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Entrepreneuring Your Personal Finances

personal_financeBigg success is life on your own terms. You are the entrepreneur of your life. Entrepreneurs look at the world through a different lens than do large company CEOs.

For example, large companies and small companies use different financial models. Large companies generally have the ability to raise large amounts of money when they need it.

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For small companies, it’s much more difficult. So it’s more critical for small business owners to watch their cash flow. For us as individuals, our financial model is much closer to the entrepreneur’s.

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Should You and Your Spouse Have Separate Accounts?

games Disagreements about how to handle the family finances is often sited as a leading cause of divorce. There seems to be an increasing number who are separating their finances so they don’t separate! This would have been unheard of just a generation or two ago.

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Opposites attract

In many relationships, there is a spender and a saver. Or sometimes you have two spenders who spend differently – one who frequently buys little incidentals that may add up to a lot of money over the course of the year and another one who can’t resist the major purchases.

Is it wrong?

While some people are finding separate accounts the way to go, others think that it’s just wrong. They believe that it’s a bad sign if a couple doesn’t co-mingle their funds.

Does that stem from a time when you had one wage-earner in the home?
Is it a control issue?
Perhaps it has to do with religious beliefs?
Or maybe it’s a trust issue?

We don’t know the answer, but we do know that many couples are making this work.

Why it works

We think keeping separate finances works for a number of reasons. Among them:

  • The saver isn’t frustrated by money being spent on things they think is unwise.

  • The spender doesn’t have to defer gratification so long that they just can’t stand it anymore. 

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How it works

We’ve seen a number of ways to do this. Here are two examples:

The Allocators. These couples begin by allocating who pays for what. It’s a negotiation process. If you choose this system, determine your respective spending priorities. Then, whenever possible, let each spouse pay for those things they feel are most important. Divvy up the basics however you see fit.

Once you’ve figured out who will pay for what, each spouse then gets to spend, save or invest however they want.

The Allowancers
. Okay, we struggled with a name for this group. That’s the best we could do!

Allowancers may maintain a joint account to pay mutual bills like the mortgage or the utility bills. Then they divvy up the excess as allowances.

But don’t forget to take out the trash or you may lose your allowance!

With their allowance, each spouse can save or spend however they want. One spouse may even save to spend … on that next major purchase.

A final thought

You may have heard us say this before, but our thought on this issue is this:

If it works for you and your family, it works.

It doesn’t matter what other people think or even say. What does matter is that you find a system that helps you keep your finances in order. After all, they are a key component to living out your bigg dreams!

How do you and your partner handle your finances? 

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(Image in today's post by hisks)

My Employer is Eliminating 401(k) Matches

retirement Companies are responding aggressively to the bad economic news. Layoffs, hiring freezes, and salary freezes have been some of the most common actions so far.

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Now, more and more employers are looking at eliminating the matching of 401(k) contributions. According to a survey by Watson Wyatt, the global human resources and financial services firm, things are changing quickly. In October, 2% of firms said they had already cut back on these matches and 4% said they planned to. Two months later, in December, 3% had already made the cut and 7% said they intended to.

And these are large companies. Established brands that we all know. Motorola, FedEx, Kodak, and Starbucks just to name a few.

They’re usually using the word “suspend” rather than “eliminate” when they announce these cuts. But it raises a question:

If my employer stops matching my contribution to my
401(k), should I still keep making contributions myself?

It forces us to save

This is perhaps the biggest reason to keep making contributions. Financial planners have said for years that we should pay ourselves first. Investing it before we get it, as we do with our 401(k), is the best way to make sure that happens.

Most people report that they don’t really miss the money. It’s like the taxes that are deducted from our paychecks – the government knows most of us won’t miss the money if we don’t see it.

Of course, there are ways to set up an automatic deduction from our checking or savings account for investments outside of a 401(k). That’s really close to having it deducted from our paycheck, but it’s not quite the same. That little variation can make a bigg difference for some people. You have to judge that for yourself.

Higher limits

The next best option to a 401(k) for most people would be an IRA because contributions may also be deductible. You should check with your financial advisor about the specifics of your situation.

