I spent more time at work focusing on what matters most. I spent more time at home listening to my wife instead of telling her how to fix her problem. I purchased a Fitbit and averaged 10,000 steps a day. I helped my friend through a difficult time.

I count these among my 2014 accomplishments.

Just for a moment, think about your 2014 accomplishments, the progress you made personally and professionally. Pause and take it all in. Allow yourself to bask in the glow of your success. Feel good about where you are in life and all the good things you have done this year.

Notice how you feel. Does your stress start to fade away? Does your confidence begin to grow? Does your mouth begin to smile?

We live in a culture that teaches us to minimize our successes and always strive for more: more money, more success, more achievements. The relentless pursuit of the next accomplishment can leave us feeling exhausted, stressed out, and disconnected from our families, our friends and even ourselves.

When we reflect on our progress and accomplishments, we step off the achievement treadmill. We give ourselves the space to stop striving and to rest and relax. We open the door of appreciation and give ourselves a chance to think positively about where we are in life.

During the holidays, we often run from one project to the next.  Perhaps we can all pause long enough to celebrate our own successes.

As we enter the home stretch of 2014, there is still time for investors to make some portfolio adjustments that could create greater efficiency, generate tax savings, and position your portfolio for the coming year. Here are five items to consider doing before the year ends that could ultimately add to your long-term bottom line.

  • Harvest Tax Losses: Even though U.S. stocks continue to rally, asset classes like commodities and some international assets have experienced losses. If you own assets that have dropped in value, consider selling those investments to harvest those tax losses before year end to reduce your 2014 tax liability.  If you have embedded gains in investments that you want to eliminate from your portfolio and you expect to have a light tax burden this year, you might want to consider selling those assets now as well.  With the stock market up significantly, most investors have gains in their portfolios; harvesting tax losses may offset some of those gains and make your portfolio more efficient.  Pay careful attention to the 30-day “wash rule” that applies to reinvesting the proceeds and consult your tax professional regarding your specific situation and any existing tax loss carryforward before you act.
  • Review Capital Gains Distributions: Consider reviewing the capital gains distributions of your portfolio holdings. If the distributions are unusually high compared to the return on the holding, based on your specific situation, you may choose to sell out of the holding in advance of the distribution record date. Typically, capital gains distributions occur towards the end of the calendar year. Avoiding the unnecessary taxes from these distributions could be an effective tax reduction strategy.
  • Rebalance Your Portfolio: Just as a disciplined car maintenance helps avoid trouble on the road and improves car efficiency, disciplined rebalancing can improve portfolio performance over the long term. December is a great time to rebalance your portfolio, especially since you can simultaneously harvest any tax losses and lock in gains.  Depending on your portfolio and your tax situation, you and your tax advisor might decide that it makes more sense to delay selling your winners and rebalancing your portfolio until early in the next tax year. Either way, set a date and have a plan for systematic rebalancing.
  • Give Securities, Not Cash: With the holiday gift-giving season upon us, this is a great time of the year to consider making charitable and/or personal gifts using appreciated securities with a low cost basis instead of cash.  That way, you can pass along the full value of the gifted securities and avoid paying the taxes that would otherwise be due on sale. Consult your tax professional about federal gift tax limits and consider your own financial and tax situation before you act.
  • Look for Red Flags and Your Target Asset Allocation: While being tax sensitive is an important part of investing, taxes are only one piece of the puzzle.  Year-end is a good time to review your portfolio to ensure that your asset allocation is designed with your current life priorities and financial needs in mind. A good financial advisor should be able to help you identify your life priorities and goals and create a portfolio designed to help you live the life you desire. We recommend periodically checking to make sure nothing is amiss and identify if there are red flags that call for action.

Disciplined investment habits can lead to long-term financial success.  A little time spent in year-end portfolio review this season could be time well spent.

From all of us at GV Financial Advisors, we wish you a very happy holiday season!

 

Disclosure: The information contained in the article is provided for general informational purposes, and should not be construed as investment advice. This article is not intended as tax advice, and GV Financial does not represent in any manner that the outcomes described herein will result in any particular tax consequence. Prospective investors should confer with their personal tax advisors regarding the tax consequences based on their particular circumstances. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

I was walking my dog in the neighborhood when a young lady asked me for directions. I offered to walk her to where she wanted to go if she would wait just a moment for me to tie my sweatshirt around my waist. She said she couldn’t wait; she was late. I tried to tell her where to go. A few minutes later I noticed her walking in the distance, headed in the wrong direction.

