Teaching Young Adults Skills for Life

Tom Levinson Life with Money

When was the last time you taught someone you love how to do something hard?

This question came up during a recent conversation I (Tom) had with Leslie Kahlenberg, one of our PPA team members. Leslie and her husband live in the Los Angeles area with their two teenaged sons. Their younger son, recently turned 15, is driving now. And Leslie was memorably describing the experience of driving with her son in bad weather for the first time when we started to reflect on learning new things.

The more I listened, the more I thought Leslie’s experiences offer something illuminating on the more universal experience of teaching people important things for the first time. It turns out, helping a 9th grader learn to drive in a downpour isn’t so different from teaching someone about money and intelligent financial decision-making.

So … I asked Leslie for more specifics.

Here are Leslie’s (very lightly edited) thoughts:

• • •

Usually, I feel confident in Leo’s skills as a driver, but in this one circumstance, I was more nervous than usual. It was, and had been, raining hard for several days and the streets and freeway flooded in some parts. I was trying to project to him that I wasn’t worried, trusted his judgment, and wasn’t too bad of a backseat driver.
learning to drive
I had to be mindful of how I offered guidance so he would be more likely to hear what I’m saying and, at the same time, understand the reasoning behind it.

I have an older car and it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay, so occasionally I’ll pretend I am the voice of Apple CarPlay when the opportunity for a teachable moment comes up. My hope is not to downplay anything, but instead, offer guidance in a lighter tone. Hopefully that can help him be more receptive to the lessons.

I don’t remember much about getting taught these things. The first day on the road alone I drove into the gas station from the wrong side of the road. Most of my experiences, including the ones we are having with Leo now, have been the result of trial and error. I think it’s important to share those embarrassing experiences as teachable moments.

• • •

Helping anyone gain new knowledge or learn a new skill can be a challenge. Where do you start? What do you say? And, as important, what don’t you say? How do you best offer feedback? When is it better not to step in? How do we offer guidance without being too much of a backseat driver?

Our routine, daily life offers an almost innumerable catalog of opportunities to delve into the world of money. With young people, this can be especially fertile ground.
talking with teenagers about money
While many adults prefer to avoid money conversations, the “next generation” is, perhaps surprisingly, interested – even eager – to talk about it. There isn’t a lot of concrete guidance on the subject. Financial literacy curricula, while highly valuable, are still missing from far too many schools. Moreover, kids often perceive money as an adult topic. This can make the discussion more intriguing. Talking openly about money can give them the sense that they’re stepping into an adult space.

• • •

Over the past few months, our team at Park Piedmont has been talking and thinking and continuing our own learning about how teenagers and young adults can best cultivate a well-informed skill set around intelligent financial decision-making.

Financial education is an integral part of our everyday work with clients, and we’re excited at the prospect of getting to extend some of that work with the young adults in our midst. Maybe that’s your high school or college-age kids or grandkids, or other young adults you know well.

We know this topic can sometimes be stressful and challenging – not unlike that first time teaching a teenager how to drive in the rain. But we’re excited about diving in.

In the meantime, if this is a topic you’re interested in for the young adults in your life, please let us know. We’d love to hear more of your thoughts, as they will help us continue learning about this important topic.

Stocks and Bonds Fell in February

Nick Levinson Comments, Life with Money

Stocks and bonds fell in February after recovering over the past four months from the declines of early 2022.

Bonds prices fell as the benchmark 10-year Treasury rate rose to 3.92% at the end of February from 3.52% at the end of January. This rate began 2023 at 3.88%, after starting 2022 at 1.51%. We discuss interest rates in more detail below.

Stock indexes dropped between 2% and 6% for the month, but all except the Dow Jones Industrials remained positive for 2023. The Nasdaq index, which includes most of the large tech companies, were up almost 10% for the year through February after tumbling more than the broader markets in 2022.

Stocks and bonds fell in February

Interest Rates Remain Key

The US Federal Reserve and other central banks continue their efforts to raise rates enough to fight inflation without triggering a major recession. Through January 2023, the Consumer Price Index declined from over 9% in mid-2022 to less than 6.5%. More recent data have shown a slowing of the rate of decrease, however, along with better numbers on employment. This reduces fears of recession, but also raises the possibility that the Fed will continue, and possibly even quicken, its pace of interest rate increases. In testimony to Congress on March 7, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that “the latest economic data have come in stronger than expected, which suggests that the ultimate level of interest rates is likely to be higher than previously anticipated.”

