Retirement Planning

S5E5: Mastering Medicare with Boomer Benefits Co-Founder Danielle Roberts

Danielle Roberts Medicare

Medicare Expert Danielle Roberts Shares Her Expertise

My guest today is Danielle Roberts, founding partner at Boomer Benefits and author of the best-selling book 10 Costly Medicare Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make. Danielle is a well-known professional in the Medicare insurance industry, having personally helped thousands of beneficiaries with their plan decisions. She has also specialized in Medicare-related insurance products for over 15 years and is a member of the prestigious Forbes Finance Council.

As a Medicare Supplement Accredited Adviser, Danielle is well versed in all issues currently affecting Medicare. She is also a regular contributor to several industry publications and has written extensively about Medicare and Medigap plans.

In this episode, we talk about all things Medicare, including the common mistakes beneficiaries often make and how to avoid them. Whether you’re new to Medicare or simply want to learn more about it so you can make an informed decision this open enrollment season, this episode is packed with useful information and unique insights.

With that, I hope you enjoy this episode of Financial Finesse with Danielle Roberts.

Episode Highlights

  • [00:05:14] Cathy and Danielle discuss the Medicare premiums marriage penalty.
  • [00:07:23] Why it’s essential to start planning for Medicare well before your 65th birthday.
  • [00:12:58] The challenges self-employed people, especially those who work past age 65, may face when enrolling in Medicare.
  • [00:16:26] Danielle explains what Medicare Part C is, how it differs from Original Medicare and Medigap, and the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
  • [00:28:28] Switching from Medicare Advantage to Medigap.
  • [00:38:10] How someone with a history of disease or illness should approach Medicare.
  • [00:46:55] How to think about the Medicare decision if you’re a frequent traveler.
  • [00:50:24] The risks associated with not reviewing your Medicare plan each year.
  • [00:53:08] The mistakes Danielle Roberts sees Medicare beneficiaries make most often.

Links Relevant to this Episode

Enjoy the Full Episode

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Single Women and Longevity Risk Part 1: Why Independent Women Are Most at Risk

Single Women and Longevity Risk Part 1

This is the first blog post in a three-part series about single women and longevity risk. In this article, we’ll explore why independent women are most at risk of outliving their financial resources.

One of the reasons long-term financial planning is important is to minimize longevity risk, or the risk of outliving your financial resources. Longevity risk is generally brought up in connection with retirement, since the risk of depleting your savings increases once you stop working.

With advances in healthcare and increasing life expectancies, longevity risk is becoming an increasingly relevant concern for many retirees. Unfortunately, single women are among those most at risk of outliving their resources due to a variety of factors.

#1: Women Live Longer Than Men

First, women tend to live longer than men on average, which means they may need to support themselves financially for a longer period during retirement. According to a 2021 CDC study, the average life expectancy for women in the United States is 79.1, while for men, it’s 73.2.

However, using an average statistic to determine life expectancy and longevity risk can be problematic as each person’s family, health history, and lifestyle differ. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a life expectancy calculator that can help you better understand your likelihood of living past a certain age.

For example, a 45-year-old woman’s life expectancy today is 85.4 years. But if she lives until age 70, her life expectancy increases to 88.9.

#2: Single Women Face Unique Financial Challenges

Second, single women often face unique financial challenges, such as lower average incomes. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women working full-time and year-round make 83.7% of what men earn in similar jobs.

In addition, women are more likely than men to experience a gap in employment due to caregiving responsibilities, which can interrupt their earning and saving potential. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated this disparity, as women’s participation in the workforce tumbled disproportionately in part due to increased childcare responsibilities as schools and daycares closed.

Given these challenges, women tend to save less than men on average, further contributing to longevity risk. In fact, a recent T. Rowe Price report found that women tend to contribute less annually to workplace retirement accounts than men and have meaningfully lower account balances.

#3: Women Tend to Invest Less Often and More Conservatively Than Men

According to data from Morningstar, women tend to invest less and hold a larger percentage of cash than their male counterparts.

Studies show that this is largely due to a lack of confidence. For example, Fidelity’s 2021 Women and Investing Study revealed that only 19% of women feel confident in their ability to choose investments that align with their financial goals.

Unfortunately, this lack of confidence often translates to smaller nest eggs in retirement, increasing longevity risk. Consider the following example.

Suppose you invested $1,000 in the U.S. stock market 30 years ago, at the beginning of 1993. Over the next 30 years, the S&P 500 generated an annualized return of 9.7% before accounting for inflation.

That means at the end of 2022, you would have had $16,074 if you reinvested all dividends. Had you kept this money in a savings account that yielded an average of 1% over the last 30 years, you’d have about $1,347 at the end of the same period.

Thus, investing is necessary for single women to minimize longevity risk and outpace inflation, so your dollars don’t lose value in retirement.

How Single Women Can Address Longevity Risk

To address longevity risk, engaging in proactive financial planning is essential. This includes:

  • Saving and investing. It’s crucial to start saving early and regularly contribute to retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s or IRAs, to accumulate a sufficient nest egg for retirement. Within investment accounts, include stocks for their above-average growth potential and diversify your investments to mitigate market volatility risks.
  • Estimating retirement expenses. Assess your expected expenses during retirement, including healthcare costs, housing, and daily living expenses. This evaluation can help determine how much you need to save to ensure a comfortable retirement and reduce longevity risk.
  • Social Security planning. Understand how the Social Security system works and develop a strategy to maximize your benefits. Consider when to start claiming benefits and spousal or survivor benefits if applicable.
  • Long-term care insurance. Evaluate the potential need for long-term care insurance to protect against the high costs associated with extended care services. Research different policies and assess your options based on your health, family history, and financial situation.
  • Health and wellness. Prioritize maintaining good health and adopting a healthy lifestyle. Being healthy can contribute to a longer and more active retirement, reducing potential healthcare expenses and increasing overall financial security.

By being proactive and mindful of longevity risk, single women can take steps to secure their ongoing financial well-being.

Part 2: The Importance of Investing for Single Women to Offset Longevity Risk

Although single women face a variety of unique challenges and risks when it comes to financial planning, there are steps you can take to manage these risks and achieve your financial goals. In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll dive deeper into why it’s so important for single women to invest when it comes to minimizing longevity risk.

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How to Take Control of Your Spending This Year, Part 4: Budgeting and Tracking Your Spending

Budgeting and Tracking Your Spending

This article is part four of a four-part series to help you reduce your spending this year. In part three, you identified what triggers your overspending habit. This week, I’ll share tips and tricks for budgeting and tracking your spending.

Budgeting and tracking your spending can provide benefits beyond simply saving more money. It also allows you to invest more, pay off debt more quickly, and even retire earlier in some cases! Plus, it can offer a sense of control and accomplishment and reduce financial stress.

Setting a New Budget

Previously, you identified how much you spent in the last 12 months on your spending weakness. Now, it’s time to set a new budget for the next 12 months.

Of course, it’s helpful to choose your new spending goal within the context of a comprehensive cash flow and financial plan. However, to keep the task smaller and more doable, I suggest setting a budget of at least 25% less than you spent the previous year on your spending weakness.

For example, if you spent $10,000 last year, set a budget of $7,500 for the next 12 months. Reduce by a more significant percentage if you feel like your spending was way out of control last year!

Depending on your spending weakness, it may be helpful to set a monthly budget instead. For example, if clothing is your weakness and on average you spent $1000 a month last year, your new budget will be $750 a month. Setting a monthly spending limit rather than a yearly goal may help you stick your budget longer term.

Tracking Your Spending

Once you’ve decided on an amount, you need to create a system for tracking your spending.

You can accomplish this task either digitally or manually; the most important thing is that you do it on at least a monthly basis. If you wait until the end of the year, you lose the benefit of being able to modify your behavior if necessary.

One idea: Save all your receipts in a folder (online or physical). Then, at the end of each month, add them to a spreadsheet and subtract the total from your total budget. Another idea is to download an app like Mint or Goodbudget that tracks and categorizes your spending.

How to Stick to Your New Spending Plan

Budgeting and tracking your spending are indeed important steps. Yet it takes focus, patience, and perseverance to actually stick to your new spending plan.

In other words, changing your behavior is hard. To get your spending under control once and for all, you’ll need a set of tools and resources that support you in achieving your goal.

