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Margaret's Musings (2005)


Currently, the Starner household is overrun by children, son-in-laws, and grandchildren, half hailing from Los Angeles, the other half from London. To call the environment hectic would be an understatement. The Los Angeles grandkids, jet-lagged from the west, stay awake each night until the wee hours, finally falling asleep right about the time that the London grand-kids, jet-lagged from the east, wake up for the day. Needless to say, Granny and Grandpa are exhausted. Of course, we're also delighted to have our entire family here. My two eldest grandchildren, Kailee and Micaela, are old enough to appreciate Christmas now. As I watched their anticipation build, I am reminded of how magical this time of year is, especially through the eyes of a child. Sharing the season with them is surely the best gift I'll receive this December.

Spending time with family has gotten me thinking about other wonderful gifts that money can't buy. There are many – good health, good friends, and good weather (without hurricanes!) to name a few. And then there's freedom, which in many ways is the most wonderful gift of all. As United States citizens, freedom is so ubiquitous that many of us take it for granted. We're free to live where we please, marry whom we choose, and change careers as we see fit. Sadly, many people around the world do not enjoy these same privileges.

Of course, America is not perfect. Poverty is very much a reality for millions of Americans. Health care costs are rising nearly unchecked. Many children don't have access to quality education. These problems are complex, and our country's leaders must continue to work together to address them. And if the past 230 years is any indicator of future performance, they will. But in the meantime, I know that there is no place I'd rather be than here – a country where a Chinese immigrant can raise six children and send them all to college. A country where that immigrant's grand children can go on to find success in far-flung places like Los Angeles and London, yet still return to spend the holidays in Miami. A country that truly is the land of the free.

Have a wonderful holiday season and Happy New Year!!




This summer and fall (surprise!!), all of us witnessed the damage and destruction caused by hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. In Katrina's case, we also saw what many experts called "a grave failure to prepare" for a coming storm they had long called inevitable.

As a financial planner, the hurricanes served as a strong reminder to me that many don't place enough emphasis on scenario planning and managing the risks of our personal lives. For example, as a Miami resident, I know that many of us delay important preventative maintenance in order to purchase the "new things" we would like. After all, who wants to replace an old roof that can probably survive another year when the alternative is taking a Mediterranean cruise? Of course, the answer is that no one wants to replace the roof, but many responsible people do it nonetheless, deciding that they're unwilling to bet on a benign hurricane season in order to have a fun experience.

The levees breaking in New Orleans is a vivid illustration of the ultimate cost of ignoring or deferring the obvious for too long. In Katrina's aftermath, our leaders face an important American debate -- how can we maintain and improve America's infrastructure to ensure our safety while also enabling a growing economy? As individuals, we face a similar issue -- how can we ensure the long-term safety of our families and loved ones (our "infrastructure") while also enjoying the fruits of our labor?

Of course, the answer is to plan carefully, diversify broadly, and take full advantage of the financial tools at our disposal such as insurance. After all, none of us can predict with absolute certainty when, or if, our own personal "levees" might break, but we can all have a plan of action if they do. And if that plan is strong enough, you'll surely have plenty of time for Mediterranean cruises…or any other "new things" you'd like.




I know that I promised to talk more about the hurricanes in my last musing, but I decided to delay that conversation for a week in favor of telling you about the Security Industry Association annual conference in Boca Raton that Scott and I recently attended. Some major themes from leaders and regulators of the industry were:

  • Dealing with retirement income for the baby boomer generation. The first of that generation turns 60 in 2006. They will live longer, want more and will be faced with soaring health costs.
  • Enforcement of regulations and to reduce overlapping regulatory jurisdiction that creates undue costs and impediments to growth of the economy.
  • Improving the diversity of all firms to better serve the investors of America.
  • Among the well known speakers were:

  • Bob Woodward – nope, he didn't reveal who told him
  • Malcolm Gladwell author of "Blink". His book focuses on the waste of excess information when dealing with experts. His research indicates that "experts who are experienced" need only a few critical data points to make good decisions. Conversely, experts who are exposed to excess data often make faulty decisions.
  • Gladwell also made another interesting assertion; that experts often cannot immediately explain their conclusions because they can arrive at a decision instantly or instinctively. The implication of this assertion is that the discipline of becoming an expert is critical to the future of our having good decision makers.

