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December 2019 E-Newsletter

Shop Intentionally to Avoid Holiday Overspending

Couple ShoppingThe holidays can be hard: cooking elaborate meals, facing frigid temperatures, making travel plans that please everyone. Overspending, however, is too easy. In fact, about 48 million Americans are still paying off credit card debt from last holiday season, according to a NerdWallet survey conducted by The Harris Poll. To avoid financial regrets in 2020, shop intentionally. Here’s how:

Understand why overspending is easy​
Ideally, your holidays are full of joy. But they may be loaded in other ways, like the pressure to buy everyone presents.

Gift-buying requires money, time and energy when you may already feel overwhelmed, says Los Angeles-based financial therapist Amanda Clayman. During the holidays, “we’re chasing a sort of emotional experience,” she says. Think: the love and happiness of a Hallmark movie.

But feelings of grief or longing may be more realistic. “This is a sad and lonely time for many people,” says Sarah Newcomb, behavioral economist for Morningstar. Shopping (for anything or everything) can be a convenient coping mechanism.

Marketers play on emotions
“Retailers are quick to tell you that if you’re not feeling particularly in the holiday spirit, then the solution is a gift or deal,” Clayman says.

Retailers also play on your sense of identity through marketing. They “show the life you want to be living,” says Newcomb, author of “Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead Without Leaving Your Values Behind.” You, too, can be the ultimate host, perfect Santa or unforgettable gift-giver — if you splurge on catering, buy every toy, or surprise your spouse with a Lexus.

“It’s not a coincidence that almost all the research on psychology and spending is in the marketing journals,” Newcomb says. “Marketers are highly aware of how deeply connected our purchases are to our sense of identity.”

Learn to shop intentionally
Recognize feelings, like sadness, and that they may lead to overspending. Plan to cope in another way, like calling a friend, Newcomb says.

Reflection can also help you outsmart marketing messages. “Get clear on your emotional goals for the holidays,” like connecting with family, Newcomb says. Ads showing people fulfilling your goal may provoke you to spend, she says. Recognize those loaded messages, and Newcomb says you’ll face “less of a subliminal pull.” Knowing your goals will also help you consider cheaper ways to achieve them.

Rethink gift-giving
Instead of everyone giving one another presents, swap names so you buy for only one person. Don’t forget the price cap. Newcomb’s family buys gifts for the children only. That decision “took a lot of stress off everybody,” she says, adding that the grown-ups cared only about spending time together anyway.

Make a shopping list
A list “makes the biggest difference in whether people shop frugally or not,” says Utpal Dholakia, professor of marketing at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business. Identify exactly what you need or want, or it will be too easy to impulse buy.

Research products and prices
Once you know what you want, Dholakia recommends researching brands and features. Find prices at many retailers so you can compare, and search online for price history. Marketers research ways to position products and price them in compelling ways, he says. Your homework will help you determine if those prices are actually bargains.

Be wary of markdowns
You’ll spot many items on sale that you want but aren’t on your list. Take a cue from Newcomb, who passed on a discounted sweater while shopping for a comforter. She told herself: “There are a thousand things in this store that are beautiful and that I’m not here for.”

Discounts don’t justify unplanned purchases, she says. Admire a product and its price, then move on. “If you bought everything that was a good deal, you’d run out of money immediately,” Newcomb says.

Skip the cart
Handle in-store shopping like a buffet, Clayman says. Like scouting the spread before loading a plate, peruse the store’s offerings before grabbing a cart.

Otherwise, you may fill it without reflecting. At that point, “you’ve already bonded with [the product],” Clayman says. “Putting it back feels like a loss.”

Give yourself time and space
Spending time apart from items you initially love is part of why the buffet strategy works. After circulating throughout the store, you may forget about them or lose interest.

Space and time are key, Clayman says. If you like something that’s not on your list, she suggests leaving the store and returning another time. You risk the item or its promotional price no longer being available. But around the holidays, she says, there are plenty of things to buy and deals to claim.

In many cases after leaving, Newcomb says, “the emotion cools, you think back and say ‘oh yeah, I’m glad I didn’t buy that.’”

The article, Shop Intentionally to Avoid Holiday Overspendingoriginally appeared on NerdWallet.

Free Winter Activities for Kids

Kids Playing in SnowIt’s hard to be a super-parent in winter, when short, frigid days lend themselves more to Netflix binges than family adventures. But there are actually plenty of winter activities for kids that will get them out of the house and — bonus! — cost nothing.

The first step to embracing these cold-weather activities is finding your motivation. Kara Wellman, creator of the website Moms Gone Outdoors, gets her kids pumped up with fun winter gear. Soft base layers and outerwear with animals on them “always helps them get excited about going outside,” she says.

