Matt About Money Simple. Meaningful. Success. Fri, 19 Jan 2018 14:30:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9092505 Profitable Ideas: Why You Should File Your Taxes Early, Preparing for a Crash, and More Fri, 19 Jan 2018 14:30:19 +0000

A weekly roundup of helpful personal finance articles.

Why it’s more important than ever to file your taxes early this year (Magnify Money). It can help protect you from tax ID theft.

With a tax deduction gone, is home equity a smart way to pay for college? (NY Times). A common source of college funding is now far less attractive.

Why you should make saving for home repairs a priority (Bible Money Matters). “Home maintenance and repairs” is one of the most common items missing from household budgets, which is just asking for trouble.

Two-thirds of Americans have inadequate insurance (Kiplinger). For recommendations on more specific types of coverage you may need, read Shoring Up Your Walls of Protection.

Your estate plan needs an update, even if it is new (Reuters). The new tax laws have rendered some trusts unnecessary, but are you among the many people who don’t even have a will or power-of-attorney documents?

4 steps to make sure your retirement plan is ready for anything—even a market crash (Time). As surely as nighttime follows daytime, bear markets follow bull markets. The best time to prepare is when all is still well.

Shopping bans and other unusual ways to control spending (US News). Practical ways to show yourself a little financial tough love.

Workers at Apple supplier Catcher describe harsh conditions (Bloomberg). As the owner of multiple Apple products, I enjoy the company’s focus on design. Why can’t it design a more humane supply chain?

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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Are You Using One Of Your Credit Card’s Most Valuable Benefits? Tue, 16 Jan 2018 14:30:47 +0000

I’m not opposed to using credit cards. In fact, when used responsibly, they offer many valuable benefits.

In a minute, I’m going to highlight one particular benefit that I’ve found to be especially valuable—one that I’m guessing is probably vastly underutilized. But first, here’s my overarching point of view about credit cards.

While there are some people who would be better off not using them, most can be trusted to use credit cards responsibly. That means four things:

  • Use a budget and only pay with plastic according to the parameters in your budget. If you budgeted $80 for clothing per month, you can charge $80 worth of clothing this month.
  • Treat credit card purchases like you would treat cash transactions and record the purchase right away. In other words, if you use a credit card to buy a sweater today for $50, that $50 counts against this month’s clothing budget.
  • Always pay your bill in full.
  • If you can’t or won’t take the first three steps, don’t use credit cards.

Okay, on to the benefit: Price protection.

Some cards give it fancier names, such as Price Rewind, but whatever it’s called, price protection works the same way. If you buy something with that card and then 60-90 days later you find the item for less, the card will credit your account with the difference.

In the last eight months, I’ve used this benefit to get more than $260 back on $1,630 of purchases—a laptop computer, a DSLR camera, a telephoto lens, and a multi-port HDMI selector for our TV. I bought the computer, camera, and lens during what I thought were great sales. But a couple of weeks later, I found even better prices on each item and got money back.

The HDMI selector was a somewhat spontaneous purchase made in a hurry. Normally, I would have done some price comparisons, but knowing about the price protection benefit on the card I used, I went ahead and then got money back later.

And here’s something I have found interesting about using this benefit. In three of the four purchases—the most expensive ones—the sites I used to demonstrate a lower price were sites I had never heard of. In fact, I would not have made the purchases through the sites since I wasn’t familiar with them. But they worked just fine in helping me demonstrate that the items I bought were being offered for less than I paid.

To get money credited to my account, I had to scan and upload my receipts and then upload a screen capture of the lower price offers. Within just a few days, the request for each credit was processed and approved, with the credit showing up a short time later.

Cards that offer price protection typically limit the amount of the credit per purchase (usually $250-$500), cap the number of claims or total amount per year, and exclude certain items.

Price protection has become one of my favorite credit card benefits. It helps me avoid the regret of buying something only to then see it advertised for less.

Does your credit card offer price protection? If so, are you making full use of it?

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Profitable Ideas: Cars That Last, Why It Matters Who Made Your Clothes, and More Fri, 12 Jan 2018 14:30:03 +0000

A weekly roundup of helpful personal finance articles.