    I wonder if this means that artificial intelligent is more difficult to create than we think?

    I'll follow up with a few more thoughts on the hurricanes in my next muse. In the interim, have a great week.


    P.S. If any of you have thoughts, anecdotes, or feedback about my musings, I'd love to hear from you. Send e-mails to



    | Thanksgiving 2005 |

    Thanksgiving is upon us, and this year I am thankful for so many things – my 43rd wedding anniversary, which Roger and I celebrated a few days ago; my daughter Lise's 7th wedding anniversary, which she celebrated on November14th; and my niece Jamie's wedding in late October, to name a few.

    I am also humbled and immensely grateful that my female colleagues named me Raymond James Woman of Distinction for 2005. The Woman of Distinction is a leadership award that recognizes a senior level woman who has made a significant impact on the firm and created opportunities for the women who will follow them.

    On a more macro level, I'm thankful to have made it through yet another hurricane season. As you all know, Katrina and Wilma devastated the southeastern states this year. Compared to many, we were quite lucky. Both our home and Raymond James' offices avoided major damage (though the Miami branch did close for a few days after each hurricane hit). Thankfully, hurricane season also brought with it a piece of good news – Victoria Katrina Cruz was born on August 30th, a fitting name since she arrived in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Though Yami enjoyed her maternity leave, I know I speak for all of us in the office when I say that we're glad to have her back. Her presence was sorely missed!

    Speaking of the hurricanes, look for entries during the weeks of December 2nd and December 9th that will draw analogies between preparing for inevitable natural disasters and preparing for the inevitable events of our financial lives, including retirement. But we'll save those heavier conversations for next week, when our tummies are full of turkey, pies, and cranberry sauce and our hearts are full of Thanksgiving memories with our loved ones.

    In the interim, have a wonderful holiday and please take some time to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for in our lives. Here at the Starner Group, we'll be thankful for all of you, our amazing clients.

    Have a safe and happy holiday,




    | SUNDAY, 14 AUGUST, 2005 |
    August 14th marks the 70th anniversary of the Social Security bill that was signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt after the great depression. Seven decades later, I know that many of you have concerns about the viability and structure of Social Security and are looking for resources to help separate the facts from fiction. With that in mind, I've identified two government websites that may help: – Provides both a brief and in-depth history of Social Security. – Contains a list of Frequently Asked Questions about Social Security.

    For those of you interested in my musings on Social Security, here are some answers to commonly asked questions:

    Q. I am 21 – do you really believe I will be able to collect my Social Security income?

    A. Yes. However, you may not get as much as you paid in and you may have to wait until age 70 to begin collecting.

    Q. What do you think about privatizing or creating personal accounts in Social Security?

    A. Privatization won't change the long term funding problems with Social Security. IN fact, I believe it may actually create additional problems. Since this is the case, I'd rather see you focus on creating your own private wealth.

    Q. What do you think is needed to fix or make Social Security financially secure and not need bailing out in 50 years?

    A. The easiest fix I can think of is to have a growing economy. That implies high employment at good salaries. We will need policies that focus on education, research and development, and maintaining a strong economic infrastructure.

    Until next time, I hope all of you are well.

    Opinions expressed are those of Margaret C. Starner and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. All opinions are as of this date and are subject to change without notice.



    | MONDAY, 1 AUGUST 2005 |
    Today, I'll muse about youth. Youth means different things to different people, but I feel comfortable making three statements that I believe apply universally:

    1. Most of us aren't as young as we'd like to be anymore.
    2. Most of us aren't as old as we could be.
    3. We're always happier when we feel young at heart.

    When I think about youth, I often think about decisions. Young people have a lifetime of decisions in front of them. They'll get some right. They'll get some wrong. As a financial planner, parent and grandparent, my goal is to help the young people in my life (and yours) do more of the former than they do of the latter.

    With that in mind, I'd like to talk about two young people, Vanessa and Andy, and the recent decisions they've made.

    Vanessa Colon is our newest employee. Her decision was about career.

