A cross stands in a field in Saint Yves, Belgium, commemorating a site of something special. The plaque reads “1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 years – Lest we forget.”
Withering machine gun and artillery fire shredded the battlefields of “The Great War to End All Wars.” Soldiers dug in for shelter and to survive. The era of static trench warfare had begun. The most famous was the Western Front which consisted of lines of trenches stretching from the Belgian Coast through northern France to Switzerland. Millions of German, French and British troops battled from those trenches.
On Christmas Eve, British troops were surprised by sounds coming from the German trenches – “Stille nacht, heilige nacht.” One British troop recognized the melody and joined with “Silent night, holy night.” More soldiers started singing. Another Brit cautiously popped his head and saw German soldiers with hands waving. He waved back. No shots were fired. His buddy waved. And the two dropped their weapons climbed from their trenches, crossed no-man’s land, and met in the middle shaking hands with their enemies who hours before were locked in battle. More soldiers followed suit. An informal truce fell upon a section of the Western Front. Upwards of 100,000 soldiers in khaki and grey were having fellowship on grounds of shredded tree stumps, barbed wire, and uniform remnants. They shared cognac, tobacco, tinned meat, family photos, song and stories. Others took on a more somber duty of retrieving their fallen comrades from the field.
And for a moment, humanity and peace overwhelmed the brutality of war.
So as you gather this holiday season with family, friends and loved ones, may you have a special toast for peace, happiness and success. And here are some topics you might want to include in those “how are you doing” one-on-one conversations with your adult kids, grandkids and nieces and nephews before they hustle back to their busy lives.
Are you saving enough? – Money is a tool that provides security, freedom and choices. And people have at least three reasons to “stash cash:”
- Emergency Reserves – “Rainy day” funds for possible job change, an unexpected bill, etc.
- Planned Expenditures – Big ticket expenses such as vacations, remodeling, repairs, vehicle replacement, education, etc.
- Retirement – Prudent savers fund after-tax and retirement accounts – plus real estate and business investments. Retirement accounts are convenient (forced savings) and have barriers to keep you away from the funds until retirement (taxes, penalties, etc.). Build after tax savings into your budget – you’ll be happier when a portion of your future retirement checks aren’t fully taxable.
And if saving has been challenging (e.g. job cutbacks or unexpected bills), increase your savings next year. An additional savings of $100 per month over 20 years means about $46,200 at 6% return; 30 years of savings grows to about $100,400.
Debt makes life more expensive – The Feds increased federal funds rate by 0.25% and are hinting of three rate hikes in 2017, and three more in 2018. And bond market interest rates are higher. Higher rates are a double-edged sword. It benefits savers with higher yields. But they also affect the price of bonds, size of federal debt, and the cost of anything financed. It stresses the affordability of homes. And rising debt, and/or higher costs to service that debt reduces the amount you can spend (grow economy) or save (grow wealth). Meet with your lenders and “fix” adjustable rate debt (ARM mortgages, equity lines, credit cards, student loans, etc.) where possible.
Celebrate your accomplishments and check your course – Many businesses have updated their budgets and strategic plans for the New Year. And households benefit from running their finances like a business as well. Uncertainty will always persist (economic, political, markets, your longevity, etc.). However, the stakes are high best you get all stakeholders at the planning table (your spouse and advisors) to help you think things through.