BY JULIA ANDERSON
Four years ago this week, I began experiencing pain in my butt. Actually, a bit lower where my butt muscles and upper thighs overlap. It felt like sore muscles from intense exercise, only it kept getting worse.
Over the next week, the pain showed up in my shoulders, arms and ankles. It became so bad that I couldn’t turn over in bed without groaning in pain. I crawled from bed to the toilet on my hands and knees to avoid pain. I couldn’t lift my arms to put dishes in kitchen cupboards, I couldn’t lift my legs to dry them after a shower. All because it hurt like my joints were burning up.
I used my fingers to “pull” my arm forward along a table top to grip a cup of coffee to avoid the pain in my arms and shoulders. At the worse of it, my walk became a shuffle. I was frightened, depressed and hurting.
A physician’s assistant diagnosed my condition: Polymyalgia Rheumatica. She put on me on prednisone (a steroid) and methotrexate, the go-to drugs for severe arthritis. She referred me to a rheumatologist, but the appointment was a month out. Since then my diagnosis has evolved to rheumatoid arthritis, then psoriatic arthritis, or both. Turns out there are 100 different kinds of arthritis and no two individuals may experience them the exact same way.
For those unfamiliar with RA here’s the definition: It is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis caused when the body’s immune system turns on itself and begins attacking healthy tissue. It is not curable, but treatments can stop (or reduce) pain and swelling. (www.rheumatology.org)
In those first months, I was burning up Google finding out about this disease. Who got RA or polymyalgia rheumatica, why did it happen and what treatments might work? I learned I was a prime candidate for RA: Female, white (Northern European), near age 70 with a genetic history of arthritis in the immediate family. Check.
In learning about RA, I realized that I was lucky. RA can attack people much younger, even children. It can wreak havoc on the body by going after tissue and bone that may result in surgeries, chronic pain, difficulties in walking, climbing stairs.
When I first learned of my diagnosis, I casually mentioned my situation to a well-meaning “friend” who was a nurse. Her immediate comment shocked me. “So sorry for Ken (my husband), he’ll be pushing you around in a wheelchair.” Thoughtless on her part? Yes!!
But four years later, so far, so good. I’m not in a wheelchair and don’t expect to be for a long time. My primary care doctor said I likely would die of something else before finding myself an invalid.
In fact, my fourth year with this disease has been my best. I ran a 5k fun run this fall. I trained on the tread mill for it and came in first in my age group. Full disclosure: There were just three women over 70 in the run. Only 14 people (men and women) ran it out of about 135 total. I was surprised by the low number.
A five-day visit to New York City in the fall had me walking all over town to museums, parks, the Empire State Building. My husband and I haven’t slowed our pace of travel that this year included a coast-to-coast ride across the U.S. on his motorcycle. Lots of getting on and off the machine.
It’s a long way better than where I started.
The first year meant stopping the prednisone, which I hated for the weight gain, sleeplessness and depression it caused. After trying several drugs in combination with methotrexate, we settled on just methotrexate, which suppresses the immune system. As the RA symptoms began to recede, a bout of sciatica down my right leg meant dealing with another round of intense pain. That resolved after two injections of cortisone in my lower back.
I began doing stretch exercises to reduce back and neck pain. I walked. I kept a pain chart with RA pain ranging from a high of 7-8 to a low of 5. The chart helped my rheumatologist continue to tweak medications and treatments. The sciatica pain had a separate chart in the 8-9 range. That pain meant gasping for air from pain every time I got out of the car. I became careful in how I moved.
My doctor prescribed 25mg daily of diclofenac to reduce inflammation and resulting pain. I went to a physical therapy clinic to help with the sciatica and a chronic stiff neck. I stopped taking sulfasalazine in combination with methotrexate. After reading the side effects of diclofenac, I cut my intake to only as needed. (Not often). I worry about heart disease and my blood pressure is on the high side. Diclofenac can exacerbate those problems.
