Monday, December 30, 2013

Top 10 Tips for Financial Well-Being

I love lists like this; they almost always include at least one idea worth pursuing. I hope the same will be true for you here. In offering these top ten tips my wish is to help you start the New Year making conscious choices about money and spending in ways that support your values. Money and quality of life are integral to our sense of well-being and our outlook for the future. By aligning your values, goals and actions you take steps today to create a more meaningful life and future, regardless of your financial resources.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tribute to Judy Rodgers

While I didn’t know Judy well, I had the good fortune to work with her for a short time in my early days at Chez Panisse. She was between gigs, and was filling in downstairs. My earliest memory of Judy was that of her asking Paul Bertolli, “So how do you do your ratatouille?” I remember thinking it was a strange question, since ratatouille was such a basic dish – nothing to it – throw some eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, etc. into a pan with some basil and garlic. It was the kind of question I’d probably have been afraid to ask for fear of seeming ignorant. But now in hindsight, I see that the question revealed some of the characteristics that made her such a wonderful chef. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

On Being Selfish for Christmas

In this traditional season of holiday giving, how can “being selfish for Christmas” possibly be worth considering?

We make so many unconscious choices with money throughout the year, but during the holidays, no sooner does the mania of Black Friday strike, than we race out to shop. We spend because others bought us something last year. We buy for people at the periphery of our social or business network. We buy because we can’t disappoint the kids, or our friends’ or relatives’ kids. Pretty soon we have a buy list a mile long and are thinking about how we can get it done in the least amount of time for the least amount of money. Where is the joy in that?

Savory Holiday Stuffing with Quince and Chestnuts

This stuffing is especially delicious with Thanksgiving turkey.
It is a variation on a "traditional" sage stuffing. Its success depends on a nice balance of savory and sweet components. Bake it in a casserole or stuff it into a bird. Quinces and chestnuts are in the markets now. And for those of you in Marin, there is a vendor at the Sunday Civic Center farmer’s market who sells roasted chestnuts!! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Diversification of Your Investments: The Closest Thing to a Free Lunch

When I was younger, one of my favorite cartoon characters was Yogi Bear. Yogi and I share a passion for food. If you remember his antics, you recall that Yogi was always trying to find ways to steal picnic baskets. Here was a guy looking for the proverbial “free lunch.” Now we all know there is no such thing. Yet, as I get ready to write about diversification of investment portfolios, Yogi somehow comes to mind. Diversifying your investments is in some ways analogous to getting a free lunch. With a well-diversified portfolio, one or even several bad investments won't ruin you. Your portfolio will have fewer wild swings in value that make you queasy. And, you will experience more steady progress toward your investment goals.

Monday, November 4, 2013

What Is A Hedge Fund? Part II

According to Webster, the word “hedge,” as it relates to investments, originally meant “a means of protection or defense (as against financial loss.)” Hedge funds can be used to diversify a portfolio and reduce risk by providing investments that do not move in the same direction at the same time. If your portfolio consists entirely of U.S. stocks, you might choose to invest in something else that cushions the blow when stocks decline – an alternative investment that would appreciate when stocks decline. 

In this way, you’ve lowered the risk of your portfolio; you can think of hedging, then, as taking out insurance in case you are wrong.

What Is A Hedge Fund? Part I

When a friend recently asked me this question, I realized the answer was complicated! In a way, hedge funds are similar to mutual funds – baskets of securities (stocks, bonds, cash) managed by professionals – but there the comparison faltered. A hedge fund is an alternative investment (to stocks and bonds) that can utilize a broad range of strategies and financial tools to reach its objectives. Hedge funds have greater latitude (than mutual funds) to invest in any and all markets across the globe.

What does this really mean, you may wonder. Here is a sample of self-descriptive language from a hedge fund website: 

Sorrel Soup with Leeks and Potatoes

Sorrel is something to seek out and treasure. I was first exposed to it back in 1979 working at Fourth Street Grill in Berkeley. Chef Mark Miller had left Chez Panisse to open his own place. Mark heavily influenced my choice to pursue cooking as a first career. At Fourth Street Grill we cooked fresh local salmon over a mesquite charcoal fire and served it with buttery sorrel sauce. It was truly a revelation and an indelible food memory! 

