Investments

Blind Spots and Seeing the Whole Picture

Posted on Jul 27, 2018 in Community, Family, Investments, Planning, Relationship

I’m a huge movie buff. In a different life, I would have been behind a camera, capturing people’s stories on film. One of the best stories I’ve seen on film is a movie making the festival circuit this year, Blindspotting. Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame, along with longtime friend, poet and fellow actor Rafael Casal, have made a buddy movie like no other. It is smart, funny, painful, intense, and powerful. The writing is tight, the acting top-notch. The pair had been working on finding a way to produce the film for ten years, and its tone and subject matter could not be more pertinent today.

And why am I telling you about this in a personal finance blog? The power of the movie is in its exercise in asking the audience whether they can see more than one thing at the same time: Can you see the two people in profile AND the vase? Can you see a black ex-con and a thoughtful man reinventing himself? Can you see that the friend you’ve known your whole life has a different experience of the world because his skin color is different than yours? Can you see a rich person and someone struggling? Can you actively look to see past your blind spots? This is important because without the ability to do so, you can miss important information about your friends, your family, the people you work with, and the broader world around you, as well as about your finances.

What is “Blindspotting”? You’ll find that out when you go to see the movie. (And seriously, go see it.) We’ve all heard of blind spots: something in your range of vision that you should be able to see, but which is obstructed. The obstructions come from a variety of sources, but they can come straight from you: a blind spot is a predisposition, a prejudice. The most dangerous are the ones that you don’t know you have. Dangerous because you may think you are lighting candlesticks when you are lighting dynamite.

We all have them. We are all products of our own stories and experience: our upbringing, our families, and the shortcuts that help us make sense of the world. Sometimes those shortcuts don’t show us the whole picture and result in blind spots. Here are three common ones that might impact your personal financial life, and one additional that can cause you to negatively affect someone else’s:

Confirmation bias – You embrace information that supports your perspective and cultivate a blind spot to that which contradicts it. You buy a stock and when there is good news about the stock, you acknowledge that and feel you have made a wise investment. When there is negative information about the stock, you discount the news.

Recognizing that you’re likely to have a bias for the choices you make and being able to look past that blind spot and take in all relevant information about an investment will make you a better investor.

Over-confidence – What you’ve done in the past has been successful, so you are confident that you know what you’re doing. You have a blind spot to the role luck can play and to evidence itself, and in investment management, that’s one place where numbers don’t lie.

You invest in real estate and home prices soar. You feel like a brilliant investor. Real estate prices plunge, and you blame the market, not your strategy. The blind spot is your confidence in your ability versus the capriciousness of markets.  Why you were investing in real estate in the first place should be your benchmark: you needed a home and were buying for the long-term, or you wanted a long-term investment in rental property and could carry the on-going costs of the property during the periods you couldn’t rent it. That’s the measure you need to be using as a benchmark for success, not your ability to time a market. It’s hard not to get caught up in a frenzy, which also makes it the best time to go back to your desk and work through the numbers to see if an investment will meet your goals over your time horizon.

Note that the corollary of over-confidence exists as well: under-confidence. You invest in the S&P 500 and the market goes up. You consider yourself lucky. The market falls and you blame yourself for a bad investment. Your blind spot is self-confidence: without question, luck factors into timing of investing. But if you invested in the S&P 500 as a long-term strategy for growth, knowing that there will be market fluctuations, there is no luck or blame, that is a solid strategy.

Rationalizing: You overspend but explain how much you’re saving by buying things on sale. You desperately want to get out of debt but as soon as you’ve freed up some extra income, you’ve committed it to another loan or run up a balance on another credit card. You’ll start saving tomorrow.