Because you invest before paying taxes, it’s as if the government is making part of the contribution for you. For example, if you made a $1,000 contribution to one of these retirement plans and you’re in the 25% tax bracket, you would pay $250 less in taxes. So, in essence, you’re only out of pocket $750.

With either plan, you don’t pay taxes on the money you earn on your investments until you pull it out. Deductible and deferred – that’s a pretty powerful combination.

Where the 401(k) gains favor is that it has higher maximum limits – your contributions to your 401(k) can total up to $16,500 in 2009 ($22,000 if you’re over 50). You can’t contribute more than $5,000 to an IRA in most cases.

If my employer cuts or eliminates my 401(k) match, are there
reasons to fund my retirement through another vehicle?

A lot of 401(k) plans offer fairly limited investment options and you may pay lower fees in a plan that’s not a 401(k). 

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The bigger issue

It’s not like we don’t already have a sense of it. But recent months have reinforced this paradigm. We can’t count on anyone or anything for any part of our financial future. We must take full control of our own finances. We have to build our own safety nets to make sure we are financially secure.

How much will you have at retirement?

It really boils down to three factors:

  • how much we invest
  • how much we earn on our investment (after all fees and taxes)
  • how long it is invested

From these three factors, we see that we have three options if we don’t want to retire on less money:

1st – We can try to earn more on the money we invest.
That involves taking more risk and we don’t have much appetite for that right now. So this probably isn’t going to fly with most of us.

2nd – We can postpone our retirement.
This buys us more time. People who are really close to retirement right now may not have much of a choice. They may have to do this. But if you still have some time on your side, there may be a better way.

3rd – We can increase our contributions.
Look at your budget and see if there is any way you can make up for the investment your company was making.

If your employer reinstates matching contributions, you can stop contributing at the increased rate and enjoy the extra money in your budget … or …

… you can keep making your higher contributions to give your retirement a kick!

To all our readers in Australia, happy Australia Day! And we hope our friends in India enjoy Republic Day!

And thank you so much for spending time with us today. Join us next time when we discuss extreme multi-tasking. Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

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Direct link to The Bigg Success Show audio file:
http://media.libsyn.com/media/biggsuccess/00316-012609.mp3

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(Image in today's post by woodsy)

Should I Stick with Stocks?

mattress Last time, we talked about a new trend – people stuffing their mattresses the 21st century way. Baby boomers seem to be the main group behind this trend. They are buying treasury bills and gold coins as safe harbors from the volatile stock market.

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It’s understandable that baby boomers are looking for alternatives because many of them are so close to retirement.

But what if you’re not about to retire … should you stick with stocks?
We’ve heard a lot about how the recent decline in stock prices has wiped out all of the last ten years worth of gains. So it’s a really good question. We decided to do some analysis of our own.

Before we start, allow us to make one disclaimer: We’re going to provide an example to help you understand how the market works. Your decisions about your portfolio should be based on your specific situation. We recommend that you talk with a certified financial advisor to help you with that.

Stocks and Certificates of Deposit

To keep it simple, we looked at just two assets – stocks, represented by the S&P 500 (Source: Yahoo! Finance) and risk-free investments, represented by one-month CDs (Source: Federal Reserve) in FDIC-insured institutions.

There may be better assets to invest in (e.g. a broader stock market index), but we still felt that these represented risky assets and risk-free assets relatively well. We were curious about what has happened in the past, looking at various scenarios, with these two assets. This is a good place to insert a couple of caveats:

  • We are looking at historical numbers. We’re not psychic nor do we possess any other ability to project the future.
  • We used nominal pre-tax rates of return, so inflation and taxes have not been factored in to the returns we’ll discuss.

The last ten years
When we look at the last ten years (going back from December 31, 2008), we see that the stock market underperformed its historical average through almost the entire decade.

The best mix of these two assets for the last ten years would have been no mix at all. Investing 100 percent in CDs provided the best return. Even then, the return was not that great: 3.62% per year by our calculations. The worst return, as you might guess, was being 100 percent invested in stocks over the last ten years. They lost about one percent per year.

