What is your idea of an ideal date with your mate?

Ellie Kay, Personal Finance ExpertBy Ellie Kay, Personal Finance Expert

On special days, whether it’s an anniversary, Valentine’s, a birthday or the big proposal, we all like to do things for our significant other to make them feel loved. But while buying a beautiful piece of jewelry may make them feel special, creating a mound of debt in the process isn’t ideal. Spending now shouldn’t mean not saving for later. Here are some ways to have a cheap date without being a cheap date.

There are quite a few ways to save a lot when eating out and still have a nice time together.  For example, before your date, go to your favorite restaurant’s Twitter or Facebook page and see what specials they are offering to get the best value. You can also go to Restaurant.com where gift certificates go on sale. Also check in with local group buying sites such as Groupon for deals.

If you have a little more to spend and want to take in a show, check out broadwaybox.com or goldstar.com to find great prices on tickets.  Or consider buying a season’s pass to a museum at www.museumca.org  where not only can you visit your local museum whenever you want for the year, but you also have privileges at 400 other museums.

Romantically Challenged? The “Creative Romantic Ideas” app gives ideas that are ranked by price and difficulty, from personalized M&Ms to more elaborate ideas that go beyond the usual candy and flowers. Open Table is another great app that will help you avoid being caught without a restaurant reservation. Finally, there’s a free app called Cineplex Mobile which is useful for any occasion when you want to find out what’s playing at a theatre near you.

In order to be prepared for a long and fulfilling future with your mate, it’s important to plan for the quality of life you want in retirement. Money savvy couples who are looking for smart retirement solutions and more control of their long-term finances will recognize the important role that fixed indexed annuities (FIAs) play in any balanced financial plan for their future.  I have found that fixed indexed annuities offer certainty during uncertain times that other financial products cannot because they provide protection from stock market volatility, offer guaranteed interest and income, and also provide the opportunity for additional interest when markets are up. Understand that FIAs are typically used in addition to other retirement vehicles (such as a 401(k) or IRA) to add balance to a retirement plan—they aren’t intended to be your only source of retirement income, but to help moderate risk in your portfolio so you can enjoy the finer things throughout your retirement.

In my partnership with the IALC (Indexed Annuity Leadership Council), I have found a great option to recommend to my readers and viewers. So the next time you go on a date with your mate, don’t forget to discuss your financial future so that in the future, your dates will be great!

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The New Age of Retirement and How to Prepare: Tips from Kiplinger

An interview on the changing face of retirement with Susan Garland, editor of Kiplinger’s Retirement Report

The Indexed Annuity Leadership Council recently sat down with editor of Kiplinger’s Retirement Report @KiplingerRetire, Susan Garland @susanbgarland, to get her perspective on the changing landscape of retirement and what consumers should know and do to prepare.

With the announcement of myRA and the discussion around pension cuts, do you think the landscape of retirement, as we know it, is changing?

Policymakers are beginning to acknowledge that large numbers of people are entering retirement without adequate savings to last a lifetime. Social Security was supposed to be just one leg of the “three-legged stool” of retirement income, along with income from defined benefit pension plans and from savings. With employers pulling out of pension plans, personal savings will become more important than ever. Unfortunately, many people are not building up enough savings to carry them through a long retirement.

The federal government is now struggling to find a middle ground—by encouraging the creation of a pension-like system for some workers without imposing new requirements on business. MyRA is recognition, although on a small scale, that new incentives must be put in place to encourage more personal savings. There is also a proposal by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) that would automatically enroll workers in a pension-like, professionally managed plan funded by worker income. Other lawmakers are drawing up legislation, as well.

How will the way people prepare for retirement change in the next 10 years?

The economy is changing. Median income is still below the levels of December 2007, before the recession. The Census Bureau reports that income for the top fifth of people has increased, while income for those in the middle has declined and income for those in the bottom has stagnated. That means that the vast middle will have a harder time setting aside the money that they will need for retirement, which will include health care expenses. While many people ten years ago may have had at least some pension income, people who prepare for retirement in the next ten years will need to set aside additional money from an ever-shrinking paycheck. That will be a real challenge. Many people will need to cut back on discretionary spending. They also are likely to need to work longer than people before them—if they remain healthy enough to work, and if they can find work.

For millenials starting in the workforce, where should they get started in saving for their retirement?

This generation is entering an economy when high-paying jobs are tougher to find. Many also are saddled with huge college loans. Still, young people should try their best to find jobs with a 401(k) or another other tax-favored retirement plan. They also should understand how pre-tax contributions work—just knowing about the tax break could provide some incentive. They also should set aside at least enough money to get any employer match, and understand that they are leaving money on the table if they don’t. And, they need to know how important it is not to cash out their 401(k) when they leave a job. Many do not know the mechanics of rolling the money into an IRA. Nor are many aware that they pay both income tax and a penalty if they cash out. 

