WHEN RESTRICTIONS ON travel eased this year, I visited Kolkata, India, where I grew up and my mother still lives. The airline ticket and other travel costs were almost 75% higher than my last visit four years ago.
This year, I’ve grown used to price shocks at every turn, from groceries to gas, so the steep ticket price didn’t shock me. What did surprise me was my feeling of affluence once I arrived.
Traveling to a low-cost country as a tourist doesn’t necessarily feel like a bargain because most items still have an international price tag.
INFLATION CROPS UP in almost every conversation I have with friends and acquaintances. Everyone’s getting squeezed by higher prices. Folks complain not only about where prices are today, but also about how quickly they rose.
Prices today seem shocking compared to last year or the year before that. But how do they compare to prices from 10 years ago? To find out, I calculated the average annual inflation rate over trailing 10-year periods using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).
I ENVY THOSE WHO can remain patient and calm in almost any situation. Thanks to my neurotic personality, I find it hard to wait for an outcome over which I have little control. This year, I narrowly escaped that sort of agonizing experience. What happened? We found ourselves selling our home during 2022’s suddenly cooling real estate market.
I was surprised last year when the red-hot property market pushed our modest home past the $1 million mark.
THE AGE-OLD DEBATE about not borrowing to buy depreciating assets came up again in a recent HumbleDollar article. Despite being a big proponent of debt-free living, I could relate to the story of borrowing to buy a car. In fact, I’m guilty of having gone deeply into debt in my younger days to feed my passion for music—and I don’t regret it.
I grew up listening to Indian music of various genres,
DO YOU INVEST in options? Think twice before saying that you’d rather go to Vegas. My bold claim: Options investing has a lot in common with investing in stocks and corporate bonds.
Intrigued? Let’s recap a European style call option. It’s a discretionary contract that allows someone to buy an underlying asset at a set strike price at a future date. Let’s say the buyer of the call, Bob, has an option on a stock with a strike price of $100.
I WAS PLEASANTLY surprised recently when a lump-sum dividend payment showed up in my brokerage account. It was from a preferred stock I bought a few years ago to boost my investment income. The windfall reminded me of the three criteria I’d used to screen preferred shares:
Taxation. Unlike bond payments, which are taxed as ordinary income, the income payments from most—but not all—preferred stocks enjoy the favorable tax treatment given to qualified dividends.
MY TAXES ROSE 50% in 2021. I’ve never paid so much before, not even during my peak earning years. I’m not upset about having to pay my fair share, but the extent of the increase puzzled me. After examining my tax return, I came away with a handful of insights.
To be sure, I wasn’t expecting a large refund. The reason: I suspected that a onetime employment windfall would cause me to owe money,
I RECENTLY WROTE about missing the chance to harvest tax losses. A reader decried this as market timing, which I found surprising. But on second thought, I can see where the reader was coming from.
Suppose we define market timing as any buy or sell decision that’s taken only when the time is right. Using this definition, I’m guilty as charged.
But if that’s the case, is all market timing bad? I’d argue it depends on the intent behind the action.
I’VE BEEN WAITING since late last year for a stock market correction. No, I’m not sitting on a pile of cash and looking to time the market. Instead, I’m simply hoping to trim my tax bill.
Last October, I sold the recently vested shares of my company stock and used the proceeds to buy Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (symbol: VTI). This sell-high-buy-high exchange was meant for diversification, but I also hoped that the market would drop later.
I GREW UP IN INDIA. There, it’s quite common to have outside help for household chores. Most middle-class families hire someone to help with washing, dishes and cleaning. Affluent households typically have a cook, driver and housekeeper.
After coming to the U.S., I noticed that most households weren’t dependent on domestic help, thanks to appliances like a dishwasher, vacuum cleaner and washer-dryer. A few coworkers went as far as building their own cabinets and decks,
I DEVOTE A GOOD amount of time to learning, not because I worry about cognitive decline—though that’s a worthy reason—but because I enjoy sampling a host of subjects, everything from meditation to music theories.
Before online courses became popular, my self-directed learning involved watching lecture DVDs. I later discovered many free online offerings from reputed universities, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, MIT and Princeton.
When the pandemic forced me to spend more time at home,
EARLIER THIS YEAR, I swapped the Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index Fund (symbol: VBIPX) in my 401(k) for an inflation-indexed Treasury ETF (VTIP). The trade worked out well: The replacement fund has since fared better, thanks to this year’s accelerating inflation.
To buy the inflation-indexed ETF, I had to open a brokerage subaccount within my company’s retirement plan—a feature some 401(k)s offer, though these “brokerage windows” typically aren’t heavily promoted for fear employees will end up trading too much.
READERS MAY RECALL Laura, my acquaintance who didn’t need life insurance but was sold a policy anyway. Alarmed by her ignorance, she vowed to manage her own money. As a first step, she parted ways with her financial advisor.
The advisor had her invested in 35 funds. She never fully understood what these funds owned or why she needed them. She had previously thought that investing had to be complicated and was best left to the professionals.
FINANCIAL PLANNERS often ask new clients about their first money memory. Mine was about an early encounter with inflation. It involved a favorite childhood snack named fuchka, a popular street food in Kolkata, where I grew up.
The snack is a ball-shaped flatbread, filled with spicy potato mash and topped with tamarind water. As you crunch its crispy shell, the magical flavors burst in your mouth and take your tastebuds on a rollercoaster ride.
WHEN I MOVED to the U.S. for work, a friend graciously helped me settle in. He shared many useful tips, one of which was to become a Costco member. I’m glad I heeded my friend’s advice. I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years and found the store’s service to be exceptional.
In recent years, my Costco shopping has expanded to include not just everyday purchases, but also luxury items, gas, tires, electronics and vacations.