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How to Hold on to Your Assets When the Market Bottoms Out

Have you ever built a sand castle? It sure is fun.

When life’s a beach, sand and time are easy, we build sand castles just for the pleasure of it. But who wants to live in a sand castle during retirement?

In recent years, the economy has been much like a beach vacation. The market has been running up since 2009. In 2017 alone, U.S. stock returns were more than double the historical average.

But be careful! Life is not a beach, and sand castles easily collapse.

In our house growing up, my parents provided well for us. However, they ran out of money when they needed it most.

Dad and mom modeled financial peace before Dave Ramsey was born. They saved, invested, and even flipped houses fifty years before reality TV made it popular. As a factory worker, dad saved through payroll deduction, and we lived on what was left. Mom contributed financially until her working years came to a sudden halt due to her battle with MS. This caused extra family expenses for the remainder of their lives.

During these years, most of my friends lived in newer and larger houses. Our house, on the other hand, was old and small. However, dad paid it off when I was a toddler, and my family was able to repurpose this money.

Mom and Dad taught us boys about earning, saving, and investing. My brother and I collected used newspapers from the neighbors and sold them to the recyclers. Neighbors often hired us to do their yard work and odd jobs.

In grade school, I once borrowed $250 from my brother to buy my first $500 bond. In high school, I bought brokerage CDs, penny stocks, and a car, using money I had saved.  In college, many of my friends drove nicer cars and wore more expensive clothes. They borrowed money for college, but I didn’t.

Because of dad’s house flipping and my early investing and academic scholarships, I graduated with thousands in the bank. When Kelly and I married, we bought a small house from my parents.

Despite my parent’s healthy finances during these years, they ran into financial difficulty later. Simply put, mom and dad expected a stable income from a volatile stock market. Where did they go wrong? They continued following an accumulation strategy (a great strategy for younger people) when they needed to change to a guaranteed lifetime income strategy (a necessary strategy when your earning years are passed).


As my parents gradually got older, they got distracted by living with illness and had little energy to spend on a financial planning. Market swings of 2002 and 2008 and high healthcare costs resulted in their eventual, total financial collapse. They were living with us at that point, and their financial meltdown added to the financial pressure in our family.

If you compare this example to the biblical story of the man who built his house on the sand, they expected their sand castle to last like a stone castle. As they lived out their sunset years, their sand castle crumbled.

Those painful later years prompted me to study retirement planning, and I’m delighted to share what I learned with you.

If you are interested in a guaranteed lifetime income, I would be delighted to listen to your dreams and help you develop a retirement income strategy that provides enough guaranteed income for you to retire confidently and still give generously to the people and charities you love.


I enjoy talking with people and helping them understand the nuances of retirement planning. Medicare, Social Security, pensions, taxation, and charitable giving are complex topics, and I find it exciting to building financial plans that make the most of what each person has available to them.

To learn more about your retirement income risk, complete this free and anonymous survey: My Retirement ReviewYou can also reach out to me at any time if you want advice on the best way to improve your score. This consultation is completely free and has no obligation.

My clients walk away feeling more confident because they better understand how money works and what their future income will look like. As a bonus, many find money they didn’t know they had. 

How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

How much life insurance do I need? I like challenging puzzles, which makes this a great question to ponder.

Unfortunately, the exact answer to this question won’t be clear until the need for insurance is upon us; therefore, we must make a plan today and be ready to adjust that plan as needed.

When considering the right amount of life insurance coverage, I like to begin with the “DIME” method and then expand it with a few more questions to find the maximum needed coverage for each individual. Then, after finding the top amount, I can estimate an appropriate lower amount based on other assumptions.

First, let’s see how the DIME method works. DIME helps estimate the cost of Debt, Income, Mortgage, and Education expenses.


Young people starting out tend to have high college loans in addition to credit cards and other debts. They need new       clothes for their new jobs, appliances and furniture for their homes, and reliable vehicles to drive. Before long, they find themselves in debt for tens of thousands of dollars.

When I help people learn to pay down debt, I commonly see $50K and more in non-mortgage debts. Upon death, you won’t want to pass these burdens on to your heirs.


Lost income affects those who remain after we are gone.

People living together share certain economies of scale. For example, adding a second person in the home doesn’t increase the cost of heat or property taxes. However, the home’s costs remain steady when an income producer dies and takes that income with him or her. Because of this, policy buyers should generally provide several years of replacement income through life insurance. While the year number can vary, ten years of replacement income is a good estimate.

The good news is that life insurance proceeds are generally not taxable as income. So, for example, if you normally spend 30% of your income in taxes, you can replace your spendable income with only 70% insurance coverage.

