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FEFP: 2023 Updates: Taking Action for a Secure Future (EP42)

Time continues to move quickly, and we are already more than halfway through 2023. What better time than now to take action and get your finances in order? Don’t wait for the perfect moment or a later date—start today, even if it means beginning with small steps. In this episode, Michael, Tommy, John, and Ben gather to provide an update on the events of 2023.

Listen in as they delve into the significance of the strategic planning meeting season and why they're particularly thrilled about it this year. Timely delivery of new information is crucial for effective financial planning, making their strategic planning meetings a pivotal moment. Throughout the episode, they will give updates from the survivor benefit open season, the power of focus in financial management, and their plans to continue serving their clients after the culmination of the strategic planning meeting season.

Listen to the full episode here:

What you will learn:

  • The importance of taking action today because time goes by very quickly. (3:05)
  • What strategic planning meeting season is. (5:04)
  • Survivor benefit open season updates. (9:30)
  • Why understanding all of the benefits available to you is key. (13:30)
  • How Mason & Associates will serve clients now that they’ve exited the strategic planning meeting season. (17:30)
  • The power of committing time to focus on a single project. (22:00)

Ideas worth sharing:

  • “Start small, and start now. - Mason & Associates, LLC  
  • “Our two most important assets are our time and our health.” - Mason & Associates, LLC  
  • “Don’t be afraid to help somebody understand the benefits available to them.” - Mason & Associates, LLC  

Resources from this episode:

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Read the Transcript Below:

Congratulations for taking ownership of your financial plan by tuning into the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, hosted by Mason & Associates, financial advisors with over three decades of experience serving you.

John Mason: Welcome to the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast. I'm John Mason, President of Mason & Associates, and today we're recording a Mason 2023 update, and we have all four of us here.

So, we've got Mike Mason, Ben Raikes, Tommy Blackburn, so all four of us that typically do the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast. We thought we'd come to you today with a brief update on what's going on in 2023.

This is going to be a little bit personal; it's going to be a little bit business related, and we hope you'll just like to hear from us in a little bit of a different tone.

So, rather than being very topical, talking about Social Security or Medicare or what have you, today's episode is designed just to be a little bit more fun, and we enter guys a really interesting season.

So, we're recording this today, I think it is June 26th, the episode should go live, I believe, July 24th. But we're halfway through the year and it's been a heck of a year so far.

Tommy Blackburn: Yeah, I think the thing that comes most to mind is we just had our strategic planning meeting season/surge that we go through, and I think it was the best one we've done so far.

It's a great time of year where we are having 17 meetings a week per advisor, catching up with our clients, and implementing, creating plans for the rest of the year and the future, and just getting to serve them, so it's been great.

We've gone through tax season now, we've gone through that strategic planning meeting season, we're launching into summer. We have some good professional and family updates amongst all of us, and I think a hero story to share and then as well as wrapping up the rest of the year.

Michael Mason: Yeah, and guys, I always like to get this out anytime. How quickly one day can turn into one month to one quarter to half a year to 10 years. And why do I bring that up? I mean, we are in June, we're halfway through 2023, and it just seems like we started it.

And we're not the only ones that's halfway through. Everybody listening to this is halfway through. And if you put your planning off until tomorrow, and tomorrow goes from one week to one month to one quarter to one decade, you get behind quick and time gets past you pretty quick. So, just think about how fast it's halfway through 2023.

John Mason: Well, it's really fun that you brought up that example, because we're going to record some other episodes coming up. One is going to be titled Don't Let Perfect Get in the Way of Good Enough. One of my favorite RV quotes is, start small, start now.

And these kinds of things are so important because if you're waiting for perfect, or if you're not willing to just go ahead and make a change or do something, then all of a sudden, it's been years or months or decades and you haven't implemented any changes in your financial planner or your life for that matter.

So, we're going to have some other episodes, Mike, that dive right into that same content. And I think also along the lines of our two most important assets are really our time and our health. And that kind of goes right along with those kinds of things too.

So, let's go around the table because this is our update on things we're proud of. Let's share with the audience a little bit of what we're proud of that we've accomplished so far.

