Women, Wealth and Nutrition: Keeping it all in Balance
Maeve Schmid: Welcome to the Mercer Advisors Women’s Wealth and Nutrition Virtual Event. We will get started shortly. As more people are logging on, I just want to welcome you to the Mercer Advisors Women, Wealth, and Nutrition Event. We will get started shortly. All right. Well, welcome, everybody. This is the Mercer Advisors Women, Wealth, and Nutrition Virtual Event.
Before we get started, I wanted to go over a few technical tips for you. If the webinar sound is not loud enough, please check the settings on your device first. If that does not fix the problem, please send a request for technical help in the console that pulled up on the right-hand side of your screen when you logged in.
We will be muting the audience for the entirety of this webinar. So, if you do have questions for our panelists–and we do welcome as many questions as you have–please send those through the questions tab on that same console. If you do have questions, I just want to remind you to not use the chat function. Please, do use the questions tab. And we also will be recording this webinar. So, it will be posted to our website for the end of this month. So, you can look back at this any time.
And, before we get started as well, I just want to mention that you might need a pen and paper at some point during the webinar. So, if you want to grab that now, now would be a good time. You can also use the Notes app on your iPhone or phone, if that’s easier for you. Well, I want to introduce you to one of our panelists today: Laura Combs. She is a managing director here at Mercer Advisors.
We’ve been working together for a number of years now. We’ve always connected on our shared passion for helping women build and create wealth. She has four beautiful daughters at home. So, this topic is definitely an important one for her. And she’s been in the industry for over a decade. She holds her certified financial planner designation and really is an expert on this topic. So, with that, I’m going to turn it over to Laura to get started.
Introducing Laura Combs
Laura Combs: Well, thank you very much, Maeve. And thank you, everyone, for joining us today. I know you are all going to be in for a real treat today. And our topic today is women, wealth, and nutrition, keeping it all in balance. And I don’t know about all of you but, as women, it can often feel like we are juggling so many different competing priorities. And I appreciate you all taking the time out of your busy lives to spend some self-care with us today, focusing on your health and your wealth.
And I’ll introduce some of our speakers today, so you know who’s going to be joining us. I’ll be introducing Janelle Vermeulen from Better Bites Nutrition in a few minutes. But I wanted to highlight a few Mercer team members on the call today. Andrew Thompson is the VP of our Inside Sales team. And he’s going to be helping moderate our question and answer time.
So, like Maeve Schmid mentioned, please submit those questions using that Q&A feature, because we want to make this as interactive as possible. And Andrew will be monitoring that chat throughout the time. So, please go ahead and put that in there. Now, this is going to be our agenda for today. We are going to spend some time focusing on how to destress with nutritional tips from Janelle as well as highlight financial planning to bring balance to your overall financial picture. Like I mentioned, we’re also going to be having a time of Q&A. And, at the end, we’ll share a thank you gift for joining us today.
Now, at Mercer Advisors, we take compliance very seriously. And I know you’re all reading through this very intently. So, thank you. But what this really represents is that all the information presented today is factual to the best of our knowledge. And so, this highlights that everything we present has been researched and is factual for you today.
Who is Mercer Advisors
Now, before I introduce Janelle and hand it over to her to talk about some nutrition, I want to spend a few minutes highlighting Mercer Advisors. For some of you, this might be your first interaction with our firm. So, welcome. And many of you joining are clients, and it’s great to have you here as well. So, to give a high level on Mercer Advisors, we were founded in 1985 by Kendrick Mercer. We have over 50 offices nation-wide, and we have the honor of managing over 27 billion dollars of our clients’ life savings.
And a statistic that I’m personally passionate about, like Maeve shared, is that over 50% of our client-facing staff are women. And that’s a statistic that’s almost unheard of in the financial industry. Whether this is your first interaction, or you’ve been with Mercer Advisors a long time, we are a financial planning firm.
But we have added services over the last number of years. And we have the ability to provide investment management for our clients as well estate planning and tax planning. We have a CPA firm as well as a law firm inside of our organization to be able to file your taxes as well as draft and execute estate plans for our clients. We also provide corporate trustee services as well as have the ability to provide insurance solutions to our clients as well.
Introducing Janelle Vermeulen
Now, it’s my privilege to introduce Janelle Vermeulen from Better Bites Nutrition. And Janelle knows what it’s like to be over-stressed, having spent years working in the defense and financial services industry while battling–and overcoming, I’ll add–her own very serious health issues. Now, as a nutrition therapist, Janelle’s passionate about empowering women to reclaim their vitality by focusing on nutrition and lifestyle choices that optimize their hormonal health.
Personally, I have had the privilege to connect with Janelle as I went through a nutritional consultation with her several months ago. And I want to tell you, it was an incredible experience. However, when I first sat down and when I was going into this meeting with her, this consultation, I’ve got to be honest here. I was pretty nervous. I was worried that it was going to be uncomfortable. Maybe I was going to feel judged about my own personal lifestyle habits. And the thing that I loved most about Janelle was just how warm and inviting she was and is.