Here are a few ideas for changing your behavior and creating new, healthier habits:

  • Find a replacement activity for shopping. When you think about going to a store or hopping on the internet, read a book, call a friend, or watch a movie instead. Choose something pleasurable and stimulating that doesn’t cost money.
  • When you go to a store, be prepared. Make a list of what you want to buy and stick to it. This preparation will help you avoid impulse purchases.
  • Delay your purchase. Take a day or two to think about whether you need it.
  • Avoid peer pressure. Don’t shop with friends who encourage you to buy things you don’t want or need.
  • Don’t tempt yourself. Plan different routes when you are out and about to avoid your favorite stores and unsubscribe from email lists that entice you to spend money.
  • Find a new hobby that doesn’t involve spending a ton of money. For example, play a new sport, start a creative project, or learn to play a musical instrument or speak a new language.
  • Keep your goals front-of-mind. Add a sticky note to your laptop with your budget goal, or read books and articles or listen to podcasts or audio books about habits, conscious spending, and personal finance.
  • Practice self-awareness. When you are angry, tired, sad, or frustrated, go for a walk or meditate instead of shopping. Keep a journal about your experience and emotions while trying to change your behavior.
  • Repurpose your discretionary funds. Take some of your savings and donate to your favorite charity.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Tell your friends that you are trying to cut back on your spending and want their support, or hire a coach or financial advisor to help you reach your broader financial goals.
  • Visualize your future self. Think about what you’ll gain if you get your spending under control. Then, create a vision board depicting what you see and how you feel.

What Will Motivate You to Stop Overspending?

In addition to changing your behavior, you may need to adjust your mindset around spending altogether. Otherwise, it’s easy to slip back into bad habits.

One thing I’ve found helpful when trying to create a new habit is to identify my “why.” In other words, why is it so important to you to get your spending under control? What are you giving up by overspending? What’s the opportunity cost?

Some of you may want to retire early, but your current spending is keeping you from doing so. In effect, your spending habit may be keeping you from spending more time with your family, pursuing your lifelong dream of writing a novel, or just feeling more at ease on a daily basis.

Or maybe your why is to get out of credit card debt. Instead of putting hundreds or thousands of dollars each month towards your credit card balances, you could be contributing that amount to a retirement account, HSA, or donor-advised fund. You may also sleep better at night knowing you’re debt-free.

Take time to journal about what why you want to stop overspending and what it would feel like to get your spending under control. Then, ask yourself these questions: What would I do with the time and money I save? What could I accomplish instead? How would my attitude about myself change?

Budgeting and Tracking Your Spending for the Long Run

Lastly, people tend to be motivated by what they value. Ask yourself if your current spending aligns with your values. If not, this can be a powerful motivator when it comes to budgeting and tracking your spending.

If you aren’t sure what your values are or need some prompting, consider downloading The Happiness Spreadsheet. This free eBook is full of exercises to identify your values and align your spending with what matters most to you. It also has a list of other helpful resources to guide you in getting your spending under control.

If you’ve been following this blog series, I hope you now have a strong foundation to create healthier spending habits in 2023 and beyond. You may also find the other resources on my website helpful as you continue your personal finance journey.

Lastly, remember we’re in this together. Please feel free to connect with me, keep me posted on your progress, and ask questions.  

Good luck, and here’s to a prosperous 2023!

Download my FREE E-BOOK: How to Take Control of Your Spending This Year

Love this blog series? Download my free e-book, How to Take Control of Your Spending This Year, for tips and strategies you can quickly put into action to get your spending habit under control.

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SECURE 2.0 Act Cliff Notes (So You Don’t Have to Read the Whole Thing)

SECURE 2.0 Act Cliff Notes

On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed into law a $1.7 trillion spending package, which includes the SECURE 2.0 Act, legislation that changes the rules on saving for retirement and emergencies and withdrawals from retirement plans. The good news is that it opens up opportunities to save more and expands on tax benefits for Roth IRAs and 401(k) plans.

Many of the SECURE 2.0 Act’s provisions take effect on January 1, 2023, while others may take years to implement. Here’s a summary of key provisions in the SECURE 2.0 Act and how they may affect your retirement savings goals.

If you are a client of Curtis Financial Planning, we will discuss these changes as they pertain to your situation, ensuring that you maximize every opportunity.

Changes to Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

For those who need to be made aware, this is when you must take withdrawals from your retirement accounts, even if you don’t need the extra income. The IRS wants to collect the deferred tax on these funds. (Remember that Roth IRAs don’t have RMDs, but all other IRAs and retirement accounts do).

The changes:

  • Raises the RMD age to 73 for those who turn 73 between 2023 and 2032. In 2033 and beyond, the RMD age will increase to 75. (Unfortunately, if you turned 72 in 2022 or earlier, you must keep taking RMDs).
  • Reduces the IRS’s 50% penalty for failing to satisfy your RMD before the year-end deadline to 25% of the RMD amount. The liability falls to 10% if an individual corrects the discrepancy promptly.
  • Roth accounts in employer retirement plans (such as Roth 401k’s) will be exempt from RMDs beginning in 2024. Nothing changes for individual Roth IRAs that have no RMD requirement.

Increases to Catch-Up Contributions per the SECURE 2.0 Act

Catch-up contributions aim to help older people make up for not saving enough earlier in their lives in their IRAs or company retirement plans.

  • Currently, if you’re 50 or older and are allowed to contribute to a 401(k) plan at work, in 2022, you can put in up to $6,500 more than younger people. Starting in 2025, individuals between the ages of 60 and 63 can make annual catch-up contributions of up to $10,000 to a workplace plan. This amount will be indexed to inflation.
  • Beginning in 2024, the IRA catch-up contribution amount for those 50 and older will be indexed to inflation. Currently, the maximum catch-up is $1000.00 and has been stagnant.
  • If your wage income exceeds $145,000 in the previous calendar year, you’ll need to make catch-up contributions to a Roth account in after-tax dollars. Those earning less than $145,000 are exempt from this requirement. The impact of this change is that you will not get a tax deduction for the catch-up contribution as you did with an traditional IRA, but the Roth contribution will grow tax-free.

Employer Matching for Roth Retirement Accounts

Employers can now offer employees the option of receiving matching and non-elective contributions to their Roth retirement accounts. Note that profit-sharing contributions do not qualify. The employer will get a tax deduction, but the employee must pay taxes on these employer contributions.

Changes to Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs)

  • Currently, IRA owners can transfer up to $100,000 each year to a charity as a QCD. This $100,000 will now be indexed for inflation.
  • There is now a one-time maximum $50,000 QCD distribution to a charitable remainder trust (CRUT), charitable annuity trust (CRAT) or charitable gift annuity (CGA). However, with the $50,000 limit the administrative costs to set this up may be prohibitive.

Self-Employed Plan Changes

Sole proprietors can now open up new 401(k) plans for the prior year up until the filing deadline (NOT including extensions) instead of year-end. But as before, self-employed can make contributions up to the extended filing date.

More Flexibility for 529 Plan Balances

The IRS will allow direct transfers from 529 plans (open for at least 15 years) to Roth IRAs starting in 2024. The Roth IRA must be in the name of the beneficiary of the 529 plan. The maximum lifetime transfer is $35,000 and is subject to annual IRA contribution limits. The IRS is working out the details on how to interpret this law.

Key Provisions for Younger Retirement Savers

  • Beginning in 2025, employers offering new 401(k) and 403(b) plans must automatically enroll eligible employees at an initial contribution rate of 3%. In addition, employees with low-balance retirement accounts may also have the option to automatically transfer their balance to a new plan when they change jobs.
  • Starting in 2024, employers can add a Roth emergency savings account option to employer plans such as 401(k)s. Non-highly compensated employees can contribute up to $2,500 annually, and their first four withdrawals per calendar year will be tax-free and penalty-free.
  • Beginning in 2024, employers can “match” an employee’s student loan payments by contributing an equal amount to a retirement account on their behalf.

Help for Part-Time Workers per the SECURE 2.0 Act

Currently, if you are a part-time worker at an employer with a 401(k) plan you can only contribute once you work there for at least 500 hours a year for three years or if you work for over 1000 hours for one year. The new rules will reduce the threshold to 500 hours a year for two years starting in 2025.

Changes for S Corp Owners

Owners of S Corporation stock may take advantage of like-kind exchange non-recognition treatment for their sales to an ESOP, beginning in 2028.