Tommy, I'd love for you to elaborate a little bit more on strategic planning meeting season. You mentioned it was the most successful one we've had to date.

Well, this may be the first episode that somebody's tuning into our podcast. If it is, thank you for tuning in the first time. If you're a recurring or you listen every two weeks, thank you for continuing to be here.

You know this podcast is about action, so if this is your first time here or you're a recurring listener make sure you share this like this, subscribe and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you on how we're doing and what we can do better.

But Tommy, share with our audience what is strategic planning meeting season, why did we make that move and why are we so happy about how it went this year?

Tommy Blackburn: So, I would encourage, if you are new to the podcast, we really appreciate you being here, go back and to earlier episodes.

And in particular, we have one called the New Client Process and The Client Experience, which I think we covered in a pretty good detail.

But what the strategic planning meeting season is, is when we meet with all of our clients. So, every Mason & Associate client, we meet with them between, this year was about mid-April through the end of May.

So, it's a compressed time where we're doing all of those meetings and the idea is to review the plan to the extent it makes sense, but just see what's changed in life, what's going on, what's changed tax laws, and what changes have happened, and what changes are happening in your life, and let's make plans, let's update the plan and let's go from there.

The reason we did this is it gets everybody on the same schedule for one. So, it just standardizes and systematizes a process, which is usually a good thing.

And it gets really great advice out to all of our clients because we get in the mode where when you're conducting that many meetings, you get good at it, you're seeing things and it just spreads like wildfire. So, it's a consistency, and it's a better experience to do it that way.

John Mason: And we're able to connect, like you said, with all of our clients at the same point in time. And we can't begin to really even fathom doing it another way.

We used to do reviews with clients in their birth month, and what that meant is somebody would get a review in February and somebody else would get a review in November, and that could potentially only be three months difference, November to February, but that's two different calendar years, that's two different tax law years. One of them is forward looking, the other was kind of rear facing.

So, you wouldn't think that a February and November review date would be so different, but they truly are.

So, switching to this surge period has been not only beneficial for us as the advisors, but I think our clients have experienced how much better we are, how much more prepared we are.

And this year went off without a hitch, so that's a big thank you. Not only to the advisors here, Ken Mason, our support team, Bobbi, Lynette, Kelsey, our clients. This is our third year and-

Tommy Blackburn: We’re getting better at it, everybody's getting better. We, our team, our clients, everyone is getting better at it. The technology we use around these is improving, which I think was a big benefit this year.

Some of the new technology we implemented made it just even better experience for all involved. And we're all just getting into that mode now, three years into this, us and our clients are getting pretty good at how this goes.

Michael Mason: Guys, it delivers a similar message at a similar time. And you wouldn't think we're not ones that try to time the stock market. And timing, if you could do it correctly, doing a meeting in March versus November could have a huge difference, but we don't do that.

But we do time things like last year, I bonds, and if you didn't have your meeting before the end of May, you missed an I bond opportunity interest rate.

And this year, if we were waiting until October or November to have a meeting with a client and put the seed in their mind, either for themselves or a loved one or a friend that it's a military survivor benefit open season, if we don't deliver that message as much as we try to do it in podcast and in YouTube videos, our clients still want to have that message delivered face-to-face or Zoom-to-Zoom.

And if we're not delivering it until November, a person has two months to act on it, or the next eight months their friend had to die without survivor benefits. So, it's timely delivered a message at a good time.

John Mason: Well, a timely delivery of a message, especially when it's as important as something like military survivor benefits, you kind of opened up a whole new can of worms here really fast.

And on this episode, we can't talk about everything military SBP related Mike, but essentially somebody retired with a pension from the military, and they said, “At my death, I want my spouse to get zero.”

That was the election that they made which when you say it like that sounds really terrible, but 50% or more probably of these folks declined SBP survivor benefits when they retired from Navy, Army, Air Force or what have you, Coast Guard.

And this is an opportunity for them to reverse that decision five years after they retired, 30 years after they retired.

And you mentioned, we've recorded episodes about this, but I think right now, since this is our update episode, why don't you share with us and our audience, the survivor benefits open season updates.

