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Giving Thanks

Howard Rohleder

AS WE CELEBRATE Thanksgiving, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past year or so from HumbleDollar—both as a reader and as one of the site’s writers.

An article I wrote about claiming Social Security bounced back and forth a few times between me and HumbleDollar’s editor, Jonathan Clements. The breakthrough came when Jonathan referred me to a free online calculator built by financial blogger Mike Piper. I’d been trying to do my own calculation in Excel. Working through the calculator greatly reduced my anxiety about picking the right date to pull the Social Security trigger. I realized that a wide range of dates were pretty much equally good.

Meanwhile, an article by Charley Ellis helped me rethink my asset allocation. The key insight: Predictable income such as a pension and Social Security can be considered part of your bond allocation. This gave me the comfort to increase my allocation to stocks. Luckily, this past year has been an good time to add to my stock holdings, thanks to the market decline.

Other pieces on the site prompted me to rethink how I invest my cash. John Lim’s article was the first place I read about the handsome yield available from Series I savings bonds. His article led me to open a TreasuryDirect account, so I could purchase I bonds. That account came in handy when a reader, in response to one of my articles, suggested I consider Treasury bills as an attractive alternative for my cash investments.

Not every insight is life-changing. Finding ways to tweak my personal finances can be just as satisfying. Jonathan had an article on check washing that opened my eyes. I’ve had my own frustrations with the post office, but I didn’t fully appreciate the risk of sending checks through the mail.

Based on Jonathan’s experience, I’ve taken steps to isolate one checking account to use only for mailed checks. If it’s hacked, there won’t be much money there to steal. I also signed up for the online payment service Zelle, so I can transfer money without mailing checks. In addition, I plan to make more payments online.

HumbleDollar offers the chance to learn from one another. If you’ve only been a reader, consider writing about some of your financial adventures. The process of putting words to paper forces you to think through how and why you do what you do. Reader comments may challenge your assumptions. Taken together, you’ll come away with a better understanding of your own approach and how to do better in future.

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