Sorrel has been described as “sour grass” which may not excite you but it has a very unique flavor and pairs up deliciously with stewed leeks. You may have to scour farmers’ markets or your better produce stores to find it, but it is worth the effort! I was astounded how much I enjoyed this soup. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

What is a Hedge Fund? Pt. I

When a friend recently asked me this question, I realized the answer was complicated! In a way, hedge funds are similar to mutual funds – baskets of securities (stocks, bonds, cash) managed by professionals – but there the comparison faltered. A hedge fund is an alternative investment (to stocks and bonds) that can utilize a broad range of strategies and financial tools to reach its objectives. Hedge funds have greater latitude (than mutual funds) to invest in any and all markets across the globe.

What does this really mean, you may wonder. Here is a sample of self-descriptive language from a hedge fund website:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pappa al Pomodoro

Photos Courtesy of Jeff's iPhone...haha!
I first had this dish in Italy in 1985. I must say it is well…rather pedestrian. It isn’t much to look at and is best described as a ‘mush.’ But, at this time of year when tomatoes are plentiful and ripe, it is a wonderful dish! It is so satisfying because it seems to capture the essence of the season. The ingredient list is short and it doesn’t take long to make (about an hour.) It is great as a starter course or a light lunch with a salad. We’re getting to the end of tomato season. Make this before the rain starts!

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Battle of the Talking Heads: Making Conscious Choices with Your Lettuce

I am wandering pleasantly in the produce aisle of my favorite supermarket, looking at the lettuce, when suddenly I begin to overhear the following conversation:

A deep green romaine pipes up, “Pick me! I’m organic! I am more flavorful than that conventional head over there.” 

Unbelievably, the conventional lettuce chimes in, “Hey, dude, why would you want to spend your hard earned money on that head over there? Save yourself a dollar!”

Monday, September 9, 2013

Paella over a fire! Party time!

This is a party dish! I’ve done it numerous times on a large
Photos courtesy of Mary Small Photography
Weber barbeque. It is a little challenging at first to get the fire just right, but I’ll share my tips to help you have this remarkable cooking (and dining) experience! I think the keys are meticulous organization and preparation because once the pan is on the fire everything moves along quickly. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Grilled Tomato Crostini

I was astonished to see that I had not yet posted my recipe
for grilled tomato crostini on this blog! It is my favorite way to eat tomatoes this late in the season. 

This dish is so good I can't imagine summer without it. The important thing to remember for this recipe is to grill the livin' daylights out of the tomato. It should be on the verge of falling through the grill and into the fire. It takes on a smoky character as the water evaporates from the tomato, concentrating the sweet fruity flavor. It is fine if the skin burns a little. It adds to the character. It is like smoky tomato jam on toast…mmmm! There are a number of delicious ways to garnish it. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Risk & Return: Talk About a Complex Relationship! Part II

Imagine you have come to the office of Stoffer Wealth Advisors for a consultation. You need some help in reviewing and structuring your investments. You are concerned about securing a good rate of return on your investments and want to understand what will be the best approach. Here’s the rest of the conversation. Part I can be found here.

I’d like my portfolio to earn about 15 percent per year for the next ten years until I retire. Does that sound reasonable?

Risk & Return: Talk About a Complex Relationship!

Imagine you have come to the office of Stoffer Wealth Advisors for a consultation. You need some help in reviewing and structuring your investments. You are concerned about securing a good rate of return on your investments and want to understand what will be the best approach. Here’s how the conversation might go. 

