Breaking Down Investment Options

Are You Financially Ready for Retirement?

Breaking Down the Options:

 

One thing everyone has in common is that they will eventually retire and need the financial resources to care for themselves. Retirement accounts can be a great way to protect oneself from financial difficulties later in life, but exactly how does one go about investing? In today’s volatile and unpredictable economy, it is even more important to secure one’s financial future. The options available to investors, however, can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. With a little information, it is possible for anyone to make sounds financial decisions and fortify their future.

There are several retirement options that can be used for investors. Although each is ultimately similar, there are subtle differences that need to be taken into account before investors jump in. This is in no means a complete explanation of the merits and drawbacks of each plan; however, it does provide an informational place to start. The most common investment options include:

Traditional Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs):

Most people are familiar with the concept of an IRA, but exactly how does it work? IRAs are investment plans that allow for tax-free investments up to a certain level. For individuals under 50 years old, the maximum annual of deposit is $5,000. That number jumps to $6,000 after age 50. Although money isn’t taxed going in, it is hit by Uncle Sam going out. In addition, investors must wait until the age of 59 1/2 to withdraw money without penalty. A withdrawal before that date will result in a 10% fine and tax obligations. Investors must begin making withdrawals after the hit age 70 1/2, and cannot make any additional contributions. An early withdrawal can be taken without penalty during certain life events, including buying a first house, paying for qualifying medical expenses, or losing a job.

Many IRAs are self-directed, meaning the investor can choose where his/her funds go. Without this ability to self-direct, investors are forced to accept the decisions of the IRA trustee or custodian. A benefit of self-directed IRAs is that investors are allowed to diversify their portfolios with assets other than bank CDs, stocks, or mutual funds.

Roth IRAs:

Roth IRAs are very similar to traditional IRAs. The primary difference is that contributions to a Roth account are taxed going in, and tax-free coming out. Contributions don’t ever automatically trigger, regardless of the age of the investor. In addition, investors can continue to make contributions after the age of 70 1/2. Finally, most Roth IRAs contain fewer withdrawal restrictions than do traditional IRAs. As long as the account has been in existence for over 5 years, withdrawals are not penalized. Not everyone qualifies for a Roth IRA, however. For an individual, the annual adjustment gross income must be below $107,000; AGI for a joint account must be under $169,000.

401(k) Accounts:

An IRA account is individual-driven, while the 401(k) account is employer-driven; they are a popular investment vehicle for many companies. Most 401(k) contributions are taken out of a paycheck before the employee even sees it, making it an easy way to invest. Unlike an IRA, which is based solely on the investor’s contributions, many employers offer excellent contribution matching programs that allow employees to maximize their investment opportunities.

Unlike other accounts, 401(k) funds to not have to be withdrawn at a certain age, although they can be withdrawn without penalty after age 59 1/2. As long as an employee continues working for the company that set up the account, contributions can continue. One of the drawbacks of 401(k) accounts is that investments are often limited to the vehicle the company sets up.

SEP-IRAs:

For self-employed people or those owning extremely small businesses, the Simplified Employer Pension (SEP)-IRA may be the way to go. These IRAs follow the same rules and regulations as traditional IRAs. SEP-IRAs allows employees to invest up to 20% of net self-employment income or 25% of W-2 wages. It should be noted that 401(k) plans are also available to small businesses or self-employed individuals.

Precious Minerals IRAs:

Many people incorrectly believe that retirement accounts must be based on stock market investments. What people don’t realize is there are other options for your accounts, including investing in precious metals. Unlike stocks, which are at the mercy of an unpredictable stock market, gold and other precious metals are a solid, tangible asset that will not lose value.

There are several avenues of precious metals investment, including purchasing actual physical metal or investing in a variety of claims like future contracts and exchange traded funds (ETFs).
The instability of the economy has made investing in solid and predictable assets a popular alternative to traditional investments. Both IRA and 401(k) accounts can be used to purchase precious metals. IRA accounts may need to be rolled-over into a Precious Metals IRA, depending on the restrictions of the current plan.

