Get Your Free Money. No, Seriously.

Go to, scroll down and hit the little green button that says "find out if your information was impacted" and follow the instructions.

If you were impacted by the Equifax data breach in 2017, you can choose either $125 or free credit monitoring for a period of time. 

If you sign up you are waiving your right to sue Equifax down the road (but let's be honest, are you really going to do that anyways?).

That said, you may or may not get $125.  As Equifax outlines in their Settlement FAQ, if too many people sign up there won't be enough to go around (they don’t have to give everyone $125, they just have to pay out $31 million).  So consider the free credit monitoring if you don't already get that service for free.

To riff off the Equifax class action, consider signing up for other class action settlements (you know those little postcards you get in the mail).   Just like Equifax, you'll give up your right to sue later (darn!), but personally speaking I've collected over $500 in the last 12 months from class action settlements.

And a final riff - Equifax (and the Capital One security breach this week) is another good reason to log into Financial Zen (or Mint or YNAB) regularly and look at your spending transactions.  If something nefarious does happen, you'll know right away and can address it ASAP (that's the same reason we check your credit report during your accountability appointment every year).

Wrapping up like a grade school book report:

In conclusion, get your $125 (maybe) or free credit monitoring, sign up for class action settlements and check your spending transactions on at least monthly.

Happy Anniversary to Us!

We've been together for 3 years!  

Pop!  Fizz!  Clink!

Sure we were together under Mother Wells' watchful eye, but The Financial Zen Group is our thing.   And it was 3 years ago this week that it began. 

Anniversaries bring reflection.  And sometimes those moments make you realize a decision made long ago has taken on a new meaning over the years.  

We recently made a strategic shift to exclusively help young, successful families.  Why?  Because traditional financial advisors don't work with people like us.  They work with our parents.  So this is where The Financial Zen Group can do the most good for the most people.

People like us have similar aspirations and anxieties.  The details might differ, but we all want to send our kids to college, buy a home (maybe two) and retire on our own terms.   We want to live a life of abundance free from financial worry.

3 years ago, we named our firm The Financial Zen Group.  It wasn't until this week's moment of reflection that I realized "Group" doesn't actually refer to future employees. 

You are the "Group".   You are a member of this collective of young, successful families pursuing similar hopes and dreams.  

This OUR thing.  

Happy Anniversary to us!

It Speaks for Itself - Behind the Scenes at a Big Brokerage Firm

At my former employer, a big brokerage firm, we would have mandatory sales meetings each month to discuss what products Mother Wells wanted us to push that month. 

Below is my journal entry on April 4, 2016 - the day of my last monthly sales meeting:

"I do not belong there.  [Name of Regional Vice President] asked, "Why did you get into this business?"  I thought, "To help people."  He loudly answers his own question - "TO MAKE MONEY!"  and then went on to tell us to expand our product offering.  He wasn't talking about financial planning strategies or the best way to help our clients, but rather what products we should sell."

Res ipsa loquitur.  It speaks for itself.

IRS Scams

The IRS will send you a letter first.

They will not email you.

They will not text you.

They will not message you over social media.

In rare instances, they may call.    But only after they send a letter.

The scumbags (the scammers, not the IRS) call and demand immediate payment for back taxes and threaten to get law enforcement involved if you don't comply. 

Speaking from experience, it's a little rattling until you come to your senses. 

And naturally, they target people around tax season. 

So be careful out there. 

And if you're looking for a laugh, have a little fun with them like this guy did.

Lifestyle Creep and His Lousy Wife

You know "Lifestyle Creep?"   He pretends he's your friend, but he's not.   And his wife's no better. 

They move into your basement and convince you that things you used to think of as a luxury (i.e. DoorDash) are now a necessity. (I mean what else are you going to do for dinner?)

On any given day, you can hear him saying "C'mon!  You're making all this money.  Time to reward yourself and live a little!   You deserve it."

And then you wake up one day and you realize you made a TON of money throughout your career and you've got nothing to show for it. 

Kick the Creeps to the curb.  Let ‘em move into your neighbor's basement. 

You're too smart to let your spending rise at the same rate as your income.

The solution is easy.  Just always save a percentage of your income.  

10% (at minimum) 
15% (better)
20% (you're setting an example) 
25% (total rockstar!)

