A Financial ✓Checklist You Can Handle

Presented by Jonathan S. Merckens, CFP®

With the beginning of 2014 upon us, you may have set goals and resolutions for the New Year. This financial checklist will help in attaining that commitment to improve your financial health. For many people, checking off items on a long list of to-dos brings a great sense of satisfaction as well as accomplishment. To help you keep moving toward your goals, we’ve created a month-by-month checklist of some key financial tasks to consider throughout the year.

• Establish a will or trust with an estate attorney. Although many people avoid thinking about estate planning, getting your affairs in order is one of the greatest gifts you can give your loved ones. If you’ve already established a will or a trust, sit down and review the documents with your attorney, making any necessary changes.
•  Create a budget. Establishing a monthly plan for spending and saving is an excellent way to help keep your fi nances in check, whether you’re reevaluating your financial life or just trying to maintain good habits.
• Get ahead on your mortgage. If you can swing it, consider making a full extra payment toward your mortgage principal, which may help shorten the length of your loan.

• Review life, home, and auto insurance. It’s a good idea to check your coverage regularly. Have you experienced a major life event in the past year, such as a marriage or birth? Any significant changes in your personal life may require you to reevaluate your coverage.
• Revisit beneficiary designations for life insurance/retirement accounts. Do you need to add a new beneficiary or change a designation? Review your accounts to ensure that the correct people are listed.

• Check your investment portfolio allocations and current holdings. As your financial advisor, we monitor your investment portfolio and holdings regularly. Nonetheless, you should be aware of where and how your assets are invested.
• Explore loans, grants, and other sources of financial aid. There are many ways to finance college and postgraduate education expenses. If you have a college-bound child, it’s wise to get an early start researching the options available to you. The government-sponsored website www.studentaid.ed.gov is a great place to begin.

• Review your online social security statement. Check your benefits information and earning record, and update any outdated personal information, such as your address or phone number.

• Review 401(k), IRA, and SEP plans. No matter your retirement goals, keeping an eye on your balances and making regular contributions is essential. Depending on your circumstances, consider increasing the amount you contribute. (Retirement planning is equally important for self-employed individuals, who can take advantage of many of the same savings vehicles.) We encourage you to meet with us to discuss the investment allocations in your 401(k) or other plan.

• Check your credit report. Request your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com and review it carefully for mistakes or suspicious charges, which could be a sign of identity theft.
• Shred old documents. Any financial documents that you no longer need, such as bank and investment statements, should be destroyed to ensure that they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

• Research 529 savings plans. Withdrawals from 529 plans are tax-free when used for qualified higher education expenses, making them an excellent way to save for a child or grandchild’s schooling.

• Review online accounts. Take a look at the usernames and passwords you currently use for your online accounts. If the passwords are too basic or if you’ve held onto them for too long, consider changing them as a security precaution.

•  Assess your overall investment goals and strategy. It’s wise to reevaluate your financial goals every year, especially if you’ve had any major changes or unexpected events in your
life. We can discuss your situation and help you adjust your financial plan accordingly.
• Revisit your budget. Look back at the plan you made in January and decide whether to adjust your budget or stick to your current strategy.

• Contact your CPA for year-end tax planning. Before tax season hits, it’s a good idea to speak with a certified accountant about changes in your personal circumstances, expiring tax breaks, and so on.
• Consider charitable giving. Donating to charity at year-end is a popular way to do good while reaping potential tax deductions. Charitable giving may be another item you wish to discuss with your CPA.

• Review the balance in your flexible spending account (FSA). FSAs require special attention so that you don’t lose unused funds at year-end. Under a new law, employers may allow employees to roll over $500 in FSA funds to the next year. Be sure to check the rules of your FSA plan and review your available balance.

• Consider refinancing high-interest debt. Consolidating your mortgage, credit card, or car loan payments can make your financial life more efficient (and possibly lower your overall interest rate).
• Pay off credit card balances every month. For the New Year, make a resolution to pay off your credit card balances every month, if you’re not doing so already.

Milestone events
In addition to the monthly tasks outlined here, keep these significant planning
milestones in mind as you near retirement age:
• Age 50: Consider making catch-up contributions to IRAs and qualified retirement plans.
• Age 55: You can take distributions from 401(k) plans without penalty if retired.
• Age 59½: You can take distributions from IRAs without penalty.
• Ages 62–70: You can apply for social security benefi ts.
• Age 65: You become eligible for Medicare.
• Age 70½: You must begin taking required minimum distributions from IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s.