Rates Rise Together

It’s important to note that when the Fed raises short-term rates, and longer-term rates determined by the broader bond market increase, it affects what you pay but also what you earn. As most of you probably know, 30-year fixed rate mortgages have risen to 7% and the prime rate, which determines the pricing on many adjustable rate loans, is up to 7.75%. For clients with “Pledged Asset Lines,” lines of credit secured by the value of your brokerage account, you’ve become aware that SOFR, the Secured Overnight Financing Rate, has increased to about 4.7%.

What you might not be as aware of is that the rates you’re being paid have adjusted upwards as well. Short-term Treasury bonds now pay 5% or more, and short-term bond funds yield almost 4.75%. High-yield bonds and bond funds are earning between 6-7%. Even very short-term investments such as purchased money market funds are paying 4.5-4.75%.

So the earning rates remain below the paying rates, but they are at least in the same ballpark.

What It Means for You

This is still a period of significant uncertainty. Depending on employment and other economic data, the Fed might keep raising interest rates for some time, perhaps another year. If that happens, there may be a recession and stock and bond prices will likely decline, although you will be earning more income from interest and dividend payments (remember, interest rates and bond prices move in opposite directions). At some point, though, inflation indicators will decline further, which should lead to recoveries in the stock and bond markets.

So as we suggested last month, we don’t recommend making any short-term portfolio adjustments for clients with long-term investment horizons. For clients with shorter investment timeframes, the wisdom of potential changes depends on your current exposure to the various parts of the stock and bond markets. In either case, we encourage you to check in with your PPA advisor if you’d like to discuss the implications for your specific situation.

Read “Markets Stumble in February” in the Piedmont Exedra.

Songs About Money: “Money Music”

Tom Levinson Life with Money

If you were making a mixtape or playlist of your favorite songs about money, what would make the cut?

Visiting with a few of our clients this week offered a nice opportunity to turn on the radio. And with the radio on, we could revisit that ongoing question.

On one of our recent Park Piedmont weekly team Zooms, we spent the better part of an hour discussing songs about money, getting input from our whole team. Our initial songlist runs the gamut from standards of the American Songbook to Hip-Hop, Disco to Rock, Country to Folk.

Take a look at our list and then let us know: what are we missing? What songs would you add to our “Money Music” playlist?
man listening to songs about money

  • For the Love of Money – The O’Jays
  • Money, Money, Money – Abba
  • Money Can’t Buy It – Annie Lennox
  • Too Much – Drake
  • 9 To 5 – Dolly Parton
  • Money Trees – Kendrick Lamar
  • If I Were a Rich Man – Fiddler on the Roof
  • Money – Pink Floyd
  • Money (That’s What I Want) – Barrett Strong, later covered by The Beatles
  • Supply & Demand – Amos Lee
  • Get Rich Quick – Little Richard
  • Money Don’t Matter 2 Night – Prince & the New Power Generation
  • Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) – Pet Shop Boys
  • Money Changes Everything – Cyndi Lauper
  • Mo Money Mo Problems – The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Puff Daddy and Mase
  • I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ – Porgy and Bess
  • She Works Hard For the Money – Donna Summer
  • Subterranean Homesick Blues – Bob Dylan
  • You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones
  • $ave Dat Money – Lil Dicky

Financial Wisdom from a Retired Catcher

Nick Levinson Life with Money

This edition of Life with Money is going to involve a lot of baseball talk. This may thrill you or bore you, but I promise that after the history lesson and personal reflections, there will be some relevance to personal finance.

Baseball and Mitt

Baseball has been an important part of the Levinson family for many years. Vic was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan who converted to the Yankees when the Bums moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s. He coached me and Tom in little league in Tenafly, New Jersey, and Riverdale, the Bronx. I also helped coach a few of Tom’s little league teams before he moved on to pitch for the Horace Mann Lions in high school.

We were staunch Yankee fans growing up, suffering through the Horace Clark/Fred Stanley era before George Steinbrenner (love him or hate him) brought us the late 70s teams of Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, and Catfish Hunter. We struggled some more with Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly in the 80s and early 90s, before being blessed with the four-time champions led by Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams. Despite all of the money lavished on players since then, there’s only been one championship in the last two decades.

For me, fandom turned closer to home. I had the great pleasure of coaching Nate (going on 25) and his two brothers, Owen (almost 22) and Ben (turning 20 this Sunday!) from the ages of about six through 13. We got to share the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and I’m sure I learned more from them about being a parent and coach than they learned from me about baseball. With better coaching leading up to and in high school, they all went on to play for the Piedmont (CA) Highlanders. Nate moved on to catch at Macalester College, Owen is currently an infielder for Case Western Reserve, and Ben is pitching, also at Macalester. Julie and I have been extremely fortunate to see most of their high school games and many of their college games, and we look forward to the four seasons remaining for Owen and Ben.