Should you buy Bitcoin? Ask a different question first (Sketch Guy – a NY Times blog). Are you winging it with your investments or do you have a plan?

Here’s to doing what matters — a manifesto (Coach Carson). An interesting way to find motivation by visualizing the time you have left.

The top 15 cars that people keep for 15 years or more (Clark Howard). This year marks the 15th year we’ve owned our Toyota Sienna. If you’ve kept your vehicle a long time, what are you driving?

Here’s how parents can raise successful children, according to a Stanford dean (World Economic Forum). There are some ideas related to money at the end of the article, but the whole piece has implications for teaching kids about money—and so much more.

Beyond rice & beans: Budget dinners that aren’t boring (Pretend to be Poor). I can’t remember ever linking to an article with recipes, and yet food is one of the biggest budget categories for most people. So, give this one a read. You’ll find lots of ideas.

Why people conveniently ‘forget’ that child labor made their jeans (Moneyish). I’m drawn to this topic — avoiding buying products from companies with harmful labor practices. But it’s complicated, and a lot of people don’t want to make the effort.

How hiring a housekeeper saved my sanity and my marriage (The Simple Dollar). I like posts like this, showing that sometimes trying to save money by doing everything yourself ends up costing more.

The encouraging truth about how Americans are covering the cost of college (Wise Bread). Don’t let the scary headlines about the high cost of college discourage you.

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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The Happiest Uses of Money Tue, 09 Jan 2018 14:30:06 +0000

If you want to know the secrets to happiness, you’ll find plenty of suggestions online. But there are quite a few serious studies on the topic as well, and one of the most authoritative is the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

Some 80 years ago, the school started tracking and analyzing the lives of 724 men (women weren’t included because many of the participants were Harvard students and the school was all-male when the study began). Researchers were hoping to discover what makes people healthy and happy as they go through life. It may be the longest study of adult life ever. Only 19 of the original participants are still alive.

The study’s overall finding is incredibly simple. In a Ted Talk, Robert Waldinger, the current director, said it all boils down to developing and maintaining good relationships.

“People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and they live longer. It’s not just the number of friends you have, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”

None of this is new news. When Jesus was asked what matters most he said it’s all about relationships—loving God and loving others. Still, it’s noteworthy that such a long-running secular study of health and happiness would focus on the importance of relationships as well.

What does this have to do with money? A lot, since money is often a source of stress and strife between husbands and wives. It points us to a worthy question: How can we use money in ways that foster stronger relationships with our spouses, our kids, and others? Here are a few suggestions.

Get on the same page. If you want to relate well—financially and otherwise—to that mysterious person you call your spouse, one of the best approaches is to understand his or her temperament, as well as your own. A great starting point is the four-temperament classification system: Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholy, and Phlegmatic.

On the Resources page of my site, you’ll find a simple tool for identifying your temperament and understanding some of the financial tendencies associated with it. It’ll give you invaluable insights into each temperament’s financial strengths and weaknesses.

Spend wisely. The other day, my wife Jude mentioned that we only have five more spring breaks before our oldest will be in college. Five more summers. Four more… We had to stop ourselves. It was a stunning reality that made us both sad.

I deeply enjoy the rhythm of day-to-day family life, and I’m thankful for a job that enables me to be home for dinner with my family most of the time. I’m also thankful that Jude and I are on the same page in choosing to keep our vehicles a long time so that we have money available for family trips. Some of my fondest memories are of our family vacations.

By now, it’s become common knowledge that spending money on experiences tends to make people happier than spending on stuff. Still, I think we need frequent reminders.

It’s easy to overspend on a house or vehicles or other stuff, only to find that we don’t have enough for the experiences we will cherish long after all that stuff loses its appeal.

Invest in people outside your family. I love the story of Jason that Donald Miller tells in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Jason’s daughter had started dating a guy who was bad news, which made Jason realize he hadn’t drawn his daughter into a compelling enough story. His spontaneous decision to raise a crazy amount of money to build an orphanage didn’t go over very well with his wife or daughter, at least, not at first. But eventually it became something they all wanted to do, and taking on something so big—so beyond themselves—was transformative.

What are some of the key ways your use of money has been purposely designed around relationships? Or, in what ways do you sense that some changes may be in order?

