Matt About Money https://mattaboutmoney.com Simple. Meaningful. Success. Tue, 17 Apr 2018 13:30:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9092505 A Wild Ride https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/17/managing-money-by-the-book-a-wild-ride/ https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/17/managing-money-by-the-book-a-wild-ride/#comments Tue, 17 Apr 2018 13:30:45 +0000 https://www.mattaboutmoney.com/?p=1366

Just before takeoff, the pilot warned us to expect a bumpy ride. Some bad weather had recently moved through the area and our flight path would have us following the storm system. Few of us were prepared for the ride that followed.

I’m not normally a nervous flyer, but this flight left me clinging to the armrests with a vice grip. For a good 45 minutes the plane pitched and shook, bounced and dipped. The flight attendants stayed in their seats, except for two occasions when they had to make their way to passengers who had become sick from the turbulence. Oh, I tried to appear calm as I squeezed out some occasional words in a poor attempt at conversation with my seatmate. But I was flat out scared.

And then a strange thing happened. I don’t know if I was just worn out from resisting the ride or what, but I let go of the armrests, folded my arms across my chest, and sank deep into my seat. Instead of bracing myself for the next wave of convulsions, I allowed myself to move in rhythm with the movements of the plane. Not only did the proper blood flow return to my fingertips, but I found myself less fearful as well.

When Jesus told people to follow him, he never guaranteed a smooth ride. He told them only that he had bigger plans for them than the ones they could imagine. One thing would be required, though—that they fully trust him, come what may. His early followers seemed to sense that the adventure of a lifetime lay ahead.

I first answered Jesus’ call to “follow me” in 1989 when I placed my faith in him. My wife’s and my decision in 2005 to have me step down from a well-paying corporate job to write and teach about biblical money management full-time was also in response to that call. As was our decision to accept an invitation to join the staff of Sound Mind Investing and move to Louisville in 2012.

It’s been an adventurous, bouncy ride. There have been times of clearly sensing God’s pleasure—when it seems that a workshop or an article made a difference in someone’s life—and also times of doubt, discouragement, and fear. I’m learning more each year what it means to fully trust God.

Are you facing some financial decisions or circumstances that are making your world turbulent? Are you grabbing on tight, trying to find your way through the storm with sheer willpower? It’s natural to want quick answers, to try to smooth out the bumps. As counterintuitive as it may feel, try loosening your grip.

The Bible tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). As I’m continuing to learn, letting go and trusting are important parts of what it means to answer Jesus’ call to “follow me.”

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Profitable Ideas: Sentimental Savings, Airbnb Scam Alert, and More https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/13/profitable-ideas-sentimental-savings-airbnb-scam-alert-and-more/ https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/13/profitable-ideas-sentimental-savings-airbnb-scam-alert-and-more/#respond Fri, 13 Apr 2018 13:30:26 +0000 https://mattaboutmoney.com/?p=6050

A weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

Get sentimental about saving (Chicago Tribune). Advertisers know all about preying on our emotions. Here’s some interesting research about turning the tables and using emotion to do the right thing financially.

More homebuyers are taking out mortgages that stretch them thin (Clark Howard). This article could have been titled, “How to Make Sure Your House Owns You.” Far better to buy a house that leaves you with some margin.

Beyond soccer moms: Relocating for a child’s sport (NY Times). And you think YOU spend a lot on your kids’ activities!

How I shop: Specific tricks for your next trip to the grocery store (The Simple Dollar). Good, practical advice for keeping your food budget in check.

Bye-bye stuff, hello minimalism (Medium). I find the whole minimalism/simplicity movement very inspiring, and slowly I’m trying to reduce the amount of stuff we own. What about you?

The burden of all these little gods (The Gospel Coalition). A powerful meditation on navigating the intersection of faith and our consumer culture.

5 life lessons I’ve learned by adding a room to our house (Cash Smarter). Advice that likely applies to most major remodeling projects.

This Airbnb scam will ruin your vacation — and your budget (Wise Bread). A helpful watch-out as you plan your next vacation.

What are your thoughts on any of the above? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?

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How To Truly Change Your Financial Life https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/10/how-to-truly-change-your-financial-life/ https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/10/how-to-truly-change-your-financial-life/#respond Wed, 11 Apr 2018 01:04:36 +0000 https://mattaboutmoney.com/?p=6043

Financially speaking, what are you trying to change?

Are you trying to get out of debt? Earn more? Save more?

Part of the process will probably involve gaining some new knowledge. And part of it will involve changing behavior. But getting to a better financial place isn’t just about knowledge and behavior. It’s also very much about the heart.

