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Meet Melissa Baldwin

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Name: Melissa Baldwin

Title: Certified Financial Planner™

SH&J team member since: January, 2011


What’s your favorite part of being a financial planner?

The outcome. I personally enjoy the process of putting together the puzzle, but the more rewarding part is the outcome. Many people find doing their own financial planning to be overwhelming because there’s so much information out on the internet. So being able to distill information down for clients and give them actionable recommendations that are specific to their circumstances, is the most rewarding and enjoyable part.

You interned with Sharkey, Howes & Javer over the summers while in college. How early did you know that you wanted to work in the Financial Planning field?

The intern work helped me decide that I wanted to be a Certified Financial Planner™. I started out as an accounting major in college, but working here over the summers and seeing how all of the advisors interacted with the clients, and how appreciative all of the clients were, is what geared me more towards financial planning instead of the accounting world.

How did you first get connected with Sharkey, Howes & Javer?

My parents are clients and when they came in for one of their meetings, they asked if there were any opportunities to learn and help with projects over the summers. I have my parents to thank for getting my foot in the door and I am forever grateful.

What’s something about you that would surprise us?

I’ve always wanted to go skydiving. When Groupon first started getting big, I saw a couple Groupons for it and I thought, “I don’t know if this is something that I really wanna go through Groupon for. Sounds a little dangerous.” I have yet to skydive!

What do you like to do in your time off?

I like spending time with my parents and friends. I’m a Colorado native so I enjoy the outdoors, both in the summer and winter with skiing, hiking, and backpacking. I also really enjoy baking.

What’s your favorite thing to bake?

Hmm, that’s tough, there’s so many different varieties. There’s a cinnamon chip oatmeal cookie that I really like. So instead of chocolate chips, it’s cinnamon chips.

Are you still running and competing in races?

No, I am no longer running due to the harshness of running on your knees, but I have been doing a lot of cycling lately.

What are some of your favorite travel destination?

Some of my favorite places are Prague and Germany. Some places I would like to visit are Austria and Nepal.

Inside the Economy w/ SH&J: Are We Heading Towards a Recession?

By | Economic Discussion, Economy, Larry Howes, SH&J Blog | No Comments

On this week’s Inside the Economy w/ SH&J, we discuss what last week’s market sell off means for the stock market moving forward. Was it a signal of more to come, or does the outlook for the U.S. economy remain bright? With the recent tax law changes now taking effect, will personal disposable income increase, and if so, by how much? Tune in to find out the answers to these questions and more!

5 Important Years of Your Financial Life

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When it comes to your financial life, although every year is important, be sure to pay attention to pivotal years and turning points. Below we review 5 important years of your financial life and what you need to focus on.

Age 25

At age 25, you have likely completed your college and/or master’s education and have landed your first “real” job. As you grow accustomed to your new salary, it is a good time to start developing key financial habits to carry with you through your working career. You may be juggling various goals like paying off student debt, saving for a house down payment, and making contributions to a retirement savings plan. Target setting aside 10-15% of your salary for retirement from the get go and establish a debt repayment and savings plan. Also, your greatest asset is most likely your ability to earn an income for the next 40 years. Be sure to protect your income with proper disability insurance coverage.

Age 45

At age 45, you may be entering the height of your earning years making it a good time to put more emphasis on saving for retirement. If you have an employer sponsored retirement plan, target maximizing contributions to the plan each year. If you are self-employed, talk with a Financial Planner to review your options for establishing your own retirement plan. At this age, your family may be growing and it is important to periodically confirm you have adequate life insurance and disability coverage. Your children may also be getting close to starting college – do you have a savings plan? Are you on track?

Age 55

At age 55, retirement may be just around the corner. Before you exit the work force, put together a plan for the next phase of your life. You know exactly what you are retiring “from” but what are you retiring “to”? A financial planner can assist in evaluating if you are on track or if adjustments need to be made in order to achieve your goals. Do you need to save more, work longer, or adjust your investments? Your mid 50s is also a good time to start learning about the various long term care insurance policies available and considering if such a policy fits within your overall plan.

