Nearly 16 million people moved during COVID, according to the US Postal Service, and home sales in 2020 hit a high not seen in 14 years, according to the National Association of Realtors. Of course many of us are also quite happy staying put — but there’s a good chance we’re making some improvements to our space. The majority of homeowners — 76% — say they’ve carried out at least one home improvement project since the start of the pandemic, according to Porch.com.
With HerMoney’s founder and CEO Jean Chatzky in the midst of a move + home renovations, everyone on the HerMoney team has been weighing in with our advice on things like paint colors, kitchen tiling and bathroom fixtures. (Jean, we can’t wait to see your beautiful space!) We decided it was time to do a show on the topic of decoration and design, and how we can all make our spaces feel more like home on a budget. Because even if you’re not in the throes of a big move or a redesign, you’ve likely found yourself wanting to do a little freshening up — something to make your space feel more like you, or something that can make your home appeal to a prospective buyer. The truth is, we are always fiddling with and tweaking and re-zhushing our spaces — but how do we know where to start? Or how much to spend? Or what’s really going to have the biggest impact for us, aesthetically?
To help us answer all those questions about home decor on a budget and more we sat down with James Farmer, interior designer, entertainer and bestselling author of nine books, internationally known for his ability to create a true sense of home. Born and raised in Georgia, James has proudly built his business — James Farmer Designs — in his hometown of Perry, Georgia. His most recent book, Arriving Home, features design projects from the farmlands of Georgia to the rolling countryside of Connecticut.
Listen in as James tells Jean his favorite ways to improve the look and feel of a home, from gardening and “bringing the outdoors indoors” to throw pillows and entertaining. He also discusses the “harmony” of a home, tying in fabrics, furnishing and accessories in order to create balance.
“I think what we’re learning is that the investment of home is worth it, as opposed to ‘Well, I’m just going to grab this for something cheap, it will get me by for right now because I’m traveling every weekend, and I don’t enjoy it.’” James says. “We have actually put a value on the meaning of home, and I think that’s important to focus on.”
We also talk about home design budgeting and hiring an interior designer — How much should your budget really be, and how do you factor in the cost of the “unknowns”? (James was NOT expecting the cost of having to re-route the gas lines when he put in his new pool.) Also, when do you really need a designer, and how much will they cost?
We also dive into the biggest impact things that people can start working on today if they want to refresh their spaces — and what to tackle first if you’ve got a limited time, a limited budget, or both. Many of us may be looking to make a few changes and sell our homes in the next few months — we don’t want to spend a lot of money, but we do want to create the kind of space that is going to make people want to bid for our home. James weighs in.
In Mailbag, we tackle a question from a listener who is worried that she won’t have enough to fund retirement for herself and her disabled husband if they buy the second home of their dreams. We also hear from a woman who is moving and is trying to figure out the best place to “borrow” a down payment from her accounts. Then, in Thrive, how to identify your financial weakness — and overcome it.
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James Farmer: (00:01)
I think that what we’re learning is that the investment of home is worth it as opposed to, well, I’m just gonna grab this for something cheap. It’ll get me by for right now because I’m traveling every weekend and I don’t enjoy it. We have actually put a value on the meaning of home. And I think that’s important to focus on.
Jean Chatzky: (00:20)
HerMoney is supported by Fidelity Investments. You work too hard for your money to let it sit on the sidelines. Fidelity can show you how to demand more from your money every day. Visit Fidelity.com/HerMoney to learn more.
Jean Chatzky: (00:40)
Hey everyone, I’m Jean Chatzky. Thank you so much for joining me on HerMoney. These days, I expect that many of you are tuning into our show from the comfort of your own home. I know when I’m listening to podcasts now, I’m usually in my living room. Maybe I’m in my kitchen where I have spent far more time than I ever expected this year. But as many of our regular listeners know, I am also planning a move. I sold my house in New York in one day, by the way. And my husband and I are in the long process of renovating a new place in Philadelphia. And we will be heading south in just a few months. And we are not the only ones, nearly 16 million people moved during Coronavirus. According to the most recent data that we have from the US Postal Service. Home sales in 2020 hit a high, not seen in 14 years.
Jean Chatzky: (01:40)
And even those of us who are staying put are choosing to make some changes, some improvements. About three quarters of homeowners say they’ve carried out at least one home improvement project since the start of the pandemic. Personally, I got to say, my head is swimming with this stuff. And so I have been dying to do a show on the topic of decorating, design, trying to stay on budget if you’re renovating, which, oh my God is such a challenge. And I have a wonderful guest to do that with me today. James Farmer is with me and I’m sure so many of you know him and are fans of his. James is an interior designer. He’s an entertainer. He is the bestselling author of nine books, and he is known worldwide for his ability to create a true sense of home. He was born in Georgia, raised in Georgia and has built his business, which is called James Farmer Designs in his hometown of Perry, Georgia. His most recent book “Arriving Home” features design projects from the farmlands of Georgia to the rolling countryside of Connecticut, which is a little closer to where I am right now. James, hey, thanks so much for being here!