This could be maybe not how many of our clients have changed their mind, but maybe go down that path, maybe go down how Congress and our government is helping in ways that we didn't envision a few episodes ago. And just give our audience an update there.

Michael Mason: Well, John, if folks get onto the website, they listen to the podcast, they're going to see one of your interviews with Tony Macrini when we were early in the year upset that it's an open season, but nobody knew the rules. So, we didn't get the rules out until March.

And when I say we didn't, the federal government didn't get the rules out until March.

And then once the rules are out, it's not clear how a veteran that may be paralyzed, that can't add a wet signature to the form that says, I want survivor benefits. And we have one of these, and we've been preparing all year to try to get this family into survivor benefits to no avail.

Here we are in the 21st century, with private sector, and we have things like DocuSign, we have computers that you can operate with your eyes. You can make it very clear that this is your desire, but we just couldn't make it clear for DFAS.

So, every avenue we took for this family and spouse they were being rejected. And finally, we had to go to Congressman Wittman. And fortunately, I have a friend that could get me a direct line to Wittman, and now, we've been anticipating it for six months.

It came to fruition late May, that the only way we were going to get this done is to get a member of Congress involved, and that's happened.

So, a lot of things can happen in six months. And waiting, again, what if we waited until the end of this year to get that process started, assuming DFAS would figure it out, they might run out the clock on us.

John Mason: It is a classic example of how you and Ken trained me over the years, which is to go the extra mile, do the things that nobody else is going to do, ask the questions that nobody else is going to ask.

And there's over 300 million people in the United States of America, and it took Mike Mason and Mason & Associates and Newport News, Virginia to get congressional involvement in one of the biggest financial planning decisions that these folks have the ability to make.

And this lady maybe has survivor benefits, if she doesn't, she probably will by 4th of July, which is just awesome as you think about that.

And it took Mason & Associates, and I'm not saying we're small, I'm not saying we're gigantic or large or what have you, but we're not the end-all, be-all of financial advice in this country. And it took us to make that difference. So, I think that's a big shout out to you and your dedication.

Tommy Blackburn: Absolutely, there's a saying like a dog on a bone, you just would not let it go because you had that fiduciary obligation you were trying to help your client.

But what's so cool, not only did you go and make our firm look good by going so far above and beyond for this client, you were telling us that now there's an SBP representative on military basis to deal with this very issue, I believe.

So, not only did you help our client, you helped how many other people that may fall into this situation.

Michael Mason: You just never know, and they didn't just run everybody through an SBP class and say, “You're now a representative,” they found a way to anoint somebody that because they realized, and it's frustrating for me, they should have realized when they rolled this out that there would be some disabled veterans that couldn't apply a wet signature, and somebody could have come up with this.

But guys, I'll say one other thing on this, and I encourage everybody that's listening to listen to the Survivor Benefit Open Season and just take it a step further. It's always an open season for you, the federal employee, because until you retire, it's an open season. So, don't make the mistake of turning it down, understand how valuable it is.

My buddies at James River Country Club get tired of hearing the story because we're down in the cigar room and I meet yet another friend of a friend and then they tell me, “Well, yeah, I retired military.”

John Mason: And they all run away.

Michael Mason: All my friends run away. Now, they roll their eyes, “Oh, it's time to go get a drink.” Because they don't want to have to hear, “Oh, you do know it's a survivor benefit open season.” And when I say this to every military member I've met, any conversation I'm in, they say, “Oh, I didn't know that.”

Well, if they don't know it, then the person you just met doesn't know it. Your friend doesn't know it, the retired military. So, don't be afraid to help somebody.

John Mason: I think it just also makes me think that financial planning is not insurance sales. We're not Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day . We're not a portfolio manager that is always going to beat the S&P 500 or the stock market. So, we're not insurance sales, we're not estate planning book sellers, we're not investment salespeople.

Financial planning is about controlling the things you can control and it's maximizing all of these benefits. And we're not saying that Wells Fargo or Raymond James or Edward Jones or XYZ registered investment advisor is bad.

But if they don't know about this open season because they're not niche, they're not specializing with federal and military, how good can that advice be?

