The Kids Are Costing Me a Fortune!

Kids are costing me a fortune image for landing page“Mommy, can I have that [totally overpriced piece of molded plastic with a bad paint job that doesn’t even do anything and will break within 48 hours] toy? Pleeeeeeease????” Yep. You know this situation all to well. You can even hear the tone of your child’s voice and you can predict exactly what’s to follow!

So how can we, as parents, do a better job at minimizing the number of times this exchange of disappointments, tantrums, and parental guilt sessions occur? Here’s an idea I’ve recently tried with my kids and, unbelievably, it’s actually working! For the time being anyway.

I got to thinking one day about the psychology behind our “wants” as human beings and the societal pressures that surround our every buying decision. And it started me thinking about the reality of these situations. The reality is we are addicted to things. Why are we addicted to things? It’s because we’re trained to love things despite the fact these things don’t really make us happy. It’s not like these shiny objects actually love us back, do they? And just like that it dawned on me – they’re “shiny, new” objects.

What if we proved to our children that the things in stores just LOOK shiny? What if we taught them about the marketing and advertising tricks and helped them to understand that they are only seeing a facade. They only see cool packaging. Or cool TV commercials. After all, when we take the toys out of the packaging on Christmas Eve so that they’ll appear to be made in Santa’s workshop, the toys lose some of their incredible size, appeal, and magnificence! Everything we’ve purchased for our kids tends to shrink down to a minimal pile of fun. No longer can our kids envision themselves in place of the beautiful child models who appear to be having a blast on the front of the box!

So how do we educate our kids about the marketing and advertising tricks of the trade? We simply tell them about the company’s financial motivation to sell toys and about the competition they face when a child walks into Walmart or Target to pick out a prize. We talk to them about packaging, about what that company has to do to make their toy look more appealing than the others. We must be sure to consistently apply these principles every opportunity we get. Trust me, it will start to click with them over time! At least until their friends get a truly cool toy this Christmas. But at least they will quit asking for junk!

Be sure to share your awesome parenting tips with me so that we can all get better at parenting together!

Feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions you may have – valerie@grinkmeyerleonard.com.

We Need YOU

Let the snow fall.This has been the hardest year of my life. In the past 12 months, I’ve lost my two grandfathers who were some of the greatest influences in my life; I experienced the sad and tragic loss of my little brother; I’ve been impacted by the loss of three beloved clients; and I recently lost a close business-mentor of mine. Because my world will never be the same without them, I have spent a great deal of time contemplating what it means to leave a legacy. How do you want to be remembered after you’re gone?

This life is so short, y’all! By the time we graduate college, we only have about 23,000 days to make the most of it. We make choices each day about how we’re going to spend our time, our energy, which people we are going to build meaningful relationships with, which situations are worth losing sleep over, where we will live – all while trying to do our very best to be good people and avoid repeating our past mistakes. But do we spend any time thinking about how our legacy can live on without us? Do we consider that the people around us will continue to “need” us after we’re gone?

At some point in my life, I’ve had a relationship with many of you who are reading this now. I made it a point to scroll through my Facebook friends list and ask the question for each and every one of you, “What would I remember about this person after they’re gone and in what ways would I miss them?” Yes, that sounds incredibly morbid. But what I learned through this exercise is that there wasn’t a single person I wouldn’t miss. Seriously. There wasn’t a single name that jumped out at me as not having a talent, a purpose, a life that hasn’t impacted mine in some way. And so I’ll leave you with this – we need youThis world needs what you have to offer. So go about your life today knowing you have an opportunity to leave a lasting impact and your impact can be huge.

