The Best Place to Start

Have you heard of wedding day amnesia? Effectively, your special day is a blur. You don’t really live it while it’s happening, and what memories you can make fade quickly. Unless you have hyperthymesia, this is normal for most of us.

We plan for few things in life like our nuptials. I got engaged in 2004 and married in 2006. In those two years, the wedding preparations took over my life. Too bad there was no Pinterest then. I could have planned that whole wedding a week.

18 years later I have only a few clear memories, one of which is the sickening sound of fabric tearing as my dad stepped on my dress while walking me down the aisle. Whatever ripped, I never found it.

You may have guessed that the financial planning equivalent of your wedding day is your retirement. You will work hard for many years, try to make good choices with or without the help of a professional, and try to imagine your life without work, probably with some excitement about what you’ll do with all your free time. Then one day you’ll be in the thick of retirement and you may find the experience underwhelming.

No plan survives its collision with reality. Not your wedding, not your retirement. Rather, you must be prepared to adapt, as we will help adapt your financial plan when changes are needed. That’s where we try to focus our energies in client conversations. How will you adapt when you see the reality of retirement?

To do that successfully, we need to understand not only the logistics of your ideal retirement, but the reason you find certain things “ideal” in the first place.  These reasons are your values. This is what we mean when we say, ‘We help families live their values”. 

It’s our two-fold commitment to 1) understand what’s important to you and why and 2) disregard today’s cultural milieu when it comes to money.

Uncovering your values

I have a hard time grasping the implications of abstract concepts without a story in which to ground it. This means that you can expound upon the definition of say, leadership, for books on end and it won’t stick to me the way a story about an actual leader does.

In that spirit, when we’re trying to help clients find and articulate their values, we often use the example of one of our dear clients who sadly is no longer with us.

A big part of his vision for retirement involved the purchase of a vacation home in the state he grew up in. His advisor was unable to adapt the plan to this sizable purchase without putting his entire retirement in jeopardy.

The client’s insistence on the purchase was unwavering; that was a clue that this was about more than the house. It was about, after some frank discussions, having a place to gather every year with his family, in a setting he loved. The value for him was family time.

With a little creative thinking, the problem was solved by budgeting for a long-term rental in the area every year.  It wasn’t what he planned, but it fulfilled the real need.

Contempt for “sage” advice

There’s no cookie cutter solution that works for everyone. If you accept advice, it should be informed advice, meaning it needs to account for the factors in your life specifically and, of course, what’s important to you.

It used to be said that you needed a million dollars to retire. Now they say a million dollars isn’t what it used to be. You need only know what a million dollars means to you.

That’s the basis for your plan. Sure, there are nuts and bolts to put in place. But they only matter if they serve the vision and values you set for yourself.

Want help? Schedule your free appointment today.

Already a client? Contact your advisor or email for assistance.

Credibility for Emerging Markets

The squeakiest wheel in your financial life is probably your investments: your portfolio and how its faring. The attention paid it is significantly more than the five other traditional areas of financial planning.

That’s driven in part by an abundance of information, media speculation, comparative performance, and the desire to put your earnings to good use for good things. Nothing wrong with that.

Because your life is so much more than the aggregate success of these six areas, we use a lot of digital ink asking people to live their lives while they can and make the best choices possible for the future, without obsessing over the unknowns.

As a result, our investment philosophy reads differently than some: we don’t time markets (because it doesn’t work well); we don’t panic when markets get scary, and we certainly don’t listen to the finance media.

We also don’t write technical market pieces very often. Today, we meet halfway with technical market information that we didn’t write.

Dimensional Fund Advisors offers this one-minute read about an asset class we often find ourselves explaining, emerging markets. These are securities invested in developing economies.

If you’re a client, emerging markets are part of your allocation. If that makes you nervous, I hope their insights quell some of those concerns.

This chart (lifted directly from DFA’s blog, with their permission) shows emerging markets taking the top performer spot tag-team style with its developed market counterpart over a considerable time horizon.

Certainly, some food for thought.

Behavior matters more than markets; change our minds. Schedule a free argument with one of our advisors today.