And one of the most effective ways to cultivate the right attitudes of the heart is to memorize scripture.

My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. – Proverbs 7:1-3

As we soak in God’s Word—as it becomes written on our hearts—it becomes so much more than head knowledge; it becomes something of an internal gyroscope that informs our worldview, guides our behavior, and encourages us to stay on the right path.

To foster a life of good stewardship, here are some of the key verses I recommend memorizing.

Earning

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” – Colossians 3:23

What if you remembered these words each time you felt underappreciated at work? What if you knew deep within your soul who you’re really working for?

Budgeting/Planning

“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5

Budgeting can be a tough sell. If you’re still resisting the idea, what if you let it soak in that planning your use of money is profitable—that it’s an of course; it’s just what managers of God’s resources do?

Giving

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” – Proverbs 3:9

This is a cornerstone verse about giving back to God as our first financial priority. But it’s the following verses that often come to my mind during the offering at church each week as I thank God for his provision:

“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”- Deuteronomy 8:16-17

Savings

“In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” – Proverbs 21:20

Do you have an adequate emergency fund? What if these words were written on your heart? Wouldn’t they motivate you to save a portion of all that you earn? You’re called to be a wise builder (Matthew 7:24-27), and maintaining a reserve is something wise builders do.

Investing

“Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5

As you read about the latest Bitcoin millionaire, what if you took encouragement from the idea that the biblical teaching to build wealth slowly may not be the stuff of dramatic headlines, but it does have the advantage of being highly effective!

Debt

“…the borrower is servant to the lender.” – Proverbs 22:7

As you feel tempted to finance a new car, what if you remembered that God paid an unimaginable price for you and doesn’t want you to become “slaves of human beings”? (1 Corinthians 7:23)

Spending

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” – Luke 16:10-11

What if you saw all uses of money—from buying groceries to taking your car in for service—as spiritual activities because everything in your possession really belongs to God?

What financial changes are you trying to make? Get the knowledge you need, and take the steps you need to take. But don’t forget to read what the Bible says about those topics and write those words on your heart.

Are you in the habit of memorizing scripture? What impact has it had on you?

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Profitable Ideas: Whether Frugality Takes Too Much Time, Winning the War on Clutter, and More https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/06/profitable-ideas-whether-frugality-takes-too-much-time-winning-the-war-on-clutter-and-more/ https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/06/profitable-ideas-whether-frugality-takes-too-much-time-winning-the-war-on-clutter-and-more/#respond Fri, 06 Apr 2018 13:30:28 +0000 https://mattaboutmoney.com/?p=6026

A weekly roundup of helpful personal finance articles.

How much time do frugal strategies take? Five time-tested techniques (The Simple Dollar). You may be surprised at how little time it takes to save a lot.

For applicants to elite colleges, early is often the ticket to admission (MarketWatch). It’s a big decision, but taking too long to decide could cost you.

Here’s how long you should keep your tax returns, according to experts (Time). Different forms may require different time frames—frustrating, but important.

How self-tracking helped me conquer my bad shopping habits (The Billfold). This writer went pretty far to analyze her spending, and it paid off.

Amazon wants to get to teenagers before the banks do (Bloomberg). Selling to customers who don’t qualify for credit.

40 years into the war on clutter and we’re still overwhelmed by stuff. What’s going on? (Boston Globe). The war on clutter has been a long slog, and guess who’s winning.

Here’s how to prepare your kids for ‘adulting’ (CNBC). Talking to your kids about money can go a long way toward preparing them for the real world.

Save money and reset your financial life with a shopping ban (NY Times). A spending fast may sound radical, but maybe a radical step is just what your budget needs.

What are your thoughts on any of the above? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?

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Spending Money With Peace of Mind https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/03/spending-money-with-peace-of-mind/ https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/04/03/spending-money-with-peace-of-mind/#comments Tue, 03 Apr 2018 13:30:14 +0000 https://www.mattaboutmoney.com/?p=4064

Living generously, being able to save or invest a portion of all income, and enjoying financial breathing space, requires smart spending.

Here are some of the most important ways to get the most for your money in the major spending categories. As you read these ideas, keep in mind that they aren’t about obsessive frugality; they’re about spending smart.

Maintenance

Two keys here: First, make sure you actually budget some money for the maintenance and repair of your home and car. Not doing so is one of the most common budgeting mistakes people make.

Second, be willing to spend some money on preventative maintenance. It’s a lot cheaper to pay for oil changes every 3,000 to 5,000 miles than it is to replace an engine. By the same token, it’s less expensive to keep your sink drains clear or unclog them yourself than paying for a plumber. The best drain-clearing product I’ve ever found is Thrift.

