Author Archives: Claire Harrison

Claire Harrison
Claire Harrison is a Campaign Manager at blooom. A high-fiver, thinker, and coffee drinker, Claire loves the Oxford comma and clean design. She’s werkin’ hard to help people learn about their retirement savings and how easy blooom is to use.

Happy (Financial) Independence Day

Happy Independence Day, dear readers! I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about a more specific type of independence. You know, the type of independence all retirement savers are shooting for—financial independence. These days, the term financial independence is thrown around a lot in discussions of early retirement. The FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early), has been steadily gaining traction in both numbers and media attention over the six or seven years I’ve been following it. 

For the uninitiated, FIRE is typically thought to be achieved when one has 25 times their annual expenses saved, which FIRE supporters argue allows for an indefinite annual withdrawal rate of 4%, allowing retirement to be reached years, and sometimes decades, before the standard American retirement age of 67. The typical American lifestyle is expensive and FIRE converts have do things differently than most to achieve different results. They generally choose to forego the typical status markers—expensive cars, houses, clothes, etc..— and opt for a much simpler lifestyle that allows them to supercharge their savings instead. I won’t kid you and act like this is an easily attainable goal or that the path to get there will be the same for anyone who tries—many Americans have high interest debt like student loans, low paying jobs, or might not learn about early retirement until they’re near standard retirement age. Even though most of us won’t realistically be able to retire by 40, we could all stand to benefit from adopting some of the FIRE mindset.

 

Try to DIY

One of the commonalities that a lot of FIRE followers seem to share is their willingness to DIY things or at least Google something before hiring it out. Maybe you won’t personally ever redo your own siding or try to repair your own car (though kudos if this is you!), but there are a lot of very doable things that people outsource daily. One of the biggest ones that comes to mind is cooking—seriously, invest in a nice knife and a knife skills class. If you can make it your default to pause and ask yourself “Can I realistically do this myself?” you could save yourself a boatload of money over the years.

 

Stop Caring What Other People Think

Consider if what you’re doing is something that you actually value or if you’re just falling into line. When I got engaged everyone expected me to have an engagement ring. That didn’t seem like a worthwhile use of money to me considering I don’t enjoy wearing jewelry. Do some people think it’s weird that I don’t have a ring? Maybe, but so what? I would rather spend my money on things that add value to my life than spend a few grand just because that’s the expectation.

 

Take Your Head Out of the Sand

Do you have non-mortgage debt? Treat it like a crisis and throw as much of your discretionary income at that sucker with laser focus until it’s gone. Do you know how much your monthly expenses are? Track every dollar until you know exactly where your money is going and having a reckoning with those numbers. Are you prioritizing your tax-advantaged accounts in a strategic way? Reach out to a blooom advisor and let us help you make a plan.

Making a few simple changes to the way you approach your money can boost your savings, giving you more options and control over your life—and heck—may even shave off a few years of clock-punching. 

 

Written by Laura Wittmer, blooom Financial Advisor

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Partly Sunny with a Strong Chance of More Uncertainty

Q2 2019 PastCast

Here’s all you need to know (If you’re in a rush.)

The bad stuff…

  • Stocks declined sharply in May, marking the worst May for US stocks since 2010, but also offering a great discount on stocks for long-term investors.
  • A lot of back and forth and continued uncertainty around a future trade deal with China.
  • Proposed tariffs on Mexican imports shocked markets and were then pulled back.
  • Worries about global economic growth slowing and potential conflict with Iran.

BUT…

  • Unemployment remains at record lows and the US economy continues to chug along.
  • June ended as the best for US stocks in more than half a century, as many trade concerns from May dissipated and indications of a slowing economy raised expectations for the Fed to cut interest rates soon (keep reading).
  • The Federal Reserve is expected to cut rates later this year in order to provide a small boost to a seemingly slowing US economy, which despite indications of a slowdown, has continued the longest period of economic growth in our history over the last 10 years.
  • Major US stock indexes like the Dow and S&P 500 returned to, and set new all-time highs in June, following a 9 month roller coaster ride of ups and downs for investors.
  • Stocks of small and mid-sized US companies were the biggest winners for the quarter, while International stocks and even bonds were able to largely keep pace with US stock indexes as well. 

