‘Tis the Season!

by Ashley Baldwin


Here in the Northwest, as we brave the long cold dreary winter nights, we welcome the warm glow of a fireplace, candles, and colorful lights to lift our spirits and brighten the season. Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, it’s a time to come together, reminisce about favorite childhood memories, share gifts, and join in the traditions of the holidays

Christmas, as we know it today, is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. But prior to that, scholars could not even agree on which day it should be celebrated. It was not until the 3rd century that they choose December 25—because that date coincided with the Pagan festival of the Winter Solstice, the longest, darkest night of the year. Well, the longest, darkest night part is still true, at least in our corner of the globe.

I recently returned from a wonderful business/pleasure trip “down under,” where the seasons are completely reversed. I’ll share some of those Australian/New Zealand adventures in the future, but first let’s look at how the holidays are celebrated around the world.

Australia

In Australia, December is in the middle of summer. In fact, in some parts of the continent/country it can hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas day! And while many traditions are carried over from the Victorian age—such as decorating homes with ferns and evergreens—the day is often spent frolicking on the beach or with back yard barbeques where “Father Christmas” has been known to show up in shorts to greet children with gifts.  The most popular event of the Christmas season is called Carols by Candlelight. Families gather at night to light candles and sing Christmas carols out under the stars.

Norway

The ancient Norse used the Yule log in their celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. Ever wonder why the family fireplace is such a central part of the typical Christmas scene? This tradition dates to the Norse Yule log. And it just might be why those log-shaped cheeses, cakes, and desserts are so popular during the holidays.

Mexico

In 1828, the American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red-and-green plant from Mexico to America. The colors seemed perfect for the holiday and were named poinsettias after Poinsett. Today they are a universal symbol of the holiday.

Germany

Decorating evergreen trees was part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first “Christmas trees” appeared in Strasbourg at the turn of the 17th century. Germany’s Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, and introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. In 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home.

England

In 1830, John Calcott Horsley popularized the tradition of sending Christmas cards when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written greeting. By the way, there are no plums in that pudding! This dish, dating back to the Middle Ages is made from suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices. It’s all tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are “plum,” meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. It is then unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream. Now you know!

Finland

Many Finns visit the sauna on Christmas Eve. Families gather and listen to the national “Peace of Christmas” radio broadcast. It is customary to visit the gravesites of departed family members.

All over the world, Christmas celebrations reflect local culture and traditions. The festivities can be starkly different from country to country. But wherever you're celebrating it, one thing remains the same . . . it’s a time to experience the wonder and magic of the season—a time to be filled with joy and sharing with family, loved ones, neighbors, and with those less fortunate.

For me, what I love about the Christmas season is connecting with family and friends. We pause in gratitude for all our blessings and we carefully think about what we can do for others. May you and yours have the happiest of holidays and welcome a New Year.

The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Judith A. McGee and not necessarily those of Raymond James. 


Leaving a Legacy of Wisdom

by Ashley Baldwin


I recently had the pleasure of participating in a reunion retreat with other well-established and successful professionals in the field of financial planning and wealth management. We shared our best practices and the wisdom garnered over the years—wisdom which may be nurtured as “seed capital” for future generations of planners.

One presentation in particular, given by Ben Combs was most memorable and insightful. It was entitled Legacy: Why Leave All of Your Wealth and None of Your Wisdom?  Ben’s presentation was the impetus to start a short blog series on Estate Planning, so that some of the valuable ideas discussed during our retreat could be passed on to you. 

The first in our series will focus on the idea of leaving a legacy. We’ve already told you the wonderful story of how our dear departed friend, Jeanne, in her waning years, asked us to set up a gifting plan for her that would support the needs of children’s education, the elderly, and the working poor. 

 Of course it’s important to have a plan in place for distributing your assets to your heirs and loved ones. But you are more than the sum total of your accumulated wealth. Throughout your life, you have had rich experiences; you have accumulated knowledge and wisdom, and you’ve learned from your mistakes.  We may fail to realize that our experiences have untold value, and that others can learn from those experiences.