Utilities

You’ve heard these tips before, but they work. Switch to LED lights. Consider going with just a cell phone and eliminating your landline.

Transportation

You’ll see on my Cash Flow Plan that a monthly vehicle payment is not listed under Transportation. An important key to financial success is not having a vehicle payment.

The biggest true transportation cost is insurance. If you have an adequate emergency fund, consider raising your collision and comprehensive deductibles. If your car is not worth very much, consider dropping them altogether and only carrying liability insurance.

Taxes

If you’re among the 80 percent of taxpayers that gets a refund each year, you’re in the unfortunate habit of giving Uncle Sam a no-interest loan. I’m a big fan of generosity, but not toward an organization that can print its own money!

I’d rather see you estimate your taxes with the help of the IRS withholding calculator and have your withholding adjusted accordingly.

Food

You don’t have to be a super couponer to save at the grocery store, but a little couponing with the help of a site like Coupon Mom can go a long way toward helping you save on groceries. There’s credible research showing that cherry picking is worth our time as well.

Clothing

You can get some great clothing at stores like Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and especially Nordstrom Rack, although that last one is still a bit of a splurge. It’s also amazing what people drop off at Goodwill and other second hand stores.

Gifts

A big key here is budgeting a monthly amount for gifts and then letting the money build up in a special savings account for the big gift-giving months like December. In our household, we maintain two gift budgets—one for monthly gifts (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and one for Christmas. Plus, our kids have to contribute to the cost of gifts when they go to friends’ birthday parties.

Entertainment

With sites like Groupon and Restaurant.com, you never need to pay full price for restaurant meals.  Just make sure the availability of so many “deals” doesn’t tempt you to overspend. Financial death by discount is not a good deal!

We also use SlingTV instead of cable, which costs a lot less.

Health

At the risk of sounding parental, take care of yourself. It is absolutely the best way to save on healthcare costs.

For a long time, I aspired to be a consistent runner, and strangely enough I think I’ve actually become one. You don’t need to run to maintain good health, but you do need to move. Walk on a regular basis or ride your bike.

Oh, and eating healthy is a good idea, too. One of the many blessings my wife brings to our family is her insistence on healthy eating. She has gone a long way toward taming, or at least counter-balancing, my sweet tooth.

Surf For Savings

For just about anything you need or want to buy these days, there are discounts to be had. Many times you can even double or triple dip on discounts.

What are some of your favorite ways to spend smart?

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Profitable Ideas: Jump While You Can, An Essential Lesson for Investors, and More https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/03/30/profitable-ideas-jump-while-you-can-an-essential-lesson-for-investors-and-more/ https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/03/30/profitable-ideas-jump-while-you-can-an-essential-lesson-for-investors-and-more/#respond Fri, 30 Mar 2018 13:30:57 +0000 https://mattaboutmoney.com/?p=6023

A weekly roundup of helpful personal finance articles.

Jump while you can (Becoming Minimalist). On the importance of living fully and not taking the future for granted. A good reminder.

This is precisely why timing the market isn’t worth your while (Motley Fool). It’s important to learn this investing lesson as early as possible. You’ll avoid wasting a lot of time, money, and worry.

Helping young workers open a Roth IRA (Kiplinger). The younger you are, the more powerful a Roth IRA can be.

What a year-long clothes buying ban taught me about the privilege of minimalism (Tread Lightly, Retire Early). You’ll save a lot of money, but that’s not the most important benefit.

Using the science of good timing to pass the test, get the job, and live a meaningful life (Heleo). Another really important life lesson with implications for our effectiveness and more.

4 money moves to make after you pay off your mortgage (Wise Bread). If you’re able to hit this amazing milestone, there are some important next steps.

The best way to help your child establish good credit (The Simple Dollar). How does a young person who has never used credit build a good credit score? Glad you asked.

30 quotes about Easter and resurrection: His is risen! (Bible Money Matters). Happy Easter!

What are your thoughts on any of the above? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?

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How I Found Financial Freedom https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/03/27/how-i-found-financial-freedom/ https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/03/27/how-i-found-financial-freedom/#comments Tue, 27 Mar 2018 13:30:44 +0000 https://mattaboutmoney.com/?p=6016

“God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world.” – 1 Corinthians 7:23

I’ll never forget the day my parents invited me home for a little chat. They had started to sense that all was not well, and they were right. I was in financial trouble—deep trouble. My credit card debt had gotten so out of control that I could no longer make the minimum payments while also paying my rent or buying groceries.

Just two years earlier, when I was in my mid 20s, I had inherited $60,000 from an uncle and used it to create my dream job. But now, all the money was gone, plus another $20,000.

