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Have you ever wondered what different titles and licenses held by “Financial Advisors” mean and what type of services and fees are affiliated with each? The link below leads to a good article published by Forbes that distinguishes between services, fees, licenses, designations and titles within the broad spectrum of “Financial Advisors.”

I am proud to say that Alpers Financial Planning, Inc. is a member of ACA (Alliance of Cambridge Advisors) and NAPFA (National Association of Personal Financial Advisors) . We are a Fee-Only, Fiduciary company, which means: For the Client – Always. Personally, this is the only way I could provide financial and investment advice.

We use a comprehensive process, analyzing all aspects of a client’s financial situation including how decisions and recommendations affect present and future goals. We stress client education while developing a client’s personal financial and retirement plan. We call it Financial Planning for Life. I encourage you to read more about our services on our website, highlighted in the contact information on this page.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/financialfinesse/2012/06/19/how-to-hire-a-financial-advisor-in-the-top-2/

Below is a link to a recent Wall Street Journal article illustrating the importance of long term goals towards financial independence. Secure retirement is less related to how much you currently earn and more related to saving for retirement, how long you work, and your current and future spending habits. How investments are allocated also matters, particularly near and during retirement, and sometimes not in the way one might suspect.

The article’s graph highlights an example of a new retiree pulling all their investments out of the market and into bonds in 2000, the same year he/she begins a retirement withdrawal rate of 4% and inflating that amount annually by 3% for estimated cost of living increases. The result is a ZERO percent chance of long term success. This is because inflation eats away at a 100% fixed income portfolio. So as much as some shudder at the market (just as they did in 2001 and 2008) it is important to keep a long term perspective regarding your investments. This is why we spend the time we do with clients on investment allocation, rather than reacting to volatility with short term responses that are either bullish or bearish. This article highlights the importance of flexibility before and during retirement.  

I encourage some clients to adjust their perception away from spending and towards saving by shifting thoughts from what they don’t have towards what they do have (gratitude), and practice the exercise of separating needs vs. wants. Americans who are on track with their long term plan understand that flexibility before and during retirement is an important factor. If your plan includes knowing the difference between needs and wants, if you have built into your plan the ability to tighten up if needed, and if you maintain a pattern of saving appropriately, you stand a good chance of success.

This season is a good time to focus on gratitude, isn’t it?  My family has a tradition of sharing gratitude at the Thanksgiving table, one by one. With at least 9 attending this year (10 counting our new baby grandson), we will need to start early, or our turkey dinner will get cold. And of course, all holidays requires some flexibility.

One thing I am thankful for is the opportunity to work with our wonderful clients. I thank each of you for placing your trust in us. I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving and a few quiet moments of personal reflection.  

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204517204577042571902672542.html?mod=WSJ_PersonalFinance_PF15

A purely opinionated blog:

There was ZERO sum job growth announced just before Labor Day Weekend. As some have been saying for years, “It’s the Economy….” Why do those in power seem deaf? The anticipated “speech” set for this week is being downplayed by the White House just as the media is hyping it as THE answer to our problems. But I’m wondering: is there really a workable plan developed at all? With the job challenge existing long before August, (remember the 2010 “summer of recovery” that never was), why wait until this Thursday, or last week, or last month? And why drag it out over campaign stops when what we really need are definite decisions, written down for analysis, to encourage those who directly affect our economy: employers and investors who need a sense of certainty. Employers are sitting on ~2 trillion dollars in part due to uncertainty and speculation of future tax and government regulations.

Here is what I want to see for what it is worth: less government regulation and no more “speeches” from anyone until they are concrete, specific, and provide encouragement to employers, hard working people and those seeking work. I want to hear a pro-business focus towards greatness. No more statements of diminished expectations regarding our wonderful American spirit. We are a country of brilliance, ingenuity, and creativity and I’m tired of the attitude projected from Washington of diminished expectations. I would rather hear an apology from Washington (both sides) for its own diminished and out of focus record. Rather than continued and failed attempts at transformation, we need renewal – a sense of positive, upbeat, pro-business backbone. We need leadership we trust from those we believe “get it.” I don’t want leaders who instigate class warfare of any kind, including union vs. non-union camps while at the same time declaring a need for unity and working together. I don’t want to learn that 535 million taxpayer dollars was loaned by our government to a CA solar plant which declared bankruptcy only a short while later. That translates to a terrible business decision. I don’t want to read that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now suing banks for poor mortgages – talk about ‘sins of the father.’ Will our taxpayer dollars pay for lawsuits regarding the very banks we were told were too big to fail, thus previous tax dollars were already poured into them? I don’t want to see Federal manpower and tax dollars aimed at a company like Gibson guitar over questionable paperwork for wood purchases based on a law from 1900, updated in 2008. There are larger issues such as incredibly inefficient/wasteful government systems to clean up. Maybe they should focus on the abysmal border situation for the safety of our future.