And now for the long(er) version…

The cycle repeats

If you’ve been following our commentary over the last year or so with our recaps and PastCasts, you might be noticing a pattern emerging. Month after month, quarter after quarter, and year after year, markets are forced to absorb news (both good and bad) and react accordingly. This means we regularly see short periods of overreactions in one direction, followed by overreaction in the other direction. This is simply how markets work, and over time this is why those that stick to a consistent plan and don’t try to guess and time the market end up benefiting from the continued historically consistent long-term upward trend. Think about the roller coaster of emotions any investor paying close attention to this stuff has been through over the last 6-9 months or so…

Toward the end of 2018, headlines indicated that the stock market was headed for a 2008 style crash and the economy was certain to be in the beginning stages of recession. Stocks did indeed tank in December ending the month as the worst since the Great Depression for stocks. But then, January came…

January ended as one of the best for stocks in 30 years. Those two months alone provided a prime example to long-term investors of the importance of patience and ear muffs, when it comes to being successful as an investor. Many made the worst, but hardest mistake NOT to make as an investor, by pulling their money out of stocks as they fell in December, only to then miss out on the recovery in January, February, March, and April, which brings us to May, where many made the same mistake all over again, but hopefully not you. 

May and June were just another example we can add to the hundreds of others proving that, historically speaking, there is not a single example of a stock market decline, of any amount, being permanent. There are not always the quick month-to-month turnarounds we’ve seen recently, but the market has always recovered eventually and rewarded those that are patient and continue to invest through into the dips, instead of reacting to what largely amounts to nothing more than short-term, unpredictable noise. 100% of the time!

While it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of a 24 hour news cycle and a home country bias, the best investors don’t let current events distract from their long-term, globally diversified focus. With the help of diversification and a long-term investment strategy, there is no reason to believe markets won’t continue to reward patient, disciplined investors over time, as they always have. 

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3 Ways to Make Money in Your Sleep

Did you know that throughout their lifetime, the average person will spend over 13 years at work?  In fact, many people, over the course of a year, spend more of their waking hours working a full-time job than on anything else.

If this sounds like you, then it’s likely that you have at some point dreamed about making money in your sleep.

Passive income, residual income, multiple streams of income — whatever you call it, it sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Well, thanks to technology — which is making everything better when it comes to finances — making money in your sleep doesn’t have to be a pipe dream anymore, even if you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank ready to deploy.

And guess what?  Developing passive income streams doesn’t have to be boring!

Here are three fun ways to make money in your sleep that you may not have heard of before.

1. Buy music royalties.

Through sites like Royalty Exchange, you can purchase music royalties and receive a quarterly distribution check to the productions you own the rights to.

You can possibly bet on newer, relatively unknown artists, or you can pony up more money to buy the rights to songs from already-established performers.

Of course, each individual deal is different, but you may receive royalties whenever a song is performed live, streamed, played on the radio, etc.

Investing in royalties allows you to make money not only in your sleep, but whenever you hear your tunes!

2. Start a vlog on YouTube.

Chances are, you already take photos or maybe even videos of yourself and/or your environment throughout the day.

Or maybe you have a lot of good ideas or experiences surrounding a certain topic, from current events to ancient history to South American travel.

Have you thought about monetizing this content?

It’s possible, using YouTube.

One video you upload today could, theoretically, generate thousands of dollars a year for you in ad revenue.  You never have to touch this video again, and it makes you money 24/7, even while you’re sleeping!

Of course, this is easier said than done, and in order to build a successful passive revenue stream from YouTube, you will need to do things like:

  • Invest in quality recording equipment, though this may not be absolutely necessary since many successful YouTubers record with a simple cell phone.
  • Practice your on-screen presence.
  • Learn how the YouTube algorithm works.

3. Sell your photographs.

Are still photographs rather than videos more up your ally?  Do you have a knack behind the camera?

If so, you may be able to develop a healthy stream of residual revenue by submitting your work to stock photography websites.

You will receive compensation whenever a subscriber to the stock photography website purchases a license to use one of the photos you submitted.

Shutterstock and Getty Images are two reputable stock photography websites that you can submit your work to.

Once you have developed a decent portfolio of stock photographs on various sites, you could be making a few hundred dollars a month passively.

Final Thoughts

Even if you don’t have a lot of money to get started, you can still start developing passive income streams today.

The beautiful thing about starting your passive income portfolio is that you don’t have to go “all in” on any one stream.

In fact, it’s probably a good idea for you to diversify your revenue streams in case one dries up.

