Monthly rewind: November edition

Monthly rewind: November edition

In case you missed anything, below is a list of articles published at Intentional Retirement during the month of November.  We’re heading into the home stretch of 2011.  Touch base if I there’s ever anything I can do to help you out.

Thanks for reading!



Your plan for the New Year in 3 easy steps

Your plan for the New Year in 3 easy steps

Well, another year is almost in the record books.  How did you do?  Did you accomplish what you’d hoped?  Did you achieve any key milestones during the last eleven months or did you find yourself a slave to daily maintenance (those things that take up a lot of time, but don’t provide a whole lot of meaning or get you any closer to your goals)?  If you’re like me, there were some of both, but you’d love to do better in 2012.  After all, the clock is ticking and retirement is a year closer!

In my last post I mentioned how I spend time at the end of each year thinking about life, reviewing the past year and planning for the next.  Doing this has made a huge difference and has helped me with key goals like running a marathon, starting a business, being a better husband and father, and writing two books.  Below I take a detailed look at my simple, three step process, but first…

More than just resolutions

Don’t confuse this article with the usual New Year’s Resolutions talk that you hear this time of year.  It’s more than good intentions and wishful thinking.  It’s about setting measurable goals in key areas of your life so that you can make huge strides in the coming year.   With that said, let’s jump right in.

Step 1: The annual review

I kick off my planning each year by reviewing the past year.  I look at what I did well and not so well; at what worked and what crashed and burned.  I’ll go through my plan for the previous year and see which of my goals I was able to accomplish and which are still in process. I’ll also look at a number of metrics that I use to gauge my progress, such as words written, books sold, and new clients served.

This review process gives me a good overview of what I was able to accomplish as well as what still needs to be done.  Once I know the “state of the union” I can move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Outline specific, measurable goals for each key category

After reviewing how I did the previous year, I spend time thinking about the things I’d like to accomplish in the coming year and what I’ll need to do to make those things happen.  For me, it’s easier to break my life down into major categories and then spend time planning and setting goals in each area.  My categories are marriage, parenting, faith, finances, health, business, writing, pursuits (e.g. guitar, photography, reading), and travel.  For each area I’ll lay out between three and six specific, measurable goals for the coming year.

Step 3: Strategy and tactics

Once the goals are in place, I spend time thinking through the steps (strategy and tactics) that I will need to take to accomplish each goal.  To stay on track and to make sure that I’m focused on milestones instead of just maintenance, I start each month by filling out a simple spreadsheet that I call my 4 x 4.  On it I list the four key goals that I will be working on over the next four weeks.  That sits on my desk each day as a reminder of the key things that I should be working on.

That’s it.  Pretty simple really, but don’t underestimate the importance of planning.  The type of life you want to live—one filled with meaning, accomplishment, and purpose—does not happen by accident.  You need to be intentional.  You need to know what kinds of things you value and work toward making them a reality.  Intentional Retirement is here to help, but as the old saying goes, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

A few more things to keep in mind as you plan…

Dream Big

When you dream big, something happens.  It changes how you think and how you act.  It changes the types of questions you ask.  It inspires and changes those around you.  Dreaming big has led to things like cures, computers and space travel.  Don’t limit yourself to those things that seem “reasonable” or “probable.”  Take a risk and dream big.

Start small

Someone once said that people tend to overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.  That is so true.  Don’t put so much stuff on your to-do list that you don’t know where to begin.  Big goals (like retirement) can take years to plan and execute.  Don’t try to do too much too soon or you’ll just find yourself overwhelmed and discouraged.  Outline your strategy and then take the smallest step possible to get started.  Then do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next.  Before you know it, you’ll have some real momentum.

Allow room for serendipity

Goals are great, but don’t be a slave to them.  Be open to opportunities that you hadn’t anticipated or planned for.  One of the coolest things that happened to me this year was not a part of my plan and I initially turned it down.  The Financial Planning Association asked me to write a monthly retirement column for them and I said no because it didn’t fit into my schedule.  Luckily I changed my mind and that opportunity grew into not only a column for them, but a column for the Omaha World Herald and a broader platform for my ideas on retirement.  Don’t be afraid to say yes.

Have a vision for your life

Imagine trying to put together a puzzle without the picture on the box.  It would be incredibly difficult because you wouldn’t know the end goal.  The same is true of your life. Your goals are important, but you need to have a vision for where you want those goals to take you.  What are your dreams for the future?  What is the vision you have, not just for retirement, but also for the rest of your life?  If you can’t answer that question or if your answer doesn’t really inspire you, then stop everything else you’re doing and really think that through.  It’s your life.  No one else is going to know more about it or take it more seriously than you.

