Color of Money Live

May 30, 2013

Join Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary on Thursday, May 30 at noon ET for an online discussion.

Michelle's guest is Ellen Miley Perry, founder and managing partner of Wealthbridge Partners, a firm that advises wealthy families. Perry's book "A Wealth of Possibilities: Navigating Family, Money and Legacy" is May's Color of Money Book Club selection.

Send your personal finance questions in early or read the archives later.

-- May's Color of Money Book Club column - Grass isn't always greener across financial lines

-- Michelle's Mailbag

-- Oh, the places you'll go graduate, but know what you owe

-- Be nice to Mom and Dad and study up for financial life after college

 I'm excited about my guest today,Ellen Miley Perry, author of “A Wealth of Possibilities: Navigating Family, Money, and Legacy,” which was the Color of Money Book Club selection this month.

So let's get started.

In a recent Mailbag you responded to someone who had a question about whether they should invest. I'm in a similar position - we've got plenty of savings (year+ of living expenses, contributing to 401ks, etc) and no debt except our mortgage. And, (as you advised in your answer), we started making additional payments on that earlier this year. So I think we should probably start investing...but I have NO IDEA where to start. Even if we knew what we wanted to invest in, I literally have no idea how to go about investing in something. Where can I get reliable advice about this? Is there an "Investing for Dummies" book you can recommend?


Michelle's Mailbag

First, you are investing if you have 401ks. At least you are if you don't have all the money is a cash instrument, which probably don't. 

I understand the confusion. Many people don't see their retirement savings as "investing." They just know someone said they have to save for retirement, here's a vehicle at work and go put money it in.

So you've started. The question you might really be asking is, "Should we be investing more?" Or should we be investing outside our workplace retirement plan?

And the answer is it depends. Are you investing as much as you can in the 401ks? The annual max is $17,500 for 2012. and if you are 50 or older you can put in an additional $5,500 in "catch-up contributions."

Or maybe you want to have some of your retirement money in a ROTH IRA, which means you put in money after it's taxed but then later your returns aren't taxed.

I would suggest you get a basic investment book. And yes, one of the dummy books would work although I'm not a fan of the dummy label. 

What inspired you to write this book? What is the single most important take away, or even the three most key teachings, you would like people to have from reading it? How would you like people--across the financial spectrum--to benefit from through sharing your knowledge and expertise in this book?

Thanks for the question- I was inspired to write this book after having met hundreds of families over 20 years- who all basically want the same thing- to raise competant kids, who are connected to the family and who are confident about money. The most important lesson is perhaps intentionalty-- have a clear, enduring focus on your family and make a plan. 

1) Start saving. Save part of every single paycheck. 2) Invest in your own retirement beginning with your first job. 3) Rent an apartment as inexpensively as you can and save for a house of your own. 4) Don't add new debt! Don't get into the credit card game. Don't believe that you will always be able to pay it off in full at the end of the month. Miss one of those payments and that snowball gets rolling downhill REALLY, REALLY, REALLY FAST!!!!!

Love your advice. Thanks.

Hi Michelle, thanks for advice and columns. I know you've addressed the issue of whole life insurance before and hope you'll indulge me here. I've been given advice to purchase a policy for the tax benefits. I'm maxed out on my 401k and won't be able to contribute to a Roth IRA soon because of the income limits. Do you agree that a whole life insurance policy is a smart way to go? Thanks.

I'm not a fan. Whole life is expensive and lots of stuff you need to know to be sure you are right for it and it's a good policy. 

From a WSJ last year: "The trick, advisers say, is to find a policy that combines reasonable fees and generous dividends—and that isn't always an easy task."

From Dave Ramsey: "Cash value life insurance is one of the worst financial products available."

From "Unfortunately, figuring out how much money your whole life policy is yielding now and what it will yield in the future is far more difficult than simply reading your policy's fine print."

Nice article on this type of insurance. Read more: 

We have one child. If we do not sell our assets, we will be leaving her our home and farmland that is leased. It is not worth millions of dollars however, it is a substantial asset. What is the best way to help the child value these assets.?

