Friday, February 23, 2018

It's Girl Scout Cookie Weekend

Guess what I'm going to spend the weekend doing?  Yes, this Girl Scout Leader/Mother will be supervising as her daughter works cookie booths.  No matter where you live in the U.S. our goal is for you to be accosted approached by a charming Girl Scout who is practicing her real-world skills of goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics.  As leaders are told time and again, cookies aren't just fundraising, cookies are Program.

Different troops give different amounts of emphasis to cookies, though often cookies are what people think about when they think about Girl Scouts.  Unfortunately, fund raising is necessary for most youth activities or only kids whose families have money could participate in many things.  Since you will hopefully be asked to buy cookies this weekend, I though I'd tell you a little about them.

Who Gets the Money for Girl Scout Cookies?

The lion's share of the money earned by Girl Scout Cookies goes to local Girl Scout councils.  These non-profit corporations are responsible for recruiting and training leaders, recruiting girls, providing programming, enforcing standards and they are the entities that own and operate Girl Scout camps. 

Councils employ both professional year-round staff and temporary camp counsellors, and for most councils, employee pay is one of the biggest expenses.  Of course the other big expense is the camps.  My council owns three of them and they are well-equipped facilities with full kitchens, cots with mattresses, cabins and platform tents. One has horses which have to eat daily, even if girls are only at the camp on the weekend.

The amount of money that goes to the troops--the groups of girls who actually sell the cookies varies depending on the council and on the incentives set by the council.  Here, we sell for $4.00 per box and our troop proceeds start at $0.50 per box and can get up to the mid 60's depending on the number of boxes sold, whether we participated in fall product or registered early last year and whether we waive prizes for individual girls.  Individual girl prizes cost about five cents a box.  

In some ways, that doesn't sound like much, but when you figure that around here, selling 100 to 200 boxes isn't a stretch, tell me another fundraiser we could do, especially with the under ten set, that could earn us $50 to $100 per girl, mostly from people who are not family members. My daughter has a friend who really needs fundraisers in order to take the troop trips and she regularly sells over 500 boxes a year.

How Much Do Girl Scout Cookies Cost?

It depends on local councils.  They each negotiate with the bakers (there are two bakers that make Girl Scout Cookies) for the best price/terms they can get.  Then they look at their needs vs their expected sales vs what they think the market will bear, and after factoring all that in together, arrive at a price.  Right now, most councils are at $4.00 a box for most cookies and $5.00 a box for gluten-free cookies.  I've heard one is as low as $3.50 and some are $5.00.  

Do Girl Scout Cookies Support Any Groups but Girl Scouts?

Not directly.  As noted above, most money goes to the councils and the councils do not donate money to any other groups. Troops are encouraged to use part of their cookie proceeds for service or "Take Action" projects.  Generally speaking, troops are not allowed to donate money to another organization or individual.  They are allowed to use troop funds to purchase things for other groups.  

What If I Gave Up Sweets for Lent?

Girl Scout Cookies freeze well.  

Can Vegans Eat Them?  What About People Who Keep Kosher?  Those Who Can't Have Gluten?

Both bakers have some vegan cookies.  If girls in your area are selling Samoas, Tagalongs and Do-Si-Dos,  you live in a Little Brownie Baker council.  Little Brownie Baker's Thin Mints are vegan.  All Girl Scout cookies baked by Little Brownie Bakers are certified as kosher dairy; except Thin Mint cookies which are certified Kosher Pareve.   Little Brownie Bakers offers Toffee-tastic® cookies, which have been certified gluten-free by the third-party organization, NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) and verified through testing as meeting the FDA guidelines for labeling gluten-free

If the girls in  your area are selling Caramel Delights and Lemonades, you are in an ABC Baker council.   Girl Scout S'mores™, Lemonades™, Thanks-A-Lot®, Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties® are made with vegan ingredients.  ABC also offers the Gluten-Free Trios Girl Scout Cookie, which is certified by the Gluten Free Certification Organization, produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility, and meets a 10 parts per million standard set by the Gluten Free Certification Organization.

While ABC's cookies made with vegan ingredients do not contain any animal product ingredients, they may be produced on equipment that is also used to produce items containing dairy ingredients.

But I Can't Eat Cookies Because...

Those charming sales associates in Girl Scout vests or tshirts should be able to offer you an alternative--if you can't eat them, treat them.  Each troop picks a charity to receive cookie donations.  These range from food pantries and homeless shelters to our overseas troops.  

Happy Girl Scout Cookie Weekend; enjoy your cookies!
Disease Called Debt

Friday, February 16, 2018

Low Cost Brokers: Robinhood vs Motif vs Stockpile

Until recently, one thing that kept small investors from investing in individual shares of stock vs mutual funds was the fees charged.  Most brokerage houses had a minimum fee per transaction and if that transaction only involved a few shares, the fees made it cost-prohibitive.  The advent of the internet and electronic trading has made it possible to reduce those fees considerably, to the point that it is possible to buy a single share of stock in one company or even fractions of shares.  Let's take a look at a few of the companies set up to serve small investors.


Stockpile charges $.99 per trade, and offers a large selection of stocks, though not the entire market.  The market they seem to be trying to reach is that of the young and inexperienced investor.  Stockpile's website includes a "Learn" section which includes articles on such topics as "What is an Exchange?" and "What Is NASDAQ?".  The articles are short, informative and easy to read.