We are creatures of habit. We are attached to our rituals, our patterns, our ways of doing things, and accepting that they may not be serving us – to say nothing of actually changing them – is hard to do. The blind spot is what you believe is really important and whether your actions support it. What is your goal? Looking at actions instead of hopes or dreams is where planning comes in. All of the above actions are rational in some way to the person making them. Seeing how the action (buying something you don’t expressly need because it’s on sale) impacts your stated goal (saving for a vacation to Italy) can help you release an old rationale and better align actions with what you really want.

And one more for the other people in your life:

Making an Assumption: This is the quickest shortcut we all use. You don’t give the plum project to the new parent because it involves travel and you assume they wouldn’t be interested in that now. You order a $90 bottle of wine at dinner with a friend, not realizing that her half of the price of the wine was what she was budgeting for the whole meal. You see your neighbor’s new Tesla, their designer shoes, the gardener at their house and you assume they are greedy and material people.

But are you making an assumption that interferes with seeing the whole picture? Your predisposition creates a blind spot. You won’t see the whole picture in each case until you ask questions and learn more. You’ll retain a prejudiced view of what a new parent wants at work, what your friend can afford, and what your neighbor is really like. The effort to see a blind spot takes time and attention and energy, all of which feel for most of us like increasingly scarce resources.

These decisions we make based on our biases, our assumptions, our blind spots, can have a very real impact on the lives – financial and otherwise – of other people. You limit the professional growth of an employee, you burden a friend with an unexpected expense, you fail to offer friendship to a neighbor because you are operating in a blind spot.

Are you seeing what you think you are seeing? Or could there be another way of looking at something? Can you step back and take in the whole picture objectively? Could there be more to the story? People and situations can be more than one thing. In developing an awareness of what we know for a fact, setting aside the shortcuts, expanding our view into blind spots, we get better information for action. Blind spots are not blindness – we can improve the completeness of what we see. It requires observation, attention, and sometimes confronting a limitation under which we’ve been operating.

Financial self-awareness is the first step. Learning to be aware of our blind spots can lead us to greater understanding, compassion, and better decision-making all around.

As for Blindspotting the movie, my experience at the SIFF screening was intense and very personal. There is an art to allowing us to laugh while we cry, something Shakespearean about giving us that release so that we can continue to watch, to engage, to care about these characters, flawed as they may be, in the short time we have with them. This is a powerful film, coming at a time when we are churning up some deeply held beliefs among us, which I continue to believe is the first part of healing. Right now it may not feel like we’re making progress, yet like any problem – or blind spot – you can’t do anything to change it until you recognize it’s there.

It is only a movie. But if it promotes a continued conversation about racial tension, police violence, gentrification, growing income inequality, and how we can promote empathy and compassion while tackling these issues, then it is so much more.  Blindspotting opens nationwide July 27th.

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Awakening From Slumber: Ten Years After The Financial Crisis

Posted on Jun 27, 2018 in Community, Investments, Philanthropy, Planning, Retirement

Ten years ago I was in Rome and passed a shop on Via del Corso that sold crystal balls.  If I Image result for crystal ball shop italycould have figured out how to bring one home without setting off airport security, I would have picked one up for the office. Then when you ask me what I think will happen in the market, I can point you to my little Roman souvenir and you will be able to see the future as well as I can.

One of the closest things I have to a crystal ball is my relationship with PIMCO. In addition to being the largest bond manager in the world, PIMCO has the biggest and most geographically widespread research team I know. Most of you who work with me hold at least one PIMCO fund in your portfolio. Even if you don’t, you have heard of their research: they were the folks who came up with The New Normal to describe economic and financial life after the Great Recession. (And which you are likely using to describe any number of new trends in your own life.)

Each year, PIMCO holds its Secular Forum, a gathering of its internal investment professionals along with guest speakers to discuss and debate the state of the global economy and markets over the next three to five years. Like much of PIMCO’s team, my background is in bonds as well, in markets for which critical to understand not only an individual issuer’s ability to repay a debt, but also the longer-term trends that will affect its ability to do so. As part of PIMCO’s investment process, its Secular Forum is designed to promote new ideas and differing points of view, to look into the future for the trends they believe will have important investment implications. They meet, then they publish their results for their advisory firm clients.

