Out of the Swamp

Jonathan Clements  |  February 16, 2019

WE CAN MEASURE our financial progress by the size of our net worth. But that’s hardly the only gauge. Equally important, I’d argue, is the evolution in how we think about money—and how we use it to improve our lives.
What does this journey look like? I picture it as having five stages:
1. Head above water. This is when you emerge from the primordial financial swamp and begin to walk upright.

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House Rules

Jonathan Clements  |  February 2, 2019

FOLKS USED to say, “You can’t go wrong with real estate.” They sure don’t say that anymore. It’s been a rollercoaster dozen years for home prices—and some experts think another rough patch is in the offing.
Since mid-2006, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index first tumbled 27.4% and then bounced back 53.6%, for a cumulative 12-plus year gain of 11.5%, equal to 0.9% a year. Could we be facing another dip?

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Choosing Our Future

Jonathan Clements  |  January 19, 2019

WHEN FOLKS have financial questions, they go hunting for the right answer. But what if there’s no right answer to be found?
To be sure, in retrospect, the correct answer is often crystal clear. Looking back at 2018, we should have owned growth stocks until September and then gone to 100% cash. If our home didn’t burn down and our health was good, we shouldn’t have bothered with homeowner’s and health insurance. If we kept our job and survived the year,

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Beyond Cheap

Jonathan Clements  |  January 5, 2019

WHEN I STARTED writing my column for The Wall Street Journal in 1994, active money managers dominated the investment scene and index funds were struggling to get noticed. A quarter century later, most money remains actively managed, rather than indexed. The triumph of indexing is not yet complete.
Still, everybody knows which way the wind is blowing. Over the decade through 2017, index funds focused on U.S. stocks—both the mutual-fund and the exchange-traded varieties—attracted $1.6 trillion in new money,

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Seven Ideas

Jonathan Clements  |  December 22, 2018

WHAT DO YOU consider the important financial ideas? No doubt we’d all come up with a different list—sometimes radically different—and what we deem important likely says a lot about how we handle our money.
For my own list, I think less about practical financial concepts—things like indexing and asset location—and more about the big ideas that should guide our financial decision-making. Here are seven of those ideas, all of which heavily influence how I manage my own money:

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No Kidding

Jonathan Clements  |  December 8, 2018

DO CHILDREN BRING happiness? As someone who has invested heavily in small people over the years—I have two children and two stepchildren—I want to believe the answer is “yes.” But the evidence suggests otherwise.
This, I realize, is a touchy subject, so let me offer a few crucial caveats before you fire off that fiery email. The studies cited here offer conclusions based on broad averages. Your experience could be entirely different. Moreover, it may be that children give special meaning to our lives,

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The View From Here

Jonathan Clements  |  November 24, 2018

HOW THINGS LOOK depend on where you stand. Trying to figure out how to respond to the market drop? After the initial slump, a brief rally and then another decline, the S&P 500 is down 10% from its September all-time closing high of 2930.75.
History suggests that, five years from now, share prices will be no lower than they are today, and 10 years from now they’ll be handsomely higher. But at times like this,

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Fanning the Flames

Jonathan Clements  |  November 10, 2018

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY be wrong with saving like crazy, so you can retire early? That’s the notion behind the Financial Independence/Retire Early, or FIRE, movement. Yet lately, I’ve read a lot of carping about FIRE, both in articles and in the emails I receive.
Just last week, those complaints got yet another airing in The Wall Street Journal. Earlier, Suze Orman weighed in, arguing you need at least $5 million to retire early.

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Warning Shot

Jonathan Clements  |  October 26, 2018

RECENT MARKET turbulence, including today’s sharp stock market drop, has been a wakeup call for many investors. Feeling queasy? It isn’t too late to make portfolio changes: The S&P 500 may be down 9% from its all-time high, but it’s still up an eye-popping 293% since March 2009.
Here are three quick calculations that might spur you to action—or help ease your mind:
1. How much cash do you need from your portfolio over the next five years?

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Thinking About Money

Jonathan Clements  |  October 20, 2018

I HAVE SPENT 33 years writing and thinking about money. I’m not sure it’s the most uplifting way to spend one’s life, but it’s kept me busy and—for the most part—out of trouble.
Two years ago, I took some of the financial ideas that have especially intrigued me over the past three decades, and I brought them together in a slim volume called How to Think About Money. The book proved surprisingly popular,

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A Good Life

Jonathan Clements  |  October 6, 2018

IS THIS A MOMENT of cultural change? I see glimpses of a new way of thinking. The New York Times recently ran articles on both the cult of thrift and the financial independence/retire early—or FIRE—movement. Words like mindfulness, purpose and meaning have gained new currency. U.S. household debt is growing, but it’s still barely higher than a decade ago. The national savings rate even shows signs of improving.
Maybe this is yet another reverberation from the Great Recession.

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My Favorite Questions

Jonathan Clements  |  September 15, 2018

YOU’RE UNLIKELY to get the right answers—unless you ask the right questions.
That’s especially true when it comes to managing money. We have answers thrust in our faces all the time, as marketers and salespeople exhort us to buy this mutual fund, that car, this stock, that home and this insurance policy.
But are these really what we want or need? It’s hard to know unless we ask the right questions. There’s ample evidence that many folks end up with financial products they don’t need and spend money in ways that bring little or no happiness.

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Tell Us a Story

Jonathan Clements  |  September 1, 2018

YOU MENTION to a colleague that longtime smokers shorten their life expectancy by an average of 10 years. Your colleague responds by talking about his grandmother who smoked a pack every day until she died at age 98. We all know that the statistic should trump the anecdote. But on the conversational scoreboard, it’s one point for both sides—and, three weeks later, you can’t help but recall the grandmother’s story.
The same thing happens with personal finance all the time.

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No Place Like Home?

Jonathan Clements  |  August 18, 2018

WE CAN’T CONTROL the financial markets. But we can pretty much guarantee we’ll pocket whatever the stock and bond markets deliver—by buying index funds. So why do I hear so much grousing from indexers?
At issue isn’t a failure of index funds, but rather a failure of investors’ expectations. Over the past few months, I’ve heard from countless hardcore indexers who have done the sensible thing and built globally diversified portfolios. Often, they own some variation of the classic three-fund portfolio: a total U.S.

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Try This at Home

Jonathan Clements  |  August 4, 2018

FOR THE PAST MONTH, I’ve been inviting readers to test a rough-and-ready financial tool called the Two-Minute Checkup. The tool is designed to provide a quick initial financial assessment.
The hope: It’ll eventually be one component of a larger website and app that help folks figure out what financial steps they need to take and then nudges them to follow through. This reflects a notion that’s been much on my mind in recent years: Improving America’s personal finances is partly about education—but it’s also partly about finding ways to change behavior.

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