Baseball is loved (and hated by some) for its slow pace and time for contemplation, and in this spirit we read with interest a recent New York Times article about retired major leaguer John Jaso. Jaso was not a star but a solid catcher/first baseman for four teams in his nine-year career. He caught a perfect game (no hits, walks, or errors allowed) and hit for the cycle (single, double, triple, and home run in the same game). But the most interesting thing about Jaso from our perspective is that he walked away early from a lucrative career to spend his retirement (at least so far) sailing.

Jaso retired at the end of the 2017 season and hasn’t looked back. “Sometimes I’ll just be out on the boat bobbing in the water, not sailing or even fishing, and I’ll think to myself: ‘There’s nowhere else on the planet I’d rather be than right here. It’s been the perfect fit for who I am.’”

He enjoyed playing professional baseball, but not everything about it. “Baseball set me up for life. I love it, and I respect it. But it was part of this culture of consumerism and overconsumption that began to weigh really heavily on me. Even when I retired, people said, ‘You might be walking away from millions of dollars!’ But I’d already made millions of dollars. Why do we always have to have more, more, more?”

Jaso craved a less complicated, less materialistic life. “I want my life to be simple, and it doesn’t get simpler than being on a sailboat. You treat the boat right, and she treats you right. That’s all there is to it.” He added that “when you’re sailing, you’re going back to something primitive. You’re removing yourself from the material world – this concrete, electronic world. And you’re returning to this sense of wonder. It’s the same sense you get when you’re holding a newborn baby, looking into their eyes, and feeling the world disappear around you.”

In addition to his poetic sentiments, we think Jaso has hit upon a few important concepts related to financial advice and the way we provide it to PPA clients:


Jaso was of course fortunate to earn almost $20 million dollars in his playing career, but at the age of 34 he realized that he didn’t need more for the sake of having more. He focused on what made him happiest and has avoided other materialistic pursuits. This is a concept we often discuss with PPA clients. At some point (and this is of course different for everyone), you have enough money to live the rest of your life, and in many cases to provide for children and grandchildren as well. Once you’ve reached that level, you can afford to take less risk in the markets, focusing instead on capital preservation and income generation. If you’re still working, you can pursue a volunteer or non-profit opportunity if that’s important to you. Helping clients figure out what’s enough for them is a vital part of what we do at PPA.


This is related to the concept of enough. At some point, having more possessions and commitments can become a burden rather than a joy, as Jaso’s experience demonstrates. In many cases, pursuing and having fewer things can make the time you spend on them more precious. There’s nothing inherently wrong, of course, with complexity, but we encourage clients to focus on what’s really important to you.


Jaso got his sailboat, but since then he’s been sailing and enjoying other experiences. He and his girlfriend sailed for three months in the Caribbean in 2022. He’s also “taken several trips to Europe, discovering a passion for exploring his father’s ancestral land in the Basque Country of Northern Spain. And he has driven a camper van around Australia and Indonesia.” These might not be your preferences, of course, but the key is to figure out what you really like to do, and do it as much as possible. If you can bring family and friends along to share in the experiences, even better. We advocate for clients setting aside funds to travel, pursue hobbies, and get involved in the local community. As we’ve written before, numerous studies have shown that you’re more likely to treasure the memories from a great experience than merely having another possession.

If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to bring up any of these ideas the next time we’re discussing your personal situation. And we’ll let you know how Case Western and Macalester do this season.

Read “Financial Wisdom from a Retired Catcher” in the Piedmont Exedra.

Being a Patient

Tom Levinson Life with Money

To help relieve chronic hip pain, I had an epidural yesterday.

If you aren’t familiar, an epidural is an injection of medication – often and in my case, a steroid – into the area around your spinal nerves to relieve pain in some part of your body.

I’d had one before – it wasn’t a life highlight. I recalled some pain during the procedure, and a short span of pain relief after. But a second epidural had been recommended by a doctor, and I figured it made sense to try again, as a complement to other physical fitness stuff like daily stretching and pick-up basketball I do regularly.
I arrived at the pain clinic, answered some routine questions, and switched into a gown and padded socks. A doctor came in, and I asked for a few ibuprofen, if they had any, since I hadn’t taken any at home. The doctor, young, probably not too far out of med school, told me they don’t hand out medicine. They weren’t a pharmacy. It was funny, sort of – I already felt apologetic for asking a “dumb” question, for not knowing an unwritten, unspoken rule of the clinic.

The doctor walked me into the operating room. Bright white light. A half-dozen people quietly playing their roles. I was shown a bed, told to lie front-down, face in a pillow, mask on. And from there, the two doctors – one a senior physician, the other the trainee – performed the procedure.

My experience was … well, let’s just say, I won’t be signing up for my third epidural anytime soon!