Thank you for writing. Firstly, might suggest that - when your daughter is old enough- you discuss this with her. It would be helpful for her to know your intent-- do you wish her to hold on to the house and live in it? Sell it? Don't care? And the best way that I have seen to instill a deep understanding of value and money in kids is through their own summer jobs. and by letting them wish for things that you do not buy them, and that they can save and buy for themselves. And perhaps explore your own feelings about this property and what it represents to you. 

I mostly agree but I'm not sure that the "rent cheap so you can buy a house" is a one-size-fits-all solution anymore. Renting and staying out of the mortgage area all together may be the better option depending on work, lifestyle. All of the other advice was spot-on.

Good followup.

I'm a big believer in home ownership but at the right time. Not because rates are low. Not because home prices are low.

Because you can afford it and it makes sense for you.

Start the savings habit as soon as possible. Build your emergency/Stuff Happens! fund. Check out employer plans for investing/saving for retirement

More grad advice.

But are the grads listening or are we old folks just talking to ourselves?

Hi--I have listened to your advice over the years, and am in a good financial place, as a single mom. I have my mortgage, saved up to pay cash for a decent car recently, and don't spend too much on non-necessities. How do I teach my pre-teen daughter that there's more to life than the $$ labels she wears? We live in Montgomery County, in a pretty affluent neighborhood and some of the kids dress in more expensive clothes than me. Not nicer, just more expensive. I have bought some "name" clothes on sale/clearance, but it's getting silly. Really, a 3-word label on the back of your boots will get you ostracized? Help.

Stick to your knitting! While pre-teens and teens can be challenging (I speak from experience), don't forget that you are teaching them your values every single day. I would suggest that you begin (or continue) an allowance for her and let her gradually begin to buy her own clothes by the time she is a junior in high school- she will quickly learn the "value" of labels. The most important part of allowances, is the lessons and skills it teaches- but for that to happen you have to be sure that you don't come to the rescue when she runs short or makes a mistake. It is a long-term planning tool. thanks - Ellen 

Couldn't agree more with Ellen. You can't beat peer pressure. It's there for kids and frankly adults. I can't tell you how many ADULTS try to tell me what I should have, buy,own,etc. 

But I stick to my values. You are on the right track because she is watching you. She will copy you.

I teach my frugal values to my kids. Still they will want what their friends have. And pout when they don't get the stuff. They whine. They roll their eyes. They secretly vow to put you in a nursing home. 

So what? I'm saving for my own retirement.

Don't be a punk parents.

Say no. Keep saying no if you can't afford the 3-word label on their a... that isn't an asset.

And then lock your bedroom door at night so they won't smother you in your sleep.

The income limits for the Roth IRA has a simple work-around (assuming you don't have much in a traditional IRA). Starting in 2010, the income limit for converting a traditional IRA to a Roth disappeared. Therefore, if you have no traditional IRA, all you have to do is make a traditional IRA contribution and have the IRA converted to Roth (before investing the money). Nothing is taxable as all the money in the IRA is post-tax. If you have a traditional IRA already, the conversion gets trickier tax-wise as the IRS won't allow you to only convert the new money (all after-tax) and "ignore" the other untaxed money in the IRA.

Passing along. Sounds complicated but people are doing it.

What are some of the more effective and least effective provisions in trusts to incentivize or disincentivize children?

Thank you for your question. I have found incentive trusts to be tricky. At their core, they are used to influence and control others...sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't. As an example, if you have motivated, ambitious kids, then an incentive trust that gives them a distribution when they go to college, or get a job is often fine. If, on the other hand, you have creative artists or humanitrians who want to travel the world doing good work, or kids for whom school has been really hard, then trying to influence them to go to collge with money can alienate them. They can often feel "less than" or as if they are disappointing you by being who they really are. 

This is a complex question, that depends alot on the situation. 