The title of this year’s look at 2018 and beyond is called “Rude Awakenings.” That gives you an idea of where we are headed.

The Great Recession: Ten Years Later
After The New Normal, PIMCO dubbed the last five years (2014-2018) the “New Neutral.” This moniker described the low growth, low interest rate environment we found ourselves in world-wide, chugging along without much economic change, with your savings accounts earning next to nothing, but overall slow and steady growth in the economy.

PIMCO predicts our economy will be more volatile over the next several years than this past New Neutral period, and the global political environment will be rockier as well. Nations which worked together to combat the aftermath of the Financial Crisis are showing nationalistic tendencies, meaning it may be every-nation-for-itself when the downturn comes. Neutral no longer, we will need to be prepared for Rude Awakenings. We will need to be flexible, to be able to respond to changing conditions, and to take advantage of opportunities in the investment landscape as they present themselves.

Here are four of the Rudest Awakenings we can expect:

Rude Awakening #1: You expect the same stock market growth in the next 10 years that we’ve had since the Financial Crisis. The big question many of us are struggling with is the state of the business cycle, and when we will shift from expansion and growth to contraction and recession. PIMCO’s research points to a good chance of recession in the next three to five years, most likely sooner rather than later. It’s surprised many of us that the stock market continues to be supported at its current level.

PIMCO forecasts a downturn in 2020, though they note it could be a little later due to government spending (fiscal stimulus) on infrastructure, which means more jobs and economic growth. But because this type of deficit-spending is coming at a time late in the economic cycle when we have very low unemployment, PIMCO calls this stimulus a “fiscal sugar rush.” The “sugar rush” is the artificial high that comes from spending money we don’t have (deficit spending, thanks to tax law changes) on roads, bridges, and the like and risking overheating the economy when unemployment is already so low. This type of stimulus tends to be an expansion-killer as debt levels become unsustainable, and spending that creates deficits increases uncertainty that PIMCO believes is not yet reflected in the stock market. Any of you with kids know how bad the crash can be after a sugar binge.

The things that most affect the timing of the recession are what the Federal Reserve does to manage inflation, whether we get a rise in worker productivity, and whether the current trade spat turns into a full-fledged war.

Rude Awakening #2: Growth in worker productivity is always good for the economy  Worker productivity has been below average since the Great Recession, and while gains in productivity are typically desired as a means of expanding the economy, productivity growth can have a dark side.

Technology-driven productivity growth could extend the current period of expansion, pushing out the recession to a later year. But technology can also be disruptive to markets and the economy. In the case of new technologies, these have an additional impact on legacy companies: think Amazon and every bookstore chain you’ve ever known. New technologies often disrupt industries and displace/replace workers. This higher “technological unemployment” can lead to a populist reaction, and we’ve seen a snippet of what populist sentiment can reap in a number of countries, the US included.

Rude Awakening #3: Populism doesn’t seem to have much impact on the economy Whatever you might think about the current US administration, the American version of populism has been well-liked by financial markets. But expect a different flavor of populism if we hit a recession: Expect a more radical populism that demands redistribution of wealth or income tax increases, nationalization of key industries, and/or a protectionist trade policy.  Italy is serving up an early 21st century version today, where we’re seeing a widespread populist reaction to world events.

Rude Awakening #4: Protectionist trade policy will level the playing field for US goods PIMCO considers China to be less of a risk to the global economy now than previously, as they have re-centralized power and are exerting more control over their economy; they are less of a loose cannon now. That said, tensions over the trade imbalance with the US and over intellectual property rights are growing. PIMCO sees the US-China smackdown as the Rising Power vs. Ruling Power WWF fight of our time: In ancient times, Athens challenged Sparta, in the last century, Germany challenged Britain. Neither of these bouts ended well for the challenger, but there was a whole lot of disruption to global economic systems. China’s challenge to the US as the world’s pre-eminent power is not expected to lead to armed conflict but could lead to rude awakenings on the geopolitical front. Not even a month after PIMCO’s Secular Forum, it appears this expectation of disruption is becoming reality with escalating trade tariffs.

