The Value of Pursuit: Adventure as a Catalyst for Mental, Spiritual, and Relational Growth

In the modern world, where routines dominate our lives and the digital screen often becomes our window to the outside, the pursuit of adventure might seem like a luxury. However, venturing into the unknown, or simply stepping out of our comfort zones, can serve as a powerful catalyst for mental health, spiritual growth, and interpersonal connections. If you have listened to my podcast with Robbie Lenfestey, you will know that I am referring to moving out of your ‘Comfort Zone’ and in to your ‘Growth Zone’.   Like a well-thought-out financial plan, an adventurous spirit not only prepares us for the uncertainties of life but also enriches our existence in profound ways.

But how do you do this in a healthy, thoughtful pursuit?  And what is there really to gain?

Adventure and Mental Health: The Return on Investment

The relationship between adventure and mental health can be likened to the principle of ‘risk and return’ in financial planning. Just as investors accept a certain level of risk to achieve potential gains, individuals can embrace adventure to reap significant psychological rewards. Engaging in new and challenging activities triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters. This biochemical uptick can combat stress which leads to many more good things down stream.

Moreover, adventure acts as a form of behavioral activation. By pushing ourselves to engage in physical activities, whether it’s hiking up a mountain or kayaking down a river, we may break the cycle of inactivity that often accompanies certain mental health struggles. While there is no silver bullet, the effort invested in such activities can provide a valuable return in the form of improved mental resilience and a more vibrant sense of well-being.

Spiritual Growth: Compounding Interest in Our Inner Lives

You may be asking, ‘What does spiritual growth have to do with Adventure?’  Well, I’m glad you asked!  Spiritual growth through adventure can be viewed through the lens of ‘compounding interest’—a fundamental concept in financial growth. Just as small, regular investments grow over time through the power of compound interest, regular engagement with adventurous activities can lead to profound accumulations in spiritual wisdom and personal insight.

Adventures often place us in situations where we are dwarfed by the vastness of nature or the complexity of different cultures. I love this part!  These experiences can shift our perspective, making us more aware of the larger forces at play in our lives and the universe. And this can, and often does, mean something different to each of us.  Each adventure acts as a deposit into our spiritual bank, where over time, the layers of insight, humility, and connectivity accrue, enhancing our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

Building Interpersonal Connections: The Currency of Shared Experiences

This is the part of adventure I really like, even as a committed introvert!  The value of adventure in building and deepening relationships is immense. Shared experiences, especially those that involve overcoming challenges together, can act as a strong social currency. When we venture out with others, be they friends, family, or even strangers, the trials and triumphs experienced together are stored as shared capital. This capital, much like financial savings, can be drawn upon in times of need, providing a relational safety net when necessary.

Interpersonal relationships forged in the heat of shared adventures often exhibit a depth and resilience. They can be robust and capable of withstanding the ups and downs of life. I think this has been 100% for the most meaningful relationships in my life.  Moreover, the memories created become shared assets, cherished, and valued, strengthening bonds, and fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Implementing Adventure in Your Life: Starting Small

Incorporating adventure into one’s life does not necessarily mean scaling Everest (although, for my podcast guest, Kenton Cool, it does mean this!) or sailing solo across the Atlantic. It begins with small steps outside one’s Comfort Zone and into the Growth Zone. This could be as simple as trying a new hobby, traveling to a different part of town, or engaging in a local cultural event.

The pursuit of adventure is more than just an escape from the mundane; it is a strategic investment in our mental, spiritual, and interpersonal health. Each adventure, whether big or small, acts as a deposit in our holistic well-being, yielding returns that enrich our lives immeasurably. Just as wise financial planning ensures economic security and growth, a life planned with regular doses of adventure can move one toward a rich, vibrant, and profound human experience. Embrace the unknown and pursue your great life now!

