Matt About Money Simple. Meaningful. Success. Fri, 21 Sep 2018 13:30:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9092505 Profitable Ideas: Making Your Home Winter-Ready, Easing Into Minimalism, and more. Fri, 21 Sep 2018 13:30:12 +0000

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

Your fall home maintenance checklist: 7 tasks to tackle before temperatures dip ( Summer ends this weekend. Here’s how to get your house ready for the colder days ahead.

These 401(k) funds took a beating in 2008 — and it could happen again (CNBC). If you’re one of the many investors using a target-date fund, be sure you know its stock/bond allocation and whether it’s right for you.

Nothing into something (Of Dollars and Data). Why having a long time horizon is so beneficial — in business, investing, and the choices we make.

I made one simple financial change and it lowered my spending (The Atlantic). Marketers want to make it ever easier for you to spend money. What if you made it more difficult?

A physician takes a step towards minimalism (The White Coat Investor). One man’s journey toward living with less.

A majority of investors don’t understand this key fact about the stock market. That’s a huge problem (Money). Hey, did you know there’s a bull market going on?

6 ways to unify when you and your spouse have different ideas about money (Crosswalk). If you’ve been living separate financial lives, here are some good ideas for coming together.

Why we buy the things we buy (Vox). “The logic of emotion triumphs above all else.”

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

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An Investor’s Got to Know His (or Her) Limitations Tue, 18 Sep 2018 13:30:14 +0000

Fear finally caused me to stop. I was in Colorado, reconnecting with two long-time friends, one of whom is an experienced mountain climber. He had slowly driven us up a perilous-looking, narrow and rocky path cut along the side of a mountain. There were no guardrails to protect us from the sheer drop-off. Bouncing around in the back of his two-seat 1960s Willys Jeep, I alternated between glancing at the incredible scenery and keeping my eyes inside the Jeep to ease my fears.

After we had gone as far as his seemingly unstoppable vehicle would take us, we got out to hike. There were no paths that I could see, just my friend’s knowledge of the area, having been there before. The higher we climbed, the looser the footing became. As one who doesn’t like heights, I conquered fear after fear, but finally decided that the next steep portion was too much.

So I spent 90 minutes drinking in the view from about 12,600 feet shown in the photo above as my friends continued to climb. (The highest peak in Colorado is about 14,400 feet.)

Not all fear is bad

I’m well aware that “Do not fear” is the most common command in the Bible. But there are two sides of fear, as Donald Miller describes so well: “Fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

In other words, fear can be useful when it moves us out of harm’s way, but it can be destructive when it holds us back from doing what God calls us to do (hence, the boring—and I’d add, disobedient—life).

Fear works in similar ways with investing. The negative side of fear can drive us out of a falling market, causing us to lock in our losses and usually miss the recovery that follows.

But it can also keep us from taking more risk that we should when we set up our portfolio. Think about this: How much do you fear the possibility of a significant market downturn? What if your portfolio lost half its value over the next six months, just as the U.S. stock market did between September 12, 2008 and March 9, 2009? (Actually, it lost about 45%, but close enough.) If that strikes a paralyzing fear in your heart, an all-stock portfolio is too risky for you. There’s no shame in acknowledging that; it’s wise.

Experience counts for a lot

Throughout our time on that mountain, my friend was not the least bit afraid. When he said he saw no reason for fear, he wasn’t boasting; he was speaking from experience. And when he said he would never put us in danger, I trusted him. I was very confident that he knew what he was doing. That’s what got me as far as I went, which was much farther than I ever would have dared to go on my own. And my growing fear told me when I finally had to stop.

There are two ways to bring that type of experience into your investment portfolio. First, you may have personal experience. If you had money in the market during the Great Recession and didn’t make any panicked decisions, that tells me you were using a trustworthy investment strategy and you have the emotional fortitude to successfully navigate the next downturn.

Second, you could purchase that experience, whether by subscribing to an investment newsletter or working with an investment advisor. Chosen well, either one could provide a calm, experienced voice of reason that helps you make it through the storm.

Growing concerns

Investors are often described as “climbing a wall of worry.” The idea is that as the market rises, so do concerns about the next significant downturn. With the current bull market now over nine years old, those concerns have only grown. So let me ask you: As an investor, are you climbing alone in unfamiliar territory? Or do you have experience—whether personal or purchased—on your side?

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Profitable Ideas: You Probably Don’t Know Your Number, 8 Low-Cost Home Improvements, and more. Fri, 14 Sep 2018 13:30:39 +0000

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

The number one thing Americans get disastrously wrong about retirement (Moneyish). Got a big ballpark number in mind? It’s probably wrong.