Another way Stockpile reaches small investors is by offering fractional shares.  As of this writing, Amazon stock costs $1448.69, which is more than I want to invest in any one company.  Stockpile allows me to pick any dollar amount to invest, so that I could invest $145 and get 1/10 of a share of Amazon, or $14.50 to buy 1/100 of a share.  

A unique feature of Stockpile is that they offer gift cards, either physical or virtual.  With Stockpile I can choose to give you stock in Disney rather than Disney bling.  However, when you go to redeem the gift card, you are allowed to invest that money in any stock you please, so if you prefer Universal to Disney, go ahead and switch (and you don't even have to tell me).  

Stockpile does not charge account maintenance fees and they do not offer IRAs.  However, they do offer custodial accounts for minors.  With these accounts, an adult custodian is responsible for the account, but it is owned by the minor.  Minors can be given their own log in information.  The only difference is that when a minor tries to enter a buy or sell order, the request is routed to the custodian for approval.  

If you want to get started with Stockpile, clicking this link will give you $5.00 worth of whichever stock you want.

The main disadvantage of Stockpile is that trades are made at the closing price the day you order them.  You cannot make a quick choice to get out NOW, and, if the market drops noticeably between the time you requested the trade and the time it executes, you may find that you don't get the price you were expecting.

Stockpile charges $.99 per trade, so if you are buying a very small amount of stock it could get expensive on a percent of assets basis.  I recommend a minimum investment of $100.00.  Other fees include a 3% debit/credit card fee (though you can transfer money from your bank account at no cost) and a $2.99 gift card fee.  While there are other fees, these are the ones most investors will be most likely to see.


Motif's claim to fame is enabling small investors to buy fractional shares of a variety of companies in one basket, dubbed a "Motif".  Motif offers some professionally designed motifs as well as many designed by ordinary people.  If you design a motif and convince others to buy it, you will get a sales commission.

The minimum amount of money necessary to invest in a motif is $300, and each motif can contain up to 30 different stocks.  

Motif recently changed its fee schedule.  Now, you can get commission-free next market open trades of both individual stocks and professionally designed motifs.  If you want to trade in real time, professional motifs will cost you $9.95 per motif, a motif you build is $19.95 per trade or if you want to trade single stocks, the fee is $4.95 per trade.

For larger or more active investors Motif offers "Impact" or "Motif Blue" accounts.  An "Impact" account is a fully-automated portfolio what is automatically rebalanced and which has a composition that changes as you age.  Regarding the cost of an Impact account, Motif says "The fee structure for a Motif Impact account, that provides a fully automated portfolio aligning your financial goals with your values, is 0.25%, expressed as an annual fee rate."  A "Motif Blue" account is one in which you pay a $19.95 per month fee in exchange for three "free" real time trades per month, plus real time quotes.  If you would like to try Motif Blue, click this link and you will get three months free.  

Motif is now charging $10 per quarter for each account that is under $10,000 and which has had no commissioned trades in the last three months.  In my opinion, that cost is high, percentage-wise, if your account is much under $5,000.  

Right now I own eight professionally designed motifs, most of which were purchased when Motif was offering them at no commission as "motifs of the week".  I also own one that I designed, which I did pay a commission to purchase.  Today I made my first use of the commission-free trade service and used my accumulated dividends to buy a fraction of a share of NVIDIA.  

If you would like to try Motif, use this link; you'll get three months of Motif Blue (and then you can decide whether to keep it or not) and I'll get one.

Motif's strength is allowing you to spread a moderate amount of money among a large number of stocks for a relatively low amount of money.  However real-time trading will cost you, and fees will disproportionately affect small accounts.  


Robinhood is a smartphone app only (for now) brokerage.  They are planning a webpage but it is not live yet.  The app is available for both Apple and Android phones.  

While Robinhood does not offer IRAs, it offers margin accounts and is in the process of rolling out options trading and crypto-currency trading.  

Stock trades on Robinhood are in real time but most users are not allowed more than three day trades (buying and selling the same stock on the same day) per five day window.  Trading on Robinhood is commission free, which makes it easy to buy and sell one share of stock at a time.  

One nice feature is "instant deposit".  Once your bank account and Robinhood are linked, you can deposit up to $1,000 into your Robinhood account and have instant access to it.  When the market fell quickly last week, I deposited an additional $200 in my account and went shopping.  I did not have to wait for the check to clear.

Robinhood offers a margin account, known as "Robinhood Gold" Besides allowing you to borrow money with which to buy stocks, a Robinhood Gold account allows you extended trading hours and a larger instant deposit.

I find the Robinhood interface to be easy to use.  When I log in I see my account balance, along with how much it moved that day.  As I scroll down I see each company in which I own stock with a notation of how many shares of each I own.  There is a small graph that shows whether the stock is up or down for the day, and the latest price per share.  If I click on any company, I get a graph that shows its movement in the last day, week, month, three months, year and five  years.  I can click to buy or sell.  I can scroll down and see what my equity value (shares times share price) is, and how much my average price per share was, and my percentage return both in total and today.  I can see my history with the stock, along with an earnings chart.  Often there are links to articles about company.

If you would like to invest via Robinhood, use this link and we both get a free share of stock.

So, Which Is the Best?

