Saving for college
The rally in the markets this week probably has a lot of people checking their 401(k) balances to see what kind of bump they may have gotten in their portfolios. Mary Mullin, a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management here in Boston, says that there are some pretty solid reasons to be optimistic about a rebound in growth, not just in the U.S., but worldwide this year.
“The macroeconomic challenges still exist, but we’re talking to individuals about re-evaluating their portfolios because there are a lot of good companies out there doing good things,” Mullin said in an interview.
Mullin said research published by her firm examines the “great rotation,” referring to a move in the markets from cash and bonds into areas of potential growth, including housing, and back into equities.
If you look at individual companies, you’ll find several with strong balance sheets and profitability, she said. “A lot of companies have cash on their balance sheets and are paying strong dividends or are increasing their dividends,” Mullin said. “We’re also seeing signs of life in the housing market, which brings consumption that goes around that.”
So what are some investment themes that Mullin is looking at as she advises her clients?
I feel like every January, most personal finance columns encourage us to kick off the New Year with a fresh set of financial resolutions that involve finding ways to streamline our budget and save more. At the top of almost every list: give up that daily Starbucks latte.
I’m kind of tired of hearing that same tip, and feel that if at this point people haven’t gotten the message then writing it one more time isn’t going to persuade them to change their habits.
So let’s assume that we all know it’s not the smartest move to spend several dollars on that higher-priced cup of Joe every day when you can brew a less expensive version at home and put it in a go cup. This year, what else can we do to get our financial house in shape?
Bob Stammers, who heads up investor education for CFA (Chartered Financial Analysts) Institute, offered a few other ideas that I found pretty helpful:
Easthampton Savings Bank is one of 88 banks nationwide that is participating in this year’s “Lights, Camera, Save!” video contest for teens that’s organized by the Education Foundation of the American Bankers Association.
The contest asks teens ages 13-18 years old to create a video that educates themselves, and their peers, about the value of saving and using money wisely. The videos can’t be longer than 90 seconds and must be an original work by the student (including all music and images).
Consumer borrowing is up, but not for shopping – The cost of education is going to make this holiday a tough season for retailers
This week the National Retail Federation, the retail industry’s main voicebox, released its annual forecast for holiday spending, and not surprisingly the results indicate that consumers are going to continue to be cautious during the fourth-quarter buying season.
Discount stores will be the biggest beneficiaries of streamlined holiday budgets, with nearly two-thirds of consumers saying they will shop there to seek the best deals, the NRF said. Department stores ranked second. Clothing retailers were a close third, while electronics stores ranked fourth among the almost 8,900 individuals polled. Total budgets are forecast to barely edge up to an average $749.51 on gifts, décor and greeting cards, from the $740.57 they actually spent last year, the NRF said.
Consumers are also showing an interest in controlling the way they spend their money, an adjustment to the “new normal” that is evident in not only their adherence to budgets and avid pursuit of discounts, but their reduced use of credit cards. As a result there is more interest in using layaway programs (hence the already large number of TV commercials airing to promote this practice) with many consumers saying that they plan to begin their shopping this month, even before Halloween, in order to make sure they are able to grab the season’s “must have” items before it’s too late.
“Consumers have more credit available to them, and have more cards in their wallets that they did a year ago, but they have not been willing to take them out and charge up,” said Cristian deRitis, senior director of consumer credit analytics for Moody’s Analytics. “This year’s holiday season will be tough. People are worried about issues such as the fiscal cliff and the impact of Europe on the U.S. economy. Consumers are still quite cautious.”
Expecting an inheritance? Apparently so, if you’re a member of Gen Z. And that youthful optimism may deter these individuals from taking retirement savings seriously – with potentially damaging consequences.TD Ameritrade interviewed about 1,000 members of Gen Z (young people ages 13-22) and a similar number of parents, and found that almost 40 percent of Gen Z respondents believed that they will have an inheritance and therefore won’t need to worry about saving for retirement. In contrast, just 16 percent of parents thought as much.
That result was surprising, said Carrie Braxdale, managing director, investor services, TD Ameritrade, Inc., because this group of young people was generally pretty savvy about articulating the current challenges in the economy and job market. And with the majority of them already actively using some kind of investment or savings account, they also clearly had been taught about the importance of saving and thinking about a financial plan.
Still, they are focusing mainly on “savings needs that are more near-term,” Braxdale said. “Many explicitly said they are saving for college or current expenses.”
Whenever I write anything about affluent Americans, inevitably I hear from some readers about how journalists are “out of touch” and not understanding the issues. I find these emails striking because they reflect a lot of the uncertainty and frustration most people are feeling in today’s job market and economy. And while I am often just reporting the results of someone else’s study, I understand that even doing that simple act can rub people who are struggling the wrong way.
