Getting Personal….Hope is not a plan

Blog post #427

I took some time this week and wrote a list of items that I called “2020s…Hopes and Thoughts.”

The idea to do this came from a set of lists I saw on Twitter around New Years, where many financial people that I follow posted lists of things they had accomplished or how their life had changed from 2010 to 2020.

I took that idea and wrote a list of things that I want to occur in the next decade, from now to 2030.

As I was sending this list to my executive coach for our monthly call, I realized that I had made a mistake.

The mistake was not in my list. The mistake was what I called my list.

The mistake was the title. I should not have called the list Hopes and Thoughts.” I should have called it “Plans and Thoughts.”

There is a big difference between “hopes” and “plans.” In reality, most of the things that I wrote are items that I can control, at least to some degree, so I can take future actions and plan to make it much more likely for each item to occur.

This is really a list of plans or goals, of what I want to do or accomplish, of what may happen if I do certain things and be pro-active.

This is not really a list of hopes. Hope does not imply planning or that I have any control about the outcome.

Hope means that you want and desire something to happen in the future. But hope, on its own, implies that you cannot influence the outcome.

I want to be financially secure. I want to travel extensively. Both of these are hopes, but I have a significant ability to ensure that both will be a reality. If I want to visit NewYork annually and go to London and Paris in the future, planning and thinking about this now, and again in the future, make it much more likely for these to occur.

While I cannot control how the stock market will do in the short term, which has a direct impact on my financial security, I am confident that in the long run, if I continue to save on a regular basis, that I will be financially secure.

One of the major changes for our firm this year, later this spring, will be the introduction of new comprehensive financial planning software, that will make planning, goal setting and then tracking each of our clients’ progress more of a reality. We want to do more to make your plans, as well as your hopes, something that together you will have a greater sense of control over.

One of the items on my list was to ensure that my wife and children are properly taken care of, if I die, as well as bequests to charities that are important to me. While I certainly hope I am living 10 years from now, I can make the financial security of my family a reality by regularly reviewing my estate plan and making sure that it reflects my wishes and the financial circumstances of my family members. I can also regularly review my asset allocation, my life insurance and the titling of my investment accounts, as tax laws change.

Plans can also change. Earlier this week, I made a list of some places that I want to visit over the next 10 years. And then at lunch with a client on Wednesday, he talked about the incredible experience he had visiting South Africa and the safaris he went on. I came back to the office and added this to my travel list.

My priorities just changed, days after writing my list. My priorities will continue to change in the future. That is a reality in life, as there are always new opportunities, experiences, uncertainty and adversity.

I am much more likely to accomplish these things and make these goals a reality, by having a list and by spending time thinking about the future.

I encourage each of you to take an hour and think about the past 10 years and the next 10 years. Take 30 minutes for each, together, or at different times.

Look back over the past decade. Where did you live 10 years ago? What has changed? What did you accomplish? What have your kids done? Graduations, weddings, births, deaths? Where have you gone? Write it down somewhere.

Then look forward 10 years. What does that look like? What changes do you want to make? How can you improve your health? (Making time for more regular exercise and sleep are definitely on my list!). What is important to you? Are you doing it? What do you want to do? What do you want to stop doing? Write these down somewhere.

While past investment performance is no guarantee about the future, I can almost guarantee that if you do this, and look back 10 years and look forward 10 years, you will find this to be time well spent.

And you will find that hope is not a plan. Having a plan, or plans, leads to actions, accomplishments….hopefully, positive outcomes.

Talk to us. We want to help you with any financial matter that is important to you.

If you know of family or friends who could benefit from this type of advice and guidance, please share this post with them, and let them know we are available to help them as well.

Gratitude during the holiday season

Blog post #424

The Holidays can be different for each one of us. We might spend the holidays with our immediate family members, extended family or just with our spouses if your children are grown and have schedules of their own or live out of town.

You might bake cookies, decorate a tree, have dinner as a family, go to a religious service, buy gifts for loved ones, or help those in need.

Maybe you celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas and the traditions that accompany these holidays. You may not celebrate the holidays at all.

