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Levin: You can plan for tomorrow and still enjoy life today

Why do people spend money they don’t have, burst through their budgets, and end up pinky-swearing that they will never spend money like that again — until they do it again the next time?

In the book, “Atomic Habits,” James Clear wrote, “The costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future.”

Think about that. Buying something that you don’t really need at the expense of saving for something that you do means that you are paying a future price to satisfy today’s want.


Levin: Finding a middle way with money pays big dividends

The fog had come in over the harbor as the fireworks were set off. The sound was loud, but the colors were muted until the fireworks fell below the cloud covering and briefly sparkled.

We had not been to a fireworks display like this and before the fog became too thick to see much of anything, this faint display was transfixing. While this fireworks show did not create the rush of ones in the past, it stayed with me longer.

Let me make a case for the muted, or as I prefer to think about it, the middle way. Our attention is drawn to the extremes, but why? 


Levin: Coming to terms with our weird relationship with money

We spend a lot of time talking with our clients about how to not spoil their children and why their children have a weird relationship with money. Here’s why: because they do. And you do. And I do. And so does everyone.

The people who don’t think that they have a weird money relationship are similar to the people who say out loud, “I don’t talk to myself.”

Let’s not get defensive, let’s make our own weirdness less impactful to those around us.


Levin: Getting financial planning right means being open to adjustments

I was recently in a meeting going over a relatively big project and the presenter said, “We have to get this right.” I felt myself tense immediately. If we didn’t get it right, that means we got it wrong. And what would the consequences be for getting it wrong?
As the meeting went on, the conversation become more focused on the problems, not the opportunity. The stakes were elevated to a place where a decision was going to be unlikely.
Think about all the decisions that you have made in your life and how few of them you really had to get right. That’s because almost nothing is binary. There is a continuum of “rights” and most of the time we can’t know where we landed until after the fact.


Levin: Getting comfortable with your buying decisions

Most people don’t want to be told what to do with their money. It’s
their money and they can do whatever they want with it. Well, almost.
You may be able to buy a black-market Oscar, but you can’t buy an Oscar victory. So while it’s your money and you can do what you want with it, not everything is for sale.
Things we may not think of as being for sale are regularly sold. Minnesotans are terrible at zipper merging because they feel like they may be budging in line, but most don’t think twice about paying for the right as a sole driver in the car-pool lane to pass everyone.


Levin: Legacy letter can explain your money values to your heirs

Money and values are intricately intertwined. When you reach the stage of life where you want to pass on your life philosophy on the subject to your family, a legacy letter is a good starting place.

A will determines how your valuables are distributed, a legacy letter shares how you hope to have your values understood.

While it can be prescriptive of what you want for others, it is far better if it is instructive of how the decisions and choices you made in your life affected how things turned out for you, thereby potentially creating a lasting monetary and values culture.


Levin: Why Minnesota needs to rethink its estate tax

I think that there are many good reasons for a federal estate tax, even though it currently only applies to married couple estates above $22.8 million (half of that for singles). While some people may argue that it is a double tax, most estates that size involve never-taxed capital gains.

It is also difficult to suggest that a society which believes everyone has an equal shot can say that those who have inherited wealth are starting in the same place as those who began with nothing. And a society which values the fruits and benefits of hard work may look askance at those who made it financially and are able to pass with limited restrictions all that accrued to them to heirs who may have done little work to earn it.


Levin: How to handle false positives in your financial planning

When we are walking our dog at night and hear something behind us, we may cross the street even though there is a far greater likelihood of it simply being a neighbor rather than a mugger. And when we are hiking the North Shore and hear a rumbling in the weeds, we may quickly get loud to scare off the bear that isn’t there as a squirrel harmlessly climbs a tree. 

These false positives protect us. Crossing the street or making noise may be unnecessary, but if our fears were real, we would be glad we did so. The important thing to discern is when false positives are useful and when they are not. Let’s go over typical ones we see in financial planning.


Levin: Striving for a higher meaning in your philanthropy

I am a strong believer in philanthropy. Deciding to give a percentage of income to charity, even as we walk through life’s changes and disruptions — starting businesses, building careers, having children, educating them — is a commitment to hold to our charitable objectives.

But being charitable and being generous may be two different things.

The financial benefits of charity are directed to those who can most afford to give. This is especially true with the new tax laws. Charitable gifts are deductions from your taxes, but only if you itemize. The increased standard deduction means fewer people are going to itemize their deductions. Those who itemize will most likely maximize their property and state income tax deductions at $10,000, and have a fair amount of mortgage interest and significant medical deductions. For married couples under age 65, the standard deduction is $24,000. So your charitable contributions are not really deductible until your itemized deductions are over $24,000!