I STARTED WRITING for HumbleDollar almost five years ago—and it’s become a big part of my retirement.
Some folks have likened me to Andy Rooney. It’s a comparison I’ve happily embraced. I try to offer pointed opinions leavened by a measure of humor. Here are my 10 favorite articles that I’ve written for the site.
Choosing Badly (April 24, 2018). This was my first piece for HumbleDollar. Employer-sponsored 401(k) plans are underutilized and misused.
DEAR 18-YEAR-OLD: You may be better educated and more intelligent than me. You may have more potential. But for sure you don’t have more experience. I have 60 years on you, so—as hard as it may be—take my advice:
There are no guarantees in life. You have to make of it what you will. Never give up.
You will have obstacles placed before you. You will be treated unfairly. You will have to deal with less-than-honorable individuals.
AS A TEENAGER, I wanted to be an architect. I took six years of mechanical drawing during junior and senior high school, and I was good at it, earning nearly all As.
At another time, in my 30s, I thought about becoming a lawyer. People told me I’d make a good one. A lawyer’s opinion seemed to carry more weight, even when the subject was unrelated to legal matters.
I also wanted to play a musical instrument.
HAVE YOU THOUGHT about what made you the person you are—the way you think about money, life, your behaviors, your likes and dislikes? When I look at my own life, I can clearly see the impact of my childhood.
My mother and grandmother made a lot of my and my sister’s clothes. I recall those paper dress patterns all over the apartment. Is that why I dislike shopping for clothes? I’m happy to let my wife and daughter decide what I should wear.
READERS CAST AN EYE over more HumbleDollar pages last month than they did in any prior month in the site’s six-year history. Much of the credit goes to the first article listed below, which accounted for almost a fifth of February’s pageviews. Here are last month’s 10 most popular articles and blog posts:
“Know your strongest needs—the things that really turn you on—and then find activities that will satisfy them on a regular basis,”
HOW MUCH DO I NEED to save for retirement? How much will I spend in retirement? Can I live comfortably in retirement? Can I even afford to retire?
I can answer all these questions, but most likely none of my answers will be exactly right—for you. Experts tackle these questions, too, but provide inconsistent answers. Google any of them and you’ll get a range of results. Without knowing your situation, such shotgun advice is pretty meaningless.
DO A QUICK REVIEW of Twitter and other social media sites, and you’ll find extensive use of the word “free.” The dictionary defines free as “without cost or payment.”
College, health care, child care, preschool, even housing are often mentioned in connection with “free.” The actual cost of “free” may not be what it seems. Free in this context typically means shifting the cost from one person to another, or redirecting money to some favored purpose.
I’VE PENNED MORE THAN 450 articles for HumbleDollar, so picking 10 favorites could have been a laborious task—if I’d bothered to look back through all the articles I’ve written.
But instead, I took an easier route, simply listing the articles that I could most easily recall. What made these articles memorable? Some were quite personal, while others broached ideas that I continue to grapple with to this day.
Really Useful Engine (Dec.
I RECENTLY DISCUSSED Social Security with a friend. After trying to explain the program’s funding, I gave up when his reply was, “The facts are that the Social Security money was misappropriated and there’s no way it can be tracked after all these years. People die before they collect one Social Security check, and others get very few checks. You will never convince me otherwise.”
Yes, that’s the one thing we do agree on: I will indeed never change his mind.
I’M AMAZED BY the opinions expressed by some retirees about the Medicare premium surcharge known as IRMAA, short for income-related monthly adjustment amount. Is it really unfair for higher-income older Americans to pay larger premiums for Medicare Part B and Part D? Many people think so.
IRMAA was part of 2003’s Medicare Modernization Act and took effect in 2007. The threshold at which IRMAA kicks in for a couple is four times higher than the median household income for Americans age 65 and older.
AS A REGULAR READER of HumbleDollar, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, I pick up all kinds of pointers on investing. And the more I read, the more I think I may have been doing it wrong all these years. My approach to picking investments is more aligned with a dartboard than a spreadsheet.
I’ve never owned an exchange-traded fund. I don’t know what the VIX is,
I’M NOT ONE TO DIVE into the mysteries of the tax code in an effort to avoid paying Uncle Sam. But I’ve lately stumbled onto something that many others are already well-versed in and which has been around since 2006: qualified charitable distributions.
If I make a contribution from my traditional IRA directly to a charity, the withdrawal is excluded from the taxable income reported by my wife and me and, indeed, it counts toward my required minimum distribution.
I BEGAN TRYING TO figure out the laws related to retirement and employee benefits after the enactment of ERISA in 1974. I spent endless hours over many years in lawyers’ offices in Washington, D.C., as each new law or regulation came along.
TEFRA, DEFRA and COBRA are but a few of the many laws that now confound Americans. I bet most people think COBRA was only about health insurance. In fact, it’s the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.
I’M ANNOYED BY the financial independence-retire early movement, otherwise known as FIRE. Most annoying are the FIRE bloggers who present their fantasy world of radically early retirement, but don’t like to be questioned, challenged or criticized. As if I’d ever do that.
FIRE folks typically have a few things in common. They were high-income earners before “retiring” and their households usually had two incomes. They’re willing—indeed eager—to embrace a frugal, nontraditional lifestyle, sometimes outside the U.S.
I JUST READ THAT the 4% rule is making a comeback. From where, I thought?
Under the 4% rule, you withdraw 4% of your nest egg in the first year of retirement. If you had $1 million, you’d take 4%, or $40,000. In year two, you’d add inflation to your previous year’s withdrawal. Say inflation ran at 6%. You’d multiply $40,000 by that 6% to get the second-year adjustment of $2,400. Add that to the prior year’s $40,000,