July: America’s Birthday 2021

ST. CROIX INSIGHTS

July: America’s Birthday

BY BRETT ANDERSON/ST.CROIX ADVISORS, LLC

Photo by Luke Stackpoole

Americans have been fighting for our freedom since 1776.

As America’s birthday is approaching its 245th birthday, I’ve been thinking. These days, I have trouble watching the news, local or national; I suspect you do too. We’ve reached a point in our society where front porches have been replaced by back porches, we hardly see or talk to our neighbors as the world moves faster and faster each day, social media and the rest of the internet seems to divide us, and let’s not forget all this COVID stuff. Even the mere mention of politics can cause fierce debate and hot emotions among friends and family. Even as I write this, I suspect I might be offending someone with the subject of this post: America’s Birthday. Our independence.

After my own birthdays, I often find myself reflecting on how quickly each one came and went, reviewing the highlights, the lowlights, and the things I want to accomplish between each birthday. This got me thinking about my history classes in elementary, middle, and high school. I can hardly remember that far back (I’m dating myself here)—but I truly don’t remember when I last read the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States. Recently, I decided that this Fourth of July, I’m going to pause to reread those essential documents. I want to revisit what our founding fathers wrote and refresh myself on what we learned in our history class all those years ago.

America is special, even with all the challenges we might see or experience in our daily walks of life. Independence is a common theme in my daily conversations. I feel the freest when I’m in the middle of nowhere: in the mountains, in the woods, on a gravel road, sitting in a fishing boat in the Icy Straits as endless amounts of whales dot the water around me, or walking a cornfield in search of that redneck bird. As far as possible from the tallest buildings that usually surround us, one with nature. For me, that’s the independence I strive for as I celebrate America’s Birthday.

Happy Birthday, America, and here’s to many more.

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Achieving Financial Security

ST. CROIX INSIGHTS

Achieving Financial Security

BY BRETT ANDERSON/ST.CROIX ADVISORS, LLC

I’ve tried saying no, but it does occasionally offer some benefits…
These days, I limit the time I spend on social media. I check to see what’s happening with family, friends, and clients, and I log off quickly. I don’t even have the Facebook app on my phone. One useful group I did find on Facebook was a retirement group where people pose retirement/investment questions to strangers to solicit advice. In many respects, I find this scary (you have no idea who these people are or what their background or qualifications are for giving financial advice), but at the same time, it’s helpful to see what different people are thinking about as they approach or experience their retirement years.

One common theme among those I interact with is that most are seeking financial security. And why would anyone not? But “financial security” looks and means something different to each of us based on our background, our upbringing, and our lifestyle, as well as what we strive for down the road.

Many times, what “security” looks like is not just a mathematical calculation but an emotional one. One recent Facebook post broke down the three levels of financial security one can achieve: financial security, financial independence, and financial freedom.

Financial security is defined as having enough income to cover your basic living expenses. It’s a foundational level that takes decades of hard work and saving to achieve, where you’ve worked for thirty or forty years and can finally put in your two-week notice and not look back. (I often hear people say you need a million dollars saved up before you can retire. The truth is, you don’t.)

Financial independence is what I think most people seek when they use the term “financial security,” but it’s hard to differentiate between financial security and financial independence. Financial independence just means having more passive income to cover your lifestyle, which includes more than the basic necessities of financial security. That might include extra income to travel once or twice a year, eat out a few times a week, and have extra spending money each month.

The third level is financial freedom. Very few people will ever truly achieve this level of freedom. This is when you have multiple passive income streams in place to create the life you’ve always dreamed of, which enables you to do the things you love while also giving back. You still live within a budget, but this level of freedom allows you additional choices on how you live.

Common to all three of these definitions is the phrase “passive income.” Passive income comes in a host of different forms, from Social Security, an income stream from your investment/retirement accounts, a pension (though this is becoming less and less common for younger people), income from a business you own, rental real estate, and so on. For some, passive income is even viewed as part-time work in a low-stress position where they aren’t taking their job home at night.

When I think about financial security, I think about time. Time to take a relaxing vacation—so relaxed you don’t adhere to a rigid timeline. Time to cook those meals that take hours to prepare and eat, take naps you don’t have to set alarms for because you slept so well the night before, and finally start to conquer that mile-long to-do list. That time to invest in ourselves is what I want to help all my clients achieve.