James Farmer: (03:02)
Jean. Thank you. Hello. I appreciate you thinking of me and having me on your podcast.
Jean Chatzky: (03:08)
Yeah. And as you reminded me, we actually met at The Today Show many years back when your first book was coming out, seems like your business has come such a long way since then. Tell us a little bit about your world and what you do every day.
James Farmer: (03:24)
Well, thank you. I love getting to meet you and seeing our friends there at Studio 1A. My business is what I like to say. It’s the business of home. There’s a dwelling structure, that’s a house and a house has a roof and walls and windows and doors, but home tugs at the heartstrings and home engages the senses. And so just the difference between the two words is what I hope differentiates me between the other aspects of business. So when someone purchases, whether it’s wallpaper or furniture or lighting from me and from my company, it’s thoughtful, it’s collected, it’s intentional with the scene and the stage that we’re setting for, how people live, not in that house, in their home.
Jean Chatzky: (04:12)
Can we focus on that word collected for a minute? One of the things that I’ve been struggling with a bit as we go through this process of moving from a, you know, a not so big house, but a house to an apartment is this pairing down of things that I’ve collected through the years, figuring out what to keep, figuring out what to toss. How do you edit.
James Farmer: (04:41)
Editing honestly, is a challenge for me because I graciously call myself a collector. Some people may say I’m a hoarder, but the idea of collecting is I collect collections. So I become emotionally attached to things which I’m sure you’re experiencing during this move. So the best advice that I can give someone when it comes to editing is you need a fresh eye. You need someone whose judgment that you trust. So if it’s your friend who you say, does this shirt look okay on me or, you know, whoever is your conscience. And that sense that you’d ask them advice, just say, okay, I have this and this, someone may look at it and say, James, that’s ugly. And you may have not have ever thought of it that way. Or maybe you do have too many of this one thing. So editing to me is very crucial, but it’s so nice to have that backup of a friend or a family member that says, okay, really do you need this many X, Y, and Z? And it kind of gives you that conscientious reinforcement that, you know what I can let go of this or that. And that gives you that catalyst to pursue the next, um, the next layer and level of the project.
Jean Chatzky: (05:48)
Sometimes that person is an interior designer. I mean, those of us who like me watch a lot of HGTV or Great American Country or flea, I mean, I’m, I’m obsessed with, with all of these shows these days, which gives you a little bit of insight into my brain and where it is, but how do we know if we can do things ourselves or if we need the help of a professional.
James Farmer: (06:15)
The question that I often ask clients, as they say, they feel silly when they say, I can’t believe I cannot make up my mind of what color to paint my living room. And I asked them, do you prepare your own taxes? Do you do your own plumbing? You know, are you going to rewire these electrical plan? We are a service. And so there are services that some people just cannot do on their own or choose not to do on their own. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So if I can help you eliminate the guilt and say, look, there’s no, there’s no need to feel guilty about not being able to decide what color between dune white and linen white. And let me, let me give you an educated reason why this color, when you use it with white marble or this color, if you’re using it with more of a cream stone, let me tell you why and pay me for my time. Just like you would a psychiatrist or a counselor. Um, there’s so much with design that comes down to it’s psychiatry and the science of it’s helping you make that decision. And I always just go back to it and say, look, don’t worry about, you know, I have a job and this is my job to do is to help you live in your home. So I love that opportunity. And, um, if I can get rid of the guilt and then move on from there. So taxes, plumbing, most people don’t do their own.
Jean Chatzky: (07:34)
You could have just substituted financial planner or financial advisor in that sentence. And what I like about the way that a lot of designers are working these days is the same thing that I like about the way that financial planners are working these days. If you want to hire somebody for a couple of hours to vet the decisions that you’ve already made, you can do that. And if you want to hire somebody for an entire project or to manage your investments for you, you can do that. It seems like the whole business has gotten a lot more democratic. Am I right?
James Farmer: (08:11)
I think your nail on the head spot on, um, the business of design for so long, I think, um, was designers undercut themselves by not charging for their time and for their labor. So if let’s say that I came to your house and I can’t just sit there and say, well, Jean, you know, wouldn’t this chair look better there. I’m going to physically move the chair I have to get in there and work. And then next thing you know, I’ve spent an hour there. Well, that hour could have also been organizing my design library. It could have been answering phone calls and emails that hour has a monetary value. And so I think that as designers realize that their time is worth something, I look at it the same thing with my attorney or my accountant bills me, you know, at that 15 minutes in those increments.
James Farmer: (08:58)
And so when we were able to take that into consideration for our, um, for our business, it really turned a corner for us because we put a value, not just a monetary, but an actual we treasure our time. And I think that that’s been a huge, um, influence, not only my business, but I see it in the design world in 15 minutes, you know, you can hire a designer for an eConsult and those dollars you spend maybe an investment that was the threshold for you to cross, you know, that watermark to say, okay, I do want to paint it this color, or no, I don’t want to renovate. And that may have saved you or cost you dollars, but it is an investment nonetheless. And this time period is a great time for that, especially with all the eConsults and even on Instagram, just seeing, you know, this or that compared, I’m really excited to see this day and age, especially how technology and e-commerce can work.