What’s the best way a person can decide what their retirement portfolio should consist of?

Many people who do not understand the markets would be best off simply investing in a target date retirement plan. These plans invest in a diversified portfolio of stock and bond mutual funds. You choose a fund with your likely retirement year—say, 2050. As the investor gets older, the allocation in bonds gets larger while the allocation in stocks, considered a riskier investment, declines. The investor could set up automatic monthly contributions to the fund.

Investors who want to be more hands-on should consider a diversified portfolio of index funds, which are low cost and track certain benchmarks, such the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index. They should be sure that the funds are diversified among domestic and foreign securities, and among large and small companies. And they should figure out their risk tolerance—someone who is terrified of market volatility should hold a smaller allocation of stocks than those who are willing to ride out roller coaster times.


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De-Stress for Less

Ellie Kay, Personal Finance Expert

By Ellie Kay, Personal Finance Expert

American families face stress on a regular basis with busy lifestyles and hectic schedules. A CNN poll reveals that the number-one reason for stress in most countries is money. You can get the stress out of your life without breaking the family budget by trying these 3 stress busters.

Stress Buster: Exercise
Even if you’ve been sedentary for years, a little movement can go a long way toward improving your health and ability to deal with stress. Here are the top five reasons to get moving today:


  • Improves mood by pumping out “feel good” hormones
  • Alleviates anxiety and nervousness
  • Releases muscular tension and stiffness
  • Detoxifies your body by stimulating your lymphatic system
  • Improves energy levels

Stress Buster: Sleep
Relax. Sleep. Things will be better in the morning, right? Not always. Many people suffer from insomnia and are wound so tightly that just trying to go to sleep increases their stress. Others are simply pushing themselves so hard at the job or with other life expectations that like exercise, they think they don’t have time to sleep. If you are one of those people, do whatever you can to reverse this unhealthy pattern. Statistics reveal that those who don’t get adequate sleep consistently age faster and tend to put on excess weight and keep it on.

Stress Buster: A Proactive Plan
Whether it has to do with fiscal or physical health, there are failure factors that can rob us of our peace of mind and cause us to stress. One of the number one failure factors is not having a plan. I don’t believe that people plan to fail, they just fail to plan and this is the biggest obstacle that prevents people from getting both their health and wealth in order. When you commit your plan to paper, you are far more likely to follow through with that plan.

  • For health, stick to your workout plan by enlisting a workout friend.
  • For finances, it’s important to utilize calculators that can help you determine your risk tolerance, how much you should be saving, etc.
  • To reduce stress, I always suggest that part of your retirement plan should include funding a 401(k), paying down consumer debt and balancing your portfolio by investing in a fixed indexed annuity. In today’s market uncertainty, your financial portfolio needs a balanced amount of risk and guarantees. Indexed annuities give you peace of mind by providing steady, guaranteed lifetime income, while protecting you from market volatility.

Additionally, here are a few other tips for de-stressing without spending:

  • Take a power nap.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • People-watch on a bench.
  • Light a candle.
  • Eat a sack lunch at a park or somewhere outside.
  • Take a stroll and stop to smell some roses.
  • Write out favorite quotes or passages of literature and put it somewhere you will see it.
  • Call a friend or family member you haven’t talked to in a while.

I know you are aware of these simple pleasures, but do you practice them? Intentional breaks from your usual routine can make a huge difference not only in your stress level, but in your overall productivity later in the day.

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Is myRA a Solution to America’s Retirement Crisis?

In the State of the Union address last week, President Obama tackled an issue facing the American people – the impending retirement crisis.

The market downfall of 2008 affected many Americans’ finances, particularly those approaching retirement. With high unemployment and stagnant wages, many Americans have continued to struggle to put away enough money for retirement.

The program President Obama introduced is called myRA – a government guaranteed retirement savings program aimed at helping people save even if they have a limited income and do not have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans.

The administration estimates about half of American workers do not have 401(k) plans or other employer-sponsored work plans. Now, anyone in a household earning $191,000 a year or less can use myRA to plan for their financial future with an initial contribution of $25.

MyRA accounts were created to provide a safe and secure investment that will not decline in value.  The accounts are government guaranteed, so they will not lose value despite economic downturns and will pay the same interest as the Government Securities Fund (G Fund).

Though this is a step in the right direction by encouraging Americans to invest in their retirement future, for most it will not be enough. The accounts have a maximum limit $15,000 before it is required to be rolled over to a traditional IRA, proving they are not meant to be Americans’ primary retirement vehicle.

