Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How to Declare Your Financial Independence

Tips from a man who did, plus apps and sites that can help you
Richard Eisenberg for Next Avenue
Jonathan Chevreau now lives the life he wrote about in Findependence Day

We’ve just scooted passed the 4th of July, so what better time to talk about a few ways that could help people in their 50s or 60s declare their
financial independence within the next few years?

You may have noticed that the goal of “financial independence” and its close cousin “financial freedom” seem to be replacing the traditional goal of “retirement.”

“Freedom and freedom money really resonate a lot more than ‘retirement’ when we do focus groups,” said Chris Brown, a partner at the
Hearts & Wallets financial services market research firm.

Freedom, Not Retirement

The financial advisory industry is onto this, too. Merrill Lynch, for example, has announced a holistic approach for clients, known as Clear. “It’s not just about investing. It’s about your life priorities and connecting your life to your finances to help enable those things,” David Tyrie, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told me.

Some smaller financial advisory firms say they’ve been doing this kind of client counseling for years. “We believe it’s the right way to manage money,” said Dave Richmond, a founding partner at Richmond Brothers in Jackson, Mich.

Living the Financial Independence Life

A guy who knows a lot about financial independence — and just began living it — is financial writer and editor Jonathan Chevreau. I relayed his advice last year when Chevreau was the editor of Canada’s MoneySense magazine (the northern version of our Money) and had just published the U.S. edition of Findependence Day, a “fictional finance” novel.

But on May 20, 2014, a month after his 61st birthday, Chevreau left his magazine job and declared his own financial independence.

Although he’s now blogging twice a week for MoneySense (“contracting back 40 percent of what I was paid as a salaried employee”), Chevreau is otherwise taking the summer off to watch the World Cup, travel to Turkey and read books on semi-retirement. After that, he intends to work when he wants and only as much as he wants, writing fiction and nonfiction and taking on speaking engagements.

“It’s experimental,” Chevreau said. “I’m learning as I go.”

In truth, he noted, his financial independence timing “wasn’t particularly mine.” But it was pretty close. “I would’ve preferred to go another year,” he said.

Chevreau’s 5 Financial Independence Rules

Now that he’s living the goal he novelized, I asked Chevreau whether he’d amend any of the five rules his book laid out on achieving financial independence:

1. Pay off your home in full.

2. Find multiple sources of income for retirement.

3. Develop “guerilla frugality” habits.

4. Save 20 percent of your gross income.

5. Invest with a “Lazy ETF” portfolio — selecting, say, three Exchange Traded Funds (a U.S. stock fund, an international stock fund and a U.S. bond fund) and holding onto them, rebalancing as needed.

Chevreau said he is not only sticking by them, he’s been living them, with a strong debt aversion and an allergy to excessive spending. He just sold his old Volvo and bought — for cash — a two-year old Camry Hybrid. “Its gas mileage is three times better than the Volvo’s,” said Chevreau.

Now that he’s not employed full-time, Chevreau said he’s an even bigger fan of the Easy ETF portfolio.

“When I was working full-time, I was constantly checking financial websites and listening to stock-oriented podcasts from The Motley Fool or Jim Cramer,” he noted. “Now, I’d prefer to have the Easy ETF portfolio in this phase of my life and not have the anxiety of individual stocks going up and down.”

2 Electronic Tools to Declare Financial Independence

If you’d like free electronic help to achieve financial independence, I have two suggestions:

Freedom$. This is a nifty iPhone app from the Hearts & Wallets folks. (You can find it in the iTunes store or at

Freedom$ lets you see how you’re doing compared to others your age. More important, it quickly shows you how much sooner you’ll achieve “financial freedom” by adopting any, or all, of the 10 financial behaviors of the most successful people in the annual survey of households the firm has conducted (20,000 have been surveyed over four years).