Giving While Living

If charity is part of your legacy plan, the best time to start giving back could be right now. Spending on other people is one of the most rewarding ways we can use our money. And seeing your generosity in action might give you some ideas on how to improve your legacy planning and Return on Life for your beneficiaries.

Here are three ways you can kickstart your legacy plan and take a more active role in your long-term charitable goals.

Solve a local problem.

The issues in the world are so great right now that many smaller concerns can slip through the cracks. Somewhere in your community right now there is a park in disrepair, a vital organization or program that’s hurting for funds, or a group of people whose needs aren’t being met. You could coordinate with other concerned citizens and local leaders on an action plan or start your own charitable organization that’s focused on filling that void. If your initial efforts fall short, or if solving one problem reveals more issues, you can recalibrate your plans — and your giving strategy — in the service of more permanent solutions. Being a force for positive change in your community might even inspire similar acts of charity and kindness among your neighbors.

Donate your time.

Charities depend on passionate people almost as much as they depend on donations. Whatever your professional background may be, it’s likely that there’s a cause that can benefit from your skills and knowledge during a few weekly volunteer shifts. If you’re also donating to a place where you volunteer, you’ll gain a “behind-the-scenes” perspective on how your money is being spent, and perhaps on ways that the organization could be using its resources more effectively. And if you’re still working full time, volunteering can also be a great glide path during your transition into retirement. As your career begins winding down, you can use your charitable goals to create a new retirement schedule that will keep you active and engaged.

Empower your loved ones.

Depending on the laws in your place of residence and what your giving goals look like, there are many options for distributing your wealth to your heirs. You might consider outright gifts, such as helping with the downpayment on a house or car. If grandchildren are on the way, you might open savings or investment accounts in their names. If you’re considering leaving behind a sizable amount of money to an adult relative, gift them a smaller amount and see how responsibly they manage their “pre-inheritance.” Perhaps your generosity will open up opportunities for you to pass on some of your wisdom around gaining, managing, and growing wealth. Or, you might decide that rather than leaving money to loved ones directly, a family trust might be a more efficient way to preserve your wishes.

You could also establish a family charitable organization and start involving your heirs in its management. Have a family conversation about the causes that are nearest to your heart and how you can use your family’s resources to make a lasting impact. More than just leaving money to your loved ones, you’ll also be leaving them with a real sense of purpose and a deeper understanding of what was really important to you.

Charitable giving of any kind will raise some important financial planning issues, starting with the tax ramifications for you, your estate, and your beneficiaries. Establishing trusts or family charities will require even more complex planning. We can help you clarify your charitable goals so that we can work together on the best strategies for preserving your legacy.

 

Quarterly Letter to Clients

The first three months of the year would not be described as boring by any stretch of the imagination.  With the war in Ukraine continuing to create global uncertainty and the government-assisted closing of two of the largest regional banks in history, there is plenty to capture our short-term focus.  But even with these and other events, many stock indexes are up since early January and bond prices have seen some recovery as interest rate pressure has eased a bit. The point is that sometimes investment returns can tell a different story than does the current headlines.

However, whether the numbers are up or down in any given year, we caution against letting them alter your mood, or as importantly, your portfolio mix. Because, when it comes to future expected returns, short term performance is among the least significant determinants available.

Thumbs Down…Thumbs Up

In the thumbs-down category, U.S. stock market indexes1  turned in annual lows not seen since 2008, with most of the heaviest big tech stocks2 taking a bath. Bonds fared no better, as the U.S. Federal
Reserve raised rates to tamp down inflation. The U.K.’s economic policies3 resulted in Liz Truss becoming its shortest-tenured prime minister ever, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s continued COVID woes kept the global economy in a tailspin. Cryptocurrency exchanges like FTX4… well, you know what happened there.

On the plus side, inflation has appeared to be easing slightly, and so far, a recession has yet to materialize. A globally diversified, value-tilted strategy5 has helped protect against some (certainly
not all) of the worst returns. An 8.7% Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)6 for Social Security recipients has helped ease some of the spending sting, as should some of the provisions within the newly enacted SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022.

