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Real Money: Straight-up Answers with Berkshire Money Management

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DALTON — Whether ushering a client through the complications of estate planning or hiking his way to the summit of Mount Greylock, Berkshire native Peter Coughlin always maps out a plan for success.

Planning has kept him thriving in the personal finance business for close to 35 years.

Coughlin is from Pittsfield, born and raised. The certified senior adviser and executive director at Berkshire Money Management is often found on the Appalachian Trail or in the saddle of his road, hybrid or mountain bikes on the roads here in the Berkshires.

"I hike Greylock from September through early June, pretty much all winter," says the father of four. "I stopped in June because the horseflies drove me nuts."

He also loves to travel. Last year, he and his wife, Sheila, went to Italy, and later he took a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich.

Coughlin has had a strong work ethic since childhood. He shoveled driveways, mowed lawns, washed dishes at the Yellow Aster (now Mazzeo's) when he was 13, worked at Eastover Estate at 15 and was picking stocks when most kids were picking comics.

The veteran financial adviser went to work for Shearson on his 25th birthday. Then in 1989, he went to Kidder, Peabody & Co., working for an adviser who gave him a fortuitous stock tip 14 years earlier. Coughlin stayed there for 25 years before finding his way, in 2016, to Berkshire Money Management.

Before he took off for a much-deserved break to visit family in D.C., Coughlin talked with The Eagle in the fourth installment of Real Money: Straight-up Answers with Berkshire Money Management, a Q&A series sponsored by the firm.

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Q: What brought you to the business of finance?

A: I have an Uncle Mike who taught me how to read the stock pages when I was 12 years old. I started following a few companies, and I bought my first stock when I was 14. I took a course at Crosby that covered investments and had a great teacher in Matt Jacoby. Great teachers can make a difference, and he did exactly that. I knew back then what my career path was going to be. About that time, around 1975, I invested $4,000 in my second stock, on the advice of Eddie Connelly, my future boss. I bought a company called Waste Management. Waste Management paid for my entire college education at Pepperdine University. I actually had money to spare.

Q: What money lesson should be taught in school but isn't?

A: I think you have to teach kids how to budget and live within a budget. Also, about the toxicity of credit cards. Children nowadays are tech savvy. One of the things that would be really beneficial is to just put kids in front of a simple retirement calculator, that will show them the benefits of starting to save early.

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Q: How has the pandemic changed your overall outlook on the market? Or not?

A: When the market went down in March, we basically saw the floor drop out of stock prices. The volatility that we saw in the markets was unlike anything I had ever seen. You were looking at average daily moves of 5 percent every day, up and down and down further. That went on pretty much the entire month of March. Did it change my thinking? No. It solidified my thinking in terms of having a comfort level with your asset allocation, your risk tolerance and diversification.

Q: What's your outlook on the market in the coming weeks and months?

A: You look at the world today, with the virus, the election, and everything else. There's tremendous uncertainty in the world, much more than any other time in my career. Back in March, they shut the country down with 3,000 COVID-19 cases a day; now, we're opening up, and we're knocking on the door of 65,000 cases a day. You have businesses reopening, colleges, schools. What happens next, we'll see. I can't stress enough how important it is to take a hard look at the risk in your portfolio, and if you're not comfortable, use the current strength in the market to make any adjustments that you need. We could be in for a very bumpy ride.

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Q: What about protecting and preserving current holdings and assets?

A: When you look at safe havens, the first thing that comes to mind is bonds. Bonds are not paying anything for all intents and purposes. Six months ago, we at Berkshire Money Management started buying Treasury Inflation Protected Securities for our more conservative accounts. They've worked out well. Are rates going to continue to drop? Well, there's just not a lot of runway for rates to go lower. I don't think we are going to go to negative interest rates like Japan and Europe; that has not worked.

Q: Are you concerned about inflation?

A: I've talked about inflation practically every day for about 30 years. There hasn't been any. There's incredible efficiencies in the economy that have prevented inflation from creeping back. But, when you create 3 trillion dollars to stabilize the economy, there will be repercussions. Will growth slow? And inflation increase? We haven't seen inflation in 40 years. It could be different this time. We shall see.

Q: What does a relationship with Berkshire Money Management mean for clients, for today and tomorrow?

A: Every investment firm likes to say they're different. Are they different? They all manage money. But what else do they do? There's a huge difference between what they do, and what we do. The team here at Berkshire Money Management is incredibly talented. In my opinion, the conversations we have are much deeper and more meaningful. People come in with concerns about "how do I take care of my elderly parents?" Or "my children are not prepared to inherit my wealth." And "can we retire? Do we have enough?" We can address those concerns. And we will pay for their will, their trusts, their living wills, their health care proxies, their durable powers of attorney. We will help our clients maximize their Social Security benefits. We will help our clients when it comes time for Medicare to select the right plan. We've had clients who have lost their jobs in this economy, and we helped them find the right health insurance. For children who go off to college, we've hired experts in that field to help parents make those decisions. I'm just not aware of any other firm that will do that. They don't do the analysis that we do. We're a small firm, but we have tremendous resources that other firms just don't offer. Our founder and CEO Allen Harris has dedicated himself and the firm to making the Berkshires a better place to live.

Disclosure: Investments in securities are not insured, protected or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal.

Email Noah Hoffenberg at nhoffenberg@berkshireeagle.com.


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