You would likely need 30 years to double your investment in myRA, showing the importance of a diversified financial plan and one that starts early. Additionally, iut is important to think about how to convert your investment to income that will last throughout your life after retirement. Fixed indexed annuities can play an important role in solidifying your retirement plan by providing that vehicle of guaranteed income.

While the IALC applauds the Obama Administration for putting a national spotlight on the retirement crisis in America, for most people, myRA will fall short on ensuring a comfortable nest egg alone.


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Be Physically and Fiscally Healthier in the New Year

Ellie Kay, Personal Finance ExpertBy Ellie Kay, Personal Finance Expert

Our lives are driven by good and bad habits. While good habits allow us to reap positive rewards, bad habits can produce the negative consequences of excessive debt and overweight bodies. Each year, we make resolutions to try to encourage the good and curb the bad. But trying is not enough, we must train our minds to respond differently to the health and wealth challenges we face.

Since habits have such power in our lives, it makes sense that discovering our bad habits and replacing them with productive ones would be a wise use of our time and energy. This is why my co-author, Danna Demetre and I wrote the new book: Lean Body Fat Wallet. Here we identify three habits that can dramatically transform your body and wallet:

1. The 3D Habit: The 3D habit deters you from succumbing to temptation to seek instant gratification. The three “D”s are easy to remember (each stands for a way to change bad habits into healthy ones): determine—distract—delay.

Whenever you realize that you are going to be in a situation that may challenge your resolve to stick to your new health or financial plan, determine beforehand how you are going to handle it. Rather than just responding to the situations as they emerge, give some forethought to common and occasional circumstances that may test you. You can practice new strategies to distract yourself from the temptation and to delay gratification until the time you decide is appropriate in light of your desired goal.

2. The In and Out Habit: Everyone knows that if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Similarly, if you spend more money than you make, you will find yourself in deep debt. Yet too many people ignore the impact of little indulgences and expenditures on their bottom line, and find themselves with extra pounds and debt to shed. Being consistently conscious of your intake versus output is a habit worth forming. Most people err greatly when “guesstimating” their intake of calories or expenditures. Gaining awareness of these details can turn the tables favorably on your lifestyle. Tracking is a great way to get on top of this.

For health tracking, try a free app like “My Fitness Pal” to keep up with calories taken in and exercise burning off those calories. For tracking finances, try an interactive budgeting guide or a savings calculator.

3. The sustainable Lifestyle Habit: Most resolutions focus on finding short-term fixes to long-term problems, which is generally a recipe for failure. The vast majority of people who pay off consumer debt using home equity loans end up acquiring comparable or greater debt within two years. The same is true for people who follow a fad diet. These temporary band-aids can actually produce more problems down the line and unless you want to still be plagued with a heavier body and lighter pockets in your golden years, it is best to habitually seek solutions that will produce lasting results.

Instead of making extreme weight loss goals resolve to change your behavior one thing at a time – add five more minutes of activity each day or eat one less dessert.

When it comes to debt reduction, focus on taking bite-sized chunks instead of looking for a way to eradicate it all at once using expensive alternatives. And when it comes to wealth building and growing your nest egg, focus on accumulation and regular income, rather than pure growth can be the way to go. Adding conservative financial vehicles to your retirement plan, like fixed indexed annuities, can insulate you from volatility and risk, which will offer growth and a steady lifetime income.

When you follow the habits outlined here, making wise health and wealth decisions will become automatic. Which habits can you to try and implement in your daily routine so that you can live a healthier and wealthier life?

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Study: Boomers Still Not Prepared for Retirement

By Jim Poolman, Executive Director

Financial forecasters and retirement experts have warned about the looming retirement crisis in America and one thing is abundantly clear: many Americans are not prioritizing their retirement savings.

According to a recent study by Fidelity Investments, only 45 percent of Baby Boomers are saving enough to cover their basic retirement costs, including just housing, health care and food.

At the median, Boomers will only be able to cover 81 percent of their retirement costs, according to an article recently published by Market Watch. With many other financial obligations and difficult economic times, retirement saving is often delayed. But the need for adequate retirement savings becoming increasingly important as life expectancy rises. The lack of sufficient savings for Baby Boomers could mean delaying retirement, working during retirement and drastically changing their lifestyle.

With the volatility of the stock market and the decreasing number of companies offering pension plans, the importance of having a diversified financial plan is more important than ever. Fixed indexed annuities can play an important role in solidifying your retirement plan by offering peace of mind through guaranteed income. In addition to mitigating risk in down markets, fixed indexed annuities offer the opportunity to earn additional interest when the markets are doing well. Check out our video on the basics of fixed indexed annuities for more information on how this product can fit into your plan.