What Will this Next Recession Look Like?
If the future plays out in these ways, what kind of recession will we be waking up to find? The expectation is that this time, the downturn will be shallower and longer than it was in the Great Recession (December 2007-June 2009). Two things that are different now are that (1) it’s hard to rely on central banks to ride to the rescue this time, and (2) we have much greater economic inequality worldwide. The first issue means we won’t have the same solutions we had during the last downturn to help avoid a global economic meltdown, and the second issue means that more people could be affected in this next time, with seriously frayed social safety nets and little protection against great economic harm.

What To Do?
So now that I’ve given you lots over which you can lose sleep, what are you supposed to do about it? How you can prepare? Consider the following:

Get serious about paying off debt. Whether it’s credit card balances, a home equity line of credit or other non-mortgage borrowing. The next year or two is the time to get serious about paying it down. It’s going to cost you more in interest as the months go by, and you might need that debt capacity if things hit the skids.

Build up your cash reserve. If you’re working with me, I’ve already bored you with the fat cash balance I think you should have in reserve. For the rest of you: plan on setting aside a minimum of six months’ worth of expenses (12 months if you are self-employed) in a savings account, or a couple of CDs.

Start setting aside funds for planned major purchases.  You could end up getting them for cheap. One of the things about a recession is that overcapacity as the economy winds down means many goods such as cars and other big ticket items go on sale, and start to come on the market at better prices. If you can, maybe wait to 2019 or 2020 to pick up a new car or major household appliances for less.

Work on pink slip-proofing your job. You know you are doing a great job at work, but you will need to make sure others know, too. No one is immune to job loss, and if you think you’re high enough up on the food chain to avoid being sent packing, remember from the company’s perspective, getting rid of you means getting rid of your big comp package too.

Retirees need to re-assess their asset allocation. -With the next recession expected to be shallower but longer than previous ones, that means arranging your resources so that you’re not having to liquidate anything at an inopportune time. If you’re working with me, we’re building “buckets” of assets to protect your retirement draws three to five years from now. Going forward, structuring this protection becomes even more important.

Consider stockpiling your resources for charitable giving.  Our social safety net is more frayed now than it has been before, and when the recession comes, more people will need help. Demand on charity will be greater, just at a time when donors are more strapped, too. If you are charitably inclined, using a donor-advised fund to accelerate the tax benefit of your contributions is one way to stockpile funds to donate when needed over the coming years.

Take this time to reflect on what’s really important to you. This is my standard refrain. When times are good, it’s often easy to drift towards all things bright and shiny and to forget about the warm and wonderful: the people you love, the things you like to do, the experiences you want to have. It’s also a hard time to put off gratification when it seems like the whole world is on a shopping spree (they are, but it will more than likely come to no good end.)

In our always-changing world, it should come as no surprise that the next ten years will look very different from the last ten. Best we can tell, you can expect more volatility, and be prepared for a recession in the near term. The timing of a downturn is always a confluence of events that are not hard to see but whose coming together is difficult to predict. In the meantime, be cautious about getting overextended — whether stretching financially to buy a new house or taking on other debt to finance spending — and be mindful about maintaining or stockpiling a cash reserve.

Remember that there are limits to the things you can control, and the trajectory of our global economy is not one of them. Consider what you can do on the list above, and then go out and enjoy the rest of life: take a walk, see friends, hug your dog, hang out with family. These things you can do something about, and ultimately they are what really matter as well.

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A Post-Election Note

Posted on Nov 9, 2016 in Community, Investments, Planning, Tax, Women

Like me, you may have felt that the world would look different this morning (if we even woke up at all) after the results of the presidential election. And yet, the sun rose, the day began, and here we are.