Age 65

At age 65, you may no longer be covered under employer health insurance, which means you will need to sign up for Medicare. It is important that you enroll prior to your employer coverage ending to ensure that you have no gaps in coverage and to avoid late enrollment penalties. Once you have attained age 65, you should also refer to your county website to find out if your county has a Senior Property Discount program. As you transition into retirement, periodically review variable expenses and determine if your spending is consistent with your retirement planning goals.

Age 70

At age 70, it is good practice to do some tax planning prior to turning 70 ½ when you will be required to start distributing funds from your Traditional IRAs and any employer retirement plans that have not been consolidated to an IRA. If you delayed collecting Social Security benefits, contact Social Security to begin receiving your benefits – there is no benefit to waiting beyond age 70 to start collecting. Lastly, as difficult as it may be, take the time to start fine-tuning your estate planning and talking to your kids about your will.

No matter your age, it is never too soon or too late to meet with a financial planner to review practices for building a strong financial foundation for any stage of life. Call Sharkey, Howes & Javer at 303-639-5100 to set up a complimentary consultation with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional.


Inside the Economy: Fed Funds Rate, Bitcoin, The S&P 500 & More

By | Economic Discussion, Economy, Larry Howes, SH&J Blog | No Comments

On this week’s episode of Inside the Economy, we look at Bitcoin to see how its recent price surge compares to some of the most famous asset bubbles in history. Global stock markets have gotten off to a strong start in 2018, but will this trend continue throughout the year? We also discuss the Federal Funds Rate, and what kind of hikes we expect to see through 2019. Tune in to hear about these topics and much more!


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What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is the most popular virtual currency to date. People use bitcoin as a digital representation of value, similar to how we use U.S. dollars as a medium of exchange. There are a couple differences between bitcoin and the U.S. dollar, however. The most obvious is that Bitcoin is entirely virtual and relies on the Blockchain for transactions. The Blockchain is a public ledger of all transactions involving Bitcoin and serves as its permanent database. Users of the Blockchain verify all of the transactions and once a transaction has taken place, a new “block” is created. Compare that to the U.S. dollar, which is printed by the U.S. Treasury and backed by the “full faith and credit” of the United States Government.

The U.S. dollar holds value because the U.S. Government says it does. With Bitcoin, it derives its value because there are people willing to use it as a medium of exchange. It is the law of supply and demand: the higher the demand, the higher the price, and vice versa. With the mainstream media picking up on Bitcoin over the last several months, the demand for Bitcoin has skyrocketed, thus substantially increasing its value.

How do you invest in Bitcoin?

The easiest way to invest in Bitcoin is by using an online broker exchange, such as Coinbase. Coinbase is a firm headquartered in Silicon Valley and is the most well-known Bitcoin exchange. You can create an account online and link it up to your bank account to make transfers more efficient. Coinbase also allows you to buy partial bitcoins rather than having to pony up a large dollar amount to buy a full coin.

One of the drawbacks of exchanges like Coinbase is that as traffic picks up, the sites have been known to crash. This poses an illiquidity risk if you are actively trying to get rid of or purchase bitcoins.

Should you invest in Bitcoin?

When you purchase stock in a company, you are purchasing a share of a company’s future earnings and stocks have a tangible value based on expected future earnings of a company. When you hold bonds, you receive interest payments that make bonds easy to value (assuming the debtor doesn’t go bankrupt). Unlike these traditional investments, the value of Bitcoin is not determined by any kind of cash flow; it is purely based on public sentiment and demand for the currency.

Investing is based on taking calculated risks to achieve a rate of return on your money. We invest in stocks and bonds because over long periods of time both asset classes have shown they can outperform inflation. Bitcoin is an asset that has experienced exponential growth in the past 12 months, and no one knows where the price will go from here.

7 Surprising Ways to Save Money in the New Year

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Is one of your resolutions for the New Year to cut back on spending, reduce debt, or to save up for a big purchase? If so, you’re probably looking for new ways to save money. If you’ve already implemented all the usual money-saving strategies and you’re starting to wonder if there are any other ways to cut expenses, these surprising ways to save money can transform your budgeting efforts for the New Year.