Honestly, it depends.  I have accounts with all three.  Right now, I have little reason to use Stockpile.  My Motif account is almost $10,000 and with their new pricing structure, I plan to bring it up to that level soon, thereby eliminating the quarterly charge.  For people who have an account big enough to avoid Motif's fee, I'd recommend using it to purchase fractional shares, as you can do so without commission.  If you do not have that much money and want to be able to purchase fractional shares, I'd recommend using Stockpile for that purpose.  

For purchasing shares in companies you can afford to buy full shares of, I'd recommend Robinhood.  It is free, easy to use and trades in real time.  The only downside is that you have to use a smartphone, at least right now.  

Motif is the only one of these companies that offers IRAs, but unless you have $10,000, the fees get high.

If you are interested in opening an account with one of these companies, please use my referral links.

Disease Called Debt

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Ouch! That Hurt!...or Did It?

In case you've been under a rock, or never look at the financial news, let me tell you--the stock market took a dive this week.  While I can't speak for everyone, I can tell you that with our diversified portfolio, we lost everything we've gained since Thanksgiving.  Put another way, we lost five percent of our invested assets.  OUCH, right?

Well, we had just passes a milestone, so it isn't fun to see it slip out of our hands, but on the other hand, none of that money was earmarked to pay bill this month or even this year.  At this point, other than a few small dollar stop-loss sales, we haven't LOST anything except on paper.  We still have the same number of shares of stock or mutual funds.  While there are a lot of factors that do into the calculation of dividends, this week's pullback isn't making companies cut dividends,  In short, unless we need to sell, this pullback is not going to change anything.

According to the front page of my 401k's website, last month my 401k, which includes about 30% bonds , gained 3.8% in January.  Think about that--annualized, that is over 45%.  It doesn't take a genius to figure out that such increases couldn't continue long-term..

There are two major reasons stock prices fall.  The first is a real or perceived flaw in a particular company.  For whatever reason "everyone" decides that XYZ is over-valued and they reduce the money they are willing to pay for it. These reasons run the gamut from poor earnings to a new competitor to investors believing the market for XYZ products has dried up.  If shares of most other stocks are going up in price (or holding steady) and XYZ is dropping, beware XYZ, unless you know something the general public doesn't.  Yes, it may rebound, but there is a reason all those professionals don't want it.

The second reason stock prices fall is because the market as a whole is dropping; often due to some news or economic trend.  When that happens, it is like your favorite store putting a great big "Sale" sign in the window.  The shares that cost $17.00 yesterday cost $15.00 today, but nothing has really changed about the company.  It is still selling the same widgets, it still has the same managers, and that means, in my opinion (and I'm not a financial professional and only play like I know stuff here on this blog) that it is time to buy.

Now is not the time to change your 401k asset allocation to all bonds.  Now is not the time to sell all your stocks.  You picked your asset allocation for a reason.  Unless something in your life has changed, that reason should still be valid.  If anything, now is the time to see if you have a few extra dollars laying around with which you can buy stocks or more mutual fund shares.

Last week I wrote about AT&T.  I bought my first two shares in November, for $37.67 each. Since then each share has paid me dividends of $2.46.  Last year the dividend was $.49 per share; in February it went up to $.50.  Earnings per share are up in the last year.  On February 1, shares closed at $39.16; on February 8, they closed at $35.57, over 9% lower.  Did something happen to AT&T? Did a deal fall through?  Was the CEO caught with his pants down?  Were they sued?  Nope.  There is always some news about a company that big, but the bottom line is that this price differential has little to do with the value of AT&T and everything to do with market conditions.  

What did I do about it?  I bought more shares.  On February 6, I bought a share at $36.00; on Feb 7 I bought one at $37.00, and on Feb 6 I bought 2 at $36 and on at $35.95.  Now my average cost per share is $36.61.  Assuming a $.5 dividend per share per quarter, (and everything I've read leads me to believe that dividend is safe) I have a 5.4% return on my money, as long as the price eventually goes back up (which I think it will). 

Since  Robinhood allows me to purchase individual shares of most companies in realtime for no commissions when the market drops like this, I pulled out my phone, transfered money from my bank account to Robinhood and set a limit order (told Robinhood to buy a share for  you if the price drops to a certain point).  If you want to try Robinhood use my link and you'll get a free share of stock, and so will I.  Last time someone used my link I got a share of Sprint.  I don't know what the other person got, but if I was you, leave a comment and let me know.  

Basically what I'm trying to say is that while most people will say their goal is to buy low and sell high, research indicates that most people do the opposite.  In January "everyone" was buying, and stocks were getting more expensive by the day.  In the last two weeks the price has dropped and people want out, and I'm buying.  Are you?
Disease Called Debt

Friday, February 2, 2018

Book Review: Retirement Reinvention

Retirement Reinvention: Make Your Next Act Your Best Act by [Ryan, Robin]

About the Book:

For twenty years, Robin Ryan has been helping clients get the most out of their careers and their lives. Now, in Retirement Reinvention, she shatters the myths of retirement.  The old model of retirement is changing. The majority of retirees today are seeking fun and meaningful ways to spend their time. 

Full of practical advice, this thought-provoking guide offers readers a path for reinventing their own retirements, including step-by-step instructions for:

   • Leaving an old career behind 
   • Pinpointing interests and skills 
   • Exploring different places to live 
   • Defining new, satisfying opportunities 
   • Finding meaningful ways to give back to your community 
   • Striking the right balance between work and leisure 

From starting a dream business to shifting to the nonprofit sector to volunteering, Robin Ryan will help you create a plan and pivot toward a future as vital as it is truly rewarding.