Celebrate along the way

Don’t forget to celebrate along the way.  Take time to enjoy your incremental progress and reward yourself for a job well done.

Good luck with your planning!  Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help.


Commander’s Intent (a.k.a. Eisenhower’s advice for your retirement)

Commander’s Intent (a.k.a. Eisenhower’s advice for your retirement)

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  ~Dwight Eisenhower

Reading that quote, you might think that Eisenhower didn’t have much use for plans.  In reality, though, he was both a meticulous planner and brilliant strategist.  I doubt he ever entered a battle without some sort of detailed plan.

I think his point wasn’t “Don’t plan” but rather “Things rarely go according to plan.”  It’s impossible to prepare for every conceivable contingency and variable.  Rather than trying, he relied heavily on a concept called Commander’s Intent.

Commander’s intent (or CI) is the end goal of the operation.  It is the final objective or desired outcome.  For all practical purposes, it is unchanging.  Subordinates, staff and soldiers can modify tactics and strategies to fit the realities on the ground, but the commander’s intent is the driving force behind every decision.

Why am I talking about old generals and battle plans?  Because there’s a lot we can learn from the parallels between planning for battle and planning for retirement.

With any major undertaking (like retirement), it’s impossible to think through every possible contingency.  That’s especially true the further out you try to plan.  Raise your hand if ten years ago you predicted the housing bubble, the failure of Lehman/Merrill/et al, or the European debt crisis.  There are plenty of retirements smoldering at the foot of that wreckage.

Rather than trying to predict the future twenty years hence and then rigidly adhering to an obsolete plan, it’s better to have a plan that can adapt and evolve.  That way, you can change tactics, while keeping your overall mission intact.

Key to having a flexible plan is having a deep understanding of your end goal (your personal CI, if you will).  Be as specific as possible.  Really think through things like where you want to live, what you want to do, and whom you want to do it with.  Once you know what you really want out of life, you can get up each day and make logical choices that get you closer to that goal.

If you fail to really understand your retirement goals, two things will happen.  First, you’ll find yourself copying other peoples’ tactics without fully understanding the strategy.  You’ll quit your job at 65 because that’s what your friends are doing.  You’ll take up golf or move to a warmer climate because that’s what they do on TV.  Rather than blazing your own trail with a plan that works for you, you’ll follow someone else down his or her road.  Inevitably you’ll look up one day feeling lost and asking yourself “How did I get here?”

Second, when uncertainty comes—a health scare, job change, or investment volatility—you won’t know how to react because you don’t have a clear understanding of the final objective.  Any action you do take will likely make things worse, because it’s not made in support of any overarching goal.  Without a clearly defined commander’s intent, the uncertain and unexpected will leave you feeling rudderless.

Unfortunately, I talk to people all the time who made this mistake.  What can you do to avoid the same fate?

The year-end plan

Circling back to Eisenhower, planning is indispensable.  At the end of each year, I spend time over several weeks thinking about life, reviewing the past year and planning for the next.  It’s a time where I can think about big goals and major priorities.  I have always found it valuable, because it not only helps me to be more intentional with life, but also ensures that each year is spent in support of the overall plan.

I’ll write more about my process in a future post, with the hope that you can adapt it to your own circumstances.  For now, I just wanted to encourage you to start thinking about what you really want out of life so you can build your plan around that.  It’s time to begin taking your plans very seriously.

Have a great Thanksgiving.  Thanks for reading.


A To Do List for year’s end

A To Do List for year’s end

As 2011 draws to a close, there are several financial moves that you should consider.  Below are 10 steps that could help reduce your tax bill, solidify your investment strategy and ensure that your retirement planning is on track.

Review beneficiary designations

Many accounts, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), 401(k)s, annuities, and insurance policies allow you to name a beneficiary who will receive those assets when you die.  Many people don’t realize that those designations take precedence over their will, even if the will is more accurate and up to date.  Because of this, it is important to review the beneficiary designations on all your accounts annually to make sure that they accurately reflect your wishes.  Meet with your financial adviser and estate planning attorney to ensure that your designations not only pass property to the correct people, but also minimize expense and taxes.