Hopefully you’ve taken some inspiration from the passive income ideas described above and will be able to start building your own revenue systems soon.

Also, if you are lucky enough to develop a stream of passive income, be responsible with your effortless earnings.  Consider putting your extra revenue toward your student loans or possibly toward your retirement goals.

 

About the Author

Logan Allec is a CPA who spent nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money.  Now, he is a full-time personal finance blogger and owner of the site moneydoneright.com, where he shares actionable advice on making, saving, and investing money.

 

 

The information is provided for discussion purposes only and should not be considered as advice for your investments. Please consult an investment advisor before you invest.

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How Often Should You Check Your 401k?

The quick answer is more often than checking the oil in your lawn mower (seven years for me – still going strong) and less often than your email. Workers saving in 401k’s are notorious for having a “set it and forget it” strategy. Honestly, we see some accounts where people haven’t done anything for years – sometimes it works out, other times not so much. Meanwhile, other savers can’t seem to let their 401k just be – constantly tinkering with it, which can often be even more harmful than had they just left it. We’re here today to set the record straight on how we approach this, why we believe that, and how it impacts our clients.

Where to start?

Your 401k is a retirement account, not a brokerage account. This means it was purposely built for long term investing. Most plans have built in mechanisms to prevent employees from making frequent changes to their investments, attempts at market timing, and other tactical approaches. For instance, it’s common for plans to limit the number of transactions a participant can submit within a given period, like thirty, sixty, or ninety days. If that limit is exceeded, the plan can place future restrictions on the ability to make any changes and may even charge fees. Why all of these limitations? Great question! In a traditional brokerage account, the account holder is responsible for the cost of trading, commissions, and other fees. In an employer-sponsored plan, the employer and the custodian either foot the bill  or pass those fees on to the plan participants, meaning active traders make the plan more expensive for everyone in it. Therefore, many plans employ the restrictions mentioned above to deter excessive trading activities that incur the extra costs.

But what if the market is up (or down)?

We’re constantly getting questions about market pull-backs, inverted yield curves, and the next recession, all while a separate group is asking about the hot market, all-time highs, and fund performance. What to do with people who view the exact same market completely differently? Well, blooom’s philosophy is that the plan we’ve put into place was created to help our clients weather any market environment, given the level of risk they are comfortable with and need to be exposed to in order to reach their long-term goals. We’d prefer to respond rather than react. We likely aren’t going to change things in either an up or down environment because 1) your plan wasn’t created with a short term goal, 2) your blooom advisor doesn’t believe in reacting, and 3) chasing performance typically results in getting in your own way..

Now, we aren’t saying that everything should be ignored… don’t be like that Karen (no Karen’s were harmed in the writing of this post). You change, your goals change, your plan could change; hell your employer could change!

There are plenty of reasons to check your investments and your approach:

  • You Change: You’re not a static being – you’ll age (unless you’re our Director of Client Service) and your comfort with risk may change, as will your requirements for income and access to your savings. Your portfolio should become more conservative as you age, but still have equity exposure to allow your investments to grow with inflation (hopefully above) and participate in market growth. Blooom has a built in glidepath that will do this for you on your blooomiversary (it’s a real thing, we just don’t quite yet have our gift guide setup). If you’re attempting to change your risk preference through blooom’s portal every other month, that’s likely a result of attempts to time the market. We encourage you to reach out and chat with our advisors.
  • Plan Changes: There are a number of potential changes that can occur, here are a few of the most common – new funds added, others removed, expenses change, institutions change, additional plan features are added, among others. Setting your contributions and then never checking on the account again means you could miss out on some incredible opportunities. We recently saw a large employer make some great changes – among them were three new funds that lowered the average portfolio cost from 0.30% to below 0.10% (varies based on company stock holdings and allocation). Any given year, that may not add up to much or seem like a big deal, but that savings compounded annually means a lot more in their pockets.
  • Employer Changes: Earlier in the year, we put out a nice article on what to do with old employer accounts. You have options, and likely, you can benefit from putting a small amount of thought and time into reviewing them. Those options likely include: keeping it in the current account, moving it to a new plan (if you have one AND if they accept rollovers), or moving it to a Rollover IRA. You can withdraw it, sure, but we probably are not going to recommend that (it’s the exception, not the norm). We are here to help with this decision and can lay out your options for you and work through them with you.
  • Market Changes: 2009 to 2019 was an unprecedented decade of growth, and during that time, a lot of investors seem to have forgotten that markets move down sometimes (even though the stock market has shown a long term upward bias). Short term volatility isn’t a reason to move all of your investments into a Stable Value fund – because to do this right, you need to sell at the high and buy back in at the low. In other words, you need to be right twice, when being right once is already hard enough. We do advocate for making some changes when necessary though, just not the type that will give your account whiplash because a talking head hits “Sell Sell Sell” and throws a coffee at the camera recording the show.
  • Rebalancing & Reallocation: We’ve established that markets move, as a result your portfolio will eventually drift out of the recommended portfolio. We’re here to keep an eye on this for you and have established various tests for your account to make trades only when necessary.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re thinking “Will they please tell me how often I should check my investments?!”, hopefully everything you’ve read so far has made enough sense. So here you go: you should check your investments enough to be familiar with the direction that you’re going, confirm that your account is up-to-date on any plan changes, and that you have adjusted for any life/employment changes that may impact your plan. If you’re losing sleep over weekly or monthly performance you’re probably checking it too often. If you’re wondering why the S&P 500 is up 13% and your globally diversified portfolio that is 20% bonds is only up 7.5%, then you are not familiar enough with the intention of your portfolio