Whatever your savings rate, maintain it throughout your career, and you'll ensure the Creeps don't suck up all that money you're making!

Financial Life Hack: Get Two Credit Card Numbers

No, not two credit cards (well, maybe; see below) - two credit card numbers attached to your current account with Capital One or Chase or wherever.

Keep one at home and one in your wallet.

Attach Amazon, Netflix, Comcast, your Financial Zen subscription, etc. to the one you keep at home.

Now the next time you lose the card in your wallet you won't have to endure the pain of updating all your online accounts.

Brilliant, right?

Must give credit where it's due. When I lost my credit card 3 weeks ago, the Capital One rep shared this with me. So don't thank me, thank Cheryl!

Financial Zen Bonus Tip: If you're like me and buy 90% of your life on Amazon, get the Amazon Chase card. It pays 5% cash back, so it's like getting a 5% discount on your life.

DISCLAIMER:  This publication is for educational purposes only and should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice.  These statements have been simplified for illustration purposes.  Consult your financial planner or tax advisor for help with your specific situation.

Introducing Taylor Weirtz!

If you're already a client of The Financial Zen Group, you know our client service model is a well-oiled machine (based on your feedback, not my crossed fingers). With our current clients enjoying the fruits of our labor (and technology), it's time to grow.

Our 2019 goal is to double our client base from 33 to 66. Adding that many new clients will require a lot of work. An endeavor that a one-man show cannot achieve.

Taylor's been working behind the scenes for the last 12 months. She's been helping manage our weekly blog, ensuring that it goes out on time and looks pretty.

Moving forward, she'll take on a more active role preparing for and following up from our Quarterly appointments, drafting meeting notes and sending follow up emails. She'll also be managing your Financial Zen Monthly Reminders. And that's just the start.

With Taylor on board we can continue to service our clients at nosebleed high-levels, while adding time to my schedule to grow the business.

Taylor's been working in the financial planning industry since graduating in 2017, so she knows a thing or two about the business. She graduated from the University of Akron in 2017 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in International Business. She's a big-time traveler and like me, loves a good cup of coffee. If you want to say hi email her at .

P.S. If you're already in the Financial Zen Club and think your friends should join too, we're looking for young families. And since we don't charge our clients like other financial advisors, we don't care how much money they have or don't have. We only care that they want to make their family as financially healthy as possible.

DISCLAIMER:  This publication is for educational purposes only and should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice.  These statements have been simplified for illustration purposes.  Consult your financial planner or tax advisor for help with your specific situation.

Life's Too Short

A financial planner doesn't do anything you cannot figure out on your own with enough time and energy.

The opportunity cost, of course, is all the other things you could have done with that time and energy.

Time with the kids. Golfing. Learning guitar. Date night. Reading a book.

It's up to you. Personally I'd rather hire someone to do the stuff I don't love doing myself.

Life's too short.

Here's a link to the Seth Godin blog post that sparked this one… (if you don't read Seth, you should)

DISCLAIMER:  This publication is for educational purposes only and should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice.  These statements have been simplified for illustration purposes.  Consult your financial planner or tax advisor for help with your specific situation.

You Got This

This week 60 Minutes featured an architect who went blind mid-career. Instead of finding a new career that wasn't visually demanding, he adjusted the way he architected. And 10 years later he is just as successful, and he says probably a better architect for it.

My best friend was in a snowboarding accident 9 years ago. One bad jump and he was paralyzed from the waist down. Instead of feeling sorry for himself and excusing himself into a life of timidity, he continued to travel the world - New Zealand and Japan most recently…on his own…in his wheelchair.

Steve was a senior in college when he started losing his coordination and slurring his speech. Soon after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Instead of taking the backseat, Steven Hawking went on to become the most well-known physicist in history, writing A Brief History of Time and proving the existence of black holes.

I stand in awe of these three and people like them. You can't help but wonder "Do I have what it takes to keep moving forward if that happened to me?".

Here's the thing: you do. And that's not taking away anything from Chris, Keith or Steve. But what they tapped into is something that we all have within us.

For all our flaws, we humans have an astonishing ability to face and conquer challenges - both small and life-changing - head on.