My pain chart began to show real improvement toward the end of the first year. Since then my doctor suggested that I increase my folic acid tablets from two daily to three to combat nausea on the day, I take the methotrexate once a week.
She sent me to a pain clinic for help with the stiff neck issue. The PA there gave me three “micro” shots of cortisone, which more or less solved the problem. I do shoulder rotation exercises at home using a “rubber band” to keep things from freezing up.
In years two and three, my doctor began to further analyze my symptoms and suggested that I may have psoriatic arthritis instead of regular RA or a combination of the two. I don’t have the scaly skin patches that are typical with psoriatic arthritis except on my elbows, but sometimes joint problems show up first. I certainly have intermittent lower back pain that comes with psoriatic arthritis along with stiffness. Sometimes my ankles and finger joints hurt a lot.
In summary: At the end of these four years, I am living with arthritis pain at a low level that does not interfer with my daily activities, travel or yard work. I do have fatigue. I do have pain spikes. I take aspirin or Tylenol as a preventive before engaging in heavy exercise. I do worry about where I'm headed, long term.
I tried cutting back on methotrexate earlier this year but found out I need the prescribed 8 tablets weekly to maintain the low 1-2 pain level. Sleeplessness can still plague me. I can’t drink red wine without consequences.
Psychologically, I have my confidence back. I can live with this disease and feel lucky that I am better off than most. Getting daily exercise is a key to my well-being…lower pain levels, better sleep, better weight management.
What triggered my RA/psoriatic arthritis? I have theories:
My dentist put me on a high dose of antibiotics to combat an infected wisdom tooth just prior to the rapid onset of the acute RA. The drug killed my gut bacteria. They say there’s a connection between gut bacteria and RA.
My advice for those living with arthritis:
Find a doctor you trust, work with that doctor over the long haul. Keep a pain chart and track other symptoms. Know that improvement comes and sometimes goes.
Believe that you will get better knowing that it takes time. Mental outlook is key.
Exercise: job, lift weights, do isometrics.
Change your diet. Don’t drink.
Get sleep. Work with your doctor to get help.
Enjoy every minute of every day!!!
BY JULIA ANDERSON
I’ve been taking stock of my stocks, this week.
It’s a good idea to regularly check in on what’s doing well and what might need attention inside a Rollover IRA portfolio. I take this seriously since this is money I plan to live on the rest of my life.
In general, I’m happy. It has been good to be in the U.S. stock market in 2019. In fact, the bull market of the past 10 years has been a good place to be.
This year, my portfolio mostly had winners, a few laggards and only one loser.
More than half of my invested money is in three mutual funds with low management fees (the industry calls a fee an “expense ratio” because they are charged as a percentage of the fund’s total holding.)
Year-to-date, these three funds --- an S&P 500 Index Fund, a “contra” fund heavy with tech stocks and a telecom and utilities fund are up, respectively, in share value 18 percent, 26 percent and 27 percent. I dare most stock pickers to beat this performance tied to the strong U.S. economy with low inflation, low loan interest rates and near record low unemployment.
In addition to mutual funds, I own shares in publicly traded corporations.
Among individual stock winners over the past 52 weeks in 2019 were:
Microsoft, up 37 percent in share value at $151 a share.
Raytheon, up 25 percent at $217.
Intel, up 21 percent at $58.
The 52-week laggards:
U.S. Bank, up only 11 percent in share value at $60.
IBM, up 10.6 percent at $134.
GlaxoSmithkline, up 10.5 percent at $46.
Johnson & Johnson, down 5.73 percent in share value in the past 52 weeks, thanks to ongoing legal challenges related to its suspect baby powder and the oxycontin addiction crisis.
While the pharmaceutical sector in general has under-performed the market -- up only 15 percent this year -- Johnson&Johnson, formerly a staple of any investment portfolio with a good dividend and a great share price track record has taken a hit. Neither of the issues it faces are going away any time soon. At $137 a share, J&J is down from a high of $148.99 and could go lower.
The 2020 forecast?