Jean Chatzky: (09:54)
And then how does it, while we’re talking about the pricing structure, how does it typically work when you buy stuff? So I’m working with a designer for my new place and I pay him by the hour. Um, and he is worth every penny. And then when I buy stuff, he gets a discount and he just passes that along. Is that typical?
James Farmer: (10:12)
Um, it’s very typical. Most designers, you know, have this wonderful opportunity to have a source and, and a cost and a discount for us. It comes down to the psychology of it all in typical retail world. You know, the MSRP is cost plus or doubled whatever wholesale was. But for us, the psychology of it is this. It’s not so much that I found it at this deal and I’m passing the deal to you. It’s also, well, this would have cost, you know, $1 at a store, but because you were my contracted client, you pay me for my time. I can sell it to you for 75 cents and the psychology of why, I would have had to pay for retail at $1. But my designer got it for me at this price. It is amazing what that does because rather than cost plus, we look at it like a retail minus, and that has been a huge game changer because when you see the price of pillows and window treatments, and then the labor to construct all that, anything that’s taken off at that, from that bottom line, it’s just a nice, psychological little, little hit. So we, we like to say retail minus versus cost plus, but that’s
Jean Chatzky: (11:19)
How I think about it. Like when I got the price of four, we just went around this new apartment and did window treatments, you know, shades because you live in a city, you need, you need shades. You need to be able to pull the shades down at night. And it’s expensive to do a whole place at once, but I saw the price and then I saw the price minus 30%, which was the retail minus that my designer got. And I thought, oh, well, that just paid for X number of hours of his time. Right? I mean, that was incredible math. Okay. While we’re talking about money, let’s talk about budgets for these sort of projects. When you start a project for your home, whether it’s a big one or a small one, do you need to start with a budget? And how do you come up with that number?
James Farmer: (12:06)
So the budget is we often call it the piñata of the project because it’s what gets beaten more than anything. And, and so for some people, a budget really is, um, it’s more of a psychological, it’s like a psychological imaginary friend of sorts. Like, I know it’s there. And I have this in my mind and I don’t, and it’s a comfort level. I don’t want to spend more than X, Y, or Z. So what we do is often like just yesterday, we were meeting with some clients with some new clients and they had no idea what an accurate budget would be because they’re not designers. They don’t know how much it costs. So it’s up to us to set the budget and to say, well, to do your house top to bottom, all the nuts and bolts down to the sheets and the monogram towels is going to cost this dollar.
James Farmer: (12:55)
They can then say, well, you know what? I can spend 90 cents, guess what? That’s our budget. And so we’ve been able to put together, um, you know, a working budget in that sense. So often for us, it’s the client who doesn’t have a budget and it’s not because the client didn’t have a budget because they are so wealthy and money is no object to them. It’s because they’re not in the business and they don’t know how to put it together. So it’s up to us to do our job within our field to say, well, we see what you want. We see your expectations. And in order to achieve that expectation, we would rather say, it’s going to cost $1 to get here, as opposed to, well, this week here’s a 10 cent bill next week, a quarter next week’s 50 cent. And the next thing you know, you’ve spent $2, but we could put some time on the backend, use our experience and use our contacts and be able to say, all right, it’s going to cost $1. And often for us, it’s, we’re the one setting, setting the budget and the client like a menu at a restaurant can then say, well, I want to order the whole menu, or we just want to appetizers in the salad and
Jean Chatzky: (13:57)
What causes the budget to explode
James Farmer: (14:01)
The unknowns, the unknowns, and also the, the commodity. So I’ll use a personal example right now. I’m putting a pool in, at Farmdale at my house. And, you know, seven years ago when the gas line was run the idea for the pool and displaced it wasn’t there, but I’m having to move a gas line, which I was never thinking would have to be done whenever I put in a pool because seven years ago, I wasn’t thinking about putting in a pool. You know, it’s just, uh, so now I have to get someone to move that. So when, when the pool company gave me the price, I understand that surprise for the pool, but there are unknowns that come into play. So if you tear down a wall, if let’s say it’s an old house, and it may be a plaster wall, they may have bricked behind that wall, as opposed to wooden studs, that becomes much more of, of a process.
James Farmer: (14:48)
There’s more labor involved. So the unknowns really come into, but honestly, one of the biggest things that’s the budget breaker is that we work in a commodity field. So if I say, well, I want to use this Belgium linen for your window treatments. And it cost $1 a yard. Well, what if the flax that the has grown in Belgium to make the linen? What if there’s a drought? And what if there’s not enough? Or what if there’s a higher demand? And that $1 a yard becomes a dollar and 10 per yard. We’re working with commodities, wood, brick, stone, and these things are movable things, copper wire for your air conditioning, who knew that the copper wire to keep you warm and cold could influence. So it’s those unknowns of what you may dig up or unearth. But also to remember, you are working with commodities that are traded. I mean, lumber is a commodity on the stock market and of companies that own these. And you know, there’s a fire in California or a drought in the south or whatever it is, it can influence your living room.
