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How to Weather Financial Climate Change

weather_a_stormBigg success is life on your own terms. There are five elements of bigg success – money, time, growth, work and play. Today we’ll focus on money.

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We hear a lot about climate change and its implications. It occurred to us that financial markets change much like the weather.

So here are 4 tips for weathering financial climate change:

Asset prices heat up and cool down

Stock prices skyrocket. Then they fall.

Real estate prices rise. Then the bubble bursts.

Nothing goes up linearly. Yet most of our projections do. Plan for all weather – diversify.

You won’t create much wealth without taking some risk. But you can manage that risk by investing across asset classes (e.g. stocks, bonds) and within asset classes (large cap, mid-cap and small cap stocks).

Price movements can be extreme

Experts are predicting more volatility in the years ahead. We don’t mind it when prices are rising quickly. But we have to be prepared for the other side as well.

Very, very few people successfully time the market period after period. So it’s important to move your money to less risky assets as you near the date when you’ll need it. If you’ll need it in less than ten years, you may want to look at shifting money to something less risky.

As we always say, talk with your financial planner about your specific situation to determine your best move.

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Watch your emissions

By emissions, we mean money out the door. In our businesses and in our personal lives, it’s much easier to spend less than to make more.

When you’re getting ready to spend it, think about how many hours you have to work to earn the money in the first place. If you really want an accurate picture, do this on an after-tax basis.

Make the green house effect work for you

When you’re buying a house, ask some important questions. Do you really need that extra room? How often will you use it?

You may decide to buy a smaller house and invest the “green” to further diversify your portfolio and increase your returns.

Also, invest your “green” in energy efficiency. Improving the efficiency of your home pays you back month after month by lowering your utility bills. You can’t say that about most outlays.

Take these four tips and go green to build a sustainable future for yourself. That’s bigg success!

How are you weathering financial climate change?
Share that with us by leaving a comment, e-mailing us at bigginfo@biggsuccess.com or leaving a voice mail at 888.455.BIGG (2444).

Thank you much for visiting us today. Next time, we’ll discuss a positively fantastic way to improve your bottom line. Please join us. Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

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Direct link to The Bigg Success Show audio file:
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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!

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Direct link to The Bigg Success Show audio file:
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Where Should I Stuff My Money?

mattress In days gone by, mattress stuffers hid all their money somewhere in or around their home – in the backyard, in cans, between the pages of books, in the walls, in a cookie jar, and even under a removable section of floorboards.

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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal talked about the new generation of mattress stuffers. People increasingly don’t trust anyone or anything, a response to falling home prices, crashing stock prices, bank troubles, and government ineptitude.

It’s something we don’t talk about much, but an increasing number of people are taking matters into their own hands to prepare for the next crash. Needless to say, these people aren’t optimists!

They’re pulling their money out of the stock market and stuffing their mattresses the 21st century way.

Stuffing money in treasuries

Instead of actually stuffing cash into their mattresses, they’re buying treasury bills, the safest of all investments. Most financial experts refer to these and other treasury securities as risk-free investments.

Stuffing money in gold

New generation mattress stuffers are also buying gold coins in record amounts. You may have noticed an increase in the number of ads on TV about gold. This flight to safety has been evident after just about every financial crisis, as people return to the gold standard.

Who is primarily driving this trend?

Many baby boomers have taken a huge hit to their portfolios just as they near retirement. They are the driving force behind this trend because they don’t have time to recover from the recent stock market losses before they retire.

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What if you’re not ready to retire?

If you’re not close to retiring, it’s crucial to think clearly about this new mattress stuffing strategy. There are definitely some pros and cons.

Pro: We should own a well-diversified portfolio.
Experts tell us to diversify, diversify, diversify. Typically, the more diversified we are, the better. A diversified portfolio might include stocks, bonds including treasuries, real estate, and perhaps some commodities like gold. Diversification generally delivers the best return given the overall risk.

Pro: Treasuries should be part of most diversified portfolios.
Until recently, a lot of people found treasuries kind of boring because they didn’t deliver enough return. That’s because they aren’t considered risky at all, which is also why they are an essential component of a fully diversified portfolio.

Pro: Gold may also be a wise investment as a small part of a diversified portfolio.
Gold and other tangible assets usually perform best in times of high inflation. So gold can serve as “insurance” against such times. The reason that people often flock to gold in times like these is that, historically, it has been an acceptable way to pay for things.

Con: If you put all of your assets in treasuries, your returns will be much lower.
This lower return is not unjustified. After all, you’re investing in an asset that’s considered to be risk-free. The problem with this strategy is that you may not end up with as much money as you need for your retirement.

Con: It’s dangerous to put a significant percentage of your assets into gold coins.
If experts recommend gold at all (and many more are these days) as part of your portfolio, most suggest keeping it to around five percent of your total assets. Unlike treasuries, gold carries risk – its price goes up and down. One other tidbit – gold has underperformed most other assets historically.

Con: There’s no cash flow with gold.
Treasuries pay interest at regular intervals. You don’t earn any money on a gold bar or a gold coin. The only way to make money by holding gold is to sell it at a price higher than what you paid for it.

Next time, we’ll take this discussion a step further. We’ll apply some real world numbers to help you with your diversification decisions.