But I’m sharing a bit about the process surrounding the procedure because I noticed some important parallels between being a health care patient and being a financial advising client.

As a patient, and frequently I think as a client too, you are inherently vulnerable. You need help. You’re putting yourself in someone else’s hands. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you might be wary of asking “dumb” questions, or too many questions, or not the right questions. You’re reliant on the practitioner’s skill, their attention to detail, their prudent decision-making. And even with a routine procedure, the outcome is uncertain. In a health care setting, with sick people and doctors and nurses in scrubs and masks all around you, one’s mortality comes to mind. This can all feel scary!

My own sense of vulnerability yesterday was exacerbated by the doctors’ dialogue. They muttered quietly behind me. It was mostly technical. There was very little context-setting.

I was hoping for a roadmap, some ongoing guidance – “in a few seconds you’re gonna feel a pinch, then something on your right side” or “we’re about halfway done” – and bracing myself, a sense of when the pain of the injection might be at its worst.

Instead, I felt isolated in my thoughts and agitation.

Undoubtedly, for many clients in the world of wealth management, I could imagine the process feeling similarly challenging and intimidating. Ours is an industry populated by practitioners who so often use technical jargon where everyday language would suffice. There’s often a huge knowledge imbalance between advisors and clients. Not to mention more structural imbalances of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and language gaps. All of these can feel dis-empowering and nerve-wracking for patients and clients alike, and make someone want to run for the door.

My experience in a hospital gown and face mask and padded socks hit me with a jolt of empathy.

As experienced practitioners in the course of our routine day-to-day, physicians and advisors alike are always at risk of losing this crucial sense of connection with the client (or patient).

It’s our job to always be present with and for our clients, wherever they are in their life’s journey. For some, the language of investments and financial decision-making is like a native tongue. But for others, many others, it can be a sweaty-palms roller coaster ride, where the ride operator is speaking Latin!

At Park Piedmont, we’ll always work hard to stay focused on the human experience of being an investment/financial advisory client – wherever that lands for you, our clients. And if you ever feel like we’re not quite getting it, we welcome your feedback. It will help us, and we hope in the process, help you, as well.

Read “Being a Patient” in the Piedmont Exedra.

Markets Continue Tentative Recovery

Nick Levinson Comments, Life with Money

Stock and bond markets worldwide continued to recover from the declines of 2022.

Bonds (as measured by the Vanguard Total Bond Market index fund) dropped more than 13% for the full year, but rose 3% in the fourth quarter of 2022 and almost 2% in January.
US stocks (as measured by the Vanguard Total US Stock Market index fund) fell more than 19% in 2022, but gained almost 7% in the fourth quarter of 2022 and another 7.1% in January.

International stocks exhibited a similar pattern: Developed country shares (as measured by the Vanguard Developed Country Stock index fund) declined more than 15% last year, but rose almost 9% in the fourth quarter of 2022 and another 17% in January. Emerging markets stocks (as measured by the Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock index fund) declined almost 18% in 2022, but gained almost 8% in the fourth quarter of 2022 and another 8% in January.

The eternal question is whether these gains will hold and possibly even continue. Only time will tell, of course, but we do want to note several ongoing areas of economic uncertainty.

Significant issues remain

The recent stock and bond market gains appear to have resulted largely from reduced inflation around the world. The Consumer Price Index declined from over 9% in mid-2022 to 6% in January, caused at least in part by interest rate increases from the US Federal Reserve. These increases have raised the cost of borrowing for businesses and consumers and slowed the pace of hiring along with real estate prices and other key economic indicators.

“Price increases are beginning to cool notably, and Fed officials have slowed their rate increases as they wait to see how their cumulative changes are affecting the economy after a year of rapid adjustment.” Investors are “now waiting for clarity on how high officials will push borrowing costs, and how long they will leave them elevated, to ensure that inflation comes back fully under control” (The New York Times).

While a strong US jobs report in January reduced some concerns of recession, it also re-ignited fears of ongoing inflation. “Employers hired ravenously in January, adding 517,000 workers. The jobless rate dipped to a level not seen since 1969, and revisions to last year’s data showed that job growth was even stronger in 2021 and 2022 than previously understood.”

Other labor market data further complicated the outlook. “Still, the gradual rebound in the number of people working or looking for work, and the fact that pay gains have been easing as the jobless rate has plummeted, could make some Fed officials question whether they need to slow down the job market as drastically as they had expected. It is possible that a rebounding supply of workers could help fill open positions, allowing the economy to reach a more even keel in which wages gently cool without major job losses.” This would be the proverbial “soft landing” that investors hope for, but more data appears necessary to confirm the trend.