The question is not if we have what it takes. We do.

The question is - will we use it?

DISCLAIMER:  This publication is for educational purposes only and should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice.  These statements have been simplified for illustration purposes.  Consult your financial planner or tax advisor for help with your specific situation.

SMART Goal Setting for 2019

It's week 2 of 2019, and I bet your resolutions are still going strong.

But will you be going strong on week 50?

Here are some tips to stick to your resolutions and achieve your S-M-A-R-T goals for 2019.

S - Specific - "Eating healthier" is not specific. Instead "eat lean protein, whole grains and fruit/vegetables at every meal."

M - Measurable - "Save more" is not measurable. Instead "save an extra $500 per month".
A - Attainable - "Shooting 72" is not attainable if you currently shoot over 100. Instead "shoot under 85".
R - Realistic - "Eating lean protein, whole grains and fruit/vegetables at every meal" is not realistic (gotcha!). Instead "eat lean protein, whole grains and fruit/vegetables at every meal except Sundays" (for the cheat meal of course).
T - Timely - "Lose weight" is not timely. Instead "lose 15 lbs by June 1st".

My SMART goals for this year are:


1. Work with 33 new young families by December 31st.

2. Hire our first full-time Associate Financial Planner by June 30th.


1. Place 1st in the Masters Division of the INBA competition on May 26th.

2. Consistently shoot under 85 by December 31st.

What are your SMART goals for the year ahead?

Let me know and we can check in with each other on week 50!

DISCLAIMER:  This publication is for educational purposes only and should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice.  These statements have been simplified for illustration purposes.  Consult your financial planner or tax advisor for help with your specific situation.

My Favorite Christmas Present

The best Christmas present I get every year is not fancy.

It's not something I put on my Christmas list.

It's made of paper.

It costs about 99 cents.

It's just a card. But not a Hallmark card or one of those glossy photo postcards of your friend's kids.

It's homemade. That changes it from an extra decoration for just one season to something that gets pulled out and put up every Christmas.

Did I mention it costs 99 cents to make?

We tend use money as an expression of love and affection. Parents give money to their adult children who don't need it (or worse, actually do). New parents buy the most expensive stroller because baby deserves the best. Soon-to-be-husbands extend themselves beyond their means to purchase a slightly bigger diamond (note: does not apply to CFPs).

We've all committed some version of "I love you, so here's some money".

But the most memorable expressions of love and affection aren't financial.

Slaving over a hot oven to make dozens of Christmas cookies (Thanks, Mom!).

Flying 18 hours across the country and Pacific Ocean to get to your best friend's wedding (Thanks, Christian!).

Or making a beautiful, thoughtful, homemade Christmas card every year (Thanks, Nancy!).

So while you're running around town finishing your Christmas shopping, remember - the best gift you could give might just be your time and energy.

DISCLAIMER:  This publication is for educational purposes only and should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice.  These statements have been simplified for illustration purposes.  Consult your financial planner or tax advisor for help with your specific situation.

Let's Keep This Between Us

Shh! Don't tell anyone what I'm about to tell you. It's a long-kept secret among the financial fraternity and they’d kill me for telling you.

The Rule of 72.

There are a lot of different ways to use it, but the most common is as follows:

If you get a 10% annual return on your money, you will double your money in 7.2 years.

If you get a 7.2% return, your money will double in 10 years.

Getting a 3.6% return? Your money will double in 20 years.

For you math nerds the formula is:

72 / X% = years to double

It also works in reverse. If inflation is 3.6% annually, in 20 years your money will be worth half what it is today. Eek!

The math isn't exact, but surprisingly close.

But let's keep that between you and me.

DISCLAIMER:  This publication is for educational purposes only and should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice.  These statements have been simplified for illustration purposes.  Consult your financial planner or tax advisor for help with your specific situation.

A Deliberate, Hard, Selfless Thanksgiving Wish

Giving thanks is deliberate. You can't be thankful by accident. You have to make it happen.

Giving thanks is hard. Negativity and half-emptiness is easy. Gratitude and seeing the good isn't natural. But it gets easier with practice.

Giving thanks is selfless. You expect nothing in return. And yet by giving, you actually receive a vision of your life that's been dusted off and polished.

