Making a Difference

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I did not even know that Tom Brokaw was of Irish descent – look it up. But isn’t he right? I mean there are so many ways to make money. And as I reflect on my business career, I realize I chose the path which meant I could help more people. I remember sitting with a colleague, Brian, and saying we want to serve the middle class – that is who needs to hear what we have to say. The wealthy can pay for a host of experts. We can make a difference with the middle class who have never learned money facts.

Speaking is a way to serve many folks of all income levels. Writing is too. Whether I write a blog piece, email newsletter or article, my goal is for someone to learn something. I believe everyone can make a difference. We just need to know where and how our skills can be used to serve.

There is a special lady that you have heard about before, my maternal grandmother, Nanie. She made a difference in so many lives.

Nanie did not have an easy life, but she had a good life. She had five children and seventeen grandchildren. She left Ireland with one sister and one trunk in 1926, never expecting to return.

The very trunk she transported for her travels from Ireland sits in our living room, reminding me of what is possible. For this I am grateful. For her presence and learning at her knee I am eternally appreciative.

I was fortunate enough to give her eulogy. I wondered out loud about her trunk and what she packed in it for a voyage across the ocean from Ireland. What would she take for a lifetime journey? Would it fit in a trunk? More than that, I encouraged her loved ones present to share a bit of her legacy: hospitality, Irish Bread and family traditions. That would make a life well lived.

What difference do you want to make? What do you want to leave behind as a legacy? It may not be the riches you imagine. The wealth is in the lessons and time together. Set your sights on what is essential to your life rather than following a trend.

This St Patrick’s Day, you will find me making Irish Bread and tapping my foot to Irish music. May you too, find some fun and family traditions that bring out the best in you.

Great Financial Ideas Start with a Vision

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“A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of Hell.”

- George Bernard Shaw, The Horror of the Perpetual Holiday, 1914 Parents and Children

This quote should be in every retirement book there is. I know it will be in the book I write. George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright among other talents.

He captured the truth in 1914 in this brief saying. He knew something few people know today. The value in life is having something to do and a useful purpose in life. Without that bigger vision, life is empty. My first tag line for my business was, “Great Financial Ideas Start with a Vision.” I still believe that important fact. I encourage my clients to move toward something. This makes your financial life better. Yes, even those who want to get out of debt need a bigger vision than simply the clear task to make it happen. Otherwise, the numbers trip you up because they are not enough. They are only facts. Numbers are not powerful enough to move us to be proactive and consistent. We need a vision of what is going to be accomplished in our life after we are debt free or in our retirement or whatever our goal is.

I first experienced this in my early twenties. Experience is a great teacher. I had reached a milestone in life after college graduation with my first job. Like many millennials today, I was itchy and not content with the 9-5 situation. There was something more I wanted, but I had not even fully conceived of what I wanted for my career direction. I had inklings and I was exploring, but nothing was clicking in.

There was, however, something I always wanted to do. That something was to go out West to live and ski. My roommate was making plans to do just that before she headed to graduate school. She was looking for someone to go with and I quickly volunteered. “But you have a job,” she protested. “I can leave it," I said "I've always wanted to go out West and be a Ski Bum.”

Plans were made and systems put in place. Joining her and then her sister was easy even when a few snags threatened along the way. This was something I really wanted to do.

Being out West and skiing every day was a dream come true. Yes, I worked two jobs most of the time so I was not a true “Ski Bum.” But skiing was the goal. The days were sunny, the snow glorious and the small time ski vibe was perfectly inviting. In summary, I loved it.

I met people at work, in town and on the ski lift. Always practical, I did ask visitors what they did for a living. Being Irish, I guess I had two things going for me: the practical perspective and the gift of gab. I wanted to know if they liked their job and if it was something that might appeal to me. Even as I enjoyed the sunshine and freedom, I was still reflecting on my next career move though I had no plans beyond the next week’s work schedule. Aside from these interactions, the local conversation was always around weather and snow and skiing. And fun.

Then, one sunny day after a great ski morning, I was walking home from the post office and heard the life changing news on January 28, 1986. The Challenger had blown up. I remember being equally stunned by the immense loss of life and the invasion of the “Real World” into this tiny mountain town.

I'd loved the space program ever since I'd visited the location as a child. One could say that I had NASA pride. Added to that was the New England pride of Christa McAuliffe's mission. Christa was from New Hampshire.

Later in the day, I wanted to talk to friends about it. After a comment or two they would change the subject. …”How was skiing today?” “Did you have good runs?” “ Which ones were best?” Another day in a ski town. Short-term pleasure was the focus.

The same happened the next day. No one around me seemed to value the immensity of this loss. I wanted to be somewhere and do something that impacted more than the current day.

At that point, I remembered an older UVM alumni I'd met who was a kind mentor. When I'd told him my parents’ horror of my choice to go West, he'd been so helpful. He had told me at the Parker House in Boston over lunch a few months earlier, “Go and enjoy. Just know when it is time to leave.”

That day in Sun Valley, I decided it was time to leave the idyllic town. It would be so easy to be there still, yet I wanted more out of life than sun, ski and snow. I began to make my exit plans. To where I was not sure, but I knew what did not work anymore for me.

In that short time, as I was in the West less than a year, I learned more than I ever imagined. That took me to an understanding of clients as my career progressed. Because I had lived a semi-retirement of sorts without a bigger vision, I had an understanding of others who inherited money and could do nothing but needed more in their life. None of this made me envious. Rather, it made me thankful for the experience I had out West. Life is multilayered and complex.

This Week's Ups and Downs but mostly Downs

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 This Week’s Ups and Downs but mostly Downs, have many people struck in terror. First of all, as of this writing, the stock market is down 2% for today. Yes, you may say but what about the week? While let’s look at the long-term picture for a better perspective. Since this time last year, the market is up. Not a lot but higher than it was on December 6th in 2017 as far as the Dow Jones and S&P are concerned.

Second, the real question is….How are your investments doing? Technology for example is up. If you have some equity diversity and bonds in your portfolio, the decline of the past few days may be balancing your portfolio to the point where the losses are not so dramatic. Look closer at what you before you panic.

Third, do you have cash? Not just in your pocket but in the bank. Perhaps as part of your asset portfolio where you can access it if you needed. Remembering that cash is one of the three main forms of investment is essential to managing your money. Despite its poor return record of the past ten years, the reason cash is always in style is for its dependability. The currency is always there and insured if parked in an FDIC insured account.

Finally, if you are truly affected in your daily life by the market swings, this is a time for a two pronged improvement to your life. One, take the time to create an investment strategy that matches your age, needs, and personality. Talk to a professional investment person who can educate you and create this for you, before making any changes. Two, do some important work on yourself by finding ways to decompress more in your life. Your health is worth it.

Meantime, know what you can control and cannot. You cannot change the market. You can change your investments. Most of all, you can lower your stress level with some good information.