, I welcome guest blogger Arielle Minicozzi.  Even though I hate learning to use new technology, Arielle recently helped me with some automation in my practice. It’s the best gift I’ve given myself in a long time!

 

Kristi:  What are your favorite tools to increase workplace productivity?

Arielle:  The best productivity booster is my appointment scheduling tool. I use a program called Calendly, which allows contacts to schedule calls directly from my website or email. It saves so much time for both parties.

Another favorite is MailChimp. Instead of retyping the same email over and over, I can just schedule messages to send automatically once certain events occur.

 

Kristi:  How can process mapping (or workflow illustrations or whatever you like to call it) help us be more successful in our business and even life?

Arielle:  Process mapping is important because it forces you to hone in on what is important to you and your clients and why, and really consider whether you do an activity out of habit or necessity. It also allows you to identify gaps and obstacles in your existing process so you can address them before they become systemic issues.

 

Kristi:  What is the major hurdle for people to create more automated work flow?  How would you suggest we get over it?  What are the benefits?

Arielle:  The main hurdle for people to create a more automated workflow is fear of the unknown. If you’ve always considered yourself to be a technologically challenged person, that doubt will likely prevent you from exploring options that would otherwise be extremely helpful. Like with any doubt, the best thing to do is to jump in and try it out. Most programs offer free trials and others offer ongoing free access to lite versions of the program.

 

The benefit of automation is an enormous recovery of time and energy. If you don’t have to think about what to do next, you’re less likely to become distracted or frustrated. That frees up time to use for other, more important things like helping clients or relaxing. Even if your workflow isn’t fully automated, just taking that first step of setting up a scheduling application can open up a world of possibility.

 

Kristi:  Thank you Arielle, for your inspiring ideas!  For more information or to hire Arielle yourself, see her bio below:

 

Arielle Minicozzi, denver financial planner

 

Arielle Minicozzi worked six years in the mortgage industry and became a CFP® certificant before starting Sphynx Financial Planning in 2017. She has a passion for teaching millennials how to become financially free and also enjoys helping other financial planners refine their workflows and automate their processes. You can check out the company’s website at www.sphynxfinancial.com or book an appointment at www.calendly.com/sphynxautomation.

Five Funny Quotes about Back-To-School

school, denver financial planner

Education can get you the only thing that really matters in today’s world — an assigned parking space.”

— Gene Perret

 

You know there is a problem with the education system when you realize that out of the 3 R’s only one begins with an R.

– Dennis Miller

 

As long as algebra is taught in school, there will be prayer in school.

– Cokie Roberts

 

If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.

– Edgar W. Howe

 

The human brain is special. It starts working as soon as you get up and it doesn’t stop until you get to school.

– Milton Berle

What in the Hail is Happening to My Insurance Rates?

I am so happy to welcome guest writer and friend Julie Sequeira.  Julie is property and casualty insurance agent/expert with American Family Insurance.  Because home and auto insurance is one of our largest household expenses, I wanted a little more insight into rates and how we can be better insurance consumers.  Take it away, Julie!

 

Kristi:  What can we expect for car and home insurance rates this year?

 

Julie:  I think you can likely expect an increase on the low side of 10% and more realistically 20% base rate increase – that means that if you have had an accident, traffic ticket or claim your renewal rate increase will be higher than that. For the foreseeable future rates will continue to rise in Colorado. With rising rates you will see new offerings in deductibles and limited coverage for wind/hail claims.

 

KS:  Why will my rates go up in Denver if the hail was in Lakewood?

 

JS:  Rates are driven mostly by claims history in our geographic state and certainly the metro area is considered one area for things like hail because it is so pervasive in this area. An exception might be the western slope in Colorado where they don’t have hail storms. And insurance is collective risk – so yes, we all pay higher rates when more people file claims.

 

KS:  What tips do you have to make sure clients are getting the most complete insurance coverage?

 

JS:  Talking with your agent is usually the best way to get the most complete coverage because you give them information that you don’t realize is insurance related during conversations. For example, you might say, “we really love eating breakfast outside on our new larger deck.” A good agent will then ask you questions about the deck and potentially other home improvements that may require increasing some coverages.

 

Be honest with your agent because then you will understand your coverage limitations and be able to choose options for coverages that you need but if you don’t tell then it is hard to make sure you are covered correctly. Additionally, bundling really does help because then the agent looks at your account holistically so that you have few gaps in coverage.

