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January’s Hits

READERS LOVE LISTS. For proof, look no further than our (ahem) list of January’s 10 most popular articles. Seven of those articles took the form of lists, and their readership helped propel HumbleDollar to its second-best month ever for pageviews.

“I suggest skipping the step of building up an emergency fund—in cash, that is,” writes Chuck Wilson. “I’m willing to bet that only a small minority truly use it for emergencies only.”

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Not So Gloomy

IS THE STOCK MARKET headed for a sea change? That’s the argument money manager and author Howard Marks makes in his most recent memo.
The sea change Marks is referring to: For four decades, the federal funds rate declined steadily—from a peak of 20% in 1980 to 0% in 2020. The result, Marks argues, was a steady tailwind for the stock market.
In January 1980, the S&P 500 index stood at 108. At its peak early last year,

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Warren’s Way

I GRADUATED FROM college in 2007, shortly before the economy was brought to its knees by the Great Recession. I worked in asset management for Macerich (symbol: MAC), a publicly traded real estate investment trust. During the panic, the company’s share price plunged from $92 to $5.
There was fear in the markets. You might even say mass hysteria. Our executives were mostly miserable because their stock options were underwater. Waves of layoffs ensued.

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Choosing Success

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA told Vanity Fair, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
He believed that spending mental energy to make an inconsequential decision about clothes early in the day might lead to a bad decision on a consequential matter for the country later in the day.

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Time’s A-Wasting

WHAT DO BEN FRANKLIN, Charles Darwin and David Cassidy all have in common? All have advised us not to waste life’s precious time.
Almost everything about money translates into time. Money can buy us time—either more free time or more time spent on higher-value activities. Money can purchase a nicer house or car, a luxury vacation, greater financial support for our children, fun toys or experiences, reduced financial stress—and, eventually, a comfortable retirement. The financial independence-retire early,

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Death to Dividends

KIPLINGER’S HAS TOUTED using dividends to “Fund 20 Years of Retirement,” Forbes insists they’re useful “For Sleeping Well At Night During Turbulent Times,” and Seeking Alpha declares “I’m Living The Retirement Dream, Paid With Big Dividends.”
Morningstar has an entire monthly newsletter devoted to the subject of dividends. I even vaguely recall HumbleDollar praising the virtues of dividend-paying stocks.
Investing in such stocks is perhaps the oldest investing meme in the world,

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Securing Lower Taxes

THE TWO SECURE ACTS—2019’s and 2022’s—may inadvertently increase the federal and state tax rates on tax-deferred retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s and IRAs. While well-intentioned, the laws result in required withdrawals being bunched into fewer years—which could push people into higher tax brackets. But there are ways this tax toll might be lightened or avoided, as you’ll see.
With tax-deferred accounts, the normal advice is to delay taxable distributions for as long as possible to give more time for investment growth.

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Ten Steps for 2023

I’M NOT BIG ON MAKING New Year’s resolutions. Still, January is a good time to conduct some financial housekeeping. Below are 10 ideas to consider as the calendar turns over.
1. Portfolio cleanup. I sometimes feel like a broken record when I talk about the disadvantages of actively managed mutual funds. Among other issues, they tend to underperform and are tax-inefficient. But here’s the challenge: Even after factoring in 2022’s decline, the S&P 500 has risen more than 600% since 2009’s market bottom.

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When Late Is Okay

I EXPECT TO OWE some $8,000 to the IRS on April 15. On the surface, this might seem like poor tax planning. But I’d argue that it’s just the opposite.
Too often, folks are excited to get a large refund when they file their annual tax return. In response, you’ll hear financial advisors jumping in and saying, “That’s bad. You gave the IRS an interest-free loan.”
In theory, I agree. But until recently, savings accounts have been paying so little that it wasn’t worth the effort for folks to manage their tax liability that closely.

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A Taxing Situation

MUTUAL FUNDS ARE about to send their shareholders some dubious holiday gifts—in the guise of capital gains distributions. These distributions usually occur mid-December and they represent a taxable event for investors who hold funds in a taxable account.
Even in a down year for stocks and bonds, a mutual fund may realize capital gains, which are then passed on to shareholders. These could come as a nasty surprise to investors already smarting from 2022’s steep losses.

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Worth a Read

PERSONAL FINANCE books don’t exactly rank as the most sought-after holiday gifts. Still, if there’s a money nerd in your life—or someone who aspires to be one—below are 10 personal finance book recommendations.
Why Does the Stock Market Go Up? by Brian Feroldi. This book seeks to answer 60 of the most commonly asked questions in personal finance. In so doing, it demystifies many of the concepts, terms and acronyms that we often ​hear but may not fully understand.

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Through the Ages

WHEN I WAS IN MY 20s, I was lucky to work for a company that offered a pension plan—and that put me on the road to retirement. Today, unfortunately, company pensions are rare. How can you ensure a comfortable retirement? Try shooting for these age-related milestones:
Age 25. Start saving at least 15% of your gross income. As I mentioned in an earlier article, a Fidelity Investments study found that if you save 15% of your gross income every year from age 25 through 67,

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Never Simple

WHEN ROSS PEROT RAN for president in 1992, a pillar of his campaign was tax reform. Federal tax rules, he pointed out, had grown to more than 80,000 pages. His proposal: Start over and replace everything with a simple flat tax.

Perot’s campaign for tax reform didn’t make much progress, but many can sympathize with his frustration. Because of the complexity of tax rules, financial planning often ends up feeling like the children’s game Operation—with penalties for even the slightest misstep and confusion around every corner.

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America the Drivable

I’M BASICALLY A BORING kind of guy. I’ve been known to fall asleep during a raging house party. But when it comes to travel, you’ll find me wide awake. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

Given the hassle of international travel right now, Connie and I decided to see more of the U.S., rambling from state to state, planning no more than a day or so in advance.

We’ve just finished our third cross-country road trip since 2014.

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There Be Monsters

I’VE BEEN AWAY FROM the HumbleDollar community for a while. Jiab and I are working on a new book about media literacy, examining the effects of social media influencers on youth consumerism. It will teach kids about responsible web use and how to avoid the traps of the online world.
I’ve learned a lot myself, including lessons that apply both online and IRL, short for “in real life.” As part of our research,

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