Debt ceiling jitters

Another major cause of the current unsettled environment is the possibility of a default on US debt. This is the “debt ceiling” issue, which stems from the fact that Federal spending authorized by Congress needs to be funded by some borrowing, since tax revenues cover only about 80% of total expenses. The current maximum debt is $31.4 trillion, a limit that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says was breached in January. She appears to have flexibility to continue payments through spring 2023, but without an agreement to raise the debt ceiling before then, the US might not be able to pay bond holders and Social Security recipients, among others.

Unfortunately, we’ve been here before. “The last close call, in 2011 when … Joe Biden was Vice President, was resolved with only days to spare, spooking stock markets and leading one bond rating agency to downgrade the federal government’s credit” (The Economist). More recently, “when Donald Trump was President, the debt ceiling was increased three times with Republican support, and the national debt rose by $8 trillion over his term ($3.2 trillion of which came before Covid-induced spending began in 2020).” Now, with divided government back in Washington, the two sides appear to have reached an impasse. President Biden argues that the debt ceiling must be raised without conditions to pay for previously-approved spending, while House Republicans are demanding unspecified spending cuts in return for support in lifting the ceiling.

Given this deadlock and the economic chaos default might cause, economists and policy makers have been searching for potential workarounds. The Economist article cited above mentions three possibilities:

“One … suggestion is to mint a $1 trillion … coin and deposit it at the Federal Reserve. The Fed would then credit the Treasury’s account, thereby allowing it to go about its business unconstrained by the debt ceiling” (and, we would note, incurring less interest expense).

“A second suggestion … would be for the Treasury to issue ultra-high-interest bonds. Because only the face value of bonds counts toward the debt limit, the Treasury could, in theory, sell … one-year bonds with an interest rate of 105% for twice their face value (since the prevailing market rate is closer to 5%).” That would allow the Treasury to raise twice as much funding as the addition to the national debt.

The third option involves the Treasury borrowing more “in defiance of the debt ceiling … based on a usually ignored provision of the 14th Amendment that American public debt shall not be questioned.”

All three of these possibilities appear to have significant practical and legal difficulties, however.

Park Piedmont acknowledges that the brinksmanship over the debt ceiling might rise to new levels in 2023. We believe that the promise to honor US obligations to taxpayers and bondholders will be upheld, as it has in the past. And even if there is a default, it would likely be remedied quickly once policy makers see the negative results in the economy and financial system.

So we don’t recommend making any short-term portfolio adjustments for clients with long-term investment horizons. For clients with shorter investment timeframes, the wisdom of potential changes would depend on your current exposure to the various parts of the stock and bond markets. In either case, we encourage you to check in with your PPA advisor if you’d like to discuss the implications for your specific situation.

Introducing Our New Book: Thinking About Investing

Tom Levinson Life with Money

Thinking About Investing by Park Piedmont Advisors

We are excited and gratified to share the launch of our first Park Piedmont Advisors book. It’s called Thinking About Investing: Two Decades of Reflective Commentary on Markets and Money, and we would be delighted to send you a copy (or copies), either electronically or in hard copy. Our treat. Just let us know what you prefer.

• • •

When we first started to contemplate this project, back in the fall of 2019, we intended it as a capstone present to celebrate the 80th birthday, in October 2020, of our dad and business partner, Vic Levinson.

In that initial vision for the book, we imagined assembling the many Monthly Comments Vic had written over the prior two decades into something bound and memorable. It would be a surprise. Something to put on a shelf. Maybe a coffee table.

Alas, book projects have a life of their own.

Certainly, there was a logic to compiling this archive and handing it off to Vic, a singular gift at a life milestone.
Thinking About Investing by Park Piedmont Advisors
But the more we dug into this older material, the more we felt that, while written initially for a modest audience of clients, family, and friends, it had a wider resonance. Because at the core of all this writing was a thorny question, one that Vic, a clear-eyed pragmatist, wrestled with for decades: how can people survive – and hopefully thrive – in an uncertain world?

At one level, this sounds like the trailer to a sci-fi movie.

But, at another, it’s the drumbeat of all our lives, and of our work at Park Piedmont.

That to us is the bigger story to share. The world is uncertain. The future, unknowable. Risk abounds. But we can still make intelligent, thoughtful choices – informed by our goals, our priorities, and our values. Not hiding from risk – but not being polyanna-ish about it, either.

• • •

Back in 2020, we envisioned the book as a surprise gift – until we realized, what a waste, Vic is right here, a phone call away, and why not benefit from his guidance on what to cut and what to keep. So Vic jumped in to lend a hand.