So, we would just encourage you to get a second opinion if you're not working with somebody who does specialize. So, financial planning is more than just investment performance.

We probably have guys around the table here and then we'll throw Ken in as well. I would imagine 15 or 20 clients that are probably going to have survivor benefits at the end of this year that didn't have it before this open season.

So, I don't know where we are, maybe at the end of the year we can give a status update for our listeners, but it'll be more than 10, less than 50 folks who have SBP, spouses will be more protected now than they've ever been before.

And that's going to be a lot to our individual financial planning that we're doing. But also, this once in a lifetime open season, that's pretty cool.

Michael Mason: So, that's my update for that. That's my highlight for halfway through 2023. And John, to your point, I hope at the end of the year, I hope we get an email or a call in from somebody, 30 states over that says, “I listened to this,” and it would just be cool. “I listened to it, I repeated it and now my friend has survivor benefits.”

It would be just as cool if I listened to it and now I have it, but wouldn't it be neat if I listened to it and I passed it on to so and so and now in the scenario they're in, they have survivor benefits and it's going to change that spouse's life forever.

So, it'd be neat to see, what do we call these, the clearance moments where you don't have to die and go to heaven to see the lives you've changed. You've done it right here and it's clear and present.

John Mason: Yeah, and we'd love to hear from our audience, Mike, to your point that can be, comments on this episode, reviews, comments on the YouTube video and email to us at , anything.

We just would love to hear your story about either A, how you now have survivor benefits, or B, how you changed somebody's life. And we're just hopeful, Mike, to your point that this message is getting spread across the country like wildfire.

Ben, we haven't heard from you at all yet, so maybe you can share with us, Ben, a little bit on your updates. I know you have a lot of personal updates to share.

And I think also maybe you can share with our audience now that we're entering the second half of the year, how are we going to serve clients now that we have exited that surge strategic planning meeting season and we've gone into whatever it is now, the kind of an undefined period in time for the next six months?

Ben Raikes: Absolutely John. So, I think first of all, how do we serve our clients really after that strategic planning meeting season ends. It's interesting in that we spend the beginning of this year prepping for strategic planning meeting.

We then have our strategic planning meeting season from April until the end of May. And everyone says, “Okay, well now what?” Well, it's really those strategic planning meetings that drive the rest of this year.

So, a lot of times there are action items that have come out of those meetings. There are check-ins at the end of the year for tax payments, or maybe we're making sure you got your estate documents reviewed.

And a lot of the time that should be up to your individual advisor to follow up with you during, “Hey, we said we're going to talk about this in September or October or maybe even earlier or later than that.”

But the way that we work as far as our schedules go is that we are typically available for meetings the last week of every month and the first week of the subsequent month.

So, that is when we can be scheduled for Zoom meetings, in-person meetings if you need to come by the office to sign something. But that's really when we're going to be most available to meet with our clients.

Although we're still working the entire month, but it's really those strategic planning meetings that are driving those schedules.

John Mason: And it's so fun at least for us, maybe we just nerd out on this because that's what we do, but hopefully for our audience they can see why this is cool. It's like I did continuing education last week, we're doing compliance. We are thinking about advertising, we're thinking about hiring, that's maybe an interesting thing.

Tommy Blackburn: Yeah, I figured we would share that at some point in this.

John Mason: Yeah, we're hiring, so we're hiring a client service associate, we'll be looking for an operations manager role as we head into the new year. So, if you like what you hear and you feel like maybe you'd like to be a part of our team-

Tommy Blackburn: Or if you know somebody who you think could be a good fit and is interested in this type of opportunity.

John Mason: Yeah, connect with me. This is John Mason on LinkedIn. I've got the little banner on my profile that says, we're hiring, or you can shoot us an email and resume.

Tommy Blackburn: And so, do I apparently. So, thank you John, because-

John Mason: You have that too?

Tommy Blackburn: I think you must have done it, yeah, it says I'm hiring.

John Mason: Okay, well connect with all of us. So, we're hiring and it's just a really cool period in time, Ben, like you mentioned, because we're still serving clients. That's an obligation that we have all year. It's a duty and it's, it's an awesome thing that we do.

