My Five Lessons

Joe Kesler

Joe is the author of "Smart Money with Purpose." He spent 40 years in community banking, assisting small businesses and consumers. Joe served as chief executive of banks in Illinois and Montana. He currently lives with his wife in Missoula, Montana, spending his time writing on personal finance, serving on two bank boards and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

My Five Lessons

Joe Kesler  |  Jan 15, 2024

FOR MOST OF MY LIFE, I didn’t plan to retire. Probably reflecting the influence of religion, I’ve long thought we were put here to spend our time working in the productive service of others.
This was reinforced by my experience as a manager early in my career. I often had to oversee folks in their 50s and 60s who were no longer engaged in their career and yearned to retire. I never wanted to become like them.

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The Joy of Work

Joe Kesler  |  Sep 16, 2021

I’VE HAD SOME dreadful jobs in my life. I spent one summer putting metal plates under a huge press for eight hours a day. Once the plates were in the right position, I’d push some buttons that would cause the press to crash down and shape the metal into something useful.
The goal was to work fast because that meant more pay. Some of the workers disabled the safety features so they could produce more widgets and earn extra money.

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The Good Steward

Joe Kesler  |  Aug 22, 2021

I GOT STUCK IN a conversation at a dinner party recently with a name dropper. It was painful. Wanting to impress me, I suppose, I learned that, “Yes, Janet Yellen and I are good friends. I’ll be traveling to D.C. soon and I’m looking forward to connecting.”
But it didn’t end there. I also heard about this person’s exotic travels and homes around the world. And the fabulous career that supported this lavish lifestyle.

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Labor Pains

Joe Kesler  |  Jul 29, 2021

I ALMOST MADE a waitress cry yesterday. It isn’t what you think. I didn’t yell at her for poor service. Quite the contrary.
My wife and I went out for lunch at an Irish pub. I noticed the help wanted ad on the front door as we went inside. When it came time to pay our bill, I simply shared my heartfelt appreciation that she was willing to work and serve us in the midst of the current labor shortage.

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Life’s Two Halves

Joe Kesler  |  Jul 26, 2021

GROWING UP, I WAS heavily influenced by the ideals of the Protestant work ethic. Working hard and finding career success provided great satisfaction, so I assumed I’d handle the second half of my life in the same way as the first.
This wasn’t a great plan.
I was around age 50 when I came across the writings of psychiatrist Carl Jung and his discussion of the two halves of life. For me, the timing couldn’t have been better.

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Go Away

Joe Kesler  |  Jul 15, 2021

ONCE IT LOOKED SAFE to travel again, I didn’t waste any time. I jumped on a plane and spent three weeks in the Carolinas. It was a great vacation.
Staying in an Airbnb on Hilton Head Island gave me a much-needed chance to recharge while enjoying the beach. Renting a place on Lake Norman, the largest man-made lake in North Carolina, gave me quality time with two of my grandchildren. It was like breathing freedom again after the long COVID-19 lockdown.

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Lending a Hand

Joe Kesler  |  Jul 9, 2021

IF I’M HONEST WITH myself, I’ve been financially comfortable for so long that I’ve lost the ability to truly relate to those living paycheck to paycheck. But over a lifetime of working with people and their money, I’ve learned to be aware of signs that someone may be on the brink of breakdown—and could use some help.
I was only 22 years old when I had my first shocking experience with the power of money to cause a life to self-destruct.

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Beyond Saving

Joe Kesler  |  Jun 21, 2021

I’M CONSERVATIVE, but sometimes even I see the need to change. For instance, I belonged to a high-profile service organization for many years. They’re very proud of their tradition of raising money to give a Webster’s dictionary to each fifth grader in our city.
Let’s face it: These days, no self-respecting fifth grader is going to be caught dead with a hardcopy dictionary. Doesn’t everyone know that kids look up everything online? Traditions die hard—even when they no longer make sense.

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A Better Retirement

Joe Kesler  |  Jun 7, 2021

RETIREMENT CAN BE the best time of our life—but only if we manage it right.
I recently passed a milestone: the three-year anniversary of the day I left my 40-year banking career. What have I learned over the past three years? I’ve found that a good retirement has three key elements: sound finances, wellness, and intentionality about managing time.
1. Finances. I watched some of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting last month. As usual,

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Ignoring the Rules

Joe Kesler  |  May 27, 2021

ONE HALLOWEEN, SOME of my teenage buddies and I were having a great time throwing water balloons at trick-or-treaters. It was a lot of fun—until we got caught. After getting hauled down to the police station for a lecture, and then receiving another one when I got home, I’ve been pretty much on the straight and narrow ever since, including when it comes to money.
Over the years, I’ve discovered various tried-and-true rules of investing and those have been the keys to my success.

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Secret Sauce

Joe Kesler  |  Apr 26, 2021

I’VE READ A LOT OF retirement books touting the “keys to a successful retirement.” Some have great ideas. But I think they miss a key ingredient. My contention: To have a successful retirement, we need to start with a proper understanding of work.
Admittedly, it’s a counterintuitive way of looking at retirement. But sometimes looking at a problem backward can help us find creative solutions. In other words, examine the opposite of retirement for lessons about retirement.

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Five Lessons

Joe Kesler  |  Apr 14, 2021

COVID-19 WILL SOON, I hope, be in the rearview mirror. But as Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Here are five lessons I’m taking away from the pandemic:
1. Government spending. Some folks tell me they’re claiming Social Security retirement benefits as soon as they’re eligible because the system’s trust fund will be depleted within the next decade or so, at which point benefits could get cut.

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Housing Gone Wild

Joe Kesler  |  Mar 18, 2021

THERE’S SOMETHING very emotional about our homes—and how we think about their value. Take the conversation my wife and I had a couple of weeks ago.
“Did you see the house behind us went up for sale this week? They have it listed at 141% more than what we paid for our house.”
“Well, there’s no way their house is worth that much.”
“Oh really? I just talked to our neighbor—the one who’s a realtor—and he said they had five offers the first day it went up.

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Watch Your Wallet

Joe Kesler  |  Mar 13, 2021

AS A BANKER, I GOT a ringside seat from which to watch the many ways that people are separated from their hard-earned money. Some are illegal. Some are legal, but unethical. And many, while legal and ethical, would be unnecessary with a little more knowledge about managing money.
For me, the most disturbing experiences were when scammers extracted money from the naïve and innocent. I’ve seen the pain of customers who found out that their elderly mother had given her life savings to a manipulative TV preacher.

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Say No to FOMO

Joe Kesler  |  Feb 11, 2021

I’VE LATELY FACED one of the investment world’s greatest dangers: It’s called FOMO, or fear of missing out. If you pay attention to the financial news, you may be wrestling with this one, too.
Let’s start with bitcoin. I’ve studied it, but never invested. I’ve got friends who own the digital currency. I’m thrilled they’ve been wildly successful. But you know how awkward you feel when somebody tells an inside joke that you don’t get?

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