We often focus on buying presents, hosting our families for the holidays, or trying to please our family and friends. We often find ourselves stressed out during the holidays instead of just enjoying the time with our loved ones.

So, whether you take part in any of the above activities or not, let’s take time to be grateful, appreciative and acknowledge all the opportunities we have in our lives.

Let’s take the time to reflect on the moments both special and ordinary and be in the present with others.

Every Monday, we hold a weekly firm meeting. Over the past few months, we have started our firm meetings by having each WWM team member state something they are thankful for. I know not all members are comfortable sharing with everyone. It’s become a nice personal way to start our firm meetings and get to hear what each WWM team member is thankful for that week.

It has helped our firm grow. We may learn something new about a team member and appreciate the value each WWM team member contributes to the firm.

Just as we take the time to say what we are thankful for each week, we hope you set aside time for reflection and discover what you have gratitude for, at this time of year.

From all of us at WWM:

We appreciate EVERY client and the relationships we get to build with each one of you.

We hope you have a good holiday season and we wish you all the best for a healthy and happy 2020!

This week’s blog written by: Michelle Graham

Note: There will not be a blog post Friday, 12/27/2019.

Give Thanks

As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day next week, we hope you appreciate the good fortune that so many of us have, simply by being born and able to live in the US.

Warren Buffett has often cited what he calls “winning the ovarian lottery,” which he feels Americans win the day they are born in the US. In lengthier speeches on the same topic, he cites the many aspects of your life which are determined at birth: the political and economic system you are born into, your health, gender, skin color and your level of intelligence.

While our country is certainly not perfect, we are thankful for its many virtues and the opportunities it has provided to so many of us.

We are truly thankful and optimistic, and hope you are as well.

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We are thankful for our clients, who have placed their trust in our firm. We do not take your loyalty for granted.

We are very thankful for the referrals that our clients and friends have made to people they care about, so we can assist them and better their lives.

We are thankful for clients who have requested our advice on matters in addition to  investing and financial planning, such as helping them with life transitions, estate planning, real estate transactions and other decisions or issues that are important to them.

We are thankful that our clients understand the importance of focusing on their long-term goals, and not on short-term market swings.

We are thankful for our business partners and relationships, which help us to be successful and operate our business efficiently.

We wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving, and hope you are able to share it with those who are most important to you.

Note: As next week is Thanksgiving, there will not be a weekly blog post email next Friday (the only week off, each of the past few years). The next email will be Friday, December 6th.

Personal Success…..Our Coach of the Year

Blog post #420

Everyone defines success differently.

Success in work, success as a financial advisor, success in life, success as a parent or as a football coach.

Each has a different criterion for accomplishments, goals and success.

My business partner, Keith Rybak, has reached a level of success and accomplishment across many of these areas that are worthy of recognition.

Within our firm, Keith is responsible for the day to day trading, financial rebalancing and working with me on strategy, as well as providing personalized advice and guidance to clients.

Outside of the firm, Keith, along with his wife Ann, are raising their “team” of 5 children, four boys and their daughter, Olivia, who range from almost 9 to 17. Each is different and unique.

On top of all of that, Keith has been coaching youth football for the past 10 years for the Walled Lake Braves football organization, of which Keith also serves as the organization’s President.

While teaching the players values, discipline and sportsmanship, his teams have had a record of 27-2 over the past three seasons. They have won 2 league “Super Bowls,” including the most recent season, in which they finished an undefeated 9-0 on their way to a Championship season. In our view, he is Coach of the Year!

The Braves after they won the “Super Bowl” this season, 22-0, at Wayne State University’s stadium, capping off a 9-0 season. Coach Rybak is in the back row, upper left

Keith feels his football coaching success, similar to progress WWM has made with our clients, is based on preparation and focusing on the long term. Keith has worked with the same set of coaches during much of the past 10 years. WWM has had very little staff turnover, as we have had only one person leave our firm since 2009, who wanted to change careers.

Preparation has been a vital aspect of their football game plan. Keith feels that no other coaching staff was more prepared than his staff. He sees a similarity between coaching, which requires practice and a game plan, and the individual investment plan that we develop for each of our clients, which we call an Investment Policy Statement (IPS).

