ON FEB. 27, 1992, Stella Liebeck ordered a cup of coffee from a McDonald’s drive-through. Moments later, as she attempted to open the lid, the cup spilled, causing a burn that sent her to the hospital. Her injury was serious but self-inflicted and not life-threatening. Nonetheless, she sued McDonald’s, and a jury awarded her almost $3 million. That award was reduced upon appeal, but this case is often cited as an example of an out-of-control legal system exploited by personal injury lawyers.
MY FATHER LOATHED the idea that he would spend his final years in a nursing home. In the end, he never had to confront that possibility: At age 75, while riding his bicycle, he was struck and killed by a speeding car.
Still, I think often about his reluctance—because I share it. Despite exercising every day, I know I’m not as flexible or as fast as I once was, and it takes longer for the stiffness in my muscles to ease each morning.
MUCH IS WRITTEN about whether it’s better to rent or own your home. Not nearly enough ink is devoted to the issue of renting from a bad landlord.
Perhaps personal finance writers avoid the topic because they’re wary of providing legal advice when discussing potential remedies. On top of that, landlord-tenant law varies greatly from state to state, with some states offering greater protection to tenants and others affording landlords wider latitude.
I know a fair amount about this because I not only spent 14 years as an active-duty Army servicemember who had to move frequently,
WE INCREASINGLY DO business with gigantic impersonal companies: banks, insurers, credit card issuers, cable and phone companies, utilities, and huge retailers like Amazon, Home Depot and Walmart. Often, we deal with them at a distance—by phone, mail, and especially online or via email.
When disputes or problems arise, we’re typically forced to contact their so-called customer service departments, which are often sorely lacking in service. Even before getting to a human, we have to run the gauntlet of an annoying robot,
THERE’S A LITERARY rite of passage that requires every financial blogger to write at least one article about free money. Far be it for me to break with this tradition.
Titling an article “free money” will catch most readers’ attention. After all, we all want something for nothing. You know what they say: “Money found is twice as sweet as money earned.” It’s also a topic that’s a bottomless well of ideas limited only by the creativity of the writer.
TWO DECADES AGO, we witnessed the bursting of one of history’s biggest stock market bubbles. Many investors were left burned and bewildered. At the time, I was chief executive of Vanguard and saw the need for a practical, back-to-basics guide to help investors navigate the financial markets. My 2002 book Straight Talk on Investing was born.
Since then, we’ve endured a few more market shocks, plus the investing landscape has changed considerably—mostly for the better.
I’VE READ A LOT of retirement books touting the “keys to a successful retirement.” Some have great ideas. But I think they miss a key ingredient. My contention: To have a successful retirement, we need to start with a proper understanding of work.
Admittedly, it’s a counterintuitive way of looking at retirement. But sometimes looking at a problem backward can help us find creative solutions. In other words, examine the opposite of retirement for lessons about retirement.
IN RECENT MONTHS, there’s been a lot of handwringing about the stock market. Thankfully, we seem to be on the back end of the pandemic, but things remain far from perfect in the economy. Millions are still unemployed. And the government has had to spend trillions to get us through, adding to a federal debt that was already enormous.
Today, the economy is far more fragile than it was pre-COVID. And yet the stock market just keeps cruising to new all-time highs.
IS THIS A TIME to be fearful? In Berkshire Hathaway’s 1986 annual report, Warren Buffett wrote, “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.”
Make no mistake: There’s plenty of greed on display right now, whether it’s bitcoin, nonfungible tokens, Robinhood traders, GameStop or special purpose acquisition companies. All of this has some observers talking of a market bubble. Indeed, I suspect much of this nonsense “will end in tears,” a phrase my mother often used when trying to control her four rambunctious children.
THREE YEARS AGO, Jim and I decided to retire to Spain. We were attracted by the promise of excellent health care, warm weather, low cost of living and travel throughout Europe. From there, we’d also be able to fly with relative easy to both the U.S. and Asia, allowing us to maintain family connections. All of this gave us a great quality of life for almost three years.
Then COVID-19 hit. Like everyone else,
IT’S BEEN A GREAT stretch for many mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that buy stocks based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. For instance, the actively managed Parnassus Core Equity Fund notched 19.3% a year over the three years through March 31, Fidelity U.S. Sustainability Index Fund has climbed 17.4% and iShares ESG Aware MSCI USA ETF 18.2%. All three funds look like winners compared to the S&P 500’s 16.8% annual total return.
ROUGHLY HALF of Americans don’t invest in the stock market. Why not?
According to a JPMorgan Chase survey, 42% say they don’t have enough money, with 63% believing you need at least $1,000 to start investing. But in fact, some financial firms have no required minimum, including the mutual funds offered by Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab.
No doubt a lack of financial literacy also plays a role. The S&P Ratings Services Global Financial Literacy Survey asked folks around the world about notions like diversification,
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the antithesis of the DIY guy. I was completely banned from home repairs many years ago after I set out to replace an electrical outlet—but switched off the wrong circuit breaker before doing so.
We’ve undertaken two major renovations in the past 12 years. The first was an addition to our vacation home. The second is ongoing—a new kitchen at the same house.
We spent months on the plans. In the case of the addition,
IT’S BEEN CALLED the stealth IRA. We’re talking here about health savings accounts, which offer a triple tax play. First, contributions are tax-deductible. Second, the accounts grow tax-deferred. Third, if the money is used to pay permitted medical expenses, there’s no tax on the sum withdrawn.
That might sound similar to an employer-sponsored flexible spending account for health care costs, but those are more restrictive. If much or all of the money isn’t spent by the end of the year,
IN THE INVESTMENT world, inflation is the topic of the day. There are four key reasons:
Congress. Since March 2020, the federal government has dropped more than a trillion dollars of cash into the economy via stimulus checks and the Paycheck Protection Program. While many of the recipients were unemployed and needed these dollars to meet basic needs, others were not. The result: More money in people’s pockets allowed them to spend more,