I ended up moving home with my parents for six months as I started to get things turned around. At first, it was brutally depressing. I looked forward to the night and dreaded the day.

But it was also the catalyst for so much positive change. When a friend from college got in touch and talked to me about matters of faith, I was receptive. Later that year, I committed my life to Christ. I also became passionate about learning everything I could about wise money management. After becoming a Christian, I was amazed at how much the Bible teaches about money.

Here’s a condensed version of how I got out of debt.

I recognized my need to change. I was completely broken by my prodigal son experience, and I was teachable. My friend said, “Matt, the more you’ve leaned on your own understanding, the more things haven’t worked out so well.” (I later realized that was a paraphrase of Proverbs 3:5.) It was a bold thing for him to say, and he was absolutely right.

I took responsibility for my situation. We live in a culture that tends to blame others for our problems, but I knew I had no one to blame but myself. Of the many people I’ve met who had a lot of debt, the ones who’ve been most successful at getting and staying out of debt are the ones who accepted responsibility for their situation.

I received help. I will always be grateful for my parents. They gave me relief from many of my bills at a crucial time and were very supportive.

I worked really, really hard. After a couple months of struggling for motivation, I got going. I went back to the work I was doing before receiving the inheritance—freelance radio reporting. I took on any and all assignments I could get, working nights, weekends, whatever it took to make as much money as I could to pay off my debts as soon as possible.

I kept working the plan. Once I got the debt payoff machine going, I was intent on keeping it going. The plan was simple, but not easy. Work hard, shovel as much money as possible each month toward my debts, and repeat.

I took encouragement from God’s Word. Right after becoming a Christian, I got involved in a small group Bible study. One night, our leader asked us to turn to 2 Corinthians 12. After someone helped me find that, I read about Paul, the “thorn” in his flesh, how he pleaded for relief, and how God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

When I read those words, it was as if a heavy weight was lifted from my shoulders. My debt had felt like the nastiest of thorns twisted into my side, and many times I had pleaded for relief. But now I saw more of God’s plan. He had already used my financial mess to draw me into a relationship with Him, and now He was using it to teach me patience, trust, and perseverance.

It took five years to pay off my credit card debts and another year to pay off my car. Seeing God’s plan in the journey gave me motivation to push on.

Since then, the keys to staying out of debt have been using a budget, maintaining an emergency fund, and most importantly, letting it sink deep within my soul that God paid an incomprehensible price for me, so it makes no sense to allow myself to become enslaved by the world.

Of all the weeks in the year, this week—Easter week—seems like an appropriate time to remember that.

If you need help getting out of debt, I recommend reading the following articles:

From my family to yours, blessings to you this holy week, and always.

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Profitable Ideas: Counting the Opportunity Cost, When Frugality Doesn’t Fly, and More https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/03/23/profitable-ideas-counting-the-opportunity-cost-when-frugality-doesnt-fly-and-more/ https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/03/23/profitable-ideas-counting-the-opportunity-cost-when-frugality-doesnt-fly-and-more/#respond Fri, 23 Mar 2018 13:30:52 +0000 https://mattaboutmoney.com/?p=6012

A weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles.

The unasked question (Humble Dollar). Learning to think through the filter of “opportunity cost” is a powerful way to make better financial decisions.

Your smartphone is giving away more personal info that you realize. Here’s how to lock it down. (USA TODAY). Given the recent news about Facebook, you also may want to read How to control what people can see about you on Facebook.

7 ways to make it easier for recruiters to skim your resume (Fast Company). For those in the market for a new job.

6 ways to lower the COST of college (White Coat Investor). Good, practical advice for college-bound students and their parents.

When frugality doesn’t fly (Pretend to be Poor). Trying to keep costs low can definitely go too far.

Still the most important piece of financial advice you’ll ever receive (Becoming Minimalist). It’s so simple, it’s easy to dismiss. But not following this advice is the source of much financial stress.

This mom is charging her 5-year-old ‘rent’ (Time). What do you think? Did she go to far in teaching her daughter about the real world of money management?

My rental property vs. Fundrise (Seedtime). If you’ve ever wanted to invest in rental real estate, now you can without having to screen tenants or answer 2:00 a.m. calls about broken pipes.

What are your thoughts on any of the above? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?

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Don’t Believe the Critics — A 401(k) Plan Can Help You Build Wealth https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/03/20/dont-believe-the-critics-a-401k-plan-can-help-you-build-wealth/ https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/03/20/dont-believe-the-critics-a-401k-plan-can-help-you-build-wealth/#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2018 13:30:12 +0000 https://mattaboutmoney.com/?p=6005

Criticizing 401(k) plans has become a cottage industry. With great regularity, financial writers still complain about the loss of traditional pensions and say it’s asking far too much to expect people to be able to figure out how much to contribute and what investments to choose.