The seven things I need to work on most to improve my financial and personal life (The Simple Dollar). One of the best personal finance writers does a little introspecting. We would all benefit from doing the same.

Here are the documents you need to bulletproof your wishes after you die (Washington Post). Have you taken care of this paperwork?

How a grandparent’s help with college tuition affects financial aid (Kiplinger). It’s a gift of love; just be careful how it’s given.

How much of a pay raise can you really ask for? (CNN). Guidelines for different circumstances.

8 low-cost ways to improve your home’s appearance (Bible Money Matters). You don’t need a new addition to make a noticeable difference.

Striking a chord (Humble Dollar). Learning from real people’s experiences can be a lot more powerful than learning from a textbook. Here are eight stories that shaped one very good financial writer’s perspectives on money.

Everything you should do before — and after — you lose your phone (Wired). Take these steps to save a whole lot of grief, and money.

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 Successful Investors Talk, or Not Tue, 11 Sep 2018 13:30:14 +0000

I had conversations with two investors recently that were very telling.

The first conversation was with a guy in his 40s who invests his own money—for a living. That’s what he does. It’s how he provides for his family.

It’s very unusual, and probably conjures up images of a day-trader, someone trying to sell positions by the end of the day for more than he paid at the start of the day.

But that’s not at all what this guy does. Importantly, he has an objective process that he follows meticulously. He’s a technical investor, using various financial indicators to determine when the U.S. stock market is likely to rise. I don’t understand the buy and sell signals he uses, but he’s been at it a long time and has found objective measures that work for him.

The key is that he has an objective process and he patiently stays with it. My sense is that very few investors can say the same.

My second conversation was with a 70-year-old retiree. At first, he seemed to be doing just fine. He was clearly very frugal and conservative. He seemed to have no problem living on a combination of dividend income and Social Security. Eventually, though, I became concerned about three things he told me.

First, the vast majority of his portfolio is invested in his former employer’s dividend-paying stock. While he was able to buy it at a discount during his career, having so much of his portfolio devoted to a single stock is dangerous. Just ask the many people who retired from GE, counting on dividend income from that once blue-chip stock to cover their living expenses.

Then he told me that he had recently taken a portion of his portfolio and started to follow one particular objective, conservative strategy. No problem there. What concerned me was how often he kept mentioning three or four other strategies he thought he should be using instead. As he implemented the one, he kept getting phone calls and marketing pieces from various advisors and investment services that he thought might be better. He kept second-guessing himself, wondering whether he should be following one of the other approaches.

While it’s appropriate to consider your options, at a certain point, it’s important to choose a path and stay on it. Otherwise, at the first sign of trouble, someone else’s shiny brochure will look better.

My third concern was that he showed a surprising amount of interest in an especially high risk/high potential return strategy. He had heard about some especially attractive recent returns and was thinking about giving it a try. From everything he had told me, he didn’t need huge returns from his portfolio, nor would he be able to withstand significant losses—financially or emotionally.

If you need an average annual return of 5-7% and are in your later years, why would you take the risks necessary to try for 12%?

The ideal approach to investing is to find and follow a strategy that, A) uses a purely objective investment selection process; B) is designed in a way you fully understand; C) has a good track record; and D) is emotionally acceptable to you—meaning you’re willing to do what’s necessary to execute it and you’re willing to keep following it no matter what happens in the market.

What I mean by a good track record is that it has generated the sort of returns you need, given your age, and it has done so with the sort of volatility you can live with. While the past certainly doesn’t guarantee the future, you should have some understanding of how a strategy you’re considering can be expected to perform in a bull market and a bear market.

Some strategies are designed to maximize returns during a bull market but are likely to fall hard during a bear. That’s okay as long as you’re willing to stay with it during the downturns. Others are designed to share in some of the gains of a bull market but protect against big losses in a bear. That, too, is okay as long as you’re okay underperforming the market in good times.

The strategy he was suddenly attracted to falls in the former camp. It’s easy to love when times are good. However, if he decided to follow it, my sense is that when the next bear market hits, it would cause him financial and emotional pain he would be ill equipped to handle.

How well does your investment selection process stack up against the four criteria I described above? How well has it served you during the remarkable bull market we’re still in? And how willing are you to stay with it during the inevitable bear market yet to come?

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Profitable Ideas: Your Wealth is Predictable, What Every Successful Person Knows, and more. Fri, 07 Sep 2018 13:30:39 +0000

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

The 5 things that best predict how rich you’ll be (Moneyish). Good things come to those who know how to wait.

Is your employer’s retirement plan any good? Here’s how to find out (Quartz). All 401(k) plans are not created equal.

