Spending Nervously

Mike Zaccardi

Mike is a freelance writer for financial advisors and investment firms. He's a CFA® charterholder and Chartered Market Technician®, and has passed the coursework for the Certified Financial Planner program. Mike has also taught as a finance instructor at the University of North Florida. He's written more than 100 articles and blog posts for HumbleDollar.

Spending Nervously

Mike Zaccardi  |  Nov 14, 2021

IT’S CRUNCH TIME for retailers. Black Friday, it’s said, is the day many stores finally turn a profit for the year. While that’s a myth, there’s no doubt analysts will be watching closely to see how consumers spend the extra cash generated by stimulus checks and an improving economy.
Americans sure seem ready to spend. According to, approximately four in 10 shoppers are willing to go into or add to debt for this year’s holiday spending.

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Ask and Receive

Mike Zaccardi  |  Nov 7, 2021

OCTOBER’S EMPLOYMENT report was impressive: 531,000 jobs were created, beating economists’ expectations. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.6%, while average hourly earnings increased a solid 0.4% from September.
Across the board, the data from the U.S. labor market show the economy is humming along, with no signs of stagflation. I like to dig into the wage numbers to see which segments of the workforce are enjoying the best pay increases. Leisure and hospitality pay rose the most,

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Not Too Late

Mike Zaccardi  |  Nov 6, 2021

HEALTH SAVINGS accounts are frequently praised on HumbleDollar—with good reason. A lesser-known benefit: Health savings accounts, or HSAs, can be a boon for new employees, thanks to the last-month rule.
What’s that? If you have a qualifying high deductible health plan (HDHP) as of Dec. 1, you’re eligible to make a full-year HSA contribution, even if you only just bought an HDHP. On top of that, if you continue HDHP coverage,

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An Incentive to Help

Mike Zaccardi  |  Nov 2, 2021

THE 2017 TAX CUTS and Jobs Act doubled the standard deduction. It’s estimated that 90% of households took the standard deduction in 2018, rather than itemizing, up from 69% in 2017.
The tax-code overhaul essentially means it costs more to donate to your favorite qualifying charities—unless you’re among the 10% whose itemized deductions exceed their standard deduction. To be sure, we shouldn’t give to charity solely for the potential tax benefit. Even if you itemize and hence you can deduct your gift,

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Whither Cash?

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 31, 2021

IT WASN’T LONG AGO that a saver could make a few bucks in a money market fund. In late 2018, the Federal Reserve had hiked short-term interest rates. By early the next year, Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund (symbol: VMFXX) was sporting a yield near 2.5%.
While it might take years to see that sort of juicy risk-free rate again, market observers now believe the Fed will begin a tightening cycle that will lead to higher short-term interest rates.

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No Stagflation

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 27, 2021

WE SPEND TOO MUCH time worrying about stagflation. The term describes a period of high inflation with stagnant growth—a disastrous economic condition. It was seen at times during the worst of the mid-1970s recession, and again when inflation spiked in the early 1980s.
Do we see it today? No way.
Everyone over 60 surely recalls how difficult it was decades ago. Consumer prices were out of control. The unemployment rate jumped. Real wages were on the decline,

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More of the Same

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 24, 2021

DO I SOUND LIKE a broken record? Last week, the performance gap between U.S. and foreign stocks widened even further. Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (symbol: VTI) has now returned 21.6% so far in 2021, while Vanguard FTSE All World ex-U.S. ETF (VEU) is up just 9.4%.
International funds’ relative weakness has become so routine that it rarely makes the financial news. What’s different this time: The economic landscape would seem to favor foreign shares,

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Getting Heated

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 21, 2021

REMEMBER JULY 2008? The financial system was faltering following Bear Stearns’s March 2008 forced merger with J.P. Morgan Chase. That summer, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac needed special assistance. The Global Financial Crisis was almost upon us.
But many folks forget that, at that time, another crisis was coming to a head—a global energy squeeze.
In 2008, I was a busy 20-year-old driving my 1998 Toyota Camry around Jacksonville, Florida, taking summer classes and working a part-time job.

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Coming Out Ahead

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 20, 2021

LAST WEEK’S NEWS that Social Security recipients will receive a 5.9% cost-of-living adjustment for 2022 might seem like a nonevent. After all, those larger monthly checks will be fully devoured by today’s higher prices.
Or maybe not.
September’s report for the Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed that inflation for medical care services—a big cost for retirees—was quite tame over the past 12 months, rising less than 1%. Seniors also spend significantly less on transportation,

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A Worthy Choice?

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 17, 2021

A RECENT RULING from the Department of Labor appears to pave the way for more ESG (environmental, social and governance) mutual funds in 401(k) plans. Last week, Morningstar even launched an ESG-focused retirement plan service.
ESG assets are modest compared to other parts of the money management business, but they’re growing fast. Fund flows are substantial in the U.S. and gigantic in Europe. Investors are increasingly putting their money where their conscience is. But is that really a good thing when it comes to building our long-term wealth?

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Picking Plans

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 16, 2021

HAVING LEFT the nine-to-five world, I face a decision: What to do about health insurance? I’m a single, generally healthy millennial. Historically, I’ve not run up major medical bills. But as with the financial markets, past performance doesn’t guarantee future outcomes. Here are the five options I’ve been considering:
1. Continue COBRA. When I left my job, I kept my old employer’s health plan, but I have to pay the full cost of coverage.

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Build Your Own?

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 10, 2021

THE LATEST BIG NEWS in the money management world: Vanguard Group said it had completed the acquisition of Just Invest, while Franklin Templeton announced it was buying O’Shaughnessy Asset Management. With these purchases, the two firms entered the direct indexing arena in a big way.
Direct indexing—or custom indexing—involves using quantitative tools to tailor a portfolio’s individual stock and bond holdings to each investor’s preferences. Say you don’t want to own tobacco stocks. No problem.

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Christmas in October

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 9, 2021

THE HOLIDAYS ARE almost here, but supply-chain bottlenecks and order backlogs continue to wreak havoc with the economy. Forget stocking up on Halloween candy. Instead, you might want to focus on buying the latest hot Christmas toys for your kids—right now.
J.P. Morgan Asset Management put out a research piece last week detailing the logistical nightmare gripping global markets. Its charts reveal a skyrocketing number of anchored containerships near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach waiting to unload.

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A Decade to Savor

Mike Zaccardi  |  Oct 3, 2021

CAST YOUR MIND BACK 10 years—to Oct. 3, 2011. There was a fire-sale on Wall Street. Two months earlier, brinksmanship on Capitol Hill had culminated in Standard & Poor’s first-ever downgrade of the U.S. government. Meanwhile, Greece was on the verge of collapse, prompting the European Central Bank to take extreme measures to combat the region’s debt debacle.
It was a scary time. But—as is so often the case—the dire stories on financial television marked the beginning of a great period for long-term investors.

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Simpler and Cheaper

Mike Zaccardi  |  Sep 28, 2021

VANGUARD GROUP today announced significant price cuts for its fleet of target-date retirement funds. Currently, investors can own a Vanguard target fund for the seemingly low cost of 0.12% to 0.15% a year, equal to $12 to $15 for every $10,000 invested. The new price tag will be just 0.08%, effective February 2022.
It might not seem like much, but the price cuts announced today will deliver an aggregate savings of $190 million to investors in 2022,

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