Recency Bias

Now, how much of this did you see coming last January? Given the unique blend of social, political, and economic news that defined the year, it’s unlikely anything but blind luck could have led to accurate
expectations at the outset.

 In fact, even if you believe you knew we were in for trouble back then, it’s entirely possible you are altering reality, thanks to recency and hindsight bias. The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Zweig7 ran an experiment to demonstrate how our memories can deceive us like that. Last January, he asked readers to send in their market predictions for 2022. Then, toward year-end, he asked them to recall their predictions (without peeking). The conclusion: “[Respondents] remembered being much less bullish than they had been in real time.”

In other words, just after most markets had experienced a banner year of high returns in 2021, many people were predicting more of the same. Then, the reality of a demoralizing year rewrote their memories; they subconsciously overlaid their original optimism with today’s pessimism.

What have we learned?

Where does this leave us? Clearly, there are better ways to prepare for the future than being influenced by current market conditions, and how we’re feeling about them today. Instead, everything we cannot yet know will shape near-term market returns, while everything we’ve learned from decades of disciplined investing should shape our long-range investment plans. 

In other words, stay informed but be careful to not be swayed into a reactive decision. Keep your long-term lenses on and your future self will thank you for it.
 

As we head into a new quarter, always know that we are here to help and are grateful for your
continued trust.

Josh

 

Quarterly Letter to Clients

Well, we made it to 2021 so how are you feeling?  The start of a new year can breed hope for new possibilities.  Even though 2020 was oppressive to most in so many ways, I do think we can still hold hope for the new year.  I have never been one to focus on New Year’s resolutions as they always felt like a recipe for disappointment (I know that is not the case for everyone, though).  What I am striving for this year is not new resolutions, but rather strengthening routines.  Routines feel more in my control, and if 2020 taught anything, it is to control what we can control.  One of these areas for me is to practice gratitude.  I have begun by thinking of 3 things I am grateful for each night before I go to sleep.  It is refreshing and encouraging to think on these things.  When we talk later this year, feel free to check on my progress with this.  This is just one small example, and I am sure that you have others that jump to your mind.  Let me encourage you to pursue practices like this for the sake of your own mental health in 2021.

Speaking of control…

You likely have heard us say in the past that market performance is not an area that any of us have control.  Because of this, it is wasted energy to focus and worry about market movements.  You should spend that energy doing things you can control: spend less than what you make, avoid debt, build cash reserves, plan your generosity and plan your future – practical principals that have an outsized impact on your life.

Small, quiet acts

Whether the temptation is to abandon a free-falling market (like the one we encountered less than a year ago), or chase after winning streaks, an investor’s best move remains the same.  Concentrated bets on hot hands generate erratic outcomes, which makes them far closer to being dicey gambles than sturdy investments.  Trust instead in the durability of your carefully planned investment portfolio. Focus instead on small, quiet acts.  That is what we are here for, for example, to:  
  • – Remind you that your globally diversified portfolio already holds an appropriate allocation to Tesla stock (which may be a lot, a little, or none, depending on your financial goals.
 
  • – Guide you in rebalancing your portfolio if recent gains have overexposed it to market risks.
 
  • – Help you interpret the 5,600 pages of the newly passed Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, so you can manage your next financial moves accordingly.
 
  • – Assess potential ramifications of the Biden tax proposals and advise you on any additional defensive tax planning that may be warranted for you in the years ahead.
 
  •  -Remain by your side as you encounter whatever other challenges and opportunities 2021 has in store for you and your family.
  These are not loud acts that you will read about in the paper, but they are the stuff financial dreams are made of.  2021 will be interesting to say the least, but let’s hold onto the hope and possibility that a new year brings.  Stay healthy, stay grateful and know that we are here to help.   Josh, Mike, Matt and Sandra  

Open letter regarding current events…

To our clients, friends, and colleagues,

We hope this note finds you well in the midst of turbulent times.  We want to recognize the difficulty of the past couple of weeks; in fact, 2020 has been a hard year for almost everyone.  As a firm, PLC Wealth is devastated to see the haphazard destruction of life, the mindless assault on personal livelihoods and property, and the highlighted human suffering.  We stand with all those on the side of liberty and justice, affirming the American declaration ‘that all men are created equal.’  We hope you all stay safe and healthy in these uncertain times, and as always, please let us know if there is anything that we can do to help.