The most recent example is an LA Times article claiming, Your 401k Won’t Give You a Decent Retirement.

At best, such reporting is incredibly unhelpful.

The pain of the Great Recession drove many people out of the stock market, and some have stayed out, missing one of the greatest bull markets ever. Yes, the ride gets bumpy sometimes, but the stock market represents most people’s best opportunity to build the sort of wealth they’ll need to provide for their families long-term. And 401(k) plans—or IRAs, if you don’t have access to a 401(k)—are, for the most part, excellent, tax-advantaged vehicles through which such wealth can be built.

Control what you can

While it’s true that a 401(k) plan won’t give you a decent retirement, it does give you the opportunity to build the sort of wealth you’ll need for a secure retirement.

The key is to focus on controlling what you can control, such as the following three factors.

1 – How much you contribute each month. This is the most important and difficult investment decision you have to make. It requires giving up something today (spending money) for a future reward (not having to work or move in with your kids in retirement), and we seem to be hard-wired to dislike delayed gratification.

But think of it this way. A really big-picture, broad-brush ideal budget would look like this: Give 10%, save/invest 10%, and live on the rest. If you work 40 hours a week, that means the money you earn on Monday morning is for giving to God; the money you earn on Monday afternoon is for saving/investing for your family’s financial security; and all the rest—all the money you earn Tuesday through Friday—is for spending. That’s not so unreasonable, is it?

Are you setting aside at least 10% of your gross income for saving/investing?

2 – How you invest the money. Never in the history of the stock market has it ever been easier to be an investor. With the invention of target-date funds, someone with virtually no knowledge about investing can easily get some of the most important investing decisions right, such as your optimal asset allocation.

All you have to do is choose a target-date fund with the year closest to your intended retirement date as part of its name and you’ll get an investment portfolio that’s designed for someone with your investment time frame. Planning to retire in or around 2040? Choose the Fidelity Freedom 2040 Fund or the Vanguard Target-Retirement 2040 Fund or a similarly named fund from a different fund company.

As you get older, the fund will even automatically change its stock/bond allocation to become increasingly conservative. Very helpful, very easy.

Target-date funds aren’t perfect, but they’re a solid option, especially if you want to keep things simple. (If you want more customization, either to pursue better gains or add more downside protection, consider subscribing to a low-cost investment newsletter/service, such as the one offered by my day-job employer.)

3 – How long you leave it alone. A retirement account is for retirement. I know—shockingly complicated, right? The problem is that it’s really easy to get your hands on the money in such accounts well before retirement via a low-interest loan.

Don’t take the bait! Remember, a retirement account is for retirement. Add to it with automatic monthly contributions and don’t make any withdrawals until retirement.

How are you doing with this whole “control what you can control” aspect of investing?

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Profitable Ideas: The Best DIY Tax Software, A Common Insurance Mistake, and More https://mattaboutmoney.com/2018/03/16/profitable-ideas-the-best-diy-tax-software-a-common-insurance-mistake-and-more/ Fri, 16 Mar 2018 13:30:26 +0000 https://mattaboutmoney.com/?p=5999

A weekly roundup of helpful personal finance articles.

How to choose the right do-it-yourself tax software (Consumer Reports). Whether you’re still finishing your 2017 return or getting set up for the next tax season, here’s an unbiased look at the leading DIY tax prep packages.

The tipping point (Humble Dollar). Compounding may not seem like a big deal early on, but just wait.

The state of K-12 economic and financial education in the U.S. (Council for Economic Education). Bottom line on the latest survey? “No growth.” It would be nice if schools did more, but ultimately it’s up to parents to teach their kids about money (See The Absolute Best Way to Teach Kids About Money).

Are home renovations necessary? (Curbed). The question is so counter-cultural, at first it’s easy to think the author is joking. She’s not.

Survey: Half of Americans haven’t even checked their credit since the Equifax hack (Clark Howard). Are you too complacent about protecting your financial identity?

8 signs your estate plan may be worthless (Kiplinger). If it’s been a while since you put your plan together, it may be time for an update.

Homeowners: Don’t make this common insurance mistake (Morningstar). If you’ve made some home improvements, your policy may need to be upgraded.

Surviving the dangers of prosperity (Eternal Perspective Ministries). Of seed, thorns, and the deceitfulness of wealth (Matthew 13:1-23).

What are your thoughts on any of the above? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?

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