I believe in a mindful approach to life. I practice yoga. I meditate. And I try to make choices that are good for my mind, my body, and my spirit. So last Tuesday, as I found myself worrying about the election, I decided to avoid the hours (and hours) of news coverage and simply wait until morning to hear the final results. As I worked away on my computer (with the Wi-Fi off!), I could hear small tidbits of the reports from the living room where Rhoda was watching the news. The little I did catch sounded a whole lot different from what I expected, but I shut it out, went to bed at 10:00 as usual, and slept knowing that I’d cast my vote and that the final outcome was out of my hands.
On Wednesday morning, I rose quickly out of bed, and it hit me like a lightning bolt. Not the news of the election, but a severe case of an old, unwelcome visitor—vertigo was back. And it was bad. The room spun…and spun…until I was able to sit down before I fell down. Then the nausea hit me. I had tried to mentally prepare myself for the election outcome, but this physical ailment wasn’t on my list of things to deal with last week!
I am all too familiar with the terrible dizziness and queasiness of vertigo. Six years ago, a “T-bone” car accident caused floating particles in my inner ear to break loose, which is a very common cause of the vertigo condition I experienced after the wreck. But this time there was no determinable cause except for one: age. All I wanted was for the spinning to stop as soon as possible—and to stay away as long as possible! But every time I turned my head suddenly, stood up after a yoga pose, or simply got out of bed, the spinning was back in force. I dreaded every move because it seemed everything I did triggered an episode.
I’m not the only one feeling a bit traumatized after election night. My ailment was physical, but for many, the results of the election are causing people to take actions they know will only trigger another episode of upset. Just as my head is spinning, I see so many people exerting their precious energy on election results they can’t change. And the onslaught of news, emails, and social media are only feeding the flames of stress and alarm. It seems we all need a cure to get through it all, and I don’t believe focusing on the negative is the answer.
For my type of vertigo, there is a cure called the Epley maneuver. Performed by an audiologist, it’s a process that restores the floating particles in the inner ear to where they belong. Once the particles aren’t bouncing around in your ear canal and stimulating your nervous system, the sensation goes away. I was finally able to have this done yesterday, and after 20 minutes I was back on my feet again. No more balance issues. No more vertigo. As long as I sleep on my back for a few nights and don’t move my head quickly, I’m back on track. The confusion, disorientation, and dread are now history, but for the past week, getting my balance back was front and center in my life.
If the election results have you feeling off balance and worried about the future, now may be the time to find an Epley maneuver of your own. You might start by filtering out the noise from social media, the news (Why do we watch that stuff nightly before going to bed anyway?), and even the dinner table. With Thanksgiving coming up, you might start with a family rule about the table conversation—no politics or discussion on the election or the outcome. Consider replacing the politics discussion with each person around the table sharing a blessing. I am thrilled to hear Nina, my 7-year old granddaughter, share that she’s thankful for her family—especially at Thanksgiving.
For me, starting each day with yoga, meditation, and time with Rhoda helps me stay mentally and physically balanced. I wrote about my experience with yoga and the importance of focusing on controlling what you can in my blog Remember to Breathe. At the time, I was referring to investing, but I think the same guidance applies now. Shifting the focus to positive, healthy things and controlling what we can is a great way to find balance—no matter what challenges we face day to day.
The definition of the word “awe” is beautiful in itself: “an emotion that combines veneration and wonder inspired by the sacred or sublime.” Sometimes, when the world around me gets too stressful, it’s exactly what I seek out.
This past weekend, Rhoda and I drove 90 minutes to Estes Park, Colorado, on an awe-seeking mission. Our hope was to witness the pageantry of the magical elk rut in the Rockies. If you’ve never heard it, I can tell you myself: the “rutting call” or “bugling” of the elk during their mating ritual is beyond stunning. The elks’ vocal skills are amazing, covering three octaves. Starting with a high-pitched shrill and ending in low based grunting referred to as “bugling,” it’s unbelievable that this sound could come from such a huge, majestic animal.
But the sound isn’t the only awesome thing about the spectacle. The bulls, averaging 1,500 pounds each and carrying huge antler racks, move with amazing grace. And if you’re lucky enough to witness the stud of the herd fight off challengers to his “harem,” the drama is even more impressive. To keep his harem, each bull must ward off younger challengers for about six weeks, 24/7, from late August to mid October. Last weekend, Rhoda and I found ourselves standing less than 25 feet away from one of these incredible fights. I couldn’t even take pictures because my camera lens was too high powered. All we could do was stand and watch—and take cover behind a tree just in time to avoid being unintended bull challengers! The experience took me outside myself, and I came away changed.