 

KS:  Thank you, Julie for your expertise!  For more information or to contact Julie, see her bio below.

 

Julie Sequira

 

Julie Sequeira has been in the insurance industry since 1998 and has run her own agency since 2004. She works to provide the most comprehensive coverage with the best premium for her clients. She seeks to help people keep their assets and sanity during difficult times.  For more information, visit https://agent.amfam.com/julie-sequeira/

 

The Costco Battle – Round 2

Welcome back to the Costco Boxing Ring!  This week, to counter the non-love of Rebecca Kennedy, we have Addie McHale, CFP ® to extoll the virtues of a Costco membership.

 

Kristi:  When did you get your first Costco membership?  Why?  How long did you have it?

 

Addie McHale: I have been going to Costco for probably 20 years, and I started out going to the Billings, Montana warehouse with a friend who had a membership when I lived in Montana. We would share things like produce.  This was my introduction to Costco.  At that time, I was actually running a natural food co-op group for about 20 families in my small town out of my garage!  I’ve always been a “healthy foodie,” and Costco helps me supplement my healthy grocery needs.  I usually go to Costco a couple of times each month.

 

KS: Can you quantify or just anecdotally say why you think a membership is a good/bad financial move?

 

 

AM: I am all about eating whole, unprocessed, organic food for health reasons, and as a side benefit eating this way generates very little packaging waste so it’s better environmentally too.  I am always surprised how much organic food Costco carries!  And since my particular store’s clientele gobbles up anything that is “organic,” they seem to stock more and more organic items.  I love the “vote with your dollars” aspect of Costco as they have such huge buying power.  My boyfriend recently pointed out to me that anything organic has a bright green price tag, so it’s really easy to pick out the organic produce that way. As well, they often carry bulk versions of local brands, and I think this really helps smaller companies get their product in front of a larger audience (a hummus made in Boulder comes to mind).

 

Kristi:  What do you love about your membership?  What do you hate about it?

 

AM: I love the demos!  I bought my amazing high-powered blender there that I have used over 2000 times in 3 years (with an extra year of warranty thanks to Costco).  Recently on a trip with my mom, we purchased a special foot massager that was being demoed and it has been absolutely life-changing for her.  It was $100 less than its normal price and it has eliminated my mom’s arthritic knee pain — she can walk much easier now.  And the samples — my mom is often not up for doing much anymore but she’s almost always up for a trip to Costco on sample day. And we sometimes meet interesting people at the Vita-mix demo.  Costco just makes shopping a little more enjoyable. Nobody gets excited to go to Safeway but people do actually get excited for a trip to Costco.

 

I like the no-frills, no advertising aspect too — it’s just very simply food in a warehouse. I value efficiency and Costco has this down — you can get in and out pretty quickly if you stay away from the busy times (I’ve found the best time to go is AFTER dinner an hour or less before they close).  They take care of their employees with decent pay and good benefits.  And I like that they re-use boxes to pack up your food so there are none of those terrible plastic bags that eventually end up in the ocean.  And where else can my boyfriend get tires put on his car while we are shopping?

 

One of my issues with Costco is that like anything, used the wrong way it can be detrimental.  I see a lot of junk in people’s carts when I’m there, and I agree with Becky in that there are certainly many temptations and ways to part with your money.  If you don’t have a plan going in, it is very easy to buy things you don’t need, and like any good marketer, they know all the tricks (we call the line up of the wares they are pawning when you first walk in “Costco porn”).  Including the samples.  But for me, I go in when I’m not hungry and with a list, and I don’t succumb to the temptations.  If you are someone that is not disciplined, Costco is probably not a safe place for you to shop.

 

I also don’t like how they sometimes stop carrying an item I have become hooked on.  This tends to make me stock up a little more sometimes due to fear of it not being there on my next trip.

KS: Can you quantify or just anecdotally say why you think a membership is a good/bad financial move?

 

AM: I’m pretty price conscious (thanks to my parents for having a strange love of grocery store price trolling it seems to be in my genes).  I definitely am saving money on the items I purchase at Costco.  What comes to mind is 4 pound bags of frozen organic fruit for $10 (very expensive in other stores) and actually all of their produce prices are significantly lower.  I discovered matcha, a Japanese green tea powder, at my local Costco last summer and it is now a morning ritual.  One bag for $35 makes at least 100 servings, if not more.  One hundred matchas at my local coffee shop would cost over $500!

