A WAR IS RAGING. On one side of this conflict is the individual and, on the other, society and culture. To the victor goes your attention and your money.
I submit you’ll win through intentionality—and you’ll lose if you let society determine what’s of greatest value to you. I was on the losing side for many years.
As an undergraduate, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Why? Not because I had a deep passion for the law.
EVERY YEAR, the NCAA basketball season concludes with the March Madness playoffs. Many Americans engage in bracketology—trying to figure out which teams will get knocked out in each round and which will advance. Warren Buffett even offers an annual bracket-picking challenge, where Berkshire employees can win $1 million a year for life.
This year, however, Americans with substantial retirement accounts might also want to try another form of bracketology: studying the 2017 tax law—and asking whether it offers a unique opportunity to convert hefty amounts of traditional IRA money to a Roth IRA.
AS I DRIVE around town these days, I notice a lot of cars with temporary license plates—an indication they were recently purchased. What’s the reason? When I turn on the TV, I see a commercial for a local car dealership that’s offering to accept your tax refund as the down payment on a new car. Now it starts to make sense.
The dealership knows consumers are about to receive an influx of cash. It wants to make it as painless as possible to buy a new car.
IN MY ROLE as a financial planner, I hear a lot of stories. By far the most appalling and upsetting relate to life insurance. All too often, insurance salespeople leave clients with policies that are simultaneously overpriced, inadequate and inappropriate.
Are you evaluating a policy? Here’s a quick summary of the most important considerations:
What type of coverage should I have? Life insurance comes in two primary flavors: term and permanent. Term insurance,
AS THE SAYING goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” So what do HumbleDollar’s readers stand for? What are the key principles that should govern how we manage our money? In recent weeks, I’ve been drawing up a manifesto for the site.
It’s a work in progress. I’ve included a dozen of the principles in our latest newsletter—and, in the months ahead, you’ll find further additions appearing every few days on the homepage.
THERE’S AN abundance of advice on how to plan for retirement. Oh, it’s good advice. But it’s also a bit complicated, often requires discipline and always necessitates actually doing something.
And let’s face it: Who needs advice? Who wants to actually do something? Here are 20 ways to ignore the experts—and wreck your chances of a financially comfortable retirement:
1. Keep thinking retirement is so far in the future that there’s no need to act now.
WHEN I TAUGHT economics, I would present students with the financial misunderstandings that people often have—and which the study of economics can help them avoid. Examples? Here are five widespread misconceptions:
Mistake No. 1: The rarer something is, the more valuable it is. Economics really doesn’t care about rare things—meaning those things that are few in number. Instead, economics deals with scarce things, which are things for which there’s greater demand than current ways to fulfill that demand.
WHO DOESN’T like free money? I know I do. If you’ve worked for a major U.S. corporation, you have probably also been offered free money. But there’s a potential downside—in the form of a large, undiversified investment bet.
What am I talking about? Let’s start with the matching employer contribution that’s offered in about half of 401(k) plans. You put in a portion of every paycheck and your company then matches all or half of your contribution.
WHEN WALL STREET builds a better mousetrap, investors are generally the mouse. Want to avoid getting caught by the Street’s costly, fad-driven selling machine? Here are a dozen principles that have served me well as I’ve helped folks manage their money:
Accept that markets are generally efficient. This means that, at any given moment, individual securities are priced correctly and incurring additional costs in hopes of finding a mispricing is wasteful—though apparent mispricings will often seem obvious in retrospect.
SOME 200 MILLION Americans say they want to write a book. Yet typing 50,000 words into a cohesive story can appear to be a monumental undertaking—and it might seem like only individuals with the freedom to retreat to a cabin in the woods will ever become published authors.
Making the long financial journey to retirement, so you quit the workforce with a nest egg large enough to replace your working income, can seem equally daunting.
FEDERAL RESERVE Chairman Jerome Powell appeared before Congress late last month and spoke in serious terms about the country’s debt situation. It’s worth understanding what Powell said—and how that might impact your investments.
Powell’s message: “The U.S. federal government is on an unsustainable fiscal path.” Specifically, “debt as a percentage of GDP is growing, and now growing sharply, and that is unsustainable by definition.”
Powell’s remarks mirrored those of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
NEW YORK TIMES columnist Ron Lieber wrote last week about “money guru” Jordan Goodman—and how Goodman had settled charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission that he’d used his radio show to promote an investment firm, without revealing that the firm was compensating him for referrals. Goodman might never have ended up in the SEC’s crosshairs, except it turned out the firm was operating a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
It was a story that made me sit up and take notice—because I’ve long thought of Goodman as a fellow member of the informal fraternity of personal finance writers.
I’VE LIVED in Oregon most of my life. When I was growing up, agriculture, logging and fishing were the state’s dominant industries. In the 1970s and 1980s, the economy began transitioning from one based on natural resources to one rooted in technology, travel and manufacturing. A few decades ago, companies like Weyerhaeuser and Georgia-Pacific were among the state’s leading employers. These days, Intel is the largest, keeping more than 20,000 Oregonians gainfully employed.
But it isn’t just Oregon’s private sector that’s seen plenty of change.
MORE THAN 100 years ago, Thorstein Veblen, the father of behavioral economics, explained the thinking behind most of our purchases and investments with the help of two spoons. In his seminal 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen compared a handmade silver spoon, which back then could cost up to $20 ($600 in today’s money) with a machine-made aluminum spoon that cost about 20 cents ($6 today).
Based on strict utility of purpose,
INDEX FUND investing seems to grow more popular by the day—for good reason: For very little in investment costs, you can get a diversified basket of stocks, a return that matches the targeted benchmark and a tiny annual tax bill.
But now that you have yourself such a fine financial vehicle, the responsibility to be a good investor lies in your hands. Or should I say, with your emotions? Even the best investments suffer downturns and spikes in volatility.