The SECURE 2.0 Act: Bottom Line

This is not an exhaustive list of the provisions, but I chose to write about those that pertain to most people. Also, now that Congress has passed the act, the IRS will provide details on how they will interpret some of the provisions, as clarifications are almost always necessary with a bill as far-reaching as this one.

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9 Things You May Not Know About Social Security Retirement Benefits

Social Security Benefits

On the face of it, Social Security benefits seem straightforward. You simply fill out some paperwork when you retire and start receiving your monthly amount.

Unfortunately, many people do just that. They may glance at their Social Security statement now and then but don’t put much thought into it beyond that. Meanwhile, others may assume they’re not entitled to benefits and leave money on the table.

The truth is many people don’t maximize their Social Security benefits, either because they don’t understand how the system works or they need the money before reaching their full retirement age. Once you’re aware of Social Security’s many nuances, you can use the system to your advantage.

Here are 9 things you probably didn’t know about Social Security benefits (but should):

#1: Reaching age 62 is significant when it comes to Social Security.

When it comes to claiming Social Security benefits, a variety of important things take place when you turn 62.

First, the Social Security Administration officially calculates your benefit amount when you reach age 62. That’s because 62 is the age you can begin claiming benefits if you choose. Up until this point, the benefit information on your Social Security statements is merely an estimate.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s always wise to start your benefits at age 62. In fact, by claiming your benefits at age 62 instead of when you reach full retirement age (currently, between age 66 and 67 depending what year you were born), you may decrease your monthly benefit amount by as much as 30%.

You’re also eligible for cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) beginning at age 62—even if you don’t claim your benefits right away. Since the Consumer Price Index determines COLA, eligibility can pay off in high-inflation years. For instance, some groups are estimating the increase will be as high as 10.8% in 2023 to account for rising price levels.  

#2: Your Social Security statement now shows you how much your benefits will increase each year by waiting to claim them.

Indeed, the Social Security Administration recently redesigned their statements to clearly show the differences in your benefit amount based on the year you start taking them. And you don’t have to wait until you’re eligible for Social Security to see what this means for you.

Check it out! Go to and set up an account, so you can view your Social Security benefits at any time.

#3: You must work at least 10 years (40 credits) to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.

Once you’re eligible for Social Security benefits, your highest 35 years of indexed earnings determine your benefit amount. Index means that the SSA adjusts your actual earnings to account for changes in average wages over time. However, if you keep working after claiming your benefits and report higher wages, they will replace one or more lower-wage years with your higher earnings.

For example, many women leave the workforce or cut back their working hours to raise children and restart their careers later. Those later years of earnings will replace the zero or low-wage years, thus increasing the ultimate benefit amount. This can also apply to people who change jobs to start their own business or work for a start-up and take a temporary pay cut as a result.

#4: Your Full Retirement Age (FRA) is an important milestone.

Your full retirement age (FRA) is the age you’re eligible to receive your full Social Security retirement benefits. It’s important to note that full doesn’t necessarily mean maximum, however.

If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your FRA is 66. For those born between 1955 and 1960, FRA then gradually increases until it reaches 67. Anyone born in 1960 or later reaches their FRA at age 67.

Reaching your FRA is significant for several reasons:

  • Reaching your FRA does not mean you have to start taking benefits. You can delay your benefits until age 70.
  • Each month you delay taking benefits after reaching your FRA, your benefit increases. This is true until age 70. For example, if your FRA is 66, you can increase your benefit amount by as much as 32% if you wait until age 70 to claim your benefits. Your benefit amount at age 70 would also be roughly 77% higher than if you began claiming Social Security benefits at age 62.
  • If you claim your benefits before reaching your FRA and continue to work, you may be subject to the SSA’s Retirement Earnings Test. This may reduce or even eliminate your benefit temporarily. For example, the Social Security earnings limit is $1,630 per month or $19,560 per year in 2022 for anyone receiving benefits prior to reaching FRA. If you exceed these thresholds, you can expect the SSA to withhold $1 from your benefits check for every $2 you earn above the limit.

Remember: Everything about Social Security supports work. So, your benefit will continue to grow as you continue working and your earnings increase.

#5: Age 70 is another significant age when it comes to Social Security benefits.

You must start taking Social Security benefits by age 70. Delaying past age 70 will not increase your benefits. However, any cost-of-living adjustments will apply.  

If you work past age 70 and your earnings are higher than any of the previous 35 years used to calculate your benefit, your benefit will increase. Those higher earnings will replace a year where you didn’t earn as much.

#6: If you’re married, divorced, or widowed, it pays to understand your spousal benefits.

As with many government benefits, there are many rules when it comes to Social Security spousal benefits. The following flow charts may come in handy to determine your eligibility.

In the meantime, here are a few basics that are good to know:

  • A lower-earning spouse can collect a spousal benefit up to 50% of the higher earner’s FRA. Meanwhile, a widow or widower can collect up to 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit.
  • Because a widow or widower can collect up to 100% of a deceased spouse benefit, it makes sense for the higher earner to max out their benefit by waiting until age 70 to claim.
  • It may pay to keep tabs on your ex-spouse if you were married for at least 10 years. A divorced spouse can file for a spousal benefit even if the ex-spouse has not yet claimed if both parties are at least 62 years old and have been divorced for more than two years.
  • If your ex-spouse dies, the picture changes. As the surviving ex-spouse, you can claim a survivor benefit as early as 60. You can also allow your own retirement benefit to grow until age 70. Alternatively, you can claim a reduced retirement benefit early. Then, you can switch to a higher survivor benefit at full retirement age.
  • If you’re married, you must wait until the higher earner files for benefits to claim benefits on their record.

#7: Benefits are taxable at the federal level and potentially at the state level.

In 2022, you must pay taxes on your Social Security benefits if you file a federal tax return as an individual and your taxable income exceeds $25,000 ($32,000 for married couples filing jointly). If your taxable income is between $25,000 and $34,000 ($32,000 and $44,000 if filing jointly), you’ll pay taxes on 50% of your benefit amount. For income levels above those thresholds, you’ll pay taxes on 85% of your benefit amount.

In addition, most states don’t tax Social Security benefits. However, some do, so be sure to check your state tax requirements.

#8: Beware of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)

If you also receive pension benefits based on earnings from jobs that Social Security doesn’t cover (and therefore aren’t subject to the Social Security payroll tax), the windfall elimination provision (WEP) may reduce your benefit amount. WEP reductions don’t appear on your Social Security statement. So, they can come as a surprise if you’re not aware of it.

#9: The Government Pension Offset (GPO) may affect your spousal benefits.

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) affects spouses, widows, and widowers with pensions from a federal, state, or local government job. It may reduce your Social Security benefits in some cases. Specifically, if you receive a pension from your government job and didn’t pay Social Security taxes while you had that job, the SSA will reduce your spousal benefits by two-thirds of the amount of your pension. There are exemptions, however.

To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits, Consider Working with a Financial Professional

Social Security is a complex topic that many people don’t fully understand. While the above list certainly isn’t exhaustive, hopefully it gives you a better understanding of how the system works. It may also give you a starting point to do your own research.

In addition, consider working with a trusted financial advisor, who can help you maximize your Social Security benefits. A financial advisor can also help you develop a comprehensive financial plan for your future, so you can retire on your terms.

To learn more about how Curtis Financial Planning helps self-made women and female-led households secure their financial future, please start here.

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Life After Lockdown: Creating a Budget Post-Pandemic

Creating a Budget Post-Pandemic

For the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching a personal finance class at Mills College. The first class covered cash flow and budgeting, so I asked my students to create a budget for homework. To help them get started, I suggested reviewing their recent credit card and bank statements to estimate their discretionary spending habits. One of the students brought up a great point: “I wasn’t spending like I normally do during COVID, so the last 14 months may not be representative of my spending from now on.”

As it turns out, her statement is true for most of us. For example, 64% of Americans say their spending habits have changed since the pandemic started, according to a Bank of America survey of more than 2,500 adults. In addition, a separate Bank of America survey found that 46% of affluent Americans have been getting their financial lives in order during the last year and expect to reach key financial milestones sooner than their parents did. That means many of us not only changed how we spend our money, but we also developed more financial discipline during the pandemic.

