Happy Holidays

With the holidays clearly in sight, I would normally be anxiously awaiting the arrival of our three children and their families in Seattle.  In the past, they would join us for at least Thanksgiving or Christmas if not both of the holidays.

However, the older our children become (which unfortunately equates to the older I become) and the farther away they have moved (San Jose, Honolulu and over the mountains and through the woods where our youngest landed), it has become increasingly more difficult to gather them all under one roof.

A number of years ago their dad and I would encourage them to make the trip to Seattle. If they couldn’t because of their own family obligations or budget, we would have to choose which child we would go to and for which holiday. My husband and I travel a lot for our work, so we’d rather stay home but we also have a rhythm for travelling and the option to spend the money.

This year, however, with each of their work schedules combined with air travel price hikes, it looks like Bernie and I will be ‘Home Alone’ this year for the holidays.  It’s not as if we didn’t know at some point in time this would indeed happen. We have been empty nesters 8 years.  Still, it tugs at the heart and it more than once I feel melancholy about the holidays.

When you have children, you know one day they would all grow up and make their own lives, create families and traditions that they would hold precious. It is a circle isn’t it? What goes around comes around? There is no escaping the fact that nothing lasts forever but that does not mean life is over. I remind myself everyday to keep moving forward not backward.

I’m all about what’s the opportunity?  How can this be a positive experience for us without putting guilt on the kids’?  Bernie and I thought about it and chose to reflect on all the holidays when it was just the two of us – BK (Before Kids). We would stay up late and sleep in the next morning. The world indeed was our oyster and we made the most of it.

This year, I’ve cut back on some of things that caused stress or extra running around.  I like lots and lots of decorations – now I just do lots.  I don’t have to plan menus.  For Thanksgiving this year it’s dinner for two, maybe some visits with friends and a special workout!  I have to admit, it’s a lighter load.   We don’t want to do this every year, but a future romantic holiday for two in Paris isn’t out of the question.

My oldest daughter and son are married and we have two wonderful grandchildren from them.  Maybe more to come?  My youngest daughter is starting her life, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Topic Tuesday: Are your finances in the RED ZONE?

Do you know what this term means in Football? The Red Zone?  For those that do not, it is a term used for the area defending a team’s 20 yard line to the goal line.

  • The Offense is considered to have a great shot of scoring when they enter the Red Zone for a few reasons. One, they are within field goal range for most kickers and number two, they are just a short distance to move in order for a touchdown to be scored.
  • The Defense’s advantage is that the Offense has such a very limited area to move in order to score.

So this makes the Red Zone quite exciting for both teams when they are in that area of play.  So what does this have to do with your money?

Think of it this way. Every time you have money being paid to you, you are in the Red Zone.  That means you can either protect it or spend it on things that you really don’t need.

A need is a necessity – food, clothing and shelter. In and around those basic needs are other important financial obligations – college education, financial support for a loved one needing long term care, charitable contribution, tithing to your religious community.

Sounds simple enough right?  Don’t spend if you don’t have to and guard and save your money to the best of your ability.

As I can attest to personally, it is very easy to have the perspective that I have all kinds of time to save money after I spend some of it on non-essentials. Now don’t get me wrong, I work hard for my money and I do believe in the occasional indulgence of a want.  So for me that would be a pedicure and polish – I’m in the pool so much that the polish just gets scraped off so it’s silly to keep that on a regular list of ‘treats’.

Not too long ago I was giving a speech in Atlanta.  A very nicely dressed woman, in her mid 30’s came up to me after and said “Wendy, I get that we should save, but I am young and I feel I have a lot of time to save. How do I change my mind-set?” I told her flat out, it is NOT a mind-set; it’s what I call an attitude. Specifically: A FINANCIAL ATTITUDE.

It’s the save attitude toward my finances, with the latitude to identify my needs, goals and obligations.  There it is, establishing my own priorities and feeling good about them!

The bottom line is…if you do not guard your money proactively today, your opportunities for financial touchdowns can diminish.

The “I Got This!” Mind-set

With the holiday season coming into full swing again one thing is for sure, time is flying by as my parents both promised and warned.  “Wendy, nothing ever stays the same but remember change offers the opportunity to grow and appreciate”.

Change can be difficult – more for some than others.

For some, change comes with a slow transition and for others it hits with a force that can knock you to your knees.  Regardless of how it enters our lives, whether as a  positive impact or one that compromises our faith in life, make no mistake, we must have the ability to maneuver around and through it.