So when I was told about a recent “Affluent Insights Survey” that Merrill Lynch conducted, I found myself wondering how we might think about its results so that it can be useful information for a variety of individuals, of varying incomes, and not just for those who happen to have $250,000 or more of investable assets. To me, these surveys are helpful if we can find even just one or two nuggets of new information that might serve as potentially interesting solutions when applied to our own lives.
Let’s start by laying out some of the context for the results uncovered by the survey. Among the 1,000+ individuals that Merrill Lynch interviewed, close to half view today’s economic uncertainty as a “new normal,” with rising healthcare costs, the care of aging parents, and the extended financial support being given to adult-age children weighing on their minds. Four out of five, or about 80 percent, of those surveyed worry that they won’t be able to achieve their financial goals before they retire.
Some of these “affluent” individuals are drawing a harder line on funding college. About 48 percent told Merrill Lynch that they were willing to support adult-age children for as long as they need. But some are trying to use the expense as a way to teach a financial lesson. About 38 percent of parents today paid for, or plan to pay for, the full cost of their children’s college education, down from 48 percent a year ago, the survey said. And when asked about their ability to fund higher learning, 19 percent said they chose not to pay for the full amount so that their kids would appreciate their education more.
Increasingly, “families are getting together, with their college-age kids, to talk about how they will pay for college, even in this group where the cost was traditionally paid for by parents,” said Merril Pyes, a managing director in Boston with Merrill Lynch. “Parents are talking with their kids about how to pay for it, what they’ll get out of college, and what their kids will do when they get out.”
Having more conversations as a family about finances seems to be one of the bigger lessons we can learn from this survey, which provided other examples of how people are trying to communicate, and work together, more to solve concerns and challenges.
If you could afford to fully foot the college bill, would you? Legg Mason study finds even most affluent parents want kids to help pay
Financing a college education is a big effort for every family, and according to Legg Mason Inc., a global asset management firm based in Baltimore, even those affluent enough to fully fund the bill feel that their children should help pay the cost.
More than 1,000 parents who have $250,000 or more in investable assets were surveyed by Legg Mason in order to find out their expectations when it came to college funding. Of those surveyed, 72 percent said they believe that their children should pay part of their college expenses – close to one-third said they should contribute as much as half the total amount.
The parents said they wanted their kids to participate in the investment because they wanted to make sure that their children take college education seriously, and appreciate it. They also used it as a way of teaching responsibility.
For couples learning how to manage their money together, here are some tips, as well as common mistakes to watch out for
As a follow up to yesterday’s story about love and money, here are some tips for couples to think about when managing money together, and some common mistakes to watch out for, from Irvin Schorsch III, founder and president of Pennsylvania Capital Management, which has about $620 million under management.
Create a Common Vision: Couples cannot plan for the future if they can’t decide on what their future will hold. Will both spouses work? How many children does a couple anticipate on having? Does either spouse wish to go back to school for an advanced degree? What do they envision retirement to look like? The sooner those questions are answered, the better off the couple will be.
Delegate: Once a financial “game plan” is put into place, it’s important to to determine which spouse will handle the variety of financial responsibilities within a household. Tasks/projects should be given to the spouse who is best suited to them, so that each spouse feels they’re contributing effectively.
Maximize All Contributions: Does one spouse receive a handsome employer match to any 401(k) contributions? If so, it’s important to maximize that contribution, even if it means living on one spouse’s income for a period of time. The sacrifice will be well worth it, especially if it helps build a large nest egg earlier in life.
It’s happened to all of us. As parents, we have the best of intentions to sit down and methodically plot a financial path, but then the phone rings. Afterschool activities beckon. It’s dinnertime and the kids are hungry. The boss calls. Life somehow gets in the way.
“I’m sure people, as their kids are growing up, realize that they really need to think more about saving for college, but then life gets in the way and they’re busy running their kids to all of their different activities,” said Chuck Drawbaugh, president of College Funding Associates in Rumson, New Jersey.
Parents need to make the time to sit down and review their finances. It’s not just about saving for college. It’s about getting back to basics and having a conversation about the choices that need to be made in order to achieve all of life’s financial goals.
Retirement or “The College Fund."
Are you faced with that choice? For many parents, figuring out the right balance between those two financial goals has always been tricky, but it’s become particularly challenging in today’s economy. Most families have tightened their household budgets; for those where a breadwinner has lost a job or had their income cut, saving for college has become a difficult, if not impossible, goal that takes a back seat to more immediate priorities.FULL ENTRY