WE ALL TEND TO VIEW our money as a series of distinct financial buckets. Economists consider such “mental accounting” to be irrational, and perhaps it is. But it’s also mighty useful. Consider some recent articles from HumbleDollar’s writers:
Bill Ehart talked about the separate savings accounts he has for financial emergencies, a new car and his daughter’s wedding. Sure, it would be simpler and perhaps more rational to have a single savings account.
WE ALL LIVE IN the same economy, but we experience it differently. How we react to today’s economic developments is heavily influenced by our upbringing and world events at that time. This is a key insight from the first chapter of Morgan Housel’s wonderful book The Psychology of Money.
I can think of three things that have shaped my outlook—and lead me to a very different outlook from my children. First,
THE GREEN KNIGHT is a new, Arthurian-age fantasy film that was released at the end of July. The crux of the story: The Green Knight offers a challenge at King Arthur’s court. He will allow any knight to take a swing at him with his great axe, as long as that knight agrees to receive a blow a year and a day later. Sir Gawain, one of the youngest of the Round Table,
WE SAVE TOO LITTLE, spend too much and what we buy often disappoints. Is there an antidote for this financially self-destructive behavior? One intriguing possibility: visualization.
If you’re like me, the word itself makes you a little queasy. It conjures up images of both self-absorbed, navel-gazing yuppies (not something I aspire to be) and Olympic athletes getting in the zone (not something I’ll ever be). Still, I think there’s value in spending serious time pondering our financial goals.
I GOT STUCK IN a conversation at a dinner party recently with a name dropper. It was painful. Wanting to impress me, I suppose, I learned that, “Yes, Janet Yellen and I are good friends. I’ll be traveling to D.C. soon and I’m looking forward to connecting.”
But it didn’t end there. I also heard about this person’s exotic travels and homes around the world. And the fabulous career that supported this lavish lifestyle.
ONE FUN FACT I TELL my students about Daniel Kahneman: He won the Nobel Prize for economics without ever taking an economics course in college. Kahneman is a psychologist whose discoveries laid the foundation for the new science of behavioral economics.
One of his most important findings is that loss feels twice as painful to us as gain feels good, so the emotional scales aren’t balanced when we make economic decisions. For instance, workers will wait years to join a 401(k) because contributions can feel like a loss in spending power.
IT WAS A WARM MAY night in 1977. I was 19 years old and the manager of a fast-food restaurant. I was also in the middle of a five-year addiction to compulsive gambling that would eventually lead me to the brink of spiritual and financial bankruptcy. It was about 10:30 p.m. and I was cleaning up the store after closing. I was planning on going to the racetrack to catch the last race when I was done.
WHAT WORRIES ME? It isn’t the stock market, but rather stock market investors.
Despite all the hand-wringing, this doesn’t strike me as an especially dangerous time to own stocks. Corporate earnings are rapidly recovering from last year’s economic shutdown—not exactly a scenario where you’d expect a big stock market decline. Meanwhile, bonds and cash investments are offering scant competition for investors’ dollars, which is another reason to be bullish on stocks.
But even if the overall market appears no riskier than usual,
IF I’M HONEST with myself, I’ve been financially comfortable for so long that I’ve lost the ability to truly relate to those living paycheck to paycheck. But over a lifetime of working with people and their money, I’ve learned to be aware of signs that someone may be on the brink of breakdown—and could use some help.
I was only 22 years old when I had my first shocking experience with the power of money to cause a life to self-destruct.
A FEW MONTHS AGO, I decided to join a neighborhood golf club. Although I started playing when I was a teenager, I’ve never been that good. Since the group invited players of all handicaps, I thought it would be a fun way to get some exercise and meet new people.
I realized on the first day that I was probably the youngest player. Despite my rustiness, I was putting for birdies on both of the first two holes.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE to manage money prudently? Yes, we should save diligently, favor stocks, diversify broadly, hold down investment costs, buy the right insurance and so on. But all these smart financial moves stem from key assumptions we make about our lives and the world around us.
What assumptions? I believe prudent money management starts with five core notions—which, as you’ll discover below, sometimes contradict one another:
1. We’ll live a long life.
WHEN PEOPLE MENTION Eastern philosophy, Westerners often have images of mystic monks in saffron robes, surrounded by clouds of incense and speaking in cryptic riddles like, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
In fact, Asian philosophy can be very pragmatic in addressing everyday decisions, from family matters to investment choices—and many Westerners welcome the different approach to facing life’s challenges.
Daoism (also called Taoism) is one of the world’s oldest philosophies. It’s believed to have emerged more than 2,000 years ago during a period of dissolution,
WE ALL HAVE LIMITED time and limited money. How can we make the most of these two scarce resources?
More than anything, the answer lies in getting the big picture right. That means thinking through the tradeoffs involved, so we don’t allocate too much time and money to some parts of our financial life, while neglecting others.
On that score, it’s hard to offer hard-and-fast rules because personal preferences play a key role. Still,
I THOUGHT SAYING goodbye to my coworkers, and walking out my office door for the last time, would be the most memorable moment from the beginning of my retirement. But, no, that moment didn’t come until the next day.
I woke up, got out of bed and walked into the living room. Staring out the front window, I felt this sense of calm and peacefulness that I can’t remember ever feeling before. I felt so relaxed that I could swear I was weightless.
TWO YEARS AGO, I was 100 pounds overweight and constantly hungry. I had been overweight most of my life. But as a father of young kids, I was newly motivated to try to improve my life expectancy. I fortuitously discovered intermittent fasting and the low-carbohydrate way of eating, and instantly had success. Right away, I set an ambitious goal of losing the entire 100 pounds in one year. With a lot of hard work and dedication,