It felt like I had known Janelle for years. It felt like I was sitting down with a close friend, and we were just catching up and sharing stories from our lives. And I know that, if you were in the room with Janelle, if we were all together, you would feel that same connection. And I hope that you’ll feel that today. I know that you will. And so, with that, Janelle, I’d like to hand things over to you to walk through your section today. Welcome, Janelle.
Janelle Vermeulen: Thank you, Laura. And thank you for such a kind introduction. It’s such an honor to be here. And, as Laura said, my name is Janelle Vermeulen. I’m a certified nutrition therapist out of Conifer, Colorado. And I own and manage Better Bites Nutrition, which is my little nutrition therapy practice designed to help empower women, improve their lives, one better choice and one better bite at a time.
Nutrition finance connection
So, why are we here today? And what is this nutrition finance connection? So, one of the things that we found out recently was, Fidelity Investments took a survey of over 5,000 women. And no surprise to anyone on this call right now, we are over-stressed. And two of the largest stressors that were the culprits of driving this over-stressed state in our lives are finances and how to lead a healthier life.
And so, before we really dive into my part of this presentation, I do want to say, yes, I focus a lot on nutrition. But I take a holistic view at your life when it comes to developing a protocol that will support you in improving your overall state of health. So, that does look at your lifestyle and your environment, a holistic view, similarly to how Laura doesn’t just focus on one area of your financial life.
She takes a look at the whole picture. Because, when you take a step back and look at the entire picture, that’s when you’re going to figure out where the gaps are falling short and what you can do to really take your life to the next level and achieve the goals that you’re looking to achieve.
So, here are some facts that we’re facing as women. We know that we typically earn less than men. We save less for retirement over our lifetimes. We typically outlive men. And then, as we go into retirement, healthcare is the number one expense that we face.
So, it’s really important that we be more invested in our own health and our own finances, so that retirement is the time of our life to really sit back and enjoy. So, right now, I want you to take that notepad and pen or the Notes app on your phone and write down just three quick retirement goals that you have that come to mind right now. And then, we’ll move on.
Stress and women
So, what is stress? By dictionary definition, it’s a bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to exist outside our equilibrium. The medical definition is that stress is a perception of a real or imagined threat to your body or ego. So, it’s really interesting to key in on that word, “perception,” because that gets into how we are actually interpreting a situation that we’re facing. So, it could be a good situation, but our mindset has us thinking a little bit differently.
So, that’s where the “perceived” part comes in. And a lot of the stressors that we commonly face are things like finances, work, relationships, health, seasons of change, like having children and moving or sending your kids off to college or death. There are so many different layers of stress that we face every single day.
And what I want you to remember most about stress is that stress is stress. Real or perceived, your body doesn’t know the way to tell the difference. So, when you perceive something as stressful, it creates the same exact response in your body as if you actually were facing some sort of harm. So, what happens in your body? What’s the physiological response to your body when you’re feeling or perceiving stress?
Adrenaline, your fight or flight response hormone, that increases. In turn, cortisol is released in your body. Cortisol is your stress hormone. And, when our bodies get into this stress state, we in turn set off another series of hormonal responses to try and get your body back to a calm state. And, over time, as we face mounting stressors from so many different directions, this causes a hormonal imbalance.
It can cause an elevated heart rate. It can increase your blood pressure. It can cause your blood to clot, and it can really damage your brain’s memory center. In addition to other issues, like memory fog, wreaking havoc on your overall body, and leading to autoimmune disease, and increasing belly fat storage. And, overall, this drives an elevated state of inflammation in your body.
And, truthfully, inflammation is what we’re trying to combat every day when we take these tactics that I’m about to give you to bring and calm yourself down. Because that is really where you’re going to see the most added health benefits, is when you get that inflammation under control. So, right now, I want you to think about, what are the top three stressors in your life right now that are just top-of-mind, things that you just feel like you have no control over? And I want you to take a minute and write those down.
Okay. Well, I mentioned before that inflammation on any level is harmful to the body. Sometimes, inflammation can be caused by your body essentially just trying to heal itself. And that’s totally normal. But, as we get older, it’s really important to help manage that level of inflammation. Because inflammation does drive the most common causes of chronic illness that we face today as women.
And, as we get older, we naturally produce less and less hormones. So, things like estrogen and testosterone tend to decrease as we age. And this is why we see less young-looking skin, or it’s easier to gain weight. And it has a ripple effect on the overall balance and state of well-being in our bodies.
So, if you have experienced hormonal imbalances in your body in the past, you likely know that it can contribute to your weight gain, depression and anxiety, mood swings, fatigue, brain fog, autoimmune disease, infertility. So many factors at play here. So, it’s really important to get that inflammation under control, so that your body can better adjust and adapt to the situations that we face every day.
Janelle’s favorite topic: food
So, my favorite topic: food. But let’s talk about it as stress. So, food as stress. Foods can be perceived by your body as stress. And there are specific foods that cause a physiological response as if it were to be perceived as a threat to your body and drive inflammation. And I’m sure that some of these may sound familiar to you. Things like refined sugar and carbohydrates, those foods that really don’t provide really any nutritional value, that your body quickly processes. Things like artificial and trans fats, vegetable oils, excessive alcohol, and processed meats.
