The Buzz on ?Buz?

The Buzz on ‘Buz’Walton County Financial Planner and Author Offers Abundant Business Advice During Troubling Economic Times

By Joyce Owen

Buz Livingston might be considered a traditional small-business owner, but he’s one with a vast reach and a nickname that cannot be easily forgotten.

“I was a huge sports fan and took the nickname ‘Buz’ from several players, including one who played for the Georgia Bulldogs. I was in the fourth grade before I knew it should have two z’s,” he says.

SOLID INVESTMENT In light of the economic crisis, local author Buz Livingston offers sage investment advice in his book, “Investing in an Uncertain Economy for Dummies.” Photo by Scott Holstein.

The 53-year-old certified financial planner and writer owns what he describes as the only financial planning firm in the entire world that is headquartered in the South Walton community of Blue Mountain Beach.

His career provides him with the opportunity not only to offer advice to clients one on one in his office, but also to reach a much larger audience through his writing.

Livingston pens “Just Plain Talk,” a financial column for a small weekly newspaper in Walton County. He also is a regular columnist for the online publication “Motley Fool” and is frequently cited in articles in widely read financial magazines and newspapers.

However, Livingston’s latest and most noteworthy success is as a contributor to one of the “For Dummies” books. By happenstance, the book, “Investing in an Uncertain Economy for Dummies,” was nearing a planned October 2008 release just as the American economy was in freefall.

“The book was rushed to print in September and has done well,” he says.

Before coming to the Emerald Coast, the self-described good ole Georgia boy started out as a farmer in Georgia, where “you got hurt fingers and were always dirty,” he says.

Then he bought a “whiskey” store where he also sold other liquors, wine and beer. It gave him plenty of time to coach his son’s baseball team.

“That helped them win a lot,” Livingston jokes, “not because they were so good, but because they could practice a lot more than the other teams.”

Livingston learned a tough financial lesson in 1994, “when the first President Bush planned to raise taxes on liquor.” He bought as much beer and wine as he thought he could afford. He remembers that the stockroom was filled with his purchases.

Then Livingston discovered a mistake in his checkbook — a deposit he had not entered.

“I could have bought a lot more,” he says, clearly still regretting the error some 15 years later.

The mistake wasn’t discovered until he got around to balancing his checkbook. After that, Livingston’s next purchase was a computer program to manage his accounts. He soon had a handle on his finances.

“I used Quicken, which was the only thing I know that died due to Y2K,” he jokes.

But the demise of that software forced Livingston to learn how to use the computer, something he believes is necessary to keep accurate financial records.

“It is a universal thing that people can do to track their spending,” he says.

Whether one purchases Quicken, QuickBooks or another financial program, each can be linked to bank accounts to keep up with credit card purchases, Livingston notes. It makes reconciling one’s bank statement easier.

“It almost makes it fun,” he says.

Fun is not something that people expect when discussing financial planning, but once you know Livingston, you realize he can make even this subject entertaining. His business writing is frequently interspersed with folksy tales and sports stories in addition to good financial advice.

Livingston can be serious, but from his writing to his interactions with clients, his attitude seems to be, why not make it fun?

While having lunch at a local coffee shop, Livingston is dressed in his usual work attire — a fedora, white polo shirt embroidered with his company’s name, slacks and, on this day, snakeskin boots. Acquaintances frequently drop by to say hello.

Livingston is readily recognized in the South Walton community where he and his wife, Susan, live and work.

“I wasn’t born in Walton County, but I got here as quick as I could,” he says in describing how he came to live there.

Livingston didn’t move to Walton County until January 2001. He had earlier opportunities to buy there, but the timing wasn’t right. In 1987, one of Susan Livingston’s bosses brought them to the area and tried to get the couple to buy property. Buz Livingston jokes that if they had bought then, he would be either incredibly wealthy or broke.

At the time, the area was still undeveloped. In Blue Mountain Beach, he recalls driving a truck right on the beach and building bonfires at night — definite no-nos these days, but just part of the lifestyle that existed at the time.

Of course, much has changed since Livingston arrived. Growth brought many more visitors to South Walton, but the core of the community, locals that live there year-round, are more like residents of a single small town, he says.

“I lived in a small town in Georgia, and this area is like a small town,” he says. “Now, some folks might not want to see it that way, but it is a close-knit community, even though there are many communities scattered along the 30-A corridor.”

Livingston’s office is located in his home in one of those communities — Blue Mountain Beach. Setting up there offered him the opportunity to declare that his business, Livingston Financial Planning Inc., has its world headquarters there.

Livingston became a Certified Financial Planner because he listened to his wife’s advice when she was working as an account manager. An attorney friend also noticed how organized they both were and suggested that Buz study financial planning. He considered going to Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, but rather than traveling back and forth, he took courses online. The intensive training led him to board certification.

Livingston is a fee-only financial planner — his goal is to help his clients manage their assets to prepare for the future.

“We put clients first,” he says.

By charging a set fee for services, he separates himself from other financial advisers who receive a commission on investment products they offer.

“It would be good if every financial planner were a fiduciary,” he says.

The fiduciary relationship is based on trust. In his style of financial planning, Livingston makes it clear that good faith and honesty are keys to treating clients fairly.

He shares the story of a 70-year-old client who was considering paying off the mortgage on his modest home. He had a 30-year mortgage with about $30,000 still owed. Many seniors take the money, whether through a reverse mortgage or selling the home, to provide a cushion for retirement — something that can be a good strategy. However, in this case, Livingston realized that refinancing was the best course of action.

His client went to the bank, negotiated a good deal and reduced his monthly payments, which helped with his cash flow. Because the client was not able to retire, it made good sense.

That’s one of the keys to good financial planning — doing what makes the most sense, Livingston says. While there is a rule of thumb for financial planning, an adviser must be straightforward and talk with clients about their needs to develop a strategy that works for them.

Most people spend more time planning a vacation than for retirement, he says, appearing shocked at the thought. For Livingston, proper planning for retirement makes it possible for people to live out their later years in comfort, no matter what their plans.

As many people wonder what they should be doing about their finances, Livingston is ready to give general advice. But the reason to work with a financial planner is to have someone who looks at your specific needs and helps to create a plan — financial, yes, but he prefers the term “life plan.”

“It’s all about reviewing everything, not just investments,” Livingston says. “How can you help someone plan for retirement if you don’t look at every aspect of his or her life and ask, ‘What do you want to do?’”

However, with major losses in 401(k)s and the decline in the value of the family home, Livingston believes many people will have to rethink retiring for a while.

“If they consider just working two or three years longer, that can make a difference so they won’t run out of money,” he says.

Many clients ask how much money they will need to retire. Livingston recommends reading “The Number,” written by Lee Eisenburg, a book that reveals one of the last taboos — talking about the amount of money that is needed to provide for retirement.

There is an amount, “a number,” for everyone, he says, but people still are hesitant to discuss finances. As a financial planner, Livingston believes they should learn about personal finance, but acknowledges that many people have fears of inadequacy when it comes to money matters.

And while the economy has given everyone cause for concern, Livingston is happy with his life.

“Even a bad day of financial planning is nothing like the hard work of running a farm,” he says. “When I have a bad day, I remind myself that I'm where I want to be and I am doing what I was put on Earth to do. On Jimmy Buffett’s first album, ‘A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean,’ there is a song few people know, ‘I Have Found Me a Home.’ It sums things up pretty well.”

Living at the beach, working with his wife and enjoying his life as a family man with two grown children, Livingston is content. As the song says, “You can have the rest of everything I own, ’cause I have found me a home.”