But we also have dedicated time in our calendar to do the things that always got pushed off to the random points in our lives that was never really that convenient. It's never convenient to do CE, but now I have a week on my calendar every year where I know I'm doing that. So, that's something that we didn't have before.

Ben Raikes: It's all about condensing our time to increase our focus. And when we have a dedicated two weeks where we're just focusing on client meetings, that really helps us stay sharp.

To share a personal story, I sold a house last year, and as part of selling this house, I went ahead, and I replaced every single doorknob on every door in the house. And you might be wondering, why are you talking about this during a financial planning podcast?

Well, it really talks about condensing your time and focusing your time and getting better through repetition. The first doorknob I replaced on the very first door, I fumbled opening the clamshell packet.

I pulled out the instructions and I had to find the ones that were in English, because they were in French and German and everywhere else. And it probably took me 45 minutes to an hour to do the very first one.

After I got done with probably the 20th door in the house, I could do it in 15 minutes, and I think that's really the power of focus. And when we talk about those two dedicated weeks and we talk about condensing meetings, I think that's such a powerful example of how that helps us and helps our clients as well.

Michael Mason: I need some doorknobs changed.

Ben Raikes: Nope.

Michael Mason: Come on over.

John Mason: You’re very good at it apparently. Well Ben, thank you for sharing all of that and maybe now we can share a little bit of maybe some personal stuff. So, why don't we start with you, happy halfway through the year, you've got some big news coming.

Ben Raikes: Yep, big news coming. So, again, we talked about how fast time flies. Mike, you touched on that, John, you touched on that, the reason to plan now and not wait.

It seemed just like yesterday, but it was last October that I proposed to my fiancé, and yes, Ken Mason did lose $5 because she said yes. And we are getting married July 8th. So, by the time of this podcast, I will be a married man.

And we are very, very excited to truly start our lives together. And the financial planner in me thinks about, “Alright, you're getting married, are all your beneficiaries updated? Do you have your estate documents ready?”

John Mason: Life-changing event.

Ben Raikes: Yep, is life insurance ready? Am I going to go on her health insurance? Is she going to come on mine? How are we going to work that out? I'm sure all of that stuff is a million miles away for her.

But life-changing event, as you said, Tommy, all that's the front of my mind, but not to nerd out on financial planning too much, we're very excited.

John Mason: Well congratulations, we can't wait to be a part of that special day and be there to support you guys as you start your life together. And I know if we haven't already, we're going to record a podcast about tax planning versus tax reacting. I'm sure we already have it.

But your tax projection as of January one, you were married filing jointly on that tax projection, we didn't wait until post wedding day to think okay — or we didn't wait until next April to find out single brackets are not the same as married brackets and ability to do a Roth versus not do a Roth, all of that changed for you six months ago.

Ben Raikes: Listen, nothing sounds better to your future wife than whispering in her ear, “Don't worry, I've already taken care of our tax projection for the year, and I made sure we're married filing jointly.”

Michael Mason: And she said, “You're thinking very positively, Ben, we haven't tied the knot yet.”

Ben Raikes: That’s right, still got some time to go.

John Mason: Slow down Sparky. Well, Tommy, why don't we head over to you next.

Tommy Blackburn: Absolutely, I think as I wanted to go back with the strategic planning meeting and what it does on the calendar, Ben did a great job of driving home why it's wonderful.

I just wanted to say too, we're on retainer for our clients. So, we have that minimum one touch per year and a lot of times there are action items such as estate documents, tax projections, planning, Roth conversions that will come out of that later in the year.

Sometimes there isn't any action until we get together again the following year, and that's okay. And as we all experience and see the world is dynamic, life is dynamic, that's why we're here on retainer.

So, when life changes, your advisor is still here and can pick up and dust off planning, go forth as soon as life changes with you because we are on that retainer.

As far as me personally, some exciting news well one, Zoe will be three here at the end of July, which has been amazing to watch her grow and change constantly. John, I'm sure, as you can attest, sometimes week by week it's amazing to see how much they grow and develop and change, it's just extraordinary.

And another really great news is we're expecting an addition to our family, a baby boy in mid-September.

