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The birth of their first child in 1984 prompted Johnny and Karen Smith to embark on a lifetime of savings and retirement planning. “Once you start having kids, your financial focus changes,” says Johnny. “You think about how you’re going to pay for their college tuition and then you quickly think about your own retirement.”
That momentous year presented another set of circumstances. The couple had returned to their hometown of Detroit with better job prospects. Karen started working at the Detroit Receiving Hospital and Johnny at a private physical therapy firm. The couple delayed saving until Johnny had completed his master’s degree in physical therapy at the University of Pittsburgh the previous year. “Our financial strategy at the time centered on getting me through school,” he says.
With a baby and steady jobs, the couple sought the counsel of a certified financial planner. Although they had nothing saved, they did have a desire to achieve financial goals and, as time has proved, the tenacity to stick to a savings and investment plan.
The couple weighed their options and opened a stock mutual fund with American Fund Family Inc. They also started participating in investment programs offered at their workplaces. Now, after 22 years of consistent contributions, the couple’s joint mutual fund stands at $200,000. Karen’s veritable annuities account is valued at $20,000, and her tax shelter annuity has amassed $7,000 (she rolled over money from the 403(b) plan that she had during her 19-year stint at the hospital). Johnny has $27,000 in his rollover IRA.
The Smiths have dedicated themselves to Declaration of Financial Empowerment principle No. 3: to commit to a program of retirement planning and investing. They have little debt and have always considered themselves frugal. The couple’s children, 22-year-old Monica and 19-year-old Bryant, are fortunate; their parents squirreled money away early on to cover their college education costs.
In 1988, the Smiths opened a prepaid 529 college savings plan, paying an $11,000 flat fee. That money has already paid for the full tuition cost of their daughter’s bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Michigan. This fall, Monica will begin law school at Wayne State University. Bryant’s sociology degree at Michigan State University is also paid for under a 529 college savings plan.
Another added benefit of working toward financial freedom came two years ago, when the Smiths made the last mortgage payment on their three-bedroom house. “We bought the house 22 years ago at $35,000; today it’s worth $180,000,” says Johnny.
The couple also adheres to DOFE principle No. 10: to ensure that my wealth is passed on to future generations. Johnny and Karen have just renewed their term life insurance policies, which guarantee that in the event of premature death, the surviving spouse will receive $100,000. To avoid lengthy and costly probate, the couple established a will 10 years ago. The document stipulates that if Johnny dies, his possessions will go to Karen. If both die, their children will inherit their assets.
Moreover, the Smiths are in the process of
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