Is this an analogy for your busy life? Are you so busy that you don’t have time to pause, even for a moment, to figure out where you are going? When friends and family offer you a helping hand, do you run right by them? Do you ever find yourself disconnected from what matters most to you, and wondering how you got so lost?

Stop, pause, take a breath. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself permission to relax and get in touch with what matters most to you. Consider where you are in life and where you want to be.

Running fast and working hard without a clear understanding of where you want to go is likely to get you nowhere fast. When you slow down and point yourself in the right direction, you often feel less stressed as you accomplish remarkable things.

Are you headed in the right direction? If not, what one small change could you make today to start heading where you want to go?

We want it all.  We just can’t have everything we want.

If we work 60 hours a week, we have less time to spend with our family.  But if we go home every night at 5:30 so we can spend more time with our family, we might miss the next big deal. And if we spend our weekends hanging out with our kids, we can’t go golfing with friends.  If we burn the candle at both ends to get it all done, we will be tired.

We try to fool ourselves. We work long grueling hours, and we pretend sleeping six hours a night is sufficient.  We check our email while vacationing with our family, and we pretend nobody will notice or care. We show up for our kid’s ballgames, and pretend it is the same as spending one on one time with them.

Stop pretending. Embrace reality. All choices have costs, and life is a series of compromises.

Choose wisely.  Acknowledge that time is your most precious resource. Compromise in a way that reflects your values, your priorities.

Are you making compromises that are right for you?

My friend is participating in a walkathon to raise money for cancer research.  Should I pledge $50 or $100?

The service at the local diner was good, but not great.  Should I tip 15% or 20%?

I am buying a bottle of wine for my friend’s birthday.  Should I buy the $15 bottle that looks okay, or the $25 bottle I know is great?

Pledge the $100, tip 20%, and buy the $25 bottle of wine.

Generosity is an act of self confidence.  When we are generous, we signal to ourselves that we will be okay, even if we have a little less money.

Generosity cultivates gratitude.  When we are generous, we often feel grateful for the abundant blessings in our own lives.

Being generous is fun.  It feels good to help another person.

When in doubt, be generous.

You have a choice. When looking back on your life, you can attack yourself for the mistakes you made, or you can celebrate your progress.

Please don’t misunderstand me. It is certainly advisable to reflect on what you have done and learn from your mistakes. That is how we learn and get better.

Yet all too often, we engage in personal self-attacks. We see ourselves as stupid, undisciplined, and as a failure. When we beat up on ourselves, we feel discouraged, have a hard time seeing new possibilities, and find it challenging to move ahead.

Change your internal dialogue. Substitute self-compassion for self-attack. Talk to yourself as a loving, nurturing parent would talk to a child who had just suffered a setback. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, and yes, you too are human.

Celebrate your progress. Reflect on what you have accomplished and what you have learned. Give yourself credit for all the hard work you have done.

Amazingly, when you treat yourself with compassion and celebrate your progress, you will open yourself to exciting new possibilities. Your discouragement will fade away. In its place, you may find you feel confident, energized and empowered to take the next step forward.

Can you celebrate your progress and open your eyes to new possibilities?

As Republicans won control of the Senate and expanded power in the House in last week’s midterm elections, the snapback rally continues, pushing many indices to all-time highs. Some pundits have gone so far as to say that the impending Republican victory was the reason stocks rallied and volatility retreated in October.  Although voters overwhelmingly chose red, there’s a rainbow of interpretations about what the election means for the markets.

We have heard some investors say the election results have made them bullish about the markets – they want to invest more.  Some pundits have taken the other side, fearing that the dysfunction between Congress and the Administration will create uncertainty and restrict corporate growth.  Still others are concerned that a divided government will make the regulatory environment uncertain and intensify gridlock, thereby making them bearish on the markets.

Who’s right?  More importantly, will the election results have a long-term impact on your portfolio?

Do you remember the 2012 Presidential elections? The political debacles of 2013, the government shutdown and the debt-ceiling crisis? The plethora of political issues we faced, ranging from Fiscal Cliff Crisis, to monetary policy and regulations, among others?  While those events were unnerving to investors and caused Congress’ job approval ratings to plummet, stocks soared despite them.  Including dividends, the S&P 500 Index returned 32.39% in 2013 – one of its best years ever!  Source: Morningstar.