Over time, when you ingest these foods consistently, it can cause additional inflammation in your body. And, overall, it can create an over-response of insulin production and the release of cortisol. So, your body is in this constant state of trying to get your blood sugar down to a less stressed state. And that can lead to insulin resistance. So, insulin resistance is kind of a heavy term, but it can easily happen.
And to know if you have insulin resistance, well, one, you’ll likely be diabetic. It can lead to autoimmune diseases and infertility struggles. But, a lot of times, if you’re wondering if you struggle with insulin resistance, you’ll find it hard to lose weight. You’ll constantly crave sugar. You’ll be hungry first thing in the morning when you wake up. So, there are different cues that your body is telling you that you’re probably in an over-stressed state.
So, what are the specific foods that you can consume and add to your diet on a daily basis to help your body, from an internal perspective, lower that stress state and lower that inflammation? Well, I always tell my clients to eat the rainbow. And I’m not talking about Skittles either at all. I’m talking about eating whole colorful full foods. Embrace all of the fruits and vegetables that you have at your fingertips.
And, really, when you look at food, focus on what I call, “real food,” things that your great grandmothers would recognize as food that you would put on your plate. Not things that are modern-day conveniences that are really designed to get you to consume more instead of nourish more. So, overall, I’d really like you to focus on five simple nutrients that are really great at helping your body become less stressed internally.
Those are Omega-3 fish oils. That supports overall inflammation reduction. It helps reduce hot flashes. And you’ll find those in things like walnuts and sardines, salmon, oysters, anchovies. The next is Vitamin C. Now, we know Vitamin C is really great at boosting the immune system, especially as we face cold season. But it’s also really great at supporting adrenal health.
And we talked about adrenaline. And so, when we’re in a constant state of stress and we’re releasing adrenaline all the time, those adrenal glands get really depleted. And we need to support them. So, foods like kiwis, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, broccoli, my favorite brussels sprouts, all excellent sources of Vitamin C.
This next one is a probiotic. So, probiotics are really important at helping you restore gut health balance. They feed the good bacteria that are in your guts, and it also helps you promote digestion. And, when you have good digestion, that means you’re able to break down your food efficiently and absorb the great nutrients that you’re consuming. So, natural food sources of probiotics are things like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, miso, tempeh, yogurt, and kombucha. You can also choose to take a probiotic supplement that you can find at your local health foods store.
The next is magnesium malate. Now, I specified magnesium malate only because it’s my absolute favorite at helping me sleep like a rock. But magnesium overall is incredibly beneficial because it supports over 300 cellular processes in your body. And it specifically really helps promote restful and restorative sleep. And we’ll talk about how important sleep is later on. But magnesium is a super-nutrient. So, you can find those in almonds, spinach, dark chocolate, avocados, pumpkin seeds. What I just listed is a great meal right there. Throw it in a bowl and have at it.
And then, the last one is Maca powder. And this one may sound new to you. Because I am really homed in on hormonal health, this one is really supporting your reproductive hormones. Even as you age, you need to support your reproductive hormones. This also helps you boost memory, your energy, and your libido. And the source of that is Maca powder. You find it at your local health foods store. If you’re local to Denver, Sprouts, Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, they all have them. And it can taste a little like sawdust. But, if you add it to your smoothies, you’ll be fine.
Holistic view on distress and women
So, I had mentioned earlier about the holistic view that I take when working with women to destress and balance their hormones. So, taking it the next step, if you’re thinking about the different things in your toolbox that you can use to destress your life, think about these lifestyle tips. I’m not going to go into detail on every single one. But I am going to highlight the ones that I personally find are the most important for me, from my experience.
Number one is prioritizing sleep. A lack of sleep will increase your stress hormones like nothing else will. You’ll find, when you do get up, you’re probably crankier. You’re hungrier. So, do yourself a favor and try to aim to get seven hours of sleep every night. The next is movement and exercise. And this doesn’t mean that you have to beat yourself up with a difficult exercise in order to get the benefit.
Movement and exercise
Really, what I’m talking about here is getting that movement underway and really shaking that energy out of your body and making sure that that movement and that specific exercise that you’re choosing to do is feeling good, is something that you enjoyed. It’s easier to make a habit out of something that you enjoy. So, find an exercise that makes you happy, that brings you joy, that makes you feel energetic when you’re done.
So, Yoga’s a really great way to find something that is a calmful, mindful, practice, but also gets you moving and getting that energy moving around. And then, next is actively relax. So, this may look like taking a cooking class or cooking in your kitchen for your family, taking a leisurely walk or painting, findings ways that calm you down but also keep you kind of moving around.
And then, finally, I want you to really think about mindfulness. So, there are three things here: think differently, examine your beliefs, and meditation. These all kind of tie into that mindfulness component where how we are perceiving a situation may be different than what someone else is.
So, take a step back and think about, “What is driving my perception to be different? Is it a negative thought pattern that I’ve taught myself?” And then, examine your beliefs. Do you automatically shut down if someone brings up a certain subject? Or do you cut people off if their opinions are different than yours? Really evaluate. Where is it most important for you to invest your energy? It’s very helpful practice.