Before starting the "eat-nap-eat again" cycle this Thanksgiving, do the hard thing and take a moment to be deliberately, selflessly thankful for the all the people and opportunities and sunrises in your life.

And consider finding a moment every day to practice gratitude. It's not easy, but the upside is you can take that shiny image with you 365 days a year, not just the 4th Thursday of November.

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving this year.

And if you feel your ears burning today (or any day, really), know that it's probably me taking a moment to appreciate you.

Buckle Up

75% of people who fly through a windshield die. The chances of being in an accident like that are small. But the consequences are so great, we all take the precaution of wearing a seat belt.

Smart financial planning is (again) like safe driving. A minor inconvenience (like wearing your seat belt) can save you and your family's lives.

Life insurance - you'll probably never need it because you wear your seat belt (how's that for a tie-in?!). But if you ever do "need" it, your family will be very glad mom and dad were smart enough to deal with the minor inconvenience of getting insured.

Umbrella liability insurance - the chances of a CEO suing you for everything you've got - plus future earnings - after slipping on your sidewalk is small. But if it does happen, you'll be glad you paid the minor inconvenience of $500 in annual premiums for an umbrella policy.

Estate Plan - The chances of you and your spouse going down somewhere over the Pacific are minuscule. But if you left Junior at home with Aunt Jane, they'll be glad you dealt with the minor inconvenience of drafting your estate plan.

You buckle up every time you get into your car. Make sure you also buckle up financially.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice.  These statements have been simplified for illustration purposes.  Consult your financial planner or tax advisor for help with your specific situation.

You're Having a Baby! Now What?

That’s so exciting! Congrats!

You'll soon be responsible for another human being! Woah. That's a heavy responsibility.

So now what? Now you get your $%&# together. You need to do 3 things before Junior comes along and if she's already here then you're behind the ball. Get on it!

(BTW if your friends (or your kids) are with child, share this article. I promise they won't know any of this and they'll appreciate the knowledge bomb.)

In order of importance, here's what you need to do for your child.

       1. Buy more life insurance. Why? If you don't have enough life insurance, your family will be UP - THE - CREEK - if something happens to you. How would your spouse raise your kids without your income? Would grandma & grandpa need to babysit while your spouse works a second job? Would they need to move to a smaller house and/or a cheaper area of the country? Your kids will probably have to pay for college through student loans, which could haunt them for the rest of their lives. Your wave of unpreparedness will ripple through your family's lives for the rest of theirs. Get the picture?

Have life insurance through work? Awesome! But I can pretty much guarantee it's not enough. If you're a typical Bay Area family, you need a $2,000,000 life insurance policy. You can't get that through work.

If you do only one thing on this list, get enough life insurance. Have a financial planner run a Life Insurance Needs Analysis which will tell you how much you need given your specifics. Then get a cheap term policy that will last until your kids are out of college and off the payroll. For a healthy 30-year-old, a $2 million, 20-year term policy is around $80/month. It's a no-brainer.

(Full disclosure, I do NOT sell life insurance. But this guy does. And he's awesome. He'll even buy me a beer if you get your life insurance through him.)

       2. Get an estate plan. Why? Without one, if you and your spouse get hit by a truck while the kids are at home with the babysitter, your kids will be UP - THE - CREEK. The State of California will decide who takes care of your children. Then the State of California will make the guardian's life a living hell. They'll require the guardian to track and literally submit receipts for every single penny of yours they spend on raising your kids. And then when the kids turn 18, they will inherit whatever is left. All of it. (I don't know about you, but I was an idiot at 18.)

Please note, a will is NOT an estate plan. A will is a suggestion that the court may or may not follow. An estate plan is instructions that must legally be followed. In your estate plan, you will designate who takes care of your kids, who takes care of the money for your kids and when your kids will inherit your money once they are adults. Unless you want the State of California to make those decisions for you, you need an estate plan.

(Have a financial planner walk you through the estate planning decisions you need to make. Then rope in an estate attorney, like this one to draft the documents. She's awesome. She'll even buy me a beer if you draft your estate plan through her.)

