Rethinking Retirement

It is no secret that the investment landscape has changed significantly over the last few years. We are witnessing a sea change to many of the traditional investing principals of years past. The financial markets are more dependent than ever on the coordinated actions of policymakers around the world. No longer can we totally rely on fundamental company and economic analysis to make investment decisions. These can still be valuable, but pale in comparison to the role governments around the world are taking in trying to get the policy decisions correct. In this environment, economic growth and investment returns are expected to be below their long term averages for the foreseeable future. With all this going on, now is an important time to rethink your retirement plans.

Many consumers planned on their home values being a significant contributor to their retirement. This is not going to happen for most. The combined effect of lower housing values, investment declines, longer life expectancies and the prospect of low returns going forward make this a real game changer when it comes to retirement. Most consumers are going to have to work longer, save more…a lot more, and be more realistic about their spending and rates of withdrawal during retirement.

Working a few more years can have a tremendous impact on your long term retirement success. Every extra year you work is one less year you have to support yourself in retirement and one more year of additional savings toward retirement, a powerful double whammy. If the rates of return on our retirement savings are going to be below average then we simply will need to save more. Consider a simple example; assuming you could earn a static 6% annual rate of return you would need to save $1,021 per month for 30 years to accumulate $1 million in a tax-deferred account, like an IRA or 401(k). A 20-year period would require you to save $2,195. Better get going!

So let’s assume you accumulate a $1 million. Great! That’s a lot of money. But how much income will that reasonably provide someone during a 25-30 year retirement? Less than most think. The general consensus among financial advisors is that retirees should plan on a portfolio withdrawal rate of 4% to 5%. This is the percentage of the portfolio’s value that is withdrawn in the first year of retirement. The amount is also assumed to be increased each year for inflation. So, if you have $1,000,000 saved you can reasonably expect to have that account support a draw of $40,000 to $50,000 per year plus inflation for a 25 to 30 year retirement period. Doesn’t seem like much does it? We all need to rethink retirement!

Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk. He is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP® and should not be construed as investment advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Not all recommendations are suitable for all investors. Each investor must consider their own goals, time horizon and risk tolerance. Your comments are welcome. Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or

Not-So-Candid Camera

It was 1:00 a.m. when the alarm to her business woke her up. She thought it was another false alarm, so she didn’t want to notify the police for fear of incurring a false alarm fee. But it was a burglar, who broke the glass to the front door, trashed the place and got away with only about $50 in cash. The business owner, an acquaintance of mine, is now installing a motion-activated camera system. Now, she will have the proof she needs before contacting police.

We have tried to make the point in this column that you are responsible for your own safety and security measures, for your family and for your business. An alarm system does not offer much protection. By the time a security guard or police arrive, it will likely be too late to protect anyone.

So what’s the best approach for security? Hint. It’s akin to dressing for cold weather. Answer: Layers.

Our previous column discussed “human intelligence,” and how seeing something with your own eyes or verifying facts with your own eyes yields the most reliable information. However, it might be too expensive to have trained security personnel for your home or business. A good camera system, perhaps one with remote viewing, adds an extra layer of security. And, whether it’s for home or for business, a camera system is a fixed cost.

Law enforcement has made excellent use of video technology. It seems the video surveillance systems just keep getting better and cheaper. As a society we seem to be growing more accepting of cameras in public. The applicable legal standard for cameras is the old “reasonable expectation of privacy.” If you are in your living room, you have the expectation of privacy  At the grocery store, bowling alley or driving in a public place, you don’t have the reasonable expectation of privacy.

One local case highlighted the benefit of surveillance cameras in public places. Over the summer police charged a woman with the killing of nursing student Michelle Le. The charges were brought, in part, because of surveillance footage of the suspect at a Kaiser Permanente Medical Center parking garage. Footage showed the suspect in the parking structure before and after Le disappeared.

Police around the world are turning to cameras in hopes of reducing crime. Police can’t be everywhere at once. While cameras seem to be effective in fighting crime, how the cameras are deployed and how they are monitored are the key components. If criminals perceive the cameras are not being monitored, they are not going to change their behavior.