Interest rates set by the Federal Reserve Bank are unlikely to change much as we head into a Presidential election year. That’s good news for businesses, consumer spending and the economy.
If employment remains strong, the home-building industry picks up steam and Americans keep spending, we are in good shape for another positive market year. Wall Street Journal analysts agree.
Weakness in the financial sector (especially regional banks) will likely continue. Pharmaceuticals look vulnerable. Retailing is being disrupted by online shopping.
But so far so good for me. Thanks to the robust U.S. economic recovery since the Great Recession, the average annual return on my Rollover IRA over the past nine years has been 12.1 percent.
By the way, except for the Required Minimum Distributions that the IRS says I must now withdraw from my Rollover IRA, I am REINVESTING ALL quarterly dividend money back into the purchase of more shares in the funds and stocks that I own. I see no reason to get conservative. If you don't believe me that this is a good idea, visit www.rebalance360.com.
Cash loses money because inflation means cash buys less in a few years as the cost of living goes up.
Getting to retirement is one thing but managing my nest egg in retirement is another. I keep reminding myself to stay the course, take the long view and avoid emotional reaction to day-to-day news or market gyrations.
The U.S. economy looks solid. Free market capitalism and the rule of law continue to govern our financial markets. I’m sticking with my ALL-IN stock investment strategy. There’s nowhere else to go if you want to stay ahead of inflation and keep earning money with your money.
(I do keep some cash (12 months’ worth) on hand to pay bills in case there’s a downturn. I don’t want to have to sell stock when share prices are in recession.)
Historical track record
Since, 1926 the average annual return of the S&P 500 (the performance of the 500 largest U.S. companies) has been approximately 10 percent. That’s EVERY YEAR no matter whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge in Washington. (Investopidia)
Meanwhile, Gallup research shows that 55 percent of Americans report that they own stocks either individually or through a mutual fund or a retirement 401(k) or IRA account. That unfortunately is down from the 62 percent stock ownership prior to the 2007-2009 recession.
I feel badly for people (especially women) who bailed out of markets during the recession and never got back in. They’ve missed an opportunity to avoid poverty in their old age.
Banks, investment firms and tax accountants all must do more to help Americans understand the miracle of the U.S. economy, our markets and the powerful financial reward from reinvesting quarterly dividends that over time build wealth.
By JULIA ANDERSON
The numbers are shocking.
The average cost of attending a four-year public university in the U.S. -- tuition, fees, room and board -- in the 2018-19 school year was $21,370. At out-of-state universities the cost jumps to $37,430. (That's about $85,500-$149,000 over four years.)
These estimates don’t include expenses such as school supplies, textbooks and transportation, says US News & World Report in a recent article.
The costs are intimidating for students, their parents and grandparents. Tuition costs alone at public institutions have soared 213 percent in the past 30 years.
Then comes the second problem – student debt. Borrowing to pay for education beyond high school has ensnared 44 million people who now owe a combined $1.52 trillion in student debt. Average debt owed per student is $38,400.
According to Forbes magazine, it is taking 18 years on average to pay off these loans. Kids will be in their 40s before becoming (student) debt free. This is a huge problem not just for the borrowers, but for the U.S. economy because debt keeps young people from buying cars, buying houses, moving out or having children.
What can grandparents do to keep their children and grandchildren from falling into the student debt trap?
Plenty, says Jennifer Satalino, director of The College Place, who appeared on Smart Money, my public television show, recently. Her organization helps people pursue undergraduate education through counseling, financial aid and scholarships.
“It comes down to talking about all this early on,” Satalino said. “Families need to lay out a plan that includes saving for school, a budgeting strategy that makes sense and being smart about getting those college credits. It may mean living at home and working part-time,” she said. “Students don’t have to rush.”
She said, it also means understanding student debt – types of loans, avoiding bad loans and bad interest rates, understanding who services them, repayment options and costs over time.
How to avoid student debt:
Better yet, avoiding student debt in the first place. It can be done. Here’s how parents and grandparents can help:
Set up a college savings plan, early. Some families start tax-deferred 529 savings plans before their kids are even born. Grandparents also can set up 529s.
