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MC Stories – 4 days, 450 miles in a 4-wheeler

How often do we get the chance to really get away from it all and unplug? With the stresses of modern-day life—raising two children, my wife, Jen, and I working full-time—I was looking forward to a “guys trip.” Now, mind you, this was not with my friends but rather an L.A.-based group called Wilderness Collective, which runs UTV and motorbike trips in the western United States. I had been thinking about doing one of their adventures for the past two years but the timing never seemed to work out. However, in early August, I decided that it was time to get out and make it happen.

I was fortunate to be able to spend four days over Labor Day weekend traveling from St. George, Utah, through the Northern Arizona desert to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in my own UTV four-wheeler. I traveled in a caravan of 14 guests, accompanied by four guides, a cook and a photographer.

 

In reflecting upon my adventure, I was able to take away a few key points that can apply to my role as a wealth advisor.

1. Communication is key. Imagine being alone in the desert for seven hours without a way to communicate with your guide. This is what happened to me on that Saturday. How, you ask? For the prior two days, we were using a “flagging” system where, if the lead guide came to a fork in the road, he would pull over and have the next driver stay and direct traffic in the proper direction. Given the speed at which we were driving (oftentimes 60–70 mph), the distance between vehicles (sometimes hundreds of yards due to the dust or other factors) and the length of our entire caravan, it wasn’t uncommon for the total distance from beginning to end to be 5–10 miles long. Additionally, we had a large truck hauling our food, camping supplies and extra gasoline, among other things, that was oftentimes 20–30 minutes behind. The truck was always the “sweeper,” meaning anyone who acted as a flagger was to remain in position until the truck got to you and that was the signal to move out.

We left camp early on Saturday morning, and after a few miles of winding turns in the pine forest, we reached a fork in the road and the guide positioned me as the flagger. Over the course of the next 15–20 minutes, I performed my duty as four-wheelers passed me, pointing them in the direction ahead along the dirt road. Another 10–15 minutes passed and I began to wonder, Where is the truck? Eventually, it became clear to me that they had left me.

Later, I found out our lead guide had instructed another guide to act as a sweeper instead of the truck. The new sweeper waived as he went by, assuming this was enough for me to follow him. I was still thinking about what the lead guide had said on the first day, which was DO NOT LEAVE YOUR POSITION UNTIL THE SWEEPER RELIEVES YOU. When changes occur, it’s critical that all parties know what the change is.

As you know, we work in teams at Morton Capital to ensure the highest level of client service. To this end, each advisory team meets weekly to thoroughly address all client matters. These recurring weekly meetings are supplemented by morning huddles (brief meetings) throughout the week to address the most pertinent issues of the day so we all know when changes occur.

We are also passionate about proactive communication with your other trusted advisors, like your CPA, insurance advisor and estate attorney.

During the pandemic, we enhanced our communications with our clients even further, all with the purpose of staying connected so you knew we were on top of your finances. Our outreach included robust video content and webinars that covered everything from the economy to investor behavior. Additionally, we created articles and content for social media via platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

2. Don’t make a bad situation worse. It was about 12:00 or 1:00 pm—the sun was directly overhead and the desert was cooking. I’d been alone for probably two hours and I was getting antsy. I thought to myself, Ok, I can catch up to them. I had a general sense of the direction they were going, and it was just me, so I could go faster than the caravan.I took off down the mountain covered in pine trees, screaming around corners and straightaways for about 10 miles. I hit a T-junction and saw the vast terrain of open desert in front of me. I could see for about 100 miles to my left, 100 miles to my right and 100 miles in front of me—truly like something out of a movie. My caravan was nowhere in sight, so I’d be speculating by picking a direction to try and find them.

Oftentimes, when things don’t go our way, we can feel like we have to “do something.” In this case, I had to evaluate the risks of staying put (playing defense) versus going on the offensive. I decided the smart thing to do was to go back to my original position where I had shade and water and wait it out. I knew the terrain better and it was my best chance of the guide knowing where I was. Also, given that we had experienced four flat tires up until that point and my rig was not outfitted with a spare tire or the necessary tools, it seemed too risky for me to wander off into the desert alone with limited water. In the case of my adventure, access to shade and water were my most basic needs and the most important drivers of my decision.

Markets and investments don’t always go as planned. Our natural inclination might be to sell when asset prices fall. While it might feel good in the moment to “do something,” more often than not, these knee-jerk reactions work against us in the long run.

Focusing on risk management ahead of time and properly evaluating both the upside and downside of a given action or investment is critical. Additionally, focusing on the basics when things get complicated can help. This is why we are so passionate about cash flow in our investments. At the end of the day, we can’t control the price a buyer will give us for an investment but if we focus on the basics of cash flow, that is a universal sign of health and stability in any environment.

3. Always have a backup plan or safety net. At the beginning of our trip, our guide had given us a small black pouch and in it was a device with an SOS button. It was only to be used in extreme emergencies. If you hit the SOS button, it would activate local first responders and they would send in the helicopter to find you. Knowing I had that in my tool chest should I need it gave me the comfort to sit tight.Ultimately, I waited it out and one of the guides returned around 5:00 pm. We raced through the desert for the next few hours as the sun set, trying to cover as much ground as possible before night fell. By around 10:00 pm, we made it to camp just in time for roasted herb chicken with a side of fresh dill potato salad. I sat around the campfire with the guys as they teased me for getting “lost.” It was all in good fun.

As we have added financial planning as a core element of our services. When developing our clients’ cash flow plan, we stress-test the plan for a variety of factors like down markets, long-term healthcare events and lower returns to ensure we have a backup plan in place so you are in the best position possible to adapt to most any circumstance.