Jean Chatzky: (15:49)
I love how everything in your world costs a dollar.
James Farmer: (15:52)
Yes. Well, because I’m not great at math. I’m fantastic with geometry Jean, but don’t ask me to go over a dollar, but I can do a dollar and I can work from there.
Jean Chatzky: (16:03)
We’re going to get down to some projects that can make a big impact in people’s living scenarios right now during COVID some splurges, some steals. But before we do that, let me remind everyone that HerMoney is proudly sponsored by Fidelity Investments. It is no secret that women are on a different financial journey than men. So it’s important to plan for those differences when thinking about retirement, social security, investing, and so much more, the Fidelity can help. They’re taking steps to help women demand more from their money, because you’ve worked way too hard to get where you are to keep your money on the sidelines, get the skills and the investment advice that you need to put it to work for you, visit Fidelity.com/HerMoney to learn more. I am talking with James Farmer, interior designer and author of “Arriving Home”. So one of the things I’ve noticed James, during the pandemic is that people’s priorities have really shifted in terms of what they want.
Jean Chatzky: (17:09)
We want some walls now, maybe not so many wide open spaces, things like home offices, that for years you would read these surveys, or at least I would read these surveys of things that added value to homes, but things that would maybe take away and home offices were always kind of on the bubble. Not everybody would be willing to pay for them in that next house, but now it seems like we all want them. So when we’re looking at projects that we might be able to take on in our homes, what are the, the ones on your list of the things that are a good investment?
James Farmer: (17:45)
Well, I think this is a, a brilliant question to, to about, because that investment is such a way to look at it rather than saying this refrigerator costs so much. No, this refrigerator is an investment. If your family’s home, guess what is used more than almost anything the refrigerator. So think about investment more so as that as a positive influx of money and energy into your home, as opposed to, oh, it costs so much. So what I’m seeing that right now with our clients is this in particularly for 2020, when we weren’t able to travel that money was then being funneled into your home. And so those projects of, well, you know, one day we’re going to finish out the terrace level or maybe we’ll renovate the master bathroom, whatever it is, those projects now became, you know, front of the line. And so what we have found is that the investment that people are making is that their home truly is that return to their calling card.
James Farmer: (18:46)
Is there comfort. It’s there a place where they return each and every day from maybe one room to the next, as opposed to the rat race of a commute and traffic, and, you know, your commute may be from the living room to the kitchen and to the, to the bedroom. So I think that what we’re learning is that the investment of home is worth it as opposed to, well, I’m just gonna grab this for something cheap. It’ll get me by for right now because I’m traveling every weekend. And I don’t, I don’t enjoy it. We have actually put a value on the meaning of home. And I think that’s important to focus on.
Jean Chatzky: (19:22)
I think you’re, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, I took this, this strange quiz years ago, it was called a life values quiz, um, that sociologist wrote. And it was meant to tell you where you would be happiest spending your money. And most people who take this quiz learn that they’re happiest spending their money on experiences. I learned that I am a throw pillow person. I learned that I’m, I’m happy as when I just like build a fluffy nest and have time hanging out in my house. Cause that’s what makes me happy. And I view my house as an experience I experienced living there. A lot of people are on limited budgets though these days. So what would you say are on your, your top three to five things where we can make a difference in our homes without spending a ton of money? Is it paint? Is it pillows? And what are the things that, that make a difference?
James Farmer: (20:19)
The first thing that makes the biggest difference, whether you’re own an unlimited budget or a very tight budget is before you feather your nest, clean it up first. And what I, what I love to recommend is this is often people say, I don’t have room for this, this and that. Well, you may not have room because you have too much of one thing. And so that, um, editing that we were talking about earlier, even before editing is going through, and, you know, before you go out and buy those new clothes, maybe you get rid of the ones that you haven’t worn beforehand. Same thing with the, with the pillows. If you can clean your nest before you feather it, it gives you a little bit of a better perspective to think, okay, you know what, maybe I do have room for this, or that’s not as needed now because that negative space of something that’s, you know, a clean corner or a clean part of your closet or clean part of your living room, negative space can be positive.
James Farmer: (21:12)
And so we like to tell our clients that there’s an inventory that needs to be done. And often we do this as a service is we take an inventory of what you have and you say, well, I want a couple more throw pillows and I may have to say, Jean I, you to throw pillows. Sure. They would look nice, but you’ve got six on this chair over here. And so it goes back to that perspective of all right here, let let’s clean our nest before we feather it. The other thing that I like to do is I always have to talk about the power of paint and paint often is thrown out as, oh, this is a cheap, inexpensive way to freshen up your house. It’s not painting is expensive, just a gallon of paint, cost a lot, let alone the service to do that.
