WHAT MATTERS IS WHAT we focus on. Forget the bad that has happened. Don’t dwell on the goals that remain elusive. Instead, if we’re striving for greater happiness, we should ponder the good in our lives.
This is a great moment to do just that: Most of us are surrounded by friends and family, we have time away from work—and the abundance offered by U.S. society is, in many households, epitomized by a flabbergasting pile of presents.
I BLEW OUT MY KNEE when I was 14. Doctors told me to concentrate on academics, as my days playing sports were over. I had no control over my injury, but I could control my response. I decided to focus on academics—and also return to the sport I loved.
My new goal: Play soccer the following fall and make varsity as a sophomore. With my parent’s guidance and support, we found a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon close to my hometown.
OUR DECEMBER FINANCIAL TRADITION is for my wife and four daughters to frolic in the holiday shopping minefield, while I decry their irresponsible behavior and try to establish some semblance of financial stewardship. In response, I receive heavy sighs, eye-rolling, and other displays of deep and abiding affection.
Maybe not coincidentally, December is also when we do our financial planning for the year ahead. There is no shortage of such discussions on the web.
WALL STREET MAY NOT BE PAVED with gold, but sometimes it sure feels that way, thanks to spectacular winners like Amazon’s stock, Apple’s shares and Bitcoin. The reality: Most investments turn out to be mediocre or worse. Want to notch great long-run gains? Forget trying to pick the winners and instead focus on diversifying broadly. I explain why in my latest article for Creative Planning, where I sit on the advisory board and investment committee.
IF YOU’RE WORRIED THAT INDEXING threatens the smooth functioning of the stock market, it’s helpful to spend an hour chatting over coffee with Charles Ellis—which is what I did last week when I was in New Haven, Connecticut. Ellis is one of indexing’s most eloquent advocates, including in his bestselling book Winning the Loser’s Game and in his latest tome, The Index Revolution.
Charley dismisses the idea that index funds are distorting the market—and scoffs at the idea that active management is headed for extinction.
THE TAX LAWS SEVERELY RESTRICT deductions for losses claimed by individuals whose homes, household goods and other properties suffer damage or are destroyed due to events that, in IRS lingo, are “sudden, unexpected, or unusual.”
In many cases, the allowable write-offs turn out to be shockingly smaller than anticipated. Furthermore, those with high incomes and low losses will find they can’t claim any deductions. What follows are answers to some often-asked questions.
What are the usual restrictions on writing off casualty losses?
THE YEAR 2011 was horrifying. I learned my Mom had a life-threatening disease. She passed away six months later.
That forced me to confront the $88,000 of debt I had accumulated during college, including $51,000 in credit card debt. I was in grief, I had no idea what to do about the debt and my Mom wasn’t there to advise me.
My friend John told me to seek professional help. A debt settlement company helped me get rid of $16,000 of higher-interest credit card debt,
EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT PERSONAL FINANCE I learned in court. As part of my law practice, I represent individuals in estate, trust, and probate disputes. Many of these cases have common themes that teach important lessons about personal finance—lessons that aren’t covered in the usual commentary about saving for retirement, paying off credit card debt, and so on. In particular, six crucial lessons stand out.
Lesson No. 1: Know where your assets are.
THERE ARE CERTAIN HALLMARKS of financial rectitude: Never carrying a credit card balance. Maxing out the 401(k). Having an emergency fund. But do these habits deserve the sacrosanct status they’ve achieved?
You won’t find me arguing with paying off the credit cards each month or putting at least enough in a 401(k) plan to earn the full matching employer contribution. Both make ample sense. But in the past, I’ve raised questions about how much emergency money people need and how they should handle this money.
AS AN OBSESSIVE ORGANIZER, I like having everything tidied up before the start of the new year. I spend considerable time reviewing my finances and making sure my retirement plan is on track. As I was filling out my financial notebook this year, I added a new section: a list of lesser-known “benefits” I’ve recently discovered and intend to use more frequently in future.
For instance, after publishing a blog post about car ownership,
THEY SAY OPPOSITES ATTRACT. In many ways, this is true of my husband and me. When we met, I was very frugal. My husband was on the other end of the spending spectrum. But we’re still together 21 years later—and we have managed to make this work in a way that’s been good for both of us.
We both well remember that first visit to the grocery store. Before we moved in together, I would go down the aisles with coupons in hand,
IF A PICTURE IS WORTH a thousand words, what would our finances look like over the course of our lives? Unfortunately, I have no talent when it comes to drawing. But when I imagine an idealized financial life, I conjure up a chart with five lines. In HumbleDollar’s latest monthly newsletter, I describe those five lines—and discuss when folks might follow a different path.
WITH LOWER TAX RATES in the offing, many of my clients tell me they’ve heard it pays for them to accelerate deductions for 2018 into 2017. How, they ask, does that tactic benefit them?
They beam when I alert them to two breaks. First, they qualify for deductions one year sooner. Second, they lose less to the IRS when they apply their deductions against higher-taxed 2017 income, instead of lower-taxed 2018 income.
I decide to prolong our chat and caution them not to take their eyes off the calendar when they write checks at year’s end.
I AM AMAZED OUR SCHOOLS don’t require kids to learn three important life skills: the basics of nutrition, a thing or two about parenting, and how to handle money. I’m no expert on nutrition and my parenting is a work in progress. But I do have a background in personal finance: When folks ask me what to read to deepen their financial knowledge, I have a ready list of titles.
Recently, however, someone asked me for a more advanced list—a “201”
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY posits that we have three basic psychological needs: the need for competence, relatedness and autonomy. When these needs are satisfied, we’re more motivated and experience a greater sense of well-being.
To this, you might reasonably respond, “What the heck are you talking about?”
As I see it, self-determination theory provides a useful framework for thinking about the connection between money and happiness. We tend to be happier and more enthused about our daily lives if we’re engaged in activities we feel we’re good at (competence),