Hi Michelle! thanks for the column and the chat. Love your perspective. Here's my question: we have a 15 year mortgage on a house we intend to stay in, interest rate is 2.65%. we have extra cash beyond our maxed out retirement contributions. I've been playing with our amortization schedule, looking at the interest that would be saved in paying extra on the mortgage. Frankly, the interest that would be avoided by early payoff isn't all that impressive at our specific rate. It seems like we would come further out ahead in the end by investing that extra cash over the next 15 yrs. What are your thoughts on this, as I know in general your mantra is pay it all off ASAP.? No consideration needed on the tax deduction-- the tax benefit is not big enough to be part of the equation.

Me, I'd go for debt-free. Just hate debt and having it hang over my head. With no mortgage you are better off if somethings wrong, especially since you want to stay in the house long-term. 

But why not do both? Doesn't have to be either or.

Just making one extra mortgage payment a year can knock off some additional years from that 15-year. And you can also still invest.

I received one note from a reader wondering why we should care about rich folks and their issues. What lessons in your book apply to the majority of people with middle-income lives? 

Thanks! I often get this question. So basically, I believe that we should care about one another- regardless of our financial circumstances- becasue we are fellow human beings- worthy of dignity. We want the wealthy to care about and care for those less fortunate, but then often don't have any empathy for those who have more. I have come to believe that the stereotypical rich person ruins it for the vast majority of wonderful wealthy people- who are generous and kind and openhearted to others. 

My book address issues that are common for all- how to have a family that is connected and thriving and kids who are productive and joyful and who have lives of meaning. 

A couple of weeks back, you mentioned volunteering opportunities in your church's financial ministry. I would like to volunteer, do you have a contact for that? Or do you recommend anywhere else in the DC metro area where one could volunteers that helps people learn or improve their finances?

I always welcome volunteers. In fact, on Sat. I'm conducting a kids and money session. I always love it when the eyes of the young are opened to how much it cost to live.

So my church is First Baptist Church of Glenarden. We meet the first Sat. of the month at 10:30. Come on by.

But if that doesn't work for you or you don't live in the area check around for other churchs, community centers etc. that are looking for volunteers to work with folks. There is always a need.

Ellen, your book was great! Could you please say more about what you meant when you wrote "Elevation of the parent always runs the risk of diminishment of the child"(p. 51). Thanks.

Thank you! What I mean by that sentence is this-- the bigger the shadow that the parent casts, the harder it can be to be the child...the more important the parent, the smaller the child (adult or not) can feel. In a place like DC in which we have so many high powered, impressive adults, their children can often feel as if they cannot compare. Children, by nature, compare themselves to their parents- so help elevate your kids by focusing on their gifts and accomplishements- not always shining the light on your own. 

Oooh, I so need this advice!

Hi, I'm 49 and Husband is 56. I don't know whether I need a financial counselor or a marriage counselor. I expect to work another 20 years. Husband insists that he will work until he drops dead, whatever age that will be. Aren't we supposed to be making plans TOGETHER for retired life? I don't want to pay a mortgage at 70 years old, I know I don't want to live in NOVA and at the rate we are going on our current home, I'm nervous that both of those scenarios will happen. Am I worrying too much or not enough? Frankly, right now I think I'd like to be single. Thanks for any help you can give.


Talk with your spouse now about retirement plans

Welcome to typical married life. Hey marriage counseling couldn't hurt. 

I agree! Money arguments are at the top of the marital conflict list. It often helps to have a disinterested 3rd person to help you talk and think about these issues. Good luck- Ellen 

Click on the link for a great book that may help with your retirement planning with your husband. Also remind him that just because he wants to work doesn't mean he will be able to work until he drops dead.

Hi Michelle, I'm getting married next April and my parents are paying for most of my wedding and my fiance's parents (both remarried) say they'll help with the rehearsal dinner, but they can't seem to commit to a certain amount.. How do I handle getting them to commit to how much they will contribute and make sure they follow through? (they tend to say they'll do things, then cancel last minute) I am stressing out because I don't know what to do and my mom is freaking out for the amount they are spending to make our day special, and she's upset that my fiance's parents can't do the same for the rehearsal dinner.. Help! 