 

By Jamee Larson

Take a Waconia Wine Tour

Waconia and wine.  It sounds like an unlikely pairing. Yet there are three successful wineries within ten miles of each other, just 40 miles west of downtown Minneapolis.

The oldest is Parley Lake Winery, started in 2004. When Lin Deardorff planted grapes in his apple orchard near Parley Lake, he wasn’t really thinking about being a pioneer. He and winemaker Steve Zeller were just excited by the possibilities opened up by the University of Minnesota’s introduction of winter-hardy grapes.

By happy coincidence, the Waconia area has just what grapes need: rolling topography; sunny, south-facing slopes; good soil; and lakes that actually help reduce the effects of cold Canadian winds. Waconia is also at the right latitude, sitting squarely on the same parallel as the vineyards of France and the California/Oregon border. The climates are similar, although Minnesota is somewhat drier.

“California and Europe have a 180-day growing season,” says Deardorff. “Here we have just 120 days from bloom to harvest. Anything you put in the ground here has to be able to handle minus-30-degree temperatures to survive.” Wine-making has helped him extend his 10-week apple season to a nine-month business.

Next came Sovereign Estate Winery on the north shore of Lake Waconia. The blended Savaryn family began planting grapes around their home in 2008. One son, Ben Banks, is the vintner. Another, Isaac Savaryn, tends the grapes. By 2014, the vineyard had scored several awards.

Schram Vineyards & Brewery is the youngest, opened to the public in 2013. Aaron and Ashley Schram have the distinction of operating the first winery/brewery combination in the state. In addition to tending eight or nine varieties of grapes and producing wine from them, Aaron brews up batches of blonde ales, porters and IPAs.

The wineries all have their own ambiance. For example, Schram Vineyards has a young vibe to it, with bocce ball courts installed just below a wine-tasting pavilion that overlooks Reitz Lake. Sovereign’s bistro is elegantly styled, with an enormous patio that overlooks the vineyard and Lake Waconia. It’s not hard to imagine a wedding reception there. Parley Lake Winery’s tasting room is housed in Deardorff’s apple barn, imparting a rustic atmosphere that Deardorff says often leaves older “farm kids” feeling nostalgic. Guests can follow a “sculpture trail” that leads throughout the property.

All of the wineries have garnered awards from fellow winemakers, quite an accomplishment for a business that’s so young. They compete against vintners from Vermont, Connecticut, New York and Canada in the International Cold Climate Wine Competition (ICCWC), a partnership of the Minnesota Wine Growers Association and the U of M. Parley Lake has won several awards, taking home a double gold in the 2013 competition, the same year Schram brought home its first silver medal for its Marquette. Sovereign Estate captured the Governor’s Cup in 2014, a “Best of Show” award for its La Crescent.

The owners of the Waconia wineries are aware that they’re not just making wines, they’re transforming Waconia into a tourist destination. Limo-driven “wine tours” are common occurrences. Their grounds and tasting rooms have become places for special events and weddings. They collaborate on a progressive dinner that sells out every year. The winemakers feel as though they’re sitting in the right place at the right time.

SIDEBAR: The Waconia wineries are a short trip west on Hwy. 5, just past the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Check their websites for hours. Call for group tours.

Parley Lake Winery

8280 Parley Lake Road

952-422-2290

http://www.parleylakewinery.com

Schram Winery & Brewery

8785 Airport Rd.

952-442-5105

http://schramvineyards.com

Sovereign Estate

9550 North Shore Road

952-446-9957

http://sovereignestatewine.com

 

By Cynthia Sowden

 

Twin Trails — Hiking, Biking, and More

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A series exploring the best outdoor experiences in the Twin Cities

The Saint Paul Classic: Roll ‘Round The Saintly City

This 32-mile bike loop anchors the venerable St. Paul Classic bike tour in and around St. Paul, with a mansion-lined boulevard to parkway pedaling and stunning river valley views. Cruise traffic-free around the city, with succulent gastro, delights at rest stops and live music at the finish line.