Never forget – this is your account, you’re in charge, even if someone is helping you with it. Advisors, including blooom, are only here to help incorporate their philosophies into your portfolio. There are plenty of items that you can control and plenty others that you can’t. Identifying these early on and taking advantage of the opportunities that you do have will lead to the greatest probability of success. Keep up the great work gang. Final thought: if you have questions or are fretting over your portfolio choices, reach out! After all, that’s what we are here for and we’d love to help however we can.

 

-blooom

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3 Ways to Free Up Cash to Save for Retirement

Whether you’re saving for the down payment on a new home or stashing money for your retirement, you’ll need a hefty sum.

As it stands, the average home goes for around $340,000, which means a down payment of as much as $68,000 is required to avoid private mortgage insurance, while healthcare in retirement can set you back at least $5,000 per year. There are also other costs associated with homeownership and the everyday expenses of retirement that you need to save for.

Getting a side-gig to shore up cash is the quickest way to meet your savings goals, but if that’s not an option, there are alternatives. They may require sacrifice or an overhaul of your lifestyle, but after a while, they will become money-saving habits.

If you throw all the cash you free up into your savings account, you may be well on your way to amassing a sizeable nest egg. With that in mind, check out these three hacks to free up more money to stash for retirement.

3 Ways to Free Up More Cash to Fund Your Retirement

1. Cut Expenses Everywhere

Minimalists and spenders alike need to cut expenses to save more. It’s a fast and effective way to boost your savings account and create positive habits. However, it takes sacrifice and commitment — and it isn’t as simple as cutting back on the coffee runs each week.

Before you can get to the business of slashing your costs, you have to create a budget. List all of your outlays, including everything down to the cost of your daily commute. Compare that with the money you bring in. The excess is what you have to save and to spend on discretionary purchases. If you want to increase the amount that goes into savings, you have to identify ways to lower your bills, and you must vow to curb your spending outside of necessities.

Take utilities for starters. You may be able to get a lower rate from your existing energy provider or find a more economical alternative. Converting to solar panels may save you money on your monthly utility bills, freeing up more cash. Even making an effort to shut off lights, use water sparingly and not overheat or cool the home can save you cash. The same is true for reducing the number of vehicles you own or getting rid of your vehicles altogether. Thanks to ride-hailing apps, short term rentals, and vehicle sharing programs, it’s much easier to get from point A to point B without owning a vehicle. Plus, you won’t have to pay to park it or pay for insurance.

Your cost cutting search shouldn’t stop there. Shop your car insurance, homeowners insurance, renters insurance, and medical insurance to see if there are lower cost plans. Financial technology startups have been disrupting the financial services industry for some time now, offering consumers cheaper rates on everything from banking to homeowners insurance. Even if you only identify $50 per month in savings, that adds up to an extra $600 per year in savings.

Once you get utilities and insurance obligations out of the way, it’s time to tackle your entertainment and daily expenditures. Find ways to lower your outlays from eating, commuting, cable, outings, and splurges. The more you’re willing to sacrifice, the greater the savings will be.