Your PLC Wealth Team

April 2020 – Quarterly Update: Covid-19 Edition

This will be the quarter that we look back on and never forget.  It was the time that a virus spread with a silent vengeance, and the world came to a screeching halt.  You may be feeling quite disoriented, fearful or even anxious as you read this note since ‘normal’ for all of us has been shaken to its core due to Covid-19. You are likely hunkering down at home, which is what you should do, with little of your regular activities to keep you busy.  If you are like me, it literally feels like the earth has stopped spinning on its axis.  Up is down, and right is left.  Trust me when I say that it is completely normal to feel this way in the context of what we are dealing with as a human species.

I do not come to you with answers or any conclusions that will change the world…there are people that are much smarter than me working on that now, and I have confidence that they will figure it out.  But I can bring some encouragement and suggest some small actions that might, just maybe, help us feel like planet earth is starting to rotate once again.

What can you do?

The spread of Covid-19 has impacted the global economy with a speed and impact that is unlike anything seen in our lifetime.  This does not mean that happiness and contentment are totally out of your control, however.  Mindset is key…start by realizing that the sun still rises every morning like the picture at the top of the article.  There is new hope with each new day.  I am sure you have found, as have I, that there is now more time to watch movies, read a book, take a distance-appropriate walk to enjoy the spring weather or call someone (yes, actually call them rather than text) to see how they are doing.

If you are sheltering at home with loved ones, you have probably seen them more in the last two weeks than you have for months.  We should all continue to do more of these things, and the more we do, the more connected we will stay.  I am not a loquacious extrovert, but I have thoroughly enjoyed being around and talking with the ones I care most about.  And the more connected we stay, the more human we will feel.  This is where happiness and contentment hide, not in your investment portfolio or the latest round of news.

What are we doing?

Actions taken during times of fear in the markets will have implications for years to come.  The question is whether they will be positive or negative.  For the long-term investors, which are clients that we serve, volatility creates opportunity.  We have taken advantage of this opportunity by tax loss harvesting, which allows us to realize the losses for tax savings, but then invest the proceeds right back in something else so the money is never out of the market.  The tax savings for our clients this year will be significant.  We have also looked to strategically rebalance portfolios.  Because some of the fixed income assets have gains over the last year, we have sold those gains to go buy equity funds that are now at a discount.  It rebalances the ship and holds to the strategy of selling high and buying low.

What is next?

The fact is, I don’t know.  No one does, but that’s OK.  We are still waiting on the details of the massive Stimulus bill that was signed into law on March 27th.  There are too many details for me to summarize here.  If you want a deep dive in to the details, you can find that here.  I plan to write more on this soon, but if you have any questions about this, please do not hesitate to call our office.  We are all working remotely, but the extensions still ring right to us.  Know that we are here to help in this time of uncertainty.  Your well-being is of greatest concern to us, and not just financially.  Be safe, be smart, and be part of the global solution for everyone by staying home.

We will see you soon,

 

Josh, Mike, Matt and Sandra

Donor Advised Funds – Doing good, wisely

July 10, 2018

By Josh Self

No matter how the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) may alter your tax planning, we’d like to believe one thing will remain the same: With or without a tax write-off, many Americans will still want to give generously to the charities of their choice. After all, financial incentives aren’t usually your main motivation for giving. We give to support the causes we cherish. We give because we’re grateful for the good fortune we’ve enjoyed. We give because generosity is something we value. Good giving feels great – for donor and recipient alike.

