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Fund-Raiser Needs to Accentuate the Positive

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Suzanne Morgan is living proof that money doesn’t buy happiness--or even freedom from worry.

The 40-year-old professional fund-raiser is making $100,000 a year, has almost no debt, is happily married with two sons and is moving from Burbank to Las Vegas to live in a city she loves and to work at a job she enjoys.

Oh, and there’s the $120,000 trust fund for her older son’s college education and the million-dollar inheritance she expects to get someday.

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So, what’s to make over? Nothing, said financial planner Ronnie Kahn, except Morgan’s attitude about money.

“She’s carrying a lot of negative messages about money that keep her from relaxing and appreciating all that she’s done,” Kahn said.

Those feelings surfaced after Kahn suggested Morgan do a series of exercises to probe her feelings and beliefs about money. It’s an exercise others could benefit from as well, Kahn said. For many, money is a visceral issue, and exploring deep-seated attitudes and fears can reveal a lot about how a person handles his or her finances.

For instance, when Kahn asked Morgan to spend 21/2 minutes writing down “every word, idea, image, thought or experience that the word ‘money’ brings to mind,” the results weren’t pretty.

“Judgment, unhappiness, pain, tired,” she wrote, “change in my pocket, mom’s coupon money in the cigar box in the kitchen drawer, deserving, mom’s purse, my electric guitar, paycheck.”

Morgan knows she’s well off and shouldn’t worry, but she can’t help feeling she’s just a step from poverty. She feels compelled to have two jobs, when what she wants is more time to spend with her family and to work on personal projects.

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Her attitudes about money seem to come from her father, a self-employed electrical engineer who emphasized the importance of saving and thrift. One of her earliest memories, she said, was when she was 5 and asked her father for $5 from her college fund to buy a Captain Action Adventure doll.

“I had to go through this whole ordeal with him concerning paying it back with interest, and it was clear from his tone of voice that he was not pleased about this,” she said.

Morgan believes that as a child she turned her father’s “prudent use of money” message into a judgment that equates wealth with self- worth.

“My parents are not like that,” she said, “and it’s not true for me rationally, but emotionally, it’s like ‘poverty is bad, wealth is good.’”

Morgan’s emotional tug-of-war over money obscures the fact that she has done a good job of managing her finances over the years.

“The basics of financial planning are ‘save more, spend less and don’t do anything stupid,’ and I think you’ve done all three,” Kahn said.

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It helps that Charles Morgan, her husband since 1998, shares her frugal lifestyle. Money was never an issue for him when he was growing up.

“The impression I got from my parents was that some years were good and some not so good, and you just take it as it comes,” he said. “I just didn’t think about money. If I wanted something, I’d wait for Christmas or my birthday.” He studied art in college and eventually got a master’s degree in filmmaking and photography from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He stayed in Las Vegas with his parents, doing art and working part time as an adjunct faculty member at local colleges. He made about $15,000 a year, “which was fine with me. It was enough to do what I needed to do.”

Now that they’re moving back to Las Vegas, he’s found another teaching job that should bring in the same amount of income.

Charles Morgan’s wait-and-see attitude is a good foil for his wife’s tendency to worry, Kahn said. He noted that Suzanne Morgan always is looking to the future, “and sometimes ‘future people’ work on fear more than reality. I try to get people to have a financial vision of where they want to be, so they can be moving toward something positive instead of moving against fear or pain.”

In Suzanne Morgan’s case, that could be spending more time with her children and husband or working on her own art project instead of promoting someone else’s.

It’s important for Suzanne Morgan to deal with her anxieties about money, Kahn said, because they’re standing in the way of her dream of working for herself as a full-time fund-raising consultant.

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She’s already doing consulting work part time, making $16,000 to $17,000 a year to go with the $85,000 salary that comes with her new job managing and building the countywide library arts system in Las Vegas. Her rational side would like to cut back to one job, but her emotional side is afraid to let go.

Kahn believes that Morgan, with living expenses of about $45,000 a year, could easily support her family if she were to do consulting full time.

But that’s a big jump for someone like her, he said, because of her fears about being poor.

He recommends that she take a week to figure out if she could attract enough work as a full-time consultant to earn at least $50,000 a year--as well as how much savings she would need to allay her fears of impending poverty. Kahn recommends savings of at least a year’s worth of personal expenses, plus six months of business expenses.

If Morgan can’t make the jump now, he said, she can at least set a goal based on the savings she will need to go into business for herself.

“The trouble is, you’ll have this tendency to say, ‘Keep saving, keep saving. I can’t do it now. I’d better wait a little longer,’” he said. “You’ll have to guard against that.”

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If Morgan decides to keep her new job, she can put the consulting business on hold and reward herself with gifts of time to play with her family or to work on a personal project.

Even without the consulting business, Morgan and her husband could easily put $5,000 a year into a college fund for their infant son, start two Roth IRAs to reduce their tax burden at retirement and put the rest of their unspent money--at least $15,000 a year--into a diversified, conservative portfolio that’s about 40% Treasury notes, 23% bonds, 32% equities and 5% real estate investment trusts, Kahn said.

Kahn thinks that portfolio should average about 7% growth a year. The Morgans don’t need higher--that is, riskier--returns, he said, because they have so much money to invest each year, and more than 25 years for that money to grow until retirement. Even with an average increase of just 4% each year, the portfolio would grow to $600,000 by the time they retire.

The main thing is for Suzanne Morgan to be vigilant against negative messages about money, Kahn said. “Those messages have a way of keeping us from the positive stuff we really want to do,” he said. “You’ve got to keep peeling them back, like you’re doing now, and go deeper. Stay on the positive and you’ll do great.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

This Week’s Money Make-Over

* Subjects: Suzanne Morgan, 40, a professional fund-raiser, and Charles Morgan, 43, an artist

* Annual income: About $100,000 from Suzanne’s salaried job and her part-time consulting work. Charles will soon teach part time, earning about $15,000.

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* Goals: Confront anxieties about money; work toward Suzanne Morgan’s dream of working for herself; find more time for family and fun

Current Portfolio

* Cash: $45,000 in two money market funds

* Retirement savings: $39,000 in two mutual funds (Aim Constellation and Lord Abbett Small Cap Value); $8,500 in a SEP individual retirement account and $8,500 in a traditional IRA invested in mutual funds; $16,500 in individual stocks

* Other savings: About $120,000 profit from the recent sale of their home in Burbank; $120,000 trust fund for their oldest son’s college expenses

* Other assets: 1990 Volkswagen Vanagon and 1990 Ford Escort

* Debt: None

Recommendations

* Confront Suzanne Morgan’s negative messages about money by completing a money questionnaire.

* Recognize that they have enough resources for Suzanne Morgan to have one job, even if she chooses to become a self-employed consultant.

* Put at least a year’s worth of expenses and six months’ worth of business expenses into savings if Suzanne Morgan does full-time consulting.

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* If Suzanne Morgan decides to stay with her salaried job, put surplus money into a tax-deferred 529 college fund for their infant son (about $5,000 a year), two Roth IRAs ($6,000 a year) and a taxable portfolio (at least $15,000 a year) invested conservatively with 40% in Treasury notes, 32% in stocks, 23% in bonds and 5% in a real estate investment trust.

Meet the Planner

Ronnie A. Kahn is a certified financial planner and head of Accumulation Strategies, a Woodland Hills investment advisory firm.

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Jeanette Marantos is a regular contributor to The Times.

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