Years ago, as an athlete at the Olympic Games in Montreal, I was standing on the starting block of the 100 meter butterfly final. As we were just about to take our mark, the head official came over to the eight of us and said “Ladies,  National Television is going to move your start time 20 minutes, so step down and we will call you back shortly!” Well, let me tell you that could definitely bring you to your knees. Here I was at the Olympic Finals, for me 15 years of training for that one exact moment and we have to wait to accommodate the Network’s schedule.

It could have been unnerving – you are psyched to take off in seconds, bring yourself back down and then back up after 20 looong minutes. I was so fortunate in that my parents and subsequent Olympic Coaches trained me for the unexpected in racing. Part of every workout was practicing for those unknowns that somehow find their way in to our lives at the most inopportune moment.   If an athlete is not prepared physically and mentally for such a change, you undoubtedly can be left on the block.  Many of those young women that night were caught off guard. They may have been physically ready, but they lacked the  mental preparation for that rare unknown moment.

Financially this applies as well. You just never know when the game is going to change and not roll in your favor – market shifts, unexpected job loss, a major illness in the family.

It is important that you train and prepare for financial unknowns.  Having the ability to process, review and then take positive actions can offers hidden  opportunities that may present a surprisingly better outcome. The choice as always, is up to you.

My personal approach is the “I Got This!” mind-set.

  • I say “I Got This” to myself, whether in the pool, weight training, my job, my life. I find there is a tremendous amount of confidence that comes with those three words but only when I am prepared.
  • To be prepared I apply training and prep for my physical workouts, life goals and financial plan (you can laugh, but I think of my meetings with my financial professional as a workout I warm up for each time). Each category includes coaches or financial professionals that know more than I and can guide me to better solutions – yup, there’s that change!

We can have it all physically and financially but don’t forget – be mentally as prepared for what life will throw our way. Education and Awareness, Coaches and Subject Matter Experts – leverage what they have to offer to be able to deal with the changes and help minimize the angst.

You are HERE

I was at a Mall the other day and heard a new Lulu Lemon store had opened their doors in that location.

In typical Wendy fashion, I had my cruising shoes (you know, those web things as my friend calls them) on, with a double mission:

  • Log some miles fast-walking with stairs.
  • Get a little shopping done.

I’m not one of those that “likes” shopping, so this technique keeps from meandering from store to store and getting frustrated. So, armed with just my wallet, off I go (P.S. can’t purchase anything until I concluded all levels of the mall).

20 minutes into my walk and no Lulu in sight I was becoming just a little frustrated. I had already covered the entire 1st and 2nd floors of the mall with just one floor remaining.  Then it occurred to me, maybe I am at the wrong mall altogether.

The Dilemma. Do I continue to walk around aimlessly with miles tallied and find this store, if it is in this mall, or do I just get out of the mall bubble and head for home?  (Clearly in this case the potential to purchase LuLu Lemon goods was taking priority over finishing exercising.)

There is of course another option and that would be to do what us gals aren’t afraid to do…ask for directions.  As I walk up yet another stairway, there to my right I spot the Mall Directory!  As I stand in front of the sign, it reads in big bold letters, YOU ARE HERE.   There!  I have the answer, the right mall and Lulu lemon is on the 3rd floor near Nordstroms.  “EXCELLENT!”,  I say loudly to the surprise of  the unknown shoppers around me.

Thank goodness the mall had a directory! So here I admit, practice what you preach!  I am all about planning for my financial, work and life goals.  But just a simple thing eluded me that day.  I could have done a lot better with checking the directory at the start of my walk and enjoyed the fact that at the end of my walk, on the 3rd floor was where I wanted to be at LuLu Lemons.   And purchase I did!  Or with LuLu Lemon is it investing?  Know what I mean?

The Value of Having an Elder Care Attorney

Recently, I met with a client: she is 75 and her husband is 78. They were having some issues with elements of their financial plan that fall into an Elder Care Attorney’s area of expertise.  They did not have an Elder Care Attorney, so I put them in touch with mine.  My husband and I have had this attorney as part of my financial team for 12 years – and I’m 58, so we have been working together for a long time.

I consider an Elder Care Attorney as a key member of any financial team. This is a trusted attorney who specializes in Elder Care law, complex estate planning, facility and nursing home issues, mental health laws, housing laws, disability insurance, Medicare and Medicaid regulation, not to mention a wide array of other issues that increasingly concern our aging population.

Lawyers are retained to apply their knowledge and advice to clients and ultimately solve problems. Unfortunately, all too often it is not until a major problem arises that an attorney is hired (which was the case for my clients).  By that time, unfortunately, it may be too late.

Here are a few referral sources to help you find a good Elder Care attorney:

  • Family member or friend whose judgment you really trust.
  • Your Financial Professional – who may already have this type of attorney on his/her team.
  • Community outreach sources.