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Being Impactful with Your Money

ST. CROIX INSIGHTS

Being Impactful with Your Money

BY BRETT ANDERSON/ST.CROIX ADVISORS, LLC

My grandparents owned a local grocery store in St. Paul. They lived through the Great Depression, and they passed along many core values from their experience, but most important among them was to always make sure your neighbor has food. They never let their neighbors go hungry, even when they didn’t have enough money to pay.
When I was growing up (and some of you might argue I haven’t yet), I worked at Baker’s Square during high school, college, and a couple of years after that. I know what hard work is and what it’s like to cook in a hot kitchen in the dog days of summer. But cooking wasn’t the hardest position there. Not even close. The most difficult (and yet most important) position in any restaurant is the dishwasher. It’s a gross, wet, and smelly job. Even thinking about this, I want to start bringing my own silverware when I eat out.  

One consistent and hardworking dishwasher at the Square was Brian. A grown man working to provide for his family, he’d gone back to school to study seminary, and at times I know he was hungry. Not just once, but on a number of occasions, I would see him eating food from the bus tubs full of dishes that had just been cleared away from where customers were eating.   

There I was, surrounded by food, and Brian was eating from strangers’ plates. Whenever anyone saw him eating food out of the bus tubs, I would make him a fresh meal of his own. I should have paid for it, but I didn’t. We did, after all, receive a 50 percent discount on our food, and even as a high school kid, I had the money. I simply told Brian the extra food was a mistake. But it wasn’t.

Looking back on this experience gives me pause, because I know I wouldn’t handle it the same way now. Sure, this time I would pay for the food—but I’d also make sure this proud, hardworking father had food for himself and his family. That’s one core value I try to pass down that I hope my kids will incorporate in their lives.  

Today, Mrs. Anderson and I are currently focused on helping those who are hungry. We invest a portion of our life energy and resources in helping others, and we’ve consolidated our giving so that we can be even more impactful in the areas we want to be impactful in. We used to give to a host of organizations throughout the year, but now we’ve selected only a few, so that we can be the most impactful.

Developing a gifting/impacting plan allows us to freely give away thousands per year, knowing we are impacting others with our wealth. Some of my favorite meetings throughout the year are those where I help clients give their money away. We’ve incorporated this into their overall planning, allocating a portion of their treasures each year for gifting in ways that align with their core values. 

For some, the thought of giving money away is stressful, while for others, giving brings them great joy. The truth is, giving money away isn’t always easy, even when we know we can afford to do it. This makes sense: our life experiences helped to shape our attitudes toward our finances. We may have enough money now, but that may not have always been the case, and somewhere in the back of our minds is that little worry: “What if I end up needing that?”

But being impactful with your money isn’t just about donating to a non-profit organization. It can also mean impacting your family, friends, or someone you don’t even know. Our world revolves around money, like it or not. I’d like to share a few ideas that I’ve seen implemented over the years for sharing our money with others.  

Your list might look a little different than mine, and that’s OK—we’re different people. Personally, we’ve focused our giving on organizations devoted to food, mental health, and four-legged friends, as well as our church.

Non-Profit

There isn’t a non-profit around that can’t use more money to meet its programming needs. The good news is that you don’t need to spend big dollars to be impactful. Rather, contribute a meaningful amount toward something you are passionate about.

Over the years, I’ve looked for ways to help our clients be as impactful as possible with their resources. So many of you have taken my advice and narrowed down the number of non-profits you give money to. More than a few of you have told me, “Brett, you’d be so proud of me. I’ve thrown away all but five of these year-end requests.” Excellent! Those five organizations will receive a greater amount of money than they would have otherwise, which will have a greater impact on each one.  

To make your dollars go even further, think outside the box. Non-profits love being able to generate new donors or increase current donors’ gift amounts by offering matching contributions. Many organizations receive dollars from larger organizations specifically allocated to help increase donor contributions. When making a contribution to an organization, call and ask if they are currently running a matching program or plan to run one soon. It’s great when you can double your contribution by being willing to match the donations of others.

(Mrs. Anderson believes we should just give regardless of a match, and we do—and let’s be real, I’m not always in charge—but I always try to make the call first. I’m happiest when I’m able to double my gifts, and so are the non-profits!)

Here’s another example. Recently, a client of mine was asked to fund a new critical staff position for a non-profit organization for one year. After brainstorming on how we could help the organization financially, we decided that instead of my client fully funding the position, they would offer to match a second donor for half. It took about a week for the organization to find another donor willing to match the contribution, but it happened. Shortly after, I sent the funds off at the client’s request. Isn’t that cool? 

(Maybe you’re thinking I’m all about being a do-gooder, but let’s not overlook the fact that I use my Marriott Rewards Visa card for our monthly tithe. Points with Marriott and God, all at the same time? I can’t be the only one!)