You start by just entering your age, your total assets and your total consumer debt (other than your mortgage). Then, Freedom$ calculates your Assets to Income Ratio. The goal: to become what Freedom$ calls a “10-timer,” where your assets equal 10 times your income.

Next, you get a Freedom Score: an estimate of how many years until you’ll achieve financial freedom. This number that will shrink if you take on the “good” behaviors and get extra points for doing so. For example, Freedom$ says, try to “save in a burst” by turbocharging the amount you’re putting away, something that could be easier once you’re no longer paying for your kids’ college education.

“Burst saving is three times more common among 10-Timers — 64 percent of them did it — making it one of the most important differences between 10-Timers and others,” said Brown.

The whole process should take about 30 minutes, longer if you want to give yourself electronic reminders to take actions that’ll help you find financial freedom sooner.

FlexScore is an excellent, free site to help you with day-to-day money management. I wrote about it last fall.

Like Freedom$, FlexScore also calculates a score for you and shows you how to raise the number. Since I first talked about FlexScore, the company has now also created FlexScore Pro, a version financial advisers can use with their clients.

Hope you had a safe and happy 4th and here’s hoping you achieve financial independence when you want.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.



Thursday, July 20, 2017

9 Ways Family Caregivers Can Get a Break

Here's how to get respite care, and sometimes get help paying for it
Sherri Snelling for Next Avenue

Credit: Adobe Stock

“Respite care” can be a little difficult to understand. The words don’t make it clear who is being helped. The “care” goes to the person who needs it due to illness or disability. The “respite” — a chance to rest and recharge — goes to the family member or other volunteer who would normally be on the spot, doing the caring. As for who gets helped by this? Everybody does.

“If family caregivers don’t take the time needed to care for themselves, we will face an additional health care crisis,” says Lily Sarafan, CEO of California-based Home Care Assistance, which provides support services including respite care. “Caregiver burnout can be associated with serious health issues including depression, and yet burnout is still not recognized as a real health issue in the eyes of many caregivers. Families and communities need to develop sustainable care plans that do not just rely on a single individual.”

Even when caregivers do recognize their need for respite, they might not seek it. For many, it’s hard to carve out the time or money to arrange respite care.

One place that tries to make the process easier for caregivers is the nonprofit ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center. ARCH is a searchable online state-by-state guide to respite service providers and sources of funding to help pay for care.

“Don’t wait until a crisis to use respite,” says Jill Kagan, ARCH’s program director. “If you wait until you are overwhelmed, it is less effective than if you plan consistent respite breaks.”

Here are eight more places that can help families get respite care:

Government-Funded Programs for Respite Care / Your Local Area Agency on is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging. It has a searchable locator feature for finding aging and caregiving resources, and it will lead you to one of the best one-stop-shops for help in your region, your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). AAAs are knowledgeable about all federal, state and local programs that might apply to your situation, including respite services and any financial aid that might be available to you. There are, for example, waiver and voucher programs that provide free respite care covered by Medicaid for those who meet program requirements. Kagan cautions that the waiting list for these programs is long, however. AAAs also administer federal dollars from initiatives such as the National Family Caregiver Support Program. Federal money that AAAs distribute to service providers in your community helps subsidize those services and lowers out-of-pocket costs for families.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — If you are caring for a veteran, look into the respite care provisions of the Veterans Administration (VA) Standard Medical Benefits Package, which allows for 30 days of free respite care per year for qualifying veterans and caregivers. The respite can be provided in the home, through an adult day care center or through VA nursing homes called Community Living Centers.

Legacy Corps — This program for military families and caregivers is part of AmeriCorps, run by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service. Legacy Corps volunteers, many of them military veterans and caregivers themselves, provide companionship in the home to care recipients — up to 10 hours a week, in some cases — allowing the family caregiver to take a break. Caregivers must apply and be accepted. Get more information on Legacy Corps through the VA Benefits Administration office in your area or through your region’s Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). Most ADRCs are part of an Area Agency on Aging. If your ADRC is a separate entity, your AAA will be able to help you connect with it.