Next Steps:

  • Prepare in advance about what you think may be issues related to your financial plan.  A good Elder Care Attorney will also provide additional items for your consideration.
  • Interview the potential candidates – It’s OK to do this.  You need to have confidence in the guidance they provide.
  • Have a joint meeting with your Financial Professional, Elder Care Attorney, Tax Accountant and anyone else on your financial team.

Cheers for the people that asked this question in a recent seminar.  Way to go for taking the next steps!  Love to hear your best and worst experience.

Start the LTC conversation now

Imagine this. You’ve weathered many financial storms and still managed to build a modest retirement nest egg with your financial professional’s help.  You take a seat in her office and proclaim, “I’d like to rent a room for $8,000.00 a month.”

You see her mouth gape open and imagine her pulse rate has sped up too. “Is this a room with a view on a private island somewhere in the South Pacific?” she asks with a hesitant chuckle.

“No, no. I know I don’t have that kind of money,” you say. “It’s just a modest room down the road. I’ll share a bathroom to cut costs and I’ll get three meals a day. I can’t buy the room, but I can rent it for months or years on end if need be.”

Believe it or not, this scenario plays out every day in offices of financial professionals. When a client- or loved one faces the prospect of paying for long term care (that $8000 figure is my own mother’s monthly nursing home bill in the Midwest; check Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey for averages by state). Someone aged 65 today will require three years of long term care on average during their lifetime (National Clearinghouse for LTC). Of those, women are particularly vulnerable and require longer care on average than their male counterparts.

Rather than stare like deer in the headlights when a long term care situation hits, don’t wait to make a plan. Even if you don’t have an enviably large LTC savings or have not invested in an LTC insurance policy, you can start identifying resources with your financial professional.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s.  A happy ending would be a cure.  The worst part of this disease is what I call the downward ‘Spiral of Sadness’. This is a disease that has been knows to last up to 10 years (see Stats at the end of this blog) – watching a loved one lose their memory, change personalities and slowly disappear from your life –  but they don’t really go away, they just don’t know who you are anymore.

How do you get through it if you are the primary caregiver? From personal experience and hearing from others, this is area where there is hope and options that can make life manageable.

For the last 3 years I have watched one of my dearest and closest friends, Karen, go through the process of degeneration with Alzheimer’s. Karen was diagnosed at 67 but family and friends began noticing something was not right when she was around 62.

Karen cannot be left alone anymore. On August 30th – in just seven days, she will be in a locked down section of an Alzheimer’s facility with 24/7 care. It was an incredibly tough decision for her husband Bill, and family.  It’s the right thing to do for Karen’s well being, but it is also for the benefit of their quality of life.  Their hearts are heavy because they want to have Karen in their day to day lives and help care for her.

As a long term care specialist, I have spent years talking with people about their long term care plans.  One of the priorities I always shared with my clients and at larger seminars is to remember you can’t do it alone.  Outside of the financial plans, you need emotional and mental support and encouragement for the caregiver to keep themselves physically healthy.

I truly applaud Bill, (Karen’s husband) with how quickly he assessed his limitations and needs – he didn’t even consider letting things get to crisis mode. Bill immediately sought resources that would focus on him as well as provide guidance in dealing with the journey he was about to begin. It has made a world of difference for him, his quality of life, and leaves him with energy for his family and friends.  Here a just a few of the things Bill is doing and resources he shared with me:

  • Join support groups: In every community across the country there are support groups which Bill got on board with immediately and continues each week, sometimes twice a week.
  • Turn to friends for emotional and social support: His friends have been a huge help and relief for him in just dealing with the concept of what the disease is doing to his wife. It also has given him the opportunity to just step away from the disease even if it is just for dinner…
  • Work with a personal counselor: Bill seeks counsel every week with a professional to help him stay focused and quite frankly not obsess with the downward ‘Spiral of Sadness’.
  • 1-800- 272-3900 (HELP L INE) open 24/7
  • ALZ.org

In a media roundtable with Meryl Comer (Meryl Comer Discusses Alzheimer’s Disease – YouTube) I will never forget her statement that “Alzheimer’s does not have to take 2 victims!”  She is so right.  I encourage you to take advantage of resources (and many are free) that are available to you locally and nationally.

Stats – Alzheimer’s Association:

  • 6th leading cause of death in the US.
  • 1 in 3 will die from this disease in America
  • 200,000 younger than age 65 have this disease today
  • This is the only cause of death among top 10 in America without a way to prevent it, cure it or even slow it down
  • 15 Million family and friends provide care for a loved one with Alheimer’s
  • 17.5 Billion hours of unpaid caregiving to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • 15% Are long distance caregivers living an hour or more away.
  • Rate of progression varies.  On average live 8 years, but some up to 20 depending in part on age at diagnosis and whether person has other health conditions
  • Mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, 2-10 years
  • Severe Alzheimer’s 1-5 years

Practice What You Preach!