What we know after the election is that our country is seriously divided. As we saw when we elected Barack Obama, we want real change. The trouble as I see it is that the direction in which President Trump will lead us will be more of the same. Right now, markets — and the people who make them up — are orderly. There may come a time when the emotions that drove this election will react negatively to a lack of any real change.

Here are a few thoughts on what comes next:

Economics – We have limited specifics on Trump’s plans for “national growth and renewal” in the economy, but there are echoes of Reaganomics: lower taxes, relaxed regulation, big government spending. If the fiscal stimulus he plans repairs and expands our infrastructure, that’s a plus. Reduced regulation (such as repeal of the new DOL Rule (which requires advisors to your 401k to act in your best interest), repeal of Dodd-Frank (Wall Street reform), repeal of the Affordable Care Act) means you’ll be more on your own to protect your interests.

Taxes – We can expect lower taxes, at least on higher earners. I am doubtful Trump’s plan to bring overseas corporate earnings home; if he is able to do this, that’s again a plus for higher earners. Given the structure of our Federal budget, we can’t grow our way out of a deficit spending situation, so lower taxes means increasing deficits.

The World – We are more connected globally than ever, and building walls and reducing trade is likely to hurt us economically, as well as in our leadership role in the world. Bombastic rhetoric in discussions with other leaders and nations could have dire consequences.

The Rhetoric – The most difficult part of the campaign for me has been the vitriolic, threatening language that stirred up some of the ugliest facets of the American character. As a woman, I feel unheard, less safe and decidedly second-class. But I believe we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge, and we must admit this election cycle has revealed a dark side we have wanted to ignore. How we continue the conversation around these issues and change them is the real challenge.

Markets are mixed this morning, after some strong negative indications overnight. We can expect to see more volatility in the months and years ahead, and increasing economic inequality. What we can do is focus on what we can control: diversifying the risk in portfolios, organizing your accounts for tax diversification and to keep expenses as low as possible, saving more, and when we spend, spending with intent.

The table next to mine at the Election Watch Party I attended last night joked that at least here in California we also passed a recreational marijuana law, which we’ll need all the more after this election. (To be clear: I don’t recommend that as a personal financial strategy.)

In the meantime, we need to continue the conversation, and fighting for what we believe: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

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What Is Tax Loss Harvesting?

Posted on Sep 27, 2015 in Investments, Planning, Tax

Part of what a good financial advisor does is help you respond to changes in our economic environment. Sometimes that includes managing your money when markets are behaving badly. No advisor has a crystal ball, and financial markets will go up and down. When they go down, what can you do about it?

You can sell, hold, or tax-loss harvest. For many investors, taking investment gains and harvesting tax losses can be an important tool for reducing taxes now and in the future. If used properly, this active tax strategy can save you money and help keep your portfolio diversified. It won’t restore your losses, but it’s a silver lining in a dark economic climate.

What is “tax loss harvesting”?  Investment losses have tax benefits. Selling and staying out of the market locks in your losses, but it gives you a tax break. Continuing to hold a security that has lost value means you stay invested, but you have to wait for markets to make up for the decline in your holding. With tax loss harvesting, you sell an investment that has experienced a loss in value, but replace it with a similar one, realizing a tax benefit while maintaining your target asset allocation.

Benefits of tax loss harvesting are two-fold:

  • You have a store of tax losses that can be used to off-set future gains, and
  • You have up to $3,000 each year in tax losses to use against ordinary income

How does this work?  Investments fall into asset classes: Short-Term Bonds, Large-Cap Stocks, International Developed Markets, and the like. Let’s say you invested $10,000 in XYZ S&P 500 Fund. As you likely know, the S&P 500 index tracks a list of 500 large US companies, so in our example, our investment in XYZ gives us a holding in Large-Cap Stocks.