So how can you leave a wisdom legacy?

How many of us wish we had known our grandparents better?  Who would not treasure the unexpected discovery of an old secret diary left in a dusty attic? Or a faded handwritten love letter from your grandfather to your grandmother—the one mailed from the front lines?  From ancient cave art to tales told around campfires, stories have been told and retold over eons, and have created the fabric of our lives. 

Story telling is in our DNA, and future generations of your family will also appreciate a chance to benefit from your wisdom. But where do you begin? Here are a few tips offered by Ben: 

Start by triggering your memory and doing an inventory of your life.

  1. Make a list of people who have added meaning to your life. Include the things you learned from them, things you admired about them.
  2. Make a list of the things that have given you the most pleasure and fulfillment. What was so special about them and what traits did it bring out in you?
  3. List the places you’ve lived and jot down memories of people and experiences you enjoyed while there. 

Today there are plenty of tools and resources available for writing and archiving your stories. If you need some guidance, your tech-savvy kids or grandkids will know what to do.   

And sorry . . . but just saying you are not a writer, is no excuse!  Let them interview you and record the conversation. It can be transcribed and saved.  Getting your family involved can be a rewarding way to share the experience of telling your story.   

Everyone has a story!  Don’t miss the opportunity to tell yours and leave a legacy of wisdom. 

So I’m taking my own advice and making a legacy video, documenting pictures of my elders, and telling stories for others to share.  We’ll make them easy for anyone to download and select the parts that they want to keep.  With the video and pictures stored in the Cloud, they may last much longer than the faded tintype photos that were found in our great-great grandmother’s photo album. 

Along with the stories on video, written memories, and pictures, I’m hoping to leave a legacy that can be shared from generation to generation.  My great-grandchildren will be able to connect to the traditions and history of the people who came before them.   

 


5 Money Tips for June Grads

by Ashley Baldwin


Hey, recent grads!  First of all, congratulations! You’ve studied hard, you’ve got your diploma, you’ve earned a degree, and now . . . get set . . . your real education is about to begin.

If you’ve got student debt, and most likely you do, you’ve also got a lot of questions . . . like what your next move should be.

In spite of all the knowledge you picked up in college, chances are that Personal Finance 101 wasn’t part of the curriculum. So, to help you to start practicing some good money management, here are a few basic tips to follow once you land that first job.

 

1.  Your Financial Roadmap

You’d never set out for an important journey without having some kind of roadmap or itinerary. And for this particular trip, the roadmap is called a “budget.”

Mapping out a budget is a great way to help you monitor when you might be getting off course toward spending more than you make. Begin first by adding up the essentials, like rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, student loans, and possibly a car loan. This way you can see how much is left over for other spending and saving.

 

2. A Fall-back Fund

In our younger days, we all felt invincible, but let’s be honest . . . stuff happens!  You should always be prepared for the unexpected by beginning to sock away three to six months worth of your earnings in a savings account. Even the smallest regular deposits will help you build good saving habits. The most painless way is to set up an automatic paycheck deposit and deduction from your checking account. This way you will have the funds to fall back on when the going gets tough, or when that unanticipated expenditure pops up.

 

3. Retirement

Now there’s a word we bet you weren’t expecting! And no, this is not about your dad.

It’s about you.  Today! Because time-travel sci-fi movies not withstanding, the day of your own retirement will inevitably arrive.  Meanwhile, if you need an incentive to start saving now, Google “benefits of compounding interest.”  You will discover how the money you save now can reap rewards down the road. And ask your employer about a 401K Plan. You’re going to thank us later for that little tip!

 

4. A Good Credit History

Empty out your wallet right now and cut up all but one essential credit card. You will be eliminating needless temptation, and the possibility of digging yourself into a deep pit of debt. You do need one card, which you can use to help build a credit history, but make sure you always pay that card off on time and in full! We cannot stress this enough!