1. Be Cautious of the Coupon Section unless you are buying things that you would have bought even if you didn’t have a coupon. Browsing through the coupon section often leads to impulse decisions to buy products that you wouldn’t have otherwise purchased and that can result in excess spending. Opt for online coupons that load straight to your shopper’s card or only search for coupons that you actually plan on using. Even better, try a local discount grocery store where store brand items are already cheaper and don’t have coupons. In addition, to reduce impulse purchases you may want to unsubscribe to marketing emails that are sending you daily or weekly “new deals”.

2. Take Yourself Out of Online Buy/Sell/Trade Groups. Like checking the coupon section, these groups encourage impulse purchases that can blow your budget quickly. Even small purchases can add up fast when you make them on a regular basis! Instead, leave those groups or block them from your newsfeed, and only check them when you genuinely need an item.

3. Check Your Tires. Tires that are not optimally filled can cut down on your gas mileage, which means that you’re wasting money every time you fill up. Taking good care of your tires will also help with their longevity so you don’t have to replace them as often.

4. Conduct a Home Energy Audit. You can opt for the do-it-yourself route or hire a professional to take care of the audit for you. An audit can help you identify everything from the small ways you can save money on your electric bill over the course of the year to bigger ways you can experience huge savings.

5. Ditch Your Gym Membership. Watching online exercise videos at home is a lot cheaper and often just as effective, especially if you struggle to find time to go to the gym. While you’re at it, you can get rid of any other subscriptions that you aren’t using: do you really use both Netflix and Prime Movies? Are you watching cable enough to justify keeping it? Reviewing your subscription services can reveal an abundance of savings.

6. Don’t Spend Your Change. Every time you use cash to make a purchase, keep the change in your pocket and don’t spend it! At the end of the day, put it in a jar or container. You won’t miss the coins, but over time, they’ll likely add up to more than you think.

7. Eat out less. Many families have an unwritten rule to eat out less than twice a week. Depending on the size of your family and the places you like to eat, this can be a huge money saver. As a way to transition into this new pattern, track how much you spend on eating out and then strive to cut that amount in half. That is a good start.

Saving money throughout the course of the year is an ongoing responsibility. Keep in mind that little savings and small expenses can add up fast!

2017 in Review: Top 10 Blog Posts

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As 2017 comes to an end, we’re taking a moment to look back and reflect on the year. With the inauguration of a new president, the Great American Eclipse, the infamous Equifax security breach, and much, much more, it’s hard to believe that it was all packed into a single, short year. In case you missed any of it, we’re rounding up our 10 favorite blog posts of the year for your review.

7 Day Money Cleanse

Whether your finances have gotten out of control, you are new to financial planning, or even if you are an expert, our 7 Day Money Cleanse makes auditing your finances easy. Each day breaks the task down into a smaller, simpler step that gives you a complete picture of your finances by the end of a week. With the new year coming, now’s the perfect time to take a serious look at your spending and create a new plan, tailored to your goals for 2018.

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7 Habits to Move Towards Financial Freedom

A large part of getting, and keeping, your finances in order is developing good habits, especially if you’re ready to take it to the next level and achieve financial freedom. Building these habits takes only a few minutes per month, but you’ll see immediate savings in your monthly budget that will continue to grow year after year.

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5 Reasons to be Frugal When You Can Spend More

As your income rises over the years, it can be tempting to buy that new car you’ve always wanted, upgrade to a bigger house, or even just eat out an extra couple times per week. Lifestyle creep may not seem like a big deal, but it can be easy to let it grow out of control and leave you with too little, or even no, savings.

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7 Lessons to Teach Your Kids (or Grandkids) About Money

Financial and spending habits develop early in children and it’s important that they are given good examples and lessons of healthy finances while it will have the greatest impact. Some parents may feel uncomfortable discussing money with their children, but these seven lessons can help establish a strong foundation of knowledge without ever bringing up numbers.