And then, lastly, meditation. Find a practice that works for you. Meditation can be done for as little as three to five minutes. It’s just taking that time to bring your thoughts inside, to breathe deep, and to calm down. So, there are a lot of great resources out there. The Insight Timer app, the Calm app, and Headspace are really great resources that you can find and put on your phone and integrate into a daily practice.
And here’s a simple routine that I put together, just to outline how easy it is and how simple it can be to add this kind of routine to your day. So, I work with a lot of women who say, “Janelle, I just can’t add one more thing to my plate.” And I always pose the question, “Is it really about adding one more thing? Or is it about making room for something that’s going to serve you?”
So, I highly recommend taking just 10 minutes out of your morning to spend some time in meditation, doing some stretching, getting that energy flowing and moving, and then also taking some extra time for that mindfulness and focusing on the things that you’re grateful for.
How to hand things off to others
So, next, I really encourage you to evaluate the different habits and the different things that you load on to every single day of your life. I get it. As a wife, as a mom, it is hard to delegate. Especially because, sometimes, we can do things better ourselves. But, at the end of the day, if it gets done, it gets done. So, we need to learn how to shift and how to hand things off to others that we can easily do so.
So, maybe you don’t like grocery shopping. And maybe that brings you stress. There’s an opportunity to have someone do your grocery shopping for you or simplify it by doing Clicklist. Someone going up and picking up your dry-cleaning or hiring a house cleaner. There are lots of assistants that you can hire easily, just hourly, if you need to get a few errands done.
And also, sometimes, chasing after someone else’s responsibilities is a big time-suck. So, that was a hard lesson for me, was to really focus on what it is that I need to do every day and not what someone else needs to be doing every day. My life is so much calmer now.
And then, as we think about the different things that have caused us stress in our life, I want you to also evaluate what we just talked about. What are three things in your life that you can easily let go of and rely on someone else for support? I know it’s easier said than done, but I know that there are some small things in your life that you could do to de-clutter and help pave the way for a more calmful and restful life.
So, I want you to take a minute and write three things down that you could do to lower stress. What are some of the things that you can hand off? What are some of the things that you can integrate into your routine that help you have a more balanced and thriving life?
Okay. So, I asked you to write a number of things down today. I asked you about your top three retirement goals. I asked you about the top three things that cause you stress, what you can delegate, and what you can do to reduce your stress levels. So, I want you to keep that note handy, because it can help essentially map out your plan as to how you tackle moving forward in conversations about your retirement
And it can also help provide a blueprint of how you move forward in developing a nutrition and a lifestyle plan to help you destress and balance your hormones. And I want you to remember that stress is stress. Your body doesn’t know the difference between a poor food choice that causes inflammation versus a huge life change or even a minor life change. Stress is stress, and your body can’t tell the difference.
And I know it’s hard, as women. We’re always trying to be our best for everyone else around us. But I want to implore you to be your best for yourself first. You cannot be your best for anyone else until you’re your best for yourself first. It’s like trying to pour into someone else’s cup. You can’t do that from an empty cup. So, make this a priority as you move forward in your life.
‘The Healing Self’
And so, before I transition back to Laura, I just want you to think about some of these stressors in your life and really evaluate where it’s important for you to place your energy. And the best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety. And that’s by Deepak Chopra. Love him. I highly recommend his book The Healing Self if you’re looking for a good wellness read. But his point here is that it’s good for us to lean into our creativity. It’s good for us to sit back and relax. It’s good for us to have balance.
When we are in this constant state of stress, we’re burning from both ends. And there’s so much more to life than that. And the same as you look at your finances. It can be over-complicated. Health can be over-complicated. But you have so many resources and experts available to you to help take that complication away and take that stress away. So, rely on the people here who are ready and willing to support you. And take the steps to support yourself, to lead that happy and healthy and thriving life. So, thank you. It’s been a pleasure to be here today.
Laura Combs: Well, thank you, Janelle. I just have to say, “Wow.” I don’t know about all of you on the webinar today, but I certainly wrote down a lot of things on my list for the exercises from Janelle. So, I think that was just great. I learned a number of new things, specifically the Maca powder. Had not heard of that before. And I love the connection that you talked about between nutrition and stress levels.
I think that was something that I know about but just hadn’t really made that connection. And I’m sure all of you listening in today probably learned something new as well. One thing I’m going to try, that I’ll share with you all, is that “actively relax.” I hadn’t thought about painting or just a walk as a way to actively relax. And so, I really enjoyed that piece.
Now, before we get into our next section, I do want to make sure that you are entering questions in that Q&A chat, so that Janelle can answer any of the specific nutrition questions in a few minutes. But I’m going to transition and talk a little bit about wealth-life balance. And I love, Janelle, what you had shared on the information around that fidelity study and the seemingly universal challenge that we as women share, which is high levels of stress.
And I think you noted 85% of women would indicate that they have financial stress. And, when we move from physical stress to financial stress, I thought the interesting thing was, whether it’s real financial stress or perceived financial stress, it’s the same. Stress is stress. And, by establishing a wealth-life balance, you can work towards eliminating stress from your financial life.
Now, before I jump into our agenda today, I’d like to invite you all to just pause for a moment. And I’d like you to think about wealth-life balance. And I want you to envision what a balanced financial life looks like to you. Today, we’re going to be talking a lot about money, investing, taxes, estate plans.