What I want to hear: That our leaders understand the positive economic effect of lowering business taxes, which generates business profits, causes more business within our own borders, allows free flowing capital and results in increased employment – voila – JOBS! I personally think this is more urgent than singularly focusing on our debt as this will also help our debt. More jobs bring in more revenue via taxes. And every politician should know by now, no matter what side of the aisle they sit, that people vote their pocketbooks. Is it ignorance, arrogance or some of both that interferes with this thinking?

What I want to know: I want assurance that businesses don’t have to worry about future health care expenses due to a monstrosity of a health care bill no one yet fully understands. I want confidence that leaders care more about small business owners and hard working people than ideological themes of the day. I want successful small business men and women as advisors in Washington, not just those with academic backgrounds or CEOs of extremely large corporations. Most of all, I’d like to see petty political back and forth cease and a REAL emphasis placed on caring for Americans. I’d like to see a HINT of genuine humility by anyone in Washington. I learned in civics that they are to be servants of the people…

Unfortunately we are not talking about a college thesis on an ideological economy or virtual government experimentation – we are talking about the largest economy in the world. So this is not a time for experiments. It isn’t just about us – where goes the United States, there goes the world (at least for now.) We far exceed others in humanitarian aid to impoverished countries. Our strength allows us to do great things (and yes, sometimes mistakes.) But some miss our greatness and focus on taking America down a notch. The character of our nation – made up of its citizens and leaders can’t be over emphasized. The decline of a nation is never just about the economy. With greatness comes great responsibility. As Shelby Steele wrote in the Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2011, “When greatness fades, when a nation contracts to a middling place in the world, then the world in fact no longer knocks at its door. ….America seems to be facing a pivotal moment: do we move ahead by advancing or by receding – by reaffirming the values that made us exceptional or by letting go of those values, so that a creeping mediocrity begins to spare us the burdens of greatness?”

Aside from character, it comes down to this: those in Washington (whom we elected) will continue to make poor choices in economic advisors, economic policies and government priorities, or they will change their focus and tactics. I don’t believe we are in an insurmountable economic state (see article link by Arthur Laffer dated August 2011: http://www.newsmax.com/InsideCover/laffer-obama-reaganomics-gop/2011/08/10/id/406893 .) What is helping and what is hurting? Piling on more debt, more regulations, more uncertainty such as the 2013 baffling health care requirements and more bail out band-aids is hurting. Peeling these off, layer by layer will, I believe, reveal solutions. Simplifying tax codes, reducing Federal spending, encouraging private philanthropy, providing certainty in regulation, political stability, clarity, and a true BELIEF in the ingenuity of our citizens will help. Governments don’t create jobs – the private sector creates jobs. The government should turn its attention to defending and protecting, reasonable and effective oversight, and humanitarian global causes. Oh, and they will need to address the largest behemoth of all: Medicare. More on that later.

For clients and others, I encourage you, once again: spend wisely, save well, appreciate your jobs, keep sufficient liquidity, don’t over complicate your life with consumer debt or complicated and convoluted investment strategies that lock your ability to free up cash, keep your assets well balanced for your goals and time-lines, make use of wise tax planning, be generous as you are inclined to be, and treasure your family and friends.

Life-Integrated Financial Planning methodologies were developed for one purpose: to help our clients live, plan and invest with as much peace of mind as is possible during booming and challenging times. We work with clients to encourage them to live smartly and well. Please contact us if you have any questions about your personal financial situation.

To learn more about Fee-Only Financial Planning, visit www.alpersfinancial.com

Dear Clients:

In light of the negotiation breakdown yesterday regarding our debt ceiling/deficit conflict, I’d like to offer my perspective and attach a commentary from the Founder of The Alliance of Cambridge Advisors, Bert Whitehead at the end of this blog.