Many employers offer 1-2 years of income protection through group insurance. This benefit is wonderful as long as you maintain your employment. However, it doesn’t go with you when you and your employer part ways. A personal insurance policy is a better plan because it follows you wherever you go. In addition, the policy is under your control and not under the decision-making power of your employer.


A mortgage is usually a family’s largest expense. Reducing or eliminating this expense greatly eases financial stress and reduces the need for income. One should always consider the mortgage when estimating for life insurance coverage. Paying off a mortgage eliminates income needed to pay interest on the loan.


Education costs keep rising, and the cost of four years of residential college can easily exceed $100,000 per child. Students can receive scholarships and work to pay down their bills, offsetting the cost of college and providing an education in the reality of life; but most parents want to also provide some help with college expenses for their children. Prior knowledge of the exact amount of money needed is impossible, but planning to provide, say, $50,000 or $75,000 toward an education is a reasonable safety net to purchase through insurance.

Let’s consider two more topics: ELDERCARE and LEGACY GIVING.

The Social Security system is straining to accommodate more beneficiaries with funds from fewer contributors. I enjoy helping people plan to save, so they do not have to rely solely (or at all) on Social Security. I also believe that we need to consider eldercare as we discuss life insurance because we will want to provide our parents with help if we are not alive to do it ourselves. I understand that most people would not be able to personally care for their aging parents, but in case you are unable to help them, who will? If the breadwinner in your family passes before you and your parents, will you have enough money to spend meaningful time with your parents?

Is Retiring with Money Possible for Average People?

I love reading about young adults who are pursuing their dream of FIRE. Some spell it FI/RE. Regardless of how they spell it, they are intentionally seeking to be “Financially Independent and Retire Early.”

If FIRE is the American Dream, most people never actually wake up to this reality. Financial independence is rare and certainly not average—but it can happen more often than it does.

Why do these millennials want to be different from their peers and parents?

Because the average American is broke, a few weeks or one surprise event away from not having enough cash to pay the bills. If a surprise repair, illness, or loss of

employment comes their way, they could face real financial difficulty.

According to studies by the Federal Reserve, GOBankingRates, The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, and many other sources, more than half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, do not have an emergency fund large enough to cover several months of living expenses, do not have multiple streams of income, and have little saved for retirement. 

The research consistently shows that the bank account of almost every other person in the United States is empty. Few Americans have enough money on hand to buy a new set of car tires without borrowing more money.

If half the people have little to nothing, then being broke is common in America.

Being broke is possible whether your income is high or low. Many low earners have a positive net worth, albeit small, and many high earners have more debt than assets, making them poorer than the low earners who have a positive net worth. I call them the “faux rich.” They drive expensive cars and live in expensive homes, but the bank owns everything, including their future paychecks. 

But let’s see how the other half are doing.

There are about 10 million American millionaires. If the country’s total population is about 326 million people, that means about 1 in 32.6 people, or about 3% of Americans, are millionaires. Other reports find closer to 6% in the “two comma club.” Whether we are talking about 3% or 6% of Americans, we are clearly talking about the top few, not those of us who live in the middle and lower levels.

Let’s look a little deeper and find out more. Research shows that most of the world’s wealth is – surprise – located in America! More than 40% of the world’s millionaires are our neighbors. When we average savings and net worth across the entire population, these high net worth families obscure the practical reality that most people in this wealthy country actually have little wealth.

The problem is not that most of the money in the world is held by a small group of people. The problem is that most people don’t manage the money they have well, spend more than they earn, and have no net worth.

The solution to this problem: act like your own CFO by actively supervising every dollar and expecting it to be a productive employee. Save and give first; then live within the residual.

That’s how my parents, a factory worker and his disabled wife, were able to buy new cars and retire comfortably, at least for the first 18 years of early retirement. Their story prompted me to study personal finance.

It is my privilege to help people take control of their money. We can call this management or stewardship, but it all boils down to three basic factors: desire, education, and the self-discipline to stay on course.

Anyone who will put away more than 10% of their income will eventually become financially independent at their standard of living. While this doesn’t mean that someone earning $25K a year will become a millionaire in 10 years, here’s what it does mean: statistics repeatedly show that those who save and invest more than 10% of their income will, over time, accumulate enough assets to replace their income during retirement. This method of achieving financial independence is called frugality, and most Americans can achieve financial freedom if they truly desire to do so and have the knowledge and discipline required to practice frugal living. 

You are reading this article because you want to learn about personal finance. Thank you for letting me help you a little today.

FIRE doesn’t mean you have $1,000,000+ in assets. Those who become financially independent early take risks that average employees do not take. I will talk about these risks and rewards in other posts, so please follow my blog and share these posts. We can all learn more about how to live well, retire confidently, and give generously.



Sources reviewed for this post, accessed March 29, 2018:



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