Your Reason for Living > Money

The bulk of people are done with taxes now and I hope that includes you. I hope you’re done, that you didn’t have to file an extension and, if you owed, it wasn’t egregious. If you’re a CPA or other tax professional, I hope you’re on a beach somewhere, Mai-Tai in hand. 

I’m mostly glad I won’t have to write about taxes for a while. You see all these components (taxes, insurance, investments, estate, etc.) are important, but they aren’t your life.

Your financial life is not your life and shouldn’t be the only measure of your success. Keep that in mind as you look over this Venn diagram showing the Japanese way to find ikigai, your reason for living.

It’s true that we really only have two forms of currency in life: time and money.  As you spend them, remember that only one of these can be regenerated.

I once heard someone say that if you want to know where someone’s heart is, look at where they spend their time and their money.

I love that so much I’ve adopted it as one of my “instant character assessments” along with observing how people treat service personnel and how they park their cars.

Following that logic, if you find that your finances don’t accurately reflect your heart, or in Advocates terms, your values, a correction is needed; maybe in tweaking your current state of affairs, or perhaps starting fresh with the vision for your life and goals designed to support it.

Lots of people engage financial advisors only in pursuit of good or better investment returns than they’re receiving currently. And that’s a valid choice for some. We also want to provide good investment returns, but it’s our ikigai to do more, and we don’t necessarily believe your ikigai lays at the deep end of a pool of money.

Rather, we view your financial success as a supporting structure for your life’s work, your reason for living. That amounts to a lot more than your balance sheet.

Want more from your advisor? Schedule a free, no obligation appointment with us today.

The Cutting Room Floor

Our published tax talk with @KurtBox, was significantly edited in the interest of brevity. Yes, I considered that brevity.

Still, I can’t resist the temptation to share some nuggets that didn’t make the cut. These points are meant to be endearing, not instructional. If you’re on board with that, read on. If not, see you next week.

The Trimmings

  • Before anything, Kurt talked about his dogs, Sadie and Bobe (pronounced “Bow-bee”). The latter, a large black goldendoodle, is the obvious favorite and the oft recipient of praise on our weekly “Thankful Thursday” check-in calls where we express gratitude for stuff.
  • Kurt denied being part of an advanced alien civilization that was sent incognito to Earth to either save us or destroy us, which I believe, is exactly what an alien spy would say. I’m not convinced.
  • He believes people should give to charity regardless of tax incentives. Kurt is on the board of several charities including @Mercy House Global, is one of the founders of @CaringforKorah, and is an adoptive father to two children.
  • “If you’re offered more money to do your job, say yes, that’s my advice.” This said in response to those who refuse raises in order to avoid an increased tax burden. Free tip, folks!
  • For those in a “debt spiral”, Kurt advises financial counseling. He tentatively okays a one-time early withdrawal from a retirement account only if the debt is from a single event, like a medical thing. If it’s a lifestyle problem, it’d be like “putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound”.
  • He thinks hedge fund managers should have to pay income taxes and is tired of politicians from both sides promising to get rid of loopholes for them. They never do.  You’re probably thinking the same thing Kurt is follow the money.
  • He’s a tree hugger, sort of. He appreciated a “loophole” we found that offers Hawaiian citizens a break for growing and protecting “exceptional” trees, saying “we need more trees, period”.

Giving a Grown Woman Homework

Our conversation generated several questions, mostly curiosities, and I was tasked with finding the answers.  Please enjoy the results of my googling.

Is debtor’s jail still a thing?

Not technically. The physical buildings and systems were abolished under federal law in 1833, but today’s prisons hold a significant number of people who owe fees and fines in de facto Debtor’s Prisons. This 2015 FAQ from the US Justice Department goes into more detail.

What happens to unused FSA funds?

Turns out they funds are returned to the employer who can use them in several ways, according to The FSA Store.

Does Vegas send 1099s for casino winnings?

Yeah, they do; it’ll be a W-2G or a 1099-MISC if you win at least:

  • $1200 from bingo or slot machines
  • $1500 from keno
  • $5000 from poker tournaments
  • $600 from other types of gambling
  • More info can be found here.

What percentage of people itemize each year?

2017’s major tax overhaul reduced the percentage of itemizers from roughly 30% down to 11.47% according to SmartAsset.

Can you get a deduction for donating meat?