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5 Money Lessons Before Your Kids Leave for College

As your children continue to grow, they’ll continue to develop their financial savvy, both on their own and through the lessons that you continue to teach them. As they prepare to move on to the next big step in their lives and go to college, you should leave them with these five final lessons to set them up for a life of success.

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5 Questions to Ask Before Going Back to School

You may be interested in going back to school yourself. Many people return to college at some point in their professional career, whether for personal growth or to broaden their skillset, but before you make the plunge, it’s important to consider these five questions to determine your best course of action.

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Avoiding the 5 Most Common Mortgage Mistakes

On the other hand, buying a home is another common decision that many people make as their careers become established. Unfortunately, many people also fall prey to the same common mistakes, especially when purchasing their first home. A house is likely the largest purchase you’ll make in your entire life, and proper planning will save you huge amounts of both time and money.

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What to Do Now if You Want to Retire in 5 Years

Throughout your entire career, it’s important to review and adjust your goals, plans, and portfolios periodically. As you approach retirement age, it’s even more vital that you make the final preparations for yourself and set yourself up with a steady income over the years.

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Spending Tips for Retirees

Have you considered all of your expenses in retirement? Besides housing, groceries, and transportation, there are many other expenses to calculate into your monthly retirement budget to make sure your money lasts and you don’t have to worry about stretching yourself too thin.

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4 Great Places to Retire on a Budget

If you have followed our advice so far, stayed frugal, and prepared for your retirement, you may be looking for a great place to retire to where your money will last. We’ve rounded up four amazing places to live across the country where you can enjoy the very best that life has to offer, without needing to cash out your entire retirement.

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All of us at Sharkey, Howes & Javer thank you for making this year so fulfilling. We’re excited to venture into 2018 with you and wish you good health and much happiness in the coming year. Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

Inside the Economy: 2018 Outlook

By | Economic Discussion, Economy, Larry Howes, SH&J Blog | No Comments

On today’s Inside the Economy, we discuss the Federal Reserve’s recent rate increase and where rates may be headed in 2018. We also take a look at holiday spending and the performance of Amazon and other retail giants. Stocks around the globe had outstanding performances in 2017, but will global economic growth continue for the foreseeable future? Tune in to find out!

Becoming a More Informed and Efficient Consumer This Holiday Season

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It’s that time of year again: The temperatures are dropping, football is coming down the homestretch, and ski season is right around the corner. It’s also the time of year where we stretch our budgets to the max in order to get our family and friends the very best holiday gifts we think they’ll love.

In this holiday edition of the SH&J blog post, we will review some interesting facts about the economics of the U.S. holiday season, as well as some tips that will help you keep your bank account feeling jolly after the new year.

  • According to the NRF, holiday retail sales are expected to grow around 4% over last year. Holiday sales have been increasing steadily by about 3% year-over-year since the financial crisis in 2008. By comparison, holiday sales declined almost 5% from 2007 to 2008.
  • Amazon continues its quest to take over the ecommerce industry. In a study conducted by research firm Survata, 72% of respondents said that Amazon would be the first place they look for gifts.
  • Tickle Me Elmo debuted in 1996 and was by far the hottest selling toy that year. It retailed for $29.99 in 1996, and original Tickle Me Elmo’s still in the box can be found on EBay for hundreds of dollars now. Talk about a return on your investment!

Holiday shopping can get very stressful if you don’t have a plan going into the season. Here are a few tips that will be able to help you become an efficient consumer this holiday season.

    • Do some preparation before you do any shopping. Figure out what everyone on your list wants and come up with a price point for each gift. This will give you a rough estimate of what you can expect to spend.
    • Be strategic about using your credit cards. If you are a responsible spender and you have a cash-back rewards card, be sure to use it on all of your purchases this holiday season. A poll conducted by Nerdwallet in 2015 estimated that consumers would miss out on $152 million in rewards by not using their cards during the holiday shopping season.

Hopefully, you are now a more informed shopper and you can tackle this holiday season with confidence. From everyone at Sharkey, Howes & Javer, we wish you and your families a very joyous holiday season!