His coaching staff develops a philosophy each year. For 2019, that philosophy was to build a fearless culture, so that behind every fearless player is a fearless group of coaches, who love and care about their players so much that they refuse to let them be anything less than their best.

I have seen the time, dedication and care that Keith puts into his coaching, and I’m sure that he and his coaching staff strive to help their players, 7th and 8th graders this year, be their best and develop as strong teammates.

Just as we as financial advisors need to adapt to changing financial markets and life events, Keith’s teams would have to evaluate many factors before and during a game, and be able to react, adapt and calmly make quick and decisive decisions.

They would identify their strengths and weaknesses to formulate a game plan. Before and during each game, they would assess their risk. Based on their players and the opponent, should they run or pass more? In his league, passing was more risky than running. How strong was their defense? Did they need to score 4 touchdowns or only 2?

How much risk did they need to take? This is the same question we often discuss with you, our clients, as we evaluate and provide you with financial and investment guidance. How much exposure to stocks do you really need? Do you have the patience to hold small value stocks, during periods when they may underperform other asset classes, for the expected longer term reward?

Keith and his coaches worked with their players from mid-summer through late October. They teach them plays. Emphasize conditioning. Develop teamwork.  They started every practice by chanting “Win Today.”  This was a simple and powerful message, that is applicable to all aspects of life. Their team motto stresses that no other team will out work them, no team will out smart them, they will have better practices, better teammates and “most importantly, no team will have more fun than us.”

An example of the fun that Keith brought to his team, and the league, was helping to organize a special day playing at Michigan Stadium earlier this fall. Various age groups of the organization played all day, while their families and friends got to share in the excitement and photo opportunities. As you can see below, Keith and his son, Austin, had a triumphant day at Michigan Stadium, winning 37-0.

The coaches developed game plans, and based on their record, they clearly executed it very well. At the same time, just as in investing, Keith knew that every play in a game does not work out like they designed it or practiced it. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned.

Keith knew they had the right strategy, but that the outcome would often be different. It still made the strategy correct. Similarly, we are confident that having a globally diversified stock portfolio is the proper long term strategy for most of our clients. Even though International stocks have underperformed US stocks for a period of years, we still feel that having a globally diversified portfolio is the proper long term strategy. Sometimes you can have the right strategy, it just doesn’t work out every play, or every year.

We are quite proud of the effort and results that Keith has had as a football coach for these young athletes. We are confident that they will be better in life, as well as in future athletics, as a result of Keith being their coach.

We are also confident that Keith’s same dedication to planning, strategy, patience and effort will benefit you as a client of our firm.

And just so you don’t have to worry, Keith is not planning to leave his day job as a financial advisor for a football coaching career.

If you want to talk to a winner, on the field and off, give Keith a call.

Italy, Investing and Principles

Blog post #413

My wife Felicia and I were fortunate to have travelled for the past 10 days to Bologna and Florence, Italy, as well as day trips north and south of each, respectively, to visit various family owned establishments that produce Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar and a winery south of Florence, in the Tuscan hills.

When we meet and talk with you, and in these blog posts, we often stress a number of investment themes, which we feel are important for your long term financial and investment success. It seemed more than a coincidence that some of the same critical success factors and issues in investing are vital to each of these high quality, multi-generational businesses.

  • Diversification
  • Patience and Planning for the long term
  • How to deal with events you cannot control

We first visited the Hombre dairy farm in Modena, Italy, which produces 14 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano a day. The farm has over 500 cows, of which they use 268 cows to produce top quality cheese. While they only use one or two types of cows, they diversify by having many extra cows in their herd.

This is not a quick or simple process. The cows are milked two times per day, at 3 am and 3 pm, 365 days per year, to produce the amount of milk necessary to make the cheese wheels. Each morning’s batch of milk is carefully handled by a small team within a certain number of hours, over and over, in an attempt to ensure that all of the air bubbles are removed before the cheese is sealed.