It’s rare (see what I did there?) but you sure can if you’re in North Carolina, South Carolina, or Maryland and you’re donating venison.

Of course, this applies only to the state return and the animals must be legally hunted. More info here.

Join the conversation! Click here to schedule your free, no obligation appointment today.


Travel back to Memorial Day 2022 with me. I had veterans on my mind and that got me thinking about my great uncle Edmund. We never met. He died in his mid-thirties, at the height of World War II.

I had little background info on Edmund, so naturally I assumed that he died in combat. But I didn’t know, so I googled his name. Up pops an ad for a genealogy service and they have documents relating to his life and death.

My curiosity won out and I signed up for a 14-day free trial of their service with a firm intention to cancel it in a day or two. I suppose you can guess what happened.

And that’s the story of how I spent $300 for a service I never really wanted.

You may have done something similar or know someone who has. It’s a bummer, but we tell ourselves that one quasi-accidental subscription fee won’t result in bankruptcy. This nonchalance results in tacit permission to make poor financial decisions of a certain size, or to ignore our finances altogether.

The “forgotten subscription fee” problem is a pervasive symptom of overall financial blindness. We don’t know where our money goes, we just know it’s gone.

If you can relate, we offer you the advice below, but it’s all predicated on a commitment to removing your financial blinders. Here we go.


Track your expenses using a method that works for you. Like paper? Go for it. Excel? Great.

Want something a little more modern? Try Mint, Quicken, GoodBudget and other apps that can automate transaction imports, track expenses/debt and set savings goals.

If you’re a client of The Advocates, you have access to Blueprint, a financial planning software that will help you reach a new level of understanding about your finances.

Go back 12 months, categorizing your expenses and identifying patterns in your spending habits.

You may (like me) suffer a little sticker shock when it comes to certain categories (ahem…dining out…cough). Take that shock and turn it into motivation.


Get serious about trimming the excess spending out of your budget. Your trouble areas should be obvious if step one was done well. Design some behavioral rules to target those areas. It may be that most of your excess spending isn’t making you happy anyway. You probably won’t miss it.

Shall we make an extremist cheapskate budget that allows for no recreation or fun? No. Be reasonable when making your spending rules. Here’s a couple ideas from advisor Kurt Box:

  • I won’t make a purchase over $____ without consulting my spouse.
  • I will wait one week before making unnecessary purchases.


Reallocate your budget trimmings to pay down debt and save. Automatic savings plans are better than ad hoc. Like your 401k contribution, if you don’t see it, you’ll probably learn to live without it.

Set aside emergency savings of about 6 months worth of living expenses. Choose a method for paying down debt, like highest rate first or the debt snowball method and stick with it.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. I’ll reward you with the real scoop on old Uncle Edmund. Turns out he didn’t serve in the military at all. He was well-liked in his community at least in part because he used to run bootleg alcohol for the mob. He died of liver disease.

Go boldly, not blindly into your future. Plan with us. Schedule your free, no obligation appointment today.

Mildly Interesting Notes from the SECURE 2.0 Act

Note: The Advocates are not legal professionals. No part of this post should be construed as legal advice. These points are presented here because of their relevance to financial planning.

SECURE 2.0 is legislation designed to improve upon the SECURE Act of 2019 and it has potential implications for your financial plan and your taxes. Your advisor is the best person to discuss the relevance of this information to your specific situation, but it’s my job to try and turn it into a blog post someone might actually want to read.

Sometimes you can’t make it interesting, but you can make it quick. Here we aim to break what may matter to you into consumable bullet points. This list is not comprehensive as the act itself spans over 4,000 pages of what I can only assume is boss-level legalese.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). 

  • The age is now 73 and will move to age 75 in 2033.
    • That means no one will be required to start taking RMDs in 2023.
  • Penalties for failure to take RMDs have been significantly reduced.

Roth accounts

  • No RMDs for ERISA plan Roth accounts (401(k), 403(b) etc.) starting in 2024. If you’ve already started taking them, you will be able to stop next year.
  • Roth SIMPLE and SEP IRAs will be available this year.
  • Starting in 2024 high income earners age 50+ must make catch up to Roth accounts, NOT pre-tax accounts
  • 529 plans can now potentially be rolled to a Roth IRA, restrictions apply.