Depending on the day of the week and my work schedule, my typical swim sets used to include send offs of varied times, kick and pull series, interval training and a variety of long distance training. It had been years since I really did anything different in my normal swimming workouts.

I knew there was new equipment that could help my technique and provide varied strengths in my strokes, but I just settled back into my tried and true ways.  This was ‘ok’, but I was ignoring the opportunities in my sport to upgrade skills for which I was already an accomplished Olympian.

Then this past summer, my 13 year old grandson joined a competitive swim team.

We had discussions about swimming, the value of technique, equipment advancement and the relevance regarding swim equipment.  Snorkels, alignment kick boards and agility paddles became part of our daily telephone discussions and then the light went on and I suddenly realized, “I am missing the very same things I want to encourage my grandson to do. I can increase the fun in my workouts and improve my swimming at the same time!”

For the last 6 weeks I have embarked on gathering new equipment and techniques.

At first, my snorkel filled up with water far more than normal. I felt like a real beginner and I was about to abandon the whole thing (I actually used nose clips so water did not go in my nose, some would say, Not Cool). But I decided I can do this, and I did it. Now, the swim snorkel in my workouts each day is a staple that I will never give up as I am seeing improvements.  Go To FINISINC.com for information on my personal favorite swimming equipment.

I shared these experiences with my swimming friends and truly enjoyed watching them go through the same process that I did. It is all about finding new ways to improve both your physical and your mental capacity – mixing things up is a known fact for brain work.

I love encouraging others to gain confidence and to find enjoyment in trying new things, and that separate experience alone continues to help me grow as a person.

So, whether it is a new operating system, new or old activity, a new book club or new location you have moved to, while at first you may lack the confidence in your ability to learn it, regardless of your age, stick with it!

Preparing for Major Financial Events

Having just gotten a good report card for my husband in a follow up after his surgery, it made me think of sharing a few things about preparing for major financial events – whether they are unexpected or planned.

Do you have at least six months of money in an account set aside just to cover expenses if you lose a job?  Do you have surgery coming up?

What to do: Talk with your Financial Advisor (FA) before the financial event occurs.  They may have suggestions you didn’t know were options.

Real numbers.

My husband Bernie needed to have his second hip replaced.

  • We consulted our FA before and throughout this time. He provided various scenarios to consider and prepared us should we need to pay more than the original budget.
  • Surgery ranged from $64,000- $133,000; Our responsibility could be from $4,000- $24,000.
  • We knew where that money would be coming from, and if we took money out of our stocks, how the landscape of our finances would change.
  • One month after the surgery – a staph infection, a second emergency surgery, 6 weeks of a PIIC LINE Infusion 4 times a day. We both had to decrease focus on our independent businesses.
  • A lot of anxiety was averted because of our relationship and planning with our FA.

Once you’ve made the appointment with your advisor and talked things through – I guarantee you’ll feel a whole lot better.  You will know where you stand financially and hopefully walk away with some reasonable ideas on how to structure things for the future.

How to Face Life’s Financial Challenges

Today I am following up on my post July 4th Topic Tuesday.  I want to focus on practical financial advice because while money cannot buy happiness, it can help provide you with a high degree of independence as we face many of life’s challenges.

  • Understanding the cost of health care and long term care costs. Health care and long term care costs continue to rise and being prepared for not only yourself but for your loved ones will allow you to properly plan.  I do recommend the Genworth Interactive Cost of Care Map. You can look at costs for long term care and what it will be in 15 years. What a perspective!
  • Unprepared death. Life insurance whether for young families or older Americans. Do you have enough? Do you have the right kind of insurance? Do you need the type of insurance that has a cash accumulation feature you can you use for college, emergencies, etc.?
  • Outliving your income.  Now more than ever we are living a longer life. Being prepared for that is key.  Consider the financial vehicles that can help protect your savings when you retire such as annuities that pay out a guaranteed amount, or other choices.  I have always liked tuna fish sandwiches, but I don’t want to eat it every day!  I want to enjoy my retirement when I get there and feel good about visiting my family and friends.

What you can do?

Pull your financial records together and put them in categories of:

  • Daily living requirements
  • Savings long and short term goals
  • Retirement requirements

Work with a Financial Professional and review your needs and goals:

  • This does not always cost money.  It can be very freeing to have someone guide you to a more secure future.
  • Remember, the Financial Professionals have been affected by the economy and personal situations too.
  • It’s OK to interview them to make sure you have a connection with how they approach financial planning and will understand your concerns.