~Valerie

How to Invest in 2019

How to invest in 2019 image for landing pageThe elections are behind us and everybody’s wondering, “What’s next for markets?” The last few months of 2018 have reminded us that market volatility can be scary, yet our economy continues to remain strong. While we’ve seen some slowing, most economic indicators still signal growth and we can’t ignore that fact. My biggest concern, however, is that most Americans allow emotions to dictate their investment strategy, leading to decisions where they buy high and sell low. In fact, studies backup this phenomenon verifying that the bad decisions investors make are often driven by emotions. So how can you invest your money with confidence while leaving nervous emotions on the shelf? Here are four tips:

  1. Look at current market conditions. Right now, our economy seems to be stable so normal investment strategies tend to work in this environment. Consumers and businesses are confident. Job growth remains strong and is likely to stay at a healthy level. The long-term trend in markets has not been broken and other key economic indicators appear to be in healthy territory and may even be improving. These are all strong reasons to avoid abandoning your investment strategy if you’re a long-term investor.
  2. Consider risks in the market today. As I write this article (mid-November), companies are reasonably priced, which is encouraging. However, we need to watch consumer confidence and employment. If confidence is shaken, this could signal that a more defensive strategy might be in order. Consider this in conjunction with potential interest rate hikes, as well as our current geopolitical landscape, and use this information to choose an appropriate risk level.
  3. Think about overweighting sectors that are expected to do well over the next 12-36 months and underweighting areas that may underperform. When you think about all the major places you can allocate money, it’s important to diversify without diversifying to mediocrity. Consider where money is flowing and which sectors have the best prospects for growth.
  4. Don’t underestimate the role an investment advisor can play in keeping you on-track. Whether you are too busy to do it yourself or you just need someone to help you take a more tactical approach, a qualified advisor can help you avoid making mistakes. If all you do is open your monthly statements and look at whether the value went up or down, you probably need to pay a bit more attention. On the contrary, if your current advisor doesn’t proactively communicate with you, you may need to consider someone who will. You work hard for every penny and you need to know that someone is working hard for you.

If you are interested in talking more about an investment strategy for 2019, email me at valerie@grinkmeyerleonard.com to request a complimentary investment and risk assessment. Or, just email me with any questions you may have – I’m always happy to help!

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy ThanksgivingDuring this season of Thanksgiving, it seems more important than ever to count our blessings. I celebrate this Thanksgiving with a grateful heart for all that I have. My family, friends, and clients are so important to me. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.

May the years ahead bring peace, good health, and much happiness to you and yours.

Happy Thanksgiving!

~Valerie

Buyer Beware: Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Tips for safe online shoppingLooking for power tools? A vintage Chanel purse? A living-room sofa? Millions of shoppers are bypassing brick-and-mortar stores, as well as their respective websites, in favor of purchasing such items from individual online sellers. For many people, sites like Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace sites offer a chance to save on everyday items and luxury products, both new and used—all from the comfort of their own homes.

Yet, while online shopping may be a convenient way to find deals and one-of-a-kind items, it’s important to protect your identity and financial information, particularly when dealing with individual sellers. Before you purchase anything listed on an online classified ad, auction, or marketplace site, keep the following precautions in mind.

Online classifieds
On classified sites run by newspapers and popular venues like Craigslist, sellers tend to offer used items and may be open to negotiation. Since most transactions are done in cash, there’s little buyer protection.

To stay safe:

  • Never wire funds. If a seller asks you to wire payment using Western Union or MoneyGram, you’re likely dealing with a scammer.
  • Safeguard your personal information. Sellers on Craigslist and similar sites don’t need your personal financial information, such as credit card numbers. To keep your information safe, it’s best to pay with cash.
  • Don’t go it alone. Always take someone with you when meeting a seller. Be sure to tell a friend or family member where you’ll be, and take your cell phone with you.
    Pick up in a public place. Choose a busy location to meet the seller. If you’re picking up the item at the seller’s house, it’s particularly important to have a friend or family member join you.

Online auctions
Online auction sites like eBay let you view and bid on products from around the globe. Some sites also allow you to buy items outright instead of bidding.

