Betting the House

Jonathan Clements  |  December 28, 2014

NEAR THE PEAK of the real-estate bubble, I wrote a column about how I had fared financially with the house I then owned in New Jersey. It wasn’t the first time I argued that a home shouldn’t be considered an investment. But that 2005 column triggered the biggest reaction by far.
In addition to a deluge of scornful emails, I came across an online forum where the article was discussed. The first person who posted had read my column.

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Eat, Drink And Obfuscate

Jonathan Clements  |  December 23, 2014

WE MIGHT OVERINDUGLE this holiday season—but we probably won’t be honest about it. For my Money Guide, I took a look at how America spends. There are two key sources: the Commerce Department and the Labor Department. The Commerce Department relies on top-down economic data, while the Labor Department surveys consumers.
It turns out that consumers aren’t entirely honest. The Commerce Department found that, in 2013, U.S. households spent an average $900 on tobacco,

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Don’t Look Now

Jonathan Clements  |  December 20, 2014

IN OCTOBER, LUCINDA and I spent a week in Venice. We rented an apartment with no Wi-Fi, so every day for 30 minutes we’d settle into a café with Internet access. While my wife dealt with work issues, I’d catch up on the news, check email, see how the markets were performing and look at the Amazon rankings for my various books.
There was nothing extraordinary about this—except that I was doing it just once a day.

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Going Mainstream

Jonathan Clements  |  December 13, 2014

PAST PERFORMANCE IS NO GUARANTEE of future results—and that’s especially true once an investment goes from backwater to broad acceptance. Take real-estate investment trusts. Over the past 15 years, they have been embraced by investors, leading to great returns as folks loaded up on REITs. But that widespread acceptance was a onetime event—and returns from here will likely be more modest, especially with equity REITs yielding just 3.4%, versus almost 9% at year-end 1999.

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More Abroad?

Jonathan Clements  |  December 10, 2014

MY STANDARD ADVICE has always been to keep roughly two-thirds of a stock portfolio in U.S. shares and a third in foreign stocks. As I see it, we invest now so we can spend later. Come retirement, most of us will spend our savings on U.S. goods and services, so it makes sense to have the bulk of our assets in dollar-denominated investments.
But I’m having second thoughts. U.S. and foreign stocks each account for roughly half of global stock-market capitalization,

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Foreign Affairs

Jonathan Clements  |  December 3, 2014

U.S. STOCKS are expensive. What about foreign shares? They’ve been lackluster performers, not only in 2014, but also over longer holding periods. While the S&P 500 clocked an 8% annualized total return over the past 10 years, Morgan Stanley’s Europe, Australasia and Far East index gained just over 5%.
Foreign stocks also appear to be cheaper. Consider the stocks in Vanguard Group’s developed markets index fund and those in its S&P 500 fund. The foreign stocks are trading at 1.6 times book value (or assets minus liabilities),

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All That Glitters

Jonathan Clements  |  November 26, 2014

GOLD HAS NEVER been an investment I’ve been comfortable with. The problem: It has no intrinsic value. Unlike a bond, it doesn’t pay interest and, unlike a stock, it doesn’t have earnings or pay a dividend. Instead, gold has value mostly because the supply is limited and because owners have faith that others will also view it as valuable.
And yet, today, I consider myself a fan — though I favor owning gold-mining stocks, rather than the metal itself. I still have no firm sense for what gold is worth.

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Career Day

Jonathan Clements  |  November 20, 2014

YESTERDAY MORNING, I spoke at career day at the Philadelphia school where my daughter teaches. My two fellow panelists were a city planner and a fundraiser for a local ballet company. What did we tell the 11th grade kids? Interestingly, all three of us focused on the same themes:

You’re unlikely to have a single career. Instead, you’ll switch direction as you discover what you’re good at, the world changes around you and you grow weary of your current job. Those born in 2000 can expect to live until age 86,

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Another Book?

Jonathan Clements  |  September 27, 2014

MY MOST POPULAR COLUMNS often focus on the intersection between money and the rest of our lives–topics like money and happiness, teaching kids about money, and how to tweak a portfolio to reflect our human capital, debts, real-estate holdings and other aspects of our finances.
I have been toying with pulling these various threads together into a long essay that I might publish as a 99-cent e-book. In part, I’m inspired by William Bernstein’s success with If You Can,

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No Love for Nerds

Jonathan Clements  |  September 8, 2014

MY COLUMN ON FINANCIAL BELIEFS, published August 24, unleashed almost 500 emails from readers. I try to respond to all messages, except those from folks who are foaming uncontrollably at the mouth, so this was a mixed blessing–but, two weeks later, I’ve finally cleared the backlog.
That brings me to a sad insight from the columnist’s life: I can devote weeks to writing a nerdy article, and get almost no response from readers.

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Meet the Barista

Jonathan Clements  |  August 8, 2014

IT’S BEEN FIVE MONTHS since I returned to the life of the ink-stained wretch. Not surprisingly, things are a tad different from 2008, when I was last writing a regular column. Perhaps the biggest change is the comments from readers that are posted at the bottom of every column. I don’t spend much time perusing these comments, in part because they’re often only tangentially related to what I wrote. Instead, many of these folks seem to know each other and banter back and forth,

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