Indeed, our spending will likely look different as the world reopens and life returns to normal. Of course, just how different depends on the person. It’s tempting to splurge on the things and experiences we missed most in lockdown (for instance, we finally have a reason to buy new clothes again!). However, I think it would be fantastic if some of us could maintain the money habits we developed when we had fewer options. Creating a budget that reflects those habits can be a great way to do that.

How the Pandemic Changed Our Spending Habits

Life in lockdown forced us to reevaluate many aspects of our daily lives. As our circumstances and priorities changed, so did our spending. Gyms and restaurants closed, and travel was all but nonexistent for the first part of the pandemic. So, where did our money go?

Self Magazine surveyed 1,300 Americans to find out how their spending habits changed during the pandemic. Of the female respondents, 62% said they used time in lockdown to cook more creatively and spent a lot more money on groceries as a result. In addition to our growing grocery budgets while at home, a CIT Bank survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that spending on food delivery was also up 25% during the pandemic. 

However, food wasn’t the only thing we spent more on in lockdown. According to data provided by budgeting app Mint last August, consumer spending on investments, pets, education, and home expenses was up significantly year over year.

While some of these trends may continue, others will naturally return to more normal levels in a post-pandemic world. It may be helpful to keep this in mind and adjust accordingly when creating a budget for the future.

Good Habits We Developed in Lockdown

Despite increased spending in certain categories during the pandemic, more than half of Americans said they spent less and saved more than usual overall, according to the same CIT Bank survey. Thanks to government stimulus and new spending habits, many people were able to save more and pay down debt.

Notably, CRS reported that credit card balances declined about $76 billion in the second quarter of 2020, the largest quarterly decline on record. In addition, data from Experian shows that on average, Americans’ credit scores increased and payment habits improved in 2020.

Yet good habits extended beyond those experiencing financial difficulties before the pandemic. Of more than 2,000 affluent adults (households with investable assets between $100,000 and $1 million) surveyed by Bank of America, 81% said they took the money they’d normally spend on entertainment, travel, and dining and set it aside for savings and emergency funds during the pandemic.

The Pandemic’s Impact on Women

These statistics certainly paint a rosy picture, and many of us have been fortunate enough to come out of the pandemic in similar or better financial shape than we started. Unfortunately, however, many women experienced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, setting them back even further on their path to retirement.

For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported women’s unemployment has increased by 2.9% more than unemployment among men since the start of the pandemic. In addition, data from Washington University in St. Louis showed hours worked by mothers fell four to five times as much as hours worked by fathers. Many women had no choice but to leave the workforce to care for aging parents or children. Female participation in the workforce has not been this low since 1988, according to one NPR analysis.

It’s no secret that women have long been at a disadvantage when preparing for retirement. This is because we tend to invest less and hold more cash than men, contributing to our savings shortfall. However, the main driver behind this shortfall is our lower lifetime earnings due to gender pay gaps and caretaking responsibilities—a trend that only worsened amid the pandemic.

Morningstar reports that 55% of all jobs lost in 2020 (2.3 million jobs total) were lost by women. And 32% of women ages 25-44 say they’re not currently working due to childcare demands, compared to 12% of men in the same age group.

If you’re facing any of these challenges yourself, creating a budget for post-pandemic life might be the last thing on your mind. However, closing the retirement savings gap is more critical than ever. Even one small step in the right direction can help you take control of your financial future.

Creating a Budget for Your Future

My suggestion to the student who spoke up in my class was to look back to 2019 as a spending guide. You may find this advice helpful as you’re creating a budget for yourself post-pandemic. However, if you want to continue the good habits you developed during COVID or create new habits to better prepare yourself for the future, be sure to incorporate these changes into your new spending plan. Remember: small, consistent actions over time often lead to big results.

If you’d like to work with a fiduciary financial planner to help you feel better about your money and prepare for the future, please schedule a call to see if we’re a good fit. In addition, you can check out The Happiness Spreadsheet, a fresh, inspiring approach to budgeting that can help you maintain good money habits and develop new ones.

If you found this information interesting, please share it with a friend!

Life After Lockdown: Creating a Budget Post-Pandemic Read More »

S3 E1 Transcript: What Every Woman Needs To Know About Long-Term Care Insurance

Welcome to the Financial Finesse Podcast, where we’ll be discussing tips on how to handle your money and life with skill and style. Your host, Cathy Curtis, CFP® has been helping make finance accessible and intriguing for women for almost 20 years. You’ll get savvy, actionable ideas, listening to her conversations with some of the coolest and smartest women on the planet. And now, here’s your host, Cathy Curtis.

00:53 Cathy Curtis:

Hi, I’m Cathy Curtis, host of the Financial Finesse Podcast, and also founder of Curtis Financial Planning, a financial advisory firm that partners with women to manage their financial lives.

Today, I’m looking forward to talking with one of my favorite people in the industry, Liz Eshleman, who is an independent long-term care specialist. Not only does she know her stuff when it comes to long-term care insurance, she’s also a delightful upbeat personality.

Maybe that comes partially from her background as a singer and performer. She spent 16 years at Mills College in Oakland, teaching music theory and and teaching voice education. And she even started an advanced vocal ensemble program at Mills. She’s been an educator for 30 years, which really helps her in educating people about long-term care, which can be very complicated.

So how Liz and I work together, I’m a financial planner. And I work with my clients to build comprehensive financial plans. A very, very important aspect of financial planning is the fact that you’re going to live a long time, and that you need to save your money for your retirement years. And what happens when we get older, is we need more medical care. And a large percentage of us are going to need long-term care of some kind. In fact, about 70% of people will need some kind of long-term care.

And that is what I call a risk in a plan. Do you have enough money saved to handle that long-term care issue and cost. So that’s why I partner with long-term care specialists like Liz when I see a need with my clients that they might need to have that extra long-term care insurance policy to help them out. So Liz and I are partners in that. And I trust her completely to take care of my clients and educate them about only what they need. She never sells more than someone needs. And she is a really great consultant.

So then on long-term care, I want to add one more thing. It’s sort of a women’s issue, because as we all know, women live longer than men. 64% of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. And the statistics of the number of women in nursing homes are also huge. 68% of people in long stay and nursing facilities are women. And in addition, women end up being the caretakers if their husband needs long-term care. So this ends up being a really big issue for women.

So I’d like to get into the weeds with you, we’re gonna try and keep it as easy to understand as possible, because long-term care can be complicated. And one issue that always comes up is the issue of eligibility for the insurance. And that’s why I want to start with that. There’s nothing more disappointing than somebody decides that they want to buy a long-term care policy, they’re willing to learn about it and make the commitment to buy. They talk to an agent and they find out they aren’t eligible for whatever reason, like medications they take for a condition they have had.

And Liz is really expert in how these insurance companies view people and their medical conditions. And the first step is she has a conversation with you to screen and figure out whether you will be eligible and if not, how she can counsel and coach you to become eligible. So I’m going to start talking and I’m going to let Liz take over on this eligibility issue.

04:57 Liz Eshleman:

Great. Thanks, Cathy. And thanks very much for having me today, it’s a pleasure always to work with you, and happy to help your clients in any way I can. This issue of eligibility is thorny, because people don’t realize that, in fact, some of my most healthy clients overall, for instance, my athletes, clients who are runners or skiers, even swimmers, if they have an issue, for instance, a chronic tennis elbow or a bad shoulder from swimming, or, you know, any kind of what’s construed as a mobility issue, they’re not insurable. So I’ve got really healthy clients, who for a time, if it’s not chronic and ongoing, can’t get coverage.

Now, what do I mean by chronic and ongoing? Well, just what it sounds like, if it’s a short-term issue, they’re in physical therapy for three months or six months, I’ll be able to help them after they’re done with their physical therapy. But there’s a waiting period. And if the problem doesn’t go away, which is often the case with a back problem, you know, or a knee problem. I mean, and if surgery is indicated, forget it. They’re not going to be able to get this coverage, perhaps at all.

06:21 Cathy Curtis:

Let’s say someone has a knee injury from a ski accident. And it keeps bothering them, it and they they’ve gotten an X rayed and MRI. And it’s not something that can be operated on, but they need to do PT, so they get referred to the PT person, and they start going and with that kind of thing be considered non eligible. And you would say, go through the physical therapy, come back to me in six months when you finished it. And then we could talk.