Depending on your circumstances, you can take drastic steps to free up money. Take your living arrangements, which is typically the largest outlay each month. If you rent a smaller apartment or downsize your home, you can quickly amass the necessary money. That’s particularly helpful for people who are trying to come up with a down payment for a home or are nearing retirement with little in the way of savings.

Don’t forget to restructure your debt. If you’re able to refinance your mortgage, a high-interest rate credit card or other debt into lower interest rate products, it can free up a lot of money. Remember, the idea is to put extra money away each month — not spend it — so make sure to be disciplined with this strategy.

2. Go Automatic

To stash more cash, you have to be consistent. You can’t do it for one month and then forget about it the next month. You have to be disciplined, which means saving regularly — whether it’s weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. The best way to do that is to make it automatic. With zero intervention on your part, you won’t self-destruct. If it’s the choice between concert tickets and savings, the latter might lose out if left to your own devices. Automatic is effective. A study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that automatic saving is more effective than a tax subsidy in increasing Denmark’s savings rate.

Automatic savings comes in many flavors. If you’re employed full time, there’s a chance your employer offers automatic savings plans. Money is taken out of your paycheck and automatically deposited into a savings account. Since it comes out of your paycheck before you see it, you’ll never miss it. It’s similar to a 401(k)-account offered by employers across the country. Pre-tax money is withdrawn from your paycheck and invested on your behalf. Outside of a company savings plan, banks and fintech companies offer the ability for you to save automatically. You choose the day and the amount you want to be saved each month, and they will withdraw it for you. When choosing contributions for your 401(k), make sure to save enough to at least meet the company match if it’s offered. If you aren’t saving that much in your 401(k), you are leaving free money on the table.

Mobile apps have also exploded on the scene providing a plethora of ways to save. Some help you move money into savings buckets, while others try to shame you into saving more. Moreover, some round up and save your spare change for you. You link your credit or debit card, and every time you make a purchase, it is rounded up to the next $1.00 with the difference going into the app’s savings or investment account. The savings are small, but they can add up over time. Some have partnered with well-known brands, doubling the savings when you make purchases with their partners.

3. Choose Low-Cost Investments

When it comes to investing, fees can make a big dent in your savings prospects. Go with an actively managed mutual fund, and you may pay 1% or more of your investable assets. That is money that isn’t going toward investments and isn’t benefiting from compounding. Compounding occurs when the interest on earned investments is reinvested, earning even more money.

One way to increase your savings is to choose low-cost investments. Exchange-traded funds, index funds, and passive investments all have lower fees than those that are actively managed by a human. With an index fund, for example, the average fee is 0.25% of invested assets, much lower than an actively managed mutual fund.

Make sure to look at the fee disclosure statements when choosing investments or assessing current ones to prevent overpaying. That includes your 401(k) plan at work. You may have chosen a fund a few years back and stuck with it, not knowing if fees are eating away at your returns. If you find an investment that has a high expense ratio, swap it out for one with a lower one. The expense ratio measures how much of the assets in a fund goes to operating and administrative costs. Those expenses reduce the investable assets, which means fewer returns for you. Rule of thumb: choose a fund with an expense ratio of 0.25% or lower.

If you are looking for an even cheaper way to invest, go with a robo advisor (or mobile trading app). Robo advisors are online investment platforms that use algorithms to determine asset allocations for investors, managing their investment dollars with little in the way of human intervention. Because it utilizes technology rather than active management by a human, robo advisors charge lower fees than what most financial advisors typically charge. Mobile trading apps that provide free and low-cost trading are popping up all over, and they’re ideal for DIY investors who are looking to save on their trades.

Final Thoughts

Life is expensive. It’s true if you want to buy a car or a home, or stash money for your golden ages. If you have a family, you also have to worry about medical expenses and college tuition. All of that requires real money. The more of it you don’t have to borrow, the better off you’ll be. That’s why throwing your bonuses and tax refunds toward your savings should be an important part of your strategy.

Instead of blowing it on something you don’t need or won’t remember in a year, save it. You’ll thank your future self for it. Remember, any increase in your savings rate puts you that much closer to achieving your financial goals.

What are you doing to prepare for your retirement years? What are your best money saving tips?

 

About the Author

Beth Morrison is a freelance writer and former CPA. She writes about planning for retirement, budgeting, and traveling for a variety of websites. She lives and works in Austin, Texas.

 

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