The cheese is then aged for 24-30 months in a special climate-controlled room. The cheese wheels are cleaned and rotated weekly, to prevent moisture build up. The optimal price at market is 36 months, so the farm tries to sell them at around 30 months. Each wheel must be individually inspected by an expert with a small hammer to be graded as Parmigiano Reggiano. A wheel that is not approved is worth less than 50% of its optimal price. One error in the process can significantly affect the end price.

The dairy farm must be patient and think long term. They have taken care to produce a high-quality product by investing in their land (to feed their cows) and they have to adjust to weather and other factors which could impact any part of the production or aging process.

We visited a family owned business in Modena, north of Bologna, which produces very high-quality balsamic vinegar. La Vecchia Dispensa top products are not the typical balsamic vinegar which we would put on salads, for example. See link to Zingerman’s article, for an explanation.

The production of the balsamic vinegar they bottle and sell this year originated generations ago, back to 1925. We toured their 5-story storage facility, which was like a small tower in a castle, with very narrow, winding, cement stairs between each floor.

The vinegar is aged in wooden barrels, which are key to the aging and taste process. Unlike wine, the type of wood barrel and how the barrel has been aged is much more important to the end product than the grapes which are used. The wooden barrels last for 50-100 years and improve with age. Like our emphasis on long term planning and investing, this family treats these wooden barrels as truly very long-term assets.

Simone Tintori explained to us that they source the grapes from 5-7 separate farms in the Modena area, to ensure they are diversified, particularly if one or more of the farms has growing or harvesting problems. After the grapes are harvested, they choose which ones to use, and the skin and juice are added to barrels in an amazing process.

They have barrels of various sizes and types of wood on different floors of the tower. The barrels are not sealed; they have holes at the top which are covered with a small piece of cloth. A number of times a year, some of each barrel’s contents are transferred by a master to the next barrel in its row. The barrels themselves are not turned or rotated at all. Gradually, over years and decades, juice is moved down the row and then finally taken out of the last barrel with something like a soup spoon. That is the only product to be sold from that row, that year.

The family has a special barrel, called the starter, which can be used to begin a new batch. This carefully treasured starter juice is kept in a glass container, so it is not affected by the aging of the wood barrel. One starter container is in the tower we were in, but they also have four other starter containers in different locations of Modena, as this is so vital to all their future production.

Like the cheese above, and the wine below, their product must be inspected by experts. Blind taste tests determine whether each batch, which is a combination of many decades of grapes, aging and blending by the master, will be certified, as they hope. If a batch fails, the market value drops by 1/2 – 2/3, which Simone says happens, as the judging can be very subjective. Their top quality, traditionally produced and aged balsamic vinegar can sell for $100 to hundreds of dollars per bottle.

Just as we can control with you how much risk should be taken by setting your allocation to stocks, they can control the aging and treatment of the barrels.

They are patient. They are diversified over decades, as each barrel contains juice from many years that has been added and taken out. The taste of each years’ grapes is beyond their control, as that is impacted by weather conditions, particularly near the harvest.

Similar to a mutual fund that may contain hundreds of individual company stocks, no one company stock can have a significant impact on your financial future. This can be a positive or negative, but it is prudent from a long-term perspective. Likewise, no one season of grapes has too much impact on any year’s final production, as the balsamic vinegar that is bottled in any year is the result of decades of grapes, aging in aged barrels, combinations and care. It is very well diversified.

The last food related tour of Italy was a boutique winery about an hour south of Florence, called Fattoria Fugnano, in San Gimignano. We arrived on a rainy day, as they were in the midst of their harvest of grapes. Unlike the balsamic vinegar producers, who are not dependent on a specific year’s harvest, we were greeted by the winery’s owner Laura Dell’Aria, who said she hadn’t slept for days due to the very rainy weather at this most vital time of the year for them. She explained that the grapes could not be harvested for a number of days after the rain stops, as the additional moisture of the rain negatively affects the grapes. Fortunately, as our terrific visit ended hours later, the storms had stopped and the sun shone brightly.

As we often discuss, we focus on things which matter and things you can control. It must difficult to be in a business like a winery where weather, which cannot be controlled, can have such a material impact on one’s livelihood. As financial advisors, we have to deal with uncertainty in many aspects, but if you plan with us, have a long-term perspective or timeframe to meet your financial goals, then shorter term volatility and uncertainty usually can be offset.

