Matt About Money Simple. Meaningful. Success. Wed, 25 Nov 2020 16:10:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9092505 Profitable Ideas: Teenagers Saving For Retirement, Your Digital Estate Plan, and More Fri, 27 Nov 2020 14:30:05 +0000

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

Meet the teens saving for retirement (Money). Some very wise young people understand that time is one of their most valuable assets. See also What if your kids had their retirement funded before they finish high school?  

Don’t fear the robots, and other lessons from a study of the digital economy (NY Times). Some jobs will disappear, but others will likely emerge. 

Berlin’s second-hand craze is turning it into a ‘zero-waste city’ (Reasons to be Cheerful). An interesting case study about a big city that has gone all-in on recycling and reusing.

Bad influence (Humble Dollar). To understand why you make the financial decisions you make, just look around.

Don’t leave grieving relatives searching for your passwords: here’s how to organize your digital life before you die (USA Today). Does your estate plan include instructions for your digital assets?

Tax wrinkles for work-at-home employees during Covid-19 (Kiplinger). For the most part, your answer to one key question determines what, if any, telecommuting expenses are deductible.

Low, low mortgage rates make 19.4 million eligible for refi (Housing Wire). Have you looked into refinancing your mortgage? 

Who will miss the coins when they’re gone? (NY Times). I hardly carry any cash these days, and I definitely never carry coins. How about you?

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What is it About the Holidays? Tue, 24 Nov 2020 14:30:36 +0000

We’re entering a season that seems to play out in three different ways for people.

For many, it’s “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” — most importantly, a time of celebrating Christ’s miraculous birth.

Of course, it’s also a favorite time of year for shopping, with many people eagerly anticipating the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.

Unfortunately, for some, there’s something about the holidays that can also make this one of the most difficult times of the year. Especially this year, with the pandemic causing all kinds of problems, more people than usual are alone, out of work, or ill. As a result, all the seasonal advertising and hype, and the sense that everyone but them is having a grand old time, can bring much pain.

For the most part, I’m in the first camp. Even though we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving just with our immediate family this year, I welcome the reminder of all that I have to be grateful for. And even though we may not make it to a Christmas eve service this year, I look forward to celebrating the birth of our Savior who is central to all that I hold dear.

But I also have a foot in the third camp. While it’s been more than 15 years since my parents died, this season always reminds me of their final days. My mom died about 10 days before Christmas in 2003; my dad passed away less than a year later, the day after Thanksgiving in 2004. I had the honor of being at their side when they each drew their final breaths. Sometimes I’m surprised by how vividly those memories live for me.

All that to say that if the holidays bring you a mix of emotions, including some pain, I can relate.

So, here’s my encouragement. This year, as you make your holiday lists—whether grocery lists or gift lists—make one more list. Think of a few people for whom the holidays might be kind of tough. And then do something about it, something to brighten their spirits. You don’t have to buy them a gift; just sending a card that lets them know you’re thinking of them and they’re important to you would mean a lot.

I know you’ll make their holidays better, and in the process, I’m pretty sure you’ll make yours better as well.

From my family to yours, in whatever state you find yourself at the start of this holiday season, I pray you’ll experience God’s greatness and God’s goodness in very meaningful ways.

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Profitable Ideas: A Little Bit of Savings Goes a Long Way, Get Ready for Digital Health Passes, and More Fri, 20 Nov 2020 14:30:50 +0000

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

How much is $20 a month worth? (A Wealth of Common Sense). Boosting your savings by a little bit can make a big difference.

How to save for a big purchase (Of Dollars and Data). Low risk isn’t the same as no risk, so for a short-term goal play it safe.

Real estate transactions go virtual (NY Times). Buying a home isn’t what it used to be, and many of the changes may be permanent.

Yes, you should be using Apple Pay or Google Pay (Wired). I confess, I have not started using either app to pay for stuff. What about you? See also Google Pay’s new redesign sums up the best and worst of Google (Fast Company).

Why do I have this? (Becoming Minimalist). It doesn’t necessarily need to “spark joy,” but there should be some reason for owning our stuff.

A fully reopened economy will require digital health passes (Abnormal Returns). One more way the world may look very different whenever we emerge from the pandemic.

These 10 jobs could disappear or decline because of COVID-19 (USA Today). The only one that really surprised me was professor.

Getting comfortable with your enough (The Evidence-Based Investor). “Enough” — it’s such a counter-cultural, seemingly un-American idea, and yet so good for our finances and happiness.