If your student decides to take on a student debt loan, here are the basics:
Research starting salaries in the field they plan to pursue. Will their starting income support debt repayment?
Ask what can they afford to repay?
Understand the terms of the loan.
Make payments on time.
Keep in touch with your loan servicers who can provide options to keep your loan in good standing.
Most-regretted college majors: SOURCE: CNBC.com, ZipRecruiter survey
Major Leading reason for regret
English & foreign languages Impractical, limited job opportunities
Biological and physical sciences Advanced degrees or licenses often required
Education Low pay and job satisfaction, limited opportunities
Social sciences & law Too general, impractical, hard to find a job
Communications Too general
Least regretted college majors
Computer science & mathematics Can be stressful
Business Too general
Engineering Best jobs require advanced degrees
Health administration & assisting Lower job satisfaction
Health sciences & technology Lower job satisfaction
Bottom Line: Grandparents can help their grandchildren avoid student debt, layout a strategy for getting a college education and landing a good job.
How? By advising them to take it slowly, by keeping expenses at a minimum and staying the course. This requires starting the conversation, early. Like now!!
5 Ways to Avoid Student Loans, click here
5 Ways to Avoid Drowning in Student Loan Debt, click here.
The College Place – Oregon, click here.
Oregon Promise, click here
The 5 college majors American students most regret picking, click here
Student Debt Relief, click here
Federal Student Aid, click here
How to Pay Off Students Loans, click here
4 Best Ways to Pay Off Student Loans, click here
BY JULIA ANDERSON
Here we are in the 21st Century, where half the jobs in this country are held by women, yet only 17 out of every 100 people working in the U.S. financial services industry are female. Why is that?
Among a short list of reasons --- men like Ken Fisher.
Fisher managed to embarrass himself and do damage to his $110 billion investment empire by saying, among other things, that client acquisition is like “getting into a girl’s pants.” He said other crude stuff but it’s not worth mentioning here.
So far, Fisher Investments has seen $1.8 billion pulled out of the firm by those uncomfortable with his off-color sexist remarks made at a recent financial industry confab. Fidelity, the giant Boston-based asset manager, is among heavy-hitters who are taking their business elsewhere because of Fisher’s “inappropriate comments.”
Women who have been around the money-management industry, say they’ve heard this kind of talk before from top executives who think they are God’s gift to the universe. So, it is no surprise that despite industry efforts to recruit women, the diversity numbers remain flat, reports Cerulli Associates.
The low ratio of about 20 women out of every 100 working in the industry is unchanged for the past 20 years. For the past 20 years!!!
What bugs me is that women -- both as employees and as clients -- are patronized by the wealth management business that until lately has been powered by a macho sales-driven culture.
According to Barron’s, women represent only 4 percent of top executives at mutual funds, hedge funds and other investment vehicles. They control just 1 percent to 3.5 percent of fund assets under management, Harvard Business Review says.
Yet, women outnumber men in the general population (51 to 49 out of every 100). Women receive the majority of college degrees in the U.S. with 66 million women collecting a paycheck. Seventy-three percent work full-time.
But according to Investopedia, “finance and business degrees remain the province of male students.” Sixty-one percent of college degrees in finance are awarded to men. That may explain why 46 percent of financial services jobs are held by women but only 15 percent work at the executive level. (Forbes)
Meanwhile, banks and investment services rank low in public opinion. We can blame some of that on the Great Recession. Banks lied and cheated, right? And on the industry’s image as a cut-throat, sales-driven, slick con-artist business perpetuated by movies such as “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Big Short,” and “Wall Street.”
Add to that more recent data breaches at large banks and credit card service companies such as Capital One, falsified accounts at Wells Fargo and misogynist comments from people like Ken Fisher.
There are more reasons why women are not attracted to the financial services/investment industry.
The industry has not gone onto college campuses offering an attractive recruitment and clear career path for women.