06:54 Liz Eshleman:

Yeah, and in fact, not just when you finish, but wait three months, because the company won’t cover you until they’ve seen that you’ve been off of physical therapy for at least three months. Every company’s underwriting guideline is a little different. But pretty much across the board, this issue of mobility is a concern, because they see that turning into the need for long-term care down the road.

07:15 Cathy Curtis:

Got it. Okay, talk about what conditions are absolutely not, cannot be covered by long-term care if you’ve got a condition like diabetes or…

07:29 Liz Eshleman:

Right. Diabetes is possibly insurable, depending on the agency really. So, you know, I won’t go into too much detail about exactly, but let me give you an overview of some. Of course, this past year with COVID, we’ve seen that become an issue for people. Now, a diagnosis of being positive for the COVID-19 virus has created a waiting period, that companies are insisting that the client has to wait. And it’s different with every company again. But right now, that’s looking like it may actually turn into complete un-insurability if you had COVID.

Yeah, because they’re seeing cognitive problems with some folks. They’re seeing ongoing pulmonary issues to difficulty breathing. I mean, there’s so many unfortunate long-term implications from having had COVID that companies are very wary. So that’s the thing about underwriting and we’re seeing it this year, it can change when companies find out that things are more troubling than they thought, and in unexpected ways.

So yeah, for now, it’s discovered that the long-term effects of having COVID aren’t that great. It may be something that isn’t an issue anymore in eligibility. That’s not, it’s kind of fluid, right? It’s a very volatile situation right now with COVID. So I don’t mean to lead with that, except that it’s just, you know, what’s on our minds right now.

08:58 Cathy Curtis:

So topical, I’m glad you brought that up.

09:01 Liz Eshleman:

Some of the issues that create un-insurability will be, and these are ones that I, there’s many issues, but I chose these to speak to because I think they’re not always, we don’t always think that this could be a problem. Like unexpected weight loss. Maybe it’s not an issue, but maybe it is. Having more than four drinks a day is uninsurable. Back pain that requires narcotic medication, or it’s just a disabling back pain, uninsurable. Any chronic pain, as I was mentioning, is going to be an uninsurable condition, and that’s probably not going to change unless the person has some really unusual change, you know, change in their health, because usually, if something is disabling, it’s hard to get back up and running.

You know, if it’s a bad back pain, and folks are a little bit older, it’s not usually getting better. Frailty, a head injury. I had a client, unfortunately, recently, who had forgotten that she had. She had rented a car, and the guy was showing her how the trunk worked. And he slammed the trunk down on her head. Well, that’s a whole separate thing. But she’s now in trouble because the MRI showed something else, something else in her brain matter that indicates memory loss. So any MRI is really tricky territory.

10:28 Cathy Curtis

Let me interject sorry. So this is a good example. So when you have this initial phone call with a potential client, long-term care buyer, you will ask them all these things?

Liz Eshleman:

I do I tell people, per day, do you smoke? Do you have any chronic pain? Issues? Are you taking any…

Cathy Curtis:

And you ask about any medications? Depression, antidepressants, things like that?

10:57 Liz Eshleman:


10:58 Cathy Curtis:

Tell me about that. Because a lot of people take antidepressants for years to handle, you know, anxiety or whatever. How do the companies consider that?

11:08 Liz Eshleman:

That’s a great question. You know, it’s a little counterintuitive. They actually, the company underwriting departments, like what they call stability. So if a person has been on a medication for 10 or 15 years, the companies don’t view that as a negative. As long as there have been no hospitalizations for depression or no serious episodes. If it’s just the maintenance of well-being and the medication’s working, the companies actually like that, because they see that this potential issue for that person has been handled.

What they don’t like is a new diagnosis. So let’s say something happened, a person lost her spouse, and she fell into a depression. And she had to have medication that was increasing in dosage. They wouldn’t like that. Or she got on her feet, she was feeling better. Now she decreased her dosage. They also don’t like that. They don’t like volatility in a person’s health history. They want to see stability.

12:10 Cathy Curtis:

Okay. Okay, so you find these things out?

12:14 Liz Eshleman:

Yeah, I asked my clients, I tell them, you know, please bear with me, but I’m your advocate. And there, they tell you everything, open kimono, so to speak. And then you know, the insurance company. So you will say I think we can apply given what you’ve told me or you say, you know what, either you’re not going to be eligible at all, or this is a course of action I think you should take, wait six months. See if, you know, see if you’re off the medication, whatever. Or maybe in the case of a widow who just starts taking an antidepressant, if you’re on it for how many years before you come back.

And you know, it’s not that it’s not that difficult. For instance, usually a depression like that is situational, and does kind of abate over time. So as long as, even if they’re on the medication, that’s okay. But it has to be for a period of time, usually three to six months, at least, before the company will then take a look at whether or not they want to underwrite you.

13:17 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, got it. So this brings up a thought in my mind. I remember when I used to, when we first started to work together, I’d have a client and I’d say this person probably needs to buy some long-term care insurance. I don’t think their assets are going to last, or it could insure the assets they have, you know, there’s a couple of reasons to buy it. And I’ll call you and go, could you just give me an estimate of what you think it would cost for this person. You’d say, you know what, I really can’t give you an estimate. There are so many factors that come into play, I really need to talk with the person to find out about their health history. And now, I understand why. Because it’s like you’re the gatekeeper, to figure out whether someone will be eligible or not, and to help them.

14:01 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, and I never want to give a person a false indication of whether or not they can get coverage. If I don’t have the, if I don’t know about their health history, I really don’t know. Not only whether they could get it, but if they can get it, what would be the proper rate to quote, because there’s different rates for this type of insurance, just as there are, you know, rates for life insurance. So, you know, it makes it sound like this is difficult to get, you know, it kind of is. Yeah, it’s kind of hard to get long term care insurance.

14:31 Cathy Curtis:

Exactly. That’s that. Okay. So that’s a good summary of the eligibility issue is it’s hard to get. It’s worth talking to a long-term care consultant to find out, but don’t be too disappointed if they’re, you know, there’s some roadblocks there or you might not be eligible. Okay, so we’re gonna move into the types of products that are out there because this industry is ever evolving, as a lot of industries are, as they figure out what’s profitable and what’s not. Particularly in the last would you say, five years, there’s been a lot of change in the types of products out there.

15:14 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, I would say that traditional long-term care insurance began in the 1970s. And it’s just like every other insurance product we buy to protect, you know, a car, an automobile accident or a hospitalization. Or you know, a fire in a home, we buy this kind of insurance where, if something happens, the claim is covered. But we never get a return of that premium, we just had that risk covered, we had transferred that risk onto the shoulders of the insurance company.

That’s what we call pure insurance. And traditional. That’s the model. And I’ll go into more detail about that momentarily. The other model that has become very attractive, especially to my clients of high net worth, is the hybrid, where in fact, you’re not just really covering that long-term care risk. With that pure insurance, you actually are doing a couple of other things, you’re buying life insurance, whether or not you want life insurance isn’t really the point. By buying the life insurance with this product, that’s called a hybrid, then you’re locking in your rate. With additional insurance, your premium could change as it does with car insurance, with health insurance, it usually goes up. That could happen with the traditional insurance product. With the hybrid, the rates are guaranteed. That’s one major difference.

The other thing that’s very different with a hybrid is if you wanted to, you could pay it off, in a lump sum, or over 10 years or 20 years, there’s more flexibility with the payment options. With the traditional coverage you pay ongoing every year until you’re on claim, meaning you need the benefits, then you’re done paying. So that with the traditional leaves a question about how many years am I gonna pay. The other thing, of course, is that if you never need long-term care, the money you put into a hybrid would return to your estate to pay to a beneficiary as a death benefit. You can also get money back if you decide, you know what, I don’t want to play this long-term care insurance game anymore, you can get a return of premium with the hybrid.

18:00 Liz Eshleman:

Yeah. And one more very significant fact is that with the hybrid, there’s one company that offers what we call unlimited meaning, you know, heaven forbid, you have Alzheimer’s, and it lasts 10 or 15 years, this hybrid coverage would continue to pay benefits, as long as you needed to receive those benefits.

18:24 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, you’re bringing up a good point about the average amount of time most people will spend with a severe long-term care need, or let’s say, in a nursing home. And yeah, what I’m reading is for, oh, by the way, there’s a great study that Morningstar puts out every year or the last couple of years, about long-term care statistics. And I’ve pulled some stats from that. And for women, the average is 3.7 years in a nursing home. And for men, it’s 2.2.