To stay safe:

  • Read the fine print. Before you enter a bid, be sure to review the entire listing, as well as the sales policies of the auction site. Remember: you win, you pay. Once you’ve won an auction, you’re obligated to complete the transaction.
  • Check out buyer feedback. Auction sites let buyers post feedback on their purchases, which can give you insight into a seller’s business practices. Be sure the seller has a high rating before making a purchase. If lackluster feedback prompts you to hesitate, it’s probably best to look for the item elsewhere.
  • Pay with a credit card or PayPal account. Using a debit card linked to your checking account may not be safe, as most debit cards don’t offer fraud protection. You may also want to consider buyer protection; eBay offers such a plan that covers many items purchased on its site.
  • Beware of fraudulent e-mails. After you’ve made a purchase, be wary of any unusual e-mails you may receive. Avoid opening suspicious messages or clicking on links they contain.

Online marketplaces
Online marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, and Overstock are one-stop shops where you can find anything and everything. Searches on these types of sites may pull up products new and used, both from companies and from individual sellers.

To stay safe:

  • Know what you’re purchasing. Though they’re often cheaper, used products may not be in perfect shape. Don’t neglect to read all the product details, as well as individual sellers’ return and refund policies.
  • Look for positive seller feedback. As with online auctions, be sure to read sellers’ ratings and keep your eyes open for red flags.
  • Pay safely. Pay for purchases using a credit card or PayPal, which offer greater buyer protection than other methods.
  • Ensure a secure checkout. Before you purchase an item, look for HTTPS at the beginning of the web address on the transaction page, which indicates a secure connection. Addresses that begin with HTTP only aren’t secure.

Don’t pay with your identity
When shopping online, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding a great deal—or what seems to be one. But don’t let the thrill of bargain-hunting override common sense or cause you to jeopardize your sensitive information. Be sure to read the details on items you’d like to buy and to use caution when making purchases online, particularly if you’re dealing with an individual seller.

As we enter the holiday shopping season, it’s particularly important to be careful with your online shopping in order to protect yourself against fraudulent transactions. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at valerie@grinkmeyerleonard.com. I’m always happy to help.

Tips for Curbing Rising Healthcare Costs

Tips for curbing healthcare costs (2)Healthcare expenses are a major concern for people of all ages, from recent college graduates to those nearing retirement. Average annual healthcare costs per person hit $10,345 in 2016. These costs impact families as well. According to the annual Milliman Medical Index report, a typical family of four insured by the most common employer-sponsored health plan will spend more than $28,000 on healthcare in 2018, with $15,788 paid by the employer; $7,674 via employee payroll deduction; and $4,704 in out-of-pocket expenses. That’s an increase of about $100 per month over the past 10 years!

While it’s impossible to predict how much healthcare will cost in the future, there are a number of strategies that may help reduce the financial burden, whether you’re close to retirement or have many years left to work.

SAVING TIPS FOR EVERYONE
No matter where you are in life, the common sense strategies below may help you save money on healthcare costs.

  • Choose the right provider. Should you go to the ER if you break your arm? Most would say yes, but an urgent care facility may offer the same treatment for $1,000 less. Determining when you need to visit your primary care physician, a specialist, an urgent care provider, or a full-service hospital can play a big role in reducing costs.
  • Cut out unnecessary tests. Under the Affordable Care Act, certain preventative tests will be free if you use an in-network provider. Imaging tests such as MRIs, X-rays, and ultrasounds may still put a dent in your wallet, however. Keep in mind that, in many cases, these procedures aren’t necessary to treat simple aches and pains. If you or a family member suspects a more serious condition that may require one of these tests, visit www.healthcarebluebook.com to compare prices.
  • Buy generic drugs. Most insurance plans have different copayment tiers for various brands of the same drug, including generic, preferred, and non-preferred (the most expensive). Buying generic-brand drugs may be one of the easiest and most effective ways to cut back on your healthcare spending. A great resource for researching lower-priced pharmaceuticals is www.goodrx.com, where you can compare drug prices and find the best deals near you.