As most of you know, our politicians are in a fierce battle over raising the debt ceiling so our country can continue to honor its debt obligations, a situation we never should have reached. The Conflict: those wanting to reduce the deficit/spending are tying raising the debt ceiling to solutions for improving fiscal irresponsibility. The Crisis: Time. Our elected leaders cannot agree on a compromised solution within the time allowed. Those who want ongoing spending at present or increased rates disagree that balancing the budget and spending reductions should be tied to debt ceiling decisions. Those who want to cut spending are pushing hard – many were elected (remember the “shellacking” last fall?) based on their promise of no tax increases and aggressive deficit reduction. They see an opportunity for progress due to the crisis mentality. Those in opposition to serious spending reductions are lobbing back equal “revenue” increases – meaning increased tax dollars (ours) coming into our government. The crisis exists because the US Treasury has put the world on notice that after August 2nd, we cannot pay on all our obligations. The jostling back and forth between ideologies has created tension and media fodder.  If I hear one more time that Grandma may not get her social security check after August 2nd

Stepping back, it is not a mystery that much of this is political positioning. The last time we were told of a deadline for the debt ceiling to be raised, more time was added to this deadline. It wasn’t until after that period that the serious work began and even then, until a month ago, many elected officials avoided this difficult and politically charged issue, even though it really is their responsibility to vote and spend within their means. As you and I know all too well, operating in a crisis mode seldom allows for well thought out long term solutions.

You and I work together on your financial life plan with the idea of preventing crisis mode decisions by putting as many “ducks in a row” as possible in your personal financial life: proactive retirement and tax planning, having adequate liquidity, investing wisely based on your personal life situation, spending/living within your means and building your savings, being properly insured, and evaluating estate planning.

But we aren’t running the government are we? Those who want to be re-elected based on promises made to their voters are in charge of this “crisis.” So, here are my thoughts as to the “what if’s” and “what to do’s”:

  1. My hope and prayer is they reach a short term solution – which is better anyway as it gives these politicians a testing ground as to putting their votes, and OUR money where their mouth is. Long Term solutions made in haste are often not understood until they are law: i.e. the healthcare bill which is still not understood by virtually anyone.
  2. Without a short term solution, our government officials are knowingly allowing our country to slip into financial weakness globally. It basically will be on their heads. So…compromise is required for the short term solution and then obviously future spending/taxation issues become the platform for the next 12 months and up to re-election of each elected government official. This also requires accepting compromise (both the right and tea party advocates, and the left). Using the analogy of the forest vs. the trees, it is better to have the forest remain, with individual sick trees to be treated, than burn down the entire forest.
  3. With that in mind, and assuming that they preserve the forest, as ill as some trees are, it is time for serious spending analysis. The balance between economic health and federal spending cannot be separated, even though the full solution will need a step into approach. (Why Congress, who needs to approve the debt ceiling increase wasn’t working w/ Congress as a whole all along is beyond me.)
  4. How does this affect you?  We’ve worked together all along with the idea of short and longer term visions and created your investment portfolio with that in mind. We have avoided risky all in one and one in all investment strategies, and we have secured a healthy debt ratio in your life or are working towards that. We have worked to “inflation-proof” you through refinancing at historically low fixed rates, and paying down “bad” debt aggressively. For those near or in retirement stage who have US Treasury Stripped Bonds in a ladder, time is on your side as short term investments are more sensitive to volatility which may occur over the next few months. We have addressed having enough liquidity in your portfolio and short term fixed assets which mature in time to adjust upwards for inflation. We have allocated the appropriate amount of fixed (income/cash/bonds) and equity (US, sector, and International holdings) based on your personal situation. For those who were working with Alpers and Associates in 2008, your portfolios were less affected by the 2008 volatility than many of your neighbors and colleagues. That is because we focused on what was right for you personally to protect against downturns and position for market growth. We created portfolios that individually fit your situation and determined additional savings goals.
  5. What could happen regarding your portfolio? If the US government is insane enough to not compromise sufficiently to maintain our high credit rating, bonds and stocks will suffer, as will the value of the dollar, and gold will likely rise. And it could be very temporary, which would mean if you pulled out of everything as some did after 9/11, they were uncertain as to when to get back into the market. You most likely will not “win” the investment timing game. Some investors I’ve read about are positioning themselves to buy with extra cash, should this occur. If the US Government DOES move to appease the credit rating either temporarily or for the long term, the market could soar, gold drop, OR everything continues on at the same volatility as in the past year. No one knows, the point being, since your assets are well diversified, you are most protected in the unknown. 
  6. What to do? I want to assure you that I am following these events closely and considering all options. I will contact you regarding any recommendations for changes in your portfolio. I hope that knowing we have used a balanced approach, taking into considerations the above information when building your investment portfolio, you can remain focused on your businesses and work, as Bert mentions below, and living fiscally wise.