Few senior industry executives are women. That means less leadership emphasis is placed on recruiting women. (Only 12 percent of CEOs of large financial firms are women.) At every level, men are promoted at materially higher rates than women, reports the Harvard Business Review.
Until lately, the financial services industry has been a commission-alone business. Sell or starve. This creates an inherit conflict of interest between clients and their self-described financial advisers. Women may find more repugnant than men.
Unconscious bias and gender-role expectations still disadvantage women. That’s because middle management at banks and brokerage firms are is filled with older white males who set the culture despite diversity efforts dictated from the top.
If there’s good news out of the Ken Fisher debacle it may be as a catalyst for industry-wide change.
What would that industry change look like?
Review your culture: Executives should review their own conduct and the culture of their firms to make sure they are not guilty of some of the same misbehavior displayed by Mr. Fisher, suggests Investopedia writers.
Promote women: Move more women into middle and top management positions that show the way for women newly recruited to the business.
Make jobs family-friendly: Initiate flexible hours, parental leave and mentorship programs that help women stay with the job and see opportunity for advancement.
Recruit outside the box: Open industry recruiting to non-traditional candidates. Do you really have to have a business or accounting degree to be a financial adviser? Nope.
Reach out early: Get girls interested in investing in high school when many are choosing a career path. Bring more women into college business schools. Make them aware of opportunities in the financial world.
Girlswhoinvest.org is doing just that. You can donate to their cause.
The fact is that women control more than half of U.S. personal wealth either through inheritance, a late in life divorce, death of a spouse or through business ownership and personal investment.
According to Wealth Management RBC, by next year (2020), that total will reach $72 trillion!!
Women have the power -- from the inside and from the outside -- to change the wealth management and financial services industries by spelling out what they expect in terms of transparent services, industry culture and attitude and open accountability.
Women recruited to the industry will be perfectly positioned to deliver on all fronts with a different skill set – empathy, intuitiveness and listening.
Thank you, Ken Fisher, for making it clear why things must change.
Why Are so few Women in Finance? It's Complicated - Investopdedia
BY JULIA ANDERSON
PART I: Are they cutting your job? What to do.
Despite a robust economy with low unemployment rates, layoffs are again in the news. In the Portland-Vancouver area where I live job cuts have been announced at Tektronix, Nestles food distribution center, Symantec and Norpac. There has been a rash of grocery store closures as that industry continues to struggle with razor-thin profit margins, the impact of home-delivery services and self-check outs.
When employers look for ways to reduce operating expenses, cutting labor costs is often the only option….painful but in many cases a matter of survival.
Here’s what to do if you think you will be laid off or have been laid off from your job.
Prepare: If you’re working in a place where a layoff are on the horizon prepare by creating an emergency fund to get you through at least six months of household expenses. Credit cards are the last resort.
Quietly start looking for another job. Use your network of friends and family to find job leads. If something clicks, take it.
Get everything that’s due you in the current job, if you receive a layoff notice. Everything includes vacation time in the form of cash, health insurance coverage, life insurance premium payments.
Negotiate a benefits package: The package would include career coaching, resume writing, LinkedIn profile. Online support.
Immediately get a letter from your HR department saying you are being laid off (not fired). Bring this letter to new job interviews. At least get an email saying you’ve been laid off or both.
Immediately arrange continuing health care insurance coverage through COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act that allows an eligible employee and his or her dependents continued benefits of health insurance coverage). You get 18 months of coverage purchased at the rate paid by your employer, which will be much less expensive than buying coverage on the individual open market.
Immediately register with your state unemployment agency to receive jobless benefits while you look for a new job. Start your new job search, right away. To qualify for unemployment benefits, you must be actively contacting three potential employers or more a week.
Have personal business cards made up with your name and contact information. Use LinkedIn to network for employment opportunities. Be prepared to apply for new jobs online.
Good news: The job market is strong right now. Employers are looking for people with work experience, skills and a reliable track record of employment.
Part II: Are you losing your job because of an early retirement buyout? Here’s how to evaluate an offer.