Really good question. I can read the stress.

But ready for the real you or your mom-may-not-like-it answer?

Pay for the rehesarsal dinner yourself. Don't ask them anymore. Plan for what you can afford and move on. You've already said they aren't reliable. So don't rely on them.

If they give you money later out of the kindness of their heart and bank account, fine. If not, move on. Let it be.

As for your mom, with all due respect, what is she mad about? She offered to pay for the wedding right? It's her choice, right? It's their choice to not pay for anything. She doesn't really know your  finance's parents situation nor should it be any of her business. Maybe they back out because they are trying to do something they really can't afford. Doesn't excuse them but may explain something.

And really since when do people have to have all these paid-for events leading up to THE EVENT?

Do the rehersal. Have pot luck or have people go their merry way after the rehersal. Really not that big a deal. They are grown folks and if they get hungry they can feed themselves. If there are out of town guests staying with someone, feeding them is up to the host.

Do you see what I mean?

Let this go. Enjoy your the rest of your marriage because this stuff won't really matter unless you make it matter.

I remember my Dad's response when my sister said she would simply DIE if she didn't get the designer label jeans she coveted. He deadpanned, "We will miss you."

Smart dad.  When I was a child and decided to leave home because I wasn't getting what I thought I deserved, my mother hauled out the big, old suitcase, packed it and escorted me to the front porch, kissed and hugged me hard and told me she would miss me terribly and hoped I would come home soon feeling differently.  I think I lasted in the shrubs all of about 20 minutes. 


Got to use your dad's line.


"it makes sense for you." -- so key, and not just "makes sense financially" (although this is probably the wrong forum in which to stress that). I just got out of the home ownership game. I'm a single professional female, and the stress of constantly worrying about maintenance and upkeep was too much. Happy as a clam going back to renting.

Love me some happy clams!

Good for you.

My husband also planned to work forever--said that even if he won a big lottery prize, he'd keep working. He died of cancer 5 years ago. Do you have a contingency plan that will support you if he isn't around? He did, and for that I am very thankful.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story.

When I was growing up, my best friend came from a (comparatively) wealthy family. She got an allowance, but if there was something she wanted, her parents would front her the money, if she did not have enough saved. It seemed she was always in debt to her parents. Fast-forward 30 years: she has had trouble with credit card debt, leases new cars because she cannot afford to buy it new and g-d forbid she buy used. I keep my mouth shut, but boy, her parents raised her to live in debt, and that is what she is doing. Don't enable your kids!!

I agree! One of the problems with parents who have some wealth is that it is tempting to make life "easy" for your kids. When you are in the middle of child-rearing,(wealthy or not)  there are so many lessons to teach, things to remember, priorities to set... that you can miss the importance of some of them. Her parents probably felt that they were doing a good job by making their daughter pay them back. Making your kids strive is good. 

Yup, tell my kids all the time  I don't want them to have it better than I did.

I want them to suffer.

Because they won't have access to my paycheck, house, goods, etc. when they are living on their own with their own money. 

So if they learn now to do without even when I can afford to indugle them, they can live below their own means.

And it's working. My daughter, who is about to graudate works part-time and she can hold on to a dollar. She won't admit it but she cheap just like her mama. And my cheap I mean frugal not miserly.

So proud.

So very proud.

there seem to be lots of differing views on whether to give allowances to children. Ours are expected to do certain everyday chores- and then extras that they must complete to get their allowance. we feel this is okay because they aren't being paid for every single thing, yet they are learning to do some things because there is a tangible reward (and we can afford the few dollars we give them). They put some $ in savings and the plan is to start contributing at church soon too. I also feel that no adults go to work without the expectation of a paycheck-no matter how much they love their jobs. Please tell me we are on the right track!!