Be careful! You may be ruining these four major appliances ( A few simple steps will help these expensive items last longer.

How student debt devoured my life (The Week). A cautionary tale for anyone planning to borrow for their education.

Avoiding a single point of financial failure (A Wealth of Common Sense). What’s the weakest link in your financial life?

What every successful person knows but never says (James Clear). Success takes time, so commit to the process.

Two key estate-planning documents you need (Kiplinger). These are the sorts of things that always seem like they can wait, until they can’t.

These towns will pay for your college education (Trulia). Even my hometown of Kalamazoo is making a big effort to hang on to its residents. My parents moved us away when I was six.

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

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One Habit That Will Greatly Improve Your Finances Wed, 05 Sep 2018 13:30:30 +0000

What if there were a single step you could take to greatly increase your sense of financial control and confidence, decrease your financial stress, make your marriage work better, free up money for generosity, increase your savings, and speed the process of getting out of debt? What if this single step were available to you no matter how much money you make? And what if it only required a few minutes of your time each day? Wouldn’t you take it?

What is this mysterious, seemingly too-good-to-be-true step? It’s tracking your cash flow – monitoring how much is coming into your household each month, how much is going out, and where it’s all going.

An Unpopular Step Toward Uncommon Financial Success

I know that using a budget, and especially tracking your spending, is not exactly the most appealing idea around.

There are even personal finance writers who advise against it. One such writer recently sent an e-mail, warning people that keeping track of their spending would be “psychologically overwhelming,” and that even if they overcame that hurdle, seeing where their money goes each month would, in his words, only make them feel bad.

I disagree. I doubt that any drivers are psychologically overwhelmed by their fuel gauges. I find it somewhat helpful to know if I’m about to run out of gas!

Income is financial fuel, and each category in a Cash Flow Plan has its own fuel tank. Your decisions about how much of your income to allocate to giving, saving, and spending on food and clothing and everything else, sets each category’s fuel gauge on full. Monitoring how much of that fuel you’re actually giving, saving, and spending gives you the information you need to keep your household humming like a well-oiled machine.

Will it make us feel bad to know where our money is going each month? Maybe — if we discover that we’re wasting it on things that don’t really matter to us. But that information is helpful, giving us the knowledge and motivation we need to make any needed adjustments.

Getting Started With Cash Flow Tracking

I realize that tracking your money is not quite as simple as glancing at your car’s fuel gauge, but some of the online budget tools come close to that level of simplicity. And even if you use a manual money tracking system, it only takes a few minutes each day to record your spending and see where you stand.

If you’ve never tracked your cash flow, just start keeping your receipts. At the end of the day, write down what you spent in the appropriate category.

If you are using a paper & pencil system, keep your Cash Flow Tracker somewhere that you’ll easily see it – on your kitchen counter or maybe your nightstand. That way you’ll be reminded to record each day’s spending.

Or, if you use an electronic system like we do, get in the habit of checking your transactions once a day. I usually do it in the morning before I head to work. Within minutes of logging on, our recent transactions are automatically updated. I just have to make sure they’re categorized accurately, manually enter any cash transactions, and then I take a glance at how we’re doing in our various categories versus our plan.

The Main Benefits of Tracking Your Cash Flow

If you’ve never tracked your cash flow before, here’s what you’ll find. First of all, you’ll very likely begin spending less than before. Just knowing that all of your spending will be recorded will make you think twice about many purchase decisions.

Second, you’ll have a greater sense of financial control. Stress often comes from feeling out of control. When you go to the store and you don’t have any idea how your spending may impact your ability to save or pay other bills, that’s stressful. But when you know where you stand in your grocery budget before heading to the store, that gives you a sense of freedom and peace of mind. You know how much you can spend without messing up any other aspect of your finances.

How Often to Track Your Finances

Even pro-budget financial writers often advise people to track just some of their spending or track all of their spending but only for a week or two. You wouldn’t limit your use of your car’s fuel gauge to just a week or two, would you? I say track it all, and track it all the time. Doing so will give you the facts you need to manage money well.

Once You Track, You’ll Never Go Back

Test me on this. Track your spending. All of it. I’m confident that once you get started you’ll see so many benefits you won’t want to stop.

If you already track your cash flow, what pros and cons have you experienced? If you don’t currently track your cash flow, what’s holding you back? Meet me in the comments section below.

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Profitable Ideas: Turning Money Into Superdollars, Why Kids Really Want Things, and more. Fri, 31 Aug 2018 13:30:51 +0000

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

How to turn your money into superdollars (Morningstar). Time is one of the most important ingredients for investing success. Free money doesn’t hurt either.