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Profitable Ideas: Proven Paths Out of Debt, Two Incomes Aren’t Always Better Than One, and More Fri, 05 Jan 2018 14:30:58 +0000

Some of the better articles I found on my last trip through the financial cyberspace.

7 research-proven strategies that can help you finally get out of debt (Magnify Money). These ideas have been put to the test.

Tax reform is here: What it means for your taxes (US News). Use the new parameters to estimate your 2018 taxes and make sure the proper amount is being withheld from your paycheck.

Students who hold jobs during college earn more money after they graduate (MarketWatch). While there are some caveats, “For the average college student, it would be a good idea to work in college.”

This is the easy way to save money (Barking Up The Wrong Tree). Advice from the behavioral economist who wrote a book explaining, “How we misthink money and how we can spend smarter.”

Why two incomes aren’t always better than one (Nerd’s Eye View). Some counterintuitive research finds that two-income households may be more financially fragile than one-income households, while also pointing to a helpful but uncommon step two-income households can take to address the issue.

How to expand your job description without annoying your boss (Fast Company). How to work your way into a bigger job.

15 ways I plan to save money this year (The Simple Dollar). A master at frugal living reveals his game plan for 2018.

American racked up more than $1,000 each in holiday debt (CNBC). A better idea? Create a dedicated Christmas gift savings account and transfer one twelfth of your annual gift budget into that account each month.

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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Danger Ahead Wed, 03 Jan 2018 14:30:18 +0000

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. — Bilbo Baggins, “The Lord of the Rings”

We were made for adventure. Even those of us who work in offices know that to be true. It’s the adventures, the experiences that contain an element of danger—or that involve great difficulty—in the pursuit of something worthwhile, that make us feel most alive.

What does that have to do with money? Quite a bit, really. And it has everything to do with this time of year—traditionally a time of making resolutions or setting goals.

Maybe you’ve been so disappointed by past experiences with all of that, you’ve cast it aside as foolish or trite. I get that. Finding yourself at the end of one too many Januaries having already failed at all the grand plans you made just weeks ago is beyond discouraging.

I’m convinced that the reason so many of us break our resolutions is because we made them out of a sense of duty or obligation. They were the right ones to make, but truth be told, they bore us. Our goals go unmet because they’re too logical — all head and no heart. And most importantly, they were made on our own and pursued with our own strength rather than reliance on God

So this year, if you’re willing to give it another try, take a different approach. Through prayer, choose something to pursue that scares you. Really. Something that seems impossible.

I have a friend who goes to a church that for the first time in its long history was trying to buy its own building. He felt led to participate in a big way, but also conflicted.

You see, his dad took off when my friend was just five. Even though he’s a successful entrepreneur, having been raised by a single mom who never made more than $25,000 a year left him feeling like he’ll never have enough.

Still, the senior pastor’s vision stirred something in my friend, reaching deep into his heart. A contribution amount kept coming to mind that seemed crazy, completely beyond anything he had ever considered.

He was up most of the night before a commitment needed to be made, “wrestling with God.” On one side was the old familiar feeling of never having enough. On the other, he sensed God asking, “Are you really going to doubt that I’ll take care of you?”

As night turned to day, he decided to give more than he had made in a year for most of his working life. His wife couldn’t have been more on board.

What is it for you? Will this be the year that you finally stop messing around with debt? That might mean moving to a less expensive home or living a lifestyle more in synch with the truth of your situation or telling someone about your debt—all of which probably puts a knot in your stomach. It’s a sure bet that it’ll be hugely inconvenient, embarrassing even. The first part of the journey looks painful. But wouldn’t the freedom be worth all the sacrifice? You know the answer.

What is it for you? Is it going back to school or quitting your job or some other step that would enable you to pursue the work you know you were meant to do? Is it about looking for a different job, maybe even one that pays less, so you can get off the road and be home more often for your family?

What is it for you?

Daniel Burnham, the visionary city planner who is largely responsible for the design of Chicago and its incredible open lakefront, once said: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” I like that a lot.

And I like even more what God’s Word teaches us about the unreasonable part he would have us play in the greatest story ever told, if only we would muster the courage and wisdom to listen and respond to his invitations.