James Farmer: (21:52)
So before you get into that investment, really what I like to recommend is start small, paint your door, let’s say, and let’s say, it’s just your front door, your side door, an entry. Start with there because that may give you the pass or fail for, I don’t want to paint the rest of this house because what happens is some people start painting their living room and they realize they do not like painting, or it leads to a marital spat. So we always say that we were a psychiatrist and marriage counselors, um, and designers, you know, come, come second. So, but paint is one of those things that I do think it has an amazing power, but let’s, let’s talk about what is it trying to achieve, because if you really do need to add square footage to your house, painting is not going to do that.
James Farmer: (22:34)
So think about where the power of that penny is going to go. And in that sense, you know, start small with paint like your door. The other thing that I like to recommend, and this is more, the economical budget side of things is to bring the seasons inside. So it may not be achievable to knock down a wall and buy new furniture or whatever it is. But with fresh flowers, with new firms on the porch, or even it’s just a nice bowl of fruit on the counter in the kitchen, there is so much to be said for the aesthetic of the seasons and bringing them in. And that’s something that you can do with instant gratification. So you can go to the grocery store and buy a bunch of tulips, buy a few green apples and put them together. And that gives you that spark of creativity and even could be cooking a great meal and setting the table is scratches those creative itches, but it’s not okay,
James Farmer: (23:29)
Well, I’ve just torn down the backside of the house to add on. So I really like to encourage people to be aware of what they’re getting into before you’re so far, the horse is so far out of the bar that you can’t reign them back in. So you clean your nest before you feather it, you know, look at the power of paint, but start small with it and bring the seasons inside. You know, a few branches in a beautiful vase can really enliven a room and so can, you know, fruit and flowers or setting the table. So as someone who likes instant gratification, I like a little dinner party or something like that, that scratches, all those creative itches allows me to cook, allows me to arrange flowers, allows me to set a table. And then that may be all I need.
Jean Chatzky: (24:10)
I love that advice. And I also love the advice about starting slow. When you paint, I’m living with gray walls, that tinge slightly purple and I have been for the past, I don’t know, five years because I decided to paint my house on the inside. And I did test the paint, but I don’t think I tested it in all of the light. Cause it definitely goes purple and I did not expect that. And so I’m being very, very careful with the new place as we figure out what colors to put on the walls to make sure we we’ve got samples up everywhere. And we’re looking at these different shades of what are essentially white and off-white, but in all sorts of lights, we’re actually leaning toward a color called Athena by Benjamin Moore. Have you ever used Athena?
James Farmer: (25:00)
Um, I have not used Athena, but I’ve seen it used and it’s a beautiful color. And you know, y’all are in Philadelphia, which the light and the seasons affect differently. So I have a different cache of whites that I like to use depending on, you know, cause the Southern light is such a whole different, it’s a whole different look. But one of my favorite stories I’ll tell you about this is we were working with a cabinet maker and he was looking at our finished schedule and he saw that it was going to be, you know, Benjamin Moore, Linen White as the cabinet color. And so he needed to tint the base accordingly and he said, are these cabinets, they’re going to be just white, not white, white. And I loved hearing that because there’s, you know, there’s a gray, white, there’s a purple gray, you know, there’s a blue, why that goes to creamy. So you are really smart to live with and try out a color because what color is is it’s chemistry and science, you know, and then how it affects our psychology. So painting is a big deal.
Jean Chatzky: (25:59)
I could talk to you all day long, but I think that I want to wrap this up by just asking what’s your one, go to decorating tip for somebody. Who’s just feeling like their home. Isn’t enough of a home.
James Farmer: (26:17)
Well, for me, it’s about the layers. And so you will hear some designers who say, you know, edit out all the pictures, have the clean surfaces. Honestly, for me, if you want your house to be your home, it has to be very personal. Put that picture of you and your grandmother by your bedside table. Have those moments of, you know what? I love this rug, but maybe it was, it wasn’t big enough. So I put a sisall rug underneath and the rug becomes more of an accent. If you collect blue and white China, you know, display it. If you love silver, use your silver. So I think the south really has a great hallmark on using these familial and collected pieces. But the best advice I just continue to tell people is to be unapologetic, don’t say, oh, I’m sorry that I like lavender. Use lavender, use it and you know, express yourself to be personal and personable and unapologetic because that’s what we remember is we may not remember if your house was Athena by Benjamin Moore. We’ll remember. Well, Jean was so warm and lovely and I just, I loved the way that she engaged and brought me into the home and welcomed to me, my grandmother, who was probably the biggest influence in my life, always told me that we feed people, body and soul when they’re at our tables, I’m sure no one would remember what the wallpaper looked like in my grandmother’s dining room, but they remember her. So be confident, be unapologetic. And that to me is what makes that transition from a house to a home
Jean Chatzky: (27:47)
James Farmer. You are wonderful. Thank you so much for this conversation. Where can our listeners find more of you?