To recap, any single means of security or investigation might have its flaws. To rely solely on one database for doing a background check is not thorough enough, nor is hoping that an alarm system will protect you from all intruders. Rotate methods. Experiment and see what systems work best for protecting your family, your business and your assets.

I Do (or Not?)

For people who are living together and building families, getting married is not always automatic. Some couples, for various legal reasons, can’t get married. Some people choose not to get married. I’d like to address some of the legal ramifications of the impact of getting married versus not getting married.

As same gender couples can testify, there are some significant legal benefits that married couples have. For example, a widowed spouse, as well as a divorced spouse of marriages lasting 10 years or more, can receive a higher Social Security payment during retirement, based on the Social Security payment due to the higher earning spouse.

Married couples can file a joint Federal Tax Return, which may be either an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the relative income levels of the couple. In many cases, a spouse is entitled to an ongoing portion of a pension should the pensioner pass away. With regard to health insurance benefits, some companies allow the designation of a domestic partner, but many do not. This means that company health insurance benefits may not be available to a partner when the couple is not married. In this day of the high cost of medical insurance, this can be a very significant cost. If hospitalized, a partner often does not get the respect that a spouse would get when receiving information or making decisions regarding medical care, particularly if there is a not a written Power of Attorney.

According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are 1,138 statutory rights gained by a couple who gets married. Marriage also means that spouses have legal responsibilities for each other. Some couples choose not to marry deliberately for economic reasons, such as the loss of a pension by a widow or widower. If one partner has significant liabilities or chronic illness, they may not wish to impose potential liabilities on the other. In our complex society, we may marry for love, but are subject to the law, for better or for worse.

Things of Beauty – A Wish List for the Holidays

The Holidays are upon us once again and to keep up with all the excitement we have put together some of our favorite things. Here are some of our most popular products that women love.

What We Love:
Neulash: Eyelash Growth Stimulator Fleur Visage
Why You’ll Love It:
You can achieve the look of a fabulous flutter without the hassle of tacky adhesive or the embarrassment of a wayward false lash. Glide this protein and vitamin-enriched serum along the upper eyelid daily, and start to see fullness in just a few weeks. Clinical results have shown a 62% increase in longer, more natural-looking lashes. Plus, this conditioning treatment has none of the harsh side effects of similar prescription products. We also have Brow Growth gels available now.

What We Love:
Ultra Firming Eye Cream
Ongrien Advanced Skin Care
Why You’ll Love It:
With the hustle and bustle of the holidays and everyday life, getting a full night’s sleep, which is vital for healthy skin, can seem like a luxury. Apply this triple action eye cream around the eyes massaging nightly to decrease puffiness, minimize fine lines and to restore hydration for youthful looking eyes and you’ll look caught up on your Zs – even if you’re not.

What We Love:
Ultra Firming Night Cream Anti-Aging Ongrien Advanced Skin Care
Why You’ll Love It:
Quenching a Thirsty complexion takes a good dose of this nourishing treatment. Skin will soak up the healthy Nuero-Peptide based nutrients, which refines the skin and gives the complexion a toned appearance. This cream repairs sun damage and visibly reduces wrinkles. We love this fine anti-aging treatment, and you will too when you notice your skin is smoother and more beautiful than ever.

What We Love:
Anti-Aging Firming Neck Cream Ongrien Advanced Skin Care
Why You’ll Love It:
The neck is one of the first areas to show the signs of aging. The neck can look years older than you are. Slow the effects of time with this marine cell-enriched nightly formula, that will firm, lesson the formation of wrinkles, heal dryness, and reduce melanin spots.

What We Love:
Vitamin C&E Lip Treatment Fleur Visage
Why You’ll Love it:
All the requirements for a beautiful, moist, plump-looking pout, packed full of nutrients, including Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Restore the lips and help fight dry, chapped, cracking lips this winter with intense hydrating lip moisturizing perfecteur.

At The Rouge we only carry the finest products with the highest grade of ingredients on the market. Don’t know what you want for Christmas? Ask your man for beautiful skin and start glowing for the holidays. We have holiday gift certificates and wish list available. Come by anytime and talk to one of our professional skin care experts for the right skin care plan for you.