My Comments:

When I say "retire", what comes to your mind?  The beach?  Your bed?  Fun?  Boredom?  In Retirement Reinvention Robin Ryan pushes the idea of retirement being not the time after you quit your job but the time during which you participate in activities (possibly including jobs) that are fun and meaningful to you.  Instead of your 66th birthday being the end of your working life, Ryan suggests you see it as a new beginning.  

Robin Ryan uses stories of real people and how they have been able to make a difference in a way that is meaningful to them.  Some have started small businesses, others have taken up time-consuming hobbies while yet others have chosen to learn something new.  The key to a successful retirement is choice--you may not make a fortune blogging as a hobby but if writing is fun, you can try to build an audience (and since you don't need one, you don't have to do SEO research, create pinworthy graphics or maintain a mailing list).  

One thing I do regularly is peruse the posts on Rockstar Finance and last night when I was starting this post, this one caught my eye:  Our "High School Rule" for early retirement.  The ideas are much the same as expressed by Robin Ryan.
If you are trying to figure out how you are going to spend the rest of your healthy left Robin Ryan has a lot of good ideas of things to do and suggestions about how to get started.

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.  Grade:  B+

Disease Called Debt

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My Stock Portfolio: AT&T

Image result for at&t
I've said before that I firmly believe that the best investment strategy for most people, me included, is to invest in a diversified portfolio of index mutual funds.  You should pick an asset allocation ratio (what percent of your money is in stocks vs bonds, and foreign vs domestic) set it, and generally leave it alone.  Invest regularly and do not try to time the market.  If you do this I can almost guarantee you:

  • You are not going to double your money in a year or two
  • You are not going to lose money, in the long run
  • You will have up years and down years, but if you don't sell during the down years, you will eventually recover (and then some)

That being said, I personally find the stock market to be fascinating and I like playing around with it.  We allocate a very small percent of our assets to purchasing individual stocks using low-fee or no-fee brokers.  Robinhood allows you to purchase individual shares of most companies in realtime for no commissions.  Robinhood also allows you to set stop loss, limit buys and limit sell orders.  If you use my Robinhood link, you will get one free share of stock, and so will I.  What have you got to lose?

This article will begin a periodic series on the individual stocks in which I have invested.  These articles are not a recommendation that you purchase the stock, but rather an indication of why I purchased it, how it has performed, and what I plan to do with it.  

Name of Company and Description of Business

According to AT&T's website 
At AT&T, we’re bringing it all together. We deliver advanced mobile services, next-generation TV, high-speed internet and smart solutions for people and businesses. That’s why we’re investing to be a global leader in the Technology, Media and Telecommunications industry.
In the United States, we offer TV and wireless nationwide, plus a large high-speed internet footprint. We offer a wide choice of internet speeds to meet customers’ needs. With our 100% fiber network, customers in 67 markets can download a 90-minute HD movie in less than 36 seconds, a 30-minute TV episode in 3 seconds and 25 songs in 1 second¹. We plan to expand these speeds to at least 75 metros in total. We also offer pay TV in 11 Latin American countries.
We offer solutions that help businesses in every industry serve their customers better. We deliver advanced services to millions of businesses on 6 continents. That includes nearly all of the Fortune 1000 as well as neighborhood businesses across the United States.
Our high-speed mobile internet network covers more than 400 million people and businesses across the U.S. and Mexico. We also wirelessly connect cars, machines, shipping containers and more. It's all part of our leadership in what’s called the Internet of Things.
Speaking historically, AT&T is "the phone company" that got its start when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.  It has gone through several rounds of break-ups and consolidations but today offers a variety of telecommunications products.

Date Purchased

I purchased two shares on November 21, 2016.

Purchase Price

My purchase price was $37.67.

Current Price

The current price, as of 12:49 CST, on 1/29/18 is $37.49.

Stop-Loss Price

I do not have a stop-loss set for this stock.  I don't think AT&T is going anywhere so I'm not afraid of losing a lot of money on this.  While the price may go up and down, the business itself is profitable and it is paying a good dividend.

Dividends Received

I received $.49 per share on May 1, August 1, November 1 and will receive a $0.50 dividend on February 1.

Gain or Loss Since Purchase:

My dividends plus the current cost of the stock total $38.47; I purchased the share for $37.67, giving me a current gain of $0.80 or 2.1%  over 14 months. By comparison, the S&P has risen about 35% since then.

What Others Think

Dividend Value Builder:  "T is a great addition to any large diversified portfolio. However, it should be viewed differently than in the past. I’m afraid the long term risk of a dividend cut is higher than most investors perceive."

The Money Madam at Seeking Alpha:  "AT&T is a good pick for 2018"

Stone Fox Capital at Seeking Alpha:  " Ultimately, the highly competitive domestic wireless market and cable television markets limit any material upside for the stock. Investors in AT&T will get to enjoy the large 5% dividend yield, but not much else."

Discount Fountain at Seeking Alpha:  "[M] view is that AT&T will continue to be a strong long-term investment going forward. The stock pays a very attractive yield, its core business remains strong, and the implications surrounding the ongoing Time Warner deal appear to be causing irrational avoidance of this stock, leading to quite a good buying opportunity."