I’m happy to say this wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself in such utter awe and experienced a similar shift in my core. I’ve witnessed a lion family with cubs frolic in Kenya, visited Colorado’s Maroon Bells at sunrise (the most photographed spot in the state), and listened to 80 people sing the Doxology in three-part harmony led by Dave Deutschendorf of the New Christie Minstrels at a recent family wedding. Each was a sacred and awe-filled moment in my life.
For me, awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something beyond human scale that transcends my current understanding of things. You may get it gazing at the Milky Way or hearing the national anthem sung by someone who can actually hit those high notes! Astronauts often report that they feel this in the extreme, experiencing a “far out” state of oneness with humanity when looking back at Earth. When I saw John Denver perform at Red Rocks amphitheatre years ago, he shouted out his awe in a moment when he could only articulate the feeling by repeating the words “far out” over and over again. John’s awe was contagious with his audience.
The current political situation has many of us stressed out. I’ve unfortunately witnessed the constant barrage of news coverage on television, radio, and social media until I had to just turn it all off. In this environment, I wonder if seeking a sense of awe might be just what the doctor ordered. If there was ever a time to focus on what really matters, this is it.
Rather than basking in the drama, and battling the pull of those around us who choose to focus on negativity, why not make a list—a high-level bucket list perhaps—of experiences that draw you out of yourself, expand your mind, and leave you awestruck? Here’s the thing: when we choose to experience awe, we enter a new dimension. The stresses of life are replaced with a deep gratitude (at least that’s how it feels to me). To be awed, you have to choose to move beyond yourself. Beyond your worries. And beyond your fears. It really is a natural “high.”
I suppose I’ve spent much of my life looking for these experiences—seeking them out and trying my best to recognize them when they happen. When they do, I give thanks, which brings even more beautiful, awe-inspiring events into my life. I believe that what matters most isn’t the latest headline, but rather how we live each moment. Appreciating our blessings and seeking out the magic and awe life has to offer can help us really focus on what matters most.
Most investors have heard that “bull markets climb the wall of worry”—a phrase that refers to when investors continue to buy even when there’s a little (or a lot) to worry about. And it usually pays off. But how can you tell whether the stock market is in a bull phase that is “climbing the wall,” or whether the fear is justified and a bear market is just around the corner?
I’ve observed over the years that portfolios perform less well when worry and emotion are the guiding forces. (Which is the primary reason it makes sense to seek out an RIA firm to help guide objective investment decisions.) Today’s environment is full of worry. Brexit, interest rates, and the US Presidential Election have investors on edge, and investors are stressed. As a result, it can be difficult to remember this important reality: fear provides the best equity buying opportunity.
In periods of fear, Wall Street strategists have a poor record of recommending equities. They underweighted equities during the entire bull market of the 1980s and 1990s. Then they overweighted equities in the wake of the 2000 technology bubble, just in time for the so-called “lost decade in equities” when US stocks produced a negative return for more than ten years straight. Today is no different. Wall Street strategists are recommending the lowest equity allocation in the 30-year history of the data. And these recommendations are all rooted in fear. They did the same thing during and after The Great Recession (2008-2015). Those who went against the grain and took advantage of the opportunity to buy value-priced equities were handsomely rewarded.
Remember that long-term market trends are driven not by current events, but by the overall economy. From our perspective, the US economy is in pretty good shape looking forward:
The September jobs report includes many positive trends. More people are seeking work, a sign of growing optimism. The number of folks stuck in part-time work shrank as more of them landed full-time work. And the job gains were broad-based, showing up in many industries.
Inflation remains benign and interest rates remain low. However, the Fed has hinted that a small hike in the interest rate of ¼% is likely in December.
New motor vehicle sales are trending downa little to 17 million vehicles a year. However, that level of decline is to be expected after the large increase in sales the last few years.
Wages and personal income are seeing continued growth. This growth is feeding consumer spending, which lies at the core of the US economy. This dynamic is unique to the US. Australia, Brazil, and Canada are commodity-export driven. Russia’s economy is driven primarily by energy exports, and China’s is economy is driven by manufacturing exports.
No political leader has the power to strong-arm their ideas without the approval of Congress. Whatever happens on November 8, that balance of power should keep things in check.
All of these factors point to the fact that the US is in an under-recognized sweet spot right now. Many strategists and investors may be wearing blinders of fear at the moment, but I strongly believe that any short-term pullback in the stock market should be viewed as a buying opportunity—not a reason to run for cover.
The following content originally appeared on PolicyGenius.com on October 6, 2016.
Cosigned a relative's loan? Here's how to deal with the default
By Paul Sisolak
Cosigning is one of those instances where acting on your emotions can place your finances at risk. You really want to help that family member, friend or loved one get approved for a loan they may not qualify for, so deciding to cosign for them can seem like an act of generosity when their chances of obtaining new credit are next to nil...
“If you’re the cosigner, you’re the co-borrower,” says Certified Financial Planner George Guerin. “You’re on the hook from it going into default. You have only one choice: Make the payments.” Thus, your most basic solution is to chip away at the debt yourself in any way you can.