YOU ARE ON THE RIGHT TRACK! I actually like the idea of an allowance and then extra payments for going above and beyond the normal duties that your kids do just becasue they are part of the family. I see allowance as a training tool- the whole idea is to give them financial experience, real life budgeting experiences, and a connection between effort and payoff. You can get more and more creative as your kids get into high school - giving them a larger allowance and turning more of the expneses over to them- clothes buying as an example is great to turn over- you will be surprised how much better they care for them! - Ellen 

As someone who is in the process of increasing my life insurance, I know figuring out which kind is "the right" kind to get. But I just want to say that people need to get insured and not let the complexity of figuring it out prevent them from getting insurance. I say this because I am acquainted with someone who died this week from injuries sustained in an accident. This person was working, married and had a young child...and no life insurance. You can imagine the depth of this tragedy for this family. Consider this a public service announcement.

Announcement received.

But I will add it does matter to do research. But then you have to decide.


Hi, Michelle. Thanks for hosting. Ellen: Any advice for us adult offspring about how to handle this situation as potential future benefactors? We are established and comfortable already. I wish our parents would just spend it all, or donate it, but that is unlikely.

Will you come live with us?? :) 

So the best advice that I have is to engage your parents in this conversation- over time. Explore with them their goals for the money- essentially the question is "what's the money for"? Often parents want to make life easier for their kids- regardless of their ages- and money is just another tool to do that. A likely question that they may wish to talk about is the possibility of skipping over you and leaving money to your kids. That is an interesting discussion. 

do as michelle said, but I *would* suggest letting them know first. Then stop badgering them. Tell them: we have decided to do XYZ. We just wanted to let you know so you can stop worrying about it. Then ... yes, let it go...

Love this. You are right. And say it with nary a hint of sarcasm or anger. 

We just met at home the night before with a potluck rather than everybody at a restaurant. More fun and relaxing and you can include more people. Local friends organized dishes. Money isn't the only way to make things special.

Yup. That's what I'm saying!


I will say, I grew up in a very wealthy area and it was horrible to never have what everyone else had. It wasn't the best feeling at all. I found my group and who to be with, etc, but it was extremely difficult. Remember, your child *must* go to that school - every day - and she is learning about the morals/values in that school. So to make fun of her for wanting to live the way you have shown her (even if *you* don't think it's so important to have those are living in a place that values them) isn't the nicest thing. It's about the same thing as the kids who may be teasing her (or talking behind her back) for not having those clothes. If you want her to have different values - well, teach her yours, and eventually she will come around (like in 10 or 20 or more years). But RIGHT NOW, those are the values she is being taught - every day - in school. Just remember that. It's not that easy to just ignore it. she's not an adult, and she can't just easily change her situation.

I hear you. And I know that teasing. Got it myself.

Any Baltimoreans out there remember "fisheads" sneakers?

Top of the inexpensive sneakers looked like fish heads.

But it was all my grandmother could afford. So yes, I lived that teasing. Know it well.

BUT...and hear me. There will ALWAYS be something someone else has that they don't have. You dress them the best you can afford and send them on their way. Sure, you can get them some things. However, you cannot cave to this stuff as parents. You cannot live by other spoiled, brand-conscious, hard to keep up standards set by bratting school kids.

You can't. 

They will survive if you talk to them, love on them, provide security in your home for them. And guess what?

They will be the kid that walks across the stage with a saved up college fund. They will be the young adults who live within their means and could give a rats-behind about what other people think!

Totally respect your concern. But just saying.

My husband and I are childless, in our mid-60's, retired, one home paid for, a vacation home with a modest mortgage, a nice accumulation of assets in our TSP and various IRAs. No financial worries for ourselves. However, we can't figure out a fair way to divide our assets for the next generation down. We have blood relatives, step-siblings to whom we are close and a couple step-siblings I wouldn't recognize if I saw them on the street (they were adults when mom and step-dad got married), adult nieces and nephews for him that he has rarely seen since they are the children of his long-ago-divorced older brother ("kids" now in their late 30's; he hasn't seen them since there were very young children - there was little family contact after the divorce). How do you figure out a fair way to leave assets when there are some step-nieces/nephews, for instance, that we feel closer to than some blood relatives who have essentially disappeared from the family? And some step-relatives that we literally don't even know? It feels very complicated, and considering our property and our finances, there is quite a lot of money involved. How do we even get started?

