I AM AMAZED OUR schools don’t require kids to learn three important life skills: the basics of nutrition, a thing or two about parenting, and how to handle money. I’m no expert on nutrition and my parenting is a work in progress. But I do have a background in personal finance: When folks ask me what to read to deepen their financial knowledge, I have a ready list of titles.
Recently, however, someone asked me for a more advanced list—a “201”
I RECENTLY LEARNED a new expression, TL;DR, which stands for “too long; didn’t read.” Twitter users and bloggers use it when they want to summarize an idea for readers who are short on time. It’s the modern equivalent of saying, “Here’s the executive summary.”
Coincidentally, this week, two people separately asked me what I see as the most important principles in personal finance. In other words, they wanted the TL;DR version, without too much commentary.
I’M A BIG BELIEVER in transparency, so I’d like to tell you a little about my personal investments. As you might guess, the overwhelming majority of my money is allocated to simple, low-cost index funds—the same things I recommend in my writing and for my clients. That is true almost without exception. But today, I would like to describe one of those exceptions.
Many years ago, before I entered the investment industry, I purchased shares in a small mutual fund called the Mairs &
ONE OF MY FAVORITE activities as a child was to play with a tomahawk at my grandparents’ house. Yes, that was in the days before the Consumer Product Safety Commission. But in this case, it wouldn’t have made a difference: This particular tomahawk was no toy, but rather the real thing. It belonged to my grandfather. His name was Walking Buffalo, and he was a member of the Assiniboine, a Native American tribe who live on the Plains of Montana.
WHEN I LOOK at today’s world, I often think of Charles Dickens’s famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Technology, including the web and smartphones, has made life so much more convenient.
Still, one thing I really miss from the “old days” is the experience of the traditional bookstore. Shopping online is great, but sometimes it’s easier to choose from a curated set of 10 books on a shelf than to sift through an unwieldy list of a thousand choices online.
WHEN AN INVENTOR goes on record stating that his invention is “a monster” that he’d like to “blow up,” you know there’s a problem.
Such is the case with Ted Benna, who back in 1980 created the first 401(k) retirement plan. Since then, his invention has grown to become the dominant retirement vehicle for millions of Americans.
Why is Benna so negative on his creation? The problem, in a word: complexity. According to Benna,
IN TODAY’S POLITICAL environment, discourse has become ever more fractious. The investment world, in my view, isn’t much better. Those who disagree generally talk past—rather than listen to—one another.
That is why, in my work as an investment advisor, I maintain a “team of rivals” approach, reading and listening to diverse opinions. Behavioral scientists often talk about confirmation bias—the tendency to seek out only information that confirms our preconceived notions. To counteract this bias,
IN MY HOMETOWN of Boston, there’s an old joke about our dismal winter weather. “February,” they say, “is the longest month of the year.” I don’t disagree and so, each year at Presidents’ Day, my family tries to get away for a warm weather vacation.
On these trips, we often stay at the same hotel and, because of that, we have noticed certain patterns. Among them: Most years, there is the same large corporate gathering.
LIKE MOST PEOPLE, I’ve made my fair share of financial blunders. I’ve also had some successes. But I definitely spend more time beating myself up over my errors than celebrating my successes.
Undoubtedly, my biggest mistake fits into the relatively obscure category of asset location. If you aren’t familiar with the term, I can explain it by way of an example. Suppose you have two investment accounts: a retirement account and a standard, taxable account.
WE’RE USED TO SEEING money as one of life’s limiting factors. But if you receive a financial windfall, money may no longer be the limitation it once was. While that might sound liberating, it can also create anxiety. The reality is, constraints serve a useful purpose: They provide structure. Without that structure, you may find yourself feeling rudderless.
I experienced this when I received a windfall several years back. I remember walking into an Apple Store,
ONE DAY BACK IN 2012, I received a life-changing windfall. Contrary to what you might imagine, however, that day was not very different from the day before it, or the day after. It went something like this: Woke up. Went to work. Came home. Thought about ways to splurge. Ultimately gave up and went to bed.
In other words, there was no visit to the Ferrari dealership, no trip to Las Vegas,