To see if you are saving sufficient funds for retirement use one of our retirement calculators.

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The biggest risk to your retirement? Unrealistic expectations.

While many people approaching retirement have actively adjusted their retirement plan to take into account recent economic uncertainty and market volatility, few recognize that an even bigger threat to their retirement nest egg is unrealistic expectations. The 2013 Society of Actuaries (SOA) Survey of the Risks and Process of Retirement shows that many pre-retirees may be in trouble as they make plans that are not rooted in retirement reality. Findings show:

You probably won’t retire when you think: While news of the burgeoning global retirement crisis suggest that many financially unprepared Boomers will be trapped in the workforce until death, it is highly likely that retirement will come earlier than expected or planned. In the survey, more than half of pre-retirees expected to retire at age 65 or later, but in reality, 52 percent of retirees exited the workforce at least six years earlier than that-with the median retirement age being 58. Moreover, even retirees who report leaving the workforce voluntarily tend to feel they were forced out at an unexpected time. Unexpected early retirement means a shortened planning horizon and accumulation period, and could have consequences with regard to entitlement benefits and standard of living throughout your golden years.

You’ll likely live longer than you think: Less than one-in-ten pre-retirees expect to live to age 91 or older. However, nearly half–48 percent of pre-retirees—reported having that their longest living family members reached age 91 or older. As family history is a primary indicator of one’s own longevity, such a sizable gap between perception and facts highlight the very real danger of being ill-prepared to finance a full retirement and underscore the importance of the need for conservative financial vehicles in retirement plan that can guarantee income for life–no matter how long that may be.

Your retirement lifestyle will likely change drastically: One of the most pronounced deviations between reality and expectations reported in the survey is that most retirees vastly underestimate the likelihood of future decline in their mental and physical capabilities as they age. While many anticipate health problems, many underestimate the cost of health-care services or discount the need for long-term care services and caregiving needs.  A whopping 70 percent of people over age 65 can expect to use some form of long-term care during their lives, and these services are generally expensive and not typically covered by Medicare.

While there are no certainties when it comes to your life in retirement, it is clear that pre-retirees need to plan ahead for a diverse range of outcomes to avoid outliving their assets.

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Recent Study Shows Americans are $6.8 Trillion Behind Necessary Retirement Savings

According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, Americans are at least $6.8 trillion short of what they need to have saved for a comfortable retirement.

Many people across the country are experiencing lifestyle changes due to a lack of sufficient retirement savings. Many lost their jobs in the aftermath of the Great Recession or had not began saving for retirement and their wages have not increased in six years.

How can you make sure you are saving enough for retirement?

Project how much you will need saved for retirement using our retirement calculators.

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Is divorce in your retirement plan?

The retirement landscape that Boomers face is vastly different than that of their parents. Gone are the days of pensions, a career ending in one’s early sixties and growing old with one’s spouse. Now Boomers are faced with possible shortfalls in social security and 401(k)s, longer years in the workforce, and…divorce?

Legal experts refer to the first Monday of January as “Divorce Monday,” as it is the most popular day of the year to initiate divorce proceedings. A study from Ohio’s Bowling Green State University shows that one quarter of all American divorces now involve someone 50 or over—more than double that of just 20 years ago. While those seeking late-life or “grey” divorces, as they are sometimes called, tend to have a rosier outlook than their younger counterparts of life after the dissolution of a marriage,  older divorcés also face unique financial problems that others do not. Odds are accumulated assets, from real estate to retirement savings, are substantial and entwined, and impending retirement can make a favorable financial split particularly tricky.  According to a study from AARP, more than one in four of grey divorcés fear not having enough money in their post-split lives, a fear that comes second only to loneliness.  This is particularly true among women who were four times more likely than their male counterparts to be concerned with the negative effects of divorce on their finances.

Retirement accounts are treated as marital property, and divided among spouses, however, the process by which this occurs is not always cut and dry. When it comes to dividing assets such as 401(k)s and IRAs, there are federal and state laws that dictate how assets are split. However pension plan divisions are more complicated and require a separate order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or a QRDO to spell out who gets what and how much. There are a number of ways assets can be divided with a QRDO due to each couple’s unique situation. As a result, it is important that each partner ensure their rights to their portion of their spouse’s retirement account are protected, lest they risk a shortfall in their portion of the retirement nest egg.