You told us in previous blogpost that “making a big pile of money” was not a good investment goal. If I’m going to invest money, I want a good return. But, what is a good return on my investments? 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Retirement Planning: Lessons From the Kitchen

Have you ever felt anxious when trying a new recipe (especially for guests?) You worry whether it will turn out right. Not only is the success of the occasion on the line, perhaps your reputation in the kitchen is as well. Retirement planning and investing can evoke a similar sense of anxiety, though of course the stakes are much higher. In both cases, we have a keen interest in the outcome, matched with a sense of uncertainty about what that outcome might be. As someone who has spent decades doing both professionally – cooking and providing retirement/investment guidance – I offer some tips from the kitchen that can be applied to successful planning for the future.

Monday, July 29, 2013

What Are The Basics Of Retirement Success?

Remember the three P's: planning, prioritizing and persistence!

Planning for the future can seem abstract, almost like fantasizing. Visualizing what retirement looks like for you is an important but often overlooked step. In addition to answering the questions, “When can I retire?” and, “Will I have enough money?” planning includes defining specific goals – what do you need and want in retirement? Make it real.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How Are You "Doing" Life?

In her book, “The Energy of Money,” Maria Nemeth says, “How we do money is how we do life.” Given my work on unconscious beliefs and money, I find this statement to be more than a little true. Our underlying beliefs, based on patterns of behavior learned and reinforced from an early age, are reflected in the choices we make with money. This has a profound influence on how we live our lives.

Lately I have been thinking about my two careers (financial planning and cooking.) How different they may seem in some respects, yet, more importantly, how much they have in common. On a fundamental level, both careers say something about how I “do life.”

Sunday, June 9, 2013

New Potatoes in Parchment

It is new potato season! Seek them out. You may need to ask. When you find them they may be a bit dirty. Or, the skins look thinner and somewhat “papery”. They have a more earthy fragrance and once you have tried them, you’ll begin to notice difference. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Healthy Financial Choices Workshop at Sans Gluten Free Grocery June 26th!

This is the one hour interactive presentation I have been giving. And it keeps getting better! We'll be
learning about our unconscious beliefs about money, where those beliefs come from and how they influence your choices with money. Since it is sponsored by Sans, there is no charge for the event, though they request a $10 donation. Bring a friend or significant other. This is a great way to encourage better communication about money with your mate! Register here. Download flyer.
Here's the new About Me video on my website. It tells a little about why I do what I do...

Friday, May 10, 2013

Marin Healthy Palooza is tomorrow

I will be presenting at 11:15 in Workshop Room 3, also known as the Terrace Room at the Mill Valley Community Center: Details here...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What Is A Target-Date Fund?

One of the most important decisions investors have to make is “asset allocation” or the percentages we hold in each of the major classes of investments; stocks, bonds, real estate, and cash. This decision reflects the level of risk a person assumes and the amount their portfolio is likely to grow over time. This is a difficult decision and one that requires careful consideration.

Small Artichokes with Rosemary & Garlic

These little artichokes are really wonderful. Making them
yourself is so much better than the mushy artichoke hearts you get in jars or at a deli. They are great on steak or fish. Try other herbs too. Tarragon, thyme and savory will also work well.

Artichoke Risotto

Small artichokes seem to be plentiful this year. When this
dish comes together you will primarily taste the artichokes,
Mary Small Photograpy
the rosemary and the lemon. While it doesn’t really need Parmigiano cheese, allow for personal preference and have some on the table, just in case. A tip for serving;
add a drizzle the freshest and most expensive olive oil you have just before bringing it to the table.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Potato & Onion Soup with Bacon

This is a very satisfying soup! It is simple and savory and makes for an excellent light supper. The potatoes for this soup can be ‘regular russet potatoes.’ As they become completely cooked they start to break down and help thicken the soup naturally. 

What Does A Financial Planner Do?

How do the services of a financial planner compare with those of an adviser, investment manager or other financial person? What does a financial planner do, exactly?

A seemingly straightforward question, yet the answer may not be simple. I like to refer to my favorite metaphor — food preparation. A financial planner helps you create the recipe for your financial future. Think of planning a special birthday meal years in advance. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Braised Short Ribs!