Brian Bollinger (10/26/16): "However, my preference is to watch major transformations from the sideline for a while. AT&T has a lot of new businesses to digest and optimize between DirecTV and Time Warner. The media industry could certainly evolve the way AT&T is expecting (and in part trying to force with its deals), but there are plenty of other risks involved as well. Certainly no one can forget AOL’s disastrous merger with Time Warner.

For now, I prefer to stick with other high dividend stocks in our Conservative Retirees dividend stock portfolio. "

Jason Feiber (11/12/17):  "AT&T Inc. (T) is a high-quality business with a tremendous record for paying shareholders a huge and growing dividend. Their ability to continue doing that could very well improve moving forward, yet the stock’s recent price action apparently discounts much of this. But short-term volatility is often a long-term opportunity, and this stock has the potential for 14% upside on top of a market-crushing yield of almost 6%. If you like your dividends big, and you want them to get bigger every year, this dividend growth stock should be on your radar."

Why Did I Purchase?

I purchased AT&T stock because I was looking for a company that paid good dividends and that would be around for the long haul.

What Are My Plans?

I plan to maintain my position into the indefinite future, though if the price drops below $37.00 in the next few months, I may buy another share.

Additional Comments:

A couple of days after I wrote most of this article, AT&T released their fourth quarter earnings per share.  While the expected earnings per share were $0.65 per share, the actual earnings per share were $0.78, and as a result, share price rose $1.19 in after hours trading.  

Disease Called Debt

Friday, January 26, 2018

When Should I Take Social Security?

One common piece of advice given to those planning for retirement is to delay taking your Social Security benefit, as each year you delay increases the benefit.  So, is that good advice?

The first part of answering that question is to determine whether or not you NEED to take those benefits at the earliest possible moment.  In other words, if you have been laid off or have become disabled and have no other means of support, then no, you should not delay taking your benefits.  Rather you need to learn to live within the means provided by the benefits you have.

Early Retirement

Social Security retirement benefits can be claimed as early as age 62; however, the amount you receive is less than if you retired at your normal retirement age (for me, 67) and, if you continue working and earn over $16,920.00 your benefits will be reduced by $1 for each $2 over that amount.  In short, unless you are talking a low-wage job or very part-time work, it is probably not worth it to take your Social Security before your full retirement age unless you really are retired. 

But what if you are retired (or want to be)?  You are entitled to take your Social Security benefit at 62 but the benefit amount is reduced.  For example, my husband's benefit would be about $3800 per year less if he took his benefit at 62 as opposed to 66.  Assuming we did not need the money to make ends meet, and assuming he was earning less than $16,920 per year, he would collect over $58,000 between 62 and 66. 

According to this calculator if he deposited his monthly benefit in an account that earned 2% per year, by the time he reached his normal retirement age of 66, he would have about $69,000.  If he no longer got interest on that money (trying to make the math easy) but withdrew $3,800 per year thereafter (the amount by which his check was reduced due to taking it early) it would take about 18 years (or until he was 84) for that account to be down to nothing.  If he died before that, he clearly came out ahead taking the benefits early. 

Families with Minor Children or Disabled Adult Children

One thing many people do not realize is that Social Security provides benefits to minor children and to disabled adult children of retirees.  When my husband is 62, he will have a daughter who is 14 and a disabled son.  

There are online calculators, generally available for a fee,  that will help you estimate what happens  under various scenarios and if your family is anything but two wage earners who plan to take their own benefits at full retirement age, I recommend trying one of them (nope, no links at this time--no affiliate agreement either). 

The calculator I used showed that if my husband "retired" at 62 but kept his full time middle-income job, he would reduce his yearly benefit by about $3800 per year, as noted above;  however, he personally would not collect anything, because of the earnings deduction--taking away $1 for every $2 income over $16,920.

For us, the advantage to him "retiring" at 62, but continuing to work,  would be that  once he starts taking his benefits, my son and daughter would be entitled to benefits and I would be eligible for spousal benefits to care for kids (but those too are subject to the earning deduction).  In short, in the years between my husband's early "retirement" and his full retirement date, we would collect over $79,000 from Social Security for the kids.  Now, my son is currently receiving Social Security Disability benefits based on his own work record so if he took these benefits, he'd lose his own, so the total gain to our family is closer to $40,000. Using the same calculator as above, adding 2% interest per year, means we'd have about $42,500 by the time he retired, or about eleven years worth of the difference between what he would get at 66 vs 62. 

One thing I noted was that the benefit of the disabled child is the same, whether you retire early, on time, or late.  His benefit is a percent of your normal retirement benefit.  While you could assure a higher benefit for a disabled child by working longer during your high-income years (if that is what your 60's are), if continuing to work will not affect your normal retirement benefit, it is not necessary to delay taking Social Security to maximize the income of your disabled child

Regular Retirement

Once you reach your regular retirement age (66 for my husband, 67 for me), there is no reduction in benefits if you continue to work.  Again, the first question is whether you need those benefits in order to eat regularly.  If not, if delaying them is an option, then it is a math question.

 Let's say I am trying to decide whether I should take my benefits at 67 or at 70.  Social Security estimates my benefits at 67 to be $1855 per month and my benefits at 70 to be $2329 per month.  So, what's the math?