The Ride

Set aside September 11th this year for a full day of riding and revelry at the St. Paul Classic. This is the landmark Grand Round course and the event’s popular mid-distance loop.

Start at the University of St. Thomas and ride south on Mississippi River Blvd., with great views of Ol’ Miss and its wooded bluffs.  Pass overlooks aplenty to the junction with Highway 5 and follow Shepard Road along the ridge above Crosby Farm Park to I-35E and on to the Samuel Morgan corridor into downtown St. Paul.

The route hugs the St. Paul harbor and continues along Warner Road to Indian Mounds Park.  This was a sacred place for prehistoric Native Americans of the area and the site of nearly forty burial mounds (only six remain) at the top and flanks of the bluff. The original mounds date back over 2,000 years. Visitors today get stellar St. Paul skyline views and from here, the ride route hooks up with the Bruce Vento Trail, traveling north through Swede Hollow to the south shore of Lake Phalen. The 3-mile path around the lake is packed with lakeside views, and some short, punchy hills add flavor if you’re up for a fun side trip.

From Lake Phalen, merge onto Wheelock Parkway for the loop’s trip west. Cruise Wheelock all the way to Lake Como. At the south side of the lake, follow winding Como Lake Drive around to the northern shore, with a nice view across the waves of the elegant Como Dockside pavilion. The path blends into Como Park on rolling hills to the Como Zoo and Majorie McNeely Conservatory.

Established in 1897 with a lineup of three deer, the zoo is Minnesota’s first and a magnet for kids squealing with glee. Originally located on Harriet Island, the zoo moved to Como Park when more animals arrived and the island got crowded. The Conservatory is another must-go Minnesota landmark, bursting at the seams with all manner of eye-popping flowers and unique foliage. The park’s pathways lead away from the zoo, taking Grand Round riders along Como Avenue and past the southern fringe of the state fairgrounds to Raymond Avenue. Head south to reach Pelham Boulevard and the homestretch back to Summit Avenue.

Get there: From I-94, take the Cretin-Vandalia exit and head 1 mile south to the University of St. Thomas. Park where permitted, or along Summit Avenue and the overlook at the river. Check out bikeclassic.org for all the details and registration.

 

By Steve Johnson

 

 

 

Food Allergy Etiquette – What You Need to Know 

Do you have food allergies?  Maybe you have a close friend or family member who does.  Food allergies are already difficult to manage when you opt to prepare your own food. But what happens when you want to go out to eat?

Personally, this can be a difficult situation, should you not know how to approach your server or the restaurant appropriately.  I am a gluten free kinda gal, who also happens to be a vegetarian.  So when I do have the pleasure of dining out, I try my hardest not to be that one customer that is difficult or has unrealistic expectation.  Trust me, this came with practice.

First things first, be thankful you have the opportunity to dine out. With that mindset, you can plan ahead for a great meal to enjoy!

Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of Dining out with a Food Allergy:

Do Your Homework

If you know ahead of time where you will be dining, pull up the menu online and take a look ahead of time.  See if the menu has accommodating options to your specific food allergy.  Or even take it a step further by calling ahead – let the restaurant know when your reservation is and what food allergy you have.  Tell the person you speak with what items you were considering ordering and whether or not the ingredients will cause a reaction.

Do Ask to Speak with a Manager

Depending on the severity of your allergy, ask to speak with a manager.  Food allergies can be life-threatening.  Be sure to politely and clearly state your food allergy ahead of time.

Don’t Assume Your Food is Safe

I understand you don’t want to be that dinner guest who has very specific needs with respect to your meal.  However, depending on the severity of your allergy, assuming your food is safe is never a way to go.  Ask questions regarding the ingredients in the meal of your choice and how the food is handled.

Do Be Transparent

The person that knows their food allergy best is the person with the food allergy.  Regardless if you’re on the serving side of the equation or the dining side of the equation, be sure to keep all forms of communication open and honest.  If you’re a restaurant owner or employee and are unable to accommodate the guest’s needs, be sure to communicate it.

