Writ Large

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.

Writ Large

Jonathan Clements  |  Dec 24, 2022

WANT TO BE A PERSONAL finance columnist? I can’t claim expertise on many topics, but this is one where I draw on a lifetime of experience.
And it isn’t just as a writer. At HumbleDollar, I have a hand in editing every piece that appears, plus I get to see the numbers on which articles catch readers’ attention—and which get the cold shoulder.
To be sure, popularity isn’t necessarily the best way to gauge an article’s quality.

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Just What I Wanted

Jonathan Clements  |  Dec 17, 2022

‘TIS THE SEASON WHEN many of us open our wallets and spend with reckless abandon. Along the way, we often end up buying a gift or two for that special person in our life—ourselves.
I don’t put too much stock in the accuracy of quick consumer surveys, but it seems the percentage of folks who self-gift might be 22% or 57% or even 77%. Whatever the right number is, I’m not inclined to be too judgmental,

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Late Shift

Jonathan Clements  |  Dec 10, 2022

LIKE A SLOW-MOTION train wreck, we’ve spent recent decades inching toward a world where we have too few workers and too many retirees dependent upon their labor. Have we finally reached the tipping point?
Consider today’s confluence of economic events: a labor shortage, sharply higher inflation, massive government budget deficits, and depressed stock and bond prices. To be sure, all this can be explained by the pandemic and what followed—excessive government stimulus, supply chain issues,

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Check Again

Jonathan Clements  |  Dec 3, 2022

THE TWO-MINUTE CHECKUP is, I like to think, a unique financial tool: It aims to offer feedback across someone’s entire financial life based on no more than nine pieces of information. That’s an ambitious goal and—perhaps no surprise—some users have found the calculator wanting.
Meet Checkup 2.0.
Sanjib Saha, who writes for HumbleDollar when he isn’t busy writing software, and I went through all the comments that the calculator had received and made a host of changes.

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New Rules for Success

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 26, 2022

FOUR DECADES OF falling inflation and declining interest rates have come to an abrupt halt—and that’s changed the calculus on a fistful of financial decisions.
Want to make smarter money choices in the months and years ahead? Here are seven new rules for financial success:
1. Carrying debt is less foolish—in some cases. Thanks to inflation, families can now repay the money they’ve borrowed with depreciated dollars. That won’t help you with credit card debt,

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Maximum Thinking

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 20, 2022

WHEN I PICK HEALTH insurance each year, my focus is twofold: What’s the monthly premium—and what’s the out-of-pocket maximum?
Sure, I want to stay with my primary care physician. But my doctor just announced that she’s leaving Philadelphia to return to her native Massachusetts, so that became a non-issue for 2023.
Meanwhile, I’ve long wanted a high-deductible health plan so I could fund a health savings account (HSA). But since 2014, when I started working for myself and had to buy individual coverage,

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Happy Talk

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 19, 2022

PESSIMISTS SEEM LIKE they’re clever and sophisticated, but—if you want to make money—take my advice: Invest like an optimist.
I’m not talking wild-eyed optimists who are over-enthused about meme stocks and nonfungible tokens. Instead, I’m talking about a fundamental belief that economic setbacks are temporary and the future will be better than the past. Struggling to stay cheery amid 2022’s rotten financial markets? Here are five reasons for optimism.
1. The news is terrible.

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Read Before Jumping

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 12, 2022

WHEN MARKETS PLUNGE, investors start questioning whether they have the right mix of stocks, bonds and cash. That’s no great surprise: Bear markets hammer home the investment risks we’re taking—and many folks discover their portfolio is too aggressive for their taste.
That’s a useful insight for the future. But it’s hardly one you want to act upon when, even after Thursday’s rally, the broad stock market remains down some 16% for the year-to-date and the bond market is off 14%.

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Can’t Compare

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 5, 2022

COMPARISONS ARE the death knell of happiness—and they aren’t good for our wallets, either.
If we’re to get the most out of our time and money, we need to devote those two precious resources to things we consider meaningful. But how do we figure out whether something is indeed meaningful to us, and not a reflection of the influence of others?
For “meaningful,” dictionaries offer synonyms such as “important” and “significant.” What we’re talking about are things that have some special emotional resonance,

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Should Have Waited

Jonathan Clements  |  Nov 3, 2022

BILLIONS OF DOLLARS poured into Series I savings bonds toward the end of October, as investors rushed to snag the 9.62% annualized rate then on offer, which was guaranteed for the first six months. But it turns out these folks were a tad too hasty.
How so? Buyers of I bonds are promised a pretax return equal to the inflation rate, plus they sometimes also get an additional fixed rate of interest, over and above inflation,

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News You Can’t Use

Jonathan Clements  |  Oct 29, 2022

THE COLUMN I WROTE for The Wall Street Journal for more than 13 years was popular with readers—which was just as well, because it wasn’t always popular with Journal editors.
As best I could tell, top management appreciated the column, as did most of the editors I reported to directly. But others were critical. One editor, during his annual review of my performance, even demanded that I change my approach to writing the column.

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Budgeting Time

Jonathan Clements  |  Oct 22, 2022

FIVE YEARS AGO, I realized I’d spent my adult life doing something that was totally unnecessary—drying my hair with a hair dryer. I’m not sure why I got into the habit, but one day I realized it made zero difference to my appearance. I’m not saying using a hair dryer is a bad use of time for others. But for me, it was a minute or so each day that was completely wasted.
And it isn’t just the hair dryer that I’ve ditched.

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Hooray for Inflation?

Jonathan Clements  |  Oct 16, 2022

IF YOU’RE AN OWNER of financial assets, inflation doesn’t offer much reason to cheer. Lost 16% on your bonds this year? Once you factor in inflation, the hit to your bond portfolio’s real, inflation-adjusted value would be more than 20%.
By contrast, if you’re a borrower, inflation is a bonanza. Suppose you owe $2,000 every month to the mortgage company on your fixed-rate loan. As inflation climbs, your mortgage payment stays the same—but, if your income rises with inflation,

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My Investment Sin

Jonathan Clements  |  Oct 15, 2022

I’LL CONCEDE IT’S HARD to justify—but I don’t believe it’s 100% unjustifiable. At issue: my strategy of overweighting stocks during big market declines. I did so in 2007-09 and early 2020, and I’m doing so today.
“Market timer,” cry the critics. That, in financial circles, ranks as pretty much the nastiest insult you can hurl, even worse than calling someone an “annuity salesman.”
Today, if I ignore the money I’ve set aside for a big home remodeling project,

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Back to Fundamentals

Jonathan Clements  |  Oct 1, 2022

WHAT DO ALL BEAR markets have in common? By definition, stock prices must fall at least 20%. But often, that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.
For instance, ponder the differences between 2020’s one-month, 34% plunge in the S&P 500 and this year’s grinding nine-month descent, which saw the S&P 500 yesterday close 25% below its early January high.
The 2020 slump had folks fretting about the economic shutdown and possible deflation, while this year’s big worry is surging inflation amid a 53-year low in unemployment.

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