Individual 401k Plans: 

  • Self employed individuals can now establish an I401k plan and fund it for the previous year.

Employer 401(k) Plans

  • Mandatory automatic enrollment for eligible plan participants will be required for new 401k and 403b plans after 12/31/2024.

Student Loans:

  • Employers can match payments their plan participants make to their student loans, restrictions apply.  The match applies to the 401k.  i.e. if participant is not getting the match, the loan payment the ex student is making gets matched.

Database for Missing Participants

  • A national, searchable database will be created to help employers locate “missing” plan participants and also the reverse, helping individuals locate old retirement funds.

Want to know if any of this could benefit you? Give us a call, or schedule your free appointment today.

Want more information on SECURE 2.0? A section by section summary can be found here.


Today’s post is part of our series, Retirement Renegades. We aim to highlight real clients who have found purpose and passion later in life.

We found out today that one of our clients is perhaps The Most Interesting Man in the World. His name is Conrad Johnson, and he is the managing member, sales director, and chief winemaker for AWI wines.

AWI is an acronym; it stands for “A Wild Idea”. When asked how to pronounce the name he said, “I don’t care – just try my wine!”

Conrad’s enthusiasm for his second career is contagious. His motivation? It’s fun. No matter what we discussed, it always came back to fun, and he’s having plenty of it.

Conrad, who I assumed was a native Texan, is no such thing. He was born and raised in Venezuela by his parents who moved there in the 1950s, his mother from “deep East Texas” and his father from Boston. Mom eventually won out when Conrad’s father retired, and they made Houston their home. He left Venezuela at 13 to attend prep school in New England. From there he went to Louisiana to study pre-medicine at Tulane University but ended up with a business degree. He moved to Houston and went on to get his MBA  where he started to work in public accounting.

Though Conrad was not what you would call a “natural accountant”, his career was successful and afforded him opportunities to work around the world: from Madrid, Spain, where his youngest daughter was born, to Mexico and other Latin American countries. He even spent five years commuting weekly between Houston and Mexico City.

Jill & Conrad Johnson

Jill, Conrad’s wife, and their three daughters have always been constants in his life, offering love and support despite the itinerant nature of his career. And he needed their support to be able to achieve what he did, having changed employers and locations several times. He’s worked for “nearly the full alphabet” of accounting firms, BDO, PW, PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers), EY (Ernst & Young) and UHY.

In 2008, he purchased a small vineyard in Argentina with four varietals: Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier. Argentina, he says, is a place easy to fall in love with and not just because of their exceptional soccer team. Having now seen photos of the vineyard I can indeed confirm that it looks like a slice of Heaven.

In this first foray, he adopted what he called a “Blue Bell” mentality: “we’ll make the wine to drink it ourselves and sell the rest”. For those unfamiliar, Blue Bell Ice Cream famously used the slogan “We eat all we can and sell the rest”. He would own the land, make the wine, and use it as a “great thing to talk to his clients about, other than accounting or control issues”.

In 2014, Conrad and his investors looked for a way to commercialize the venture. He established AWI Winery here in Texas which allows him to import his wines and sell directly to consumers and restaurants. You can explore his offerings at  

His winery has become his man cave, so to speak, where he goes to work, make his annual farming and winemaking plans,  and, of course, do the never-ending accounting. He travels to Argentina once or twice a year, taking investors and friends along for the ride as he can.

One of those annual trips is what he calls a “blending trip”. I learned today that you can call a wine by its grape varietal if it’s 85% or more of that varietal. The blending trip is like a mad science trip. They taste and experiment to see if additional wines should be added to the main varietal.

I also learned that the vintage of a wine is from the year the grapes were harvested, not the release date of the wine. The grapes he is using today will be fermented in steel drums and placed in wooden barrels to age. Eventually the wine is bottled and then it ages more. The wine he makes in 2022 won’t be available to ship to Houston until approximately 2025.

The future of AWI looks bright. In addition to holding regular tastings and events, AWI submits its wines annually into the International Wine Competition at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and other regional wine competitions.