As usual, please call or email me if there is anything in particular you would like to discuss. And enjoy your summer.

http://bertwhitehead.blogspot.com/2011/07/debt-ceiling-fiasco.html

While rummaging through storage boxes, I found two diaries I kept during High School. Small and compact, they fit in my hand like a smart phone. One had a useless lock with no key, and the other looked slightly more sophisticated. What a treasure! My  teen years flowed across the pages – names, places, activities, awards, disappointments, self doubt, confidence, tears, emotions about the future, thoughts and poems on the meaning of life in general – and my life in particular, evolving thoughts on faith, what is good and what is not, crushes, heartaches, dreams, friendships, and more. I laughed aloud at some entries – so dramatic and authentic.

Private introspection was my goal. The still little girl in me was wrestling with the confusing and rather depressing 70’s, relishing some of the present and anticipating the future with a mix of eagerness and dread. Meant for my eyes back then, they are now journals of pivotel years and a reminder that much of what seemed overwhelming at one point in time, had a way of ordering itself and shaping my future. (Why did I dislike my French teacher SO much? Now I remember – she was crazy…really. Once I accepted that, I learned to deal with it.) Some events moved from high drama to non issues within a week. Some issues were more serious: (Why were some of our teachers agitated and so restless? Ah yes, the Vietnam War.)

I sincerely hope that younger generations have not lost this sense of written introspection and observation. Facebook and instant social media do not serve the same purpose. Rather than quiet journaling which allows young people time and an outlet to process privately, attempting this on Facebook can lend some to spilling it all out for the world to see in the immediate: here today, gone tomorrow (although nothing is ever really gone on the internet as we have learned.) Others, of all ages, use Facebook like a reality show filter: how will my “public” respond, how witty and self revealing must I be, and how many comments will I get.

The simplicity of these little diaries reminds me of times when everyone wasn’t a self appointed superstar and it wasn’t appropro to air every thought that comes to mind. Interesting content can flow on Facebook. But I wonder, with the noise of TV, internet, music, texting, ipods, ipads and social networking, if young people are ever in silence long enough to hear or process their own thoughts that are meant for their own conclusions. Social media can exaggerate the challenge of comparisons, fueling unrealistic expectations, instant gratification and excessive spending. And no one knows what is real and what is not. You can be anything you want to be on Facebook. A diary isn’t meant to be delusional.

I like and appreciate technology, including social media. It helps me smoothly run a sophisticated financial planning practice with a part time assistant. That wouldn’t have been possible even in the 1990’s. Every year more bells and whistles cross my and colleagues with similar practice’s paths which we evaluate for cost, ease of use, and the benefit to our businesses and to our clients.

Often simple tools provide high value: the cash flow planning sheet (on our website) is a self awareness tool of how money moves in and out of clients’ lives. Clients at all levels of net worth and financial complexity benefit from this one page worksheet. Like the 2 little diaries, it details the “now.” We then develop a financial life plan that moves towards and through retirement. The plan evolves with the client. The cash flow planning sheet is a snapshot that highlights how much or little freedom they have with discretionary income (a key to how quickly clients can reach important goals.) It establishes reality, while the financial life plan defines and quantifies possibilities. 

As I flipped through one diary, I saw an entry expressing my awkwardness and inexperience while volunteering at an convalescent home. I saw my first “date” – a Sadie Hawkins dance. I saw my budget (yes, I kept one even then.) I saw my first experience with snowflakes falling (that took several pages of expressed joy). I saw my high school friends again –  laughing and walking in step across the campus that actually no longer exists.

Smiling, instead of putting the diaries back into storage, I kept them out just in case I want to tap more memories. There were times in my life when I didn’t like to look backward, reasoning this would get in the way of my busy life. Now I see the diaries as pure, poignant nostalgia meant for brief moments of time. They are a window into when I was a tender hearted, observant teenage girl, and they provide some recognition of that teen still inside me. In the end, looking forward is far more productive.

To learn more about comprehensive fee-only financial planning and how it incorporates life decisions, please visit our website: www.alpersfinancial.com or email at: mary@alpersfinancial.com

There is no better time than this week to honor the hard-working wonderful fathers who are out there, despite articles that often highlight the opposite. Thank you dads for your persistence, outlook and dependability. You are quietly doing the right thing, and while you may think you’re unnoticed, you are not. Your kids are watching, your loved ones are watching, and I can assure you, your peers and co-workers are watching.

