OUR DECEMBER financial tradition is for my wife and four daughters to frolic in the holiday shopping minefield, while I decry their irresponsible behavior and try to establish some semblance of financial stewardship. In response, I receive heavy sighs, eye-rolling, and other displays of deep and abiding affection.
Maybe not coincidentally, December is also when we do our financial planning for the year ahead. There is no shortage of such discussions on the web.
IF YOU’RE WORRIED that indexing threatens the smooth functioning of the stock market, it’s helpful to spend an hour chatting over coffee with Charles Ellis—which is what I did last week when I was in New Haven, Connecticut. Ellis is one of indexing’s most eloquent advocates, including in his bestselling book Winning the Loser’s Game and in his latest tome, The Index Revolution.
Charley dismisses the idea that index funds are distorting the market—and scoffs at the idea that active management is headed for extinction.
THE TAX LAWS severely restricts deductions for losses claimed by individuals whose homes, household goods and other properties suffer damage or are destroyed due to events that, in IRS lingo, are “sudden, unexpected, or unusual.”
In many cases, the allowable write-offs turn out to be shockingly smaller than anticipated. Furthermore, those with high incomes and low losses will find they can’t claim any deductions. What follows are answers to some often-asked questions.
What are the usual restrictions on writing off casualty losses?
THE YEAR 2011 was horrifying. I learned my Mom had a life-threatening disease. She passed away six months later.
That forced me to confront the $88,000 of debt I had accumulated during college, including $51,000 in credit card debt. I was in grief, I had no idea what to do about the debt and my Mom wasn’t there to advise me.
My friend John told me to seek professional help. A debt settlement company helped me get rid of $16,000 of higher-interest credit card debt,
EVERYTHING I KNOW about personal finance I learned in court. As part of my law practice, I represent individuals in estate, trust, and probate disputes. Many of these cases have common themes that teach important lessons about personal finance—lessons that aren’t covered in the usual commentary about saving for retirement, paying off credit card debt, and so on. In particular, six crucial lessons stand out.
Lesson No. 1: Know where your assets are.
THERE ARE CERTAIN hallmarks of financial rectitude: Never carrying a credit card balance. Maxing out the 401(k). Having an emergency fund. But do these habits deserve the sacrosanct status they’ve achieved?
You won’t find me arguing with paying off the credit cards each month or putting at least enough in a 401(k) plan to earn the full matching employer contribution. Both make ample sense. But in the past, I’ve raised questions about how much emergency money people need and how they should handle this money.
AS AN OBSESSIVE organizer, I like having everything tidied up before the start of the new year. I spend considerable time reviewing my finances and making sure my retirement plan is on track. As I was filling out my financial notebook this year, I added a new section: a list of lesser-known “benefits” I’ve recently discovered and intend to use more frequently in future.
For instance, after publishing a blog post about car ownership,
THEY SAY OPPOSITES attract. In many ways, this is true of my husband and me. When we met, I was very frugal. My husband was on the other end of the spending spectrum. But we’re still together 21 years later—and we have managed to make this work in a way that’s been good for both of us.
We both well remember that first visit to the grocery store. Before we moved in together, I would go down the aisles with coupons in hand,
IMAGINE AN IDEALIZED chart that summarizes our finances over the course of our lives. What would the chart look like? Picture these five lines:
Our nest egg grows, slowly at first and then ever faster, hitting a peak of around 12 times our final salary when we retire.
Our portfolio in our 20s stands at perhaps 90% or even 100% stocks. We dial down our allocation in the years that follow, especially during our final decade in the workforce,
WITH LOWER TAX rates in the offing, many of my clients tell me they’ve heard it pays for them to accelerate deductions for 2018 into 2017. How, they ask, does that tactic benefit them?
They beam when I alert them to two breaks. First, they qualify for deductions one year sooner. Second, they lose less to the IRS when they apply their deductions against higher-taxed 2017 income, instead of lower-taxed 2018 income.
I decide to prolong our chat and caution them not to take their eyes off the calendar when they write checks at year’s end.
I AM AMAZED our schools don’t require kids to learn three important life skills: the basics of nutrition, a thing or two about parenting, and how to handle money. I’m no expert on nutrition and my parenting is a work in progress. But I do have a background in personal finance: When folks ask me what to read to deepen their financial knowledge, I have a ready list of titles.
Recently, however, someone asked me for a more advanced list—a “201”
SELF-DETERMINATION theory posits that we have three basic psychological needs: the need for competence, relatedness and autonomy. When these needs are satisfied, we’re more motivated and experience a greater sense of well-being.
To this, you might reasonably respond, “What the heck are you talking about?”
As I see it, self-determination theory provides a useful framework for thinking about the connection between money and happiness. We tend to be happier and more enthused about our daily lives if we’re engaged in activities we feel we’re good at (competence),
ADAM RORABAUGH left the shores of his German homeland at age 36, together with his wife Maria and five children, and landed in America in 1831. Two brothers also accompanied him on a stormy, 77-day sailboat voyage across the Atlantic. Driven off course during the trip, they landed at Havre de Grace, Maryland, in the Chesapeake Bay. After making their way to New York City, it is presumed the three brothers parted, never to meet or hear from each other again.
WHILE SITTING at my desk a few months ago, I received a text message from Citibank notifying me of “suspicious activity” on my primary credit card. I immediately logged onto my account and discovered someone that morning had attempted to use my credit card number at a luxury resort—one located several hundred miles from where I work. The charge had been denied, but the damage was done. I immediately cancelled the card. I also began notifying the companies I have automated payments with,
WHAT’S A GOOD reason to dial down your stock market exposure? A year after Donald Trump was elected president, many folks are still smarting from their decision to bail out of stocks. Clearly, we shouldn’t lighten up on shares just because we don’t like the guy in the White House.
We also shouldn’t bail out just because stocks sport high price-earnings ratios and skimpy dividend yields. No doubt about it, stocks today are expensive.