But I want you to pause before we jump into that. And just picture for yourself what your personal and financial life, what a balanced life and financial success looks like for you. At Mercer Advisors, we define wealth-life balance as, “aligning your financial goals with your personal values to create economic freedom,” or I also like to say, “create peace of mind.”
Importance of a financial plan
Now, our agenda for today. We’re going to cover three topics. We’re going to talk about investing for success, tax strategies, as well as how an estate plan can help you achieve a wealth-life balance. But, before I jump into those three strategies, I want to highlight the importance of a financial plan. And, depending on the year that you’ve all had this past year, you might be feeling a mix of emotions.
And one of the best ways that you can regain confidence and create a wealth-life balance is by having a plan. And having a financial plan in place allows you to feel prepared for life’s expected or unexpected events. Hello? COVID-19 last year? And I know some of you on the line are clients today. And I would encourage you to review and update your financial plan.
Has anything changed in your life over the past year? It’s possible. I had a baby a year ago. And so, I need to make sure that my financial plan is updated to incorporate my youngest child. And, if you’re new to Mercer, and this is your first interaction, and if you don’t have a financial plan, it’s never too late to get started. I often think it’s challenging to prepare for anything without having an idea what you’re preparing for, just as you wouldn’t pack for a vacation without knowing your destination. “Should I pack swimsuit or ski clothes? Which one?”
And so, thinking about proper financial planning, this financial plan really serves as your purpose for moving forward towards your goal. And it brings together your values, your dreams, your assets, into one comprehensive financial plan. So, again, if you are new to Mercer, I would encourage–and we’ll talk a little bit about this more–establishing a financial plan, and the importance of doing so.
Now, I’m going to jump into investments. And I’m going to talk a little bit about why it’s important to focus on investing as it pertains to your wealth-life balance. And I would say beating the market is stressful and very difficult for the average investor. And, at Mercer, we take a scientific approach to managing portfolios, to achieve risk-adjusted returns.
Now, when we think about this slide here, I want you to envision an emotional roller-coaster, if you will. We talked about nutrition and stress. And this is an example of what we feel like when we’re going through a market cycle. If the market’s going up, we might feel a sense of thrill or optimism, excitement about the future, and we’re willing to take on risk. However, if the market maybe starts to go down, our financial goals aren’t being met, we start to feel anxiety, denial, maybe panic.
This might have been some of you maybe a year ago in March, when the market was going down and there was a lot of uncertainty. But it’s important to have a balance and have a guide, like Janelle talked about, delegating someone to walk alongside you, to be on the roller-coaster ride with you, and help you to make good decisions, so that you’re not trying to get off at the wrong time. You’re not making wrong decisions at the wrong time, so that you can come back and have success in your financial plan.
Mercer Advisors’ approach to investing
Now, I mentioned that Mercer takes a scientific approach to investing. I would also argue that we take a wealth-life balance approach to investing. And, if you’re unfamiliar with investing markets, there’s really two ways that people can invest. Passive management is, you kind of just maybe buy and hold or forget about it. Active management, think about stock traders buying and selling, getting in and out of the market on a day-to-day basis.
And, at Mercer, we believe in really combining those two strategies. The long-term picture, that buy and hold or passive, with some active management to take advantage of moving markets. And we call that, “factor investing.” And we look at different factors in the market that have characteristics that tend to out-perform the broad market.
So, we take a balanced approach to our investing. And I would encourage you to think about your own portfolio and how you’re invested. Are you just in a passive portfolio? Are you in a really active? How do you make sure that your investment portfolio is balanced to help you achieve those wealth-life goals that you’ve set?
We also believe in taking a look at investing in things that are important to you. Mercer focuses a lot on socially responsible or impact investing. And Investment News several years ago completed a survey. And, of the women surveyed, 70% of women say that they wanted their investments to be aligned with their values.
So, we have the ability to develop and customize portfolios for you based on things that are important to you. If there are certain characteristics in the portfolio that you want to include–maybe, you’re really passionate about green energy or clean air–and you want to incorporate those into your portfolio, we can do that.
Some of you might be uncomfortable with certain companies and decisions they make. So, we might want to take those companies out of your portfolio to make sure that you feel good about where your money’s going and how it’s being invested. I also love that we have the ability to focus on gender and diversity portfolios, where we can focus on women-led, women-run, companies. And so, we can customize the portfolio, if that’s important to you as well.
So, moving from investments, which is the first piece, now on to taxes. I know everyone is excited to talk about taxes. We’ve got, I think, a month. Well, it just got extended. We’ve got two months now to file taxes.
And I personally love talking about taxes because, over your lifetime, taxes represent a huge expense for you. And, if managed properly, you can save hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars. Because tax planning is one of the most direct ways that you, as an investor, can take control of your financial future. And it’s not about just minimizing taxes this year or last year. It’s about lowering your lifetime tax bill.
So, we’re going to take a look at a couple things. And I want to think about how you keep more of your wealth over your lifetime and developing an integrated tax and investment plan. Now, again, I talked about lowering your lifetime tax bill. And I do want to provide a little bit of education here, if these three buckets are unfamiliar to you.