AWI’s 2020 “Mitad | Mitad”, a blend of Viognier and Chardonnay, recently won a gold medal and was Class Champion in the Rodeo’s wine competition. These winnings gain them entry into the “Best Bites” competition at NRG Stadium in February where three to four thousand people come each year to taste award-winning wines, food from local restaurants and have a great time. If you plan to attend the event make sure to look for AWI wines.

Some of AWI’s wine ‘bling’

Conrad thinks of these wines like they are his children. He struggles to name a favorite, but concedes that his red blend, a Bordeaux blend, is exceptional and pairs well with beef tenderloin. I mention that I’m making Beef Wellington for Christmas dinner, and just a few hours later, he’s in my office, dropping off a bottle for the meal.

I admit that I’m a wine novice. For people like me, his advice is simple. Don’t get accustomed to drinking the same wines, over and over. Try things! Everyone loves Cabernet Sauvignon and hates Merlot, but Merlots, he insists, are some of the best wines in the world. For the record, he blames the 2004 film Sideways for the decline in merlot sales around the world.

Conrad doesn’t feel like he’s retired. He does something everyday, like a job, it’s just more fun. Not that he’s expecting a paycheck. “You know how to make a small fortune with a vineyard?”, he quips, “Start with a large one”.

Nevertheless, his advice to those nearing retirements seems solid: “spend as much time thinking about your retirement activities as you do about your money before you retire!”  According to Conrad, you need your own activities. Don’t rely on your spouse, they’ll want their own activities too. In short, “Without activities, your wife will probably suggest you go back to work or kill you!”.

It seems the answer to a meaningful retirement is to have a passion for something. And fun, always have fun.  AWI has given Conrad that in spades. He relishes being able to share his wine, the farming and winemaking experiences, Argentina, and the people.  “The people you meet”, he says, “the places you go are… tremendous”. And Jill is happy to see him working on something that brings him joy.

I hang up the phone with two key thoughts: 1) this guy is NOT bored, and 2) I better hustle to the front and get my wine before someone else takes it.

Get some award-winning wine from AWI! Order online at

For those who want delivery outside of Texas, please visit

Want to visit the warehouse? Or book a tasting? Please call 832-453-6439 for more information.


The Difference Between a Forecast, a Wish, and a Worry

When I was growing up, our local newspaper, the Kansas City Star, was full of news and had one page for opinion. After decades of cable news and nonstop digital postings, I see more opinions these days than news. That’s not a bad thing. But when it comes to investing, it’s crucial to remember the difference between news and opinion, and how they are sometimes used to forecast the future.

Any time the government releases new data on unemployment or inflation or interest rate changes, people start claiming they can forecast the future. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. But most of what I hear people say isn’t what I would call “forecasting.” Read more…

Rising Rates: Short-Term Pain for Long-Term Gain?

Investors have likely noticed the improved opportunity set in fixed income due to higher yields. And yet some investors may be hesitant to take advantage of higher yields because of concerns about future increases in yields. Some may even be considering reducing their bond exposure after this year’s negative returns for fixed income.1

The good news? If yields do keep rising, investors seeking higher expected returns may still
be better off maintaining the duration of their fixed income allocation. Rising yields impact fixed income portfolios in several ways.

On the one hand, longer duration portfolios may experience larger immediate losses from increased yields relative to shorter-duration portfolios. On the other hand, higher yields may lead to higher expected returns.

Investors can think of this tradeoff as a pit stop in a Formula 1 race. The pit stop immediately causes the driver to fall back. However, fresh tires may help the driver win the race if there are enough laps left to catch the leader.

Exhibit 1 illustrates this using two scenarios for a $100,000 fixed income allocation with a five-year duration. Scenario 1 experiences a constant yield of 1% during the period. Scenario 2 is faced with a sudden spike in yield from 1% to 4% on Day 1 and sees its value immediately drop to a little over $86,000. However, the higher-yield environment accelerates Scenario 2’s recovery: With a 4% yield rather than the previous rate of 1%, Scenario 2’s portfolio value overtakes Scenario 1’s within five years—the time horizon
determined by the duration of Scenario 2.