PLANNING AHEAD FOR RETIREMENT
Unfortunately, retirement has become synonymous with steep healthcare costs. To help minimize your expenses and make things easier on yourself, here are some tips to consider as you approach retirement:

  • Review your current benefits. As you begin looking into health insurance options, it’s important to have all the information regarding your current policy at the ready. Coverage, deductibles, and benefits change regularly, so be sure you’re up to speed on the details of your plan. Knowing where you stand today will give you a head start in planning for retirement and may help you trim costs.
  • Research supplemental insurance. Medicare is the primary source of health care coverage for Americans age 65 and up. Most retirees qualify for basic Medicare hospital insurance (Part A), which is free. It’s important to note that Medicare medical insurance (Part B), which covers doctors’ services, outpatient hospital care, and other day-to-day medical needs, requires a monthly premium. Although it can be time consuming to review all the options, purchasing private insurance to supplement basic Medicare may help offset expensive premiums. To compare coverage in your state and find insurers that offer the best value, visit www.medicare.gov.
  • Assess your employer’s benefits. Some retired employees receive coverage from their employers instead of through Medicare. Employer-provided retirement benefits are becoming less common, however, so be sure to find out whether your company offers such a plan and if you are eligible.

Retiring early? Look into your options. Since Medicare isn’t available until you reach age 65, consider other possibilities, such as:

  • Joining your spouse’s health care plan
  • Paying to continue your current employer coverage for a specified time under COBRA
  • Purchasing your own personal medical insurance policy
  • Using Veterans Administration benefits (if you are a veteran)

Consider other ways to save. Here are a few more ideas for covering health care costs in retirement:

  • Health savings accounts (HSAs), which may be offered by your employer’s health care plan, allow you to set aside pretax funds to pay for medical care. Contributions are tax-deductible and can be withdrawn tax-free for health care costs. HSAs are portable, allowing you to take them with you if you change jobs, and they can be used for current health care or saved for future use; funds don’t need to be used within a year.
  • Voluntary employees’ beneficiary association (VEBA) plans may be available to school employees, state agency workers, and union members. With a VEBA, your employer contributes money to a trust on your behalf, which you can use to pay for current or future medical expenses.
  • Working part-time is also an option. Many retirees continue working a reduced schedule in order to keep their health insurance benefits.

REFINING YOUR HEALTHCARE STRATEGY
It’s never too early (or too late) to review your personal health care plan. There are many ways to create a cost-effective strategy, and, given the ever-changing health care landscape, it’s wise to be aware of what you can do to reduce your risk and protect your savings.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at valerie@grinkmeyerleonard.com. I’m always happy to help.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/23/heres-how-much-the-average-american-spends-on-health-care.html

Trick or Treat? 3 Crazy Ways Your Brain Tricks You Into Not Saving Money

Trick or Treat_ How brain tricks you into not saving money image for landing pageDid you know your brain may be to blame for preventing you from reaching your financial goals? It’s true. Several recent studies conducted by Prudential suggest that we should train our brains to think differently about money because our brains are tricking us every day. Here’s how:

  1. What would happen if you asked a stranger to donate to your retirement fund? They’d probably laugh at you. But, research suggests when we think about our older selves in retirement, we see ourselves as strangers and have a hard time saving for something we can’t easily envision. For example, when we think about ourselves now, our medial prefrontal cortex reacts strongly, yet when we think about a stranger, the same area has a lesser reaction. Oddly enough, this section of our brain has the same insignificant reaction when we think about ourselves in the future. To make saving easier, we need to find ways to connect with the person we want to become so it doesn’t feel like we’re giving money to a person we don’t know.
  2. Have you ever lost a $20 bill? It hurt, didn’t it? Did you know that our brains recognize physical pain and losing money in the same way? Furthermore, the same area of our brain that reacts when you lose money is responsible for reactions related to saving money. It’s almost as if we feel like we’re losing money when we save. Ouch. That hurts. But consider this – what if we woke up one day and checked our bank account to find we had a lot more money than we originally saved? How would this make you feel? Personally, I’d be doing a happy dance! This means we need to start focusing harder on the gratifying feelings that savings can lead to instead of the pain we feel when saving today.
  3. You work extremely hard. So, why are you behind in reaching your financial goals? The area of your brain that helps you make responsible decisions, your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, is focused on overriding the parts of your brain that encourage you to make impulsive decisions. Because your responsible side gets tired from all the decisions it makes every day, the impulsive side often overrides it. This leads to procrastination. Big surprise, huh? You’re tired! The last thing you want to do after coming home from a long day is to calculate your retirement gap or figure out the best way to invest your money.