Take required minimum distributions

If you turned (or will turn) 70 ½ during 2011 then it’s time to start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs and other tax deferred accounts like your 401(k).  RMDs don’t apply to Roth IRAs.  Your financial adviser can help you calculate your RMD based on IRS guidelines.  You are required to take the distribution by December 31st of each year with one exception.  If you turned 70 ½ during 2011 you can delay your distribution until April 1, 2012.  If you do that, remember you will need to take two distributions next year—one for 2011 and one for 2012.

IRA charitable exclusion

The government extended the IRA charitable exclusion for 2011.  Basically this exclusion allows you to distribute (tax-free) up to $100,000 from your IRA and direct it to a charitable organization.  If you are charitably minded and don’t need the income from your distribution, then this could be a good way to avoid the tax bite on your RMD.

Medicare open enrollment

The Medicare open enrollment period is the time each year when those on Medicare can make changes to their existing plans to better suit their needs.  If you are on Medicare, then you should review your health and prescription drug plans and decide if you want to stick with them or if you would be better served by switching to another plan.  The open enrollment period typically runs from November 15 to December 31, but it has been moved up this year to October 15 through December 7.  Visit for more information.

Year-end charitable contributions

One way to reduce your tax liability in a given year is to make charitable contributions.  If you are considering making charitable contributions prior to year-end, consider using appreciated stock rather than cash.  Not only will you benefit from the charitable deduction, but you could also avoid paying the built in capital gains tax on the stock.

Year-end gains and losses

Capital gains and losses can be used to offset each other.  If you took profits in some of your investment positions this year, look to see if you have any positions that could be sold for a loss to offset the gain and minimize your taxes.  Excess losses can be used to offset up to $3,000 in ordinary income taxes.  Losses beyond that can be carried forward indefinitely to offset future gains.

Maximize retirement contributions

For 2011, you can contribute a maximum of $5,000 to your IRA and $16,500 to your 401(k).  If you are over 50, you can contribute an additional $1,000 to your IRA and $5,500 to your 401(k) per year.  By maximizing your contributions each year, you greatly increase your chances of being able to adequately fund your retirement.

Review your asset allocation

The market upheaval of the last several years and investors’ response to that upheaval has wreaked havoc on many people’s asset allocations. Rather than having a balanced, diversified portfolio, many have sought safety by moving everything to cash or bonds. That could cause serious problems in the future if inflation picks up or the bond market stumbles. To protect your assets and maximize your returns, you should meet with a trusted adviser and make sure the investments you hold are appropriate based on your risk tolerance, goals and time frame.

Review your estate plan

Your estate plan should not be a static document.  As your life changes, your planning must change with it.  Getting married or divorced would likely change how you want to distribute your property; likewise if there is a death in the family.  Each year you should review your documents, including your will, trust, and powers of attorney to make sure that they still reflect your wishes and have the correct people taking charge if you were to die or become incapacitated.  Also, if you move to another state when you retire, meet with your attorney to make sure that your documents will be valid in your new state of residence.  Make revisions as necessary.

Shred unnecessary paperwork

Much of the paperwork you have can be purged once a year. For example, if your December investment statements summarize the year’s activity, you can shred the statements for the previous 11 months. Likewise, any bills, credit card statements, and receipts that you are not using as supporting documentation for your taxes can go.

According to the IRS, you should keep your tax records for “the period of time during which you can amend your tax return to claim a credit or refund, or that the IRS can assess more tax.” Seven years should do the trick for most tax documents, such as returns and any supporting documentation like cancelled checks, receipts, or credit card statements.  Identity theft is on the rise, so always remember to shred documents before discarding them.

As you can see, by taking a few simple steps before year-end you can enter 2012 organized and on a firm financial footing.

Note: I first published this article at and the Omaha World Herald.

11 great travel apps for your retirement (and pre-retirement) adventures

11 great travel apps for your retirement (and pre-retirement) adventures

Travel is at the top of many retirement “to-do” lists, so it’s a topic I’ll cover from time to time here at IR.  One interesting development these last few years has been the explosion of new tools available for travel bugs on their cell phones and iPads.  Below are ten apps that I use all the time to help me plan, navigate, and enjoy my travels.

FlightBoard  I love this app!  The best way to explain it is to have you imagine the arrivals and departure boards at your local airport.  Now imagine that you could have them on your cell phone (or iPad) with the most up-to-date information for almost every airport in the world.  Picking someone up from the airport and need to know if their flight is still on time?  Check FlightBoard.  Need to know what gate your connecting flight leaves from?  Check FlightBoard.  Need to email your flight info to Grandma Jan so she knows when you’ll be arriving for Thanksgiving?  You can do it directly from FlightBoard.  As an added bonus the app has a beautiful design interface that was inspired by the arrival/departure boards at Charles de Gaulle Airport inParis.