Although this may seem like a lot of information to take in at once, glancing at the checklist each month and being ready for important retirement-related dates can greatly improve your sense of financial security, granting you peace of mind in 2014—and beyond.

This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax advisor, or lawyer.

Jonathan S. Merckens is a financial planner practicing at 11925 Pearl Road, Suite #403 Strongsville, OH 44136. He o­ ers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser.

Contact Jonathan at (440) 638-4757 or Jonathan@GrahamAssoc.com

© 2013 Commonwealth Financial Network®

Conscious Eating

By Susan Albers PsyD

Does chocolate seem to call your name? Beckon to you? If you live in Northeast Ohio, it’s likely that you remember what happened on Halloween this year. It rained terribly! The result? No trick-or-treaters. The next week, I received many phone calls from people who said, “Help Dr. Albers! I love chocolate but am afraid I am going to eat all this left over candy.” I completely understood. I had four unopened bags of chocolate leftover too. As a result, I decided to dedicate the next few months to giving people the tools they need to be around good food, whether it is chocolate or other comfort foods, and eat just a piece or two. No guilt. No overeating.

I’d like to introduce you to a new approach called, “mindful eating.” Mindful eating is not a diet. A smart behavioral technique changes the way you eat rather than what you eat. In the past, you may have followed diets that instructed you to “Just say no!” to chocolate. We all know how in e‡effective that strategy can be.

New research indicates that “accepting” your cravings can help you eat less and reduce craving. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, working with your cravings is more e‡ ective than denying yourself or trying to fend them o‡ff according to a study in the British Journal of Medicine. Ever try to convince yourself you don’t want chocolate? It’s draining! It often ends in an emotional tug-of-war, giving up or in a binge.

Instead of trying to fight off‡ the cravings, you eat the chocolate mindfully, paying close attention to each bite rather than mindlessly popping it into your mouth.  ere is other good news and reasons for learning to eat chocolate mindfully. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who ate chocolate at least twice a week had a lower BMI (body mass index) than those who frequently denied themselves of it. The reasoning? When you allow yourself to slowly savor chocolate, you are less likely to overeat or binge on it.

Below I’ll give you the first steps on how to eat mindfully. In my new book, “EatQ,” I have outlined the entire process and how you can adapt it to other foods you love. It isn’t easy and it takes practice. But, I guarantee mindful eating will forever change the way you eat.

How to Eat Chocolate Mindfully: 6 Steps
Use 1 oz. of dark or milk chocolate to practice this mindful eating exercise.

1. SIT DOWN. SIT IN A SEAT. Put aside whatever you are doing. Hold a piece of chocolate. Notice the weight of the candy in your hand. Look at it closely. Use at least three words to describe the chocolate to yourself.

2. SNIFF THE AROMA. Bring the chocolate up to your nose and inhale deeply. The aroma of chocolate can tap into powerful feelings and memories. Notice what “ oats into your mind.

3. SECTION INTO PIECES. As you unwrap it, listen closely to the crinkle of the foil or paper. If it is not wrapped, pay attention to the snapping sound as you break it off‡ into sections.

4. SLOWLY EAT. NOTICE YOUR SPEED. Intentionally set your pace. What does your mind tell you about the chocolate? Does it spark an emotion? Guilt? Pleasure? Desire?

5. SAVOR EACH BITE. Place the chocolate in your mouth. Notice the flavor, richness, and texture. Pay attention to how the sensations change as it melts and molds to your mouth. Observe the feeling of the chocolate slipping down your throat into your stomach.

6. SMILE. Sometimes you may find yourself thinking about the next piece of chocolate before even finishing the one you have. Intentionally pause and smile for a moment before even considering another piece or moving onto your next action.

Dr. Susan Albers is a nationally recognized author on the topic of mindful eating. She has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz shows, and her work has been featured in Family Circle, Shape, Prevention Magazine, Self, Fitness Magazine, O – the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Vanity Fair, Natural Health, and the Wall Street Journal.

‡Dr. Albers is a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns and mindfulness. She is the author of EatQ, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food; Eating Mindfully; Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful; and Mindful Eating 101. She also conducts mindful eating workshops across the country and internationally.