Laura is the second-generation owner of the winery, which she took over at age 23 after her grandfather passed away in the late 1990s. Laura explained that she has made some mistakes and learned many things over the years. And she is still learning and trying new things.

Since we founded our firm, we have learned to help our clients remain disciplined and not be as affected by emotions or investment fads. We know that diversification is critical. Just as Laura and her staff educated my wife and I about their wines (which were great, and we highly recommend visiting her winery), their land and even about their bottles and labels, we try to educate you, our clients, to view your portfolio as a whole and for the long term.

Each of these products, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, balsamic vinegar and the wine, must meet local regulatory approval to be labeled as the highest quality they desire. Not all of the products will get top approval each year. Some years, some products will not fare as well. However, the companies do not give up on their long-term processes, dedication and commitments to quality.

Similarly, in a globally diversified investment portfolio, some asset classes will outperform for a year or many years….and some asset classes will underperform for a year or many years. Just as the wine maker does not give up if a year or two is not as top quality as they desire, we do not feel it is in your best interest to give up on an asset class that has not performed as well for a lengthy period of time, unless there is new data that justifies such a change.

We had a fabulous trip. We also took 2 cooking classes and learned how to make various pasta dishes from scratch. But don’t worry, I’m not giving up my day job to make ravioli full time!

A Tribute to a Special Person

Art Sweet, who was one of the nicest people I have had the privilege of knowing and working with, died last week at the age of 93. We worked together as partners at a prior CPA firm for 18 years, from 1990 until 2008. 

Art had merged his two person CPA and bookkeeping practice into this other CPA firm a number of years before I joined that firm in 1990. Originally, Art intended to gradually transition his clients and retire a few years later. Art exceeded the firm’s “mandatory” retirement age of 65 or 70 by quite a bit, as he continued working until last December….finally retiring at age 93.

I really mean it when I say I had the privilege of working with Art. At a funeral or when someone dies, you sometimes hear people say that everyone liked him or her, or they never heard a bad word about that person. Art Sweet was truly one of these people. He was kind. He was liked by everyone he came in contact with. Although I’m sure he had his private moments, I cannot remember him ever getting angry or raising his voice at anyone.

Art and his wife Gladys, when they were both younger and healthy, were world travelers. They loved music and dancing, as well as their many friends and family. We would frequently drive to one of his favorite lunch places, the former Georgio’s on Greenfield Road, always splitting a Caesar salad and huge bowl of pasta. We would have great conversations about his travels, his last trip or the one he was planning, as well as all types of cultural activities, such as a concert he attended, a movie he had seen or a book he was reading. I felt like I was living vicariously through him. Now, I am able to do some of the things we had talked about at those lunches.

Decades ago, I was in awe of Art for his ability to adapt to all the technology changes he encountered. He started as an accountant and CPA way before personal computers. He did tax returns by hand in pencil. He learned how to use computers, as well as handle the continuous avalanche of tax changes that a CPA faces. It is one thing for someone in their 30s or 40s to learn new technology, but imagine the challenges he faced and overcame to keep current with technology in his 70s, 80s and even in his 90s.

People leave a legacy. Art left me a huge legacy. Many years ago, I read a concept by a consultant, Alan Weiss, that when you look back on your career or firm, you will find that it is very likely that a handful of key people will have had a huge impact on your business.

I am very fortunate that Art had many wonderful clients, as many of Art’s clients transitioned through the years at the CPA firm to become my clients. As I transitioned from a full-time CPA to a financial advisor, many of these clients, and their families, became clients of our financial advisory firm, and are still valued clients and cherished friends.

Art had a love of life and a passion for culture and travel. Art cherished his family, his children, grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. For many years, he cared for his wife as she had Alzheimer’s.

Arthur M. Sweet was a special person. The world lost a very kind and gentle person last week.

I am grateful that he was a part of my life.

Have you checked these recently?

The following are some ideas and reminders of things you should consider, which may prompt some good next steps.