Nonprofit Grant Providers for Respite Care

Some organizations offer support specific to the illness or disability a family is dealing with, including these two programs for Alzheimer’s respite care:

Hilarity for Charity — This nonprofit, started by actor-comedian Seth Rogen and his wife Lauren Miller Rogen, has provided grants for 191,000 hours of respite care for families living with Alzheimer’s disease. Care is provided by Hilarity for Charity’s partner in this project, the Home Instead Senior Care Network. Caregivers can apply at Hilarity for Charity.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America—The foundation provides annual grants to its nonprofit member organizations for respite care in local communities. Find out which organizations provide grants to caregivers at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America website.

Additional Respite Care Tips for Further Exploration

Try reaching out to other disease-related organizations (e.g., the Alzheimer’s Association, American Cancer Society, Easter Seals) to ask about grants or programs that give free or reduced-cost respite care. Check also with adult day care centers and faith-based organizations. Many have ways to provide or support respite care. Again, your Area Agency on Aging might know about these resources and be able to help you connect with them.

Programs also exist outside of the usual caregiving settings. The Family Caregiver Alliance based in San Francisco offers Bay Area residents a Camp for Caring. In this successful 20-year-old program, care recipients are cared for in a “camp” setting with health care professionals while family caregivers can stay at home and take a break.

Employers, Friends, Family

Your Workplace — A 2016 report from the Society for Human Resource Management showed both good and bad trends for working caregivers. On the positive side, 75 percent of employers with 50 or more employees provide full (unpaid) family and medical leave coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), up to 12 weeks of leave. Some states, such as California, have paid leave under the FMLA. The report also found that the number of employers offering access to respite care has doubled since 2005. Still, only six percent of all employers include this respite care benefit in their employee assistance programs. Check with your employer to learn which benefits are available to you as a caregiver.

Online Hubs for Care Coordination — Several online communities have been created to ease the task that falls to caregivers when friends and family want to help out — specifically helping with coordination. Most of these sites offer an online calendar where the caregiver can list tasks for which he or she would like help: grocery shopping, picking kids up from school, sitting with the care recipient so the caregiver can take a jog or a yoga class. Using these sites requires being willing to ask for help and inviting your friends and family into your private online community so they can see what you need and volunteer to do it. Two of the largest of these sites are Lotsa Helping Hands, which supports more than 100,000 caregiver online communities, and CaringBridge.

Caregiver Co-ops — These co-ops let caregivers bank “social capital” in the form of volunteer hours. Individual co-ops decide how their banking system will work, but in general the principle is that a caregiver who gives volunteer hours to help another caregiver can ask for equivalent hours of help from co-op members later on. Ask around at caregiver support groups to see if there’s a caregiver co-op in your community. Or consider starting a co-op with other caregivers you know.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.



Friday, July 14, 2017

Write Down Those Special Grandparent Moments

How to keep a journal or blog so you can both share memories
By Patricia Corrigan for Next Avenue

So many boomers are finding delight in nurturing grandchildren — and most of us also are amazed that they do grow up quickly. That rarely seemed the case when we were bringing up our own kids.

A traditional baby book stuffed with baby shower napkins, pink or blue ribbons and photos seems a bit outdated in this digital age, though many of us do make them for our grandchildren.

Another option is a journal.

You can write it on the computer and call it a blog, or on paper and call it a diary. Either way, recording special moments will help you recall every heartfelt emotion from the early days, months or years — depending on long you keep writing. Plus, you will have something meaningful to share with your grandchild when he or she is old enough.

It’s easy. You write what you want, long or short, and you write when you want. The idea is to preserve those moments that touch your heart. There are no deadlines, no required lengths, and no need to fret over spelling or grammar. This is just you, talking on paper or typing up your thoughts.