    I suppose this musing is Vanessa's "official" introduction, though I'm sure most of you have heard her voice already. Vanessa began with us as a temp in early February, while waiting to start law school this fall. She served as our receptionist, managing all client requests. Vanessa made a great first impression. She had a cheery disposition, service-first attitude and great aptitude for the business. She learned very quickly and showed her spunk by asking all kinds of questions. She understood the importance of "getting it done," whether it was for me or Scott. She also needled us like an alarm clock.

    After a few months with Vanessa on board, I had two thoughts:

    1. The office is running pretty darn smoothly.
    2. The country is not short of lawyers

    And hence the courtship of Vanessa began.

    After considerable needling of our own, we convinced Vanessa to join the Starner Group. The firm and I have created a "fast development track" for her to become a financial planner. Initially she will be supporting Scott, Yami and me as a service associate. She has already begun preparing for her Series 7 exam. We sincerely hope that her decision will be a permanent one and that she will love the business of working with clients as much as we do.

    Now, on to youth #2. He is our fabulous intern, Andy Warman. His decision was about investing.

    With summer almost over, Andy will soon return to the University of Texas for his senior year. With this in mind, he recently asked for advice on how to invest his savings. Typical of many, both young and old, Andy wanted to know how he could invest his $10,000 so that he could learn, have fun and make a fortune. Of course, those are three very different objectives, so I asked him to rank them in order of importance. His rankings would determine how he would invest.

    He chose:

    1. Learning
    2. Fun
    3. Making money

    Why did Andy decide learning was more important? He knew that this $10,000 was just the beginning of his wealth … he looked forward to earning and saving substantially more. He had been listening and working with our theories all summer. He now wanted to learn by following the process of investing wisely. He still hoped his money would grow rapidly (though he did grumble a bit about not wanting to lose too).

    Andy's goal of learning first challenged Scott and me to develop a program that differs from the normal goals of wealth accumulation or preservation. Certain fundamental rules still prevailed, such as goals, diversification and time horizon. It is difficult to adequately diversify with $10,000 and we wanted to avoid over concentration. With this in mind, we came up with a design. Perhaps by next school season, we can tell you what Andy has learned.

    As young people, the decisions that Vanessa and Andy made will help shape their futures for many years to come. Most of us still make decisions every day that shape the futures of our careers and our investments. I think we'd all be better served to approach these decisions with a bit of the energy and curiosity of youth, while at the same time always heeding our responsibility to help develop the leaders of tomorrow.

    After all, it doesn't matter how old or young of a dog you are – we can all learn some new tricks every once in a while



    | MONDAY, 4 JULY 2005 |
    Today, I celebrate something new on the Fourth of July – the birth of my online journal, “Margaret’s Musings.” I hope you enjoy this inaugural entry:

    Between war and a so-so economy, we find ourselves celebrating July 4th during unsettling times. Yet, despite the circumstances, this special holiday remains a symbol and an example of the best that can be accomplished by a nation for its people. We truly live in a remarkable country where nearly anything is possible. As the first child of an immigrant family, I can personally attest to that.

    My father was born in China on July 4th and he was so proud to share the birthday of his adopted country. After he became a citizen, he celebrated with a huge party every July 4th, honoring both his birthday and the birth of the U.S. The party grew over the years into a huge barbecue of ribs, steaks, chicken and mosquitoes – all cooked by my father with his famous barbecue sauce on grills created by him. Every year, my father’s party featured a huge display of fireworks followed by an all-night mahjong session. All this took place at our home in Mississippi on Highway 61.

    My father continues his celebration with us, even though he departed a few years ago. My youngest daughter, Dana, was married on July 4th and our first granddaughter, Micaela, was born on July 4th in Chicago. This year, we will celebrate Micaela’s 5th birthday in California, at a traditional Mississippi barbeque with ribs galore. We’ll even have my Dad’s famous barbecue sauce, thanks to my sister, Judy, who still makes his famous recipe and generously shares it with all of us. In my father’s tradition, we welcome all friends and family to join us at Micaela’s party. After all, that is how he saw the United States – a country with an open heart and many reasons to celebrate.

    In future “Margaret Musings,” I will share ideas, experiences, and thoughts from my travels, readings and investment conferences. Of course I will also keep you posted on news about and from the Starner Group.

    Happy July 4th.