- On the left, we have tax-deferred assets, which means money that goes in pre-tax or you haven’t paid taxes on it yet. And it can grow tax-deferred. And you pay taxes when you take it out at some point in the future. For example, 401K or an IRA, individual retirement account. These would be considered tax-deferred assets. And they’re taxed at ordinary income rates when they come out.
- The middle bucket is taxable assets. Just think about your checking account, savings account, if you have a brokerage or a joint account or something, maybe even a trust account. These would be considered taxable assets. And you’ve already paid income tax on these buckets. But, if your accounts grow and do well, you may be subject to capital gains tax, which currently is anywhere from 0 to 20%, based on your tax bracket.
- And the third bucket on the right is tax-advantaged accounts. And these accounts, for example, have different characteristics, many times known as tax-free, where you pay tax on the money today and it grows tax-free forever. I don’t know about you, but I like tax-free accounts. For example, an HSA, or a health savings account, can be used for medical expenses. A Roth IRA is also another common tax-free account, where you pay income tax on the contribution–for example, $6,000, if you’re under age 50–and that money can grow tax-free when you take it out in retirement. So, it’s a great option.
Now, the reason I’m highlighting this is because, when I think about wealth-life balance from a financial standpoint, it’s important to have assets in each of these environments. Many people might tend to over-weight maybe a tax-deferred count on the left, because you have an employer retirement plan. But I would encourage you to take a look across your portfolio, across your accounts, and ask yourself, “Do I have each of these buckets, or do I just have one or two?”
And I would encourage you to work towards establishing a balance between all three of these buckets. Because I don’t know about all of you, but I like choices. I like flexibility. And I don’t know what the tax code is going to look like one month from now, a year, 10 years from now. But I want to have options in the future when taxes do change.
And having assets in each of these buckets really gives you options on where to withdraw funds from in retirement. So, again, with a comprehensive financial plan, an advisor can help you identify opportunities to maximize the amount of assets growing in each bucket to better help create your wealth-life balance.
Now, in addition to an integrated tax plan, I’m always so impressed with how philanthropic our clients are. And charitable giving is another way to create wealth-life balance and do good while saving on taxes. And I’ll highlight three areas to focus on for charitable giving. The first is cash, where you can donate cash to a charity or a non-profit organization.
And, extended from 2020 into 2021, you can also contribute up to 100% of your adjusted gross income and have that reduced off of your tax bill. You can also contribute stock. So, for example, if you receive stock as a gift and it’s grown tremendously and you have a lot of gain, you can donate stock to charity. That’s 30% of your adjusted gross income.
And the third is a qualified charitable distribution. If you’re 70 and a half or older, you can donate funds directly from an IRA to a non-profit or qualified charity. And that money doesn’t count as income to you. You can avoid paying income tax on that. So, three great ways to be able to do good while lowering your tax bill, thus helping create your overall wealth-life balance.
And the third item we’re going to highlight is estate planning. And I do feel that estate planning has a sense of urgency. I think the pandemic has changed so much of all of our lives. And, perhaps, some of you on the call might have lost family members, or you know someone that’s lost family members. And maybe, your life situation or your living arrangements look differently this year.
And I want to focus on the importance of having an estate plan. And many people ask me, “Laura, I have a will. Isn’t that enough? Doesn’t that cut it?” And, as you can see from this checklist and chart, a will just doesn’t cut it. It’s not a comprehensive estate plan. So, I would encourage you to review your overall estate plan.
Because what an estate plan does is it allows you to avoid probate. It helps protect your heirs’ assets from creditors. It also allows for documents in the event of your incapacitation. And the last one, which I think is particularly important today, is if something happens to you and your spouse would receive money, and let’s say they were to get re-married in the future, an estate plan allows for your assets that you earned with your spouse during your lifetime to be protected and not go to a new marriage. So, it’s a great way to really try to protect the money that you’ve earned.
Now, just to give you some education on what an estate plan includes, is, on the left, you can see, “Incapacity.” And, again, you’re still here. You’re still living, but you’re just not able to make financial decisions for yourself. And the documents to focus on, and think about are financial power of attorney, advanced healthcare directives, as well as HIPAA authorization.
And, on the right, you can see, “End of Life.” And, as my colleague, Emily Messaji [Phonetic 00:44:54] likes to say, “End of Plan,” meaning you’re no longer here. And a revocable trust distributes assets the way that you’ve laid out, a pour-over will, as well as retirement trusts, are all part of the End of Life planning documents included in an estate plan. And, like I mentioned at the beginning, Mercer Advisors does provide estate planning for our clients. And, for any clients that have over a million dollars managed with us, we do that complimentary. There’s no additional cost. It’s part of our services.
And, when we think about balance, again, this picture represents a great way of, “How do we balance this trust assets versus retirement?” Some of you might say, “Laura, what assets do I put in my trust? Do I put my IRA?” And so, on this chart, you can see, on the left are assets that you would put into your trust. Checking, savings, property–your house, for example–any business assets would be titled in the name of your trust.