Everyday Style…Beyond the Fitting Room

Keeping warm this winter is easy…just cozy up on your sofa with a Snuggie and stay there ‘til spring! However, if leaving the house is part of your plan, then investing in a coat is something I strongly suggest. There are wonderful options to choose from when you’re braving the elements, and here are my favorites:

Photo 1

*Puffers (photo 1) have evolved from the all-over poof of volume that they once were. No more marshmallow man. Made with micro-fiber, silhouettes are slimmed dramatically, so that you will feel the warmth of a comforter without the bulk. Perfect for a quick trip to the snow, and packing is a snap—just roll it up in a ball squeezing out all the air, put it in one of those space saver bags, and you’re all set.

Photo 2

Modern style coats (photo 2) can stand alone as an outfit, especially when they come in a bold color like red, orange or green. A statement coat is great when you’re going to be outside, and your coat is essentially your outfit. Shopping in The City, I love a modern coat with a turtleneck sweater, skinny jeans or leggings, and a sleek, flat riding boot (photo 3). Insanely chic.

Photo 3

An evening coat is the answer for the dilemma every woman experiences when dressing for a holiday event. Instead of a barely-warm-enough pashmina, try a classic trench in velvet or satin. Look for details that are more feminine and less “trenchy,” like ruffles, a subtle print (photo 4), a standout color (like purple) or a touch of metallic. Don’t let me catch you wearing your daytime khaki coat. If that’s all you’ve got, stay home or be cold!

Photo 4

A tailored camel coat will never go out of style. This season, whatever style works for you will work: single and double-breasted styles, belted, and collar-less all give you a look of timeless elegance. Feeling a little more daring? Try a cape (with leather accents, perhaps?) or a knit poncho (photo 5). Since camel goes not only with black, but also brown, navy, charcoal grey and winter white, it’s always going to be one of the most versatile pieces in your wardrobe. A forever piece.

Photo 5

Faux fur is everywhere this winter, and no fauxs were killed in our effort to look good—just a little faux humor! Anyway, from vests to jackets or hats to handbags, fake fur is a major trend (photo 6). Be aware of the temperature (outside and your internal thermometer), as sometimes it’s like wearing a portable furnace on your back. A sheer peasant top under a vest may be a more comfortable option than a wool turtleneck—I’m just sayin’…

Certainly, there are more coats to choose from—leather motorcycle, anorak, shearling—too many to list. Select the style that will fit your body and your lifestyle best. Completing the look is a must, including a great hat (like a wool fedora or a plaid trapper), an infinity scarf (no bulky ties to deal with), and gloves (fingerless, if your phone has a touch pad). Now, lose that snuggie and enjoy!
If you have a style question for Carolyn, please email her at, and your question may be the subject of an upcoming Alive East Bay article.

Trivial Matters

Congrats to ALIVE for starting their 7th season. Keep up the good work. In keeping with this theme we submit the following:

  1. Who was the Oscar winning actor who played the killer in an unbilled part in “Seven?” (displayed as Se7en on the marquee)?
  2. The most famous starting line in the late 30’s (they played both offense and defense in those days) was the Fordham line of 1939. One of their players was Vince Lombardi. What were they called?
  3. Colossus of Rhodes and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are members of what famous group?
  4. “Seven, that’s the time we leave at seven” are lyrics from a Doris Day hit song. What is that song?
  5. When do baseball fans take a stretch during a game?
  6. What was the name of the misfit gunmen hired to save a Mexican town, led by Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen?

November Answers

  1. Anaheim, Azusa and Cucomonga
  2. Senator Claghorn
  3. Edgar Bergen
  4. Hudson High
  5. Cecil B. DeMille
  6. The Mystic Knights of the Sea

The first person to email or mail, no calls please, the correct answers to all of the above questions will win a $25 gift certificate at The Uptown Cafe in downtown Danville, compliments of Ben Fernandez!
Entries must be received by December 20, 2011. In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn at random. Please email your answers to, or mail to ALIVE East Bay, 3200A Danville Blvd., Suite 204, Alamo, CA 94507. Employees and family members of employees of ALIVE East Bay are not eligible.
Restaurant may be changed without notice.