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‘Make No Little Plans’ Tue, 17 Nov 2020 14:30:06 +0000

My family got to spend a couple of days in Chicago recently. We walked around Millennium Park, had lunch along the Chicago River, and showed our kids the church in Evanston where Jude and I got married, driving up beautiful Lake Shore Drive on the way.

Among the many things I love about our family’s former hometown is the city’s park-lined lakefront. It was an important part of urban planner Daniel Burnham’s vision and is today one of his greatest legacies. It stands as a daily embodiment of one of his most famous quotes: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…”

Making no little financial plans

Since I can’t help but look for the money-related implications in much of what I experience, our visit to Chicago made me think about the importance of vision and what legacy will be left by the financial decisions we’re making.

Do you live by a vision that guides your use of money? Two examples from my own life come to mind.

Early in our relationship, Jude and I developed a shared vision that if we were blessed with kids we’d like for her to be able to stay home with them. We arranged our finances accordingly, living primarily on one income when we both worked outside the home so that it would be easier to live on one if and when we had kids. I’ve seen countless benefits that have come from that decision. It’s one we will never regret. (Read An Uncommon But Brilliant Money Move for Young Couples.) 

The other major example has to do with my career path. When I worked in corporate America, I had a good job that paid well and provided other nice benefits. After a few years, though, there were many days when I walked into the building imagining myself looking down on the scene and wondering, “Who is that guy?” The work I did day in and day out didn’t seem all that meaningful. I sensed God encouraging me to take the lessons learned from my financial crash and burn and make them my life’s work.

So, bathed in prayer, with Jude’s full support, with the input of some trusted mentors, and with 18 months’ worth of living expenses in the bank, one day with everything going as well as it possibly could, I quit in order to begin writing and speaking about biblical money management full-time.

Since then, there have been some some incredibly challenging seasons and some painful lessons, but I live with the sense that I’m doing what God put me here to do.

The clock is ticking

One of the most common regrets of the elderly is that they didn’t take more risks.

For all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’ – John Greenleaf Whittier, Maud Muller

Is there some vision that you sense God has put on your heart? Are there nights you can’t sleep because you’re thinking of it? If that vision has some staying power—and if you’re married, if it’s something your spouse can support—why not get about pursuing it?

While there are certainly no guarantees, for most of us, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be here on November 17, 2021, and on November 17, 2022, and, God willing, beyond. The days will roll on whether we pursue the vision God has put on our hearts or not.

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old – Billy Joel, Vienna

My encouragement to all of us is to not grow old wondering what might have been.

Has God put a vision on your heart? What is it? And is there something you would have to do differently financially in order to start pursuing it?

I have something like that. Maybe I’ll share more about it down the road. For now, just know that if you can relate to any of this, I’m right there with you. 

It’s easiest to feel the doubts. To compile a list of the many reasons it couldn’t possibly work out. So why even try?

I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’. – Andy, The Shawshank Redemption

To not try is to get busy dyin’, isn’t it?

Last night, in a discipleship group I’m in, these words convicted me in the most wonderful way:

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” – Luke 9:23

What those words said to me is that if what I’m pursuing is all about me, it probably won’t succeed. But if it’s about something bigger than me, if it’s truly about God—honoring Him, obeying Him, serving Him—then maybe, just maybe it will.

And they also said that pursuing His vision might cost me something. Am I willing to give up some comfort to get after it? Am I willing to put in the work? To try to solve the many problems? To try to answer the many questions? Am I willing to trust the vision at times when it seems like no progress is being made? Most of all, am I willing to risk failure?

What about you? What vision has God put on your heart? What would it cost you to pursue it? And perhaps more importantly, what would it cost you not to?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21

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Profitable Ideas: Holiday Shopping in a Pandemic, a Financial Therapist’s Money-Saving Tips, and More Fri, 13 Nov 2020 14:30:58 +0000

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

Holiday shopping is different this year: 12 trends to watch as you check off your gift list (Boston Globe). Making an appointment to shop, Black Friday will change, and more.

The one thing to consider before asking for a higher salary (The Woke Salaryman). Making yourself the type of person who’s in short supply.

Future shock (Humble Dollar). A helpful look at the psychology of money. Speaking of which…

A financial therapist shares what she always keeps in her wallet—and her 6 best tips to save money (CNBC). Why a personal “pause button” can be so helpful, and other suggestions.

What is umbrella insurance and do I need it? (Kiplinger). The more you have, the more you stand to lose. Here’s how to protect a lot for a little.

Will our time and efforts invested in hobbies be considered worthless at the judgement seat of Christ? (Randy Alcorn). There’s no need to feel guilty about some of the most enjoyable uses of money.

