In the last column we discussed an emerging trend among financial advisors to find new niches and specialties in a world where the marketing slogan “we will tailor a plan especially for you” is getting old, because everyone says the same thing.
With that in the back of my mind, I don’t know how many times a day I am now hearing a series of television commercials for a national automobile insurance company that basically say that we will tailor a policy to your specific needs, so that you won’t pay more than you have to. I had two immediate reactions. The first reaction was, isn’t that what automobile insurance agents have been doing forever? The second reaction was, of course! Today, people don’t have personal agents the way they did in my generation and in my parent’s generation, they buy services online.
I needed some confirmation, so I contacted my agency, which happens to be in Canandaigua. Yes, it appears that this is a marketing campaign aimed at those online clients who don’t get the same services or the variety of options that they would with an agent, but it makes them feel more like they are. I get that shopping online for products and services can at times be more convenient, can expose you to more providers, and can even be cheaper, but there are also times when you may need experience and expertise.
Now that it is officially 2019, January is one of the two times that I recommend that you consider an annual financial review — the other is in April after you have filed you income taxes. I wrote extensively about some suggested checklist items in three columns last April, so you can review them in detail at mpnnow.com — search "Ninfo." In the meantime, here are some of the checklist items that will hopefully get you motivated.
$ WHAT ARE MY CURRENT FINANCIAL GOALS?
$ WHAT IS MY CURRENT FINANCIAL PLAN TO ACHIEVE THOSE GOALS?
$ DO I HAVE A CURRENT REALISTIC BUDGET THAT I CAN STICK TO?
$ DO I HAVE ALL OF THE INSURANCE THAT I NEED TO PROTECT MYSELF AND MY FAMILY?
$ IS MY ESTATE PLAN CURRENT?
$ HAVE I CALCULATED MY CURRENT NET WORTH?
$ HAVE I BEEN TEACHING MY CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN ABOUT PERSOAL FINANCES?
$ HAVE I DONE EVERYTHING LEAGALLY PERMISSIBLE TO MINIMIZE MY TAXES, AND NOT TO OVERWITHOLD ON MY INCOME TAXES?
$ HAVE I TAKEN EVERY REASONABLE STEP TO PREVENT IDENTITY THEFT?
$ HAVE I DONE EVERYTHING TO AVOID AND MINIMIZE ANY DEBT, SO THAT I CAN PAY AS LITTLE INTEREST FROM MY HARD-EARNED MONEY AS POSSIBLE?
$ AM I BEING FRUGAL IN MY SPENDING, SO THAT I CAN SAVE EVERYDAY MONEY FOR ME AND MY FAMILY, AND BE ABLE TO DO MORE?
Like most of us, I ran into people who were home for the holidays that I hadn’t seen for a while, and I was able to have some interesting and rewarding conversations. I love that about the holidays. Then, as you get older, like some of us, you find yourself at holiday gatherings having conversations with young people in their 30s, who you knew as high school or college students, and they are now adults with spouses, careers, and even young families.
I had one of those conversations with a young man who had played lacrosse with my nephew at one of our suburban high schools. At one point he asked what I was doing now in my retirement, and we got around to my financial literacy efforts in the schools. I was so pleased to hear him say that the best thing he had done in college was to take a course on money management. He said that he had learned to budget, and plan and save for future expenses, something he was doing now since his wife was pregnant.
At one point, he asked me how it was that so many suburban middle- and upper middle-class families get themselves into financial problems with debt. I tried to give him some ideas that he might understand, because of his statement about money management, and because of the world he grew up in. It was just meant to give him some things to think about, that would reinforce what he was lucky enough to have learned, not to completely answer a question with an infinite number of answers.
Here was my answer. So you are living with some reasonable credit card debt for your cash flow, because you know that it is all about your cash flow and the monthly payments, not about your balance sheet — really? Then life starts happening around you. You have a child who is a really good lacrosse player, so you want to send them to camps and put them on a travel team, which can be expensive. Then all of your friends are going on a big vacation and you want your family to go. Then one of your children is applying to colleges, so there are all of those college visits. Do you rework your budget to give up some other things; do you get a second job, like prior generations might have; or do you just put it all on your credit cards, or look at a home equity loan, because your cash flow could make it possible? It opened his eyes. We also talked about how this can happen, with different examples, to families in every demographic.
This story has made me smile for several weeks. My sister-in-law is a retired teacher, who has been retired for a number of years. My brother-in-law is a very successful corporate executive, who is still working. At a family gathering, she stated, as she often does, that she is on a “fixed income” of pension and Social Security. He said, you are not on a fixed income. She said, I absolutely am, I am fixed to you! Now that is a highly recommended financial plan if you are lucky enough to be able to achieve it. It almost rises to the level of a “hope for the best and plan for the best” plan that I don’t usually recommend.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.