Middle Child with Syndrome

They say the middle child makes the best comic. And just my luck, I happen to be that child. So maybe I was predestined to be the funny-maker in the family, or maybe, just maybe, on my birth day, I just came out funny.

Either way, I was born on the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and while that part is not so funny, I did manage to find humor in it by telling people “ask not what I could do for you, but what you could do for me!”

Making ‘funny’ comes easy for middle peeps. We want all the attention (due us), and if it takes the stage to get it, or an elevator, then as my mother always said, “by all means.”

I look back at my growing years and think yah, it’s my turn now.

My older sister, by 10 months and 13 days (but who’s counting), was the pioneer. She forged through familial territory, carving out a place for herself in the home and hearts of others. She owned the bragging rights. She made headlines.

My younger brother (by two years and one day) stole gender rights. He made the sports page, above the fold.

I made the business page in sub-headlines, smaller font, page 10 or 11, depending on which daily; a section no one reads anyway because all their attention was lost on features or sports.

Stuck in the middle, I was sort of like the belly of the fam. I was not the cherished head, nor the spoiled feet, but the uncomfortable middle, the love handles (that no one really “loves”) — the donut roll with the first button unlatched to make room for lunch.

So I had to break out, break free; I’ve gotta be me (enter song made famous in 1968 by Sammy Davis Jr.) and there you have it—the middle-but-mighty. Okay, the poetic rhyme was completely unintentional, but you get my drift. ‘Attention-getter’ – that was my new “middle” name. Not Barbara.

As the funny middle child, my first break in “stand-up” with an audience came in the fifth grade. While the teacher wrote on the chalkboard, his back to us, I jumped out of my front row seat (not sure I’d have had the guts if I were in the back row), and gave my best imitation of “Mr. Lee at the blackboard.” The young crowd loved it, but my teacher decided to be the heckler who killed my set and sent me back to my seat, show over.
Still, the punishment was worth the reprimand. Laughter was my paycheck, even though it came from 10-year-olds. At least no one was drunk (except for Ellen, I had my doubts). For the most part, it was honest-to-goodness positive feedback on my then, raw talent.

I had nowhere to go but up from there. However, it wasn’t until years later, (oh, say about 25), that I would find myself on a real stage with a real audience and a real microphone (instead of chalk). Sound was much better.

At a comedy competition in San Francisco, where I was an audience-member, not a contender, I watched this one kid kill the audience (so awesome), with his mother sitting in the row directly in front of me. She asked me to watch her tan corduroy sports jacket (which I felt was way outdated at that time) while she visited the restroom. I agreed to be top notch security guard of her garment, but asked her what size it was, in case anyone should ask. She probably thought to herself, great … everyone’s a comic! I thought to myself, she had no idea how many of “us” are out there.

When she returned, jacket still draped around the back of her seat (because really, who would want such a thing), I asked her if she had other kids, to which she nodded yes, but added that this was the only one doing stand-up.

I had to ask her one more thing, which I was sure I knew the answer to. She replied, “Yes, he IS the middle child.”

A Most Honorable Profession

ALIVEWith the holiday season upon us, my thoughts always return to the same thing every year. At the risk of sounding syrupy, I am grateful for my four “Fs”—my faith, family and friends, and for living in a country that provides the greatest measure of the fourth F to be found anywhere on the Earth—freedom. As a nation, even in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves; with considerable challenges and difficulties, we still have so very much to celebrate and be thankful for.

In the spirit of the season, I believe it is long overdue that we recognize one particular group — one profession, to which it is no exaggeration to state that our entire system, indeed, our way of life, depends. Members of this profession have been mocked and maligned — the butt of numerous jokes — for as long, I would say, as relationships between people have existed.

Like anyone who has lived and worked for more than a “few” decades, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with a vast numbers of individuals of different professions; many with impressive resumes that include advanced degrees in their particular field — engineers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, educators, psychologists…you get the idea. By their accomplishment in earning their various professional ranks, by definition, all of these individuals have achieved “success.”