Purposeful spending (The Belle Curve). On the benefits of funded contentment.

28 pieces of productivity advice I stole from others that made me successful (Medium). There’s bound to be at least an idea or two here you could benefit from.

This is the number one thing that will keep you happy at work (Moneyish). It’s especially important for managers to read this.

Four money mistakes to avoid and keep your financial aid (Reuters). No one pays a university’s sticker price, but plenty of people pay too much by not paying attention to the financial aid rules.

Here’s why you shouldn’t retire super early — even if you can (MarketWatch). FIRE (financial independence, retire early) is a popular trend, but you can get burned.

Why kids want things (The Atlantic). The answer is more complicated than you probably realize.

There’s a scientific reason why you can’t buy just one thing at Target (Time). Your best defense — although it isn’t failsafe — may be that low-tech throwback to an earlier generation: A shopping list.

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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Teaching Kids About Money By Keeping It Real Tue, 28 Aug 2018 13:30:20 +0000

Wise money management is one of the most important subjects typically not taught in school. And unfortunately, where it is being taught, many of the efforts have been found to be ineffective.

The issue seems to be that such teaching is too abstract. There’s been too much lecturing and too little letting kids do real things with real money.

In our household, we continue to look for new ways to put that lesson into practice. And it seems to be paying off.

This past Sunday night, our 14-year-old wanted an update on his investment account. As I’ve written recently, all three of our kids have started following Sector Rotation, a very aggressive strategy offered by Sound Mind Investing, where I work by day.

Each of our kids had some money building up in savings that we moved to an investment account recently. When kids are especially young, I’m a strong believer in opening savings accounts for them at a local bank or credit union and actually going inside to make deposits (I know — who goes inside a bank these days?). It makes the process of saving and earning some interest real.

But as our kids have gotten older, moving things online and transitioning from saving to investing has made more and more sense.

So there we were, looking at his Schwab account online. Each of our kids have earned a remarkable 5.5% in just 3 weeks. They know Sector Rotation is an aggressive strategy that is bound to take them on a wild ride, but so far so good.

It was fascinating to me how many questions he had. As he looked at the screen, he saw lots of unfamiliar terms. “Cost basis,” “unrealized gain/loss,” “small cap.” What does it all mean? He was genuinely interested and it led to a great conversation. The important point is that if I had just tried to teach him about such concepts, he very likely would not have been interested. But because he had some of his own real money invested, he wanted to learn.

Later that same night, as I got our 10-year-old ready for bed, she handed me $100 and asked me to put it in her investment account. What kid does that? The money was mostly from three months’ worth of allowance payments.

Okay, we forgot to pay her for a while, so she got a pretty sizeable lump sum. And she got some more money for a recent birthday. I was amazed that she was so enthusiastic about investing the money instead of spending it. Apparently, she’s excited about an idea we’ve been talking about lately: Compounding returns and the importance of starting early.

It’s been deeply satisfying to see our kids truly understand some important lessons about money, and I think much of it can be credited to this idea of teaching through hands-on experiences.

We’ve seen the benefits in the spending arena as well. Mary Hunt’s book, Raising Financially Confident Kids, prompted me to give our kids their clothing budgets in cash and let them make their own decisions of how to spend it. It’s been a very effective way to teach them to make trade-offs, look for good deals, and save up for more expensive items (Read The Absolute Best Way to Teach Kids About Money.)

And we’ve seen the benefits of hands-on learning in the area of generosity. Ever since they were very young, we’ve encouraged our kids to give at least 10% of any money they receive. One of the best ways we’ve found to make giving real has been to sponsor some kids through Compassion International (World Vision offers a similar program).

One morning when our oldest was about three or four, I sprang a surprise quiz on him over breakfast, asking what are the three main things you can do with money. The previous night we had talked as a family about one of the kids we sponsor, a boy named Aziz who lives in Burkina Faso. We have his picture and we exchange letters with him. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, our son said, “Ah, you can save it, spend it, or give it to Aziz.” I loved that answer.

A few weeks ago while walking through a city where we were vacationing, we picked up some restaurant food and took it back to our hotel room.

Without any prompting, our 12-year-old cut his hamburger in half, wrote a note on the top of the Styrofoam container promising that he hadn’t bitten off the part of the burger inside, and then asked me to take him back outside. He had noticed some homeless people earlier and wanted to give half of his hamburger to one of them. I watched as he approached an older man in a wheelchair who was asking people for money, gave him half of his dinner, and had a brief conversation.

The man was sincerely grateful. And so was I. It’s a powerfully moving experience to see young kids start to really get this whole money/stewardship thing.

