Make It Important

Jonathan Clements

Jonathan is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. He also sits on the advisory board of Creative Planning, one of the country’s largest independent financial advisors, and is the author of nine personal finance books. Earlier in his career, Jonathan spent almost 20 years at The Wall Street Journal, where he was the newspaper's personal finance columnist, and six years at Citigroup, where he was director of financial education for the bank's U.S. wealth management arm. Born in England and educated at Cambridge University, Jonathan now lives in Philadelphia, just a few blocks from his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.

Make It Important

Jonathan Clements  |  Jan 28, 2016

A HAPPY LIFE CAN’T be built solely on relaxing, having fun and doing exciting things. To be sure, there’s pleasure to be found in all of these. But I have come to believe that, to lead a life that’s full and satisfying, there is an ingredient that is even more crucial: We need to devote our days to activities that we think are important.
Or, to frame it slightly differently, we want our life to count for something.

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Financial Wellness

Jonathan Clements  |  Jan 8, 2016

COLUMNIST RON LIEBER of The New York Times emailed me earlier in the week, asking for help with a special online feature. The task: Grab a 4×6 index card and, in Ron’s words, “write whatever you want on the *lined* side. A list of 10 things. Or 20 if you write small. A picture. A quote. Whatever. But it should add up to Clements’s guide to financial wellness.”
This was trickier than it seemed.

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Doing Better

Jonathan Clements  |  Jan 1, 2016

IT’S JANUARY 1—A DAY of great hope. Those New Year’s resolutions to save more still seem achievable. Nobody’s investment results have yet fallen behind the market averages. Market pundits can still fantasize that this year they’ll be proven right. In this spirit of optimism, check out my 16 ways to improve your life in 2016. Below, you’ll also find some thoughts on bond-market risk.
16 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2016

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Not Just Irrational

Jonathan Clements  |  Dec 29, 2015

OUR FINANCIAL irrationality has been well documented by academics focused on behavioral finance. But we aren’t just irrational. We’re also inconsistent in our irrationality. Here are five examples which, while somewhat amusing, can also have dire financial consequences:

Employees will work for 30 years at a job they hate to qualify for a traditional defined benefit pension, but they wouldn’t dream of delaying Social Security for a few years to get a larger monthly check.

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Not Worthless

Jonathan Clements  |  Dec 22, 2015

INSURANCE IS A WAY to get others to shoulder devastating financial risks that it would be foolish to shoulder on your own. That’s why young parents with few assets need heaps of life insurance—but also why buyers of televisions shouldn’t get the extended warranty. Because the potential financial loss is modest, I’ve often argued that folks should skip not only extended warranties, but also trip-cancellation insurance.
But readers have pushed back, arguing that both types of insurance can make sense—in two particular situations.

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Getting Up There

Jonathan Clements  |  Dec 17, 2015

LIFE EXPECTANCY HAS increased sharply over the past century—if you consider life expectancy as of birth. But if you look at life expectancy as of age 65, which is what matters for retirees, the improvement for the broad U.S. population hasn’t been nearly so impressive, as I discussed recently.
But it’s a different story if you look at more affluent Americans, notes one of my e-mail correspondents, Bob Frey, a financial planner in Bozeman,

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Smarter But Homeless

Jonathan Clements  |  Dec 5, 2015

SOARING STUDENT DEBT is putting the kibosh on another major financial goal: buying a home. According to a study by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, 40% of those age 18 to 30 have student debt, up from 27% in 2005. For these borrowers, the debt burden is staggering, with student loan payments estimated to devour more than 20% of their income in 2015.
With so much of their income devoted to servicing student loans,

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Sprechen Sie Dividend?

Jonathan Clements  |  Dec 1, 2015

I DON’T TRADE very often, let alone buy new funds. But there’s a good chance I’ll purchase the no-load Vanguard International High Dividend Yield Index Fund, which is slated to be launched this month. It will charge 0.3% in annual expenses for the Admiral Shares, which require a $10,000 minimum investment, and 0.4% for the Investor Shares, which will have a $3,000 minimum.
In theory, it shouldn’t matter whether a stock pays a dividend.

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Numbers to Live By

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 26, 2015

CYNICS SAY THERE are three kinds of falsehood: lies, damned lies and statistics. Yet the right number can pack a mighty punch—and the financial world is full of them. Here are five examples:
1. Most folks don’t beat the market. Consider the miserable performance of most mutual funds. Standard & Poor’s found that 75% of actively managed U.S. stock funds failed to beat the market over the decade through June 30.

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Bonds and More Bonds

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 17, 2015

STOCKS GET ALL THE attention, which seems a tad unfair. The value of bonds worldwide is some 35% greater than the value of all stocks—plus many other parts of our financial life look suspiciously like bonds. How so? Think about all the streams of steady income that folks collect.
We pull in interest from bank products like savings accounts and certificates of deposit. We collect Social Security retirement benefits. If we’re lucky, we are the recipients of a traditional employer pension plan.

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Settling for Six

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 11, 2015

SINCE RETURNING to life as an ink-stained wretch early last year, I have been talking about the likelihood of modest stock returns. My best guess: A global stock portfolio might notch 6% a year over the next decade, while inflation runs at 2%.
It turns out that the person I admire most on Wall Street, Vanguard Group founder John Bogle, also has modest expectations. This is no great surprise: How I think about stock returns has been greatly influenced by Jack’s writing.

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Keeping It Private

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 8, 2015

FAMILY CAN BE A wonderful asset. Your parents, siblings and adult children might help with home repairs, offer free advice based on their professional expertise and take care of the dog while you’re on vacation.
When the circumstances are right, I think there’s an opportunity to take this even further. For instance, earlier this year, I provided my daughter with a private mortgage, which allowed her to purchase her first home. There aren’t many people I’d strike that deal with,

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Benefits Revised

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 2, 2015

TWO KEY CHANGES to Social Security retirement benefits were wrapped into the budget bill passed by Congress last week. The changes have big implications for married couples.
First, after April 2016, if you suspend your benefit, any family members collecting benefits on your earnings record will also have their benefit suspended. Second, those who aren’t age 62 by Jan. 1, 2016, will lose the right to file a restricted application, where you claim just spousal benefits,

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Wasting Time

Jonathan Clements  |  Oct 27, 2015

STOCK MARKET gyrations since mid-August have investors focusing intently on short-run returns. But if you can drag your gaze away from the daily turmoil, you’ll realize this is a colossal waste of time—and a huge distraction from the big story.
This thought occurred to me as I was playing around with the data available at Take the MSCI World index, which includes 23 developed markets, including the U.S.  From the index’s year-end 1969 inception through Sept.

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Mistakes Compounded

Jonathan Clements  |  Oct 14, 2015

A GOOD GRASP OF compounding is fundamental to managing money. Without an understanding of the way money grows and shrinks over time, folks can’t fully appreciate the value of starting to save when they’re young, the damage done by large investment losses or the true cost of carrying credit-card debt.
Yet I fear compounding isn’t well understood. This has dawned on me over the past month, as I’ve been teaching an undergraduate course on personal finance.

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