Beneficiaries for your retirement accounts and life insurance policies: Are the actual designations on the forms what you intend? Have you reviewed them recently?

  • It is a good idea to review your beneficiary designation forms every few years, to ensure they reflect your current intent.
  • If you want to provide for charitable bequests upon your death and you have retirement accounts, these gifts should be reflected on retirement account designations, not as part of your will/estate planning documents.

Have you enabled the emergency function on iPhones and other devices?

  • For iPhone users, if you enable the emergency function within the Health app (which comes with the iPhone) and you are in an accident or incapacitated, a first responder can access critical information from your phone, even if your phone has security codes or Touch ID.
  • After going into the Health app, continue to “Medical ID.” Input your name, emergency contacts, and basic health information.
  • The Medical ID feature can be accessed without unlocking any other information on your phone. (Thanks to my kids for this recommendation, which I just did).

Do you know whether your financial advisor is a fiduciary?

  • We highly recommend that your financial advisor be a fiduciary, which means that all of their advice and recommendations must be in your best interest (even if it is not in theirs or their company’s best interest).
  • We are fiduciaries. Most brokers or financial consultants with major brokerage firms and banks are not fiduciaries. The interest of their company can come before your interests. For more information, see this blog post.

Passwords:

  • Are you using complex and different passwords?
  • Have you recently changed the passwords for some of the websites you use most and for banks and credit cards?
  • We highly recommend using an application like 1Password or a comparable password manager, which stores passwords and can automatically enter your passwords and user names for you. For more information, see this blog post, How to Securely and Efficiently Manage Your Passwords.

What is one thing which you are procrastinating on, that if you dealt with it, would enable you to move forward?

  • Think about this. We hope this helps you resolve something or move an issue forward. Procrastination can mean it’s important, but you just need to focus on it and determine the next step.

Have you checked your FICO score or your Social Security information?

  • FICO scores are important for interest rates on loans and applying for credit. You can get this for free from many credit cards. Email me for more information.
  • If you are not yet receiving Social Security, you should go to ssa.gov at least every few years, review your earnings history for accuracy and see a projection of your future benefits. Their website is quite secure and they have now added a second level of verifying your identification.

 

We hope these are helpful and practical for you and your family.

Better than

Over the long term…..

Being optimistic is better than being pessimistic.

Being patient is better than reacting quickly.

Staying in the market is better than getting in and out of the market because you are worried.

Small company stocks do better than large company stocks.

Value company stocks do better than growth company stocks.

Globally diversified portfolios of index-like funds do better than concentrated holdings of US individual stocks.

Using complex computer passwords is better than using a few simple passwords.

Avoiding annuities and hedge funds is better than using them.

Lower mutual fund fees are better than higher fees.

Using a password manager program is better than keeping your passwords on a piece of paper.

Having a financial advisor who monitors the tax management of your portfolio throughout the year is better than an advisor that only does it at year end.

Making a financial decision after consulting with your financial advisor is better than making a decision without talking to your advisor.

These should help you to be better.

12 Travel and Credit Card Tips for Greater Value and Enjoyment (Part 1)

We advise you on your finances and investments.

But we all spend money. I want to provide tips which can save you money and time, create greater value and help you and your family to have better experiences as you shop, fly, travel and eat out.

Today in Part 1, are 6 tips that you should consider and implement, if they make sense with your lifestyle.

Within the next few weeks, I will post Part 2, with more tips.

1. Get TSA PreCheck, or Global Entry, to save you time and energy every time you fly. These are both valid for 5 years.

  • Global Entry, geared toward international travel, requires an interview and provides for expedited processing through customs at airports and land borders when you arrive back in the US. If you apply for this, TSA PreCheck is included in the $100 cost.
  • TSA PreCheck is only for domestic air travel and costs $85. For more information, go to www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck .
  • The cost for either is reimbursable if you have one of the following premium credit cards: Citi Prestige, Platinum Card from American Express or Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card, through Chase.
  • Even if you don’t have these credit cards, the average cost of $20-$25 per year is very well worth it. I recommend that your entire family get at least TSA PreCheck. I did this, the process is quick and easy…and you will appreciate it every time you fly.

