WANT TO RUFFLE some feathers? All you have to do is utter “FIRE movement” on social media or in a crowded room of financial advisors. FIRE—short for financial independence/retire early—has grown ever more controversial as rising stock prices have fattened the portfolios of super-savers and brought their early retirement dreams closer to reality.
I fit the mold of the super-saver. I’ve saved 90% or more of my after-tax income over the past few years.
OVER THE PAST TWO decades, investors have increasingly shunned actively managed mutual funds, instead embracing index mutual funds and exchange-traded index funds. This has led to a contrived debate over whether active or passive investing is better.
My contention: It’s wrong to position indexing as somehow the mirror opposite of active management. Why? Even if you eliminate active mutual fund managers and their fees from your portfolio, you still need to grapple with three crucial investment decisions—all of which involve the sort of judgment call active investors must make.
IF YOU’VE EVER rented a car, you’ll inevitability have heard the collision damage waiver (CDW) sales pitch. It sounds something like this: “I assume you want us to protect you bumper to bumper on the car, right?”
If you say, “yes, please,” then—for anywhere between $10 and $30 a day—the rental car will be covered for losses due to theft or damage, except for damage to certain portions of the car. Hint: Read the fine print.
AT LEAST ONCE A DAY, I find myself saying, “Another truism of financial planning is….” To be honest, I don’t know whether the 12 concepts below meet the strict definition of “truism,” but I’ve found them hugely helpful in navigating the world of personal finance:
1. There are always two answers to every question. There’s the mathematical answer and there’s the “how do you feel about it” answer. It’s okay—and, in fact,
AS A BANKER, I got a ringside seat from which to watch the many ways that people are separated from their hard-earned money. Some are illegal. Some are legal, but unethical. And many, while legal and ethical, would be unnecessary with a little more knowledge about managing money.
For me, the most disturbing experiences were when scammers extracted money from the naïve and innocent. I’ve seen the pain of customers who found out that their elderly mother had given her life savings to a manipulative TV preacher.
DURING MY SCHOOL days growing up in India, my exposure to English literature was confined to textbooks that reprinted essays and short stories, or portions thereof. One of them was a humorous piece by Stephen Leacock from his book Winnowed Wisdom.
The excerpt was titled “Old Proverbs Made New” and it seemed funny even to a middle-schooler with a limited grasp of the English language. It argued, with examples, that proverbs get outdated and need to be rewritten.
MY FIRST JOB AFTER college was at a global engineering firm. A roommate also worked there. It was a tedious office job, but my bosses thought I had potential and encouraged me to study engineering, which I didn’t.
Instead, I quit and went to graduate school to study linguistics, a field where I observed the most professors having the most fun. My last paycheck at the engineering firm included an extra sum. It was a refund for a retirement account that had failed to vest because I hadn’t stayed long enough.
WHEN WE MOVED to California from India in spring 2014, it was a culture shock—and not just because of the much higher standard of living. Financial life in the U.S. is very different. Here are just some of the surprises that my husband and I have encountered over the past seven years:
Health care. I remember walking into my first U.S. doctor’s appointment. I froze—unaware that I had to pay a $50 copay for each visit,
MY FATHER WAS A CAR salesman who, for many years, worked totally on commission, with no paid vacation. In 1953, when I was 10 years old, we went to Cape Cod for a week. A friend gave him a tip on a great place to stay. In his enthusiasm, my father booked for a week and paid in advance.
The place turned out to be worse than a Second World War army barracks. My mother refused to stay.
I KEPT THE LANDLINE number that my mother had when she was alive. I thought there might be friends I wasn’t aware of who would try to phone her. Indeed, I received calls from people like Helen who lives in Arizona, Cheryl in Colorado and Jan from Michigan. Eventually, however, the phone went silent, except for those annoying sales calls.
But I still kept the phone number. I just couldn’t give it up. It was costing me an extra $50 a month,
FOR MORE THAN a year, veteran investment manager Jeremy Grantham has been arguing that the U.S. stock market is in a bubble. And not just an ordinary bubble, but “an epic bubble… one of the great bubbles of financial history, right along with the South Sea bubble, 1929, and 2000.”
And yet, despite Grantham’s concerns, the market has only continued to march higher. In a recent interview, Grantham reiterated his concerns in even stronger terms.
THERE ARE MANY WAYS to fritter away our wealth. Pay high investment costs. Day trade stocks. Buy timeshares. Marry a spender. Purchase variable annuities. Retire too early. Buy leveraged exchange-traded funds. Mimic the spending of our wealthy friends. The list goes on and on.
But anybody can ruin themselves slowly—and plenty of people do. What’s really attention grabbing is when it happens quickly. Want to blow up your financial life? Here are nine ways to ruin yourself in a hurry:
HISTORY IS FULL of fringe investments that make headlines after rapid—and often inexplicable and indefensible—price increases. Bitcoin is one of the latest examples, leaving even casual observers asking, “What is it and should I buy some?”
First traded in 2009, bitcoin is the best-known cryptocurrency. Thousands of others have been introduced, but many have since died. That’s one problem with trying to pick the right digital currency to purchase: There are low barriers to entry.
EARLY IN MY CAREER, one of my mentors at work used to talk about “excess paychecks.” He was a single, senior engineer who lived frugally. Back then, the concept seemed ridiculous to me. But I’ve come to realize he was right: Most of us don’t need every dollar we’re paid for living expenses, so we should think carefully about where to stash the excess.
That notion came to mind recently when taking to a friend.
AFTER 14 YEARS on active duty with the U.S. Army, I recently walked away from being a fulltime soldier. At age 39, it’s the only professional life I’ve known. I plan to complete my 20 years of service in the U.S. Army Reserve, which will earn me a reduced pension.
It would be hard to argue this was a smart financial decision. While defined benefit plans have mostly been replaced by defined contribution plans such as 401(k),