Divisions of other elements in the retirement portfolio, such as investments, can often trip up older divorced couples as well, due to an uneven distribution of risk or asset diversity. Splitting real estate and investment assets is not always clear cut, and trading rights to stocks and bond notes for full access to a marital home can result in one spouse taking an unrecoverable loss in the case of a market downturn. It is important to make sure that when dividing assets, risk is as evenly split as possible, so one party isn’t left with huge downside potential with only a small window of time to recover financially.  Grey divorcés might consider placing a portion of their take from the marital estate into a conservative vehicle—like a fixed annuity—to buffer them from loss and offer guaranteed income in retirement regardless of how the market performs.

Divorce can be challenging, no matter your age, but a grey divorce can present some particularly difficult hurdles, especially in the context of retirement planning. It is important to take into consideration the unique financial issues associated with your situation while ensuring your financial stability for the long haul.


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Get a “Money Buddy”

By Ellie Kay, Retirement Expert

EllieKayMany people would rather babysit teething triplets than set up a spending plan for their monthly income. But paying attention to the details in all areas of our finances can mean the difference between financial stability and bankruptcy. Spending more money than you make without concern for savings is a formula that produces stress and insecurity. It is one of the major reasons marriages fail and people live in a state of constant anxiety.

Yet the solution is simple—spend less and save more. I completely understand that this is easier said than done.

Budgeting is the solution.  As a couple or family make it a group effort – be a support system for each other when setting up, and sticking to a budget. If you are single, you may want to get a “money buddy” to have someone to bounce budget issues off of and also have accountability to stay within your spending plan.

To be successful in your financial dimension, you need to get a reality check on exactly what you are spending and determine the best way to decrease the outgo of funds. Most people who are struggling with too much debt run out of money before the end of the month because they don’t pay close enough attention to their bottom line. In their case, ignorance is not bliss—it is a silent but deadly tsunami of rising debt and stress. A budget should guide your daily expenditures as well as help with a balanced financial plan for retirement.

When Bob (my husband, and money buddy) and I first set up a budget, we realized that both of us wanted to have healthy finances, even though we approached money differently. We realized that we didn’t need to go overboard by pinching our pennies so tightly that it strained our relationship and took all the enjoyment out of life. So we allowed for an occasional indulgence, implemented budget-cutting techniques slowly, and modified our plan as needed. As time went on, we fine-tuned some aspects of our budget and then conducted a quarterly check-up to make adjustments that allowed the budget to become a part of our lifestyle.

Couples have cited financial problems as a primary issue in the majority of divorces. Therefore, getting a grip on your family budget could be one of the best “divorce busters” you implement for the sake of your marriage and family.

If you’re married, I highly recommend you begin any budget discussion when both parties are relaxed. Breathe in, breathe out. Drink some warm milk. Have a homemade granola bar. Have another one, and put on some Frank Sinatra or Harry Connick Jr. mood music. Better? Good. Now take your serene mood right into the budgeting process with you.

You can create your own budget worksheet by writing out the following categories as noted on the basic spreadsheet below. The percentages and categories offered here are only guidelines that I have found are realistic and work for most people. For more outline budget tools, go to Elliekay.com

Once you’ve printed out your own chart like the one here (Ellie Kay’s Budget Worksheet), take the following steps:

  1. Fill in the first column with your current income
  2. Based on your current income, get the recommended percentages for the second column; this is your goal budget. This can be modified according to your goal budget. This can be modified according to your current expenses. For example, if your spouse has a company car, then the goal budget may not be as much as 15% on transportation. If you are military and live on base, the housing expense may not quite be 30%. The goal budget is somewhat flexible, but the percentages are there as guidelines.
  3. For the third column, figure out your current spending levels. This is the average you have spent for each category over the last six months. This tells you what you are currently spending and allows you the opportunity to compare your current spending levels with the recommended percentages in each category.
  4. For the fourth and final column, take your current income and subtract what you are currently spending. This gives you your current spending status and indicates where you are spending over the recommended amount or under the recommend percentages in each category.
  5. Once you see where you are on paper, then set up a new budget by cutting spending in one area (such as food or entertainment expenses) and increasing in another area (such as saving, tithing, or debt repayment).

While setting up the budget, be sure that you are calculating provisions for debt repayment, a rainy day savings account and a healthy retirement. I believe that a key component for a healthy retirement includes fixed indexed annuities. These are essential to any balanced financial plan that will help secure fiscal health.  One of the reasons I believe in fixed indexed annuities is the fact that they are uniquely designed to help you moderate risk and reward as you chart your financial future.

By creating and sticking to a budget, and by reviewing this spending plan with your spouse or “money buddy” on a bi-monthly basis, you will be able to reach your financial goals and attain fiscal health that will carry you all the way into a well-balanced retirement.

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