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For Their Sake

A FEW YEARS BACK, I found myself in the emergency room, thinking I had a serious condition. As I sat there, I worried about my family, including my wife and young children. If I didn’t come home, would my wife have a clear picture of our finances?
Fortunately, the health scare turned out to be a false alarm, but it was a wakeup call. Sure, I had an estate plan, but I realized that a binder full of legalese wasn’t enough.

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Riot? What Riot?

THE CAPITOL WAS invaded by an angry mob 11 days ago. A week later, the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president. But if you’d been looking only at the stock market, you would have no idea.
Not only is the market higher today than it was the day before this all started, but also the VIX—the market’s “fear gauge”—is lower. From the perspective of the stock market, it’s been an ordinary few weeks.

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Moving the Target

IT’S GETTING TO THAT time when New Year’s resolutions start falling by the wayside. Most people don’t worry too much about this. But it would be nice if there were a way to give resolutions more of a shelf life.
Todd Herman, a performance coach who has trained dozens of Olympic athletes, offers one possible solution. He calls it the “90-day year.” The premise is that a year is just too long a timeframe.

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Those Messy Humans

WHEN I THINK BACK to Finance 101, what I recall—more than anything—is a whole lot of formulas. First came the calculation for present value, then formulas for valuing bonds, stocks, options, futures, forwards and all sorts of other financial instruments.
This was interesting. But with each passing year, I’ve come to realize that this introduction to finance was also incomplete. It was incomplete because—to state the obvious—the real world doesn’t always adhere to formulas.

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What We’ve Learned

WHEN I THINK BACK on 2020—and I know we aren’t quite done with it yet—I’m reminded of the movie Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. But to paraphrase Nietzsche, chaos isn’t all bad—if something positive ultimately emerges from it.
Below are five financial lessons that, in my mind, are worth carrying beyond this year:
1. Stock prices respond to news—but never in a predictable way. Leading up to the election,

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Unhelpful Advice

YOU’RE DRIVING DOWN the highway when, all of a sudden, a maniac goes speeding by, weaving in and out of lanes. Most of us have experienced this—and most of us have the same reaction. “That guy is crazy,” we think to ourselves. “If he doesn’t slow down, someone’s going to get hurt.”
But suppose that an observer instead responded, “That fellow’s speed is perfectly appropriate. Nothing at all wrong with it.” Now, you might think it’s the observer who’s the crazy one.

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Help Today’s Self

SO MUCH OF PERSONAL finance is focused on our future self—and that’s a challenge. Think about the standard prescriptions: Open an IRA. Maximize your 401(k). Save for college. Save for retirement. Build an estate plan.
These are all about the future—often the very distant future. An enormous amount of time and energy is spent planning for “someday.” But it’s equally important to focus on things that can be done to benefit you today.

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Split the Difference

IT’S THAT TIME of year again, when Wall Street strategists begin publishing their market forecasts for next year. If you’re wondering whether to put any stock in those glossy publications, here’s my recommendation: Think back a year to the forecasts issued at the end of 2019. Did any of them predict that a virus would come out of left field, throwing the economy into recession, triggering a bear market and killing more than a million people worldwide?

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Game Theory

WHEN I WAS A KID, I never liked the game Monopoly. I found it slow and uninteresting. But now, as a parent, I see its value. I’ve tried a lot of things to teach my children about money, but nothing comes close to Monopoly in its ability to convey important personal finance lessons.
Sure, it helps kids practice basics like addition and subtraction—but there’s a lot more to it. If you’ll be spending time with children over the holidays,

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Trends That End

CONGRATULATIONS are in order for Jay and Kateri Schwandt, a Michigan couple who recently welcomed a new baby girl. This might not seem like an event that’s worthy of national news, except this is the Schwandt’s 15th child—and the first 14 are all boys. In an interview, Jay Schwandt said he didn’t think a girl was even possible: “You know after 14 boys, we just assumed perhaps medically it just wasn’t meant to be.”
The Schwandt’s new baby illustrates a point that’s often debated in the world of personal finance: When you see a pattern,

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Getting Personal

I’D LIKE TO TELL you about a unique new book. How I Invest My Money is a compilation of personal money stories shared by 25 investment professionals. The book takes its title and inspiration from a 2019 blog post by investment advisor Josh Brown, a widely followed author and TV commentator.
Brown’s motivation: After years of on-air commentary, discussing every conceivable financial topic, it occurred to him that no one ever asks investment people how they invest their own money.

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Sweat the Big Stuff

I’D LIKE TO DESCRIBE—and recommend to you—what I’ll call the John Cleese approach to financial planning. It is, in my view, the simplest and most effective way to think about saving for retirement or any other goal.
John Cleese, the English actor and comedian, is largely retired. But in an interview, he described his approach to getting work done. When he had a weekly TV show, Cleese said, he didn’t worry about being unproductive some days.

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Emerging Concerns

AT 82 YEARS OLD, investment manager Jeremy Grantham has seen his fair share of market cycles. And as a U.K. native living in the U.S., he has the interesting perspective of an outsider. In a recent interview, Grantham shared his unvarnished view of the U.S. market. “American capitalism has become fat and happy,” he said. The U.S. stock market is in a bubble that will likely burst within “weeks or months.”
I don’t believe anything should be judged over the span of a single week.

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Look Under the Hood

TESLA JUST REPORTED financial results for its most recent quarter. For the fifth time in a row, it announced a profit. This was notable for a few reasons. Among them: Tesla’s increasingly strong performance again raises the question of why it’s been excluded from the S&P 500-stock index.
By way of background, the S&P 500 includes almost all of the 500 most valuable publicly traded companies in the U.S. But Tesla’s stock isn’t included,

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Follow the Fed

STOCKS WENT INTO a freefall earlier this year, as I’m sure you recall. But all of a sudden, on March 23, everything changed. The market turned around and, just as quickly as it had dropped, it rebounded. Remarkably, the U.S. stock market is now in positive territory for the year.
What happened on March 23? The situation with the virus didn’t get any better. And it wasn’t Congress or the White House. What happened was that the Federal Reserve issued a statement.

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