Despite a growing economy, employers in certain industries continue to look for ways to cut costs by laying off workers. In offering early retirement packages or job buyouts, employers are careful to avoid age discrimination pitfalls. There are proven legal ways to do that.
The early retirement package or buyout must be voluntary based on tenure or other neutral criteria. A worker must get at least 21 days to consider the offer. Employees accepting an early retirement or buyout will be asked to sign a carefully drafted “release agreement” explaining their rights under federal law as they walk out the door. That makes it hard to later sue for discrimination.
How do you evaluate an early retirement package if you find yourself in the cross hairs your employer’s cost reduction/buyout program?
There is a lot to consider: Health insurance coverage after you leave the job, how close you are to age 65 when Medicare health insurance coverage kicks in and how and when to take federal Social Security benefits. Does the buyout package, for instance, offer “bridge money” to get you to Social Security?
How does losing this job change your timetable for retirement? What does this do to your investment nest egg? Will you lose 401(k) matching money? Will you need to roll your 401(k) into a rollover Individual Retirement Account? Talk to your tax accountant. Is there another job out there that will get you through to your original retirement goal so that your tax-deferred savings can continue to grow?
The biggest decision comes first. What are the consequences of turning down the buyout offer, dodging the layoff bullet and keeping the job? Only your gut can answer that one. Your employer won’t and legally can’t tell you.
A few positives
A layoff qualifies you for state unemployment benefits if you sign up and look for a new job through your local employment agency. Human resource administrators can explain how this works, what the job search requirements are and how many weeks you might be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Secondly, you can buy health insurance coverage through your former employer’s insurance plan for at least 18 months, thanks to COBRA, a federal law passed by Congress in 1985. Some employers let you stay with the company health insurance plan until you reach 65. Negotiate that.
Some employers might offer “bridging money” to financially bridge the period between early retirement and when you are eligible for Social Security benefits. But who wants to take reduced Social Security benefits at 62 when full benefits only kick in at age 66 or 67?
The biggest negative of taking an early retirement offer is that you no longer will have the job and its income and matching money through the company-sponsored 401(k). If there’s a pension, it will likely be smaller than if you had kept the job longer. That means less money to live on in real retirement. TAke a look at what that future might look like.
Some people reinvent themselves after an early buyout by starting their own business, by finding another job or by working part-time. How long you have to figure that out depends on how much you employer offers in your severance pay. Severance usually consists of your current salary plus addition money for the number of years you’ve worked for the company.
Keep in mind that experts say that the amount of money you need to live on in retirement should by about eight times your income. So, if your household income is $100,000 a year, you will likely need $1 million (or more) in retirement savings to enjoy a modest retirement at a withdrawal rate of 4 percent a year.
Don’t take money from your 401(k) to buy groceries.
Meanwhile, when leaving the job, do NOT make early withdrawals from your 401(k)-retirement savings plan. Hopefully, you've got an emergency fund to get you through at least six months. Avoid piling on credit card debt.
Carefully move the money to a self-directed Individual Retirement Account with an online brokerage or a trusted local firm. Money withdrawn from a company-sponsored 401(k) or IRA is subject to a 10 percent “premature distribution” penalty before age 59 ½. Plus, you will pay federal income tax on the withdrawal. And you won’t be growing that money for your real retirement.
Those who have been through an early retirement buyout will tell you that it is a stressful time with lots of ups and downs. It feels bad to be asked to leave a place where you like the job, like the contribution you make and enjoy the people you work with.
Financial planner Jim Blankenship writing in US News & World Report warns that some companies “make an early retirement package seem more attractive than it really is.” He said that you may want to consult an independent professional adviser who “will work for your best interests” in negotiating a buyout.
Saying yes to a buyout may mean retraining for something new or doing something else that you’ve felt passionate about. Whatever, it will be a roller coaster ride.
I meet women all the time who face job and money transitions and who want to do them right. It’s about building confidence and taking charge of the future. This is your money. No one cares more than you do!
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