Archive for Personal Finance

What Happens When You Become a Ghoul Yourself?

This time of year we celebrate our dearly departed by dressing up like gorillas and gorging on our kids’ hard won Halloween candy.  But what happens when you actually pass on to the other side?  Have you given thought to your send-off?


Jamie Sarche, Director of Outreach and Pre-arranged Funeral Planning at Feldman Mortuary  was kind enough to answer a few questions about the art AND finance of a good funeral.


Q:  What are some elements of a funeral that you think are essential for the grieving process of those left behind?


Jamie:  A public event, being surrounded by family and friends, who also care about the person who died, helps the bereaved to process the loss and begin to create a new normal. Taking time away from the day-to-day is helpful too. A funeral and mourning period reminds us that grief is a MUCH longer and more complicated process than our death-averse society acknowledges.
 Q: As an expert funeral pre-planner, how is pre-paying for a funeral a smart financial decision?


Jamie:  Funerals typically go up in cost 7-10% a year. That means they double in cost approximately every 7-10 years. By planning in advance and paying for the funeral long before it’s needed, you can avoid all that inflation AND give your loved the emotional gift of knowing they are doing exactly the right thing. They will also avoid the overspending that often comes when one has to make all the decisions on the day of a death, the day they are LEAST able to think.


Q:  What are some ways that a person can save money on a funeral without sacrificing quality?


Jamie:  Choose a funeral home that is family-owned — one that is beholden only to the family, not to shareholders. Choose one that will not pressure you to get more than you think you need. Think about what REALLY matters to you. Is a fancy casket important? A simple box does the same job. If you are creating and scattering the ashes, do you really need a fancy urn? Plan long in advance to avoid inflation and give yourself the ability to pay over time. The funds are held by an insurance plan; if you die while making payments, there is life insurance coverage to pay any outstanding balance.


Thanks, Jamie, for your expertise!  For more information on planning your own Day of the Dead, contact Jamie at or 303-322-7764.

Ask the Advisor: What you Need to know About Divorce and Money

I recently received a question from someone who wishes to remain anonymous: he and his wife are considering separating and he was wondering about his next step financially – specifically about relocating and what his options are.


Divorce is an unsettling time and one of the biggest concerns is where to live.  And this is a question I have had often from recently divorced people:


Should they use their portion of retirement accounts to buy a new house?


If a large part of your divorce settlement comes in the form your former spouse’s retirement accounts, it can be tempting to use that money for a down payment on a new house.  Here is why I discourage this idea:


You will take an enormous tax hit:  Say you want to use $50,000 out of a 401(k) plan to buy a house.  You will be adding $50,000 to your annual income for the year (in addition to work and/or maintenance payments) for tax purposes.  If you are under age 59 ½, you also will be hit with a 10% early withdrawal penalty.


If you are in the 25% tax bracket, that $50,000 withdrawal will cost an additional $12,500 in taxes plus $5,000 for the IRS penalty.  So, that $50,000 down payment actually costs you $67,500 after you pay the IRS.


You sacrifice your future retirement:  Using the example of the $50,000 withdrawal, let’s figure out what you will give up in retirement security by using that money for a house.   Say you are 45 years old and will retire at age 65.  If you average 7%/year growth in a stock mutual fund over 20 years, that $50,000 would be worth $179,000 at retirement.


You may not know where you want to permanently settle right after your divorce:  My realtor friends tell me that buyers shouldn’t expect to make money on a home purchase if they are in the home for less than 5 years.  Commissions, moving expenses, and uncertain real estate values make a home purchase a long term investment.


Since divorce is a time of adjustment, it’s hard to say where you will want to live 1, 2 or 3 years after the split.  Maybe a new job will require relocation.  There may be child custody arrangements that necessitate a move.  It may make sense to take 6 months or so to rent and see what happens in your life before you commit to a new real estate purchase.


Although you are likely feeling unmoored after a divorce, don’t let emotions cloud your smart financial judgement.  Taking money out of a retirement account to buy a house was a bad idea when you were married and that doesn’t change after a divorce.



Your Year End Tax Planning Starts Now!

Think you can wait until December 31st to do tax planning for 2016?  Think again!  Starting your tax to-do’s earlier in the year makes life easier for your CPA, financial advisor, AND you.


Thanks so much to Elizabeth Moore, CPA and Partner at Ryan, Gunsauls & O’Donnell, LLC ( for these top 5 actions to take NOW.


  • Get your books and records in order for the year (i.e., record all of your cash receipts and disbursements in QuickBooks or the software of your choice, reconcile your bank and credit card accounts, update your mileage logs, gather receipts to document expenses, etc.).


  • Donate to your favorite charity including churches, schools, or other 501(c)(3) public charities.  You can even donate up to $100,000 directly from your IRA to a charity of your choice which counts toward your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for the year and isn’t includable in your adjusted gross income for the year, which is a huge tax benefit.


  • If you haven’t met your deductible, get all of those medical and dental appointments out of the way and PAID for by check or credit card prior to year-end.


  • Start researching the business vehicle of your choice, NOW, instead of on 12/31.  To establish adequate business use (i.e. 50% or more) of a vehicle to get the maximum amount of depreciation deductions, buying well before year-end is a must.


  • Take inventory of your business fixed assets (i.e. furniture, fixtures, equipment, vehicles, etc.) NOW and determine what you need to buy this year, instead of waiting until 12/31.  Not only must the purchase occur prior to 12/31, it must be placed in service prior to 12/31 to be eligible for depreciation.


Remember, if you spend New Year’s Eve on last minute tax deadlines, who will be wearing that lovely lamp shade at the neighbors’ party?


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.

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