While markets are unpredictable over the short term, it is hard to see the midterm elections having a major impact on the financial markets or the stock market over the long term.  Elections may indirectly influence the equity markets, but we believe they are far less important than the state of the economy, the direction of corporate earnings, valuations levels, and fundamentals that ultimately determine a company’s stock price.

If you are a true long-term investor, perhaps you should try to do what many are trying to do anyway – ignore the election altogether. Political and media drama can inflame our fears and anxiety or our greed, distracting us from our Life Priorities and leaving us vulnerable to poor decision-making. Recognize the media’s vested interest in fanning the flames. Recommit yourself to making investment decisions driven by evidence and devoid of emotion.  Remember that a properly diversified portfolio is designed to see you safely through short-term challenges so you can reach your long-term goals and meet your needs for income and growth.

Don’t change your focus and more importantly your hard-earned portfolio. Win or lose, the midterm elections are now complete, which historically has been a victory for investors in and of itself.

When we work, we all sell our time for compensation.  We agree to show up and work hard, and our employer, or our clients, agree to pay us.

If we are fortunate, we have choices about where we work. The challenge is figuring out which job to take.  Which job will pay the most?

It is easy to compare salaries, and relatively easy to compare benefit packages.

Yet, our total compensation package is more than our salary, health insurance, and the company’s retirement program. Part of our compensation package has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with the company’s culture.

Some company cultures are toxic. They encourage people to seek credit and blame others.  They push us to stretch the limits of ethical behavior.  Because we don’t trust our colleagues, we are constantly forced to watch our back.  A toxic corporate culture not only distracts us from our work, it makes us fearful and miserable.

Some companies have supportive cultures. Credit is shared among the team. Rather than looking to pin blame on its employees, some companies focus on fixing mistakes and learning from the experience. High ethical standards are built into the fiber of the company, and we are never asked to put profits before principle. We spend less time worrying and more time working, and we’re generally happier.

Supportive cultures encourage us to develop close relationships at work, give us the opportunity to do what we love, and often allow us to work as part of a team that is looking to change the world for the better.

Which job would you prefer?  More money but a toxic work environment, or less money and a supportive work environment?

Which job pays more?

You have a good life. You are among the fortunate few. Yet sometimes, maybe with a tinge of guilt, you wonder if this is all there is to life.

You want to be excited, even passionate, about something, anything. You want to wake up feeling energized about the day ahead of you, excited to be alive. Yet, you struggle with finding your passion. So, you journey on, stay busy, and hope that somehow your passion, your purpose will find you.

It probably won’t. It is rare that we get hit by the passion lightning bolt.

Your passion and purpose is inside of you, waiting for you to discover it. Your challenge is accessing your inner wisdom. You might exclaim, “This is wonderful! What can I do to discover my passion?  Can I take a weekend course? Can I watch a TED talk?”

No, you can’t.  Surprisingly, the answer is not to do more; it is to do less. Reduce the distractions of daily life, pause and let your wisdom emerge. Take a long walk, spend some time gardening or just sit outside and relax.

Be patient. It takes time to connect with your inner wisdom. Be brave. Sometimes when you pause, uncomfortable feelings arise. Exercise self-compassion. As you get in touch with what you want, you may regret some of your prior life choices. Don’t attack yourself for not making better choices.  Acknowledge that you are human and made the best choice you could at the time.

Are you willing to discover your inner wisdom?

We all face them. Difficult, gut-wrenching realities. Someone we love is diagnosed with a terrible illness. Our aging parents need financial and emotional support to live with dignity. Our spending has spun out of control, and if we continue, we could run out of money.

It is tempting – oh, so tempting – to look away from these difficult realities. Tempting, and ultimately disastrous. We lose the chance to spend time with an ill friend or family member. Our parents struggle with daily life. Our precarious financial situation grows ever more insecure.

Accepting and dealing with reality is hard, often heart-breaking. We feel scared, anxious and overwhelmed. To navigate through these turbulent waters, we need the support of a compassionate friend who will listen to us without judgment and encourage us with a caring heart. A friend who will not tell us what to do, but who will let us express all our thoughts and feelings about our difficult reality. A friend who will help us connect with our own inner wisdom about the next right step for us to take.

Many of us don’t have enough friends like these. Our lives are so busy we neglect these crucial relationships. We miss opportunities to create, cultivate and enjoy close friendships. When the personal crisis erupts (and life has a way of making sure that they do), we may find we lack the support we need.

Are there enough people in your life who will listen to you with compassion and without judgment? Are you spending enough time building and nurturing these relationships?

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