You hold on to XYZ S&P 500 Fund for a couple of years, it goes up and down, and then we have a financial downturn. The value of your XYZ S&P 500 Fund holding falls to $6,000. While this may start the acid in your stomach churning, it’s helpful to take a deep breath and not panic. You are a long-term investor and know that markets have cycles, downturns are temporary, and the S&P 500 will recover (if it doesn’t, we have bigger problems). So you want to stay invested in the market, but who knows how long it will take to recover your losses.

If you sell your holding, you have a tax benefit in the form of the $4,000 investment loss ($6,000 current value of your investment – $10,000 purchase price, or cost basis). Let’s say you sell and take your tax loss. But then you’re out of the market. A better strategy might be to take your losses – but stay invested:

SELL XYZ S&P 500 Fund; take the $4,000 tax loss  THEN

BUY ABC Large Cap Fund

 ABC Large Cap Fund is also in the Large-Cap Stock asset class, just like XYZ S&P 500 Fund. You have “banked” the tax loss from your original investment, and stayed invested in the same asset class by investing in a similar fund. You won’t miss out on a recover in large cap stocks, and you don’t have to try to time the market to do it.

The Benefits   When you file your tax return for the year, let’s say you have $500 in capital gains from other investments. You can use $500 of your tax losses to off-set the $500 gain (saving you $75 in federal taxes if you’re subject to the 15% capital gains tax rate). You can then use $3,000 from your “tax loss bank” to off-set ordinary income (wages, interest income, etc) on your tax return. At a 25% marginal tax rate, that saves you $750. You also have $500 in tax losses remaining from the original $4,000 that will carry-forward to the next tax year.

The Rules   The IRS won’t let you simply sell an asset for a loss and immediately buy the same asset solely for the purpose of paying less tax. The loss will be disallowed if the same or substantially identical asset is purchased within 30 days. This is called the “wash-sale rule.” After the 30 days have passed, you can buy the asset you sold and still have the tax loss.

But you can immediately purchase a similar asset that is highly correlated with the one you’ve sold if you don’t want to wait the 30 days. Correlation means the two investments move up and down together in response to market changes. We wouldn’t expect stocks to change in value in the same way bonds would, given a certain economic hiccup; they are not highly correlated. But we would expect an S&P 500 fund and a Large Cap Stock fund to move closely in tandem.

Other Considerations To effectively use tax loss harvesting, you’ll need to consider transactions costs. How much is it going to cost you to buy and sell? If it costs you $10 each trade and your loss was $40 instead of $4,000, it doesn’t make sense to harvest your losses. Also, tax loss harvesting is only for taxable accounts – 401ks, 403bs, 457s, and IRAs are all tax-protected and as such have no tax loss/gain that you experience along the way. Additionally, transacting every time the market goes down can be costly from a tax-preparation standpoint. Lastly, with the latest round of “tax simplification” we now have four different capital gains tax rates, so a loss banked now may not always help you more later.

We can’t do anything about fluctuations in the market, but you can be smart about managing your own “harvest time” and taking tax losses carefully, while remaining invested in down markets. In this case, we saved $825 in tax, with a carry-over benefit to enjoy in future years. Research has shown regular tax loss harvesting to improve portfolio performance by 0.50% to over 1%. During the Financial Crisis in 2008-09, savvy advisors were “banking” losses for clients through tax loss harvesting, keeping their clients invested in the market so they enjoyed the tremendous growth we’ve experienced since then, while using a chunk of their tax losses each year to offset gains. Tax loss harvesting is one way you can take an active role in managing your portfolio with a strategy based on opportunity created by tax law, not market speculation.

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If I Had a Million Dollars…Would I Be Rich?

Posted on Sep 19, 2015 in Divorce, Investments, Planning

Once I was in a Starbucks with my friend Marie. We were both working at the coffee giant, in the Finance department, and using our employee discount for lattes. The people-watching was free.