The book really was a family affair. We enlisted Jane, our mom, Vic’s wife of 50+ years, boasting a voracious appetite for reading, to review the manuscript. Her layperson’s point of view was crucial. Nick’s wife, Julie, was an early contributor, reviewing the Comments and sorting essay topics by theme. Tom wrestled with structure and storyline. Nick and Nate reviewed and revised. We had terrific ongoing support from our Director of Marketing and Education, Corenna Roozeboom, and eventually, from Corenna’s husband, Schuyler Roozeboom, who designed the cover and pages.

• • •

We were still working on a final draft when Vic died last May 28.

We think of the final product as a fitting tribute, an acknowledgement of all his hard work and open-minded curiosity. And, last but not least, as a token of our gratitude. We hope you enjoy it.

• • •

While we can share copies with you – again, either hard copy or electronic format – Thinking About Investing: Two Decades of Reflective Commentary on Markets and Money is also available for purchase on Amazon. All profits from the sale of the book will be donated toward organizations teaching financial literacy and empowerment in Oakland and Chicago.

What It Means & What It Takes to Become a Certified Financial Planner

Nate Levinson Life with Money

Although Park Piedmont focuses primarily on providing investment advice, our advisors also assist clients with broader financial planning work. Financial planning is the process of evaluating a client’s financial situation and developing a roadmap to help them meet their short- and long-term financial goals.

The CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation is one recognition of expertise in financial planning. A number of our Park Piedmont team members hold this certification, and I am currently working toward becoming a CFP professional as well. We thought it might be interesting for you to get a look “under the hood” of the CFP certification process, while I’m going through it.

There are four requirements for attaining a CFP certification, which are known as “the four E’s”: education, exam, experience, and ethics.

The education component involves taking several courses that each cover a specific area of financial planning. The topics covered in the coursework include investing, retirement planning, estate planning, insurance, income taxation, behavioral finance, and more. Depending on the educational program, each course usually takes about two to four months to complete and is followed by a test that must be passed to move on to the next course in the sequence.
Certified Financial Planner
Once the education piece is completed, the candidate begins studying for the official CFP exam, which integrates knowledge from each of the educational courses. The exam consists of 170 questions and is taken in two three-hour segments.

Next, the CFP Board requires that candidates have 6,000 hours, or approximately three years, of experience engaging in some form of financial planning work. This can include one or multiple aspects of putting together a financial plan, from gathering client information to identifying their needs and goals to implementing plan recommendations.

Finally, the ethics requirement involves signing a declaration, attesting that a candidate will adhere to the CFP Board’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct. These documents specify CFP professionals’ duties to their clients, employers, etc. and outline what it means to act ethically in the context of financial planning. A primary emphasis of the Code of Ethics is that CFP professionals have a fiduciary duty to their clients, which involves acting in the client’s best interest, avoiding conflicts of interest, and maintaining client confidentiality. We at Park Piedmont have served our clients in a fiduciary capacity since our founding – so the expectations for CFP professionals are closely aligned with our own. Due to all the requirements and steps in the CFP certification process, it typically takes about three years to become certified, assuming the experience piece is completed concurrently with the education component.

Between the required months of studying, years of practicing and applying knowledge, and stringent ethical standards, the CFP certification process prepares advisors to craft plans that are individually tailored to a client’s needs and goals. Our colleague Sam Ngooi, who spent two years studying for the CFP exam during evenings and on weekends, and received her CFP certification last summer, told me:
Certified Financial Planner
“Having knowledge in each of the CFP subject areas enables me to put together the various puzzle pieces of a person’s financial life and help them develop a plan that is holistic and comprehensive. And because clients entrust us with details about their lives and their money, CFP Board’s stringent ethics and education requirements are also important for building trust and providing clients with peace of mind. Not everyone in the financial service space is required to put a clients’ best interest before their own, and it’s meaningful to be able to say that we do.”

Personally, I decided to begin the CFP certification process because I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the financial services industry, but I felt I lacked much of the knowledge I would need to be successful. I had majored in Economics in college, but the classes I took focused on theoretical principles and models, as opposed to real life applications and personal finance. My classes certainly did not touch on anything related to investing, a topic I was particularly interested in learning about. Straight out of college, I worked at an insurance company for about two years, so that was the only financial planning topic I felt I had a strong grasp of going into the CFP certification coursework.

I started the education component of the CFP certification in January of 2022 and am currently almost done with the final course. I went into the process with the most excitement about the investment and retirement planning courses. I believed that these would not only be the most interesting topics, but also the most practical for my role at PPA, and in many ways that has been true. And although I wasn’t as excited for the courses on estate planning and income taxation, I found those to include some of the most engaging material. For example, during the income tax course, I realized that income tax is at the core of what PPA does, and a person cannot advise on any investment or retirement matters without a deep understanding of how the US income tax system operates. I also found the section on behavioral finance, or the study of investors’ psychological biases, to be particularly fascinating because it presented a more “human” side of financial advising that I had not previously encountered.

