After years of faithful service, my toaster needs replacing.  On Sunday morning, I decided to shop on Amazon for a new one. With just a few key strokes and clicks, I had hundreds to choose from.  I started reading the reviews to understand toaster technology and to figure out which toaster would be right for me.

After 30 minutes, a startling realization hit me like a bolt of lightning.  I was spending my precious time on a Sunday morning reading about toasters.

None of the toasters I was considering cost very much.  They were all in the $20 – $50 price range.  More importantly, all I wanted was a toaster to toast my morning bagel, and all of them could do that just fine.  So I stopped analyzing, bought a toaster, and went back to enjoying Sunday morning with my wife Heidi.

It’s incredibly easy to spend time on things that don’t really matter.  If you are not careful, all of sudden you’ll find yourself deep in thought reading toaster reviews, and forfeiting your favorite time with your family.

We live in a world that offers a gluttony of choice. (Do we really need hundreds of toasters to choose from?)  Sometimes the right choice is to choose quickly, and get back to living your life.

Have you fallen into the 30-minute toaster trap?

I can’t believe I did that. What was I thinking?

The answer was staring me in the face. How could I be so stupid?

Why can’t I lose this weight? I know what I have to do, eat right and exercise. Why am I so lazy and undisciplined?

Sound familiar? Do you often engage in self-attack, beating yourself up for not doing it perfect – err, perfectly?  Do you call yourself names in a vain attempt to whip yourself into shape?

I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but you are human, just like the rest of us. We all make mistakes and we all have our struggles. It is just part of life.

Self-attack is never a winning strategy. Self-shaming is self-defeating. It drains our confidence and leaves us feeling discouraged, often driving us to engage in the exact behaviors we are trying to avoid. When we beat ourselves up for eating that donut, we feel depressed. And all too often, we grab another donut to soothe ourselves.

Catch yourself the next time you consider calling yourself stupid or lazy. Try substituting self-compassion for those degrading self-attacks. Embrace your humanity, and remind yourself that we all struggle, and that life is about progress, not perfection.

Forgive yourself as you would a friend, and move forward with the resolve to do a little better next time.

Next time you struggle, can you try a little self-compassion?

The holiday party season just got over.  Along with the delicious food, wine, and time with friends and family, came conversations about the best investment ideas, the highest returning stocks for the year and the portfolio that returned the most.  I am sure I am not alone in running into these conversations. The other person with the win – it could be your brother-in-law, an old school friend, or even your neighbor – makes investing sound so easy. “Picking the best mutual fund, easy!” “Beating the S&P 500, no problem!” If these conversations leave you with a sick feeling in your stomach that you might be losing in your portfolio and missing out on the next big win, it could be more than holiday bloat weighing you down.

In an effort to help ease that sick feeling and focus on what matters most, here are a few simple ideas that you could consider and repeat as necessary:

1)  Clearly identify your financial goals:  Knowing what your goals are can help you reflect on any portfolio changes you might be considering. Should you buy the next hot investment or keep your hard-earned dollars in a well thought-out portfolio? You are the driver of your life and your portfolio; hence, your life goals, growth and income needs should drive your investments.

2)  Make a plan to reach those goals:  Your long-term needs are what really matters and focusing on a disciplined and systematic process to achieve those goals is what drives success, not investing in today’s winners or paying attention to random short-term market noise. Having a plan and a process to get to your goals can help you hone in on your appropriate risk level – the risk you should take versus the one you are about to take chasing a “sure-fire” investment idea.

3)  Hold investments that fit your goals and plan:  Investment decisions of buying and selling from your portfolio are best made in context of your overall financial goals. When you make decisions based on facts about what you are trying to achieve, you should be better able to keep your emotions in check and stick to your convictions even when others are engaged in panicked selling or in greedy buying. There is no guarantee that any investment will triple or will not go to zero. However, a portfolio well designed with long-term goals in mind and a process developed to get you there can help you reach your goals. Being caught in the trap of looking for the best idea or chasing the winners can lead you to costly mistakes with your hard-earned money.

Source: Carl Richards, Behavior Gap

Source: Carl Richards, Behavior Gap

Remember it is your plan and NOT your best pick that will lead to long-term investment success. Your investment behavior matters more than luck of racking up a few conversation-worthy wins.  So as we embark upon a New Year, resolve to make your investment behavior count!

Sometimes, it is hard to help our family. We notice our parents or siblings struggling financially. We offer assistance. They look at us, acknowledge our generosity, and then politely say no.

Why?

Here’s what they might be thinking.

You might need the money. Most of us don’t discuss our finances with family members. Your family member may not know how much money you have, or how this gift will impact you. They might fear today’s gift threatens your future lifestyle.

If you are confident you won’t miss the money, let them know.

I don’t want to be judged. Your family member might fear you will judge them harshly if their future spending decisions don’t align with your values. A gift with expectations about future spending is not a gift. It is a deal. I will do this for you, and you will do this.

Tell them you have no hidden expectations. (Unless it is a deal, and then be clear about your expectations.)

I don’t understand why you offered.  Do you have more than enough money and struggle with what to do with it all? Helping someone we love often leaves us feeling satisfied, even joyful. The truth is as you are helping them, they are helping you.

Tell them accepting the gift will add joy to your life.

The opportunity is right before your eyes.

Every day, the world offers each of us multiple chances to make a positive difference in the lives of those around us. We can compliment a work colleague for a job well done. We can check in on a friend who has been struggling. We can make a small charitable donation. We can leave our server a little larger tip.

It doesn’t cost much to make a difference. Just a little investment of time and money, and the payoff is huge. It feels great to make a positive difference.

So, why don’t we do it more often? Because we are so busy running from place to place, so busy doing our to do’s, that we simply don’t notice the opportunity to connect, the chance to help.

Slow down. Take a breath. Pause and notice the world around you. Every day, look for the chance to make that positive difference. When you notice it, seize the opportunity. Add a little happiness to your life.

What can you do to notice the opportunity?

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.

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