Marie grew up in Seattle and knew who-was-who in town. While we were talking she nodded to someone leaving the store carrying two enormous coffees. He was big and tall, wearing jeans and a windbreaker, not a designer brand on him. He looked like a truck driver. “That’s Phil Condit,” she said.

At the time Condit was Chairman and CEO of Boeing, then the largest aerospace company in the world and employer of over a quarter of a million people. Today there are lots more CEOs who wear jeans and hoodies, but back then you could say Condit didn’t look like a CEO, or a multi-millionaire.

In their ground-breaking study, The Millionaire Next-Door, Thomas Stanley and William Danko revealed what America’s wealthy really looked like and offered some guidance for how to accumulate wealth. The bottom line was, in fact, a bottom line: often those who “looked” the wealthiest – living in the upscale neighborhoods, wearing the designer duds, eating in the toniest restaurants, and taking the posh vacations – were actually poor, at least in terms of their bottom line, their financial net worth.

One path to poverty, despite high incomes and great resources, is often the pursuit of image. Wealth is distinctly different from stuff. But we can see stuff. We can show off stuff. We can drool over other people’s stuff. We are often comparing ourselves to others, to this image of wealth and success, and it gets in the way of actually being wealthy and financially successful. But how do we know how we’re doing, given what we have to work with?

ARE YOU WEALTHY OR ON YOUR WAY?

Stanley & Danko came up with a formula to determine whether you’re wealthy. Their formula combined two strong determinants of wealth — age and income — into a simple standard against which you can evaluate how you’re doing. Basically, the higher your income, the higher your expected savings, and the older you are, the more you should have saved.

Here is the rule according to Stanley and Danko:

 Age x Realized Pre-Tax Annual Household Income (all sources[1])

Divided by 10

= Expected Net Worth

[1] Excluding inheritances

You’ll note any family money through inheritances or trusts is not included in this metric. From their research, 80% of millionaires are first generation wealthy.

How do you stack up? Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Age                        =             55

Income                 =             $50,000

Expected NW      =             $275,000

Actual NW           =             $325,400

Congratulations! You are on your way to truly building wealth.

 

Let’s take another example:

Age                        =             35

Income                 =             $250,000

Expected NW      =             $875,000

Actual NW           =             $325,400

 

Hmmm. You may have to adjust your lifestyle if you want to really build wealth.

Stanley and Danko further divide their participants into quartiles. If you’re in the top quartile, you are a Prodigious Accumulator of Wealth (PAW). You have accumulated the expected net financial worth given your age and current earnings. Stanley and Danko found that PAWs are frugal, living in modest homes and driving inexpensive cars; they are investors, savings nearly 20% of their household income annually; when they spend they will spend on education. PAWs emphasize building wealth.  Having twice the expected net worth places you squarely in the top quartile.

If you are in the bottom quartile, with Actual Net Worth less than Expected Net Worth, you are an Under Accumulator of Wealth (UAW). By contrast, UAWs have a higher propensity to spend and tend to live above their means; their emphasis is consumption.

Stanley and Danko summarize the difference between the two cohorts as looking rich, rather than being rich. One of their millionaires from Texas described the former as having “a big hat, no cattle.”

As outlined in detail in the book, the authors note seven factors they saw consistently in their prodigious accumulators. The Top Two factors are:

  1. They live well below their means
  2. They believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status

One other thing: the Millionaire Next Door married once, and remained married. (A whole other topic – more on this another time.)

You have more control over building wealth than you may feel, and having an objective benchmark on how you’re doing is critical to tuning out the noise and working with what you have. Wealth is more often than not the result of hard work, perseverance, discipline and (you guessed it) planning.

Skip the big hat, go for the cattle.

Thomas Stanley passed on in 2014. For more on Stanley’s research, check out http://www.thomasjstanley.com/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/07/your-money/paying-tribute-to-thomas-stanley-and-his-millionaire-next-door.html?_r=0

The Barenaked Ladies explain the challenge to become a Prodigious Accumulator:

 

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