Overall, I have found the CFP certification process to be vital in my day-to-day work at Park Piedmont. It has provided me with a range of very specific financial planning knowledge, like how to calculate a client’s required savings rate to meet a specific goal and the tax implications of selling various investments, as well as more general financial topics, like the tools of monetary and fiscal policy and the factors that impact one’s credit score. I plan to take the exam in July of this year, and I have about one year of experience to go before I can become officially certified.

CFP certification is a significant time commitment and has taken up many of my weeknights and weekends since the start of 2022. But I have learned more in that time than I ever thought I would. Even after I complete the CFP certification process, I plan to continue learning about investing and behavioral finance, along with many of the other topics the CFP certification has covered.

In Defense of Real Things

Corenna Roozeboom Life with Money

Moving to a new home when we were 38 weeks pregnant wasn’t ideal, I’ll give you that.

But then our moving truck’s engine spontaneously caught on fire and exploded. Nearly everything we owned — packed Tetris-style onto that truck — was gone. We hadn’t planned for that.
real things
It was a full 24 hours before my husband pulled out a chair and asked me to take a seat to deliver the news. The plan had been to move out of our condo and into a new one a few days later, and we were staying with family in the interim.

I remember him starting with something along the lines of, “The important thing is that everyone is safe. We’re safe, our baby is safe …” My heart raced. What happened?!

I let out a loud, maniacal cackle immediately after he told me we were essentially possession-less. What’s that sound? I wondered. Oh! That’s coming from me. The laughter became more unhinged with each passing moment. “You can’t make this stuff up,” I gasped as tears of laughter streamed down my face.

Equally surprised by my reaction as I was, he took a slow exhale, shook his head, and laughed. “No,” he agreed. “You can’t.” I continued to laugh uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop. And then, suddenly my laughter turned into sobs.

• • •

“It’s just stuff,” we kept telling ourselves over and over through our tears that night. “It’s just stuff.”

Over the coming weeks, months, and now almost years, I found myself mourning that stuff. The bench from our front entryway. Our salt and pepper shakers. A framed greeting card. Some place card holders. A large collection of gardening books.

I also found myself feeling guilty for experiencing so much grief over … stuff. To be sure, some things I didn’t miss at all. But it’s remarkable how much I still do.

Take the bench. We bought it at an antique shop on our honeymoon. It had felt like an extravagant purchase, but it also felt like the perfect way to begin making our new home together. So we splurged and never regretted it.

The salt and pepper shakers were a gift from my brother and sister-in-law, who bought them as souvenirs for us in Switzerland. I thought of them every time I used the shakers. The greeting card came from a beloved team of coworkers my last day on the job. The place card holders were left over from our wedding, handmade by my husband and father-in-law. The gardening books represented a nostalgic time in my mid-20s when I was going to save the world, one garden at a time.

Our home was not large — just one bedroom, the reason we were moving in the first place. But despite its size — or rather, maybe because of its size — it was filled with stuff we loved. Anything that made the cut had purpose or meaning or both.

• • •

As a teenager, I was an expert eye-roller, and my parents — bless them — were usually the undeserving recipients. For years I found my dad’s aversion to anything that could be perceived as “fancy” to be particularly exasperating. But as he still maintains today, he doesn’t like anything too “bourgeois.” (Cue the eye roll.)

Yet my dad also deeply appreciates what he calls “Real Things.” A Real Thing has meaning and value outside of itself, for any number of reasons. Maybe it was made by hand, maybe it was a gift; maybe it was longed for, maybe it was a happy surprise; maybe it holds a memory, maybe it serves as a symbol. Undoubtedly it tells a story, and quite likely it connects us to others. A home filled with Real Things is a home filled with love.
the value of real things
While my dad’s collection of Real Things may look different from mine or yours, I stopped rolling my eyes at those words when I moved out of my parents’ house. When I had a home of my own, I finally understood.

• • •

As we’ve written before, studies show that people are in a better mood when they reflect on experiences they’ve purchased, rather than on stuff. Likewise, gift recipients are more likely to value an experience or activity over material objects.

This is because, as James Hamblin writes in “Buy Experiences, Not Things,” “experiential purchases are … more associated with identity, connection, and social behavior.”

Yet, as described in a recent piece in The New York Times, much of the stuff we surround ourselves with is valued “for its connection to another person, a place, a time in our lives, a meaningful affiliation.”

In other words, Real Things.