       3. Get a college savings plan. Why? Sending your newborn to UC Berkeley in 18 years will cost $250,000. If you use a 529 Plan to start saving early, you won't actually have to save $250,000. Money in a 529 Plan grows tax-free as long as it's used for college expenses. The sooner you start saving, the more time it will have to grow. And the more time it has to grow, the less you'll have to save (and the less taxes you'll have to pay).

How do I know all this? Because we are experts in helping young families. It's The Financial Zen Group's bread and butter.

The Financial Zen Group can develop a Life Insurance Needs Analysis for you. We can walk you through the decisions you need to make for your estate plan. And we can help you establish your college goals and develop a savings plan.

But whether you leverage The Financial Zen Group or some other independent, fee-based financial planning firm, please get help somewhere. This stuff is way too important and way too complicated to try to figure out on your own.

I'd argue it's not hyperbole to say - your kid's life could depend on it.

Disclaimer: This publication is for educational purposes only and should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice.  These statements have been simplified for illustration purposes.  Consult your financial planner or tax advisor for help with your specific situation.

My 10 Year Anniversary

This week marks my 10-year anniversary.  On August 25th, 2008, I rolled into the office of Wachovia Securities for the first day of my new life as a financial planner.   What followed was 7 years of hell. 

If you've gone through - or are going through - your own hard-fought battle in pursuit of a worthy goal and a higher purpose, I tip my hat to you.  Whether you're starting a business, overcoming the loss of a loved one, writing a book, wrestling your health, funding a charity, or working 90 hours a week to become partner, I salute you.  You are in the arena.  

Whether you know it or not, you have initiated yourself into an elite fraternity.   We don't have any secret handshakes or fancy uniforms, but we recognize each other.  

And to my fellow brothers and sisters, I offer the following words of advice.   It's the letter I would have written to myself 10 years ago at the start of this journey. 


August 25th, 2008


Your hero's journey begins today.

And like a mother's wish for her child, I wish I could protect you - or at least prepare you - for what lies ahead.   But I can't.    And on second thought, I'm not sure I would even if I could. 

To protect you would steal from you all you are about to achieve.  You can only know the peaks of success after you know the valleys of defeat. 

And to prepare you - to have you truly understand the emotional pain and self-doubt and sleepless nights you are about to endure - would scare you away from ever beginning. 

So instead, I will just offer you the following advice: 

Have faith. 

Have faith in the journey.  You can't possibly imagine how hard this will be.  It will be harder than anything you will do in your lifetime.   Your reward will be a strength of character you could not possibly manifest without this journey. 

Have faith in yourself.   You can't imagine how deep the well of self-doubt is.   From yourself and well-intentioned loved ones, you'll hear whispers.  "It's okay if you turn back."    "You gave it your best shot.  There's no shame in quitting now." DO. NOT. LISTEN.  Your reward will be a belief in yourself so deep you'll be able to summit any mountain you choose in this lifetime.

And have faith in your mission.   You can't imagine how infinite the river of rejection is.    You will have more doors slammed in your face.  More phones slammed in your ear.   More "no's" slammed in your brain than anyone should ever have to endure.  But you will also hear "yes".  You will make a tangible, positive impact on people's lives.  That will be your shining beacon in navigating the foggy river of rejection.   Your reward will be making a dent - YOUR dent - in the universe. 

There will be times when you think you can't possibly go on.  When that happens, let your faith give you the encouragement you need to just take one… more… step….  

And one day after thousands and thousands of steps, you'll arrive.  The dragon will lay slain at your feet.  You'll be living your dream. 

Only then will you realize the hardship you are about to endure was a small price to pay.  You'd willingly pay it a thousand times over. 

Have faith.   Enjoy the ride.


Your future self

P.S.  You're gonna love it here! 

Who's Your "Guy" - A Broker? An Insurance Agent? Or a Financial Planner?

We are all called Financial Advisors… for now. 

The SEC is proposing restrictions on the use of "Financial Advisor" for brokers and insurance agents.

Why do they care?  Why should you care?

Because brokers and insurance agents are salespeople.   And while there is nothing wrong with salespeople, an informed client is an empowered client.  If you are dealing with a salesperson, you should know you are dealing with a salesperson. 