 

5. Financial Independence

You are asking, “Wait, what? Becoming financial independent?  Me?”   OK, this may seem totally out of the realm of possibility today, especially as you probably need to extend that Top Ramen diet for a while longer.

Nevertheless, today is when you should begin making many of those important money decisions in your life. You can take the ideas we have suggested and nurture them. How successful you are in establishing good money habits will determine your financial future. It’s going to seem overwhelming in the beginning, but with time, patience, and some sensible planning, becoming financially independent is definitely possible.

Never hesitate to consult with a financial advisor. They can review your situation and steer you in the right direction.

Congratulations on a job well done, grads!  And Good Luck!

 

The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Judith McGee and not necessarily those of Raymond James. 401(k) plans are long-term retirement savings vehicles. Withdrawal of pre-tax contributions and/or earnings will be subject to ordinary income tax and, if taken prior to age 59 1/2, may be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.


ESG: an Acronym for Measuring Value

by Judith A. McGee


More people are asking values-based questions before investing their money. They ask about diversity, sustainability, corporate management, and environmental policies.  It is not uncommon to hear, “XYZ Corporation engages in practices that are harmful to the environment, so I don’t want their stocks in my portfolio.” Or, “I don’t want to invest in anything related to fossil fuels, or in a company that doesn’t treat their employees fairly.” 

It’s not unusual in progressive Portland, Oregon to hear such conversations.  Corporate leaders and entrepreneurs are listening and taking note of an emerging movement—one in which individuals purposefully seek out companies with strong Environmental, Social, and Governance policies (ESG). Smart money management is now defined as “those who seek to match their investment dollars to their personal values.” This has led an increasing number of companies to adopt a more structured approach to ESG because, simply put, it just makes good business sense. 

There is a building consensus that corporations who take care of their people and the environment will simply do better over time.  It’s a movement largely driven, not only by Boomers, but also by younger generations.  In fact, Gen Y first coined the phrase,  “Our values define us.”  

ESG.  What exactly does that mean?  Here is a simple breakdown to help you do your research:

Environmental: This refers to a company’s energy use, pollution, natural resource conservation, and animal treatment. It considers how environmental risks might affect a company’s income and how the company manages those risks. Think BP, or certain fracking activities that are raising environmental concerns. What is a company’s track record for disposing of hazardous waste, how do they handle toxic emissions, are they in compliance with government environmental regulations?

Social:  When researching a business’s relationships, note if they work with suppliers that hold the same values as the business claims to hold. Do they donate a portion of profits to the community or get involved with volunteerism? Are the working conditions healthy and safe for employees? Does the company consider stakeholders’ interests?

Governance: Does the businesses demonstrate accurate and transparent accounting methods, and allow common stock holders a vote on important issues? There should be no conflicts of interest when choosing board members, and it goes without saying that if companies are involved in any illegal activities or have made political contributions that directly benefit their own business, they are automatically eliminated from the viable investment list.

Here is another acronym to understand: MGM – or Market Governance Mechanisms.These are formal or informal rules that have been specifically designed to change the behavior of various economic decision-makers – including individuals, businesses, organizations and governments – and to encourage sustainable development. If one travels to places like India or China, it becomes evident that there really are no “local problems,” whether financial, environmental, or societal. We live in a global community.  

So the big question is, “If ESG investing becomes more of a mainstream movement will it encourage more MGMs?”Just being able to raise such a question bodes well for the future of business, the economy, and the planet. 

Sir Richard Branson, founder of The Virgin Group, is a big proponent for these ideals. A consummate optimist and self-made billionaire, Branson believes that a “clean revolution” is not a choice between saving our planet and growing our businesses. Such concepts are not mutually exclusive. “I think they just need to change their way of thinking about running their businesses—make them a force for good, not just a force to make money,” Branson said. “If they think like that and they empower all their staff to think like that, they can make a massive difference.”

Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recomandation. Any opinions are those of Judith A. McGee and not necessaruly those of Raymond James.