TripAdvisor  If you’ve ever been planning a trip somewhere and wondered what other travelers thought of the hotels, restaurants, or attractions you’re considering, then TripAdvisor is for you.  This app (and gives you access to over 50 million reviews and opinions posted by your fellow travelers.  It also has cool tools like “Near Me Now” which pegs your current location and then gives you options for nearby restaurants or attractions.

Dropbox  The Dropbox motto is “Your files, anywhere.”  That pretty much sums it up.  Anything you save to Dropbox is automatically saved to your other computers, phones, mobile devices and at  That means you can access those files (even without an internet connection) while you’re on the road.  It’s a great tool for those who need access to certain work or other documents while traveling.  I’ve also used it to store back-up copies of my passport, driver’s license and travel itineraries.  Go to to get a free 2 GB account and then download the Dropbox mobile app from the app store.

Big World  This app does a lot of things, but I use it primarily as a trip-planning guide.  Creating a new guide displays a map (similar to Google maps) of the area that you’re visiting and then you can drop pins at key locations (e.g. your hotel, restaurants you want to visit, sites you want to see, etc.).  It gives you a good visual representation of the places on your itinerary and helps you pack as much as possible into each day by scheduling things based on their proximity to each other.  It’s also a helpful navigator as its GPS locator constantly tracks your position and displays it on the map.

Subway Apps  If you’re visiting a big city and plan on taking public transportation, be sure to download that city’s subway app.  Having the route map in your pocket is useful, but where these apps really shine is with their route planning features.  Here’s an example.  On a recent trip to Washington, DC I could see on Big World that the closest metro stop to our hotel was the Foggy Bottom station.  As we’d head out each day I’d pull up my DCRider app and click on the Trip Planner feature.  In the “from” field I’d choose “Foggy Bottom” and in the “to” field I’d choose wherever we wanted to go.  If we were heading to Arlington Cemetery, I’d choose that and click “Get Route.”  The app would then give me the best route.  In this case it told me to board the blue line towards Franconia-Springfield and then get off at the second stop.  These apps are a great way to take the stress out of subterranean travel in strange cities.

Where To Go  This app is kind of like having a concierge in your pocket.  In a strange city and want to know all the French restaurants within a ten block radius?  Trying to find the closest grocery story?  Have a toothache and need to find a dentist?  These are just a few of the hundreds of preset searches you can do on Where To Go.  The interface is simple to use and gives you twelve key categories like restaurants, entertainment, retail stores and medical.  Click on restaurants, for example, and it gives you a comprehensive list from Afghan to Vietnamese.  Then click on the type of food you want and your options are highlighted on the map with your current location represented by a blinking blue dot.

The World Clock  Thanks to the magic of jetlag, it’s not unusual to wake up at odd hours at the beginning of a trip not remembering if you’re in Baltimore or Bangkok.  The World Clock won’t cure jetlag, but it will at least keep you oriented to the correct time zone.  It has a really cool day/night display that moves with the sun and below that you can put clocks for six different cities, which is helpful if you’re having lunch in London and wondering if it’s too early to call the kids at grandma’s house back in Omaha.  The simple alarm feature is also a welcome addition if you’ve ever struggled to figure out the nightstand alarm at your hotel.

Kindle  This is a great app for those who love to read when they travel, but hate to lug around their library.  It gives you access to the million plus books at Amazon as well as hundreds newspapers and magazines.

TripIt  TripIt is a great travel organizer that allows you to put all of your plans in one place.  Just forward your booking confirmation emails to and they will be added to your trip itinerary in the app.  Then when you need your rental car reservation number or flight information, you know exactly where to go to find it.

AirportAce  This app gives you access to terminal maps, wifi availability, transportation options, parking information, weather, and amenities at an ever increasing number of airports worldwide.  Trying to make a tight connection at LAX and need to find the closest Cinnabon?  This is the app for that.

Games  A game can be a great diversion if you’re suffering through a particularly long layover or flight delay.  Your options here are pretty much unlimited, but some that I enjoy are Chess with friends, Words with friends, Cut the Rope, Bike Baron, and RealRacing2HD.

Whether you’re heading to Kansas or Cameroon, these apps will be a welcome companion.  It’s a big world out there.  Get exploring!