And retirement assets on the right here can either be held in the retirement trust or can be passed directly by a beneficiary designation. So, think through how your assets are titled, and if there’re any changes that you would need to make in your personal estate plan.
So, again, covering everything that we’ve gone through today, a lot of different things that were on our list. And I just want to come back and highlight the three strategies that we talked about. Really taking a look at the investment and making sure that’s aligned with your wealth-life goals and incorporating tax strategy and planning into your financial plan as well as ensuring that your heirs are protected through a comprehensive estate plan.
Where to focus
And I know we’ve talked about a lot today, between what Janelle’s covered with nutrition and now on finances. And I would invite you to think about, and maybe even write down, as Janelle had us do earlier, one thing that you’re going to do today for your financial wealth-life balance. Are you going to focus on your investments, your tax, or your estate?
Just focus on one thing that you want to achieve, maybe in the next month or so. And it’s my hope that you’ve walked away with a better understanding of the steps to take to lower your financial stress and move you towards achieving your wealth-life balance. And, when I think about what economic freedom means, when we think about it, it means something different to everyone. And what I want to focus on is, “How do you remain financially secure, even in the face of uncertainty?” And that’s how you can reclaim your wealth-life balance.
Now, I’d like to invite Andrew and Janelle to join us again. I’ve seen so many questions coming in, which is just great. So, I’d like to invite you both back for a time of Q&A. So, Andrew, let us know what questions we’ve got. And please add more questions. We’d love to answer your questions. We’ve got time to do that today.
“For fish oil and Vitamin C, do you recommend taking a supplement like that daily?”
Andrew: Yes. Great discussion. The first question coming in is for Janelle. And, Janelle, the question is, “For fish oil and Vitamin C, do you recommend taking a supplement like that daily?”
Janelle Vermeulen: I would say, first and foremost, it’s ideal to consume the nutrient through food. So, if your diet is lacking in those sources, then yes. Consider supplementation. Typically, Vitamin C deficiencies are pretty rare nowadays, just because it’s also added in fortified foods. But, ideally, for Vitamin C, you’d be consuming about 500 milligrams a day.
And, for Omega-3 fish oil, it’s just really important to make sure that it’s got both the EHA and the DPA sources in your supplement. And you can find decent-quality-grade supplements at a local Natural Grocers. They have awesome support there. The staff there is phenomenal and can point you in the right direction for the proper supplement that best supports you.
Andrew: Thank you so much, Janelle. Laura, there was a question about incorporating socially responsible investing techniques to the portfolio. And maybe, you could just provide a bit of a framework for how to think about how to align values with investments.
Laura Combs: Sure. So, when we think about socially responsible investing, it’s becoming mainstream. And I think, where people maybe thought before it was more specialized, you can really invest in companies that you feel good about. So, there’re a couple of different ways to think about that. You can either add companies or items into your portfolio that you want to focus on–that would be called, “impact investing”–or a negative tilt would be, if you wanted to remove certain companies, maybe alcohol, tobacco, for example, you could remove those.
And it’s really a screen that’s just as simple as sitting down and working with an advisor and developing a plan on what’s important, what do you want to see in the portfolio, and what do you want to make sure is taken out. So, it’s really a great way and a great exercise to make sure you feel good about how your money’s being invested.
Any suggestions or tips for ways to reduce that or maybe work through them?
Andrew: Yeah. And it’s important to align your values with your portfolio. It’s great that there are more ways to do that. Janelle, let’s go back to you. There’s a question about stress cravings. Any suggestions or tips for ways to reduce that or maybe work through them?
Janelle Vermeulen: Yeah, absolutely. When you’re feeling that stress craving come along, first of all, I encourage you to take a few deep breaths. Possibly, drink some water. But also, think about what’s the best way to nourish your body right away. Sugar is not the answer. Alcohol is not the answer. So, lean into something that looks more like a good protein, a good healthy fat, and possibly a little bit of a carbohydrate, just so that you’re looking at that well-balanced satiating little meal. You don’t have to make it complicated. It can be something like a banana with some almonds, and you’re good to go.
How do you suggest starting that conversation and making sure it goes well on the initial discussion?
Andrew: That happens to be one of my favorite snacks. Laura, there is a question around estate planning and kind of getting the family involved. So, could be different generations, could be the kids. How do you suggest starting that conversation and making sure it goes well on the initial discussion?
Laura Combs: I think I love that question. And there’s a concept in wealth management that really talks about kind of this idea of family meetings, if you’re thinking about sitting down with your children, and outlining, “What are our core values as a family? What are our legacy plans as a family?” and being able to involve that next generation.
Maybe you don’t have to share all the details, Andrew, about all of the assets or how much wealth you might have. But you can kind of share big picture ideas so that that next generation has an idea of what might be coming, and then also how to get involved. If there’s giving goals or charitable desires, getting the kids involved, that’s an exciting time where you can then pass on that legacy. And, hey, we want to really do good in the community. We want to take care of people and be charitable. And so, it’s a great way to do pass on that legacy kind of through a formalized family meeting.
Is it too late to start a 529 savings plan for college?
Andrew: Yeah. Communication’s important. Laura, maybe we could stay with you for one more question kind of related to, yeah, kids or grandparents, just different generations. The question is about kids of junior high age, wondering if it’s too late to start a 529 savings plan for college. And just wanted your thoughts on if it’s too late or if there’s maybe still time?