If I earn 3% per year on my benefits for three years, at the end of three years, when I turn 70, I'll have $69,787.23.  However, I'll be getting $474 less per month than I would had I wanted until 70.  

To make the math easy, I'll assume no return on the $69,787.23 after I reach age 70, and divide it by $474 to find out how many months until I break even.  The answer is that it will take me 12.26 years to break even, or until I am 82.  Tack on a little interest and the break-even point extends out even further.  

When Should I Take Social Security?

It's too bad none of us have a crystal ball; if we did the answer to this question would be simple math problem--which method will give me the most money over my lifetime?  The system is designed to pay the average person with an average lifespan the same amount of money whether they take Social Security early or late.  While a diagnosis may tell you that you are likely to be one who dies early, those who die late often surprise themselves.  

Unless there are dependents involved, there seems to be little reason to take Social Security before your normal retirement age, if you are still working a full time job.  Your benefits are reduced because you took them early but you collect only a portion of the benefits to which you are entitled because your paycheck reduces your benefits.  

My husband and I are going to go and talk to Social Security and get their official answers about what will happen if my husband takes Social Security next year. If the information we have now is correct, and our "break-even" point is when my husband is 73, we will probably not claim anything at that time--hopefully at 73 he still has quite a few  years left.

On the other hand, with 82 as the break-even point between taken benefits on time vs late, I am inclined to take them on time .  Yes, there is a decent chance of outliving the break-even point, but death at or before 82 isn't rare.  

Also, I've read that it is normal to spend "a lot" on entertainment, travel and home improvements early in retirement, and then, in your late seventies and early eighties, to spend relatively little as your energy levels decline and you spend more time at home.  Then in your late eighties and beyond, health care costs increase.  In other words, taking the money early allows you to spend it while you can still get around.  

Determining when to take Social Security is a personal decision that should be made after considering your options, your lifestyle and your expected lifespan. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Book Review: Smart Couples Finish Rich

Smart Couples Finish Rich, Revised and Updated: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner by [Bach, David]

About the Book:

DAVID BACH has helped millions of couples plan for a future they love. And now, completely updated and revised, Smart Couples Finish Rich, America’s favorite money book, is back! You’ll discover the latest techniques to live a life as a couple, where your values align and your money decisions become easier. Whether a newlywed, a couple planning for retirement or already retired, this timeless classic provides couples with easy-to-use tools that cover everything from credit card management to detailed investment advice to long term care. Together you’ll learn why couples who plan their finances together, stay together!

My Comments:

About 29 years ago I acquired my greatest economic asset--and he also happens to be handsome, funny and a great dad.  Yes, my greatest economic asset isn't my 401(k) or my IRA or my small but growing portfolio of stocks.  It isn't my house.  It is the man who chose to ask me to be his wife.  

I wish I could tell you that he makes tons of money--but he has a very average income, just like I do.  It would sound cool on this blog if I told you he engaged in all sorts of side-hustles, but he doesn't.  He likes to come home at night and be with the family.  I read books about men who handle all the family investments, and do it well--but in case you haven't guessed, that has mainly been my job.  Nevertheless, this man is a great economic asset because he has stayed with me and because he shares my goals for the future and we have compatible spending styles.

Smart Couples Finish Rich is a book that encourages couples to see themselves as a financial team and to work together to formulate goals for that team--which isn't just good financial planning but good marital planning.  

Using stories about his clients, David Bach encourages couples to not only dream but to share those dreams with their partners so they don't end up on the cusp of retirement with one partner preparing to buy a beach house across the country while another dreams of more time with the nearby grandchildren.  Bach also gives advice about how much to save and where most couples can find the money to save--yup, another one who advocates putting latte money in the bank. 

Bach also discusses insurance and investment options.  He writes in an easy conversational style and takes what can be a complicated subject and makes it easy to understand.  Bach makes it clear that family finances aren't his job or her job, but rather that they should be a cooperative effort and that even if one partner handles most of the work, the other should have a good idea of what they have and where it is.

I found Smart Couples Finish Rich to be an interesting read with good financial and marital advice and I think it would make a great wedding gift--it is certainly more practical than some in the back of my closet. 

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B+
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Monday, January 15, 2018

Check-In on 2017 Financial Goals

The beginning of the year is a common time to set goals, so  I shared mine a year ago.  Now I'll talk about how things went.

Pay High School Tuition From Checkbook, Not Savings

This didn't happen.  We had to withdraw about $2,000 to pay tuition and fees this year.  However, we also started putting away money every month to cover the bill when it comes due in June, so hopefully this year will be better than last.  

Continue 401(k) Contributions at Current Level

We managed to do this.   

Work On Monetizing This Blog

I started the  year off with a bang, scoring a couple of sponsored posts and garnering clicks on AdSense, but things slowed down thereafter and I haven't pushed it.  Not sure how much of a 2018 goal this will be. 

Buy at Least One Share of Stock Per Month

I've been buying stock regularly, primarily with money I've been withdrawing from Kickfurther.  My Robinhood portfolio is over $900.00.   

Continue My Freelance Writing Jobs and Selectively Try to Find More

Both my regular clients decided not to maintain a blog anymore.  I've taken a few glances through Upwork but the reality is that I can find a lot more interesting ways to spend my evenings than writing 500 words about some product for $10.  Yes, it adds up, but I have more than enough work at my office and they pay much more than $10 per hour.  