And yet, without exception, the degree to which these individuals have been able to use their advanced, specialized knowledge and training in productive ways has always been dependent upon other skills that, to my knowledge, are not included in any curricula of the aforementioned professions.

I am referring, if you haven’t already guessed, to the profession of sales. The act of “selling,” is a relational skill — many would say an art—which everyone possesses in some measure. Every job applicant must “sell” their prospective employer as to why they should get the job as opposed to other applicants, and when your group of friends decide which restaurant you’ll visit for your Friday night gathering, the one you go to will likely be determined by the individual with the most persuasive argument.

While we all possess a measure of sales ability, some have chosen sales to be their vocation — to sales “professionals” it is their passion. The fact is, professional sales people comprise much of the membrane between what is and what will be, as it is through effective selling that every new idea is advanced.

Sales professional ought to be appreciated and held in high esteem. So this holiday season, I pay a special tribute and thanks to sales professionals everywhere. You make all of our lives better for the work you do every day.

Eric Johnson

Stamps in My Passport – Southern Hemisphere Holiday Manifestations

“I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Where the tree tops glisten and children listen – to hear sleigh bells in the snow.” With these words and that song, Bing Crosby brought tears and joy to the thousands of GI Joes in World II. The song reminded them of home and of a childhood in the snowy Northern Hemisphere. But wait!  One half of this planet doesn’t get snow in December. For those who grew up in the Southern Hemisphere, December brings sunny days, warm beaches, and long, lazy days. Several of my trips have taken me to the Southern Hemisphere in November or December, and I was always taken aback when I saw holiday preparations being made while the folks were wearing shorts. Let me share a couple of these jolts with you.

The first time I realized my perception was a bit out of whack came during a visit to Santiago, Chile in late November. We came out of our downtown hotel in shorts and t-shirts into a pleasant, warm day. We stepped around a ladder where an employee was stringing colored lights. “Must be getting ready for some sort of a party or celebration,” we conjectured. “Yep, looks almost like Christmas,” we chuckled. A few blocks later reality set in when we passed a decorated Christmas tree in a store window. The surprise went on. Santas standing in shorts next to donation buckets. Very much like Christmas, except for the weather.

Another equally jolting revelation came to us in Sydney a few years later. We were relaxing one late afternoon in a German Hofbrau-style restaurant in the area of Sydney known as “The Rocks.” A chorus of lederhosen-clad lads and dirndl-wearing maids arrived and began entertaining us with songs in German. After a melody or two, we realized they were singing Christmas Carols. Hey – it’s eighty degrees outside and not a flake of snow in sight. We also enjoyed a little side show here. There was a church which had erected a fair-sized stage near its entrance. The curtain was closed, and a sign proclaimed, “Coming soon.” A few days later we passed by and the curtain was drawn open – and a full-sized nativity scene was displayed.

A humorous scene happened in Dubai. Admittedly, this city is not in the Southern Hemisphere, but it hasn’t had a snow storm in recorded history. Outside that is. At the Mall of the Emirates it snows daily inside the enclosed area where people can ski in twenty seven degree weather, while it hovers in the nineties or higher outside. They don’t decorate the fake pines in this enclosed area, obviously due to the overwhelming Muslin population. But as you meander through the shopping part of the mall you are exposed to some Christmas sights. For example, we saw a fully-dressed and decked-out Santa Claus – but instead of the usual red outfit this guy wore bright blue!

One more for good measure. This one was in Quito, Ecuador. The country sits right on the equator, but it does have very high ice-covered peaks in the Andes which surround it. Nevertheless, it is warm and sunny at Christmas time. Being a very religious nation, Ecuador is crowded with churches and cathedrals which are almost as prevalent as they are in Europe. Once again, we found ourselves surprised when the stores began displaying lighted and decorated Christmas trees in November. Here though, the emphasis was more on wise men, nativity scenes, and angels hovering over babies in cribs. Santa and his elves apparently do not travel this far south. Fortunately, all the trees we saw were of the plastic type as pine and spruce are not part of the Ecuadorian environment.