And for Mom, “my biggest motivation is that I know I’m always going to be happier when I come back inside,” Wellman says.

The free, family-friendly activities below may add some happiness (not expenses) to your winter, too.

"Turn off the TV, bundle up and enjoy some bonding time."

1. Take daily walks
Going on walks is routine for the family of Lynne Somerman, founder of personal finance website The Wiser Miser. Early in the winter, Somerman, her wife and toddler made a ritual of walking in the mornings and after dinner. She says, “there’s an expectation that that’s just what we do at those times.” She adds that this routine has been so motivating that, after breakfast, her daughter typically bangs on the door and shouts, “go, go.”

The dog motivates Somerman’s family to walk, too. Pets have needs, after all, even when it’s freezing outside.

Play in the snow
Nothing wears out kids (and grown-ups) like wading through the snow. Somerman and her family, who live in Portland, Maine, enjoy snowshoeing. “It seems like you’re just taking a walk, but it’s actually quite challenging,” she says. “It’s a great way to get out some of that pent-up, sitting-around-the-house energy.” Golf courses and farms often open their property to snowshoers and cross-country skiers, she says.

If you don’t want to buy snowshoes, consider throwing on boots and going on a hike. That’s how Wellman has fun with her family. She suggests taking advantage of nearby parks.

And don’t forget the classics: snowpeople, snow angels, ice skating and sledding.

Stay inside-somewhere else
Turning off the TV and leaving the house can still boost morale, even on days when it’s too nasty to play outside. For example, Somerman and her family enjoy kid-friendly activities offered by the local library. To learn about these community happenings, she follows the library on social media and subscribes to the city newsletter. She also belongs to Facebook groups for local parents.

Somerman’s family also drives around to admire holiday lights and visits friends’ houses to play games and drink hot chocolate.

“It gets us out of the house and lightens up what can be — particularly in New England — a long, dark season,” she says.

The article, Free Winter Activities for Kids originally appeared on NerdWallet.

7 Reasons You Shouldn't Wait Until Spring to List Your Home for Sale

Winter offers some unique opportunities for sellers, so ignore your instincts to let your home hibernate. It’s one of real estate’s most enduring mantras: If you want to list your house, you should sit out the winter season and let it hit the market in the spring instead. But like so many things in life, finding the best time to sell a house or list that Boston, MA real estate is more complicated.

“The general school of thought — and it most often proves to be correct — is that listing your home in the spring market will reap the biggest benefit,” says salesperson Brad Malow of Douglas Elliman in New York, NY. “But late winter may actually be a prime time for coming to market as well.”
house in winter
Here are seven reasons why you shouldn’t wait until the ground has thawed to hammer in that For Sale sign.

1. Less inventory = more attention
Because everyone thinks they shouldn’t list their property under threat of snow and ice, there are very few homes to buy at the start of a new year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still potential buyers on the prowl. And if your house is the only game in town, you’re likely to have a lot more interest than in spring when the market is saturated.

“If there’s a shortage of desirable inventory, which often means a plethora of buyers waiting on the sidelines, a seller may experience multiple-offer situations whenever they choose to list,” says Malow. With fewer options, traditionally nit-picky home shoppers are more likely to forgo their “must-have” list and give your place a more open-minded look.

2. First-quarter job relocations
ompanies tend to place and/or relocate their workers during the first quarter of the new year. This means that every winter, there is an assured populace that’s looking for a new home, quickly. And good news for your asking price: This group often has some credited moving expenses to burn through. If you live close to a large corporation, ask your real estate agent how to target the new employees coming to town.

3. A locked-in real estate agent
Your real estate agent is relatively idle during the frosty months, a drag from their perspective but a boon from yours. And fewer clients means greater motivation to move the properties they represent. They also have more time and energy to focus on your cause, whether it’s finessing your online listing or talking you off the ledge when the selling process becomes challenging or stressful.

4. No landscaping, no problem
Listing your place in the spring or summer means keeping up with the landscaping (curb appeal!), which can be arduous. You’ll need to invest some time and money into new plantings and possibly a little sod, or at the very least, some potted plants and lawn maintenance. And if your landscaping is actually a selling point, the pruning responsibilities are even greater. You’ll need to trim the hedges, tend the flowers, and otherwise make sure your curbfront property and backyard are up to snuff at every possible moment.

In wintertime, though, the living is easy. If there’s snow, you shovel — that’s pretty much it. No after-work and weekend hours toiling to maintain your outdoor space, and no stresses about its supposed inadequacies.

5. A lighter footprint, literally
Overall, there are quite likely fewer buyers on the prowl during the winter months — more focused and more motivated, yes, but undeniably fewer. Consider this a blessing. Fewer showings means fewer people stomping through your home, tracking dirt and mud all over your carpets as they open your medicine cabinets and peek into your closets.