As I do in managing investments, I do in the kitchen. That is to say, I eat my own cooking. No better time to write this recipe than as I finish my last bit of sauce and glass of red wine. Generally when writing recipes I try not to overwhelm with details. In this instance I do want to convey the essential tips that will make your rendition of this dish as delicious as mine. This recipe is longer than normal and I’ve included more photos to give you an idea of what it looks like as the dish progresses. 
I am really happy some one asked for the recipe (thanks Stacy!!!) Whenever I get around to writing a cookbook, this recipe is a must to include.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rebuilding a Relationship of Trust

This is an article I wrote a few years ago, but the advice still applies. It has to do with trust in the financial industry.

“We can’t legislate wisdom or passion. We can’t legislate competency. All we can do is create the structures and hope that good people will be appointed who will attract other good people — people who will make careers and listen and see to it that never again do we go through what we have gone through.”
Connecticut senator, Chris Dodd, as quoted in The New York Times, July 15, 2010

With the recent passage of the historic Financial Regulation Bill, the transgressions of the financial industry and new provisions designed to prevent these types of excesses in the future have once again taken center stage. The legislation comes at a time when mistrust of financial services is epidemic. Nervous investors traumatized by losses and mismanagement of their funds wonder how to go about getting reliable and trustworthy advice.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Money and Regret, "If Only I Had…"

In my role as a financial advisor, I see a lot of people paralyzed by financial choices. I am fascinated by how people make decisions. I’ve concluded that our financial decisions are influenced more by our emotions than most of us would like to admit. Today we’ll examine the ways in which regret, a most powerful emotion, affects decision-making.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dollars & Sense Event-How We Make Financial Decisions, Marin County

I'm doing a workshop on how we make choices with our money.
When: Tuesday March 19th, 11:30 am to 1:00 pm.
Where: San Rafael Corporate Center, Tam Conference Room
It is a Free "Brown Bag" Lunch event...
Stacie Strassberg of FirstCal Mortgage is hosting and I'm facilitating the workshop.
Come join us for an engaging and interactive look into how we make choices with money.
Check out the flyer here. Or sign up directly here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Video Version of "When Should I Seek Help?"

When Should I Seek Help From A Financial Planner?

Here are three situations where the advice of a professional would be of great value: you want to retire within the next ten years, you have gone through a divorce or have inherited money.

Issues around retirement include the questions, “Can I afford to retire?” “How much do I need to retire?” and, “Will I run out of money?” Tracking spending, saving, investing and managing risks form the basis of retirement planning. To some extent, people can do many of these things themselves. Professional help is appropriate when

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Roasted Brussels Sprouts!

Brussels sprouts are not one of those vegetables that I think about and say, “I sure have missed these since last year!” I might say that of tomatoes or spring garlic, but not Brussels sprouts. That being said, I do like the challenge of making them into something delicious! I need strong flavors around these things to really enjoy them. Roasting seems to improve their flavor. Here is a simple way to make tasty sprouts!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chicory Salad with Bacon and Parmesan

This is my favorite winter salad! Chicories are plentiful now at the farmers' markets. They come in a wonderful array of colors and varieties: frisee, radicchio, treviso, escarole, etc. The cold weather brings out the crunchy and bittersweet character of these greens.

Meyer lemon vinaigrette plays beautifully with the hearty greens, smoky bacon and nutty Parmesan.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Here's the video version of Spending, Saving and Investing: Staying Focused in the New Year...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Spending, Saving and Investing: Staying Focused in the New Year

We’ve managed to avoid the latest scary financial threat – the fiscal cliff. Largely out of our control, the outcome could have pushed the economy back into recession. Uncertainty over such events can keep us from making important decisions about our own long-term financial goals, such as preparing for retirement.

Planning for our future can seem abstract at best. Yet at some point, we will all stop working. We need to set aside the distractions and rely instead upon some solid ideas to keep us pointed in a positive direction. Three key areas to focus on are how we spend, save and invest.