Add $4,000 To Our IRAs.

We've sort of met this goal.  We deposited over $4,000 in each IRA; unfortunately the money came from Prosper and Lending Club primarily.  Only a small amount was newly saved and it didn't total as much as we withdrew to pay tuition and other bills. 

Cut Spending On Food

Total fail; but on the other hand, who wants to live like they are broke when they aren't? 

Home Renovations

We are working on this.  My job is requiring me to use up accumulated sick leave and vacation last year and this year, which means I spent three weeks last summer pulling wallpaper and painting my house.  It looks nice and while the paint did cost several hundred dollars, there are few renovations that give you so much bang for the buck.

We still have paneling in our den that needs to be replaced, and I still need new flooring throughout the house.

So, How Was the Year?

Overall, not bad.  I'm a paralegal and if I get involved in a big trial, it means a big overtime check.  We didn't have any of those this year, so my income was down.  My husband's seems to be picking up a little.

My older daughter has graduated from college so her tuition bills are done, and she is taking on more and more of her own bills. We have high school bills built into our monthly spending via a special savings account.

Big expenses for the year were my teeth, a medical incident for me, the house paint, a trip to Universal Studios and a new piece of furniture for our foyer.  We also starting paying for me and my youngest to visit New York City with the Girl Scouts this summer.  

On the plus side, neither my husband nor I had car repair bills beyond normal maintenance.  

The stock market has made us a good bit more wealthy this year and we can see that retirement date approaching.  Two people with whom I work closely are retiring soon; I'm going to miss them.  Seems hard to believe that it will be me in the not-too-distant future.

Could we have saved more?  Sure.  Do I regret not saving more?  Maybe a little, but not enough to substantially change my behavior.  All the calculators we run say we are on track, and there is little point to living life like I'm poor now so I can die rich.  

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 Investing Results

Recently we got together with a bunch of old friends.  We all got married about the same time; we all had our (older) kids about the same time, and now most of us are becoming empty nesters.  We were all pushing 30 (or over) when we married, so it isn't surprising that we are all starting to contemplate retirement.  We all have friends our age who are retired.  When we talk about saving for retirement, the goal isn't quite so abstract anymore.

As anyone who has any amount of money in the stock market knows, this has been a very good year.  It makes up for a few stinkers we've had lately.  Let's take a look at how things are going financially at my house.

My college graduate is still looking for a fulltime job but her mean mom has started to make her pay rent and for her phone and Netflix, so its a little less outgo here.  At this point we own her car but starting with the next payment, the insurance bill is hers.  She has two part time jobs and is considering moving out in the not-to-distant future.  I'll miss having her around, but it's time.

Let's take a look at some numbers.


My husband and I have Roth IRAs and regular IRAs, and a taxable account.  We deposited money in each Roth IRA this quarter and the money was taken from Lending Club and Prosper.   These accounts consist of a variety of mutual funds purchased for us by our ex-financial advisor, along with Vanguard's International Bond Index Fund, Total Stock Market Index Fund, 500 Index Fund, Total Bond Market Index Fund, Dividend Appreciation Fund (new this quarter) and REIT Index Fund. In the last year, our rate of return has been 14.4% overall.

One interesting figure Vanguard puts on its statements is your estimated yearly income and estimated yield from each fund, and for your account as a whole. Here are the figures for our accounts:

  • My IRA:  Estimated yield 2.17%
  • My Roth IRA:  Estimated yield 1.81%
  • Husband IRA:  Estimated yield 2.88%
  • Husband Roth IRA:  Estimated yield  2.64%
  • Taxable Joint Account:  Estimated yield 1.86%

My husband's IRA is the largest of these accounts and his return figures are higher than the other accounts because our REIT fund shares are in his accounts and they are high-yielding (4.59%).


My 401k has a year to date return of 19.78%.  It is invested in Janus Triton,  Oppenheimer Int'L Small Mid Co A, MFS Government Securities Fund-A , Pioneer Fundamental Growth Fd-A,  and Delaware US Growth Fund-A.  My firm contributes 5% of my salary, and I contribute 6%.  Dividends this year totalled about two weeks' pay.


My husband's 401K is with AXA and it has increased in value, though not a lot.  He puts in the minimum necessary for employer match.


The initial investment in this account was $7,000.  It began the quarter at $8,850.43 and ended the quarter at $9,268.55.  This quarter  the account has paid $34.32 in dividends.  I have invested in "Motifs" or baskets of stock with a variety of themes including dividend payers, things I like and online gaming.

I had been withdrawing my dividend payments and investing them via a no-commission broker, but Motif has changed their fee policy such that if you have less than $10,000 and do not have any commissions in a given six month period, they charge you a $10 fee.  To avoid that, I have started accumulating my dividend payments and last quarter  I purchased another Motif--this one contains shares of a variety of REITs.  My plan is to contribute to the account until it reaches $10,000.  The market is helping.

I was curious about whether I would have been better off putting this money in an index fund rather than in Motif.  For each motif, Motif tells you how much the S&P has gone up since you bought the motif, and how much that motif has gone up.  I did the math, and I'm about $50 better off, based on share appreciation alone.  Dividends aren't included. 

Lending Club:

While my returns have been steadily dropping for  months, accounting for expected defaults, Lending Club estimates my return since I began the account at about 4.58%   whereas three months ago I wrote that it was 4.53%.