What about prior ten-year periods?
One ten-year period isn’t all that instructive. So we went back ten more years (January 1, 1989 to December 31, 1998) and looked at those returns. The highest returns in that period came from a portfolio of 100% stocks, which returned 17.28% annually.

So stocks are one for two. Let’s break the tie and go back another ten years. Can you hear the disco music playing?

A portfolio that was fully invested in stocks delivered the best return in that period (January 1, 1979 to December 31, 1988) as well. They earned a return of 14.36% per year.

Is ten years long enough?
Financial advisors have said for years that stocks perform best over longer periods of time. They used to tell us that we should have at least five years before we needed the money or we shouldn’t invest in stocks. Now we’re hearing more and more that ten years is the magic number.

But here’s the thing … we really shouldn’t even count on that as we’ve learned the last ten years.

How long until you retire?
Let’s think about this … if you’re 40-years old, you might have twenty years before you want to retire. At 30, let’s say you have 30 years. How have the returns looked over that period?

Looking back twenty years, even with the most recent decade, our best bet would have been to be fully invested in stocks. Our return would have been 8.14% annually. It’s ditto for the most recent thirty years. An all-stock portfolio returned 10.21% per annum, about its historical average.

So, our research shows that history shows that you should stick with stocks over the long term. But is there a way to lower your risk without sacrificing returns unjustly?

The price of a higher return
There is a price to pay to get a higher return. That price is more volatility and volatility equals risk. Riskier investments should pay more to compensate you for the risk you’re taking. Stocks are riskier than CDs; therefore, they should pay more.

The price of less risk
We just said that riskier investments generally offer higher returns as compensation for the risk. So why not just invest in CDs and other risk-free assets? Because they may not return enough to get you where you need to go. There is a better answer.

Diversification smoothes it out
When you diversify your assets – investing part of your portfolio in risky assets like stocks and a portion in risk-free assets like CDs, you smooth out the volatility, relative to just investing in stocks, while still getting a higher return than if you invested all your money in just CDs.

Example: A 50/50 Mix

As we discussed earlier, had you just invested in stocks over the last thirty years, you would have made about 10 percent per year on your investment. However, you would have lost about one percent a year in the most recent decade.

What if you can’t stomach losses like that?

Obviously, any money invested in stocks is at risk. However, if we had invested 50 percent in stocks and 50 percent in CDs over the last thirty years:

  • We wouldn’t have lost money over the last decade. In fact, we would have made 1.31% per year.
  • The thirty-year return on our portfolio would have been 8.32% a year. While it’s less than the 10 percent we could have earned by just investing in stocks, it’s not that much less. Looks pretty good right now, doesn’t it?

We want to emphasize again that we’re not saying a 50/50 mix is right for you. Consult your financial planner. We just picked 50/50 to see what would have happened with an even mix of these two assets.

Long on stocks
As you can see from the returns we quoted earlier, the experts are right – stocks are good long term investments. If you need the money ten years from now, you need to be careful. If you’re a 30- or 40-year old funding your retirement, a good basket of stocks as part of a well-diversified portfolio is a great place to stick your money.

Short on dollars
Going back to where we started, more people are investing very conservatively in treasuries right now. The problem is, if you invest too conservatively, you have to make a choice. Will you be short on dollars now or at retirement?

If you choose to fully fund your retirement, it means you’ll have to invest more now to reach your goal, which means you’ll have to sacrifice more now than is probably necessary.

We still don’t know if we’ve hit bottom on the stock market. But here’s what we do know – most market timers get it wrong most of the time. That’s why we won’t try!

If you have time until you need the money, invest in a well-diversified portfolio. You won’t be quite as happy in the good times, but you won’t be nearly as upset during the bad. 

We really appreciate you spending some time with us today. Join us next time when we interview John Jantsch, The Duct Tape Marketer, about how to make customers stick without busting the bank. Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

Subscribe to The Bigg Success Show in iTunes. 

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Direct link to The Bigg Success Show audio file:
http://media.libsyn.com/media/biggsuccess/00265-111408.mp3

Related posts

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(Image in today's post by woodsy)