4 ways to follow up after a job interview (Harvard Business Review). Some good ways to stay on a hiring manager’s radar screen.

Reasons to sign up for a health savings account (NY Times). Learn how to max out the benefits of an HSA and it’ll work as a “super IRA,” with the money going in on a tax-deductible basis and coming out tax-free.

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One of the Least Appreciated ‘Secrets’ to Warren Buffett’s Success Tue, 10 Nov 2020 14:30:52 +0000

Think of the name Warren Buffett and you immediately think, “One of the world’s richest people” or “One of the greatest investors ever.” Both are true. But do you know why he has been so successful at building wealth through investing?

Many books have covered this topic and they usually describe him as a “value” investor with a knack for investing in undervalued companies.

But there’s something else at work here that requires far less skill to emulate. It’s exemplified by two remarkable facts.

First, Buffett became a millionaire at age 30.

And second, as one of my favorite business/investing writers Morgan Housel noted, “$80.7 billion of the 87-year-old investor’s $81 billion net worth was accumulated after his 50th birthday. Seventy-eight billion of the $81 billion came after he qualified for Social Security, in his mid-60s.”

What’s the “secret” that ties these two facts together? Time. It’s one of the most crucial and under-appreciated aspects of Buffett’s success.

Buffett didn’t become a millionaire at age 30 by winning the lottery or receiving an inheritance. Instead, he started investing at a surprisingly young age. Here’s Housel again:

…Buffett became serious about investing several years before puberty… It is tempting to look at an outlier – a company, a brand, a net worth – and study the most recent things that added to its success… So we write 2,000 books on how Buffett sizes up management teams when the biggest and most practical takeaway from his success is, ‘Start investing when you’re in third grade.’

One way to think about how compounding works is to consider doubling periods — that is, the amount of time it takes for money to double in value.

According to the rule of 72, if you divide your annual return into 72, that will tell you how quickly your money will double. For example, if your portfolio generates an annual return of 9 percent, it will double in value in about 8 years.

Here’s an example, showing how a 20-year-old with a $10,000 portfolio (Don’t scoff — remember, Buffett got started in the 3rd grade) will see his account grow over the course of multiple 8-year periods, assuming an annual return of 9% and no further contributions. (You’ll see that it actually more than doubles each period).

But think about this: Just as an annual return of 9 percent will turn $10,000 into $20,000 in 8 years, it will turn $1 million into $2 million in 8 years as well. Especially when your portfolio becomes sizeable, having the time to take advantage of one or two more doubling periods will be extremely beneficial.

Here’s another way of making the same point. Instead of starting with a lump sum and not contributing anything more along the way, the graphic below shows what would happen if a 20-year-old started with nothing but invested $200 per month and generated an average annual return of 9%. The lower number and blue part of each bar shows the amount she has invested at each point in time; the upper number shows what her portfolio is worth (the green shows her earnings).

After 8 years, she has invested $19,200, but her portfolio is worth $28,181. Nice. After 16 years, she has invested $38,400, but her portfolio has grown to nearly $86,000. Now it’s getting interesting. But look all the way out at age 68. At that point, she has invested $115,200, but her portfolio totals nearly $2 million.

And here’s the important point. Look at what happens if you remove one doubling period—maybe this person didn’t think it was so important to start investing at such a young age or they retired sooner. Removing one doubling period means two things. The person would have invested just $19,200 less ($200 per month times 8 years). However, they would have ended up with $1,017,614 less money ($1,960,900 minus $943,286). That’s an incredible penalty for missing one doubling period.

The take away? The power of compounding becomes most powerful when you give it the most time, so start building your portfolio as early as possible. It may not seem very exciting in the early years. But once you’ve built a decent base, it’ll get much more exciting—and profitable.

As you near retirement age, having one more doubling period available to you—perhaps by working longer so you can let your nest egg grow—can make a huge difference to your financial health in your later years.

Time has been a critically important factor in Warren Buffett’s success, and it will factor heavily in your success as well.

As the Bible states, “Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty” (Proverbs 21:5).

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Profitable Ideas: Managing Your Career While Working Remotely, The Financial Scripts You Live By, and More Fri, 06 Nov 2020 14:30:53 +0000

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

How to keep climbing the ladder while you work from home (NY Times). Working remotely and the challenge of staying visible.

The 10 highest property taxes by state (Clark Howard). When we moved from Illinois to Kentucky in 2012, we felt the financial benefits right away. If you’re thinking of moving, definitely take property taxes into consideration.

For your benefit (Humble Dollar). Making wise choices when signing up for benefits during open enrollment season.