The great dads I know do not seek compliments, don’t spend time showing up others, and seldom brag. They spend more time doing their life than talking about their life. Rather than measuring their success simply by comparing to and competing with their peers, they focus on superior ethics and competency in their work environments or businesses. They understand excellence and provision. They also understand balance and the importance of knowing their children and, if married, encouraging and supporting their wives. They work hard and if they have a setback in this challenging economy, they keep at it – doing whatever it takes to make ends meet.

Like soldiers, great dads are unsung heroes. Sounds like a cliché? Maybe, but it is true. Our society spends significant time examining what has happened to fatherhood with articles asking “where have all the men and fathers gone?” Yes, there are frightening statistics, but there are also positive statistics: every man who loves his family and as much as he is able, provides for them, is a positive statistic.

Financially and emotionally speaking, I cannot remember a time in the last 20+ years when families have needed each other as much as now. We are entering a summer of uncertainty (or as some view it – certain uncertainty) with a confusing national monetary policy and vacillating purpose and identity as a nation.

Rather than “it takes a village,” because the village is buried in debt, it really takes a couple or family pulling together and defining goals. An important step in comprehensive fiduciary financial planning includes goal setting, and for some, developing a family mission statement. A family mission statement is much like a company mission statement – broader in scope than individual goals. Following the mission statement, families can identify short and longer term goals that line up with the mission statement and are more specific and measurable. From there, families should develop the family cash flow, list out income producing plans, savings plans, and most of all, family support – for and from each individual.

Children, teens and young adults, especially those who are not yet self-supporting, should understand their part in a family. Families are stronger when members recognize their personal responsibilities within the “organization chart.” For instance, if your family has a home business, everyone should understand his or her personal expectations, even if it amounts to simply honoring the office space and professional work hours.

An example of when our family pulls together: over the years our practice has held annual thank you/appreciation events for our clients. My husband (who is a great dad), our young adult daughter and son, my son-in-law, and my niece have served at these events. Together we strive to give our clients a pleasant evening. I’m grateful for my family’s support.

Fathers are crucial to the well-being and security of a family and Father’s Day is an opportunity to thank them. To all great dads (and I know more than a few, including my own father) know that you are appreciated, and how much your family and the world needs you.

I followed an idea I saw on Facebook and posted a picture of my mom as my own profile picture in honor of Mother’s Day. I added a few pictures of my mom and me when I was a child. It was heartwarming to see other pictures honoring mothers. In most cases you could tell which contributor’s mother was still living by the “age” of the picture. My mother passed away in 2004 and Mother’s Day is still somewhat difficult. We honor her on each year by planting a new rosebush. Generationally, it is fun to see pictures in our family of mother/daughter/daughter. Now my grown daughter is expecting her first child. I wish we could all be in the same photo – but only through Photoshop can that be accomplished. 

It comes to my mind when I think of my mom and mothers I know in my generation and the generation before me that moms tend to be financial rocks in a family. They often do whatever it takes to make ends meet.  They are usually the first to see the needs of their children and somehow, magically, what is needed is there for the next sports uniform or activity.

This isn’t to say Dad’s aren’t critical in a family’s financial life – they are vital. It is that I’ve noticed that moms seem to have a way of making honey and milk from sugar and water when it comes to operating on a tight or limited budget. And my hat is off to them. Maybe it’s their unselfish devotion to giving their kids a life they envision. Maybe it’s their willingness to reheat another meal of leftovers or serve more than a few “beans & rice” meals so there are funds for a school project. Maybe it’s their willingness to find creative ways for outings that involve packing a lunch rather than hitting a fast food joint every day. Maybe it’s their decision to skip a few “Starbucks” runs themselves so they can pay monthly bills and still have discretionary income for family expenses. Maybe it is creative home earnings, part-time earnings, or full-time careers they juggle along with child rearing that allow a family to save for college and retirement. 

 Whatever the condition of a family’s financial situation, most mothers do what they can to manage home finances. I’m in complete admiration of those who work to balance everyday financial needs with an eye on longer term goals. Since moms know so well the fleeting days of childhood, many are keen to this balance. 

As a personal financial planner, I work alongside families helping them define and implement present and long-term financial goals. Consistently I notice that when a husband and wife commit together to raising their family and addressing their financial life plans, 2 + 2 comes closer to 5. Somehow – it seems to work this way. And I know single moms who are simply amazing at seeing the big picture and dedicate effort to meeting their family goals.

To all moms: Happy Mother’s Day, and keep up the great work at building a priceless legacy.

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