It also means fewer open houses, which can take hours of preparation and don’t always pay off. If you do have a winter open house, you’ll also probably have more motivated visitors — there are very few window-shoppers during the cold-weather months, so you’re not going to see your neighbor’s son’s friend meandering over to report back on your recent kitchen reno.

6. A faster home sale
It’s counterintuitive but true: Homes actually sell more quickly in the winter months, even in cold-weather cities like Chicago, IL. There’s no general consensus on exactly why this is true, although low inventory is quite likely a big part of it. Also? In winter, most people just don’t want to slog through showing after showing. Instead, they want the buying process to be over and done with, and so they’re more willing to pull the trigger.

7. A higher listing price
Another surprise: Statistics show that homes actually sell at a slightly higher price in winter. This owes to several less mysterious factors. For starters, your real estate agent is going to be more adamant about pricing the property just right out of fear the home will languish on the market until spring. (If a property price reflects both the current market and the surrounding neighborhood, that home is more likely to go under agreement at a favorable price.) Motivated buyers might also submit a price that’s too good to refuse. Finally, a fear of rising mortgage rates — rates tend to go up in the spring — might cause a buyer to be more willing to pay a higher price upfront. Whatever the reason, it’s a happy discovery for many people who finalize a home sale when the weather outside is frightful.

If you have any mortgage related questions, our Mortgage Lenders is here to help!

This article, 7 Reasons You Shouldn't Wait Until Sprint To List Your Home For Sale, originally appeared on

Identity Theft: Don't Get Hustled in the Holiday Bustle 

You may be too busy scouting for sales and checking things off your to-do list to notice, but identity thieves go looking for targets this time of year. And the more preoccupied you are, the more attractive you become as a potential victim.

While you can’t eliminate the risk, there are many ways to help reduce it, says Carrie Kerskie, identity theft expert and author of “Your Public Identity: Because Nothing is Private Anymore.”

It’s smart to be skeptical of deals that seem too good to be true — you could be buying counterfeit merchandise or being lured to a website that exists only to steal credit information.

There are also good reasons to favor credit cards over debit cards. Debit cards give you far less time to report fraudulent use and get your money back. They also offer fewer consumer protections than credit cards.

On the other hand, debit cards can be effective in helping you limit spending to what you have budgeted. Set up real-time alerts so that you get a text or email whenever the card is used. If it’s used fraudulently, report it immediately.

Safe shopping online
According to Experian, 43% of people reporting that they were victims of identity theft in 2017 said it happened online, during the holidays. While shopping online makes it easy to compare prices, be cautious. Here are some tips for shopping safely online:

Shop on websites that you are familiar with.
Double-check that you have typed in the URL correctly before you order anything or enter payment information. Misspelled versions of real websites are sometimes purchased by criminals, Kerskie says, a practice known as “typosquatting.”

Print a copy of your order confirmation rather than relying on the website to send it to you. It might be your only evidence of your purchase.

“Look for the green padlock before entering payment information,” advises Kerskie. She cautions that the green padlock, located before the URL, is not foolproof. Criminals can buy security certificates to get it. However, the absence of one is a sign you should shop elsewhere.

Before you order, search online for customer complaints, advises Kerskie. Pay special attention to any that mention products not delivered or problems getting refunds.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi to shop online. If you must do it, get a virtual private network so that your information is encrypted.

In-person shopping safety tips
Embedded chips have made in-store fraud more difficult, and more criminals are going online, according to a study published last year by Javelin, a digital finance research firm. “Card not present fraud” — where a charge is made by phone, postal mail or online — has become 81% more likely than in-store fraud. That’s not to suggest shopping at the mall is risk-free. Good habits for shopping in person include:

Know where your purse or backpack is at all times and keep it zipped or snapped shut. That means not turning your back when it’s in a shopping cart or stepping away to use the restroom and leaving it in a restaurant booth.

Keep your cards in a wallet credit card holder rather than loose in a pocket.

If you buy from an online marketplace and need to meet in person, choose a busy, well-lighted location, and don’t go alone.

Password-protect your smartphone. Especially if you use Apple Wallet or Google Pay, your cards are vulnerable. Kerskie says a password is more secure than a thumbprint or facial recognition.

Account for every card you took with you when you return home.

Check statements carefully and make sure you recognize every purchase.

Also, keep tabs on your credit reports and scores. Many personal finance websites provide free credit reports and scores to consumers. Applications or accounts you don’t recognize can tip you off to a problem early, when it’s easier to resolve.

This article, Identity Theft: Don't Get Hustled in the Holiday Bustle, originally appeared on Nerdwallet.

Coulee Investment Center: Retirement Distributions After the Age 70 and a Half.