So right, so I like to know about those numbers, because that tells me as a financial advisor, if a client doesn’t have the resources to buy more insurance, like these unlimited policies, which you want an unlimited policy, but they’re expensive. So if you could at least get the average amount of years, you’re getting help to cover the cost. You know, you don’t have to have it fully covered, you’re getting help for it.

19:25 Liz Eshleman:

Absolutely. And as I like to say to families or to my single clients, you don’t have to crisis manage on day one. If you have a long-term care event, and you have a two-year plan, there’s two years where your family, your friends, your loved ones are helping figure out if your need will be more ongoing, longer than two years. They’re helping figure out, how are we going to pay for that, you know, whatever it will be, and you weigh in on that if you’re available to do so. Right? But people sometimes think, well, if I can’t get unlimited, why would I buy this at all, which I think is missing the point of the stress of trying to navigate a long-term care event with no plan in place.

20:15 Cathy Curtis:

Yeah, I agree. Also, the mechanism of when you initiate a claim of using the money is something that a lot of people don’t understand. They think it’s a daily benefit, which it is, but then there’s actually a maximum in most cases. Could you explain that? And do it based on the traditional long-term care where you’re paying every month for so many years?

20:41 Liz Eshleman:

Okay, sure. So let’s say your daily is $150. So, I’m going to speak to it from two directions. And I hope this is helpful in answering the question. If you need to spend more than $150 a day, then you have to come up with that additional amount from assets. But if you need to spend less than that daily amount, because maybe you only need a little bit of home care, and it’s only $100 a day, then the amount that you purchased will roll over. And so your daily is, it’s a maximum. You can’t get more out of your policy than the daily that you structured when you bought the coverage. Is that helpful? Is that what you wanted to know?

21:32 Cathy Curtis:

Yeah, but then most people are also purchasing, let’s say they can afford three years of coverage. So it becomes $175,000. In total, once they’ve reached that $175,000, it’s the pot, you don’t have any more money. So it’s a daily maximum, but it’s also a bucket of money that is finite.

22:01 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, that’s right. And, you know, maybe it would be helpful to actually talk about a particular plan for a minute. To illustrate what you’re getting at. Okay, so I structured a plan with a company. It’s Mutual of Omaha, right now their pricing is terrific in California. They’ve upped their prices around the country, but California, they still have, I think a more affordable plan. And I structured it to be a $200 a day benefit. So that $6,000 a month, that will more than cover homecare, that will perhaps cover almost all of assisted living. And I structured it to last two years, to our point about something’s better than nothing.

So the bucket of money is $150,000. Now $6,000 monthly benefit, bucket of money, $150,000 is terrific today. In 20 or 30 years, it won’t buy as much. So we need to add an inflation factor, right. So this benefit will increase. I don’t want to get too much in the weeds. But just to know that if a 55-year-old woman buys this policy today, she can count on it for her money to have doubled. Her $6,000 monthly benefit will be $12,000 monthly benefit, her $150,000 pot of money will be $300,000. It may last longer than two years. The two years is not a factor we should focus on. It’s just a factor in an equation. We multiply the monthly by the two years and we get the bucket. As long as there’s money in the bucket, you’re good to go.

23:47 Cathy Curtis:

Yeah. Okay. And so going back to my earlier point, if so, you’re saying that would be $6,000 a month, right? You’re buying $6,000 a month? If the costs are higher than that you pay those out of pocket? Correct?

Liz Eshleman:

Yeah. Okay. But it’s likely, I don’t know, California can be expensive. And it also depends on the facility. You can pick a premium facility and you’re fine with that. You go, okay, my long-term care insurance is gonna cover this much of the cost. And then I’m gonna pay the rest out of pocket because I want a nicer facility. And that’s perfectly fine. At least you don’t have to raid your retirement income at the rate of in current dollars, $72,000 a year, that’s not hemorrhaging out of your retirement.

24:30 Cathy Curtis:

Right. Exactly.

24:32 Liz Eshleman:

This plan that we just discussed for a 55-year-old woman is $275 bucks a month. Yeah. Which really, if you think about you get $6,000 a month for $275 a month and the $6,000 is growing. I think it’s a pretty good deal right now.

24:48 Cathy Curtis:

Yeah, you just have to understand that that may not cover all your costs.

24:54 Liz Eshleman:

That’s right. And that’s something that we look at when I talk with my clients. We go into detail about, I pull up a cost of care survey that we look at together to look at the current costs of care if they’re in San Francisco, or if they’re up in Sacramento, or if they’re, and I work with folks all over the state. So sometimes, I just finished helping a client up in Clearlake, much less expensive up there to receive care. So we look at that and figure out where do you want to go? Where do you think you’ll be? And if it’s an area, of course, it’s going to be some of the most expensive care, but $6,000 a month will help greatly even if you have to supplement.

25:34 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, and so this example you’re giving, I take it that this 55-year-old woman is getting the best rates. And so that means that she has really good health.

25:44 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, if she didn’t have terrific health, if she was on a blood pressure medication, let’s say, instead of $275 a month, it would be $325 a month.

25:54 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, got it. So you’re quoting the best case scenario with that first quote. Okay. Now, that makes complete sense. Okay, I want to talk about some of the other benefits. And we should probably talk a little bit about why you might not want to buy a policy so you know, so that people can have both sides.

You’ve often spoken to me about the benefit of having a care manager, right? Can you describe how that works? And do all the insurance companies offer that?

26:29 Liz Eshleman:

That is such a good question. Depending on the company, it might be a consultation on an 800-phone number. But with Mutual of Omaha, it’s an actual licensed health care professional, who will meet with the client, his or her family, and figure out a plan of care based on their needs. They don’t work for the company, because there’d be a conflict of interest, right. The company would want to keep it low, or, you know, assess the person as not needing as much care. So it’s a third party.

But I do think it’s so important, because even people who have really a terrific retirement portfolio, very well to do, if they don’t have someone help them access their money and help them figure out how they’re going to spend without selling what stock or liquidating what asset. See the care coordinator functions almost at the person, you don’t have to do that asset depletion. And now she or he is going to help advise which agency is a terrific agency, or which facility has a bed. When my mom needed care, I was running around trying to figure out what facility would be able to accept my mom. Oh, and I had to do all that research.

27:44 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, so when you choose a company, you’re thinking about that for the client? Do they offer that?

27:52 Liz Eshleman:

Absolutely. And I talk about that at length, because it’s not just a bucket of money you’re buying. You’re buying an infrastructure, so that you actually have care that can be managed by this care coordinator. And let’s say you don’t like your caregiver. You went through a particular agency, the person there’s a personality problem, or you don’t like the way the companies run the agency. You call the care coordinator, you say, I need a different agency entirely. No problem. That becomes what that care coordinator puts in place for you. So I cannot stress enough Cathy, how stressful that can be when your parent is failing, or when you yourself are failing. You don’t want to have to wonder, how am I going to get care?

28:41 Cathy Curtis:

Let me just bring up something else. And because there’s a lot of good, there’s a lot of myths about, oh, I’m not gonna buy long-term care, because when I need it, they’re gonna say you don’t qualify. So did you know what that whole thing? Does that person help you navigate that?

29:02 Liz Eshleman:


29:03 Cathy Curtis:

Let’s talk about, well, a lot of people know this. But when do you qualify? You buy your policy, you’re 80 years old. All of a sudden you’re not well, and you can’t take care of yourself. So when would you go, maybe I should initiate a claim. Go through that. And does that consultant help with that?

29:28 Liz Eshleman:

Yes. Okay. So I will give you a real case scenario from my last six months helping a client. And I think you’ll be surprised at the profile of that client. But let me speak more broadly first, that I believe a person who feels in any way frail, they’re just a little unsteady on their feet, or they have bad arthritis. It’s hard to button the buttons on a sweater. It’s worth calling the claims department. You call the company and they’ll put you in touch with this care coordinator, who will then talk with you. And more likely than not, people, especially if it’s a couple where the spouse that might be a little more robust is helping the frailer spouse, they don’t realize over time that that frail spouse could have been on claim.

So that’s why you want to call the claims department immediately and open a claim. There’s no harm, you don’t have to take the money, but at least you get the assessment. And the care coordinator is talking with the doctor, your doctor, accessing records so that they can see, has there been a deterioration in their memory? Or has there been, you know, a risk of falling in the tub because they’re just not steady on their feet? The care coordination is not so much to bar you from receiving benefits with the companies I represent. Really this care coordinator is to help you access the benefits, right.