Here's why:

I'm at brunch with friends and the soon-to-be-dad lamented that he needs to finish his life insurance application.  The already-dad mentioned how cheap and easy term life insurance is.   Knowing I'm a financial planner, he then leans over to me and says, "I also bought a little whole life insurance."   Without even looking up, I said "Northwestern Mutual?".   "Yup" was all he responded. 

A little background is needed:  99% of financial planners do NOT recommend whole life insurance for young clients.  It's expensive insurance, a lousy investment and totally inappropriate for young clients.   Term life insurance is cheap and appropriate and the only life insurance a young family needs.  

So why did my friend's "Financial Advisor" at Northwestern Mutual - an insurance company - "recommend" a whole life insurance policy? 

Well, duh.   BECAUSE HE'S AN INSURANCE AGENT!  His job is literally to sell insurance. 

But his business card doesn't say "Insurance Salesman".   It says "Financial Advisor". 

Do you think if my friend saw "Insurance Salesman" instead of "Financial Advisor" on this guy's business card he would have bought a whole life policy he doesn't need?  

Probably not.

And that's just one anecdote of many.

Cross your fingers that the SEC passes this proposition.    It should be perfectly clear if you are working with a broker, an insurance agent, or an actual financial planner. 

2 Year Anniversary

Young, bootstrapped small businesses eventually become a victim of their own success.  The business outgrows the business owner and he can no longer "do it all".  It's time to hire some help. 

This week marks the 2 year anniversary of The Financial Zen Group (can you believe it!?).   That feels like an appropriate time to legitimize the "Group" in The Financial Zen Group.  

James Carnahan starts this week.   He's part of a husband and wife team who have provided virtual assistant services exclusively for financial planners for over 25 years - check em out here.

He will handle all of our administrative tasks - paperwork, transfers and meeting prep/follow up to start with.   And because he only works with financial planners, he already know all the technology that we use which means he'll add value immediately.

This will allow me to spend more of my time doing the important stuff - talking to clients and  developing and implementing financial plans. 

You can reach James at (330) 310-3826 and

We Make It Look Easy

There once was a man who had a squeaky hardwood floor. 

For months and months he tried to fix it.   But for the life of him he couldn't get the floor to stop squeaking. 

So he finally called a carpenter.

The carpenter came in, looked at the floor for a few minutes, took out one nail, hammered the nail into the floor and left.

Sure enough, the floor was fixed.  It didn't make a peep after that.

A week later the man received the bill in the mail.  It was for $200.   He was surprised that a few minutes of looking around and one nail cost $200.  So he called the carpenter asking for a detailed invoice. 

A week later the invoice arrived.  It read:

One nail……… $1
Knowing where to hammer the nail…. $199

The professional always makes it look easy because she knows exactly what to do.  But she only knows exactly what to do because she spent thousands and thousands of hours trying everything else first. 

Do you have thousands of hours to try everything else first? 

Buyer Beware

Caveat Emptor.    Buyer beware.

If someone's job title contains the word "Advisor," you would think they'd be required to give you good advice.   Or at least advice they BELIEVE is good advice. 

It's so obvious everyone assume that's how it works. 

It doesn’t.

If your "Financial Advisor" works for a large Wall St firm or insurance company - Wells Fargo Advisors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Ameriprise, Northwestern Mutual, AXA, etc. -  he is NOT legally required to advise you in your best interest. 

Let's say Mutual Fund XYZ sucks.  And your "financial advisor" knows it.  But XYZ pays a big, fat commission that will help him win a company sales contest.  So your "advisor" recommends you buy it anyways.   That's totally okay in the eyes of the law.

Caveat emptor.  It's up to YOU to figure out that it sucks and he's trying to win a sales contest.

Good luck!

The Dept of Labor tried to change this.  They created the Fiduciary Rule which would require "advisors" at big brokerage & insurance companies to act like independent financial planners who are legally required to put their clients' interests above their own. 

It was supposed to become law last year.  Then it was delayed.  And last week it all but died.  The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided investors should fend for themselves

Buyer beware. 

Only fiduciary financial planners are legally required to put your interests above their own.  And only fiduciary financial planners are required to file a form called an "ADV Part 2" with the SEC each year. 

So if you don't want to figure out if XYZ is great or your guy is trying to win his sales contest, just ask to see their ADV Part 2.  If he doesn't have one, move on.

Here's mine.