Laura Combs: I would say it’s never too late to start a college savings plan. It’s a great way, even if they’re in junior high, if they have at least four more years until the start of college. And then, even beyond that, if someone’s going to college, they could continue to fund for about eight years. Which is, in the investment world, still a long-time horizon to have money growing and working for you.
And a 529 is, when we think about that third bucket on the right, that tax advantage bucket, assets that go in and grow. The growth is tax-free, if it’s used for education. So, it’s a great way, if you’ve got four to eight years. Hopefully, there’s some growth in the market over that time period. So, I would say it’s never too late.
Dried fruit, whole fruit? Any preferences there, pros and cons?
Andrew: Yeah, and to get some of the tax benefits too along the way. Janelle, question about fruits. Dried fruit, whole fruit? Any preferences there, pros and cons?
Janelle Vermeulen: Yes. I do have some preferences there. At the end of the day, I don’t want to demonize fruit. I know it has a higher sugar content, compared to other foods. However, it is a real food source. But, if it were my preference for dried fruit versus a whole fruit, it would be the whole fruit. Simply because, one, it provides more volume to help fill you up. And it prevents you from over-eating.
I could sit down and eat dried apricots until the cows come home. But that’s not going to do anyone any good. It’s not going to do me any good. It’s going to be way too much sugar from just sitting down and eating one in its natural whole food source. So, definitely whole food over the dried. Yeah.
What are some healthy snacks to try during the day, especially during the afternoon slump?
Andrew: Be careful of the dense food. And maybe we can have one final question for you, Janelle. And I think that will be a good allotment of our Q&A time. So, the final question, Janelle, is, “What are some healthy snacks to try during the day, especially during the afternoon slump?”
Janelle Vermeulen: Afternoon slump for me, I really focus on a healthy fat and protein, really, just to get my energy levels up. I find that, personally, I crave carbohydrates more so in the morning. It’s just how my body works. So, I really like to always keep on hand quick, easy, a rotisserie chicken along with some avocado. Mash that together. Put in a lettuce roll-up quick, easy. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Other simple things, like I said before, like the almonds combined with, say, a piece of decent jerky. There are some healthy lower-sugar options out there. But really, just being mindful of supporting yourself and not trying to make it too carbohydrate-heavy at that point in the day, because you’re just going to crash some more.
Andrew: Well, my mouth is now watering. Those sound like some really good snacks. Again, thank you, Laura and Janelle. I appreciate you taking questions today. And we have a few more things to cover.
Laura Combs: Great. Thanks, Andrew.
Janelle Vermeulen: Thank you.
Laura Combs: So, to round out our time today, a couple of next steps for you. So, Janelle, give us your one tip, your top tip here. We see it on the screen but tell us a little bit about that.
Janelle Vermeulen: Sleep, sleep, sleep. Make it a priority. It is okay to make sleep a priority. Establish a sleep routine. I bumped up my sleep routine to literally start right after dinner time. I wash my face. I start to decompress. I turn my phone off at 7 PM. And let me tell you, quality sleep makes a world of difference.
Laura Combs: I love that. That’s a great goal. And the tip or next step that I’ll leave all of you with, from a financial wealth-life balance side, is really take a look and ensure your estate plan is up to date and implemented. It doesn’t do any good, if you’ve kind of thought about it, if it’s not actually drafted and executed. So, just take a look at your estate plan and make sure it’s exactly the way that you want it in the event that something were to happen to you.
For more information on Janelle and her company, Better Bites Nutrition, you can visit betterbitesnutrition.com. And, if you have any questions on Mercer Advisors, you can visit our website at merceradvisors.com. Now, I mentioned a thank you gift at the beginning of our time today. So, a parting gift for our clients.
For attending this webinar, you are eligible to receive a complementary nutrition consultation from Janelle at Better Bites Nutrition. And so, check your email in the coming weeks, because you’ll get an invitation to sign up for a consultation with Janelle. And, like I shared at the beginning, it was a tremendous experience. I would highly, highly, recommend it. I learned so many new things about sleep and what to pair when I’m eating things to really help boost my energy as well as my moods.
Now, if you’re new with Mercer Advisors, we would like to provide you a complementary retirement projection consultation with an advisor. And Maeve Schmid, who you heard from at the beginning of our call today, will be providing these consultations. So, check your inbox. And, again, this is a great way to just get a plan together. Having that plan in place allows you to know where you’re going in the future to create and achieve that wealth-life balance in your life.
So, again, I want to thank you all for joining us today. And, as we’ve learned, wealth-life balance does not have to be complicated. Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. Finances don’t have to be complicated. Like Janelle highlighted, what are you going to delegate? What are you going to delegate in your life? Hiring a professional to help you with your nutritional needs? That could be one thing.
Delegate items in your life, like financial management. Allows you to focus on what matters to you and helps reduce your financial stress. And holistic wealth management is what we at Mercer Advisors do. And we do that so that you don’t have to stress about money and so you can achieve your wealth-life balance. So, I want to thank you again for attending. And have a wonderful rest of your day.