During 2017, my interest was $2848.71 and the amount lost to defaults was $2827.33.  Needless to say I'm not a happy camper.

 As my notes mature I'm moving the money to our Roth IRAs. . The economy on the whole is fine now; if I can't make money with Lending Club under this economy, I'm going to lose it big time if things go downhill.  The profits today do not justify the risk.


My returns here have dropped as well.  Three months ago my annualized net returns were 5.41%, and my "seasoned" returns--the returns on notes that are more than ten months old were 4.82%. Those figures have dropped to 5.09% and 4.39%, and while the first few months of the year had positive returns, the last few have been negative.   As I receive payments from Prosper, they are going to our Roth IRAs. 


At the beginning of the quarter I owned shares of AT&T, Visa, CVS, Lending Club Hormel and Hanesbrands.  During the quarter I bought Qualcomm, Ford, Mattel, Cardinal Healthcare, Omega Healthcare Investors, Ascena Retail Group, Macquarie Infrastructure and Pfizer.

I read about most of these companies on Daily Trade Alert.   or other blogs.  Basically, if I have money and the article makes sense, I'm likely to buy a share if recommended.  I know this is not enough research on which to base a major purchasing decision, which is why I buy a share or two.  Instead of buying shoes I don't need, I buy stocks I don't need, and if I lose them all, well, right now I'm out  about $800--but since I have stop loss orders for most of my shares, I should be okay.
So far, I'm doing alright though.

  • AT&T:  2 shares purchased at $37.62.  Current price $38.98.  Collected $3.92 in dividends in 2017.  No stop loss on this one; I bought it for the dividends.
  • Lending Club:  1 share purchased at $5.51.  Current price $4.11.  No dividends. No stop loss. 
  • Visa:  2 shares purchased at $78.00.  Current price $114.00.  $1.38 in dividends in 2017. I have a stop loss order placed at $100.00.
  • Hormel:  3 shares purchased at 33.91.  Current price $36.39.  Purchased June 21.  $1.02 in dividends since then.  I have a stoploss set at $34.00.
  • Hanesbrands: 2 shares purchased at $21.93 on January 13. Current price $20.91,  Stop loss set at $18.00.  $1.20 in dividends in 2017.
  • CVS:  1 share purchased July 3 for $80.77.  Current value $72.50.  $1.00 in dividends in 2017. No stop loss.  
  • Qualcomm: 1 share purchased October 9 for $52.68.   Current price:  $64.01.  I have a stop loss sell order in at $60.00.  
  • Mattel: 1 share purchased October 30 for $13.87. Current price $15.35. $15.00 stop loss.  
  • Ford: 3 shares purchased November 7 for $12.33.  Stop loss $11.50
  • Cardinal Healthcare.  1 share purchased November 27 for $56.42.  Current value$61.27.  Stop Loss at $58.00.
  • Omega Healthcare Investors.  1 share purchased December 6 for $26.75.  Current value $27.47. Stoploss at $26.00.         
  • Ascena Retail Group. 3 shares purchased December 11 for $2.00.  Current value $2.40.  Stop Loss at $2.03.  
  • Macquarie Infrastructure. 1 share purchased December 26 for $64.18.  Current value $64.20.  Stop loss at $62.00.
  • Pfizer.  1 share purchased December 26 for $36.17,  Current value $36.28.  Stop loss at $34.00.                      

 Robinhood is an online broker that uses phone apps only, no webpage.  They charge no commission and allow you to place limit or market orders.  They also allow you to initiate bank transfers and then invest the money immediately--you do not have to wait for the transfer to complete.  You do have to buy whole shares.

If you use this link to open an account with them, you and I will both receive a free share of stock. Here is a link to my review of Robinhood.


This is an online broker for whom I wrote a sponsored post.  I invested $100 in Johnson & Johnson through them.  They charge $0.99 per trade, so even though they sell fractional shares, I don't recommend investing less than $100.00 per trade.  I plan to keep the account and use it when I want to buy shares of stock that are substantially over $100, since my investments in individual stocks are as much toys as investments and I don't plan to put too many dollars in any one stock.  Stockpile had a promotion last quarter where they were giving away $5.00 worth of Apple stock so I got mine.  At the end of the year this account was worth $112.56. 

If you use this link, you get $5.00 worth of stock to begin your account with them, and I get $5.00 too. I wrote a full review of Stockpile a few months ago.


I'm in the process of withdrawing my money not only because I'm in the red (an expected risk of investing) but because I've become convinced that Kickfurther is going to fail.  They have too little business at this time and while they have tightened their contracts and changed their business model somewhat, I've just seen too much incompetence to believe that the investment risk is the only risk I'm bearing and the returns have not justified the risk.

The Bottom Line

As compared to the beginning of the year, we are over a year's pay richer, but most of that is stock market gains, not savings.  We did not have to pull any money out of our savings this quarter, but we haven't been able to replace any we withdrew earlier this year.  However, the big bills for the year have been paid; the next big irregular bill will be the car insurance three months from now and we are saving for it and the other big irregular bills.

One thing I found interesting is that using a dividend rate of about 2% (more or less what we got on our Vanguard accounts) our dividends  and expected Social Security  would cover one of our paychecks.  Since leaving a substantial estate to help care for our autistic son is one of our financial goals, that's good to know.

How did 2017 go for you? 
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*