In her Atlantic article “For the Love of Stuff,” Julie Beck shares a quote from Dr. Russell Belk: “It seems an inescapable fact of modern life that we learn, define, and remind ourselves of who we are by our possessions.”

And she writes: “The loss of possessions, ones deeply associated with the self, can cause real grief … If your house was burning, and you had no time to save your favorite things, you might feel like you’d lost part of yourself.”

• • •

Wow. That last line certainly hit home.

Mindlessly accumulating stuff for stuff’s sake won’t bring happiness or contentment. And yet, the stuff we surround ourselves with, those things that tell the story of our lives — the people we love, the memories we cling to, the beliefs we hold dear — those are Real Things. And surely there’s value in that.

2022 Year-End Market Update

Nick Levinson Comments, Life with Money

Happy new year! While the past year had some good news (see Economist article, “What 2022 Meant for the World”), we hope 2023 brings some relief for the financial markets.

As you probably already know, 2022 ended with stocks and bonds down significantly, despite gains in the fourth quarter.

The US, developed, and developing international stock markets all declined between 15% and 19% for the year, with the US off the most of the three broad stock categories (figures are for Vanguard’s Total US Stock Market index fund, Developed Markets index fund, and Emerging Markets index fund). The declines were tempered by fourth quarter increases of 7-8% for the US and developing international, while developed international rose a stunning 17% for the quarter. These declines followed three years of strong returns for global stock markets, with the US rising 31% in 2019, 21% in 2020, and 25% in 2021.

Bond prices declined even more than stocks relative to their typical performance, with high credit bonds down 13% and high-yield bonds down 9% for the year (figures are for Vanguard’s Total US Bond index fund and High-Yield Corporate Bond fund).

As Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig put it in mid-2022:

“For most of the four decades since 1981, interest rates have been falling and bond prices rising, creating a tailwind of capital gains for fixed-income investors. You not only earned interest on your bonds but pocketed extra profit as they went up in value.

“Over some long periods, such as the 20 years ending in March 2020, bonds earned even higher returns than stocks, without any of their bloodcurdling losses.

“Those glory years are gone …

“According to Edward McQuarrie, an emeritus professor of business at Santa Clara University who studies asset returns over the centuries, … the broad bond market has performed worse so far in 2022 than in any complete year since 1792 except one. That was all the way back in 1842, when a deep depression approached rock-bottom.”

But here too, the declines leveled off in the fourth quarter, when high credit bonds rose almost 2% and high-yield close to 5%. The full-year declines similarly followed strong returns for the bond markets in 2019 and 2020, with US high credit rising 9% and 8%, respectively. (Bond prices declined almost 2% in 2021 as inflation started to rise.)

The stock and bond price declines stem largely from global interest rate increases in 2022, designed to tamp down persistent inflation around the world. The US Federal Reserve raised the short-term rate it controls from 0% at the start of the year to almost 4.5% at the end. These interest rate increases have started to moderate inflation, which peaked above 9% in June and declined to 7% in December. The inflation reductions, and the Fed’s lower rate increase in December (0.5%) than earlier in the year (four 0.75% rate hikes), appear to have played a significant role in the stock and bond market gains in the fourth quarter, which have continued into the beginning of 2023.

The big questions for the markets going forward are whether inflation will remain high, and if so, how aggressively central banks around the world will continue to raise rates in response. Large rate increases could lead to global recession and further stock and bond price declines. Smaller increases could produce a “soft landing” that would raise market prices with a minor recession or none at all. Other important factors include a possible resurgence of Covid, ongoing war in Ukraine, international tensions with China, and economic policy gridlock in the US.

Despite the declines and on-going uncertainty, PPA continues to advise sticking with asset allocations appropriate for your specific situation. As Zweig noted about 2022 in a more recent column:

“Risk-return relationships aren’t always normal, though—and that’s exactly the point.

“Stocks normally go up—but not always. Bonds normally are safer—but not always. Nothing in financial markets is constant or permanent.

“We could already be in a radical new era of rising interest rates and raging inflation. The more sensible assumption, though, is that a once-in-a-blue-moon bad year for bonds doesn’t invalidate decades of data showing that, on average, they can effectively diversify the risks of stocks.”

New York Times columnist Jeff Sommer made a similar point in his Dec. 16, 2022, column:

“Because the stock market tends to rise over long periods, and because bonds are now generating reasonable income (as I explained last week), it’s wise to invest for a long-term horizon in low-cost index funds that track the entire stock and bond markets.

“Don’t base your investments on specific predictions of where the stock market is heading over the short term, because nobody knows. Making bets on the basis of these forecasts is gambling, not investing.”

We will continue to monitor economic conditions and consult with you about your specific situation and investment opportunities. As always, please feel free to check in with your PPA advisor with questions and comments.