2. Don’t spend time waiting in car rental lines by signing up for car rental rewards programs, which are free. You can register online. By doing this, you can bypass the long lines at the rental car counters and go right to your car each time you rent. You can do this quickly online, prior to the next time you rent a car.

3. Learn more about maximizing credit card and loyalty strategies. Over the past few years, and especially in recent months, I have read and learned more about the many perks and variety of benefits which are available. A great place to start is www.thepointsguy.com. If you spend the time, you will be amazed at the benefits you can accumulate.

  • If you are loyal to a certain hotel chain, then get their branded credit card. Just getting the credit card will usually get you some free nights. If you use that card for spending or travel, you may move up to elite status, which will get you many perks. I have been loyal to various Marriott brand hotels and now regularly get upgrades, my paid stays and purchases with their credit card rapidly multiply (which can be used for future free nights), special offers, and you get better service from their staff.
  • The Points Guy website recommends SPG (Starwood), which is expected to merge with Marriott, as having the greatest value for their reward program.

4. Consider spending money to get a premium credit card. I once thought it did not make much sense to pay for a premium credit card. However, this can be a wise investment if you will use the benefits.

  • The Citi Prestige Card, which costs $450 per year, provides a 4th night free on any hotel stay of 4 nights or longer (must book through their service), comes with a $250 airline credit which can be used to pay for airfare, baggage fees, in-flight wifi and other items, charges on this card earn 3X for airfare and hotels, can get three free rounds of golf and Admiral Club lounge membership (related to American Airlines). The huge benefit is the 4th night free, if you are planning an extended stay and the hotel is expensive. I may get this card and use it on the second part of a trip next fall.
  • Other cards in this category are Amex Platinum and the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card.
    • The Ritz card offers many perks, such as $300 of travel incidentals (which includes TSA reimbursement), 3 hotel club lounge upgrades per year (hugely valuable if you enjoy the free breakfasts, food and drinks throughout the day), Gold level status, $100 credit on stays of 2 or more nights and much more. The annual fee can easily pay for itself many times over, depending on which perks you use.
    • The Amex Platinum also provides significant hotel savings on bookings through Amex FHR (which may include room upgrades, daily free breakfast, free 3rd or 4th nights), airline incidental reimbursement, Delta club lounge access for card holders and authorized users, Gold status with SPG (Starwood Hotels) and Hilton Hotels, free Boingo wifi and ShopRunner two day delivery service.

5. Monitor your FICO score and use your credit cards wisely. Many credit cards now provide your FICO score monthly or online. This is important, as the better your FICO score, the more accessible various credit cards are. Discover It Card, US Bank, and certain American Express, Citi and Capital One credit cards now provide FICO scores.

  • Do not apply for too many cards at once. Do not cancel older cards, as that will negatively impact your credit score. Make sure you can afford to pay what you charge and pay it off every month. Don’t pay interest on a credit card. If this is an issue, we need to talk about it.

6. Use the points you have already earned! Many people have hundred of thousands of points in many different programs. Do you have tons of Delta or other airline miles? Do you have American Express reward points? Citi Thank you points or Chase Ultimate Reward points? Hotel reward points at many different chains?

  • When are you going to use them? When you plan your next trip, consider redeeming these points. Don’t just continue to accumulate them for tomorrow….enjoy them now, unless you are saving them for a specific trip or purpose.

I truly hope these ideas get you thinking about how you spend and travel, as well as how you can maximize the benefits which are available, if you know and use the right strategies. Just as investing can be complicated, we try to simplify that for you.

If you have other tips and thoughts or opinions about this blog post, I would love to hear them. Please let me know what you think, at bwasserman@wassermanwealth.com.

 

Disclosure: I use some of the above credit cards, airline programs, and hotel loyalty programs mentioned above. I have not been compensated for any of these comments. They are based on my own experiences, opinions and research, with special credit to www.thepointsguy.com, which I highly recommend. There are many credit cards, hotel chains and airline reward programs, all with varying benefits. The purpose of this post is to make you aware of the potential uses and benefits, not to recommend any specific product or company.