What can you do?
One of the most important ways to help bridge the gap between where you are today and where you want to be is to find someone who can understand your goals, help simplify the decisions you need to make by offering you easy solutions, and keep you on track when life gets in the way. I’d love to help you get from here to there. Feel free to reach out to me at valerie@grinkmeyerleonard.com if you’re ready to get focused.

How to Help Your Aging Parents Avoid Financial Mistakes

How to Talk to Aging Parents About Money Image for Landing PageIf you’re concerned that your parents are getting older and worried about their ability to make wise financial decisions, you’re not alone. In fact, 10,000 experienced baby boomers are retiring each day—a trend that will continue through 2030!

When you combine the complex and ever-changing financial industry with the fact that there will likely come a time your parents will be unable or uninterested in managing their money, you may very well find yourself in a challenging situation.

According to a poll by the Pew Research Center:

  • 75% of adults believe that they have a responsibility to provide financial assistance to their aging parents.
  • 63% percent of adults have given some type of financial support to their grown children in the past year.

As your parents move into retirement, it’s wise to plan ahead for any financial and legal responsibilities they may expect you to take on.

Starting the conversation
These days, 65 is hardly considered old age. But, it’s crucial to sit down with your parents and have an honest discussion about issues that may arise—before they need your help. What are their expectations for the future? What kind of assistance will they need from you? Will they have sufficient resources to cover their care as they age?

As part of this conversation, be sure their important documents and information are organized. You’ll want to know where to locate items such as:

  • Wills and legal documents
  • Investment, bank, and insurance account numbers
  • Safe deposit boxes, real estate deeds, and automobile titles
  • Emergency contact numbers (medical providers, neighbors and friends, and financial, tax, and legal advisors)

Looking into legal matters
If they haven’t already done so, your parents may want to hire an attorney to help them manage their affairs. For example, they may need assistance with:

  • Appointing a health care representative. Without legal authorization, medical privacy laws prevent doctors from discussing a parent’s medical conditions with you. In addition to appointing a health care power of attorney, your parents may want to consider a living will, which provides instructions on how to manage treatment if they have a terminal or irreversible condition and cannot communicate.
  • Reviewing and updating estate planning documents. Besides the basic estate planning documents, such as wills, durable powers of attorney, and revocable trusts, your parents may wish to draft a letter outlining who will receive personal effects like jewelry and family heirlooms.

Discussing their financial situation
Depending on your parents’ circumstances and financial savvy, they might need help managing their money as they age. Making arrangements now can help prevent confusion down the road.

  • Review insurance coverage. Be sure to discuss your parents’ existing life and long-term care policies, and make changes if necessary.
  • Enlist an advisor. Now may be a good time to get to know your parents’ financial advisor, or to talk to your own advisor about your parents’ situation. She can recommend products that are suitable to their investment goals, whether that means income, capital preservation, or growth.

Looking to the future
As your parents age, a number of other considerations will likely come into play. Will they be able to continue living at home? How long will they be able to drive? Although these topics may be difficult to discuss, it’s important to start the conversation early—for your parents’ sake as well as your own. By planning ahead, you’ll help ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

And remember, you don’t need to make these decisions alone. I’m happy to help support you and your parents with strategic planning for the next phase of their lives. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at valerie@grinkmeyerleonard.com. I’m always happy to help.

Source: Trends in Executive Development 2016, Executive Development Associates

How to Help Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft image for landing page (1)Have you been a victim of identity theft? If not, chances are you know someone who has. According to a report conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research, 16.7 million people were victims of identity fraud in 2017! So, what can do you do help protect yourself and your personal data?

What is identity theft?
It used to be that thieves would compromise your identity by stealing your mail or wallet, but today they are just as likely to obtain your personal information from businesses you frequent. Or, using a technique called phishing, they may try to trick you into providing information by posing as your bank or a government agency. Once they have your key data, they can change your address with your credit card issuers, open up new credit cards in your name, drain your bank account, take out loans, apply for government-issued identification, or impersonate you during an arrest. They may even entangle your identity in a sophisticated fraud on a third-party without you even knowing it.