In my experience, there are two huge challenges when it comes to estate planning. First, no one (and I mean no one!) wants to talk about and tackle the “details” surrounding illness and death. And, because death and estate planning are so taboo, many people act on assumptions that are based on limited knowledge and little or no professional guidance.
Alice and Cliff had been together for over a decade, but they’d never married. Already in their late 60s when they met, Cliff had already been retired for years. So even after they moved in together, they decided to keep their estates separate as an inheritance for their respective children. Alice was still in shock and barely functioning when she called to tell me Cliff had died after a short and intense battle with cancer. Cliff’s diagnosis had been completely unexpected, and his intense treatment of surgery, chemo, and radiation had been their only focus from the moment they received the test results until the day he died just three months later. In the whirlwind, there had simply been no time or energy to think about the details of estate and financial planning. Now that Cliff was gone, Alice needed my help to get her financial future in order—and to get “unstuck” so she could focus on her future.
I knew the first thing we needed to do was to identify Cliff’s assets, and then determine how each asset was owned and the named beneficiary for each. Alice knew where Cliff’s records were kept, but that was about it. They had always filed separate taxes, and all of their investments—including their individual IRAs, 401(ks), and brokerage accounts—were kept separately. To make matters more difficult, they had never discussed finances at this level with each other (or with me), so there were a lot of questions on the table. Was the house owned in his name only, or in joint tenancy with Alice? Who were the beneficiaries for his life insurance policy and his 401(k), IRA, and brokerage accounts? And what about Cliff’s savings and checking accounts? Did Alice even have access? Were those funds hers to use as she needed?
We started with the pieces of the puzzle that were most important to Alice’s well being: her home and her immediate cash flow. The house was originally Cliff’s, and Alice didn’t know if she was on the title or not. Unfortunately, the deed was kept in his safety deposit box. Had they been married, Alice would have had immediate, unrestricted access to the box. But because they were unmarried and he had never authorized her as a joint renter or given her access to the box, we had to take another route. By looking at the property tax bill, we were able to determine that Alice was on the title as a joint tenant with right of survivorship. This meant that the house could be easily transferred into her name by taking Cliff’s death certificate to the clerk and recorder’s office and filling out a form. One down, many to go.
Luckily, accessing their joint bank account proved just as fruitful. When I looked at the bank statement, I was relieved to see the letters “JTWROS” after their names. Alice had joint tenancy with rights of survivorship to these accounts as well. All she had to do was present the death certificate to the bank and the accounts could be transferred into her name. Within days, Alice had full access to the accounts that were used to pay the bills, including the monies from their pensions and social security benefits.
This was great news, but not everything was quite so simple. If Alice and Cliff had met with me beforehand, I would have advised them to make some important changes to Cliff’s “plan”:
While I understood their desire to maintain separate estates, marrying would have given Alice spousal benefits from Social Security totaling about $1,000/month more than she was receiving from her own Social Security income. Plus, it would have been easy to retain all of the benefits of separate estates by classifying each asset appropriately.
A portion of Cliff’s remaining assets went to his children, one of whom is in jail and has a serious drug problem. With the right planning, Cliff could have put certain contingencies on his son’s access to the money to protect the assets.
Simply naming Alice as a joint renter on the safe deposit box would have given her immediate access to important documents such as a copy of his Will, his life insurance policy, and the deed on the house. This would have made the weeks following his death much less stressful for Alice as she struggled to figure out where she stood financially.
If Cliff had been unable to make his own medical decisions, without a Healthcare Power of Attorney, Alice would have had no rights. Having a POA gives the person you designate the power to make medical decisions on your behalf. (For more on this, read my last blog Life happens! What’s your long-term game plan for handling the inevitable?)
I’m happy to report that, despite some planning shortfalls, Alice is in fine shape financially. We learned that Alice was the beneficiary on Cliff’s IRA, and that the balance of that account had been pumped up by the rollover of his 401(k) just months before he got sick. We set up a new Inherited IRA for Alice using the funds, and although it requires minimum withdrawals, at least she did not have to pay taxes on the IRA all at once. Plus, she has the freedom to take out what she needs, when she needs it, paying out taxes only at the time of withdrawal.
Regardless of your age, health, marital status, or level of assets, take steps now to protect the financial security of your loved ones. Talk to your loved ones about your wishes before you get sick, and take the necessary steps to put those wishes into action. Provide access to your estate planning documents and review them with your spouse or partner. Get a Healthcare POA. Review the beneficiaries named to each of your accounts. And once you’ve discussed your plans, meet with a competent advisor to ensure you’re making the best possible decisions. Taking the right steps today can have a significant impact on the financial security of the people you love most—more than you’ll ever know once you’re gone.