James Farmer: (27:55)
Well, um, Instagram is a great place @jamestfarmer and @jamesfarmerinc. And then our website jamesfarmerdesigns.com, Where if you like to order a signed copy of my book, all titles are available at jamesfarmer.com and we hope to see you there and Instagram.
Jean Chatzky: (28:12)
Thank you so much. And we’ll be right back with Kathryn and your mailbag. HerMoney’s Katherine Tuggle is with me now, Kathryn, thank you so much for the introduction to James, the reintroduction to James, I should say that was so much fun.
Kathryn Tuggle: (28:34)
I love his designs. I love his aesthetic. I am a Southern girl, as you know, and I just really love how he incorporates all the elements that he just discussed with you to make a home feel really, truly homey. I feel like you go into so many homes these days and it feels like a show home. It feels staged. I’m always like where are the little teacups and boxes that you collected on your vacations and all the personal effects. And I love that he encourages people to incorporate the heart and soul of yourself into your home.
Jean Chatzky: (29:10)
Yeah, no, I needed that actually. I mean, I’ve been spending a lot of time, no surprise on the website Haus, which is very helpful in terms of finding resources and ideas and getting into a conversation with people about, do you like this treatment or you like that treatment? It’s organized based on style. It’s organized based on: This is traditional. This is modern. This is contemporary. This is transitional. And it’s very sort of specific. And when I walk my house now, well, you know, it’s, I think it’s pretty transitional, but there are these elements that are definitely traditional and there’s some contemporary stuff and there’s some stuff that’s antique. And you know, that I’ve picked up at different flea markets and from my mother and just all over the place. And what that conversation with him did for me was pull me back from the edge a little bit and, and just allow me to know that it’s all okay.
Jean Chatzky: (30:10)
I’ve been struggling with this door that I bought years ago for $75 at like a junk shop. It’s a big, big door. And it is painted on one side with a folk art painting of an angel. And it says, “Angels Gather Here” and it’s painted on the other side with this big old snowman. And it says, “Let It Snow.” And it was the very first thing that I bought for this house. When I moved into it, I just saw it. And I was like, I’m going to hang that door on a wall. And it’s in a wall. It’s been on a wall in my loft upstairs. Does it really go in my new place? You know, no, not really with everything else we’re doing, but I don’t want to let it go either. And after that conversation with him, I’m not going to let it go. I’m going to just find a place for it. Cause it makes me happy.
Kathryn Tuggle: (31:07)
I think that’s what it comes down to. Right? If it makes you happy. And, and so many of the conversations that I hear about money, particularly when you’re advising people about money, it’s like you put your money into what makes you happy. And I think it has to be that way with design to a certain extent, you have to surround yourself with the things that bring you joy.
Jean Chatzky: (31:29)
Yeah. I like paintings with words. That’s one of the things that I know about myself. I just, I like art that has words anyway. Let’s help some other people.
Kathryn Tuggle: (31:39)
Yeah. Our first question today comes to us from Bernadette. She writes “Hi Jean and Kathryn, thank you for all you do in the personal finance space. I discovered your podcast by accident back in 2017. And I’ve been hooked since that time. I often share podcasts with my friends, family, and especially my daughter and her friends. You and your entire staff provide so many insights to enable women and men to make sound data-driven financial decisions. I also visit your website and read the articles and use your budget spreadsheet. I recently found a financial planner who is a fiduciary, who I connected with by following your guidelines.”
Jean Chatzky: (32:18)
Wow. Well thank you for that. That, I mean, that’s just, I know she’s got a question, but all of that is so great. So thank you.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:28)
I know, we love to hear that. Thank you. “My husband became legally blind in 2012. That event changed our entire retirement plan. Since then, I’ve been scared that I won’t have the health insurance and money for us until our death. My husband had his head in the sand and trust. I will do everything in our best interests. I tell them that that’s not good. We’ve been telling women not to do that, but it is what it is. I must drag him to listen to our financial planner each year. I’m in a dilemma which may be all in my head and I haven’t found much information on the subject. I’m 59 and I’ll turn 60 in late October. My financial planner contacted me and recommended that we have another meeting prior to may. When I turned 59 and a half, my company allows for people to roll over your 401(k) and put the money in another location.
Kathryn Tuggle: (33:14)
My current balance is around $1,063,000. I can continue to contribute and still receive a company match of 6%. I contribute 15% of my salary, which enables me to reach the $26,000 max, all the money that is post-tax would roll over into a Roth IRA. I currently have there. The other would roll over into an IRA, which I get more flexibility with an investment types. The amount of my investment would provide additional benefits. I have a pension fund that’s valued at $275,000 that would remain. And I would continue to receive credits in order to understand my actual benefits, I would need to request a meeting, but my plan is to take it as a monthly payment, not one lump sum. I like the idea of having some stream of monthly income. I plan to work until age 67. At this point, I’m not concerned with having my employer ask me to leave.