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Profitable Ideas: Mountains of Stuff, The Debt-Free College Education, and more. Fri, 24 Aug 2018 13:30:22 +0000

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

We are all accumulating mountains of things (The Atlantic). Feeling stuffed? You’re not alone.

The money-management secrets of a 56-year union: ‘It’s always been ours’ (Kiplinger). What’s the secret to making money work in marriage? The headline says it all (but read the article for more insights from a remarkable couple).

6 common habits that put you at risk for identity theft (NBC News). Some simple steps you can take to stay safe.

The magic of enough: Author Brian Portnoy on wealth (Reuters). To invest successfully, understanding yourself is more important than understanding the markets.

1 in 8 divorces is caused by student loans (CNBC). It’s so easy to take out a loan. But it can cost you more than you realize.

How we sent our children to college debt-free (Washington Post). It wasn’t magic. It just took some common sense and counter-cultural decisions.

Is your child at risk of catching ‘affluenza’? (Kiplinger). Wealth can enable parents to give their kids some unique experiences and opportunities, but it can also create problems.

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?

Where Are You Setting Your Hope? Wed, 22 Aug 2018 13:30:33 +0000

I came across a new phrase that I really like in John Eldredge’s latest book, All Things New (which I highly recommend). He wrote about “shepherding our hope.”

I’ve never thought about hope that way, that’s it’s something to be shepherded.

This idea has the potential to very positively transform our relationship with money and what it can buy.

What are you hoping for?

In her book, “The Overspent American,” Juliet Schor cites research noting that 61% of adults in the U.S. always have something in mind that they look forward to buying. I suspect the actual number is higher.

In and of itself, looking forward to buying a new TV or car isn’t some horrible crime. But here’s the danger: It’s easy to allow such hopes to become our greatest hopes. It’s why so many people find themselves running on the treadmill of wanting something, buying it, enjoying it for a while, getting used to it, wanting something more, and then repeating that cycle again and again. It’s tiring, discouraging, and not at all good for our finances. I know all about that, having logged many a mile on that treadmill.

Getting caught up in that cycle is an indication that our hopes are too small, that we’re pursuing false hopes that have no chance of satisfying.

Aiming higher

But sometimes our use of money gets us closer to our true hope. This summer, my family vacationed in Maine. On our first full day there, we climbed on huge rocks along the ocean while strong waves crashed against the coastline. As our 14-year-old took it all in, he declared it to be the most scenic thing he’s ever seen. I can’t begin to tell you how much joy it gave me to hear that.

Here’s Eldredge from his new book:

Some sort of promise seems to be woven into the tapestry of life. It comes to us through golden moments, through beauty that takes our breath away, through precious memories and the hope even a birthday or vacation can awaken…

That promise is God’s promise to make all things new, which Eldredge wonderfully unpacks in his new book.

Our first hope

Hope is one of our most powerful emotions. Most of us have experienced the truth that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). But my sense is that too few of us have experienced the other side of that coin, that a well-placed hope gives the heart great joy.

Understanding that the deepest joys we’ve ever experienced in this life are God-given glimpses of the far greater joy we’ll experience in eternity is, in my view, one of the highest forms of spiritual maturity and the single highest form of financial maturity.

That’s why it’s so important that we are intentional about shepherding our hope. As Eldredge writes, the renewal of all things “is meant to be the center of our view of the world, our hopes, and our tangible expectations as we plan our lives going forward.” It is “meant to be your first hope in the way that God is your First Love.”

If that’s vague or unexciting for you, please read “All Things New” as it will transform your view of the future God has planned for those who love Him.

Who cares?

When I write such things, I confess to hearing a little voice within me, scolding me not to waste my time—telling me as if for the 20th time that people read financial blogs to learn how to save money at the grocery store or on their cable TV bill, that writing about money within the context of eternity is a non-starter, something far too disconnected from the realities of people’s daily lives.

But there’s another voice I hear as well, telling me I have to write such things because I know to the core of my being that living from this perspective is the only way any of us will ever use money in a constructive and satisfying way.

Important questions

Eldredge recommends pausing every now and then to ask ourselves, “How is my hope these days? Where is my hope these days?”

It’s perfectly fine to look forward to your next vacation or to remodeling your kitchen one day. But it’s essential to set such hopes within the context of a far greater hope.

To paraphrase what Eldredge wrote in another book, living with an eternal perspective is what enables us to deeply enjoy what there is now to enjoy as we look forward to a far greater feast that is yet to come.

Oh, how I can relate when he writes, “I am treasuring now every taste of the promise that comes my way.”

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