 

Purely Personal…In Memory of my father-in-law

Silver Family 2
The world changed on Saturday, as my father-in-law, Alan Silver, suddenly passed away.

For the many people who knew Alan, the world became a little less bright. A little less fun.

Alan was not a famous person. There will be no long obituaries written about him citing tremendous business or philanthropic accomplishments.

But to those who knew him, there is a great loss, a missing puzzle piece in their life now. He was a good person, who was a very devoted husband, father, grandfather (“Papa”) and friend to so many people. He loved life and sharing it with the people he knew.

Alan had the right priorities. He lived the American Dream in his 73 years, as he provided a better life for his family than how he grew up. He cherished his daughters, his grandchildren, his wife and extended family. He spent nearly every Sunday in recent years with his two young grandchildren. As his older grandson, now 10, has learned and began to excel at golf, they became close golf buddies.

He was a devoted husband and cared for his wife Susan. While they lived a middle to upper-middle class life style, they made important decisions and sacrifices, to benefit their children. When my wife Felicia was in her teens and began to develop creative interests, they enrolled her at Cranbrook, a private high school with an excellent fine arts curriculum. When Felicia wanted to pursue a career in commercial interior design, they helped her to attend Pratt Institute in New York City for college.

Alan had an incredible and large group of close friends, many of whom he has known and maintained from grade or high school. Keeping relationships like that takes work and effort. To him, it came naturally. As I have gotten to know these friends over the past years, and even more this week, I am amazed at their warmth, caring and intellect. Just good quality people, who treat me like family. They know who they are and how much they mean to me.

When anyone needed help or something fixed, Alan was always willing. When close friends needed something fixed, they would call and say “Service.” And he would be there, tools in hand, day or night. On Sunday’s however, he said his fee was double. With a smile.

Alan loved food. Sunday dinners and barbecues were memorable. He was a master at the grill. He would not hesitate to drive miles with family or friends to try a new restaurant, visit a great bakery or search for the perfect slice of pizza. Even if meant getting lost or going into a dangerous neighborhood, the venture was worth it. Distance was no issue when it came to finding good food. That is a family tradition that will surely continue.

Alan loved gadgets and the latest technology. He was not always good at it, but he tried. Apple has lost one of their best customers. Alan recently bought his grandson a small drone with a camera, but he was just as likely interested to use it himself.

Alan was often impatient, frequently changing TV channels and driving others in the room crazy. He was an avid golfer and sports enthusiast. He loved good music and Detroit’s annual Dream Cruise. He had a passion for doing huge puzzles, which he framed after completion. This was his way of relaxing after his hours in the property management business.

When I entered their family a number of years ago, Alan welcomed me warmly. He was not a deep conversationalist, as his phone would constantly be beeping, ringing or buzzing. He didn’t actively engage in all matters, as the iPhone or TV were usually of more interest to him. But we all knew that he cared, and cared deeply, about those in his life.

Unlike others who suffer for months or years with an illness, Alan’s death came quickly and without much warning.  Unfortunately there was not the opportunity for a final “I love you” for those closest to him.  His vast circle did not get the chance to tell him how much he meant to them.  There will not be another round of golf, another vacation with friends or family or steak to grill.  There will be no 50th wedding anniversary celebration for him and his wife Susan, a few weeks from now.

So as cliche as this sounds as I write this….please take time today or this weekend and tell those you love and appreciate….that you do.  Do it often.  You will not regret it.

Professionally, we are financial advisors. Our business relationships focus on money. But the relationships become deeper and much more personal than just about investments. They are about people, their children, their grandchildren and their legacy.

Alan Silver is a reminder that there is far more to life than money and work. Alan worked hard, but enjoyed his life. He knew how to have fun, smile, share good times with people, enjoy food and the importance of family.

That doesn’t mean that you should not plan and save and consider the long term. It is hard for me this week to balance the many seminars and discussions I have about planning for 90-100 year life expectancies, after an event like this. But I know that good planning and longer life expectancies are also an important reality.

So please, tell the people you are closest to how much you really care about them. It may be the most important habit you develop.