Frugal but Foolish

Ken Cutler

Ken lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and has worked as an electrical engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than 38 years. There, he has become an informal financial advisor for many of his coworkers. Ken is involved in his church, enjoys traveling and hiking with his wife Lisa, is a shortwave radio hobbyist, and has a soft spot for cats and dogs.

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Frugal but Foolish

Ken Cutler  |  Apr 18, 2024

JEFF WAS A NEW engineer who began his nuclear power career a couple of decades ago as part of my group. He’d graduated from a middling engineering school with a stellar grade point average. Quiet, though not shy, he had a serious demeanor.
Jeff had a goal of purchasing a house as soon as possible. Needless to say, this was a tall order for someone just starting his career. He lived a spartan lifestyle,

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An Ordinary Life

Ken Cutler  |  Apr 11, 2024

MY GRANDFATHER FALLS into the category of folks who are “not long remembered.” He died more than 75 years ago. None of his children or their spouses is alive. The one grandchild alive at the time of his death was only a few months old. It’s safe to say his memory has been all but erased, and yet his story offers a glimpse into what working life was like in the first half of the 1900s.

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Billionaire Next Door

Ken Cutler  |  Apr 2, 2024

JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER was the richest man in the U.S. in 1918, which happens to be the year my father was born. His $1.2 billion net worth at that time would have the buying power today of more than $24 billion.
Rockefeller, with his massive wealth, could purchase things most of us can only dream about, such as sprawling estates and gigantic yachts. Still, in many ways, today’s millionaire next door has more purchasing power than this billionaire of yesteryear.

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Nothing Odd

Ken Cutler  |  Mar 21, 2024

VOGUE RAN AN ARTICLE a decade ago about Marissa Mayer, then Yahoo’s CEO. The opening quote from Mayer grabbed my attention: “I really like even numbers, and I like heavily divisible numbers. Twelve is my lucky number—I just love how divisible it is. I don’t like odd numbers, and I really don’t like primes. When I turned 37, I put on a strong face, but I was not looking forward to 37.”
Mayer’s statement resonated with me.

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What It Cost

Ken Cutler  |  Mar 14, 2024

MY DAD’S FINANCIAL ledgers were key sources of information for my article yesterday about my parents’ retirement journey. In these binders, my father kept track of a wide variety of financial information, all entered in his impeccable handwriting.
I have no doubt Dad would have loved Excel spreadsheets as much as I do, had they been available earlier in his life. When he was in his 80s, he purchased his first personal computer and was able to perform some rudimentary tasks.

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My Parents’ Retirement

Ken Cutler  |  Mar 13, 2024

DAD WAS AN ACCOUNTANT. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, taking classes at night while working full-time. He also studied engineering at another Philadelphia college, again taking classes at night. Dad would have enjoyed being an engineer, but he could only take on so much while working a day job. He never completed that degree.
Being sharp at math and having an organized mind, accounting was a good fit. Dad eventually became president of J.S.

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Fit for Retirement

Ken Cutler  |  Mar 5, 2024

I HAD A REVELATION while shoveling snow earlier this year. When I was age 40 or so, digging out after a snowstorm was always an ordeal for me, even with the aid of a snowblower. I’d need to take frequent breaks and would be wiped out for the rest of the day. Multiple body aches would appear over the next 24 hours, and full recovery might take a few days.
But in January, at age 61,

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What I’d Keep

Ken Cutler  |  Feb 15, 2024

IT WOULD BE GREAT if my wife and I could stay indefinitely in the two-story colonial-style home where we raised our two children.
Right now, in our early 60s, taking care of the place doesn’t seem like a huge burden. The lawn is only a third of an acre and mowing it helps me stay in shape. Before I retired, we updated the kitchen and had a new roof installed. In the near term,

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Letting It Ride

Ken Cutler  |  Feb 9, 2024

I KISSED REBALANCING goodbye. In any case, I wasn’t consistent about rebalancing our retirement portfolio.
I’ve never attempted to maintain a specific stock-bond ratio. Whenever I did something akin to rebalancing, it was usually in response to some vague discomfort about the level of risk we were taking. Or it was based on a hunch about where the market would move in the near future—typically misguided.
This latter activity is also known as market timing.

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Prophet Motive

Ken Cutler  |  Feb 2, 2024

LARRY BURKETT WAS one of my early financial influences. Burkett, who passed away from cancer in 2003 at age 64, had a daily program called Money Matters on our local Christian radio station. For years, it came on during my commute home from work, and I’d faithfully tune in.
Burkett was a prolific author, publishing more than 70 books. His final book, Wealth to Last, co-authored with Ron Blue,

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Closing Doors

Ken Cutler  |  Jan 26, 2024

MY FAVORITE CLASS freshman year in college was introductory psychology. I found the lectures interesting, the textbook fascinating, and the course much less time-consuming than my engineering classes. Based on my positive experience, I decided I’d take a class called psychology of personality as an elective. What I didn’t realize was that many students considered the professor to be something of an oddball.
My first—and only—day in the class was surreal. The professor kept repeating that his class was “designed to be a real system.” Multiple times,

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Longtime Worry

Ken Cutler  |  Dec 26, 2023

IS A STORM COMING? Long before I discovered HumbleDollar, I regularly read articles by Scott Burns. Now in his 80s, Burns was a popular financial columnist who wrote for the Boston Herald and later The Dallas Morning News. He’s a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so he’s comfortable presenting quantitative arguments. Burns is an advocate of low-cost index funds, and he helped popularize couch potato investing,

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Taste Those Savings

Ken Cutler  |  Dec 18, 2023

I GET A THRILL FROM saving money on groceries. We have customer loyalty cards for the two local grocery stores where we do most of our shopping. The sales receipts list total savings for that shopping trip. I love to see big numbers on that line.
I’m a prodigious cereal eater, and my favorite is Cheerios. The regular price for the smallest box is $4.99. Of course, I never pay that. Fairly frequently, one of the local stores runs specials on General Mills brands,

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They Made the Lists

Ken Cutler  |  Dec 12, 2023

THERE’S AN OLD SAYING: Good things come in threes. That’s certainly been true for one aspect of my life. I’ve lived in just three locations—and all of them have been featured in national “best places” lists.
My early years were in Moorestown, New Jersey, a quiet town with a population of some 20,000. It’s an affluent suburb of Philadelphia that defies stereotypes about New Jersey. In 2005, Money magazine identified Moorestown as the best place to live in the country.

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Learned From Less

Ken Cutler  |  Dec 4, 2023

HOW MANY OF OUR adult financial habits are shaped by childhood experiences? My parents, who grew up during the Great Depression, weren’t fans of providing allowances for my sisters and me. My oldest sister, Gail, got no pocket money but remembers being offered a quarter to fill a grocery bag with dandelions pulled from the yard. Lynn, 10 years older than me, received a quarter a week for a short period.
My first allowance was also a quarter a week,

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