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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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My One and Only

Jonathan Clements  |  July 7, 2018

IS IT TIME TO STOP messing around with our portfolios—and go for radical simplicity? I’ve been asking myself that question in recent months, as I eye the growing list of funds that offer broadly diversified “one-stop shopping” portfolios built solely with low-cost index funds.
Take Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 Fund, which invests its assets in four Vanguard index funds and is geared toward those retiring in 2050 or thereabouts. The 2050 fund has a $1,000 investment minimum and charges just 0.15% a year,

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Getting Up There

Jonathan Clements  |  June 2, 2018

DEPENDING ON WHO you talk to, we have a major problem in the U.S. with productivity growth, economic growth, the trade deficit, the budget deficit, public sector pensions, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid—or, if folks are feeling especially gloomy, perhaps all of the above. But the reality is, these issues are, at least in part, merely symptoms of a far larger problem.
What’s that? We’re rapidly approaching the point where we don’t have enough workers producing the goods and services that society needs.

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Where Money Grows Up

Jonathan Clements  |  May 5, 2018

HUMBLEDOLLAR ISN’T THE FINANCIAL website for everybody. Instead, it’s the place that folks end up after they have made their fair share of youthful financial mistakes—and they’re ready to settle down and get serious about money. I even briefly toyed with adding a tagline to the site: “Where Money Grows Up.”
What does grown-up money look like? It’s less about the size of your nest egg—and more about attitude. Here are 21 signs you’re a HumbleDollar reader:

When your neighbors show off their remodeled kitchen,

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Unanswered

Jonathan Clements  |  April 1, 2018

THERE ARE MANY FINANCIAL DEBATES that shouldn’t be debates at all. Folks strike strident poses, but often their positions don’t reflect a careful weighing of the arguments. Rather, they either have a vested interest or their ego is invested. Think of commission-hungry insurance agents who pound the table for cash-value life insurance, or retirees who took Social Security early and then insist that early is always best.
In most of these cases, if we marshal the facts and apply some reasoning,

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Making a Difference

Jonathan Clements  |  March 3, 2018

TRYING TO BEAT THE MARKET isn’t just a risky endeavor that will almost certainly end in failure. It’s also unnecessary and, arguably, an astonishing waste of money and time.
As I grow older, the clock ticks ever more loudly in my head. I hate to be kept waiting. I keep chores to a minimum. I try to eliminate activities from my day that bring little pleasure and have no purpose. I think hard before acquiring new possessions,

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Think of the Children

Jonathan Clements  |  February 3, 2018

I FEAR I AM GROWING WEALTHY at my children’s expense. My investing life began in the late 1980s. Yes, there have been stock market bumps since then, notably the 2000-02 and 2007-09 market crashes, and even a minor hiccup over the past week. But if you look at the broad trend, it’s been three decades of rising stock market valuations.
From year-end 1987 to year-end 2017, the S&P 500’s price-earnings multiple climbed from 13.8 to 24.6,

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Short and Sweet

Jonathan Clements  |  January 6, 2018

AS I WAS PREPARING for HumbleDollar’s January 2017 launch, my web developer suggested I add a mission statement to the top of the homepage. That mission statement morphed into a daily insight, which then became a daily Tweet that also found its way onto my Facebook page. Like the family that moves from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment, I embraced the challenge of shoehorning financial ideas into 140 characters or less.
Twitter has since expanded the allowable character count to 280,

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Timely Tale

Jonathan Clements  |  December 2, 2017

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,

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Getting Better

Jonathan Clements  |  November 4, 2017

TO IMPROVE OUR BEHAVIOR, we first need to realize we’re on the wrong path and then figure out the right way forward. Often, this isn’t especially difficult. If we have no savings, obviously we need to sock away some money. If we’re overweight, we should cut back on the calories. If we’re out of shape, we need to hit the gym.
Instead, the real problem is getting ourselves to act.

The contemplative side of our brain is fully aware we ought to eat and spend less,

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Enough Already

Jonathan Clements  |  October 7, 2017

“WHEN YOU’VE WON THE GAME, stop playing with the money you really need.” That’s something my longtime friend and fellow author William Bernstein is fond of saying—and lately it’s been on my mind.
There’s been much handwringing over 2017’s stock market rally. Looked at objectively, it hasn’t been that startling. As of Sept. 29, the S&P 500 was up 14.2% for the year-to-date, with dividends reinvested—a good year, but nothing compared to the 25%-plus years we saw in 1991,

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Out of My Mind

Jonathan Clements  |  September 2, 2017

IF WE HAVE DINNER with half-a-dozen others, we might all share the same meal and yet each of us will have a different experience—sometimes radically different. Even as we talk politics, crack jokes and swap gossip, we’ll each have our own thoughts whirling in the background: errands we can’t forget, work issues we need to resolve, incidents from the day we keep replaying, worries we can’t put behind us.
For me, those whirling background thoughts often concern financial notions I want to write about.

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