THE CLOSER IT GETS, the more attention I pay.
“It,” in this case, is retirement. In January, I’ll celebrate my 60th birthday. I have no intention of fully retiring, but I am thinking about how to work less, travel more and prep my finances for the years ahead. As I sketch out my plans, I’m drawing not only on a lifetime of writing and thinking about personal finance, but also on an even more valuable resource: you.
WHEN I WORKED at The Wall Street Journal, editors used to quip that, “There are no new stories, just new reporters.” I don’t know whether that’s the case with politics, sports and technology articles, but it sure rings true for personal finance and investing stories. All too often, the latest hot topic just seems like a rehash of something I’ve witnessed—and often written about—before.
That brings me to three financial arguments that never seem to end.
WE ALL WANT TO LEAD happier lives, but that’s no easy task. Our first stumbling block: Most of us aren’t even sure how to define happiness.
Fortunately, philosophers and psychologists have come to the rescue, suggesting that there are two different types of happiness. First up: hedonic happiness. Think of a wonderful party with delicious food, sparkling conversation and all your favorite people in attendance. There’s great momentary pleasure and—fingers crossed—scant pain involved.
IT SEEMS ONE IS NEVER enough. I’ve known folks who collect handbags, wine, Mark Twain first editions, pennies, vintage posters, Pez dispensers, old cars, British royal family memorabilia, antique furniture, lunch boxes, motorcycles, Beanie Babies, Portmeirion china and more.
Near where I live is the Barnes Foundation, which houses Albert Barnes’s art collection, with its 181 paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Doesn’t that seem a tad obsessive? Most of us, I suspect, would be content with just three or four Renoirs.
TO MEASURE IS TO improve. Businesses, investors, athletes and others embrace this notion, and it undoubtedly has value. Still, earlier this year, when my bicycle’s decade-old computer—which measured speed, distance and cadence—finally quit on me, I didn’t replace it.
These days, when I go out for my morning 20-mile bike ride, I like to think I’m going reasonably fast and I’m not happy if another cyclist passes me. But I also know that, when I occasionally use the Strava app on my phone to clock my average speed,
AS I’VE GROWN OLDER, I have become more willing to open my wallet and splurge. But I still get a thrill from what feels like a bargain. One example: I’ve long been a fan of restaurant happy hours, when you can often get a glass of wine and some appetizers at a cut-rate price.
But I have a new favorite low-cost indulgence. Elaine and I will grab a bottle of vino out of the basement—screw top preferred,
I MOVED FROM LONDON to New York in 1986. For the next three-plus years, I worked as a lowly reporter (read: fact checker) and then staff writer at Forbes magazine, before I was hired away by The Wall Street Journal. During those three years, I set out to educate myself on U.S.-style personal finance.
Forbes was a great place to do that. The magazine’s Greenwich Village offices had a well-stocked library of financial books and company reports,
IN THE WEEKS BEFORE my annual physical, I made a concerted effort to lose a few pounds, drink more water, skip my evening glass of wine, eat more fiber, and avoid red meat, French fries and cheese. The happy result: My blood pressure was low. My weight was down slightly from my previous checkup. My cholesterol count was good. My A1C level suggests my prediabetic condition hasn’t got any worse. All in all, last month’s physical found that I had little reason to worry.
MEET THE LATEST feature added to HumbleDollar—as well as the website’s first calculator: the Two-Minute Checkup.
How does it work? All you need to do is input up to nine pieces of information, the sort of stuff most of us know off the top of our head. There’s no need to create an account or link to your brokerage firm or bank, and none of your information is saved on HumbleDollar or anywhere else.
INDEXING IS A GREAT strategy—and yet there’s also a constant temptation to stray.
When stocks soar, so does our self-confidence, as we attribute our investment gains to our own brilliance. At such times, there’s a risk that even hardcore indexers will start dabbling in individual stocks, actively managed funds, cryptocurrencies and goodness knows what else. Meanwhile, amid market slumps, index funds suffer just as much as the market averages, and some indexers may look to sidestep the pain—by “temporarily”
THE MOST POWERFUL financial ideas are those that help us make better money decisions—by providing a lens through which to understand ourselves and the world around us. Examples? Think about notions like loss aversion, diversification and market efficiency, all ideas frequently mentioned in HumbleDollar articles. Every investor, I believe, should understand such concepts.
To that list of key ideas, I’d favor adding five others—all underappreciated, I’d argue, but all central to how I think about the financial world.
AS WE WATCH OUR portfolios get pummeled by 2022’s imploding financial markets, this might not seem like the time for self-congratulation. After all, Vanguard Total Stock Market Index ETF (symbol: VTI) is down 19% in 2022, while Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND) has lost almost 11%.
But ponder this: If you’d been less sensible with your money, your results could have been far, far worse. In particular, take a bow if you:
Didn’t buy cryptocurrencies.
THE LONGER WE LIVE, the more perspective we have—and the more foolish many of our earlier beliefs seem. We start our adult journey confident that we’ll make our mark on the world and that the financial rewards we collect will greatly enhance our life. By the time we reach retirement, things look quite different. Here are five things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Fame is fleeting. How many entertainers, sports stars and politicians have each of us forgotten?
I’M NOT IN THE HABIT of celebrating half-birthdays, but my next one has me thinking. In a few days, I’ll turn age 59½.
That, of course, is the age at which you can tap your retirement accounts without paying the 10% early withdrawal penalty. Though I don’t currently need to pull spending money from my retirement accounts, I like the feeling that I can now do so penalty-free.
Even without that 10% penalty, however,
ARE WE HAVING FUN yet? I take no pleasure in seeing my portfolio shrink, but I love buying stock index funds at discount prices and I’m always amused by the hand-wringing in the financial media.
Two years ago, we were hiding out in our homes, fretting over a global pandemic and worrying about an economic collapse. Today, COVID is still spreading like wildfire, but vaccines have helped slash the number of hospitalizations and deaths,