So, family's growing, it's fun to think about having an infant again and trying to get ready for all that entails and who knows, we'll see when he is here, what he's like and how that goes. We’re very blessed and excited to be greeting him soon.

John Mason: Well, we can't wait to meet him as well, we're excited for you and your family. And it just pops into my head, these other episodes that we're going to record.

But as we think about don't let perfect get in the way of good enough and things of that nature. It's like, there's never really a great time to have your first child, there's never really a great time to have your second child.

And just when you think that you've mastered something, that's when the kids really get you because it's like, we've got this. Carter slept until 6:00 AM we're going to do that, well the next day it doesn't work. Or we think we've got it handled and then the baby boy is completely different than the baby girl, so-

Tommy Blackburn: I do see now with our limited experience, how you develop a lot of patience as you're a parent, Mike, I’m sure you can attest to that. Because I can already see it. It's like, okay, you just can't get bent out of shape over this stuff and we're going to have the same conversation a thousand times. And this is why parents are notoriously very patient individuals.

Michael Mason: As I listen to this around the table and then I try to position myself as the audience and it's a financial planning podcast and I'm starting to think, “Alright, how is this just us bloviating to the audience or what can you grab from this?”

And I think the neat thing you can grab is, I'm looking at three guys in their early to mid-30s with children and one about to get married. And just because we have this podcast and just because we have a financial planning firm doesn't mean that the money is rolling in so big that you could put in your minds that we're the next Elon Musk or something.

We're doing the right things, I'll be 62 in August, and at 30 they're saving into their 401(k)s, they're minimizing debt, but they're also having fun.

And this is the thing that John has been pushing with us and he started pushing it before the old guys did, is our clients need to get on airplanes and turn left.

At 62, I'll be 62 in August, I won't even be thinking about Social Security until age 70, but I am thinking about destination golf trips, versus Myrtle Beach. And I'm thinking about airplanes and turning left, versus coach.

And I'm thinking about the butler on our trip to the Caribbean next year instead of the standard room. And if you think that's bragging well, you shouldn't because it's encouraging.

We've got retired military and federal couple that just are taking the trip of a lifetime, a quarter of a million-dollar trip on a charter plane, and how did they get there?

They got there by starting something 35, 40 years ago and building on it. So, as we tell these stories, they're not designed to just share our lives with you, they're designed to say, you can get there too.

John Mason: Well, we want to educate, we want to empower, we want to motivate folks to do things maybe that they wouldn't or couldn't have otherwise done without the knowledge either A, that we're providing through this podcast, or B which is more realistic through that individualized financial planning.

Couple other updates for the audience that I think are — for me personally, Carter's almost swimming, I think that's awesome. He's getting really good at that. And we are all in with camping and really having fun using the RV.

And one of my highs that we shared is I no longer have a payload problem or a payload concern anymore, which means I can throw a whole lot of weight on that new 1-ton pickup truck. And I can tow travel trailers as far as I want to go without having to worry about payload. So, that’s exciting.

We are taking new clients at Mason & Associates, so we're available. If you like what you hear, you love this content, you're looking for maybe something that's more specialized and exactly for you , request an introductory phone call.

It's a round robin, so you'll get whoever's first availability 15 to 30 minutes. And our commitment is that you will be better off after that than you were before.

So, we are taking new clients, the podcast is 17 or 18 months old, our YouTube channel's up and rolling and that's been exciting. Again, small wins, we've had a couple, or at least one video now, well over 1000 views.

And thank you, thank you for being there and participating with us. And all of this content generation, it's really motivational and we love producing it for you. So, I think we've got a lot of good information to share.

We're going to go ahead and wrap up this episode. It's been another episode of the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast.

Remember, it's never too late to start planning and the best way to make decisions is when you're educated and empowered. We hope we're doing that for you here on the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast.

Thank you for tuning in, thank you for listening, and we look forward to catching you next time.

The topics discussed on this podcast represent our best understanding of federal benefits and are for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as investment, financial planning, or other professional advice.

We encourage you to consult with the office of personnel management and one or more professional advisors before taking any action based on the information presented.