How to Begin

On the day in 2011 that I learned my daughter-in-law was pregnant, I started an online journal called “OH BOY! OH BOY! A Blog for My Grandson.” I added entries right up until his first birthday.

So what did I write about?

The news of the impending birth, the responses to that news from family and friends and even a sampling of the names we expectant grandparents hoped the baby would call us once he arrived and learned to speak.

I made a note when one of Max’s grandmas-to-be (he has three, lucky boy) first bought baby clothes. She sent me an email that read, “I’m going to send the kids a couple of them, but also hang one up on the living room wall to remind me of him coming. Fun, fun, fun!”

In the blog, I wrote that when I put these new items on the top shelf of the closet, I found not one, but two sock monkey dolls, purchased a few years earlier just in case I ever had a grandchild. In a later post, I dutifully recorded the history of sock monkey dolls.

Of course, I did my share of shopping too. Recreational shopping takes on an extra kick when a grandbaby is on the way! My first purchases were a blue hooded sweatshirt, size 6 months, and teensy tie-dye socks.

Include Warm Wishes from Others

I want Max to know that even people beyond his immediate family cared about him before he arrived, so I copied some emails from friends into the blog.

This came from my friend Carolyn: “What a lucky grandson he will be. He’ll learn the history of Ireland. He’ll learn about oceans. He’ll learn about whales. He’ll have all sorts of children’s books. I’m thinking he’s going to be brilliant!”

One day, I wrote about all the places we might go together: “We can go to the Galapagos when you are 7. Can’t wait for you to meet the marine iguanas! We can go whale watching at the Farallon Islands when you are 10. We can go to San Francisco Giants’ games whenever we feel like it. The California Academy of Sciences, the world-class art museums, the playgrounds — it’s all waiting for us. We’ll go and do and marvel at the world together!”

That day, clearly I was in Grandma-as-Auntie-Mame mode.

On the day of the baby shower, I showed up with a normal gift, but I also brought some of my son’s baby blankets and a few tiny outfits of his that I’d saved all these years — freshly washed, of course. In the blog, I recorded all that, to provide a “you-were-there” moment, along with warm wishes from people at the party.

A few weeks before the baby was due, I wrote this: “We toasted you at Thanksgiving. We spoke of you on Christmas Eve. We toasted you at Christmas dinner. At each event, we were hyper-aware that you will be among us soon. I imagine myself holding you, looking into your eyes. I imagine us becoming quite close. In some ways, you are the person I have been waiting to meet for a long time. I look forward to loving you.”

What older children wouldn’t want to read something like that about their impending arrival?

Report on the Birth and the First Days

Of course I wrote about The Phone Call from my son, saying the baby was here and mom and baby were both well. I also compiled a short list of famous people born the same day. And here is what I reported after my first meeting with Max:

“What an amazing moment. You — and me. For the first time. You were all bundled up in a blanket and had on a tiny hat that made your right ear fold over. At some point — I think when I moved you from my left arm to my right — your blanket shifted and out popped your tiny right hand, with long slender fingers. I touched your hand with my index finger — and you grabbed it. Yep — we are in this together, for the long haul.”

I made a list of visitors who came to see Max at the hospital and in the following months, once he was home. When he was three months old, I recorded a moment of grace: “Time and time again — as recently as yesterday afternoon — I held you while you slept. Sometimes rocking, sometimes sitting still, sometimes patting your back or arm or leg, sometimes just studying your beautiful face, I held you as you slept. What a remarkable gift.”

Write What Your Heart Tells You

You get the idea. Inspiration for this project came from one of Max’s grandmas. “Put together a blog about this journey for him to enjoy when he’s older,” she said. Looking back, I am so glad I listened!

And I think it’s great advice for anyone bubbling over with joy before or after the big event. Again, it’s easy. You just record your thoughts and feelings about the great gift that is the birth of a grandchild.

You write it down now so you can relive it all later, together.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.