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24 Rules for 2024

Jonathan Clements

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO with your money next year? The same things you should have done this year, and the year before, and the year before that.

The rules for a successful life—financially and otherwise—are, I believe, pretty timeless. What rules? Here are 24 of my favorites.

1. Ask why. If you don’t know where you’re going with your finances, you’ll likely end up somewhere you don’t like. What are your money goals for 2024 and beyond? Take a few minutes to sketch out your priorities. Mine include working fewer hours, giving more to charity, helping my children financially, building up my Roth accounts and simplifying my portfolio.

2. Ponder the risks you’re taking. Managing money means managing a slew of risks, including threats like fraud, litigation, hefty unreimbursed medical costs, long-term inflation, short-term investment losses, market underperformance and more. You can’t avoid all financial risk. But you can ponder which risks you’re taking and, if the potential losses seem unbearably large, take steps to limit the fallout.

3. Be skeptical. We live in a treacherous world full of self-interested storytellers. Their stories are often financial, such as dire warnings of an economic Apocalypse, or predictions that this stock or that market will soar. But the stories might also deal with politics, health care or social issues. Whatever the topic, rest assured: The storytellers have an agenda, whether it’s self-promotion, self-enrichment or sowing discord in U.S. society. Listen at your peril.

4. Don’t run with the herd. This is closely related to No. 3. Don’t act on any investment or economic chatter that’s tainted by boasting or predictions. That means ignoring the office investment banter, the online hoopla over particular stocks or market trends, and your neighbor’s blathering about his purported market-beating returns. As I urged in last week’s article, try to lean against the wind.

5. Doubt yourself. Are you tempted to make a big portfolio change, perhaps slashing your allocation to stocks or stashing more than 5% of your money in any one company’s shares? There’s a good chance you’re convinced you know something that’s unknowable. My advice: Discuss your big investment bet with a friend or family member. In all likelihood, as you try to articulate your rationale, you’ll realize it isn’t so rational.

6. Control what you can. Faced with a turbulent financial world, folks often latch onto anything that seems to promise certainty, which is why the stories told by market pundits and cocktail-party investment gurus can be so seductive. But these stories always rest on unreliable short-term predictions. Instead, focus on the things you truly can control: saving and spending, risk, investment costs, your portfolio’s tax bill—and, perhaps most important, your own response to the market’s ups and downs.

7. Be patient. I regularly get emails from readers asking what I think of bonds, or value stocks, or emerging markets, or some other segment of the financial markets. The unspoken anxiety: These investments lately haven’t done well and perhaps it’s time to bail out. We live in a world where we get constant short-term feedback on long-term investments, and that mismatch is a source of endless worry. But these beaten-down sectors are indeed long-term investments—and, in all likelihood, they’ll once again have their day in the sun.

8. Embrace optimism. The tragic and the disturbing dominate the headlines, which may explain why so many are pessimistic about the future. Yet living standards continue to rise, health care improves and technology advances. Want to bet this progress continues? That’s the reason to own stocks.

9. Pause before acting. Whether it’s a portfolio decision, a big purchase or that fiery response to an email you didn’t like, don’t act immediately. Instead, give your brain’s contemplative side a chance to negotiate with your instincts. Often, waiting a day or even a few hours can save us from actions we later regret.

10. Take a time inventory. What do you do each day that’s unnecessary and perhaps even makes you unhappy? As we grow older, our remaining time gets shorter and hence more valuable. Just wasted a day on nonsense? It’s a loss you’ll never recoup.

11. Question your habits. We all fall into patterns of behavior—favoring certain restaurants and vacation spots, eating certain foods, having a drink at 6 p.m., turning on the TV after dinner every evening. Such habits aren’t always good for us, and an unchanging daily routine—while comforting—can cause time to fly by. Want to slow the clock? How about mixing things up a little?

12. Simplify your life. This has been a big push for me in recent years, with a particular focus on simplifying my finances. This will make it easier to manage my affairs as I get older and for my kids to settle my estate. But there’s also an immediate benefit: As I shrink the number of financial accounts I have and the investments I own, I feel a greater sense of control, plus it frees up time to focus on other, more enjoyable activities.