Diversity on this planet always surprises me. These Southern Hemisphere holiday manifestations contrast so much with my visits to cities like Heidelberg and Nuremberg in Germany. I suppose we adapt to our locations and tailor our memories to fit the surroundings.

2012 Nissan Rogue – Going Rogue!

2012 Nissan Rogue

Nissan introduced the Rogue compact crossover back in 2008. The 2012 Nissan Rogue compact SUV is pretty much a carryover of the 2011 Rogue that was refreshed mid-cycle. For 2012 the Rogue receives a new grille and front fascia, chrome-accented door moldings, rear spoiler, new color options and new features including Bluetooth and a USB port.

The 2012 Rogue is placed between the larger Nissan Murano and the smaller Nissan Juke. The styling has remained true to itself over the previous four years. A redesigned version is due next year as a 2013 model.

The 2012 Nissan Rogue is offered in two trims: S, and SV. All models come standard with front-wheel drive and an optional all-wheel drive system. Nissan Rogue crossover SUV adds a new Special Edition package for 2012, along with revised content for the various option packages. The Rogue is one of the best-selling vehicles in the Nissan lineup.

The new high-value Special Edition package ($1,200) includes steering wheel audio controls, Rear View Monitor, 4.3-inch audio display, USB connectivity, satellite radio, fog lights, and privacy glass. Other enhancements for 2012 include the addition of a new “Sport Mode” switch on all models, new 17-inch (SV) and 16-inch (Special Edition) aluminum-alloy wheels, and one new exterior color, Graphite Blue. Also, the SL Package adds the innovative Around View® Monitor.

The Rogue is among the lengthiest compact crossovers. Nissan describes the exterior as “an image of modern sophistication.” I would say the styling follows the general Nissan conservative theme; this is not to say that it is boring. This vehicle is actually quite nice; just not over-the-top. The front and rear wheel wells have dramatic arches with a belt line that sweeps upward at the rear creating a line that meets up with the swooping roofline.

The Rogue which seats five has a rather spacious interior for the front passengers and average for those in the rear. The cargo capacity ranges from 28.9 cubic feet to 57.9 cubic feet with the second row seat folded down. The interior was fairly comfortable with soft points on a rounded dash. Controls were easy to access and use with silver trim.

Performance on the Rogue comes in the form of one engine offering: 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder that delivers 170 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. The engine is tuned to provide ample torque in the low-to-mid rpm range for a smooth and powerful acceleration. Every Rogue trim comes standard with Nissan’s Xtronic CVT™. A new Sport Mode switch is added for 2012. Fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg City and 28 mpg highway for the front wheel drive models and 22 city/26 highway for the all-wheel drive models.

Room for improvement:

  • Maximum cargo volume could be improved

Cool Features:

  • New Sport Mode
  • Optional Around View® Monitor feature, which utilizes four small superwide-angle cameras – mounted on the front, side and rear of the vehicle – to provide a virtual 360° view of objects around the vehicle

Handling response is enhanced with an electric power-assisted steering system. The Rogue comes equipped with 4-wheel independent suspension and wheel sizes that range from 16-inch to 18-inch.

The standard safety equipment for the 2012 Nissan Rogue includes six standard air bags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and vehicle dynamic control with traction control system.

In Summary – The 2012 Nissan Rogue is a fun and attractive crossover. The only question might be whether to wait for the all-new version due in 2013. You might also consider waiting to see Nissan offers special price promotions on the 2012 inventory to make room for the 2013 models. Either way, the 2012 Nissan Rogue is a fine value.


2012 Nissan Rogue S FWD with the Special Edition package

Base price:  $21,530 as driven: $23,730 (including destination)
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 170 @ 6000
Torque: 175 foot pounds @ 4400
Transmission: Continuously Variable (CVT) with Sport Mode
Drive: Front Wheel-Drive
Seating: 5-passenger
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Cargo space: 57.9 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3292 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons
EPA mileage: City 23 / Highway 28
Wheel Base: 105.9 inches
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper

Also consider: Dodge Nitro, Ford Edge, Honda CRV, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep  Wrangler, and Toyota Rav4