And I would like to give you the case scenario, a 55-year-old woman this year, you know, trying to get out and get some exercise during our lockdown, took a bike ride up on Grizzly peak in Berkeley. She wasn’t even up there yet. She was just getting out of her driveway. And she fell. And you know, the way she fell and the way the bike and she interacted, she really badly mangled her knee. And she’s 55 so I think that is very young, that’s younger than I am. And she was on claim for six months, because she had to have surgery. And she could not bathe herself. She needed help getting dressed, pulling on pants, it’s you know, when you can’t stand up, you can’t do very much at all. Her husband was trying to help her. He called me kind of in a panic. And I said slow down, Jim, you need to call the company. Well, they did, and the care coordinator worked with them to assess she needed help. And she went on claim. And it saved, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it saved her marriage, but I’m sure it helped a lot with frayed nerves.

32:23 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, couple of industry speak things. On claim means that she bought the insurance probably a few years ago. This was an incident that was covered under long-term care, they made a claim and they’re getting the insurance to cover it.

32:41 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, on claim just means now you’re receiving the benefits that you purchased when you bought your insurance. Now you’re accessing those benefits.

32:49 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, so another point is, and there’s a lot of misunderstandings here, is that long-term care insurance is just for old age care. And this is a perfect example of where it’s not just old age care. It’s also the rules, or tell us the rules about the things that you have, you can’t do, you know, just give us the basics about long-term care. So this is important.

33:13 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, it really is important. So the need for care has to last for 90 days or more. And the need for care is defined by needing help with two out of six activities of daily living (ADLs). And those six ADLs, the first two that tend to trigger a claim, meaning that the money you want to come in from that big bucket that you purchased is available to you. If you need help with two out of six, those first two that tend to trigger that and allow you to get your money are need for help with bathing and need for help with dressing. Not because you can’t wash yourself. Because you’re at risk of falling from, for instance, this client who hurt her knee, she couldn’t even take a shower. She had to do sponge baths.

I mean, okay, so bathing, dressing. The next two of six are toileting and transferring, which are somewhat similar in that they require the core muscles if you can’t stand up on and off the toilet. Or if you can’t get in and out of a chair or a couch or a bed. Because there’s just something where you can’t get that energy to get yourself to rise up. Usually that’s a paralysis or a frailty. Or you can stand up but now you’re dizzy and you could fall, you need that arm to lean on. That’s the need for help with transferring.

Okay, okay, and then the others are incontinence, if you have to wear a diaper, or eating, which is usually end stage if you need help actually feeding yourself, right? That’s not usually a typical first activity of daily living that you need help with. Okay, now one more thing, you could be quite robust physically. But if you, and so maybe all of your ADLs are fine, you can bathe yourself, you can dress but you have a severe cognitive impairment. In that case, you’re also eligible for the benefits, right? As long as the need lasts 90 days or more.

35:18 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, and I’ll just throw in a real-life example. My mother qualified because of mental impairment. She was, she stayed pretty physically robust. Okay, well into her 80s. But she was starting to forget things and she wasn’t taking her meds because she would forget. She wasn’t turning on the heat. The house was freezing. So that’s why she qualified.

Okay, good. So yeah, those are some of the basics. I’m really glad you went over that so well, so people know what triggers a claim. Doesn’t have to be when you’re old and are about to go into assisted living or nursing home. It can also be when you’re younger, and you have an accident.

36:06 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, this client of mine who had the bike accident, you know, was always at home.

Plus, shouldn’t we talk about the real reluctance people have now to actually go into facilities to receive care?

Yes, that is a huge deal. I mean, a large, large percentage of COVID deaths are still in nursing homes, or assisted living facilities, both patients and caregivers. I do know somebody who was going to move into an assisted living facility and pretty independent this year. And the main reason she doesn’t want to do it is because she may not be able to see her friends and family, because of restrictions. Now, I know that’s starting to lighten up with the vaccine, but there’s no way she wants to move in somewhere and not be able to see people.

36:59 Liz Eshleman:

And another thing to know is that typically, people who have long-term care insurance policies are receiving their benefits at home. I believe that only 12% are in nursing facilities. It’s between 7 and 12%. It’s a low percentage of people who have long-term care insurance policies who are in nursing facilities.

And the reason for that is because the families are not burning out, providing care at home without having that respite care that’s provided with a caregiver coming in. So if you have a plan in place, rather than the family immediately thinking, they are the caregivers, you know, you have money to buy caregiving from an agency. And you know what, you should just do that. That’s why you buy. That’s why we purchase long-term care insurance, is so that we save our families from the burden of having to provide care 24/7, potentially. So they can stay at home, they can still be with their loved ones, they don’t have to go to a facility. With my mom, in my own instance, mom had to go to a nursing facility because I couldn’t manage the care anymore. Because caregivers were quitting. And my doctor was worried about my health. That’s what happens with families providing care.

That kind of care is so hard. It almost has to be 24/7, because accidents happen. Yes, other people fall they break bones. And that’s so typical, that it’s almost a responsibility to get that care for your family.

Cathy Curtis:

That’s a really good point. And I’m wondering, I’m just curious, how many people buy long-term care insurance for their parents? Do you ever see that?

38:51 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, I do. I’ve had adult children purchase for a 75-year-old mom that they’re just worried about, that maybe their father just passed, and the mom is vulnerable and she’s fine, she can get coverage. But you know, they’re doing it so that in a way they protect themselves in this way. They want to be able to visit their mom, they want to be able to be with her, but they just don’t want to have to give up their entire life. Right? They might have young children. And that’s what happens in families is now you have to choose between caring for mom or going to your son’s soccer game. And it’s just a non-issue if you have a plan. It’s horrible. And it doesn’t have to be part of the equation at all if you have a plan.

39:42 Cathy Curtis:

Do most companies offer all home care, assisted living care, or any other type of care?

39:56 Liz Eshleman:

For instance, adult daycare, which is a place sometimes that folks with dementia will go during the day when a family member is going to work, that’s covered. Hospice is covered if you need it. So all the companies I represent cover every conceivable living situation in the United States, except you can’t take your caregiver on a cruise. I did have that question once.

40:29 Cathy Curtis:

Oh, that’s too bad. That would work, wouldn’t it? Okay, so we’ve talked about a lot of the benefits of it. Do you see, what are the downsides? I mean, I’ll bring up one. Of course, it’s not cheap insurance. And so affordability is an issue. And then the chance that you’ll pay premiums for all those years and never need it. Or you buy one of the hybrids where you put a huge chunk of money in and don’t ever need it. In that case, there are some ways to get your money back through insurance, or you’ve mentioned refunds. And I don’t know how often that happens where you don’t use it. Do you know?

41:19 Liz Eshleman:

I don’t have stats on that. You know, this is what I think about your question, Cathy. It’s a really good one. This is not for everyone. Long-term care insurance is only for people who want the peace of mind of not wondering what if, because to your point, it’s possible that you could pay a premium for 20 years or 30 years and never need care and die in your sleep at age 92. If that bothers a client, that they might never see a return on that investment in that plan, I tell them don’t buy this. This is for people who are worried and starting to think, I don’t know if I want to handle that risk.

So I always tell people, I don’t think there is a downside for the client for whom this is keeping them up at night, that they’re just not wanting that portfolio they’ve worked so hard to create, and those retirement savings, they don’t want them subject to this devastating risk. But there are some people, for instance, the very wealthy, they don’t need to purchase long-term care insurance. They can self-insure.

I do tell them, make sure you have a care coordination plan involved in your own estate management, right? If you don’t want your children saddled with it, make sure you get a very astute and much younger financial advisor. So if it’s a 70 year old, I have a guy, actually, he’s quite wealthy, and he’s buying a policy because he doesn’t want his kids to fight. But you know. But to not buy it is a completely legitimate choice. I just think it’s important to weigh why you’re not buying. And I think for most people, it’s just they don’t see themselves needing care.

43:08 Cathy Curtis:

Okay. A couple thoughts about the financial aspect. I want to clarify one term because I get asked about this a lot. Self-insure. Self-insured just means that you don’t buy insurance to cover all the costs, and whatever comes up with your long-term care needs, you pay yourself with your portfolio, or nest egg.