Thank you for the thoughtful question. A Modern Family!  So your question is complicated and important, and not answer-able in a quick post. But you are on the right track- figuring out how to get started is the right next step.  A few thoughts-- its your money and you should consider what gifts or transfers would make you feel most satisfied and content. Not really what you "should" do, but what you want to do. You have clearly worked hard and been responsible over the years, and this gives you a chance to express your values in the choices you make. 

"the amount they are spending to make our day special"? I can't believe someone who would say that has ever read your columns, Michelle. The "special" part should be marrying someone you love, and the money shouldn't matter. If the money is what's making the day special, I feel sorry for everyone involved.

Don't be too  hard. I get what she was saying. It's what we do in this soceity. It's how we get married. I'm not mad at her or them for that.

But in the miss of this consumption, you have to remain calm and reasonable.  That's all.


Michelle, your advice was perfect. My daughter got married last year and her father and I gave them a set amount of money for a wedding and reception that was roughly half the cost of a traditional wedding. It was beautiful and unique and everyone had a great time. The groom's parents are not in great shape financially so the kids found a restaurant that would set up a buffet for the rehearsal dinner. Just parents, grandparents and the wedding party. Both evenings were perfect and nobody broke the bank (or their budget). For their bachelor/bachelorette parties they stayed in town and went out with their friends. The notion that everyone MUST have a huge and expensive series of celebrations is ridiculous.

My stepson was married in San Fran last summer and they have limited finances- it was the MOST fun wedding ever-- they had a food truck with southern fare pull up- and a DJ who played songs that each guest had sent in in advance, and a photo booth that they rented-- it was so creative and fun!  There are lots of ways to do this without burying everyone under the weight of huge expenses. 

Oh my, do find a really good marriage counselor and learn how to work on this important retirement stuff. My sister and I have each been married about the same amount of time. Her husband planned to work until he died. Guess what? He became disabled in his early 70s. They had done NO retirement planning. And apparently they never dealt with much else because all they do now is fight or complain about one another to any third party willing to listen. I look at them and wonder what on earth they were doing for 34 years, what did they talk about? How could they have been so delusional as to think magic would happen and he could work forever? This has been exceedingly painful for our family to see. These are both really nice people who are now angry and not nice to one another at all. They deserve a better old age, but they didn't plan for it. Please don't let time pass you by.

Good answer.

Thank you!

It is interesting that the employers are saying that the current college grads are not so great *and* the college grads want more on the job training. *sigh* - If you have the degree - and you actually got a job - you have to MAKE your 'on the job training.' Seriously - it's very interesting the 'newer' crop of those with a degree. What do they expect? You have to go and get what you want...isn't that why you got a degree? (this said from someone who has a STEM degree yet was waiting tables after college due to a terrible job market)

It's all a trip. I fall in the camp that college should prepare you for a J.O.B.

Here's an article about the tax issues involved with a traditional to Roth conversion.

Thanks. Happy to share.

Love it how you guys help me out. 

And before you know it comes a time we have to say so long!

What a great chat today. Love it! People talking and debating about money. 

But got to go. See you next week. Come back.

And hey if you don't already, please follow me on Twitter @SingletaryM.

I'm getting better at tweeting and keeping you informed about all kinds of interesting financial stuff. I'm also working on a new hastag for more discussion. So tweet me!

So long for now.

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Thursday and Sunday. Her award-winning column is also carried in more than 120 newspapers. In her spare time, Singletary is the director of a ministry she founded at her church, in which women and men volunteer to mentor others who are having financial challenges.

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Ellen Perry
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