Kathryn Tuggle: (34:11)
We have $80,000 in my husband’s IRA and my IRA and we fund my husband’s IRA to the max each year. I contribute what I can to the Roth, given income limitations, question number one, is there any downside to moving my 401(k) to my IRA when I turned 59 and a half? Question number two, we had always wanted to purchase a second home for retirement and we set aside $150,000 for it, but we’re going to need $200,000 to buy the home we want. My financial planner says she has an 89% confidence level that we’ll have enough money to last until the end of our lives. If we spend the $200,000, I understand it’s an arbitrary number, but do you think that’s too risky? Some additional information? I think you’ll need, we have around $80,000 in checking and savings. The mortgage on our primary home is $154,000 at 3.375% at 15 years. The original loan was $194,000, started in 2017. We’ve been paying aggressively to be mortgage-free at retirement refinancing doesn’t seem reasonable given that we’re already paying ahead. I have stock options and restricted stock options with a combined value of $92,000, which as you know, can change. Thank you so much for all that you do”
Jean Chatzky: (35:34)
Again, Bernadette, thank you so much for writing and thank you for continuing to drag your husband with you to the financial advisor every year. I know it’s tough and you could have given up on taking him with you and just gone with yourself. But the fact that you continue to push him to go with you is a really good thing. If God forbid something were to happen to you, he needs to have all of this information. And so I appreciate that you’re continuing to do that. Let me see if I can get my arms around your questions here. Um, the second one is an easier one for me about the second house I would go for it. And the reason that I would go for it without worry is that although a home is not the most liquid of assets, you could sell it. If you ever need the money and you decide that you’re not using the house as much as you wanted to or one case or the other, you could just sell it and then you could get the cash back and you could add that cash back to your retirement portfolio and use it for whatever you need.
Jean Chatzky: (36:40)
So I would go ahead and I would purchase the house and I would enjoy yourselves as much as you can. As far as the moving your 401(k) to an IRA, the downside doing it potentially is cost. And it’s unclear to me, what would be the cost of managing those assets in your IRA? If your financial advisor is charging you a percentage of assets under management, you’re potentially looking at a, at a big cost each year. And so I want you to, to wrap your hands around that and evaluate that against the benefit of having those additional investment options, it may not be worth doing until you’re ready to leave your job entirely. At which time a 401(k) rollover often makes the most sense. So if the costs are equal, then no, I don’t really see a downside to doing it other than perhaps a little bit of administrative hassle.
Jean Chatzky: (37:49)
Um, when we have accounts in lots of different places, sometimes it’s harder to get a sense of the full picture. But make sure you have a real understanding of what it’s actually going to cost you in dollar terms to leave the accounts where they are versus to move them. And then I think you’re good to go ahead and look at, I know it’s clear to you, but it’s clear to me that you guys are in really good shape and that you are thoughtful about this and that your savings rate is really good. So I think you’re on a very, very good trajectory and you’ve got your head in a great place and I’m wishing you all good things in the next part of your life.
Kathryn Tuggle: (38:32)
Absolutely. And I think that you’re exactly right. The savings rate is on track and hearing her talk about the concerns with buying a slightly more expensive house made me think of our episode, “Die With Zero” and how you just have to go for it. You just have to enjoy the money that you have saved. So I get the fear, but you also have to plan to enjoy the money that you’ve worked so hard for. Our next question comes to us from Suzanne. She writes, “Hi Jean and Kathryn, I enjoy listening and learning from your show every week. Thank you for what you do. My husband and I have just decided to move. And we’re trying to figure out the best place to borrow our down payment from our accounts. We have a house to sell, but would prefer to leisurely find our perfect house before putting ours on the market. This means that the equity we have in our current house, we would use to replenish our accounts after the sale. This is the reason why I’m saying borrow from our accounts. My question is where’s the best place to take the money from. We have some in a savings account to use, but not enough. We could use funds from a brokerage account, but what are the tax ramifications of that? Could we borrow from our 401(k) short term? From our Roths? Thank you in advance for your advice.”
Jean Chatzky: (39:49)
So, absolutely. I’m reading this question and I’m thinking, this is exactly the position that, uh, that my husband and I were in when we started strategizing for our move to Philadelphia, we, we found an apartment. We bought the apartment, but we were in no position to put our current home on the market. We knew, um, we had a big renovation ahead of us. It was going to be at least a year and your situation is similar. Um, I understand, even if you, even if you’re not undergoing a big renovation, the houses in many parts of the country are moving so quickly. These days that you could find yourself, having to move faster than you wanted and being able to buy yourself a little bit of time is a very, very nice luxury. So a couple of places that I would consider looking for this money, the tax ramifications of using funds from a brokerage account have to do with the gains that you have on your stocks or other investments.
Jean Chatzky: (41:00)
If you have to sell them, then you’ve got a taxable event and that may not be something that you want to do, particularly if these are things in your portfolio that you would rather hold onto one way to access the money from your brokerage account is to use a margin loan. Essentially you’re borrowing against the value of your portfolio. And because this is a short time situation, that might be something that is worth looking particularly because interest rates right now are so low, the deal is you’re borrowing against your portfolio at the value of it when you take the margin loan. And if the value of those securities drops, you may have to pay back the loan or a portion of the loan sooner than you want. But because this is such a short term time horizon, you may be okay in that way. I would not borrow from your 401(k) short-term necessarily.