We are so thankful that you took the time to read our post today. Until next time, 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/00306-011209.mp3

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(Image in today's post by jillmbatt)

Mania in the Market and Rising Above the Crowd

buy_sell If you listen to our leaders, be they in business or government, it seems there’s a competition to frame our financial situation in the direst terms. Our media hypes the times so that we stay tuned in. We hear terms like meltdown, nose-dive, crash, collapse, and Great Depression.

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We found a great white paper by Marvin Bolt of Alpha Plus Advisors [PDF]. It’s well worth your time to read the full paper to understand historical mutual fund flows and market performance.

Specifically, he looks specifically at what individual investors did with their money during four recent periods:

Stock market crash

In the first quarter of 1987, individual investors placed a then-record amount into the market as stock prices rose. Of course, in October of that year, the stock market crashed. Individual investors responded by withdrawing record amounts of money as the market hit a low we haven’t seen since.

Gulf War & recession

In the second quarter of 1990, there was a huge inflow of funds as the market hit its high for the period. By the third quarter, investors were pulling money out just as the market hit another low point.

Dot.com bubble and 9/11

At the height of the dot.com bubble, investors poured a new record amount of money into the market in the first quarter of 2000. The S&P 500 hit a high in that same quarter. Things soon changed as the market began falling, reaching a low in the third quarter of 2002, just when individual investors were withdrawing record amounts of money.

Housing bubble & mortgage crisis
The market hit its high in 2007 as investors poured money in again amidst the euphoria. While all the data is not yet in, it appears that in October of this year, a new record amount of money was pulled out of the stock market.

Rising above the crowd
We want to buy low and sell high. History shows that the crowds tend to do the opposite – they buy high and sell low. They invest heavily during the bubble and get out during what we’ll call the crater.

Think about what’s happening right now. Stock prices have been falling. But for every seller, there has to be a buyer! Who’s buying and who’s selling? Morningstar has a great video that’s well worth your time to gain the proper perspective on this crucial point.

To rise above the crowd, you can’t think like the crowd. You have to do the opposite.

So take a deep breath. If you don’t need the money for five to seven years, the odds are heavily in your favor. If you need the money sooner than that, stocks probably aren’t the best investment for that money. Because we’ve relearned just how risky stocks can be in the short-run.

Educate yourself to maintain the proper perspective.
We can’t count on our media or our leaders to do this for us. Knight Kiplinger wrote a fantastic piece explaining all of the differences between today’s situation and the Great Depression. We highly recommend that you read this article to see why he thinks we’re not ready to jump over the cliff.

Market timing is a risky game. Since the crowd tends to get it wrong, perhaps the best way to get it right is to keep investing through the whole cycle. You’ll buy fewer shares when the market is up. You’ll get some great deals when the market is down like it is now. Over time, you’ll end up with a decent return.

Thanks so much for reading our post today. Join us next time as we discuss overcoming guilt about how you choose to spend your time. Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

Direct link to The Bigg Success Show audio file:
http://media.libsyn.com/media/biggsuccess/00271-112408.mp3

 

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I Need Money! Should I Cut Back on My Retirement Plan Contributions?

graph_barThe phrase “perfect storm” has been used more recently than when the movie was out! Here in the United States, we’re being hit with rising costs, falling home prices, volatile stock prices, the subcrime (oops, make that subprime) mortgage crisis, and talk of a possible recession.

Recently, we discussed why cashing out a 401(k) is one of the worst things to do in response to these tough times.

Today, we want to discuss cutting back on contributions to a retirement plan. Two to three months ago, the word was that people weren’t reducing the investments they make for their golden years.

Even now, the overwhelming majority of people aren’t making any changes. However, there is evidence that more people are considering (or are) cutting back.

It’s certainly understandable – insurance, groceries, gas, taxes all keep going up. Investing less in a 401(k) is a way to put more dollars into a paycheck now.

3 reasons not to cut back on your 401(k)

#1 – Contributions are made with pre-tax dollars – Assume you’ve been contributing $1,000 a year to your 401(k). You stop making contributions so one would think that would mean $1,000 more in your paychecks over the course of the year. But you have to account for taxes – if you’re in the 30% tax bracket, you’ll owe $300 in taxes on this $1,000. So you’ll only net $700 by stopping your contributions.

#2 – Money accumulates tax-deferred
– With your retirement plan, money is compounding on money on top of more money. And since you don’t pay any taxes on it until you take it out, all of your money keeps working for you, rather than paying a part of it every year in taxes (and therefore having less money to accumulate on top of).

#3 – Employer match – Employers match as much as 100%, up to some limit. So say, for example, you contribute 3% of your salary and your employer matches that. It’s like found money … your employer is guaranteeing you a 100% return on your initial investment.

Now granted, this is part of your overall compensation. However, we often look at our tax refunds as found money, when it is just a return of an overpayment. This is truly found money – the employer is giving you money as long as you invest up to the maximum. It’s your choice.

Cutting back could cost you $53,551

Consider a fictional 30-year old woman who has been investing 3% of her $50,000 salary, with her employer matching it 100%. Money is tight, so she decides that she will stop investing for three years. This $125 invested for just three years, and then left alone until she retired (at age 62) would have grown to $53,551, if she earned just 6% on her money.

So if she invested just 3% of her salary for the next 3 years, it would grow to 108% of her salary when she retires.

A small amount of money now makes a huge difference in the long term. So at least try to keep investing as much as your employer matches because you get a huge boost in your portfolio by hitting that target.

Until next time, here’s to your bigg success!

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