Growth Connections

By Diane Helbig
In this environment of email, texting, and tweeting, it is easy to fall into a digital hole. We convince ourselves that digital communication is the best, most preferred communication channel. Unfortunately, it isn’t. These tools can be used to enhance communication, but should not replace person-to-person connecting, a phone call, or a meeting.

The Internet provides us with an opportunity to reach out to people who we may not meet otherwise. It also gives us a platform to position ourselves as experts in our fields, to provide valuable information to the people looking for it.

However, we still need to build relationships with people. We still need to take time out of our day to talk with them, learn from them, get to know them. Everyone is in such a hurry and thinks the Internet is going to allow them to short circuit the process. Forget it!

People still buy from people they trust. And the only way they are going to learn to trust you is when they can see the whites of your eyes. And you can see theirs. How do you know you want to do business with them if you haven’t gotten to know them? They could be awful. And their online persona wouldn’t show you that.

We must maintain the human connection if we are going to build sustainable, thriving businesses. And the relationships take time. You can’t shortcut or jump ahead. You have to walk down that road.

My suggestion is that you embrace the process; enjoy the ride. It’s always fun to meet new people and find out what makes them tick. What do they struggle with? What do they enjoy? Where do you have synergy and where can you help them? What is unique about them?

Here are some tips for using digital tools to grow your business:

  1. Connect with someone with the intention of getting to know them better
  2. Suggest a phone call or meeting with people you are connected to
  3. Discover how you can help them without selling your product or service

When you get to know your connections and are focused on helping them, you will find that you build great relationships with the right people. It is those relationships that will have a positive impact on your company’s growth.

The exact opposite is also true. If you try to sell to a new connection, you will find that they will leave you, never refer you, and may even bad mouth you. It is really hard to work around that truth. And the damage can be extensive. So, settle in and take the time to build quality relationships that help you grow your business.

 Contact Diane at 216.534.2030 or www.seizethisdaycoaching.com

Diane Helbig is an internationally recognized business and leadership development coach, author, speaker, and radio show host. As a certified, professional coach, president of Seize This Day Coaching, Diane helps businesses and organizations operate more constructively and profitably.

Diane is the author of Lemonade Stand Selling, and the host of Accelerate Your Business Growth Radio show. She is also a Service Provider for Constant Contact.

Diane is the chairperson of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce as well as a COSE board member.

Copyright© 2014 Seize This Day Coaching


Taking the Bite Out of your Bite!

By Dr. Scott L. Rose

Most people do not associate headaches, neck, shoulder or back pain, ringing in the ears, jaw pain, clicking and popping of the joints, and other facial discomfort with their bite. The truth is many of these symptoms and more are directly related to the muscles in your face and how your teeth come together. Over 44 million Americans suffer from the condition known as TMJ Dysfunction (TMD). TMJ is the Temporal Mandibular Joint – the two joints that connect your jaw to your skull.

The third leg of this “tripod” is the bite. What holds this all together are the muscles. For the system to work properly, all the components must be in coordination with each other. Anything that disrupts this system can result in a myriad of symptoms and not the cause. Too frequently, medications are prescribed that have other unwanted side effects. I have seen many dental treatments that actually exacerbate the problems, not help them. The key is a proper diagnosis, one that takes into account not only the position of the teeth, but also the muscles of the face and jaw.

Another issue that must be taken into account is “airway.” Compromised airways can sometimes lead to snoring, sleep apnea, and morning headaches. Although CPAP has always been the “gold standard” for treatment, special dental appliances are being used more and more to successfully treat mild to moderate apnea. These appliances reposition the jaw to help open and maintain an open airway during sleep. As a person who also has had TMD, Sleep Apena, and headaches, I understand the importance of taking into account the muscles, bite, and jaw joints in developing a drug free approach to treating pain.


Embracing Insomnia

By Nancy B. Loughlin

The nighttime mind breeds dragons and insomniacs are vigilant. There is no reliable remedy for insomnia. Individual as it may be, insomnia is a widespread woe. Some polls indicate that as many as 60% of Americans experience some form of chronic sleeplessness. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a majority of Americans believe that lack of sleep negatively impacts work, relationships and health.

Some insomniacs fall asleep quickly only to awaken within a few hours, staring at the ceiling for the remainder of the night. Others lie in bed, fists clenched and wait in vain for the eyelids to drop. Before stressing that sleep may be inadequate (causing more stress and sleeplessness), ask first what normal sleep is. Circadian rhythms are individual. Babies can sleep as many as 18 hours a day and adults with normal sleep routines sleep between seven and nine hours. The number of hours isn’t the yardstick for evaluating if you are getting enough sleep. Plenty of adults feel refreshed with only six or seven hours per night. But daytime grogginess, irritability, and losing focus and productivity could signify a sleep issue.