 

I also pride myself on wasting very little food (again, genetics).  If I buy something that can’t be eaten before going bad, I freeze it, and split it up into smaller containers so it’s easy to just thaw what I need (diced green chiles and tomato sauce come to mind).

 

Before going into Costco, you definitely need a plan. If you can be disciplined and stick to a list and not shop when you’re hungry, you can get a lot of great healthy food and save a significant amount of money doing so. Bonus points: setting a dollar amount from which you allow yourself to stray, and/or putting the tempting item down and thinking it over at home. If at that point you really decide you need/want it, you can pick it up during your next Costco adventure.

 

Kristi:  Thanks, ladies, for your solid arguments on both sides!  As with any debate, there are pros and cons, but the one thing we can all agree on is DISCIPLINE makes all the difference.  This is true in our savings and spending habits, as the Costco debate shows so well.

 

addie mchale

Addie McHale is a Certified Financial Planner™ who believes that the best financial planning happens every month by the spending and saving decisions you make with your income, and she teaches her clients how to master their cash flow. After building thousands of financial plans for a Fortune 50 company, she founded her firm Moneyfull, and her philosophy and tagline — Plan a richer life™— means YOU define your life, your values, and your goals.  Aligning your money with what’s important to you = your richest life!  Addie lives and works in the Denver Highland neighborhood.  Visit her website, moneyfull.com.

Costco – Love it or hate it? Two financial advisors battle it out!

For your entertainment, I have brought into the fighting ring two financial advisors, Rebecca Kennedy and Addie McHale, to duke it out over whether a Costco membership is a good or bad financial move.  Hold onto your hats, readers!  This could get messy!

 

This week we hear from Costco Non-Believer, Rebecca Kennedy, CFP ®.

 

Kristi:  When did you get your first Costco membership?  Why?  How long did you have it?

 

Rebecca Kennedy:  My first membership was a wedding gift that we received almost exactly 10 years ago.  We had it for one year because that was the length of the membership.  We let it expire because we just didn’t go much. We tend to join every few years for one reason or other, mainly because our memories are short.

 

KS:  What did you love about your membership?  What did you hate about it?

 

RK:  Shopping at Costco is truly an experience.  It’s laid-out with fun, eye-catching products that are sure to enhance your life in some form or fashion – at least temporarily, like all things.   What I dislike about Costco, in addition to the crowds and how much time a shopping trip can take, is that it’s FAR too easy to walk out having spent hundreds of dollars on debatable “needs.”

 

KS: Can you quantify or just anecdotally say why you think a membership is a good/bad financial move?

 

RK:  I think membership is a bad financial move for most people, though I can’t unequivocally say it is for all.  I consider myself a fairly disciplined person, though definitely not as disciplined as Addie, and I have trouble making rational purchases at Costco.  Inevitably, I walk out having spent more than was ever intended and purchased things that were not on my shopping list.

 

Not everything sold at Costco is even that good a deal, especially when you factor in the time value of money spent upfront on an item that could take months to consume.  It’s even less of a good deal if some portion of your purchases aren’t fully consumed and eventually get thrown out or perish before their “use by” date.     Case in point, I still have four frozen veggie burgers in my freezer from the 16-count bulk pack purchased months ago.  They were a decent deal, and I thought they would make weeknight dinners easier.  But you know what?  I’m sick of veggie burgers.

 

And what about the value of your time making trips to multiple stores?  Costco doesn’t carry everything on my shopping list so that means at least one other trip. All of these things, in my opinion, argue against a Costco membership as a good financial move.

 

Rebecca Kennedy

 

Rebecca Kennedy, CFP ® is the Principal of Kennedy Financial Planning, a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor based in Denver, Colorado.  She does hourly and project-based financial planning and investment advising for a wide range of clients.  She is a member of the Garrett Planning Network, NAPFA, and the Colorado Financial Planning Association, and has over 19 years of experience in the financial services industry.  http://kennedyfinancialplanning.com/

 

College Merit Scholarships: What They Are and How to Get Them

merit scholarships, denver financial advisor

This week I am happy to offer an article by guest blogger Sara Zessar, an expert in the field of finding the college fit for students and money to help pay the tuition.  Read more about Sara at the end of this piece.

 

What is a merit scholarship?