When an angel told Zechariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a baby in their old age, Zechariah asked for some assurance that it was true. Because of his disbelief, he was temporarily made unable to speak.

When an angel told Mary that she would have a baby as well, even though she was a virgin, she, too, wondered how it would happen. But hers was not a question of disbelief; it was an innocent expression of awe: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary responded. “May it be to me as you have said.”

As you pray and think about what God may have you pursue this year, pay attention to the scary ideas that come to mind. The ones that seem unreasonable or impossible. My prayer for you is that you’ll muster the courage to say, “May it be.”

It’s okay if you can’t see the full path ahead. Just trust, say the words in faith, and take the next step. All that follows might just be the adventure of a lifetime.

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Profitable Ideas: The Habits of Success, Putting First Things First, and More Fri, 29 Dec 2017 14:30:16 +0000

Last roundup of the year—lots of ideas for getting 2018 off to a great start.

What the rich do differently: Habits that foster wealth and success (Get Rich Slowly). Titles like this often amount to nothing more than clickbait, but this is a good post that reviews the findings of numerous authors who have studied people who are unusually successful.

A new approach to New Year’s resolutions (The Gospel Coalition). Whatever you decide to pursue in the new year, don’t go it alone.

First things first (Humble Dollar). If you like to set goals, you may have a tendency to set too many. Here’s how to pursue the goals that’ll have the biggest impact.

How to save $2,018 with the New Year’s money challenge (Clark Howard). If building savings is one of your goals for 2018, this practical guide should help.

The 7-step guide to achieving in-box zero—and staying there—in 2018 (Fast Company). A cluttered, overflowing in-box can be a drag on all aspects of your life, including your finances. Here are some helpful ideas for getting on top of it once and for all.

Why the money-conscious should beware the after-Christmas sale (Washington Post). Yes, there are deals to be found, but remember: A deal isn’t a deal unless it’s a discount on something you were going to buy anyway.

I want to cut my kids off financially. Does that make me mean? (NY Times). Short-term, it’s going to be tough. Long-term, it may be the best thing you could do for them.

Can you pay for private education with 529 plans? Yes! (Three Thrifty Guys). The preferred way to save for college just got a major upgrade.

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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The Year’s Most Popular Posts Tue, 26 Dec 2017 14:30:32 +0000

As we prepare to close out 2017, here’s a look back at this blog’s most popular articles from the past year—the top 10, along with a few extras. My hope in sharing them is that they may spur some ideas that’ll help you plan ahead for a great 2018.

1. The Case Against Frugality. With apologies to those who do frugal well, I’ve never cared for the term. The phrase I prefer is “money-smart.” Here’s why.

2.‘Grandma Had Love.’  Going to a funeral and hearing how a person’s life is summed up can make you think about what you’re pursuing and what matters most. At least, that’s what happened to me at my mother-in-law’s funeral.

3. A Tribute to a Generous Man. Just seven months before my mother-in-law passed away, my father-in-law died. He left behind a wonderful legacy of generosity.

4. An Irrational Financial Act. Of all the things we can do with money, giving it away seems completely, utterly irrational, doesn’t it? Here are three reasons why it actually makes all the sense in the world.

5. Just Passing Through.  Within the realization that this is not our home is the power to completely transform—to greatly improve—our relationship with money.

6. Radical Ways to Accomplish Your Financial Goals. Quite possibly, the most dramatic step I’ve heard of anyone taking to get his or her finances right is going on a spending fast.

7. The Real Cost of Cars. When shopping for a car, there’s a lot more to consider than the price.

8. Living in the Tension Between What We Want and What’s Valuable. The wisdom of learning to be careful about “what you want for.”

9. Living an Open-Handed Life of Faith. If I could choose one post that I’d love each reader to share with at least one other person, this is the one.

10. How ‘Anchoring’ Can Mess With Your Mind and Money. One of the many cognitive biases that can trip us up.

Some of other posts that I especially enjoyed writing in 2017 were:

It’s Amazing What You Can Get Just By Asking. From lower prices to better tables at restaurants, it pays to speak up.

Automating Financial Wisdom. I almost titled this post, “You Can’t Automate Financial Wisdom.” But then I realized, you can.