If you have assets in a qualified retirement plan, such as a company-sponsored 401(k) plan or a traditional individual retirement account (IRA), you'll want to be aware of several rules that may apply to you when you take a distribution.

Required Minimum Distributions During Your Lifetime

Many people begin withdrawing funds from qualified retirement accounts soon after they retire in order to provide annual retirement income. These withdrawals are discretionary in terms of timing and amount until the account holder reaches age 70½. After that, failure to withdraw the required minimum amount annually may result in substantial tax penalties. Thus, it may be prudent to familiarize yourself with the minimum distribution requirements.

For traditional IRAs, individuals must generally begin taking required minimum distributions no later than April 1 following the year in which they turn 70½ and by December 31 every year thereafter. The same generally holds true for 401(k)s and other qualified retirement plans. (Note that some plans may require plan participants to remove retirement assets at an earlier age.) However, required minimum distributions from a 401(k) may be delayed until retirement if the plan participant continues to be employed by the plan sponsor beyond age 70½ and does not own more than 5% of the company.

In accordance with IRS regulations, minimum distributions are determined using one standard table based on the IRA owner's/plan participant's age and his or her account balance. Thus, required minimum distributions generally are no longer tied to a named beneficiary. There is one exception, however. IRA owners/plan participants who have a spousal beneficiary who is more than 10 years younger can base required minimum distributions on the joint life expectancy of the IRA owner/plan participant and spousal beneficiary.

These minimum required distribution rules do not apply to Roth IRAs. Thus, during your lifetime, you are not required to receive distributions from your Roth IRA.

Additional Considerations for Employer-Sponsored Plans
The table below is general in nature and not a complete discussion of the options, advantages, and disadvantages of various distribution options. For example, there are different types of annuities, each entailing unique features, risks, and expenses. Be sure to talk to a tax or financial advisor about your particular situation and the options that may be best for you.


In addition to required minimum distributions, removing money from an employer-sponsored retirement plan involves some other issues that need to be explored. Often, this may require the assistance of a tax or financial professional, who can evaluate the options available to you and analyze the tax consequences of various distribution options.

Lump-Sum Distributions
Retirees usually have the option of removing their retirement plan assets in one lump sum. Certain lump sums qualify for preferential tax treatment. To qualify, the payment of funds must meet requirements defined by the IRS:
  • The entire amount of your balance in employer-sponsored retirement plans must be paid in a single tax year.
  • The amount must be paid after you turn 59½ or separate from service.
  • You must have participated in the plan for five tax years.
A lump-sum distribution may qualify for preferential tax treatment if you were born before January 2, 1936. For instance, if you were born before January 2, 1936, you may qualify for
10-year forward income averaging on your lump-sum distribution, based on 1986 tax rates. With this option, the tax is calculated assuming the account balance is paid out in equal amounts over 10 years and taxed at the single taxpayer's rate. In addition, you may qualify for special 20% capital gains treatment on the pre-1974 portion of your lump sum.

If you qualify for forward income averaging, you may want to figure your tax liability with and without averaging to see which method will save you more. Keep in mind that the amounts received as distributions are generally taxed as ordinary income.

To the extent 10-year forward income averaging is available, the IRS also will give you a break (minimum distribution allowance) if your lump sum is less than $70,000. In such cases, taxes will only be due on a portion of the lump-sum distribution. If you roll over all or part of an account into an IRA, you will not be able to elect forward income averaging on the distribution.

Also, the rollover will not count as a distribution in meeting required minimum distribution amounts.

Periodic Distributions
If you choose to receive periodic payments that will extend past the year your turn age 70½, the amount must be at least as much as your required minimum distribution, to avoid penalties. 


This table shows required minimum distribution periods for tax-deferred accounts for unmarried owners, married owners whose spouses are not more than 10 years younger than the account owner, and married owners whose spouses are not the sole beneficiaries of their accounts.

Source: IRS Publication 590.

Other Considerations
If your plan's beneficiary is not your spouse, keep in mind that the IRS will limit the recognized age gap between you and a younger nonspousal beneficiary to 10 years for the purposes of calculating required minimum distributions during your lifetime.

There are several considerations to make regarding your retirement plan distributions, and the changing laws and numerous exceptions do not make the decision any easier. It is important to consult competent financial advisors to determine which option is best for your personal situation.

Have financial questions? Shari Hopkins, our Certified Financial Planner, will provide you with financial guidance through every stage of your financial journey.
Speak to a tax or financial advisor about your alternatives before making a decision.
2 Annuity guarantees are backed by the claims-paying ability of the issuing company.

Required Attribution
Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by DST Systems, Inc. or its sources, neither DST Systems, Inc. nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall DST Systems, Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content. © 2017 DST Systems, Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited, except by permission. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions.

This material was prepared for the Coulee Investment Center and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty.

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