Knowing ahead of time that your financial plan can withstand these difficult situations helps to calm the natural anxiety you experience when confronted with a situation beyond your direct control.

How often does someone get to spend the night 50 feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon? Or gaze up at the Milky Way galaxy with no light pollution and see the night sky with an unblemished view? Or watch the sun come up over the North Rim? Life is short. We are a culture of information overload, flooded with constant information on a daily basis about politics, our economy, the civil unrest our nation is currently experiencing, the pandemic, etc. Having four days away from emails, text messages and phone calls was really good for my soul and allowed me to be grateful for the career I have, the clients I serve and the talented people I am blessed to work with on a daily basis, all contributing to our mission of helping our clients get the most life out of their wealth. It also made me eager to get back to Jen and the kids and, yes, to take a shower 🙂

MC Stories – Out of the Mouth of Babes

When I became a mom, I always thought I would be teaching my kids things, not the other way around, especially when it comes to what I do for a living. But as they say—out of the mouth of babes. . . .

One morning recently, I was anxious to take the kids to my parents’ house to go swimming. We’ve been isolating inside like the rest of the world due to the current pandemic, but have been fortunate enough to be able to keep my family in our “bubble.”

My husband and I have three beautiful girls: Dilynn (4), Nora (2), and Harlowe (10 mos). Dilynn is my most tenacious. As we were putting on our shoes to leave, she asked if she could go pack her backpack. Knowing she would put up a fight if I said no, I told her to go pack it quickly.

After a minute or two, Dilynn hadn’t returned. I found her in her room just looking around. Somewhat annoyed, I told her to just grab Puppy (her favorite stuffed animal) and Cozy (her favorite blanket). She pushed back (did I mention her tenacity?) and said she always brings Puppy and Cozy and that she needed to pack other things. She then asked me, “Mom, where are we going? I need to know if I should pack my mittens or a bathing suit.”

That question, out of the mouth of my four-year-old daughter, really made clear just how important it is to know your destination before you pack. Similarly, as advisors, our clients’ life goals—their destination—are so important for us to know before we can create their portfolio allocation. We probably all remember our favorite stuffed animal or special blanket/comfort item, which is, as Dilynn pointed out, an essential item we always pack. Similarly, certain assets like stocks and bonds are essential parts of every portfolio. However, at Morton Capital, we believe that diversification beyond those two asset classes is crucial when trying to mitigate risk and customize our strategy to help clients achieve success. How we choose which additional investments to add to the portfolio is guided by the client’s goals/destination. We need to know if a client needs mittens (maybe that is something that provides more long-term appreciation) or if they need a bathing suit (maybe that is something with less liquidity risk that provides monthly cash flow).

Furthermore, when I first found Dilynn in her room, she wasn’t just stuffing things in her bag. She was looking around. She was taking inventory. To be able to pack for your destination, you have to know what you have first (and what you might be missing). As advisors, we feel this “taking inventory” step, what we call data gathering, is the most important part of the process when it comes to creating a dynamic financial plan that gives our clients control over their long-term financial decisions. Thus, we spend a significant amount of time on data gathering, asking for a breakdown of expenses (such as how much you spend on dining out vs. groceries), mortgage statements, bank statements, insurance policies, and tax returns. Many of our clients assume that providing us with broad income and expense numbers will give us sufficient information to produce an accurate plan, or one that is “close enough.” However, this could mean that you might end up packing a bathing suit when what you really need is a pair of mittens, or, worse, packing half a bathing suit and one mitten (i.e., close but not enough).

It is easy to get stuck in the rhythm of our day-to-day routine. I talk to clients all the time about what we do and why we do it. However, this particular morning with Dilynn really made our process and the reasons behind it more tangible for me. I can’t wait to see what she teaches me next.

MC Stories – Finding Calm in the Chaos

What has been your reaction to pandemic news? Perhaps you are instinctively driven to hunker-down and shelter in place with your loved ones. Maybe it’s the opposite – perhaps you are driven to action and do whatever you can to stock up on food and supplies to weather the storm. Perhaps you are somewhere in between. Regardless of where you stand, a crisis affects each one of us differently. It is very personal. That being said, you are not alone!  We are all going through the same collective experience right now, and while the feelings and emotions that arise will be unique to each person, the tools available for working through them are not.  While material concerns are top of mind for many us, there may not be much within our control.  However, we can reconnect with our own internal compass during this time to help us achieve a sense of direction when no external marker exists.

What you do and how you deal with what is in front of you is personal to you. But what happens when it all seems too overwhelming and you find yourself unable to move or act? Perhaps you find yourself crippled with fear, anxiety, or uncertainty of the future. With the amount of news and information constantly coming our way, managing our emotions becomes a daily priority, and we can take small actions that add up to a meaningful change in our ability to regulate ourselves over time.

There are four actions I take whenever life feels out of my control:

  1. Stop. Take a moment where you are and consider that as humans, we are biologically equipped to be adaptable to change.  Assess what you have and what you need. Make a list and focus on accomplishing the small tasks.
  2. Breathe. Bring awareness to your breathing if you start feeling stuck. Start your mornings by spending quiet time journaling, meditating, listening to your favorite music or reading a book that inspires you. Give thanks. Go for a walk.
  3. Focus. Narrow in on where you are and where you want to go. Reach out to friends and loved ones. Use technology as a tool for connecting with others. Choose to see this time as a gift to work on yourself, to work on projects that perhaps you never had time for, or to act in service to others. Take as much time as you need to find your footing and love yourself through the process. Speak positivity and kind words to yourself.
  4. Let go. Accept what you cannot control…Do your best to stay present and know that nothing lasts forever. This too, shall pass.

We are powerful in our ability to care for ourselves.  What small action will you commit to today that moves the needle toward balance in your life?