13. Keep striving. Working hard to achieve our goals can be a source of great satisfaction. This is no doubt a trick played on us by our hunter-gatherer genes, which equate hard work with survival. Still, why fight this instinct? We could do good work—and finish each day with a profound sense of satisfaction.

14. Anticipate good times. In March, I’ll take a cruise from New York to Bermuda—one I booked 19 months earlier. The cruise may turn out to be a disappointment. But I figure I’ve already got my money’s worth, because I’ve had all this time to daydream about the vacation, imagining how fun and relaxing it’ll be. My advice: Whether it’s a new car, a home remodeling project, a vacation or some other major expense, plan far ahead, so you can milk as much pleasure as possible out of the anticipation.

15. Give thanks. Our satisfaction with the possessions we own tends to wane over time, thanks to what’s called hedonic adaptation. Want to squeeze more happiness out of your home, car and other purchases? Take time to count your blessings. While you’re at it, think about the special experiences you’ve enjoyed and the wonderful folks in your life. You’ll likely find yourself feeling a whole lot better.

16. Be kind. Consider yourself cynical? Even so, you should be kind to others—because it’ll likely make you feel good, and perhaps even better than it does the recipients of your kindness.

17. Give generously. Like kindness, generosity can boost the happiness of the giver. An added bonus: It could trim your taxes. Consider two strategies. First, if you’re age 70½ or older, make qualified charitable distributions from your IRA. Second, bunch multiple years’ charitable contributions into a single year so you can itemize your deductions, possibly stashing those dollars in a donor-advised fund.

18. Seek new friends. There aren’t many people I want to see every day. But there are plenty of folks I’m happy to spend an occasional hour or evening with. I enjoy hearing the stories and perspective of others, not least because it makes me think differently about my life and my views.

19. Lose the losers. I tend to be overly loyal to longtime acquaintances and overly concerned about others. These might seem like admirable qualities, but—trust me—they aren’t. As I’ve discovered over my adult life, there are folks who are human black holes. They’ll take everything you give—emotionally, financially and otherwise—while offering little in return. Want to improve your life in 2024? Figure out which “friends” are more akin to parasites, and cut them loose.

20. Don’t dwell. We all make mistakes, including big financial mistakes. We all suffer slights, and sometimes far worse. I have no magic strategy for putting such things behind me, but I do know dwelling on the past is a colossal waste of time. Yes, there I go again, mentioning time. It’s the ultimate limited resource, and we should be miserly in how we spend it.

21. Exercise, preferably outside. There’s no conclusive evidence—yet—that exercise or spending time in nature boosts happiness. Still, I find exercising and spending time outside each day are crucial to my well-being, both physically and emotionally. One obvious benefit: lower medical costs.

22. Get at least seven hours. Sleep, alas, has been one of my biggest struggles over the past decade. I’ve come to realize that I sleep better when I eat earlier, eat less, avoid alcohol and go to bed with the day’s concerns put to rest. Over the past year, I’ve done better on all those fronts, and it’s helped. Don’t sleep well? I’m no expert, but I’d encourage you to work on it—because the health and emotional benefits of a good night’s sleep are many.

23. Talk honestly about money. I’m not suggesting you tell the neighbors how much you earn, what you’re worth or your plans for your estate. But you should tell your family. By talking honestly about your finances, you’ll educate family members about money, prompt them to think about their own finances, manage their expectations about future gifts and any inheritance, and potentially prevent squabbling after your death.

24. Use those savings. Yes, there’s happiness to be had from sitting with a fat portfolio. Yes, if you’ve lived a life of frugality, spending can be uncomfortable. Still, for those of us who have been good savers, we need a plan for our nest egg. Happiness might lie in charitable donations, giving to family members, or paying to avoid life’s discomforts and hassles. For now, you might opt to do nothing with your savings. But realize that doing nothing is indeed a decision. Make sure it’s the right one.

Jonathan Clements is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. Follow him on X (Twitter) @ClementsMoney and on Facebook, and check out his earlier articles.

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