There can be numerous physiological reasons behind sleeplessness: pain, heartburn, sleep apnea, hot flashes, diabetes, etc. The possibilities are even more abundant for what is really causing daytime grogginess such as stress, diet, medications, caffeine, alcohol, lack of physical exercise, weather, etc. Insomnia is a symptom not an illness.

Fixing the cause of sleeplessness isn’t easy. Perhaps that’s why people just treat the symptom. Drugs can be helpful with short-term insomnia. Sleeplessness caused by temporary stress such as the death of a loved one, a difficult job or illness can be remedied. Research has indicated that drug success with chronic insomnia is nominal at best and dangerous at worst.

Drug commercials are tantalizing. Smiling, well-rested models prancing across pastoral landscapes are so seductive that the insomniac is going to miss the side effect warnings. The over-the-counter products, some subtly suffixed with PM or potions laced with alcohol, don’t have the same stigma as prescriptions, but both prescription and non-prescription meds yield the potential for habitual use. The sleep they deliver is not of the same quality as natural sleep and the pills may leave you groggier than the sleep loss you’re trying to avoid.

The real mistake in taking medication is abdication of personal power to rock oneself to sleep. One answer is about changing attitudes regarding sleep as well as your own life and mind. Energetically, insomnia is a blockage of the sixth chakra, the thirdeye center in the middle of the forehead. Interestingly, the sixth chakra is aligned with the pineal gland, the producer of melatonin.

The body is wise and the insomniac remains awake because there is a lack of trust in life’s processes. There is resistance to life’s flow and refusal to see truth. Most importantly, the insomniac is prompted to wakefulness because she is forgetting her own power. Personal power lies in intention. Prepare to sleep, but fi rst you have to believe.

Address your bedroom. This room is reserved for sleep and sex only. The bedroom should be sparse and free of clutter. Remove televisions, phones and computers. If you have an alarm clock, face it away from the bed. Lowering the bed closer to the floor can enhance its grounding energy.

Commit to a set bedtime. If lying awake for over 30 minutes or early waking is the norm, try going to bed an hour later. The room should be cool as elevated body temperature increases alertness.

Clear the mind with the Yoga Nidra. Stand in Mountain Pose, eyes closed and shift to diaphragmatic breathing. Direct the awareness to the scalp. Slowly lower the senses down the body, imagining warm, soothing water sliding down the skin, taking all thoughts to the feet and to the earth.

Mountain Pose
1. Relax Face, Neck And Throat. Look Straight Ahead.
2. Pull Shoulder Blades In And Lift The Chest.
3. Try To Bring Tail Bone In, While Moving Thighs Back.
4. Lift The Kneecaps By Tightening The Thighs.
5. Keep Feet Together With Toes Out Like A Fan. Distribute Weight Evently across both Feet.

Now bring the up body to the low body with sun breaths. Moving with deliberate intention, slowly inhale while raising arms overhead. Swan dive forward, leading with the heart, exhaling to forward fold. Inhale and dive back up, arms reaching overhead, and exhale hands to the heart. Repeat three times and move to the floor. Extend the legs long, sitting directly on the sitting bones. Inhale arms overhead and fold up body to low. Breathe and feel the mind grounding into the body, belly to thighs. Hold for nine breaths.

Move to the knees and sit on the heels for Child’s Pose, breathing deeply for nine counts. Press the third eye into the floor. Finally, move into supine twists. Lie on the floor, and pull one knee into the chest and drop it over the body, relaxing into the twist. Twists are calming for the full body, realigning the vertebrae and taking pressure off the spine. Hold for nine deep breaths before switching sides.

Believe and climb into bed.
If sleep doesn’t come within 30 minutes, embrace wakefulness. Step to the window and place your hands on the glass. You are not alone. Close your eyes and with your third eye, gaze into the night. There are dragons and it’s time for you to wake up.

Nancy B. Loughlin is a writer, yogi, teacher and runner in Fort Myers. She can be reached at NancyLoughlin@yahoo.com. Reprinted with permission of Brian Hubbard, Health/Paradise Editor, The News-Press Media Group.