IT RARELY HAPPENS these days, because I’ve been kicking around so long, but occasionally I’m taken aback by some completely nutty financial idea. This happened a few weeks ago, when I heard folks opine that you should always lease cars, not buy them—because cars are depreciating assets.
To be fair, there’s a related idea, which is indeed sound: You want more of your wealth in assets that appreciate in value and less in those that depreciate.
BY ALL ACCOUNTS, I’ve won the game. I know the income my family needs to live our desired lifestyle. I have an inflation-adjusted Navy pension in my future. I have two children and two GI Bills, one for each child. My house is paid off and I’m debt-free. Combine all of this with the 4% rule, and it seems I have enough to produce our desired income for the rest of my life. I have “won the game.”
DESPITE RHETORIC to the contrary, Social Security isn’t going anywhere. Today’s workers will eventually collect benefits. Today’s seniors will continue to receive the benefits they’re entitled to.
But that doesn’t alter the fact that the program faces fiscal problems, is misunderstood, and is used as a political tool to mislead and scare people, especially seniors who depend heavily on Social Security benefits. I regularly scan social media to better understand how everyday Americans view Social Security.
IT’S PROBABLY NO surprise I gravitated toward a career in the sciences: I love compiling data. My master’s thesis was 150 pages of charts, graphs and tables that summarized two years’ worth of research.
When it comes to my finances, I’m equally compelled to gather data. I do so, in part, to create a set of documents that are more tangible than the pixels that make up the account balances on my computer screen.
EVERYBODY WANTS easy answers. But often, things aren’t so simple, especially when it comes to financial conundrums. Consider the four common money questions below—and the rules of thumb that folks frequently rely on.
Question No. 1: How much do I need saved for retirement? Type this question into Google and most of the answers will recommend that you save some multiple of your income. Some suggest eight-to-10 times income, while others recommend as much as 25 times.
WE HAVE CRAZY stock market valuations in the U.S.—and yet investors don’t seem especially crazed, at least compared to the two great buying manias of recent decades.
Six months before the housing market peaked in mid-2006, I remember attending a New Year’s Day party where real-estate investing was—no exaggeration—the sole topic of conversation. I recall colleagues walking into open houses and, after quickly looking around, bidding above the asking price. I remember emails belittling my intelligence for cautioning readers about the likely return from real estate.
I’M CHIEF EXECUTIVE of Mason Finance, a company that helps people turn their life insurance policies into cash—something known as a life settlement. HumbleDollar’s editor made me this offer: If I could write a balanced article about life settlements, clearly spelling out the pros and cons, he’d consider running it. I took him up on the challenge.
If you aren’t familiar with life settlements, you are not alone. An estimated 1.1 million seniors leave roughly $112 billion a year on the table by not selling off lapsing life insurance policies,
I REGULARLY REMIND clients to hold onto their tax records in case their returns are questioned by the Internal Revenue Service. Understandably, clients ask just how long do they need to save those old records that clutter their closets and desk drawers?
Unfortunately, there’s no flat cutoff. The IRS says the answer depends on what information the records contain and the kind of transaction involved.
It supplements this vague guideline with a cryptic warning: Keep supporting records for “as long as they are important for the federal tax law.”
WHEN ASKED WHY he robbed banks, Willie Sutton replied, “because that’s where the money is.”
Similarly, private investment funds—such as hedge funds and private equity funds—are attractive to high net worth investors, because they carry the potential for outsized returns. That, supposedly, is where the big money is. Several factors explain this potential. Among them: These funds not only use leverage to increase the size of their investment bets, but also they may buy investments that aren’t publicly traded—and hence they could receive higher returns because these investments are mispriced or as an inducement to accept their illiquidity.
WHAT DOES GROWN-UP money look like? As I explain in HumbleDollar’s latest newsletter, it’s less about the size of your financial accounts and more about attitude.
May’s newsletter also suggests six steps you might take to turn your adult children into financial grown-ups—and discusses how this site has grown up over the past 16 months. In addition, the newsletter includes our usual list of the seven most popular blogs from the past month.
SHOULD YOU INVEST in the stock market? The answer seems obvious: Over the past 90 years, stocks have returned an average 10% a year, far outpacing bonds at 5% and cash investments at less than 3%.
So why ask the question? The reason is the word “average.” Stock market returns are, of course, uneven from year to year and uneven from stock to stock. That’s well known. But the degree to which stock performance varies from stock to stock may surprise you—and that has implications for how you invest.
IF WE WON’T SAVE for the future, should somebody do it for us? Everyone knows Americans don’t save; last year, we managed a miserable 3.4% of personal disposable income. That’s not going to cut it for either financial emergencies or retirement.
We can’t even get many workers to save sufficiently to obtain an employer match in their 401(k) plan. That’s free money left on the table. According to separate calculations by Alight Solutions and Fidelity Investments,
AS A LIFELONG perfectionist, it’s always painful to admit mistakes. When it comes to my finances, I’ve made plenty of good decisions. But I’m willing to confess to at least a handful of errors:
1. Not saving more when I was younger. When I got my first fulltime job, I was thrilled with the salary. I was making $16,000 a year—roughly twice what I’d been living on as a fulltime student.
IT TOOK MY HUSBAND and me several years to figure out our retirement plan—and it wasn’t an issue of money. The nagging question: How were we going to live this new life? We had both had extremely demanding careers and we were ready to move on from the stress of our work lives. But the thought of sitting at home all day watching Judge Judy or stretched out on hammocks really didn’t appeal.
Our solution: We took a page from the playbook of high school graduates—and spent a “gap year” teaching in Africa as volunteers.
IF WE’RE TO RETIRE in comfort, we need to be deadly serious about saving money for perhaps three decades. That leaves a little wiggle room: If our careers span four decades, we might have a decade or more when we can be a little less focused on making and saving money.
The question is, when should this “goof off” period be? Conventional wisdom has its answer: We should pursue our passions in our 20s,