How can you help protect yourself?
Use the following tips to help keep your personal information safe from thieves:

  1. Keep a close eye on your credit by requesting a free credit report once a year. Call 877.322.8228 or visit annualcreditreport.com. This is the only source authorized by federal law to obtain your free report so don’t be fooled by similar-sounding websites that are in the business of selling credit protection services.
  2. Review your credit card and bank statements regularly (as often as weekly) for charges you didn’t make. Some thieves will charge a small purchase to test if the account is active; if it goes through undetected, they’ll move on to much larger purchases.
  3. Be smart about your passwords. Because it’s relatively easy for thieves to obtain information about you from social networking sites, don’t use your phone number, birthday, or names of your children or pets as passwords. Strong passwords include a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  4. Ask the businesses and institutions you work with (or for) about how they secure your information. “Dumpster diving” is a popular way for thieves to access information carelessly thrown away by businesses.
  5. Don’t fall victim to a phishing scam. If you receive a call or an e-mail that appears to be from a trusted institution or business, don’t immediately provide identifying information. Instead, visit the business’s website and call its customer service number. Or, if the message appears to be from your credit card company, call the number printed on the back of your card.
  6. Don’t click on links within e-mails. Rather, type the URL directly into your browser’s address line.
  7. Secure your mail. Before you travel, ask the post office to hold your mail until you return. Don’t leave bill payments in an unsecured mailbox and have reordered checks delivered to your bank rather than mailed to your home.
  8. Shred your credit card receipts, bank statements, and other documents that could provide a thief with your financial information.
  9. Don’t carry your credit or debit cards in your wallet if you don’t plan to use them. Never carry your social security number in your wallet.
  10. Update your computer’s virus protection and don’t open e-mail attachments from people or businesses you don’t know.
  11. Install a firewall on your computer to thwart hackers.
  12. Look for the lock icon or “https” address when shopping online. Always log off when leaving a password-protected site.
  13. Use a wipe utility program before throwing away old computer equipment or smartphones.

If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, follow the steps provided on the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

What about identity theft protection services?
With cases of identity theft on the rise, many companies have entered the market with services promising to protect or minimize your risk. Certainly, these services are convenient, but they don’t offer anything you can’t do for free. Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that the industry has its own share of fraudulent promoters of worthless services. Be sure to do your research and understand the level of protection the company offers.

Many well-known businesses offer credit monitoring, among other services. Find out more by visiting www.fightidentitytheft.com.

You work hard for your money. Don’t let cyber thieves steal it from you. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at valerie@grinkmeyerleonard.com. I’m always happy to help.

This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax advisor, or lawyer.

Source: 2018 Identity Fraud: Fraud Enters a New Era of Complexity

What’s a 529 Plan?

What's a 529 plan imageSaving for college can feel like an overwhelming task, especially since over the past decade, the average cost of college tuition has risen at more than double the rate of inflation. So, how do you prepare for this major expense? One of the more popular savings options is a 529 college savings plan, but what exactly is a 529 plan?

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged investment vehicle sponsored by a state or educational institution that is designed to help families put aside funds to pay for future college costs. It’s named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Because there are so many 529 plan options available, it’s important to understand all of the aspects of a 529 plan.

For help understanding what a 529 plan is and if it might be the right option for you, CLICK HERE to download the free ePaper I’ve put together, What’s a 529 Plan?

In this paper you will find information on:

  • The differences between a prepaid college tuition plan and 529 college savings plan
  • Federal, state, gift and estate tax advantages of a 529 plan
  • The impact of a 529 plan on financial aid
  • And, much more!

Planning for college expenses can feel overwhelming. Reach out to me to conduct a college savings analysis to determine if a 529 plan is a good option for you and your family and get tips on how you can be doing more to prepare for this major expense.

For more information on getting your college needs analysis, email me at valerie@grinkmeyerleonard.com. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

Source: The College Board, Trends in College Pricing 2014

College Needs Analysis REVISED