Jean Chatzky: (42:07)
I probably wouldn’t borrow from your 401(k). I mean, it is an okay short-term option and you are paying the taxes back to yourself, but the money out of your 401(k) is not there to grow. If the market continues to go on a tear and that can be expensive. The one thing I was wondering is what about a home equity loan? I mean, you’re, you’re actually looking at home equity debt. It’s relatively inexpensive at this point. And when you sell the home, then you would repay both the second mortgage, the home equity loan, and have the proceeds in order to use, to pay down the cost of the next place that you’re going to live. So those would be the two things that I would put on my list and good luck with your search for the next resting place. The next place that you are going to, uh, to build a home that you love.
Kathryn Tuggle: (43:08)
I had not heard of a margin loan, or if I had heard of a margin loan, I wasn’t sure how it could be used. So thank you for that advice.
Jean Chatzky: (43:15)
Of course, of course. I mean, that’s basically what we did when we were looking to buy the place in Philadelphia and we’ve, it’s been such a longer period of time, this renovation than we thought it was going to be, that we’ve repaid a lot of it, but it turned out to be a good loan to take interest rates actually fell during the period that we’ve had it. So it hasn’t ended up costing us as much as we thought it would. But I do understand her trepidation of the thought of just putting your house on the market and it’s selling like lightning and you having to make a quick decision about the next place that you’re going to go is really daunting and just would make me incredibly anxious. So I, I totally get it.
Kathryn Tuggle: (44:00)
For sure. Thank you so much, Jean, for the great advice.
Jean Chatzky: (44:02)
Thank you, Kathryn. And again, thanks for James. I really had a good time. In today’s Thrive, how do identify your financial weakness and overcome it? Yep. We all have weaknesses. They are uniquely ours. What may seem really easy for your best friend or your sister can be stressful or confusing for you, but as with any other part of our lives that needs improvement. The only way to turn these downfalls into strengths is to tackle them head on. So whether you’re struggling with over spending a fear of investing, or just simply taking control of your day to day finances, we put together a look at how to overcome our money related fears and get to a better place. We broke down seven of them this week at HerMoney.com. But here’s a look at just a few of my favorites. Number one, social media and the comparison trap.
Jean Chatzky: (44:58)
Social media can be one of our most meaningful sources of community and connection, especially over the last year. But in other ways, it’s created an unreasonable expectation for our homes, relationships, and eventually when we get back to them, our travel plans. When we pay attention to what everyone is doing, we may be tempted to buy more than we can afford, which can turn into a major financial weakness. Fight this trap by giving yourself space to think critically about your purchases before you make them. Because when you do, especially when you give yourself that 24 hour window of time, the luster of that bright, shiny object may just wear off. Number two, putting yourself last. Particularly if you are a business owner, a partner or a parent, you may be feeling stretched in so many directions that you’ve lost count. Busy schedules and demands can leave us feeling exhausted.
Jean Chatzky: (46:00)
And at times broke. And this is why paying ourselves first is a way to protect ourselves from giving too much to others. While we remain last on the list before paying any bills, buying a new item or doing anything else, set aside some money for yourself, this can mean just $5 to $10 a month in a micro investing platform or toward that girl’s trip you already know is going to happen this summer when everyone is vaccinated. Whatever it is, make sure you do one thing each month for your future self. And finally putting off saving for retirement. You have heard all the stats here before women live longer than men. The gender wage gap means we’ve got to do more with less. So if you haven’t set up a means of consistently putting money away yet for that period of retirement down the road, it is time to dig in your heels and make it a priority.
Jean Chatzky: (46:57)
Build your retirement savings into your budget, automate your savings so that it is taken out every single paycheck before other monthly expenses start to enroll your bank account. And if your employer offers up 401(k) take advantage of the easy enrollment and the pretax savings. Nudging yourself up until you’re putting away a good 15% of whatever it is you earn, including matching dollars. Every single year, we all have to start somewhere and we hope you’ll start today. And if you feel like you need a little bit more accountability to get yourself started, check out my FinanceFixx coaching course, you’ll find it at HerMoney.com. We’ve got a banner at the top that can take you to a place where you’ll get more information, but these are small group classes with one-on-one coaching and the accountability of a like-minded group of people who are working on the same things you are.
Jean Chatzky: (48:00)
Getting control of your money, moving it out of a chaotic environment so that you can better accomplish your goals, whatever they happen to be. Thank you so much for joining me today on HerMoney. Thanks to James Farmer for coming on to make us all feel very much at home. If you’d like what you hear, please subscribe to our show at Apple Podcasts. Leave us a review. We love hearing what you think we want to thank our sponsor Fidelity. We record this podcast out of CDM Sound Studios. Our music is provided by VideoHelper and our show comes to you through Megaphone. Thank you so much for joining us and we’ll talk soon.