Family

Some of us wait until we are gone to give money to our loved ones, while some prefer to begin the process a little sooner. Whatever the case, I am not suggesting that you give all your money away today. How we each choose to impact our families can vary greatly. For example, family Christmas gifts might become things like the joy of travel for the entire family (and no longer involve the stresses of shopping for that sweater). You might even volunteer at your local non-profit together and leave a donation when you’re finished.

Another way to be impactful is to help fund your kids’ Roth IRA accounts when money is tight on their end. Many times, our kids need more help as younger adults than they will later in their lives. I have a hard time recalling the physical gifts my parents bought me over the years, but I do remember the times they’ve helped me and the events we shared.
 

When you have your financial house in order, it can feel so good to help others in your own meaningful way. You don’t have to worry about giving freely, and you are able to impact others with your treasures. If you’d like to discuss developing a gifting strategy, please drop me a note. 

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Hello, 2021! We’re glad you arrived

ST. CROIX INSIGHTS

Hello, 2021!
We’re glad you arrived.

BY BRETT ANDERSON/ST.CROIX ADVISORS, LLC

Not everyone does New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m successful in completing them, and sometimes I’m not.

One resolution I adopted (and actually maintained) over this past year was to ask myself two key questions around nearly every decision I made. Some of you may already ask yourself these questions when faced with a decision without even realizing it.

About two years ago, my best buddy Terry turned me on to a book called Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. The first ninety pages or so had me hook, line, and sinker. The book didn’t say anything you or I don’t already know, but the information was, as they say, “presented in an impactful way.” It certainly impacted me.

Let me back up a bit. Terry wanted to help his kids prepare financially for today and tomorrow, so with the book as our guide, we set ourselves on a journey. Over the course of six months, we started having “family meetings” every few weeks to help his kids prepare for their money, life, and dreams, not only for today, but also for the future inheritance they would receive one day.

Money is not always easy. Sometimes it’s complicated. And it’s almost always a pain to think about, let alone deal with. (Three key reasons I do what I do.) Your Money or Your Life helped us get our minds right and broke down the whole journey for us so we could see clearly what decisions were or weren’t in alignment with achieving our goal.

During these family meetings, I began to share my own personal financial journey, which I’d been learning or relearning, not only from this book but in my daily walk of life. I felt I needed to join Terry and his family on this important transformation. That’s how I started asking myself two key questions at the onset of any financial decision:

  1. Does this simplify my financial life?
  2. Do I want to spend my life energy on this?

Today, if it doesn’t simplify my financial life, I’ll pass—and if it doesn’t cross the threshold of something I’m willing to work night and day to have, I won’t spend my life energy on it. Put another way, if I don’t need it, I won’t buy it or direct my financial resources, time, or energy toward it.

Around the time of these family meetings, my car lease was up on my Honda Accord (I know—such a fancy car you drive, Brett). I asked myself, “Do I really need to lease a new vehicle? Do I want to spend my life energy on making the monthly payments?”

The easy option was to just push the decision down the road and lease another vehicle. (Who doesn’t love that new car smell?) I was tempted. I took a few test drives and even brought a new car home for the day. (Dealers will let you do that, you know. After all, they want to sell you a car!) Plus, as a business owner, I could deduct the lease payments. It would all be so easy.

Or, the alternative: I could just purchase the Honda outright, have no car payments for the next ten years, and plan on paying cash for the next car.

At the next family meeting, I was able to share that I had just purchased the car outright and planned on driving it into the ground before purchasing the next one. If I hadn’t read Robin and Dominguez’s book and had the discussions I’d been having with Terry and his family, I know I would have made the “easy” decision—and paid for another lease each month.

Our society tells us we can have it all, even when our checkbooks say otherwise, and society makes it far too easy to have things today and pay for them tomorrow, the next month, and the month after that. But no matter what short-term need we’re addressing when we spend what we don’t have, debt limits our future lifestyles.

Put another way: debt sucks.

That’s why I continue to use a dream board to stay focused on what’s most important to me and remind myself where I should be directing my resources, time, and energy. Being purposeful with our resources is powerful and freeing, and for me, that outweighed the need for a new car. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be purchasing cars again in the future; I just won’t do it as often as I used to, nor will I spend as much when I do buy. This frees me to continue to focus my life energy on the things I really want.

Many of you reading this have children who will one day inherit a meaningful amount of money. Are your kids prepared to handle your resources in a meaningful way? If you have doubts, it’s time to consider a strategy to help change that. A great starting place is for you to read Your Money or Your Life.

