COMMON WISDOM tells us that we all pay taxes and that we all die. As a semi-retired minister, financial coach and tax preparer, I’ve gained an unusual appreciation for these two certainties of life. But never more so than this year.
I began my first congregational ministry in August 2001, two weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The first class I offered was titled A Year to Live, in which we met over 12 months to plan and prepare as if we would die at the end of the year.
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,
I JUST CAME ACROSS a magazine article from the B.C. era—before coronavirus. The article, which appeared in a popular personal finance magazine, described a certain type of bond investment. The writeup was well researched and balanced, including a discussion of various risks.
In fact, the author raised the possibility of an economic downturn. How did he assess that prospect? “Recession, as always, is a risk,” he wrote, “but where’s the recession? Not seeing it,
DESPITE MY independent nature, I called family and friends after my injury. I thanked them for what they’d already done following my husband’s death—and requested additional, more intensive support.
One aunt, a government employee, arranged to work for a week at a nearby federal building. My sister-in-law also came for a week, and a cousin who is a nurse volunteered, too. A professional colleague parked her RV in the driveway and brought along her friendly pooch.
AFTER LEAVING the hospital, our family met up at a favorite neighborhood restaurant.
“What’s next?” the teenagers asked.
“Now begins the parade of covered dishes,” I answered.
For the month after my husband’s death, when preparing food hardly seemed possible, friends and neighbors made sure our refrigerator and freezer bulged. The kids experienced a variety of main meals, side dishes and desserts. There was enough for us and our many helpers, and we experimented with time and labor-saving meal shortcuts.
IT STARTED innocently. A doctor’s visit. A blood test. Results. Admit to hospital for “a couple days of observation” that instead cascaded, over six days, into my husband’s death at age 71. His death certificate states “etiology unknown.” While doctors suspected prescribed medication, we will never know just what caused his liver to fail.
Throughout, the situation had been confusing. Clarity regarding treatment options—and the likely outcome from procedures—was in short supply. He and I and doctors made medical decisions in the face of this uncertainty and without regard to costs.
TAKING CARE of aging loved ones is almost always difficult. You’re worried about them and want them to be comfortable and happy. But they’re also concerned about you and what you’ll have to deal with after their death—settling their estate, funeral costs and the hassles involved.
As my grandmother approached the end of her life, we asked questions that I was initially afraid to ask. But it was the right thing to do: Answering those questions relieved stress for both my grandmother and my entire family.
IN THE RUNUP to our marriage, everyone had advice for us—on everything from communication to sex to our finances. But some of the best advice we received came from a church leader my husband had known for years. He gave us a list of topics to discuss. These discussions resulted in some financials wins, while the conversations we avoided led to struggles.
Needs vs. wants. My husband and I each made a list of what we considered to be our needs and wants.
WHEN I MARRIED for the first time, I didn’t think much about it. I was in my 20s. My new husband (and future ex-husband) and I had already been living together for nearly a decade. Neither of us had any items of real value, so the financial implications of joining our lives meant very little. Marriage, it seemed, was just the obvious next step in our relationship.
When I married for the second time,
IT’S GRADUATION season. Entering the workforce? Here are five steps to help you jumpstart your financial life:
1. Manage your debt. If you’re like many graduates, you have student loans. Depending on how much you owe, you may be wondering how best to allocate your new paycheck. Should you direct every available dollar toward your loans or does it also make sense to begin saving? While everyone’s situation is unique, I have two suggestions.
THIS TIME OF YEAR, nightly news shows often feature a montage of clips from various commencement and graduation speeches. The speakers, mostly well-known business people, politicians and celebrities, dish out anecdotes and inspirational words to hordes of newly minted college graduates.
If I were ever invited to speak at a commencement, I’d offer a more commonsense approach, sharing some of the insights I’ve gained from working in higher education for more than two decades.
A FEW WEEKS AGO, life changed for 24-year-old Manuel Franco of West Allis, Wisconsin. The winner of a recent Powerball lottery, Franco took home $326 million—and that’s after taxes. With a sum that large, it shouldn’t be hard for Franco to make his winnings last a lifetime.
And yet, more often than not, such windfalls deliver heartache rather than happiness. Consider Lara and Roger Griffiths, an English couple who, in 2005, won the equivalent of $3.2 million from their local lottery.
MOST AMERICAN families are living paycheck to paycheck. This was highlighted by the recent government shutdown. Many federal workers quickly found themselves in financial trouble, when they didn’t receive their regular pay. In fact, a Federal Reserve survey found that four out of 10 Americans either couldn’t cover a $400 emergency or, to do so, would need to borrow or sell something.
That brings us to a question I’m often asked: Why do financial advisors insist clients establish an emergency fund?
I’VE DISCOVERED the solution for young people looking to save for retirement.
The typical engagement ring costs more than $6,300. Why so much? I recently learned there’s a rule that you should spend two months’ salary on an engagement ring. That means a guy earning $48,000 a year is expected to spend $8,000. Where did such a rule come from? Turns out it was started by the De Beers company. Need I say more?
A YEAR AGO, I WAS worried about the stock market. Today, I’m concerned about the job market.
In December 2017, I penned an article entitled Best Investment 2018, which turned out to be surprisingly prescient. That wasn’t really my goal. At the time, I was simply pondering rich stock market valuations, tiny bond yields and the new tax law, with its higher standard deduction and limits on itemized deductions. Putting it all together, it struck me that paying down debt—even mortgage debt—seemed like an awfully smart move.