HOLDING DOWN living expenses is one part of the equation in achieving financial independence. But the other part is diligently and consistently saving and investing money.
On that score, my husband Jim and I enjoyed four “lucky breaks” that accelerated our push for financial independence. Together, they helped catapult us into early retirement in just 15 years.
1. The Great Recession may have caused much short-term financial harm, but it also offered a great long-term opportunity.
I WAS 51-years-old when I ate prime rib for the first time. As it turned out, it was a life-changing moment. It might be difficult to believe eating a choice cut of beef could lead to an altered understanding of financial priorities, but it did.
I grew up in a fairly typical 1970s middle class family. Hamburger Helper, tuna casserole and peanut butter sandwiches made up the bulk of my diet. Our family rarely ate out and,
MY BIGGEST initial mistake as a financial planner: underestimating the power of emotions. My office is located near top universities such as Harvard, MIT and Boston University. I assumed my well-educated clients, many with strong quantitative backgrounds, were simply looking to me for additional analytical insights.
Instead, my clients proved to be as human as everybody else. One top academic statistician, who claimed to be frugal and cautious, shared with me an annuity policy he purchased from a close friend at his church.
YOU’VE NO DOUBT heard this before: Asset allocation is the single most important investment decision. If you have the right mix of stocks, bonds, cash and maybe real estate, you sharply increase your chances of success.
But how do you pick the right mix? There are rules of thumb based on age, there’s a statistical approach called Modern Portfolio Theory, there are risk tolerance questionnaires and there are cash flow-based approaches. Each delivers a different answer—because each emphasizes different factors.
I’M A FAN of emerging stock markets—for two key reasons. But I also have qualms—for two key reasons.
Readers frequently write to me about emerging markets, and those messages usually coincide with periods of stomach-churning volatility, which is what we’ve witnessed recently: MSCI’s emerging markets index tumbled 15% in 2018 and was up just 4% in 2019’s first five months—after being up as much as 14% earlier this year. But as I tell my nervous correspondents,
I’VE BEEN READING about how people aren’t saving enough money, and how almost half of all Americans carry a balance on their credit cards. Looking to be more financially prudent? Here are 10 pointers on how to build wealth and gain financial security over your lifetime:
1. Save—for a reason. Saving money is the key to building a substantial portfolio. One secret to being a good saver: Have something worthwhile to save for. It might be homeownership or early financial independence.
IN EARLY MAY, I wrote about 16 ways that people waste money on everything from tattoos to shoes to children’s toys. That blog was subsequently posted on MarketWatch, where it collected almost 800 comments, most positive, but many not so much.
I was called out of touch, accused of having an entitlement mentality, talking down to people, privileged and more. I had clearly touched a nerve. Some commenters went into great detail about how difficult their lives were and how there was no money to waste.
JIM AND I GOT married 16 years ago in our modest home. We spent just $500 and only invited immediate family members. Back then, we didn’t have any clue where life would take us. Neither of us planned to retire early, let alone retire abroad.
Still, how we got married was a sign of how we wanted to live—in a financially prudent manner. We set out to keep our living costs under control, and that set us on a path to financial independence,
DAD GAVE ME $1,000 in the mid-1980s on condition I start an IRA and make my own annual contributions, which I did at least some of the time. He recommended doing business with Vanguard Group, which was headquartered near my hometown of Wayne, Pennsylvania.
I can remember reading about the STAR fund, Windsor II, Wellington, Wellesley, the gold and precious metals fund, and the very highly regarded health care and energy funds. I recall the wonderful letters that Vanguard founder Jack Bogle wrote to introduce each annual report.
LOOKING TO PAY for your child’s college? With costs increasing at an alarming rate, you may feel like you’re swimming upstream. Much like saving for retirement, you need to begin socking away money for college as early as possible. Each year that passes is one less year that your savings have the opportunity to grow.
Start by getting a clear picture of college costs today. You can use the Department of Education’s College Scorecard to look up the annual cost of specific colleges.
I’VE LATELY BEEN getting a lot of questions about a pair of lookalike investments: U.S. Treasury bonds, which are currently yielding around 1.8% to 2.6%, and online bank savings accounts, which offer similar yields. In other words, you could earn just as much interest in a simple savings account as you could if you tied up your money for a period of months, or even years, in a government bond.
The question I keep hearing: “Why in the world would anyone choose government bonds?
WHEN FINANCIAL writers tackle the topic of spending, the result is all too predictable: lectures on the dangers of lattes, the glories of budgeting and the financial apocalypse engendered by avocado toast, as well as suggestions that earlier generations were far more prudent.
I’ll admit it, I haven’t entirely avoided these pitfalls.
So how should we think about spending? I would focus on how your income gets divvied up among four key categories:
THE OLD ADAGE says it’s never too late to change. Yet, once folks over age 50 decide they need to change careers, moving early has some key advantages:
It takes time. Career transitions can be slower than anticipated.
It legitimizes the move. Switching before the traditional retirement age may demonstrate your commitment to a new career.
It’s enjoyable to switch. If you know things aren’t currently working, why not make the change?
I faced my own career-change decision at age 51.
IT’S TIME AGAIN for our family’s semi-annual budget review. The budget meeting is typically initiated by the Household CFO, which would be me. Who is the HCFO in your home? You can probably figure it out from the following job description provided by Thomas Stanley and Sarah Fallaw in The Next Millionaire Next Door:
“The role of Household CFO is to ensure his/her household is building wealth in order to ultimately achieve financial independence….
THOMAS JEFFERSON said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”
It’s well known that we tend to believe what we want or what fits our preconceived notions. But this is getting out of control. Here’s what drives me nuts on the misinformation superhighway:
1. “Health care is unaffordable.” There’s no denying health care is expensive and insurance premiums can be a heavy financial burden. And, yes, surveys find that Americans think health care is unaffordable.