When the siren song of market timing is the loudest (A Wealth of Common Sense). When your emotions are running high, step away from your portfolio.

What is a money script (and how does it impact your finances?) (Workable Wealth). How your unconscious beliefs are driving your financial habits and practices. 

6 energy-boosting tips to combat pandemic fatigue (Fast Company). How to keep the pandemic from weighing on your productivity.

The ultimate guide to a no-buy year (Forbes). I love this idea and can attest to its benefits, having gone this entire year with buying (almost) no new clothing. (More on this in the near future.)

12 things U.S. presidents have to pay for on their own (Reader’s Digest). That midnight run to Taco Bell? You and I pay for the motorcade, but the prez has to pony up for the chow. 

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Setting Financial Priorities: A Framework for Financial Success Tue, 03 Nov 2020 14:30:05 +0000

It’s easy to make managing money more complicated than it needs to be. That’s because money isn’t just an objective “means of exchange” as the dictionary defines it. Money is wrapped up in our emotions – our hopes, dreams, and fears. And our use of it is strongly influenced by the many messages of our consumer culture.

Knowing our purpose guides our priorities

Last week, we looked at the purpose of our lives—to love God, love others, and make our unique, God-ordained contribution to the world. That gives us the big picture of how to align our use of money with what truly matters. This week, we’re getting more specific by looking at how knowing the purpose of money can guide our day-to-day financial priorities.

Whenever money starts getting a little too complicated, it’s helpful to get back to the basics by remembering that there are only five things we can do with money:

  1. Spend it
  2. Use it for debt payments
  3. Save it
  4. Invest it
  5. Give it away

Very often, when money gets messy for someone, it’s because they’ve gotten these priorities out of whack.

When culture calls the shots

The order above is the one advocated by our consumer culture. Whenever money comes into our lives, our cultural conditioning leads us to think first about what we can spend it on – what to do for fun, how much clothing we can buy, where we can go on vacation.

When spending comes first, debt always seems to come along for the ride. There’s a financed vehicle in the driveway, a balance on a credit card or two.

If there’s any money left over, we might save and invest some. And if anything is left over after all that, we might give some away.

This order explains a lot about why so many people have so much debt, so little savings, and more than their share of stress.

A better way to prioritize

Here’s the order that works much better:

  1. Give some
  2. Save some
  3. Invest some
  4. Then see how much you can afford to spend on housing, transportation, and all the rest.
  5. Have no debt except a reasonable mortgage

Hitting the money reset button

This order is much easier to teach to young people who haven’t started getting their first full-time salary yet. But what if you’re already out there and your money’s all messed up because you’ve been following our culture’s plan?

Use a Cash Flow Plan to hit the reset button. Fill in the “Now” columns to see where you’re at. And use my Recommended Cash Flow Guidelines (on the same page as my Cash Flow Plan) to fill in the “Goal” columns with an ideal plan. Then start moving toward the ideal.

It probably won’t happen overnight. There may be some credit card debt to ditch and a car payment to lose. It may take some rethinking about how you spend on groceries, clothing, entertainment, and everything else.

But the framework of give, save, invest, spend, and be cautious with debt is the simplest and most effective way of doing the whole money thing I’ve ever found.

Move toward it and you’ll move toward a financial life that works amazingly well.

Do you follow this framework? If so, how’s it working for you? If not, what’s the biggest roadblock standing in the way? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Profitable Ideas: The Happiest Uses of Money, The Risk of Playing it Too Safe, and More Fri, 30 Oct 2020 13:30:44 +0000

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

Spend your money on these three things to increase happiness, according to science (Becoming Minimalist). Good reminders about some of the best uses of money.

5 ways to land a promotion (besides showing you’re a hard worker) (Fast Company). How to be intentional and create a plan, knowing it may take time.

Are we trading our happiness for modern comforts? (The Atlantic). The odd disconnect between so many improvements in the quality of our lives and the lack of improvement in our happiness.

401(k) and IRA penalties that don’t apply in 2020 (US News). Not that you should go raiding your retirement savings, but it’s good to know the rules.

The big problem playing it too safe with your money in our 20s (The Woke Salary Man). I firmly believe that when you’re young, one of the biggest risks you can take with your investments is playing it too safe.

Your retirement plan isn’t a democracy (A Teachable Moment). The huge advantage of getting started with your retirement savings sooner than later. 

Undisclosed: most homebuyers and renters aren’t warned about flood or wildfire risk (NPR). Take the time to research whether you are adequately covered.

Make your first home your last: the case for not moving up (NY Times). It’s certainly counter to what most people do, but when it comes to managing money, going against the grain of our culture is often the most profitable path!