Okay, this is right on the same topic about the financials of buying long-term care and the way a financial planner looks at it. So I’ll do a financial plan for a client and one of the modules I look at is the need for long-term care. And what that really means is, if I think if they have a long-term care need, and I work with mostly women, so a need for expensive long-term care, can they afford it? And I’ll build that as a “what if” into their financial plan using my software tools. And if I see that, yes, they will, it’ll really negatively impact their plan, I start thinking about whether they could afford long-term care or not.

So that’s one aspect, the person who has you know, saved a good amount of money, but not enough maybe to cover a catastrophic expense of long-term care. That’s one example. The other example is a high-net-worth person who has plenty of savings, and when I put those numbers in the plan, and there’s a catastrophic health care need, they can pay for it and not run out of money. Okay, there’s that person, but they do spend a lot of their estate on long-term care. Maybe they have other ideas that they want to use there as well. For other than paying for long-term care, and that insurance and long-term care insurance policy can be a way to ensure that they don’t spend their estate down.

So I think that would be a need for someone of high net worth, who could probably afford to self-insure. And I think that’s a legitimate use of long-term care. And sometimes the numbers work out surprisingly well, especially with the hybrid policy. So the real sticky issue is the person who really needs long-term care insurance, but really can’t afford it. That unfortunate. And, you know, things change over time, maybe there will be more products that come out or more services that come out to help those people. But for right now, that’s, that’s kind of where it is.

And so I help people work through that affordability issue. And then the next step I advise on is to talk to someone like Liz, to find out about eligibility, get the quotes on cost, find out what it all covers. Then they come back to me, we go over it together. So you’ve got an advocate, you’ve got a long-term care consultant, and you’ve got a financial advisor that’s going to honestly tell you is this in your best interest or not to buy this long-term care policy. And, that’s how it goes on the financial end.

46:29 Liz Eshleman:

And Cathy, I think that to really underscore what you’ve said, as a long-term care consultant, you can tell I’m passionate about it, I believe in it. But I’m never going to say to a client that they should buy it. I’m only going to try to help them uncover whether they really feel they want and need it. And then you and I talk together about is it affordable, and you ultimately can weigh in on that for them.

So I just want your clients to know that it’s almost a fact-finding mission, right, as to whether or not this is appropriate for them, suitable for their finances, that they can afford it. And if they like what they see, I’m happy to help. But I never want to feel that. Even though I’m passionate about it. And I think it’s a really important topic to look at. I never want to feel that I’m pushing it on anyone, that it’s simply getting the information in their hands so they can decide what they want to do.

47:33 Cathy Curtis:

Exactly. Okay, so this has been so great. I hope we didn’t leave out any key information. Is there anything else you want to add about long-term care insurance?

47:50 Liz Eshleman:

I think we covered so much today. And honestly, if there’s something we didn’t cover, let’s revisit it. If your clients can call you, and then give them my number if they want to call me.

48:03 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, well, for the viewers who aren’t my client and listeners, tell us how a person could get a hold of you if they wanted to.

48:12 Liz Eshleman:

Well, I have a website. And I’m happy to receive a text or phone call, and all that info is on the website. And my email is

48:51 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, great. And I will include that and your website in the show notes, as well as that Morningstar study, which I think is fascinating on the statistics about long-term care. And then Liz, if there’s any other brochure or any articles that you think are pertinent, I’ll add those to the show notes as well.

Okay, everyone, thank you so much. I think this will give you a really great primer on what long-term care insurance is about. Feel free to contact me at if you have any additional questions.

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Single and Thinking About Retirement? Five Tips to Help You Get There

Single Women Retirement Planning
Single Women Retirement Planning

Most of us dream about the day that we can take a break. We envision a full, long-lasting retirement that is free of financial worries and packed with more of the things we enjoy spending our time on. Whether you’re planning to retire at the traditional age of 65 or you’re aiming to get there earlier, being single doesn’t have to slow you down.

Use your unique strengths to your advantage, and plan for a retirement filled with time spent with friends and family, giving back, reading books, traveling, and everything else you enjoy. If you’re thinking ahead to your retirement, but you’re not sure where to start, here are a few tips that will help you get there:

Revisit your spending and saving

The start of your retirement planning is a great time to check in with your spending or looking at it in reverse, at your savings rate. Could you be saving more money? Are you spending on things that aren’t important to you? Are you wasting money anywhere, such as trial subscriptions you forgot to cancel that are now costing you money annually? Paying for a high-priced gym that you rarely use? Highlight anything you think can be cut out or reduced. Savings gives you freedom and it’s something you have control over, more than your investment returns or even your income.  Then, use Vanguard’s handy retirement calculator to compare your current monthly income to what you’ll need in retirement. 

Make small changes

Now that you’ve revisited your spending vs savings rate and identified areas that could use improvement, start making small, incremental changes. Save takeout or restaurant meals for weekends; make coffee at home instead of suffering through long drive-thru lines; cancel unused services or subscriptions. Discretionary items like these add up quickly to cost us thousands each year. Aim for improvement, not deprivation and watch your savings grow. Cutting out all discretionary spending isn’t sustainable long-term. Choose the changes and budget cuts that make the most sense to you and your goals.

Max out your savings

Reallocate the funds from your discretionary budget cuts to your retirement accounts or investment accounts. While opting for easy alternatives may have been eating up all of your extra cash, maxing out your savings opportunities will make you extra cash. When it comes to saving for retirement, compound interest is your best friend. Start spending time with her as soon as you can.


Any personal finance expert will tell you that it’s not enough to match your employer’s contributions (or fully fund your Solo 401(k) if you’re self-employed). Investing outside of your retirement account in mutual funds, ETFs, or individual stocks can help you create additional streams of income when you’re settling comfortably into your retirement.

Work a little longer than you think you can stand

While you are working your salary funds your expenses. When you stop working you are going to rely on other income sources: social security, maybe a pension, and withdrawals from your retirement and investment accounts. If your retirement projections are at all iffy – meaning, it seems your money may not last through your retirement years, it pays to stay employed. Most people want to maintain their standard of living in retirement not have to reduce it. Staying employed and savings as much as you can in those last years of working is one way to get you closer to your goal.

No one-size-fits-all plan for retirement

There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for retirement. But if your end goal is a retirement free of financial worries, there are plenty of actionable steps you can take now to set your future self up for success. A lack of financial stress helps us better connect with the people we love, sleep better, stay healthy, and enjoy both the destination and the journey. Employ financial strategies that will help you move consistently toward your goals.  

If you need a retirement plan and want to work with a trusted financial partner, we encourage you to explore our services and schedule an introductory phone call.

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Late-Career Women and Burn-Out or When Can I Retire?

Photo Cred: Noah Silliman, Unsplash

Does this sound like you?
– 50-60 ish,
– have been working for 30-40 years,
– salaried employee,
– your boss is a pain,
– co-workers are all 20-30 years younger than you,
– some days are better than others,
– someone asks: when do you want to retire? and you say “tomorrow.”

If you answered yes, you aren’t alone. One of the most common reasons mid-life women seek financial help is to figure out if they can quit their jobs.

And, if you don’t have a clue whether this is possible or not, unless you dig in, look at the numbers, and project into the future, you won’t get the clarity you need to make such a big life-changing decision.

So, where do you start?

Things You Need To Know

– How much do you have saved?
– Are you getting the return you need on your investments?
– How much do you spend?
– When you retire and start withdrawing from your savings, what will your withdrawal rate be? Is it sustainable?
– Will your spending habits change once you quit your job?
– If you continue to work, what do you project your income to be?
– What do you want to do differently in this next phase of life? How much will it cost?
– What are your assumptions for inflation rates in the future?
– How much will health insurance cost if you are retiring before reaching Medicare eligibility?
– Will you be able to afford healthcare costs not covered by insurance in your older years (long term care)?

The decision to semi-retire or retire is a big one not to be taken lightly. You can assess the viability of reaching your goal by taking a hard look at the facts and numbers and doing some analysis.

Best, Worst and Most Likely Outcomes

Best case outcome: You find out that you can retire or semi-retire when you want to. Worst case outcome: You have to work until you can’t any longer. Most likely case: You find out that you need to work and save for a few more years before reaching your goal.

And surprisingly, once you have clarity and a solid goal, you might find that work and your boss aren’t so bad after all.

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