That said, a tax break can feel good too, and it may help you give more than you otherwise could. Enter the donor-advised fund (DAF) as a potential tool for continuing to give meaningfully and tax-efficiently under the new tax law.

What’s Changed About Charitable Giving?

To be clear, the TCJA has not eliminated the charitable deduction. You can still take it when you itemize your deductions. But the law has limited or eliminated several other itemized deductions, and it’s roughly doubled the standard deduction (now $12,000 for single and $24,000 for joint filers). With these changes, there will be far fewer times it will make sense to itemize your deductions instead of just taking the now-higher standard allowance, though we believe that with a generally-lower tax burden, many of our clients will have the capacity to give more, not less, due to these tax changes.

This introduces a new incentive to consider batching up your deductible expenses, so they can periodically “count” toward reducing your taxes due – at least in the years you’ve got enough itemized deductions to exceed your standard deduction.

For example, if you usually donate $8,000 annually to charity, you could instead donate $40,000 once every five years. Combined with other deductibles, you might then be able to take a nice tax write-off that year, which may generate (or be generated by) other tax-planning possibilities.

What Can a DAF Do for You?

DAFs are not new; they’ve been around since the 1930s. But they’ve been garnering more attention as a potentially appropriate tax-planning tool under the TCJA. Here’s how they work:

  1. Make a sizeable donation to a DAF. Donating to a DAF, which acts like a “charitable bank,” is one way to batch up your deductions for tax-wise giving. But remember: DAF contributions are irrevocable. You cannot change your mind and later reclaim the funds.
  2. Deduct the full amount in the year you fund the DAF. DAFs are established by nonprofit sponsoring organizations, so your entire contribution is available for the maximum allowable deduction in the year you make it. Plus, once you’ve funded a DAF, the sponsor typically invests the assets, and any returns they earn are tax-free. This can give your initial donation more giving-power over time.
  3. Participate in granting DAF assets to your charities of choice. Over time, and as the name “donor-advised fund” suggests, you get to advise the DAF’s sponsoring organization on when to grant assets, and where those grants will go.

Thus, donating through a DAF may be preferred if you want to make a relatively sizeable donation for tax-planning or other purposes; you’d like to retain a say over what happens next to those assets; and you’re not yet ready to allocate all the money to your favorite causes.

Another common reason people turn to a DAF is to donate appreciated assets, such as real estate or stocks in kind (without selling them first), when your intended recipients can only accept cash/liquid donations. The American Endowment Foundation offers this 2015 “Donor Advised Fund Summary for Donors,” with additional reasons a DAF may appeal – with or without its newest potential tax benefits.

Beyond DAFs

A DAF isn’t for everyone. Along the spectrum of charitable giving choices, they’re relatively easy and affordable to establish, while still offering some of the benefits of a planned giving vehicle. As such, they fall somewhere between simply writing a check, versus taking on the time, costs and complexities of a charitable remainder trust, charitable lead trust, or private foundation.  If it is appropriate for your situation, we are happy to discuss planned giving vehicles with you too.

How Do You Differentiate DAFs?

If you decide a DAF would be useful to your cause, and might be a helpful part of your financial plan, the next step is to select an organization to sponsor your contribution. Sponsors typically fall into three types:

  1. Public charities established by financial providers, like Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard
  2. Independent national organizations, like the American Endowment Foundation and National Philanthropic Trust
  3. “Single issue” entities, like religious, educational or emergency aid organizations

Within and among these categories, DAFs are not entirely interchangeable. Whether you’re being guided by a professional advisor or you’re managing the selection process on your own, it’s worth doing some due diligence before you fund a DAF. Here are some key considerations:

Minimums – Different DAFs have different minimums for opening an account. For example, one sponsor may require $5,000 to get started, while another may have a higher threshold.

Fees – As with any investment account, expect administration fees. Just make sure they’re fair and transparent, so they don’t eat up all the benefits of having a DAF to begin with.