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The Purpose of Money Tue, 27 Oct 2020 13:30:22 +0000

Early in my journey of learning about money, I noticed a very odd disconnect.

On the one hand, it was obvious that there’s a ton of personal finance advice readily available. Search on any financial question and within seconds you can find answers.

And yet, lots of people struggle with money.

Why is that? With so much guidance so close at hand, why is successful money management so difficult for so many?

I believe it’s because too many people aren’t clear about the purpose of their lives. They’re living reactive lives, bouncing from one tempting use of money to another.

The only way to understand the purpose of money is to understand the purpose of life. And the only way to manage money effectively is to orient our use of money around our life purpose.

Do you know who you are?

The English writer Samuel Johnson once said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

Oh we need instruction, but all the instruction in the world won’t do us any good if we’re not clear about who we are and what we were designed to be about.

Our culture would have us believe we’re consumers. It sounds harmless enough, right? But have you ever looked up the definition? To consume literally means to use up, devour, or spend wastefully.

How’s that working out for us?

The word first came into popular use during the Industrial Revolution, the period roughly between 1880 and 1920 that built the foundation of today’s consumer culture.

Our society shifted from agriculture to industry. People went from self-sufficient to income dependent, from making things to buying things. With so many goods spilling off assembly lines, businesses needed people to use stuff up.

To entice us to buy more and more stuff, advertisers began linking products to our identity and happiness. Products became branded, and so did we. No longer were we referred to as citizens or workers. To politicians, the media, and makers of everything from clothing to canned food, we became consumers.

From that point forward, huge sums of money have been spent in an effort to make us believe we are consumers.

What’s in a name?

Consumer is more than a word; it’s a worldview. If I’m a consumer, who’s the most important person in the world? I am, right? Life is all about me – my pleasure, my comfort, my happiness.

If I’m a consumer, where is happiness found? In money and what it can buy.

And if I’m a consumer, life is a competition. It’s a quest to have more. More than I had last year and more than my neighbors have.

People who study happiness say this is the path that leads in the exact opposite direction of where we’d all like to go. It’s like trying to get to New York from Chicago and getting on a westbound train.

They say happiness isn’t found in living for ourselves. It’s found in living for something bigger than ourselves. It isn’t found in loving money and things. It’s found in loving people. And it isn’t found in living a life of competition. It’s found in living a life of contribution.

Remembering who we are

The good news is that we were not meant to be consumers. The Bible doesn’t say that on the sixth day God made consumers who would use up and waste all that He made on the previous five days. It says He made man and woman in His image.

Financially, the Bible describes us as stewards, or managers.

But I think a lot of people misunderstand that. The word seems heavy, like a burden. It’s as if they’ve been given managerial responsibility over some stuff and misheard the instructions as: “Whatever you do, don’t break or lose any of it.”

Those aren’t the instructions we’ve been given at all.

In the Parable of the Talents, a wealthy man entrusts three servants with his stuff, goes on a long journey, and then returns to see how they did. One servant got the instructions wrong. He hid what was entrusted to him out of fear and then returned it to his master. He didn’t lose or break any of it, but he didn’t do anything productive with it either. For his efforts, or lack thereof, he received a harsh rebuke.

The other two servants were different. They turned what had been entrusted to them into something more. For their efforts, they received strong words of affirmation. And then the master entrusted them with more.

Of course, the master represents God; the servants represent us.

The art and joy of being ourselves

We weren’t designed to use stuff up. We were designed to create, build, and make something more of what has been entrusted to us.

What is that something more?

The Bible says we were designed to live not just for something more, but for someone more – God. So, the first purpose of money is to use it in ways that glorify God.

The Bible says the second most important priority in life is to love others. It never says that money or things are inherently bad. It just teaches us not to love money or things, but to love people. So, the second purpose of money is to use it in ways that strengthen our relationships with others.

And the Bible says we’ve all been given certain talents and passions in order to make a difference with our lives. So, the third purpose of money is to use it in ways that enable us to make our unique and meaningful contribution to the world.

Let me say it again. The three overarching purposes of our lives are to love God, love others, and make a God-glorifying difference with our God-given talents, passions, and resources. So those are the three main purposes of money: Use it to love God, love others, and make a God-glorifying impact. They are the guiding principles for how we are to use money—the path toward the most meaningful experience with money that’s possible.

Next week, we’ll look more specifically at how the Bible teaches us to use money in the pursuit of those purposes.

If you were to honestly evaluate your current use of money, how well does it line up with these three purposes?

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