When faced with uncertainty, investors should focus on the things they can control. Research tells us that trying to outguess the market by holding on to cash, or shortening duration, with the expectation of future yield increases may not help you achieve your long-term goals. 2

Markets quickly incorporate new information about higher interest rates and inflation. 3

Investors who maintain appropriate asset allocations, even after increases in bond yields, may have a more rewarding investment experience in the long run.

Important Disclosures

Fixed income securities are subject to increased loss of principal during periods of rising yields.
Source: Dimensional.

Data presented are based on mathematical principles, are not representative of indices, actual investments, or actual strategies managed by Dimensional, and do not reflect costs and fees associated with an actual investment. Growth of wealth assumes a constant duration and flat yield curve for simplicity.
For Scenario 2, the approximate 15% drop in value seen in year 0 is based on a hypothetical yield increase from 1% to 4%, resulting in an immediate decline in value. The drop in value can be approximated by multiplying the assumed five-year duration by the yield increase.

For illustrative purposes only.

Duration: A measurement of the sensitivity of the price of a fixed income investment to changes in interest rates. Generally, high-duration bonds will have greater sensitivity to changing interest rates than lower-duration bonds.

  1. The Bloomberg Global Aggregate Bond Index (hedged to USD) returned –12.1% from January 1, 2022, through September 30, 2022.
  2. Mingzhe Yi, “All Eyes on the Fed? A Look at Federal Funds Rate, Bond Return, and Term Premium,” Insights (blog), Dimensional Fund Advisors, March 15, 2022.
  3. Wes Crill, “Light at the End of the Inflation Tunnel,” Insights (blog), Dimensional Fund Advisors, June 10, 2022; “Markets Appeared to Be Ahead of the Fed,” Insights (blog), Dimensional, June 16, 2022.

The information in this material is intended for the recipient’s background information and use only. It is provided in good faith and without any warranty or representation as to accuracy or completeness. Information and opinions presented in this material have been obtained or derived from sources believed by Dimensional to be reliable, and Dimensional has reasonable grounds to believe that all factual information herein is true as at the date of this material. It does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation, or an offer of any services or products for sale and is not intended to provide a sufficient basis on which to make an investment decision. Before acting on any information in this document, you should consider whether it is appropriate for your particular circumstances and, if appropriate, seek professional advice. It is the responsibility of any persons wishing to make a purchase to inform themselves of and observe all applicable laws and regulations. Unauthorized reproduction or transmission of this material is strictly prohibited. Dimensional accepts no responsibility for loss
arising from the use of the information contained herein. This material is not directed at any person in any jurisdiction where the availability of this material is prohibited or would subject Dimensional or its products or services to any registration, licensing, or other such legal requirements within the jurisdiction.
“Dimensional” refers to the Dimensional separate but affiliated entities generally, rather than to one particular entity. These entities are Dimensional Fund Advisors LP, Dimensional Fund Advisors Ltd., Dimensional Ireland Limited, DFA Australia Limited, Dimensional Fund Advisors Canada ULC, Dimensional Fund Advisors Pte. Ltd., Dimensional Japan Ltd. and Dimensional Hong Kong Limited. Dimensional Hong
Kong Limited is licensed by the Securities and Futures Commission to conduct Type 1 (dealing in securities) regulated activities only and does not provide asset management services. Fixed income securities are subject to increased loss of principal during periods of rising interest rates. Fixed income investments are subject to various other risks, including changes in credit quality, liquidity, prepayments, call risk, and other factors. There is no guarantee strategies will be successful.

Investments involve risks. The investment return and principal value of an investment may fluctuate so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original value. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. There is no guarantee strategies will be successful.

Dimensional Fund Advisors LP is an investment advisor registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investment products: • Not FDIC Insured • Not Bank Guaranteed • May Lose Value
Dimensional Fund Advisors does not have any bank affiliates.

Midterm Elections & The Markets

A good reminder from DFA that markets have historically continued to provide returns over the long run irrespective of which party is in power at any given time.

It’s almost Election Day in the US once again. For those who need a brief civics refresher, every two years the full US House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate are up for reelection. While the outcomes of the elections are uncertain, one thing we can count on is that plenty of opinions and prognostications will be floated in the days to come. In financial circles, this will almost assuredly include any potential for perceived impact on markets. But should long-term investors focus on midterm elections? Read on here.