LIKE ALMOST EVERYBODY ELSE, my wife and I faced large health care cost increases this year. It wasn’t all from changes in our health insurance. We’re getting up there in years. We go to the doctor more often. Not all hospital charges are covered by Medicare or our health insurance. And there are some costs that aren’t covered at all–namely dental, ear and eye problems.
We’re fortunate: We can afford the cost growth.
IN EARLY 2005, when Hannah was age 16 and Henry was 12, I took them out to a local diner and told them exactly how much financial help I’d provide. I would make sure they graduated college debt-free. I would seed a retirement account with $25,000 and a house-down-payment fund with $20,000. On top of that, I’d give them $5,000 upon graduation, plus another $5,000 toward the cost of a wedding or at age 30,
WHEN I BOUGHT my small rowhouse in Philly, I was swept up by the idea of homeownership. Like many of those I talked with at the time, owning meant no more wasting money on rent, plus it was a great no-risk investment.
Six years later, whenever I hear that friends are considering buying, I’m more cautious and often advise holding off—or at least peeling back the onion, so they’re aware that buying a home is rife with tradeoffs and not obviously “the right thing” to do.
A CLIENT WAS IN OUR OFFICES the other day, grilling one of my fellow financial advisors about some investments in his diversified retirement portfolio. He just couldn’t understand why we’d keep certain securities that hadn’t recently performed well. He kept citing “stuff I read” and “all the experts” as the basis for his concerns.
I wasn’t part of the conversation. But here are three points I would have made:
1. Those experts don’t know a thing about you or your situation.
AS MY WIFE AND I ATTAIN a certain age, financial questions are taking an unprecedented top spot in our conversations. Gazing into one another’s eyes over Cabernet Sauvignon at our local inn, we as often coo about jobs, savings, taxes and car payments as about romance.
This New Year’s Eve, we cooed about hopes, regrets, fears—and a college bill.
We began saving for our two kids’ educations when they were very young. But with one of us working fulltime and the other only halftime,
FORGET YOUR POLITICAL PERSUASIONS. Forget health care, terrorism, Roe vs. Wade, the environment, education, women’s rights and voting rights. Instead, focus solely on the economy and markets. Should a Trump presidency affect how you manage your money?
No doubt about it, there’s a temptation to act—and I’ll admit to three modest portfolio changes. In recent months, I’ve invested more in funds that own gold stocks, inflation-indexed Treasurys and foreign stocks, especially emerging markets. But none of these would count as a major portfolio change,
HOMES HAVE BECOME LESS AFFORDABLE. But this still looks like a good time to buy a house or trade up to a larger place, especially if you’ll need to take out a mortgage.
Affordability hinges on three key factors: home prices, mortgage rates and household incomes. Lately, both home prices and mortgage rates have been on the rise.
Property prices are up 38.2% from the early 2012 market low, including a 5.6% gain over the past 12 months,
LAST YEAR, I MADE THE JUMP from employee to self-employed. Professionally, I felt ready. But what about financially? Here’s what I did to make sure everything went smoothly:
1. Eliminate Overhead. Success as a freelancer or business owner is never guaranteed. To give my business a chance to succeed, I wanted to save enough to sustain myself for at least six months.
My salary was fixed, so I had to make adjustments to my spending.
I BOUGHT MY HOUSE in 2010, when I was 28. I was lucky to get good advice from my parents and some finance blogs I read. Even with that, there were parts I didn’t understand until after all the paperwork was signed and the deal closed. Buying a home is probably the biggest purchase any of us will ever make, so it’s best to reduce rookie mistakes as much as possible:
1. Plan backward.
HOW DO YOU GET more from your money? In HumbleDollar’s latest newsletter, I outlined 11 of my favorite strategies, including using a home-equity line of credit to pay off a mortgage that’s too small to make a full refinancing cost-effective. A reader offered an alternative strategy—one that had never occurred to me.
“If your mortgage is down to about three years remaining and you have significant equity in your automobiles, you may find a very favorable auto loan to use to pay off your mortgage,”
HOW CAN YOU SQUEEZE more out of your money? In this month’s newsletter, I outline 11 of my favorite strategies, including taking advantage of the 0% capital gains rate, using a Roth IRA as both retirement savings and an emergency fund, making the most of credit cards that pay cash back and doing a low-cost mortgage refinancing with a home-equity line of credit.
ONE DAY BACK IN 2012 I received a life-changing windfall. Contrary to what you might imagine, however, that day was not very different from the day before it, or the day after. It went something like this: Woke up. Went to work. Came home. Thought about ways to splurge. Ultimately gave up and went to bed.
In other words, there was no visit to the Ferrari dealership, no trip to Las Vegas, really no dramatic change at all.
FOUR YEARS AGO, at age 45, I got divorced. These days, divorces are equal-opportunity proceedings. Since our income streams had been roughly the same, and we didn’t have children, our assets were split 50-50. For me, that meant losing half my state pension. Along with that loss came the realization that my retirement dream was just that—a dream.
Following the divorce, my lifestyle underwent a huge upheaval. Living on my own for the first time in my adult life,
EARLY IN OUR ADULT LIFE, we get involved with all kinds of dubious financial types. There are the actively managed funds that quickly lose their charm, the insurance salespeople who try to force their policies on us, the market strategists who take us to all the wrong places and the hot stocks that let us down none too gently.
By the time folks get to HumbleDollar, however, I figure they’ve finished playing the field.
YOU COULD SAY I HAVE GRADUATED summa cum laude from the school of hard knocks—for first-time homebuyers.
From a financial standpoint, I did everything by the book. Over two years, my husband and I saved enough to put down 20% and cover closing costs. To ensure we didn’t buy more house than we could comfortably afford, we kept our purchase price to less than half of what some lenders pre-qualified us for. I aggressively analyzed and pursued the best financing options.