 

In essence, it’s a scholarship that is awarded based on one or a number of factors, such as academic achievement (often as indicated by GPA and test scores), leadership, community service, extracurricular activities, and talents.  Merit scholarships are not based on athletics or financial need, which is why they may be a great option for students who don’t qualify for need-based aid.

 

Many colleges offer merit scholarships, ranging from a few thousand dollars a year to full tuition.  Just as the amounts of scholarships vary considerably, so do the qualifications and methods for applying.  As you are researching colleges, it’s important to find out what (if any) merit scholarships are available, what they’re based on, and how to apply or be considered for them.

 

Here are examples

 

The University of Colorado, Boulder awards scholarships to Colorado residents through its Esteemed Scholars Program.  Students are automatically considered for these scholarships when they apply for admission to the university.  The scholarships, which range from $2,500 to $5,000 per year, are based on students’ GPAs and SAT or ACT scores, so it’s easy to determine the amount of money you’ll be offered.

 

In contrast, the University of Southern California’s merit scholarships are “based on academic excellence, leadership, service and talent.”  USC uses a holistic review process to evaluate students for scholarships, so there’s no way of knowing if you’ll receive a scholarship or how much money it will be.  In order to be considered for merit scholarships at USC, students must apply to the university by December 1.

 

At Tulane University, students are automatically considered for partial-tuition merit scholarships.  The university also offers full-tuition merit scholarships, but these require a separate application, and some require students to apply for admission by the Early Action or Early Decision deadlines.

 

The Danforth Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis awards merit scholarships to students who have been nominated by their high schools.  Once students are nominated, they have to complete an application for the scholarship.

 

I use these examples to illustrate differences in the types of merit scholarships colleges offer and the processes by which they are awarded.  As you research colleges, be sure to investigate the requirements for applying for scholarships.  Do you need to apply by an earlier deadline to be considered for a scholarship?  Are you automatically considered when you apply for admission, or is there an additional essay you have to write or a separate application you have to fill out?  Do you have to be nominated, and if so, who can nominate you?

 

Getting answers to these questions can mean the difference between receiving thousands of dollars and not getting a dime, so make sure you take the time to do your research.

 

sara zessar, college

 

Sara Zessar, the founder of Discovery College Consulting, LLC, has assisted hundreds of students with the college search and admissions process. With an M.Ed. in counseling, Sara worked for six years as a high school counselor in private, public, and charter schools. Because of her counseling background, she is able to help students and families with the emotional aspects of the process in addition to the academic and procedural ones. She also assists students with the scholarship process, and Discovery College Consulting’s students have received up to $33,000/year in college merit scholarships.  To learn more, visit www.discoverycollegeconsulting.com.

WTF (What the Finance) is Life Expectancy?

life expectancy, denver financial planner

Life expectancy is a concept that seems basic but is not well understood.  If we all knew the exact date of our death, the whole financial advice industry could cease to exist.  After all, if you know exactly how many more days you need your money to last, all planning can be done with an abacus.

 

It’s the uncertainty of lifespans (and investment markets) that allow me to have a job.

 

What does “life expectancy” mean?

 

Technically, life expectancy is that age at which half of a population (generally defined by country) born in the same year are dead and half are still alive.  It’s not an accurate predictor of your age of death because it’s an average including children who died very young in freak ice fishing accidents or from small pox and those who died very old repeating the same story for the thousandth time to their great-grandkids.

 

Therefore, Life Expectancy is not a number that is very helpful in your spending plan during retirement.

 

What do financial planners worry about?

 

My colleagues and I worry about Longevity Risk. What is the risk that you will run out of money if you live to age 95 or 100?  Truly, the healthy retiree is a nightmare for a financial advisor.  We’d prefer you take up smoking and heavy drinking, so we don’t have to worry about stretching your asset pool for 40 years.

 

If you have some sort of medical condition that will likely shorten your life, tell your financial advisor so he or she can adjust those expectations.  You will be able to spend more money each year if you know your life expectancy is shorter.

 

Conversely, if you are a woman who is healthy and has a history of old women in the family, you may be more comfortable planning for your assets to last 40 years in retirement.  Yikes!  This means less spending now to support that nonagenarian of the future.  You may be a candidate for certain types of longevity annuities, long-term care insurance, or to take a lifetime pension instead of the lump sum option.

 

I hope this little statistics lesson hasn’t been too boring and gives you a peek behind the curtains of one of the many aspects of retirement income planning.

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