Acceptable Assets – Most DAFs will let you donate cash as well as stocks. Some may also accept other types of assets, such as real estate, private equity or insurance.

Grant-Giving Policies – Some grant-giving policies are more flexible than others. For example, single-entity organizations may require that a percentage of your grants go to their cause, or only to local or certain kinds of causes. Some may be more specific than others on the minimum size and/or maximum frequency of your grant requests. Some have simplified the grant-making process through online automation; others have not.

Investment Policies – DAF assets are typically invested in the market, so they can grow tax-free over time. But some investments are far more advisable than others for building long-term giving power! How much say will you have on investment selections? If you’re already working with a wealth advisor, it can make good sense to choose a DAF that lets your advisor manage these account assets in a prudent, fiduciary manner.  PLC Wealth employs an evidence-based investment strategy for all our managed assets.

Transfer and Liquidation Policies – What happens to your DAF account when you die? Some sponsors allow you to name successors if you’d like to continue the account in perpetuity. Some allow you to name charitable organizations as beneficiaries. Some have a formula for distributing assets to past grant recipients. Some will roll the assets into their own endowment. (Most will at least do this as a last resort if there are no successors or past grant recipients.) Also, what if you decide you’d like to transfer your DAF to a different sponsoring organization during your lifetime? Find out if the organization you have in mind permits it.

Deciding on Your Definitive DAF

Selecting an ideal DAF sponsor for your tax planning and charitable intent usually involves a process of elimination. To narrow the field, decide which DAF features matter the most to you, and which ones may be deal breakers.

If you’re working with a wealth advisor such as PLC Wealth Management, we hope you’ll lean on us to help you make a final selection, and meld it into your greater personal and financial goals. As Wharton Professor and “Give and Take” author Adam Grant has observed, “The most meaningful way to succeed is to help others succeed.” That’s one reason we’re here: to help you successfully incorporate the things that last – like generosity – into your lifestyle.

Reflections on a Happy Thanksgiving

What makes you happy?  As we wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on this timeless question.

You probably already realize that piles of possessions by themselves aren’t enough. But it may be less clear what does generate enduring happiness and how we, as your trusted advisor, might be one of your core alliances for discovering it.

First, let’s define what we’re talking about. We are fond of this description by “The Happiness Advantage” author, popular TED Talk presenter, and Harvard researcher Shawn Achor:

Happiness … isn’t just about feeling good,
it’s about the joy we feel while striving after our potential.”

Such a simple statement, but it’s packed with profound insights.  To take this even further, I believe that we get closer to our potential when we focus more on others rather than our own well being.  That is, being generous towards others plays a big part in achieving sustained contentment and joy.  It is quite the paradox (that we get the most when we give the most), but it has been believed through the ages and proven more recently in the research.

Happiness isn’t about indulging in fleeting pleasures.

In fact, it’s closer to the opposite of that. If you can only be happy once you’ve “scored,” you are limiting your joy to isolated incidents instead of weaving it into the fabric of your life.

You can still be happy, even when life isn’t all puppies and rainbows.

Distinguishing enduring happiness from occasional pleasures frees us to enjoy even our most challenging experiences, and to savor them as among our fondest memories. It’s why we may willingly burn the midnight oil on a project of deep interest. Pay a personal trainer to push us harder than we’ve ever gone before. Volunteer our hearts and minds to others in need. Give birth.

Everyone has different sources of happiness, but the joy it can spread is universal.

In a world that sometimes seems increasingly polarized, a greater appreciation for happiness might just bring us closer together. As Achor comments: “Joy makes us want to invest more deeply in the people around us. … It makes us want to learn more about our communities. It makes us want to be able to find ways of being able to make this a better external world for all of us.”

By coming together to focus on what sustains us – an optimistic outlook, value-driven action, meaningful relationships – therein we can find greater happiness. That’s what the evidence suggests, anyway.

Again, we wish you a most Happy Thanksgiving!