Having food allergies can be frustrating regardless if you’re the one who suffers from the allergy or not.  Be as transparent as possible when dining out and be sure to call ahead to address your specific allergy concerns with a manager.  With all that set-aside, there are plenty of fantastic restaurants that routinely accommodate their guests with food allergies – check it out!

 

By Tara Massan

How to Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping

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Americans are expected to spend $75.8 billion on back-to-school purchases this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That turns out to be over $600 per family on average. If that sounds high to you, consider the following suggestions for keeping your back-to-school shopping below average.

Take Stock of What You Already May Have

Check your home office supplies or any stash of school items you’ve picked up for a great deal at some point or another. The same goes for clothing – find out what your child already has, including any packed away clothes from an older sibling, or cousin, for example. Then make a list of what supplies and clothes each child needs. Remember that you don’t need to do all the clothes shopping right away. There may be better deals on clothes after the back-to-school rush is over.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Don’t be afraid to reuse school supplies that came home in fine shape this past spring. A good backpack should last several years, and it makes sense to reuse things like scissors and rulers, as well as colored pencils or markers that only got a little use the previous year.  

Learn How to Say “No” – or Consider Leaving the Kids at Home

You know yourself well enough to know how resolute you’ll remain when your child is pleading with you to buy the over-priced lunch bag or backpack with a favorite character on it. If you do have your child along, explain why you make the shopping choices you do. A life lesson about sticking to a budget could serve them well for years to come.  

Do Your Shopping Homework

Check the store ads – either from the paper or online – before you leave home. Consider following your favorite stores on social media to stay current on sale prices. Look for the best deals on more expensive items and worry less about things like crayons or pencils, which may account for only a small fraction of your total back-to-school spending. Make the store with the best deal on one or more bigger items your first stop.  

Involve Your Children in Building a Budget

As your kids approach the later elementary years or beyond, consider turning the decision making over to them. Tell them how much you’re willing to spend on back-to-school shopping and let them choose how to spend it, provided they don’t neglect any of the essentials. Tell them if they come in under budget they get to keep what they didn’t spend yet.

Save Your Receipts

Expenses for educational materials required for the normal school day qualify for a Minnesota tax credit. That includes calculators needed for math class, tennis shoes for gym class and musical instruments for band class. Consult your tax adviser or the Minnesota Revenue website for complete details on qualifying expenses for the K-12 education credit and subtraction.

 

By Anita Dualeh

Clarity on Your Non-Negotiable Truths

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When is the last time you sat down and explored your non-negotiable truths?

Your non-negotiable truths are defined as truths that define your boundaries, your dreams, what you stand for and what you do not stand for.  Getting crystal clear and clearly defining your non-negotiable truths will help you form the foundation for your life.

Often we end up learning what our non-negotiable truths are when our backs are up against the wall.  Let’s try to prevent this by clearly stating non-negotiables before we find ourselves in an extreme situation.

You can start discovering your non-negotiable truths by first exploring the things you do not stand for in life.  For example, here are some things I do not stand for in my life:

  • Negativity
  • Dishonesty
  • Disingenuous Relationships
  • Superficial Expectations

It’s not that difficult to sit down and call upon the things you do not stand for in life, or what you won’t tolerate.  Now that we have that mess out of the way, let’s write down the things we do stand for in life. It can look something like this:

  • Love
  • Courage
  • Resilience
  • Curiosity
  • Intellectual Stimulation

By declaring what you do stand for in life and taking it a step further by expanding upon it, you end up with your non-negotiable truths.

For example: If you stand for love, then reexamine your life and curate your actions, thoughts, and words to always be in line with your truth as it relates to love.

The roots of your non-negotiable truths lie within the pillars of what you stand for in life.  When you define what you stand for in life and get clarity on your non-negotiable truths, you can begin moving forward with the intention for years to come.

 

By Tara Massan