There is something reassuring about having money in the bank, being impactful with others financially, and knowing that you and I can continue to master our money and accomplish what is truly important to each of us. With a good strategy in place for the future of your finances, you can help ensure that your family will enjoy that reassurance for years to come.

With the start of 2021 finally upon us, if you are looking for an impactful book, starting new financial habits, or seeking to master your money on another level, drop me a line.
Happy 2021!

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Christmas 2020

ST. CROIX INSIGHTS

Christmas 2020

BY BRETT ANDERSON/ST.CROIX ADVISORS, LLC

I rarely get surprised at my young age, but it can happen.
Last year, I shared my mom’s recipe for my favorite green Christmas cookies, which she used to make for me each year—a family tradition. I wasn’t even going to make them for myself last year; it brings a level of sadness, knowing my mom is gone. I know so many of you can relate.

Yet much to my surprise, my new best friend Deb made a batch for me last Christmas! Let me tell you, these are not the easiest cookies to get right. It takes practice, and trying to find the mint chips is no small task. It took Deb three tries to nail it. From what I was told, the first two batches didn’t turn out, but she kept trying.

As you know, I wouldn’t say I like to share, even with my family. I had no intention of sharing these cookies—I’m not kidding!—so I hid them in the garage for safekeeping so that I could enjoy them during the winter. These are a real treat for me, and they freeze well. The problem is, I have two kids who can sniff this stuff out. As I was unpacking the car during our family Christmas travel, what did I see in the trunk but the container with the green cookies! (I assure you, I am not the one who packed them, though Mrs. Anderson continues to tell me to share.) My kids ended up enjoying the cookies too, despite my objections. Thank you, Deb, for the cookies! I’m so appreciative that you took the time to make me a batch.

We have kept one family tradition going: My mom used to purchase the grandkids and us the same gifts each year. At times, you had to be careful not to mention anything you wanted throughout the year, because you might end up with it. Just ask my wife: one year, she received some lamps. (We are still unclear when she told my mom she wanted gold lamps.) On another occasion, the grandkids all received a MyPillow and not the airline tickets they thought they were receiving to accompany the small suitcase they had also received. Nope—just the suitcase with nowhere to go. (The level of disappointment was high among them.) It got to the point where only one of us had to open a gift to see what everyone had received. Last year, I purchased Grandma’s gift on her behalf: blankets. (Though adorable and warm, my oldest son left his behind when he went back to Houston.) This year’s family gift is a Flippy Multi-Angle Soft Stand for Tablets, Books & E-Readers. I might videotape the opening of these!
I know so many of you look forward to our holiday party each year, but with the coronavirus, we’ll just have to wait until 2021. Eating out isn’t the same these days. In-person church services have resumed at Eagle Brook, yet our church is empty (online is preferred these days). I still plan to attend in person; if you’d like to join my family for a “social distance” service, just let me know.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
~ Brett Anderson

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Thanksgiving Message

ST. CROIX INSIGHTS

Thanksgiving Message

BY BRETT ANDERSON/ST.CROIX ADVISORS, LLC

I suspect Thanksgiving will look different for many of us this year. It’s my favorite holiday of the year. We usually have a packed house and it takes a week to prepare for the entire family to come and gather. On my mom’s side of the family, we’ve reached a point where the oldest living patriarch is the young/old age of 90. We want to play it safe this year and keep the table small.

Yet it’s not all gloom and doom this holiday season. Traditions are good, but I’ve always wanted to volunteer to help others on this day of Thanksgiving. This year, I’ll finally be volunteering somewhere so others can enjoy their holiday in the morning, as I won’t need to prepare our usual feast. I suspect this volunteering will consist of packing or delivering meals. If it’s delivering meals, I’ll also include something extra from our family. I’m not sure if that’ll be a plant from Pine Tree Apple Orchard or something from Knoke’s—just a little something to place a giant smile on someone’s face.

America isn’t the only country that celebrates Thanksgiving. According to History.com, so do Canada, Germany, Liberia, Japan, Norfolk Island (I had to look it up too), Grenada, the Netherlands, and Puerto Rico. We can still pause to celebrate our harvest and give thanks for the year, though for many, it hasn’t been an easy one.

I know I have so much to be thankful for, but even I forget and sometimes need to remind myself. In our fast-paced world, it’s good to pause from time to time.

I recently received an email that said, “We enjoy the many blessings flowing from our seven grandchildren!

Is that what this is all about? Yes! Count your blessings all year, not just one day a year.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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