The Pull of the Neighborhood: Four Ways to Keep Your Financial Footing. The people around us influence our use of money more than we realize. Here’s how to live your life, not your neighbors’ lives.

One of the Least Appreciated ‘Secrets’ of Warren Buffett’s Success. Yes, he has a talent for value investing, but there’s something else at work here that takes far less skill to emulate.

The Priceless Joy of a Little Impracticality. Sometimes you have to look past the spreadsheet, or your 11-year-old’s bedtime, to see what really makes the most sense.

Thank you for being part of the community here at Matt About Money. Writing this blog is one of my great joys, and I consider it an honor that you are a subscriber. Here’s looking forward to an even better 2018.

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Profitable Ideas: Creating a New Year’s ‘To-Be’ List, Frugality is Not Your Solution, and More Fri, 22 Dec 2017 14:30:40 +0000

A weekly roundup of some of the more interesting and helpful personal finance articles I’ve read recently.

What’s on your ‘to-be’ list for the New Year? (Sound Mind Investing). Especially if your resolutions look the same every year, maybe it’s time for a fresh approach to planning.

How criminals can steal money off your gift cards (Clark Howard). They’re a popular gift, and a popular target for thieves.

Frugality is not your solution. Frugality is a tool. (The Simple Dollar). For more on this topic, read The Case Against Frugality.

Why don’t America’s rich give more to charity? (The Atlantic). I find this stuff fascinating. Oh, what money does to us!

9 things real estate agents don’t want you to know (USA TODAY). Whether buying or selling, this information will help.

10 things you need to know about the new tax law (MarketWatch). The new law won’t impact your 2017 income taxes, but there are plenty of changes to understand for 2018.

Why you should speak up about your money struggles (Rebel With a Plan). Money is one of those topics most people find it tough to talk about. But opening up with a trusted friend or relative can pay dividends for both of you.

The giving heart of our Father in heaven (Ron Blue Institute). A great idea for taking the next step in the journey of generosity.

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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Grandma Had Love Tue, 19 Dec 2017 14:30:11 +0000

We spend much of our lives striving, pursuing. Good grades. A good school. Someone to spend our lives with.

In all that busy striving and pursuing, time slips past.

And when our time here is over, if we were blessed with a family or friends, someone may say a few words about all that.

What will they say?

Living with the end in mind

The idea of writing your own obituary or eulogy may seem trite—an overused technique from personal development seminars. But when you go to an actual funeral or two, you realize what a good exercise it is.

It’s a stunning experience, really, listening to a life summed up. All those years—the ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the many conversations and decisions, the times you let people down or got things right. It’s fascinating to hear what stood out to the person at the microphone.

I’ve been thinking about that since my mother-in-law’s funeral, which took place a few weeks ago. I think she would have been pleased about what was said.

After my wife gave a beautiful, moving tribute, each of our kids got up to say a few words they had prepared. I was very proud of them for writing what they did and being willing to speak at the funeral.

In their own way, they all spoke about their grandma’s love and generosity. Family was an important priority for her, and by her actions they each knew that was true.

The greatest of these

Our 14-year-old remembered her many words of encouragement and warm hugs. He also remembered her patience, even when he and his brother and cousin played “barbarian stairs” at her house, sliding down her staircase face-first, sometimes piled on top of each other.

“But Grandma never yelled,” he said. “Not once.”

While their grandmother cared about the wear and tear on her carpeting perhaps more than most, often even covering the most heavily trafficked parts with paper, she never complained about our kids’ roughhousing.

Our son said he had many fond memories of hearing his grandmother’s stories at the dinner table—stories about growing up during the Depression and World War II.

Then he read from 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

After finishing those verses, he paused, looked up, and closed with three simple, powerful words: “Grandma had love.”

Not what, but how

I’ve replayed his ending in my mind countless times since then, and each time it brings me to tears.

What better way could someone’s life be summed up?

Those sentiments seem especially appropriate now, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. After all, God’s decision to send Jesus to us was an act of supreme love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

And love was central to Jesus’ teaching.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another. – John 13:34-35

So, in the midst of our busy preparations—the decorating and cooking and shopping and such—let’s remember that what we do is far less important than how.

Let’s love one another well this holy season, and always.

And when the day comes that we breathe our last, may it be said of us that we had love.

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